One of St. Paul’s favorite verses in the Hebrew Bible seems to have been Genesis 15:6—“Abram believed the Lord, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Paul quotes that verse a couple of times—once in this morning’s New Testament lesson (Galatians 3:1-14)—and writes about it extensively. For many contemporary Christians, that verse represents a summary of Pauline theology—salvation through faith.
From where I sit, I agree wholeheartedly—it’s a great verse. And it does encapsulate much of Paul’s theology of grace and faith. But I think many contemporary Christians miss the message behind that verse. In our recent Sunday-morning class on Romans, we used Kathy Grieb’s book, The Story of Romans, and her take on Paul’s emphasis on faith was enlightening for me. Yes, it is all about faith, but faith isn’t an easy thing.
As Grieb explored the faithfulness of God and humanity’s response of faithfulness, she points out that we are called to have faith like that of Abraham (and faith like that of Christ). Although our faith might be reckoned to us as righteousness, that’s harder than it sounds. What faith? Usually, in the bible, we get stories of humanity’s faithlessness—how Israel doubted that God could keep his promises, how Peter denied Jesus, how Thomas doubted the resurrection. Abraham demonstrates a level of faith that exceeds anything I can usually muster. He trusted that God would make him the father of a great nation despite his age (and that of his wife). He believed when there was no reason to believe. And that’s the kind of faith I’m supposed to have.
What do you believe in? Do you have the kind of faith that believes in the face of enormous difficulty? Can you hold firm to God’s promises of redemption when salvation seems all but impossible? Abraham’s faith (and the faith we are called to have) is a willingness to remain confident in God’s plan of salvation no matter what. Sure, all it takes is faith, but where does faith like that come from?