Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:
The Lord called Abram (Abraham) to leave his home and travel to a land that God would show him. The exact nature of how the Lord spoke to Abram is not described in the passage nor are the details of the destination the Lord was asking him to go to. However, before even taking a step, the Lord promised to make of Abram “a great nation,” to bless him, to make his name great and through him, to bless “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:2–3).
We are told that “Abram went, as the Lord had told him” (Gen. 12:4). What motivated him to leave behind the familiar and journey into the unknown? Was it the spectacular nature of his encounter with God? Was it the incentive of being blessed and becoming a great nation? Was it fear or was it simply faith in God’s word of promise? Again, we’re not privy to the inner workings of Abram’s motivation, but we do have the end result, Abram went, as the Lord had told him (Gen.12:4).
At the age seventy-five, Abram, along with his family, his nephew Lot and all that belonged to them, travelled a distance of some six hundred and forty kilometers from Haran, eventually arriving in the land Canaan (Genesis 12:5) where Abram“built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 12:8). This act of worship appears to indicate that they had arrived in the land the Lord had told Abram his descendants would possess (Genesis 12:7). It is Abram’s act of worship that expresses his faith in the God who had somehow moved him to go from the familiar and journey into this foreign country.
Such faith as Abram had does not eliminate the questions and the doubts. Faith does, as David writes in Psalm 32 (7), hide one under the shelter of God’s protection, preserving one from trouble and in arriving, allowing one to worship with shouts of deliverance.
St. Paul writing almost two thousand years later would use Abraham’s example to explain the Gospel. Paul begins by asking what was gained by Abraham (Romans 4:1) from the perspective of the flesh (Romans 4:1) or in the eyes of the world? Did he somehow get right with God because of what he had accomplished, by going along with God’s plan or command? If so, Paul notes, Abraham could have been proud of accomplishing this mission, but not before God (Romans 4:2). Paul claims that Abraham’s relationship with God was not defined by his obedience, but through faith in God’s promise.
Paul quotes a passage from a Genesis 15 (6) which says that Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Abraham believed that God would give him an heir and that through him he would have thousands of descendants (Genesis 15:5), one who would eventually be the promised Messiah or Savior of all people.
It is not our obedience or any good work we may do that justifies us before God. If that were the case, our relationship with God would be earned. Instead, God’s grace is made known in that God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5), those who acknowledge their sin and confess their transgressions to the Lord (Psalm 32:5). A person is not justified by works of the Law, no matter how good they may be, but through faith in God’s promises. This is what David says in Psalm 32 (1-2) and to which Paul quotes: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:7-8).
It is through the offspring of Abraham, Jesus Christ, that God removes all of our sins and lawless deeds. In Christ, all the Lord’s promises are realized. The forgiveness of sins through Christ is the Word of the Gospel, the voice of the Holy Spirit, which “gives life to the dead” (Rom. 4:17). It is the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes of faith to see Christ Jesus, the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).
Grace be with you,