by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 2 Study # 3 October 11, 2005 Lincolnton, N.C.
(166)Thesis:Sonship is only by the most fundamental characteristic of the "father".
Introduction:In our studies of Romans 4 we have seen that Paul is adamant about the fact that the discovery of Abraham was that the blessedness of being in the position of being uncondemned by God was by faith apartfromanypersonalperformanceissues. One of the "sleeper" issues within our studies is the fact that Paul raised the question of Abraham's discovery as "our father". I have called it a "sleeper" issue because, up to this point, it has not been clear what it means for Abraham to be a "father". But, in Romans 4:11-12 Paul makes this point: the entire scenario is designed around the issue of Abraham's ability to be "father". In Romans 4:16-17 Paul goes so far as to say that the promise Abraham "believed" was that he was to be a "father of many nations". In support of this thesis is the fact that the Genesis 15:6 declaration of justification by faith was immediately upon the heels of the promise that his "seed" would be as the stars of heaven. What this boils down to is this: God has always had a plan for a vast kingdom made up of many nations and His plan was for Abraham to be the "father" of those who make up that kingdom. So, for our study this evening, we are going to jump into what I have called this "sleeper" issue so that we may understand Paul's reasoning regarding our relationship with God on the basis of faith apart from performance issues.
I. The Most Fundamental Issue: What Constitutes "Fatherhood"?
A. Throughout the Scriptures the issue of "fatherhood" is the issue of producing the original pattern.
1. The issue is first clearly introduced by Moses in Genesis 4:20-22.
2. Then that issue is addressed by Jesus in John 8:44.
3. Paul, understanding the issue clearly, also said in Romans 8:14 that they are "sons" who are led by the Spirit.
4. And the author of Hebrews 1 makes it as clear as possible that "sonship" means making manifest the character of the "father".
B. Consequently, the issue of "sonship" is the issue of identifying the critical characteristic.
1. In the John 8:44 text, for example, Jesus acknowledged the identity of His adversaries as the seed of Abraham, but immediately challenged its significance. In that setting He also pointedly said "If God were your Father, you would love me..." (v. 42) -- clearly identifying the father-characteristic that is reproduced infallibly in the sons.
2. The problem for most of us is that the "father-characteristic" is too ambiguous as a part of a "sleeper" issue.
II. The Downline Consequence: Who Are the "Sons"?
A. In Romans 4, this is the critical issue.
1. The Jews had come up with a doctrine of "sonship" that zeroed in on the Bar-Mitzvah concept: a son of the commandment.
a. For them, "sonship" had to do with "obedience to the commandments".
b. Out of that, they had generated a doctrine of "sonship by means of obedience to the commandments".
2. Paul, in direct contradiction because of the total failure of sonship by obedience, wanted to show that properly identifying the "sons" was absolutely critical.
a. For this cause, he raised the orginal question of Romans 4:1 -- what did the "father" discover about this question of acquiring the status of "son" before God?
b. His point becomes more clear the farther we go into his argument.
B. The real question is "what is the father-characteristic?"
1. Paul's question about how Abraham was reckoned as righteous by God is his method of bringing the "father-characteristic" into focus.
a. If the "father" was reckoned as righteous by God while uncircumcised, then the "father" characteristic was "faith before circumcision."
b. If the father characteristic was "faith and then circumcision" no one can argue "son-ship" who appeals to circumcision.
2. Paul makes the point that Abraham's "fatherhood" is a bottom line issue.
a. He makes Abraham's "fatherhood" of many nations the very heart of the promise that led to his justification before God (see Romans 4:16-17).
b. He says in our present text that Abraham was to be "father" to the uncircumcised and "father" to the circumcised who also believe.
3. Paul points out that "sonship" on the basis of "circumcision" is fundamentally impossible since Abraham's "circumcision" was a post-faith fact while the ensuing covenant prescribed "circumcision" on the eighth day from birth -- thus eliminating it from the faith-then-circumcision reality of the "father's" experience.
a. By this means, Paul makes the "father" characteristic one issue: faith.
b. By this means, Paul eliminates any/all "behavior" considerations.
1) Any behavior that precedes faith is outside the boundaries of the characteristic.
2) Any behavior that follows faith is outside the boundaries of the divine response: God justified without requirement of behavior.
4. Thus, the "father characteristic" is a faith response to a central divine promise.