The other day I posted a thought about the relationship between faith and works. I’ll repeat it again here:
It is one thing to say that the Bible teaches that justification is by faith alone or begins with faith and continues through works. And, it is quite another thing to say that a person must understand the relationship between faith and works in order to be justified. It seems that part of the reason the New Testament authors had to write to Christians about this relationship is that they didn’t all understand it.
This thought I think is fairly clear in today’s reading, which is from Romans 4.1-8:
Brothers and sisters***: What can we say that Abraham found, our ancestor according to the flesh? Indeed, if Abraham was justified on the basis of his works, he has reason to boast; but this was not so in the sight of God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. A worker’s wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due. But when one does not work, yet believes in the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. So also David declares the blessedness of the person to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven
and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record. (NAB)
The point should be clear here: Paul calls his audience “brothers and sisters” and then he proceeds to teach them about the relationship between faith and works. In other words, these people were brothers and sisters before they understood this relationship if they even came to understand it at all. One might forgive people for misunderstanding in our day and time granted how nuanced discussion of these matters are … This Greek word means this or that. This verb has such and such a tense (which is foreign to the native language of most readers). Yet God is going to judge people on whether or not people have a “proper” understanding of this? I think not.
*** Update – Actually, looked only at the lectionary and not at the text. The use of brothers and sisters actually is traced back to Romans 1.13. The lectionary includes at the beginning of each reading.