Rambling through Romans (22): 4:13-25
13 The promise to Abraham and to his descendants, that he would inherit the world, didn’t come through the Law but through the righteousness that comes from faith. 14 If they inherit because of the Law, then faith has no effect and the promise has been canceled. 15 The Law brings about wrath. But when there isn’t any law, there isn’t any violation of the law. 16 That’s why the inheritance comes through faith, so that it will be on the basis of God’s grace. In that way, the promise is secure for all of Abraham’s descendants, not just for those who are related by Law but also for those who are related by the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us. 17 As it is written: I have appointed you to be the father of many nations. So Abraham is our father in the eyes of God in whom he had faith, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence. 18 When it was beyond hope, he had faith in the hope that he would become the father of many nations, in keeping with the promise God spoke to him: That’s how many descendants you will have. 19 Without losing faith, Abraham, who was nearly 100 years old, took into account his own body, which was as good as dead, and Sarah’s womb, which was dead. 20 He didn’t hesitate with a lack of faith in God’s promise, but he grew strong in faith and gave glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. 22 Therefore, it was credited to him as righteousness.
Paul continues with the theme of faith as the mark of those whose belong to God. And he says some surprising things.
The first is that God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was that they would inherit the “world”! Not the land of Canaan but the world. How can he say this? Because the promised land was always a sign or pointer or parable signaling that what was in line for Israel in the land was the destiny of all people everywhere – the world. At Abraham’s point in the story, God promised him and his the land of Canaan; after the resurrection of Christ that “land” becomes the whole world where God’s people live in every corner and nook and cranny. And that, Paul insists in v.16, is why God’s people are now marked by faith and not Law, so that it can include all who trust in Jesus (vv.23-25).
The ecclesiology pictured here puts an end to all the nonsense about America as a “Christian” nation. What Paul teaches here is that God’s people as Israel (a geopolitical nation) has been fulfilled in the church (Jew + Gentile) as a transnational worldwide community with no boundaries to defend or national interests to pursue. The “world” is now our “place” and the well-being of the entire world community is our interest. There’s no such thing as a “Christian Nation”!
That’s why the tragedy of war is at root an ecclesiological heresy. Some of God’s people planning and implementing the death and destruction of others of God’s people is blasphemous! If the church would take this aspect of Paul’s teaching about the church seriously the face of the world would be changed forever!