When we read the letters of Paul, we must allow ourselves to do some from a viewpoint with which we are successfully and helpfully resisting any ingrained tendencies to equate circumcision and its associated works of the law with the completely Scripturally irrelevant paradigm of performing good works as the means of entrance upon God’s covenant and a membership standing among God’s kingdom people that have been called together (elected) for His kingdom purposes. Similarly, we must also reach the point at which we no longer think of justification (salvation) in terms of the promise of a heavenly existence once death comes a-calling, but in Hebraic terms of covenant, exodus, exile, restoration, re-creation, and God’s meta-narrative of concern for His created order and the divine image-bearers that He formed to inhabit it that encompasses the entire arc of Scripture. It is hyper-necessary to incessantly militate against mindsets and worldviews that would have had no place in the mind of Jesus, or for our more immediate purposes, the mind of Paul.
These ideas form a useful and important part of our hermeneutic, as we constantly seek to come to terms with the scope of Paul’s own hermeneutic and vision of the kingdom of God as presented in Romans. Paul’s thought-world, when it comes to the movement and goal of his letter to Rome, is dramatically revealed with his statement in chapter ten of Romans that “the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame’” (10:11), thus approaching the issue of justification from a slightly different direction that takes in the overt New Testament justification texts (Romans 3, Galatians 2) while also calling attention to the Abrahamic covenant-rooted issue of participation in the covenant people of God and the inclusion of Gentiles in the mission of God as part of God’s plan to accomplish that which He has purposed from the time of the establishment of His cosmic Temple (creation and the creation account). With that hermeneutical mindset understood, we are able to proceed to the twenty-third and twenty-fourth verses of chapter four and hear “But the statement it was credited to him was not written only for Abraham’s sake, but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:23-24).
This statement is jam-packed with weighty statements that touch upon a number of ideas that are at work. We must bear in mind that a large part of Paul’s concern in Romans (and other letters) is Gentile justification and the covenant marker that indicates their justification that is the counterpart of the new age of the new creation that dawned with the Resurrection of Jesus. That which was credited to Abraham, of course, was righteousness. Abraham came into covenant with God. Naturally, any writing about this was not done for the benefit of Abraham. He did not need to read about it. He lived it. The Abraham story is included in the narrative tale of God’s people and God’s purposes, specifically constructed to demonstrate that belief in the God of the covenant is paramount, with specific covenant reminders tacked on at a later point in the story so as to serve as reminders of the faithful God and the believing response to that faithful God that produced loyal actions post-covenant (as if the entirety of the creation, generated at the hand and command of that same God, at least according to the story on offer in the first two chapters of Genesis, is not enough to serve as a reminder of that faithfulness---a point that Paul raises in the first chapter of Romans).
Paul’s use of “for our sake” gains prominence as part of his ongoing efforts to identify himself with Gentiles and his efforts to downplay his Jewish status. He continues to place all those that are believers in the covenant God on the same level, insisting that the same righteousness (justification, covenant membership, part of salvation, as we seek specificity in our conception of salvation as an ongoing experience of living under the covenant and participating with God in such a way that generates the overlap of heaven and earth through our conscious, kingdom cognizant activities) that was credited to Abraham will also be credited to those that do what Abraham did, which is believe in God. This God, of course, is the one that raised Jesus from the dead, thus reminding his hearers that the Resurrection can never, and should never be too far from the thoughts of the covenant community, as it is the basis for the widening out and advent of God’s mission to defeat death and bring resurrection and restoration to His creation, and for the “all-peoples” participation in the covenant. To that point specifically, Paul writes “He was given over because of our transgressions,” our failures to live as truly human beings in the image of our Creator (falling short of the glory of God), “and was raised for the sake of our justification” (4:25). Justification, as it goes out to all nations, cannot be disconnected from the Resurrection.
In addition, the fact that in his statement about believing in the same God in whom Abraham believed, while mentioning His raising of Jesus (the basis for justification and an implicit reminder of the veritable resurrection of Isaac), he makes it a point to refer to Jesus as Lord, thus referencing Him as King (and what King lacks a kingdom?), does not go unnoticed. In Jesus, God has become King. Heaven and earth have come together in Him (He is the Temple and so too are those who are filled with the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead, as evidenced by claiming Jesus as Messiah and Lord of all against all reasonable evidence to the contrary, i.e. the crucifixion ). The fact of His kingship and His kingdom is determinative for how covenant members will engage in, with, and for the world in which He is King. We cannot allow justification to be separated from such considerations. These concerns are not additions, but are fundamental.