Paul, Faith’s Obedience, and the Mission of God
Chris Wright answers the question, “How did Paul understand his own a missionary life and work? What was he trying to accomplish? What kept him going through all the battery and bruising (literally) of his missionary career?”
Here’s his response:
… Paul tells us [his answer] in a phrase that comes at the beginning and end of his greatest letter. His calling as an apostle was, he says, “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ's] name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5; repeated at 16:26 ESV)
Now that is an ambition that resonates with strong echoes of Abraham. For Abraham is the Old Testament character par excellence who was the model of faith and obedience – as Paul, James and the author of Hebrews all testify. And the horizon of “all the nations” goes back to God’s promise to Abraham that through him all the nations on earth will be blessed [Gen. 12].
So Paul is indicating, by this prominently placed phrase, that his lifetime’s service of the gospel was all about producing communities of Abraham look-alikes in all the nations, not just the nation physically descended from Abraham. In ambitious goal, for sure, but profoundly rooted in his reading of God’s mission as expressed in his promise to Abraham…
…Paul’s personal mission was to replicate Abrahamic faith and obedience among all nations, to bring about what God had originally promised Abraham. Paul’s theology of the gospel and his theology of mission are both Abrahamic. In Christ, the promise to Abraham is accomplished in principle, for salvation is now open to people of all nations. In mission, the promise to Abraham is worked out in the ongoing history of the church and its proclamation of the good news.
Thus, though we cannot now study the passages in detail, Paul’s argument from Romans 3:29 to the end of Romans 4, and even more so in Galatians 3, is not (as sometimes suggested) merely using Abraham as an illustration of his doctrine of justification by faith, but constitutes precisely his exposition of what that doctrine means. God has demonstrated his righteousness and his trustworthiness by keeping his promise to Abraham through providing, in Christ, the means by which people of all nations, not just Jews, can enter into the blessing of a right relationship with God by God’s grace through faith.
Paul’s doctrine of justification is essentially missional for it extends the blessing of the gospel, with no ethnic privileges or barriers, to all nations in principle, and therefore demands that it be extended to them in practice – that is, in the practice of evangelism, church planting and discipling communities who walk in “the obedience of faith” among the nations.
-Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, 63, 76