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A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #11 The Wrong Way for a Man to be Justified Romans 4:13-25

12 Jul

Abraham's Faith In God

(Romans 4:13-17 NIV) “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. {14} For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, {15} because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. {16} Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. {17} As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

To Abraham God made a very great and wonderful promise. He promised that he would become a great nation, and that in him all families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:2, 3). In truth, the earth would be given to him as his inheritance. Now that promise came to Abraham because of the faith that he showed towards God. It did not come because he piled up merit by doing works of the law.

It was the outgoing of God’s generous grace in answer to Abraham’s absolute faith. The promise, as Paul saw it, was dependent on two things and two things only-the free grace of God and the perfect faith of Abraham.

The Jews were still asking, “How can a man enter into the right relationship with God so that he too may inherit this great promise?” Their answer was, “He must do so by acquiring merit in the sight of God through doing works which the law prescribes.” That is to say, he must do it by his own efforts. Paul saw with absolute clearness that this Jewish attitude had completely destroyed the promise. It had done so for this reason-no man can fully keep the law; therefore, if the promise depends on keeping the law, it can never be fulfilled.

Paul saw things in terms of black and white. He saw two mutually exclusive ways of trying to get into a right relationship with God. On the one hand there was dependence on human effort; on the other, dependence on divine grace. On the one hand there was the constant losing battle to obey an impossible law; on the other, there was the faith which simply takes God at his word.

On each side there were three things.

(i) On the one side there is God’s promise. There are two Greek words which mean promise. Huposchesis means a promise which is entered into upon conditions. “I promise to do this if you promise to do that.” Epaggelia means a promise made out of the goodness of someone’s heart quite unconditionally. It is epaggelia that Paul uses of the promise of God. It is as if he is saying, “God is like a human father; he promises to love his children no matter what they do.” True, he will love some of us with a love that makes him glad, and he will love some of us with a love that makes him sad; but in either case it is a love which will never let us go. It is dependent not on our merit but only on God’s own generous heart.

(ii) There is faith. Faith is the certainty that God is indeed like that. It is staking everything on his love.

(iii) There is grace. A gift of grace is always something which is unearned and undeserved. The truth is that man can never earn the love of God. He must always find his glory, not in what he can do for God, but in what God has done for him.

(i) On the other side there is law. The trouble about law has always been that it can diagnose the malady but cannot effect a cure. Law shows a man where he goes wrong, but does not help him to avoid going wrong. There is in fact, as Paul will later stress, a kind of terrible paradox in law. It is human nature that when a thing is forbidden it has a tendency to become desirable. “Stolen fruits are sweetest.” Law, therefore, can actually move a man to desire the very thing which it forbids. The essential complement of law is judgment, and, so long as a man lives in a religion whose dominant thought is law, he cannot see himself as anything other than a condemned criminal at the bar of God’s justice.

(ii) There is transgression. Whenever law is introduced, transgression follows. No one can break a law which does not exist; and no one can be condemned for breaking a law of whose existence he was ignorant. If we introduce law and stop there, if we make religion solely a matter of obeying law, life consists of one long series of transgressions waiting to be punished.

(iii) There is wrath. Think of law, think of transgression, and inevitably the next thought is wrath. Think of God in terms of law and you cannot do other than think of him in terms of outraged justice. Think of man in terms of law and you cannot do other than think of him as destined for the condemnation of God.

So Paul sets before the Romans two ways. The one is a way in which a man seeks a right relationship with God through his own efforts. It is doomed to failure. The other is a way in which a man enters by faith into a relationship with God, which by God’s grace already exists for him to come into in trust.

(4:13-16) Introduction: a man is not justified by the law and its works. The law is the wrong way for a man to seek acceptance and justification by God.

  1. The unmistakable statement: the promise is not through the law, but through faith (v.13).
  2. The argument against the law (v.14-15).
  3. The argument for faith (v.16).

The key word here is “promise.” Abraham was justified by believing God’s promise, not by obeying God’s Law; for God’s Law through Moses had not yet been given. The promise to Abraham was given purely through God’s grace. Abraham did not earn it or merit it. So today, God justifies the ungodly because they believe His gracious promise, not because they obey His Law. The Law was not given to save men, but to show men that they need to be saved (Rom. 4:15).

The fact that Abraham was justified by grace and not Law proves that salvation is for all men. Abraham is the father of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7, 29). Instead of the Jew complaining because Abraham was not saved by Law, he ought to rejoice that God’s salvation is available to all men, and that Abraham has a spiritual family (all true believers) as well as a physical family (the nation of Israel). Paul saw this as a fulfillment of Genesis 17:5: “I have made thee a father of many nations.”

(4:13) Promise, The—Faith vs. Law—Righteousness—Reward: the unmistakable statement—the promise of the inheritance is not through the law, but through faith.

Note several things.

  1. The promise involves inheriting the whole world. This is clear from several facts.
  2. Canaan was the promised land, a type of heaven and a type of the new heavens and earth God is to recreate for Abraham and his seed (the believer).
  3. Abraham was promised that he would be the “father” of many nations. He is said to be the father of all believers from all nations of the earth (Romans 4:11-12). He and his seed (believers) are promised a new world when Christ returns.
  4. Christ is to inherit the world and be exalted as the Sovereign Majesty of the universe, ruling and reigning forever and ever.

Abraham and his seed (believers) are said to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. They shall all reign with Christ through all eternity.

  1. The “seed” of Abraham refers to all believers. This is clear from the promise that is said to be “sure to all the seed” (Romans 4:16). Every true believer is an heir of the promise. If a man believes, he receives the most glorious promise: he will inherit the world.
  2. God does not give the promise through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
  3. A man will not receive an inheritance in the new world because he…
  • tried to keep the law.
  • did some great works.
  • lived by good deeds.
  • was moral and very religious.
  1. A man will receive an inheritance in the new world because he…
  • believed God for righteousness, and God took his belief and counted it for righteousness.

The point is clearly seen, and it is unmistakable:

 (1) Salvation is not of works, and only by faith. It should be clear that man can contribute nothing to his salvation. It is all of God; all of grace. And let us not make one last effort of claiming any part in our salvation by supposing that faith is our work, for even this is the gift of God (cf. Eph. 2:8, 9; Acts 13:48, 16:14).

Only this week I talked with a man who felt that we must contribute something to our salvation. I told him that man’s sin is like having greasy hands. When I work on the car and have grease on my hands, everything I touch is stained with grease also. When I come in with greasy hands, my wife quickly informs me not to touch anything until my hands are clean. So man’s hands are smudged with sin and there is nothing but the blood of Christ which can cleanse them. If we try to approach God by means of the works of our hands, those works will be smudged with sin and unacceptable to God. We must do as the words of the song instruct us, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”

 (2) Faith is the only way of receiving God’s blessing. Paul not only tells us that salvation is by faith, but also God’s blessings come only by faith.

 THE ADVENTURE AND THE PATIENCE OF FAITH

Hebrews 11:8-10: “It was by faith that Abraham, when he was called, showed his obedience by going out to a place which he was going to receive as an inheritance, and he went out not knowing where he was to go. It was by faith that he sojourned in the land that had been promised to him, as though it had been a foreign land, living in tents, in the same way as did Isaac and Jacob, who were his coheirs in the promise of it. For he was waiting for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

The call of Abraham is told with dramatic simplicity in Genesis 12:1. Jewish and eastern legends gathered largely round Abraham’s name and some of them must have been known to the writer to the Hebrews.

The legends tell how Abraham was the son of Terah, commander of the armies of Nimrod. When Abraham was born a very vivid star appeared in the sky and seemed to obliterate the others. Nimrod sought to murder the infant but Abraham was concealed in a cave and his life saved. It was in that cave the first vision of God came to him. When he was a youth he came out of the cave and stood looking across the face of the desert. The sun rose in all its glory and Abraham said: “Surely the sun is God, the Creator!” So he knelt down and worshipped the sun. But when evening came, the sun sank in the west and Abraham said: “No! the author of creation cannot set!” The moon arose in the east and the stars came out. Then Abraham said: “The moon must be God and the stars his host!” So he knelt down and adored the moon. But after the night was passed, the moon sank and the sun rose again and Abraham said: “Truly these heavenly bodies are no gods, for they obey law; I will worship him who imposed the law upon them.”

The Arabs have a different legend. They tell how Abraham saw many flocks and herds and said to his mother: “Who is the lord of these?” She answered: “Your father, Terah.” “And who is the lord of Terah?” the lad Abraham asked. “Nimrod,” said his mother. “And who is the lord of Nimrod?” asked Abraham. His mother bade him be quiet and not push questions too far; but already Abraham’s thoughts were reaching out to him who is the God of all. The legends go on to tell that Terah not only worshipped twelve idols, one for each of the months, but was also a manufacturer of idols. One day Abraham was left in charge of the shop. People came in to buy idols. Abraham would ask them how old they were and they would answer perhaps fifty or sixty years of age. “Woe to a man of such an age,” said Abraham, “who adores the work of one day!” A strong and hale man of seventy came in. Abraham asked him his age and then said: “You fool to adore a god who is younger than yourself!” A woman came in with a dish of meat for the gods. Abraham took a stick and smashed all the idols but one, in whose hands he set the stick he had used. Terah returned and was angry. Abraham said: “My father, a woman brought this dish of meat for your gods; they all wanted to have it and the strongest knocked the heads off the rest, lest they should eat it all.” Terah said: “That is impossible for they are made of wood and stone.” And Abraham answered: “Let thine own ear hear what thine own mouth has spoken!”

All these legends give us a vivid picture of Abraham searching after God and dissatisfied with the idolatry of his people. So when God’s call came to him he was ready to go out into the unknown to find him! Abraham is the supreme example of faith.

(i) Abraham’s faith was the faith that was ready for adventure. God’s summons meant that he had to leave home and family and business; yet he went. He had to go out into the unknown; yet he went. In the best of us there is a certain timorousness. We wonder just what will happen to us if we take God at his word and act on his commands and promises.

Bishop Newbigin tells of the negotiations which led to the formation of the United Church of South India. He had a share in these negotiations and in the long discussions which were necessary. Things were frequently held up by cautious people who wished to know just where each step was taking them, until in the end the chairman reminded them that a Christian has no right to ask where he is going.

Most of us live a cautious life on the principle of safety first; but to live the Christian life there is necessary a certain reckless willingness to adventure. If faith can see every step of the way, it is not really faith. It is sometimes necessary for the Christian to take the way to which the voice of God is calling him without knowing what the consequences will be. Like Abraham he has to go out not knowing where he is going.

(iii) Abraham’s faith was the faith which had patience. When he reached the promised land, he was never allowed to possess it. He had to wander in it, a stranger and a tent-dweller, as the people were some day to wander in the wilderness. To Abraham God’s promise never came fully true; and yet he never abandoned his faith.

It is characteristic of the best of us that we are in a hurry. To wait is even harder than to adventure. The hardest time of all is the time in between. At the moment of decision there is the excitement and the thrill; at the moment of achievement there is the glow and glory of satisfaction; but in the intervening time there is necessary the ability to wait and work and watch when nothing seems to be happening. It is then that we are so liable to give up our hopes and lower our ideals and sink into an apathy whose dreams are dead. The man of faith is the man whose hope is flaming bright and whose effort is intensely strenuous even in the grey days when there is nothing to do but to wait.

(iii) Abraham’s faith was the faith which was looking beyond this world. The later legends believed that at the moment of his call Abraham was given a glimpse of the new Jerusalem. In the Apocalypse of Baruch God says: “I showed it to my servant by night” (4:4). In 4 Ezra the writer says: “It came to pass when they practised ungodliness before thee, that thou didst choose one from among them whose name was Abraham; him thou didst love and to him only thou didst reveal the end of the times, secretly, by night” (4:13). No man ever did anything great without a vision which enabled him to face the difficulties and discouragements of the way. To Abraham there was given the vision; and, even when his body was wandering in Palestine, his soul was at home with God. God cannot give us the vision unless we permit him; but if we wait upon him, even in earth’s desert places he will send us the vision and with it the toil and trouble of the way become all worth while.

 BELIEVING THE INCREDIBLE

Hebrews 11:11, 12: “It was by faith that Sarah, too, received power to conceive and to bear a son, although she was beyond the age for it, for she believed that he who gave the promise could be absolutely relied upon. So from one man, and he a man whose body had lost its vitality, there were born descendants, as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, as countless as the sand upon the seashore.”

The story of the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah is told in Genesis 17:15-22; 18:9-15; 21:1-8. Its wonder is that both Abraham and Sarah were ninety years old, long past the age of begetting or bearing a child; and yet, according to the old story, that promise was made and came true.

The reaction of Abraham and Sarah to the promise of God followed a threefold course.

(i) It began with sheer incredulousness. When Abraham heard the promise he fell upon his face and laughed (Genesis 17:17). When Sarah heard it she laughed within herself (Genesis 18:12). On first hearing of the promises of God, the human reaction often is that this is far too good to be true.

“How thou canst think so well of us, And be the God thou art,

Is darkness to my intellect, But sunshine to my heart.”

There is no mystery in all creation like the love of God. That he should love men and suffer and die for them is something that staggers us into sheer incredulity. That is why the Christian message is the gospel, good news; it is news so good that it is almost impossible to believe it true.

(ii) It passed into dawning realization. After the incredulity came the dawning realization that this was God who was speaking; and God cannot lie. The Jews used to lay it down as a primary law for a teacher that he must never promise his pupils what he was unwilling or unable to perform; to do so would be to accustom the pupils thus early to the broken word. When we remember that the one who makes the promise is God, there comes the realization that however astonishing that promise may be, it must none the less be true.

(iii) It culminated in the ability to believe in the impossible. That Abraham and Sarah should have a child, humanly speaking, was impossible. As Sarah said: “Who would have said that Sarah would suckle children?” (Genesis 21:7). But, by the grace and the power of God, the impossible became true. There is something here to challenge and uplift the heart of every man. Cavour said that the first essential of a statesman is “the sense of the possible.” When we listen to men planning and arguing and thinking aloud, we get the impression of a vast number of things in this world which are known to be desirable but dismissed as impossible. Men spend the greater part of their lives putting limitations on the power of God. Faith is the ability to lay hold on that grace which is sufficient for all things in such a way that the things which are humanly impossible become divinely possible. With God all things are possible, and, therefore, the word impossible has no place in the vocabulary of the Christian and of the Christian Church.

 SOJOURNERS AND STRANGERS

Hebrews 11:13-16: “All these died without obtaining possession of the promises. They only saw them from far away and greeted them from afar, and they admitted that they were strangers and sojourners upon the earth. Now people who speak like that make it quite clear that they are searching for a fatherland. If they were thinking of the land from which they had come out, they would have had time to return. In point of fact they were reaching out after something better, I mean, the heavenly country. It was because of that that God was not ashamed to be called their God, for he had prepared a city for them.”

None of the patriarchs entered into the full possession of the promises that God had made to Abraham. To the end of their days they were nomads, never living a settled life in a settled land. They had to be for ever moving on. Certain great permanent truths emerge from them.

(i) They lived for ever as strangers. The writer to the Hebrews uses three vivid Greek words about them.

(a) In 11:13 he calls them xenoi. Xenos is the word for a stranger and a foreigner. In the ancient world the fate of the stranger was hard. He was regarded with hatred and suspicion and contempt. In Sparta xenos was the equivalent of barbaros, barbarian. A man writes complaining that he was despised “because I am a xenos“. Another man write that, however poor a home is, it is better to live at home than epi xenes, in a foreign country. When clubs had their common meal, those who sat down to it were divided into members and xenoi. Xenos can even mean a refugee. All their lives the patriarchs were foreigners in a land that never was their own.

(b) In 11:9 he uses the word paroikein, to sojourn, of Abraham. A paroikos was a resident alien. The word is used of the Jews when they were captives in Babylon and in Egypt. A paroikos was not very much above a slave in the social scale. He had to pay an alien tax. He was always an outsider and only on payment a member of the community.

(c) In 11:13 he uses the word parepidemos. A parepidemos was a person who was staying there temporarily and who had his permanent home somewhere else. Sometimes his stay was strictly limited. A parepidemos was a man in lodgings, a man without a home in the place where life had sent him. All their lives the patriarchs were men who had no settled place that they could call home. It is to be noted that to dwell in a foreign land was a humiliating thing in ancient days; to the foreigner in any country a certain stigma attached. In the Letter of Aristeas the writer says: “It is a fine thing to live and to die in one’s native land; a foreign land brings contempt to poor men and shame to rich men, for there is the lurking suspicion that they have been exiled for the evil they have done.”

At any time it is an unhappy thing to be a stranger in a strange land, but in ancient days to this natural unhappiness there was added the bitterness of humiliation.

All their days the patriarchs were strangers in a strange land. That picture of the sojourner became a picture of the Christian life. Tertullian said of the Christian: “He knows that on earth he has a pilgrimage but that his dignity is in heaven.” Clement of Alexandria said: “We have no fatherland on earth.” Augustine said: “We are sojourners exiled from our fatherland.” It was not that the Christians were foolishly other-worldly, detaching themselves from the life and work of this world; but they always remembered that they were people on the way. There is an unwritten saying of Jesus: “The world is a bridge. The wise man will pass over it but will not build his house upon it.” The Christian regards himself as the pilgrim of eternity.

(ii) In spite of everything these men never lost their vision and their hope. However long that hope might be in coming true, its light always shone in their eyes. However long the way might be, they never stopped tramping along it. Robert Louis Stevenson said: “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” They never wearily gave up the journey; they lived in hope and died in expectation.

(iii) In spite of everything they never wished to go back. Their descendants, when they were in the desert, often wished to go back to the fleshpots of Egypt. But not the patriarchs. They had begun and it never struck them to turn back. In flying there is what is called the point of no return. When the aero-plane has reached that point it cannot go back. Its petrol supply has reached such a level that there is nothing left but to go on One of the tragedies of life is the number of people who turn back just a little too soon. One further effort, a little more waiting, a little more hoping, would make a dream come true. Immediately a Christian has set out on some enterprise sent him by God, he should feel that he has already passed the point of no return.

(iv) These men were able to go on because they were haunted by the things beyond. The man with the wanderlust is lured on by the thought of the countries he has never yet seen. The great artist or composer is driven by the thought of the performance he has never yet given and the wonder he has never yet produced. Stevenson tells of an old byreman who spent all his days amidst the muck of the byre. Someone asked him if he never got tired of it all. He answered: “He that has something ayont (beyond) need never weary.” These men had the something beyond-and so may we.

(v) Because these men were what they were, God was not ashamed to be called their God. Above all things, he is the God of the gallant adventurer. He loves the man who is ready to venture for his name. The prudent, comfort-loving man is the very opposite of God. The man who goes out into the unknown and keeps going on will in the end arrive at God.

(4:14-15) Law—Faith vs. the Law: the argument against the law. The promise of the inheritance does not come through the law.

Three facts about the law show this.

  1. Law voids faith; it erases any hope of ever receiving the promise. The reason can be simply stated: law demands perfection; law insists that it be obeyed. Law cries out, “violate and break me and you become guilty and condemned and are to be punished.”

No man can live perfectly righteous before God; no man can keep from coming short and breaking the law of God at some point. Therefore every man is a lawbreaker, imperfect and short of God’s glory, and is to be condemned and punished.

  1. If the promise of God’s inheritance is by law, then no man shall inherit the promise, for the promise is given only to the righteous; and no man is perfectly righteous. This, of course, means something. If the promise is by law, then no man has hope of ever receiving the promise, for he does not and cannot keep the law. The law erases the promise, makes it of no effect or value whatsoever.
  2. If the promise of God’s inheritance is by law, then faith is voided and has absolutely nothing to do with securing the promise. A man would have to keep his mind and eyes, and most tragic of all, his heart upon the law, for it would be the law that would determine whether or not the man received the promise. Faith would not be entering the picture; it would be voided, irrelevent, having nothing to with receiving the promise.
  3. This point is often overlooked. If the promise of God’s inheritance comes by the law, then receiving the promise would have nothing to do with faith, nothing to do with…
  • trusting the love of God.
  • learning and knowing the love of God.
  • focusing one’s mind and thoughts upon God.
  • knowing God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If God accepted us and gave us the promise of inheritance because we kept the law, then we would have to focus our lives upon the law. Believing and loving God and knowing God’s Son would have nothing to do with our salvation. The law would force us to seek God by keeping the law. Faith would have nothing to do with the promise. The law would void faith and make useless and ineffective the love of God and the Son of God.

  1. Law works wrath in three terrible ways.
  2. Law shouts out at a man, “Break me and you become guilty, condemned, and are to be punished.” Such is antagonistic and stirs and aggravates anger and wrath. When God is seen as a legalistic Person who hovers over us, watching every move we make, there is a tendency to view God as stringent, demanding, condemnatory, upset, angry, vengeful and full of wrath against us. Why? Because we fail and come short ever so often. Therefore if God is legalistic, then He is hovering over us, and not a single one of us is going to inherit the promise. We are guilty and to be judged, and we are not going to be rewarded with an inheritance. Therefore, law works wrath between God and man; it keeps a man from being acceptable to God and from ever receiving the promise of God.
  3. Law works wrath in that it keeps a man tied up in knots, under pressure and tension, and in a strain. The man who works to do the law struggles to do the right thing and guards against doing the wrong thing. He fights to avoid all the evil he can, wondering and worrying if he is ever doing enough to be acceptable to God.

Such a life is not full of love and joy and peace. There is no sense of purpose, meaning, and signifi-cance, no sense of completeness and fulfillment. Such a life is filled with uneasiness and turmoil, uncertainty and insecurity. Such a life of legalism works wrath: it keeps tension between God and man and establishes and builds a strained and uneasy relationship.

  1. Law works wrath in that it causes a man to focus his life upon the law and not upon God. His mind and attention and thoughts are…
  • upon keeping the rules, not upon trusting God.
  • upon watching where he steps, not upon drawing near God.
  • upon avoiding errors, not upon learning the truth of God.
  • upon observing certain rituals, not upon fellowshipping with God.
  • upon practicing religion, not upon worshipping God.
  1. Law means transgression. There are three reasons for this.
  2. If no law exists, there is no law to break; therefore, there is no transgression. But if there is a law, then breaking the law begins to exist; transgression becomes a reality, a living fact. Where there is no law, there is no transgression; where there is law, there is transgression. The point is this: the man who seeks God’s acceptance by keeping the law lives in a world of transgression, of breaking the law and coming short of God’s glory. The law means transgression, that a man fails and comes short of God’s acceptance; therefore, it means that the legalist is guilty and condemned and is not to receive the promise of God.
  3. When a law exists, there is an urge within man to stretch it to its limits and to break it. This is one of the paradoxes of human nature. Man has that within himself, an unregulated urge.

When a law exists, it tells a man he can go this far and no farther. He must not go beyond this limit or he becomes a lawbreaker, a transgressor (cp. a speed sign). The law actually pulls a man to go that far. It is within his nature to go to the limit, to do as much as he can. The urge within his nature even stirs him to stretch the law and to go beyond its limits.

When the law exists, there is transgression. Every man becomes guilty and is to be condemned and punished, not rewarded with the promise.

  1. When a law exists, it becomes an accuser, an antagonist. It shouts, “Break me and you become a law-breaker and are to be condemned and punished.” Now note: the law has no power to keep a person from transgressing; it can only shout: “Transgression!” The law is…
  • not a power to save, but a rule to control and condemn.
  • not a savior, but a judge.
  • This is the very problem with the law.
  • It can only accuse; it cannot deliver.
  • It can only point out sin; it cannot save from sin.
  • It can only show a man where he failed; it cannot show him how to keep from failing.
  • It can only condemn; it has no power to free.

The man who tries to live by law is left hopeless and helpless, for he transgresses and becomes a lawbreaker. He is to be condemned, never receiving the inheritance of God’s promise.

(4:16) Faith—Promise—Grace: the argument for faith. The promise of the inheritance comes through faith.

Three facts about faith show this.

  1. Faith brings grace. Grace (charis) means a gift, a free gift, a gift given without expecting anything in return. It means favor, approval, acceptance, goodwill, assistance, help, kindness—all freely given and given without expecting anything in return.

Now, who is the Savior, the Deliverer, the Subject who deserves the praise and the honor and the glory? The answer is obvious: God. God is the center of the picture. This is the very reason salvation and all its promises are by grace through faith. Grace puts God in the center. And when a man makes God the center of his life, casting himself completely upon God and putting all his faith and trust in God, God is bound to hear and answer the man. Why? Because the man is honoring God completely, and the man who honors God is always acceptable and heard by God.

Now note: when a man really believes God, his faith brings the grace of God to him. It causes him to focus upon God, to center his life upon the love of God, to see the presence of God, to secure the fellowship and companionship of God, to know the love, joy, peace, care and concern of God. Simply stated, it causes a man to seek a personal relationship with God, a relationship of trust and dependence. Such is the life of grace, the grace that is given to man by faith. It is faith that honors and praises and glorifies God, and because it does, it brings the grace of God to man.

  1. Faith makes the promise sure. This is seen in the above point. When God is honored and made the center and focus of one’s life and trust, that person can rest assured God will accept him and give him the promise of the inheritance. That man will inherit the earth.
  2. Faith assures that the promise is for everyone, that it is available to all. The promise is not given to an exclusive club of people, to an exclusive nation or race or class of people. The promise is given to all, to every person on earth. If the promise was by law, then it would be only for those who have the law and are able to keep the law. What then would happen to the heathen who do not have the law and to the handicapped who are unable to do some of the things the law commands? They could never be saved if the promise came by the law. However, when the promise is given by the grace of God through faith, no man is exempt from the inheritance. Every man can be saved and inherit the promise of eternal life in the new heavens and earth, for every man can believe and trust God (the very thing that even a human father wants of his children).

 Believing in the God who Makes Impossible Possible

Romans 4:18-25: “In hope Abraham believed beyond hope that he would become the father of many nations, as the saying had it, “So will be your seed.? He did not weaken in his faith, although he was well aware that by this time his body had lost its vitality (for he was a hundred years old), and that the womb of Sarah was without life. He did not in unfaith waver at the promise of God, but he was revitalized by his faith, and he gave glory to God, and he was firmly convinced that he who had made the promise was also able to perform it. So this faith was accounted to him as righteousness. It was not only for his sake this “it was accounted to him for righteousness” was written. It was written also for our sakes; for it will be so reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead, who was delivered up for our sin and raised to bring us into a right relationship with God.”

 (Romans 4:18-25 NIV) “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” {19} Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. {20} Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, {21} being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. {22} This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” {23} The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, {24} but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. {25} He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

The last passage ended by saying that Abraham believed in the God who calls the dead into life and who brings into being even things which have no existence at all. This passage turns Paul’s thoughts to another outstanding example of Abraham’s willingness to take God at his word. The promise that all families of the earth would be blessed in his descendants was given to Abraham when he was an old man. His wife, Sarah, had always been childless; and now, when he was one hundred years old and she was ninety (Genesis 17:17), there came the promise that a son would be born to them.

It seemed, on the face of it, beyond all belief and beyond all hope of fulfilment, for he was long past the age of begetting and she long past the age of bearing a son. Yet, once again, Abraham took God at his word and once again it was this faith that was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.

It was this willingness to take God at his word which put Abraham into a right relationship with him. Now the Jewish Rabbis had a saying to which Paul here refers. They said, “What is written of Abraham is written also of his children.” They meant that any promise that God made to Abraham extends to his children also.

Therefore, if Abraham’s willingness to take God at his word brought him into a right relationship with God, so it will be with us. It is not works of the law, it is this trusting faith which establishes the relationship between God and a man which ought to exist.

The essence of Abraham’s faith in this case was that he believed that God could make the impossible possible. So long as we believe that everything depends on our efforts, we are bound to be pessimists, for experience has taught the grim lesson that our own efforts can achieve very little. When we realize that it is not our effort but God’s grace and power which matter, then we become optimists, because we are bound to believe that with God nothing is impossible.

(4:18-22) Faith—Abraham: the strength of Abraham’s faith. Note two very significant lessons.

  1. Abraham’s faith was in what God said, the promise of a seed or of a son. He had nothing else to go on but God’s Word: “that which was spoken.”

The phrase “against hope believed in hope” means that Abraham was past hope, beyond all human help and any possibility of having a son. His situation was beyond hope, yet he believed God; he placed his hope in God and in what God had said.

  1. Abraham was not weak in faith despite thinking about his own physical inability. His body was “now dead”; he and Sarah were about one hundred years old. The word “dead” is a perfect participle in the Greek which means that his reproductive organs had stopped functioning and were dead forever and could never again function. Abraham could never have a son; it was not humanly possible. He and Sarah were almost one hundred years old, now sexually “dead.”

Abraham thought about the matter. The word “considered” (katanoeo) means He fixed his thoughts, his mind, his attention upon the matter. But he did not give in to the thoughts. He was not weak in faith.

Just imagine the personal relationship Abraham must have had with God! To know God so well—loving and trusting God so strongly—that God could give him an experience so meaningful that Abraham would believe the promise without even staggering in faith.

  1. Abraham was strong in faith—not staggering at the promise of God. Instead he walked about glorifying and praising God for His glorious promise. The word “staggered” (diakrino) means he did not waiver, did not vacillate, did not question God’s ability to fulfill His promise.
  2. Abraham was fully convinced of God’s ability and God’s power. He knew God could overcome the difficulty of his body being “dead,” and he believed God could and would either…
  • quicken his body, or
  • recreate his reproductive organs (Romans 4:17).

He did not know what method God would use, but he knew God was able to do what He had promised. Abraham believed God; He was fully persuaded that the promise would be fulfilled.

  1. Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness.

(4:23-25) Faith—Abraham: the recording of Abraham’s faith is for two purposes.

  1. That men might read the account. It was not recorded just to honor Abraham as a great man. It was written so that we might read and understand how we are to become acceptable to God.
  2. That men might be counted righteous by believing. It is necessary to believe two things.
  3. That God raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
  4. That Jesus died for our sins and was raised again for our justification.
 
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Posted by on July 12, 2021 in Romans

 

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