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To go to the last study (#7), click here..
To go to the next study (#9), click here..
To watch the entire series on YouTube, click here...
So in the section we’ve already covered, Paul explains to us that Abraham was not saved by his works, nor by circumcision, but by faith alone. In verses 13-15, he goes on to explain that Abraham was not saved by keeping the law.
I believe it would be beneficial to us to read from a similar teaching Paul had written to the churches in Galatia years before. Let’s read Gal. 3:16-19.
There are a lot of things we could talk about in this section, but I mainly wanted us to read this to note that Paul brings out to the Galatians what every good Jew would have already known...that the law was not given for many centuries after Abraham. Therefore, the idea that Abraham was justified by law keeping was untenable. We talked last week about how many Jewish teacher’s of Paul’s day believed that Abraham was justified by works. Paul refutes that argument in the first part of Romans 4. Many of them also believed (believe it or not!) that Abraham was justified by law keeping...even though the law would not be given for centuries!
Ancient passages from the rabbis say:
“We find that Abraham our father had performed the whole Law before it was given…” They argued that he kept the law long before it was given...by intuition. Paul refutes this idea both in Galatians and in Romans 4.
In verse 13, Paul identifies God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 15 (which we read last week) as “the promise.” This promise was given to Abraham as he was told to look up at the stars and count them…”if you are able to count them,” God said. “So shall your descendants be.” In Romans 4, Paul describes this promise in all it’s vastness...that he should be the heir of the world. In a sense, this might be a restatement of what God had told Abraham years earlier that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3) In Psalm 37, David would tells us that “those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land (vs. 9) and “...those blessed by Him will inherit the land…” Jesus would rephrase this in Sermon on the Mount in saying “Blessed are the meek (or gentle), for they will inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5)
Paul in vs. 13 says that this promise was not through law but through “the righteousness of faith.” In vs. 14 he argues that if those who keep the law are the heirs of this promise, then “faith is made void and the promise is of no effect (KJV) or nullified.” The law of Moses and the promise God made to Abraham were at odds with each other. As we already read in Galatians, “For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise.” It is one or the other...it can’t be both.
“”Law and promise belong to different categories of thought, which are incompatible. Law-language (‘you shall’) demands our obedience, but promise-language (‘I will’) demands our faith.What God said to Abraham was not ‘Obey this law and I will bless you’, but ‘I will bless you; believe my promise’.” John Stott
In verse 15, Paul gives a reason for this…”for the Law brings about wrath (or judgement), but where there is no law, there also is no violation (or transgression).” This is not saying that where there is no law, there is no sin. Remember, Paul has already brought out the point in chapter 3 that the law was to give knowledge of sin, not to save us from sin. This is saying that you can’t break a law that hasn’t been given yet. If there was no law that says you can’t murder someone, murderers would not be violators of the law, but that is hardly the same thing as saying that murder is not wrong.
We actually have had this sort of thing happen in our society often. Slavery was allowed in our country before the Civil War. There was no law against it in many southern states. It would have been impossible to arrest a slave-owner for owning slaves before a law was passed making this a crime. Does that mean that it was right to own slaves before then? Of course not! More recently, in the south segregation was practiced. Separate drinking fountains between blacks and whites, separate schools, even separate places on busses. No one could be arrested for this because there was no law against segregation. (In fact, the law was written for segregation!) Once a law was written, in was now “against the law.” Yet, there was always something wrong about it.
In verse 16, Paul begins to pull together everything from the previous 15 verses. (“For this reason” is usually translated “therefore.” I think this makes more sense.) The first part of this verse in Amplified Version reads:
“Therefore, [inheriting] the promise depends entirely on faith [that is, confident trust in the unseen God], in order that it may be given as an act of grace [His unmerited favor and mercy],”
So the promise is given by grace and received by faith. “Grace gives and faith takes.” Paul would say much the same thing in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (NKJV)
Paul says that this salvation is the gift of God, not of works. In Romans 4:16, he says that this was so that it might be sure or guaranteed to all the seed, or all the descendants, not only the physical descendants of Abraham, but the spiritual descendants of Abraham, that is, those who have the same kind of faith that Abraham had. Abraham, he says, is the father of us all, not only Jews but Gentile believers as well! Paul is saying to us that when we believe God, we have a guaranteed promise from God that we will inherit all things, including eternal life. It is not based on lineage, not on pedigree, not on law-keeping, not on circumcision. It is based on God and His gracious provision. It is guaranteed because it is all based on God! This promise is as trustworthy as God Himself! When we simply receive this promise, we never have to doubt anymore. It is “sure to all the seed.” In the first part of verse 17, Paul bases this “father of us all statement” on the scripture in Genesis 17:5 where God said “A father of many nations have I made you.”
This verse really begins a turning point in Paul’s argument. From here on out, it seems that he is talking not only of Abraham’s initial faith in Gen. 15, where God gives him this promise, but now he is also bringing in Abraham’s more developed faith in Gen. 17, which occurs about 14 years later, when he is 99. Let’s go back and read this account.
Read Gen 17:1-7
So now, after 14 years, Abraham (who up until this time is actually called “Abram” or “Father”) has still yet to receive the promised seed, which was promised to him and Sarah first in Gen. 12 (when he was 75 and she was 65) and then in Gen. 15 (when he was 85 and she was 75). Let’s notice that in Gen. 12, all that Abraham was required to do is believe. Here is required to believe and obey. I think this is often overlooked. The promise was not conditional on Abraham’s obedience, but on his faith. Yet this certainly did not mean that God did not require obedience from Abraham. God absolutely expected obedience from Abraham. But it was not obedience to law, but it was obedience that was born out of faith. Because you believe me, God is saying to Abraham, “I expect that belief to produce a blameless walk before Me. Because of my relationship with you, Abraham, your seed will be multiplied exceedingly. My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations.”
This is where God changes his name from “Abram” (father) to “Abraham” (father of many). It was at this time also that God gave Abraham and his seed the covenant of circumcision, which Paul has already said in Romans 4, was a seal of Abraham’s faith. In the same way, our obedience to God is what identifies us as bearers of Abraham’s faith. Obedience is the fruit of faith. When we see fruit on a tree or on a vine, we now know that life is there...and we even know what kind of life by the fruit. If it’s apples, it must be an apple tree!
Back in Romans 4:17, Paul identifies this God who made Abram into Abraham “father of many”as the God who “gives life to the dead” (resurrection) and “calls into being that which does not exist” (creation). Both of these things are not natural, but supernatural. Abraham believed in a God who would give him descendents supernaturally.
In verse 18, it says that Abraham “against hope believed in hope.” (KJV). In other words, when there was no human reason to hope that the promise would be fulfilled (he was, after all, 99 and Sarah was 89, right?), he still believed the promise. He “hoped against hope.”(actually, this phrase had its origin in this verse) This doesn’t mean that he had a mere wish.
To get the idea of what this hope involved, let’s go ahead and re-read 18-22.
Listen to what John Stott says about this section:
This firm conviction about the power of God was what enabled Abraham to believe, both against all hope and in hope at the same time, when God promised him that his descendants would be as many as the stars, although at that time he and Sarah did not have even a single child... It is not that he ran away from the realities of his situation into a world of fantasy. On the contrary, without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact, indeed the two painful, stubborn facts, that he could not beget a child and that Sarah could not conceive one. For the facts were that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead Yet out of that double death God brought a new life. It was at one and the same time an act of creation and of resurrection. For this is the kind of God Abraham believed in.
When you see the word “hope”, think “earnest expectation.” Abraham expected God to fulfill His promise, though there was no earthly reason to think for. His hope was grounded in his view of God, not in his view of man.
It is amazing to me that our text says that Abraham “did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith.” Did Paul not know what happened between chapters 15 and 17? Let me give you a hint...his name was Ishmael! Abraham took matters into his own hands, according to the custom of the day, and fathered a child by Sarah’s handmaid. God would explain to Abraham later in chapter 17 that the promised seed would not come through Ishmael but through another child yet to be born, not through Sarah’s handmaid but through Sarah herself...and God even told him what the son’s name was to be...Isaac. This tells me that we can make many mistakes and, in God’s eyes, still be considered strong in faith. Isn’t that comforting! You see, I believe that Abraham’s siring of Ishmael was a mistake. It was not God’s perfect will...but it was an honest mistake. I honestly believe that Abraham believed that he was carrying out God’s promise in producing Ishamel, but of course he was wrong. God actually told Abraham that he would bless Ishmael and would make him a great nation. If the covenant which God had made with Abraham was based on Abraham’s works, it would have been negated right there. No, it was based on God’s works and God’s faithfulness.
In the end, Abraham grew strong in faith, believing that what God had promised, he was able also to perform.
As we look at Abraham as “the father of us all”, his faith gives us a good idea about what real faith really is.
Abraham did not just believe that God exists. Hebrews 11:6 says that “he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Abraham believed the actual promise of God. His faith was not a dead faith but a living, active faith.
Abraham’s faith was a continuing faith. It wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime faith. The faith that is taught today is often built around a one-time confession. Some teach that once you make that confession, you’re in. If it’s not continuing faith, it’s really no faith at all.
Abraham’s faith was a growing faith. He “grew strong in faith.”
Abraham’s faith was an unwavering faith. “He did not waver in faith.” Though he made mistakes, he never doubted God’s promise.
Abraham’s faith was an obedient faith. God told Abraham to walk before Him and to be blameless.
Abraham’s faith was a tested faith. Even to the point, in the end, of being willing to offer up his son on the altar. (Gen. 21) Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us this…
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
Abraham’s faith is the model for our faith. Abraham’s faith is true, saving faith.
It was there on Mt. Moriah that Abraham demonstrated the culmination of a lifetime of faith. There, even more than any other time in his life, he demonstrated his belief that “what God had promised, He was able also to perform. And it was there that we have a picture of one who was greater than Abraham. Abraham’s son Isaac was figurative raised from the dead. God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, was literally raised from the dead. God the Father slayed His only Son on the cross.
Let’s re-read the final three verses of Romans 4.
When we believe in Him who was delivered because of our transgressions, and raised because of our justification, when our faith in Jesus Christ is real like Abraham’s faith in God the father is real, our faith in credited to us as righteousness. That is real, abiding faith.