Justification by Faith Alone Illustrated Part 3 – Romans 4:17-25
Pastor Mark Hardy April 22, 2012
Dr. A. J. Gordon, the famous 19th century pastor, author, and founder of Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, was traveling on a train one day and engaged in a spirited conversation with a fellow passenger on the subject of “Faith.” “I differ with you,” said the man, “in that any person is admitted to Heaven because of a little bit of theological scrip called ‘Faith.’ I believe that when God receives one into Heaven He makes a searching inquiry as to his character rather than inspection of his faith.” Just then the conductor came along and examined the tickets. When he passed, Dr. Gordon said, “Did you notice how a conductor just looked at the ticket and took no pains to inspect the passenger? A railway ticket, if genuine, certifies that the person presenting it has complied with the company’s conditions and is entitled to transportation. So ‘faith alone,’ my friend, from God entitles one to that saving grace which produces a character well pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6).”
Because of peoples sinfulness and their total inability to live up to God’s standard of perfection, salvation can only be by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And since a person can only become a spiritual child of Abraham by having the same kind of faith that he had, it is crucial that we understand what his faith was like. This is what the apostle Paul shows us as we conclude our study of Romans 4 this morning.
In Romans 4:1-25 we see six truths about justification by faith alone as illustrated primarily from the life of Abraham that contain valuable lessons for us today. Thus far we have seen the first four truths:
1) Abraham was justified by faith alone (vv. 1-5)
2) David’s testimony confirms justification by faith (vv. 6-8).
3) Abraham was justified before his circumcision (vv. 9-12)
4) Abraham wasn’t justified by the Law (vv. 13-16)
This morning we will discuss the last two truths. The fifth truth about justification by faith alone in this:
V. Characteristics of Faith modeled by Abraham
A. Having already seen last time in vv. 11 and 16 that Abraham is the spiritual father of all believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, in v. 17 Paul once again appeals to Scripture to prove his point: (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the presence of Him whom he [i.e. Abraham] believed, even God… (Stop there)
1. Here Paul quotes a portion of Genesis 17:5 that took place when Abram was ninety-nine years old, one year before his son of promise, Isaac, was born. At this time when God reaffirmed to him the promise saying, “I have made you the father of a multitude of nations,” God also changed his name to “Abraham,” which meant that very thing “father of a multitude.”
2. Having again affirmed the spiritual fatherhood of Abraham, Paul then shifts to the kind of faith that made him a worthy spiritual father. In vv. 17b-22 we see four positive characteristics of Abraham’s faith.
3. The first characteristic is that he believed God is powerful. Look at the end of v. 17 where Abraham is said to have: …believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
4. Here we see that the object of Abraham’s faith was God Himself. It doesn’t matter how good or sincere a person’s faith may be, it will never benefit him or her if it has the wrong object.
5. Only the one true living God is the right object of our faith. Notice that Abraham believed in Him as the God “…who gives life to the dead.”
6. The life-giving power of God is clearly seen in the Old Testament. God said about Himself in Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life…”
7. And in 1 Samuel 2:6 we read, “The LORD kills and makes alive. He brings down to Sheol and raises up.”
8. Now although some scholars see this statement “who gives life to the dead” as a reference to Abraham’s belief that God would raise Isaac from the dead if he killed him on Mt. Moriah in obedience to God (Gen. 22:5; Heb. 11:17-19), here it is best to take this as a reference to God’s omnipotent power to give life to Abraham and Sarah’s “reproductive deadness,” which we will see in v. 19.
9. Abraham also believed in God as the One who “…calls into being that which does not exist.” Most scholars see the word “calls” (kalountos) here as referring to God’s creative activity by which He created the world out of nothing or ex nihilo.
10. Since God is the all-powerful Creator God who can call the entire universe that did not exist into existence out of nothing (Gen. 1; Ps. 33:6, 9; Heb. 11:3), He certainly can call “many nations” that did not yet exist into existence to fulfill His promise to Abraham.
11. In Genesis 18:14 God said to him, “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” God also said in Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”
12. Jesus proclaimed in Mark 10:27 concerning who can be saved, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” And Luke 1:37 says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Jer. 32:17; Zech. 8:6; Matt. 19:26; Lk. 1:37; 18:27).
13. Abraham believed God is powerful. Do you? How big is your God this morning?
B. The second characteristic of Abraham’s faith is that He believed God despite obstacles. Look at v. 18: In hope against hope he believed… (Stop there)
1. Basically the word “hope” (elpide) means to have confident expectation for something desirable. But here the terms “in hope” and “against hope” point in opposite directions.
2. “Against hope” refers to the insurmountable obstacles that Abraham faced. Humanly speaking, there was absolutely nothing he could do to change his circumstances.
3. Ever feel that way about the circumstances in your life? But despite his impossible obstacles “…in [God-given] hope against [human] hope he still believed” in God and His promise.
4. In this way faith and hope are inseparably linked. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
5. And God’s design or purpose for Abraham’s faith is seen at the end of v. 18, “…so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE,” which is a quote from Genesis 15:5 where God promises Abraham that his descendants will be as countless as the stars of heaven.
C. Paul then shows what Abraham’s obstacles are in v. 19: Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.
1. Abraham had two great obstacles: He was physically incapable to father a child since he was now 99 years old, and Sarah was also physically incapable to conceive and bear a child since she was 89 year old. Since he was impotent and she was barren (Gen. 16:1-2; 18:11), they were totally hopeless and helpless in themselves to fulfill God’s promise.
2. The “father of a multitude” was the father of none and there was now nothing he could do about. Imagine how difficult it must have been for Abraham to wait all those years from the time of God’s original promise (Gen. 15:5) until its fulfillment (Gen. 21:5).
3. Why does God often allow the circumstances in our lives to get where they are completely beyond our ability to control or fix? Remember in John 11:6 when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick He didn’t rush to his side but stayed two days longer in the place where He was.
4. When He finally did show up after Lazarus had died both of Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha said to Jesus, “…Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21, 32). But Jesus had a different plan.
5. In v. 40 Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” And Jesus glorified God by raising Lazarus from the dead.
6. In the midst of his impossible circumstances, Abraham didn’t close his eyes to reality and pretend that things were better than they really were. The word “contemplated” (katenoesen) here means that he seriously considered and carefully evaluated all the facts that made the fulfillment of the promise impossible.
7. But despite his obstacles “in hope against hope” he did not become “weak (asthenesas—or impotent) in faith” but rather still believed in God and His promise. C.E.B Cranfield rightly states, “…Abraham’s believing is a defiance of all human calculations: his hope is contrary to all human expectation.” (pg. 246)
8. Does that describe your faith in God and His promises to you this morning?
D. The third characteristic of Abraham’s faith is that He believed God without doubting. Look at v. 20: yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.
1. The word “waver” (diakrinomai) here means “to be divided in one’s own mind,” and is translated “doubt” in James 1:6.
2. But how can Paul say this when the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-24 obviously shows him as far from perfect and experiencing regressions and advances in his faith? Because Paul is simply talking about the overall pattern and direction that characterized Abraham’s life—one of faith in God not doubt.
3. Douglas Moo states, “When Paul says that Abraham did not ‘doubt…because of unbelief,’ he means not that Abraham never had momentary hesitations, but that he avoided a deep-seated and permanent attitude of distrust and inconsistency in relationship to God and his promises. Unlike the ‘double-souled’ person who displays a deeply rooted division in his attitude toward God (Jas. 1:6-8), Abraham maintained a single-minded trust in the fulfillment of God’s promise.” (pg. 285)
4. John MacArthur said it like this, “…struggling faith is not doubt, just as temptation is not itself sin. The very fact that Abraham was trying to understand how God’s promise could be fulfilled indicates he was looking for a way of fulfillment, although he could not yet see a way. Weaker faith might have simply succumbed to doubt. Sincere struggling with spiritual problems comes from strong, godly faith. Such faith refuses to doubt and trusts in God’s promises, even when no way of fulfillment is humanly imaginable. God’s testing of His children’s faith is designed to strengthen their trust, and they should thank Him for it, hard as it seems to be at the time (James 1:2-4).” (pg. 265)
5. Therefore, when your faith is challenged by trials and the harsh realities of life scream out that God is not in control, that He has forgotten you and doesn’t care, even though you may be struggling to understand what God is doing, keep on clinging to God by faith and trusting in the promises of His Word that say otherwise.
6. Notice that Abraham “…did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith.” The one Greek word translated “grew strong” (enedunamothe) is passive in the Greek, which means that it was God Himself who strengthened him in his faith.”
7. Beloved, God promises to strengthen and empower us as well when we depend on Him. Jesus said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “…My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
8. And Paul declared in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
9. Now as a result of having his faith strengthen, notice that Abraham was “giving glory to God,” the very thing we saw in 1:21-23 that unbelievers fail to do.
10. We give glory to God when we truly believe that He is who He said He is, take Him at His Word regardless of our circumstances, and live in complete dependence on Him. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
11. John Calvin declared, “No greater honor can be given to God than by sealing His truth by our faith. On the other hand, no greater insult can be shown to Him than by rejecting the grace which He offers us, or by detracting from the authority of His Word. For this reason the main thing in the worship of God is to embrace His promises with obedience. True religion begins with faith.” (Schreiner pg. 238)
E. The fourth characteristic of Abraham’s faith is that He believed God would perform. Look at v. 21: and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.”
1. Now it is one thing to say “I believe that God is all-powerful.” But it is another to be “fully assured” (plerophoretheis)—totally confident and completely persuaded that God will do what He has promised.
2. It’s the difference in our minds between “God can” and “God will.” And Abraham could have this level of confidence because he knew what God had promised him and he believed that God would make the impossible possible.
3. What God promises, He performs! God’s promises always carry with them His power to perform them.
4. It’s just a matter of knowing that this is a promise that we can claim and trusting God to do what He said. The words of Charles Wesley in one of his hymns say it well:
In hope, against all human hope,
Self-desperate, I believe…
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks to that alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries: It shall be done!
5. This was the kind of faith that Abraham had and in God’s time the promise was fulfilled. Hebrews 11:12 says, “Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.”
F. Paul concludes his description of Abraham’s God-given saving faith by once again referring to Genesis 15:6 in v. 22: Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. Abraham’s faith was no vague abstraction or some blind leap into the dark. He fully trusted in God and His promise, and his faith was “credited to him as righteousness.”
2. In this chapter the words “faith” or “believe” occur 16 times; the word “credited” (reckon or impute) occurs 11 times; and the words “righteousness” or “justified” occurs 11 times.
3. Therefore, Abraham is the supreme example of justification by faith alone. And the faith that characterized his life is to characterize ours as well.
4. We see this in the sixth truth about justification by faith alone, which in this:
VI. Abraham’s example Applies to all Believers
A. Look at vv. 23-24: Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
1. Here we see that faith credited as righteousness was not restricted to Abraham, but also applies to all believers. It is “for our sake also, to whom it will be credited.”
2. Paul then shows what believers believe at the end of v. 24, “…as those who believe in Him (i.e. God the Father) who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
3. First of all, although the New Testament mostly directs our faith to Jesus Christ, in reality it doesn’t make any difference because to believe in the Father is to believe in the Son because of the unity of the Trinity. For Jesus said in John 12:44, “…He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me.”
4. Here we see that it was the Father who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (Col. 2:12). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very heart and cornerstone of the gospel message.
5. And notice that it was as “Lord” that God raised Jesus not merely as Savior. Jesus came as Lord, died as Lord, was raised as Lord, and reigns as Lord forever.
6. Jesus Christ is Lord! This is what believers believe.
7. And because He is already Lord, we don’t make Him Lord of our lives but humbly submit to His Lordship by faith or regretfully suffer the consequences—loving discipline for believers and ultimate judgment for unbelievers.
8. Now because of progressive revelation the circumstances and content of faith has changed, however, Christians share with Abraham the same basis for justification, which is faith, and the same God as the object of that faith.
9. God’s promise to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who was a descendant of Abraham (v. 16; Jn. 8:56; Gal. 3:14, 16). Now saving faith involves belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.
10. Thomas Schreiner said it this way, “Surely those who lived before the cross and resurrection were righteous if they had faith in a resurrecting and sovereign God who fulfills his saving promises. But now that the Messiah has come this faith must be specifically placed in Jesus of Nazareth, and one must believe that he died for our sins and was raised for our justification.” (pg. 243)
B. And this is how Paul concludes this chapter in v. 25: He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
1. Charles Hodge said that, “This verse is a comprehensive statement of the gospel.” (pg. 129) Here we see that both Christ’s death and resurrection are essential to the work of justification.
2. In the first statement Paul says, “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions…” Though not a direct quotation, these words in substance are taken from Isaiah 53 regarding the Suffering Servant (vv. 5, 10-12).
3. The one Greek word translated “delivered over” (paredothe) is a judicial term that refers to a criminal being handed over for punishment. Since the words “delivered over” and “raised” (egerthe) are both passive this shows that the death and resurrection of Jesus was initiated by God the Father.
4. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
5. The same God who poured out His holy wrath upon Jesus, turned His back on Him, and forsook Him on the cross to satisfy His divine justice also raised Him up the third day. God the Father was behind it all (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28).
6. And it was all “because of our transgressions” that God did this. The word “transgressions” (paraptomata) means to step over the line and refers to high-handed sin and rebellion against God.
7. As believers we know that God delivered over Jesus to death because of our sins, so that in receiving Him as Savior and Lord we are declared righteous before God, have our sins forgiven, and are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, treated as if we have never sinned.
C. In the second statement Paul says, “…and was raised because of our justification.”
1. Thomas Schreiner accurately states, “To say that Jesus was raised because of our justification is to say that His resurrection authenticates and confirms that our justification has been secured….The resurrection of Christ constitutes evidence that his work on our behalf has been completed. The death and resurrection of Christ fulfills the promise of universal blessing made to Abraham, for they are the means by which all peoples enter into the new people of God.” (pg. 244)
2. Christ’s resurrection was the proof of God’s acceptance of Jesus atoning sacrifice and secured for us all of the benefits of His redemption. Without it all of the Christian faith would collapse, for Jesus would not be God who He claimed to be and His death would have availed us nothing.
3. We would still be in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17) and under the condemnation of God. Therefore, Jesus’ death and resurrection are one and inseparable concerning justification.
In closing, Abraham is the supreme example of justification by faith alone apart from works, circumcision, and the Law. Therefore, there isn’t anything anyone can do in themselves to be declared righteous before God except to have saving faith in Jesus Christ and receive Him as Savior and Lord.
This is God’s only way of salvation. Romans 10:9 promises that, “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Have you taken God at His Word and believed this promise for your salvation? And for those of us who are believers, is our faith characterized as the same kind of faith that Abraham had? By God’s grace it can be.