Last week we saw how Paul used Abraham’s faith to…
- Show that to be the people of God – to be Abraham’s sons and daughters – is to share Abraham’s faith in God.
- And show that the people of God are justified through this same faith.
In our text today, given the importance that faith is to this whole process, he unpacks it a bit more.
Heirs to Promise Through Faith:
Romans 4:13–15a (ESV) — 13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath,
So Paul says we are heirs of the promise through “the righteousness of faith” (vs. 13).
- What is the promise?
We know from our Genesis study that God’s covenant with Abraham involved:
This was often viewed through a great deal of Jewish baggage to mean:
However, look at what Paul says:
- “be heir of the world” (vs. 13)
Now this is yet another huge blow to most Jewish thought, and yet another way Paul had to reimagine his Judaism around Jesus Christ.
N.T. Wright nails what is going on here better than anybody.
- “The promise to Abraham and his family, Paul says, was that he would inherit—the world!” – N.T. Wright.
- This means that, “For Paul…and indeed for the whole New Testament, the idea of a holy land, in terms of one strip of territory over against all others, has simply vanished.” – N.T. Wright.
- “The Holy Land was, it seems, a kind of advance metaphor for that larger aim and promise.” – N.T. Wright.
- Remember – the promise was to put all of creation right not just the Jews and not just Palestine!
So how was this promise to come?
- Paul says it comes through the “righteousness of faith” (vs. 13).
In other words, it comes through the saving activity of God.
- His saving righteousness.
- A righteousness that we enter into through faith.
Or to put more simply – the “righteoused” by God have faith in God.
- And it is they who participate in the promise.
Why did the promise have to come this way?
- Paul says if it came through the law “faith is null and the promise is void” (vs. 14).
In other words, to have faith that you will be joined to the promise by the law does two things:
- It makes faith useless – it “is null”.
- And because of this the “promise is void” – it does not find fulfillment.
- Because as Paul said earlier, the law testifies against us in God’s law court.
- One may have faith that the law can deliver the goods…but not if it is unfulfilled.
- And its testimony is that no one fulfilled it.
So what is the result of this misplaced faith in the law?
- It will be that “the law brings wrath” (vs. 15) – not the promise.
Promise Depends on Faith:
Romans 4:15b–17 (ESV) — 15b but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
So this is why this promise fulfillment business “depends on faith” (vs. 16).
- Because it has to “rest on grace” (vs. 16).
Rest on Grace:
It has to “rest on grace” (vs. 16) for a number of reasons.
(1) Because “where there is no law there is no transgression.” (vs. 15)
- In other words, if our trust is in the law, we would have transgressions of the law that count against us.
- But out trust isn’t in the law, so the transgressions don’t count against us.
To flip this around we can say this…
- We can trust in Faith as the basis of being joined to God’s righteousness because it does not testify against us.
Again, I love Wright’s take here:
- “If there is to be a renewed people of God, there must be (in that sense) a law-free zone for them to live and flourish within.” – N.T. Wright.
- That zone is faith.
In other words, faith doesn’t testify against us because it springs from the grace of God – not us.
- Remember, Paul is about to emphasize in Romans 5 the importance of the grace in which we stand.
- What Wright just called the “law-free” zone.
It’s like this:
- (1) We can be saved through faith in the law.
- (2) We can be saved through faith in God.
God, by His grace, has decreed that it will be the latter.
- If He had not, all of us – Jew and Gentile – would have no hope.
This is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians.
- Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
- “For by grace” is giving thanks that God decreed option 2 – “saved through faith”!
- And this works in our favor because, it “is not your own doing, it is the gift of God”.
(2) The second reason it has to “rest on faith” is so that the promise…
- Can “be guaranteed to all his offspring” (vs. 16).
If it rested on trusting in the law, the Gentiles would be excluded.
- They weren’t given the law.
So because it rests on faith, Paul says…
- The promise is available “not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham” (vs. 16).
- Jew or Gentile.
- After all, Abraham was told that he would be “father of many nations” (vs. 17).
And just in case you have any doubts about the surety of this promise:
- The God that is the object of this faith is…
- The God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” ( 17).
In other words, the God who resurrects the dead…
- And the God who “calls into existence” (vs. 17) both the offspring and nations from a barren Sarah, or faith in the unrighteous.
Abraham’s Faith Example:
Romans 4:18–22 (ESV) — 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”
Paul just bet the house on Abraham’s faith and the call for us to have the same.
- It therefore becomes “imperative to define the nature of [Abraham’s] faith” – Schreiner.
Paul first concedes that for Abraham to trust that “he should become the father of many nations” (vs. 18) was to believe “against hope” (vs. 18).
- After all, Paul says…
- His body was “as good as dead” (vs. 19) – “since he was about 100 years old” (vs. 19).
- And “Sarah’s womb” was barren (vs. 19).
But in spite of any reasons to believe “against hope” (vs. 18)…
- “He did not weaken in faith” (vs. 19).
- He had no “unbelief” (vs. 20) and he didn’t “waver concerning the promise of God” (vs. 20).
In fact, Paul says, Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (vs. 20).
- He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (vs. 21).
How did Paul know Abraham didn’t waver, or grew in his faith, or was fully convinced in God?
- Because Abraham was willing to sacrifice the promise – Isaac.
- And after the whole traumatic Isaac event…
- Genesis 22:14 (ESV) — 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
And so, Paul says…
- These are the reasons Abraham’s “faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’” (vs. 22).
- And the reasons God could fulfill his promise to Abraham.
For as Genesis 22 says:
- Genesis 22:15–18 (ESV) — 15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
Something Paul does here is remarkable to me!
- Paul concedes that Abraham had reason not to believe.
- And yet he had no “unbelief” and he didn’t “waver”.
The application here is huge.
- In fact, it is an entire lesson.
- One I will get to next time.
Romans 4:23–25 (ESV) — 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
As expected, Paul brings the whole faith talk in chapter 4 to a close with Jesus.
- The “against hope” faith we are to have is to be in Jesus Christ.
Because, if we trust in “him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (vs. 24)…
- “It will be counted to us” as righteousness – just like it was with Abraham.
- Because Jesus will “righteous” us by His being…
- “delivered up for our trespasses” (vs. 25)
- “raised for our justification” (vs. 25)