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, 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. 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.” 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.
Here is Abraham, standing at the peak of his city. He looks out beyond the walls and sees nothing but wilderness. Has God called him to go into that? He didn’t even give the destination. He said he would show him in due time. Should he go? How could he not go? This God is different from the rest. He seems trustworthy. His promises have power. His heart feels different as he hears from him. That promise…how can he refuse that promise?
Abraham was promised a son. Through that son, God would eventually save the world. But that son was to be born to a man 100 years old and a woman 90 years old. That’s crazy. But is it any crazier than God creating the world out of nothing? The word “promise” is mentioned five times in these verses. Abraham’s faith is related to his trusting God’s promises even when they don’t make sense. That’s what happens when we trust a person. We trust what they say. Abraham trusts the person of God. He loves God himself, which creates in him a hope that will not be put to shame.
To be saved, we must come face to face with the promises of God in the person of God. We don’t obey our way into the Kingdom of God. We believe our way into the Kingdom of God. And as we face the God who made the universe and hear his promises to his people, we trust or we don’t trust. Having salvation in God means trusting in the promises of God. It is not a baseless, blind, leap-in-the-dark faith. Such faith does not exist. Faith relies on something sound and sure. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith for us as “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
As Abraham looked into the future, he saw his boy laughing as his mother once laughed at the silliness of God’s promise – they? A man and woman who should be great-grandparents by now? The barren one is to have a child?
Abraham didn’t obey a law to be saved. There was no law to obey. There was only a promise. After all, the law was never intended to save. How could it? The law arouses sin more than destroys sin. It shows us the standard by which God requires us to live if we are to be holy and rebels always rise against the standard. Trusting the law to save, therefore, leads only to condemnation and wrath. “The law brings wrath.” We cannot obey.
But God has provided another way. Through Jesus Christ, we have been freed from the law because he has fulfilled it for us. We should never look to our goodness to save us. We should always look to the goodness of Christ to save us. Why would we return to the impossible when Jesus has already accomplished the impossible on our behalf? Abraham couldn’t provide God’s promise no matter what rules he obeyed or disobeyed. Sarah was barren and he was old. There was no changing that. God had to do it or it would not be done.
Notice the logic of verse 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.” The “it” is the promise. The promise depends on faith. It does not depend on works. If it did, it would not be grace. It would be wages. The only wages we deserve is death (Romans 6:3). But if the promise depends on faith in the one who makes the promise, then the one who receives the promise receives it by grace. Furthermore, the promise is so pervasive and expansive and everlasting, it is so deep and abiding, it is so profound that it extends to the offspring of the one to whom it was originally given. Abraham, the believer of God, became the father of all who would later believe in God. How? By the great work he did in creating his son in his old age? No! By believing the God who gave him a son in his old age. Our justification – our righteousness before God – is made up entirely of believing in God.
Abraham saw his old age. Why couldn’t God have come earlier? Why now? How can this happen? He felt the creaks as he rose from his bed. He saw the wrinkles on Sarah’s face. They had never known anyone as old give birth to a child. Could it be?
But in hope Abraham believed against hope that he should become the father of many nations. The promise didn’t seem reasonable, yet Abraham saw God as trustworthy and therefore believed. When God came to him and promised a child, he looked at all the circumstances and believed God beyond them. Why? Because he saw God as trustworthy. He believed the promises of God because he believed the person of God.
Abraham did not allow his feelings to inform his doctrine. He let God’s doctrine inform his feelings. When he felt hopeless, he looked to God for hope. When he felt as if this promise would never come to pass, he looked to God and knew that God would do what he said. As Abraham gave glory to God, he grew strong in his faith. Though circumstances said otherwise, when Abraham beheld God he believed more in his promises, not less. He became fully convinced that God could do what he had promised. That’s why he was justified. Not because he did a lot of good deeds but because he believed in the Good God.
As Abraham wandered in his new home, he wondered about God’s promise. He believed, but what if it didn’t happen? He had moments of weakness. He faltered. He feared for his life. He gave Sarah over to Pharaoh and then again to Abimelech. Thankfully, he received her back without compromising the promise. Sarah had Hagar given to him. He went in to her. They conceived. But Ishmael was not the promised son. It was Isaac who was to come. Abraham’s sins were bold and egregious. But God held fast to him still. It didn’t depend on Abraham as much as it depended on God who made the promise. Our works add nothing to the promises of God and they take nothing away from them. God does it all because God is the mover in this relationship. He is the one to be counted on. He is the one who justifies.
For us today, what is the faith that we must hold? What do we believe? Paul summarizes it in verses 24 and 25. “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Justification will be counted to those who believe in God who raised Jesus from the dead – the very Jesus who died for our sins upon the cross and was resurrected on the third day. The resurrection became proof that the sacrifice of Christ was accepted. The penalty had been paid. Those who believe had been saved.
If you believe in this gospel you are saved. You are justified before God. You have looked beyond yourself and placed all your hope in God. You believe his promises. You trust in him alone. You love him and follow him and obey him because you cannot do otherwise now. Jesus has been crucified and raised. Let me ask you, can he die again? If he has been killed and resurrected what keeps you from believing you will be resurrected as well? What promise has God not proven trustworthy in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Paul is giving us here in Romans 4 deep rest amid our tumultuous circumstances. We have God above all circumstances who can create a child from an old man and life from death and righteousness from unrighteousness. What are you facing that you can’t trust God during? If your salvation was based upon what you do or don’t do, you would never feel secure. How could you? You can’t even obey the rules you give yourself each day. But if it is God that declares us righteous, who acquits us and creates in us new hearts, how can we not feel secure? God is not running the calculations in heaven to see if we add up to righteousness. He is reckoning us righteous in Christ and imputing the merit of Christ upon us to make us worthy of him. We are no longer orphans. We are sons of God.
Real faith gives us a sure standing when everything else feels like it's falling away. Real faith is not a leap in the dark. It is a sure and steady looking upon God in the gospel and finding the Person who has justified us smiling upon us in salvation. Real faith is realizing that no matter what the world says, no matter what our heart says, no matter what our circumstance says, we are as secure as Christ is, and who in the world is going to remove him from the throne?
After all those years, Abraham finally heard the cry of new life. He looked and there lie his boy in his mother’s arms. He was here! After all those tense moments of wondering. After all the questions, spoken and unspoken. After all the tears, all the miles, all the ridicule. Isaac is here – the promised child!
And then, Isaac is there – the one God has asked Abraham to sacrifice. Here they are, together on the road to Mt. Moriah. Abraham will not delay. He has delayed enough in his life. He’s not sure what God is going to do but he knows God’s promise will remain. Even if he is to kill the boy, somehow God will provide. Even if it means resurrection, God will provide. So, come what may, he walks on…
Michael Bird summarizes Abraham this way, “What made Abraham unique was that he put his faith where his fear was.” Real faith transforms and overcomes real fear. Wherever in our lives we have fear, faith in God is the remedy. George Muller said, “Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” And so it is with our justification. Do you want to be set right with God? Then look to God. When you’ve come to the end of yourself, when you can’t obey any longer, when you see that you cannot do anything truly good and deserve only the wrath of God, lift your eyes to the cross and see the righteousness of God flowing down. Behold the Son of God dying on your behalf, becoming the sacrifice pleasing to God. See the resurrection and know that you, by faith alone in his work, have been justified by Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. If you throw yourself upon God, no matter how far the fall or how great the impact, he will always catch you in the arms of Jesus. After all, it depends on his promise. In all human history, he has not yet failed one person who has trusted in him. Will he fail you now?
Editor's Note: This originally published at Things Of The Sort