ABRAHAM’S FAITH AND OURS
Romans 4:1-25, Key Verse: 4:23, 24
“The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
From Msn. Gideon’s message last week, we learned that no one is righteous and that righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ. Since justification is done apart from works but by faith, there is no boasting for anyone. That is the heart of the gospel. To support his claim, Paul quotes two great examples from the Old Testament: Abraham and David. Their examples illustrate that justification by faith is not a new concept but had been already there for us. Then, Paul elaborates Abraham’s faith and connect it to ours. May God strengthen us to live by faith and be blessed like Abraham and David.
1. It Was Credited to Him as Righteousness (1-12)
Look at verses 1,2. These are about our forefather Abraham whom Jews, Arabs and even Christians boast about. Once a UBF missionary invited one college student to 1:1 Bible study, but he angrily responded to her by saying, “I am an Abraham’s descendent! How dare you!” Here, Paul says that Abraham had nothing to boast about. In other words, we cannot boast about being Abraham’s descendants. Verse 3 is the reason why Abraham cannot boast. It reads. “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” This is a quote from Ge 15:6.
At that time, Abraham was in the land of Canaan according to God’s direction, but there seemed to be no tangible fruit in his hand. He did not have a single child yet and he was getting old. His one and only hope, “Lot” went away to Sodom without thanking him for saving him. When God reminded Abraham of His being the shield and the great reward, Abraham protested that “a servant in his household” would be his heir. We can understand Abraham’s feeling. After serving God for many years with no visible results, how would you feel about your current situation? You feel like complaining to God just like Abraham did. Then, God took Abraham outside and directed to look up at the sky and count the stars, promising that his descendants would be as numerous as stars.
Surprisingly, Abraham accepted God’s promise by faith, relying only on Him. Nothing changed around him except God’s word. It meant that no matter what, regardless of impossibilities, he believed that God could do it and would do it. It was an absolute trust that gives glory to Him. God was so much impressed with Abraham’s faith that he credited it to him as righteousness. Here, “to credit” in Greek is “logízomai,” which is the root of the English terms “logic, logical.” It is like a logical math-equation for God and for us.
To illustrate this further, in verses 4, 5, Paul explains about the general principle of works. Verse 4 reads. “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.” What is the general principle of works? “No pay, no work!” Even some workers (like Chicago Teachers Union) go on a strike to receive a fair contract. Works make “wages” as an obligation for an employer. No employee thinks that his/her paycheck is a gift. He or she thinks it has been earned. So when we think we have worked for God, we feel that God as an employer is obligated to pay us with a fair amount of wages, maybe, possibly, “eternal life.”
But verse 5 reads. “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Note how gracious God is. He not only justifies people apart from works but he does so contrary to what they deserve. Instead of pouring out His wrath on the wicked, He justifies them. That justification is a gift from God.
Paul goes on to quote another great example regarding this principle of justification by faith (or righteousness apart from works). Look at verse 6. “David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:” It is said that the Jews’ special regard for King David is beyond our comprehension, unless we as Americans think of a person in whom we have the best qualities and achievements of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Among many qualities and achievements of David, however, Paul only mentions one thing.
Verses 7,8 read. “‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” It is a direct quote from Ps 32:1,2. Note the expression, “counting against him,” which is the negative form of “crediting righteousness” (6). Unlike Abraham who was inactive in terms of committing sins (it was possible that Abraham complained to God a little bit), David was active in committing sins. He became adulterous and murderous. He tried to cover up what he did. But God did not count his sins against David when he repented of his sins. God forgave him and covered his sins. And David call such forgiveness as blessedness.
Perhaps, by including David as the second example, Paul wants to show us how far the faith-based justification can go. With Abraham, before he was credited as righteous, he might have some complaining and despairing heart. But with David, before his sins were not counted against him, he was going through a horrible, torture-like heart condition. Ps 32:3,4 read. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Being a favorite king or possessing vast wealth and great reputation did not help. Only with forgiveness, then the burden of his sin rolled away and his strength was restored. That is the true blessedness. Probably, Paul has experienced a similar experience like David and eagerly wants to share the blessedness with the Romans.
Verses 9-12 open the door to the extension of the blessedness to the Gentiles. Paul uses David’s term “blessedness” for Abraham with “the time” concept so that he may show how God embraces the Gentiles along with His own people. Here, circumcision has become a sign of differentiating God’s people from others. But the issue is when Abraham received the circumcision. Abraham was not circumcised until fourteen years after being credited righteous. So we can say circumcision is a mere symbol to Abraham’s justifying “faith” and we cannot take any pride in it. With circumcision being given to Abraham much later than his justification, the Gentiles could possibly claim Abraham as their father because he was just like them (11). And in verse 12, we can see the true Jews who are not only circumcised but more importantly, walk in the footsteps of the faith that Abraham had before he was circumcised.
2. He Did Not Waver Through Unbelief Regarding the Promise (13-25)
So far we have talked about “justification apart from works” and “justification beyond sins.” We may now talk about “justification not through law.” Look at verse 13. “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.” Based on this verse, we can clearly say that the promise is not conditioned “through law.” In other words, God did not keep the promise of making him “heir of the world” just because Abraham kept the law. In fact, the law was not even there. The law was given after Abraham, around 500 years later, at the time of Moses. Verse 14 gives the clearer reason why the promise cannot come through law. “For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless.” The heirs of the world cannot be those who live law because no one can perfectly keep the law and the law only brings wrath. More than that, faith and promise have no value and no worth. So the promise should belong to the realm of grace, not to the law so as to be guaranteed to all people.
That is what verse 16 says.
Verse 17 reads. “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.” We have just claimed that Abraham is the father of us all. It is because of his faith in God’s promise. Here we see Abraham’s faith on God Himself in more details. “Giving life to the dead and calling things that are not as though they were” may refer to God’s creation of the world out of nothing or to creating Isaac from the dead womb. We can simply say that this was Abraham’s creation faith and resurrection faith.
Verses 18, 19 show what kind of chance Abraham had. He had a zero chance of becoming a father, not to mention becoming the father of many nations. Here, the expression “against all hope” truly represents not only the reality of Abraham but also all mankind. But as the representative of all people, he had a hope in God even after facing the fact that his body was as good as dead and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet his faith did not weaken. Nor did he waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God. This does not mean Abraham had absolutely zero wavering. A boat in a stormy sea must have turbulences here and there. Abraham possibly had some doubts and dark thoughts here and there. However, just like Jesus had some moments of agony and struggles at Gethsemane but eventually came out as a victor, Abraham maintained his faith and eventually came out as a victor of faith. What was the secret of his victory? Verses 20b, 21 read. “ … but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
How can one be strengthened in his faith and be fully persuaded? We can find a glimpse answer in the Heb 11:17-19. Heb 11:19 reads. “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” It means that Abraham constantly studied or reasoned God’s words or His promise. In other words, he had a deep, self-motivated Bible study. He became both a 1:1 Bible teacher and a student in his head. He had a questionnaire and a solution to that in his mind. So with that Bible study setting, no matter what kinds of trials and difficulties would there be, he could be strengthened and persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. I am very thankful that we have this kind of Bible study every week so that we are mutually strengthened and persuaded in our DuPage UBF.
This is a stark contrast to what happened to our original father, Adam. If Adam had that kind of struggling, constantly being strengthened in his faith and being persuaded that God is love through his meditating on God’s word, he would not have yielded into the temptation that easily and become a victim of unbelief.
Verse 22 made a little comment about why Abraham was credited as righteous. Then, verses 23, 24 emphasize that the same principle is applied to the believers. What we believe is not that God would make us fathers or mothers of many children but that He raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. When we have faith in God, it is having the same creation faith and the resurrection faith that Abraham had.
Verse 25 reads. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Surely, Jesus’ death and resurrection are two aspects of the principle of the justification. His death bears the penalty for our guilt. His resurrection confirms that his death is a sufficient and effective offering for sin, pleasing to the Father God.
In conclusion, we learned that Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness. We also learned that true blessedness comes when we receive forgiveness of sins. Abraham’s faith is remarkable because it is to believe the Creator God and the God of resurrection. May God strengthen us and persuade us as we continue to have deep Bible study from which we can build our great faith.