Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Faith of a Father Pt. 2-Rom. 4:16-25

Last Sunday we were introduced to a great example of faith-- Abraham. Though Abraham was Jewish, Paul has argued that all who place their faith in God can stand to learn from him because he placed faith in God and was justified before any Jewish traditions even existed. Inasmuch as Abraham is a model of faith for all who believe, it stands to reason that we should learn as much as we can from this figure. This is why Paul goes to great lengths to describe Abraham’s faith in the remainder of chapter 4—particularly 4:16-25. Therefore, let’s take a close look at three final parts of Paul’s teaching on Abraham’s faith and learn what our faith ought to look like today.  

Image result for Abraham and Sarah

1] The Statement of Abraham’s Faith-4:16-17

Verse 16 opens with a major transitional statement—“for this reason.” This phrase points ahead to the program of salvation that Paul would like for the remainder of Romans to elucidate. Having already explained how and why people of all kinds are lost and having dispelled how NOT to be saved (works, circumcision, the law), Paul moves on in verse 16 of chapter 4 to spell out the nature of salvation in positive tones. I other words, now that we know what salvation isn’t, Paul wants to move on to what it is.

Interestingly, instead of deciding to work with a different example or analogy, Paul continues to endorse Abraham in order to make his point. This serves to, once again, strike a chord of continuity between the church age and the Old Testament age. Salvation by faith has been the same from the beginning and Paul reiterates this point in verse 16 which says “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham who is the father of us all.” As explained in 4:9-12 and then reiterated in 13-15, Abraham, inasmuch as faith alone saved him, is the spiritual patriarch of all who believe in God—regardless of whether or not they kept the traditions (like circumcision) or possessed the Law (the Old Testament). Just as grace through faith was applied to his account, so too is it applied to anyone’s account who trust in God for salvation.

Paul supports this statement with a corresponding reference in verse 17—“as it is written, ‘A father of many nations have I made you’) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist…”. This reference serves several functions. First, it draws attention to what Abraham was asked to place faith in initially—namely, the promise God gave him that from him would come a great nation. Second, it demonstrates what faith in God is capable of achieving—“who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (4:17). For Abraham and his wife Sara, faith in God resulted in the miracle birth of Isaac from Sarah’s once barren womb. Though her womb was “dead,” God, in response to the faith of Abraham “called into being that which did not exist”—a son.

God is pleased to bring life out of death and wake up that which is barren when faith is exercised. This is what was true in Abraham’s life and it is what Paul hoped would be true of in the lives of those in his audience. In fact, this particular reference to God’s life-giving and resurrection power serves as a subtle transition of focus. The power that performed this miracle in Abraham’s life is the same power that gave life to a dead Christ and called him forth from the tomb. This same power can be realized in anyone’s life if he/she places faith in the God of Abraham through Jesus Christ.
Though verses 16-17 provide us with a clear statement of Abraham’s faith, Paul has yet to really describe the shape this faith took and how far it was really stretched.

2] The Example of Abraham’s Faith-4:18-21

For the next four verses, Paul describes what the faith of Abraham looked like. First, Paul reveals that Abraham’s faith held up against hope—“in hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be’….” (4:18). In order to fully appreciate the acuity of Abraham’s trust in God, one must understand the unusual situation in which he was placed.

Having lived his whole life in an obscure land, God called Abraham to leave his family and home behind in order to follow God and start a new nation. The only thing this now elderly man and his wife had to go on was the promise of God!

Though, in God’s economy, Abraham’s actions were fully insured, here, Paul is looking at this Old Testament figure’s predicament from a worldly perspective. In a worldly sense, what Abraham did was nonsense and hopeless. People did not leave their family or homeland on a hunch, especially if there was no evidence that what was promised was going to happen.  However, this is exactly what Abraham did! How did he do it? By focusing more on the promises of God and less on human convention—“according to that which was spoken, ‘so shall your descendants be.’”

Are you being asked to trust God in what looks like a hopeless situation? Remember to be more impressed with the promises of God than what the world says makes sense.  

Not only did Abraham’s faith hold up against hope, it was steadfast in spite of appearances—“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” (4:19). Abraham’s trust in God did not only defy human convention, it defied biology. Elderly men were not known for starting nations, especially if they were wed to a barren wife. In fact, so impractical were Abraham and Sarah’s prospects that the Bible describes the two as “dead”—he was “as good as dead” and her womb was “dead.”

Paul cuts Abraham no favors here as he describes the plight of this old couple. However, their desperation only serves to highlight how strong their faith was. Against all human conventions and biological odds, these two trusted the Lord to use them to bring a great nation into the world.
Are you being asked to trust God in spite of appearances today? Remember, faith believes that the promises of God do not have governed by what’s always natural or typical.

Next, Paul highlights the longevity of Abraham’s faith. Not only did Abraham’s faith defy convention and dare to bet against appearances, it persevered under pressure—“Yet with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God,…” (4:20). The unwavering quality of Abraham’s faith is, perhaps, most impressive when one recognizes just how long Abraham had to wait in order to receive any indication that God’s promises would come true. Abraham was initially promised a son and nation in Genesis 12 while in his old homeland at the age of seventy five years old. It wasn’t until twenty five years later in Genesis 21 that Isaac is born! During this “long wait” Abraham’s faith did not waiver, deplete, or weaken. It grew! How? Abraham was resting on “the promise of God” not in how fast it was being fulfilled. In so doing, even though things seemed quiet on his end, God was being gloried on His end.

Have you been waiting for something to happen that is consistent with what God has disclosed in his Word? Faith rests in the promises of God and grows in the waiting rooms of life. After all, Abraham waited 25 years for a son, Jacob waited 14 years before marrying Rachel, the Hebrews waited 400 years to be saved from slavery and then 40 more years in a wilderness before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites waited in exile twice, and spent 400 years waiting for God to break his silence.

As Paul finishes his description of Abraham’s faith, he reminds the reader of what kept Abraham trusting in spite of human convention, appearances, and time—“and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able to perform” (4:21). Abraham was more impressed with the promises of God than he was in what he heard, saw, or how long he waited! “Being fully assured” calls to mind implicit and total trust. This is the shape that Abraham’s faith took and it is this same kind of faith in God that Paul encourages in the lives of those who read these words.

3] The Result of Abraham’s Faith-4:22-25

The “therefore” in verse 22 connects the description of Abraham’s faith with the results of Abraham’s faith. The consequence of Abraham’s faith in God was righteousness—“Therefore, it was also credited to him as righteousness” (4:22). Faith is awarded with the righteousness of God every time it is placed in the right object. For Abraham, faith in God’s promise of what was to come, resulted in his righteous standing before the Lord.

This righteous is not only required of Abraham in order to be in a right relationship with God, it is what is required of everyone in order to enter into a relationship with God. This is why Abraham’s faith is a model for everyone who follows him.

This is what Paul means when he says, “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,…” (4:23). In other words, Abraham lived out this example and it was recorded by Moses in the book of Genesis so that all who come after him might follow his lead and be justified before God in the same way—through faith!

But faith in what? For Abraham, faith was placed in the promise of God for things to come (a great nation that would be used to bless the world). However, as Paul concludes chapter 4, he directs his audience’s attention to the proper destination of their faith—“as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (4:24-25).

So What?

Jesus Christ and His completed act of redemption is the only appropriate object of our faith. Jesus and the promise of salvation He represents alone can provide hope against hope—even the kind of hope that defies human convention. The promise of his resurrection is not limited to what is expected or can be explained naturally. While we and creation wait for this resurrection power to be realized for us, we have every reason to persevere in faith because the promise of what is to come is as assured as the grave is empty. Faith in Jesus and His ministry results in righteousness—the very same righteousness that allows anyone who believes a relationship with God.

Can this kind of faith be found in your life? Is your faith in Jesus more compelling to you than worldly conventions and what you can see? Does your faith in Him endure as you wait for his perfect answer for your life? Are you assured of what He has promised?

May it be said of us and our church that our faith in Jesus’ resurrection power is as hopeful, steadfast, and unwavering as Abraham’s was! If there was ever a time when the church needed to buck against convention, it is now. If there was ever a time when appearances were grim, it is now. If ever there was a sense of wait upon the Lord and his direction and blessing, it is now. These aren’t obstacles that should inhibit our faith; these are opportunities to let our faith shine and, by proxy, glorify God!

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