March 27, 2011


Romans 4:17-25

The Absolute Certainty of Faith

In order to better develop vv. 17ff, let us look again at 4:3 Abraham believed God. Paul's quotes from,

Genesis 15:1 ¶ After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. 2 ¶ And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. 6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

God called Abraham out of his tent at night to have him look at the sky. There he could see countless stars. Then God said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Abraham believed what God said. He was about 100 years old at the time and Sarah was ten years younger. Abraham not blind to the fact that both he and Sarah were too old to have a child, yet he believed that God could and would do as he promised.

Romans 4:19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:

Thus we see that it was Abraham's faith that justified him as a believer, not his works. However, his faith resulted in works. His faith resulted in his obedience to God's revealed word.

Justification by works means that God is a debtor to those who work, and only the "workers" could be justified.

God does not pronounce the unholy to be holy ; he simply declares that the demands of justice have been satisfied in behalf of those who have no righteousness of their own. God, through Christ, declares that justice is satisfied in Christ's punishment. Man's moral character is not the grounds of God's declaration. But man's moral character is changed as a result of justification by faith. He becomes a new creation in Christ.

V. 3, Abraham believed God... The object of faith is not man, but the clear word of God. In Genesis chapters 15, 22 and 26, God promised Abraham that his heirs would be as the multitude of the stars of the heaven. It seemed impossible in chapter 15, for Abraham had no children, and it was humanly impossible for them to have children at their age.

Vv. 1-17...

First, if the greatest and best men of the old dispensation had to completely renounce dependence upon their works, and accept the favor of God as a free gift, then justification by works must be impossible for all men. Romans 4:2, 3.

Second, no man can glory or rejoice in his own goodness in the sight of God. V. 2

Third, works and free or sovereign grace can never be united. If of works, justification cannot be of grace. If of grace, it cannot be of works. The two cannot mix any more than fire and water can mix.

Fourth, justification of the ungodly cannot be of their own merit, but must be by imputation of another's righteousness.

Any self-righteous spirit must be renounced before the gospel can be accepted.

Fifth, vv. 9-11, the blessings of forgiveness of sin and the method of justification is suited for all men regardless of sectarian differences or ceremonial observances.

Sixth, v. 10, religious ceremonies of any kind become ruinous when they are turned into any ground of confidence. Paul assures the Jews that circumcision will not produce righteousness. He assures us today that neither baptism nor any other religious ritual can lead to nor produce regeneration.

Vv. 9-12, Nothing is more natural, and nothing is more common in the Christian church than the corruption of the means of free grace. Grace has been connected with circumcision, baptism, the Lord's supper, prayer, fasting, &c. But those connections result in the destruction of those who place their trust in those rituals.


Note: Do we depend on prayer, or is our praying a dependance on the free grace and mercy of God? If we depend on prayer in order to be right with God, are we any better than those who depend on circumcision or baptism? Are our prayers a good work from which we expect God's blessings?

Or are our prayers an exercise in faith that God hears and answers prayer?

Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

The Lord needs to search us and know our hearts:

Psalms 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Seventh, vv. 11, 12, since Abraham is the father of all believers, then all believers are brethren, regardless of nationality or station in life.

Eighth, v. 13, the seed of Abraham are the true believers, and with Jesus Christ as their head, they are true heirs to the world.

Daniel 7:18 But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. 19 Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet; 20 And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows. 21 I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; 22 Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. 23 Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. 24 And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. 25 And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. 26 But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. 27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. 28 Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.

Ninth, v. 15, the law which condemns cannot justify. Paul has told us that the natural man knows that the law cannot justify. So the sinner's answer is to dismiss the law, so he can justify his evil deeds.

Tenth, v. 16, nothing is sure for the sinner except that which is freely given by God's grace. Promises based on conditions can never be sure, for obedience is not man's strong point.

Eleventh, v. 16, the freeness of the gospel makes it available to all ages and nations.

Twelfth, v. 17. the proper object of faith is the diving promise of God. He alone is able to determine and accomplish his word.

All things are known to God alone and are subject to him, and it is he who brings all things to pass.

Knowing who our God is, we should be strong in the faith, giving glory to him alone.

Vv. 16-25, Paul explains what took place in Genesis 15.

V. 16:

If salvation be in any form or to any degree dependent on the merit, the goodness, or the stability of man, it never can be sure, nay, it must be utterly unattainable. Unless we are saved by grace, we cannot be saved at all. To reject, therefore, a gratuitous salvation, is to reject the only method of salvation available for sinners. Salvation being of grace, suspended on the simple condition of faith, without regard to parentage, to national or ecclesiastical connection, it is available for all classes of men. (Hodge)

The apostle says that by salvation being by grace through faith, it is available to all, both those of the law, that is, natural born seed of Abraham, and those who are not of the law, that is, believing Gentiles.

Abraham is the father of all who have the like faith of Abraham.

We will see that Abraham looked ahead and believed that God could and would bring life out of death; we look back and see that God did bring life out of death when he raised Christ from the dead.

Paul will also deal with bring life out of death for those who were and are dead in trespasses and sin.

V. 17, father of many nations. Paul quotes from Genesis 17.

Genesis 17:1 ¶ And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 ¶ As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

Genesis 17 is 13 years after Ishmael was born. V. 1, the Lord's instruction to Abraham here was be thou perfect. That is, be a man of integrity, and do not be of a double mind, which is hypocrisy:

James 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
James 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

God requires fidelity from those who have professed faith in him. God cannot lie, and he expects the same truthfulness from his people.

V. 17, calleth those things which be not as though they were, which only God can do.

Abraham is the father of us all before him whom he believed. That is, As soon as God spoke it, Abraham became the father of us all in the sight of God. God made the promise that he would bring about many nations from a childless old man and woman, and it was done, though it still had to be worked out in time.

Abraham believed that God could quicken, or give new life and energy, to a man and woman who were as good as dead.

Note: The devil can only kill and destroy, John 10:10.

10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Only God can produce life where there is none.

Only God can call the dead to life, and Abraham believed that God could give life to a dead man, and produce numerous seed and many nations from him who had no children. His faith was counted to him for righteousness.

Paul's words here in this chapter can be confusing.

V 3, Paul quotes from Genesis 15, where Abraham's faith was counted as righteousness.
V. 18, Paul quotes from Genesis 17 where Abraham was given the promise of many nations.

After the promise in Genesis 15, Sarah tried to work it out on her own, and Ishmael was the result. But after the promise in Genesis 17, both Sarah and Abraham were "raised from the dead", and Isaac was the result.

In both cases, Abraham knew the promise was humanly impossible to fulfill, yet he believed that God would fulfill the promise. His faith was counted for righteousness in Genesis 15.

V. 18, Against all human hope or reasonable expectation, Abraham believed That he would become the father of many nations. He believed it because God had given his word that his seed would result in a great unimaginable multitude–as the stars of heaven, and make up many nations. The promised multitude was to include both Jews and Gentiles, and people from every nation under heaven.

Abraham understood that the promise spoke of Christ and his redemption:

John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

He looked past the discouragement of deadness in v. 19, and trusted in the promise of life. We look back on the same Deliverer who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification, v. 25.

V. 19.

Hebrews 11:11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

Only God can bring life out of death.

Ephesians 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

The dead cannot will themselves alive any more than Abraham and Sarah could will a child. When they did try for a child on their own, the result was Ishmael, and many years of wars and fightings.

Vv. 20, 21

Abraham did not allow the contrary circumstances to discourage him. He did not dwell on the obstacles to God fulfilling his promise, or he would have staggered– that is, he would have been overwhelmed with doubt.

Certainly, this does not mean that Abraham had no conflicting difficulties in his spirit. He was a sinner, as is all mankind. It only says he did not let his inner doubts and misgivings discourage him.

V. 20. The strength of Abraham's faith in the God of the promise is shown by his giving glory to God.

Our faith in the Lord is shown by our conduct. That is, we given glory to God by being fully persuaded that what he promises, he is able to perform.

Paul had talked of the blessedness of forgiven sin and redemption, vv. 8, 9.

Paul uses Abraham to prove that only by faith in God's promised Saviour that makes available to all the world the blessedness of redemption through faith in Christ.

Doubts concerning God's promise, or about his love, are not marks of humility. Rather, doubts dishonor him, for they questions his word.

The thing we must believe is that God accepts the unworthy, and for Christ's sake he justifies the unjust. How many find it harder to believe that God can love them regardless of their sinfulness, than it was for this hundred year old patriarch to belive he should be the father of many nations?

The sinner honors God by trusting in his grace and power as much as Abraham trusted in that same grace and power.

Abraham did not ignore the human impossibility of God's promise, but that impossibility did not discourage him. He was not weak in faith... His faith in the promise of God overcame his doubts. He looked past himself, and found his strength to believe the promise by looking to God in faith. He was fully assured that God was able to do what God had promised.

V. 22, Therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

Faith... Paul uses Abraham's faith in the promise of God to explain righteousness apart from obedience to the law of God and the customs of men.

Abraham's faith was imputed to him for righteousness. He was accepted as righteous on account of his faith. Faith itself was not the ground of his righteousness, but it was the condition of his justification. He believed, and God accepted him as righteous. We believe, and we also are accepted as righteous. We are not accepted as righteous on account of any merit of our faith, but on the ground of the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to us when we believe.

Application: It is not our faith or confidence that God will answer our prayers concerning whatever might be heavy on our hearts that is counted for righteousness before God. It is our faith in Christ that is counted for our righteousness.

However, James 1 does tell us that faith also contains confidence in the power of prayer. Prayer is not a blank check, according to James. Rather he does place come conditions on prayer in chapter 4. But it is faith alone, which is provided by God's sovereign grace, that results in righteousness.

Paul applies what he has been saying about Abraham in vv. 23-25.

Vv. 23, 24. His sake alone... The record of Abraham's faith and resulting imputed justification was not given with the simple intention of giving a correct history of the events in Abraham's life. Rather, the record presents Abraham as a representative for all sinners, to show us how true faith works which leads the sinner to forgiveness of sin, redemption and salvation. In Paul's words, blessedness.

To whom it shall be imputed... That is, to whom it is appointed to be imputed... Here we see the first hint of the doctrine of election which Paul will present in detail shortly.

Using Abraham, Paul explains how forgiveness, justification and redemption — blessedness — is given and will be given to the elect. All men are sinners, and everyone who shall be saved will be saved in the same manner, by God's grace through faith in Christ Jesus, whom God raised from the dead.

V. 25. Raised again... Salvation's cornerstone is Christ's resurrection from the dead.

God promised Abraham resurrection from the dead, and when Abraham believed that God would raise the dead, it was imputed unto him for righteousness.

In like manner, when the sinner believes that God did raise the dead, Christ, it is it is imputed unto him for righteousness.

God raised his son from the dead. Upon that faith, he raises those who are dead in trespasses and sins from the dead.

The imputation of righteous by faith to Abraham is written for our instruction, showing us that faith in Christ Jesus works.

God could not act as though we had not sinned, because he cannot over look sin.

Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

V. 25, Christ completely fulfilled all of God's holy demands, and God raised him from the dead. His work and resurrection provides the justification of his people.

God's righteous requirement for his people was fully satisfied in Christ, as Christ bore our sins on the cross.

Our sins were judged in him. His resurrection proved that the penalty for the sins of his people was totally paid.

Vv. 16-25:

First, true faith is strengthened in difficulties.

Second, Abraham's faith should serve as an example. He believed that a Savior would be born from his family when having a son seemed impossible. We are only called upon to believe that the Savior has been born, and that he suffered, died and rose from the dead.

Third, unbelief is a very great sin; it doubts the dependability and power of God.

Fourth, v. 23, what is written in Scripture is for our instruction; its promises, commands and even its threats as they apply to us, are for our instruction. Scripture addresses similar character and similar circumstances that apply for all time:

1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (2 Timothy 3:16.)

Fifth, the gospel is that Christ died as the sacrifice for the sins of his people, and he rose again for our justification:

Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Sixth, Paul ends this "introduction" with v. 25. Denial of the substitutionary death of Christ and his resurrection is a denial of the Gospel. It is a refusal to be saved according to the only method God as appointed to salvation.

Next, Paul will start dealing with the results of genuine faith, conversion, or justification. He will start developing the blessedness which is obtained by faith as promised in 4:7-9.