We continue following the apostle’s discussion of Abraham’s faith. We finished our treatment of Romans 4:16, knowing that Abraham was the father of believing Jew and believing Gentile alike. But what do we mean by that word believing? Abraham sets the pattern, and in this passage we learn what his faith was actually like. It is not enough for Abraham to have real faith and for us to have something called faith.
“As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be . . .” (Rom. 4:17-25).
Summary of the Text
We have noted that Abraham believed, but we have taken special note of what he believed. In this place, Paul notes that he believed the promise of Gen. 17:5, that he would be the father of many nations (v. 17). Now Abraham is the father of all (v. 16) before Him whom he believed (v. 17). The one he believed was God, and is He a worthy object of our faith? He is the one who raises the dead, and who speaks to nothing as though it were something—and then it is (v. 17). The promise cited in the next verse that Abraham believed was the promise from Gen. 15, “so shall your seed be.” Against hope he believed this particular word in hope (v. 18). He was not weak in faith (v. 19), and he looked to the promise and not to the circumstance. The circumstance was his own body, virtually dead, and Sarah’s aged and barren womb (v. 19). Not a lot to go on. He did not stagger at the promise in unbelief (v. 20), but was strong in faith. What did that look like? He gave glory to God (v. 20). Abraham was fully persuaded that God was able to do what He had said He would do (v. 21). And this is why is was imputed to him as righteousness (v. 22). Abraham was a man of faith, and he was an “all-in” man of faith. But this word is not recorded as an historical curiosity—look what happened to Abraham!—it was not written for his sake alone (v. 23). It was also written for us as well, who will have this righteousness imputed, if we believe in Him who raised Jesus from the dead (v. 24). This Jesus was delivered over for our sins (v. 25), and He was raised to life for our justification (v. 25).
Who God Is, And What He Does
Notice the parallel between what Abraham did and what we are to do. Abraham gave glory to God (v. 20). He believed in God (v. 17), not in certain random occurences. Abraham did not just believe the dead were quickened, and that certain inexplicable things happen. He believed in God, the one who brought these things about. He believed what was spoken (v. 18) precisely because he believed the Speaker. In the same way, in an identical way, we must do more than believe that Jesus came back from the dead. We must believe on Him who raised Jesus from the dead. We believe in a Person who says and does things; we do not proceed straight to those things which are said and done. But we may not detach them from the other direction either. Just as we cannot be justified by the predicate apart from the subject, neither can we be saved by the subject apart from the predicate
The Same Promise
We must also see that, at bottom, Abraham believed the same promise that we do. Abraham believed in the God who quickens the dead (v. 17), and we believe in the God who quickens the dead (v. 24). Abraham believed in the God who gave him the nations of men (4:13, 17, 18), and we believe in the God who raised Jesus for “our” justification (v. 25). Who does that pronoun refer to? Remember that we have just learned that Abraham is the father of believing Jews and Gentiles both, and that he understood this as meaning that God was giving the world to him (4:13). Our justification is therefore, over time, the world’s justification.
Is This Too Big To Swallow?
The world will be Christian. The nations will come to Christ. The swords will be beaten into plowshares. The earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord will be praised. The ensign will be raised and the ends of the earth will stream to the Lord Jesus. Take the breath away? Too glad to be true?
After all, scores of wars are continuing around the planet as we speak. Millions live in grinding and unbelievable poverty. Our new president has nothing but contempt for the right of the unborn to live. Sexual immorality continues to spiral out of control. We insist that our public square be kept stripped of all reference to the true and living God, and blithely expect Him to bless us anything. A glance at the newspapers would not lead you to the conclusions outlined in the paragraph.
“I see your point, certainly,” Abraham said. “I am an old man. How could I possibly beget a son? And look at Sarah . . . she was barren when she was young, and she is old now.” Is that what you want to be remembered for—pointing at our newspapers and persuading Abraham that he ought not believe the promises of God?
But of course Abraham wouldn’t have listened to this kind of unbelieving chatter. God had promised him the world, remember, and he believed God, giving glory to Him (v. 20). What did Abraham do with all the information that was contrary to the promise? He ignored it. He had nothing whatever to do with it. He looked instead to the promise, made by the God who does what? God is not hog-tied by our circumstances. We believe in the God who quickens the dead, proving that He does this through His raising of Jesus from the grave. We believe in the God who calls those things which are not as though they were. And so what are Abraham’s children to do? They do the same, calling non-existent realities into reality. We are to do this by faith, never by sight.
According to Virgil, Aeneas was the legendary Trojan who laid the foundations of the great Rome. “And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately” (Acts 9:34). Note that Peter doesn’t flatter him; he heals him. America is not a picture of health; we are laid up with the palsy. Arise, then and walk. America is not vibrant with life. We are like Israel in the valley of dry bones. Rise, then and live. So then, you believe that America can be restored this way, by words from a pulpit? Well, yes, I do.