“The Promises of God Are Sure to Happen” Romans 4:18-25 July 26, 2020
by John Steensma
In the fourth chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul presents Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, as the model, the prototype, the supreme example of salvation by faith and faith alone. The Bible teaches that a man is made right with God by faith, or we could put it another way…being made righteous before God. and that is it isn’t something we do, it’s something we believe. And in believing, God’s righteousness is given to us and we’re made right with God.
In our text the key word is in verse 25, in fact, the last word …Justification. But before we get there I would like take us there in a round about way first by an illustration found in Luke 18 from Jesus how it is demonstrated… its in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. Remember at the end the tax collector “ stood at a distance” where he belonged. He would be the one relegated to the back of the bus, or put under the bus. He didn’t belong in front with all the ‘good’ people. And when he prayed, “he wouldn’t even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said… “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Now that statement is the whole of the gospel in one short sentence) and then Jesus telling of the Tax Collector’s prayer, said “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God”.
So the parable answers the question: How is a person justified before God. You see he recognized who Jesus was, how he, the tax collector, was sinful in God’s site because of his sinful nature and what God could do and punish him because of his sinful state. First step in our repentance. Seeing the need!!
Martin Luther called justification the ‘chief article’ of Christian theology. “It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves and defends the christian church and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour”.
John Calvin said that justification ‘the main hinge and pillar of Christianity’.
What then is our state before being justified by God? This is not just whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe already is condemned.
It is simple truth. We are not right with God. We are alienated from Him and are under his wrath. Don’t believe me, listen to what John 3: 18 says… “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”.
Romans 2:5 “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
This is what the tax collector recognized by the spirit of God working in himself. You see that is the question we need to ask our selfes…
How can we escape that wrath and be reconciled to God? Or to put in another way…how do we become righteous in God’s eyes That is the essential issue that all mankind who has ever lived must face.
That was the introduction!!!!
And now with that backdrop we can look at a great illustration in Romans 4, and it goes back thousands of years….that being Abraham, and Paul begins with that illustration in the very first verse of the fourth chapter.
Now keep in mind, also, that the whole book of Romans basically presents the gospel of God in the first 11 chapters. In fact, that wonderfully rich phrase, “the gospel of God,” appears in Romans in the very first verse of the first chapter. It is the good news from God. And the good news is that men can be saved through faith, not through their own works. But before Paul gets to Abraham, Paul gives the indictment of man in the first 3 chap of Romans, then he gets to the great illustration in chapter 4. And we will get to him in a minute.
ou remember, begins with a penetrating and deep, at the same time comprehensive look into the sinfulness of man, chapter 1 verse 18 through chapter 3 verse 20. That whole section shows the sinfulness of men; and that’s very bad news. Man’s total sinful indictment.
And then the solution to that begins in chapter 3 verse 21 through the end of chapter 5; and in these verses you have the good news that in spite of the sin of man, God has provided a way of salvation and it is …. righteousness, God’s righteousness and redemption through our Lord Jesus Christ. Or Justification by Faith.
Now, in the middle of that section. Chapter 3 verses 21 to 31 states the teaching of salvation by faith alone. Chapter 4 illustrates it and chapter 5 demonstrates it or shows its results of Christ in our lives.
So the statement of the doctrine on mans sinful nature in chapter 3, the illustration of Abraham in chapter 4, the result in chapter 5 which ends saying….” just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So the death and resurrection produces righteousness. How important is this word righteousness. It is used 213 times in the scriptures, 30 times in Romans, 8 times in chapter 4.
Now the great illustration of this declared righteousness we are going to see in life of Abraham and his unique faith in Chapter 4. Actually Romans chapter 4 is a further delineation of Gen 15:1-6.
In order to really understand all that Paul is saying in the fourth chapter, we have to understand the story of Abram who became Abraham. And the name meant “father of many,” and nobody was more inappropriately named than he was. He was the father of nobody. Nobody at all. And yet he was named Abram, the father of many.
Now, it is essential, to begin with, to note that Abraham was chosen sovereignly by God and he responds to the sovereign choice of God simply by believing God. God says, you go and I’ll bless you, and he believes it. He believes it and he goes and that’s essentially the story of salvation. God sovereignly comes, calls a person, the person responds and says: If that’s what you say, Lord, that’s what I’m to do. I believe it, I accept it. And in that simple term, Abraham is defined for us as the father of who believe, all our own kind of faith.
Now, when God called Abraham, He also told him that he would produce a seed, that he would have offspring. In fact, ultimately his offspring would number as the sand of the sea and the stars of the heaven. And Abraham had zero progeny.
Now the NT defines for us the eschatological seed of Abraham. Paul to the Galatians says this in 3:16 “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture (Gen 15 ) does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.”
Now here is the problem, here is a man who is told he is going to produce multitudes of people and he is in fact the father of nobody. He’s never produced anybody. He had no seed. All he had was a promise. He had no land. He had nothing…All he is looking for is a son and he’s also looking for a land and what does he do, he moves out in faith. Why? Because he believed God,
Now you say, “Well, why did he believe God?” I don’t know because the Bible doesn’t tell us that part. How did God convince him that He was to be believed? I don’t know, the Bible doesn’t tell us that. But I do know that when God wants something to happen, He will make it happen, let me make that more emphatic, it has to happen!! Period!!! God is in control of His providential mercies and blessing and God dispenses them where he wills and in the life of Abraham He draws him to faith. Phil 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 2:13 “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his Good Purpose.” God’s sovereign grace is going to work out in Abraham’s life.
And all of us are redeemed not only because God called us, mark this, but because God produced in us the response. And so, when God called Abraham He also produced in him the response. The call in whatever form it came was convincing enough to make Abraham believe. Romans 8:30 “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
God in his Providence can and does use whatever is at his disposal (which is everything) to bring about faith in his people.
Lets look for a moment at Galatians chapter 4, 22,23 where Abraham is brought up as an example of God sovereign grace.
“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise (intervention).” Verse 28 “Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. “
See the contrast — now go back to Romans 4, the contrast — is between human effort and divine power. God would never tolerate Ishmael as the son of His promise because that was the child produced by Abraham. He would only tolerate Isaac as the son of His own promise because he was supernaturally conceived.
Now Abraham believed that, Abraham accepted that, and waited for the son Isaac to be born. We meet him then in Paul’s picture after he has heard the promise and is waiting for the birth of Isaac. And we pick up the story in verse 18. And Paul says of Abraham,
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your (seed) offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
This is why “it was credited (imputed) to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit (impute) righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25…He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Now Paul closes the chapter on Abraham with this tremendous section. It’s very clear as we go through it in what he’s saying and I want us to follow it and see the great truths culminating at verse 25.
Remember that verses 1 to 8 of the chapter show that salvation comes by faith not works. Then verses 9 to 17 show that salvation comes from grace not law.
Now these verses, 18 to 25 show that salvation comes through divine power not human effort. And that is demonstrated in the life of Abraham as are all others who come to faith as well.
Now as we look at Abraham’s faith in the last section, verses 18 to 25, I want you to note three aspects of faith:
- The analysis of faith.
- The answer to faith, and
- The application of faith.
First the analysis, now we want to do this because this is what Paul does. And why analyze Abraham’s faith? Because we are also saved by faith, the same faith as Abraham.
You notice that in the beginning of verse 18 there is a string of phrases all the way down through verse 21 that describe the faith of Abraham, one right after another, just strung together like pearls. A series of phrases that overlap and interlock. Each one is unique to itself and yet pictures and catches all the meaning of the rest. And they describe the faith of Abraham.
First phrase, Verse 18 “Against all hope”. Now that figure of speech, I don’t know if any of you were English teachers, but if I remember my grammar rightly, that’s called an oxymoron.
And what it basically means is it’s a figure of speech which uses opposite ideas to convey a thought. Have you ever heard the phrase “the silence was deafening”? Or, “there was thunderous silence.” That’s an oxymoron, two opposite things, and that’s what you have here. He hoped that when there was no hope, and what it means is that against all human capability to deliver, he believed God.
Now, hope and faith are different. It’s very simple.
Hope is the desire for something to happen.
Faith is the confidence that it will happen. REPEAT
Now Abraham hoped when there was no hope. I mean, it didn’t make any sense to hope when he hoped. But God had told him he would be the father of many nations and Abraham believed it. Verse 18 says :Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And that was the statement of God relative to the sand of the sea and the stars of the heaven. The Lord says you’re going to have a multitude come from your loins, Abraham. And even when it looked impossible, now he’s 99 years old, the whole idea is ridiculous, but God says that’s what it’s going to be.
In fact, in Genesis 15:5, God brought him front and center and said, look toward heaven and count the stars if you be able to number them. And He said to him, ‘So shall thy seed be,’ and that’s what is also quoted by Paul in Romans 4.
And then verse 6 is the great declaration, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited (imputed) it to him as righteousness.” He believed, He believed that he’d actually have a seed like the stars in the heavens, and up to this point all he had was Ishmael, and so he hoped against hope. He wanted something to happen and he believed that it would and he held on to God’s promise. And this is all God’s working his plan out for Abraham.
The second phrase that helps us analyze his faith is that he was not weak in faith, verse 19. It says: “And being not weak in faith.” Now conversely would you notice verse 20, toward the end it says, “He was strong in faith.” And of course, those are saying the same thing, one from the negative and one from the positive.
You say, “But how did he possibly maintain any faith?” I mean, there are some people, for example, who have been praying for something in their life and nothing, this man for almost 40 years is strong in faith and it’s hard to understand why, until you look at verse 17, you see the reason he never lost hope was because he believed two things about God.
ONE, that God could create something that didn’t exist.
TWO, that He could revive something that had existed and ceased to exist. He could create something out of nothing. He could raise the dead.
And when you believe in a God like that you, can be confident that what He says He will do. And so, he had the confidence. He believed in the God of creation. He believed in the same God of resurrection.
The worst thing you could possibly imagine would be that something didn’t exist that God had promised you, or that something had gone out of existence that God had promised you. And if you believed that God could bring into existence what doesn’t exist and revive what used to exist, you don’t have a problem waiting on God, now would you.
For example, Genesis 17:7 ” I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” And God gives him this marvelous promise and he believes. He trusts in God. And he’s not limited because he believes in God’s ability to create out of nothing. So if he doesn’t have a son, that’s no problem for his God because his God can make one, right?
And later on, isn’t it interesting? When Isaac was born, after waiting all this time, God asked him to do what with Isaac? After all this time for the son of promise?… Kill him. He got up on top of the mount Moriah, put him down, lifted up the knife and was about to plunge it into his heart. And we know how the story ends.
You say, “Well, how can a man do that?” Well, it’s simple because, you see, he not only believed in the God who could make things out of nothing, who gave him the son from no possible son, but he also believes in the God who can do what? Raise him from the dead. And you see, he without question, was confident that if Isaac were to die, He believed, then that Isaac would be raised from the dead. The man’s faith, as is ours, was based upon the character of God, again, who could bring something out of nothing and bring back into existence what had ceased to exist.
Third phrase, and this is marvelous. Verse 19 “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and forth phrase “and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” that he was not discouraged by his own natural weakness. I mean, he knew he could make no contribution. He looked at his own body and he said, “I’m not going to be able to make a contribution to this. I am 99. I have died as to procreative power. And Sarah,” who is mentioned in the rest of the verse, could never be of any help. So, between the two of us, we cannot do this.
Now, he could have easily reasoned God blew it. But that was not a problem to Abraham because he knew he had a God who could create out of nothing. And you don’t need an Abraham to create something out of nothing. God doesn’t need any help.
There’s a fifth element of his faith. Look at verse 20: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” The word waver can also mean to vacillate. And he didn’t. Like the psalmist in Psalm 57:7, he could say, “My heart is fixed, 0 God, my heart is fixed.” His eyes were filled with the vision of God and, again, God could bring something out of nothing and God could raise the dead.
Now just between you and me, I’d say his faith could have wavered here a little, wouldn’t you? I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Abraham was still a sinful human being. Even our faith isn’t always as strong as we’d like to think it could be.
You say, “Well, then how can the apostle Paul say that he didn’t waver at the promise of God?” Well, I think that’s pretty clear. Verse 19, “Without weakening in his faith…” Abraham was a better man than I would have been under those circumstances.
John Calvin said this: “We are never so enlightened that there are no remains of ignorance, nor is the heart so established that there are no misgivings. With these evils of our nature, faith maintains a perpetual conflict, in which conflict it is often sorely shaken and put to great stress but always it conquers.” You see, that’s the point. Oh, Abraham’s faith was battered around but in the end it did not waver.
James puts it this way. In Chp 1:12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”…sound like Abraham?
Now, there’s a sixth element in the analysis of his faith saving the best for last….He gave glory to God. At the end of verse 20, giving glory to God. Oh what a great result this is. Faith glorifies God. We can say, God, You’re trustworthy,” You can be trusted. If You say it I believe it. And that glorifies God; that honors God when you believe him.
A seventh element in the analysis of his faith: He was fully persuaded of God’s power and promise. Verse 21, “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” Now this tells us the certainty of his heart. He really had the conviction, he was certain, he was fully convinced. No hope in human resources, complete hope in God.
There you have the analysis of his faith.
Now let’s look at the answer to his faith in verse 22. What happens with that kind of faith? “This is why “it was credited (imputed) to him as righteousness.” Therefore it was credit (imputed) to him (For what?) for righteousness.” He did not have righteousness; only God has that. But because of his faith, God gave him righteousness and that’s how the transaction works. And it is the same for us when we believe.
The ground of his justification was his faith. He believed God, therefore he was made right with God. How does a person become right with God? He transmits His righteousness to believers. So, he was accepted by God, a sinner, and was given divine righteousness, which he received through faith. Like the Tax Collector. Oh, what a great truth. And, people of God, that verse 22 is the heart of the whole passage.
Thirdly, look at the application of Abraham’s faith. We’ve seen the analysis, seen the answer, or the result of it. Here’s the application, verse 24. This is so direct. Paul applies it: “ but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” Paul reiterates this again in Romans 15 verse 4. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
How is our righteousness credited?
Righteousness will be imputed to us when we believe. Another way of saying it is that God dispenses his eternal grace on us. When we believe what? If we believe on the same God that Abraham believed, the same God who was able to do what? Raise the dead.
And so Abraham is the living evidence for all history, that the just shall live by faith, that they live by faith in God, that they live by faith in the God who raises the dead, that they live by faith in the God who also raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
And I believe Abraham was given a glimpse of this future event, even saw fully, in some way, to the very resurrection of Jesus Christ, because in John 8:56 Jesus said of Abraham. “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
God must have given to Abraham a vision of the coming of Christ, his death and even his resurrection. And he from that side saw it and we from this side see it. And we are saved because we believe the God of resurrection and we believe he demonstrated that He was the God of resurrection by raising up Christ from the dead.
And then verse 25, that mountain peak gospel statement: “Who was delivered over.” And that’s a judicial term meaning to give someone over to prison, to commit them over to trial and punishment. He was given over for our offenses, our sins, our paraptōma, our transgressions, not His. And He was raised for our Justification. If Jesus had never been raised from the dead we never would be justified, right? Because God could not have accepted His sacrifice.
The reason that God raised Jesus from the dead, of course, was to show the conquering over sin. Also it demonstrates that God was pleased with what Christ did, raised Him from the dead, lifted Him to the right hand, exalted Him and said, You have accomplished salvation. So, He was raised into the very presence of God, as an affirmation that His atoning death had done its work. “It is finished.”
Jesus told the truth and the truth is, He had to come into this world, verse 25 says, to be delivered to the executioners for your transgressions. That’s right. And He went through that grave and He was raised for your and my justification, to make us right with God. Justification is synonymous with righteousness. You are declared justified…you are declared righteous.. God applied that to you.
What kind of faith appropriates Christ? What kind of faith brings righteousness? Think of it. Hopeful faith. A faith that allows God to be God. And it is selfless, obedient faith. And we have every reason to put that faith in our God, do we not? Because He raised Jesus from the dead. He was raised for our Justification.
Romans 6:5 “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
What is the comfort of this verse?” It means that when he died, your sin died, when He arose, you will arise at the resurrection at the second coming unto eternal life….if we believe.