Pastor David B. Curtis


Abraham's Faith

Romans 4:16-25

Delivered 05/01/2011

This morning we are going to be looking at the nature of Abraham's faith. This is a vital subject in my opinion, because there is so much confusion within Churcheanity as to the nature of faith. Just ask someone to explain to you the nature of saving faith.

Today we finish this second section of Romans that runs from 3:21--4:25. This section shows us God's faithfulness to the covenant. Paul is telling us how the covenant is fulfilled. The purpose of the covenant was to deal with the sin of the world, which was to happen through Israel. Israel was faithless, as we saw in 1:18-3:20, but Israel's representative, the Lord Jesus Christ, does for Israel what she failed to do.

We saw in 3:21-26, which is the normative passage on the subject of justification by faith, that God's righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, is revealed through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Then in 4:1-8 we saw that Abraham's family is characterized not by their race, not by Torah, not by anything except believing in the God of the covenant promises. Then the question arises, "Who is this covenant membership for, is it only for the circumcised? Circumcision was given to Abraham, but Abraham believed God and was reckoned as a covenant member before he was circumcised (4:9-12). Thus he became the father of all who believe, the circumcised and the uncircumcised. The promise always was by faith, not Torah (4:13-15). If it was up to the Law, everyone would have received wrath. See verses 16-17:

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, Romans 4:16 NASB

This verse summarizes the thought of verses 13-15. What does "it" refer to? It refers back to verse 13, "the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world" It is the promise that is by faith.

What is it that guarantees the promise that you will be an heir? The answer is: God's grace. The only way that our eternal future can be guaranteed is if it rests on God's grace. Grace is the free and undeserved work of God to bring His people to glory.

The last part of this verse (4:16) sounds a little confusing, but the intent is to say that the inheritance is available to both Jewish believers and Gentile believers who share the faith of Abraham.

It was always God's plan to have a single worldwide family, a single seed, Messiah and His people (Gal 3:16). Abraham is the father of all who believe, not just Jews, but Gentiles also:

(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. Romans 4:17 NASB

This is a quote from:

"No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. Genesis 17:5 NASB

In the beginning his name was Abram, which meant "Exalted Father." That in itself was a kind of joke since he wasn't a father at all until he was 86 and Ishmael was born. But now He changes his name to Abraham, which means "Father of many nations." But note the chronology: He changed his name not only before Isaac was born, but before Isaac was even conceived. He changed his name while his body was still dead and Sarah's womb was still closed.

The God who made these promises and Who is the object of faith is the God in whom Abraham believed, "Who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist." In the context of this passage, what did God call into being that did not exist? A covenant people! Jews who were under the Old Covenant were dead because of their transgressions, but God will give them life. Gentiles were not in the covenant, they didn't exist in the covenant, but God will make them covenant members. God will create one family from Jew and Gentile. In order for Abraham to have a guarantee that he would inherit the promise, God must bring life from death and call into being what does not exist.

Without the birth of Isaac, the promise to Abraham will have failed. But Isaac does not exist, and humanly cannot exist. His Father is ninety-nine years old. His mother is ninety and barren all her life. The supernatural birth of Isaac is a picture of how God creates children of promise--you and me. Paul says in Galatians 4:28: "You brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise."

In verses 18-22 Paul analyzes Abraham's faith:

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." Romans 4:18 NASB

Hope is used more in Romans than in any other book in the New Testament. Paul speaks of two views of hope or two types of hope. One is hope set on the Lord and His promises. He hoped when there was no reason to hope, When hope didn't make any sense against all human ability, all reasonable expectation, he believed.

We might say, "I hope that I will get the promotion." That's more clearly termed "wishful thinking." Biblical hope does not involve wishing; instead it means confident expectation.

Charles Wesley writes: "In hope, against all human hope, Self-desperate, I believe; Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, And looks to that alone; Laughs at impossibilities, And cries: It shall be done!"

The text says, "He believed"--what did he believe? He believed in a specific promise:

And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:5-6 NASB

If you go back to Genesis, you find that God repeated the promise 5 times--in Genesis 12, 13, 15, 17, 21. Now notice Abraham's response to the promise:

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; Romans 4:19 NASB

There is a minor textual difficulty in verse 19, the KJV reads: "he considered not his own body now dead." In most of the modern edited texts of the New Testament that negative is not found in the translations, because it's not found in the four oldest manuscripts of the New Testament. The meaning here is that Abraham did considered his body. The word "contemplated" is from the Greek word katanoeo, which means: "to fix one's mind, to contemplate, to consider, to concentrate." He looked at his body, and he saw that he could not naturally have any children, and he took a good look at that ninety year old wife of his, and he knew that she could not have children. He is now in a state of deadness. He fixes his mind on that reality, but it never ever diminishes his faith, because he understands that this is a divine promise, this is not something that he has to pull off:

yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, Romans 4:20 NASB

Do you know what faith is? If someone asked you what faith is, could you explain it to them? Before we look at what faith is, let's dispel some myths.

What faith is not: Some say that we live by faith every day. You turn on your faucet, fill a glass of water and drink it--that's faith. You open a can of food, and you eat it--that's faith. Or you fly in an airplane--that's faith. Those things are not faith! That is simply putting into practice what is called the law of mathematical probability. You are saying to yourself, "Well, thousands of people do this everyday and everything is all right, so I'll do the same." I've grown up seeing people drink out of the faucet--that is not faith.

Faith is not superstition, it's not a sort of sixth sense, some intuition into the spiritual realm, or an open sesame sort of thing. Faith is not wishful thinking--"I want a certain thing to happen, so I'm having faith that it will." Many people are like the girl who was asked to define faith. She said, "Faith is believing what you know isn't so." That is what faith is to many. They think it is some sort of gamble. That is not faith. Faith is always intelligent, it knows what it is doing.

Biblically defined, faith is understanding and assent to a proposition. If you were to ask me, "Where is my money?" and I said to you, "The check is in the mail," now, you are either going to believe me, which is faith; you are trusting in what I said, or you are not. No matter what the subject, whether it be God or guns, the psychology or linguistics of belief is identical in all cases. How many of you know what a M61 Vulcan is? It is a hydraulically driven, six-barreled, air-cooled, electrically fired Gatling-style cannon, which fires 20 mm rounds, with a rate of fire of 6,000 rounds per minute. That's 100 rounds per second. Do you believe that? Yes or no are your only choices. If you say, "Yes," that is faith. You are trusting in what I have told you. Believing is always thinking that a proposition is true. The difference between various beliefs lies in the objects or propositions believed, not in the nature of belief. Faith must begin with knowledge; you can't believe what you don't know or understand. Belief is the act of assenting to something understood. But understanding alone is not belief in what is understood. I understand the teaching of evolution, but I do not assent to it. I understand Dispensational theology, but I do not believe it.

Soren Kierkgaard, the Dutch theologian of the mid nineteenth century, started this subjective movement that most of the Church has been swept away by. Kiekgaard said: "It really makes no difference WHAT you believe, the HOW is all that matters. If you are really passionate, if you really have a zeal, that is all that is important. What you believe really doesn't make any difference." We see this everywhere in the Church today-- mindless passion! Kierkgaard used the illustration of an Orthodox Lutheran and a Hindu. The Orthodox Lutheran prayed to God, but he had no passion. He just prayed according to knowledge. Keirkgaard says this is useless to God. But if you take a Hindu praying before an idol, if he prayed with passion, he would, in fact, be praying to the true God--even though he had no knowledge of God. Kierkgaard's buzz phrase was, "Infinite Passion." He said that we encounter God by zeal. His teaching has infected the modern Church.

I want to give you a deep theological thought that you need to grasp: When it comes to faith, there are not different "hows", there are only different "whats." It is WHAT you believe that matters. You cannot believe in the wrong way. Faith is understanding and assent to a proposition. You can't believe in the wrong way, you can only believe in the wrong thing.

Faith is believing a proposition, in this case a promise:

yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, Romans 4:20 NASB

God gave Abraham a promise, "So shall your descendants be." And Abraham believed what God said. We see this definition of faith, believing a proposition, in:

"Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. Acts 27:25 NASB

Paul believed what God said. That is faith.

It says that Abraham, "did not waver in unbelief"--the word "waver" is diakrino, it means: "to vacillate between two opinions". He doesn't flip-flop. Did that mean that he never had any doubts? Absolutely not, since we find in the Genesis record that Abraham had his struggles with faith. Genesis 17 says that when he heard the news that he was going to have a child, he fell on the ground and started laughing. Later on, Sarah did the same thing. Abraham had his doubts. That's natural. Who wouldn't? He was a man. He had his doubts, but he didn't dwell on them.

He's not wavering. He's fixed, strong (literally a passive word) in faith; he's been made strong in faith, it's a divine gift:

and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Romans 4:21 NASB

Abraham understood what God was promising him, and he believed Him. Faith must have a promise or proposition. Believing God for things He hasn't promised isn't faith, it's presumption or foolishness.

"God is able to perform"--God does what He promises because He is "able," that is, He has all of the power necessary to accomplish what He promises. The God that created the world, that suspends the stars in each solar system, that controls the weather, that feeds the sparrows, that raises up and brings down empires and kingdoms; yes that same God is able to do what He says.

Let me share with you three things about faith that we must understand:

1. Saving faith is supernatural:

"While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light." These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM." John 12:36-40 NASB

Unregenerate man is unable to believe the Gospel. He is blinded by sin:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 1 Corinthians 2:14 NASB

Man is spiritually dead and cannot believe until God gives him spiritual life:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1 NASB

Certainly they weren't physically dead, they were spiritually dead. But God gave them life:

even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), Ephesians 2:5 NASB
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; Ephesians 2:8 NASB

Faith is a gift of God. Saving faith is supernatural. Man cannot believe apart from God's work of regeneration. So Abraham's faith was a gift of God.

2. Assurance is an inseparable part of saving faith:

and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Romans 4:21 NASB

"Fully assured" is from the Greek word plerophoreo. This verb means to fill completely and thus to convince fully. Faith always has in it the element of assurance. This needs to be emphasized today because the "Lordship teaching" is destroying assurance. Do you have the assurance that you will spend eternity in heaven? What is your assurance based on? If you are basing it on your performance, you have a false assurance.

The preoccupation with the uncertainty of salvation was a peculiarity of the Puritan era, not the Reformation era. If I seek assurance through my good deeds, one of two things must necessarily result. (1) I will minimize the depth of my own sinfulness. (2) I will see my sinfulness as hopelessly contrary to any conviction that I am saved.

John Calvin said, "From one's works conscience feels more fear and consternation than assurance." Our assurance, like Abraham's, is to be based upon the Word of God:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. John 5:24 NASB
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. John 6:47 NASB

If I believe in Jesus Christ, what does He promise me? Everlasting life! So if I doubt my eternal destiny, I am not believing Jesus Christ. Assurance is necessarily a part of believing the Gospel. Jesus Christ offers a guarantee to everyone who believes in Him. If I base my assurance on how I live, I'm not trusting Christ, but my performance.

3. There are degrees of faith. We often think in terms of either having faith or not having faith. But the Bible talks of various degrees of faith:

yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, Romans 4:20 NASB

Abraham didn't have "weak" faith, his faith was "strong." This shows that there are degrees of faith. Our Lord charges the disciples in general, and Peter in particular, as having "little faith." They had faith, but unlike Abraham's, it was deficient in strength:

Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" Matthew 14:31 NASB

As Peter focused on the circumstance around him instead of on Christ, his faith grew weak. I'll bet that most of you can relate to this, can't you? When you are focusing on the circumstances, doesn't your faith grow weak?

Jesus said that the centurion had "great" faith:

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. Matthew 8:10 NASB

In Luke 17:5 the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. In Acts 6:8, Stephen was said to be "full of faith." The Greek word for "full" is pleres, which means: "complete or mature." In 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul said he wanted to perfect that which was lacking in their faith. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul said, "Your faith grows exceedingly." James talks about "dead" faith in 2:17 and 20, and he talks about "mature" faith in 2:22.

So the Scriptures speak of: little faith, great faith, weak faith, strong faith, lacking faith, perfect faith, dead faith, full faith, growing faith, and increasing faith. There are degrees of faith. All believers don't have the same amount of faith. Some believers are weak in faith. Some believers have dead faith.

Let me show you another example of strong faith:

Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. John 4:46-47 NASB

If you had a child that was dying, what would you do? Would you trust Christ no matter what happened?

So Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." John 4:48 NASB

Jesus was concerned that the man's faith was based only on signs and wonders.

The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." John 4:49 NASB

The nobleman compelled Christ to act, but Christ simply spoke the word:

Jesus said to him, "Go; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. John 4:50 NASB

The man believed what Christ said, "Your son lives." He understood what Christ was saying, and he believed it. What would you do at this point? Would you run all the way home? That would be weak faith looking for proof:

As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." John 4:51-52 NASB

The man asks when his son got better, and he was told, "Yesterday." Cana and Capernaum were only a short distance apart, the journey could have easily been made in four hours. It was one o'clock when Jesus pronounced the boy healed. Such strong faith had the nobleman in Christ's word, that he didn't return home until the next day. That is strong faith!

The more you walk in faith, the more you walk in victory and joy, so we need to learn to live by faith. Faith pleases God.

How can we increase our faith? There are two main factors which determine the strength of our faith. First, is our knowledge of God. The main explanation of the troubles and difficulties that most Christians experience in their lives is due to a lack of knowledge about God, theology proper. We need to study the revelation that God has given of Himself and of His character. That is how to develop strong faith. The more you know God, the more you will trust Him.

Martin Luther said to Erasmus, "Your thoughts of God are too human." I think that is true of most Christians:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 NASB

We need to study the Word that we may know Him. It's hard to trust someone you don't know.

Our faith is so weak because we are not acquainted with the Word of God, we don't read the Word. And in not reading, we don't become acquainted with the God of the Word. And so our trust in the character of God is deficient.

The second element to increasing our faith is the application of what we know. A knowledge that never ventures out upon what it knows will never be a strong faith:

Now on one of those days Jesus and His disciples got into a boat, and He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side of the lake." So they launched out. But as they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger. They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, "Where is your faith?" They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, "Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?" Luke 8:22-25 NASB

The disciples in the boat during the storm were failing to apply their faith, and that is why our Lord put His question to them in that particular form. He said, "Where is your faith?" They had faith, but where was it? Why weren't they applying it to the situation that they were in? Their problem was they did not use the faith they had, they didn't think.

They were looking at the waves and the water coming in the boat. They were bailing it out, but still more was coming in, and they cried out to Jesus, "We're going to die." He said to them, "Where is your faith?" They had seen Jesus do the miraculous, they should have trusted Him:

Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep." And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Luke 7:12-15 NASB

They saw Jesus raise the dead, and they were worried about drowning? They weren't applying their faith. In addition to our knowledge of God, there is this very important element--we must apply what we know.

At times we do apply what we know, and we come through the problems and difficulties of life victorious; like David when he faced Goliath. And yet at other times we become consumed with our circumstances, and we do not apply our faith; like David before Achish the king of Gath. David was scared to death, and he changed his behavior and pretended he was crazy. He began to scribble on the doors and drool all over himself (1 Sam. 21:13). What happened to the giant killer? He wasn't applying his faith. He forgot about his God. Have you ever done that? You think your faith is strong; then you have a trial, a situation that causes you to panic and drool all over yourself. At those times we need to focus on God, to meditate on Him and apply what we know:

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," Hebrews 13:5 NASB

That is a promise from the sovereign God of the universe. He is always with us.

When we fail to trust God, we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. God views our distrust as seriously as He views our disobedience. When the children of Israel were hungry, they spoke against God:

Then they spoke against God; They said, "Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? "Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out, And streams were overflowing; Can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?" Therefore the LORD heard and was full of wrath; And a fire was kindled against Jacob And anger also mounted against Israel, Psalms 78:19-21 NASB

Why was it that God was so angry with them?:

Because they did not believe in God And did not trust in His salvation. Psalms 78:22 NASB

In order to trust God, we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith. Faith pleases God.

Many folks have reduced Christianity to a bunch of rules; do this and don't do that. They think they are pleasing God by doing things and not doing other things. Listen, the thing that pleases God is our faith in Him. We are to live by faith, trusting Him in every situation of life.

Strong faith glorifies God. Giving glory to God doesn't mean adding glory to God. It means showing that God is glorious. It means calling attention to His glory and showing it to be what it really is:


For the third time in this chapter Paul repeats, "Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness." How was it credited to him as righteousness? By faith!:

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, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Romans 4:23-24 NASB

"Not for his sake only was it written"--These things were not recorded as mere historical facts, but as illustrations for all people of all times of God's method of justification, that God credits righteousness to those who have faith.

"But for our sake also"--who is the "our" here? It is Paul and the Roman Christians to whom he writes, and I would say it applies to us as well. He has not talked specifically about himself and his audience since 1:5-15. He has been using a writing style called "diatribe."

In verses 24-25 we have the Christian Gospel in its most compact form. Martin Luther said that in these two verses "the whole of Christianity is comprehended." So what Paul is saying is that the faith of Abraham is essentially the same faith of every one of us today who trusts in Christ.

"Those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead"--we do not just believe in God as Creator--though that is certainly important. We believe in the same God that raised Jesus from the dead! The same God that sent Jesus to die in our place before His wrath at the cross is the same God that raised Him from the dead.

Does a person have to believe in the Resurrection of Christ to be a Christian? Yes! To deny the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is to destroy the entire basis of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is not based primarily on the teachings of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, or the death of Jesus. The Christian faith is based on all of these, culminating in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If there is no Resurrection, all of these other factors are valueless.

The story of Abraham is the story of all who believe. The covenantal transaction between God and the patriarch is the same as that carried out between God and His New Covenant people. In believing the Lord Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, the Roman believers and Paul are true sons of Abraham, because they share with him the same faith in a resurrecting God:

He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. Romans 4:25 NASB

"Who was delivered over because of our transgressions"--Paul is alluding to Isaiah 53:5,12, where the Servant of the Lord suffers for the sins of Israel.

"Delivered over," is paradidomi, a technical term meaning to put somebody in prison or hand over to judgment. Jesus "was delivered over"--by whom? By the soldiers? By Pilate? By Herod? By the Jewish mob?

this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. Acts 2:23 NASB

God delivered Him over to death. So the death of Jesus Christ was by the design of God. God planned His death. He did not just die. He was delivered over to death by God.

So our transgressions are not swept under the rug. They are not overlooked. They are condemned. They bring about an execution, but not ours. Christ's.

"And was raised because of our justification."--How do we know that God accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the Cross as sufficient payment for our transgressions? Look at the empty tomb! He raised Jesus from the dead, signaling to all that the debt had been paid, the righteousness secured, and sinners justified who have faith in Christ.

So Paul has put forth clearly and repeatedly that the only badge of covenant membership is Christian faith. In this section, 3:21-4:25, Paul is saying that God, in being faithful to His covenant promises, has called out a people for Himself; creating a world wide family consisting of those, and only those, who have faith in Jesus the Messiah.

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