Romans 4:18-25 Faith Counted as Righteousness

As I post the commentary for the fourth week of the Romans small group study guide, I am feeling so humbled. I am humbled by the thought that God desires intimate relationship with us, and more than that, he desires to partner with us in his kingdom plan. I am baffled that he would want to use such broken people like me and you. Because, no matter what, we are all broken at some point in our lives. And Beloved, that’s when God shines. I have learned to covet those times of hardship. How my God shows up and shows off for me when I need him! How I pray that you would cling to God through the hard times, if you haven’t already, and watch him show up and show off for you. There is nothing in this world like watching God work things in “hopeless” situations. Praise be to God!

Today, we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a “hopeless” situation. We are looking at Romans 4:18-25, at the end of an entire chapter of teachings regarding the example of Abraham, father of the Jews. I love the example we find in this patriarch. If you don’t know the story of Abraham, I would encourage you to read over Genesis 12 (if you are really interested, read from chapter 12-22!). There are portions of Abraham’s story with which we can all identify – whether it be in unfailing faith in God or crippling fear and unbelief. God tests Abraham over and over and over through life’s situations. Abraham fails again and again: first he fears for his safety and that of his wife, so he tells the king that she is his sister and gets them all into trouble.[1]  Twice. And again, when God was taking too long to deliver on his promise of offspring and Abraham and Sarah choose to beget offspring through Sarah’s servant, Hagar.[2] God tested Abraham until Abraham finally got it right. Genesis 12:4 tells us that Abraham was seventy-five years old when God called him and he began following God; we know that he was one hundred years old when Isaac was finally born to he and Sarah.[3] Abraham had twenty-five years with God before he truly began to rely on God and believe God’s word to be unfailing. It was not overnight.

God does not expect us to have unwavering faith in him immediately upon following him. He knows we are going to fail some tests along the way. Hopefully, we learn enough through those little storms that we are able to hold tight when the tornado comes through. Like Abraham, when we rely on God enough, we see that he is a faithful God. He is worthy of our trust. He is worthy of our faith.

As we begin our journey through Romans 4, we find ourselves walking with Abraham as he is waiting on God to give him the offspring he had promised. Abraham is nearing one hundred years old, and his wife ninety. Romans 4:18 says, “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

We begin this wonderful passage with the words, “in hope he believed against hope.” It hearkens to our modern phrase of “having hope when all hope is lost.” Logically, there was no reason for Abraham to have hope of offspring. Sarah was well past the age of childbirth, and he was so old, Paul calls him practically dead in the next verse! If God called Abraham and promised him offspring at seventy, it has been thirty years since God made this promise. Thirty years!! When was the last time you held God to his word for any real amount of time? When was the last time you had to pray for years and wait on God to fulfill his word to you?

I majored in exercise physiology and had a job as a personal trainer through college. I had a great job that I loved, and I still geek out about anatomy and physiology and fitness stuff. But I never felt like that was where I was supposed to be. My junior year in college, I began praying about where God wanted me – even though I wasn’t living a righteous lifestyle, I could still feel that he had something more planned. As I grew closer to God over the span of the next couple of years, I felt the same thing with even more conviction. I had no idea what God wanted from me, but I knew it was more than just being a strength and conditioning coach. During this time, I had a great career doing injury prevention and rehabilitation with clients and athletes, and I helped build an injury prevention program using software to diagnose problem areas in athletic motions. I loved my job! But. God had more planned and I felt such a discontent that I just kept praying. Finally, after six years, a great career, and a new husband, God spoke as clear as I’ve ever physically heard: “Go to seminary.” Now, I was driving when God gave me this revelation and burst into tears and started hyperventilating so bad I had to pull over onto the side of the road and pray for clarification. So many things were wrong with this idea – namely, I had been a single mother for seven years from the age of sixteen and had partied pretty hard for most of my college career. I did not have a spotless image, nor did I feel like I was worthy of a calling into seminary. Nonetheless, God spoke to me with finality and within a month I was enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary, and began classes two months later. It took a while, but I finished with a master’s degree in Biblical studies and God has taken me on an adventure I never would have ever imagined. I only waited for six years and had so many ups and downs, periods of unbelief and discouragement followed by enough brief moments of fortitude and perseverance that I didn’t give up on God. God made Abraham wait thirty years. Abraham’s faith was indeed an incredible and awesome faith.

There seemed to be no hope left in the situation, but Abraham clung to God’s promise with shocking tenacity. Romans 4:19-21 continues to say:

19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

What allowed Abraham’s faith to be counted to him as righteousness, is that it was truly an outrageous faith. Both Abraham and Sarah’s bodies were “as good as dead.” He knew how bodies worked, he knew how life was created and that women’s bodies had time limitations on child birthing. He knew Sarah was incapable of having children. It is precisely this knowledge that made his unwavering faith so incredible. Abraham’s faith defied all logical knowledge. However, Barrett suggests that the promise had been given by God and “this, not human weakness, was the decisive consideration.”[4] Abraham saw the limitations and weakness of his human frailty, but his belief in God eclipsed each logical consideration.

So many times, we become so focused on the problem we are facing that we forget to focus on the God who fixes the problem. As our focus zooms in on the issue, it seems like God is too small to help in the situation. However, when we put the problem back in perspective, we see so clearly that God is so big he makes the issue seem obscure. We blow problems out of proportion while we dial God down to nothing. God has to be the lens through which we view every situation. There is no problem too big for God; no human frailty God cannot heal; no broken relationship God cannot redeem; no financial woes for which God cannot provide. The question for us is this: will we choose to hang on to God long enough that we receive the blessing?

Abraham had to hang on to God and remind God of his promises for thirty years, but hang on is exactly what he did. Of course Abraham doubted – that is why we have Genesis 16 and the story of Ishmael’s birth by Hagar! Of course Abraham failed God when he lied about he and Sarah’s relationship in order to keep them safe while passing through foreign lands. Abraham hung on to God’s promise because there was no other alternative. God was Abraham’s only hope for a legitimate heir. God walked with Abraham and promised him it would be so; Abraham just had to wait and believe.

From the beginning of Abraham’s story in Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that his goal is to reach every person, every tribe, every nation, and every tongue through his covenant with Abraham. That was the point of their relationship. From the beginning, in Genesis 12:3, God made his eternal plan known. Paul puts it like this in Romans 4:23-25:

23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

The terminology in Romans 4:20-23 alludes multiple times to death of the physical body.  Paul uses this kind of language to explain why hope was so farfetched in Abraham and Sarah’s lives in order to remind the Roman church of God’s abilities. “Paul is able to say that the conception of Isaac was an example of God quickening the dead, that is, both Abraham’s body, which was ‘as good as dead,’ and Sarah’s barren womb, and in fact calling into being things which do not exist… it is closely analogous to the raising of Jesus from the dead.”[5] Of course God was able to raise Jesus from the dead; he had been bringing life to the dead for millennia as shown by bringing life to the dead bodies of Abraham and Sarah in the birth of Isaac. If God can bring life into dead wombs and bodies close to dust, what can’t he do? Barrett says that our faith can be the same as Abraham’s because we still serve the same God as Abraham; those characteristics of our God have not changed – he is still a God who brings forth life out of death.[6]

Therefore, Paul has challenged each of us to an outrageous faith like Abraham. Not only is our God still the same as he was four thousand years ago, but we are still given the opportunity to watch God perform miracles. God gave Abraham and Sarah life out of their “dead bodies” through their son, Isaac; God, through his son Jesus Christ, has crucified our old bodies to the cross with his son and raised us up as a new life. Paul says it like this in his second letter to the church of Corinth; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[7] Do you truly believe that your self before Christ is dead and gone? Have you left all the guilt and shame associated with that “person” nailed to the cross? Have you believed God when he said that you have been washed clean and you are raised up holy and blameless?[8] Let me tell you this: you will never be effective for the kingdom of God until you leave your past nailed to the foot of the cross and forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you. You must allow yourself to forgive yourself. God cannot use you to further his kingdom plan if your heart and mind are always stuck in the past. Move on! God has thrown all that sin into the depths of the ocean, so stop trying to fish it back out.[9] Take on, instead, the mantle of Abraham and repeat God’s promises to yourself over and over and over until it has so filled your brain that no doubts can find a way in. Abraham believed with an outrageous faith. What is holding you back? God is one of exhilarating life; don’t let your unbelief hold you stuck in death when you could be riding the exciting adventure to which God has called you.

 

 

[1] Ref. Genesis 12; 20

[2] Ref. Genesis 16

[3] Genesis 21:5

[4] C. K. Barrett, 91.

[5] Ben Witherington III, 128.

[6] Barrett, 93.

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[8] Ref. Colossians 1:22

[9] Ref. Micah 7:19

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