13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 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.” 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 distrust 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. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness”. 23 Butthe 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.
Faith Against All Hope
Douglas Moo writes in his commentary on Romans:
Few words are more important to Christians than the term faith. This is as it should be. For as Paul explains in the gospel in Romans, faith is at the heart of the matter. But faith can be something that we talk about without really understanding. Some Christians seem to equate “faith’ with agreeing to a set of doctrinal statements. Others think that allowing themselves to be baptized and participating regularly in communion is faith. Still others view faith as an emotion that they can stir up as a way of getting what they want from God. We cannot here give a full biblical view of faith or deal here with all the current perversions of the word. But Paul says three things about faith in 4:13-22 that go a long way toward us filling out for us its meaning.
(1) Faith is distinct from the law (4:13-14). Paul here reiterates a point he has already made several times in the letter (see 3:20, 27-28; 4:4-5). the law is something that must be “done”, commandments that are to be obeyed. Faith, by contrast, is an attitude, a willingness to receive. Calvin likens faith to “open hands”. Believing means that we stretch out our arms and open our hands to receive the gift God wants to give us. We can take no credit for accepting a gift, nor can we take any credit for our faith. For faith is not exactly something that we “do.” Some extreme Lutheran theologians were so anxious to distinguish faith from what we do that they spoke of God believing through us. But God calls on us to believe. We believe, even if God creates the situation in which our faith is possible. But our faith is a response to God, not a “work” that puts him in our debt.
In Our achievement oriented world, giving faith its necessary place in our lives is not always easy to do. We are tempted to ground our relationship to God in what we do think that our “doing” is so impressive that God will be forced to bless us for it. Such an attitude toward God breeds serious problems. One of my former students is a counselor in a church located in a part of North America where hard work and human achievement are greatly admired. He is constantly counseling believers who are in despair about their ability to “live up to God’s expectations of them.” His message to them can be summed up in one word: faith. God accepts us not because of what we do but because we have humbled ourselves before him and have received from him the gift of salvation. Doing God’s will is a necessary result of faith, but t must never be put in its place as the mainstay of our relationship with God.
(2) faith has power not in itself but because of the one in whom we place our faith. One of the most famous lines in all of sports history in Al Michaels’s rhetorical question toward the end of the 1980 Olympic hockey match between the United States and the USSR: “Do you believe in miracles?” Believing in miracles has become a common way of speaking > Its popularity owes much to the current fad in religion: a belief in some kind of supernatural power that has a positive influence in people’s lives. Preoccupation with angels, as witnessed in at least one popular television program, is another indicator of this fad. But the Bible does not talk about belief in miracles; it talks about belief in the God who works miracles.
This is just the way Paul speaks about God in the midst of describing Abraham’s faith in 4:17-21. Abraham recognized in God the One who can give life to things that are dead and can speak about things that do not exist as if they did. These points had specific application to Abraham’s own situation. He needed to believe that God could bring life , a son, out of the deadness of Sarah’s womb and his own impotence. He had to believe that the things God promised him were so sure that God could address them as if they already existed. God’s character and person guides our faith and channels its expectations.
(3) Faith is based on God’s Word, not on the evidence of our senses. Abraham fully confronted the physical impossibility that he and Sarah would ever have children, but this did not keep him from believing God would do exactly as he had promised. Even when a son had been born to him and he had been ordered to kill the child, Abraham did not doubt God would fulfill his promise to create for him a great people through that child. For, Hebrews tells us, Abraham believed that “God could raise the dead” (Heb. 11:19).
The key to a full-bodied Christian experience is the ability to keep believing, day in and day out, that the ultimate reality is not what we see around us but what we cannot see – the spiritual realm. Paul calls this spiritual real the “heavenly realms,” a key idea in his letter to the Ephesians, for just this reason. Like Abraham, therefore, we need to believe “against all hope”: trusting in God and his promises even when the evidence goes against it.
But Paul also says that Abraham believed “in hope.” By this he means that Abraham’s faith was based on the hope that God had given him through a specific promise. In order to highlight the fact that faith often goes against the evidence of our senses, some theologians have called faith “a leap in the dark.” But this is not accurate. Abraham did not arbitrarily and without any basis put his faith in the God of Israel, or think that he would have a son with Sarah. God had spoken to him, and his word was the basis of Abraham’s faith.
Similarly, we must also realize that our faith is based on the solid reality of God’s written Word to us in the Scripture and of his living Word, Jesus Christ, active to capture our hearts for himself. We must carefully read scripture and seek to understand the working of God’s Spirit in the world so that our faith is not misdirected. I think here of the many Christians who are convinced that God has promised health, or wealth, or a particular job, or a particular man or woman to marry, and so on. their faith, while often noble, probably has no basis in God’s Word. As our faith must be directed to the God in whom we believe, so also it must be directed by what he has revealed to us.
Give us faith to take hold of the dreams that have been shattered and to see them as opportunities for growth. Give us strength to walk into the realities of the world and see the realities of what you can construct. Help us to see the impossibility that your will can be thwarted. May we bring your kingdom and participate in bringing life, and light, and peace.
- What is biblical faith?
- How does Abraham illustrate true faith?
- Why does Paul use the example of Abraham?
- How do you resonate with Abraham?
- In what way does God want you to exercise the faith that you have received?