Romans 4:13-22 Faith Against All Hope

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.


  1. What is biblical faith?
  2. How does Abraham illustrate true faith?
  3. Why does Paul use the example of Abraham?
  4. How do you resonate with Abraham?
  5. In what way does God want you to exercise the faith that you have received?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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12 Responses to Romans 4:13-22 Faith Against All Hope

  1. I used to see faith as a one time thing that I had to have in order to be in right standing with God. I now see faith as a continuous belief through which we come to know the Lord and get to know Him greater. Faith is a means, not an end. To have faith in Christ is to trust that He is faithful to do what He says He will do.

  2. Christa says:

    1. What is biblical faith? Trust in and reliance upon God, belief in all that He says
    2. How does Abraham illustrate true faith? Abraham had to trust that God would do what He said He would, rely upon Him as He brought Abraham to place and through situations, and believe that He would be his salvation
    3. Why does Paul use the example of Abraham? Abraham was a well known historical figure and one who was specifically said to have faith in the OT
    4. How do you resonate with Abraham? I have to also have to rely fully upon Christ as He leads me through life
    5. In what way does God want you to exercise the faith that you have received? He wants me to exercise my faith by sharing it with others and by trusting that He will truly lead me in my future, even when I have no idea where I am headed
    *on a side note, I really appreciate the “open hands” and faith comparison

  3. Maria T. says:

    I’ve read Romans 4 a few times recently, and I am struck by what Paul says about Abraham. He writes that Abraham hoped against hope. I have wrestled with what that means. Does it mean that there was a hopelessness that Abraham chose to ignore? He chose to be hopeful anyway? Abraham was reasonable in this passage because God had promised directly. So often, I feel that the church has lost hope in the things that God has directly promised, simply because there is no evidence right now that God will choose to work in those ways. And also, sometimes I see people hoping for things that they believe God has directly promised to them personally, but they are often disappointed. The faith does not produce righteousness unless it is placed in God. Faith is not valuable just because it is faith. And yet, the church absolutely cannot hold to God’s promises without it.

  4. Andrew Moore says:

    I love his point that faith has no power in an of itself, but instead our faith has power based on who we are placing our faith on. There are lots of people from other religions who have powerful faith, but their faith is powerless because it is misplaced. Our faith our has power when we place it on the one who truly is able to save.

  5. Michael McCardle says:

    What is biblical faith?
    The assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of hings not seen (Hebrews 11:1). ANd our hope and faith is in Jesus Christ
    How does Abraham illustrate true faith?
    Abraham illustrates true faith through his belief and obedience.
    Why does Paul use the example of Abraham?
    Because he is the father of our faith

    In what way does God want you to exercise the faith that you have received?
    God wants me to be faithful at school, and to follow where he leads after I am done at Moody.

  6. Kimberly W. says:

    In his first point, Moo writes of a former student who is a counselor at a church in an area where hard work and human achievement are greatly valued. He frequently counsels believers who are afraid they won’t live up to God’s expectations. This is something I have wrestled with in recent years. It is comforting to be reminded of the importance of faith; salvation is a gift received in faith, not because of works.

  7. Christina W. says:

    How do you resonate with Abraham?
    I resonate with Abraham because I too have to rely on the Lord in faith. I need to trust in him even when I cannot see him working. Faith is something that must be exercised and is something that grows as we exercise it.

  8. Jung Kim says:

    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”.
    Commentary: 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.
    But our faith is a response to God, not a “work” that puts him in our debt.

    These words really speak into my life so much. How often was my faith shaken due to my senses or emotions? How fully do I trust God that He is Sovereign and that He is in control of everything?

    Lord… I ask of you for your forgiveness and mercy upon me. Mold me and give me boldness to know and share the truth. Your faithfulness is incomparable to any other gods/things.

  9. 1. I think faith is an attitude or posture that results from trust in God.
    2. He acts in obedience to what God says in faith that God Himself will still be steadfast to His word.
    3. Abraham had such a faith in God that he believed God could do the impossible — raise his son from the dead. This is the kind of faith God calls His people to have.
    4. I am so thankful that God chose to place stories that show the imperfectness of Abraham in His Word. Often I think Abraham though he knew God would do something did not want to feel powerless over his own situation. I struggle with this. I feel more secure when I am able to do something about what is going on in my life. Over the past few years God has been working on that in me, but it is so comforting to see this man who struggles with keeping his hands obedient to God rather than doing his own thing to improve the situation finally come to such a sincere faith that he believes God can and will raise the dead to life.
    5. Lately I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Situations keep coming up in my life and have been for about the past two years that have required an expectant and still attitude of faith rather than me being a spaz and acting out of fear rather than faith. It has definitely been an exercise in being open to what God has even when I have no clue about where I am going or what or why He is doing something.

  10. Olyn says:

    How do you resonate with Abraham?
    I resonate with Abraham in that my faith needs to be in God and who He is, not who I want Him to be. A lot of times its easy to ‘have faith’ that God will do what I want Him to do, without considering what really having faith is.

  11. Maelynn says:

    Just as it was for Abraham, our righteousness is not dependent on our adherence to the law but rather on our faith. Placing our faith in God is not easy. Sometimes we are asked to do things that do not make sense. As with Abraham and sacrificing Isaac. I resonate with Abraham because I realize that he was just an ordinary person like me. If God can use Abraham I comforted in knowing that He will use me.

  12. Emmy R says:

    Faith has nothing to do with us or our efforts. We need to be reminded of this as we share the Gospel with others. All glory needs to go to the Father who made this possible for us. Nothing we could ever do, even comes close to the act of Christ saving us.

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