Well, 2020 has been and continues to be quite something, right? Just think of all that’s gone on:

January: we first hear of Covid19, Australia wildfires begin, Trump gets impeached, Kobe Bryant dies, and Brexit passes in the UK.

February & March: Covid goes global, Trump’s impeachment fails, everything shuts down to flatten the curve in 15 days, toilet paper/cleaners/wipes disappear, the stock market has its biggest drop since the 80’s, and the Olympics are cancelled.

April & May: Covid keeps spreading, face masks become a regular sight, murder hornets appear, and racially fueled protests begin nationwide after incidents in Minnesota and Georgia.

June & July: Covid continues, race protests turn into riots as the cause goes global under the Black Lives Matter movement, and as statues are being torn down and unrest increases Trump takes an awkward picture with a Bible, and he and Biden head out on the campaign trail.

Now that’s only through July, and that’s only some of the big events that have occurred, and more so I didn’t even mention what we’ve dealt with here at SonRise: from stopping our gatherings to just stream online, to doing Easter from our living room, to moving over to Riverside with four groups of all the members to meet more safely, to moving back home still having to do groups, to this morning where we’re still trying to navigate exactly how to do ‘church’ during this time. I think many are right to say that 2020 has been the longest decade of our lives.

But Church, may I remind you of something that is happening right now that you may not have noticed yet? In the midst of a year where almost everything around us disturbs and un-nerves us, it just so happens that a passage lies before us today where faith comes into view. But not just faith in general, no. Faith in God despite what our eyes can see. Faith in God despite the circumstances we’re in. Faith in God when appearances seem to destroy all hope. And faith in God even though faith might look absurd. How encouraging is that Church? This is a great reminder that God truly knows what we need, cares for us, and sees to the things that concern us.

If your Bible or device isn’t already there, turn with me to Romans 4:13-25. This is not only the last passage in chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Romans, today is our last day in Romans for the year. Why? It will very soon be December and with the coming of December comes our Advent series (which will be in the book of Hebrews this year). But nonetheless, this passage is still before us. So let’s dig in.

Remember where Paul has taken us. After laying out the foundational truth of our sinful plight and God’s power to save by grace alone – through faith alone – in Christ alone, Paul turns, in chapter four, to the great patriarch, father Abraham, as his chief example of how God has always saved his people by faith. We’ve seen this over the past two weeks. First, in v1-8 Paul brings in Abraham and David to show how God, by faith, counts us as righteous and doesn’t count our sins against us. And secondly, in v9-12 Paul brings up the sign of the covenant, circumcision, to show that circumcision, while a great blessing, isn’t something to boast in. Yes circumcision is a sign and seal of God’s covenant promises but it doesn’t make one righteous, no. Abraham was counted righteous before he and his sons were circumcised. That’s v1-12. As we come to v13-25 Paul will expand on this, illustrate this further, and drive this home to us one more time, with a deep dive into the nature of Abraham’s faith.

Faith Not Law (v13-17a)

“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. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 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, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations…”

Back in v1 and v9 Paul used questions to begin his main arguments, but here in v13 there’s no question as he makes another transition. Instead we just find a statement of historical fact.[1] God made a promise to Abraham, that he would be the heir of the world. But wait, was that the promise God made to Abraham? Didn’t God call Abraham to go to a land he’d never been to before? And didn’t God promise Abraham descendants like the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore? Yes He did, so why does Paul say here that God promise to Abraham was that he’d be an heir of the world? Is Paul misquoting Genesis? Well, no. Remember, through Abraham’s descendants God was going to bless the whole world. So while the Jews, the nation of Israel, and the defined territory of Canaan would be in view for the Old Testament, as we cross over into the New Testament we see the Descendant of Abraham, the Lord Jesus, extend His Kingdom to all nations. So I think Paul says what he says because though God’s promise to Abraham had the land of Canaan immediately in view, it ultimately had a global scope in view. Paul seems to show us in this, that the promise land, while great, points on ahead of itself to the greater promise land to come in the New Heavens and the New Earth.[2]

But notice the rest of v13. The promise God made to Abraham didn’t come through law but through the righteousness of faith. This means God didn’t make this promise to Abraham because of how good he was, or how much he had obeyed the Law. No, the Law God gave His people through Moses was still 500 years out.[3] It hadn’t even come on the scene yet so it’s not even a possibility that the promise to Abraham was based on law. No, it was based on the righteousness of faith. What does that mean? It means what Paul has already said back in 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

v14-15 clarify what this means. In v14 we see that if the promise truly did come through law-keeping, it would be completely null and void because no one can perfectly fulfill the law. So if God had come to Abraham saying, ‘I am going to make a great promise to you, but it’s on the condition that you keep the Law,’ then God might as well have not made the promise.[4] Then in v15 we see a reminder of what the law does. The law doesn’t save, it only brings wrath, or punishment not promise or blessing. So the law can’t save, it demands perfect obedience that we can’t give, so the Law shows us how we fall short.[5] He’s already told us this in before, that the Law came in to stop every mouth, hold all accountable, and give us a knowledge of our sin. This is how the Law brings wrath. But then v15 ends with a strange phrase, “…but where there is no law there is no transgression.” Is Paul saying that when someone doesn’t know the Law they can’t be held accountable for their sin? It might seem he is saying that at first, but again we need to remember what he has already said. No one is without law. The lost pagan knows the law because they’ve read it in creation and in their conscience, while the religious person knows the law because they’ve read it in the Scriptures. So all, are truly without excuse.

All of this has really been setting the stage for what’s to come here in v16-17. See what Paul’s said of Abraham so far. In v1-8 it’s faith not works, in v9-12 it’s faith not circumcision, and here in v13-15 it’s faith not law. So what’s the conclusion? Look at. 16-17. It’s all by faith, why? Because it all rests on grace. Now we see there’s a special relationship between faith and grace. Faith doesn’t trust in itself, it trusts in another. And the other in view here being trusted is the God of all grace who made such a great promise to Abraham. So the promise to Abraham and to his descendants rests on grace. But who then are Abraham’s descendants? Not just the Jews, no. It’s ‘the adherent of the law’ (the Jew) and the ones who ‘share the faith of Abraham’ (the Gentile). Or maybe we could put it more simply buy just saying it like this. God never had two plans, plan A for Israel and plan B for the Gentiles. No, there has always been one plan that’s progressively unfolded. God, in grace, made a promise to Abraham, that through him God would bring salvation to Jew and Gentile alike.[6] In this way Abraham is truly the father of all who believe from every nation.

Now, pause a moment. I think Romans 4:1-17 has been absolutely wonderful! But I think it’s also been highly theoretical so far. So having heard him explain this in theory, it’s quite refreshing to see him turn to explain it in practice. We say we believe in salvation by faith alone, but do we know what faith is? Do we know what faith really looks like? Maybe even, do we know what faith feels like? That’s where Paul takes us next in v17b-22.

Faith Over All (v17b-22)

“…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. 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.” 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. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”

I want to frame all of the glory to see here with a simple question: what is true faith? This middle portion of our text gives us five answers to this question.

First, true faith is faith in God (v17). Here in v17 we’re reminded where our faith ought to be directed, and it’s clear, our faith should be in God. Simple isn’t it? Maybe so, but maybe not. Think of all the things we tend to put our faith in and then think of how 2020 has shattered them all: health, government, the media, medicine, self-help, the economy, human goodness, travel plans, voting, democracy, possessions. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that all of this is sinking sand. Church, there’s only one rock. Our God. Look at v17. Abraham had faith not just in God, but faith in the God who…what? “…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Remember, the story of Abraham comes to us in Genesis, where God quite literally, gave life and called into everything existence, not out of some primordial lump of goop, no. God created everything from nothing. There is no one like Him, and there is no God but Him. He can do the impossible. Since God can do that, surely Abraham, and surely we ourselves can trust His promises.

Second, true faith is hopeful & honest (v18-19). Some think the Christian faith practically looks like an Ostrich; heads buried in the sand oblivious to reality or to the world around us. Others think Christians must remove their brain in order to believe because if we did use our brains we’d clearly see how fanciful all of this is. Is this what’s in view here with Abraham? Not at all. In v18 we see a hopefulness as he remembers the promise of God to him, that he’ll become the father of many nations. But in v19 we see his hopefulness isn’t oblivious to reality, no, it’s hope against hope, or a hopefulness that faces reality head on. Abraham honestly considered the facts of his situation, his old age and Sarah’s barrenness, and yet he didn’t weaken in faith. We know what this is. Often we just go on looking at the difficulties and obstacles of our situation and stop right there and get stuck or frozen in place. You see, unbelief only looks at the problems, faith does more. Faith looks at the problems, faces them head on, but faith also looks beyond them to the God who is over them![7] Thus, true faith is both honest and hopeful.

Third, true faith glorifies God (v20).[8] v20 shows us Abraham didn’t waver about God’s promise, instead he grew strong. Why? How? Because he gave glory to God. Yes, he considered his age, and yes, he considered Sarah’s barren womb, but he also considered God – who He is and what He is – and from doing this he knew nothing else really mattered. This faith glorified God, or made much of God, and from doing so Abraham grew strong. Some may say, ‘I only have a weak faith, that’s why I struggle so much in my walk with God. If only I could have a stronger faith!’ You may have a weak faith and feel nothing of the strength mentioned here in your own life. But be reminded Church, a weak faith and a strong faith get the same strong Christ![9] It’s the object of our faith not the strength of our faith that makes us strong. So be encouraged, stop thinking of how weak your faith is and think more of God. Know God, seek God, commune with God through His Word and prayer, and as you do so you’ll see your faith grow strong.[10]

Fourth, true faith is fully convinced (v21). If this part of faith is isolated it might lead to bad places. Those who are fully convinced about something can come off to others as arrogant know-it-alls. So take be sure to take v21 alongside everything we’ve mentioned so far. Faith that is fully convinced is just that. It isn’t partially convinced, or even almost entirely convinced, or convinced that God is merely a better option than other good options, no, true faith is fully convinced! There’s no fence sitting here. It’s going all in with everything you’ve got. Putting all your eggs in one basket. But see again a direction here. This kind of faith is not fully convinced in itself, or in its own abilities, or in its own power, but in God who…what? God who’s able to do what He’s promised! This was Abraham looking at himself and looking at Sarah, knowing how old they were and how far past childbearing years they were, and then looking at God and concluding, ‘Let’s do this! God can do what He says He can do! Let’s trust Him!’ Church, this is what faith looks like, what it feels like. There’s a gutsiness and a certainty about it. Gutsiness like Peter stepping out onto the water unsure but trusting the Lord. But a certainty as well because we know the One in whom we’ve believed, that He is able, and that nothing is too hard for Him.

Fifth, true faith saves (v22). Look at v22, “That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham was saved by this faith, was counted righteous by this faith. But does this kind of faith remain far back long ago with Abraham? Not at all.

Lasting Relevance (v23-25)

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

v23-25 contain such a potent summary of the Christian faith Martin Luther said the whole of Christianity is comprehended in them.[11] Paul ends chapter four like he does to tell us why he’s written all of this. It’s as if he’s saying here, ‘My real purpose in going back to Abraham is because the case of Abraham is the case of everybody who believes.’ Or, ‘What is true of Abraham is true of every man and woman who’s been saved by faith in Christ.’[12] But see how Paul puts it here. The crucifixion is mentioned once and the resurrection is mentioned twice. “…Him who raised up from the dead Jesus our Lord…” and the end “…raised for our justification.” We’ve mentioned this before back in 1:4, so I’ll just repeat briefly. The resurrection was the stamp of approval, the validation, that the Son’s offering made on the cross was accepted by the Father. If Jesus remained in the grave, we’d have no hope. But since He’s been raised, we have every reason to hope because for all who believe in Jesus, it is not death to die. He was raised for our justification.

Conclusion:

We’ve talked about faith today because faith is in view throughout all of chapter four. And the prime example Paul goes to is Abraham. So Church hear it again.[13] The Christian is like Abraham. We believe in God despite everything we know to be true about ourselves. So with all the past sins you’ve committed and all the present sins you’re entangled with, faith is something of a confident protest. Do you see that? 

In spite of all you know to be true about yourself, true faith doesn’t look to our works, true faith doesn’t look to ourselves in any manner, true faith doesn’t even look at itself, no. True faith looks at the Lord Jesus, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

When we look to Him, even in this anxious age, our faith grows firm.


[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 3 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 192.

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 300.

[3] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 103.

[4] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 194.

[5] Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 103.

[6] J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 109.

[7] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 217.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, 220–24.

[9] Probably Spurgeon…

[10] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 235.

[11] Lloyd-Jones, 236.

[12] Lloyd-Jones, 237.

[13] Lloyd-Jones, 247–50.

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