Believing In The Living God
Content Of Abraham’s Faith
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 19a of 83

17  (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, even God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were. 18  Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19  And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb; 20  yet, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God, 21  and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22  Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. 23  Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned unto him; 24  but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25  who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:17-25).

The book of Romans is about Justification by grace through faith. This doctrine answers the question: “How may I be right with God?” The answer, according to the apostle Paul, is that we may be right with God only by faith. What is faith? Faith is believing. But what are we to believe? What are the things I must believe if I were to be saved? Is there a minimum set of propositions that I must definitely believe in? The Bible, after all, is a thick book!

The answer to this question can be found in Romans 4:17-25, which we may study under three heads: (1) What did Abraham believe that he was justified by faith? (2) What must we believe if we are to be justified by faith? (3) What should we do to this truth?

1. What did Abraham

a.   The apostle Paul had highlighted earlier that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (v. 3). Paul was quoting from Genesis 15:6. But he did not elaborate on it immediately.

He had stated it as a fact to show that Abraham was justified by faith. Then he went on to explain the relationship between Abraham’s circumcision and his faith. We saw that in the previous study.

But the question remains: What did Abraham believe? Well, we are told “Abraham believed God.” But what does that mean?

The context suggests that Abraham believed God’s promise (v. 13). But does it mean that Abraham believed a particular promise of God only? Did Abraham believe God the way that a child might believe her busy father’s promise?

A child is having an exam. Her father promises her that if she passes her test, he would buy her a new dress. She believes him.  He had made other promises before. There were times she did not take him seriously, but this time she believes him.

Was this how Abraham believed God? A moment’s reflection would show us that this could not be the case. God is altogether holy. How can it be that He should be pleased with Abraham if he believed some things and disbelieved other things that He said?

No, no; when the Scripture says that Abraham believed God, He believed God whole-heartedly. He believed all that God has promised and will promise. He was not selective in what he believed.

Paul tells us that Abraham believed in “God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (v. 17). Note that it is not merely that God was able to quicken the dead or to call those things which do not exist as though they were.

Abraham believed God because He is the sovereign, living God. This is what Abraham believed! What did Abraham believe? He did not merely believe in one promise of God or one proposition about God. He believed in God. It is because he believed in God, that He believed that He would do what He promised.

Thus Paul says that Abraham was “fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (v. 21).

Be careful not to misread what Paul is saying. He is not saying Abraham merely believed God’s promise for that occasion. But Abraham believed in God. Because he believed in God, he had no doubt whatsoever that He was able to, and would do what He promised.

That not withstanding, Abraham’s faith was manifested in a special way, in his trusting God that He would keep His promise in regard to his descendants.

b.   But what is so special about this promise that it should be recorded in Holy Scripture as the thing above all things that Abraham believed? Well, let’s pause for a moment to look at the promise.

From Genesis 15 we read—

1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. 2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, “So shall thy seed be” [Paul quotes these words in verse 18 of our text]. 6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness [Paul quotes this verse in v. 3; and refers to it again in v. 9 and 22-23].

And turning to Genesis 17, we see God’s explication of His promise—

6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

This was God’s promise to Abraham. He would have many descendants! And they would inherit the Promised Land.

But there was a problem. Abraham’s body was as good as dead. He was almost a hundred years old, says Paul.[1] And Sarah’s womb was dead (v. 19). There was no reasonable possibility of having children any more.

This is the first reason why believing this promise is significant. If Abraham and Sarah were twenty or even forty or fifty years old, God’s promise would not be very significant at all. And it would not be anything special to believe the promise. But the fact is: by the time God made the promise, it was already humanly impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. Their days of child-bearing had long passed. They would no doubt have wanted a child, but with each passing month, their hope grew dimmer and dimmer. And no doubt, by the time God made the promise, they would no doubt have given up hope altogether. They would have long concluded that their days of child-bearing were over.

But God had promised! And Abraham believed! “Against hope [he] believed in hope” (v. 18). He considered not his own body. If God had said it, He would keep His word. He would keep His word, whatever the circumstance may be. He is the sovereign, living God. He is the giver of life. He quickens the dead. He calls those things which “be not as though they were”. That is, He brings that which is non-existent into existence.

Abraham, in other words, was fully persuaded that God is able to perform what He promised because He is God. He is the sovereign, living God.

c.   But wait! Is there another reason why God’s promise to Abraham was significant? Well, yes! What did God promise Abraham? He promised him that he would be a father of many nations. His children will be as the stars of the heavens; and they would inherit the land of Canaan.

But, did we not see in our last study, that it is not just that? The apostle Paul teaches us in Galatians 3 that God was not merely promising Abraham that he would have many children. God promised Abraham that the seed of God would descend from him. The seed of God is Christ and His church. The Hebrew word ‘seed’ has a special meaning. Paul reminds us that the seed refers to Christ and His church in Galatians 3:16.  We saw that in our last study:

“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Gal 3:16).

Abraham, in a word, believed that Christ would descend from him, and that the Church of God would be gathered in Christ.

Abraham’s faith in God, in other words, cannot be divorced from his faith in the Messiah to come.

Why was it said that Abraham was counted righteous? It was because the promise is directly about the coming Messiah. God was promising Abraham that (1) He would give him children;  (2) among his children would be the Christ and His elect; and  (3) he and his children would be redeemed by Christ and will inherit the world, namely the new heaven and the new earth.

Now, in the final analysis, this promise which God gave Abraham is the same as the promise He made in Genesis 3:15 or the promise He made to Noah. In fact, this promise is the same as the promise that would be given to Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. The fact is: It is the same promise, though it is presented differently.  This promise is that God would be their God and they would be His people in Christ! This is the Gospel in its Old Testament form!

This is the significance of the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15. Therefore, when Abraham believed the promise, it was written, v. 22—“it was imputed to him for righteousness.” Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness.

But it was not written for Abraham alone (v. 23). It was written for us too. It was written for the children of Abraham who would, likewise, be imputed with God’s righteousness by faith.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim

[1] He was about 85 years old. And Sarah was 75 when it was said that He believed