A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
Salvation: The Old Testament Illustration of Justification
He was to be "the father of many nations." How did he get that promise?
Verse 17 declares that "He believed God." That is to say, he got his posterity through believing. In the unfolding of this section, I want to point out five things about his faith. I think you will agree that it is one of the most thrilling climaxes about a man's faith!
He Believed God
In the first place, it is affirmed that "He believed God." Notice the kind of God he believed in - the God who "quickens the dead and calleth the things that are not, as though they were." Did he say, "I will make thee the father of many nations?" No! He said, "I have made thee!" As God states it, it is already an accomplished fact, and yet Abraham did not even have a son when God said it, and he was 100 years old. That is certainly "calling the things that are not as though they were." God does that very for us today. He says that we are predestinated; He says that we are called; He says that we are justified; He says that we are glorified! He says it! (Romans 8:29-30). Are we glorified yet? No, of course not. But that is certainly following the same pattern of dealing as with Abraham. "He calls the things that are not as though they were!" He is able to do it because He can bring it to pass. He says we are "seated with Christ in the heavenly places," and we are down here in the church. He can say it because He can do it!
He Believed Against Hope
In the second place, verse 18 records something that is no less wonderful! He "believed against hope." That looks like a contradiction. But it means simply that there was no human ground for any hope, but he believed God anyway, and his faith gave him a hope. That is the way we do today. Sometimes when things are going wrong, if we can just believe God, then we have hope. Out of our faith comes hope.
He Believed in Spite of Circumstances
In the third place, verse 19 asserts that he believed in spite of "his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb." I have mentioned this circumstance to pinpoint an amazing achievement. Here is a man a hundred years old, with his wife almost as old, and yet God comes to him and says, "Abraham, your seed shall be as the stars of heaven"! Now this man believed God in spite of circumstances, and that is the kind of faith God wants us to exercise. The devil can always raise up circumstances and say, "Now, look here and look there. God can't fulfill His promise." But never mind the circumstances. Believe God, "who quickeneth the dead and calls the things that are not as though they were."
He Believed Without Staggering
In the fourth place, verse 20 declares that he believed without staggering. The Greek word "stagger" means "to divide." The idea seems to be that a man is divided - he is two men; one part of him wants to go this way, the other that way. That is the way folks are when they come to believing. One part says, "I believe God", the other part says, "I don't know," so that person is parted in two. Abraham was not that way. "He staggered not." He believed God with all his heart. "He staggered not at the promise of God, but was strong in faith."
He Believed God Could Perform
In the fifth place, Abraham believed that God could perform whatever He promised (Romans 4:21). That is, Abraham was fully persuaded in his own mind that God was able to carry His promise to fulfillment. That brings the reader to the point of personal salvation. One must believe that God will do what He promises. Do you believe that God can make you like Christ? He has promised to do it. All human and natural circumstances were against Abraham, but he said, "I know that God can do this thing." So Paul repeats once more: "Therefore it was imputed unto him for righteousness." This is the key to the whole passage. It occurs four times in the chapter: "It was counted unto him for righteousness" (v. 3); "His faith is counted for righteousness" (v. 9); "That faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness" (v. 9); "Therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness" (v. 22).
Now then, what is the conclusion of this matter? Did Abraham get anything by works? Not a thing! He got his righteousness by faith; his inheritance by faith; his posterity by faith. Abraham did not get a single thing by human works, and yet the Jews looked back to Abraham and said, "We are walking in his steps," while trying to keep the law.
At this point Paul not only answers the argument, but he also turns it against them. This is the great faith chapter of the Bible. The word "faith" or the word "believe" occurs no less than sixteen times in the chapter. Everything that Abraham had was by faith.
With inescapable logic, Paul introduces the application. "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed unto him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead" (vv. 23-24).
God has but one way of saving men in all ages. It is by faith, apart from works. Revelation may change, but down through the ages, salvation is through faith in God! Back with Abraham, He came and said, "You are going to have a son" and Abraham believed Him. Now that was looking forward. The Messiah was to come through that son, and so Abraham's faith, in a way, was in the Lord Jesus Christ, because without that son we could not have had Christ. That was really the beginning. It was faith in the ability or omnipotence of God - looking forward, however, to a promise.
Today we do not look forward to a promise; we look back to an accomplished fact and believe that. But it is faith, just the same. In both these instances it was not simply faith in a fact, but faith in God that he would bring it to pass. Mere faith in something that happened nineteen hundred years ago will not save. We believe God, and a God incarnate in human flesh who died on the Cross and was raised from the dead and lives today, our personal Saviour and Lord!
This chapter of Romans contains the whole history of redemption. It began with life from the dead, because Abraham, the father of Israel, was an old man. it began with Israel, with the son of Abraham; it ended with Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. The beginning and the end: life from the dead (Romans 4:24-25). The only way we can apprehend and secure the benefits of redemption is by simple faith in God, for "without faith it is impossible to please him" (Hebrews 11:6). That is the argument of the chapter.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 40 - "Salvation: The Blessings That Accompany Justification")