(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 2/17/02 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 4. I'll be reading verses 13 through 22:
Romans 4: (13) For the promise [was] not through Law to Abraham, or to his seed, [for] him to be the heir of the world, but through a righteousness of faith. (14) For if those of Law [are] heirs, faith has been made of no effect, and the promise has been annulled. (15) For the Law works out wrath; for where no law is, neither [is] transgression. (16) On account of this, [it is] of faith, that [it be] according to grace, for the promise to be certain to all the seed, not to that of the Law only, but also to that of [the] faith of Abraham, who is father of us all, (17) according as it has been written, "I have appointed you a father of many nations;" before God, whom he believed, the [One] making the dead live, and calling the things that are not as [if] they were. (18) [He] against hope believed in hope, for him to become a father of many nations, according to what has been said, "So shall your seed be." (19) And being about a hundred years [old], not weakening in faith, he did not consider his body to have died already, nor yet the death of Sarah's womb, (20) and did not stagger by unbelief at the promise of God, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God, (21) and being fully persuaded that what He has promised, He is also able to do. (22) Because of this, "it was also counted to him for righteousness."
Two weeks ago, we went over verses 9 though 15 of this chapter. We saw that the blessedness from God was not just on the circumcised who believed but also on the uncircumcised who believed. Paul used the example of Abraham to show that faith was counted to Abraham unto righteousness many years BEFORE he was circumcised, showing that circumcision had nothing to do with Abraham's acceptance before God. As we saw in verse 11, Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of faith while in uncircumcision, for him to be a father of those believing through uncircumcision, for righteousness to be counted to them also. The true children of Abraham are the SPIRITUAL children of Abraham, those who have received the imputed righteousness of Christ through faith, and that faith being the belief of the promise of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. As verses 13 through 15 show, this promise of salvation was not through Law-keeping, because if the true children of Abraham were ones who were striving to keep the law to gain acceptance before God, salvation would not be through faith but through works, and God's promise of salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone would be annulled. The Law shows us that we need a righteousness that we cannot produce.
Now to verse 16:
Romans 4: (16) On account of this, [it is] of faith, that [it be] according to grace, for the promise to be certain to all the seed, not to that of the Law only, but also to that of [the] faith of Abraham, who is father of us all,
The first phrase is "On account of this." On account of what? On account of the fact that the gospel promise is not through Law, since all fall short of the righteousness that God requires. On account of THIS, it is of faith. What is of faith? This promise of the inheritance, of final glory based on the work of Christ alone, is of faith. This promise is believed by faith. The next part says, "that it be according to grace." This promise of the inheritance is of faith, so that it is according to grace, not works. Do you see the reasoning here? In verse 13, Paul says that the promise to Abraham and his seed was not through Law, and in our current verse, it says that instead of being through law, it must be of faith, or else it wouldn't be consistent with grace. As we've seen time and time again, it's either by works or by grace. If God promised the inheritance based on what Abraham did, then it would be of works. If God unilaterally and unconditionally promised the inheritance to Abraham based on the work of the Messiah, then it would be of grace. These are fundamental gospel issues here. If you're seeking acceptance before God and final glory based on anything you do, even if it is your best efforts, then you believe that the promise is of works, and as verse 14 says, it is not even the true promise anymore. The only TRUE promise is God's promise to save His people conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ ALONE. And only those who are given the faith to BELIEVE this promise, who have had Christ's righteousness imputed to them, hold to salvation by grace. Notice again the place of faith in salvation. There are some who say that Christ's righteousness can be imputed to a sinner and the sinner continues to be ignorant of the gospel. But GOD says that those who are truly Abraham's seed, those who are truly regenerated of God, have FAITH. Faith is an immediate and essential fruit of regeneration. Just as grace and works are totally opposed, faith and works are totally opposed. The person who has true God-given FAITH believes that it is the work of Christ ALONE that makes the difference between salvation and damnation. He believes that Christ's work ENSURES and DEMANDS the salvation of every single person whom Christ represented. If there is not THIS faith, this God-given faith in Jesus Christ alone, then there is just the rotten corpse of total depravity. There are many false Christians out there, even most who come in the name of sovereign grace, who will say that all regenerate persons don't necessarily have this belief that Christ's work alone makes the difference between salvation and damnation and ensures the salvation of all whom He represented. But these false Christians are nothing but rotting corpses of depravity themselves, because they do not believe that THIS gospel, the TRUE gospel, is the power of God unto salvation to everyone BELIEVING this gospel.
Let's look back at the last half of verse 16: "for the promise to be confirmed to all the seed, not to that of the Law only, but also to that of the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all." God's promise was not and is not limited to the believing Jews only, but also to EVERYONE, both Jew and Gentile, who is of the faith of Abraham. Whether someone is a Jew or a Gentile has NOTHING TO DO with salvation. Circumcised or uncircumcised, it doesn't matter. What matters is, are you of the faith of Abraham? Abraham believed God's promise of salvation conditioned solely on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of the Messiah. Do you have Abraham's faith? Abraham believed that it was the work of the Messiah alone that secured his salvation and that made the only difference between salvation and damnation. Do you have Abraham's faith? It doesn't matter if you're a Jew or a Gentile. It doesn't matter if your skin is brown or white or somewhere in between. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor or somewhere in between. What matters is, DO YOU HAVE ABRAHAM'S FAITH? Remember back in verse 5, God says, "But to the one not working, but believing on Him justifying the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Do you believe on Him justifying the ungodly? Do you believe that God is a just God and a Savior, that He did not look at man's work AT ALL in choosing whom He would save? Do you believe that the finished work of Jesus Christ the Messiah is the ONLY thing, the ONLY THING, that makes the difference between salvation and damnation? If you truly believe this, then you have Abraham's faith. If you believe that it is the work of the sinner that plays some part in determining if he will go to heaven or hell, if you believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception, even those in hell, then you are NOT of Abraham's faith. You do NOT believe on Him justifying the ungodly. You are the one WORKING, and if you continue down this road, you will work your way right into hell.
Paul said that Abraham is "the father of us all." He is talking about all the ones who are of the faith of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile. I know we've turned to this passage several times in recent sermons, but I'd like for us to turn to it again. Galatians 3:6-7:
Galatians 3: (6) Even "as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness," (7) know, then, that those of faith, these are sons of Abraham.
Who are the sons of Abraham? Is it the physical offspring of Abraham? No. The sons of Abraham are the ones who are of faith. They are the ones who believe on Jesus Christ alone as their only hope.
Now back to Romans 4, and let's look at verse 17:
Romans 4: (17) according as it has been written, "I have appointed you a father of many nations;" before God, whom he believed, the [One] making the dead live, and calling the things that are not as [if] they were.
Paul gives a Scripture proof for his assertion that Abraham is the father of both Jews and Gentiles who have the same faith as he did. This quote is from Genesis 17:5, which we've seen several times. The promise from God to Abraham was that he would be the father of many nations. That's a gospel promise from God. It sure doesn't look like one to many false religionists; it just looks like God promised Abraham that many different physical nations would come from his physical descendants. But let's look again at another passage in Galatians that we've gone over before: Galatians 3:14:
Galatians 3: (14) that the blessing of Abraham might be to the nations in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
When God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations, He was talking about the nations IN CHRIST JESUS, that many nations, not just the Jews, would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Abraham knew what God meant. He saw Christ's day and rejoiced.
Back to Romans 4:17, the last part of the verse: "before God, whom he believed, the One making the dead alive, and calling the things that are not as if they were." Abraham stood before God, the promise-maker and promise-keeper. And Abraham BELIEVED that God would keep His promise. And that BELIEF that God keeps His promises is an essential gospel doctrine. If you believe that some of God's promises are thwarted by the actions of men, then you do not believe the gospel. When God says He will save, He will save. There is no stopping God from accomplishing His purpose. There are preachers in pseudo-churches today who are telling their audiences that God promises to save each and every one of them, yet if they do not do their part, God's promise will be for nought. This is utter blasphemy. God's promises are sure and certain, and those who are of the faith of Abraham BELIEVE God's promises. Those who believe that God keeps all His promises without fail believe in the sovereign God of the universe who is powerful to do what He says He will do. God is the one who makes the dead live and who calls the things that are not as if they were. Let's turn over to Ephesians 2:4-5:
Ephesians 2: (4) But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love [with] which He loved us, (5) even we being dead in deviations, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you are having been saved),
Who's going to stop God from making one who is dead in his trespasses and sins alive? Is the sinner going to thwart God's will? Are those around the sinner going to thwart God's will? Are circumstances going to thwart God's will? Well, God CONTROLS THE CIRCUMSTANCES!! And God controls all the people in those circumstances! When God purposes to make the dead alive, is there anyone who would have the audacity to say that God will fail in His purpose? Is there anyone who would have the audacity to say that the spiritually dead person can resist God's will? Yes, there are tons of people who would say that. But there is NO regenerate person who would say that. All regenerate people know that God is able and faithful to keep His promises and to make the dead to live because they know that God is sovereign. God makes the things that are not as if they were. God's promises are so SURE and so CERTAIN, that when God promises something, it is as GOOD as DONE, even though it has not happened yet in time. God said to Abraham, "For I have made you a father of many nations." Now had any nations come out of Abraham at that point in time on the earth? No. But it was as good as done. Abraham was a father of many nations, even before the nations existed. How were the Old Testament saints saved based on an atonement that had not yet happened in time? Because the atonement was as good as done. There was no wondering whether or not the Messiah would actually come and would actually make atonement. The Old Testament believers believed God's promise of salvation conditioned solely on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, because they knew the work of Christ was as good as accomplished. In fact, it was so certain that the perfect righteousness of Christ was imputed to the Old Testament saints EVEN BEFORE Christ came to earth to live a perfectly righteous life! Talk about 100% certainty! The benefits of Christ's life and death stretched BACKWARD in time because of God's sure and certain promise of salvation based on the work of His Son. That's the God Abraham believed. And that's the God that ALL believers believe.
Romans 4: (18) [He] against hope believed in hope, for him to become a father of many nations, according to what has been said, "So shall your seed be."
When it looked like there was no hope, naturally speaking, Abraham had his hope set on God's promise. Remember back when I preached on true and false faith? We saw that "hope" means "expectation." I doesn't mean, "I hope this comes true, but I don't know for sure." THIS hope is a certain expectation of the fulfillment of God's promise. Abraham fully expected God to fulfill His promise. FAITH is the FULL ASSURANCE that what is EXPECTED based on God's PROMISE will HAPPEN. It is the CONVICTION of things not seen. When God promised that the nations would be blessed in him through Christ, Abraham did not physically see the fulfillment of that promise. But he saw it with the eye of faith and was ASSURED and EXPECTED and CONVINCED that it would happen. In Genesis 15:5, God told Abraham to look into the heavens and count the stars if he were able to count them. And He said to Abraham, "So shall your seed be." And Abraham BELIEVED that God would keep His promise. And we see the glorious fulfillment of that promise in Revelation 7:9, which says, "After these things I saw, and behold, a great crowd which no one was able to number them, out of every nation, even tribes and peoples and tongues, standing in front of the throne, and before the Lamb, having been clothed with white robes, and in their hands palm branches." Here is the innumerable seed of Abraham that God promised.
Verses 19 through 21:
Romans 4: (19) And being about a hundred years [old], not weakening in faith, he did not consider his body to have died already, nor yet the death of Sarah's womb, (20) and did not stagger by unbelief at the promise of God, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God, (21) and being fully persuaded that what He has promised, He is also able to do.
Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was 90 years old, which was past normal child-bearing years. Yet because of God's promise, Abraham believed that his body and his wife's body were fit to have a child. He did not weaken in faith, and he did not stagger by unbelief. He remained fully persuaded that God would keep his promise. And by this belief, He glorified God as the sovereign promise-keeper. He KNEW that what God has promised, He is able to accomplish. Abraham did not believe in the weakling god of the Arminians. He believed in the all-powerful, all-controlling, all-faithful God, far above all of the weakling gods of men's devising. God promised it, and Abraham believed it, glorifying God. And this belief was counted to him unto righteousness. He received the righteousness of Christ by God-given belief.
Let's end by reading some Scripture on God's faithfulness to keep His promises:
Joshua 21: (44) And Jehovah gave them rest round about, according to all that He swore to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood before them. Jehovah delivered all their enemies into their hand. (45) Nor did fail a word from any good word which Jehovah had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.
Joshua 23: (14) And, behold! Today I [am] going in the way of all the earth, and you know with all your heart and with all your soul that there has not failed one thing of all the good things which Jehovah your God has spoken concerning you; all of it has come to you; there has not one thing failed of it.
Isaiah 46: (9) Remember former things from forever, for I [am] God, and no one else [is] God, even none like Me, (10) declaring the end from the beginning, and from the past those things which were not done, saying, My counsel shall rise; and, I will do all My desire; (11) calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My counsel from a far off land. Yes, I have spoken; yes, I will cause it to come; I have formed; yes, I will do it.
2 Corinthians 1:20:
2 Corinthians 1: (20) For as many promises as [are] of God, in Him [they are] yes, and in Him [are] Amen, for glory to God through us.
1 Thessalonians 5:24:
1 Thessalonians 5: (24) Faithful is the [One] calling you, who also will perform [it].
Hebrews 6: (13) For God having made promise to Abraham, since He had no [one] greater to swear by, "[He] swore by Himself," (14) saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you." (15) And so, being long-suffering, he obtained the promise. (16) For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath to make things sure [is] to them the end of all gainsaying. (17) In which way, desiring to more fully declare to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His counsel, God interposed by an oath, (18) that through two unchangeable things, in which [it was] not possible [for] God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, those having fled to lay hold on the hope set before [us], (19) which we have as an anchor of the soul, both certain and sure, and entering into the inner [side] of the veil, (20) where Jesus entered as forerunner for us, having become a High Priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.