Romans 4:13-25

Romans 4:13-25

SERIES: The Book of Romans

Justification Illustrated:  The Father of Faith, Part 2  

Introduction:  For three weeks we have been giving our attention almost entirely to the doctrine of justification by faith.  In the first three chapters of Romans the Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to establish, as a prosecutor might do in a court room, that the entire human race stands guilty before God because of SIN.  Having built an absolutely watertight case, he stops to await the Judge’s verdict, which, astoundingly, comes down as “not guilty.”  God has actually decided to acquit morally guilty sinners!  How can He be a just God and yet do such a thing?  Because Jesus, who was not morally guilty, died in our place and paid for our sins.  

But not only has God acquitted us, by declaring us, “not guilty!”; He has also performed an accounting miracle by crediting to our account His own righteousness.  In other words, God has written off all our liabilities and where we had no assets, He gave us His own.  

It’s one thing, of course, to hear about such a profound theological concept, and it’s quite another to understand it fully.  So to help his listeners understand that justification is indeed by faith alone, Paul appeals to an historical illustration that almost no religious can reject—he appeals to the life of Abraham.

Abraham was a great man of God in anyone’s book.  No one would question that he was saved and is enjoying the presence of God in heaven.  In fact, Jesus refers to paradise as “Abraham’s bosom” in his great parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  So Paul asks a simple question:  “when and how did Abraham become justified in God’s sight?” 

In the first eight verses of chapter 4 he begins to answer his own question by showing clearly that Abraham was justified by faith, not works, because his greatest works came after God Himself had declared Abraham “not guilty” and had credited righteousness to his account.  In fact, not only was Abraham justified prior to good works; he was also justified while he was ungodly.  In other words, God did not require Abraham to clean up his act before he could be justified; God took him just as he was.  And, friend, that goes for you, too.  You don’t have to quit dipping snuff, swearing, and playing golf on Sunday morning in order to be saved.  But once you’re saved, you can count on the fact that the Holy Spirit will begin to convict you of harmful habits, unconfessed sin, and the obligations of discipleship.  But He will also give you the power to become all you can and should become.

So justification is by faith, not works.  Then beginning in verse 9 the Apostle shows us that Abraham also illustrates that justification is by faith, not rite or ritual.  The most important religious rite throughout Jewish history was circumcision.  But if you check out the chronology of Abraham’s life in the book of Genesis you find that Abraham was also justified 14 years before he was circumcised.  Therefore, that religious rite was in no way the cause of his salvation.  And neither is your baptism, or church membership, or participation in the Lord’s Supper, or generous offerings.

Now thirdly, (and this is new material today), justification is by faith, not law.  Let’s read together Romans 4:13-25:

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. {14} For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, {15} because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. 

{16} Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. {17} As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. 

{18} Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” {19} Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. {20} Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, {21} being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. {22} This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” {23} The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, {24} but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. {25} He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Justification is by faith, not law.  (13-17)

Isn’t it interesting that through this illustration Paul has put his finger on the three most common means by which people, even today, try vainly to achieve acceptance by God:  good works, religious rituals, and rule-keeping (often called legalism)?  This third one was especially true of the Jews.  In about 1450 B.C. God delivered to Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  Later God added other laws so that ultimately the Mosaic law consisted of 613 commandments—248 positive ones and 365 negatives ones.  

These laws were given for the benefit of God’s people.  They weren’t capricious; rather they were all conducive to the people’s health—morally, spiritually, physically, and psychologically.  I challenge you to find a single commandment of God in the Bible which, if kept, will not make you a healthier, happier, and more productive person.

But it wasn’t long before the Jews began to misuse the Mosaic Law.  They began to view it as a means to salvation, believing that if they kept it perfectly, they would be accepted by God.  The trouble was no one ever kept it perfectly.  So, to get around that slight problem the Jews did one of two things: (1) They began to compare themselves with one another, or even with pagans, and consider themselves “relatively righteous” if they kept the Law better than most.  And (2) they began to massage the Law until it fit their behavior.  

This is what Jesus was fighting in the Sermon on the Mount, as he over and over spoke words like these:  “You have heard it said … but I say unto you ….,” until finally He said to the common people, “Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall by no means enter the Kingdom of God.”  The reason He said this is that the Scribes and Pharisees were notorious for twisting the Law.   They denounced adultery but would lust up a storm.  They denounced murder but overlooked hatred.  They denounced false oaths but they took hypocritical oaths (and Jesus old them they should take no oaths at all).

The root problem is, of course, that God never intended for the Law to bring salvation in the first place, and its misuse was doomed to failure from the beginning.  The 20th verse of chapter 3 states ever so clearly, “therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.”  And in another of his epistles Paul says the same thing.  Listen to Gal. 3:10-11:  “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written:  ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’  Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”

Now how does Abraham illustrate the fact that justification is by faith, not by law?  Simply by chronology, once again.  

Abraham had righteousness credited to his account prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law.  Moses was given the Law in the 15th century B.C.  Abraham was justified in the 21st century B.C.  The difference is roughly 600 years.  If Abraham was justified 600 years before the Law was given, then the Law can’t possibly be the means of his justification, can it?  

Now in verses 13 and 14 two important principles are considered.  One is the faith/grace principle, while the other is the law principle, and Paul makes it clear that these two principles are contrary to one another.

1.  The faith/grace principle is contrary to the Law principle.  (14)  The law principle says that God’s promises can be claimed and appropriated through the keeping of laws and rules.  The faith/grace principle, on the other hand, says that God’s promises are claimed and appropriated by grace and through faith.  Now let’s understand that both of these principles are good, and both operate well within their respective spheres.  The law principle operates when God’s promises are conditional.  For example, God says, “Honor your father and mother and you will live long on the earth.”  The way to realize that promise is to keep that law.

However, many of God’s promises, especially His salvation promises, are unconditional, i.e., no law-keeping is attached as a condition to their fulfillment.  Instead, simple faith is the only condition.  These are the promises where the faith/grace principle operates.  Listen to verses 13-14: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.  For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless.”

God promised to Abraham that He would credit righteousness to his account because of his faith,and He also promised to make him a father of many nations.  These were unconditional promises.  Therefore, no amount of law-keeping could bring about the fulfillment of these promises.  All Abraham could do is take God at His word and enjoy God’s unmerited kindness.  Here’s how one writer conveys the unconditionality of God’s promises to Abraham:

… But, someone objects, supposing that Abraham goes bankrupt?  That would make no difference so long as Christ remains solvent.  The promises are sure because they were made between God the Father and God the Son. The promise came to Abraham, “I will bless thee … and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”  “But, Lord,” Abraham might have said, “suppose I get out of Thy will?” God replies:  “I will bless thee.”  Abraham might again ask, “But, Lord, suppose my posterity should become idolaters?”  God still replies:  “I will make of thee a great nation.”  And again, Abraham might question, “But, Lord, suppose that my descendants should crucify Thy Son?”  But God still replies, “I will bless thee.”

We look at all the record and say, “Lord, suppose that Abraham becomes a liar, and teaches his wife to lie, and breaks whatever conditions there are to his place in the covenant?”  God replies, “I will bless thee.”  We ask, “But suppose his grandson, Jacob, becomes a crook?”  God answers, “I will bless thee.”  We ask again, “But suppose his greatest son, David, becomes an adulterer and a murderer?”  God replies, “I will bless thee.”  In a voice that is reduced to trembling, we ask, “But why, Lord?”  And the answer comes, “Because I am the God who will through My servant one day write, ‘If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself'” (II Tim. 2:13).  And all that we can say is, “But, Lord, this is grace without merit.” And the Lord will reply, “Yes, this is indeed unmerited grace.”[i]

Now friends, the point of Paul’s whole discussion here is that God’s salvation promises are conditioned only on faith, not on any law-keeping.  If a person can become a child of God by keeping the Law, then promises based on faith are nullified.  On the other hand, if a person can become a child of God by faith, then law-keeping can have nothing to do with it.  You can’t mix the two systems in a plan of salvation.  But secondly, …

2.  The faith/grace principle does not render the Law useless.  (15, 3:31) We are not for a moment suggesting that the Mosaic Law has no value.  For one thing, it brings wrath or judgment, according to verse 15.  I take this to mean that it slaps your hand in an effort to protect you from getting hurt worse.  If you drive 75 mph down Manchester Rd. and get caught, you will feel the wrath of the law of St. Louis County in the form of a stiff fine.  But if there were no such Law against speeding, some foolhardy soul might well feel the wrath of the laws of physics when his car hits a chuck hole at 75 mph!  

In the last verse of chapter 3 the Apostle asks, “Do we nullify the Law when we talk about faith?  May it never be!  On the contrary, we establish the Law,” but not as a means of salvation!

Now one other point needs to be made as regards the fact that justification is by faith, not Law.

The faith/grace principle allows all of Abraham’s children to experience justification.  (16-17) Look at verse 16 again:  “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.”  The whole point seems to be that if a law-system were the basis for salvation, only those who possessed that particular law-system could be saved.  The Mosaic Law was given to the Jewish people—it wasn’t given to Arabs or Chinese or Eskimos.  If salvation were through the Mosaic Law, then only Jews or Jewish converts could be saved.  But if the faith/grace principle is the basis for salvation, then everyone is eligible.

Perhaps someone is saying, “We’ve spent an awful lot of time on this point that a person can’t be saved by keeping the Mosaic Law, but I don’t know anyone who’s trying to be justified that way.”  Well, that may be true, but I’ll bet you know many who are trying to get to Heaven by some list of rules, and the principle is the same.  The trouble with any system of salvation-by-law is that one never knows for sure if he has kept a sufficient number of laws with sufficient regularity to merit God’s favor.  All systems of salvation by law are doomed to failure.  

O.K.  Let’s back up and see where we are.  The Apostle has used the example of Abraham to show us that Justification is by faith alone.

         It’s not by works.

         It’s not by religious rite.

         It’s not by law-keeping.

These points are all rather negative.

But now he turns in verses 18-22 (actually in the latter half of verse 17) to the positive side of the issue by telling us that Abraham’s faith was in God.  

Abraham illustrates that justification is by faith in God.  (18-22)

Here our minds are drawn back to the message of several weeks ago in which we tried to make clear that while justification is by faith alone, we reject the view that mere assent to a set of historical facts saves anyone.  Faith must have the right object, and it must be a living, productive faith.  Let’s look at this description of Abraham’s faith.  

He believed against hope.  (18) Verse 18 tells us, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.'”  In Gen. 12, and again in Gen. 15, God told Abraham that he would have as many descendants as there are stars in the heavens.  In fact, his very name, Abram, meant “Father of many.”  The only problem was that Abraham was 85, his wife Sarah was 75, and they had no kids.  And that was in a day and time when having no kids was viewed as a curse.  Dr. Barnhouse has suggested that perhaps a thousand times Abraham had entertained strangers in his tent, and as middle easterners always do, they would exchange personal information: “What is your name?  How old are you?  How long have you lived here?  How large are your herds?”[ii]

When Abram would give his name, his guest would say, “Oh, your name is Abram, Father of many?  Congratulations!  And how many sons do you have?”  And the answer was always humiliating, “Uh, I don’t have any, yet.”  How many times was he the brunt of snide remarks and insensitive humor?  And every year that passed lessened the possibility of ever having a child—until nearly all hope was gone.  But in hope against hope Abraham still believed God.

Oh, we dare not suggest that his hope never wavered.  It did, indeed, and that’s what gives me comfort, because mine wavers too.  There was the time when Abram was 85, and Sarah his wife was so humiliated by their childlessness that she pushed her husband into the arms of another woman. She gave her servant-girl to Abram so that he could have a child by her.  And when the news spread that Hagar was expecting his child, Abram gained a little more respect in the community.  In the twisted way of thinking so prevalent in those days (and increasingly so in ours) Abram had proved he was a man!  So when a guest now said to him, “Father of many?  Congratulations!  How many sons do you have?” he could at least say, “One.  I have one son.”

But what was good for Abraham’s self-esteem became very bad for Sarah’s, for it proved that it was she who was sterile.  And she grew to despise Hagar and eventually drove her and her son into the wilderness.  

Abraham’s faith was not perfect, but weak as it was at times, it was still there.  

Abraham believed against reason.  (19) Now let me state right up front that God doesn’t major on the irrational.  It’s not often He asks us to believe against reason.  The Christian faith is in accord with facts and is, by and large, quite a rational faith.  However, there are times when God asks His people to trust Him for the impossible.  When He did so with Abraham, Abraham believed.  In verses 19-20 we read:  “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.”    

Thirteen years have passed since Abraham had a son by Hagar.  He’s now 99 and his wife is 90.  Whereas Abraham did have a son at 86, despite the seeming hopelessness, the picture has significantly deteriorated in the meantime.  His own evaluation of his 99-year-old body was, “as good as dead.”  Sarah, of course, besides being infertile, is now completely beyond the child-bearing age.  And yet it says, “he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.”

God came to Abram when he was 99 and told him He was going to change his name from Abram to Abraham.  Imagine what his family and friends must have thought when he broke the news.  Again, Dr. Barnhouse expresses it as only he can:

         They all knew that his former name was Abram, father of many, and they knew it had been somewhat of a thorn to him.  So we can imagine the stir of interest and curiosity when he announced, “I am going to change my name.”  Were there some who said to themselves with a laugh, “The old man couldn’t take it.  It finally got under his skin.  After all, to be father of nobody for eighty-six years, and then to be the father of only one, with a name like he has—father of many—must have its rough moments.  So he is going to change his name.  I wonder what it will be.” 

And then the old man spoke.  “I am to be known as Abraham—father of a multitude.”  We can almost hear the silence of the stunned moment as the truth breaks upon them.  Father of a multitude?  Then the laughter broke forth behind the scenes.  “The old man has gone crazy.  He had one child when he was eighty-six, and now at ninety-nine he is beginning to get ideas.  Father of a multitude! was there ever anything more ridiculous for a man of his age?”[iii]

But in hope against hope he believed.  How do we explain such faith?  The answer is this:

Abraham believed in the character and promises of God.  (17, 20-21) Verse 17 says of Abraham, “He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”   There is an ancient tradition in India that some magicians have been able to uncoil a rope in an open field, throw it toward the sky, aid a boy to start climbing it, and see him disappear into the air above.  The story is a fable, but it illustrates an important truth.  There are people who sit around working on their rope, which they call faith.  They have it in a neat coil beside them and seem very proud of their handiwork.  Should you come along questioningly and ask them what they are doing, they would reply that they are working on their faith.  When you want to know how it operates, they reply that they expect, when the time comes for them to die, to uncoil their rope of faith, throw it skyward, and climb it into eternal life.  Ask them what the upper end is tied to in order to give it strength and security, and they will accuse you of being narrow-minded and bigoted.[iv]  

However, when you look at the life of Abraham you see him standing calmly by a rope that has been let down from Heaven.  His faith is in God.  If God can speak the world into existence, creating it out of nothing, then surely He can bring a son to Abraham and Sarah.  The bottom line is simply this:  how big is your God?  Abraham’s God was big!  Verse 21 puts it this way:  “Being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”  

Friends, when you come right down to it, is putting faith in God’s promises really a risk?  Only if your God is a risky God.  But if He’s infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth; if He’s the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, transcendent, faithful God of the Bible, then there’s no risk!  

Finally this morning, I want to bring this entire illustration about Abraham right home to where we live.  Abraham lived 4,000 years ago.  What does he have to do with me?

Abraham’s example was designed for us.  (23-25)

Look at verses 23-24:  “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  This whole account of Abraham’s justification wasn’t recorded just for his sake, but for ours.  Righteousness is still today credited to one’s account the same way it was in Abraham’s day—namely by faith.  

We have the same object of faith Abraham had—an able God!  (17,24) Abraham’s faith was in Him who gives life to bodies that are reproductively dead.  Our faith is in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the grave.  He’s the same God.  But when you stop to think about it, we actually have an advantage over Abraham.

We have a better focus than Abraham had–a Savior who was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.  Just how much did Abraham understand 2,000 years before Christ about the means God would use to wipe away his sins?  Well, that’s hard to say.  You will perhaps recall that when Abraham and Isaac were climbing Mt. Moriah, where God had told Abraham to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering, Isaac was puzzled by the fact that they had not brought a lamb.  “‘My father,’ he said, ‘behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’  And Abraham said, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’” (Genesis 2:7-8)

I have the strong feeling that whereas Abraham might not have understood the details of the plan of salvation, he did at least know that for man’s sin problem to be ultimately resolved, God would have to provide the lamb.  No human choice would do.  Then, too, perhaps you recall Jesus’ words to the effect that “Abraham rejoiced to see my day and he saw it and was glad.”  (John 8:58) Apparently Abraham expected and awaited the day when God would send His Messiah, the Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world.  But whatever Abraham may have known about God’s plan of salvation, it is beyond dispute that we have a better focus than he had, because we can look back at history while he had to look forward to the future. 

1.  He was delivered over to death for our sins.  Jesus went to the Cross, not because He was too weak to resist, not because He deserved it, and not because He wanted simply to demonstrate His love.  He went because our sins sent Him there.  But thanks be to God, He didn’t stay in the grave, for even though Jesus’ death purchased our salvation, it was His resurrection that proved that God had accepted His death as full payment for sins. That’s how Paul concludes this great chapter.

2.  He was raised to life for our justification.  Because God accepted Christ’s death, and on the basis of His death cleared our slate, there was no reason for Him to remain dead, so God raised Him up.  His resurrection is the receipt stating that my bill has been paid.

         Jesus paid it all,

         All to Him I owe

         Sin had left a crimson stain

         He washed it white as snow.

DATE: February 5, 1995







[i] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans, Vol. 2Part 1, God’s Remedy, 282-283.

[ii] See discussion in Barnhouse, 312ff.

[iii] Barnhouse, 316.

[iv] Barnhouse, 336.

Romans 5:1-5