From the time we are very young, we learn a lot from the adults in our lives. For most children that learning is from one or both parents. Not all of what is learned is formally taught, and not all of what is learned is good. For instance, when I was about 2 ½ years old, I had the “gift” of stacking building blocks at about a 5-10% angle. And it wasn’t just a few, it was around 16-20. I have no idea how. In fact, maybe that is why no one taught me much about carpentry and such…they were afraid of what I might build. But after I would get several blocks stacked they would fall – of course. But then came the moment. Or I should say, then came the words. Whatever I said was not appropriate for an especially young child, if anyone. My parents thought they misunderstood what I said. But it happened again. And then the third time, the questions began. Where did he hear this? The answer was pretty obvious. The apple did not fall far from the tree. And that apple did not fall far from his tree either.
You have probably been on both ends of this type of situation. You probably did something that you saw your parents (or other adult in your life do) and may have got in trouble for it. You probably have also had a child imitate you, and maybe that was not so flattering either. We could go around the room and share plenty of experiences I am sure.
And the same is true of faith. We learn things about the Bible and about our faith in a setting like this. But we also learn by watching others – both those who claim to be Christian and those who claim not to be. In reality, we often believe and live what we see more than what we know to be true. And like the young child who emulates some adult, that can be both good and bad.
This week, I want to focus on the good side of that. The Bible is also filled with people who set both good and bad examples. Most biblical characters are a little bit of both. That is true of today’s example – Abraham, but his example is far more positive than it is negative. And thus, Paul shows the faith of our spiritual father Abraham to be a good example for all of his spiritual offspring.
The truth is that all of us will be judged, which is why this series is entitled, “And Justice for All.” So, let us seek examples that show us what faith should be, rather than what it often is.
The faith of Abraham is a perfect parallel for the faith of the Christian today.
As the father of the Jews, the people revered Abraham, but if Abraham is the father of all who believe (v. 16, the father of us all), what can we learn from him to then pass on to others as well?
This week’s post brings us to the end of the first 25% of Romans. But it is also the end of the foundation that Paul needed to establish for his reader then, and for us today, to help us prepare for what God has done for those who believe. So, Paul waited until these most recent verses to introduce Abraham to his argument, and now today, we see why Abraham was not just someone for the Jews to honor, but he serves as a great example for us AND as a great contrast to how Paul began this larger section of Scripture going back to Romans 1.18. I will share more about the five distinct points of contrast in the Monday video this week.
For this week, I want to focus on the three parallels between Abraham’s faith and our faith. Paul’s intent for this connection to be made is found in Romans 4.23 and the first few words of verse 24, which says, “But the words, ‘It was counted to him,’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.”
Paul means for us to make this connection. He demands that we make this connection. But what connection is he wanting us to make. Let me offer three parallels he provides in these last few verses of Romans 4. The parallels are the object of our faith, the source of our faith, and the reward for our faith. (Although the ideas are largely self-evident in the text, I am using the terms and ideas found on pages 116-117 in C. Marvin Pate’s commentary on Romans in the Teach the Text Commentary Series. Published in Grand Rapids, MI by Baker Books in 2013.)
The Object of Faith – The God of the Impossible (Romans 4.17b, 24)
Abraham: The latter part of Romans 4.17 shares a couple of thoughts related the nature of God making anything possible. Paul wrote that God gives life to the dead and brings into existence things which do not exist.
When speaking of Abraham, Paul was referring to the fact that both Abraham’s and Sarah’s bodies were essentially dead – at least regarding the ability to bear children. Abraham was 99, Sarah was 90. Neither age was considered ideal for childbirth. Granted in the early chapters of Genesis, people had children later and lived longer, but after the flood that began to change. Furthermore, Sarah was barren.
But God brought life from this couple (Romans 4.18-19). Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah showing that nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19.26). God was able to bring life when life was not able to exist otherwise (Luke 1.37). I believe Paul’s statement about something existing from nothing pertains to the possibility of childbirth. That idea fits this context. Of course, God did create the heavens and the earth from nothing, so that meaning is possible, but it does not fit the context of Paul’s example of Abraham.
Weekly Nugget: Abraham was 20 generations from Adam. However, using the records from Genesis 5, Adam was still alive when Methuselah was born (and lived for another 243 years). Methusaleh was alive when Noah was born (and lived another 600 years, dying in the Flood). And Noah was alive when Abram was born (and lived another 58 years). So, Abram/Abraham could have heard the story of Creation from a third-hand witness even though he was born almost 2000 years afterward.
The Christian Parallel: For the Roman in Paul’s day, and for Christians today, we must understand the God of the impossible to be the one who brought the dead to life in the resurrection of Jesus (v. 24). It is the bedrock of our faith. Yes, the cross is important, but many people have been crucified…only one rose from the dead. Indeed, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19.26). And what God made possible through Jesus, applies to us as well. Just as Abraham found life after being practically dead, God brings life to us as well. As Ephesians 2.1 tells us, “we were dead in our trespasses and sins…” We were dead. But for those who believe, God gives life.
The Source of Faith – The Promise of God (Romans 4.21; 25)
Abraham: Romans 4.18 says that “in hope he believed against hope.” Those words describe Abraham. Again, human experience and human wisdom would say that his time to father a child with Sarah had passed. Yes, Ishmael had been born through Hagar, and Abraham would later father six more children through another wife. But at this point, it must have been difficult to understand how he would be the father of many nations, when he only had one son. But Abraham believed God’s promise. Yes, he laughed initially (Genesis 17.17), but one moment of questioning does not negate a lifetime of faith. (By the way, the name Isaac means, “he laughs.”)
Abraham’s body was weak, but His faith he was strengthened spiritually and even physically by his faith, by his hope. Abraham believed God and gave glory to God for the promise knowing God would fulfill all that He had promised (Romans 4.20-21). Abraham held on to the hope of God despite the idea not making any sense to man. I like how Jim Wallis, from Sojourners magazine, defined hope. He said hope is “trusting God in spite of all the evidence, then watching the evidence change.” (1)
The Christian Parallel: Our promise is different, but it is important. Our promise is found in the death and the resurrection of Jesus. God’s promise to us is that just as Abrahams’ faith in God’s promise was “counted to him” as righteousness, our faith in God who make the resurrection of Jesus possible will be “counted to us” as righteousness as well. It is the same God who made the promise to Abraham that makes the promise to us as well. Abraham was strengthened by his faith in God and we can be strengthened by our faith in God as well.
The Result of Faith – Justification Before God (Romans 4.22; 23-24a, 25)
Abraham: Romans 4.22 gives us the now familiar quote from Genesis 15.6. In Romans 4, Paul has mentioned (or alluded to the fact) that Abraham’s faith was “counted to him” six times. As I have shared during the previous two sermons on Romans 4, Abrahams was justified for choosing to believe, not because of anything that he did. If Abraham did something to earn God’s approval, it would be to Abraham’s glory. But because Abraham was justified by believing what only God could do, it is God who receives the glory. Thus, Abraham was justified apart from any human works. He was “counted” as righteous because of his faith.
The Christian Parallel: Verse 24 is clear. What was true for Abraham is true for us. Just as Abraham was counted righteous before God because of his faith, we can only be justified for our belief as well. The promise we claim may be different than Abraham’s was, but the reward is not.
The phrase “the apple does not fall far from the tree” has been used for years. Yes, some children learn to break free from the habits of a parent – both for the better and the worse. But, for us today, I want us to consider that we should desire to stay close to our spiritual parent. We should want to be considered close to the tree of Abraham, the father of our faith. He was not perfect, but he lived a faithful life and was called a friend of God (2 Chronicles 20.7, Isaiah 41.8, James 2.23). I want that to be true of me. I want to be called a friend of God. I want to be considered faithful to my Lord. I want to be counted as righteous because of my faith. In other words, if Abraham is the father of our faith, I want to be a son who does not fall far from that tree.
The same should be true of all who call Jesus Lord. We, the sons and daughters of Abraham should be like our faith father. Doing so is a good step to becoming more like our heavenly Father. Our faith, and our obedience, can bring Him glory for what He, that is, God, is doing in our lives as we should ourselves be faithful to Him because of our belief in Him. So,…
Our JOURNEY letter for today is R – REVERE.
God is faithful. God is worthy. Why? Because He can (and has) made something out of nothing. Because He can (and has) brought life from death. Because He can (and has) kept so many promises that seem impossible to fathom. Because He can (and has) made a way for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And because He can (and will) keep His promise to send Jesus again to make all things new, and allow us to join Abraham, Moses, Paul, and so many others for all of eternity.
LIVE. In faith. Live with purpose. Not your purpose, God’s purpose. Seek what He would have you to do and know that if He is guiding you, you will not fail. That does not mean you will succeed as you might desire to succeed. But we will not fail when we live out our faith in God because He cannot fail Himself, and therefore He will not fail us.
(1) Witherington, B., III, & Hyatt, D. (2004). Paul’s letter to the Romans: a socio-rhetorical commentary (p. 130). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.