In looking at Romans chapter four, it initiates with a question.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, according to the flesh, has found? (Romans 4:1 NASB)
The NASB does not improve my understanding, for the language is outdated, and stated in a backward manner. So let’s try the Message.
So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? (MSG)
The Message goes a little too far, as it rephrases the question and almost sets it aside. But on the plus side, it forces us to look at the context, which we find in chapter three. However, we really need to go back to Genesis 15 to do that.
The biggest question that must be answered is, what did Abraham find?
In trying to figure out what Abraham found, we find some things he was not.
He was not that strong in faith, for he:
- After being told to leave his family in Haran, took his time in following the Lord’s commands. God had to speak to him several times.
- Doubted that God would take care of him, as he told the Egyptian king that Sarai was his sister. In doing this, Abraham lied.
- And even though he could see God’s hand upon his life, he still doubted, as he listened to his wife’s prompting, and went to have sex with Hagar. (Consider something: After all these years of not making a baby, how do you know if the problem is with the man or the woman? Since Hagar got pregnant, we now know where the problem lies.) Ishmael was not to be left out, as the blessing over him carries some similar terminology to what God had said to Abraham, in that Ishmael would also be the father of many nations. Those nations are, to this day, a thorn in Israel’s flesh.
Paul tells us in Romans 4:2 that it was not good deeds that made him righteous. Because of that statement, we can eliminate his being circumcised as the thing that made him righteous.
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. (Romans 4:2 KJV)
The NLT makes this idea of good deeds more clear.
If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. (NLT)
In Genesis 15, God spoke to Abram (his name had not been changed as yet,) in a vision. Abram’s response to this plan of making him great was to say I don’t even have a son. God seems to know the direction that Abrams’ heart is going, and says,
Then the LORD said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4 NLT)
Almost as though God is sealing the deal, (while still in the vision,) God takes Abram outside and shows him the stars of heaven, and tells him, your descendants will be numbered like the stars. Because of this moment, Abram believed God.
What did Abram believe?
- That he would have descendants, but not through the servant woman.
- Those descendants will be innumerable.
And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6 NLT)
The new way of thinking, as the Message puts it, is that the righteousness of God comes only through faith.
Romans 3:22 tells us:
We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (NLT)
Romans 3:24 states:
Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. (NLT)
Information like this opens up a world of problems to those who are immature in Christ. Think about this: We are informed that, through Christ, God made us right in His sight, BECAUSE, Christ paid the penalty for our sins.
Does that sound like a bad thing? Not at all, right?
Then why would this righteousness in Christ be such a negative thing?
Because, Many can hear a statement such as, “we are made right with God,” and say, then why is there a punishment of hell for anyone?
The answer simply put, we all choose to follow a leader. Some, through the act of intentional non-compliance, will follow Satan to his doom.
But there is always mercy.
When we studied Romans 2:12-15 we looked very deliberately at some simple words.
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; (Romans 2:12 NASB)
The word without is the Greek word anomōs and means lawless, but it also can mean one who is not amenable to (the Jewish) law. The word amenable means one who refuses to be held in check by the law, or non-compliant.
What’s the problem here?
For one, we are not talking about Jewish law, as we live under Jesus’ Messianic law, the perfect law of liberty. And secondly, this idea of not being held in check can apply to any of us. You see, we have a built-in problem and its called sin. Since sin seems to have desire as its biggest motivator, you would think we are doomed.
Romans 4:4-8 Paul continues the discussion of the futility of trying to earn your way into God’s graces.
Romans 4:9 asks, is this for the Jews only? They seem to think so, however, God Paul points out how Abram received his declaration of righteousness, and it was not through circumcision, an event associated with Jewishness.
Romans 4:10 very distinctly spells out the chronology of events.
But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! (Romans 4:10 NLT)
The participation in circumcision happened when Abraham was 99, and it was:
Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are counted as righteous because of their faith. And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11-12 NLT)
As Paul states, this makes him the righteous father of both the circumcised and the uncircumcised – the Jews and the Gentiles. With the addendum, “only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had.” Simply put, Abraham believed God.
If this last statement seems daunting, consider this:
Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was not based on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. (Romans 4:13 NLT)
Paul continues to present a logical path.
If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. (Romans 4:14 NLT)
Knowing that we could not obey the law on our own, we are given the hope that comes through faith; that and the Holy Spirit.
What an impossible task the Jews have placed upon themselves.
“For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)
So the promise is received by faith.
It is given as a free gift.
And we are all certain to receive it,
whether or not we live according to the law of Moses,
if we have faith like Abraham’s.
For Abraham is the father of all who believe.” (Romans 4:15-16 NLT)
Paul then tries to explain what God was trying to say to Abram, and to us.
“That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him,
“I have made you the father of many nations.”
(Try to picture Abram, receiving this message. It was in a dream, however, a very vivid dream, but the reality is that Abram was married without children. I am sure he tried, it seems to be instinctive, and yet, no children. Lacking MRI machines and fertility doctors, how would Abram know the reasons why? And because of that, he may have looked around to see if God was talking to the right person.)
This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing; but then, how would Abram have known that about God?
Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham just kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations.
(When God started talking to Abram, he was already seventy-five years old. )
For God had said to him,
“That’s how many descendants you will have!”
And Abraham’s faith did not weaken,
(Weaken? What about Hagar? I keep forgetting, God’s vision is much better than mine. And He is the one who places our sins/failures into the sea of forgetfulness.)
even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—
and so was Sarah’s womb.
Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise.
(Circumcised at 99. God had to remind Abraham that he and his wife would have this son, and the son through the servant girl, was not it. Abraham, although already deemed righteous, has the circumcision performed upon himself. Apparently, as soon as he healed up, he tested the waters with Sarah once again. Nine months later, at the age of 100, Abraham becomes the father of Issac.)
In fact, his faith grew stronger,
and in this, he brought glory to God.
He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.
And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous.”
(Romans 4:17-22 NLT)
This story begins in Genesis chapter 12 when Abram is seventy-five years old. In Genesis 16, Abram is eighty-six when he sires a son with Hagar. Finally, in Genesis 21, when Abraham is 100 years old, Issac is born by Sarah. Over the course of 25 years, there have been many opportunities for doubt and despair, and yet God continually looks to the future, and, overlooks our faults.
Here is where we come in.
And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit.
It was recorded for our benefit, too,
assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
He was handed over to die because of our sins,
and he was raised to life to make us right with God.
(Romans 4:23-25 NLT)
So, an aspect of our belief, would be to comprehend that God raised Jesus from the dead; that He died because of our sins; and, that He was raised to life to make us right with God. None of this happens in and for us, without faith.