Exposition of Romans 4:23–25 Abraham believed to show us how

If we were talking about receiving old treasure — Spanish gold doubloons, say — you would snatch them up in an instant! How is it that old words — from God, say — do not produce a similarly enthusiastic reaction?

An older scholar says that God did not put all the cookies on the lower shelf. But they are within your reach. Just how much do you want them?

(ESV) Romans 4:23–25  But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

How easily we dismiss events of the past as belonging to another age! Even though we know the Bible is the Word of God, spiritual maturity is required to apply biblical principles to ourselves. Douglas Moo points out, “Paul’s conviction that the OT everywhere speaks to Christians is fundamental to his theology and preaching.”[1] The revelation must be applied with discretion, but that is always so.

Concerning 4:23–24a, Grant Osborne says: “Abraham’s faith was not merely a historical event but was a paradigm for believers in every age. . . . When we exercise the same faith Abraham did, then for us too that faith is ‘counted as’ righteousness.”[2] The “will be counted” language is not future from our standpoint but rather from the viewpoint of Abraham’s time; for this reason it refers to our salvation through faith and not to deliverance from final judgment. Thomas Schreiner says: “We could paraphrase the verse as follows. ‘Genesis 15:6 was written for the sake of those who would in the future be reckoned righteous by faith.’”[3]

But there is more in the depths of Romans 4:24. Notice that those to whom righteousness will be counted are described as “[we] who believe in him” (4:24). The italicized word is a Greek present participle, and the present tense most commonly refers to ongoing action in present time. NT grammarian Daniel Wallace says concerning this participle, “The present was the tense of choice most likely because the NT writers by and large saw continual belief as a necessary condition of salvation.”[4]

In other words, believers are not those who for one minute think favorably about Jesus, pray a short prayer and then lead a life independent or even defiant of God. No, believers are those who, like Abraham, demonstrate their faith over and over. They have committed themselves to faith in Jesus and keep on living for him. Continuing to believe is not a matter of losing our salvation or working for it; it is a matter of demonstrating our saving faith is real. God knows the difference!

Just as he began this letter with the resurrected Jesus, appointed the Son-of-God-in-power (1:4) after rising from the dead, Paul again returns to that theme in 4:24 as he nears the logical end of this portion of the letter. But in making his sectional conclusion, Paul hits some beautiful themes about what Jesus did for us.

Paul joins the death of Jesus with his resurrection (4:25), and that combination maintains a holistic perspective. In saying Jesus “was delivered up for our transgressions” he uses the verb paradidomi, which sounds with ominous regularity in John’s gospel (John 18:2, 5, 30, 35, 36; 19:11, 16, 30) while Jesus is taken to his trial and execution.

Paul does not elaborate here on the statement that Jesus was “raised for our justification” (4:25), but Paul does make comments elsewhere. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But Christ has been raised!

Osborne summarizes: “His death, as seen in the epistles, is the theological basis of justification, and his resurrection, as seen in Acts (2:31-36; 13:32-39), is the apologetic basis of salvation; that is, it proves the reality of the salvation produced in Christ.”[5]

Imitating Abraham’s faith

For the sake of interacting with the questions below, I would define biblical faith as responding in a positive way to what God has said and done. That is what Abraham did.

1. Are there parts of the New Testament that you read over quickly or skip because you do not like what they say? If you are not sure, read a major section of Matthew 5–7 (The Sermon on the Mount) and then answer.

2. If you have identified parts of the New Testament that you skip over or avoid, is it not reasonable to think that facing those issues could be the greatest source of further spiritual growth? What would it take for you to talk to God, to one of your pastors, or to your life group leader about how to respond to those issues with faith?

Abraham did not relish talking with God about his barren wife and the long-dormant promise God had made about an heir. But when he finally spoke, God gave him even more revelation to accept by faith along with further blessings. Why not give that a try?

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 287.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 121.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 242.

[4] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 621, footnote 22, with numerous examples.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 123.

Exposition of Romans 4:20–22 In all, get on God’s page!

Dallas Cowboys football fans share some common experiences. One occurs when quarterback Tony Romo throws a deep-out to the sideline only to have the pass receiver cut sharply away toward the center of the football field. Then we hear the commentator tell us what we already know: Tony and the receiver “were not on the same page.” We football fans grit our teeth and wonder how much more money it would take to get them on the same page!

An errant pass in a football game means little in the grand scheme of things. But what happens when we are not on the same page with God?

(ESV) Romans 4:20–22  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”

Romans 4:20 ties very closely to 4:19, where Paul said that Abraham “did not weaken in faith” when considering God’s promise in relation to his own physical condition and that of barren Sarah. Paul uses the contrast between weak and strong; in 4:19 he said Abraham did not weaken, and in 4:20 he explains how his faith “grew strong.”

The Greek verb translated “waver” in 4:20 is diakrin?, which in the active voice means “to conclude that there is a difference, make a distinction, differentiate.”[1] Here in 4:20 we actually have the passive voice, but there is value in pausing to consider this verb carefully. Abraham had believed God when he left Haran and many times since, but he could have balked at this promise due to old age; in other words, Abraham could have made a distinction between what God had done in other situations and what he would do in this one. In effect, Abraham would be saying: “God, I believed you about all those other things, but this one is more than I can accept. This one is different.”

We have all had those thoughts at some point, but we probably did not have the nerve to say so overtly to God. We kept the conflict within ourselves. That is how the passive voice of diakrin? functions, to express internal doubt or wavering. The lexicon says the passive voice of diakrin? means “to be at variance with someone.”[2] But, in relation to God’s promise of a multitude of descendants, Abraham would have been at variance with God. Romans 4:20 tells us Abraham was never at variance with God about this promise!

Unlike the people described in Romans 1:18, who rejected the truth in unrighteousness, Abraham embraced God’s promise about descendants. Abraham took the view that whatever God said, God would do! Abraham saw no reason to pick and choose among the things God said as if some were reliable and some were not. Abraham struggled at times, but not much overall.

The clear implication of 4:20 is that when we take God at his word and act accordingly, our faith grows stronger. But what does “as he gave glory to God” (4:20) mean? Thomas Schreiner says: “The secret of Abraham’s faith is that he acknowledged God’s glory by acknowledging his ability to carry out his promises . . . . The supreme way to worship God is not to work for him (4:4-5) but to trust that he will fulfill his promises.”[3] Living by faith gives glory to God.

In light of what we have said about 4:20, the meaning of Romans 4:21 is plain as day. C.E.B. Cranfield adds the insight: “Abraham’s faith was faith in the God who had promised, not merely in what had been promised.”[4]

We encounter the now-familiar verb logizomai (“counted”) in 4:22. Abraham’s response pleased God who counted Abraham as a righteous man. Schreiner says: “We perceive that the faith that results in righteousness is not a vague abstraction. Genuine faith adheres to God’s promise despite the whirlwind of external circumstances that imperil it.”[5]

Who is the quarterback?

All of us have to decide whether we are going to carry out the plays God calls or set out on a rogue play of our own. This metaphor should make it obvious how much success we can expect if we try to pick and choose what part of God’s promises we will believe and which part we will reject.

1. What part of God’s revelation is a struggle for you? What can you do to identify the source of your difficulty and seek to resolve it?

2. In what ways have you found that trusting God in specific situations leads to growth in your faith?

The secret to Abraham’s greatness was his wholehearted acceptance of what God had said. Certainly there were times when he did not understand what God wanted of him — times they were not on the same page — but it was never a matter of rejecting what God had said. His example inspires us all to get on the same page with God.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] BDAG-3, diakrin?, differentiate (active), q.v.

[2] BDAG-3, diakrin?, to be at variance with someone (passive), q.v.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 238.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 249.

[5] Schreiner, Romans, 239.

Exposition of Romans 4:18–19 Faith accepts reality but trusts God

Abraham’s faith was based on a very simple idea: God will do as he has said even if I cannot understand how. This explains, for example, how we may believe in heaven with full assurance even though we have never seen it.

Will we live on the basis of what God has said or restrict ourselves to what our eyes can see?

(ESV) Romans 4:18-19  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

Sometimes I imagine Paul in an ironic humor thinking about all those who would later try to untangle one of his phrases that his associate Peter said were “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). We have one of those phrases in Romans 4:18 where the sequence “against hope, on the basis of hope”[1] occurs. Oh my!

When confronted with such a paradoxical combination, Bible translators have their work cut out for them. However, in this case we have definite help from the immediate context. Grant Osborne points out, “The most amazing fact of all is that Abraham accepted his physical situation without weakening in his faith (verse 19), another way of expressing the same idea as in verse 18: ‘against hope, he hoped.’”[2] That is all the guidance needed to unravel the puzzling phrase in 4:18.

Of course, the phrase “against hope” looks at the fact that Abraham was “about a hundred years old” (4:19) as well as “the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (4:19). The counter-phrase “in hope” informs us that in spite of the seeming impossibility, Abraham had a solid expectation of descendants “as he had been told” (4:18).

(ESV) Romans 4:19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.”

C.E.B. Cranfield, when read carefully, does an excellent job explaining Paul’s take on the faith of Abraham: “Because of his unweakened faith, Abraham considered steadily, without attempting to deceive himself, his unpromising circumstances, but, as verse 20 goes on to indicate, did not allow what he saw to make him doubt God’s promise.”[3] Abraham did not close his eyes or fool himself.

Since Christian faith is sometimes portrayed in cartoon-style as a leap-into-the-dark, Douglas Moo says, “Abraham’s faith is not described as a ‘leap into the dark,’ a completely baseless, almost irrational ‘decision’ . . . but as a ‘leap’ from the evidence of his senses into the security of God’s word and promise.”[4]

Science and faith are not enemies

Life is odd sometimes. The religion which named itself “Christian Science” is neither Christian nor scientific; one of its key beliefs is that disease is an illusion. But that type of denial is not what Christian faith, as taught in the Bible, is about.

There should be no final conflict between science and Christian faith because both should look unflinchingly at reality. But science cannot put God in the test tube any more than Christianity can solve the equations of quantum mechanics. Christians should be as clear-eyed as the most meticulous scientist, and, indeed, Christianity has produced some of the greatest scientists.

Science can only deal with issues that can be tested by the scientific method. It cannot tell you whether Caesar was stabbed in 44 B.C. or whether Jesus Christ will return to rule the world. Science cannot tell you whether murder offends God or what God will do about it. Faith is the only appropriate way to deal with what God has said and done.

1. What has God promised you that you cannot prove in a court of law or a lab?

2. Do you ever feel uncomfortable, as a person living in the twenty-first century, about responding to God with faith? Why or why not?

Christian faith views the world as a system in which God has decisively intervened. He created the world, sent his Son to save it, and will replace it with a new creation in due course. Faith knows these things because God has revealed them, not because we can see it!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 282.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 118.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 247.

[4] Moo, Romans, 282-283.

Exposition of Romans 4:9–10 Study carefully to get it right!

One of the big questions philosophers juggle is “what are the sources of that which we know?” Knowledge comes from a number of sources, but for a Christian, the revelation recorded in the Bible has primacy over all other written sources. An observant Jew would regard the Old Testament with the same esteem we have for the whole.

Even a sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has recently commented on the value of such biblical sources by citing the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, which “instructs with respect to the Scripture: ‘Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein.’. . . . Divinely inspired text may contain the answers to all earthly questions . . .”[1]

Presumably, if God has spoken at book length to reveal himself, then he has been careful to say what he means. Since God has used such care, we must sift what he has said with diligence to get it right. Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

(ESV) Romans 4:9–10  Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.

In keeping with accurate interpretation of the Old Testament, Paul challenges his Jewish opponents to go back to Genesis and determine whether Abraham was declared righteous before or after he was circumcised (4:10). By doing so they will find the answer to the question posed in 4:9, which asks: “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?” If righteousness is available to the uncircumcised (i.e. Gentiles), then being a Jew is not required! Even a Roman Catholic like Justice Scalia would be eligible.

In the second half of 4:9, Paul takes us right back to Genesis 15:6 and repeats his thesis “that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness” (4:9b). In Genesis 17:1, we find that Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Going back to Genesis 16:16, we find that Abraham was 86 at the time Ishmael was born. The Jewish interpreters assumed that the events of Genesis 15:6 took place 16 years prior to the birth of Ishmael. By the reckoning of the rabbis, Abraham was declared righteous 29 years prior to being circumcised.[2]

From his biblical analysis, Paul concluded that Abraham was uncircumcised when his faith led God to declare him righteous. Not only did Abraham attain righteousness by faith, but he was not yet qualified to be a Jew at the time!

Facts undercut prejudices

Jesus used similar methods to those of Paul: “A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:25–26). To answer the most serious question life offers, Jesus sent the scribe back to the teaching of the Old Testament. Afterward Jesus evaluated what the scribe said and directed him toward life.

1. If you were paid by $5/word for reading the Bible, how much would you make for what you read last week? What does your answer tell you?

2. When you read something in the Bible that you do not understand, what sources of information do you have to clarify it (e.g. study Bible, Christian websites, friends, a pastor or other)? What incentives could you create to motivate yourself and your children, if any, to read the Bible and find good answers for their questions?

Many times the Gospel writers quote Jesus saying “Have you not read . . .” during his teaching ministry (Matt. 12:3; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; Mark 12:26; Luke 6:3). A lot of questions have answers, if you look in God’s Word!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Caperton v Massey Coal, 556 U.S. ___ (2009), Scalia, J., dissenting.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 235.

Exposition of Romans 4:4–5 Since God provides all, believe him!

A powerful image in late 20th century politics was the welfare-cheat, someone who was getting something for nothing. It was easy to say — and was sometimes true — that people on welfare were not willing to work. They were all cast in a negative light.

In America we have historically believed in self-reliance, hard work, and pulling ourselves up by sheer effort. Our media regularly praise such qualities.

Whatever the political value of these concepts, they present exactly the wrong idea with respect to attaining salvation. In attaining salvation, we are both helpless and ungodly. God’s way of solving our problem demands that we be counter-cultural and substitute his efforts for our own.

(ESV) Romans 4:4–5  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Paul continues his argument concerning Abraham by using common knowledge about the nature of work and wages (4:4). One word that is central to Paul’s analysis is the now-familiar verb logizomai which here (4:4) means “to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate.”[1] This verb is the very one used in Genesis 15:6 in the Greek version — called the LXX or Septuagint — that Paul is quoting in Romans 4:3.

We could translate Romans 4:3 by saying, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not calculated according to grace but according to obligation.” Grace is something freely given, but an obligation is a debt which is owed. Paul forces his Jewish opponents to face the fact that attaining salvation-righteousness by works has the inescapable baggage that it means God owes that righteousness to the one who works. Since Paul knows Jewish theology fiercely rejects the idea of God as debtor, the logic forces his opponents to disavow works as playing any part when God credited (logizomai Gen. 15:6) Abraham with righteousness.

But if works were not pivotal to the reckoning of righteousness to Abraham, what was? The answer is found in Gen. 15:6 when Abraham “believed God.” C.E.B. Cranfield summarizes the message of Romans 4:4–5 when he says, “The best explanation of Paul’s exposition of Gen. 15:6 in these two verses would seem to be that which understands it to turn upon the fact that the Genesis verse makes no mention of any work of Abraham but simply refers to his faith.”[2]

(ESV) Romans 4:5 “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,”

If Romans 4:5 explicitly mentioned the name of Jesus Christ, it might be even more famous than John 3:16. The phrase “him [i.e. God] who justifies the ungodly” (4:5) is absolutely astounding! Grant Osborne expresses the natural reaction: “At first glance this does not seem right. It should be the godly, the pious who should be justified.”[3] That would work fine if anyone were pious enough.

Romans 4:5 first forces us to realize that no matter what we think of ourselves, we come to God as those who are ungodly. Second, we see that God can justify the ungodly, declaring them to be righteous. Later Paul will explain how God could possibly justify the ungodly: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6, NET). That leads us to ask: how can we receive such profound benefit?

Paul says that we the ungodly obtain God’s justification the same way Abraham did. We do not work for it, but believe in the gracious God who made our justification possible through Jesus Christ. Romans 4:5 uses both the verb pisteu? (“believes in him”) and the noun pistis (“his faith is counted as righteousness”) to nail down the central importance of faith to our justification.

Remember who is reckoning

The church father Origen of Alexandria (185–254 AD) said, “The root of righteousness does not spring from works; rather the fruit of works grows from the root of righteousness.”[4] So, it is God who provides the way for us to become righteousness, and then our works can honor the one who saved us.

1. How do you think the merciful character of God figures into his counting (or reckoning or crediting) our faith as righteousness?

2. Do you think that the faith God wants from us is merely mental assent to an idea (e.g. Jesus died for my sins), or is there more to it than that? Explain.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:23–24, HCSB)

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] BDAG-3, logizomai, reckon, q.v.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 231.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 109.

[4] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 112.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 11:18–26

Genesis 11:18–26
When Peleg had lived 30 years, he became the father of Reu.  19 And after he became the father of Reu, Peleg lived 209 years and had other sons and daughters.
20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he became the father of Serug.  21 And after he became the father of Serug, Reu lived 207 years and had other sons and daughters.
22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he became the father of Nahor.  23 And after he became the father of Nahor, Serug lived 200 years and had other sons and daughters.
24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he became the father of Terah.  25 And after he became the father of Terah, Nahor lived 119 years and had other sons and daughters.
26 When Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
(NET Bible)

Preparation for Abraham and the covenant

God is not in a hurry! He works toward long-term goals, not the quick fix. His plan to remedy the ruin of humankind took millennia to unfold and is not yet complete.

How does our impatience interact with God’s patience? What are we to make of God’s decision to bring his solution by working through humankind? What does Genesis show us about God’s guiding hand on history?

Kenneth Mathews puts this passage into perspective:

The Babel account (11:1-9) is not the end of early Genesis. If it were, the story would conclude on the sad note of human failure. But as with earlier events in Genesis 1-11, God’s grace once again supersedes human sin, insuring the continued possibilities of the promissory blessings (1:28; 9:1).[1]

Gordon Wenham adds, “With this short genealogy from Shem to Abram, the Genesis narrative steps from the primeval period, whose events have cosmic significance directly affecting all mankind, into the patriarchal period.”[2] The patriarchs are, at minimum, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Terah, the father of Abram [later Abraham], waited more than twice as long to have his first son as all the others born after the flood and listed in Genesis 11. Genesis 11:26 tells us he was 70 years old when his first son was born. However, it may shed light on the fact that Abraham did not have his own first son Ishmael (by the servant Hagar) until he was 85 or 86 years old (Gen. 16:3-4).

Terah’s name may be connected to the word for “moon.” Even if it is not, Wenham says, “Several of Abram’s relations have names that suggest adherence to lunar worship (cf. Sarah, Milcah, Laban), a cult that was prominent in Ur and Harran.”[3]Ur was Abram’s birthplace about 186 miles southeast of modern Baghdad. Perhaps this moon worship explains the Lord’s words in Joshua 24:2 saying: “In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods.”

By God’s grace and selection, Abraham became a towering figure in Old Testament history and New Testament theology. But that is a story for another day!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[This post concludes the series on Genesis 1–11.]

[1] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 487.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 253.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 252.