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

Abrahams 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 Sarahs 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 Pauls 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 Gods 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, Abrahams 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 Gods 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, Plano, Texas. 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 4:11-12, Good to ask: whos your daddy?

Because he was a famous man of faith, everyone wanted to claim Abraham as their father. Jesus opponents loudly proclaimed themselves the children of Abraham (John 8:39), and, when Jesus said that could not be so in light of their desire to kill him, they shouted that God was their Father (John 8:41). Jesus said no, their true father was the devil, a murderer guiding their lives (John 8:44).

Obviously, it makes a big difference whether you are a true child of Abraham or not. It is the difference between heaven and hell.

(ESV) Romans 4:11-12

He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Paul continues his biblical-historical argument about Abraham to demonstrate that God confers the status of righteousness by faith apart from works of the law (3:28). In order to promote understanding of these complex verses, I will present the sections one-at-a-time for discussion.

(ESV) Romans 4:11a He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.

Here (4:11a) circumcision is said to be a sign and a seal of Abrahams justification. Grant Osborne rightly says, Circumcision is seen both as the distinguishing mark [sign] and the confirming act [seal] of Gods covenant with his people.[1]

But the sign and the seal are related to — indeed they depend upon — a more important, more central idea. They both signal the primacy of the righteousness that he had by faith when he was still uncircumcised (4:11a). Paul clearly implies that without that faith circumcision means nothing.

(ESV) Romans 4:11b The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,

In presenting Gods two purposes for the significance of Abrahams faith, Osborne says: Paul could have subsumed [included] them under one statement that Abraham was the father of all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike. But instead Paul separates them into two sections for emphasis.[2]

Romans 4:11b is the Gentile track. Abraham is the father of all Gentiles who believe and receive righteousness, because Abraham was uncircumcised when he was declared righteous by faith.

In passing, we note that Paul once again points to Gods internal reckoning using the verb logizomai: so that righteousness would be counted to them as well. This is called a divine passive because the passive voice is often used in the NT for Gods actions. NT grammarian Daniel Wallace points out: That God is behind the scenes is self-evidently part of the worldview of the NT writers. The nature of this book demands that we see him even when he is not mentioned.[3]

(ESV) Romans 4:12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Before we explain this verse, we will look back at what Paul said in Rom. 2:28-29 where we find: For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God. (NET)

Paul will also take up this theme later in the letter when he says, For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel (Rom. 9:6, NET).

Romans 4:12 shows the track of Gods purpose for true Israel. Thomas Schreiner puts it best: Paul teaches that Abraham is the father only of Jews who have faith. Circumcision alone is insufficient to belong to the people of God.[4]

Wow! That is a game-changer for a lot of Jews who were involved in going-to-heaven-by-the-numbers — by analogy to painting-by-the-numbers. You can begin to see why Paul got a hot reception when he returned to Jerusalem. More than forty Jews swore not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul (Acts 23:12), and the Roman commander escorted him far away with a force of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen (Acts 23:23)!

So, Abraham is the father of believing Gentiles and believing Jews, but he is not the father of those Jews who are circumcised yet fail to have the faith which God requires for righteousness. Those without faith are orphans.

Like father like son

Jesus tells us that everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). Those who follow in the faith-steps of Abraham are truly his children.

1. To what extent do you benefit from feedback from others to ensure you are living with the faith of Abraham?

2. In terms of false standards, what could circumcision represent by analogy in the lives of others and in your own life?

Being from a good family does not help much with getting into heaven. In that setting, faith is the coin of the realm, and nothing else can substitute for it. Faith in Jesus Christ proves who your Father is once and for all.

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

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 111.

[2] Osborne, Romans, 112.

[3] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 438.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 226.

Exposition of Romans 4:6-8, Only God can offer total amnesty

One of our foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence, declares that we have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, those things are not that easy to come by. Happiness in particular has proven elusive for many.

In the final analysis, happiness —blessedness in the language of our Scripture passage — only comes from God, and it is based on not having our sins counted against us. Are you blessed?

(ESV) Romans 4:6-8

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.

As we follow Pauls argument in support of justification by faith apart from works of the law, we should note that he relies on the interpretation of OT revelation to make his point. All sound theology is based primarily on biblical revelation, not unguided human opinion or even traditional interpretations of the Bible.

Paul is also sensitive to the traditions of those who are his Jewish theological opponents. Jewish scholars had certain techniques they used for interpreting the OT. One such technique consisted of first locating two verses which contained the same word and then interpreting each verse in light of the other. Paul has been using Genesis 15:6 and the Greek verb logizomai (reckon or calculate), and he clearly set out to find another verse containing logizomai that also mentions forgiveness of sins. He found what he wanted in Psalm 32:1-2a, which says:

(ESV) Psalm 32:1-2a Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,

Paul also scores another point — according to the methods of his time — for getting his primary reference from the Pentateuch (Genesis 15:6) and a secondary reference from the prophets and the writings (Psalm 32:1-2a).[1] In the bargain Paul adds the voice of David to the example of Abraham. To his Jewish contemporaries, this was very skillful argument!

Since we are studying Romans, you may wonder why I am telling you about Pauls methodology. The reason is that you will run into Bible passages where you may not understand why the author — here Paul — chooses the words that he does. You should take away the lesson that there is always a reason, even if we do not always know it. And you should recall that this letter was not written in the first instance to us, even though its principles may be applied to us.

In Romans 4:6-8, Paul demonstrates another reason that justification must be found apart from works; too many of our works are actually sins! Grant Osborne explains: The particular works mentioned in the psalm are transgressions and sins. Not only can they not produce righteousness; they must also be forgiven and covered. Thus the flip side of Gods crediting righteousness is Gods not crediting sin to ones account.[2]

Paul speaks of the negative acts in two ways (4:7): lawless deeds (Greek anomia) and sins (Greek hamartia). The first term, anomia, refers to those lawless things done by people who care nothing for what God wants; the noun means here the product of a lawless disposition, a lawless deed.[3] The second term, hamartia, deals with those people who are mindful of Gods standards but fail to meet them; the noun means here a departure from . . . divine standards of uprightness.[4]

When he speaks of how God deals with these different types of people and violations, Paul says God forgives the lawless deeds and covers the sins. The only way God can forgive lawless deeds is by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:23, NET). God has dealt with the sins by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood (Rom. 3:25). In Israel the blood of the atoning sacrifice was poured by the high priest on the mercy seat, which was on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is our mercy seat, and his death supplies the blood that covers our sins (Rom. 3:25). He resolved Gods wrath against us.

Because he has dealt with our sins through the death of Christ, we are blessed (4:8) because the Lord will not count (logizomai) our sins against us!

How to obtain happiness

The Bible reveals Gods thinking, so its conclusions do not agree with those defined by culture. The good news is that to be happy or blessed, you do not need to be rich, powerful, young, beautiful, educated, or born into the right nation or family. All blessedness comes from God! To be happy, relate to God through faith in Jesus Christ and then devote yourself to strengthening that relationship.

1. How does society deal with sins and lawless deeds? How effective are those methods and how do they compare to Gods methods?

2. Through Christ there is a way to be forgiven before God and to have a fruitful relationship. In what ways do we or do we not provide ways for forgiveness between ourselves and other family members or among our friends?

Since God and God alone is the source of both amnesty for our sins and happiness based on faith in his Son, what possible reason could lead someone to neglect the opportunity?

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 265.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 110.

[3] BDAG-3, anomia, lawless deeds, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.