Sermon: The Promise Abraham Believed Romans 4:9-17

The Promise Abraham Believed

Romans 4:9-17

Truth Taught- God promised Abraham that He would bless him and make him the father of the family of faith…Abraham believed God.

Introduction

Our passage today falls on the heals of the passage from a few weeks ago. Paul has taken us through a long and somewhat grueling exercise in human sin and wickedness concluding very conclusively that no one is made right with God or justified by the works of the Law. Jews are not justified by good works and neither are the Gentiles justified by good works but, in fact, all people stand condemned before God based on their own righteousness.

He then speaks of a great blessing that comes to us from God and this blessing is applied to us by faith.

Romans 4:7–8 (ESV)

   “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered;

   blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

His point is that while all people stand guilty before God, there are some who God does not count their sin against them. He’s told us that this group is the group of people who have exercised saving faith in all Christ is and says.

So, what is said of Abraham…he believed God and God counted that to him as righteousness, can be said of all who have faith, they believed God and God counts that to them as righteousness. So, by faith, sin is not counted and righteousness is counted.

This is the condition God has set in place for how He will justify the sinner. This is called God’s Grace…

Grace is God not counting our sin against us and showing loving kindness and salvation to us not on account of anything we do but completely because He desires to do so.

Father, You have Gathered Your people that You may let us hear Your words, so that we may learn to fear You all the days that we live on the earth, and that we may also teach our children…amen

Romans 4:9–17 (ESV)

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For 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. 11 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.

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

  1. Abraham was Justified Before Circumcision Existed (4:9-12)

The Jews of Rome could possibly contest Paul’s logic when he used David as an example of one Justified by God without or apart from works. They could do this because while David made this claim he was circumcised. Even though he made the claim, he was still obeying the Law of Moses and circumcision was a part of that law. So, in their thinking, who is to say whether it was keeping the Law that either justified David or at least helped in it?

Here, the Apostle Paul nails his argument down very firmly by explaining something to the Jews and to us today…

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For 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. 11 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.

The blessing, is the blessing of justification or as Paul writes, God not counting our trespasses against us.

His question whether or not Abraham was justified by circumcision is shown to be a false statement, do to the timing of the OT events.

He tells us that Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness before God had even commanded him to be circumcised.

Abraham is counted righteous before God in Genesis 15 and then in Genesis 17 God introduces the practice of circumcision.

Genesis 15:6 (ESV)

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 17:9–12 (ESV)

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,

The reason circumcision is an issue is the Jews associated it so closely with the Mosaic Law that culturally to be circumcised marked you as a Jew.

So, the outward sign of the covenant God made with Abraham was circumcision. This came after God already declared Abraham righteous.

There is another reason why God showed grace to Abraham and justified him before he was circumcised…
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.

Because Abraham believed before he was circumcised he qualifies to be the spiritual father of ALL who believe, both Jew and Gentile. Abraham is not the father of the Jewish people corporately but the father of the particular Jews who believe. He is also the father of all believing Gentiles. He is the example to all people of a person whom God does not count their sin against them based on faith alone.

He is also the spiritual father of the circumcised, provided they come to Christ by faith alone, namely, Jewish Christians.

Abraham is not the father of unbelieving Jews. Jewish people are not right with God based on the fact that they can trace their lineage back to Abraham. He is not their father.

Luke 3:8 (ESV)
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

John 8:38–39 (ESV)

38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did,
Abraham is Paul’s example of what it looks like to be a united church made of both Jew and Gentile. It does not matter what your lineage is, the color of your skin is of no consequence…only faith. Once a person has faith they can claim that Abraham, the man of faith as their lineage.
2. Abraham was Justified Before the Law of Moses Existed (4:13-15)

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Father Abraham was not justified by the practice of circumcision because he was declared right with God before circumcision ever existed. Paul also proves to us that Abraham was not declared righteous because he kept the Law of Moses…why? The Law didn’t exist either.

Again the chronology of the Jewish Scriptures proves his point. As every Jew well knew, the law was not revealed to Moses until more than five hundred years after Abraham lived, and that patriarch obviously had no way of knowing what the law required.

Man has never been able to come to God by means of an outward ceremony or standard of conduct. When Abraham was declared right with God, he was neither circumcised nor in possession of the Mosaic law. Circumcision had not yet been required by God and the law had not yet been revealed by God.[1]

The point to this section is that the promise God made to Abraham would come to pass simply because God made the promise.

Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV)

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

How would all the families of the earth be blessed?

Galatians 3:8 (ESV)

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Galatians 3:16 (ESV)

16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

SO the issue is this…what if God made the promise but then it depended on Abraham keeping the Law in order to fulfill the promise? The promise, namely, that Christ would come through the lineage of Abraham and bless all nations through salvation by faith could not happen because Abraham could never keep the Law. So, God would have become a liar due to making a promise that did not see fulfillment. Because God made it and it would have to come true or God would be a liar, God has to do everything required. He makes righteousness available to sinners by faith just like Abraham. If salvation comes through keeping the Law, then Jesus’ death would be meaningless because it would not have saved the first person.

The heirs of Abraham, the heirs of the promise are justified by faith not works.

Let’s take a minute and examine what Abraham’s faith, the faith that justified him, looked like…
God made the promise to Abraham…through his children the nations would be blessed. We know from Galatians 3:8, 16 that the blessing to the nations that came through Abraham was Jesus Christ. There is a problem in Abraham’s mind. I don’t have any children and we are past ever hoping to have any children.

Already God has set Himself up that the worshipper must simply believe because God promised and for no other reason.
Genesis 17:16–17 (ESV)

16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

The impossible came to pass. Sarah had a son by Abraham and the son was named Isaac. This is step one of God fulfilling His promise. Was it possible for Abraham and Sarah who were 100 and 90 respectably to keep God’s promise? They could no more have a baby than you or I could keep God’s Law.

Then redemptive history takes another turn.

Let’s remember the significance of Isaac. Isaac was Abraham’s son of promise and the only son in which God’s promise would continue. If God was going to keep the promise that all the nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring then Isaac had to stay alive until he could have children for the promise to continue.

So God promises a 100 year old man that through his lineage a great blessing would come. Yet, he has no children and cannot ever have any children.

Now God is going to see just how much Abraham believes the promise of God. He asks Abraham to take this son and kill him. There is so much more here than a father killing his son. Abraham would be killing God’s promise and making God a liar…
Genesis 22:1–14 (ESV)

22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

What was Abraham thinking? He knew the promise and he also knew what God had told him to do. These things do not compute do they?
The writer of Hebrews tells us what Abraham was thinking…
Hebrews 11:17–20 (ESV)

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.

This is what faith looks like. Faith believes God even though things may look impossible. At every step throughout redemptive history the promise looked like it was about to fail based on human performance then God would take the promise and move it on ahead to another generation until Jesus came. Even then, the cross from a human perspective looks like an utter failure. The Savior of the world…yeah right. Then God does what man could never do, He takes the most unjust death of His Son, His only Son and fulfills His promise that he made to Abraham thousands of years before.

So, you see that being made right with God must come through faith like Abraham’s. Faith believes God no matter what because God cannot and will not lie.

  1. Abraham was Justified By Grace (4:16-17)

Romans 4:16–17 (ESV)

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

So we see that the only way God’s promise could be guaranteed was if God did it and did not depend on mankind to fulfill it.

Cannot be based on works because if it was it would never succeed.

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

Rather God has made His promise and the foundation of His promise being fulfilled rests on His grace.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

God’s promise to send us a Savior and to make for Christ a people does not depend on us to be fulfilled. It is 100% dependent on God’s grace. Therefore, God’s promise is guaranteed to happen. So much so, that when God gave it to Abraham it was in the past tense.

17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

I am reformed in theology because of what the Bible teaches. Romans is packed full of truth. It teaches us that man cannot achieve the righteousness God requires mainly because in our natural state we are dead spiritually.

Notice with me what God has to do to make His promise come true…

He has to make a people who will believe like Abraham believed.

Mankind cannot do the requirements God has laid out in His Law and to make it worse, man cannot even believe the promise of God by himself.

who gives life to the dead

calls into existence the things that do not exist.

He brings us to life spiritually when we were dead. He is creating for His Son a people who believe by giving us life and giving us faith. He creates a people who love Him when before there were none…they didn’t exist.

Application

God’s promise is fulfilled because it is based on grace not on anything we do.

Now we must ask our self, how strong is my faith? Do I believe God simply because God said it?

Abraham, you and Sarah are going to have a baby at 100 years of age…

Abraham, leave your homeland and your kinsmen and go to a land that I will show you.

Abraham from you and your descendants all the families of the earth will be blessed.

His faith drove his actions. He believed God and God counted it as righteousness.

Is there an area where your faith is not as strong as God would like it to be?

Perhaps its in the realm of finances or an unknown future or a trial you’re currently experiencing. Trust and believe God. I will never leave you or forsake you. Trust God and His promises because He cannot lie.

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (p. 254). Chicago: Moody Press.

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