Sermon: How Abraham Believed Romans 4:18-25

How Abraham Believed

Romans 4:18-25

Truth Taught- Saving faith does not depend on circumstances but on God alone

Introduction

Last week in DH we looked at examples of Abraham’s faith given to us in Hebrews Chapter 11. We saw there was one underlying common denominator and that is that he believed God’s promises even when he didn’t have all the information…Leave your homeland and go to a land I will tell you. We saw that he trusted and believed God’s promises even when the promises went against everything humanly possible…you and Sarah will have a child even though you’re 100 and she is 90…and take your son, your only son whom you love and sacrifice him on the mount I will show you. Remember, it was through Isaac the promise was to continue through to future generations.

We are told that he believed God and it was counted by God as righteousness and we looked at examples of his belief, today let’s look at how he believed. Paul is about to tell us how Abraham believed.

 

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 4:18–25 (ESV)

18 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. 20 No unbelief 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.” 23 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.

  1. He Believed Against Hope Because God is Not Like Us

18 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.

In the Bible there are different examples of hope. There is regular hope like, I hope this happens or I hope we can take the trip. Then there is a hope that enters into the realm of faith. There is a hope that is what many call a know-so hope. This hope is assurance that what God promises will happen but it just hasn’t happened yet.

elpís (from elpō, “to anticipate, welcome”) – properly, expectation of what is sure (certain); hope.

With proper anticipation and expectation Abraham believed God even though from a human perspective there was no hope that His promise would come to pass. He anticipated with confidence what he had no hope to see happen from his own power. Abraham believed because he had complete confidence in God who made the promise.
Let’s think about this from a practical standpoint. Imagine Abraham and Sarah standing in front of a mirror. He has his arm around her and says, look at us, both with smiles on their faces, he goes on to say, I’m going to be a father Sarah and youre going to be a mother and they both laughed and held each other and they both believed. That’s what hoping against hope means. It’s a challenge from a human perspective but from God’s perspective, it’s a piece of cake.

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.

In our fallen sinful nature we think God is like us. In other words, because Abraham and Sarah could never have a baby, even when they were in their prime, the tendency would be to transfer that helplessness to God. Beloved, God is not powerless.

Abraham believed because he knew that the situation, namely the barrenness of Sarah, was not a factor in God keeping His promise. Abraham’s faith did not depend on his circumstances.
This event of Sarah having a baby is a prophetic picture of another miraculous birth. If Abraham and Sarah having a baby is amazing what about the Virgin Mary having a baby?

Luke 1:34–38 (ESV)

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Only God can do these things. Beloved live in full assurance that what God promises will happen. Mary believed God didn’t she. She believed even though from a human perspective it was impossible. Let it be according to Your Word, was her response. She didn’t say, let it be according to my ability to conceive as a virgin.

So, our faith is strengthened as we by grace remember God is not like us and He will fulfill everything He says because He cannot lie.

  1. He Believed To Glorify God

20 No unbelief 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.”

This section tells us something else about Abraham’s faith concerning the promise of God…he did not waver in unbelief. He didn’t fluctuate between faith and unbelief. He didn’t sort of believe and then struggle with belief. His faith in God’s promise never failed even though from a human perspective things looked impossible.

It would seem from the Genesis narratives that Paul was mistaken about Abraham’s unwavering faith. When “the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great,’ … Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? … Since Thou hast given no offspring to one born in my house is my heir’ ” (Gen. 15:1–3). Abraham openly admitted before God that he could not understand how the divine promise of an heir, much less of a multitude of nations, could be fulfilled. The only heir he could see was his chief servant, Eliezer, who would have received Abraham’s inheritance had no son been born to him by Sarah.

But struggling faith is not doubt; just as temptation to sin is not itself sin. The very fact that Abraham was trying to understand how God’s promise could be fulfilled indicates he was looking for a way of fulfillment, although he could not yet see a way.[1]

So Abraham did not waver going from belief to unbelief concerning the promise of God, namely that he and Sarah would have a son. He did on a couple of occasions when facing possible danger tell a lie. Actually, it was a half lie and half-truth. However, for all intents and purposes we know a half-truth is still a lie. The fact is when Abraham was in Egypt he was afraid of the king and told the king that Sarah was his sister. The reality is that Sarah was, in fact, his half sister. The intent was to mislead and deceive the king to protect his own life.

It seems even though he was not perfect and still a fallen sinner, when it came to believing God’s promise, he never doubted or swayed back and forth.

John Calvin wisely observed that believers “are never so enlightened that there are no remains of ignorance, nor is the heart so established that there are no misgivings.” A Christian who claims to understand all of God’s truth and to envision the fulfillment of all His promises is not demonstrating great faith but great presumption. Godly faith is not full understanding but full trust, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).[2]

he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,

Here is encouragement to all of us who sometimes have a weak faith.

We must first see the difference between unbelief and weak faith. They are not the same thing. Abraham never wavered in unbelief, he always believed what God told him. There were times when he struggled to maintain belief and there were times when his faith was weaker than other times but he never stopped believing.

Here’s what Paul is talking about. There are times in a believer’s life when we know what God wants us to do and we basically, in fear, do it. We believe but then in that instance our faith may be weak but we never stopped believing. Then other times we can do things in very strong faith. Weak faith is still faith.

So, Paul can tell us that Abraham’s faith grew stronger as he gave glory to God. Here is a wonderful practical principle for us. The more we trust God and obey Him for His honor and glory, the stronger our faith will become.

To begin with faith is the key ingredient to salvation. We are saved by grace through faith. So that God receives the glory from our salvation, we don’t. Then a life of faith will also bring glory to God. The more we live by faith the more glory God receives and…listen, the stronger our faith becomes.

Thomas Watson, the English pastor and writer from 350 years ago, asked in his book, A Body of Divinity (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979, p. 151), “Why should faith justify more than any other grace?” His answer was, “Because of God’s purpose. He has appointed this grace to be justifying; and he does it, because faith is a grace that takes a man off himself, and gives all the honor to Christ and free grace.” Then he quotes Romans 4:20, “Strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

Giving glory to God doesn’t mean adding glory to God. It means showing that God is glorious. It means calling attention to his glory and showing it to be what it really is. His glory is the greatness of his beauty and the shining of all his excellencies, and the radiance of his perfections.[3]

If your faith seems unusually weak ask yourself, am I living for my glory or for God’s glory? Am I out to be made much of by others or to have others make much of God?

There is one important factor here…we must believe God’s promises found in the Bible not in our own imagination. For example…someone might say that they have faith that God is going to heal their sick relative. They pray and ask God to do it and then say to everyone that they have faith God is going to do it. There is a problem here…God has not promised that He would. There’s not a passage in the Bible saying He will heal our relative’s sicknesses. There is not a promise that God has made. Now we still pray and ask God to but at the end of the day God is not bound to act in any way because there is no promise involved. That faith would not be fixed on a promise of God but on our imagination. Saving faith is always set on a promise of God and the reason we can and must believe is because God cannot lie. However, where there is no promise we have nothing to set our faith upon.

  1. He Believed and is the Father of All Who Believe

23 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.

Abraham believed God and we are sons and daughters of Abraham if we too believe God. We don’t gain anything because Abraham believed. We along with Abraham are in the same dilemma.

Romans 3:9–12 (ESV)

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

       “None is righteous, no, not one;

11        no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12    All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

Romans 3:21–26 (ESV)

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness…

If we believe it will be counted as righteousness to us also…

in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

This verse has been twisted and misunderstood by many Christians. Let’s look at it and discover its meaning…
We are all under the penalty for our sin. Sin is disobedience to God’s Law. God’s Law is much more than dos and donts. It is a moral law of rights and wrongs. It would be one thing to break God’s Law by accident or by oversight. People break God’s Law out of rebellion and forethought.

A person steps out in front of you and you hit them, that’s not murder (God’s Law say thou shalt not kill). Murder is premeditated, sometimes a killer plans it for a lengthy amount of time and other times it happens in an instant but it is always a volitional decision. The murderer is held accountable while the person who killed the pedestrian is not.

We’ve not only broken God’s Law but we have done it in a premeditated way. We have done it in rebellion, knowing full well what we were doing.

RC Sproul tells a story to help explain this verse.

Imagine a child comes into an ice cream store and gets an ice cream cone with two scoops. The owner says to him that will be two dollars. The child begins to cry because his mother only gave him one dollar for ice cream. So a man sitting there overhearing steps in and gives the owner the other dollar. In this case there was no moral law broken because the remaining debt was paid…beloved that’s NOT us.

Another young man runs into the ice cream store and grabs a bucket of ice cream and runs out while the owner is chasing him yelling thief. The police apprehends the boy and brings him back to the store, asking if this is the boy who stole the ice cream? The owner says it is. The policeman asks the owner if he would like to press charges? Technically this is petty larceny at least. A man stands up and asks if he can pay for the tub of ice cream. The owner is not under obligation to accept any payment and can by law press charges.

Do you see the difference? The first was an honest mistake without any rebellion or sin. The second was not a mistake but a decision to steal. We are the second.

Now just like the store owner was not under obligation to accept payment but could still legally press charges so too God was not under obligation to even accept Jesus’ payment for our sin.

The amazing truth and amazing mercy of God is that He did…
in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

When Jesus died our debt was paid and when God raised Him from the dead, He said, I will accept Your payment for all who believe.

On the cross payment was made and in the tomb forgiveness was expressed and justification accomplished. The resurrection was God’s demonstration to His unjust people that He accepts the payment in full for the moral debt we have earned. We see while God is holy and righteous, He is also merciful. He’s the storeowner who accepts payment. Notice, there is also another facet to this. The storeowner could decide to not press charges and accept the man’s payment. God had to do infinitely more to accept payment. He had to still press charges. Jesus was charged with our sin. God had to still punish the sin. So Jesus went to the cross died for us. Our sin punished and payment made. Now God can forgive us and still maintain His holiness. He can now be holy and merciful.

Application

We must believe God’s promises.

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (p. 265). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (p. 265). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] John Piper

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