Covenant Father 18: The Promise Comes Through Faith - Romans 4

When Paul deals with the all-important question: “How can Jesus’ righteousness come to be mine?” he contrasts two different answers: works and faith. These are two opposite approaches to obtaining Jesus’ righteousness, and only faith succeeds. In order to establish his answer, Paul appeals to the most famous example of someone being counted righteous in the whole Old Testament, our covenant father Abraham. This makes the ancient patriarch suddenly and eternally relevant to your life. The promised new and better world that we all want is the same one that God promised to Abraham and his offspring. The righteousness that you desperately need to enter that world is the righteousness that God gave Abraham.

Paul begins by setting up the contrast of faith vs. works in vv. 2-3, with two other contrasts following close behind. If justification comes by works, then what you get from God is not a gift, but your due. You’ve earned it, and this means that you have something to boast about. But if righteousness comes by faith, then it’s a gracious gift, and you have something to thank God for. So on one side we have works-wages-boasting, and on the other we have faith-gift-gratitude.

But the counter-argument Paul addresses in v.9 raises the issue of circumcision, arguing that the faith-gift-gratitude package belongs to those who are circumcised. Blessings for covenant keepers! Grace for the circumcised! In other words, you share in Abraham’s blessings if you do the works of Abraham.

But Paul makes a powerful observation from the life of Abraham: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” before the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17! Abraham wasn’t declared righteous because he was a covenant-keeper; his circumcision was a seal of the righteousness he already had by faith.

And the way Paul applies this truth is good news for you and me: because Abraham was justified by faith, and not by circumcision, not by works, not by covenant obedience, he is more than just the father of the circumcised. He’s the father of the faithful, the father of all who believe, whether they are circumcised or not! And because you’re made righteous by faith, the promise of a new world for the righteous belongs to you by faith, not by works. Learning about Abraham’s life is so much more than just an exercise in history or Bible knowledge: the Bible says that you can be forgiven and justified the same way Abraham was.

The better world we all long for is coming only for the righteous, and you can only be counted righteous by faith. So the first application is simple: believe God, and receive Christ’s gift of righteousness that will make you an heir of the new creation to come when Christ returns. Abraham’s faith was entirely future-oriented; ours rests on what God did in the past through Jesus, but together with Abraham we wait for great day of resurrection.

Second, do not boast or become proud. What separates us from the world is the grace of God alone. So when you encounter sin in others, you can practice self-righteousness and put on your shocked face, or you can fall to your knees and say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Third, realize that your faith rests on an ironclad guarantee. When you are tempted to wonder if you are righteous enough for God to give you a place in His new world, remember that your righteousness doesn’t come from your works! God counts you righteous because you believe in Jesus, who died to cover your sins! So when you doubt, you aren’t really doubting yourself. You’re doubting Jesus. So stop it! The promise of forgiveness and new life is guaranteed, because it doesn’t rest on how good you are, but on how good God is.

And when you find that your faith is weak, Abraham can help with that, too. Abraham’s faith grew strong, Romans 4:20 says, as he gave glory to God. This is the other benefit of spending months studying the life of Abraham: Abraham’s life is packed full of reasons to give glory to God. Remembering God’s faithfulness and giving Him glory for keeping His promises to Abraham – that’s what makes your faith grow stronger, until you’re fully convinced that God is able to do what He promises for you, too.

Posted on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 by CJ Bowen