"Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah's womb was also dead..." (Romans 4:19)
A critical step in realizing a promise from God, especially when healing is concerned, is facing the cold hard truth of the problem. When something is wrong, when your body is sick, when you are dying of cancer, whatever this made be, we have to come to the realization that perhaps nobody can help us.
One thing I faced while clinging to the hope for children year after year and speaking in faith about it (Rom. 4:17) was this unmistakable look of pity in people’s eyes. It was as if they pitied me for not realizing that this wasn’t going to happen. But the truth is that I realized the gravity of the issue more than they did. I was the one at the doctor’s appointments when diagnoses were made. I was the one paying for failed treatments. My husband and I had to come to a place of understanding that the medical field could help us only so far.
"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be" (Romans 4:18)
I was at the darkest point of my life. I had been hoping for children for over 10 years and the 30s were slipping away from me. My husband sat me down one day and asked me to move on. He told me that he had come to terms with not having children and found a way to move past it. He wanted me to do the same.
The problem was that I didn’t know how to move on.
I had clung to the hope of having children for over a decade. It was such a part of my life that I knew something inside me would die if I let this go. I felt like Abraham, full of God’s promises, but still in a place of waiting year after year after a hard and painful yet hopeful year.
A friend was walking with me through this. As a realist, she was pushing me to start the lamenting process in order to let this hope go. To lament is a biblical process of expressing our deepest and most intimate feelings of disappointment, anger, grief, and sorrow to God. It is getting real and holding nothing back.
"As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed-the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Romans 4:17)
For 17 years my husband and I were childless—a reality we could not escape. I was even asked in a job interview in front of a several of people how many children we had. So once again, I became the object of pity as I explained we had none, or at least that’s how I felt.
You see having children is such a normal part of life that most people take it for granted. I think this is why I love Abraham so much. He faced this reality for 75 years before receiving a promise from God that he would be a father.
The promise wasn’t just that he’d have a son, as it was so much more than that: the world would be blessed through him and his descendants (Gen. 13:3). Meaning Jesus—this promise was significant. But what we often overlook is that Abraham and Sarah still had to wait 25 more years.
Can you imagine waiting 25 years of trusting in a promise before you even see a hint of it happening? That’s the hard thing about promises coming by faith (Rom. 4:16), they’re guaranteed, but when we don’t experience them right away, it’s easy to talk ourselves out of them by thinking it’s not God’s will for us.
"Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all" (Romans 4:16)
The Apostle Paul has just spent the past 16 verses making the case that righteousness cannot be earned. He says it in so many ways that hopefully we’ll start realizing that this right standing with God only comes by faith. Then he turns a sharp corner so all of us reading this letter will have an amazing, jaw-dropping “Ah-ha” moment! Here it is:
“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed…”
Did you know that God’s promises are guaranteed?
“...because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15)
What a marvelous statement!
What a heretical statement!
For the Jews living in Paul’s day, for the Gentile Romans to whom he writing and also for Christ-followers today, this is a shocking statement!
Here is the Juli summarization of what Paul is saying: Living as a rule-follower makes Jesus’s sacrifice worthless. Rules only bring punishment…but if there are no rules to follow, then we can never be guilty of breaking them (Rom. 4:14-15).
Is anyone uncomfortable now?
Admittedly, it is easier to have a list to follow of the things we should or shouldn’t do. It certainly makes it more apparent if we’re doing okay before God. But following the rules to simply follow them actually changes the way we want God to relate to us. We are asking Him to deal with us according to what we’ve done instead of what He’s done.
The result, wrath—yikes!
Happy Resurrection Sunday! Today is Easter, one of my favorite days of the year. It is very significant for those of us who follow Christ Jesus.
In preparation for today, I spent an evening this week at an explanation of the Jewish Passover. The organization, Jews for Jesus, was connecting each element of a traditional Passover feast with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. It was incredible! Very thought provoking, convincing and powerful. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind Jesus is the Lamb of God.
At the close, the host had us stand while he pronounced the priestly blessing over us. He first sang it in Hebrew and then spoke it over us in English. It was beautiful. He was reciting the blessing the Lord instructed Moses to have the Israelite priests bless His people with. This is how it goes:
“For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:14)
Because I write so extensively about grace and trusting in Jesus’ provision of a right-standing with God by stressing that our behavior has nothing to do with this standing. I get many emails reminding me of the importance of living well (i.e., following rules, the law, or the 10 Commandments, or the rules we make up as Christians).
Sometimes, I feel this makes people uncomfortable as they think that I am saying, we can live however we want, steeped in sin, and it doesn’t matter.
No, it does matter for many reasons (many of which Paul will get to in Chapter 6). However, nothing—again I say, nothing—nullifies the grace of God faster than believing that we somehow can sway God’s opinion of us by our behavior.
I lived for years trying to do the right things, but in the back of my mind, I always thought that God was just waiting for me to mess up. I fully believed I was saved by grace, but that is where it ended. After that starting point, it was up to me to be good, do good, and not mess up.
This mentality kept me sin-conscience and afraid of God. As Paul observes, living this way made God’s promise of grace worthless in my life.
“It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith” (Romans 4:13)
Paul stresses that nothing Abraham did is what earned him this promise from God that the world would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:2-3).
It’s also important to remember that the “law” Paul refers to was given to Moses 430 years after Abraham. Therefore, this promise had to come by another way.
This isn’t a one-time decision. Instead, this is a daily choice to trust in God’s faithfulness toward us.
Paul goes on to say in the next verses that it’s a good thing the promise came by faith, otherwise if those who lived by the law are heirs, then the promise is worthless! (Rom. 4:14) Because the law only unleashed God’s wrath on mankind (Rom. 4:15), not His blessing.
“And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (Romans 4:12)
Growing up in the Church, I’ve heard a lot of testimonies over the years. It’s easy to celebrate the depth of God’s grace when we witness the transformation of a person steeped in addiction, sin, or recovering from abuse and trauma, or just living his or her own way far from God. However, sometimes we don’t fully celebrate the faithfulness of the many people who have followed God all of their lives—and that’s a disconnect.
Where today can you celebrate the faithfulness of someone who has encouraged your faith walk?
Paul just made a marvelous statement that Abraham is the father of everyone who is uncircumcised (or living outside of the promise God made to Abraham and the Jewish nation) but who still have the faith of Abraham. He explained that they, too, are credited with righteousness (Rom. 4:11).
"And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them" (Romans 4:11)
When I was in my early twenties, I occasionally traveled to other states to help train cooks and servers when new Perkins restaurants were opening. I’d be gone for a couple weeks at a time. After one trip, my boyfriend surprised me with a beautiful diamond engagement ring. We had been talking marriage, and I knew it was coming, but this was one of the best homecomings I’d had ever had. A little over a year later, we were married and the rest…well, as they say, is history.
My ring and the millions of rings floating around the world are a symbol of the amazing covenant of marriage. It is not uncommon during a wedding ceremony for an explanation of the ring to be given. Wearing a ring doesn’t make you married; instead, marriage is willingly entering into a covenant relationship with another person. The ring is simply the token of the exchange that takes place.