Calling Things Into Existence—Romans 4:17

"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.

In these next verses, Abraham shows us how to unlock God’s promises. The first critical step is that Abraham believed God.

This sounds so simple, yet it is hard when that reliant trust has to wait quietly in the background year after year. It looks passive and hopeless, and speaking from experience, people won’t understand and they’ll do their best to sway you from that trust. I image Abraham experienced this, too.

What helped Abraham endure 25 years of waiting?

Simply this, he believed God.

That answer sounds so simple, and yet this can be one of the hardest things to do—simply believe God when circumstances and situations are vastly different than what we are believing and hoping for.

But let’s be realistic as this belief is not passive. In fact, a few verses later states that Abraham was fully persuaded that God would do what He promised (Rom. 4:21). So there is something in having to prepare ourselves to be able to believe God and then fully persuade ourselves, but there is something we need to know about God in order to do this. We need to know God can create life where none exists, and this has to be more than an intellectual knowledge, this means there’s practice involved!

The God Gives Who Gives Life to The Dead

Here’s a profound statement: “The God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

Take a moment to think about this scripture.

God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

God started calling Abraham a father when He made this promise to him. Sounds silly to call someone a father who is not. But God went so far as changing Abram name to Abraham, meaning “Father of Many.” All of this happened while he was still childless.

He called something out in Abraham that didn’t exist and spoke of it as if it had already happened—we’re talking past tense when the future was still unwritten!

This is so counterintuitive. How many of us when sick would dare say we were well? It seems like a lie to say such a thing!

But isn’t this how God’s has always operated? He always looks and speaks of things as if they were already done.

God spoke the world into existence. Genesis says that the earth was formless, empty, and dark until God spoke, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:1-2). 

From the beginning of time, God starting speaking of a Messiah in the same way:

  • To the serpent God spoke and said, there is One coming to crush you (Gen. 3:15).
  • To Isaiah, God spoke and said, a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son called Immanuel (Isa. 7:14).
  • To Mary, God spoke and said, you will be with child and He will save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

Then John records the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14). God took all of those spoken words and used them to create life inside Mary!

All of this took hundreds and hundreds of years, but it was God’s plan from the very beginning (1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8). God’s creative power comes through “Words that give life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

Where are you sick and in need of healing but speaking death over the situation instead of life?

Do you have a loved one who needs help, but instead of speaking life, you speak hurtful, damaging words to them?

Proverbs says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21). Our tongues like our words have power. We can speak death and destroy all chances of hope or we can start speaking life in order to plant seeds of hope and give them a chance to grow (and we’ll need hope, as that’s going to be an important part of unlocking God’s promises in the next verses, Rom. 4:18).

I believe Abraham took a cue from God and did this as well as a way to start believing God’s promise to Him.

For 25 years, he had to call himself, Abraham, meaning “Father of Many.” He had to tell everybody to call him Abraham. How awkward. I once knew a person who changed her name from Sarah to Daisy and it was so weird having to address her by a new name. I’m sure this is how people viewed Abraham, too—weird!

But every time Abram introduced himself as Abraham, he was agreeing with God that he would be the father of many regardless of the circumstances. My friends, this is hard to do.

I struggled with this, too. It seems like a lie to say something out loud that is not true and more than that is impossible. We call it denial and yet this is the first step Abraham took in unlocking God’s promise to him—he believed in God. He believed Him in such a way that he started calling himself the “Father of Many” because he understood that God creates life where none exists through the power of words.

Wow! What if we tried this in our own lives?

It doesn’t even have to be for something miraculous and earth shattering, but what if we started speaking about ourselves what God says about us? So instead of saying, “I’m worthless, I’ll never amount to anything, I am broken and sinful,” perhaps we can use the words of Jesus that calls us friends of God (John 15:15), or the words of Paul who tells us we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21).

What if we made this a lifestyle change so when it comes to something like cancer or infertility or broken estranged relationships, we have practiced speaking life into these situations and we have a long history of witnessing the faithfulness of God to create life where only death reigns.

Remember Abraham took 25 years to fully persuade himself God would do what he promised. For me, it took over 10 years before seeing the promise of children, so don’t get discouraged, stay hopeful, and condition your heart to start trusting in God’s promises found in the scriptures. Remember “promises come by faith, so that they may be by grace and may be guaranteed...” (Rom. 4:16a).

I write this to encourage you. Start practicing today! Identify one place you are hopeless and in need of God’s help. Find a promise in scripture and start speaking life into all situations and guess what—faith will come (Rom. 10:17). Whatever you do, stay hopeful!

Make sure you stay tuned. Abraham has a lot to teach us about waiting, promises, and faith. Believing God and speaking of as if things are already done is the first step, but there’s more. The rest of Chapter 4 gives us so many details in seeing the promises of God come to pass.

One final thought: One of the most powerful teachings I’ve ever heard over this particular scripture was by Charles Capps called, How to Pray Scripturally. It is a very simple common-sense approach to praying in faith. I hope you’ll check it out.

Previous: Romans 4:16  Next: Romans 4:18

Original article published July 9, 2009.

Juli Camarin

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