With Dale Ratzlaff
We continue our study in Romans 4:17-25.
(as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
When I understood the deeper meaning of this Scripture, it changed the focus of my life forever. It is a unit that needs to be studied at one time. I am including information from the chapter, “Abraham—Prototype of Saving Faith”, in my little book Gospel Transformation. It is my prayer that this study of Romans Live will forever change your focus as well.
When we understand Paul’s statement in the light of the Old Testament record regarding Abraham’s faith, important insights will be discovered that will help us apply the many declarations made to new covenant believers. We will better comprehend how to apply “in-Christ” truths and discover the deeper meaning of the important term, “mind set”.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom. 4:1-5).
Paul here refers to the record found in Genesis 12 and 15. God had promised “Abram”1 that he would be made a “great nation”.2 However, as the years went by, it became apparent that Sarai3 was barren and was unable to have a child. Then the Lord again spoke with Abram and told him, “Your reward shall be very great”.4 At this point, Abram said,
O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir (Gen. 15:2-3).
In answer to Abram’s suggestion the Lord took Abram outside and said,
Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. And He said to him, So shall your descendants be. Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:5-6).
At this point we might say that Abram believed that he and Sarai could have a son, and it was this belief that God counted as righteousness. However, the years kept ticking by, and no son was born. Sarai proposed to Abram that her maid, Hagar, be brought into the picture, and he agreed, and she bore Ishmael. Now we come to the record in Genesis 17. Abram is ninety-nine years old, and Sarai is ninety. The Lord expands His promise to Abram.
As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:4-5).
Then we have this astounding communication:
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her” (Gen. 17:15-16).
Now we come to what has been a helpful insight for me regarding the faith of Abraham which in turn will help us define what Paul means by “mind set”.
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!” (Gen. 17:15-18).
As one reads the above reference, it is hard to comprehend how this statement could be counted as faith. I could not find any evidence in this account that Abraham expressed any faith! Some say Abraham expresses his faith by his laughing. However, the fact that he said, “Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!” rules this out. The context makes this account of Abraham’s faith even worse. Note how Sarah responded to the word of the Lord.
Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “Behold, in the tent.” And he said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh” (Gen. 18:9-15).
Not only did Abraham laugh and express no faith, but Sarah did the same and then told an outright lie. Further, I noted that if Sarah’s laugh was a “laugh of faith” as some claim, then God would not have questioned her laugh, and she would not have lied. So we must conclude at this point that both Abraham and Sarah had no faith in their ability to have a child—none, zip, zero!
With this insight we now move to Paul’s use of this illustration in Romans 4.
(As it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (Rom. 4:17).
What does this verse mean? This is a very insightful verse. The marginal reading in the New American Standard is, “Calls the things which do not exist as existing.” The New English Translation renders it like this:
(As it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed—the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do (Rom. 4:17).
God gave reproductive life to the old bodies of Abraham and Sarah and called Abraham a “Father of many nations” before Isaac—his name means “he laughs”—was even conceived! Interestingly, after the experience recorded in Genesis 17, Scripture never again refers to Abraham as Abram. God accounted Abraham a father before he was a father and treated him as such and Abraham accepted his new name. The multitude of nations, or even Isaac, were present only by God’s declaration! Continuing now in Romans 4 as Paul unfolds the meaning of this illustration for us.
In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform (Rom. 4:18–21).
Now, we see it! While Abraham had no faith in what he could do, he did have faith in the promise of God, being fully assured that what God had promised, God was able also to perform.
So Abraham’s faith was not in any way based upon his own ability to perform; rather it was grounded only in God’s promise and God’s power! Paul now applies this truth.
Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Rom. 4:23-25).
Now we can summarize the “faith of Abraham” that is a prototype of saving faith for true believers. It will give us further insight into Paul’s term “mind set” used in Romans 8.
Summary and application of the faith of Abraham
• When God declares us righteous by faith, He changes our name from “sinnerman” or “sinnerwoman” to “saint”. Throughout the Epistles, believers in Christ are called “saints” or holy ones. Paul even called the Corinthians with all their shortcomings “saints”!
• As God changed Abraham’s name before he was a father, and counted him as a father, so God changes our name to “saint” and counts us as righteous before we are righteous when the only righteousness we have is the declaration of God.
• We express “the faith of Abraham” which is saving faith, not by our faith in what we can or will do. Rather, we are to react like Abraham and recognize the utter impossibility of our ever achieving righteousness. Yet, if God declares us righteous, we believe it based solely on God’s promise and God’s power to fulfill His own promise.
• As Abraham accepted his changed name, so we should accept ours. We are saved “saints”.
• As Abraham was never again known by his old name so we should never again consider ourselves as lost sinners.
• As God considers us righteous “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). We are to see ourselves as God sees us: “saints in Christ Jesus.”
Righteousness by faith is everything we need. It includes forgiveness for all sin, and it includes Christ’s perfect righteousness accredited to us. It also brings the Holy Spirit into our lives.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Eph. 3:20).
Thus Paul could say,
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil. 3:8,9).
Yes, indeed, God counts things which do not exist as existing! And therein is our only hope. Now I realize how careful Paul had been in his choice of illustrations!
It was a discovery of the simple new covenant gospel of God’s righteousness accounted to us on the basis of faith that completely changed my previous legalistic paradigm. I discovered instead of trying to live like somebody I was not, now because of God’s gift in Christ imputed to me by faith, I strive to live like the kind of person God already declares me to be, and so can you!
Father, may I never move the foundation of my faith from your promise to my own behavior. I now know based upon the clear teaching of Scripture you have the power and will to do what you have promised. And your promise to me is righteousness and eternal life.
1 His birth name, “exalted father”.
2 Gen. 12:1 -3.
3 Her birth name.
4 Gen. 15:1