The Letter to the Romans



15. The God of Life and Justification


Romans 4:16-25


In this passage Paul concludes his explanation of the fact that Abraham is the father of all God's children, whether Jew or Gentile. He shows that Abraham was counted righteous because of his faith before he was circumcised, so his justification before God happened while he was still a Gentile. His subsequent circumcision and his fatherhood of Israel also qualified him as the first Jew. God's promises, however are not dependent upon our inheritances or performances. God's promise, Paul reminds us in verse 16, comes by faith.

The promise to which Paul refers was God's promise to Abraham that he would have seed, land and blessing. He promised that Abraham's descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, that Abraham, a childless old man, would have offspring as countless as the dust, and that through him all nations of the earth would be blessed. (see Genesis 12, 13, 15, 17, and 18)

When Paul was preaching in Antioch he explained that the promises God made to Israel's forefathers He fulfilled by "raising up Jesus." He further showed that Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promise to David that God would give him "holy and sure blessings". (see Acts 13:32-34) He further identified the promise as the gospel which came through Jesus who descended from David and was also the Son of God. (Romans 1:2-5) In Galatians 3:16, 29 Paul further explains that God's promises were spoken to Abraham "and to his seed" which, he clarifies, is singular and is fulfilled in Christ. Therefore, all who belong to Christ are Abraham's seed and inherit God's promises. When we accept Jesus, we are born again by the Holy Spirit and become part of God's family. All God's promises are "Yes" in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20)


Life to the Dead

Paul shows how all who trust God are Abraham's offspring in the sight of God, and he identifies God as the One "who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." His immediate reference is to God's creating the life of Isaac, the son of promise whose inheritance we share, from the dead womb of Sarah. He has the further fact in mind of Jesus' rising from the dead as well. Luke 24:6-7, 45-47 also state that Jesus' resurrection was foretold in scripture.

There are other examples, however, of God giving life to the dead. In a way reminiscent of God's fulfilling his promise to Abraham and Sarah, he also granted a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth. An angel foretold the birth of John the Baptist to the elderly, childless couple, and the last Old Covenant prophet was the fruit of that promise. (Luke 1;5-7) Jesus also demonstrated God's power to restore life to dead bodies by raising Lazarus after he had been dead four days. (see John 11:38-44) The ancient Jewish belief was that the soul of a person stayed near the body after death for three days. By Jesus' waiting for four days before raising Lazarus, he demonstrated convincingly that God could restore life to a person who was completely dead. He thus foreshadowed his own resurrection as well as the spiritual resurrection his death would provide for us.

Jesus underscored his power and mission by stating that just as the Father raises the dead, so the Son gives life to whomever he is pleased to give it. (John 5:21) Paul further stated that we were dead in transgressions and sins, but in his mercy God made us alive in Christ. (Ephesians 2:1-5) John also stated that we know we have passed from death to life by the fact that we love one another. (1 John 3:14)

The most amazing resurrection we experience is that of our spirits coming alive when we accept Jesus. When the Holy Spirit indwells us and seals us with his literal presence, we become born again. We pass from spiritual death and eternal doom to eternal life. God puts life where there was no life. No only does God bring us alive in Jesus, though, but he also promises to resurrect our physical bodies just as he did Jesus'. (1 Corinthians 15:50-56) God's special work with humanity is bringing life where there is death. His purpose, as Jesus stated, is to give us life more abundantly than we could ever imagine or achieve on our own. Jesus brings our dead spirits to life by the power of his resurrection and grants us access to the Father by his blood and the indwelling Holy Spirit in us.


Something from Nothing

Paul pairs God's power to bring life to the dead with his calling "things that are not as though they were." (v. 17) The Bible begins and ends with God's establishment of something from nothing. He created the world-and the universe-with his word, and when time is finished, he will establish a new heaven and a new earth after the first are melted away. (Revelations 21:1,2) This new heaven and earth will include the Bride of the Lamb-the Holy City-descending from heaven to spend eternity with Jesus. This bride-God's people from all ages-will shine with the glory and brilliance of heaven.

Time begins and ends with God calling into being something that never existed before. He does not reshape existing matter and make something new; he literally calls his creation into existence where there had been nothing before.

This same creative power of God touches our lives with miracles we cannot explain apart from the sovereign power of God. For example, God promised childless Abraham offspring as numerous as the uncountable stars. He fulfilled his promise by causing 90-year-old Sarah to become pregnant with Isaac. The conception of Isaac foreshadowed the conception of Abraham's promised heir: Jesus. Mary, a virgin, conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, (Luke 1:26-35) and he became the only human to be born spiritually alive. Both God and man in one being, Jesus fulfilled all the promises God made to Abraham and his descendents regarding a Savior and a king to reign forever on the throne of David.

Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary's kinsmen, also experienced a miraculous conception. John the Baptist was the result of a divine promise to old and barren parents, and he was the last of the old covenant prophets who prepared the way for the imminent Messiah.

David also marvels as the miracle of birth and says God knit us together in our mothers' wombs. He knew us before we were born and created our "inmost being," our personalities and spirits which are the parts of us that know and responds to God. We were not hidden from him when we were being formed in darkness. (Psalm 139:13)

Perhaps the most impacting creation of something new out of nothing is the new birth and the new heart that God gives us when we accept Jesus. Just as the Holy Spirit created Jesus in Mary, an act of God unexplainable in human terms, so he makes a new creation in each person who accepts Jesus' sacrifice for his or her sins. Jeremiah prophesied that God would put his law in people's minds and write it on their hearts. People would no longer teach each other, he foretold, because they would all know him directly. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) Hebrews explains that Jeremiah's prophecy has been fulfilled with the establishment of the new covenant which replaced the old one. This new covenant is better than the old because Jesus himself is its mediator, unlike the old one which was mediated by angels and presented to the people by Moses. (see Hebrews 8:7-13)This new covenant establishes the miraculous reality that Christ-followers will receive the inheritance God promised to Abraham. Jesus provided our ransom from sin, so we can inherit the promises of God including salvation, an inheritance from God, and eternal life and blessings.

When we enter this new covenant by faith and trust in Jesus, we are brought to life by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. He equips us to do the work he wants us to do, and he completes in us the changes he wants in our lives. (see Hebrews 13:20-21; Romans 8:10-11) This new life and reality is the sudden presence of eternity in the life of a previously sinful mortal. It is the creation of a completely new person where nothing similar existed before.

This new creation of a born again person includes new truth and new awareness of reality. Once the Holy Spirit indwells a believer, He testifies to that believer's spirit that he is truly God's child. Fear is gone; security and hope replace the franticness of death that previously consumed the soul. (see Romans 8:15-17) Another new reality is that the believer has the mind of Christ and spiritual discernment which previously was unavailable. Natural humans have only their own intellect; Christ-followers have the presence of the Holy Spirit giving them the awareness and the mind of Christ with which to understand and interact with their world. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Another new thing created out of nothing is the church. Before Jesus died and rose again, the world had two classes of people: Jews, the people whom God chose and to whom he gave the law and the prophecies of the Messiah; and Gentiles-all the rest of the world. With Christ's fulfillment of the law and the prophets, something new happened: the power of sin to separate man from God and man from man was broken. Now every person on earth could approach God directly through faith in Christ and his sacrifice. No longer did people have to approach God through the rituals and the ceremonies of the law which foreshadowed Jesus. Now that Jesus had lived on earth, died, and ascended to his father, all people could have access to God through faith in Christ. This breaking down of the division in humanity was a miracle even the prophets had not clearly seen. The equality of all believers before God was a mystery which stunned the first believing Jews. God is now demonstrating his wisdom to the "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm" through the church, the miraculous reality that is the body of Christ on earth. (Ephesians 2:14-18; 3:8-11) He has destroyed the divisions between people, and he has created a new thing-the church, people who are spiritually alive with the presence of God indwelling them-from people of all ethnic backgrounds.


Faith vs. Denial or Presumption

Saving faith is a gift from God. It is not the product of our own hope or determination. In a discussion of faith in God who creates something out of nothing, however, we must address the issue of what faith really is. Faith is not believing in faith itself. When people say they know they'll receive what they are praying for because they have faith that it will happen, they are acting presumptuously. God has not promised that whatever we want, we will get if we have faith. Rather, he has promised that He will always be with us and that he will always keep his own promises. Abraham believed that God would keep his promises to him, not that he could name and claim whatever blessing he felt he wanted. Abraham's faith was in God, not in the act of faith.

Further, faith is not a denial of reality. It does not ignore the truth of one's life and choose to believe that "everything will be OK" without dealing with the real problems at hand. Abraham's faith in God included consciously admitting that he and Sarah were incapable of bearing a son. He faced the fact that "his body was as good as dead." (v. 19-20) He trusted God to keep his promise in spite of the physical evidence that said it was impossible. He did not, however, deceive himself into thinking his condition was not as desperate as it really was. He and Sarah were granted a miracle child because Abraham considered God, who had promised a child, to be faithful. (Hebrews 11:11-13)

Similarly, during his trials Job said, "Though he [God] slay me, yet will I trust him." (Job 13:15) Job did not deny that he might die. He faced that fact squarely and trusted God without begging for God to resolve the issue the way Job wanted it resolved.

Hebrews 11 records a faith "hall of fame." All the people listed in the faith chapter are there because they acted in obedience to God even when they felt personally incapable of accomplishing God's bidding or experiencing his promises. These people are not listed in Hebrews 11 because they had a great belief in faith itself; they are there because they believed God. Rahab hid the spies when no one else would have done so. (Hebrews 11:31) Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry land while Egypt drowned because Israel kept its eyes on God and trusted him, and the Egyptians did not. Hebrews 11:29) Moses persevered because he "saw him who is invisible" and trusted God rather than being seduced by his royal upbringing. (Hebrews 11:24-27)

The people in the Bible who modeled faith all fully faced their desperate conditions and the truth of their situations. They did not try to forget what was real or pretend that their lives were not as hard as they were. Neither were they people looking for a way to avoid inconvenience. God's calls to us often involve great inconvenience and even suffering. Those with true faith in God will trust him in spite of the suffering. They may ask for the suffering to be removed, but if that is not possible, they will cling to Jesus as they walk through the hard times.

Paul demonstrated this kind of persistent faith when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12 about his "thorn in the flesh" which he received to keep him humble after his rapture into heaven. Even though he identified this harassment as "a messenger of Satan" (v. 7), God refused to remove it, saying instead to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (v. 8) Jesus lived the ultimate example of persevering faith. Three times he begged his Father to remove the inevitable suffering of the cross if it were possible, but he yielded himself to his Father's will above all and went to his death. (Matthew 26:38-68)

Faith is neither denial of reality nor is it the self-centered hope that one will be exempted from suffering and mediocrity if one believes enough. Faith is trust in God regardless of what happens. Faith is being willing to acknowledge the truth about one's own life and accepting God's healing and discipline. Faith is trusting God's promises, not one's own hopes, and finding rest in Jesus in spite of circumstances.


Faith and Praise

Verse 20 contains a powerful phrase that is nearly buried in the surrounding context: "Yet [Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God"Here, at the heart of this passage summarizing Abraham's faith in God, is the statement that along with his faith which held onto God even when he had not yet seen the answers to God's promises, Abraham glorified God because he believed he would keep his promises. The Bible is full of commands for us to praise God, and circumstances are irrelevant. God is constant, and whether we are facing heartache, uncertainty, suffering, or times of peace, we are to glorify and praise God.

When David faced mutiny by his men after they discovered their families had been destroyed by the Amelekites, he found his strength in the Lord his God. (1 Samuel 30:6) David, in fact, has left us one of the richest legacies of literature describing his trust in God in the face of insurmountable evil or trials. Psalm 33:20-22 declares that we wait in hope for the Lord. Our hearts hope in him, writes David, and we trust in his holy name.

Again in Psalm 34:1-2 he writes that his soul boasts in the Lord, "let the afflicted hear and rejoice." In Psalm 71 David declares that God has been his hope all his life. He acknowledges that his life with its troubles looks to others like one cursed by God: "I am a portent to many," he says. Yet he says God is his strength, and his mouth is filled with God's praises. (Psalm 71:5-8)

The prophet Habakkuk also affirmed that even though there might be no harvests or births of new livestock, he would still rejoice in God his Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

The New Testament takes the idea of praising God in the middle of trials to an even deeper level. The reality of the new birth and the new creation called the church, or the very body of Christ, has made the certainty of God's presence even more real. As new creations indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are to do more than trust and rejoice in God's eventual salvation and vindication of us. We are to praise him actively in the middle of trials and times of waiting because we KNOW he is there with us. We have the evidence of the cross and resurrection and the guarantee of the Holy Spirit in us to assure that whatever the circumstances, God is present with us, and victory and honor will be his, not the enemy's.

Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount that when we are persecuted for His sake, we are to rejoice. The prophets were also persecuted, he said, and our reward in heaven is sure. (Matthew 5:12) Paul also had much to say about praising God during hard times when our existence is by faith and not by sight. "Be joyful in hope," he said, "patient in affliction," and "faithful in prayer." (Romans 12:12) To the Philippians he wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord." (Philippians 3:1) He continued this idea in chapter 4:4-7 by saying "Rejoice in the Lord always." "The Lord is near," he reminded them; "Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Further, Paul admonished the Thessalonians to "be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

The author of Hebrews summarizes our great hope which gives rise to continual praise by reminding us that we are "receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken." Therefore, he says, "let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28)

Active praise to God is an essential component of true faith. Faith is based on a sure thing: God will triumph, and God will not leave us alone, no matter what we face. He loves us, and he is our great defender and our great reward. The Bible doesn't specifically say what our praise does or exactly how it works, but when we praise God, the enemy cannot dominate our hearts and minds. The presence of God is real, and he is powerful over the powers and authorities of the air which we cannot see. Being sealed by the Holy Spirit sets us apart in the universe as belonging to God, and our praise and worship of our God publicly declares our loyalty to the Lord Jesus. When we lift up His name we leave no room for deception to confuse us. God's call to us to praise him is one of his most powerful gifts to us to keep us unconfused and grounded in reality.


Life for Justification

Faith that comes from God, faith that praises God, faith that believes God's promises is the faith for which God credits us his righteousness. This faith is not generated by our own wills, nor is it a mental decision or intellectual understanding. Rather, saving faith is a gift of grace from God. In order to have saving faith, a person must surrender himself to God and allow God to have his life. Saving faith does not exist in a person who refuses to surrender and repent. God counts faith as righteousness in us when we surrender to him and allow him to have our hearts with their shame and doubt, trusting him to redeem us from their fatal wounds.

He has given us tangible evidence that his promises are true. Jesus came in flesh and lived, died and was resurrected for our sakes. He died for our sins, verse 25 tells us, and he "was raised to life for our justification." Jesus not only paid the penalty for our sins by dying in our place, he also rose from the dead in order to live for our intercession. The same Spirit that raised him from death gives life to our mortal bodies now, even before our glorification. (Romans 8:11) Further, Jesus came to life to intercede for us with his Father. Because he has taken the penalty and pain of sin onto himself, Jesus has the authority to plead for our justification when we accept him. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God representing us and presenting his own righteousness to God instead of our inherent sinfulness. (Romans 8:34)

Without Jesus' death and his resurrection, we would have no hope of eternal life. Because he died and lives again, however, we are faultless in God's sight when we take the gift of saving faith from God and accept Jesus' death in our place.



God wants to create something new in your life where there has been emptiness. He wants to bring knowledge to the places where your memory may be blank. He wants to bring truth to the warped view you may have of you life. He wants to bring healing to the sadness and deep pain you may have from your past. He wants to bring his resurrection to your heart if it is still dead in your sins.

Jesus wants you to relieve you of the traps of pain and control to which you may be clinging in order to manage your life. He wants to give you a new identity like the one he gave Abraham; he wants to give you faith that trusts him, and he wants to count you righteous before God. Ask him to reveal the truth to you, to help you know what you need to know about yourself and your life, and to have the courage to accept the truth as it becomes clear to you. Ask God to show you behind what façade you hide and what shame or weakness you are concealing there.

Ask Jesus to teach you to trust him enough to release to him the things you most tightly hold, whether those things are your children, your spouse, your profession, your accomplishments, or whether they are secret addictions, jealousy, fear, or power. Ask God to help you give up your desire to control the people and the circumstances in your life and to trust him with those things instead. Ask him to help you surrender your heart to him with all its secret places of pain and shame, and let him give you a new identity in him.

Praise God for making you his and for taking responsibility for your growth and well-being. Praise him for the trials that test your faith, and praise him for his constancy through the uncharted territory of your life. Praise God for his promises to be faithful, to be all that you need. Praise God for counting you righteous in the presence of the Father.

Thank Jesus for bringing life to your soul where there was death and for giving you his resurrection power to live in relationship with him and the Father. Thank God for sending Jesus for you and for adopting you into his family. Thank the Holy Spirit for interceding for you and for placing the peace of God in your heart.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Copyright (c) 2003 Graphics Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted December 17, 2003.
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