God’s intention was always to create a diverse people for his name on the basis of faith (Romans 4:16–18).
13 It was not through the 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. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 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 have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 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 into being things that were not.
18 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.’ 19 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. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ 23 The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Paul finishes his section on the experience of Abraham, coming full circle to bring disparate groups together. God’s intention in blessing the nation of Israel was the beginning of an act of salvation that was to bless the whole world (v 17).
We have been considering the hopelessness that comes from being enslaved to our wrongdoing, unable to rescue ourselves. This is the limitation of the Old Testament Law (v 15). This only reveals how in need we are of God.
This letter has moved from hopelessness to hope because there is a way through, and that is by faith (v 16). Despite his great age, God provided Abraham with a son and against all seeming possibilities Abraham trusted that God is able to achieve his purposes. Abraham trusted God to be God: a God of grace.
This world-changing good news also makes one people who are united in hope (v 18). All believers are now Abraham’s offspring through the death and resurrection of Jesus (vs 16,22–25). ‘… all were enemies, all are alike beloved’ (Gordon Fee).*
*Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, Hendrickson Publishers, 1994, p 498
Think over what you have learned in this series. Pray that the ‘God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:13).
Deeper Bible study
‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.’1
It is important not to misunderstand faith. It is more than optimism. It is certainly not believing in something that evidence contradicts (a common atheistic caricature). It is most certainly not the capacity to believe in anything and everything we are told. Faith, rather, is directed towards that which is promised by God. Only so is it discerning, reasonable and trustworthy.
The Bible contains many promises, but there is an original one on which all the others depend. This is the primordial promise given by God to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations (v 17):2 Further: ‘through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.’3 The rest is history, salvation history. Whatever the value of ‘Law’, it is better policy to look to the promise and believe in it. We may be incapable of fulfilling the Law and the Law may expose without empowering (vs 14,15), but God can deliver what is promised: this is our positive hope (v 20).
It is sometimes said that in the story of salvation the promise to one man, Abraham, broadens out to embrace the whole of Israel. It then narrows, becoming concentrated in one man, the promised Christ. His death has a particular meaning: God ‘gave him over’ to death that he might share what it is for us to be ‘given over’4 to judgement. He bore the consequences of our sin (not his) and in so doing overcame death and rendered it nothing. No condemnation again! Then he was raised to life that we may share in his victory and be made right with God (v 25). From then the story broadens out again, this time including not just Israel but all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike. There is much fulfilment of the promises which is yet to come.
Think about your faith. How deeply is it rooted in God’s promises?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Numbers 2,3; Acts 14
Pray for Scripture Union
Please pray for the team of Local Mission Partner YoYo in York as they seek to bring the Christian faith alive in schools in fresh and creative ways and that they will be able to create new resources that communicate the Christian faith in accessible and inspiring ways.