God’s Promises are always realized through Faith
Paul puts the proverbial bow on his teaching on justification with the concluding paragraphs of chapter 4 of Romans by stressing that the promises of God have always rested on faith and not on any works or adherence to law.
“For the promises to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13). As has been noted, the law of Moses certainly did not arrive on the scene for hundreds of years – so how could the promises, according to Paul, have come through the law or law keeping? Was it other good works that brought about these promises to Abraham? No. Paul again makes clear that the promises rest on and are realized through faith. Paul makes clear in verses 14-15 that if it rested on law keeping than faith matters nothing and, ultimately, the promises are all void. The purpose of the law was to show us our need for God and to cause us to turn to him in faith.
“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law [the Jew] but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham [the Gentile and the entire world]….” (Romans 4:16). Paul looks to the covenant that God made with Abraham and within that covenant was a promise that he would be a father of many nations and that the nations would be blessed. The promises that God made to Abraham and his seed [Christ] were that all the families of the earth were to be blessed. It is pure legalism that Paul is fighting against when he is engaging those who claim that in order to be brought into the Christian faith and find acceptance with God one must first enter through certain old covenant keeping acts, such as circumcision. Paul stresses that our acceptance with God depends on faith alone in order that all the promises of God may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all the world.
Our finding acceptance with God does not depend on our being baptized to bring about the forgiveness of our sins – particularly baptism in a particular mode of baptism. Our acceptance with God and his forgiving our sins does not depend on keeping certain standards of dress or hair or how much you pray or give.
Our walk of faith is enough of a battle. We do not need to lay additional legalistic burdens on ourselves that we are unlikely to be able to fulfill. We have been given the Spirit of God in our hearts and are in the process of being conformed to the image of the Son. Paul described it as being a new man with new desires yet trapped or incarcerated in this fallen, broken humanity waiting the ultimate fulfillment of his release. We have received great promises and the earnest of those promises is the Spirit in our lives. Our citizenship is in heaven yet we remain in this fallen world where there is sickness and death. We are in a battle of faith.
But, with Abraham as our example, Paul notes that he struggled in his battle of faith. There was no unbelief present in Abraham concerning the promises of God but a struggle in his desire to see those promises fulfilled in his life. God, while not always fulfilling all of those promises immediately, was always granting to Abraham that which he needed so that his faith would grow stronger and stronger in the promises so that even at death, when all of the promises were not fulfilled, Abraham could pass those promises to Isaac and then from Isaac to Jacob. Faith is not something that we are given by God in order to somehow supernaturally change our present circumstances – biblical faith is being fully convinced that God is able to perform what he has promised. Abraham was the father of those who had faith – the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11 were those who did not receive the promises yet remained unmovable in their being convinced that God was able and would fulfill the promises that he made.
Thus, we wait for certain promises – we have faith. Paul states that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:21).
“But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:23-25).