God's promise received by faith. 4:13-25
Paul has been explaining how a person stands approved in the sight of God out of faith and not out of obedience to the law, and in doing so he has used the example of Abraham to reinforce this truth. He now uses the example of Abraham to remind his readers that when a person stands approved in the sight of God they automatically receive the fullness of God's promised blessings, and this apart from law-obedience.
v13-15. Paul now explains the central plank of his gospel. The promised blessing made to Abraham and his descendants of a blessed worldwide family in the right with God, belongs to those who rest in faith on the faithfulness of God rather than their own faithfulness. The simple truth is that law and grace are mutually exclusive; they cannot function together. All the law does is expose our sinfulness and thus holds us up to the wrath of God.
v16-17a. It is because law-obedience is powerless to set us right with God and so give us access his promised blessings that he provides the way of faith. So, the fullness of God's promised blessings belong to all Abraham's descendants: Gentile believers without the law and Jewish believers with the law. Paul supports this point by quoting Genesis 17:5 - in the sight of God, Abraham is the father of us all.
v17b. Paul now describes Abraham's faith, showing him to be the perfect example of someone who lives by faith. A faith like Abraham's is a faith that rests on God's life-giving promise.
v18. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations: as the stars of the heavens "so shall your offspring be." Everything shouted to Abraham, his mind, body, wife, friends, nature itself, that he was impotent, and yet in the midst of all these doubts and fears Abraham took God at his word.
v19-20. Abraham was impotent and his wife Sarah was past children-bearing. Still, Abraham "in hope believed" God's promise, though it seemed impossible.
v21. Abraham's response to the Word of God rested on his conviction that God is both willing and able to "do what he promised."
v22. "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned (credited) to him for righteousness", Gen.15:6. In simple terms, reliance on God's word serves the same function as perfect obedience.
v23-24. In these final verses, Paul applies his argument to his readers. Abraham's faith is not just recorded as a testimony to Abraham, but is there for all of us. It serves to remind us that we too can have righteousness "credited" to us through faith and so receive the fullness of God's promised blessings.
v25. All this has been achieved by Christ on our behalf - in his death for forgiveness of sins and in his resurrection for our justification.
Faith is the crucial element in the Christian life. With it we move mountains; without it we are lost. Consider what we learn from Abraham's faith:
The object of Abraham's faith was God's promise, v18
The strength of Abraham's life rested in his faith in that he believed God's promise, though it seemed impossible, v19,20.
The ground of his faith was the ability and faithfulness of God to do what he promised, v21.
The result of his faith was that he was judged right with God, v22.
The record of his faith was given to teach us that all who believe in the revealed will of God, like Abraham, are counted right before God (justified), v23-25.
What does God demand of us? Jesus often answered the question in much the same way as it gets answered today. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself." Of course, when Jesus ran the law answer it was not so that people would go out and be loving, but rather that they would recognize that they aren't loving. So, Jesus often used the law to undermine self-righteousness and force a reliance on God's mercy.
How then can a person stand right before God? John reminds us, "this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ..." 1 John 3:23. All that God demands of us is that we rely (believe, have faith, trust) on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus has risen from the dead and he promises his resurrection life to us for the asking. Rely on this truth and we will live, and this because God counts our faith in the faithfulness of Christ as righteousness before him.
Remember, a person who stands acquitted before God will live eternally.
It is said of Abraham that he believed God and therefore, his faith was credited to him as righteousness. In the light of this passage, discuss what is actually "credited" to us.
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