Unit: Romans (Part 1)
Lesson text: Romans 4:1-5, 13-25
Supplemental texts: Romans 4:6-12; Hebrews 11:8-19
Aim: Follow Abraham’s example in pursuing the righteousness that is by faith.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_Jan16_2022.
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By Mark Scott
Be careful of idolizing Bible characters. They all have feet of clay, and they can marginalize God as the real hero of the biblical narratives. That being said, Abraham is an imitable model of righteousness. Sometimes biblical characters help us get our arms around the great qualities of God. Two lessons will do this in regard to God’s righteousness, one on Abraham and the other on the remnant of Israel.
Paul’s argument thus far was that Gentiles were depraved (Romans 1:18-32; 2:12-16), and Jews were guilty of unjustified criticism (Romans 2:1-11, 17-29). In Romans 3, Paul traced how the Jews had some advantages but failed to live up to them (vv. 1-18). So, Jew and Gentile are guilty before God and only through faith in Christ can they be righteous (Romans 3:19-31). Abraham was the primary example of someone who put his faith in God.
Faith and Righteousness
Paul’s rhetorical question, “What then shall we say . . . ?” occurs six times in Romans (4:1; 6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14, 30). The question helped Paul introduce Abraham as an example of faith and righteousness. What did his life teach? Abraham did a lot of great works (Genesis 12:1–25:10; James 2:21-23), but none of these works made him right with God. Therefore he had no cause to boast (a key theme as chapter 3 ended).
Against incredible odds, Abraham just believed. Paul quoted the famous Genesis 15:6. Without a child in Sarah’s womb, Abraham was asked to believe that God would bless all the nations through his seed . . . and God did. That posture of faith gave Abraham his standing with God. One who works gets wages. In fact, wages are due to the worker. Abraham worked “for” God, but he did not work “to get right with” God. He just trusted God, who is in the habit of justifying the ungodly.
Faith and Promise
In verses 6-12, Paul briefly referenced King David, another great hero of faith. David also did not get right with God by works but with simple trust in grace (Psalm 32 is cited). Paul then returned to his first example, Abraham, and explained that the promise of God (Genesis 12) preceded the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17).
Just as the promise preceded circumcision, it also preceded the giving of the law (Exodus 20). Paul’s argument was “first things first.” Abraham and his offspring did not get right with God through the law. If that had been true then faith would mean nothing (empty or void) and God’s promise would be worthless (worked down or destroyed). The law simply underlined how sinful Jews and Gentiles were (cf. Romans 7:7-8). There was a sense in which transgression is not even counted if there is no standard (i.e., the law) by which to judge it.
The promise of God to bless the nations through Abraham’s seed comes by faith via the grace of God. Since both Jews and Gentiles have to be right with God by faith, Abraham became the father of us all. Abraham was not just the father of the Jews, he also was the father of “many nations” (Genesis 17:5). If God gives life to the dead and calls into being things that are not, then he does not need puny human works to make people right with him.
Faith and Hope
Faith and hope will someday give way to sight and reality (Revelation 21–22). But faith and hope are needed in this world and they are hard to separate. Biblical hope is not just wishful thinking. It is an eager expectation of what a living God will bring about. Abraham and Sarah could lead the geriatric parade. Abraham was as good as dead, and Sarah’s womb was also dead. Dead + dead = dead. This godly but childless couple was asked to believe that their heirs would be as plentiful as the dust on on the earth and as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 13:16; 15:5). Guess what? They did believe it.
Abraham did not waver (judge or separate) through unbelief. With the tenaciousness of a junkyard dog, Abraham held on to the promise God had made to him. Choosing this posture of faith strengthened him in his faith all the more. It all came back to Genesis 15:6. He chose to believe. The result was credit for himself and for his heirs (e.g., the Christians in Rome). The key to the whole passage might be in verse 25. Abraham’s living faith, which preceded circumcision and the giving of the law, made him right with God. This same kind of faith was made possible by Jesus’ death for our sins and his resurrection for our justification.