God's Promises



Romans 4:13-25

Chapter 4 of Romans starts out by exploring what Abraham found about being a friend of God. Was it by works or by faith that a person became a friend of God? In other words, was it a position one earned or was it a gift?

Verses 13 through 25 build on these thoughts, but from the perspective of the promises of God. Verses 13 through 25 explore the promises of God, and how we receive them. Are the promises something we earn, or are they a gift?

God’s promises to Abraham include the whole world and eternity. God’s promises to Abraham are gigantic and wonderful in scope. Genesis 12:2-3 begins the revelation of God’s promises to Abraham when it says:
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:2-3 ESV)

In several places in Genesis, God expands and explains this promise. God promised the birth of Isaac through Sarah and that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. God’s promises were as impossible as they were huge and wonderful. To begin with, Abraham had no children at the time. In addition, the promise concerned the far distant future of which no human could have any knowledge.

Romans 4:13-25 uses the example of God’s promises to Abraham to explain the truth that God’s promises are received by faith. These verses show us four aspects of God’s promises: 
Verses 13-15 show us that God’s promises are not earned.
Verses 16-17 show us that God’s promises call into existence the impossible.
Verses 18-19 show us that God’s promises require perseverance.
Verses 20-25 show us that God’s promises depend on God’s ability.

We will look at each of these in turn.

First, verses 13-15 tell us that God’s promises are not earned. These verses say:
For the promise 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. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:13-15 ESV)

The problem with trying to earn God’s promises is that no one is good enough. These verses say, “...the law brings wrath...” In other words, the law only reveals our shortcomings. The law does not provide a way to earn God’s promises.

This is contrary to how we experience life.

When we are young, if we do not study and do our homework we will not advance to the next grade, keep up with our peers or be treated with favor by our teachers and parents. As we get older, if we do not show up to work on time, work diligently and produce the required results, we will not live in a nice house, enjoy good food or be accepted socially. In our experience of life, keeping the law or conforming to whatever standard is required brings good things.

It is necessary for Scripture to stress that God’s promises are not dependent on our conforming to the law, because this is foreign to our way of thinking and different from how we experience life. Humanity thinks in terms of “karma.” Even the Bible teaches a form of this when it says, “...whatever a man sows that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) This is indeed the natural order of things. If one sows a lot of wheat, he will reap a lot of wheat. If one sows a lot of generosity and kindness, he will reap a lot of generosity and kindness. However, God’s promises are greater than the natural order. God’s promises go beyond nature and deal with things that are impossible within nature. This is why the law only brings wrath. This is the purpose of the law. The law exists to make clear transgressions. This is its function. Thus, the law makes it clear that we all fall short of the glory of God. Thus, Scripture teaches us:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags... (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

This is why Romans 4:15 explains that the law brings wrath. If God’s promises were based on law, works or “karma,” then they would be wages, something that we earned. However, God’s promises are far beyond anything we can ever earn, build or accomplish.

This brings us to the second aspect of God’s promises:
Verses 16-17 show us that God’s promises call into existence the impossible.

Verses 16-17 say:
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 but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Romans 4:16-17 ESV)

Notice these verses end with the statement, “...who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

In the beginning, God spoke things into existence. He created the world and all it contains out of nothing. God calls into existence things that do not exist. This activity of God is way beyond nature. Natural law cannot account for “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” In nature, the dead do not come back to life. However, God does bring the dead to life just as Romans 4:17 says.

When God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, Abraham did not have a single descendant. God spoke it into existence. God’s promise to Abraham was impossible from a human point of view. No amount of human effort, planning or works could accomplish what God was promising. This is a gift of grace. The Bible tells us:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

God’s promises are not based on what we can see or understand. However, our faith is based on something more certain than even natural law. Our faith is based on God’s word. Romans 4:17 quotes God as saying, “I have made you the father of many nations.” Abraham’s faith was based on these words from God. The God, who created everything out of nothing by speaking, spoke these words. Abraham believed these words from God and through believing, according to Romans 4:16-17, became the father of all who believe.

However, believing is not always easy. God asks us to believe things that are impossible from our human perspective. Abraham was old. Sarah, his wife, was old. They had no children and could not hope to produce a child naturally.

This brings us to the third aspect of God’s promises:
          Verses 18-19 show us that God’s promises require perseverance.

Romans 4:18-19 says:
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. (Romans 4:18-19 ESV)

This passage says, “...he believed against hope...” God speaks into existence things that are not, but we do not always see the results immediately. The text points out that not only did Abraham believe against hope, but he also did not weaken in faith even though Sarah and he were both as good as dead. Abraham waited twenty-five years after having received the promise and Scripture says he did not weaken in faith.

Faith is hoping in things that we cannot see, and it requires us to persevere. Moses led the people in the wilderness for forty years based on God’s promises. David ran and hid from Saul for years based on God’s promises. Noah spent one hundred years building a huge boat based on God’s promises. Every man and woman of God must learn to wait upon the Lord. This is why James 1:2-4 says:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)

Believing God’s word at times requires us to “believe against hope.” Our eyes and human senses sometimes seem to contradict the word of God. At times like these, we must hold on to what we have been told in the word of God.

This confidence in the word of God brings us to the fourth aspect of the promises of God.
Verses 20-25 show us that God’s promises depend on God’s ability.

Romans 4:20-25 says:
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." 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 4:20-25 ESV)

Notice here the statement, “...fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Abraham’s confidence was in God’s ability. We have already stressed that God’s promises go far beyond anything that we can do humanly. Clearly, God’s promises depend on God’s ability.

Luke 18:18-27 tells of a time when Jesus encountered a rich person who wanted to be saved. The passage is as follows:
Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’ ” The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” (Luke 18:18-27 NLT)

“What is impossible for people is possible with God.”

Humanly speaking, it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

What challenge to your faith are you facing right now?

What is the impossible thing that you must trust God for right now?

Is it financial?

Is it family?

Is it health?

Be sure your confidence is in God’s word, His promises, and then trust that He is able to do what He has promised.

The biggest promise God has made is to forgive our sins and thus open up the way for us to live in His presence forever. Sometimes it is hard to believe we can be forgiven, and when we continue to sin it seems hard to believe that we can be freed from the power of sin. However, these things are part of the promises of God.
God’s promises cannot be earned.
God’s promises call into existence the impossible.
God’s promises require perseverance.
God’s promises depend on God’s ability.

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