The Content of Genuine Faith (4:17-21)
What we find in the next few verses is what Abraham believed, what was the content of his faith, that was counted to him as righteousness. It is important to remember that faith, in order for it to be Biblical faith, must have a specific content. Faith is not supposed to be ambiguous. Faith is not like trying to grab the fog, but rather it is more like grabbing hold of something solid.
It is almost funny the way that Paul writes it. The Message paraphrase does a good job of capturing the emotion of this moment in both Abraham and Sarah’s lives.
17We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. 18When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!” 19Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. 20He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, 21sure that God would make good on what he had said. [Romans 4:17-21, The Message, emphasis added]
These are some remarkable words. When we begin to understand the story of Abraham and the circumstances of God’s interaction with him, we get a clearer picture of what faith truly is. Whatever we call faith, if it is going to be worthy of that name, must be based on something that is true (God’s Word), undeniable (God’s Faithfulness), and outside of myself (God’s Character) . That is why faith is not a “work” on our part, but a work of God in us [Ephesians 2:8-9]. When we look at the heavens, when we take God at His word and agree that it is only God who is able to do what He has said and promised, then faith has been exercised.
Do we trust in ourselves too much? Are we living according to what we see and not what God has promised? Have we taken the plunge into the promises of God and come up reassured that God is not a man that He should lie about what He is able to do ?
19God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? [Numbers 23:19, ESV]
These are the questions that should confront us when we consider the life and faith of Abraham. Paul does well in taking us back to him. Any proper and biblical understanding of faith must begin with Abraham. When each of us can embrace this faith, then we too can be considered among the children of Abraham!