Romans 4:16-17 "For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist."
As the Apostle Paul works his way through explaining the crucial doctrine of justification by faith, we find him illustrating such by the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. Abraham's life can be read about in Genesis 12-25, throughout several Old Testament passages, as well as expounded upon in New Testament chapters such as Galatians 3:5-9; 4:22-31; Hebrews 11:8-19 and James 2:21-23. We looked in the last post at how one experiences God in salvation. Justification by faith sets the sinner in prime position legally to experience the other saving graces by experience. Elmer L. Towns expresses quite well the following sentiments about justification:
"In the same way, justification changes our legal papers in heaven; we become children of God."
So what took place in Abraham's life with respect to his change of position in justification (Romans 4:16-22) is also said of believers today (Romans 4:23-25). In short, both Abraham and anyone who trusts in Christ is justified by faith and simultaneously experiences God's power beginning to operate in their life. How can we better understand the extraordinary power of God in Christian salvation and in what follows in Romans 4:16-25? In other words, justification's positioning of the believing sinner enables them to begin enjoying the following graces associated with God's power in salvation:
1. Power of a New Life. Romans 4:16-17
When God declared Abraham righteous in justification, on what grounds was there to make such a declaration? God's grace, as stated plainly in Romans 4:16. The crediting of the righteousness of Christ which was alluded to in the promises of salvation given to Abraham is what enabled Abraham to be deemed "right with God". Now notice another distinct grace that is alongside this legal declaration of justification. We find reference to God's ability to give life to the dead in Romans 4:17 - "(as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist." God's ability to create new life out of nothing in salvation is explained elsewhere. For example, consider 2 Corinthians 4:6 "For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Paul later on in 2 Corinthians states in 2 Corinthians 5:17 "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation, old things are passed away and behold, all things become new."
So, justification is indicative of the fact that God by His Spirit was doing a living, powerful work in Abraham's heart. God's supreme declaration occurs in the context of new life imparted in saving faith. Such a powerful experience of God's power is what describes Christian salvation as well. Faith in Christ's death and resurrection points to the grounds of our justification - namely Christ Himself. His resurrection power demonstrates that what He did on the cross worked on our behalf. This incredible new life beginning in saving faith is empowered by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). So in salvation, one experiences the power of a new life. But how else is God's power experienced in salvation?
2. Power of New Hope. Romans 4:18-19
We read in Romans 4:18-19 "In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb." Abraham and Sarah's situation at the time God found them was, by all accounts, hopeless. They were both tangled up in pagan religion (see Joshua 24:1-3). Both of them were past the child-bearing years, compounded by the fact that Sarah was barren. Moreover, even after Abraham and Sarah began to walk with God, it would be another 25 years before God appeared to them formally to announce what would be the birth of their son Isaac. Physically speaking, things were bleak.
But what did the saving faith of God inform Abraham concerning his situation? He realized he could not bring about the promises of God spoken to him. Sarah too resigned herself to the fact that she was incapable. But God did a work and what their faith told them concerning the realm of unseen realities would be confirmed later on in the birth of that bouncing baby-boy Isaac. Faith brought with it new found hope. Paul would later on expound on the amazing results brought about as a result of the hope poured into the human heart at salvation by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:1-5). Again, such experiences of God's power to Abraham is equated with experiences of his power in saving faith today.
So we experience God's power in salvation by way of new life, new hope and thirdly...
3. Powerful assurance. Romans 4:20-21
We read in Romans 4:20-21 "yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness." I love the word "yet". It is a small word but oh is it so powerful! It carries the thought of reversing whatever was said prior. Despite Abraham looking at he and Sarah's hopeless situation, "yet", they did not waver in unbelief. Only a heart touched by God and having experienced God's life-saving declaration of justification can look through the hard-times and find assurance in Christ. Faith both performs and informs the believer's heart and mind concerning God, Christ and all the blessings of salvation. As the hymn of old states: "blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!"
4. God's power available to you today. Romans 4:23-25
As we close out this post today, Paul notes in Romans 4:23 that these truths "Now not for his sake only was it written....", but, notice in verse 24 "but for our sake also...". Paul's whole point in bringing Abraham forward to illustrate salvation and its crown jewel of justification by faith is to aid us in better understanding how it is we experience both positional change (justification) as well as life change (regeneration) and relationship change (adoption) as God's power in salvation. Truly, this reminds us of the theme verse of Paul's epistle to the Romans, Romans 1:16, concerning how he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.