by Mike Ratliff
16 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, 17 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. 18 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.” 19 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. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:16-21 (ESV)
If you have ever debated proponents of liberal theology then you probably know that these liberals possess a great deal of emotional baggage which, as the debate proceeds, they eventually empty it out on all those they see as “orthodox” and “behind the times.” I have participated in several of these. Their main statement of fact seems to be that scholarship and critical analysis of the Bible far outweighed faith when it comes to theology. In fact, they will try very hard to make us see that the Bible is unreliable and cannot be understood or held by Christians to be the infallible, inerrant Word of God. In one such debate several years ago one of the liberals gave this last parting shot when he realized our faith was strong and we weren’t buying what he was selling, “No, I encourage you to continue in your faith. Hold tight. Don’t let go. But I think that over time you will find that it is kinda like trying to hold on real tight to a handful of sand.”
Is being faithful like holding on real tight to a handful of sand? Does this describe our faith? In my research of liberal theology, I ran across testimony after testimony from liberals who explained how and why they abandoned orthodoxy to become liberal. Some even said that it “saved their life” or “preserved their sanity.” In this post, instead of addressing what liberals believe about faith and reason and certainty, we will look at these things from the Biblical view.
13 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. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 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, Romans 4:13-16 (ESV)
In v16 we have this phrase, “That is why it depends on faith.” What does “it” refer to? The answer is found in vv13-15. It is the “promise.” The promise comes by faith. What does “by faith” mean? Back in v13 we see that the promise comes through the righteousness of faith. We do not err by saying that the promise is through faith or that it comes by faith, but in v13 Paul is giving us more. This chapter in Romans is about Justification by faith. For those who are fuzzy about what that means, think of it as the righteousness which saves you was given to you. It isn’t anything you inherently had in yourself. It was a gift. Of course, this righteousness is Christ’s which is imputed to all those who trust and believe apart from works. The promise in v13 is that all in Christ are heirs of the world through the righteousness of faith.” Carrying forward our understanding of Justification by faith then we see that our inheritance of the world is ours through the righteousness of faith, which is through righteousness of God credited to our account through faith. (Romans 4:5,9,11)
Now, back to v16. What is “by faith?” It is the righteousness of God that obtains the promise for us “by faith,” This faith is through the righteousness of God, not something we have to conjure up ourselves. Through this faith, we believe. We trust God’s promise to us. This promise was obtained for us by Christ. God imputes His righteousness to us through this faith. It is on the basis of this imputed righteousness, the promise is secured for us that we will be heirs of the world.
In v16 we see the phrase, “That is why.” Some translations render this as “Therefore” or “For this reason.” What does this refer back to? We find the answer in v14. “For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.” The reason the righteousness that obtains the promise is “by faith” is that if it were by law, then the promise would be void. Why? “ For the law brings wrath.” If we try to use the law or good works for God so that we will have righteousness before Him, we will fail. Why? Only wrath is available to those who operate by the Law. Why? Justification is by faith alone. The best we can do prior to faith is self-wrought rebellion. This is not acceptable righteousness before God. (Romans 10:3)
Let us paraphrase v16 from what we have learned here. “Since trying to keep the law as a way of justification only brings wrath, therefore, the righteousness that does obtain the promise for believers is by faith, not law or works.”
The next phrase in v16 is, “in order that the promise may rest on grace.” Just as works and trying to keep the Law nullifies the promise and only brings wrath, it is by faith and according to grace that we are justified. Why is it important that the way to inherit the promise rests on grace? It is that it “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.” Those who adhered to the law are believing Jews. Those who share the faith of Abraham are believing Gentiles. The reason the inheriting of the promise of being an heir of all things “rest on grace” is so that the promise be guaranteed or certain and sure and unshakable. If it was according to works or by keeping the Law then it would be according to people’s efforts. No, it must be by grace or our faith would be like trying to hold onto sand with our hands.
Now we come to certainty. This is where atheists and apostates and liberals focus their attacks against our faith. I had one fellow tell me on Facebook several weeks ago that if our faith was a gift from God then how could we ever have assurance. His understanding was that unless you maintained your faith by doing good works then you would always be in doubt. Since doubt isn’t one of my problems I pondered this for a few weeks. As I researched liberal theology and participated in a few “debates” with a couple of those fellows it was as if it became time to nail down why those with this genuine saving faith are so certain.
We do have certainty in the promise of being an heir of the world. We know it will come true even though we are currently imperfect, stumbling, believing, justified, sinning saints. To be certain in spite of our temporal condition requires us to obtain the mind of Christ. We do this via the Word of God, prayer, meditation, and obeying Him. Paul promises us in Romans 4:16 that our inheritance is sure. It is guaranteed. Here it is again.
16 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, Romans 4:16 (ESV)
Here are the three steps of Paul’s reasoning. “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring. “ Here we see it clearly. Our salvation and future inheritance is by faith…grace…guaranteed promise. Do you see now why we stress that our preaching of the Gospel must be based on justification by faith apart from works? Our salvation depends entirely on God’s grace. Our faith is essential, but the reason it is essential is that it is the only condition of the heart that rests on grace.
The only way that our eternal future can be guaranteed is if it rests on God’s grace. Grace is free. It cannot be earned or deserved. It is by His grace that he brings His people to glory. God is the one doing the mighty work that guarantees our inheritance. Grace is the foundation of our guarantee while faith is the only condition of our hearts that rests on it.
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Romans 4:4-5 (ESV)
Look carefully at Romans 4:4-5. The phrase “counted as a gift” is the same as “in accordance with grace.” Paul makes it crystal clear in this passage how to be justified, how to have a righteousness before God that will ensure our inheritance of the promise. What is the opposite of grace and faith in this passage? The opposite of faith is works. The opposite of grace is due. If we try to work for righteousness instead of trusting God then we will get our due or wage. That due or wage is not in accordance with grace nor does it rest on grace. It is the opposite of grace. On the other hand, if we do not try to work for our righteousness, but, instead, trust God, who justifies the ungodly, His righteousness will be credited to us as a gift. This is grace and the only condition of the heart that rests on it is faith.
What condition of the heart “rests on” this grace? Faith alone! Faith is the restful experience of the work of grace in our lives. This is why those who are maturing are never doubtful, desperately grasping for faith like trying to hold sand in their hands. Those who take up God’s armor, wear it, and use it can stand firm and not fall away even in the thickest part of the battle. God’s grace, dynamically working through our armor as we maintain our godly focus, enables us to never compromise or give way to the enemy.
God’s grace actually awakens our faith. It is through His grace that those who are spiritually dead are quickened. They are made alive in Christ. They are new creatures. This is not humanly possible. No amount of work on our part can accomplish this. No amount of education or study or devotion can cause a spiritually dead person to become alive in Christ. This is the miracle of the New Birth.
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)
We are saved by grace through faith. This faith rests on grace, it accords with it. This grace gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. God’s sovereign grace guarantees, in spite of our sinfulness and frailty, that we will inherit the world. This is certain. Those who mature in Christ as God’s grace moves and works in their hearts will develop a faith that never doubts. It sees statements like, “No, I encourage you to continue in your faith. Hold tight. Don’t let go. But I think that over time you will find that it is kinda like trying to hold on real tight to a handful of sand” and wonders at the darkness in the heart that wrote it. Of course that darkness is both the product of and the source of their liberal theology.
Soli Deo Gloria