by Mike Ratliff
16 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. 18 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; 20 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. Romans 4:16-21 (NASB)
Several years ago I wrote a post about Liberal Theology. That post produced a very long and protracted discussion in the comment section of this blog. I remember it very well. The discussion became quite heated at times. One person insisted that scholarship and critical analysis of the Bible far outweighed faith when it comes to theology. In fact, he tried 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.As some of my friends from around the blogosphere joined the battle, he soon “tired” and left when it became obvious that we would not accept what he was “preaching.” He gave some parting shots that were intended to do some damage to our faith. The one that stood out to me was, “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 that what we are doing? 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 or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
16 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, Romans 4:13-16 (NASB)
In v16 we have this phrase, “For this reason it is by 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, “For this reason.” What does this refer back to? We find the answer in v14. “For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified.” 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 it may be in accordance with 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 once 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. After we had our “discussion” on Liberal Theology I became determined 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 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, Romans 4:16 (NASB)
Here are the three steps of Paul’s reasoning. “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. “ 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 wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, Romans 4:4-5 (NASB)
Look carefully at Romans 4:4-5. The phrase “credited as a favor,” 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 your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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 ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as 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 so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 (NASB)
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