The promise granted through faith – Romans 4:13-25

In Romans 4:13-25, Paul continues what he started in Romans 3:27. He is giving a defense of justification by faith for his Jewish readers. As we study scripture there is something very important that we must keep in mind. We should never stray away from the context of scripture. We should never ‘read into’ scripture and try to make it say something that it really does not mean. In this particular section of Romans, Paul is writing more directly to the Jews, however, he also understands that he has Gentile readers as well. In the immediate context, these words are written with the Jewish thought and heart in mind. However, though the immediate context suggests that it is written for the Jew, the application, in principle, applies to both Jew and Gentile. When you study scripture both of these things should be kept in our understanding. We should look to see to whom the scripture is speaking and also look to see if there are any principles by which we should adhere to. This particular passage is speaking more directly to the Jew; however, there are principles here that do apply to all of us.

                The promise given through faith. In verses 13-15, Paul begins to deal with the promise of God given to Abraham. “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed 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 made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.”[1] God’s covenant with Abraham is in view here. To get a better understanding of this passage, we should take some time to review God’s covenant with Abraham as seen in the book of Genesis. In Genesis chapter 15 we find the account of when God made a covenant with Abraham. This covenant is basically threefold: Land, Seed, and Blessing. God promised Abraham that he would give His descendents a land. The borders of this promised land is described in Genesis 15:18-21. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”[2] We know that the descendents of Abraham are God’s chosen people of Israel. God made a promise that the nation of Israel will possess all the land that He had given to them. One day, that promise will be completely fulfilled. God also promised Abraham a seed. In other words, He promised to give Abraham many descendents and one of those descendents would be the Savior of the world. “Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”[3]This promise has certainly been fulfilled as the descendents of Abraham are certainly numerous just as God described. More specially, the Savior of the world would come from the bloodline of Abraham. Jesus Christ, though conceived of the Holy Ghost in the virgin, Mary, was born into Abraham’s family. One interesting theme we see throughout the Bible is how Satan continually attacks God’s covenant with Abraham. He did everything he could to try and destroy the seed and He also did everything he could to take the land and continues to do so to this very day. The third part of the covenant with Abraham is the blessing. God promised to bless Abraham with many descendents. This blessing also carries over in God’s care for the nation of Israel. Throughout history we have seen God’s blessing and protection of Israel. This blessing along with God’s covenant with Abraham is also seen in Genesis chapter twelve. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you. And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[4] The world has been blessed by Israel for it was through Israel that Jesus came and we have a Savior. God’s promise to bless the nation of Israel also extends to those who bless them. Just a simple study of history will prove this to be true. Those nations who stand with Israel are blessed and those who have cursed Israel are cursed. America has been one of those nations that have stood with Israel. I believe that our nation has been blessed because of it. America would not be what it is today if it were not for our commitment to the nation of Israel. However, in recent time, America has begun to turn her back on Israel. We do not support Israel like we once did. We may support them in our words, but not in our actions. As a result, America is in decline. You may say, ‘Pastor, are you saying that the reason America is going through such difficult times now is because of how we treat Israel?’ Absolutely! The reason for America’s economic and moral decline is due to our treatment of Israel. We have turned our backs on God and we have turned our backs on God’s chosen nation. Unless we repent and things change, it will only get worse in America. Not to mention the increase of natural disasters that has come to our great land in recent years. All of these things can be attributed to our treatment of Israel. You see, God means what he says. He will keep His promise to Israel.

                With this background of God’s covenant with Abraham in view, Paul is teaching a very valuable lesson. God’s covenant with Abraham was not dependent upon the keeping of the law; rather, it depends upon faith. The New American Commentary says, “To Abraham and his offspring was given the promise that he would be ‘heir of the world.’ Five times in Psalm 37 David spoke of Israel as inheriting the land and dwelling therein forever (Ps 37:9, 11, 27, 29, 34; cf. Matt 5:5). This promise was not given to Abraham in the context of obedience to law. It had its roots in faith.”[5] Furthermore, the commentary states, “This follows from the fact that law is unable to produce a promise. Its fundamental reason for being is to bring about wrath (v. 15). Ironically, the very thing the Jews were counting on to make them acceptable to God turned out to emphasize their sinfulness. By trying hard to fulfill the demands of law (and failing), their pious efforts merely turned them into conscious sinners. Dunn comments that “rightly understood, the law does not mark off Jew from Gentile but rather puts Jew alongside Gentile in need of the grace of God”[6] The point here is that Abraham received God’s promise because of his faith in the promise. Genesis 15:6 says, “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”[7]Abraham believed in the promise that God had made to him. As a result, Abraham was declared righteous, he was justified.

                As mentioned early, though this passage is directly speaking to the Jews, there is a principle here that applies. The principle seen here is simply that we are justified by our faith in the promise of God. God’s promise to us today is that all those who ‘call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.’ God’s promise is seen in the cross. All who believe on Jesus and trust in Him by faith are justified. Salvation does not come in doing good deeds or keeping the law, it comes by faith in Jesus. Will God fulfill His promise to Israel as a nation? Absolutely! Will God fulfill His promise to all those who believe on Jesus (both Jew and Gentile)? Absolutely! God always keeps His promises! The reality of the promise is made available to you through faith.

                The promise is a matter of grace. Running through the doctrine of justification is the wonderful grace of God. Notice what it says in verses 16-17, “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, 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, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”[8]The emphasis here is placed on God’s grace. “The promise depends upon faith so that it may be a “matter of sheer grace” (NEB). Faith is the response that makes the promise effective in a specific case. It is not, however, a meritorious act. Faith is helplessness reaching out in total dependence upon God. The promise remains an act of grace. God’s promises flow from his nature as one who desires the very best for those he created. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps 34:8). God’s promises reflect the goodness of his character.” [9] R.C. Sproul accurately states, “God doesn’t analyze us and then, under that analysis, pronounce us righteous because he has found pure righteousness in us. No, God graciously gives us the gift of justification when we believe, by imputing the righteousness of Jesus to us.”[10] Note that this grace, as Sproul states, is given to us when we believe. Again, the key is justification by faith. We must believe on the Lord Jesus. We must make the conscience choice to accept what Jesus did for us on the cross and we must reach out and accept God’s gift of grace. As we have seen before, this gift of grace is freely given, and therefore, must be freely received. Paul makes mention here that Abraham is the ‘father of us all’. In other words, those who come to faith in Christ are a part of the spiritual family of Abraham. Those who come to faith in Christ are a part of God’s chosen people. It must be understood here, however, that this does not mean that all of us partake in the direct promises that God made to Israel as a nation. However, the promise does apply to us in the sense that when come to Jesus by faith, believing in God’s promise of salvation, we are then justified. We are all saved the same way. “Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever land is your homeland, whatever you’re racial or ethnic background, if you place your trust for your standing before God in the work of Jesus Christ, Abraham is your father. You too are numbered among those who believe and are justified by faith.”[11]

 In verse 17, Paul breaks out in praise to God for allowing us to be a part of His people. R.C. Sproul notes, “He calls attention to the greatness of God, in that only God can bring life out of death. Only God can call those things which are not as though they were. Only God can bring something into being from nothing. In the book of Hosea, God said, ‘I will say to those called “Not my people”, “you are my people”.’ I am unrighteous, but in Jesus Christ I am adopted into the family of God. I am a Gentile—what God called ‘no people’, and yet he has called me in Christ to be of his people.”[12] Isn’t it wonderful to know that when you believe on the Lord Jesus, you are adopted into the family of God!

Now, this does not mean that the church is Israel or Israel is the church. We must be careful here to not twist the scripture to say something that it doesn’t. The point we need to understand is that God’s covenant with Abraham had both a physical aspect and a spiritual aspect. As the Bible Knowledge Commentary rightly points out, “Paul then supported his conclusion in verse 16 with scriptural authority, quoting God’s covenantal promise from Genesis 17:5. The fact that believers in this Church Age are identified with Abraham and God’s covenant with him does not mean that the physical and temporal promises to Abraham and his physical descendants are either spiritualized or abrogated. It simply means that God’s covenant and Abraham’s response of faith to it have spiritual dimensions as well as physical and temporal aspects.”[13]

The conclusion then, it is all of God’s grace. God’s grace makes salvation possible. It is by grace that we are saved. When we through faith accept this gift of grace, we are then justified. This way of salvation is the same for us all, both Jew and Gentile.

The promise produces hope. Notice in verses 18-25 we see the hope that the promise produces. “Who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”[14] The term ‘hope’ refers to a ‘confident expectation.’ Abraham and his descendents can confidently expect that everything that God promise both in the physical dimension and the spiritual dimension, will be fulfilled just as God promised. Notice what the New American Commentary says concerning what Paul said about Abraham, “From a human standpoint there was no hope that he would have descendants. Yet with God all things are possible (cf. Matt 19:26). Therefore he believed what God said. His hope was not the invincible human spirit rising to the occasion against all odds but a deep inner confidence that God was absolutely true to his word.”[15] The hope that we have is the same hope that Abraham had. God is a loving, holy, and true God. He cannot and will not go back on His Word. If God says it, that settles it. This is the hope we have in Jesus. This why we can with confidence know, beyond any doubt, that our salvation is secure. R.H. Mounce writes,“Faith is unreasonable only within a restricted worldview that denies God the right to intervene. His intervention is highly rational from the biblical perspective, which not only allows him to intervene but actually expects him to show concern for those he has created in his own image. Because Abraham believed, he became ‘the father of many nations.’ The opportunity to believe has not been assigned to any one nation or ethnic group. Belief is universally possible. The quotation from Gen 15:5 reinforces the remarkable number of those who believe and are therefore the offspring of Abraham.”[16] Not only is Abraham’s physical descendents are as numerous as the stars in the sky, so is his spiritual descendents. There are countless numbers of people who have come to faith in Christ over the centuries. What a wonderful thought!

The hope that the promise produces does something for us. First of all, hope gives us strength. In verse 20, we see that Abraham was strengthened in the faith because of the hope that he had in God’s promise. The same is true for us today. Our faith is strengthened when we realize the hope that we have in Christ. The confident expectation that God will do everything that He has promised and the expectation of heaven alone is enough to strengthen our faith. Secondly, hope gives us confidence. Abraham had confidence that God will perform what he promised. The good news for us today is that God will finish what He started. If you have come to Him through faith, He has justified you and one day you will be glorified! We will be made to be just like Jesus. Knowing that God will finish what He started, gives us the confidence to serve Him in the life. Child of God, this life is not all there is to it. We are here for just a short time and we should make the most of every moment we have to bring the Gospel to the world. The sufferings of this life will soon be over. The hope of heaven, knowing what we have ahead of us, should propel us to greater heights of service for our King!

The final question for you to consider is simply, ‘do I have this promise’? Has there been a time in your life in which you placed your faith in Jesus? When you do, God promises to justify you, redeem you, sanctify you, and glorify you. This is our hope. This is our confidence.




[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 4:13–15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ge 15:18–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ge 15:5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ge 12:1–3). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 126). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 127). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ge 15:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 4:16–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[9] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 127). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[10] Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (p. 87). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

[11] Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (p. 87). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

[12] Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (pp. 87–88). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

[13] Witmer, J. A. (1985). Romans. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 454). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[14] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 4:18–25). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[15] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 129). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[16] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 129). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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