A sermon idea based on Romans 4:13-25.
The Big Idea
The pathway to peace with God is not found in any particular ethnic pedigree, self-improvement plan, or religious ceremony. Peace with God results from receiving the free gift of God’s righteousness, which is given to all who trust in the one God who raises the dead.
Romans 4:13-25 NRSV
 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,  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.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone,  but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,  who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
This passage is a bit of a bridge. In Romans 3, Paul makes the case that none of us qualify for entry into God’s forever family on the basis of our own righteousness. We need more. We need the very righteousness of God.
In Chapter 5, Paul lays out the results and benefits of having received God’s righteousness, starting with the peace we enjoy with God, which makes possible a new kind of peace with others, with nature, with ourselves, and with the entire universe around us.
And here in chapter 4, Paul shows us how God makes his righteousness available to any and all of us. It is freely given on the basis of our trust in him as the one God who raises the dead.
Paul points to both Abraham and David as examples of those who had to rely on God’s saving power rather than trusting in their own flimsy character, and in the second half of the chapter, he zeroes in on Abraham’s story for two important reasons.
First, the God to whom Paul points us is the “God of Abraham” and, therefore, the original ancestor of the Jewish people. Paul’s letter is addressed to both Jews and Gentiles (everyone else), and the central theme of the letter is about how we all get to be God’s family together on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And second, we can all identify with Abraham’s story. We can all understand what it looks like to trust God when hope seems lost, and we can also understand what it means for our faith to go through all kinds of seasons of weakness and growth.
In this passage, we get two big lessons about what it looks like to trust in the one God who raises the dead.
1. God does all of the saving.
We cannot establish our own righteousness, a fact to which Paul gave ample evidence in the earlier parts of his letter to the Romans. And no matter how hard we might try, we cannot overcome death through the power of resurrection. For both of these needs, we must look to God.
God, alone, can declare us righteous, make a way for us to have peace with him, and welcome us into his family.
And God, alone, has the power to raise the dead to life again. Abraham believed that God could resurrect his own dead body in the sense of giving him offspring when both he and Sarah were already advanced beyond their child-bearing years. And we, like Abraham, get to decide to trust that God has also raised Jesus from the dead.
2. Our feeble faith is all it takes.
Abraham hoped against hope. He believed when all hope seemed lost. But to say that his faith was nailed down would be to ignore the fact that, after he first expressed his trust in God’s promise, he then impregnated Hagar in a desperate attempt to have kids since he hadn’t seen God come through to that point.
But here in Romans, Paul clarifies that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” We get the picture that Abraham had a feeble faith that grew over time as he came to know God and see him at work.
In our day, we often make the mistake of defining faith as an intellectual certainty about theological facts concerning God. Abraham may have felt certain from time to time, but his actions show that his faith was in a process of growth that took his lifetime.
It’s important to note that our faith doesn’t save us. Abraham’s faith didn’t work any particular magic. Faith (trust is the better word to capture Paul’s intention) is simply how we acknowledge, appropriate, and experience God’s powerful saving work in our lives.
The invitation we share with the rest of the world is not an invitation to be better, morally. Or to be certain, on an intellectual level, about God’s existence. Or to come up with our own plan for finding peace with God.
The invitation we share is to simply begin to trust that the one God who raises the dead is extending his salvation to all who are willing to trust him through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.
About the Cover Art: St. Savin – Calling of Abraham, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
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