Faith and the Righteousness of God
Part 2

John Plunkett
June 15, 2013

In Part 1, you might remember that we learned, among other things, that God the Father and Jesus Christ have a deep desire that you and I, their people, have strong faith. 

We also learned that God the Father and Jesus Christ retain the power and the authority to give strong faith to anyone that they choose to. 

Today, in Part 2, I would like us to study:

More, Less and No Faith

As we learned and went into detail on last month in Part 1, Jesus knew that His beloved friends and followers lacked faith.  At some point, however, the disciples began to recognize this fact for themselves and they wanted to correct this lack:

Luke 17:5: 
Then the apostles said to the Lord, "Give us more faith." 

Please remember from last time that the Greek word for "faith" is "pistis" and that the Greek word for "believe" is "pisteuo."

So the disciples/apostles asked the Lord to give them more faith.  It is reasonable for us to consider the disciples of that time as being "faith-challenged."  We might even say "faithless" because you might remember that Mark recorded Jesus saying that they had virtually "no faith" (Mark 4:40).  It is also reasonable for us to compare the faith-challenged or faithless disciples of that time with the faithful apostles of the post-Pentecost era. 

But just what was it that prompted the disciples to ask Jesus for an increase in faith at that particular time?  The previous verses in Luke 17 might give us some clues:

1:  Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come.
2:  It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
3: Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
4: And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, I repent, you shall forgive him.

What I am getting at here is that the disciples' increase in faith might have had to come through some very hard-to-obey commands and some very hard lessons:

Then in verse 6, specifically in response to the disciples’ request in verse 5, here was Jesus’ answer:

6:  The Lord said, If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, Pull yourself up by the roots, and plant yourself in the sea!  and it would obey you.

There we can see that even from small faith, the size of a mustard seed can come a vast amount of power.  

Here in these verses we read about "more faith" and about "small faith."  From this we get the idea that faith can be given in measure.  Is that true?  Can faith be given in measure?  This and other scriptures  imply that, yes, faith can be given in measure.  It can be given in either greater quantities or smaller quantities. 

This statement of Jesus’ in verse 6 brings to mind Him teaching His disciples the astonishing lesson in faith through His cursing of the fig tree:

Mark 11:
12:  Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry.
13:  And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it.  When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
14:  In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again."  And His disciples heard it… …
Verse 20: Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
21:  And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered away."

Even if you are a "tree-hugger" (a person who hugs trees in an attempt to prevent lumberjacks from cutting them down), please don’t feel sorry for this poor, innocent fig tree.  Remember that there are thousands of poor, innocent trees being cut down every day.  But here, the very Creator of trees is using this to teach an important lesson about one of His greatest priorities – faith!  Continuing:

22:  So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God.
23:  "For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.
24:  "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

This is an astonishing promise!  With God, even the impossible becomes possible.   It is obvious that God and Jesus did not want the disciples going around having trees pulling themselves up by their roots, or moving mountains all over the place.  He certainly doesn’t want us to do it either.  Not in the world today anyway.  However, there are scriptures that show us that we will see some of these amazing things in the World Tomorrow.  Yes, we will see hills and mountains being moved and made low and we will see every valley being exalted  (Isaiah 40:4; Luke 3:5; Zechariah 14:4).  Maybe we will even be given a part in helping to do those astonishing things. 

Still, even though Jesus promised this to the disciples at that time, we do not read of them ever actually doing it.  Even after they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, even though we know that God did perform wonderful miracles through them, we never read of them moving mountains or telling trees to pull themselves up by their own roots.  They probably couldn't spare the time for such discretionary activities!

I believe that Jesus and His Father want us to use our faith – the faith that they give us – in useful and practical ways, just one example of which is praying in faith for our brethren and other loved ones, and for unity in their church.  These are just a few practical ways of how our faith may be exercised on a daily basis.

Let us go back to Luke and read Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow:

Luke 18 (NKJV):
1:  Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,
2:  saying: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.
3:  "Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ’Get justice for me from my adversary.’
4:  "And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ’Though I do not fear God nor regard man,
5:  "yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me’"...

The word translated "troubled"’ is a somewhat poor translation of the Greek verb "parecho."  A better translation would be "comes near" or "reaches forth."  So this widow was reaching forth and coming near the judge on a regular basis.  Continuing:

6:  Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said.
7:  "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?
8:  "I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"

What a question!  What a scary concept!  Will Jesus find any faith on earth when He returns?  Will He find ANY faith at all? 

As He probably would not expect too much in the way of faith from the unconverted, we must logically assume that Jesus was referring here to the possibility of a lack of faith among His own converted brothers and sisters!

I wonder why the word “really” was included here by the NKJV scholars and translators?  Does it perhaps indicate that the small amount of faith that Jesus will find will not be very deep-rooted; but rather that it will be relatively quite weak and “surface.” 

The main lesson here for us is that we are to be like that widow before the “unjust judge.”   We should not give up on our supplications to God after just one request.  Like the widow, we should, in faith, keep on asking – until God gives us what we need – or until, like Paul with his thorn-in-the-flesh, God clearly shows us that His answer is “No” or “Not yet” (II Corinthians 12:7-10).  If He says “No” then maybe it is not good for us to be relieved of the problem at the time.  If He says “Not yet,” perhaps He wants us to learn something from it. 

Still, if necessary, we must cry out to Him day and night – in faith!  If we do so, He promises to give us swift justice or deliverance, if that is what we need according to His will.  There is an added implication here that, if we do this, He will build and strengthen our faith as a kind of value-added side benefit.  

Also, as we know that Jesus really wants us to live His "way of give," we shouldn’t always be crying out and asking only for things for ourselves; but also for our loved ones, both in the church or outside it.  Even praying for our enemies (Matthew 5:44).  If we cry out on behalf of others and not just selfishly for ourselves, I believe that our pleas will carry even more weight.  Perhaps through those prayers for others, He might build even more faith in us.  And that is what He wants.  He really does desire more faith in us.

Faith in the Post-Ascension Era

We have looked at the lack of faith within those who were closest to Jesus during His human lifetime.  Now let us move into the "post-ascension era" of the early Church of God, where we will find a somewhat different accent on faith.  I think that you will agree that, as soon as the disciples and the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit, not only did God give them more faith through the indwelling of His Spirit, but it also generated a different accent on faith, which we can see as we go through the rest of the New Testament.  

There are so many scriptural examples that we could go through in this regard; but I want to home in on God's faith teachings through the apostle Paul. 

Jesus had returned to heaven, the apostles had received the Holy Spirit and consequently, there was a huge change in them.  But then along came the apostle Paul –  actually Saul at the time prior to his conversion.  But after quite some time had gone by since his conversion, we find him on trial before King Herod Agrippa, recounting to the king Jesus had said to him during his remarkable conversion experience.

Acts 26:17: 
{Jesus} will deliver you {Paul} from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you,

Jesus told Paul that He was going to send him amongst some dangerous people – both dangerous Jews and dangerous Gentiles.  But He promised to protect him from them – at least for the limited time of Paul's ministry, because He had a job for him to do.  He had a special purpose for Paul.  What was that purpose?  And why would Jesus deliver this formerly wicked Pharisee from these dangerous people? 

Here is what Jesus wanted him to do:

18:  'to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'

Prior to his conversion, Paul (Saul) was the dangerous one.  He had been a major threat to Christians.  But Jesus told him that after his conversion, others, including his former allies, would become a dangerous threat to him!

Yes, Jesus converted Saul to Paul.  Jesus turned him from spiritual darkness to light in the same way that He would empower Paul to turn the Jews and Gentiles.  The Greek word for both "turn" and "convert" is "epistrepho" (Strongs 1994).  Yes, Jesus turned or converted Paul, just as He promised to use him from then on to turn, convert or change the Jews and Gentiles – obviously, not all of them; but those who were being called by the Father (John 6:44). 

Jesus was giving Paul his assignment here – his marching orders.  He was promising to use Paul to open the spiritual eyes of these people.  Those who would be called by God would be sanctified – made holy – set apart for God's purpose.

But sanctified by what?  By the law, which they had always looked to?  No!  Verse 18 tells us that they would be sanctified by true faith in Jesus.  That was what was going to sanctify them!  That was what was going to make them holy! 

We are to apply this to ourselves.  Our true faith in Jesus Christ is what sanctifies us and makes us holy.  Of course, there is more to it than that; but that is the basis of it.  We’ll see much more on this as we go along.

Romans 1:
16:  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
17:  For in it
{the gospel of Christ} the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

Last month, right at the beginning of Part 1, we began this study by reading Habakkuk 2:4, which Paul quotes here.  Jesus quoted it twice, which means that it must be a very important Old Testament scripture.

Paul was telling his Roman brethren here that the true gospel of Jesus Christ reveals the perfect righteousness of God, which comes to us through faith.  Here we see that link again – the one I touched on in Part 1 – the link between true faith and the righteousness of God.  We will see it over and over and over again as we continue.  Still in verse 17, though, the apostle Paul said that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.  What does this mean?  First let us take a quick look at the righteousness of man:

Isaiah 64:6:
But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags...

Our human righteousness, if there really is such a thing, is just about as pure as filthy rags.  The apostle Paul agreed with this.  After his conversion, Paul had no time for human righteousness:

Philippians 3:
7:  But what things were gain to me, those I counted as loss for Christ.
8:  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but dung, that I may win Christ
9:  and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith,

There's that link again: "the righteousness which is of God by faith."

Isaiah says that human righteousness is like filthy rags.  The apostle Paul says that everything that he thought was important before – including his own "righteousness of the law" – was just like dung! 

But again, what did the apostle Paul mean when he wrote back in Romans 1:17,  "from faith to faith"?

The answer becomes clearer when we add Philippians 3:7-9 into the mix.  The righteousness of God comes from our perfect God, who is the originator of righteousness and the originator of faith.

It comes to us imperfect Christians, and it comes through faith – Paul wrote here, "through the faith of Christ."  So the righteousness of God and the faith of Christ both come from God to us, thus becoming ours too.  In this way, it comes from faith to faith – from the faith of Christ to the faith of His brethren in whom He and His Father live. 

Yes, "our" faith is supplied by God.  If you ever get the idea that you can work up your own faith, then slap yourself on the side of your head, and tell yourself, "No, I can’t!  God has to give it to me!"

Paul mentions again here the righteousness of God;  and it is very significant.  As we continue through the remainder of this study, we are going to repeatedly see this tie-in between faith and the righteousness of God. Still in Romans – jumping down to chapter 3:

Romans 3:21: 
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

Does this mean that the law is done away?  Made void?  As we shall see as we move along, Paul elsewhere says "No" and he establishes the law.  God is the Law-Maker.  We, His human children, are to be the law-keepers.

22:  even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.  For there is no difference;

Paul says, "to all and on all who believe."  He is talking about physical Israelites and physical Gentiles. He is telling us that there is "no difference" between Israelite and Gentile believers under the New Covenant.  And again we see Paul tying faith to God's righteousness, which is transmitted to converted human beings through Jesus' faith, our faith and our belief.  When I say "our faith" and "our belief," we must keep remembering that it is God who supplies the faith.

23:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

All human beings (except Jesus, of course) have sinned. The Israelites sinned just as badly as the Gentiles sinned – perhaps even worse, because they had a certain level of knowledge of the LORD (YHVH) and of His Law.  They should have known better.  

Another lesson to learn from this is that, if there is no law, then there could be no sin.  Why not?  Because sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4).  Continuing in Romans 3:

24:  being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

The word “freely” here is translated from the Greek adverb "dorean" – which means "like a free gift."  So justification is a free gift that comes to us by the grace of God and as it says here, "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." 

25a:  whom God {the Father} set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness... 

Here again, we see both faith and the righteousness of God.

25b: ... because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,

Before we continue on in Romans 3, here are two scriptures which I cannot resist having us read here, because they back up and solidify this concept even more.  Here's the first of two scriptures – a very well known one: 

Ephesians 2:8:
For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.

The Greek noun for "gift" is "doron" – so very similar to the adverb "dorean" which we just read in Romans 3:24.

Yes, we are justified and saved by God’s grace, all three of which are free gifts.  Even the faith and the grace are given to us by Him.  Therefore, we have nothing to boast about. 

How do we receive these gifts?  Through the redemption of the perfect, sinless Jesus (Romans 3:24).  Redemption is God buying us back from Satan, his world and the sin of the world.

Again, how?  Through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ and through His perfect faith in His Father.  Jesus allowed His blood to be shed in our stead; and so He paid our death penalty for us.  So, at the time of our initial repentance when we were first called and when we first found out that we had been and still were sinners; at that time upon our repentance, God passed-over our former sins.

Even now, as we repent of our newer, subsequent sins, He continually and repeatedly passes over them, thus continually attributing His righteousness to us.

Now the second of our interjected scriptures – an absolutely amazing one!

II Corinthians 5:
17:  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
18:  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,
19a:  that is, that God was in Christ

It says in verse 17, "anyone that is in Christ"; then here it says that God – the Father, of course – was in Christ.  So then, if we are in Christ and God the Father is in Christ, it is astonishing that we are in the same place as God the Father is!  This a wonderful place to be!  But there's more.  It gets even better!

19b  ... reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20:  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation and atonement – at-one-ment – are the same thing – and are actually translated from the same Greek word.  Now, what God inspired Paul to write in verse 21 is truly astonishing:

21: For He {the Father} made Him who knew no sin {Jesus} to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Wow! God the Father and Jesus agreed with this.  This was their plan.  The Father caused His beloved Son, His only Son, His sinless Son to become filthy sin!  Why?  So that, once we repent, we sinners might become the very antithesis of sin – the righteousness of God! 

Please read verse 21 again.  The righteous, sinless Jesus became sin so that we sinners may become righteousness!   What love He and His Father must have for you and me! 

The Father hates sin and, like the repulsion between the two like poles of two powerful magnets, He cannot go anywhere near it!  Jesus Christ hates sin just as much as His Father does; but in order to do what was necessary to enable our salvation, He forced Himself to approach sin and sinners here on earth, and even to become sin for our benefit. 

Now let's return to Romans 3 and repeat verses 24 and 25, just to catch up:

24:  being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25:  whom God
{the Father} set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,
26:  to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God’s righteousness is stressed yet again in verse 26 and is tied to the justification of those who have faith in Jesus.  Or rather, more accurately, those who have been given faith in Jesus.  Again, it is not of ourselves, so that we have nothing at all to boast about.  Look at the very next verse:

27:  Where is boasting then?  It is excluded.  By what law?  Of works?  No, but by the law of faith.

"The law of faith."  Now that is an interesting combination of words!  Many professing Christians consider law and faith to be mutually exclusive, totally separate and cannot come anywhere near each other.  But here we see that with law and faith, "you can’t have one without the other"!  God, through the apostle Paul, tells us that human boasting is excluded by the law of faith. 

Paul also mentions the law of works here.  By this, he is probably referring to the law of sacrificial rituals that were given specifically to the Israelites at Sinai.  But elsewhere we learn that good works are required.  In fact, faith without works is dead.  It says this three times in James chapter 2.  But now, still in Romans 3:

28:  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

Again, we see that we are justified by faith.  We are made at-one with God and His righteousness through faith, and not by the deeds of the law; but apart from them. 

But the law is still required.  It has another purpose.  The purpose of the law is not to justify repentant human beings.  That is faith's "job" and purpose.  That is exactly what God through Paul is telling us here.  It is faith that justifies human beings.  The faith of Jesus in us.  What else?  The inextricable righteousness of God.

29:  Or is He the God of the Jews only?  Is He not also the God of the Gentiles?  Yes, of the Gentiles also,

Ultimately, our God is the God of all human beings – not just of the Israelites.  Not just of Abraham’s descendants.  All human beings are ultimately to be given the opportunity for access into spiritual Israel.

30:  since there is one God who will justify {both} the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

So God is telling us here through the apostle Paul that physical Israelite Christians are not justified by rituals, sacrifices or circumcision; but through faith in Jesus Christ – just like their physical Gentile brethren.  Both are justified in the same way.  It is not through faith just for the Gentiles and by rituals just for the Israelites.  No!  All are justified by faith.

31:  Do we then make void the law through faith?  Certainly not!  On the contrary, we establish the law.

Please read this verse again – slowly.  Let its words sink in.  If you don’t know this verse off-by-heart, may I suggest that you burn this scripture into your memory? 

This is God the Father and Jesus Christ talking to us through the apostle Paul.  He and they establish the law.

Is all law done away because of the importance and preeminence of faith?  Has all law been abolished because of this fact?  No!  Right here, about thirty years after Jesus died, was resurrected and ascended back to heaven, God’s law is firmly established! 

The existence and preeminence of faith does not negate the necessity for God’s law.  It is just that there are different purposes for both.  There is one good purpose for the law, and there is another good purpose for faith.  

The sacrificial parts of the Sinai law were basically restricted to the Old Testament Israelites.  The other parts of the law, including the Ten Commandments and most of the statutes and judgments, are binding on all men of all ages.  Likewise, justification and salvation are made available to all men, once they are called by God, of course.  For Israelites and Gentiles alike, justification is made available for all men through faith.

Father of the Faithful

Now, moving right on to the very next chapter; what does God, through the apostle Paul, have to teach us about the "father of the faithful."

Romans 4 (NKJV):
1:  What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?
2:  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

Did Abraham have anything to boast about?  Was Abraham justified by his works?  The implication here is “No.” Also verses 3 and 9 tells us “No”:

3: For what does the Scripture say?  "Abraham believed {pisteuo} God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness"… 
9: …For we say that faith
{pistis} was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.

It was Abraham’s belief Abraham’s faith in what God told him that accounted to him for righteousness.  It was God-given faith and God-given righteousness – yes, the righteousness of God!  Back to verse 4:

4:  Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

Good works are okay, of course.  But works earn wages.  If a person works, then wages are owed him and a debt is incurred.  If you work for two weeks and you get paid at the end of every second week, then those first days that you worked has incurred a debt by your employer to you.  Those wages are earned.  They are not grace.  They are not a free, unearned gift. 

5:  But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

Again, faith is here equated with God’s righteousness.

Works will not earn a person justification.  What will bring us justification?  The faith in and believing on the Justifier the One who does the justifying!  The One who even justifies the ungodly!  

If we were to re-read the history of Abraham, we would see that even the faith of Abraham – yes, even of “the father of the faithful” – was not always perfect.  In fact, initially, it was far from perfect!  

Still in Romans 4, and still talking about Abraham, let’s jump down to verse 11:

11a:  And he {Abraham} received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised….. 

"The righteousness of the faith"!  The two seem to be getting closer and more solidly bonded together, the further we go along!

Abraham’s circumcision was a physical seal of righteousness – again, God’s righteousness – given with and through God-given faith.

11b: ... that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are not circumcised, that righteousness might be imputed unto them also,

Paul is writing about people who are believers; but who are uncircumcised.  

Righteousness must be imputed to them.  What does the verb "impute" mean?  It means attributed, ascribed, assigned or accredited to someone – and usually to someone who doesn’t necessarily deserve what is being imputed to him or her. 

Paul is saying that the true righteousness of God must be imputed to "them."  When he says, "them," who is he referring to?  He is referring to uncircumcised, physical Gentile Christians.  

They must be changed into spiritual Israelites by being grafted into spiritual Israel by God’s Holy Spirit.  Romans 11 goes into this in more detail.

So the true righteousness of God must be imputed to "them" – to Gentile Christians.  

But please note the very last word in this verse – “also.”  When Paul writes "also," he is implying that the righteousness of God must also be imputed to physical Israelite Christians too.  Please remember that God is no respecter of persons (Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).  This is an important truth to get into our minds.  God does not recognize the differences between His Spirit-begotten physical Israelite children and His Spirit-begotten physical Gentile children. 

In verse 11, Paul tells us that Abraham was the father of all the faithful; all who truly believe – both Israelite and Gentile. He restates it yet again: 

12:  and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

The righteousness of God was imputed to Abraham via God-given faith while he was as yet uncircumcised.

13:  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.

God and Paul are hammering over and over again the connection between righteousness and faith.

God’s wonderful inheritance to the whole world was planned before the world was.  But it was instituted by the LORD (YHVH) through Abraham four centuries before Israel's exodus and the Sinai law.  So, by this we know that God’s wonderful inheritance to the whole world cannot be earned through that law; but as Paul wrote here, it came through the righteousness of faith – yes, through God’s righteousness and His faith.  It did then, and it does now.

14:  For if {only} those who are of the law {i.e. physical Israelites} are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect,

The physical Israelites who might claim to be able to keep the law, even if they were able, they are not thereby automatically heirs of God’s primary promises. 

What Paul is telling us here is that if they were thereby automatically given inheritance of God’s primary promises and if therefore the Gentiles were excluded as not having a part in that law, then faith and the resulting promises that stem from faith would be voided – negated.  

God just will not have that.  A person does not – cannot – become an heir to God’s primary promises by merely being a physical Israelite or through the keeping of the law.

Now, here is another one of those verses that jumps right out at us:

15:  because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

This is a hugely important statement.  Please read this verse again.   If there is no law, then there is no such thing as transgression.  And thus there is nothing to transgress.  No such thing as sin!  

Is there such a thing as sin?  Does sin exist?  Of course it does!  Then so must the law!  God is very logical, and so is the apostle Paul.

16:  Therefore it {i.e. the promise mentioned in verse 14} 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

God's primary promises are made to all.  Abraham is the father of all the faithful.  Please note that this includes all those who are of the faith of Abraham – all Christians; not just the physical Israelite Christians.

I think a little clarification might be needed here.  

Let me ask you a question: What is an Israelite? 

Answer:  An Israelite is a descendant of Jacob – or Israel, as his name was changed to (Genesis 32:28).

Another question:  What is a Gentile? 

Answer:  A Gentile is a non-Israelite. 

If you think about it, technically, Abraham was not an Israelite.  Please don’t stone me for this but technically, Abraham was a Gentile.  Although, in his loins resided the beginnings of the Israelite people, in his loins also resided the beginnings of the Ishmaelite and Edomite peoples.  In Abraham's day, neither Israelites nor Gentiles truly existed. 

But also, the promises were given to Abraham (when he was still named Abram) before he was circumcised; and that was long before the existence of Israel as a nation, and even longer before the Sinai law. 

Thus the promises that were given to Abraham cannot be restricted to the Israelites.

Of course, God did single out Isaac, Jacob, then the sons and later descendants of Israel (Jacob) and He passed down the promises through them.  The promises eventually were given to the Gentiles through Israel, through the Gentiles being grafted into Israel (Romans 11).

Let us briefly discuss these promises because they are inseparable from the subject of faith and the righteousness of God.

As we see in Romans 11, God’s "secondary" (physical) promises are given first to Abraham’s physical descendants – including and especially the Israelites.  Secondly, the physical promises were given to physical Gentiles – especially to those who came under the rule and/or influence of the physical Israelite nations – and even more especially if they did so peaceably and voluntarily. 

Hence, many of these blessings overflowed onto many Gentile nations that were colonized by Britain, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, etc.  These physical Gentiles were blessed by coming under the rule of the Israelitish nations. 

Did these Israelitish nations do a perfect job of colonization?  No!  We know, through many undisputable historical accounts, that they did not.  Still, the imperfections of their rule did not stop God from fulfilling His promises.

Again, these were the physical promises; they were the "secondary" ones.  So what then are God's primary promises?  Obviously, they are the spiritual promises, which are made available to all of Abraham’s seed: to those who are called by God among Abraham’s physical descendants – including those of physical Israel – yes, and to those who are called among the descendants of Ishmael and Edom!   And also to those physical Gentiles who not of Abraham's descendants.  Physical Gentiles must be grafted into spiritual Israel and made into spiritual Israelites.

So the spiritual promises are made available to all – both to physical Israelites and to physical Gentiles.  How?  Through God’s gifts of His Holy Spirit, His grace, His righteousness and  His faith.

Continuing, still in Romans 4:

17: (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he {Abraham} believed – God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;

Please read that verse again.  Although an imperfect human being, Abraham had a relatively solid faith in God.  He simply believed God.  He believed God’s promises to him, to his descendants, and ultimately to the whole world, although he never did actually see any of those promises fulfilled in his own lifetime.  

As we see in the last line of verse 17, God calls those things which do not yet exist as though they did.  Here is another example of this:

Hebrews 2:
8:  Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.  For in putting all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him.  But now as yet we see not all things put under him.

Please allow me a brief digression for a quick note regarding time.  It is so hard for human beings to understand, but Jesus Christ, the YHVH of the Old Testament and His Father (with His Father too, of course) was the Creator of time.  He created time.  He is the Master of time.  He is not restricted by time, as we are.  It is very difficult to understand this concept. 

If God the Father and Jesus Christ promise that something will be done, then it is as good as done – as good as if it were already here.

So, with some understanding of this concept, Abraham came to confidently believe YHVH’s promises.  He saw them in his mind’s eye, just as if they had already come to pass.  What an example for us!  With God given faith, we too can believe YHVH’s promises.  Let us strive to see them in our mind’s eye as if they had already come to pass.

Now, let us return to Romans 4:

18:  who {still writing about Abraham}, contrary to hope, in hope believed {pisteuo}, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be."

The phrase "contrary to hope" in the New King James Version is rendered as "against hope" in the "old" King James Version.  Probably neither is the best translation of the Greek phrase "para elpis." because both imply that Abraham lacked hope.  

In this context, I feel that perhaps "besides hope" or "in addition to hope" might be better renditions. 

Abraham had more than mere hope that God would fulfill His promises.  His God-given faith added to his hope.  Through that God-given faith, he knew of its surety without a doubt.  He had absolute certainty that God would fulfill those promises.

It interesting when you think about I Corinthians 13, where God tells us that, between faith, hope and charity (agape), charity is ranked as Number One.  Surely faith must rank as Number Two.

Still in Romans 4:

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.

Despite the weakness of his aged body, his faith had become far from weak.  Through his God-given faith, Abraham accepted as fact the seemingly-impossible things that God had promised, but which had not yet actually come to pass.

 Likewise, because God had declared that the impossible would become the possible, Abraham came to refuse to accept as a fact the physical reality of the impossibility of Sarah and himself bringing a child into the world, due to their advanced years.

20: He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief {Greek: apistia}, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,

Please notice that Abraham was strengthened in faith.  We must admit that Abraham did not always possess the stronger faith that God gave him in his later life – the faith from which he became known as "the father of the faithful."  

Without getting into all the details, before God strengthened their faith, they too had some periods of apistia.  We all remember how Abraham  lied twice about the identity of his lovely wife, in order to save his own skin (Genesis 12 and 20). 

Also how, after God (YHVH) had told him that he and Sarah were to parent a whole dynasty of children as numerous as the stars of heaven and grains of sand on the beach, they initially lacked the faith to believe that it could really happen.  Once they came to "semi-accept" it, they came up with their own ideas of how these astonishing promises could be fulfilled in a much less miraculous way – with the assistance of poor Hagar (Genesis 16).

When YHVH repeated the promise of a son and a dynasty through this couple of old fogies, poor Sarah gets a lot of negative press for laughing at the very idea, as we find recorded in Genesis 18:12.  But Abraham was the first to laugh at the idea, as recorded in Genesis 17:17! 

Could we be guilty of similar displays of apistia – of unbelief? 

During the Feast of Unleavened Bread this year I was leafing through the Exodus chapters of “The Bible as History” by Werner Keller; and I was quite astonished how this so-called “believer” and very respected Bible scholar kept coming up with physical reasons for the burning bush, the plagues on Egypt, the passage through the Red Sea, the Manna, and other events which are clearly declared in the scriptures to be miraculous.

Do we sometimes do the same?  Do we sometimes attribute miraculous events to “natural” causes, rather than to God?  Do we fail to believe that He will heal us – according to His will, of course – if we obey the commands in James 5, in faith?  Are we among those who keep parroting the phrase, "We don’t see as many healings in God's church as we used to"? 

Or do we simply believe God, and all He has had written in His Word? 

Again, belief and faith appear to be one of the main priorities and desires of Jesus Christ and God the Father – for us to simply believe what they say, what they have said, what they have written, and what they have promised. 

I’m not saying, of course, that we should read into God’s Word things that are not there.  This would be breaking His restriction against adding and subtracting to His Word, as He warns us in Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, and Revelation 22:18-19.

Continuing in Romans 4:

21:  and being fully convinced {KJV: fully persuaded} that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

This term "being fully convinced/persuaded" is an interesting one.  It is translated from a word that is grammatically unconnected with the words "pistis" and "pisteuo."   It is the single Greek verb "plerophoreo" (Strong's 4135), which is translated elsewhere as:

- To be most surely believed,
- To be fully known,
- To make full proof of.

This condition of having been strengthened in faith to the point where he had become fully convinced indicates that Abraham grew from a previously smaller, lesser faith to possess a truly mature, strong, God-given faith. 

Likewise with us, with God the Father and Jesus Christ dwelling in us through their Holy Spirit, we too, like Abraham, can grow – not just in grace and knowledge – but also in God-given faith and righteousness.

There is so much more that we could learn about faith.  It is such an important subject to God the Father and Jesus Christ, and therefore must be important to us.  So, let us follow Abraham’s example in this.  Let us believe the Father and Jesus.  Not just believing that they exist.  Even the demons believe that fact (James 2:9). 

Like Abraham, let us grow in faith, let us believe the words and promises of Jesus and His Father, and let us try to be more wide-open to receiving more faith from them. 

It is clear that they both deeply desire that we have more faith.  It is one of their very highest priorities, and it must be one of ours too.

This being the case, let us never be afraid or embarrassed to ask, as Jesus' disciples did, "Lord, give us more faith."