In several preceding studies we have been working through the Apostle Paul’s proof from the Old Testament of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Paul has given two Old Testament examples, Abraham and King David, but his chief example has been Abraham. But Paul is not in love with the past for its own sake. Paul was writing for the present. So, as he comes to the end not only of Romans 4 but of the first major section of the letter, he returns to his first theme, reminding his readers that things that were written in the Old Testament were written for us and that proof of the doctrine of justification by faith from the case of Abraham is for our present benefit (vv. 23-25). This passage is a summation of the Christian gospel, and a study of it is an appropriate way to end this first section of the Book of Romans.
The first point in Paul’s summary of the gospel in Romans 4 of this explicitly Christian statement of faith to the case of Abraham is belief in God. Paul expresses this by saying, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” This sentence involves both continuity with and development beyond Abraham’s example. The continuity is important, since the God whom Christians believe in is the same as the God Abraham believed in, and the nature of the faith involved in trusting that God is therefore also the same. This is why we have been able to make practical applications from Abraham’s life to our own lives. In discussing Abraham’s faith we have learned that it was: (1) Faith in God’s promise; (2) Faith based on the bare words of God and on nothing else whatever; (3) Faith despite many strong circumstances to the contrary; (4) Faith that was fully assured; and (5) Faith that acts.
This is exactly what our faith is to be and do and the reason is that it is faith in the God in whom Abraham believed. Moreover, such faith is to grow increasingly strong, because it is grounded not upon itself but upon God. In theses ways, Abraham’s faith is the same as our own. But our faith also involves development beyond Abraham’s faith, because, as Paul writes, it is faith “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Abraham’s faith in the promise was an anticipatory faith in Jesus since the promise ultimately was fulfilled in Him, but we have a gospel, the Good News. Abraham looked forward to what God had said He would do. We look back to what God has already accomplished.
What has God accomplished? The answer brings us to the first of its great declarations in our text, namely, that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins.” According to the Book of Acts, Peter made the identical declaration at Pentecost (see Acts 2:23; 13:27-28). There are two important points to these classic proclamations of Christ’s death: (1) It was planned by God. It was God the Father who sent the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross. This tells us that the death of Jesus was no accident, but rather the accomplishment of God’s plan of redemption, devised even before the universe was created. It was why Jesus came. (2) It was for others. The death of Jesus, thus was planned by God, was for others, which means that it was substitutionary. Paul says that it was “for our sins.” Death is God’s punishment for sin, its consequence. But Jesus had not sinned and therefore did not deserve death. That He did die was because He was dying in our place as our sin-bearer.
The final part of the gospel in our passage is the resurrection. Paul speaks of it twice in verses 24-25. There are a number of explanations of the meaning of the phrase “raised to life for our justification,” but the one most agree on is that the resurrection is God’s proof, provided for our benefit, that a full payment for sins has been made. The resurrection proves a great many things. It proves that: (1) There is a God and that the God of the Bible is the true God; (2) Jesus was a teacher sent from God and He was inerrant in His teaching and spoke the very Words of God; (3) Jesus is the Son of God; (4) There is a day of judgment coming; (5) Every believer in Christ is justified from all sin; (6) All who are united to Christ by a living faith will live again; and (7) Christians can have victory over sin. But chiefly the resurrection proves that every believer in Christ is justified from all sin, as Romans 4:25 declares. In other words, it is God’s evidence to us that the penalty for our transgressions has been fully paid by Jesus.
We have come to the end of the fourth chapter of Romans and therefore to the end of the first major section of Paul’s letter. It has been a long journey. So the question is: Do you believe in God and trust His promises, as the patriarch Abraham did? Although he knew less about the person and work of Jesus than you do, his faith was not different in kind from yours, and for that very reason he remains your example.
God has promised salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. You must trust His word in this, even though the circumstances of life may seem to rule against it. Abraham looked at himself and considered his body as good as dead. You also are dead to spiritual things. But you must believe what God says, commit yourself to Christ, as He tells you to do, and find that the power of God that was active in quickening Abraham’s old body will quicken you. Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God (Rom. 4:20). Neither should your faith falter. Receive the promise, and believe in the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
Romans 4:23-25 Reflection Questions:
How do verses 24-25 sum up the previous four chapters of Romans?
In specific ways, how can we live as one family with all those who share the faith and hope depicted in this chapter?