Romans 4:16-25 is an amazing passage about the faith of Abraham which was credited to him as righteousness. Paul is making the case for salvation by grace alone through faith, and Abraham is his key witness. Abraham was “counted righteous” by God before the Law was given (so he couldn’t earn it) and before the covenant of circumcision was initiated (so he didn’t obtain it by being part of the Jewish nation). The Jewish nation had not even been established.
What is real faith in God? Is it just believing He exists? Is it simply an acknowledgment that Jesus died for our sins? According to Abraham, real faith goes deeper. God had promised him that he would have innumerable descendants (like grains of sand on a beach) and that they would come from his and Sarah’s own bodies (now past the age of childbearing). Here’s how Paul describes Abraham’s faith:
“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, yet with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” (4:19-21)
The Greek word translated “contemplated” (or considered in the King James) is “katanoeō” and means to perceive, to consider attentively, to fix one’s eyes or mind upon, to observe or understand. Abraham took a good, hard look at his and Sarah’s bodies and concluded rightly that as far as procreation, they were out of the game. They were “dead.” There was no life to be found. They had no hope to have a child without God doing something that only He could do. Just a few verses prior, Paul describes God as the One who “gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” (4:17)
True faith must recognize not only God’s ability, but our inability.
True faith must recognize that God can, but we can’t.
This is saving faith. Recognizing that we are hopeless without God’s intervention. Realizing that we can do absolutely nothing to save ourselves. We are spiritually dead.
This is also sustaining faith in the Christian life. It is acknowledging that unless God’s indwelling Spirit does His work in us and through us, we can accomplish nothing for God. We can’t make ourselves kinder, or more loving, or more godly. Only the Spirit of God can bring spiritual life and remake us into the image of Christ. Only the Spirit of God can accomplish the kingdom work and good deeds that God has created us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Life in Christ begins when the Spirit of God breathes life into our dead spirit, and it is lived out by faith in the same Spirit of God.
What is your faith in? Have you come face to face with your own spiritual lifelessness? Do you just need a little “help” from God when things get tough, or to be a “good” person? Or have you come to the realization that without Him, you are without hope, without life? Have you “contemplated your own body, now as good as dead?” If so, then place your faith in the same God Abraham served. Your faith will be credited as righteousness.
“Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus from the dead.” (4:24)