He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in faith and gave glory to God. (Romans 4:20)
Romans 4 may be the most important chapter in the entire Bible on the subject of faith. Paul is explaining how a man or a woman can be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21ff). He gives the teaching in chapter 3, and then under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he gives an extended illustration in chapter 4.
The illustration he chooses to help us grasp the true meaning of faith is the story of how Sarah became a mother. This is a perfect Scripture for Mother’s day.
What the story of Abraham and Sarah is about
Abraham was an old man—ninety-nine years old. He had married a younger woman and Sarah was moving along at the sprightly age of ninety! They had no children. Then God appeared to Abraham and said, “I have made you a father of many nations” (Romans 4:17, Genesis 17:5-6), and, in fact, God had made a number of promises to Abraham over a number of years.
Now it’s important to understand what the story is about. This is not about a couple longing for a child. Children are a gift and a blessing from the Lord. Having children is a blessing in life, but it is not the purpose of life. The same is true in marriage.
This is important to say on Mother’s Day. To all those who are not married, or who are not mothers or fathers today, I want to say—the purpose and value of your life does not derive from marriage or from children. The greatest purpose for which you were made is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. You do not need to be married or to have children in order to do that.
This is not the story of a couple who is longing for a child. It’s much bigger than that. God had said to Abraham, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish a covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his seed after him” (Gen 17:19).
The New Testament tells us, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).
The promise given to Abraham way back in Genesis 17, and the promise that Paul speaks about in Romans 4 is the promise of the Redeemer. A Savior would come into the world, and He would be a descendent of Abraham and Sarah. This Savior would be for people from all nations, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).
So this is not a story about the personal happiness of an aging couple. The hope of the world rests on this promise. If Sarah dies without a child, there will be no Redeemer, because God has tied the Redeemer to the line of Abraham. And here they are—Abraham at 100 and Sarah at 90—and they have no children. How will the one who brings God’s blessing for all nations come into the world?
Abraham knew what was at stake. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). More that that, Paul tells us that “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: all nations will be blessed through you” (Galatians 3:8).
Abraham saw that Christ would come, and He saw what Christ would accomplish. He saw that people from all nations would come to Christ. He knew that the Redeemer would be born into his line of descent, which did not at that moment exist. When Abraham saw this, he “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God” (Genesis 4:20).
Faith glorifies God. When Paul looks for an example of this, the Holy Spirit leads him to Abraham and this impossible situation. How does faith glorify God? Here are three answers from the story of Abraham and Sarah:
Faith Glorifies God…
…by Facing the Reality of Our Own Situation
“Without weakening in his faith, Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” Romans 4:19
You might think that when God says to Abraham, “You will be the Father of many nations,” the response of faith would be for him to say, “God, I can do that.”
Some people have the idea that faith is basically positive thinking. That its being your own cheerleader. That it’s believing in yourself, telling yourself that you can do it. This tells us precisely the opposite. Abraham’s faith faced the fact that his body was as good as dead.
Faith is not escapism. It involves facing the realities of our situation. Faith is not retreating into a spiritual world to protect yourself from the painful realities of life. Faith brings you to face the realities of life.
There are many ways of avoiding reality. Some people escape through entertainment—films, games, plays, virtual worlds—a few hours relief from the harshness of the real world. Others avoid reality through drink or through drugs. Others avoid reality by throwing themselves into earning money or spending money.
Faith brings you to face the reality of your own condition. Abraham faced the fact that what God had said was beyond him. God calls Abraham to do something that he cannot do. Abraham faces the facts. Faith recognizes reality. As soon as you have faith, you will know it because you will see that what God is calling you to do is beyond you.
The first step of faith
If you didn’t know God, you might be tempted to think that God is somehow mocking Abraham and Sarah. Here they are, candidates for the geriatric ward, and God is talking to them about children! What is this? God is not mocking them. When God calls us to do something that is impossible, it is always so that He will be glorified in the way that it comes about.
Remember that Paul is using this story as an illustration for us: What does God say to us? What is His calling for our lives? “Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Jesus explained what that means in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). When God says this, the response of faith is not to say, “All right, Lord, I’ll do it or I’ll die trying.” You will die trying!
It may be that there are some mothers in the congregation today, and you have set your heart on being the perfect mom, and you are killing yourself trying. You think that what you are doing comes out of faith, but actually what you are attempting is the opposite of faith. Perfectionism is always a sign of the absence of faith, because the first mark of faith is to face the reality of our own condition. Faith faces the fact of your own inability to be perfect.
When God speaks that which is impossible, faith does not say, “All right, Lord, I’ll give it my best shot! This is something I can do.” Faith says, “This is beyond me.” Faith faces the facts: “Without wavering in his faith, Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead” (Romans 4:19).
The first step of faith is to recognize that you cannot do what God calls you to do. When Christ says “Be perfect,” He is not mocking us. He is bringing you to face the reality of your own condition. Jesus is calling you to something impossible so that God may be glorified in the way that it comes about.
Faith glorifies God by facing the reality of our own condition. How does that glorify God? Sin, at its core, is trying to be your own god. When you face the fact that you cannot achieve what God calls you to do, you are saying, “I cannot be God. You alone are God. You are my hope. I look to you to give me what I do not have.”
Faith Glorifies God…
…by Embracing the Hope of His Promise
“He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in faith and gave glory to God.” Romans 4:20
The promise of God was so great that a person might easily waver in believing it. But Abraham did not go there: “He was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised” (Romans 4:21).
God had said, “I have made you a father of many nations” (Romans 4:17). Not just one nation, but many nations! Only God could do what God had said. But Abraham believed that God has the power to do what is clearly beyond him, and that God would do for him what he could not do for himself.
Remember Paul is using this as an illustration for us. Here’s the point: The righteousness, holiness, perfection to which God calls you and me is impossible for us. But when God calls us to something that is impossible, He is not mocking us; it is so that He will be glorified in the way that it comes about. There must be another way in which a man or a woman can be right with God other than by being perfect, which is impossible.
Some years ago, I went on a leadership training course. It was one of these events with 15 of us together in a group for three days. We had lectures all day, and in the middle afternoon we had to play a game. I don’t go for these things, though I have to admit, years later, it’s the first thing I remember about these three days.
The course leader divided us into four groups and gave each group a box of Scrabble®, the board and the tiles. Then he gave us this instruction: “Produce as many words as you can in five minutes.”
So, we got out the board, spread out the tiles, and decided that two of us would do words across and two of us would do words down. After five minutes, we had about 20 words, and we came back to report our success.
The course leader looked at what we’d done and he wasn’t impressed, “In the next five minutes produce double the words.” There were some bright guys in our group, and one of them said, “Wait a minute, he said ‘Produce the words.’ He didn’t say ‘They have to connect.’ Forget the boards, let’s just use the tiles to produce as many words as we can.”
Sure enough we got about 40 words. We came racing back to the leader to report our success. “How many words?” he asked. “Forty,” we said. To which he replied, “In the next five minutes, produce double the words.”
When we got back to the group, one of the guys said, “There must be another way of doing this. Maybe we don’t use these letter tiles at all. What he said was ‘Produce as many words as you can. Maybe we just write them?’” “No,” said someone else. “We can do better than that. There’s a library in this place.”
So, we came back with a dictionary. “How many words have you got this time?” said the course leader. “Forty thousand!”
Many of you will have done exercises like that on business courses. The point is that sometimes you have to approach a problem in a completely different way. The trouble is that we get so locked into a way of doing something that we get blinded.
Another way of being right with God
That is exactly the point that Paul is making in Romans 3. From 1:18 through to 3:20, Paul is demonstrating that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23), “There is no one righteous, not even one” (3:10), “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law” (3:20).
So, there must be another way of doing what God has said! “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law has been made known… This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).
The righteousness, holiness, and perfection to which He calls you is beyond you. It is impossible. You can’t do it—as much as it was impossible for Abraham and Sarah to produce a baby in their old age. What is Paul saying? God has provided a whole other way of being righteous. There has to be another way of being right with God, and there is—Jesus Christ.
God sent His Son to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Faith glorifies God by embracing the hope of His promise in Christ. When you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, in His atoning death for you and for your sins, you are joined to Him in a life-giving bond of faith. God will credit the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ, to you, just as He did for Sarah and Abraham.
Faith Glorifies God…
…by Rejoicing in What He Has Done
This is where the story of Abraham and the book of Romans takes us. When God gave the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah, both of them laughed. Sarah laughed because she did not believe the promise, though she did later, after it happened. Abraham laughed because he believed God’s promise. He laughed at the sheer goodness of God.
When the little boy was born, he was named Isaac, which means, “He laughs.” Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about it will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6).
If you follow what Paul is saying in Romans, you will see more reasons why Abraham and Sarah’s story is such a marvelous illustration of how faith glorifies God:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2
“Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:11
The genuine Christian life
Some people misunderstand Christianity, because they think its escapism. It is not escapism. Faith faces the reality of our own situation. Some people misunderstand Christianity, because they think its perfectionism. It is not perfectionism. Faith embraces the hope of the promise that is in Jesus Christ.
Some people misunderstand Christianity, because they think is a boring life of endless duties, do’s and don’ts, burdens, guilt, long faces and heaviness. If that is what you have seen, I have good news for you. That is not Christianity. Living faith rejoices in God for what He has done. God is glorified more by delight than by duty.
Mothers, suppose your son or daughter gives you a Mother’s Day card. When you say, “Thank you,” he says to you, “Well, it is my duty.” By the way, kids, that’s not what you say. When your mother says, “Thank you for the card,” you say, “It’s my pleasure!” Your pleasure will bring joy to her heart.
Mothers, you don’t want your son or daughter to bring you a card out of duty, but out of delight. That’s what faith does. Faith glorifies God, not by the dull pursuit of a religious life, but by rejoicing in what He has done.
C. H. Spurgeon said,
“The old man laughed and laughed again; it seemed such a fountain of happiness to him. If you believe you will laugh too. We have too much crying among us. Oh, for a little more filling of the mouth with laughter, and the tongue with singing, for the Lord has done great things for us of which we are glad! The Lord has given us eternal life in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us laugh and laugh again, for an unutterable joy of heart floods our spirit.” 
The Apostle Peter says, “Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). The Christian life is not lived out of duty, but from delight.
Faith glorifies God by facing the reality of our own condition. Have you done that? Have you come to see that what He calls you to is beyond you? I invite you to take a step of faith today. Face the reality of your own condition.
Faith glorifies God by embracing the hope of His promise. Embrace the hope of God’s promise to you in Christ. Look at all that God has done, providing another way to fulfill what you have not done, to accomplish what you cannot do.
Faith glorifies God by rejoicing in what He has done. When you see that Jesus Christ’s dying and rising was for you, you will gladly trust Christ in repentance and embrace Him by faith. You will begin to rejoice in what God has done.
 From a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon, “The Hold-Fasts of Faith,” from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, p. 456, https://www.spurgeongems.org/vols34-36/chs2159.pdf
© Colin S. Smith
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