Mar 20, 2014

Persevering, Strengthening Faith

Romans 4:18–21

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, 'So shall your offspring be.' He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body . . . or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb” (vv. 18–19).

Scripture regards Abraham as the "Father of Faith" because of his trust in God and the model it provides for believers. The Apostle Paul, in particular, turns to Abraham to show that while circumcision and the other commandments of the Lord delivered to the Jews were significant, faith has always been the instrumental means by which we are declared righteous in our Creator's sight (Rom. 4:1–12; Gal. 3). Because Abraham is a model of saving faith, we should understand the kind of faith that he possessed if we are to be reckoned as his children and therefore as the children of God. Yesterday we considered the content of his faith: Abraham's belief that the Lord always does what He promises. As soon as God promised that the patriarch would father many nations, Abraham believed the Lord despite the fact that, humanly speaking, it looked impossible that he and Sarah could have any children. He took God at His word—he believed God (Rom. 4:13–17; see Gen. 15:6; 17:5).

Today's passage emphasizes the perseverance of Abraham's faith. The Apostle Paul notes that "in hope [Abraham] believed against hope" (Rom. 4:18). He believed what the mere wisdom of men denied, namely, that two elderly people would bear a child well past their years of fertility (see Gen. 18:9–12). Let us not mistake Abraham's faith on this matter for irrationality just because Romans 4:18 says he "believed against hope." The patriarch did not make a blind leap into the dark as if there were no reasons for his trust. After all, he did have the sure words of the Creator upon which to rely, and God's deliverance of Abraham at many points during his life confirmed the truth of His promises (Gen. 12:10–20; 14; 20). Abraham did not believe against his reason; he made the rational choice to believe that the omnipotent Creator "can do all his holy will," as the Catechism for Young Children puts it.

The remainder of today's passage tells us that Abraham did not "weaken in faith" or "waver" in unbelief (Rom. 4:19–21). This may seem strange at first, especially since we do know that Abraham and Sarah tried to "help" God keep His promise when they turned to Hagar to conceive a child for them (Gen. 16). Paul is certainly aware of this less-than-glorious episode in Abraham's life (see Gal. 4:21–31), so the Apostle cannot mean that Abraham lived his life without any doubts. What Paul means is that Abraham was never permanently overcome by doubt and disbelief. His faith persevered, becoming stronger as it encountered and finally overcame challenges. Such is the nature of justifying faith.

Coram Deo

That Paul uses Abraham as a model of faith should greatly encourage us. It shows that the faith that justifies us is not a faith that never faces doubt or that is as strong as it could be at every point in life. Instead, justifying faith is persevering faith. It may struggle at times to hope in God but it nevertheless endures to the end. Let us pray that the Lord would strengthen our faith, and let us hope in the work of Christ and not in how strong our faith happens to be at any given moment.

For Further Study