Faith: in Hope, Against Hope, for the Glory of God
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, 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, 17 (as it is written, "A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU") in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, "SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE." 19 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; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.
The Faith-Grace-Certainty Connection
Last week we focused on verse 16 and the faith-grace-certainty connection. Look at that again. "For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed [certain] to all the descendants [Jew and Gentile - all who have the faith of Abraham]." We zeroed in on the connection between grace and guarantee. God's grace guarantees God's promise - namely, the promise that we will be heirs of the world.
Grace guarantees the promise in two ways:
- It overrides our demerit. We come to God as sinners. And God overrides our demerit and counts us as righteous for the sake of Christ. He credits his own righteousness in Christ to our account in spite of our demerit (Romans 4:5). This is grace (Romans 3:24).
- Grace guarantees the promise for us because (as verse 17 says) it "gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist." What Paul has in mind is the birth of Isaac when Abraham was almost 100 years old and Sarah his wife was 90 and barren. Isaac was the son of promise, the one through whom the promise would be fulfilled. His birth is a picture of how all of us who are children of promise come into being as Christians. It is a supernatural work of God. That is what grace does. It brings spiritual life out of death and it brings what is not into being: a life of faith.
For this reason God's almighty grace guarantees the promise: it brings spiritual life out of death and so enables us to believe and keep on believing, and it overrides our demerit in the act of justification. The promise is not finally dependent on our fickle will, but on God's sovereign grace.
Then we noticed in verse 16 that this is one of the main reasons why the righteousness of God and the promise of God are by faith: "It is by faith." Why? "In order that it may be in accordance with grace." There is one primary condition of the heart that accords with grace, namely, faith. So the gift of righteousness and the promise of God are "by faith so that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants." Faith-grace-certainty.
Now today I want to see one more reason why faith is God's only way of crediting his righteousness to us and guaranteeing us the promise that we will be heirs of the world. We've seen three reasons why faith is God's appointed way for us to be justified before God. First, it is because faith excludes boasting (Romans 3:27). Second, it is because if justification were by the law of commandments, the promise would be nullified, since the law brings wrath (Romans 4:13-14). Third, it is because faith accords with grace, and grace guarantees the promise.
Why God Planned for Faith to Be the Way for Us to Be Justified
Now fourthly, faith is God's appointed way to be justified because this gives all the glory to God. It honors God as trustworthy and faithful and powerful and wise and loving. Look at verse 20, "Yet, with respect to the promise of God, [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God."
Thomas Watson, the English pastor and writer from 350 years ago, asked in his book, A Body of Divinity (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979, p. 151), "Why should faith justify more than any other grace?" His answer was, "Because of God's purpose. He has appointed this grace to be justifying; and he does it, because faith is a grace that takes a man off himself, and gives all the honor to Christ and free grace." Then he quotes Romans 4:20, "Strong in faith, giving glory to God."
Giving glory to God doesn't mean adding glory to God. It means showing that God is glorious. It means calling attention to his glory and showing it to be what it really is. His glory is the greatness of his beauty and the shining of all his excellencies, and the radiance of his perfections. When Noel and I went for our day-off lunch date last Thursday to a little fast-food Mexican place, we sat outside on the patio to eat. The air was cool, but the sun was warm. I looked up into the blue sky, which is always deeper blue straight up and lighter blue on the horizons, and I thought, "If I were going to design and build and paint a roof about fifty miles high over this city on a fall afternoon, this is the way I would do it." And there it was, only far better. Glorious. "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). The glory of God is the outstreaming of the beauty and reality of God.
The aim of all things is to display the glory of God. Romans 11:36: "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." And what is the basic condition of the heart - giving rise to all other graces - that best gives glory to God? The answer of verse 20 is: faith. "[Abraham] grew strong in faith, giving glory to God."
Faith Shows God to Be Strong and Wise and Loving and Reliable
Now why is this? What is it about faith that gives glory to God? This is crucial for you to know because you exist to give glory to God. That is why God created you: to display more of his glory in the universe. The main problem with all the world is that humanity has exchanged the glory of God for other things (Romans 1:23). We have totally lost and abandoned our reason for being and should not wonder then that so much is utterly wrong with the world. But God is bringing creation back to its reason for being, and the prophets tell us that "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Habukkuk 2:14; see also Numbers 14:21).
It matters whether you know why you were created and brought into this world. If you don't know, your life will be a mere shadow of the substance God intends - a mere echo of the music you were designed to make - a mere residue of the impact you might have had. Ephesians 1:5-6 describes the purpose of your existence like this: "God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus . . . to the praise of the glory of His grace." You exist for the praise of the glory of God's grace.
And Romans 4:20 says that faith is fundamental to fulfilling your purpose for being: "Abraham grew strong in faith, giving glory to God." Faith is God's ordained way of being justified because faith glorifies God.
So I ask again, What is it about faith that gives glory to God? The answer is given in verse 21, "Being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform." This is what faith is: it is the strong assurance that God's promises are good and that he can and will perform them. And the harder the promises seem to fulfill, the more our faith honors God.
Look at verses 19-20 to see how Paul stresses this. "Without becoming weak in faith [Abraham] contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb." So the fulfillment of the promise that he would have a son seems utterly impossible -and it is, humanly speaking. So when you trust God in a situation like that, you glorify him, you make him look strong and wise and loving and reliable. So verse 20 says, "Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God." Faith gives God glory because it shows that God can and will do the great, necessary good that humans can't do.
An Illustration for the Children
Let's illustrate this for the children. Your daddy is standing in a swimming pool out a little bit from the edge. You are, let's say, three years old and standing on the edge of the pool. Daddy holds out his arms to you and says, "Jump, I'll catch you. I promise." Now, how do you make your daddy look good at that moment? Answer: trust him and jump. Have faith in him and jump. That makes him look strong and wise and loving. But if you won't jump, if you shake your head and run away from the edge, you make your daddy look bad. It looks like you are saying, "he can't catch me" or "he won't catch me" or "it's not a good idea to do what he tells me to do". And all three of those make your dad look bad.
But you don't want to make God look bad. So you trust him. Then you make him look good - which he really is. And that is what we mean when we say, "Faith glorifies God" or "Faith gives God glory." It makes him look as good as he really is. So trusting God is really important.
And the harder it seems for him to fulfill his promise, the better he looks when you trust him. Suppose that you are at the deep end of a pool by the diving board. You are four years old and can't swim, and your daddy is at the other end of the pool. Suddenly a big, mean dog crawls under the fence and shows his teeth and growls at you and starts coming toward you to bite you. You crawl up on the diving board and walk toward the end to get away from him. The dog puts his front paws up on the diving board. Just then, your daddy sees what's happening and calls out, "Johnny, jump in the water. I'll get you."
Now, you have never jumped from one meter high and you can't swim and your daddy is not underneath you and this water is way over your head. How do you make your daddy look good in that moment? You jump. And almost as soon as you hit the water, you feel his hands under your arms and he treads water holding you safely while someone chases the dog away. Then he takes you to the side of the pool.
We give glory to God when we trust him to do what he has promised to do -especially when all human possibilities are exhausted. Faith glorifies God. That is why God planned for faith to be the way we are justified.
Faith is Future-Oriented
Now notice something obvious here. Sometimes we don't see the obvious. Faith is future oriented. Faith is trust in a Person, God, but it is trust in God to be and to do what he had promised to be and do. That's why verse 18 says, "In hope against hope [Abraham] believed." Hope and faith are overlapping convictions. Faith is trusting a person, and when you trust that person for something they promise to do in the future, it is indistinguishable from hope.
Someone might say, "That is only true for Abraham, since he believed God before Christ came, and so his faith was future-oriented, but ours is past-oriented, toward what Christ did for us on the cross." No, that's not quite right. It's partly right. But the way to think about it is this: since Christ has come and died for us and risen from the dead, our faith now has a more clear, firm, historical place to stand than Abraham's faith did. So we take our stand on the death and resurrection of Christ, but what we believe is that this death and resurrection secures and guarantees the promises that he makes that we will be heirs of the world, just like Abraham.
You can see this in the way Paul reasons in Romans 5:9 and 8:32. Romans 5:9 says, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood [that's past], we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him [that's future]." Faith looks back and takes its stand on the solid basis of the shed blood of Jesus and the justifying effect that it has; then we look to the future and believe that this past work guarantees our future salvation from God's wrath. Romans 8:32 says, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all [that's past], how will He not also with Him freely give us all things [that's future]?" Faith looks back and takes its stand on the demonstration of God's love for us in Christ's death, and then looks to the future and believes that God will therefore fulfill all his promises for us.
So even today after the coming of Christ, our faith is still future-oriented. Justifying faith trusts God for all he promises to be for us and do for us. This is why faith glorifies God. Believing that God has done things in the past glorifies God somewhat. But believing that God will do what he has promised to do in the future before you see him do it -that glorifies God even more. It honors his present and future trustworthiness. So faith is future-oriented because that gives God the most glory.
The Freedom that Faith Brings to Our Lives
Let me close with one application. When you trust God to fulfill his promises to you—to work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28), to be with you to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), to help you and strengthen you and uphold you (Isaiah 41:10), to meet all your needs (Philippians 4:19), and to bring you safely to heaven (Philippians 1:6)—when you really trust him for all this and more, it will profoundly affect the kinds of sacrifices you make for him and the gospel in this life. You won't be taken up with security and comforts and treasures. You will seek the kingdom and take risks in the cause of love - and that will make the glory of God shine all the more brightly (Matthew 5:16).
Do you recall from Genesis 13 the time when Abraham and his nephew Lot could not occupy the same land because their herds were too many? Abraham, in a beautiful illustration of what faith does, said to Lot, "Take whatever part of the land you want and I will take what's left." He trusted God and did the loving thing. Lot took the well-watered Jordan valley where Sodom and Gomorrah were. Abraham took the less plush land. Lot paid dearly for that choice. But God came to Abraham immediately after that loving act of faith and said, "Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever" (Genesis 13:15).
He trusted God and gave it away. And God said, "You'll get it back." Which is exactly what Jesus said in Mark 10:29-30, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life."
Take your stand on Christ crucified and risen for your justification, trust the promises of God, and do what he is calling you to do. To him be the glory, forever.
©2015 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Share the Joy!: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2015 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org