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(Romans 4:1-3) Father Abraham

(Romans 4:1-3) Father Abraham

Ref: Romans 4:1–5

What's the big deal about Abraham? Why do Christians and Jews and Muslims alike fight to call him their 'father'? What is his theological and historical importance? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 4.


Father Abraham

Romans 4:1-3

I always enjoy getting email from people . . . while I’ve been away, I received a lot of notes . . . including a lot of funny stories and jokes. 

Would you like to hear the kind of jokes people send me?  They’re all sanctified of course, but I thought you might be interested.  The ladies won’t like the first one and the men may not like the next one – but at least we’ll be even.

The first one goes like this:  A man was in the hospital, recovering from surgery – his face was bandaged and he wasn’t able to see.  He heard noises in his room and asked, who’s there . . . a nurse answered, “We’re in here, is there anything you need?”  He said, “No, but would you like to hear a dumb blonde joke?”  She said, “Listen, buster, I happen to be blonde and I also have a black belt in karate . . . and in the room with me is another nurse who is an active body builder and she’s blonde, and there’s another nurse in here who holds a college wrestling title – and she’s blonde . . . now do you still want to tell us the joke?  He said, “Are you kidding?  I’d have to explain it three times.”

Okay, ladies, this one’s for you:  A 60 year old couple was celebrating their anniversary.  They had been married 30 years.  Both the man and his wife were married when they were 30 years of age and now, they were on a Caribbean Island celebrating both their birthday and their wedding anniversary.  Suddenly, the good fairy appeared before them and said, “In honor of your 60thbirthday, and 30 year anniversary, I will grant each of you one wish.”  The wife said, “Oh, I wish I could travel around the world and see all the wonderful cities and sights.”  Poof went the fairy’s wand and she was wisked away on her journey.  The good fairy turned to the man and said,  “Now it’s your turn.”  He said, “Well, to be honest, I’d like to have a wife 30 years younger than me.”  Poof went the fairy’s wand and the man was 90.

That’s what he deserved ladies, right?!

The moral of the story is . . . be careful what you wish for!


Alright, let’s get down to business!

I want to invite your attention to Romans chapter 4.

Paul has completed his introduction of his letter, as well as stated his major premise that the just shall live by faith. 

Now, in chapter 4, he momentarily moves out of the theological classroom and he goes outside for a breath of fresh air.

He will move from the proposition of truth to the illustration of truth.

Ralph Lauren wrote, “the great truth of justification is presented [now] not by principle but by personality . . . it is not [simply stated] but it is now lived out in a great man’s life.  We see justification in the laboratory of experience rather than the classroom of ethics.

Ralph Laurin, Romans: Where Life Begins (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids MI) 1988, p. 129

Romans 4:1, What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 

Paul will now use Abraham as the key illustration of justification by faith.

But why Abraham?  Why use him?  Weren’t there other men in the Old Testament of faith in God?

There are several reasons I believe Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, selected Abraham as his living illustration of justification.

Let me give you 5 reasons why:

1) Abraham lived 2,000 years before Paul wrote this letter. 

In other words, Paul will use Abraham to counter the claim that the gospel of salvation by faith alone in the redemptive plan of God was some new creation . . . some imaginative fabrication of a Pharisee turned follower of Christ.

The truth of the matter, according to Galatians 3, Abraham was given special revelation from God about Jesus Christ himself.  Paul writes in verse 8, And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.

Hundreds of years before the law was given; hundreds of years before the prophet:

      -Micah told us where the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2)

      -before Isaiah wrote about what He would be like (Isaiah 53)

      -before David told us how the Messiah would die on a cross (Ps. 22)

Hundreds of years before any of this was written down, Abraham had received the gospel of the coming Messiah.

That’s why Paul in Galatians 3:9,  “So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”

The gospel hasn’t changed in all of these 4,000 years.

The gospel of the Old testament believer was that the Messiah was coming; the Gospel of the New testament believer is that the Messiah came.

The Old Testament believer looked forward to the cross; the New testament believer looked backward to the cross.

What Paul will show by using old Father Abraham, is that the gospel remains the same – we are all saved by the grace of God by means of faith in the Messiah, independently of good works. 

2)  The second reason Paul uses Abraham is because Abraham is the forefather of God’s chosen people. 

Abraham is the first Jew and from his loins will come the Hebrew race.

So what was true regarding his relationship with God must therefore be true of all his descendants.

Paul himself says in Galatians 3:7  “Therefore [you can] be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

In Romans 4:11 “Paul writes that Abraham is the father of all who believe.”

In other words, we better find out what Abraham believed. 

3)  Along that same line, the third reason Abraham is the perfect example of a genuine relationship with God is because Abraham was known as the friend of God.

Three times Abraham is referred to as the “friend of God.”

King Jehoshaphat prayed in 2 Chronicles 20:7, “Did you not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Thy people Israel, and give it to the descendants of Abraham Thy friend . . .”

God is quoted by the prophet Isaiah saying, “But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend.” (Isaiah 41:8)

The third time is in James 2:23 where we read, “Abraham was called the friend of God.”

Can you imagine having that title?  We get all caught up in who are friends are . . . everybody drops names – they know this person and they are a friend of that important person. 

Imagine going down in world history as the man who had God for a friend!

Is this title just for Father Abraham?  Oh no.  In John 15:13, we’re told that Jesus Christ came to lay down his life for his “friends.” 

When you, like Abraham, place your faith in the Redeemer you become the friend of God too!

God can say of you and me; “Stephen is my friend; Bill is my friend; Susan is my friend.” 

And guess what you can say, “God happens to be a close personal friend of mine.”

The point Paul is making in Romans 4:1 is this - if anybody deserved to go to heaven, Abraham was the man . . . I mean, God called him His friend.

The question is, “How did Abraham become God’s friend.”  And if we can figure that out, then we can discover how we can become God’s friend as well!

4)  The fourth reason I believe Paul chose Abraham as an illustration of justification by faith alone was because Abraham was revered as the model of faith.

John MacArthur wrote this powerful summary; “By using Abraham as the supreme scriptural example of justification by faith alone, Paul was storming the very citadel of traditional Judaism..  For if Abraham [could be shown] as not having been justified by keeping the law, then no one could be.  Conversely, if Abraham was justified solely on the basis of his faith in God, then everyone else must be justified in the same way.”

John MacArthur Jr., Romans (Moody Press; Chicago Illinois) 1991, p. 233

5)  The fifth reason follows; Abraham was chosen as the example of justification because he was considered by the nation as a man possessing righteousness.

This is one of the key issues that Paul wanted to clear up!

By the time of Paul, the Jews and Jewish leaders believed that Abraham was made right with God simply Abraham was already righteous.

Several Jewish apocryphal books taught that Abraham was justified because he kept God’s law.  In Ecclesiasticus, Abraham is said to have become right with God because of his obedience (44:19-21).

The Book of Jubilee, written in 100 BC recorded, “For Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life.”

R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL) 1991, p. 90

So perfect was Abraham considered to be by the Jewish people that in the Prayer of Manasses, it was recorded that Abraham never needed to repent.

The legend of Abraham’s righteousness had far surpassed reality by the time of Paul.

In fact, some rabbinical writings claimed that Abraham was so inherently good that he began serving God when he was three years old and that the was going to be one of seven perfect men who would bring back God’s Shekinah glory to the Tabernacle.”

John MacArthur Jr., Romans (Moody Press; Chicago Illinois) 1991, p. 233

By the time of Paul, the majority of Jews believed that Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of God’s chosen people simply because of the life that Abraham lived.

So Paul is choosing perhaps the leading candidate of human history to be considered worthy of salvation!  If anybody could work his way into heaven, it would be the friend of God!

And so Paul writes in Romans 4:2:  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  3.  For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  4.  Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.  5.  But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

Would you underline a very critical string of words – it is a phrase that will put to death all heresy’s and imaginations.  It is the question Paul nearly shouts in verse 3 – For what does the Scripture say?”

What does the Bible say?!

How do you become the friend of God? 

What does the Bible say?

How are your sins forgiven and forgotten by God? 

What does the Bible say?

How do you have your conscience cleansed from guilt? 

What does the Bible say?

How do you get to heaven?

            What does the Bible say?

I was in the grocery store last night picking up some aspirin.  I was standing in line looking at all the tabloids. Incredible stuff . . . “dear baby born to couple.”  And there’s the picture of the little boy with antlers growing out of his head!

Near the counter were a lot of smaller booklets – my eye caught the name God as I spotted a little booklet with the cover that read, “How to Find God.”  I picked it up, opened it and it read, “There is no one formula for finding God . . . he is everywhere and in everyone.”

There is no one formula for finding God?

What does the Bible say?!

You know the biggest problem I have with that sort of nonsense is not that the world thinks that way, I expect them to want to find God any way they please . . . the problem I have is that the church is continually moving toward Biblical illiteracy as well.

Ask the average churchgoer what he or she thinks about just any religious topic and they’ll more than likely give you an opinion.  Then ask them, “But what does the Bible say?”  And they’ll say, “I really don’t know. . . I’m not a Biblical expert.” 

Today, the average Bible study is a scenario where people sit around in a group, read a verse or two and then spend an hour talking about what it means to them.  My friend, it doesn’t matter what it means to you until you first know what it means!

If you don’t know what it means, you might make it mean something for you that God never intended it to mean.

I’ve had homosexuals, lesbians, adulterers and fornicating single people all tell me at some point in my brief years of ministry that God was on their side!  That God was blessing them . . . that God was in their lifestyle; that God was confirming in their heart that their choices weren’t sinful.

I remember one woman who admitted to me after repenting of her immoral affair with a married man that they had been so self-deceived that when they would sneak off and meet somewhere that they would bring their Bibles and read them and pray together and thank God for their relationship and then turn out the lights.


What does the Bible say?!

The further you get away from what the Bible says, the more open you are to the roaring lion who roams about seeking someone to discredit – to destroy – to devour.

Will you justify cheating and lying and promiscuity and, in general, a rebellious heart – or will you live by what the Bible says.

Sir – who dictates your financial dealings?  Who directs your business deals?  Who governs your telephone conversations . . . who is honored by your plans.

What does the Bible say?!

God tells us that every believer is to study the word of God – to be workmen in the word, so that we will not be ashamed, rightly interpreting the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

I remember some time ago a woman coming into my office with an armload of books on divorce.  She was in the middle of an immoral affair with a married man and she was convinced that God wanted that marriage to end so she and he could get married.  This woman, who didn’t attend Colonial, wanted me to confirm her point of view and then encourage the wife of this man to leave her husband and leave the two of them to get married.  The wife of this man was a faithful member of our church.  But this woman wanted me to look at these books that encouraged divorce – they were written by clergymen and scholars and gave every good reason in the world why God wouldn’t mind.  Eventually, I got around to showing her what the Bible said.  Although she had claimed to be a Christian, it was obvious to me that she didn’t know the Lord – the real need in her life was not this man, but the Lord.  An hour after sharing with her the gospel of Christ – with tears of repentance streaming down her cheeks she said she wanted to give her heart and life to Christ.  She did – she left that immoral relationship – I recommended her to a church near her home where she was baptized and discipled. 

Paul is saying to his audience, “Listen, you have all these fanciful ideas that sound good and they make you feel good – but they are dangerous beliefs that are, in reality, leading you away from the God of Abraham, not towards Him . . . so what does the Bible say?”

In the last part of verse 3, Paul quotes directly from the Old testament scriptures and writes, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 

This is the act of God in justifying the sinner – God credits to the account of the believing sinner, the righteousness of Christ.

You give God your sinful heart – He gives you the righteousness of Christ.

Was Abraham made righteous before God because he deserved it?

What does the Bible say?

Turn back to Genesis chapter 12 where Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland.  He obeys and goes.  Then a famine comes along and presents Abram with the excellent opportunity to trust God.

10.  Now there was a famine in the land;  so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.  And it came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife.  

11. “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman;  and it will come about when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.  Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.”

Now this wasn’t really a lie, because Genesis Chapter 20 will tell us that she is his half sister.  They had the same father back before God gave the penalties for marriage within the family.  So she is his half sister.  So he’s clever.  He says, “ I’m not really lying.  I’m just telling a half truth.  Tell them you’re my sister, and everything will be okay.  We’ll stay here.  We’ll get all the food we need.  We’ll survive.  We’ll slip back into Canaan.  Everything will be all right.”   So she does. 

Oh what an embarrasement to the Jew who considered Abraham the man of perfect faith . . . what does the Bible say?!

You can’t help but sympathize though . . . we know that the common practice in this day was if the Pharaoh wanted a married woman, he respected marriage enough to kill the husband to get her.

verse 14And it came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.  Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh.  And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 

Abraham didn’t necessarily anticipate this.  He didn’t think that it’d go this far.  Now the custom of the Pharaoh’s harem was for twelve months of preparation and Pharaoh didn’t touch her.  But after 12 months, she would become an official member of the harem and brought to the King.

In the meantime, Pharaoh is loading on Abraham gifts of cattle and fabric and servants.  I can just imagine another shipment of cattle arrives with a note from Pharaoh that says, “Thank you Abram for coming to Egypt.  And oh, that sister of yours . . . only three more months and she’s mine!”

The great father of faith has miserably failed by his dishonesty and lack of trust in God.

Hope comes in the very first phrase of Verse 17.  Would you circle the words, But the Lord.”  Oh man.  If it had not been for the Lord’s intervention, no hope.  What’s Abraham going to do?  Go up to the Pharaoh and say, “Pharaoh, I lied.  I’d like my wife back.”  No way.  So the Lord intervenes and struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.  Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me?  Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?  Why did you say, “She is my sister,” so that I took her for my wife?  Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.”

Now, before you get the idea that everything’s back to where it was . . . that Abraham is off the hook.  No.  Abram sinned and would eventually return to Bethel and the altar where he would confess his sin to God.

There are several consequences from Abram’s sin. 

First of all, the missed experiences of faith 

If he had stayed at the altar at Bethel, if he had called to God because his needs weren’t being met, God would have responded miraculously or in some way to provide for him like He did Moses, the children of Israel, Elijah, and all the others.  The angels were standing ready with their recipe for manna – there were rocks ready to burst forth with gushing, clear water . . . Abram missed any of that.  He lost the blessing of seeing God provide for his need. 

The second consequence was a marked increase in possessions. 

When he left Egypt, Verse 2 of Chapter 13, he was a very rich.  How is this a consequence?  Because these riches would cause the dispute among the herdsmen of Abram and the herdsmen of Lot where they would finally have a family split.  Don’t ever think it’s inevitable that when you grow rich, it is the blessing of God. 

In Canaan in the will of God, Abram was living hand to mouth.  In Egypt out of the will of God, he was getting rich. 

One more problem . . . a maid was added to the household of Abram.

You see, when Abram and Sarai left Egypt, Sarai brought along with her Egyptian maid named Hagar. 

And later, in another moment of unbelief and distrust in the promise of God to provide a son, Abraham would take matters into his own hands, have relations with Hagar and she would bear a son . . . but a son that would grow up to be the father of the Arab peoples . . . who 5,000 years later, even to this day, remain the troublesome enemy of the Israelite.

Why was Abraham justified?  Because he was perfect?  Sinless?  In no need of repenting?  Continually faithful?  Rabbi or no Rabbi, what did the Bible just say?

No, according to Paul in Romans 4, Abraham was justified because God chose him and called him and Abraham believed in God and God by His own grace credited to Abraham’s sinful account, the righteousness of God through Christ.

Father Abraham is a wonderful illustration of the grace of God in calling out and redeeming and forgiving a sinful man.

One of the author’s I have been reading included a poem that aptly describes the faith of the one who truly believes in God: Written in 1861, the poem says this:

Not what these hands have done

Can save this guilty soul;

Not what this toiling flesh has borne

Can make my spirit whole.

Not what I feel or do

Can give me peace with God,

Not all my prayers and sighs and tears,

Can bear my awful load,

Thy work alone, O Christ,

Can ease this weight of sin;

Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,

Can give me peace within,

Thy grace alone, O God,

To me can pardon speak,

Thy power alone, O Son fo God,

Can this sore bondage break,

I bless the Anointed One of God;

I rest on love divine;

And, with faltering lip and heart,

I call this Savior mine.

Adapted from R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL) 1991, p. 95


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