Walking in the Footsteps of Abraham’s Faith
The Faith of Abraham in Romans 4:18-21
RO 4:18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 19 Without weakening in his faith, he 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. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
“Abraham believed God.” Genesis 15:6
1. Two Kinds of Hope (vs. 18)
os par elpida ep elpidi episteusen
“Against hope, upon hope he believed...”
Notice that the word “hope” is used two times at the beginning of verse 18. “Against hope…upon hope…” How can one be against and for something at the same time? This scenario would certainly be abnormal and that is why I conclude that the apostle is using hope with two contrasting definitions here.
What kind of hope are you governed by?
There are essentially two classes of people that exist in the world and both are governed by hope.
The first class follows the classic Greek sense of the word where hope means “uncertainty of the future.” It refers to what man can only hope for as humanly possible. This kind of hope is rooted entirely in the realm of only what is naturally possible.
This natural hope excludes the supernatural working power of God and that all things are possible for those who believe from one’s consideration of present conditions and perception of what is future. This definition of hope is characterized then by “hoping that things just work out”. This is the kind of hope that Paul says Abraham was set against or believed contrary to. It is a spirit in the world that we must firmly stand against as we walk by faith.
When things ”don’t just work out” then people become hopeless which makes them helpless. People like this can never change their environment or condition. They think things could never change. Instead of dictating to their surroundings, their surroundings dictate to them. Instead of reigning, they are governed by the very atmosphere of their past experiences, the present living conditions around them, and their bleak future perceptions. That is a person that speaks forth from the negative. Another word for this kind of hope is unbelief. Uncertain hope is rooted in the natural can only produce fear and fear is to the spirit what unbelief is to the mind. Fear is faith working in the negative. Resigning to and expecting the bad is the definition of unbelief.
The second class is the biblical definition and follows the Jewish traditional interpretation of hope as “the expectation of good, trust, trustful hope, hope as confidence in God.” Abraham’s faith was characterized by a hope that was determined solely by the promise and character of God. There was no ground of hope in himself or in his human condition. His faith was a firm confidence in God as the one who determines the future according to what he has promised.
Hope is an overflowing, abundant fountain of faith. Faith is to your spirit what belief is to your mind.
*You must understand that when you step out to believe God for something, you are at the same time believing against spirits and attitudes that are not of faith. These spirits may be manifested in your own thinking as well as in other people. People that operate by the spirit of unbelief or a religious spirit will oppose you. (Look at the example of Jesus and at how he dealt with the servants that came from Jairus’ household.)
Paul here is highlighting the battle that raged in the mind of Abraham. “Against hope...upon hope…”
In your journey of faith, this is the battle that you will face first. It is important that you win because the kind of hope that underlies your faith will determine the direction and course of your life!
Other verses with elpidis (hope) in Romans
5:2 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
5:3-5 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
8:20, 21 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
8:24, 25 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
12:12 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
15:4 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
15:13 RO 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. Abraham in Hope Believed (vs. 18)
ep elpidi episteusen...
“…upon hope he believed…”
Many times in the New Testament Paul uses the triad of faith, hope, and love. (In Colossians, Paul says that “faith and love spring up from hope…”) One cannot exist without the other two. Therefore, we find the close relationship here as well as elsewhere between faith and hope. Hebrews 11:1 reads,
HEB 11:1 “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
In this verse we see a direct relationship between faith and hope. What is hope? Hope can mean a lot of things – it is what we are believing God for, it is what he has promised us, it is the answer to our prayers, the fulfillment of his word. Hope is the very promise of God. Hope was the dreams of Joseph. Hope was the promise to Moses and then to Joshua that the promised land was theirs. Hope was the desire for sight to Bartimaeus. Hope is the sure expectancy of the fulfillment of the unfolding of future events that will bring to pass God’s promises in his appointed time.
What is faith? Faith, then, is the reality in the present of what we are sure God will do in the future regarding his promise, our hope. (In Hebrews 11:1, “being sure” is parallel to “certain”, and “hope” is parallel to “what we do not see”.) If you can see it, smell it, taste it or touch it in the natural, you have no need for faith because faith is the reality of something that does not exist yet.
It is hope that fuels faith. Faith springs from hope. Faith is a present response, most often against circumstances and events which directly oppose the fulfillment of the promise. Faith celebrates now the reality of future blessings regardless of natural conditions that say otherwise. In Romans 4, hope is that which God spoke and promised to Abraham.
Do you have a hope from God? In Romans 15:13, he is called “the God of hope”. The apostle Paul continues to pray the believer “may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Wow. God wills that you overflow with hope!
When you have hope, you have purpose. Christianity is forward-looking. This is hope and this is future. The apostle Paul refers to this as the “blessed hope” which is “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Remember that hope is “the expectation of good, confidence in God.”
If hope is future, how do I live today? Faith is how I live my life today based upon the certainty of a future hope, an expectation of good, the unfolding of events that will lead to the Parousia or “appearing” of Jesus again in the earth. This walk by faith includes living “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13-14).
This kind of hope releases the power of faith that enables one to exhibit stability in the presence of hostility.
3. What You Believe, You Become (vs. 18)
eis to genesqai auton...kata to eiphmenon
“…in order that he might become… according to the thing having been said…”
Abraham believed and so became the father of many nations just as it had been said to him, “so shall your offspring be.” God acted as he did precisely with a view to determining the way in which Abraham’s fatherhood of many nations would come about – by faith. This was the content of Abraham’s hope –that he might become the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “so shall your offspring be.” This was his promise from God.
You have to hear from God so clearly. You have to have a hope. It may start out in your spirit so small and uncertain. Yet, as you press into God and begin to feed your faith the word of God, the assurance of faith comes and your vision increases in clarity. Also, Jesus himself is working actively with you to strengthen your faith, to keep you focused upon him.
4. Facing the Facts (vs. 19)
katenohsen to eautou swma
“He considered his own body…”
Attempting to ignore the facts of your situation is not faith, but fear. God does not become worried and full of anxiety after reviewing the facts of your situation. Neither was Abraham fearful after reviewing the facts of his case. (Look at Genesis 17:17…)
By faith he considered (observed, paid attention to, noticed, contemplated,) the age of his body that it was dead in terms of the ability to procreate. His wife’s womb was also dead. This is what his senses told his natural mind – that it was hopeless for the promise to be fulfilled by anything man could do. Abraham fully took into account all the factors of his situation.
5. Without Weakening (vs. 19)
kai mh asqenhsas th pistei
“And not weakening in faith…”
Watch out for “sick faith”. Sick faith is caused by reliance upon a fearful, uncertain, natural hope that is circumstantially driven and not faith driven. Abraham’s faith did not fail or become ill. His faith did not become sick! Faith is weak when it allows itself to be determined by or depended upon what lies within human power. If faith depends in any degree on what man can do, it is not the faith of Abraham. Faith is strong when it looks solely to God and does not depend upon human possibilities.
Other verses using asqenew Romans 14:1-2 RO 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
Romans 14:21 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
I Cor. 8:11-12 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
2 Cor. 11:29 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
6. Not Wavering through Unbelief (vs. 20)
eis de thn epaggelian tou qeou ou diekriqh th apistia
“But against the promise of God he did not decide by unbelief…”
What is the character of your faith? We all have a measure of faith, but is it a sick faith, or misplaced faith – faith in your own ability and strength, or is it a wavering faith? Abraham’s faith did not waver! He was “not at odds with himself”. See James 1:6-8:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. James 1:5-8
Characteristics of a Single-minded Person
- Has understanding of God’s giving nature (“who gives generously to all…”)
- Has confidence that God will give him what he asks for (“and it will be given him…)
- Believes when he asks (“when he asks, he must believe…”)
- Does not doubt (“and not doubt…”)
- Is stable and secure when facing adversity (“he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind...and is unstable in all he does…”)
- Thinks he will receive something from God (“That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord…”)
7. Strengthened in His Faith (vs. 20)
alla enedunamwqh th pistei
“…but was empowered by faith…”
Instead of wavering, he was strengthened in faith. His reliance upon God became stronger. When walking by faith, you will encounter resistance and face the suffocating pressure of circumstances that directly oppose your faith and the promise God gave you. Everything will come against your faith! You have the reached the breaking point where many lose their hold on faith. Will you waver or become even stronger? Don’t be fooled by what you feel or by what you perceive in the natural. Each time you fight for your faith, your faith becomes even stronger. Hold on to faith – the devil meant it for your harm to steal your faith; God meant it for your good to strengthen your faith.
His reliance grew even stronger in God. His faith enabled him to go on when everything else within and without wanted him to quit.
8. Gave Glory to God (vs. 20)
dous doxan tw qew
“…giving glory to God…”
It is faith that glorifies God! In Hebrews 11:6 it is written,
6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
It is faith that brings commendation from God. It is faith that brings the favor of God over your life. God will bear witness to your faith and commend you for believing upon his word and holding onto that word until it is fulfilled. Faith brings delight to the heart of God. Abraham did not waver by unbelief, but was empowered by faith. God does not glory in unbelief, but in faith.
Your demonstration of faith glorifies God. Your demonstration of faith is the proper response to God – it is what God always intended for man beginning in the garden.
9. Fully Persuaded in God’s Power to Do(vs. 21)
kai plhrofphqeis oti
“…being fully persuaded
To be fully convinced is to be wholly certain. It is to be fully assured. Faith is being sure of what we hope for. Faith is being certain of what we do not see.
So then, something happens within to create the reality of something inside the spirit that does not yet exist on the outside. This is how Noah could build an ark. He was warned about things not yet seen and acted with holy fear to build an ark and save his family. It is how Abraham could leave his own country and go to a place he didn’t know how to get to. He obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going. Faith on the inside is fully convinced of the reality of what the word of God declares shall be.
Other verses using plhrofph Romans 14:5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Colossians 2:2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Hebrews 6:11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Hebrews 10:22 Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.
I Thessalonians 1:5 …because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
o ephggeltai dunatos estin kai poihsai
that what he has promised, he is able also to do.”
Abraham’s faith was not only in the promise but in the God who promised. When Abraham laughed at his own inability to procreate a son, he was not reproved. Yet when Sarah laughs, her underlying unbelief invokes a response from God.
Gen. 18:13-14 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”
God is able to make his power known. Look at Hebrews 11:19, Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. And figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead. Where does that kind of faith come from that Abraham concluded in his thinking that God could raise the dead? Oh, we need an encounter with the living word, an encounter with God, through revelation by the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of his presence in our midst. Confess that you need a change in your thinking so that you can conclude that God is able to do what he promised!
Jesus said in Mark 10:27, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”