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Abraham: A Biblical Model of Saving Faith- Romans 4

Updated on June 8, 2019
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

Introduction: The Key to God's Righteousness: Faith

Dr. Warren Wiersbe, in His book Key Words of the Christian Life talks about justification and, in explaining it, gives an interesting illustration. He says:

My friend Dr. Roy Gustafson has the finest illustration of justification I have ever heard. It seems that there was a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He cabled the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, "I'm having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?" Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday.

As you can imagine, the fellow was wondering, "How much is this going to cost me?" So when he got back to England, he wrote the people a letter and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: "Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce." That is justification!"

That indeed is a powerful illustration. We, the unrighteous sinner, have had our sins taken away by the death burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is now no record of condemnation that stands between us and a Holy God. However, we must take it one step further. Not only is there no record of our sin when God the Father sees us, Additionally, when He looks at us He sees Christ's righteousness that has been given to us. Paul, himself says to the Corinthian church:

"For he has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (II Corinthians 5:21).

In previous articles, we have been examining the book of Romans in which Paul is expounding the glorious truth of the Gospel by declaring his theme of the righteousness which comes from God. It is the message that God justifies, or declares righteous, a sinner on the basis of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

We can summarize the first 3 chapters of this book by giving 4 major statements. They are as follows:

  1. The wrath of God is coming.
  2. The entire world is condemned as sinful
  3. The Law was given by God to show how sinful we are.
  4. Good works will not help us avoid God's wrath and judgment.

In our last article, entitled The Only Way to be Right with a Holy God , we were talking about Romans 3 in which Paul concludes that the only way to be saved from God's wrath and receive His righteousness is justification by faith alone, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23).

Even following the Law will not save, for no one is capable of it. In fact, as we have already implied, the Law was never given for salvation. Paul tells us:

"Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God: because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:19,20).

So God had to provide a righteousness apart from the Law which is received only through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone for salvation (3:21-26). Faith, and not works, is the key to a relationship with the one true God. In fact, the patriarch Abraham is a wonderful example that faith has always been the way that a person is made right before a Holy God. That is the subject of Romans 4.

I. Abraham's Story

Before we go through the text, let us review the story of Abraham, found in Genesis 11:26-25:11. It begins in Ur of the Chaldees, which was a city in Southern Mesopotamia in what is now modern day Iraq. Ur was a very wealthy port city on the Persian Gulf and it's citizens enjoyed a level of comfort unknown to other Mesopotamian cities at the time. But, more important to this story, it was a pagan culture that worshiped many gods.

So Abraham, the father of the Jews, was originally just like everyone else. There was nothing special about him. He was raised in a culture that didn't worship the one true God. But God chose him out of all the other people of the world to bless him and form a covenant with him and his descendants.

The name Abram, which is what Abraham was originally called, means 'Noble Father'. God later changed his name to Abraham which is translated 'the father of multitudes.' However, sadly he and his wife Sarai whose name meant 'Princess' but was later changed to Sarah, meaning 'mother of nations', could not conceive children. For Sarai was barren. So the names given to Abram and his bride must have haunted this follower of the Lord for much of his life.

The narrative begins with Terah, Abram's father, moving his family to Haran in upper Mesopotamia, where, sadly, Terah dies. It was in Haran that God came to Abram and made the everlasting Covenant with him.

When God talks with him, Abram agrees to leave his home of many years and move Southwest to Canaan, to a land the Lord had promised to give Abram and his descendants. He left with his wife and Nephew Lot.

It is in chapter 15 that God reiterates the promise made to the patriarch. The Lord promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. God performs a ceremony in which he passes a blazing pot through sacrificed animals symbolizing that the promise would not be broken. The writer notes that God considered Abram's faith as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

However, Sarai remained barren and she persuaded Abram to take her servant Hagar and sleep with her to raise up an heir (16). Abram, unfortunately, gave in to his wife's pleas. Instead of waiting for God, they jumped the gun, and the result was Ishmael. But, as we find out, he was not to be the promised one but God would supernaturally bring a son to Abraham that Sarah herself would bear.

In chapter 17 of Genesis God again repeats his promise to Abram and gives him the Covenant of Circumcision that each of his male descendants had to perform in order to demonstrate their faith in the one true God. The Lord calls it an everlasting covenant and He changes Abram's name to Abraham, telling him that he'd be the father of many nations. Further, both nations and kings will come from him (17:6).

By now Sarah was well past childbearing years and Abraham was older still. But in chapter 18 of Genesis, God promises again that the two of them would become parents.

Earlier, Abraham had fallen on his face and laughed at such a thought that an old couple would have a baby (17:17,18). This time Sarah laughed (18:9-16).

But when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, their son of the promise was born, whom they named Isaac, meaning, 'He laughs.'

Later in chapter 22 of the book of Genesis, the Lord tested Abraham's faith and asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac on an altar. By this he meant his only son of promise. Ishmael, his older son with Hagar, was born due to human effort.

Abraham, in faith, started to do what his God told him to do and attempted to offer Isaac as an offering. God stopped the knife and gave Abraham a ram to offer. He told the patriarch that:

"I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." (22:12b).

Now that we have a general idea of the story of this great man, lets go back to Romans 4 and apply what we have learned to the passage. Just how is Abraham a picture of saving faith? Paul shows us at least 3 different ways in which saving faith applies to his story.

II. Abraham was Justified by Faith and Not Works (1-8)

Before Abraham received the promise of the Lord, he was a pagan man in a pagan land. The only thing that distinguished him from all the other pagan's in Ur of the Chaldees was that he responded in faith to the call of God on his life. Paul says it himself:

"What shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh has found? For if Abraham was justified by works he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God , and it was credited to him as righteousness." (4:1-3)

For a person to receive righteousness in any other way than faith would mean that he could boast that he was somehow better than anyone else and God would owe it to him like a worker receives a wage. And we know from the previous chapters that this isn't possible (4:4-5).

David even agrees with Paul's assessment of righteousness. He quotes the great king of Israel who says:

"Just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account." (6-7).

The Jews held Abraham as the supreme example of a righteous man. But even he could not be saved before a holy God whose standard is perfection. Abraham had his flaws and sins. For instance, his faith wavered in Genesis 20:1-6 when he encountered king Abimelech in the region of Gerar. He was afraid that Abimelech would kill him, so he asked Sarah to tell the king that she was Abraham's sister rather than his wife. Abimelech would have taken Sarah as his wife but the Lord intervened and saved Sarah from this fate and kept her pure.

Also, both Abraham's and Sarah's faith wasn't what it should have been when they tried to "help" God out by Abraham taking Hagar to have relations with her so that she could have the promised son rather than Sarah (Genesis 16).

But Abraham's mustard seed faith was enough to go out into a strange land, and ultimately wait 25 years for God to fulfill his promises to him. It also was a faith that knew God could raise the dead even if the Lord had allowed him to kill Isaac (Hebrews 11:19).

Abraham truly did believe God and God credited it to him as righteousness. Of course, he didn't know all that we do today about salvation through Jesus Christ. But God saw the faith that Abraham had in Him, based upon the revelation that he had received from the Lord up until that point. And the patriarch believed what God told him. That faith brought him salvation and made him the Father of all who believe, and take God at His word. In that way he was the forerunner of the primarily Gentile church of Rome that Paul was talking to and all other Gentile churches, during that time and any other era since then, including our present century. For we are all justified by faith and not works.

III. Abraham was Justified by Grace Not Law (9-17a)

Next, Paul demonstrates that Abraham was justified by grace, not Law. He continues to tear away at the Jewish thoughts of superiority. They believed that because they were ancestors of Abraham that they were special in God's eyes. But ancestry alone doesn't make one a son of Abraham. It takes faith in the promises of Abraham's God.

The other major thing that made them proud is that they had the Law. However, as we've noted earlier, the Law cannot save. It merely points out sin and shows that we are all guilty.

Sadly, what they should have realized is that Abraham himself could not have been saved by the Law in the first place because it had not yet been given. It would come to the nation on Mount Sinai at least 430 years later.

And Abraham's circumcision couldn't have saved him because God called him out of Ur of the Chaldees long before he was given the Covenant of Circumcision. In effect, he was a Gentile for there were no Jews until God called him and made him the Father of many nations. (9-12)

Further, any good Jew who would bother to read the text of Genesis could have seen that Abraham didn't measure up to the standard of perfect holiness given by God's Law. All it could bring to him is wrath for having violated it. Not to mention, once again, that since it had not been given yet, there could be no violation of the Law. Abraham could not have earned righteousness by the Law and neither could any of his descendants. Justification, or the declaration of righteousness, had to be given to those who have faith and it must be totally by grace, God's unmerited favor (13-17).

IV. Abraham was Justified by Divine Power and Not Human Effort (17b-25)

The second half of verse 17 leads us into the final point. Not only was Abraham's righteousness by faith and not works. And, not only was it by grace and not the Law. Abraham was also totally justified, or declared righteous, by God's divine power and not human effort, from start to finish.

And God also gave promises to all those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the Father of all who believe. God can do this because He is able to give life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. This is a reference to the Lord declaring believing sinners righteous, even though they are not, by imputing Jesus' righteousness to them. God made Jesus sin for us and punished Him for it though He Himself was not a sinner. And those whom He justifies, the Lord will ultimately conform to the image of Jesus Christ. He raises us up from being spiritually dead, gives us life, and makes us new creatures in Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 5:17-21).

Abraham experienced God's miraculous power first hand when God promised Him that he'd become a father of many nations and that he and Sarah would be the parents of the promised offspring though it was physically impossible for them to do so. How did he ultimately respond? Verse 18 tells us:

"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."

This phrase "hope against hope" points out that from the human perspective things seemed impossible. Paul continues:

"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; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able to perform. Therefore it was credited to Him as righteousness." (19-22).

There is no way, human effort could have brought about any of this. The power of Almighty God had to intervene in order for His promises to ever be brought about. And Abraham trusted the Lord's divine power to make it happen.


The true story of Abraham is certainly a great example of a life lived by faith and in many ways we are a lot like him. For we live by faith and not by sight.

We too have been told of a land that we can get to by faith, called heaven. We've never seen it but we believe that God will bring us to it one day. We believe that our loved ones in Christ, though dead, will be there when we arrive.

We have also been assured by God and believe, that our sins have been forgiven and that we will not be held accountable for them at the day of judgment because Jesus took our sins upon Himself and gave to us His righteousness.

In may ways, though we certainly know more about God's plan of salvation through belief in Jesus Christ's death, burial and resurrection, we still live in faith, not having seen fully God's ultimate victory and triumph which will take place when the Lord returns. Yes, we live by faith. But we don't have to worry because the God of Abraham is our God as well. And our God is still the one who brings life from the dead and who calls into being that which does not exist. Our justification and ultimate sanctification in which we become like the Lord Jesus Christ is just as sure as the promises of God.

Billy Graham once told a story that illustrates beautifully the idea of the justification by faith found in Romans 4. He said:

Let's suppose for a moment that I died tonight and stood before the Lord God who is the Supreme Judge of the Universe. No doubt He would ask me, "Billy Graham, why should I let you into my heaven? You are a guilty sinner. How do you plead?"

My response would be, "I plead guilty, Your Honor."

My advocate, Jesus Christ, who is standing there beside me speaks up for me. He says, "Your Honor. It is true that Billy Graham is a grievous sinner. He is guilty. However, Father, I died for him on the cross and rose from the dead. Billy Graham has put his faith and trust in Me and all that I have done for Him on the Cross. He is a believer. I died for him, and he has accepted Me as his substitute."

The Lord God turns to me and says, "Is that true?"

I will respond to Him, "Yes sir! That is the truth. I am claiming the shed blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse me of all my sins. I have put my faith in Jesus to save me for all eternity. This is what You have promised in Your Word. Jesus said, 'For God so loved the world (and this includes Billy Graham), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'"

The Lord God responds: "Acquitted! By order of this court I demand that you be set free. The price has been paid by My Son."

"Furthermore", Graham continues: "I get to go home and live with the Judge!"

All of us should be grateful to Almighty God for the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Without it we are lost for all eternity and separated from a holy God. With it, we are fully acquitted and will live for eternity with the judge of all the universe. Not as prisoners, but as His sons and daughters. Hallelujah! Let's forever praise God for our justification by faith!

© 2019 Jeff Shirley


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    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      19 months ago from the beautiful south

      Billy Graham is in His company now, I have no doubt of that. He was at the top of my list of ministers, what a lucky wife he had to be married to such a man.

      As usual when I read any of the bible my mind races and perhaps far from the point of the story. Sorry for that but it just happens.

      I could not help comparing Abraham and Sarah with Adam and Eve and their sons Cane and Able. Isaac and Ismael compare to that but never in my years of study would I have guessed our last days would be from the demon possessed seed of Ismael. Every day and closing in and leaders (and people in general) seem to be blind to it all. They scream their intentions while everyone seems to ignore it and in some countries it cannot even be questioned. Coming to us too soon, I fear.

      But is it all part of the plan or the plan that has just being revealed to us?

    • GodTalk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Shirley 

      19 months ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      You're welcome Jack!! God bless!!

    • Jack Jenn profile image

      Jack Jenn 

      19 months ago from Nelson Bay NSW Australia.

      Hi Jeff,

      A nicely written article and I particularly liked your conclusion - I hope and pray that would be my testimony too!!!

      Thanks for writing it Jeff.

      Again, my best regards,


    • GodTalk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Shirley 

      19 months ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      Yes, Bill. That is definitely not biblical to teach salvation by any other way than by grace through faith. Otherwise man can save himself, and Paul makes it clear that no one could ever do that. Thanks again for stopping by. God bless you and your ministry.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      19 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Thanks for another great study in the book of Romans, Jeff. I know a man that follows the teachings of Peter Ruckman and believes the Old Testament saints were saved by works. I'm not sure where that teaching comes from (except from the mind of man). The Bible is very clear. Thanks again, my friend!


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