Romans 4:16-18

Certainty of the promise. To make the dead alive. Abraham’s faith.

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"16For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants - not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all." (Romans 4:16)
The pronoun "it" in this verse refers to the promise God made to Abraham concerning his posterity. The verse makes clear that in order for "the promise may be certain", he must approach it through faith, because grace is the only means by which we can receive anything from God: it is by faith so that it may be by grace. Saying something is by faith means it is not by works or the requirements of the law.

Humans often try to use their own efforts to achieve spiritual goals through adherence to religious laws, but this approach does not bring the assurance of peace with God. Instead, relying on faith in God’s grace and the promise of eternal life is the only way to have true assurance. Because only then “the promise may be certain.”

Furthermore, the promise may be certain not only to Abraham, but to all of us who are spiritual descendants of Abraham through faith in Christ.


17He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed - the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.” (Romans 4:17)

Our salvation is not a gradual transition from being somewhat alive to being more alive, or from being extremely sinful to significantly less sinful. No, it’s the transition from being completely dead to being brought back to life. Abraham’s life is an example of this transformation. People like to brag about how much they contributed to their salvation, but God says that is not the case. He “makes the dead alive” and “summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.”

He is the same God who “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). He didn’t wait until he found someone who was reasonably righteous before making him righteous. In fact, if you do not recognize your total ungodliness, you will never be made righteous. That was guaranteed by the law that God gave to mankind.

For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

The scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given - because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ - to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22)

This is another way Paul emphasizes the concept of justification by faith. This concept is crucial to understand as it emphasizes that one cannot achieve salvation or righteousness before God through their own actions or good works, but rather it can only be attained through faith. A person who is truly dead cannot add anything to it. Similarly, if one lives by faith in God, he cannot add anything to please his God. He was saved by faith, and he will live by faith. His God is pleased solely through his faith in Christ.


18Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be.” (Romans 4:18)

It was “against hope” for Abraham because he was around 75 years old when God appeared to him with the promise to “multiply thee exceedingly.” (Gen 15:1-21) Despite this, he had to wait another 25 years before Isaac was born.

As they read passages like Hebrews 11, which cites many heroes of faith, many Christians regard Abraham as the ultimate example of faith. Instead of being awakened to the truth of faith’s superiority over works, the believers’ gaze was drawn to the byproducts of faith as if they were the essence of faith itself.

By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain … By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, … For … he had been commended as having pleased God. By faith Noah, … constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance … (Hebrews 11:4-8)

As a result, the actions of these Biblical heroes eventually become the object of desire for those seeking higher spiritual achievements. But what goal is more important than God’s righteousness bestowed upon you? Is there anything more than that? Or maybe God’s righteousness isn’t what you’ve been looking for all along?

Abraham’s faith is no different from the faith of modern believers. The important point to remember is that Abraham had faith in God, and there was no question about how much faith he had. I like to use the example of a person deciding whether or not to sit in a chair. When a person decides to put his faith in the chair by sitting in it. The chair’s ability to support the person’s weight remains constant regardless of whether the person has little or great faith in it. The same is true of our faith in Christ. Christ and his ability to save will remain the same regardless of the size of our faith, whether it is as small as a mustard seed or as large as a mountain.

If Abraham’s faith had been great, he would not have had Ishmael as his firstborn son, he would not have lied to King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, and there may have been other instances of his lack of great faith that were not recorded in Scriptures. The important thing is that, despite his feeble faith, he had faith in a great God.

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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