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The Promise

{About a half year ago, I left off a series that I started studying verse by verse through Romans.  This is picking up where that left off, in The Father of All Them that Believe.  Even before that, these articles on Romans stopped for several reasons.  Busyness in life and business, and on this site some other subjects that I saw a need to address.  This is picking up in Romans chapter 4.  To find all of the Romans articles, click here.}

Romans 4:13–15

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

Abraham, the great patriarch of the children of Israel, continues to be the example of the “by faith righteousness” that the apostle Paul has been preaching since verse 21 of Romans 3.

Now the Nation of Israel absolutely was under the law covenant from Mount Sinai; and they were expected to keep it, no doubt about that.  But Abraham never was.  In fact, the law was not given until 430 years after afterward¹ (Galatians 3:17; Exodus 12:40–41).

We learned prior to these verses in the epistle to the Romans, that the covenant of circumcision, really had nothing to do with the righteousness that the Lord accounted to Abraham (at the time, Abram), but it was a sign of that covenant.  Make no mistake though, the children of Abraham were required to have this sign in their flesh or they would not be accounted among the seed.  The man who was uncircumcised would be cut off from his people because he broke the covenant.  This was not the only offence that would cut a man off from the covenant people, but it was one.  This is important in understanding many of the verses or even entire passages in the Old Testament, and even in the New Testament, that seem to indicate that someone that was once saved can again be lost.  An Israelite, by breaking the one of the covenants, like the circumcision covenant, or the law covenant, would be cut off from among the covenant people.  In the present dispensation, that of the grace of God, a person is not saved because of a covenant in which he is keeping up his end, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, “unto all and upon all them that believe” (Romans 3:22).  We are not then made members of a covenant people, or nation, but we are baptized into the body of Christ, and made members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones (Romans 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 5:30).

Back to the main text, the law never had anything to do with the gift righteousness that God gave to Abraham.  In his lifetime, Abraham was never under the law.  He was tried, and indeed found to be faithful, as James points out in his epistle (James 2:23), but he was given righteousness even in chapter 15, many years before the trial found him faithful.  And even this trial was not under the law, for the law was many years even after this.

This entire argument, beginning in Romans 3:21, is showing how God is perfectly justified in justifying a sinner apart from the law and by faith.  It is God’s grace that makes this by faith righteousness possible, and it is “by faith of Jesus Christ” that believers are made righteous.  We enter into that righteousness, and take hold of the gift by faith, through faith in the blood of Christ, and God justifies us freely.

Romans 3:21–26 — “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

Anyone who follows these articles regularly probably has noticed that I quote Romans 3:21–26 regularly, probably more than any other scripture.  That is because this is the gospel².  This is how a man can be righteous with God.

Paul goes on to show that this gift righteousness is much like the gift righteousness that God gave to Abraham.  It has nothing to do with the law, just as the righteousness reckoned to Abraham had nothing to do with the law.  If one were to charge Paul with teaching against the law (we know that no one would ever do this), here is the answer.  God is perfectly righteous, and in His sovereignty³ He is free to justify a sinner apart from the law.

Now you, as sinner, stand before the God of justice condemned, yet God in His sovereignty offers you salvation freely, although it is not cheap.  It cost Him the life of His Only Begotten Son, and Jesus Christ would never say that this gift righteousness is “cheap grace”.  He suffered the agonies of the cross, despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and forsaken by God as He was made sin on our behalf — on your behalf and mine — so that we could be justified freely by His grace.

We are forgiven of all our sins because of the blood that He shed on that cross, and this is according to the riches of God’s grace, which is the opposite of cheapness.  By putting ourselves under the law, as so many seek to do, we are putting ourselves under a system that by its nature works wrath.  But that is not the system that we are under.  We are under grace, and all sinners can enter into this righteousness by faith simply by believing the saving gospel, that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and that He rose again according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).  Once we are saved, we are under grace, not law (Romans 6:14), and this is not license to sin, but the very reason why sin will not have dominion over us.

God’s grace is truly greater than all of our sin(s), and we rejoice that He is the God of promises made that are promises kept.

End Notes:

  1. It seems from the scriptures that the 430 years is counted from the time that the LORD called Abram to leave his family and his father’s house.  In Genesis 15:13, Abram’s posterity is said to be afflicted in “a land that is not their’s” for 400 years.  Genesis 12:4 states that Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran.  The evil treatment in a strange land was 400 years (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6).  From Ussher’s “The Annals of the World”:
    1. “After Isaac was weaned, Abraham made a great feast.  Sarah saw Ishmael, the son of Hagar the Egyptian, jesting with her son, or rather mocking (as that word is translated in Genesis {Ge 39:14}) or even persecuting (as the apostle expounds it {Ga 4:29}).  Ishmael, who was the older, claimed the right of inheritance to his father’s estate.  Sarah asked Abraham to cast cast out Ishmael, for the son of this handmaid shall not be heir with my son Isaac.  Though he took this very grievously at first, yet he did it, for God had said to him, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. {Ge 21:8–12 Ro 9:7,8 Heb 11:17,18}  Hence, we observe that Isaac is called his only begotten son.  It is four hundred and thirty years from the time that Abraham left Haran {Ga 3:17 Ex 12:41} until the exodus.  Abraham was told his seed would be persecuted for four hundred years.  Based on these verses (Ga 4:29, Ge 15:13 Ac 7:6), we conclude that this persecution started at this time when Isaac was five years old and Abraham made this feast.  This was thirty years after Abraham left Haran…
      “This declaration of the elect seed and persecution (as the apostle terms it) of Isaac by Hagar’s son, is taken by many of the Jews as referred to above as the start of the four hundred year period during which the seed of Abraham was to be a stranger and a sojourner and afflicted in a foreign land, as God had foretold him.  {Ge 15:13 Ac 7:6}  For those four hundred years were to be completed at the same time as the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, as deduced from the following verses. {Ge 15:14 Ex 12:35,36,41}…”
      (page 26 of the paperback edition by Master Books, 2006, entry 87)
    2. Josephus in chapter 15 of Antiquities reaches the same conclusion.  Ussher, however,  in entry 192, page 39, states that “it was exactly four hundred and thirty years from the first pilgrimage of Abraham’s departure from Canaan to the day that they were set free from bondage.”  This contradicts what he said on an earlier page unless I am understanding him wrong, because when he departed Haran he was departing to Canaan, not from it.
    3. E.W. Bullinger, in the Companion Bible, Appendix 50 chart 50.III (page 51 of the appendices) is also in agreement.
    4. All this reconciles completely with Galatians 3:17–18 — “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”  The children of Israel left Egypt 430 years after the covenant promise of Genesis 12:1–3 was given to Abraham and the law was given later in that same year when the Israelites reached Sinai.
  2. The gospel by which we are saved is expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, and this passage in Romans is indeed that Gospel, how that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead.  The gospel as stated in Romans 3:21–27 states clearly how the gospel that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead gives us a right standing with God.
  3. We should not fear the word “sovereignty” as though Calvinist/Augustinian doctrine owned the word and its meaning.  God is sovereign.  It is His sovereignty that allows His freedom to reckon righteousness to sinners by His free grace, apart from the law or any other merit system.


Romans Study

Charles Miller View All

Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.

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