A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 4:23-25. c).
Conclusion: Abraham’s faith and ours.
Paul concludes this chapter by applying lessons from Abraham’s faith to us, his readers. He writes that the biblical words ‘*it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone (23), but also for us* today. For the whole Abraham story, like the rest of Scripture, was written for our instruction (15:4, cf. 1 Cor. 10:11). So the same God, who credited faith to Abraham as righteousness, *will credit righteousness* to us also if we *believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead* (24). Abraham was not unique in his experience of being justified by faith. For this is God’s way of salvation for everybody.
But the God we are to trust in is not only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; he is also the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who *was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification* (25). ‘This verse’, writes Hodge, ‘is a comprehensive statement of the gospel.’ It is indeed. Its parallelism is so well honed that some think it was an early Christian aphorism or credal fragment. The verb *delivered over (paradidomi)*, although it is used in the gospels of Jesus being ‘handed over’ by Judas, the priests and Pilate, here evidently refers to the Father who ‘did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all’ (8:32). Thus both the death and the resurrection of Jesus are well attributed to the Father’s initiative: he ‘delivered him over to death’, and he ‘raised him up to life’.
Although there is little difficulty in understanding these references to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the second part of each clause presents a problem: *for our sins and for our justification*. The preposition *dia* with the accusative normally means ‘because of’ or ‘on account of’. It gives a reason for something having happened, and so has a retrospective look. In this case the meaning would be that Jesus was delivered to death ‘because of our sins’, dying the death which we deserved, and then was resurrected ‘because of our justification’, which he had accomplished by his death. More briefly, in the words of Bishop Handley Moule, ‘we sinned, therefore he suffered: we were justified, therefore he rose’. The difficulty with this rendering is with the second clause, for Paul regards justification as happening when we believe, not as having taken place before the resurrection.
So other commentators understand *dia* as meaning ‘for the sake of’ and having a prospective reference. Thus John Murray translates: ‘He was delivered up in order to atone for our sins and was raised in order that we might be justified.’ The difficulty here is with the first clause. ‘In order to atone for’ is an elaborate paraphrase of the simple preposition ‘for’.
The third possibility is to abandon the consistency which insists that *dia* must have the same meaning in both clauses. It could be casual or retrospective in the first (he was delivered ‘because of our sins’), and final or prospective in the second (he was raised ‘with a view to our justification’). (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:17).
In this chapter the apostle gives us instruction about the nature of faith. He indicates that there are degrees in faith. For faith can be weak (19) or strong (20). How then does it grow? Above all through the use of our minds. Faith is not burying our heads in the sand, or screwing ourselves up to believe what we know is not true, or even whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. On the contrary, faith is a reasoning trust. There can be no believing without thinking.
On the one hand we have to think about the problems which face us. Faith is not closing our eyes to them. Abraham ‘considered his own body, which was as good as dead… and the deadness of Sarah’s womb’ (19, REB). Better, *he faced the fact* (NIV) that he and Sarah were both infertile. But on the other hand Abraham reflected on the promises of God, and on the character of the God who had made them’ especially that he is *the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were* (17). And as his mind played on the promises, the problems shrank accordingly, for he was *fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised* (21).
We today are much more fortunate than Abraham, and have little or no excuse for unbelief. For we live on this side of the resurrection. Moreover, we have a complete Bible in which both the creation of the universe and the resurrection of Jesus are recorded. It is therefore more reasonable for us to believe than it was for Abraham. Of course we have to make sure that the promises we are seeking to inherit are neither wrenched out of their biblical context nor the product of our own subjective fancy, but truly apply to us. Then we can lay hold of them, even *against all* human *hope*, yet *in hope* (18), that is, in the confidence of God’s faithfulness and power. Only so shall we prove to be genuine children of our great spiritual forefather Abraham.
In hope, against all human hope,
Self-desperate, I believe…
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks to that alone;
Laughs at impossibilities
And cries: It shall be done!
Tomorrow: Romans 5:1 – 6:23. God’s people united in Christ.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.