In this chapter Paul is addressing Jewish readers who are familiar with Abraham and the promises God made to him. To understand the chapter better we need to look up the verses and make note of the promises.
It is important to understand the promises not merely to understand the chapter in the process of a bible study but to see how those promises apply to us too. That is Paul’s aim: To show that the promises to Abraham also apply to those descended from him in the flesh and by faith.
Genesis 12:2 -3 contains promises of a great nation, blessings, a great name, and blessings to those who bless Abraham and curses to those who curse him. Also all the peoples of the earth are blessed through Abraham.
Genesis 15:4 –5 promise a son from Abraham’s seed and offsprings as numerous as stars.
Genesis 17:4 –8 promise Abraham the fatherhood of many nations, fruitfulness, kings, everlasting covenant, everlasting possession of the land of Canaan and also the Personal God.
There are some key words and their derivatives that we need to pay attention to in order to grasp Paul’s argument. These are important not only in this chapter but in the whole epistle to the Romans.
Justified/Justify/Justification: Verses 2, 5, and 25.
Believe/believed: Verses 3, 11,20, and 24
Righteousness: Verses 3, 4, 5, 9, 11×2, 13, 22, and 24.
Trust/trusts: Verse 5.
Faith: Verses 9, 12, 13, 14, 16×2, 19, and 20.
Paul asks the question: How was Abraham justified? And we ask the question: Why Abraham? Well, Abraham is a central figure in Judaism; he is the father of the nation. Secondly, it was taught that Abraham kept the whole law perfectly.
Paul uses scripture for his argument: Gen.15: 6 says, “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness”.
In verses 4 and 5 Paul uses an everyday illustration to show that earning justification is incompatible with having it “credited”.
In verses 6 –8 Paul uses another example; that of David, in Psalm 32:1 –2. We already know of David’s sins (2Sam. 11). David speaks of the sinner who is forgiven as the man or woman who is blessed; not the sinless or the “righteous”.
The third argument is in verses 9 –11. Circumcision was regarded in Paul’s time, as a saving act. Using circumcision for illustration Paul asks the question: Which came first. Was Abraham circumcised before or after righteousness was credited to him?
Abraham was circumcised several years after according to Gen.15: 6; 16:16: and 17:1. So circumcision was not a saving act but a sign of the righteousness he already possessed through faith.
Finally, in verses 11 –15 Paul concludes that Abraham is the father of all believers, both circumcised and uncircumcised. According to Gen. 17:5 Abraham is the father of many nations, not only Jews. He is the father of believing Jews and believing Gentiles as well.
Regarding the promises, Paul sees Gen.18: 18 and 22:17-18 as impossible to depend on the fulfillment of the law, which brings condemnation and has no power to save or produce obedience (Gal.3: 21 –22). What Paul is actually saying is that the law and promise are mutually exclusive (see Gal. 3:18).
The final verses, 18 –25 deal with trusting God. There was no hope for Abraham and Sarah becoming the father of many nations. This can even be the message in verse 17 that God “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were”.
(Compare the quote: “Some people look at things that are and wonder how! I dream about things that are not and say why not?”)
It was naturally impossible for Abraham and Sarah to be parents, let alone of many nations. They were as good as dead. Yet, Abraham trusted God as we read in Gen.15:4 –5.
We need to note here one very important fact:
The object of faith for Abraham and for us is the same: God.
The content of faith is different:
a). For Abraham it was God’s promise to give him a son.
b). For us it is God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ.
1.Can you cite examples of when you have trusted God’s promises and seen them fulfilled? What are you trusting God for today?
2. What is the difference between “trusting” God for something and “asking” God for something? (Cf. Dan.3: 18)
3. When is it hard for you to trust God?
4. What helps you trust god in difficult circumstances?
DEBT: What God owes GRACE: What God gives me.
WAGES: What I have earned FREE GIFT: What I do not
BOASTING: Look at me, my achievement THANKSGIVING: It is only grace
- Bible Study Genesis 17 – The Covenant of Circumcision (alexdekkers.wordpress.com)
- True, Living Faith Justified by Works (reformation500.com)
- Abrahams footsteps (revevansonline.wordpress.com)
- Romans 4: Wrestling and the God of Continuity (theroomblogexperience.wordpress.com)
- Romans 3 & 4 (godsbreath.net)