Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

ROMANS 4:13-17

Romans 4:13 “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.”

Abraham was promised that his influence would spread through all the earth for all time. Moslems, Jews, and Christians all revere this patriarch. Their homage to him is a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.
The question is this: Why did God choose Abraham for such honor? The answer is that Abraham did what was necessary to please God. We can look to the patriarch and find an excellent example of how to the saved. The most obvious lesson we learn from Abraham is that he was not saved by keeping the Law. That would be impossible, because he lived 430 years before God gave the Law at Mt. Sinai (GL 3:17). Abraham did nothing to merit the blessing of God. It was a gift.

Everything Abraham received from God came through the channel of righteousness based on faith. The same is still true today. The salvation of God is offered to us apart from the Law and any good work that we might do.
The next verse tells us why we should be grateful for this fact.

Romans 4:14 “For if they which are of the law be heirs,
faith is made void, and the promise made
of none effect.”

If salvation depended on keeping the law, there would be two disastrous results:
1. Faith would be made void (that means there could only be doubt in a person’s mind, never assurance).
2. Promises would be nullified. It would be impossible for God to make an unconditional promise. If our salvation depended on works, God could only make propositions, not promises.
For instance, Jesus said, “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life” (JN 6:47). That’s a promise. However, if salvation were achieved by works, He would have had to say, “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life, if he keeps the commandments.” A promise is kept by the promisor regardless of what the promisee does.
If salvation is not based on faith, we will have to rewrite the hundreds of promises in the New Testament and change them to propositions. Imagine the doubt and insecurity that would result: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you might possibly be saved” (AC 16:31); “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will possibly be saved” (RM 10:13); “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, and might possibly have everlasting life” (JN 3:16).
Anathema on any such travesties! God’s promises are sure and unconditional. Anyone who receives righteousness by faith in the finished work of Christ can have assurance. One does not have to linger in doubt regarding salvation, or meet continuing conditions in order to enter Heaven.
You will never have assurance regarding salvation as long as you cling to any doctrine that links salvation with works.

Romans 4:15 “Because the law worketh wrath: for where
no law is, there is no transgression.”

The law brings wrath, retribution, anything but mercy and blessing. But since salvation is independent of law, there is no way you can nullify it once you have it. You don’t receive salvation by keeping the Law. Hence you can not lose salvation by breaking the Law. This is your only hope for assurance, because you will be a lawbreaker as long as you live.
Under any system of works, assurance is impossible. You may have a strong resolve for the future, but what about the huge back-log of sin you have behind you. Or, even if you feel good about all the works of your past, you might still slip in the future. After long years of care, you might lose it all in a moment of weakness.
Donald Barnhouse has captured this fact, and used to present it this way: “Any individual who has his eyes upon himself will be miserable. The man who walks by the law walks in the night, and his footsteps echo against the walls of the darkness that goes with the law. These echoes rise to his ears and each sound from all the troop of doubt gives him fear upon fear. If he pauses, he is in the silence of dread fears, and as he runs from them his footsteps echo all the faster with the increasing temp of his hysteria of doubt” (Romans, II, pp. 296-297).
If a man trusts in works and yet does little for the Lord, he is nagged with the worry of whether he has done enough. But if he does a lot for the Lord, he is nagged with the same worry.
What a contrast all this is to the one who accepts the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith. When the believer pauses, he finds himself in green pastures and beside still waters. When he walks, he travels in the paths of righteousness.
Once you plant your feet upon receiving righteousness by faith, you are on terra firma, solid ground. There is a bedrock at the foot of the cross. All other ground is sinking sand.

Romans 4:16a “Therefore it is of faith,”

Salvation is by faith. Therefore, we need to be sure we understand the true meaning of faith. It is a trusting in God which consists of three major components:
1. Renunciation of self. There must be a confession that one is a sinner, and incapable of saving one’s own self.
2. Reliance on Christ. Complete trust is placed in what the Savior has done.
3. Receiving the gift. One takes unto himself that which God has promised. Faith implies confidence.
Paul now gives two more reasons why this has to be the only way of salvation:

Romans 4:16b “. . .that it might be by grace;”

This is the only means of salvation whereby God gets all the glory.

Romans 4:16c “. . .to the end the promise might be sure
to all the seed; not to that only which is of
the law, but to that also which is of the
faith of Abraham;”

This is the only salvation that is fair to all. If salvation were of works, many would be too deeply in debt by the time they heard of the Gospel. For instance, how could Rahab ever atone for her life in prostitution? The dying thief had time to do nothing for God; how could he ever have made up for his sins?
Anyone trusting in works does not realize the horribleness of sin. They think a good deed can counterbalance a bad deed. But not so! Adam was a perfect man in a perfect environment. He committed only one sin, and that nullified the value of all his goodness. God counted his one sin as worse than all of Adam’s perfections could make up for. Our only hope is to flee to the same refuge Abraham fled to.

Romans 4:16d-17 “. . .who is the father of us all. (As it
is written, I have made thee a father of
many nations,) before him whom he believed,
even God, who quickeneth the dead, and
calleth those things which be not as though
they were.”

Abraham depended fully on God, who gives life to the dead, and who calls those things which be not as though they were.
God is in the business of resurrection. Everyone apart from Him is dead in trespasses and sin, but God infuses life where there is death. Place your trust in the resurrecting power of the resurrected Lord, and you will experience a resurrection in your life.
It is true that you have no righteousness in and of yourself. There is nothing in you by nature that pleases God. But praise God! The Lord calls those things which be not as though they were.
He can bring something out of nothing. God has no problem dealing with the non-existent as if it were existent. That is how he achieved the creation of our world. There was nothing, but God saw something. You are not righteous in yourself, but God can give you his righteousness. When you confess that you have nothing, God puts something there.
Just as Jesus infused life into the dead physical bodies of Lazarus, the widow’s son at Nain, and Jairus’ daughter, He can breathe life into your spiritual nature. He alone can give you the life you must have to share His presence and His Heaven.