The Application of Abraham’s Faith
Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (4:23–25)
The marvelous thing about Abraham’s faith being reckoned as righteousness is that the same divine principle applies to every person who trusts in God’s Son. The Holy Spirit inspired that truth to be written … for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned just as it was for Abraham.
No part of Scripture was given only for the time in which it was written. The psalmist declares, “For [God] established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Ps. 78:5–7). Paul expresses the same truth later in the book of Romans: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
The story of Abraham and of his faith is important to us today because men are now saved on exactly the same basis on which Abraham was saved—trust in God. Even the sacrificial work of Jesus was the provision for Abraham’s sin by which God saved him. Men today have much greater divine revelation than Abraham had. During his lifetime, and for many centuries afterward, there was no written Word of God. Yet Jesus declared categorically to the disbelieving Jewish leaders that “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
From the human side, the key phrase in Romans 4:24 is who believe in Him. Faith is the necessary condition for salvation. As the eleventh chapter of Hebrews makes clear, the only persons who have ever been received by God are those who have received Him by faith.
If, despite his limited revelation, Abraham could anticipate the Savior and believe that God could raise the dead, how much more reason do men today have to believe that the Father did indeed raise Jesus our Lord from the dead, in order that those who believe “in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16)?
Jesus was delivered up because of our transgression, and was raised because of our justification. Delivered up was a judicial term, referring to the commitment of a criminal to his punishment. Jesus Christ was delivered up to serve the sentence of death that our transgressions deserve, and He was raised up to provide the justification before God that we could never attain in our own power or merit.
The great nineteenth-century theologian Charles Hodge wrote,
With a dead Savior, a Savior over whom death had triumphed and held captive, our justification had been for ever impossible. As it was necessary that the high priest, under the old economy, should not only slay the victim at the altar, but carry the blood into the most holy place, and sprinkle it upon the mercy-seat; so it was necessary not only that our great High Priest should suffer in the outer court, but that he should pass into heaven to present his righteousness before God for our justification. Both, therefore, as the evidence of the acceptance of his satisfaction on our behalf, and as a necessary step to secure the application of the merits of his sacrifice, the resurrection of Christ was absolutely essential, even for our justification. (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983 reprint], p. 129)
Despite his claims of scientific objectivism, modern man has become enthralled by the supernatural and by the prospect of extraterrestrial beings. Eastern mysticism, in many forms and degrees, is sweeping the intellectually “enlightened” world as never before in history. Many men and women of great prominence would not think of making a major decision or taking an extended trip without consulting their horoscopes.
This demonstrates that it is not that modern, educated, sophisticated man is beyond belief in the supernatural or the miraculous. It is rather that, like unbelieving men of all ages, he inherently resists the supernatural and miraculous work of Jesus Christ. For that supernatural, miraculous work to be effective, a person must confess and renounce his transgressions, which is the supreme offense to man’s depraved nature. But only by such confession and repentance, which always accompany true faith, can a person receive the justification, the reckoning of undeserved righteousness to his account, that the sacrifice of Christ makes possible.
The Christian Faith
The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
In several preceding studies we have been working through the apostle Paul’s proof from the Old Testament of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Paul has given two Old Testament examples, Abraham and King David, but his chief example has been Abraham. Indeed, the fourth chapter of Romans has been almost entirely about him.
But Paul was no mere antiquarian, one who was in love with the past for its own sake. Paul was writing for the present. So, as he comes to the end not only of Romans 4 but of the first major section of the letter, he returns to his first theme, reminding his readers that the things that were written in the Old Testament were written for us and that proof of the doctrine of justification by faith from the case of Abraham is for our present benefit. He concludes, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (vv. 23–25, italics mine).
This passage is a summation of the Christian gospel, and a study of it is an appropriate way to end this first expository volume on the Book of Romans.
The Apostolic Gospel
A number of years ago, a professor from Cambridge University in England named C. H. Dodd wrote a book called The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments. It was a little book—56 pages in all—but it was influential in the field of biblical studies, since it showed in a convincing way that the apostolic preachers all followed a broadly accepted outline of key facts concerning the life and ministry of Jesus Christ when they presented the gospel to unbelievers. Dodd called this list of key facts the kerygma, a Greek word that means “proclamation,” in order to distinguish it from the ethical and other teachings of Jesus, which were not part of the message proclaimed to unbelievers but which were reserved for the further instruction of converts. Dodd called this additional body of material the didachē or “teachings.”
One classical statement of the kerygma occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:1–7, where it is introduced as something Paul had received from those who were in the faith before him. In that passage it seems to have three parts:
- “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” ( v. 3),
- “that he was buried” (v. 4), and
- “that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (v. 4).
That brief rehearsal is then followed by a list of those who were witnesses to the resurrection (vv. 5–7).
In the sermons recorded in Acts we see this same pattern, but the list is elaborated to include such items as: the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist, Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s coming, evidence of Jesus’ divine power by his miraculous works, Jesus’ ascension into heaven, and the future role of Jesus in the final judgment. Sometimes the kerygma is complete. Sometimes it is abbreviated. In each instance what lies at its heart is a proclamation of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord.
These items are important here, because in Romans 4:23–25 we have the basic gospel in its most compact form. Martin Luther wrote, “In these verses the whole of Christianity is comprehended.”
Faith in God
The first point in Paul’s summary of the gospel in Romans 4 is not strictly part of the kerygma, as Dodd defines it. But it is presupposed by the kerygma and is what links the content of this explicitly Christian statement of faith to the case of Abraham. It is belief in God. Paul expresses this by saying, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
This sentence involves both continuity with and development beyond Abraham’s example. The continuity is important, since the God whom Christians believe in is the same as the God Abraham believed in, and the nature of the faith involved in trusting that God is therefore also the same. This is why we have been able to make practical applications from Abraham’s life to our own lives. In discussing Abraham’s faith, I pointed out that it was:
- Faith in God’s promise,
- Faith based on the bare words of God and on nothing else whatever,
- Faith despite many strong circumstances to the contrary,
- Faith that was fully assured, and
- Faith that acts.
That is exactly what our faith is to be and do, and the reason is that it is faith in the God in whom Abraham believed. Moreover, such faith is to grow increasingly strong, because it is grounded not upon itself but upon God. In these ways, Abraham’s faith is the same as our own.
But our faith also involves development beyond Abraham’s faith, because, as Paul writes, it is faith “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” True, there are items of continuity even here. Abraham’s faith in the promise was an anticipatory faith in Jesus since the promise ultimately was fulfilled in him. Again, the fact that Abraham believed in “God who gives life to the dead” finds a parallel in our belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Still, there are also differences due to progressive revelation. Because we live on this side of the incarnation and atonement, we understand that the God in whom we believe is identical with Jesus. He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Moreover, we recognize that the chief revelation of God is at the cross and in the resurrection.
In other words, Abraham had a promise, but we have a gospel, the Good News. Abraham looked forward to what God had said he would do. We look back to what God has already accomplished.
Delivered to Death for Our Sins
What has God accomplished? This brings us back to the kerygma and to the first of its great declarations in our text, namely, that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins.” According to the Book of Acts, Peter made the identical declaration at Pentecost in these words: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). Later in the same book, when Paul is at Pisidian Antioch, he declares: “The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed” (Acts 13:27–28).
There are two important points to these classic proclamations of Christ’s death.
- It was planned by God. The Revised Standard Version renders part of Romans 4:25 as “Jesus … was put to death,” but this translation greatly weakens what the apostle is saying. It is not just that Jesus was put to death, that is, “executed,” true as that is. It is that Jesus was delivered over to death by God. Sometimes people get into debates over who was responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. Was it the Jews, who hated him and asked Pilate to have him killed? Or was it the Romans, who actually carried out the execution? The passages I have quoted recognize the guilt of both parties, plus that of the masses of Jerusalem. But that is not what they are chiefly concerned about. Their emphasis is upon this being the work of God, who by it was accomplishing salvation for all who would believe on Christ. This is why, in another place, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
It was God the Father who sent the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross. This tells us that the death of Jesus was no accident, but rather the accomplishment of God’s plan of redemption, devised even before the universe was created. It is why Jesus came.
- It was for others. The death of Jesus, thus planned by God, was for others, which means that it was substitutionary or vicarious. Paul says that it was “for our sins.” Death is God’s punishment for sin, its consequence. But Jesus had not sinned and therefore did not deserve death. That he did die was because he was dying in our place as our sin-bearer.
In his great commentary on Bible doctrine, which uses Romans as a “point of departure,” Donald Grey Barnhouse illustrates the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death by the story of Barabbas. We know that Barabbas was a robber and murderer who had been arrested by the Romans and was in prison awaiting execution at the time of the trial of Jesus Christ. Pilate had no concern for Barabbas—the world would be better off without him—but he wanted to save Jesus and so hit on the idea of offering the people a choice between the two. It was customary to free a prisoner at the time of the Feast of Passover. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” Pilate asked the crowd (Matt. 27:21).
He was astonished when the people replied, “Barabbas!”
Barnhouse pictures Barabbas sitting in the prison, staring at his hands, which were soon to be pierced by nails, and shuddering at any sound of hammering that might remind him with horror of his own impending crucifixion. Suddenly he hears a crowd roaring outside the prison. There are angry voices. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” He thinks he hears his own name. Then a jailer comes to unlock the door of his cell. Barabbas thinks that the time for his execution has come, but instead the jailer tells him that he is being set free. The crowd has called for his release. Jesus of Nazareth is to die instead.
Stunned, Barabbas joins the processional that is making its way to Calvary and watches as Jesus is crucified. He hears the sound of the hammer and knows that the blows that are fastening Jesus to the rough wooden cross were meant for him. He sees the cross lifted high into place and knows that he is the one who should be dying on it.
Jesus cries, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
The centurion who has commanded the execution party exclaims, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
Barabbas must have been saying, “That man took my place. I am the one who should have died. I am the condemned murderer. That man did nothing wrong. He is dying for me.”
Barnhouse concludes, “Barabbas was the only man in the world who could say that Jesus Christ took his physical place. But [all who are Christians] can say that Jesus Christ took [their] spiritual place.” The fact that we are sinners means that we deserve to die. We deserve the eternal punishment of the lake of fire. But Jesus was delivered up for our offenses. He was crucified for our sins. That is why we speak of substitutionary atonement and vicarious suffering, and it is why Jesus’ death is so central to the gospel. Nothing that overlooks the death of Christ is the gospel. As Barnhouse says, “Christianity can be expressed in three phrases: I deserved Hell; Jesus took my Hell; there is nothing left for me but his heaven.”
Raised for Our Justification
The final part of the gospel in our passage is the resurrection. Paul speaks of it twice: (1) [It was written] “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (v. 24), and (2) “He … was raised to life for our justification” (v. 25).
Why does he say that Jesus was raised “for our justification”? At first glance this seems to be a problem because, according to Paul’s own teaching elsewhere, it is the death of Christ (not the resurrection) that is the basis for God’s justification of sinners (Rom. 5:9). Even Romans 3 has said it: “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (v. 24). Redemption has to do with Jesus’ death. There is no mention of the resurrection at all in that passage.
There are a number of explanations of the meaning of the phrase “raised to life for our justification,” but the one that has commended itself to most expositors is that the resurrection is God’s proof, provided for our benefit, that a full payment for sins has been made.
The resurrection proves a great many things. It proves that:
- There is a God and that the God of the Bible is the true God,
- Jesus was a teacher sent from God; he was inerrant in his teaching and spoke the very words of God,
- Jesus is the Son of God,
- There is a day of judgment coming,
- Every believer in Christ is justified from all sin,
- All who are united to Christ by a living faith will live again, and
- Christians can have victory over sin.
But chiefly the resurrection proves that every believer in Christ is justified from all sin, as Romans 4:25 declares. In other words, it is God’s evidence to us that the penalty for our transgressions has been fully paid by Jesus.
When Jesus was on earth, he said that he would die for the sins of others. The time for the crucifixion came, and he did die. But the question remained: Was his death fully acceptable to God for others’ sins? Did God accept his atonement? We know that if Jesus had sinned, however slightly, his death could not atone even for his own sin let alone the sin of others. For three days the question remained unanswered. The body of Jesus lay in the cold Judean tomb. But then the hour came. The breath of God swept through the sepulcher, and Jesus rose to appear to his followers and later to ascend to the right hand of the Father. By this means God declared to the entire universe, “I have accepted the atonement Jesus made.”
Reuben A. Torrey writes, “When Jesus died, he died as my representative, and I died in him; when he arose, he rose as my representative, and I arose in him.… I look at the cross of Christ, and I know that atonement has been made for my sins; I look at the open sepulcher and the risen and ascended Lord, and I know that the atonement has been accepted. There no longer remains a single sin on me, no matter how many or how great my sins may have been. My sins may have been as high as the mountains, but in the light of the resurrection the atonement that covers them is as high as heaven. My sins may have been as deep as the ocean, but in the light of the resurrection the atonement that swallows them up is as deep as eternity.”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “The resurrection is the proclamation of the fact that God is fully and completely satisfied with the work that his Son did upon the Cross.”
Point of Decision
We have come to the end of the fourth chapter of Romans and therefore to the end of the first major section of Paul’s letter. It has been a long journey.
Paul begins with an analysis of man’s lost condition. Far from everything being well with the human race, as the optimists of his day and ours wrongly suppose, the race is actually under the wrath of God for its failure to receive the revelation of himself that God has made in nature, and its refusal to thank God for creation and to seek him out more fully in order to worship him. Instead of following the truth, people have suppressed the truth, and in its place they have created imaginary gods like themselves and even like animals. Having turned from God, who is the source of all good, they have entered on a downhill path marked by sexual and other perversions until they come at last to the point where they are willing to call good evil, and evil good.
No one naturally agrees to this assessment, of course. It is part of what rejecting truth is all about. So Paul next spends time dealing with the arguments of those who would exempt themselves from those conclusions.
One objector is the ethically moral man, who considers Paul’s judgments true of others but not of himself. Paul tells him that he stands condemned before God, not only because he has broken God’s perfect standard of righteousness, but also because he has not even lived up to his own personal standard, however high or low it may be.
Another objector is the religious person, who thinks that he is exempted because of his religious observances. Paul does not discount the value of religious actions, but he denies that they can change the heart, which is the thing that matters. The end of his argument is that all stand condemned before God: “ ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.… no one who understands, no one who seeks God’ ” (Rom. 3:10–11).
Finally, Paul unfolds the gospel, showing that God has acted to save sinners through the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot save ourselves. We do not deserve saving. But God is gracious, and because he is, he sent the Lord Jesus Christ to die in our place. By his death, Jesus turned the wrath of God aside and became the grounds upon which God has been able to justify the ungodly. At the end of Romans 4, Paul has returned to this theme after having shown that this is the same method by which the Old Testament saints, such as Abraham and David, were justified.
But what was written in the Old Testament was not written for these believers alone, Paul says. It was written “also for us,” that is, for people living today, so that we might be saved as Abraham was.
Abraham was saved by faith. So the question is: Do you believe in God and trust his promises, as the patriarch did? Although he knew less about the person and work of Jesus than you do, his faith was not different in kind from yours, and for that very reason he remains your example. Remember what we said about his faith? Abraham (1) believed God’s promise; (2) believed on the basis of the Word of God only; (3) believed in spite of adverse circumstances; (4) was fully assured that God would do whatever he had promised; and (5) acted on that confidence.
That is what you must do, too. God has promised salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. You must trust his word in this, even though the circumstances of life may seem to rule against it. Abraham looked at himself and considered his body as good as dead. You also are dead to spiritual things. But you must believe what God says, commit yourself to Christ, as he tells you to do, and find that the power of God that was active in quickening Abraham’s old body will quicken you.
Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God” (Rom. 4:20). Neither should your faith falter. Receive the promise, and believe in the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
25 Death and resurrection were the calling and experience of Jesus. One can hardly fail to notice the carefully balanced character of this final statement, relating as it does the death of Jesus to our sins and his resurrection to our justification. Beyond question, the statement owes much to Isaiah 53, where in the LXX the Servant is pictured as “delivered over” (paradidōmi [GK 4140] in the LXX [53:6, 12], as here) on account of the sins of the many. Justification (dikaioō, GK 1467) appears in the LXX of 53:11. Moreover, the resurrection, though not stated in so many words, is implied in 53:10, 12. Whether Paul’s statement is one he has taken over from Christian tradition (cf. 1 Co 15:3–4), as some believe, or is entirely his own composition may be an open question. But one can at least affirm that this passage shows the early tendency to phrase redemptive truth in brief, creedlike formulations.
The chief difficulty for the interpretation of v. 25 lies in the preposition dia, “for,” common to both clauses. In the first clause, “delivered over … for our sins” probably means that it was on account of them that Jesus had to die for salvation to be procured. In the second, more difficult clause, “raised … for our justification” can mean that Jesus was resurrected because our justification was accomplished in his death (cf. “justified by his blood,” 5:9). Since justification is already achieved through the cross, however, it is unlikely that Paul means that the resurrection of Christ achieved our justification. More likely is the idea that our justification is confirmed or guaranteed by the resurrection.
Justification, considered objectively and from the standpoint of God’s provision, was accomplished in the death of Christ (5:9) and therefore did not require the resurrection to complete it. Paul does not mention the resurrection in his definitive statement on justification in 3:21–26. Subjectively, however, the resurrection of Christ was essential for the exercise of faith, since if he remained under the power of death, serious doubts would arise about the efficacy of his sacrifice on the cross. Furthermore, justification is not simply a forensic transaction, important as that aspect is, but involves also a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ (5:18).
Finally, the justification to which Paul refers is justification through faith (cf. 5:1), and this applies as definitely to us as to Abraham (cf. v. 24). To believe in a Christ who died for our sins is only half the gospel. The resurrection cannot be omitted—observe how Paul includes both aspects in 6:3–4 when showing how the work of Christ provides the foundation for Christian living. For Paul, the death and resurrection of Christ belong together, and the former without the latter would be of little significance. Therefore he rarely thinks of the one without the other.
4:23–25 / What Paul says in verses 23–24 will come as no surprise to the reader. The righteousness accorded to Abraham was not for him alone, but also for us. Paul had no intention of treating Abraham as a museum piece; neither is his review of righteousness in this chapter undertaken from purely historical interests. Paul saw in Abraham’s experience a model for the Gentiles, whose hope for salvation was as dead as Abraham’s body. Abraham was for Paul the first fruits of a process of salvation which extended from the patriarch to Jesus Christ. Abraham’s faith in God’s promise is expressive of the faith of believers in the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. Everything Paul has said finds its culmination in Jesus, who is here mentioned for the first time in chapter 4. Whoever believes that God raised Jesus from the dead testifies to the God of the promise “who gives life to the dead” (v. 17). As Abraham and Sarah believed despite the deadness in themselves (vv. 19–20), so believers are justified through faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. It is the same faith in the same God who brings the dead to life.
A refined couplet concludes the chapter: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. The parallelism—death for sin, raised for righteousness—points doubtlessly to an early Christian formula or confession. Christ’s achievement on both accounts was for us. The passive voice, He was delivered over, a divine passive, is a reverential reference to God without using his name (lest it be profaned), meaning “God handed him over.” The couplet is apparently a christological reflection on the final verse of Isaiah’s hymn to the suffering servant, where (in the lxx) the servant “was handed over on account of our sins” (53:12). The verb behind delivered (Gk. paradidōmi) is doubly suited to the context, for it embraces the idea that Jesus was betrayed by Judas (and others) as well as handed over by the providence of God. The themes of dying and raising which appear throughout the section are here completed. As the deadness of Abraham and Sarah typifies the death of the sinner and ultimately the death of Christ for sins, so God’s promise to quicken them typifies the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
God called forth Isaac from the “dead” body of Abraham, he called forth Jesus from a sealed tomb, and he calls forth believers from the death of sin and endows them with new life (6:13). Wherever God’s sovereign purpose prevails over mortal circumstances, there “is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Conclusion: Abraham’s faith and ours (23–25)
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). 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 (paradidōmi), 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 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 causal 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’).
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!
Abraham: The Father of Those Who Believe in “Resurrection” (4:23–25)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Just as Abraham trusted God to bring life from his and Sarah’s “dead” bodies, so those who trust in Christ and his resurrection from the dead will be justified by faith.
4:23. Little did Moses know that when he penned Genesis 15:6 he was writing it for and about others in addition to Abraham. There was a much greater resurrection on the horizon of history than the resurrection of human reproduction in Abraham’s and Sarah’s bodies. But what God did for them was only a picture of what he was going to do for the entire human race. The outcome of faith would be the same—justification in God’s sight—but the demonstration of God’s power would be different. In fact, the demonstration of power that God gives the world to believe in today is the greatest display of power the world has ever seen.
4:24–25. Paul says that God will credit righteousness to anyone in the world today who believes in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. This is the same exercise in faith that Abraham was asked to participate in. Compare the similarities and the differences:
||God and his promises about the future (descendants and blessings)
||God and his promises about the future (forgiveness of sin, eternal life)
||God’s power manifested in resurrecting an aged couple’s reproductive ability
||God’s power manifested in resurrecting his Son
||Abraham had to look forward in complete faith to an event that had not happened.
||We have the opportunity to look back to an event that has already happened and is historically verifiable.
||Faith results in Abraham being credited with righteousness
||Faith results in our being credited with righteousness
Abraham was asked to believe what he had never seen. We are asked to believe what many witnesses have seen and verified. It is easy to see why Abraham is a prime example of faith in Hebrews 11, and why Paul pictures him as the “father” of faith. God never disparages those who see and believe, but believing and seeing by faith somehow receives his special attention. Remember Jesus’ words to “doubting” Thomas? When Thomas insisted on evidence that Jesus had been resurrected, Jesus accommodated him. But then Jesus delivered this “Abrahamic-style” principle: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
There are four classes of people in the world regarding faith:
- Those who believe without seeing (includes Abraham and others who may have been asked by God to trust him by faith alone).
- Those who believe after seeing (includes any who receive clear presentations of the gospel, including evidence of the resurrection of Christ, and believe).
- Those who do not believe after seeing (those who hear and see clear evidence of the power of God, or the gospel, but will not believe; could include those who “see” evidence of God in general revelation but suppress the truth; Rom. 1).
- Those who have yet to hear the postresurrection gospel message.
If those who believe without seeing are blessed, what are those who see and do not believe (cf. John 6:36; 10:25–26, 38)? And what of those who have not had the opportunity to believe in Paul’s gospel message? Paul understood what a triumph of faith Abraham accomplished by taking God purely at his word before the fact. Now, after the fact of Christ’s resurrection, people today have the opportunity to receive the same justification by faith that Abraham received. In other words, Paul’s perspective seems to be this: “We have the evidence in hand to show the world that the God of Abraham, the God of power, wants to grant justification to those who believe that Christ is risen! Our task is to get the message to them, giving them the opportunity to believe.”
Finally, Paul summarizes the two sides of the salvation coin: Christ was delivered over to death for our sins, but then he was raised to life for our justification. What’s the difference? The sacrificial atonement for sin was accomplished through the death of Christ (Rom. 3:25), and the approval of God was manifested in the resurrection. Christ’s resurrection set his death apart from all other human deaths (e.g., the two thieves who died with him but who were not resurrected). Anyone could die claiming to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world. The test would be their resurrection.
This is similar to the time Jesus told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. When the teachers of the law criticized him for taking the place of God by forgiving sins (and rightly so, unless Jesus was God!), he (as later with Thomas) accommodated their skepticism: ‘ “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.…’ He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home’ ” (Mark 2:10–11). The man “got up” (was “resurrected”) and walked home.
That was a microcosm of what happened in Christ’s death and resurrection: the forgiveness of sins validated by resurrection. As happened on that ordinary, dusty day in Israel—“This amazed everyone and they praised God”—it can happen again today. As the hymn writer tells us, “As Thou hast been [for Abraham], Thou forever wilt be [for all who share his faith]” (Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Thomas O. Chisholm, brackets added).
May God give us grace to boldly proclaim the death of Christ for our sins, and the resurrection of Christ for our justification, so that Abraham’s family of faith may continue to grow, making him the “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13)! Though we do not see him face to face today, as we spread his gospel he can be “unseen but not unknown”:
Jesus, these eyes have never seen
That radiant form of thine;
The veil of sense hangs dark between
Thy blessed face and mine.
Yet though I have not seen, and still
Must rest in faith alone,
I love thee, dearest Lord, and will,
Unseen but not unknown.
(Ward, p. 187)
MAIN IDEA REVIEW: Abraham established the priority of faith over works for every Jew or Gentile who wants to be counted as righteous in the sight of God.
23–25. Now the words, “It was reckoned to him,” were written not for him alone, but also for us to whom it is to be reckoned, to us who rest our faith on him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
“… not for him alone but also for us.” That the words of Scripture were written not solely for the contemporaries of the respective authors but also for later generations is taught in both testaments (Ps. 78:1–7; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 9:10; 10:11; and in a sense 2 Tim. 3:16). So also the experiences of God’s children were to be related to later generations (Gen. 18:19). Today, an age in which for many the study of history has become a lost art, this reminder should serve a good purpose. What Paul is saying is that we too are vitally concerned with this story about Abraham, and with the manner in which the righteousness of Christ was imputed to him. Is it not true that we too are the ones to whom it is to be reckoned? Are not we included in the family of those who rest our faith on him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead?
Note that Paul’s attitude toward Jesus Christ is one not only of profound reverence (“Lord”), but also of deep gratitude, heart-warming love (“Our”). When the apostle wrote the words “Jesus our Lord” he was not just rattling off a few titles. No, this is the Paul of Gal. 2:20, the one who said, “the Son of God loved me and gave himself up for me.”
Reflecting, then, on God’s omnipotence and love employed in the interest of his people, Paul includes his addressees and himself in the circle of those who rest their faith on the One who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
The long list of references which indicate that The Twelve (often represented by Peter) and Paul were convinced not only of the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead but also that God had raised him—see Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:31; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; 1 Thess. 1:10 (cf. Heb, 13:20; 1 Peter 1:21)—is significant. Does it not seem as if these passages are calling attention to the fact that God the Father must have been satisfied with the atoning sacrifice Jesus had offered?
Paul continues with words that have been, and continue to be, the occasion of much controversy, a controversy that centers in a little Greek word of three letters (διά), which can be translated “for” or “because of,” or “on account of.”
The controversial passage concerns “Jesus our Lord,” and the dispute is focused on the clause “who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”
Some maintain that because these two clauses—(a) delivered up for our trespasses, (b) raised for our justification—are parallel, therefore if the first looks back (is retrospective), the second must do the same. Or if the first looks forward (is prospective), the second does likewise. See Murray, op. cit., p. 154f. That author chose the second of these alternatives: Jesus was delivered up in order to atone for our sins and was raised in order that we might be justified. A somewhat similar view can be found in Denney’s commentary, op. cit., p. 622. To be fair to these authors, both of whom have written commentaries that are worthy of serious study, their books should be consulted on this question.
It is interesting to notice that A. Schlatter, who also proceeds from the idea that διά must have the same meaning in both clauses, reaches the opposite conclusion. As he sees it, both are retrospective: because we fell, Jesus was condemned; because we had been justified, he arose.
Is it true, indeed, that we are compelled to choose between these two alternatives? Probably not. There is a third possibility, namely, that while basically the little word may have the same meaning in both clauses, namely, may indicate causality, this causality could still look backward in the first clause, forward in the second. In fact, even in the almost immediately preceding line (verses 23, 24) it is clear that the first διά (the one in verse 23: “for him”) looks backward, to Abraham; the second (in verse 24, “for us”) looks forward. So also here “He was delivered up for, or on account of, our trespasses” looks backward and means that our trespasses made it necessary for him to be delivered up, while “(he) was raised for, or on account of, our justification” looks forward and indicates that he was raised in order to assure us that in the sight of God we are indeed without sin. In other words Christ’s resurrection had as its purpose to bring to light the fact that all those who acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior have entered into a state of righteousness in the eyes of God. The Father, by raising Jesus from the dead, assures us that the atoning sacrifice has been accepted; hence, our sins are forgiven.
Before we leave this precious passage (Rom. 4:25) we must point out that here again the close connection between the Old and the New Testament is revealed. The words “who was delivered up [or: over to death] for our trespasses” are a strong reminder of what is found in Isa. 53, where in verses 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, and 12, in one way or another, Messiah’s vicarious suffering is described and predicted.
That the truth with respect to the believers’ justification, solely of grace and by faith, is a treasure so precious that nothing—no, nothing!—can top it, Paul confesses when, in jubilation of spirit, he exclaims:
“Nevertheless the things that once were gains to me these have I counted loss for Christ. Yes, what is more, I certainly count all things to be sheer loss because of the all-surpassing excellence of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and I am still counting them refuse, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, legal righteousness, but that (which is) through faith in Christ, the righteousness (which is) from God and is by faith …” (Phil. 3:7–9).
Among the many precious truths held before us in this fourth chapter of Romans is certainly also this outstanding one, namely, that the comforting doctrine of justification not by works but by faith is firmly rooted in Scripture (the Old Testament), as the example of Abraham proves.
4:25 The Lord Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Although the preposition because of (Gk. dia) is used here in connection with both our offenses and our justification, the context demands a different shade of meaning in each case. He was delivered up not only because of our offenses but in order to put them away. He was raised up because of our justification—that is, in order to demonstrate God’s complete satisfaction with the work of Christ by which we are justified. In the first instance, our offenses were the problem that needed to be dealt with. In the second instance, our justification is the result that is assured by Christ’s resurrection. There could have been no justification if Christ had remained in the tomb. But the fact that He rose tells us that the work is finished, the price has been paid, and God is infinitely satisfied with the sin-atoning work of the Savior.
V 25 describes the work of Jesus the Lord in two parallel statements (it may be that Paul is quoting an early Christian confession). The first statement alludes to the lxx of Is. 53:12, where the servant of the Lord is said to have been ‘handed over because of their sins’. The for (Gk. dia) in this first line probably means ‘because of’: Jesus was handed over to death because it was necessary to provide for our sin problem. In the second line, however, the for probably has the meaning ‘for the sake of, with the purpose of’: Jesus was raised from the dead for the purpose of providing for our justification. While Paul usually connects our justification with Christ’s death, this verse shows that Christ’s resurrection also plays a role in our being made right with God.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 1, pp. 267–268). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 493–500). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 86). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Edwards, J. R. (2011). Romans (pp. 128–129). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (pp. 135–137). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Romans (Vol. 6, pp. 138–140). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, pp. 160–162). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1695). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Moo, D. J. (1994). Romans. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1132). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.