In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. – Romans 4:18-25 ESV
Belief does not come without its obstacles. It does not go unopposed or unchallenged. The author of Hebrews gives us great working definition: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). It is not a timid thing. It is not half-in kind of a commitment. It requires confidence and assurance, both of which must be firmly placed in God, not the thing for which we are hoping. Earlier in chapter four, Paul wrote, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3 ESV). Paul was quoting from the Old Testament account found in Genesis 15, where God promised Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV). And it says that Abraham believed God. He took Him at His word. But Abraham had plenty of reasons to doubt God. He had just offered an alternative plan, suggesting that God consider using one of his male servants as his heir. The problem, as Abraham saw it, was that he was old and his wife was barren. He believed that God was going to do what He had promised, but he just wasn’t sure how. That is why Paul says, “in hope he believed against hope.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations.”
Abraham had every reason to doubt. His situation and circumstances shouted out to him daily, “This is hopeless!” All he had to do was take a look around and the evidence would suggest that God’s promise was nothing more than a dream. Yet Paul says, “he did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old)” (Romans 4:19 ESV). As long as Abraham looked at his circumstances, he would find himself doubting. But his faith was in something else. Even when he considered the fact that his wife was barren, rather than conclude that God’s promise was null and void, Paul says, “no unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God.” Instead, “he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (Romans 4:20 ESV). He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:21 ESV). His faith was in God. His confidence was in the source of the promise. And Paul says, “this is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:22 ESV).
Martin Luther wrote, “Faith is something that is arduous and difficult. First, it is directed to what a person does not see; indeed, to the very opposite of what one perceives. It seems utterly impossible” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans). Abraham grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God. There is a reciprocal nature to our faith. When we believe and trust in God, He is glorified. And as we believe in Him, our faith is strengthened as we see Him work in ways we could never have imagined. Placing our faith in God provides us with front row seats in which to watch Him work. To believe God is to glorify God. Trusting God increases our faith in God. When we trust Him in spite of the circumstances swirling around us and the doubts welling up within us, we get to see God work. As a result, our faith in Him grows stronger.
Abraham’s faith was in God. Yes, he believed the promise of God, but his faith in the promise was based on the faithfulness of the one who had made the promise. He knew that God was good for it. He would come through. He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. And Paul uses the faith of Abraham as an illustration of the kind of faith we are to have. We are to place our faith in God and His gospel message, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 ESV). And when we “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification,” our faith is counted to us as righteousness. It is our faith in God and His ability to save us through His Son’s death, burial and resurrection that results in His declaration of our righteousness. We are saved by faith. And while the world will constantly strive to cause us to doubt the veracity of God’s words and to question the reality of the gospel message, we must remain fully convinced and unwaveringly confident in the one who stands behind the promise. Our circumstances will stand against us. The evidence will not be in our favor. Our hopes will begin to waver. But like Abraham, in hope we must believe against hope, and believe that God is able to do what He has promised.