Gordon E. Johnson


Sanctifying Faith in the Same Abraham Justified by Faith

Romans 4:16-25 (NKJV

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


Paul dedicates the whole of Romans 4 to the role of faith, that divine/human quality that brings God's justifying grace. When I say divine/human quality or means of grace, I indicate the importance of the order in God's initiative. It can be stated with a measure of certainty "as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3).  Again Paul states in the classic portion: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).  I recognize there may be an alternative interpretation to the latter, but Paul states clearly: "not of yourselves".  Faith can never have its origin and its dynamic in the believer. In an inscrutable way, God produces "faith through hearing and hearing by the word of God."

But if faith is first the divine quality, it is bound up with the human response, hence that empty hand that reaches out and receives what God gives. With no outstretched hand, there can be no reception of what God in grace gives.  Here in the juncture of faith; we stand back in awe of God's purposes. By grace, through faith on the basis of the blood God gives the fullness of his salvation. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes "(Rom. 1:16)

God's Effective "Twins" – "Therefore is of faith that it might be according to grace"

Paul in a few brief words unites the two divine principles of faith and grace in one simple statement.  Paul goes on to say: "So that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all" (Rom. 4:16).  Initially to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, God gave a promise to him as the father of the faithful, there being as yet no law given or even circumcision.  God is saying grace can only operate in the realm of faith, trust and commitment; faith can only operate when God's grace and promise is the only source of confidence and trust. Grace operates were faith reigns; faith operates where grace reigns.

The depth to that assertion is generally lost on us in terms of the Christian walk or sanctification, holy living. We do affirm and rejoice in these two principles in our justification, our new standing in the presence of God.  But with our current "works/Christian service mentality" after initial salvation, we seem to lose the uniqueness of them in developing in us Christ-likeness, the very essence of sanctification. So often we think our work for him adds value to our standing; service even in God's name becomes a secret source of pride. But faith leaves no room for pride, the essence of sin, and grace triumphs in our weakness.

Sanctifying faith in Abraham's offering of Isaac Romans 18-25.

If justifying faith is illustrated in his believing God in Ur at the age of  75 (Gen: 12:4; 15:6), this same faith is the sanctifying faith at age 100, when he was faced with the utter impossibility of a son on which God's promise of universal blessing hinged (Rom. 4:19). Let that comparison sink in. He was no more able to justify himself in Ur> than he could sanctify himself in the Promised Land. It was going to be God and only God on his terms of grace and faith.  Paul is underlining simple faith as the only entrance into holiness and Christ likeness. It must be grace plus faith plus nothing more in both justification and sanctification.

The Resignation of Faith in Sanctification, an initial step of a tested faith Rom. 4:17, 18

In sovereign grace God deferred thirteen years (from 86-99) since Abraham's carnal dependence on Sarai and Hagar (Gen. 16); he waited till every human hope was lost for the son as promised. God is described as one "who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (17).  God could not compromise his deeper work of sanctifying grace in Abraham: "who contrary to hope, in hope believed so that he became the father of many nations. Abraham had no other earthly option. God wants to bring us to that point in any sanctifying work of grace --never an easy place to be.

The Rejoicing of Faith in Sanctification, a maturing of tested faith  Rom. 4:19, 20b

"And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead and the deadness of Sarah's womb." This is what faith does NOT do. It does not weigh the options or rate the probabilities.  There is no other source from which life can come, never from ourselves but always from him who raises the dead.  This is Romans 7:23, 24. But Paul continues: "He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith giving glory to God." He will not look inside but rather to the promise of God --rejoicing follows, even when faith is not yet realized in sight.

The Rest of Faith in Sanctification, a mature faith. Rom. 4:21-25

"And being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore' it was accounted to him for righteousness.'  Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us.  It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead" (Rom. 4:21-24).  Notice carefully what Paul says about Abraham's experience before God; he was already a mature but still an imperfect believer. This passage becomes highly relevant to our walk with God. Paul will develop this truth in the next chapters. Faith is a not an historical detail, but a real walk of faith grounded in the imputed righteousness of Christ, still our only standing for any subsequent walk in Christ likeness.

Paul here links the truths of justifying faith to sanctifying faith in the person of Abraham who demonstrates for us our standing and our walk grounded in simple faith and always in God's grace. Merit and works in his name, years of service do not enter God's equation.

Some Powerful Deductions on Faith in it Sanctifying Work in Abraham at 100 years of Age.

  1. Paul chooses two events in Abraham's life to illustrate the role of faith in a full salvation, first in Ur of the Caldees at 75 and in Canaan at 100 expecting the birth of Isaac.
  2. Paul makes no distinction between the two events with regard to the nature of faith. God operates on the basis of grace and develops faith and dependence in his own. This speaks to the unity of God's saving work. It is his doing based on a maturing faith.
  3. We have come to separate justification from sanctification, but God does not allow it. Whom he justifies he desires to sanctify. Holiness is God's plan for the true believer.
  4. The development of Abraham's faith is the prime work of God through the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson
April 10, 2008