Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 4.17 

There has arisen in recent years in the United States of America a perversion of Bible truth that some people refer to as “Name It And Claim It” theology or “Prosperity Theology.” Those in that camp refer to themselves as “Faith Teachers” or as “Word Of Faith” people. It’s really your standard garden variety Christian broadcasting channel 40 brand of Christianity and it isn’t really Christianity at all. An outgrowth of old fashioned Pentecostalism, the leaders of this movement are such men as Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Haggin, Oral “Please Don’t Let God Kill Me” Roberts, Frederick K. “The Prophet Of Profit” Price, and Bennie “Before Adam Sinned He Could Fly” Hinn. Marilyn Hickey, Joyce Meyers, Creflow Dollar, and T. D. Jakes fit in there somewhere, as well the Calvary Chapel crowd.

Some of you may laugh at my attempt at humor and some of you may be outraged that I would criticize other men of God. However, I want to assure you of two things before we go any further: First, this isn’t funny. There are far too many lives being ruined by this theological confusion for it to be funny. And second, I make it a point to never criticize a man of God. Do you hear me? This unbiblical movement has headed into a doctrinal cul-de-sac from which there is no way out because they began making two critical errors years ago in their mishandling of God’s Word:

First, they do not discern the difference between prescriptive passages in God’s Word and descriptive passages in God’s Word. That is, they fail to recognize that the Biblical record of some miraculous event occurring, which is a descriptive passage, does not necessitate that such an event will ever occur again or that such things are the norm for the Christian life, as is the case with prescriptive passages. I think the most obvious evidence of this is found in the tendency of many pastors of this wicked persuasion to spend their entire lives discoursing and expounding primarily from the book of Acts. Friends, I love the book of Acts. But how can you spend all of your time dealing with that descriptive portion of Scripture and still claim to faithfully declare the whole counsel of God’s Word? We must be careful to discover which portions of God’s Word are describing events that occurred in the past and which portions are prescribing the manner of life that God wants His children to live during this present age.

Second, the Charismatic/Pentecostal crowd completely misunderstand the Biblical concept of faith. You’d think that people who major on faith as much as they do would know a little more about the subject. But they don’t. Faith is basically the trust or the confidence that one person, let’s call him the believer, has in another person. The “Name It And Claim It” types so misconstrue faith that they think the determining factor in whether or not something they “believe God for” isn’t at all the will of God in the matter, but the strength of their own faith. Reminds me of a former coworker named Tony coming to work one day, limping terribly on an ankle swollen to the size of a grapefruit. When I asked him what’s wrong, he said “Nothing.” When I again asked him what was wrong more specifically with his ankle, he said “Nothing.” However, when I asked him why his ankle was so swollen, he said he had severely sprained it but that all was now well because he had “claimed his healing.” Thus, to my Pentecostal friend, Tony, faith meant denying reality and pretending that something was what he wanted it to be rather than what it obviously was.

Did God not heal you? The problem isn’t the will of God. You just didn’t have enough faith, or so they claim. Are you poor? God is chastising you for a lack of faith. It could not possibly be that He placed you in a neighborhood to reach the poor with the Gospel. No. You’re poor because you don’t have strong enough faith. That concept of faith, so frequently demonstrated by those of the Charismatic and Pentecostal persuasion, is not reflected anywhere in God’s Word.

In our examination of Romans 4.16 we came to the conclusion that Abraham’s life demonstrated, for all to see, that justification is by faith. But what kind of faith are we referring to in the case of Abraham? The kind which trusts in your ability to trust, or the kind which trusts in the ability of Another? What is so common these days, and reflected in so much of the programming seen on Christian television and heard on Christian radio, is a faith which upon close examination actually relies on your ability to believe. However, that is not faith of the Bible variety.

In our text for today we see that justification by faith only works when the faith has a sufficient object. In Romans 4.17 we see Paul’s description of the object of Abraham’s faith. God. Let’s stand and read together: 

“(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.” 

Here we have described for us the God in Whom Abraham trusted, the Maker and Keeper of promises. Two aspects of God’s description are important to Paul’s presentation of the justification which is by faith: 


“As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations.” 

Two pertinent observations related to God’s promise to Abraham:

First, we notice that there is a record of God’s promise. Do you take for granted the fact that “It is written?” A testimony to the greatness of our God is the fact that when He made the promise to Abraham He left a record of His promise. When you see the phrase “As it is written” in the New Testament, know that reference is being made to an Old Testament passage. There are a variety of ways Paul could have indicated that the promise of God to Abraham had been recorded. He chose, however, to use what is called the perfect tense of the verb, pronounced gegraptai. Let me read an excerpt from a Greek grammar, describing the perfect tense such as is used in the phrase “As it is written”: 

“The Greek perfect tense stands alone in its function; English has no corresponding tense adequate for expressing the significance involved . . . . The real nature of the Greek perfect is seen in the passive voice better than in the active. Hence, gegraptai may be translated ‘it has been written,’ but it is better translated ‘it is written,’ in which sense it pictures an act in progress, the point of culmination, and the existing completed result — ‘it has been written and stands written.’”[1] 

That is exactly what we have here. Even the example used in the Greek grammar is the same as we see here, the word gegraptai. The point is this: God made a promise to Abraham and the consequences of that promise are felt to this present day. God’s promise has been written and it stands written.

Second, we notice the recipients of God’s promise. There are two recipients of the promise God made to Abraham. There is Abraham, first, then there are the many nations that God appointed him to be the father of. “But pastor, you talked about this in Romans 4.16.” Not really. Think of the Apostle Paul as a jeweler who is examining a precious stone, carefully looking at each of the perfectly formed facets. In the previous verse Paul examined the precious stone of justification by looking carefully at the facet of faith. In this verse he turns the stone somewhat, and we are now looking through his glass at that facet which draws attention to the object of our faith. In this verse we look at God. And what do we learn about God? The God in Whom we have placed our faith, as did Abraham, is a God Who makes promises. And He records those promises to prove that His Word is true. How different is the God of Abraham from the Allah of the Quran, which makes claims about his deceptions.[2] 


There are many different passages in the Bible wherein the omnipresence of God is established. And truly, God is an everywhere present God. But in our text we are presented with a different conception of God’s presence. You might say that Paul is pointing out God’s eternity here. Rather reminds me of our Lord Jesus Christ’s comment that 

“Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. . . . Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”[3] 

In the last half of Romans 4.17 we are shown that in two different periods of history, separated by almost 2000 years, God is shown to be one who is present:

First, He was present in past times. The phrase I want you to pay particular attention to reads, 

“before him whom he believed, even God.” 

Here Paul describes Abraham as being before the God in Whom he believed. A. T. Robertson informs us that this means “right in front of.”[4] And though this phrase is oftentimes used to indicate in some measure who Abraham was, it just as surely shows us something about God. You see, when Abraham was justified by faith in God he is described as “before Him,” which is to say “right in front of God.”4 Look at it both ways. On one hand, this describes Abraham’s position being elevated to the place that he actually had the standing of a righteous man in the presence of God. But on the other hand, this describes God as being where Abraham was. And isn’t this how God is? Isn’t He always where you are? Isn’t He always where I am? Even if, like Job, you do not always feel as though God is always present, He is always present. In that respect God was present during Abraham’s lifetime.

Second, God is also present in present times. Notice how Paul described God during his own lifetime and ministry: 

“even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” 

What about God, Who quickens the dead, God, Who gives life to the dead? To what is this referring? Does it refer to making the dead bodies of Abraham and Sarah alive for the conception and birth of the promised Isaac? Does it refer to the resurrection from the dead of the Lord Jesus Christ? To both questions I answer “Yes.” And by application, God also presently makes alive those who are dead in trespasses and sins, as you and I once were before we trusted Christ.

This reminds me of the weekend God saved me through faith in Christ. I was bored, so I read Genesis one night before going to bed late one Saturday night. The next evening I remember watching a strange television show late at night, starring Bill Bixby as a fellow who had died and woke up in the locker room of a steambath. I remember little besides the janitor being God in the presentation. What typical Hollywood blasphemy![5] However, after that show ended I was bored again and began reading Exodus. It was in chapter 12, dealing with the Passover, that God brought to my remembrance the vacation Bible school lesson Miss Peabody and Miss Rupp had taught from John 1.29. Realizing my lost condition, I was confronted by God with the claims of Christ and that very night, through faith in Christ, God quickened a dead man. I stand before you tonight.

What about God, Who calls those things not being as being, Who calls things not existing as existing? Does this illustrate Paul’s understanding that God is the Creator Who calls into existence that which has no existence and makes alive those who were dead? God does that, to be sure, but the context of this phrase points to something related to that reality. The context points to the fact that to God there really is no past and future, only the ever and always present. Remember, “before Abraham was I am.” When God made Abraham the father of many nations the man had not yet sired an heir. The nations, as such, did not yet exist. But God spoke as if in the present of those things which were in Abraham’s distant future.

When you exist in the past, in the present, and in the future, as God does, you are more than able to keep the promises that you make. 

What kind of God do you choose to worship and serve? Do you choose to worship and serve the God Who controls all things, the God Who makes promises that He intends to keep, the God Who is always present to keep His promises, even if He has to raise the dead to do it?

Do you choose to worship and serve the God Who can be trusted because He has infinite power and wisdom and love? Or do you choose to worship and serve, if you call it that, a glorified bellhop Whose actions are determined solely by your personal whims and desires, a God Who must give you what you want if you say the right magic words that pull His string?

My friends, as we take a quick glimpse of the object of Abraham’s faith, we notice some things that are at odds with the God of the “Name It And Claim It” crowd, the God of the “Word Of Faith” crowd. With regard to justification by faith, in connection with the God of Abraham, it isn’t the strength of any sinner’s faith but the strength of the God he trusts, that’s important.

In what do you trust? Do you trust in your ability to trust, or do you trust in God? You say, “What difference does it make?” It makes the difference between heaven and Hell.


[1] Ray Summers, Essentials of New Testament Greek, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1950), page 103.

[2] “There are several verses in the Quran which state that Allah can decide to mislead a person from the way of salvation if he chooses to (Surahs 16:93; 13:27; 25:9). While Surah 4:88 warns that nobody should lead a person who has been led astray by Allah to the way of salvation, it queries: ‘Wish you to guide him whom Allah has made go astray? He whom Allah has made go astray, you will never find for him any way (of guidance).’ In Surah 74:31, we learn that ‘Allah leads astray whom he will and guides whom He will.’ In Surah 14:4, we read, ‘Allah misleads whom He will and guides whom He will. He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.’ (All quotes from Dr. M. T. Al-Hilali and Dr. Muhsin Khan’s translation).” -G. J. O. Moshay, Who Is This Allah?, Gerrards Cross, UK: Dorchester House Publications, Second Edition 1995), page 93.

[3] John 8.56, 58

[4] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol IV, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1931), page 353.


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