Thoughts On Romans I: Facing the Facts (4:18-21)


Romans 4:18-21 NIV:

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed
and so became the father of many nations,
just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

19 Without weakening in his faith,
he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—
since he was about a hundred years old—
and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.

20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God,
but was strengthened in his faith
and gave glory to God,
21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

Facing the Facts…

Ah, what a passage! Ah, the Truth of the Word of God, ascending to—and descending from!—the very throne room of the LORD in heaven and yet being so powerfully practical as to speak to us in the trenches of earthly life…

Abraham “faced the fact” that his situation, from an earthly perspective, was hopeless…Abraham “faced the fact” that his circumstance seemed bigger than God’s command, that his predicament seemed bigger than God’s promise.

And yet Abraham believed in God’s promise…Abraham valued more highly what his ears heard (what God said) than what his eyes saw (how his situation seemed).

He “faced the fact” that yes, it was true—his wife Sarah was well beyond the child-bearing years. He also “faced the fact” that yes, it was true—his physical body was all but dead. These were facts.

And yet he also “faced the fact” that yes, God clearly promised Abraham that he would have a son and that the LORD would work through that son and his descendants to bless the entire world!

All three were facts…and so Abraham had a decision to make.

Trust what he saw in life or trust what he heard from the LORD.

But how could his faith be strong enough to stand up under such a heavy situation?

How could his faith be strong enough to carry the load of such facts?

  1. He didn’t use the “power of positive thinking.” Abraham didn’t simply imagine that his own dreams for having a son would come true—he didn’t have faith in faith!
  1. He didn’t ignore the facts or pretend they weren’t true. Abraham didn’t bury his head in the sand and wear shorts & flip-flops in a January snowstorm! Though he did visit Egypt, he wasn’t living in denial! 🙂
  1. He didn’t change what God told him to “fit” the facts; he didn’t “bend the truth” of God’s Word in order to make sense of what he was facing (e.g. “God meant symbolically that we would have ‘children’ in the sense that others would learn from our example”).
  • This is what many people do regarding Jesus’ death on the cross—they think His bloody death was simply an inspiring example for us to strive to do good for others. NO! Jesus’ nasty death was bloody because our bloody sins are nasty! He died, not symbolically, but literally, not just to give us a good example but to take away/pay for our terrible sins against God.
  1. And he didn’t “give in/submit” to the facts and stop being intimate with Sarah! He “faced the facts” as one faces an opponent or foe but did not retreat from or surrender to those facts. He faced them!

So how was he able to believe God and not his situation?

  1. Abraham focused on God’s promise; that is, he remembered that it was God’s promise to him; that Abraham would have a son was God’s dream/desire first and Abraham’s dream/desire second. “Yet [Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God…” He remembered that his having a son was the LORD’s idea first! Thus Abraham chased not his own dreams but God’s dreams.
  • But God doesn’t promise everything we want! There are some things that He hasn’t promised, even if those things are good and beautiful and wonderful. Just because we want something–even something godly, even something that the LORD has graciously given to another Christian–doesn’t mean that God has promised it for us.
  • I must also make a clear but subtle caution here–we must not tell others that “‘x’ would have happened by now (or not have happened at all) if you just had enough faith.” I can’t imagine a more damaging thing to say to someone when they have suffered deeply for a long time. Yes it is true that in Capernaum Jesus could not do many miracles there because of the people’s lack of faith–that is true in that specific situation and we always need to be crying out to the Savior to “increase our faith” in Him (please see the next bullet point below). But Job suffered horrifically, and no amount of faith would have prevented his suffering or shortened it. God sovereignly chose to allow Job to suffer deeply for a very long time, and it was the endurance of Job’s faith in such suffering that brought glory to the LORD, more glory than God would have received had He chosen to prevent or shorten Job’s suffering. Paul suffered over and over again throughout his earthly life, not because of weak faith but because of his strong faith! God chose to allow Paul to suffer in order to help Paul know the Lord Jesus more closely! We could make an almost endless list of those with great faith who suffered greatly (see Hebrews 11).
  • We must also note that God reveals that any wavering Abraham did—any doubts or struggles that Abraham had—was a result not of the bigness of the foe (the facts!) but as a result of the smallness of his faith. God calls wavering “unbelief,” a lack of trust in God Himself—a sin! This isn’t to make us feel guilty or bad but rather to accurately diagnose the problem—when we doubt, the problem is with us, not with God! And since we accurately know the disease—lack of faith in God!—we can accurately know the cure—repenting to Him, confessing our sin, asking forgiveness, and asking Him for MORE faith, for a stronger faith and not simply for a change in the situation! In other words, we ask God to change us from the inside and not necessarily to change our situation from the outside! This is what we see happened, for in the second half of verse 20 God reveals that Abraham’s faith was indeed strengthened, presumably by God Himself!
  1. Abraham focused on God’s power; that is, God would be the One to make this dream a reality, God would be the One to defeat this foe, God would be the one to override these facts that Abraham was facing, as a Judge overrules an objection in court. For the “facts” of life often object to the promises of God, but it is His power that overrules those stubborn objections. Abraham eventually stopped trying to use his own techniques and strategies for defeating the “facts” and instead acted in faith—being intimate with Sarah and [presumably] doing what was practically necessary to prepare a nursery for his yet unconceived son. God sometimes writes checks (makes promises) against our personal faith accounts but always offers us a full-fund transfer of the faith needed to underwrite His checks; in other words, God’s power provides us with the faith needed to believe His promises…IF we will ask Him for such a transfer, if we will pray to Him for such power, if we will admit that our faith has been bankrupt and overdrawn (and under-deposited via Bible reading & prayer!) and repent to Him of the insufficient funds within our own minds and hearts.
  1. Abraham was “fully persuaded” of God’s power. Abraham reasoned this by:
    -Looking around at God’s power to create the world
    -Looking back at God’s power to carry him & Sarah halfway around the world

So what “facts” are you facing today,
and what promises has God made to you in His Word regarding those “facts”?

My sins are too great; I could never be forgiven of this!

So say your eyes…but what have your ears heard from God’s Word?

  • 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

My temptations are too powerful; I could never overcome them!

So say your eyes…but what have your ears heard from God’s Word?

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

My heart is too broken; I could never be joyful again!

So say your eyes…but what have your ears heard from God’s Word?

  • Psalm 30 (please click HERE, especially verses 11 & 12): You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
  • Isaiah 61:1-3 (please click HERE)–oh what glorious promises for God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ!

My fear is too overwhelming; I could never have peace!

So say your eyes…but what have your ears heard from God’s Word?

  • 2 Timothy 1:7 NIV1984: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind [or “self-discipline”].”
  • Isaiah 41:8-20 (please click HERE).

My body & spirit are too tired; I could never keep going!

So say your eyes…but what have your ears heard from God’s Word?

  • Isaiah 40:27-31 (please click HERE).
  • Hebrews 12:1-3 (please click HERE).

My gifts are too plain; I could never follow Jesus THERE!

So say your eyes…but what have your ears heard from God’s Word?

  • Acts 4:13: When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:26–2:5 (please click HERE).

Have you been “fully persuaded” of God’s power—do you look around and look back?

Look around: God made the universe with His Word! He simply spoke the universe into existence, and with no raw materials to work with. He made everything out of NOTHING! What a God! And doing so didn’t tire God; He wasn’t exhausted at the end of this masterpiece, worn out and fully spent of His creative power. He didn’t break a sweat in creating the universe! He rested on the seventh day not because He needed to but to set an example for us who WOULD need to learn how to rest our minds, hearts and bodies!

Look back: this is one of two times that God allows us to look back on our past; the first is when we repent of our sins and the second is when we remember His faithfulness. God has carried you this far—will He now abandon you? Now by this I don’t mean to imply that He will give you the outcome you are asking for in the present trial you are facing; I simply mean that He will continue to fulfill His promises to you, promises to never abandon you, promises to complete the good work IN you (character formation and faith-conditioning).

But you might say, “I’ve TRIED all of this! I’ve prayed, been patient, praised God when I didn’t feel like it, come to church when I didn’t want to, given time & money when I didn’t have any, read the Bible when it didn’t make sense, and waited waited waited for God to do something, anything, to bring me out of my situation! It hasn’t worked! I’ve tried all this before, and I have nothing to show for it…”

I hear you…some of you are going through pain and trials right now that only you and the LORD know about, and that only King Jesus can possibly understand.

But let’s learn a lesson from medical doctors.

Let’s say there is a young child who wants to be a doctor when he/she grows up, simply knows from a very young age that this is what God wants them to do.

  • Let’s assume they start school at age 5 and receive their medical degree at age 30 (just for the sake of round numbers). That’s 25 years of intense schooling, studying, cramming, caffeine, study groups, classes, tests, papers, etc. Within those 25 years are some lessons that are interesting and exciting, some that seem dry and boring, some that are clearly related to the medical field and some classes/assignments that seem to have NOTHING to do with their end goal of becoming a medical doctor. There are, I imagine, MANY ups and downs over the 25 year educational career of someone aspiring to be a doctor.
  • And yet at no time in those 25 years will the student stop and say, “I should have my diploma by now! I’ve been studying for 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, even 20 years…all this hard work and money and I STILL don’t have my medical degree—I’m still not a doctor! I’ve tried all this before…I’m done…”
  • Though the students may FEEL LIKE giving up at certain times in their 25 year journey, they understand that it will take the full 25 years for them to get their medical degree…it is a noble goal, a fantastic goal, a hard goal, but it is also one that simply cannot be completed in a few years or even in a decade. It is a Crock-Pot degree that simply cannot be microwaved.

My friends, this is what we have to remember when we have been praying to Jesus, waiting on Jesus, following Jesus, and worshiping Jesus for many years, when we want to see Jesus bring us out of a trying situation—the work that King Jesus is doing in us is Crock-Pot work, not microwave work. His goals for us being closer to Him relationally, more like Him in our character, and more certain in our faith—these goals take a lifetime. The pain and pressure we face often makes even the best of us say,

  • “I’ve been praying for “x” for years…something should have happened by now;”
  • “I’ve been working on my marriage for months or years…it should be better by now;”
  • “I’ve been reaching out to my child (or parent!) for months or years…they should have responded by now;”
  • “I’ve been forgiving and loving to this person for years…they should be kind to me by now;”
  • “I’ve been telling this person about Jesus for years…they should be a Christian by now;”
  • “I’ve been asking God for peace and joy and a little more finances for years…I should have those things by now;”
  • “I’ve been hurting for years, for decades…my pain should be gone by now.”

It’s understandable that we would feel that way and say those things, but oftentimes it is like thinking that you should have a medical degree after 15 years of hard work academically. Some of the painful situations in life require 25 years (or more!) of praying, waiting, working, forgiving, serving, pursuing, sharing, apologizing, etc.

And by nature when interacting with other sinful humans,
some of our painful situations will not get worked out as we hope they will!

  • God doesn’t guarantee that your spouse will eventually come around if you love & forgive them enough; He simply says that He will be with us always and will give us strength to keep loving your spouse as King Jesus loves His Church…
  • God doesn’t guarantee that every prodigal/wayward child will return; He simply says that He will be with us always and will eventually wipe away every tear that falls while we look to the horizon…
  • God doesn’t guarantee that we will “return to normal” after the tragic death of a loved one; He simply says that He will be with us always and that the grave is not the end for those who are in Christ Jesus…
  • God doesn’t guarantee that He will give us the material things that we desire, no matter how reasonable we think our requests are; He simply says to seek Him first (Matthew 6:33) and He will give us what we need (not necessarily what we want!) in His own way and in His own timing and in His own quality and in His own quantity.

Abraham faced the big fact of his terrible situation by facing the BIGGER fact of His terrific Savior: knowing the character of God, knowing the promises of God, remembering what God had already done and what He promises to do…and putting one foot in front of the other…

Will you do the same?

Will you cry out to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to help you do the same? Will you keep crying out to the LORD for 25 years or more even if you don’t get the results you want, if you don’t get the presents from God because by crying out to Him you are getting the presence you need—God Himself with you?!