“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring…” (Romans 4:16)
Paul has taken us on quite the journey up until this point. He began in Romans 1:18 laying out what he defines in v. 16-17 as “his gospel.” This gospel begins with God. God is the creator of all things, and did so that we might love His glory and enjoy it as our greatest good. Indeed, we were created to do what the angels do contintually, shouting: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty.” It is against this beautiful God that we have sinned, falling short of the glory of God, exchanging the glory of God for created things, choosing a lie in the face of the Truth of all truth. This heart disease is common to all man and causes great evil. Even the Jew, who had God’s law, has transgressed it. When we get to the end of chapter 3, Paul calls us all to the carpet. Before God, the holy one, we as unholy ones have no excuse before God. We stand condemned under the just wrath of God.
“Hallelujah, all I have is Christ.” The righteousness of God is our worst enemy and yet our greatest need. God in Christ gives us what we could not gain by works of the Law. Christ comes and redeems us from the curse of the Law, taking God’s wrath stored up against His people and resurrects for our justification. He justifies the ungodly while still being true to His holy character. God’s justice in satisfied in Christ and the guilty verdict that hung over us has changed to that of righteous; not because we are, but because Christ is and we now are counted righteous by trusting in Christ. This is the same great salvation of Abraham and David.
Finally we get to the verse above. Paul begins by saying “that is why it depends on faith.” Paul is giving his rationale for expounding justification by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, to all who believe. God’s wrath meets any and all transgression of the law. That is not good news for sinners like us. So Paul now says “that is why it depends on faith.” “It” is referring to the salvation of our souls, being accounted righteous in the sight of a holy God. This salvation depends on faith. It is not surprise that this salvation must be by faith if the law only serves to condemn us when we measure our good works against us. The promise relies on faith for two reason that Paul gives us. Those reasons are indicated by the little phrase “in order that.” Salvation is by faith because of these two reasons.
That the promise might rest of grace
God has saved us in a way that only He gets credit for. God is not simply doing His part. It is God who elected us before the foundation of the world. It was God who sent His only Son to be punished in our place. It was Christ who bore our sins in His body on the tree. It is Christ who takes the wrath of God due our sin on Himself, though He never sinned. It was the glory of God that rose Christ from the dead, proving that the atonement made was accepted as payment for a people. In short, salvation is all of grace. Faith is simple trust, resting in the finished work of Christ. We see our great sin in the light of a great God and turn from ourselves towards superior joy in Christ. The scandal of the cross changes from being odious to being an unfathomably sweet aroma. All of this is because God saves sinners.
Faith is mere instrument, never the basis for our salvation. It is better to think of salvation being “through faith.” Our faith is never meritorious. Even it is a gift. Our confidence before the Father is not our faith but what our faith is in. Even within the ebb and flow of our faith, our security fluctuates not. If anything other than faith becomes the way we obtain the benefits of salvation, in Paul’s mind, we lose the gospel. Faith and grace go hand in hand. If in anyway we are justified by something that we do, then all is lost. So salvation is by trusting because salvation is 100% a miracle of God’s sovereign grace.
Guaranteed to all of his offspring
The second reason Paul gives as to why the promise relies on faith is so that those who are the children of Abraham might have a guaranteed promise. There is much stability is knowing that God’s acceptance of us is owing to nothing inside of us, but owing entirely to God’s grace in Christ. This is not the kind of news that leads to lawlessness. This is the kind of news that causes us to rejoice and obey! If the promise only came to those who became good enough, then no one would obtain the promise. In fact, the very nature of a promise is that the one who makes it is guaranteeing the success. Dear believer, God has sworn by Himself to save all who come to Him in faith and repentance. We can have assurance because Christ has died and risen.
The call of Paul and the Holy Spirit is to look outside of yourself and towards Christ. By God’s grace, see that nothing good dwells in your body. See that Christ alone is sufficient to save. God saves by faith and faith alone, so that His grace might be praised and that we might be assured of God’s mercy towards us, the chiefs of sinners.