Admit Our Struggle with Unbelief – Romans 4:17-21

ADMIT: What do I need to confess when I forget this about the Lord?

Confession:  Lord, how easy it is to waver in unbelief concerning Your promises!  Am I “fully convinced” that you can do what is humanly impossible?  NO!

Do I really believe that you can cause your church to grow numerically and spiritually? 

Do you I really believe that you can heal and restore troubled marriages?

Do I really believe that you supernaturally open the womb and give barren women the ability to bear children?

Do I really believe that you can reclaim the wayward teens from the families in our church?

Do I really believe that you can raise up the necessary funding to send forth your missionaries to the ends of the earth for Your glory?

Do I really believe that you can move in the hearts of single men and women to draw them together in marriage?

Do I really believe that you can cause my unsaved neighbors to come to saving faith in Jesus? 

I believe! Help my unbelief Lord! AMEN.

Adore our Promise-Keeping God – Romans 4:17-21

17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 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.” 19 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, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Rom. 4:17–21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

ADORE: What do I see in this passage for which I can praise the Lord?

1.         God is able to do what He promises. He told me I would be a father of a multitude.  Therefore it will happen even in my old age. 

2.        God is able to do what is humanly impossible…He gives life to the dead.  An old couple gets pregnant and has a baby.  Spiritually dead people are born again into a living hope.  He speaks things into existence that do not exist.  A son called ‘Laughter’ is born to an old couple.

Three Avenues of Spiritual Attack and What To Do About Them

Our church is under spiritual attack. In fact, all churches are under attack. Every single believer in Christ is engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms:  Our unbelief of God’s word, our lack of forgiveness of others, and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done. So, I would like to propose a challenge for us this summer.

Here are three specific things for your concerted reflection and prayer which I have gleaned and adapted from reading J.I. Packer’s article, “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition” (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13).

1.  Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us individually and corporately a greater capacity to trust Him and His promises. Packer writes: “In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife.  Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.”

Consider praying through a simple promise of Jesus for us like Matthew 16:18 or Matthew 28:18-20 and ask to increase your faith to trust the Lord to do what He says He will do. Why not heed the counsel of John Murray who urged believers to spend at least fifteen minutes every day meditating on some word of God connected with His promises to His people and then plead with Him for its fulfillment. If fifteen minutes seems a bit much, why not dedicate five?

2.     Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us the grace to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven. Packer speaks bluntly of this avenue of spiritual attack: “Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect.  As Jesus often warned, unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God” (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37). Wow! A total block? This should move us to examine our hearts to see if we are nursing a spirit of unforgiveness towards anybody.

Whom do you need to forgive? Yourself? Your spouse? An in-law? A fellow church member or pastor? Let’s resolve to become a church that models grace in all of our relationships as we forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). What an impact we would have in our city if we follow the Lord fully in this matter of forgiveness.

3.   Let us pray and ask the Lord to make us people who are marked by humility, free from the spiritual cancer of pride. At every stage of our Christian development, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. The person who is always finding fault is full of pride. Pride is spiritual cancer because it eats up any possibility of truly loving others. Proud people are critical people. You need to look no further than the renowned Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice “who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish.”

Packer parses this avenue of spiritual attack with convicting precision: “Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms:  Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people – and pride of grace is the worst of the lot.  All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”

On the other hand, humility is the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness. A humble person simply thinks of himself or herself less. Paul sets it forth beautifully in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

May I leave you with one helpful skill to cultivate the grace of humility. Actively look for ways that God is at work in the lives of other people around you. Ask yourself: Where have you seen God’s grace and Spirit at work in the lives of others in your family, your work place, and your church and tell them so?  Are the members of your family more aware of the evidences of grace that you’ve noticed in them or of your barrage of criticism?  How about your kids?  When was the last time you specifically shared with your son or daughter an evidence of God’s grace that you’ve noticed in his or her life?

Our vitality, unity and outward focus as a church are easily threatened by squabbles and conflicts. Please take this challenge personally and pray that the Lord would send times of refreshing from His presence so that we become people marked by our strong trust in the Lord and His promises, by our readiness to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven, and by our humility that willingly serves the interest of Jesus Christ in the lives of others.

Growing Strong in Faith – Romans 4:17-21

As it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”–in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19He 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. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

This passage sets forth two options for us.  One is wavering in faith.  Another is growing strong in faith.  There is no other option for those of us who follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  One is the pathway of walking by sight.  The other is the pathway of walking by faith.  Both types of people are aware of the same promises of God.  It appears that Abraham had plenty of opportunity to either grow weak (v.19) in his faith or to grow strong (v.20).

When he lied about Sarah, he was wavering in unbelief.  When he heeded Sarai’s counsel about going into Hagar, he was wavering in unbelief.  When he offered Isaac, he was strong in faith.  This see-saw story of the “friend of God” is our story, my story, your story.

Confession:  Lord, how easy it is to waver in unbelief concerning Your promises!  Am I “fully convinced” that You can do what seems humanly impossible?  NO!

Do I really believe that you can cause your church to grow numerically and spiritually in a substantial way?   Do you I really believe that you can heal and restore troubled marriages? Do I really believe that you can reclaim the wayward teenagers from the covenant families in your church? Do I really believe that you can raise up the necessary funding to cause Your missionary enterprise to flourish? Do I really believe that you can move in the hearts of single men and women to draw them together in marriage?

How does one grow strong in faith?  How do we strengthen our capacity to trust the Lord?

1. One important component of growing strong in faith is knowing what “is written” (v.17).  One must know well God’s promises before you can trust them.  You must know someone well before you have a greater capacity to trust them fully.

2. Another component of growing strong in faith appears to be praising and worshipping God.  Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”  What does it look like to give glory to God?

3. Another aspect of growing strong in faith is not allowing our circumstances to dictate our emotional state and feelings.  Appearances can most often be deceiving and misleading.

What do I know to be true of God from this passage?

1. God is able to do what He promises. He told me I would be a father of a multitude.  Therefore it will happen even in my old age.

2. God is able to do what is humanly impossible. “He gives life to the dead.”  An old couple gets pregnant and has a baby.  Spiritually dead people are born again into a living hope.  He speaks things into existence that do not exist.  A son called ‘Laughter’ is born to an old couple.

Three Main Avenues of Spiritual Attack

Dr. J.I. Packer is one of my favorite theologians and writers. On many occasions he has brought clarity and insight to the Word of God for me. One article that has been particularly enriching is called “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition.”

In this article, he emphasizes that there are three main avenues of attack against leaders of Christ’s church.

He asserts:

“We are all engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms:

  • Our unbelief of God’s word,
  • our lack of forgiveness of others,
  • and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done.

In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife. Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.

Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect. As Jesus often warned (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37), unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God.

Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms: Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people and pride of grace is the worst of the lot. All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”

– (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13)

In light of this, let us pray with renewed resolve that the Lord would make us:

  • people who have a greater capacity to trust God and His promises,
  • people who forgive others the way that we have been forgiven,
  • people who are marked by humility, free from the cancer of pride.

Three Primary Forms of Spiritual Attack

Over the past several years, one journal article that has helped me immensely comes from the pen of J.I. Packer entitled “Self-Care for Pastors:  Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition.”  Packer emphasizes that there are three main avenues of attack against leaders of Christ’s church.  All of us are engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms: Our unbelief of God’s word, our lack of forgiveness of others, and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done.

He asserts:
“in these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife.  Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted. Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect.  As Jesus often warned (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37), unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God.  Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms:  Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people and pride of grace is the worst of the lot.  All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”   (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13)

Thus, here are three bullet points for prayer for the leaders of your church:

  • A growing capacity to trust God and His promises,
  • Ability and willingness to forgive others the way that you have been forgiven,
  • A life marked by humility, free from the cancer of pride.