by Phil Enlow

In the book of Romans Paul sets forth the wonders of the gospel which he calls “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Rom. 1:16. Paul’s own religious background had led him to believe that God had given the law of Moses so that Jews could earn their own salvation through obedience to it, that is, through works. When the revelation of Jesus Christ came it turned his world — and his understanding — upside down. Not only was salvation NOT earned by one’s works; it was for EVERYONE, not just Jews!

In Chapter 4 Paul uses Abraham as an example of salvation by faith rather than works and in the process paints a picture of how God deals with man down through the ages — including us. There is a word used several times in this chapter that has often come to my mind of late. I believe it is a real key. That word is “promise.”

Because of sin the world was under the power of darkness. It was into that darkness that the God of all grace came. He spoke to a man named Abram who lived among a family of idol worshippers. But God’s words to him were not a demand that Abram live up to a moral standard and thereby qualify himself for a divine blessing. Rather, the heart of God’s words to him was a promise.

God’s Promise

In Gen. 12:2-3 we read that promise: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” What God commanded him to do is recorded in verse 1: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”

Abram did not earn the blessing by obeying the Lord. Rather he demonstrated an obedience that was consistent with believing the promise. Thus he obtained the blessing not by works, nor by so-called faith without works (James 2:14-26) but by faith that works (Gal. 5:6). The real heart of the matter was his faith in God.

This is made very clear in Genesis 15. God’s promise to Abram (later called Abraham) involved his becoming a great nation. This presented a very real practical problem! Abram was childless and getting old fast. Sarah could no longer bear children. How was such a thing to be?

According to the custom of the times a man named Eliezer of Damascus stood to inherit his estate and that didn’t fit God’s promise so he asked the Lord about it. It was on this occasion that the Lord assured him that a son coming from his own body would be his heir. He then told Abram to count the stars and said that his offspring would be like them in number.

Abram Believed the Lord

Gen. 15:6 tells us simply, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Long before the law of Moses this former idol worshipper was declared by a holy God to be righteous. On what ground? His works? No! His faith.

And I believe we can see in his life that his faith was deeper than simply believing a promise. Rather, he believed the One that was making the promise. He believed the Lord. In other words, his confidence in God was such that it didn’t matter what He said, Abram believed it.

There is a simple word for that. It is the word “trust.” Abram’s trust in God was so pure that, for example, when God later told him to offer the son of promise as a sacrifice he didn’t hesitate to obey. That is a picture of absolute trust. He may have had his ideas as to how God would work it out but the bottom line is that he simply obeyed. The Lord finally stepped in when it became obvious that he would not allow anything to stand in the way of obedience, not even sacrificing the promised heir.

Is that not what was lost in the beginning? Eve, and then Adam, were seduced into believing the lie that God could not be trusted, that He was holding them back from their true destiny, no doubt for selfish reasons. Thus the very essence of a restored relationship between man and God is trust. From Abraham’s day to this God has been at work calling a people back to a relationship of absolute trust, unfolding a purpose that reaches from eternity past into the eternal future.

Trust and Obey

How simple! A divine promise fulfilled through trust and obedience. “Trust and obey.” It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think! Say, that would make a great hymn!

It should be obvious that a divine promise is the only thing that will fulfill God’s purpose. Sin has rendered man incapable of helping himself — even if he wanted to! Rom. 3:10-12. Abraham’s natural condition was just as hopeless. He couldn’t even produce a son let alone nations. And he surely couldn’t engineer a blessing for all nations. What God promised Abraham could ONLY be done by God. All Abraham could do was to believe and cooperate through obedience.

Even so, Abraham tried to help God out but the result was Ishmael who could never inherit the promise. I’m glad for every natural child of Ishmael who has entered into the promise through faith in Christ but the unfolding of God’s plan came through Isaac. God had fixed it to where only a miracle would avail. Abraham was as helpless to fulfill God’s purposes through his own efforts as we are today.

We find these wonderful words in Rom. 4:18-24 — “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.’ 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. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (I wonder how many of us today have “faced the fact” that we cannot help God out!)

God’s Heir

Thank God for righteousness but there is much more to it than that. In Rom. 4:13 Paul speaks of God’s promise to Abraham “that he would be heir of the world.” In other words, God has a great inheritance He longs to share with men. Out of all the people in the world in Abraham’s day God chose Abraham to be His heir. Thus the promise reached far beyond this present evil world into the one to come.

Abraham’s Children

But of course the inheritance was not just for one man but for all of Abraham’s children. Who are they? In many places Paul makes it plain that the children God had in mind for this inheritance were children of Abraham’s faith and not his body. They include a remnant of his natural descendants who believe but also Gentiles who come to faith in Christ. Rom. 4:16, 9:6-9, 22-27, Gal. 3:26-29, 4:28.

In the unfolding of God’s promise He did indeed deal with the nation of Israel in spite of its general unbelief, but the fulfillment of that promise was yet to come in Christ. The law of Moses was a temporary covenant that was intended to lead them to the One to come. For the remnant it did just that and they entered in.

In Gal. 3:19 we read, “What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” Paul continues in Gal. 3:21-22, “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”

That brings every true follower of Jesus Christ directly into the stream of God’s eternal purpose. What God began in Abraham continues in us today. The complete fulfillment of that promise lies ahead of us, as sure as the One Who promised. Heb. 6:13-20 reminds us that our trust is in One that cannot lie.

As we have said, Abraham’s immediate concern was having a son, something humanly impossible, but no problem at all to God. But Hebrews indicates that in some sense the vision of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reached far beyond such immediate issues. Heb. 11:10 tells us that Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Heb. 11:13-16 continues, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” And for us as well.


Every generation of believers from Abraham’s day to this has faced its own particular impossibilities. Not only Abraham but also his son Isaac needed divine intervention just to produce one heir, let alone a nation! The Israelites were slaves in the mightiest nation of its day. They faced walled cities and giants in their conquest of the promised land. The persistent wickedness of Israel and the resulting divine judgment down through the centuries seemed to the small believing remnant to be an insurmountable problem.

The Lord repeatedly sent prophets, not only to denounce the sins of the nation, but also to encourage the remnant concerning the redemption that was to come. Elijah, one of the mightiest prophets, was so discouraged on one occasion that he prayed to die since he believed himself to be the only one left who was serving the Lord. But the Lord told Elijah that He had preserved 7000 men who had not bowed the knee to Baal.

God’s purpose unfolded throughout centuries of darkness and seeming impossibility not because of human effort but through His own mighty hand. God preserved that remnant. No devil in hell could stand in His way. And then Christ came!

A Foundation for Righteousness

I pointed out earlier that Abram was declared righteous, not through some kind of self-righteous effort, but through faith alone. How could a holy God do that? He could do that because what no man could do for himself, God did through Christ. We were helpless prisoners of sin. So God acted to put away our sin by punishing His own Son on our behalf. Justice demanded the death of every sinner. That justice was satisfied through Christ’s death in our place. God is free to justify anyone who responds to the gospel in repentance and faith. His justification of Abraham was based on Christ’s sacrifice to come. That was the essence of the promise, the blessing that was for all nations. God can deal with our need. He seeks our trust.

On the day of Pentecost God poured out His Spirit as He had promised. Peter stood up with great power to explain to the crowds gathered for the Feast of Pentecost that what was happening was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel through the prophets. He boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Christ not only as a fact to which they were witnesses but also as a promise proclaimed through David in Psalm 16. He brought his message into focus with these penetrating words in Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

The Spirit of God was present not only to anoint Peter but also to directly convict the hearers and they cried out wanting to know what to do. In verse 38 he replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

A Promise For All

I find it very interesting and significant that in verse 39 Peter uses the word “promise.” He says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” The blessing promised to Abraham had come. It was now time to proclaim the hope of the gospel — the good news — not only to Israel but to all the world.

At every stage of the unfolding of God’s purpose to call out a people for Himself the principle of “promise” applies. What is needed to fulfill that purpose is something only God can do. The very best we can do is to cooperate with His purpose through trust and obedience; there is absolutely no human effort that will avail.

Many understand that to be true when it comes to the salvation of the individual but how much do we understand it to be true with respect to the building of Christ’s church and its preparation for all that is to come? After all, Christ did not tell us to build him a church; he said he would do it.

And numerous scriptures promise us that what has been begun will be finished. Phil. 1:6, Heb. 11:38-12:2, Eph. 1:7-10, for example. Rom. 8:28-30 even uses the past tense concerning the ultimate climax of God’s purpose when it says in verse 30, “those he justified he also glorified.” In God’s mind it has already been done! What a glorious hope it is to which we have been called!

Nearing the End

Increasingly, believers in our day have the sense that we are nearing that climax, the end of the age, and the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. What a day that will be! When God is through and His purpose fulfilled His people will be forever free from the power of sin and death (Rev. 21:4-7), radiant in glory (1 Peter 5:1, 10), shining like the sun (Matt. 13:43), with bodies like the one Jesus has (Phil. 3:20-21), living in a brand new world (2 Peter 3:13), full fellowship with God restored (Rev. 21:3).

In the Meantime

But what about until that day? What do we do in the meantime? What can we expect? What will the state of God’s people be when Christ returns? How do we prepare? Do God’s promises have anything for us now? How can we be aligned with God’s purpose?

As we survey the religious landscape of today it is evident that there are a great variety of answers to these questions. Satan ever works to obscure truth and misdirect God’s people. His efforts to deceive have no doubt affected us all more than we might care to admit.

Many today loudly proclaim their expectation that Christ is coming “at any moment” to “rapture” the church. Well … I hope he does! He won’t get any argument from me. But that raises a lot of questions.

The church, particularly in America, is mostly asleep, carnal, immature, divided, almost indistinguishable from the world, and largely laughed at by Satan and much of society. Is that what Christ is coming for? The church began at Pentecost with a bang; will it end with a whimper? Really? Are we destined to go out like a dog with its tail between its legs, a far cry from the heavenly calling set forth in scripture? Will God’s wonderful promises go unfulfilled? Will Christ pull his people out in defeat?

Something in me cries out, “No!” I am very aware that simply looking at the situation can easily provoke a sense of futility. Nothing can be done. That’s just the way it is. The best we can hope for is that there will be pockets of revival here and there from time to time and that Jesus will come to rescue us and straighten out the mess. But then I look into scripture and get a very different sense.

I read the words of Paul, for example, in Eph. 3:10-11, where he speaks of God in these words: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s demonstration to those rulers and authorities was pretty impressive in the beginning but what about now? Was that it? Paul wrote those words long after Pentecost.

He prayed in verse 19, “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That’s a pretty difficult thing for you and me to imagine, isn’t it! But Paul didn’t stop there. Eph, 3:20-21 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

The obvious reason as to why such things are hard to imagine is that what we see appears to present insurmountable obstacles. But let’s not forget how God’s purpose unfolds. It begins with a promise. The promise concerns things that are totally impossible to us but as certain as the One making the promise. The appropriate human response is to believe. That belief is expressed as total trust on the one hand and obedience on the other. In other words, we simply do our part and God takes care of what is impossible.

Everything in God’s Time

The details of how and when He acts are up to Him. Abraham waited 25 years for the promised son. He came when it was God’s time. In God’s time Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt. Not one second before! Gal. 4:4 tells us that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son....” The climax of the ages will likewise be “put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment.” Eph. 1:10.

God has His own schedule. Lazarus had been dead and buried four days and Jesus seemed to be “late” but in the purpose of God he was exactly on time! Raising a man from the dead after four days was a much greater miracle than simply preventing him from dying in the first place! Martha had no trouble believing that Jesus could have healed Lazarus but in her mind the situation had become totally impossible — even for Jesus!

How often does the Lord allow circumstances to seem the most impossible before He acts! Abraham was 100 and Sarah was not only barren but past the age of child-bearing. That didn’t stop God from fulfilling His promise! God deliberately led the Israelites to the shores of the Red Sea where they were seemingly trapped and about to be crushed by the greatest army of its day. But God used that occasion to demonstrate His power and glory not only to the Israelites but to all the nations who heard about what He did!

Scripture is full of “impossible” situations that only served to magnify God’s glory when He acted. None is greater than raising His Son from the dead when all hell would have kept him there. If God can do that He can do anything! We limit Him by our unbelief.

Things That Are Not

Listen to Paul’s words in Rom. 4:17 where Abraham’s faith was spoken of as being in “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Think about those two kinds of things. Are they not at the heart of what God’s purpose is all about? Who can bring life out of death but God? And Who else can create that which did not previously exist?

When God created the stars did He look at the empty heavens, wring His hands, and say, “But what can I do? There’s nothing there to work with?” God doesn’t need anything to work with. He’s God! He is not dismayed by the current state of the church. His promises will not go unfulfilled.

1 John 3:2-3 says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

Think about what John is saying there. He expresses the glorious hope of our being like Christ “when he appears.” But he also directly connects that hope with something we do. “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself.” That’s something that happens now, before Christ comes. Remember that Abraham not only believed the promise but he also obeyed what God told him to do.

To hear some preach it all that is really necessary is to “accept Jesus.” That’s it. No strings attached. Being a disciple is a good thing and you’ll receive rewards but that’s really optional. Just “accept Jesus,” attend church services, wait for the “rapture” and, by some magic, baby Christians who can barely get along with each other down here will be suddenly transformed into mature saints who will be “like him.”

If God’s purpose is that His people “be conformed to the likeness of his Son” — and it is (Rom. 8:28-29) — how can that purpose be fulfilled in those who are taught to “accept Jesus” and warm a pew on Sunday? Wouldn’t that be sort of like Abraham saying to God, “I accept your promise but I think I’ll stay where I’m at. That part about leaving home and going to a land You’ll show me later is surely optional. Besides think of all the good I can do right here?”

I don’t want to over-think what John said and read into it things it doesn’t say but I also don’t want to ignore it. God inspired him to write it for a reason. God’s purpose is not about our simply “getting in the door” and waiting for Jesus to come. He seeks our obedience to His Word. The rest is up to Him.

A Bride Made Ready

My mind often goes to Rev. 19:7 where John saw what was yet to come; “... the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” That last statement is what stands out to me: “his bride has made herself ready.” Think about that! That sounds like there is something for us to do in preparation for that day. We have a necessary part to play. Why was that statement put in there? Does it have any relevance for us today?

We can see Christ’s part in all this in Eph. 5:25-27 where Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

That sounds like a purposeful process to me. He is working towards a goal. How conscious are we of this goal? Are we engaged in faith and doing our part? Do we really believe such a thing can be? Will those two scriptures find fulfillment?


John 17:20-23 records part of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples shortly before he went to the cross. He said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Do you believe that when Jesus prayed it was according to the will of God? Surely it was. What about this prayer? Was it some pipe dream, a nice-sounding but totally unrealistic ideal? Was the church after Pentecost the entire fulfillment of his prayer? Jesus prayed that “they be brought to complete unity.” Doesn’t that sound like a situation in which unity doesn’t exist and then God brings it about? The church at Pentecost was in perfect unity from the beginning. And the unity for which Jesus prayed was “to let the world know....” That has to be something that happens here, in the world. Think about it.

The Fullness of Christ

Earlier we spoke of God’s desire that the body of Christ become fully mature even as Jesus Christ the Head is. When that happens the entirety of “Christ” will become complete and ready for eternity.

Paul speaks of this in Eph. 4:11-13 — “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

There is no way to read this and honestly contend that we play no part in this. Paul goes on to say in verses 14-16, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Again — are these empty words, an unrealistic dream, or does God intend to bring about their fulfillment?

Taking Hold

Consider Paul’s words in Phil. 3:10-14 — “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

That’s a pretty good picture of someone who has not only caught a vision of God’s purpose but who is totally engaged in fully laying hold of God’s promises.

The Laodicean Church

Is not the slumbering, compromised state of much of the modern church world a symptom of widespread deception? I can remember hearing a lot of preaching comparing the Laodicean church of Rev. 3:14-22 with the modern “liberal” church, the folks that deny miracles and the inspiration of scripture and preach a “social gospel.” As God is my witness I am convinced that the Laodicean church describes most of the so-called evangelical world of today.

It is asleep and deceived as to its true state. It thinks it is spiritually “rich” and needs nothing (or at least nothing all that serious) and has no clue just how “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” it is. Its outward prosperity and apparent success has blinded it to reality. Laodicea was a city of relative prosperity and it bred an atmosphere that put the church there to sleep. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it! What will God do to awaken His people?

Stopping Short

We have been so immersed in the spirit of the world that we have been deceived into stopping short of God’s purpose and promises. God promised the Israelites the land of Canaan but a whole generation failed to enter in. Did the promise fail? Of course not! They failed to enter in because of their unbelief. Heb. 3:19.

Near the end of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness the Israelites had conquered some territory east of the Jordan River and many had settled there. The temptation was to stop there and say, “That’s good enough. We have a nice place to live. Conquering walled cities and giants is not realistic.”

Is it any different with us? Have we laid claim to the inheritance for which Christ died or have we simply declared much of it to be unattainable? Of course it IS unattainable through own efforts as was conquering the land for the Israelites but what about the promises of God? I’m afraid that, unlike Abraham, we do a lot of “staggering” at the promises.

To be continued.

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