TO CHEW ON: "Therefore it is of faith …. God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as they they did…" Romans 4:17
In this passage, where Paul compares Abraham's faith in God's promise to make a nation of him to our faith in Jesus' death and resurrection to give us new life, these familiar words jump out at me: "God, who gives new life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did…"
I obviously haven't been paying attention for I have assumed that these words were a description of how the person of great faith prayed. But on a close reading, it isn't us who call things which do not exist as though they did, but God. Here is how the NIRV puts it:
"The God that Abraham believed in gives life to the dead. Abraham’s God also creates things that did not exist before" - Romans 4:17b (NIRV).
We're talking about the object of faith here. I like the simple definition of "faith" in the Dictionary of Bible Themes: "A constant outlook of trust towards God, whereby human beings abandon their own efforts and put their full confidence in him, his word and promises" (Dictionary of Bible Themes accessed through Biblegateway.com).
We put our faith not in the effort of our spoken words of faith but in God. It is only He who is able to "call those things which do not exist as though they did," to bring about the seemingly impossible for Abraham, for us in salvation, and for the requests about which we pray.
There is, in my mind, a big difference between this reading and how I've heard followers of the Word of Faith movement claim this verse—as a challenge to utter new things into being by the faith words one says or prays.
Yes, we make audacious requests, speaking in faith—that God will heal cancer, break addictions, turn whole nations around, etc. But we know it's not our words that will accomplish these things or our faith in these words, but God. I like how a sidebar article in my Bible explains this verse and how we can apply it when we pray:
"Notice that this verse does not say God calls things that are as though they do not exist but rather that God calls those things which do not exist as though they do exist. Thus we see that authentic faith does not deny the obstacle at hand, but declares that God is greater than the obstacle. Faith does not deny that a sickness is in the body, but declares Jesus' ability to heal the body (see Mark 5:23). Faith does not deny financial need, but acknowledges Jesus' ability to meet our needs (see Matthew 17:24-27)" - Gerald Brooks, "Pretending vs. Believing," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1555.
The fact that we utter faith-filled words does matter. But those words are never the power behind answered prayer. Our creator God is.
PRAYER: Dear God, who calls those things which do not exist as though they did, please strengthen my faith in Your ability to provide creative solutions to the problems I bring to You each day. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture passages marked NIRV are taken from the New International Reader's Version, copyright © 1995, 1996, 1998, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.