Life-Study of Romansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
I love the book of Romans because it was written in a solid and substantial way. Although this book covers many doctrines, it was actually written according to facts and experiences. The book of Romans is based on experience. Justification may appear to be a doctrinal matter, but the Apostle Paul, along with the doctrine of justification, gives us a living example of it—the person of Abraham (4:1-25). In this message we will consider Abraham, the example of justification. He is our model, our pattern. The name Abraham means “father of a multitude.” According to the Scriptures, Abraham was the father of both the Jews and the believing Gentiles (Rom. 4:11-12, 16-17; Gal. 3:7-9, 29). Whoever is of faith, whether Jew or Gentile, is a descendant of Abraham.
Abraham was the called one. Adam was created, but Abraham was called. There is a great difference between being created and being called. The book of Genesis is divided into two main sections: the first section covers the first ten and a half chapters and relates the history of the created race, with Adam as the father and head; the second section covers from the middle of chapter eleven through the end of the book and relates the history of the called race, with Abraham as the father and head. The history of the created race as recorded in Genesis culminates in the building of the tower and city of Babel (Babylon in Greek). Names of idols were written on this tower, meaning that the whole created race had turned to idolatry. Thus, Paul says the human race had exchanged God for idols (1:23, 25).
Paul wrote Romans 1 according to the history narrated in Genesis. Beginning with the time of Cain, man disapproved of holding God in his full knowledge and gave Him up. Mankind forsook God and built the city of Enoch, the first human culture as recorded in Genesis 4. With that culture the human race descended into corruption and remained in a state of corruption until the flood came as God’s judgment upon them. By God’s mercy, eight persons were saved through the ark, which typified Christ. The number eight is the number of resurrection, indicating that these people were saved and preserved in resurrection. In a sense, Noah was the head of a new race. However, not long afterward the descendants of Noah also gave up God at Babel in Genesis 11. When they exchanged God for idols, the forsaking of God was complete. The giving up of God was not completed before the flood; it was completed afterward by the descendants of Noah, who fell into idolatry.
Fornication followed idolatry. After Babel, Sodom emerged. Sodom was a city of fornication. In the English language we have the words sodomy and sodomites, which signify the most shameful acts of fornication. The inhabitants of Sodom violated their own nature and caused great confusion. At the time of Genesis 19, the human race, which had exchanged God for idols, had fallen into sodomy. As a result, every kind of wickedness burst forth.
This was the background of Romans 1. Romans 1 was written according to the history of the human fall: disapproving of holding God, exchanging God for idols, falling into fornication, and producing every kind of wickedness.
During the terrible process of the fall, mankind exchanged God for idols and completely abandoned Him. In return, God also forsook mankind. God seemed to say, “Since you have given Me up, I will let you go.” The created race gave up God, and God gave up the created race.
However, God called out of this race one man with his wife. God had no intention of calling a third person. His intention was to call one complete person, which includes a man and wife. If you are an unmarried man, you are incomplete. Without your wife, you are an incomplete person; you need her to complement you. Together you are a complete entity. Therefore, God called Abraham with his wife as one complete person.
We may think of ourselves as not being very absolute for God. However, Abraham, our believing father and model, was not absolute himself. When he was called by God to leave Ur of the Chaldees, he not only brought his wife, but other relatives as well.
God called Abraham by appearing to him as the God of glory (Acts 7:2-3). God did not call him by mere words: He called him by His glory. Abraham saw the glory of God and was attracted.
Our experience is the same. In a sense, we also have seen the glory of God. When we heard the gospel and it penetrated us, we saw the glory of God. Did you not see the glory of God at the time you were saved? I saw it when I was an ambitious young man. I had no intention of receiving God, but as the gospel penetrated into me I could not help saying, “God, I want You.” I could not deny that the glory of God had appeared to me. Such an experience is indefinable. No human words can adequately describe what we saw when the gospel penetrated our being. We can only say that the God of glory appeared to us, attracting us and calling us. We, like Abraham, were called by the God of glory.
Abraham was the same as we are. We should not think that we are different from him. We should not appreciate Abraham and depreciate ourselves, for we are all on the same level. We are all Abraham. Abraham was not outstanding. When I heard the story of Abraham as a child, I thought he was extraordinary. However, as I read the Word in later years, I realized that there is little difference between Abraham and me, that we are nearly the same. Although Abraham had been called by God, he did not have the boldness to leave the land of idolatry, forcing God to use Abraham’s father to bring him out of Ur. Abraham was the called one, but his father initiated the actual departure. They left Ur of the Chaldees and dwelt in Haran. However, when Abraham still was not bold enough to follow God absolutely, God was forced to take his father. His father died in Haran, and God called Abraham the second time.
Abraham’s first call is recorded in Acts 7:2-4; the second call is found in Genesis 12:1. We should note the difference between these two calls. According to Acts 7:2, God called Abraham out of two things—his country and his kindred. According to Genesis 12:1, another item is added—his father’s house. The first call asked Abraham to leave his country and his people; the second call asked him to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house. Abraham and his wife had to go out alone. God took away Abraham’s father and He did not want him to take any other relative with him.
If we consider what Abraham did, we will realize that we are not the only ones who are not absolute in obeying the Lord’s call. Our father Abraham was the first to follow God without being absolute. He felt lonely. He did not want to leave by himself. Thus, he took his nephew Lot with him. This violated God’s call. Although Abraham answered the Lord’s call, his answer, at least in part, disobeyed that call. Likewise, nearly all of us have answered God’s call; yet in our answer we acted contrary to His call. None of us has answered God’s call in an absolute way. Nevertheless, God is absolute. Regardless of how unabsolute we are, God will fulfill His call.
Abraham loved Lot. God used him to discipline Abraham. Eventually, Lot separated from Abraham and Abraham followed God’s call absolutely. He no longer had his father or his nephew. He was alone with his wife. He had left his country, his kindred, and his father’s house. However, Abraham had to leave one more thing—himself. He held on to himself.
We know Abraham still clung to himself by his reaction to Sarah’s suggestion that he have a child by Hagar. Although this proposal was made with a good intention, it was against God’s call. Abraham should have exercised discernment and not have listened to his wife. Sarah’s suggestion was a test to prove that Abraham remained in his old self, that part of him was still the old creation. God’s intention, however, was to call Abraham completely out of every part of the old creation—not only out of his country, kindred, and father’s house, but also out of himself. It seemed that God was telling Abraham, “You should not do anything. You must come out of yourself. I will do everything for you. But I cannot do anything while you remain in yourself.” Nevertheless, Abraham acted upon Sarah’s proposal, and the result was Ishmael. That was a very serious mistake, and the Jews continue to suffer from it. Why did Abraham make such an error? Because he was still in himself. He had forsaken many other things, but he had not forsaken himself.
When did Abraham leave himself? He forsook himself when he was a hundred years old, at which time he considered himself as good as dead. To be sure, every dead person has come out of himself. At the age of a hundred, Abraham looked at himself and said, “I am finished. I am as good as dead.” Romans 4:19 says, “he considered his own body already become dead.” This indicated that he had finally emerged from himself. He had become a fully called person. Have you been called? Although you are a called person, you have not yet forsaken yourself.
As we have seen, the created race had degenerated to such an extent that they exchanged God for idols. God was unable to do anything with them. As far as God was concerned, the created race under the headship of Adam was hopeless, and He gave it up completely. However, out of that created and fallen race God called out Abraham to be the father and head of a new race, the called race. To which race do we belong—the created race or the called race? We belong to the called race. However, we are the same as our father Abraham. We, like him, are reacting to the Lord’s call step by step, not absolutely. We are all in the process of responding to God’s call. Regardless how weak you are, I am assured that eventually you will be called out. Nevertheless, you should hasten your calling and forsake everything that is not God Himself. The faster you move on, the better. I encourage you to speed up. Come out of everything that is not God.
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