Romans 4:17 (New International Version)
17 – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
This snippet from Romans 4 reveals two great truths. In reverse order they are
(1) God calls into being things that were not
(2) God gives life to the dead.
These two truths may be stated succinctly by saying that God is Creator and God is Redeemer.
God is creator. This is evident in the first page of the Bible, the first sentence of scripture: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”; that is, God created everything. It is echoed in the last book of the Bible: “you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being”. The creation and continued existence of all things relies on God. God literally “calls into being” – it is by God’s word that things materialise into existence. The answer to the fundamental question of philosophy – Why is there something rather than nothing? – is God.
God is redeemer. God retrieves the trapped, the broken, the lost, the discarded. God revivifies. God gives life to the dead. This aspect of God’s character focuses in Jesus and flows on to us. Paul continues on in Romans 4 to say that God “raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” and expanding further, he says that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In Jesus dying and rising we who were dead in sins have been given access to life.
The immediate application Paul gives to these truths relate to Abraham and Sarah, both good as dead when it came to procreation. Things that were not – offspring for Abraham and Sarah – were spoken into being by God’s promise, God’s effectual word. Yet the story of the genesis of Isaac from essentially nothing illustrates two of the most significant abilities of God: to generate something from nothing, and to wrest life from the dead.