#14 The Outward Sign of the Inward Change
Our text is found in Romans and we are in the fourth Chapter. Last week we listened to our brother Paul as he described the gift of God; namely the gift of imputed righteousness. Salvation is totally and completely a gift from God. Those who have been born again are NEW CREATIONS! By Gods sovereign grace I am not what I once was. I still have creepy stuff rolling around in my head as any believer has. The difference is I also have the Holy Spirit to lead me in the everlasting way, Jesus Christ to hear my plea for forgiveness and a Sovereign God who is daily conforming me to the image of His Son!
Anyone who has been saved by the grace of God is a new creature. Old things have passed away, all things have become new. The old nature is still there; we have remaining sin in our lives but by God’s grace we have a new Master, Jesus Christ and because of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God we do not have ruling sin, it is no longer our master! So when we yield to sin, we do it willingly, with our eyes wide open. This is part of the good fight of faith as we struggle to keep the old man down, as we strive to walk in the Spirit so that we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
Then there is this truth; a few weeks ago we had a bulletin cover that said Christianity is observable. That means that if you are a Christian, a real believer who has been interfered with by God, who has been arrested on the road to our Damascus, if you have been visited by the Living God then you are a new creation and others should at least recognize the fact that you are different. Our attitude should be different. Yes we have the old nature and the ever present possibility of reacting in the old fleshly way to situations as they arise. But the truth of the matter is that as we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, as we immerse ourselves in the Word of God and as we commune with our Father in Heaven; as we walk with Him and plead that He lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one, as we walk in the Spirit so as to not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, we are retraining our way of living/of doing things. Whereas we used to react in a rage to supposed injustices we now begin to see and understand that all things that come into our lives have been brought by God our Father for our good and for His glory! And we begin to see trials with joy, as opportunities for growth in grace. This is what James was talking about in chapter 1 of his weighty letter to us.
There is a real, tangible difference between true Christians and the lost. There is also a difference between real Christians and mere religious goats! I want you to understand that real Christianity cannot be faked by unbelievers. They may be able, as the Pharisees before them, put on a façade of piety and holiness of life. But sooner or later their façade will break down and the wolf will be exposed. It happened in Jesus’ day and there is nothing new under the sun. Sinners can’t fake the indwelling Holy Spirit! And without His sustaining power, the facade will collapse and great will be the fall of it!
Today we will look at Abraham. He is our God given example of what true faith. Abraham was a man of like passions as we are but God declares that He was faithful! Indeed in our text today we will see that he is called the father of the faithful, the father of all who believe. Now his ability to believe was granted him by God who alone decided in eternity past to create a man named Abraham as an object of His eternal love. Before the foundation of the world Jehovah decreed that He would set His love upon this sinful man and deliver him from the darkness of his past; a past that included sexual immorality and human sacrifice. God visited this man and transformed his life. Abraham became a new creation in Christ Jesus and when God called him to go there was no hesitation, no family council to see what they should do. Abraham believed God! God said go and Abraham said I’m packing now!
His faith, his belief was demonstrated by his action. And this is the case with anyone who has truly heard from God. They are not the people they were. Now they follow Jesus, they love Him and cannot get enough of Him. They love His word because in it they can hear His beautiful voice telling them how to live and what to do and how to be! And unlike the phony church people who are forgetful hearers, these who have been interfered with by God are effectual doers; that is they immediately see how they can put into practice that which God has taught them. This is the definition of one who loves God. He proves his love by his obedience. As James said; “I will show you my faith by my works!”
I want us to begin by going back to last week’s text (Rom 4) and see again the great truths God has revealed to us! Paul asks a profound question in verse 1: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? Paul calls Abraham his forefather according to the flesh. Abraham (was the father of Isaac who was the son of the promise. Isaac in turn was the father of Jacob who was renamed Israel by God. The nation that God promised from the loins of Abraham were called Israel! And Paul was an Israelite, a descendent of Israel!
Names used to mean something once upon a time. Today people are feverishly working to shed any sense of normalcy and that includes departing from common names as much as possible; so much so that girls are named things like “Latrina.” What does that mean? A latrine is a toilet so is this poor girl being named after a toilet. Well biblical names also carry meanings; great meanings. Let me give you some definitions that are pertinent to our text. Abraham’s original name; Abram meant “exalted father” while his new name means “father of a multitude” reflecting the promise of God to him!
His son Isaac means “he laughs” reflecting the first response of Abraham to the news that he would have a son in his old age. Isaac and his wife Rebecca would have two sons, Esau meaning “red” because he was covered with red hair, and Jacob whose name means heel catcher; this is what he was doing when Esau came out. He was holding on to Esau’s heel. Jacob also means supplanter or cheater. But God had a special plan for Jacob. After humbling him through 14 years of servitude to his uncle Laban who was more of a cheater than he himself, Jacob went home. The night before he was to face his brother Esau, Jacob wrestled with a “Man” who gave him the name Israel meaning “God prevails.” There are also some not so wonderful names like Ichabod which means the glory has left! But God had called Abraham. He once was lost but now he is found.
And he has found something. God opened his eyes to see the truth. He has found the living God. He has found eternal life in the person of Jehovah. God called him and saved him and transformed him into a new creation. The sins of his past were forgiven and all of his vain attempts at working his way to heaven by what he did were cast aside in favor of the Truth! He had found the pearl of great price and sold all that he had, turned his back on all he had known to possess this pearl and to be possessed by it.
And all this is by the wonderful grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy and will have compassion upon whom He chooses to have compassion upon! 2 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about… He might be able to tell all his friends “Looky what I done!” but not before God. We know that all of our works, all of our self-righteous deeds are as filthy rags in God’s sight. Those who seek to establish a ‘righteousness of their own are merely storing up wrath for the day of wrath when our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ will split the eastern sky and put an end to all the vanity of vanities that is the life set on the flesh!
But as to true salvation as it is found in the word of God, Paul asks 3 “For what does the Scripture say? I love it! He says, “To the law and to the testimony!” And what does the Law and the Testimony say? It says that “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD; he heard the Lord and hearing was believing as God was drawing him to Himself in salvation. God granted Abraham the gifts of saving grace and saving faith and Abraham exercised those gifts, demonstrated his belief by his obedience “AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Paul contrasts true saving faith with works based religions when he says 4 “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. Again we can look to the Pharisees who did all of their ‘religious works’ to be seen of men. They made a big show of ‘holiness’ through their strange hand washing rituals and their fancy robes and the big boxes (phylacteries) on their foreheads which contained scripture.
You see, God had spoken of binding the scriptures on our heads and these men, rather than filling their minds with the Living Word, merely strapped on a box full of papers and believed they had it covered. They had long tassels on their robes, longer than they needed to be. They greeted each other in the marketplace with “Rabbi, Rabbi!” All this was done to make an impression of piety. It was all a big production to impress the ‘regular people.’ And they were seen. And they were praised by men. They received exactly what they were looking for…the praise of men! But Jesus saw into their hearts and saw dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. They were hypocrites wearing the mask of religiosity but they had sown to the flesh and of the flesh they would reap a harvest of death.
This is completely opposite of the one who trusts in God to deliver his soul from destruction. The true Christian is one who has seen himself in the blazing light of the Glory of God. That light has revealed all of his ugliness and he has fallen on his face before the living God saying; Woe Is Me! I Am Undone! Have mercy on me the sinner. Rather than relying upon anything he could do or say the true Christian has fled to Almighty God and begged His mercy and His help. He has believed the word of God “For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Ro 10:11) “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. (Joh 6:37) and he has ceased striving and has found rest for his soul in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is what Paul is saying in verse 5 “But to the one who does not work, but believes in (trusts in the finished work of) Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith which is the gift of God is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. 8 “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” And all of this is by the grace of God. God gives us the grace and the faith, the ability to believe, to understand the scriptures so as to be saved and then He rewards our exercise of faith with salvation and grace upon grace! Isn’t Grace truly amazing!
Now as we begin with our new material we encounter the question of whether we have any part in our salvation. Remember that the Semi-Pelagians believed that in order to be saved, we have to take the first step; we have to make the first move: and then God will do the rest. The logical conclusion that we must come to is that unless we do something, God is helpless. We must open the door and then God can step through but there is no knob on the outside and so He stands, waiting and knocking, knocking and waiting, hoping against all hope that someone will let Him in! Do you see how upside down this is? Those who believe such nonsense have turned God into a helpless being Who is subject to His creation. He can only help us if we let Him! What Blasphemy!
Paul puts such wickedness to rest beginning in verse 9 when he asks “Is this blessing of salvation then on the circumcised, those who have done something or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, Did God have to wait until Abraham made the first move and circumcised himself or did God act beforehand, while Abraham was uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised… God made the first move. God made all the moves. God granted faith and grace and the sign of circumcision to demonstrate His Grace and Mercy toward the children of men!
But even though the scriptures are plain, men will not heed. For instance, Paedo-baptists believe that the act of baptizing their children sets them apart as ‘covenant children’ who will be saved at some future date. They will come to Christ because of what the parents have done! This means that the work that the parents did seals their salvation. So much for the grace of God! Their ‘righteous’ work of baptism has obligated God to reward their children with salvation. What they are saying to God is that “You have to save my child because I have done my part. I have baptized my child. He is sealed! You have no choice now God! do you see how nuts this is!
And they use Abraham and circumcision to support their view. They use the Word of God to make their case. But they only pick and choose the verses that support their idea. And when someone brings up the rest of scripture, they have to explain it away. But salvation is all of grace. It is not mano a mano…we don’t get to put a mano in there somewhere. Otherwise we would have a place for boasting. But the truth of sacred Scripture declares that Christians are those who were born, not of blood (that is, Christianity is not passed down because of who your parents are “I’m a descendent of Abraham”) nor of the will of the flesh (not through the exercise of our own will) nor of the will of man, (that is because of others willed it) but salvation is of God.
Indeed, what did our text just say. For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Who is the Creditor? It is God. 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised… God saved Abraham before he gave the sign of circumcision. Circumcision was the visible, outward symbol of the inward covenant that God made with Abraham. He had promised to make Abraham the “Father of a multitude!” Circumcision was the visible evidence that Abraham and his seed would bear to the world.
This is clearly stated in verse 11 “and he received the sign of circumcision, which is a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, Did you get that? First circumcision was a sign to Abraham of the covenant that God made to him. And second, he would be a sign, a symbol, a living example of what true faith is; it is God visiting sinners and transforming them from the inside out. And it requires no works on our part. None can be done for no man can perform a perfect work so as to gain the favor of God. Those who possess the same faith as Abraham have been visited by the God of Abraham and have received the gifts of grace and faith and imputed righteousness. And all praise and honor and glory go to Him who sits on the Throne!
Now for my second point: Abraham believed God and his belief produced works. You could see the man’s faith. We already looked at his response to the call of God. There was no debating, no family conferences. He just pulled up his tent stakes and headed for the hills, to the place God had prepared for him. His works were an outward sign of the inward change of his life as he believed God.
I am reminded of Pilgrim again when I read this. “Now I saw, upon a time when he was walking in the fields, that he was (as he was wont) reading in his book, and greatly distressed in his mind; and, as he read, he burst out, as he had done before, crying, “What must I do to be saved?” (Ac 16:30-31) I saw also that he looked this way and that way, as if he would run; yet he stood still, because (as I perceived) he could not tell which way to go. I looked then, and saw a man named EVANGELIST coming to him, and asked, “Wherefore dost thou cry?” He answered, “Sir, I perceive by the book in my hand that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to Judgment (Heb 9:27); and I find that I am not willing to do the first (Job 14:21,22), nor able to do the second” (Eze 22:14).
Evangelist. Then said EVANGELIST, “Why not willing to die, since this life is attended with so many evils?” The man answered, “Because I fear that this burden that is upon my back will sink me lower than the grave, and I shall fall into Tophet (Isa 30:33). And, sir, if I be not fit to go to prison, I am not fit, I am sure, to go to Judgment, and from thence to execution; and the thoughts of these things make me cry.” Then said EVANGELIST, “If this be thy condition, why standest thou still?” He answered, “Because I know not where to go.” Then he gave him a parchment roll; and there was written within, “Flee from the wrath to come!” (Mt 3:7).
The man, therefore, read it; and looking upon EVANGELIST very carefully, said, “Whither must I fly?” Then said EVANGELIST, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, “Do you see yonder wicket gate?” (Mt 7:14) The man said, “No.” Then said the other, “Do you see yonder shining light?” (Ps 119:105 2Pe 1:19) He said, “I think I do.” Then said EVANGELIST, “Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto; so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shall do.” So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return (Lu 14:26); but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, “Life! life! Eternal life!” So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain.” (Ge 19:17)
(Heb 11:1) tells us “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And this faith is born out in deeds. Note verse 8 which tells us, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
Can you see this man’s faith? It is so evident by everything he did. You may think; “Now wait a minute. What about Ishmael? Didn’t Abraham’s faith falter there? We could come to that conclusion if we believe that God didn’t plan for Ishmael’s existence. But then we would have to believe that God does not direct all things according to His Sovereign will…that somehow, this one got away from Him while He wasn’t looking…while He was taking a nap…or counting the hairs on the head of a bushy haired man… Do you see how stupid it is to try to come up with excuses rather than believing the revealed word of God!
The truth of the matter is that Ishmael had to be born for he is part of the end times scenario painted for us in the word of God. Ishmael is part of God’s preordained plan for His world.
As for Abraham, his faith is tangible…it is visible…we can see it. There is no doubt that Abraham believed God! Can the same be said of you? Do you have the faith of Abraham? Can others see your faith? When you enter a room do others know that you have been with Jesus? Is your faith so evident that men cannot deny it? Is your faith so tangible as to manifest itself in good works, a godly conscience; a holy demeanor? Do others see your good works and glorify God in Heaven? Jesus said in (Matt 5:14-16) “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
A true Christian cannot hide himself for he had been purchased by God and his heart is no longer his own. When we are walking in the light as He is in the light we are manifest as the people of God. Are we a city on a hill with a power outage? Are we trying to stifle the light so as not to make waves? Then something is wrong! Either we are not saved or we are in such a backslidden state as to have returned to the vomit of the world for a season. We must turn back.
15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket; that would be a waste of time. Why light it if you don’t want anyone to see…but people put a light on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. The darkness is dispelled by the light. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Surely, if these words mean anything, we are meant to learn from these two figures, that there must be something marked, distinct, and peculiar about our character, if we are true Christians. Christians are to be different. We have been transformed by the saving grace of almighty God. We have been called out of the darkness of sin and into the light of Jesus Christ. As such we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, no longer thinking and living like others like we used to do.
Now if you have the same mindset as that of the world, if your life is no different than it was before you were ‘saved’ then you aren’t saved! The title Christian literally means “Little Christ or Like Christ and those who claim to be in Him will be different; their lives will be characterized by a set-apartedness from the world and conformity to the word of God. We will not read the word just to get some information or to say that we read it. We will read it as an instruction book that tells us how to live. As God Himself is daily conforming us to the image of His dear Son, the true Christian will increasingly live as Jesus lived according to the Scriptures which cannot lie! They will be like Jesus. His image will become more and more evident to those who see them. The longing of their hearts will be, “I want to be more like Jesus!”
Have we experienced the grace of God? Then it will be seen. Are we indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Then there will be fruit. Are we truly saved? Then there will be a difference of habits, tastes, a different mind in us than is in those who are Christians in name only; whose mind is on worldly things and whose heart turns away from the Lord God! It is perfectly clear that true Christianity is something more than being baptized and going to church. “Salt” and “light” evidently imply peculiarity both of heart and life, of faith and practice. If we are saved we will be different. And our faith will be seen. It will be evident. Our visible, living faith will be the outward sign of the inward change.