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#16 What has Abraham found?

September 10, 2008

As it has been a few Sundays since we have been in the book of Romans, we are going to do a review of what we have looked at before. Therefore I want for us to read (Rom 4:1-12). This will give us the whole context for what we are about to look at today.What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,  and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” 9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

 

Abraham was to Paul and all other Jews a real flesh and blood ancestor. He was not only the father of their nation in the physical sense but the father of their faith as well. However the true faith of Abraham was not understood by the majority of the Jews. For they believed that men were saved by the religious things they did, law keeping, sacrifice, ceremony and by their connection to Abraham. Abraham knew that his acceptance with God was by faith alone. His was an implicit trust in God and an absolute confidence in Him.

This is why Paul chose to illustrate the truth of justification by faith alone by referring to Abraham.

 

He begins with the question, “What has Abraham found according to the flesh?” The implications can be numbered,

 

1.      Did he discover the way of life by works?

2.      Did he obtain acceptance with God by his obedience to the law?  

3.      “What has Abraham found according to the flesh?”

 

The Jews were convinced that Abraham was justified by what he had done: his law keeping or his own personal righteousness. In other words, the Jews believed that Abraham had arrived! Further, as verse two indicates, they boasted about Abrahams justification by his own righteousness. You may be surprised by how strongly the Jews believed that Abrahams personal perfections had made him right with God. Abrahams righteousness had caused God to choose him to be the father of the Jewish nation.

 

Check this out; Jewish tradition teaches that Abraham began to serve the true and living God at the age of three and did so perfectly to his death. But the scriptures tell us, specifically in (Joshua 24:2) that prior to the call of God Abraham and his family were idolaters. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” History proves that the inhabitants of Ur, the country from which Abraham came, were worshipers of the moon god. Our brothers pre-salvation name was Abram which means, “Exalted Father.”

The “father” spoken of here is not Jehovah God, it was the moon deity. And yet the Jews continue to preach about the life long righteousness of Abraham. In a Jewish document called the “Prayer of Manasseh #8” these words are written: “Therefore thou O Lord God of the righteous has not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against Thee, but Thou hast appointed repentance for me who am a sinner.” You can clearly see that the Jews believed and still do,  that Abraham and his sons were sinless!

 

The book of Jubilees, another Jewish document, contains this statement, “Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life.” But wait; there’s more! The Jews referred, without apology, to (Genesis 15:5-6) to support of their contention that Abraham was justified by his works. We read thus “And He (God) took him (Abraham) outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 THEN HE (Abraham) BELIEVED IN THE LORD; AND HE (God) RECKONED IT (his believing or faith) TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”  How this text can be offered in support of a works based salvation is beyond me. For it speaks of faith not works.

 

Here is yet another bold and flawed statement that stems from ignorance of the truth; “Our father Abraham became the heir of this and the coming world simply by the MERIT OF THE FAITH with which he believed in the Lord. As it is written, “He believed in the Lord who counted it to him as righteousness,” Their doctrine is clear; they believe that. Abraham’s faith earned him the favor of God. His faith caused God to reward him with eternal life.

 

Is it any wonder that they had such a hard time with the truth! They denied the truth and sought to work out a righteousness of their own just as they believed their father Abraham had done. And they completely shut out the truth of what John the Baptist said in (Mt 3:9) “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Note the reading from (Lu 3:8) “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”

 

We know that salvation is all of grace and the word merit has to do with one receiving spiritual credit for good works. In this case faith is said to be the work which gains the payment or reward of God’s acceptance. Those who believe this believe that God owes them something. There are many people today who believe and teach this. They teach that somehow, God cruses the universe searching the hearts of men for faith and when He finds it He rewards this person with salvation. Therefore, faith is somehow thought to be some kind of good work performed by men and is therefore the cause of salvation. Faith, according to this view is a good work performed by men which earns the favor of God.

 

And Paul shut that argument down in chapter three when he told us that no one does good! End of story. Isaiah calls our ‘righteousness’ filthy rags. We can not earn the favor of God! It is impossible. Paul proves his point by giving us the proper interpretation of (Genesis 15:-6). Notice what he says in (Rom 4:2-5) “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; BUT NOT BEFORE GOD! 3 For what does the Scripture say? “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, (trusted in God, relied upon God, rested in God) AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

 

This means that from the moment Abraham believed was exercising the faith that God had bestowed upon him and this exercise of faith was the outward evidence of the inward change of heart and was a proof that he was accepted by God and saved from the wrath to come. When Abraham believed, He was given credit for being perfectly righteous even though he had not been.

By faith Abraham, the sinner, was justified before God. What an amazing and wonderful thing! We can ask the question: why was Abraham now considered or reckoned righteous by God. Was it a gracious reckoning which ignored the fact that he deserved Gods wrath for his sin? Or was righteousness reckoned to him as payment for his having lived a righteous life or for performing the work of believing? Paul answers the question in verse 4 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”

 

In other words if you work for Gods favor then salvation is not by grace. It is the payment of what is due. You have performed your job of exercising your faith and you have earned your paycheck of salvation. Those who believe this, as I said earlier, believe that GOD OWES THEM! In their eyes: faith becomes a human work when one believes that HIS FAITH HAS EARNED Gods favor and acceptance. This is nothing more or less than salvation by works. And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6  And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

 

Paul continues saying in verse 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” The righteousness of Christ had been imputed to him! Let me read (Gen 15:6) once again. And he (Abraham) believed the LORD, and He (God) counted it to him as righteousness.” No where in this text can you find the slightest reference to human merit! Quite the contrary: we see righteousness imputed or reckoned or credited or graciously given to Abraham THOUGH the instrument of faith. That which is reckoned to one THROUGH faith is not earned! It is given freely as a favor: as a gift! That this is what Paul attempts to teach is borne out by the rest of the chapter.

 

Indeed throughout his letters he declares the same thing over and over again. Salvation is the gift of God. Saving grace is the gift of God. Saving faith is the gift of God. It is not the result of works so that NO ONE CAN BOAST! Consider the following verses in our text. (6)just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works…To consider one as righteous apart from works is to declare him pure and holy in spite of his sin and rebellion. It is to declare him acceptable to God in spite of the lack of merit in him. This reckoning takes place without consideration of the human condition. It is a gracious reckoning. Praise be to God! And Paul makes this statement again and again.

 

Note verse (11)He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. Abraham believed in God and was declared righteous BEFORE he was circumcised. This is very important! For the Jews believed that circumcision made one right and acceptable with God. Paul argues that Abraham was right with God before he was circumcised. Therefore, he was accepted on the basis of imputed faith, not external works. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well… Not earned, but freely and graciously given as a gift.

 

In verses (2325) Paul includes all who believe when he says; But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also, It (righteousness and acceptance with God, eternal life) will be counted to us who believe (have faith, trust) in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Salvation is graciously granted to sinners though faith: it has nothing to do with ones behavior.

 

Now let me show you that faith cannot be a meritorious work preformed by men. It cannot be so because the faith by which a person is saved DOES NOT ORIGINATE WITH HIM. Saving faith DOES NOT originate with men. Therefore, faith cannot be the reason God chose Abraham. HE HAD NO FAITH BEFORE GOD GAVE IT TO HIM! The scriptures are clear. I briefly shared this first text with you but let me now direct you to (Romans 3:10-18) where we will see a picture of the true condition of fallen humanity, including Abraham. Tell me if you can see faith in the hearts of those depicted here. Paul declares; as it is written:  “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands;  no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;  no one does good,  not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave;  they use their tongues to deceive.”  “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

 

This is a description of every human being! Apart from the sovereign grace of God no sinner will ever have saving faith! They have no capacity to believe in Christ for salvation. Consider also (1Co 2:14) where we see that “The natural the once born, the lost, spiritually dead person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

 

Think about it. If a non-Christian cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God, if he cannot understand them, can he believe them? Can such a man have saving faith? The answer is no even though modern evangelism states that ‘all you have to do is pray this prayer; you don’t have to understand it or believe it or anything. Just say the words and PRESTO, instant Christian.

 

We’ve gotta accept the truth. If God were cruising the universe looking for faith in men through which He could save them there would never be one man, women, or child saved. Men are faithless until faith is given to them by the Creator.

 

The following texts will reveal to us exactly how Abraham came to have faith in God for salvation. It will also show us that the faith by which he believed was not a work of human flesh. (Eph 2:8-10)For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (not because of, but) for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

 

Sinners are not saved by works they are saved through faith. Saving faith does not come from us; it is the gift of God to us! So what do the saved have to boast about? Where do the Jews or any other religious group get off boasting about how they have done something to make themselves acceptable to God? Boasting has been eliminated by the way God designed salvation. His salvation is all of grace not of works lest any man should boast! Salvation is something God does to and for sinners in spite of them! Therefore, the saved sinner has nothing to boast about. God gets all the glory and all the Christian can do is say Thank You God! The redeemed have nothing to brag about! Nothing! Salvation is of the Lord from the beginning to the end. Even the faith through which we believe comes from God. We must never forget this.

 

The next passage is found in (1Cor 4:7) where we read, For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?Everything a person has, even faith, has come from outside himself. It is the gift of God. (Phi 1:29) tells us For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,The faith by which we believe in Christ for salvation is given to us by God. Faith does not have a human origin.

 

In (1Cor 1:30-31) Paul shuts the door on self boasting when he tells us that He (God) is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” While the Jew boasts that Abraham was accepted by God because of his own goodness and faith the truth is plain. There is no goodness nor faith in a sinner. There is nothing meritorious for God to recognize or reward. When asked, “How did you become a Christian? We must answer, “It is by Gods doing that I am in Christ.”

Surely it is clear: the faith by which Abraham, and every other saint of God for that matter, is declared righteous has not come as the result of works! It is a gift from God which accompanies His call unto salvation. The faith by which we believe and are saved is a result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. God does not see faith then choose a man for salvation. Rather, He chooses or elects to save then HE GIVES THE FAITH NECESSARY FOR SALVATION. If salvation was the result of something in us that caught Gods attention, something for which He rewarded or paid us then it would not be of gift of grace but rather the owed payment for services rendered! But again the scriptures are clear.

 

Verses (4) and following of our text have made that plain. Look once again and see the Truth as God has declared it to us:Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work (Does not try to earn his salvation.) but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (This person will be looked upon as righteous in the eyes of God even though he is in actuality ungodly.)

 

6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: (without considering his sin.) 7 Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Again the apostle tells us who these people are, how and when they have been forgiven.) 9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. (Check out Genesis 15:1-6 and 17:24-25)

 

11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, (Or without trying to earn Gods favor by doing something to make themselves acceptable to God.) so that righteousness would be counted (or graciously given) to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

 

Note that Paul was dealing with the subject of circumcision but he could just as easily have spoken of other things, other human works that millions of people trust in for their supposed salvation: things like, responding to an altar-call, baptism, church membership, doing good to a neighbor, or being part of a Christian family. They don’t understand that sinners are not saved because of what they do or do not do. Sinners are saved because of what God does to and for them through faith in Jesus Christ. The just shall live by faith! If sinners are to be saved they must have the faith of Abraham: they must believe in, trust in: rely upon the finished work of Jesus Christ. And to do this they must be acted upon by the Holy Spirit of God.

 

The facts are these. Men have become slaves of sin, self and the devil. Sinners are in such a condition that they cannot and do not want to come to God through faith in Jesus. The one who believes and is saved has been acted upon by, interfered with by God. By God’s grace he has recognized his desperate condition and has fled to Christ believing that He has shed His own blood for his soul. He will have found that which Abraham has found. And what is that? Abraham discovered that the just shall live by faith in God through Jesus Christ the Lord. And he has found rest for his soul!

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