#17 The Promises are ours by faith
I want to begin our lesson this morning by referencing a sermon by John MacArthur Jr. He was speaking about Hinduism and specifically the largest religious ceremony in the world. “The largest religious ceremony in the world occurs in India every six years. It is a Hindu event. Here is how it proceeds. There is a place in India where the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers come together. To the Hindu this convergence of rivers is a most sacred place. It is here that the great ceremony takes place. It begins with a parade of millions led by naked Indian Holy men. The destination of this great sea of humans is the sacred water of the two converging rivers. Their coming to this place has been very expensive and, as you would guess, the majority of these people are very poor. Most come on foot many beginning their journey months in advance. The month is January, it is cold and the water is freezing. Along the banks of the river there are many “fakirs.” These “fakirs”(a fakir is one who is believed to be able to perform feats of magic or endurance) are also considered holy men by the Hindus who worship a total of three hundred and thirty million “gods.” They sit on beds of nails or walk over glass bits or beds of glowing hot coals. Another common sight is worshipers piercing their tongues with long knives in order to sentence themselves to eternal silence as a way of appeasing the gods.
Still others engage in killing the use of their legs and arms by various means. For instance, one man had held his arm up in the air for seven years. Of course it was withered and immovable. His fingernails were two feet long. Again this was an attempt to please and appease the gods. Others will be found staring purposely at the midday sun until they are blind for life. This is another way of pleasing the gods.
The Hindus believe that the pilgrim who bathes at this place wins absolution for himself and his whole family. Even if he has perpetrated one hundred crimes he is redeemed the moment he touches the Ganges. For its waters are believed to wash away the sins of all who bathe in them. All along the waters edge there are little shaving booths. These devout and sincere people strip themselves bare, enter one of these booths where they have every single hair removed from their bodies. These hairs are collected and are thrown into the filthy water of the river. According to their sacred writings each hair thrown into the water secures for them one million years in heaven.There is yet another gift one may offer their god in order to gain heaven. That gift is one’s life. The sacred writings declare, “Whoever wishes to be born in heaven ought to fast to a grain of rice and then drown himself in these waters.” The article concluded with these words. “Millions who come with spiritual hunger depart with peace in their hearts and renewed faith.”
From the perspective of Biblical Christianity, these people are horribly deceived and anyone who would say that all religious roads lead to the same result are out of their minds. The extreme cases we have just heard described have to do with men and women seeking to be justified by works, that is, by the things they say and do. They are seeking to score points with their ‘gods’ and to appease them. And they are trying to do is find a way into the Hindu equivalent of heaven or Nirvana which in reality is a state of nothingness.
Now the Hindus are not alone. There are millions of others who, while they laugh at people like these, are doing the same thing. They have gotten past the weird stuff like shaving booths and tongue piercing but are nevertheless still seeking acceptance with God on the basis of works. They may be more sophisticated about their ‘religious experience’ but they are still seeking to appease their ‘god’ by performing acts of charity, striving to live a moral life, submitting to the act of baptism, they may be church members or a hundred other things. The list is really endless. Indeed there is almost no which act men and women won’t do in order to gain acceptance with that which they consider to be God.
But if it is not the God of the Bible, then they have set another god before Him with whom we have to do. They have in essence submitted to or invented ‘another gospel’ which is no gospel at all. The word Gospel (the Greek word is evangellion) which literally means “Good News.” Now to have good news implies that there is bad news. The bad news is that we cannot find acceptance with God by our works. All of our so called righteous deeds are as filthy rags in God’s sight. Those who trust in their ‘works’ to make them right with the One True and Living God are in reality on the broad road that leads to destruction. This is where the majority of mankind dwells. Indeed since we are born in trespasses and sins and have a natural bend or disposition to sin, what we are seeing is basically the natural outcome of a sin darkened heart which thinks it knows best. Consider this fact; every society on earth has manufactured some kind of ladder which men must climb in order to get into heaven.
Ever since the first sin of Adam and Eve, that of eating the forbidden fruit, mankind has been addicted to the idea of a performance based salvation. They passed this on to their sons Cain and Abel and to the rest of us as well. Consider Cain and Abel for a moment. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. God had declared the manner offering that would be pleasing to Him and Abel was obedient to that. Cain however decided that he would do things his own way and God was not pleased nor did He accept Cain’s offering. But this has not stopped men from trying and the multitude of religions are a testament to this truth. The names of the religions may be different and the ceremonies and requirements may vary from religion to religion, but the common thread that runs through all non-Christian religions is that lost men and women believe they have a better way. They have found the ‘formula’ to please God and this formula is the same: it is up to them to ‘do the right thing, perform the right number of deeds or abstain from the wrong things to be accepted by their ‘god’! You must be something or do something or sacrifice something to earn God’s favor. Now think back with me for a moment to the first family. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain
But the Biblical truth of the matter is that to be accepted by God you must come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ without works. God, speaking through the Apostle Paul was very clear when in (Eph 2:8-9) stated, “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. And in (Rom 3:19-30) he says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. The purpose of the law is to reveal to us that we are sinners before a holy God; that we are already condemned by our sins before Him and that, unless God intervenes and grants us the gifts of saving grace and saving faith, hell is in our future.
But God… God has intervened in sending His Son Jesus to live a perfectly sinless life on our behalf. He came to earth, (John 1:14) took on a human body (Heb 10:5) and was killed in our place and raised for our justification (Ro 4:25). God accomplished what we never could. He accomplished our salvation. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only?
Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”
Now last week we looked at the first twelve verses of Romans 4 and we listened as Paul provided scriptural evidence that, contrary to what the Jews believed, Abraham was not saved by works but by grace through faith. In verse three Paul quotes from (Genesis 15:6) where Moses teaches us the truth about salvation. He says, “And he (Abraham) believed the LORD, and He (God) counted it to him as righteousness.”In (Rom.4:5) Paul tells us, “And to the one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Paul’s goal is to prove from the scriptures that salvation cannot be earned by the things we do; rather, it is a complete work of the grace of God. God has done all the work for us including giving us the faith to believe in Him. Salvation is a blessing from God as He interferes in the lives of ungodly, unrighteous, rebellious sinners to the extent that the sinner is transformed into a hater of sin and a lover of God. This is the blessing of salvation. Paul speaks of this divine forgiveness of sins in (Romans 4:7-8) saying “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.”
Paul has determined to answer every objection so as to seal off every conceivable argument so that every mouth will be shut and all will become guilty and accountable before Almighty God. In verses nine through twelve he argues that Abraham’s justification had nothing to do with his external act of circumcision. The Jews held that acceptance with God was based on circumcision and other works similar to it. Paul declares that God ascribed righteousness to Abraham at least fourteen years before his circumcision. Therefore, it had nothing to do with his justification. Indeed, his act of circumcision was an act of obedience to the God he loved. And he proved his love, demonstrated his regenerated life by his outward deeds. They didn’t save him; they were the outward evidence of the inward change of heart.
God had called Abram from Ur of the Chaldees and His call was His redemption. With this redemption came the new name Abraham which means “Father of a multitude.” God accomplished it all. He called, He drew, He transformed. Abraham was merely the responder. He responded in the only way he could; HE OBEYED. And his obedience was the evidence of God’s hand of salvation and transformation on his life. Now the Jews, like all who seek to justify themselves, like all have rejected God’s order of salvation and who therefore seek to work out a righteousness of their own apart from the grace of God, they had another avenue of self-justification. They considered obedience to the Law of Moses as the basis for their special standing before God. They believed that they and Abraham were recipients of, “The promises,” because they possessed and obeyed that Law. What they failed to understand is that God requires PERFECT OBEDIENCE TO HIS LAW TO BE JUSTIFIED! And human beings are just not able to accomplish this. You’ve heard the statement; “nobody’s perfect.” We need to really take this to heart.
And this is the subject that our brother Paul will deal with in our text for today, verses thirteen through seventeen. Follow as I read. (Romans 4:13-17) “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.“
Since God made a promise to Abraham and Paul is addressing this I want for us to look at the written account of the giving of that promise. This is found in (Gen 12:1-3) “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In (Gen 17:4-5) God repeats this promise saying “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Now these promises were given to Abraham and his descendants some four-hundred years before the the Law (The Ten Commandments), came into being. Yet the Jews believe that their father Abraham received the promises through obeying the Law of Moses. Realizing that the scriptures recorded this great gap between the time of the promise and the giving of the Law the Jews, seeking to cover up their lie, concocted this solution. They taught that long before the Law had been given, even before God had called Abraham and made a covenant with him, that Abraham had a complete knowledge of the Law and had obeyed perfectly. Therefore, according to the Jews, he earned these promises. God’s declaration of righteousness was basically a pat on the back for services rendered.
Paul states that works were not involved at all and that the promises came to Abraham by grace though faith long before Abraham knew anything about the commandments. Abraham, as we saw last week had been born into a culture of idolatry. Indeed the main deity of Ur or moon city in Chaldea was the moon god ironically called Sin! Abraham, like all good Chaldeans worshiped this deity as well as others. But God called Abraham out of this city and out of his old way of life into the new and living way of God. God called and Abraham obeyed. Paul declares this in (Gal 3:6-9) saying; “just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (By putting their faith and trust in the promise of God just as Abraham did.) 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
What does this mean to us? Look at verse (29) of the same chapter. Paul says “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs (children, descendants) according to promise.” The key here is this; it doesn’t matter who your physical parents are. What matters is whether or not you belong to Jesus Christ. If God has called us from the grave of our old life and into new life in Jesus then He has washed away our sins and has cast them from us as far as the east is from the west. And He has declared that we are now His children and heirs, beneficiaries, inheritors of the promise to Abraham. God the Father, (1Co 1:30-31) He 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.”
Christians, followers of Christ, are heirs of the promises in the same way Abraham was, by faith in God through Jesus Christ. If it were by obedience to the law, or by the performance of some religious rules and regulations, then it could not be by grace or promise for these two are opposites. You can’t have it both ways. You are either resting completely in the finished work of salvation by Jesus Christ or you are trusting in yourself to accomplish salvation. 14 “For if it is the adherents (the keepers) of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.” (He speaks of anyone who believes in a works based acceptance with God.)
If the things God “promised” to GIVE Abraham and his believing descendants had to be earned by keeping the law then we’re no longer speaking of a promise but of payment and reward for obedience. If acceptance with God and entrance into heaven is based on keeping the law then faith is useless; it is of no value, and obedience is the thing we must be concerned about. Faith becomes empty and useless because the law does not require trust but rather strict obedience. On the other hand, if faith is the means by which we find acceptance with God, become sons and, therefore, heirs of His kingdom, then keeping the law has no place in finding acceptance with God.
So, has faith, trust in the finished work of Christ on the Cross been nullified or made useless? Paul says NO! Rather the God bestowed gift of faith is the ONLY WAY men can be saved and have a relationship with God. The law was not instituted to save sinners. In fact Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that…“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Rom 3:20) and when Paul speaks about trying to do be saved through the keeping of the law, he speaks from experience. He was a Pharisee, a legalistic keeper of the Law of Moses and all the regulations that the Pharisees could come up with.
And what did he find? He learned that the law does not justify but rather condemns the sinner. It pronounces a curse upon all who do not perfectly comply with all that it demands. That means that everyone who tries to relate to God by trying to meet some standard, rule or law, are in deep trouble. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!” Consider the words of (Gal 3:10-11) “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” That is by trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for…He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. (Isa 53:5)
Back in (Ro 4:15) we read “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. What is the meaning of this last phrase, “. . but where there is no law, neither is there violation?” It is a statement which shows that God’s wrath rests upon all men. How do I come to this conclusion? Paul says in Galatians 3:10 that God’s curse rests upon all breakers of the law. Now if it could be proven that some men had no law it might also be proven that there was no divine wrath resting upon them. However, we have learned from this very book that the law of God is revealed to all men in varying degrees. It comes to us first through the evidence of creation, that is, the world around us. And it is also written on our hearts or consciences.
Paul tells us in (Ro 1:18-20) “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Where there is no law there is no violation but there is no place to be found under God’s creation where there is no law! The law of God, the truth about God, surrounds us and it is in us as well. This law demands perfect obedience and condemns to hell all who fail to render it. The law brings wrath and condemnation because we cannot and will not keep it. Since all mankind has broken and continues to break God’s law, well, there you have it; we are in deep trouble. And all of their supposed good works aren’t helping them in the least. We have already seen that those who try to ‘obey’ God by their deeds are doomed to failure.
God’s standard for sinners is perfection. And those who say that they are ‘living by the Ten Commandments’ must understand that if they fail just once, they are going to hell. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (Jas 2:10) It is impossible for the law to save a sinner because the sinner cannot measure up to the standard. The law was meant to condemn.(Romans 4:16 NASB) “For this reason it salvation is by faith, by resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ) that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be CERTAIN to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, (Jews, physical descendents of Abraham) but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, (the recipients of the gift of faith and grace that Abraham was) who is the father of us all.”
Let me explain what Paul means here. God has accomplished what sinners never could! He has paid for our sins by the shedding of the precious blood of His Son Jesus Christ. And he is the giver of the gifts of faith and grace. For this reason, or because of what God has done, salvation is received by faith as a sinner hears the call of God, and responds to that call as God gives him the ability. And it is totally a work of God’s gracious love from beginning to end. Everyone from Abraham to the last man whom God will call before He puts an end to this world, will be saved in the same way, when God visits a man and bestows upon him the gifts of grace and faith. Therefore, everyone who believes God, trusts in God for the salvation of his never dying soul has the same faith that Abraham had.
Therefore, Abraham can be called ‘the father of us all’ for he is the father of the faithful or all who have faith in God for salvation and demonstrate that faith by their deeds. Am I contradicting myself here? In no way! Abraham believed God and obeyed God. You see, faith is observable. Our outward acts of faith are the visible evidence that we have truly believed God. Our acts do not save us but they are visible signs that God has saved us and given us the gifts of grace and faith “as it is written, “I have made you (Abraham) the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Ro 4:17)
Abraham, in a spiritual sense is the father of all believers, not of Jews only but of believers from every nation under the sun. (Genesis 17:4-5). At the moment Abraham stood before God, though he was not then a father physically or spiritually, this promise was as sure to be fulfilled as if it had already been fulfilled. Why do I say that? I say it because of who Abraham’s God is. As Paul put it, He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. This statement has both a spiritual and a physical application.
On the physical side of things we must think of creation. (Genesis 1:1 NASB) “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” How did He do this? Did He have a kit? Was there some raw material to work from? No the Bible declares that in the beginning there was God and only God. This God called into being what had not previously existed in any form. We read in (Heb 11:3) that “By faith by God’s mercy he has revealed to us secret truths and by His illumination we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, (Think of the “Let there be” statements in Genesis.) so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
Here is power and wisdom beyond our ability to comprehend. It is power beyond measure. But God has no limitations. This same God said to Abraham “I will make you the father of many nations.” I will make you the father of a multitude of people as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” Here is the God who speaks and it is done. So, though Abraham did not have any children when the promise was given to him it was certain that he would have children in the future for God calls into being that which does not exist.
Not only does He have the power to speak into existence that which did not previously exist but “He is the God who GIVES life to the dead.” What does he mean here? Let me explain by calling to your attention (Eph 2:1-10) And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 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 for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Salvation is God raising sinners from spiritual death, from the grave of sin into life in Jesus Christ. This is what He did for Abraham and it is what has been done for everyone who is a true believer in Jesus Christ. The truth of the matter is that sinners must be raised from the dead. The dead have no life and cannot save themselves. For us this is an insurmountable problem; but not with God. With men this is impossible but with God, nothing is impossible. The True God, Abraham’s God, the Christian God is unique among all so called gods for He alone gives life to the dead and calls into existence that which did not previously exist. And the key word here is ‘gives.’ God ‘GIVES’ life to sinners who previously had no life. The dead sinner did not earn life by obedience, for he was dead. God ‘GIVES’ faith to the resurrected sinner who previously had no faith, for he was dead. God ‘GIVES’ repentance to the sinner who was unable to repent, for he was dead. All this is the gift of God, the gracious gift from the hands of the Almighty. It is all of grace through faith, not by the keeping of the Law. This is Paul’s point. Sinners are saved like Abraham was saved, through faith alone in Christ alone plus nothing. The Promises of God are ours by the gift of faith!