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TEXT: Romans 4:1-25
SUBJECT: Romans #7: What Justified Abraham
There's nothing I like more than a lively debate-especially when I'm on the winning side! This makes me happy I never met Paul in debate, because he a master of the subtle argument. This is what Romans 4 is: it's an argument to prove what Paul said at the end of chapter 3.
What did he say there? He said you don't get right with God by obeying the Law, but by trusting Christ. This is the centerpiece of Paul's preaching-and not only his.
Another man of God taught the same thing, and no self-respecting Jew doubted his authority. Who was he? Moses. Justification by faith, Paul says, is-
Witnessed [to] by the Law and prophets.
A prophet is referred to in this chapter, but most of it is spent on the Law, the very thing First-Century Jews were apt to pin their hopes on instead of God Himself and His Son, our Lord Jesus.
ABRAHAM'S JUSTIFICATION, VV.1-4
What does the Law say about 'getting right with God'? Paul tells us in vv.1-4. Abraham was a righteous man; no one in Israel denied this, and some rabbis went so far as to say the man was without fault-
Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing all the days of his life.
Abraham did not sin against Thee.
Paul didn't go this far, of course, but like his kinsmen, he knew Abraham was a just man who possessed a right standing with God.
How did he obtain this favor? The Jews said he got it through the Law, but the Law says it was through faith, Genesis 15:6-
Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
This explains Abraham's humility. Had he earned the favor of God by 'being good', he would have become a proud man, but no reading of his story makes you think of him in this way. Abraham was meek and thankful because the blessings he obtained were God's gift-and not his wages!
If the Lord's favor is truly a gift, it is not earned; it is received. And the theological word for 'receiving a gift' is.faith.
Francis Schaeffer often spoke of 'the empty hands of faith'. Empty hands are no good for giving, but they're just the thing for taking. This is what Abraham did: he took from God, and it's what the Lord wants us to do, Psalm 116:12-13-
What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me?
I will take up the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the Lord.
To sum up: Since Abraham was justified by faith, not Law, faith in Christ is not a new thing. It is as old as the Law itself, and-rather than nullifying the Law, faith in Christ confirms it. It's what the story of Abraham pointed to, and the rest of the Hebrew Bible as well, John 5:39-
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and it is they which testify to Me.
ABRAHAM'S CHARACTER, VV.5-8
Every Israelite knew Abraham believed God; though many stressed 'works' more than 'faith', they all agreed one has to believe in God and His promises. The debate, therefore, seems to be one of emphasis more than of substance.
But then we come to v.5 and maybe the most shocking line in the Bible. Still speaking of Abraham, Paul says-
But to him who does not work, but believe on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.
Abraham was not justified when he became a good man, but while he was still ungodly. Let's go over his story again. Where was he from? He was from Ur of the Chaldees. The name sent a shiver down the spine of every Jew; it was a civilization founded by Nimrod, the homeland of Assyria and Babylonia, and the place Israel was carried off to because of their sins. Abraham's country was full of idolatry and vice-and he shared in it all, Joshua 24:2-
Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the River, and they served other gods.
Abraham the Idolater! Every Jew recoiled from the words, but they all knew he was one. When called to Canaan, what did he do? Run the way of God's commands? No, he didn't. He stopped in Haran, and stayed there for five years. When he finally got to Canaan, the first dry year, he fled for Egypt, trusting the Nile to provide for him instead of the Lord. Then, of course, there's the Sarah Thing-twice he denied she was his wife and nearly lost her to other men. Then the Hagar Thing. God had promised to give him a son by Sarah, but when he and his wife decided 'God couldn't do it on His own', they helped Him out with a surrogate mother!
Let's review: Worshiping idols, disobeying the Lord, panicking, and doubting God. These don't sound like a man-
Perfect in all his deeds before the Lord and well-pleasing all the days of his life.
But Abraham did all these things. Because, he-like everyone else-was ungodly. And it was then-when he didn't deserve the favor of God-that he obtained it.
This is why Abraham was a blessed man. Not because God took notice of his good works, but because He forgave his bad works-
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds
and whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord
does not impute sin.
If you get right with God by being godly, Abraham was not right with God because he was ungodly. Will anyone say Abraham was not right with God? If he won't, then, justification has got to be by faith, and not by works!
ABRAHAM'S CIRCUMCISION, VV.9-12
The rabbis counted 212 rules in the Law of Moses. Some, of course, were more important than others, and right near the top of the list was circumcision. Jewish boys were to be circumcised at eight days old; if they were not, they were to be cut off from the people (Genesis 17:14). It was a breach of the Covenant and punished with great severity.
To be uncircumcised meant you were not a Jew, and not in fellowship with Moses and the Law. The uncircumcised couldn't enter the Temple; they couldn't eat the Passover; they were excluded from the whole life of Israel.
Knowing all this, Paul wonders, 'When did Abraham get right with God?'-
While he was circumcised or uncircumcised?
If you go back and read Genesis, you'll see when. Abraham was justified in 15:6, when he believed God would make his descendants outnumber the stars. But he was not circumcised until 17:24, which was at least fourteen years later!
For fourteen years, or more, Abraham was right with God without being circumcised. Therefore, Paul argues, his standing with God depended on his faith in Christ, and not the works of the Law.
Because he was justified before being circumcised, he is the father of all who believe, whether they're connected to Israel or to the Law of Moses or not. Or, to put it the other way around, you don't resemble Abraham because you have the Law, but because you believe in Christ.
ABRAHAM'S PROMISE, VV.13-17
In vv.13-17, Paul turns to the Promise made to Abraham. If you read Genesis, you'll see God appearing to Abraham several times to make or renew or expand the Promise. He'll be given land and riches, fame, security, and an offspring that will fill the earth.
This last blessing is not spelled out in the original story, but it is implied (after all, how could one small country hold that many people?). Paul picks up on this and says, the Lord promised Abraham-
The Promise cannot be limited to Israelites, because there are not enough of them, and the Law, instead of increasing their number is, in fact, reducing it. Go back to Exodus and you'll see more than 3,000,000 Israelites came out of Egypt. How many came back from the Exile?-
Some were left in the land from before, and others came back at other times, but whatever the population was, it was a small fraction of what it had been-or what God promised Abraham it would be.
How do we explain this? Did God renege on His promise? No, He kept it. By making Abraham just what He said he would be-
A father of many nations.
Not just the descendants of Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah, but the father of all-
Who are of the faith of Abraham.
Thus, the Promise is being fulfilled, not by raising Jewish barriers, but by tearing them down, calling Gentiles, and gathering the Church around faith in Christ and not the Law of Moses.
ABRAHAM'S FAITH, VV.17-22
The Law did not enable Abraham and Sarah to have a son in their old age; it was faith in God's Promise. Abraham was an impotent old man, and Sarah had passed through menopause, but so what?
God had promised them a son, and with God all things are possible. The aged couple believed God and had the son He promised them. The faith that received this blessing was what justified Abraham.
OUR FAITH, VV.23-25
The faith got that Abraham right with God is the faith that justifies us. Abraham's story was not written for Abraham-he was dead centuries before it was written down. It was put down on paper for us, so that we would be right with God-not by trying to keep the Law (and failing), but by putting our faith in God's Saving Act, which Paul sums up in the stirring words of v.25-
Who was delivered for our offenses,
And raised again for our justification.
Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead to win God's favor for Himself and for all who believe in Him.
Was my sermon repetitious? If you think so, you must have been listening-and I'm glad you were. In Romans 4 Paul makes the same point over and over again.
Why would he do that? He wasn't trying to win the argument by talking his opponents to death! He belabored the point because it needs belaboring. Then and now.
When Paul wrote this letter, the Enemy of the Church was not Rome; it was Jerusalem. Some of what they did was violent-stoning Stephen, for example, or inciting riots against Paul. But most of what they did was seductive-they wooed the Jewish believers in Christ to come back to the Law, come back to the customs of Israel, in a word, to come home.
But Paul says: God is our Home! And we come to God through faith in Christ-and not by possessing or praising or trying to keep the Law!
Our temptations are not quite the same as theirs. No Christian has ever inquired about my circumcision or told me to stop eating bacon! But Legalism is as alive today as it was then.
God accepts you because you can explain Limited Atonement! You're okay with God because you never miss a day of Bible reading! You're not afraid to die because you've been witnessing a lot lately! You're a godly man because you have family devotions every night!
All these things are good, but none of them make you right with God! Jesus makes you right with God! John Newton said-
I am a great sinner;
But Christ is a great Savior.
This is what Romans 4 is about: It's about trusting Christ and finding God's favor, not in what you do, but in what He did.
God enable us to do so. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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