logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

"Abraham's Faith-righteousness"

May 25, 2014 Rom 4(1-5,10-12,19-25)


All right, let's be honest. At first glance, Romans chapter 4 might strike some as "dull": a bit tedious and repetitive, all this talk of circumcision, crediting, and deadness. Frankly, perhaps we don't have "ears to hear": we lack interest because, to be honest, our interests are elsewhere - that's how the world grooms us. Even after the meeting of our esteemed Elders this past Wednesday, talk shifted to topics that were more "guy-friendly" - computers and software, the latest in high-def TV technology - and I must admit I'm as keen as the next guy in such areas, we find it "interesting". But such topics don't have much lasting value; in fact, today's hot item will be out of date 5 years from now, let alone in eternity.

But suppose a speaker got up here and said, "I'm going to tell you how you can become a millionaire in 3 easy steps." Would he or she suddenly have our attention? That is - except for those who've already been through network marketing presentations and are automatically skeptical!

A message would interest us greatly if it dealt with how we could obtain something of great value, what we want most, what's extremely precious and enduring. Well then, you've come to the right place! In Romans 4, Paul talks about the MOST IMPORTANT thing in the world and how to get it. It's as if you had some rich relative die and a bank official came and was about to explain the details of how you could have a huge inheritance transferred into an account - you'd sure pay attention!

Well, that's exactly the scenario here. It turns out you have a forefather who was promised he would be "heir of the world" - 4:13; this promise comes into the New Testament in 1Cor 3:21-23, "All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-- all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God." That's better than a million dollars - "all things are yours" / all things belong to you!

In Romans 4, Paul goes on at length about something that's even better than worldly goods, better than ANY amount of money: RIGHTEOUSNESS. Not a word you hear much about in everyday conversation. Relationally there is the sense of being "right with" the other person, not at odds with or being threatened by them or alienated from them. If you enjoyed right standing with a wealthy Sultan, that would give you a certain prestige. This past week a previously unknown woman from Halifax was plunged into the headlines because Prince Charles is alleged to have confided to her some remarks comparing recent actions by Russia's Vladimir Putin to those of Hitler. Relationship with the mighty confers unique status and significance, makes a 'nobody' a 'somebody'. How much more important is right relationship with the eternal almighty King than any earthly leader!

So - let's allow our interests to be adjusted in light of Biblical categories. Are we eagerly awaiting what counts most? What's of most value? As Paul put it in Galatians 5(5f), "But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

Rabbi Shammai in the 3rd century AD noted that Moses gave us 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands in the law. David in Psalm 15 reduced them to 11; Isaiah 33(14f) made them 6; Micah 6:8 binds them into 3; yet Habakkuk 2:4 reduces them all to one, namely, "The just (or righteous) shall live by faith." Let's explore that in depth today with Paul - righteousness that comes through faith.


Romans 4:2 "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about..." Isn't it human nature to enjoy having something to BOAST about? To boast is to exalt oneself, be praising ME. The world tells us, "Work hard and you'll amount to something" - climb the corporate ladder and so forth. V4 "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation." When we work, we earn wages, they're due us, our employers are obliged to reward our hard work.

The problem is, when it comes to religious good works, the most religious person in the world will always come up short in some respect because of our flawed and fallen human nature. V15 "law brings wrath"; 6:23 "the wages of sin is death" - not the kind of wages you WANT to earn! Back in chapter 3 Paul summed up the net effect of human depravity - vv9-12 all are under sin, no one seeks God, there is no one who does good; 19f the whole world is held accountable to God, no one will be declared righteous by observing the law. V27 Boasting is excluded. Good works will never earn your entrance to heaven because there's always a backlog of guilt you're not capable of redeeming by your own efforts.

Boasting would put the focus on our own works or ability, whereas Paul outlines that the real "worker" with almighty power is God Himself. V5 God is the one who justifies the ungodly, or wicked. V15 God "gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were". When WE do that, it's called lying; when GOD does that, it's called creating, because His words carry the power to create what His will is intending and communicating and promising. Think of Biblical miracles such as Jesus bringing back to life the son of the widow at Nain, or Jairus' daughter, or Lazarus hopping forth in graveclothes from the tomb. V19 Abraham around age 100 "faced the fact that his body was as good as dead" reproductively speaking; while his wife was 10 years younger around 90, though her womb "was also dead".

Are there areas of life in which you're fighting mortality right now? Unwelcome changes in your health or appearance? Loss of memory or depleted energy? Greying hair or sagging physique? Not quite like that Connecticut woman who in September celebrated her 100th birthday by swimming a quarter mile? (And incidentally raising several thousand dollars for her church in the process!) Are there areas in life in which you're feeling a deadness, you're "hitting the wall"? Abraham recognized his limitations, that some things were beyond his finite ability.

4:24 reminds us of the hallmark event that demonstrated conclusively God's power to work what's impossible: He "raised Jesus our Lord from the dead." And v25 quotes the Septuagint, possibly in an early form of Christian creedal confession, to explain what that was all about: "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" [our being put right with God]. That's a quote from Isaiah 53:12 many centuries before it took place: God keeps His promises over the centuries, fulfilling His redemptive plan wonderfully even without the perpetrators of the crucifixion being aware that they were fulfilling Scripture by their wicked deeds.

God is the primary worker, the only One who has the right to boast - not us.


A week back my new neighbour, not used to the soggy soil spring brings in our area, got his truck stuck while backing a trailer up to his barn. I volunteered my expanded-steel-mesh tire grips but to no avail. He asked if I had a truck but I explained my little 20-horsepower garden tractor would be useless in that situation. He was able to borrow a friend's 4x4 which, after some futile attempts, took a run at it and was able to pull the first truck out without snapping the chain.

Faith recognizes when one needs a 4x4 truck with several hundred horsepower instead of a little garden tractor. Faith chooses to hitch one's hopes to God, like a mighty Clydesdale draft horse instead of the miniature pony of our own best efforts. It's not about the chain (faith); it's about what's pulling at the end of the chain! (Faith's object)

Abraham with the insight of faith perceived and apprehended God's power and goodness, and entrusted his future (and the possibility of having a family) to the Lord Almighty. V3 "What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."" V5 to the man who does not work but trusts God, "his faith is credited as righteousness." V6 God "credits righteousness apart from works". 9B "Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness." Again in vv22-24, "This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-- for us who believe [have faith] in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead." You get the impression this concept of faith being "credited as righteousness" is something Paul really want to underscore!

Being put right with God HAS to happen by faith, our choosing to trust the Lord with our whole life. "Sola fide" as the Reformers put it, "by faith alone". It's not that faith is itself some sort of ACHIEVEMENT we muster up and take credit for; faith itself is a gift of God - Eph 2:8f, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it [faith] is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." Faith, the single crucial element in being born again, is not from ourselves but from God.

The NIV Study Bible comments on 4:20, "Whereas works are man's attempt to establish a claim on God, faith brings glory to Him." Why? What is it about faith that exalts God or magnifies His greatness? John MacArthur states, "Believing God affirms His existence and character and thus gives Him glory." When we trust God with a situation, we're implying He's big enough and wise enough and caring enough to handle it - and that makes God look good.

Paul uses the phrase "CREDITED as righteousness" repeatedly. The Greek term for "credited" means accounted, imputed, literally "to set down accounts" - make an entry in the ledger, not on the "owing" side but in the customer's favour. When you trust God, put your faith in Him, He sees that in itself as a deposit in your favour. Faith is like the piece of paper a cheque is written on: there's little value in the paper itself (you can order the forms for about 8 cents each), yet the value conveyed by a single cheque can mount to many thousands of dollars - because someone applied their name to it and is thus backing it with their whole bank account; in this case, the superb "deposit" Christ made at the cross, investing His life on your behalf, is applied to your credit, to offset your "overdrawn" guilt-owing. Hebrews 11:6 "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Faith shows that you acknowledge God IS and that He is loving, a REWARDER of those who turn to Him.

Because right-standing with God comes through faith, not being earned by works, the Bible emphasizes that it's all by sheer GRACE. 16A "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring..." It's not conditional on performance, on our works, hence it can be "guaranteed" - founded solely on God's mercy and lovingkindness proven at the cross, not whether or not we've "earned" it or deserve it.

'Credited as righteousness' - Paul quotes David (remember, the king who committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband as a cover-up?) - David who in Psalm 32 sang about the "blessedness" of this sheer grace. Vv7-8 "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." Incredible happiness! Transgressions - violations of the law - forgiven, struck from the record. Sins "covered" as with a shroud, no more to be seen. Sin "never counted against" you: that debt has been paid, with the precious blood of an innocent Lamb - God's own Son.


A couple of weeks back, our son Keith had posted a live-streaming link for the 'epiphaneia' conference in Toronto marking the 25th anniversary of the book Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. I texted Keith inquiring whether he was actually at the conference, but I guess my free Android texting app number came up without my name attached. So Keith replied, "I'm at it in Toronto. Who's this?" I decided I'd have a little fun with him, so answered with words reminiscent of a famous scene in Star Wars, "This is your father, Luke!"

Would you be surprised to find one of the most famous characters in the Bible in your family tree? Paul in this passage declares that, in a spiritual sense, Abraham is indeed our forefather if we're believing in the same God he trusted. In Rom 4:10 Paul points out that Abraham was credited with righteousness by faith well before he was circumcised - around 14 years earlier. V11 "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them." V16 says the promise is "Therefore, the promise is "guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring-- not only to those who are of the law [ie Jews] but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham [ie Gentiles].He is the father of us all." V17 "As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed..."

The implications of having Abraham as our "father" are staggering when you consider the promises made to him - "I will bless you...you will BE a blessing...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:3) On another occasion God promised, "Do not be afraid, Abram.I am your shield, your very great reward." (Gen 15:1) So Paul concludes in Galatians 3:29, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Heirs of what? The land of Palestine? Something far more special than that. Paul continues a few verses later, "God sent His Son...that we might receive the full rights of sons." (Gal 4:4f) So - what's that translate into? Gal 4:6f "Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."

The inheritance here, then, bequeathed to those who are Abraham's offspring through faith in God, seems to be the presence of the Spirit of God's Son in our hearts, relating to our loving and powerful heavenly Father. God's best gift is God Himself! As Peter puts it, believers "participate in the divine nature".(2Peter 1:4) Then in the next chapter Paul unpacks the dividends of having the Holy Spirit in us - the "fruit of the Spirit", namely love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness self-control. That's a most precious inheritance! 2Peter 1:3 "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."

Now, if Abraham is your father in the faith, in what ways might you be expected to resemble him? How does Paul describe the way Abraham believed? 18A "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed..." Are there things you've lost hope about because you figured it was too hard for God, or not worthy of His attention?

V19 "Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead..." Are you tempted to weaken in your faith? What things help encourage your faith? Reading God's promises regularly in the Bible? Having praise music on in the car instead of secular music? Stealing some time alone with God to pray in a quiet place? Meeting occasionally with other Christians - does that strengthen your faith?

V20 Abraham "did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith..." Do you find yourself wavering in your faith at times? What contributes to that? Wrong influences? Not getting enough sleep so you're prone to irritability and depression? Listening to scoffers who reject God?

V21 describes Abraham as "being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." Do you let yourself get dismayed by focusing on the size of the problem rather than the immensity of God's power which is available to deal with the problem? Recall the miracles by which God has demonstrated His power in the past - Israelites being delivered from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan, being sustained in the desert for 40 years, David whomping the giant, childless Hannah giving birth to a son, widowed Naomi being looked after, Daniel kept safe in the lion's den... The same God who worked such wonders in the pages of Scripture waits to respond to your prayers as you seek what's needed to carry out His will and advance Christ's reign.

During an earthquake some years ago, the inhabitants of a small village were generally very much alarmed, but they were at the same time surprised at the calmness and apparent joy of an old woman whom they all knew. Eventually one of them asked the old woman, "Mother, are you not afraid?" The woman replied, "No; I rejoice to know that I have a God who can shake the world." There's faith like Abraham's! Let's pray.