Saturday, March 10, 2012

Romans 4. Preaching: ANewMind

Sorry about the very late posting. Although I tried for the first attempt, I didn't feel comfortable trying to follow the given liturgy. So, I went with the passage (and the rest of the chapter) which I felt expressed the themes. It's my first attempt at typing out a message, so please forgive the awkwardness.
  • Denomination: Independent Fundamental Baptist
  • Passage: Romans Chapter 4
Let us study together the 4th chapter in the book of Romans. In this chapter Paul speaks about faith. To demonstrate faith, he uses the figure of Abraham, and shows us how that we might also obtain the same salvation through faith.
This chapter takes place in the middle of Paul's doctrine of salvation. For the first three chapters, Paul takes the time to make it clear to us that God's condemnation is on us all. He explains how that the Gentile, that is those of us who are not Jews, are condemned because we do those things which God hates. He reveals that we know the judgment of God is on us, but that we still do those very things God hates. Then, he condemns the Jew, who had thought that his birth would save him, but did not do the law which he was commanded to keep. Finally, as if he had left anybody out, in chapter 3 Paul shows that all of mankind is condemned and unworthy of salvation. If we had stopped reading there, we would be without hope. I thank God that He did not stop there in His plan for us, but that He had provided us with a way. Nevertheless, we need to understand the judgment which we stand accused of. This is the point that many modern teachers forget. They would like to proclaim the Gospel, but what Gospel is there to a people who are not under judgment? What need is there for a cure to those who are not sick? It was Jesus who said to the Pharisees that those who are not sick have no need of a doctor. In like manner those who do not know they are lost can never be saved. That is why Paul had to be so harsh, so that all mouths were shut, and all men condemned before God. So that now, we know that no work of our own could ever make us worthy.
And so, Paul asks, what is it that Abraham has found? How is it that Abraham was saved? Was it because he was perfect? No, for we know that he sinned with Hagar, and had deceived the Pharaoh. Was it that he kept the law? No, for the law was not yet presented to men. Was it for anything that he did later in life to atone for his sins? Not that either. Verse 2 tells us that if he had been able to atone for his sins, then the glory of Abraham's salvation would not have been to God but to Abraham. The same would be true of us if there were anything that we could do to become worthy of our salvation. Paul answers this great problem by quoting the Old Testament: "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." It was only by simple faith that Abraham was counted as righteous, not because God must, but because God gave it freely, of His own desire. He then quotes David: "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." It is not our joy to have never sinned, but that God will not count our sin, if we have believed on Christ.
Beginning in verse 9, Paul deals with another matter. The Jews, having become puffed up in their heritage, had believed that it was their circumcision which allowed them to be saved. So, is this salvation by faith available only to those of the circumcision? Paul reminds us that the salvation of Abraham was while he was yet uncircumcised. The circumcision was only a sign to show that which had already been done in his heart. It is much the same as how we now are baptized, not to be saved by the water, but because it is a sign of the death we have died to our selves, which Paul speaks of a few chapters later. Since it is not the circumcision of Abraham that is important, but the faith, this same salvation is available to all the world, even unto you and me, if we choose to believe as did Abraham.
In verse 17, we are shown how salvation is the power of God. At other places in the Word, we are told that before we are born as children of God, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Here, we are told of a God who can "quicken the dead", that is to make the dead to live. That is exactly what salvation is. It is not simply a man turning over a new leaf or deciding to do things right. Instead, it is taking something which is dead, and incapable of doing anything, and making it to be a living, breathing, creature. This is not something so simple that a man can do it. No preacher or evangelist can ever make this to happen. No amount of emotional manipulation can cause this change. No water baptism or religious rite can make a dead man walk. It is all of God alone, who makes the dead to live.
With that in mind, let us examine the nature of this saving faith. The Bible tells us in verse 18 that Abraham believe in hope against hope. That is, when he had no hope that Sarah could bear him a son, when all his reason said that it was not possible, he believed that it would be done, and with no more reason than that God said that it would be. Likewise, we are a people without hope. We are dead in our sins and are condemned without hope. Even so, we have hope, because God has spoken. In this life, there is no hope. One day, we know that we must all die. Everything that we own will one day rot or belong to somebody else. Our legacy will fade. And yet, without hope, we have hope, that we are working not for this world, but for an eternal kingdom, and for the joy of knowing a Lord who we can not see.
Further, we see in verse 21 that Abraham was fully persuaded. This is the hallmark of faith. If there is anything which can rob you of your faith, then it isn't faith, but merely your own reason. The test of your faith is that when it is challenged, it still remains. And yet, we are not perfect. As the man with the possessed child said, "Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief." Abraham's faith was weak in that he sinned with Hagar. Even so, when God made clear that Sarah would be the mother of his seed, he did not stagger. No matter how often we fail, God is quick to forgive. The life of the believer is not marked by sinlessness, but instead by a continual turning toward God and by ever growing faith.
So the life of Abraham was not told to us as history alone, but, as verse 23 states, it was told to us so that we may have an example of faith, and that we may know that same righteousness may be imputed to us. That word "impute" means to be counted or regarded as such a thing. In other words, that faith is not righteousness, and we are not righteous, but because of God's mercy, He has chosen that when he looks on those of us who have believed unto salvation, he sees us as if we are righteous. I am glad that it is not my good deeds which God seeks, but the deeds of His Son, which are not my own.
The final verse shows us what our faith is in. Everybody has faith in something. It is not the measure of our faith that is important, but that which we place our faith in. The faith by which we are saved is the faith in the atoning work of Christ. There are two parts to that. The first, is that Christ died for our sins. We see that it was not for any sin of his that he was under the wrath of God, but for our sins. And so, when he died on the cross, he bore our sins and our offenses. They were nailed to that tree with him,and he drank the wrath of God. This is a much bigger thing then we could ever hope to cover, but I encourage you to read further of this cup and the atoning work of Christ. However, the story did not end there. If he would have only died, we would have been forgiven, but he did not just die. He was raised again, and the Bible says it was for our justification. Paul covers this more in further chapters, but we learn here that it is not only his death that is important but also his life. We who are dead to our sins now live a life of abundant freedom. We live as those who have already died, and it is also in his resurrection that we trust unto salvation. This is the object of our faith which we believe.
The story of salvation continues on in the next chapter which is about how our faith is given by grace, and wholly unwarranted. Then, Paul continues on to describe what that salvation is and how it affects our life. Even so, this chapter on faith is vital to the believer. If we can not understand faith, then we can not understand the Gospel. I would encourage you to take some time to realize all that God has done for you in the work of Christ. Most importantly, try your faith. Is your faith in your good works? Is it even in a prayer or your own sincerity? Or instead is your faith in the finished work of Christ? The only thing that saves is faith, and the only faith that saves is faith in Christ alone.