Father of the Faithful

Romans 4:16-17

In Romans ch. 4 we encounter a bucketful of high dollar theological words that, at first glance seem very intimidating – words like righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption and atonement. They are words Paul uses to describe how God does what can’t be done – to make you and me, sinners, fit to be in his presence and live with him forever in heaven.

When I was a student I used to love contract systems for grades – so much work for a C, this much more for a B, and if you want an A, here’s the amount of work you will have to do. Cut and dried. Plan the work, work the plan.

By nature we like to know
• how much money for so much merchandise,
• how much work for so much pay,
• how much effort for so much reward.

Now, you may like to go haggle on the price of a car, or negotiate for extra privileges or compensation – but most of us like to know what to expect when we walk in the door. We want it all nailed down before we start. Paul says, that’s how it works in the world – Rom. 4:4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.

We would like God to work that way.
• This much penance for this many sins.
• This many works for entrance into heaven.
• We’d really like to know – is there a minimum entrance requirement?
• Just how many sins, how few works, how imperfect my obedience can I get by with and still make it in?
Now, we would never come out and say that, but our minds work that way – and deep down, a lot of us are afraid that there are some minimum requirements and we’re terrified we won’t meet them. On the other side of that coin, there are some of us who hope that God IS keeping score, because we feel like we’re doing pretty good and we fully expect to get a high-five from Peter as we strut through the gates!

These are the kinds of issues Paul deals with in Romans 4.

For the first three chapters, Paul has been leveling the field – For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.
• Every Gentile pagan who worships and serves the creature rather than the Creator;
• Every hedonist who rejects God’s holiness for immorality and sin;
• Every critic who compares himself with others around him;
• Every Jew who prides himself on being God’s people because of his pedigree and law-keeping and circumcision.
• All have sinned. All stand under the judgment and wrath of God.

But he quickly follows that by proclaiming that God himself has justified us freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. He offered him as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
• So, after he drains us of every drop of hope that we have in our ability to make it to heaven – he then fills us, not only with hope, but with confidence in God’s ability to make us righteous and bring us into heaven.
• What Paul wrote about works and wages in vs. 4, he throws out in vs. 5, and says, God has never worked the way the world works – However, to the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness.

In ch. 4, Paul introduces Abraham. No need to introduce him – Abraham is the most central figure of their faith.
• Abraham is the one whom God called out of Ur
• … God promised the land
• … God promised to make him a great nation
• … Isaac was miraculously born
• … God gave circumcision, the sign of the covenant

You see, if Paul is going to challenge their cherished assumptions about their relationship with God, he’s going to have to begin with Abraham.

And Paul does not merely use Abraham as an illustration or an example, but in Abraham he defines the very nature of their relationship with God. He is the not changing anything – he is calling them back to God’s original intentions.

Listen to Romans 4:1-3 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

He quotes another pillar of their faith, David – 4:6-8 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
God counts us righteous through his own grace. Where there is no forgiveness, there can be no righteousness.

Last week, we talked about how we are overdrawn and spiritually bankrupt. There is a word that Paul uses over and over in ch. 4 – “credited” (11 times). We have no righteousness of our own – but God credits us with his own righteousness. It is a picture of a ledger, bleeding with red ink, with the words PAID IN FULL stamped across our debit page.

Now – here is the point that Paul is driving toward: When did God credit Abraham with righteousness? Was it when he started obeying? Was it after he was circumcised? Was it because he kept the Law?
• What about obedience? – 4:2 “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.”
• What about circumcision? – 4:9-11 “Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!”
• What about the Law? – 4:13 “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”

God credited Abraham with righteousness before obedience, before circumcision, before Law. Righteousness was not on the basis of anything that Abraham had done or could do.

Righteousness was credited to him. Why? Because he believed, because he had faith, because he trusted God.
• Then Paul tells the story of Isaac – 4:18-19 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
• Faith is never in what we have the ability to do. It is never on the basis of our human potential – it was impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a son. God didn’t give them a son in the prime of their youth because he didn’t want them saying, “Look what we did!”
• He wanted to drive them to their knees in despair, and out of their absolute realization that it could not happen by their own doing, out of that impossibility to create a possibility. To make a way where there is no way. Rom. 4:20-21 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
• Faith is not in what we can do, but in what God is capable of doing. The promise was fulfilled because of their faith in God’s grace.

Now that wasn’t just Abraham. Paul turns from ancient history to present, personal reality, because this isn’t just about Abraham but also about us.
• Rom. 4:16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
• Rom. 4:23-24 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 in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
• God credited Abraham, he also credits us.

I love my children – not because they obeyed me perfectly when they were young, or because they do everything the way I think they should do it now that they are grown. I loved them often in spite of their disobedience. I loved them before they were ever capable of doing anything that would cause me to love them. I loved them before they were ever born – while they were still in the womb I loved them.
• I did want them to obey me when they were young. In fact, I insisted on their obedience. But my love for them did not diminish when they didn’t – nor could I love them anymore because of their obedience.
• I love them now, not because they do everything the way I think they should, but because they are mine and nothing can change that.
• The point is, my love for my children is based on a relationship, not a contract. They are not living up to some list of demands in order to remain my children or earn my love. And the deeper our relationship grows, the more willing their desire to please me, to seek out my counsel – not out of fear of punishment, but out of respect and trust.

God desires your obedience–in fact, he insists on it. Why?
• Because he knows that that is what is the very best for you. His commands are to guide you into the happiest, fullest, most meaningful life you can live.
• Will he love you less should your obedience be less than perfect? Disappointed, yes. Quit loving you, never. He cannot love you more, he will not love you less.
He called you to a relationship, not a contract. He poured out his love long before you deserved it, long before you ever knew you needed it. And the deeper your relationship grows, the more you know just how much you do.