the act of faith(rom 4:13-22)
We are working our way through the book of Romans which is a systematic presentation and application of the gospel. So turn in your Bibles to Romans 1 and follow along with me as we pick up the flow of the argument.
You could say the summarizing verse for Romans is Rom 1:16 - quote
The gospel is the world’s only hope because
· In it, the righteousness of God is revealed, it is a righteousness that is from faith for faith, or from faith to faith. A righteousness that is by faith from start to end.
· 1:18 Because God’s wrath is already being expressed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
· 3:10 Because none is righteousness, no not one.
· 3:20 Because by the works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight.
So no man, by his efforts, by his works, by his obedience to the law is ever going to be able to earn or gain the reward of righteousness.
· 3:21-23 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. All have sinned, by are justified by grace as a gift.
· God gives his righteousness to those who turn from trusting in themselves and their own goodness and instead trust in the good works, the perfect righteousness provided by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Last week we started looking at the first half of Rom 4 at Paul’s more detailed explanation and illustration of how this happens. God justifies us in Christ. Which means he changes His view of us, He shifts the focus of His gaze away from us and instead sees us in union with Christ so that Christ’s death for sin is reckoned or regarded as payment for OUR sin and Christ’s perfect righteousness is reckoned or regarded as OUR righteousness. So one of the key words in Rom 4:1-12 was the word count or reckon which we said describes how God chooses to see or regard us.
· Rom 4:3-5 Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.
· We said that righteousness or justification is personal – it is personally given as God recons Christ’s righteousness to ungodly sinners and personally received by faith.
· Last week we looked at justification from God’s perspective – He counts or regards us as righteous. This week we are going to look at that same theological reality from a human perspective, from our perspective – we receive it, or embrace it by faith.
· It’s important that we be clear, that these are not two separate realities, but one reality. Two different views of the same reality, two different sides of the same coin.
· From God’s perspective justification happens when He counts or regards Christ’s righteousness to us.
· From our perspective justification happens when we turn from trusting in our righteousness and trust in Christ’s righteousness for us.
· The key contrast is – justification apart from works. God counts Christ’s righteousness to us apart from works, we believe or trust in Christ’s righteousness apart from works.
FAITH IS NOT PASSIVE
Now this is where it get’s interesting! Because we rightly see justification as apart from works, or in contrast to works, as a gift given by God – we tend to think that we have no role to play. We tend to think of justification as something that God does apart from us, but that’s not biblical. The Bible clearly teaches that God justifies us apart from our works or worth, but it does not teach that God justifies us apart from our FAITH. Whenever the doctrine of justification, or imputed righteousness, is presented in the Bible, it is presented alongside faith.
· What was the key verse in Rom 1:16-17 – the righteousness of God from faith to faith.
· What did Rom 4:5 say “his faith was counted as righteousness”
· The word “counted” occurs 7x in Rom 4:1-12 and the word “faith/believed” occurs 7x – both the divine and the human perspectives are presented. 2 perspectives of one reality.
· The word faith or believe occurs 12 times in the next 12 verses. The emphasis of the next section is on the nature and reality of the faith which results in justification.
· And what these verses will make clear is that such faith is not passive! The faith which God counts as righteousness is not passive. Faith is not works – but faith is not nothing either.
· We tend to see faith as wholly passive. In our view, there is no wrestling, no struggle, no activity involved in faith – but that is not a biblical view of faith.
· The gospel calls us to believe, to trust in God’s righteousness, to entrust ourselves to Christ… and that faith is not passive, it is not merely intellectual assent to certain biblical and historical facts. It is a wholehearted commitment, involving the intellect, the emotions and the will. Biblical faith encompasses passion and commitment and conviction – it is the opposite of passive resignation.
So I’ve called this message “Active faith” because the next part of Rom 4 helps us see what biblical faith looks like and why it is essential to justification.
As we read through the text, look out for the words faith/ belief and ask yourself what activity, what commitment, what passion and emotion is involved in the exercise of faith.
Read Rom 4:13-24
The reality and reward of active faith:
· The antithesis of faith: works (13-16)
· The object of faith: God (17)
· The content of faith: Scripture (18)
· The struggle of faith: Human experience (19)
· The nature of faith: Growing (20-21)
· The reward of faith: Grace (22-25)
The antithesis of faith: works (13-16)
Antithesis means opposite, what is contrary to faith. Lest we get confused, Paul again emphasizes – faith is the opposite of human works.
· Vs 13 Abraham was made a promise that he would be the heir of the world and it was not given to him as a reward for his works, for his obedience to the law.
· But notice – it was given in response to his faith or more specifically as a result of the righteousness or the right standing he had with God because of His faith.
· Vs 14 If the promise was to be inherited only by those who were obedient to the law, who were righteous by virtue of their works – then faith is null, faith is irrelevant because they are earning their reward by their works, not as an unearned gift given by God, but as wages earned by them. And of course the promise is void, the promise would never be realized because of what he has already covered in Rom 1-3 – all our attempts at obedience ever earn is wrath, not reward.
· Vs 15 The law makes us transgressors, it doesn’t provide a way to make sinners righteous.
· Vs 16 says that the foundation upon which God’s promise rest is grace and they are realized through faith, rather than adherence to the Law. In other word, God’s promises, God’s favour is an unearned, unmerited gift rather than a reward for human righteousness. They rest on divine grace rather than human merit. We must trust God to give us what He promised, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, rather than trust in what we can do for God.
· That makes the promises sure or secure, it guarantees that all who believe will receive what God has promises irrespective of how well, or poorly they perform according to the standards of the law.
· That’s my paraphrase of vs 16.
· Again it makes it absolutely clear that faith is not a human work. Faith trusts God’s promises, God’s work rather than my own. That’s the contrast. But that doesn’t mean faith doesn’t involve human work or activity.
· Trusting God involves human activity and the text goes on to clarify what was involved in this activity. What did it mean for Abraham to trust in God and not himself?
The object of faith: God (17)
VS 17 re-iterates the promise God gave Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations and goes on to clarify who or what Abraham was trusting in. What was the object of his faith?
A bit a grammar lesson here to help you see the main point of the text….
· Prepositions on those little words “in, on, under, over, with.” They tell us a bit more about the main verb or action…
· “In the presence of God” tell you where or when he believed – right there in God’s presence.
· “In whom he believed” tells you who he believed in – in this God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist
· “In hope” and “against hope” tells you more about how He believed
So the main verb or action here is that Abraham believed. That’s what this text is about.
Paul is obviously taking us back to Gen 15 to that first instance where the text tells us Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.
· Josh 24:2 tells us that Abraham grew up in Ur among pagan idolaters, not knowing and worshipping the one true God.
· Then in Gen 12 God appeared to Abraham and called him to leave behind his house and people and land and go to the land that God had promised him. God promised to bless him and make him into a great nation.
· At that point Abraham left everything behind and became a follower of Yahweh, a believer in Yahweh. Heb 11 tells us that this was a demonstration, an expression of Abraham’s faith in God.
· But in Gen 15, a number of years later, we find Abraham is still childless and he is beginning to wonder whether he will have even one legitimate heir, much less how he is going to become the father of many nations.
· Then God takes him outside and shows him the stars and says – can you count them? Then God says Gen 15:5 “So shall your offspring be” and the next sentence in the text says “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6)
· Right then and there, Abraham believed in this God who made the universe, this God who gives life to every living thing, this God who had appeared to him and called him to leave behind every other god and all other hope of blessing and trust God alone to be His source of hope and blessing.
· To leave behind your kindred and your people and your home country was to leave behind your inheritance, you security, your identity. To make yourself a foreigner, to make yourself vulnerable and weak and dependent.
· This wasn’t like immigration to leave a poor, dangerous, hopeless context and go to another land which had more riches and promise and security.
· What God called Abraham to do, was just the opposite – leave all that security and identity and blessing and promise behind for what I am promising you – for a blessing that lies ahead, which you can’t see.
Abraham believed this God, He believed this God ruled the universe, He put the stars in place, He called into existence things that were not and so He could bring His promises into existence from nothing too.
The content of faith: Scripture (18)
What gave Abraham’s faith specific, tangible content? It was the specific promise that God had given him in Gen 15:5 which He believed “so shall your offspring be” which Paul quotes here in vs 18.
Abraham believed that God would do exactly what He had promised. That what He was told would be realized.
Paul is not content to leave Abraham’s faith in vague terms – he believed in God. His faith went beyond that – He believed God’s word, God’s promises down to this very specific one.
Our God is a talking God, a covenant making, covenant keeping God. He is a God who reveals Himself and His plans and purposes and calls us to believe Him, to trust Him.
We don’t just have vague notions of an unknown God, but the specific, inerrant revelation of a God who speaks and whose word can be trusted. God is the object of our faith, but the content is found in what God has said in His word. Without the Bible we cannot and do not know God. We have nothing specific to attach our faith to. We believe in the God of the Bible or we don’t believe in God at all.
Muslims believe in God, Jews believe in God and Hindu’s believe in God – but this faith is not the faith that justifies a man before God. The man who is justified by faith believes what God has said down to the very last word, every part of it.
Abraham didn’t have the whole Bible, but when God spoke, He believed what God said and such faith involves a struggle which the text goes on to highlight.
The struggle of faith: Human experience (19)
Vs 18 describes how Abraham believed – in hope, against hope. Abraham had hope, despite the fact that there was no tangible grounds for it.
In the Bible, hope is not just wishful thinking, it is sure confidence which comes from trusting God’s Word. It is sure confidence about the future, sure confidence about things not seen.
Humanly speaking Abraham had no reason for hope. He had no children. He was over 99 years old, Sarah was barren, past child bearing age. God had first promised Abraham children in Gen 12 when according to 12:4 he was 75 years old – basically 15 years prior.
There was no tangible, physical reality to form the basis for his hope, nothing in human experience which would tell him that this promise was evenly remotely possible, nothing he could do to help God along.
God alone could do this impossible thing and all He could do was believe.
That’s the struggle of faith – it is not by sight, it is often contrary to our experience. We often have God’s word and only God’s word to go on and often His promises seem to elude us.
Heb 11 1-3 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible….vs 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
When God says that sex outside of marriage is bad for us, or gossip is harmful, or the love of money is the root of all evil, or divorce is not an option, or work is good, or it is more blessed to give than to receive – we don’t have anything tangible to go on. Often human experience tells us otherwise and everything in our circumstance seems to say the opposite.
But faith struggles against all hope, against all emotions and experiences to the contrary, against all other versions of the truth – to believe what God says is true and will ultimately be proved true.
And sometimes there is nothing more we can do than believe, wait patiently for God’s word to prove true and continue to worship and thank Him. Sometimes God calls us to put our faith into practice by leaving, or going, or sacrificing even as he tested Abraham later on by asking him to sacrifice this very son which he promised and finally received.
The nature of faith: Growing (20-21)
But vs 19 is telling us that there was a struggle, a wrestling involved in this faith. He did not weaken – even though as he looked at his circumstance he had every reason to doubt God.
· Vs 20 he didn’t waver in unbelief. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have moments of unbelief, moments of wavering – the story of Abraham’s life bears that out. Even the context of Gen 15 bears that out because he says to God – how is this going to happen God when I don’t have an heir – it looks like Eliezer is going to be my heir.
· Vs 20 says “He grew strong in the faith” in other words he chose to exercise and keep exercising the muscle of faith until it became stronger and stronger…And God gave him many opportunities to exercise that muscle, to trust in God rather than himself, to depend on God rather than himself and with each opportunity He grew stronger in faith.
· VS 20 says He gave glory to God – despite the struggle, despite his feelings or fear or experience to the contrary, He chose to glorify God, to worship God. In fact His firm trust in God is what gives God glory.
· Vs 21 He is fully convinced that God is able to do what He promised. His faith in God gives God the opportunity to demonstrate His faithfulness. It provides the platform for God to do the miraculous, to accomplish the impossible, to show His power
Example from Abraham’s life
God put him in a foreign land, left him childless for 15 years and then called him to sacrifice this one son a few years later. Talk about God being committed to growing His faith!
But a 100 year old couple having a child and becoming the father of a nation – talk about God being accomplishing the impossible and being faithful over generations! Hundreds of years later God is still telling the Israelites – its not because of you goodness or righteousness that I am doing these things, but because of my promises to Abraham. God was still being faithful to His promises.
The reward of faith: Grace (22-25)
Vs 22 – that is why is faith was counted as righteousness, because he exercised this kind of active faith in God, in God’s word, despite his circumstances and human experience to the contrary, in the face of struggling and wrestling and having to preserve in this faith and grow in this faith through many trials and difficulties.
And through it all – God’s glory was manifest and Abraham’s was credited with righteousness as a gift, as a result or in response to His faith. And vs 23-25 tells us that this way of living in a right relationship with God was not just for Abraham, but for everyone. And what was vague to Abraham about how God would fulfill His promise has become much clearer.
Jesus Christ is that seed of Abraham through whom God’s blessing will come to all nations and God has demonstrated this by raising him from the dead. And now the object of justifying faith is the fulfilment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ
2 Corinthians 1:20 “20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so, through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
He was died and He was raised so that we, who believe in Him, could be justified before God…..
There is no such thing as passive faith, there never has been. That’s James point – faith without works, with activity, without struggle and perseverance…is dead faith (James 2:14)
Faith is not works, but faith works, faith wrestles, faith prays, faith seeks for assurance in the Scriptures, faith perseveres, faith lays hold of God as the only sure foundation and solid anchor when the whole world is giving way under us. Faith chooses to believe that God and His word is true’er than my feelings or my experiences. Faith lays grips God’s promises with both hands and doesn’t let go no matter what. Faith brings the reality of God’s glory and goodness to bear in my current circumstances so that God is put on display.
Time allowing - Heb 11:32- 12:2 – let us throw off all weight of sin and run with perseverance, let us walk by faith.