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Romans 4

September 4th, 2011 by Vic

September 4, 2011

Romans 4

“How Big is Your God?”


Abraham is mentioned 7 times in this chapter.  The word ‘faith’, πιστιs, occurs 10 times in this chapter.  The word ‘believe’, the verb form of faith, πιστευω occurs 6 times in this chapter.  The word ‘reckon’, λoγιζoμαι occurs 11 times in this chapter.  That is 26% of its total usage in the NT.  It may be translated imputed, reckoned, counted, accounted, but it is all the same root word.  The word ‘promise’, επαγγελια occurs 4 times.


Up to this point Paul has been saying that the gospel he preaches is in continuity with the Law and the prophets who pointed to Jesus Christ.  In 3:28 Paul says a man is justified by faith in Jesus and not by works of the law.  Now he is going to show that Abraham was not justified by works.


Last week Ryan challenged you to be better disciples at home and in the routines of life.  This chapter today provides the motivation for doing that.  It’s like being told we should grow a garden and raise some chickens.  But there are some things that have to happen before you get the fruit, vegetables and eggs.  You need some good dirt, water, fencing, etc.  The infrastructure must come before the harvest.  Paul is giving us the infrastructure for the Christian life.

The Jews taught that Abraham was an illustration of doing good works.  He was the prototype of the devout Jew.  They pointed out that Abraham was faithful to the covenant.  God had given Abraham the promise and the covenant.  But Paul is going to expand their traditional viewpoint.


It seems to me that those who tour Israel become convinced that Jews are special to God and they will have a significant roll in the 2nd Coming.  They point out that events happening in Israel today explain prophecies.  I think that is just part of the story.  It was interesting to note that one preacher that is preaching through the Bible avoided looking at this chapter very closely.  He takes tours regularly to the Holy Land.  4:24 says the example of Abraham was written for Abraham and for all of “us who believe” in the plan of God.  It does not say “for the Jews and all who believe.”  Abraham was the prototype for all who believe.  Both Jews and Gentiles are included.  The Jews did not agree.


They believed Abraham was accepted by God because of his faithfulness to the covenant.  Gentiles did not receive the covenant so Jews are special.  Paul points out that that understanding is not quite right.  Abraham was saved by faith in God, God’s plan, and God’s faithfulness through Jesus.  He had total trust in God’s promise.  He was accepted before there was any covenant or law.


As children we usually had food on the table.  Did we have food on the table because we were faithful to our parents or because our parents were faithful?


4:1 This verse literally reads, “What therefore shall we say to have found Abraham, the forefather of us according to the flesh?”  The NIV has trouble with this phrase.  Paul has this Jewish critic in mind.  The last phrase ‘according to the flesh’ was a new twist for the Jew.  It had a slightly negative connotation.  Paul is laying the ground work to teach that Abraham was more than a physical father to the Jews.  He was a spiritual father to all who believe.  He was a prototype for all nations.  Paul is going to show that the fatherhood of Abraham extends to the whole world.


What did Abraham find or discover (Gen 18:3)?  He found ‘favor’ or grace in God’s sight.  He was blessed (4:6).  Grace is a free gift.  The angel told Mary she was highly favored.  Jesus grew in favor with God and men.


Lynn’s favorite way to frustrate our mom is to accuse her of treating me as her favorite.  Mom has gone out of her way to treat us equally.  She has given us everything, not because we earned anything or deserved it.  She gave because of who she is.  We both received undeserved favor.  Like one grandmother said, “My favorite grandchild is the one I am with.”


4:2 No one can boast in God’s presence.  Boasting about our good deeds keeps us from standing before God in humble faith.  It is stupid to boast about your piano playing in front of your teacher.  It is stupid to boast about your basketball skills in front of Michael Jordan.  How much more foolish is it to boast in God’s presence about anything?


Abraham did not submit a job resume to God.  He did not list all his skills and all the commandments he had kept.  They were not even given to Moses yet.


Everything you have, you have received.  But compared with other people you may be tempted to boast.  So even if Abraham was honored for his works of faithful obedience, he can only boast that he is a good Jew compared to other Jews.  Doing good works did not place him in good standing with God.  The only way anyone can stand before God is in humble faith.  We can boast in what God is doing (5:2), but we can’t convince God that we have earned His grace or favor.


4:3 How do I know?  The Bible tells me so (Gen 15:6).  The word ‘reckon’ is an accounting term usually used of numerical calculation.  It means to put down to one’s account, making a deposit in my account.  Thus God put to Abraham’s account righteousness.  God placed righteousness on deposit for him and righteousness pleases God.  God credited him with righteousness.  The payment was not yet in a visible form.  God could make the reckoning because He knew Jesus would pay the price (3:25).  God saved Abraham through Jesus just like He saves us through Jesus.  The cross was a pivotal point in our history, but for God it has always been.


Abraham had faith in God’s faithfulness.  His belief was reckoned to him as righteousness.  To be righteous is to be accepted by God.  The righteous man walks with God.  This righteousness of God has now been made known through faith in Jesus Christ (3:21-22).


Now in 4:4‑8 Paul is going to clarify what he means by reckoned.  Then in 4:9‑21 he will be explaining belief or faith.  4:22‑25 summarizes and concludes the explanations.


4:4 Reckon is contrasted with paying a wage.  If God reckoned righteousness to Abraham, it could not be something Abraham worked for.  When you work you are paid what is due.  You are not receiving a favor.  When you are reckoned something, it is a favor you may not deserve.  In Gen 15:6 Abraham had done no works of the law, but his belief was reckoned as righteousness.


4:5 The only thing Abraham did was believe in God.  He had complete trust and faith in God.  In fact when Abraham believed he was still ungodly by Jewish standards.  For the Jew, the ungodly were all those who had not been circumcised and were outside the covenant.  The Jews believed that God only justifies through the covenant.  You must keep the law, baptism, circumcision, temple sacrifice, etc. to be justified.  You need to be good before you can be acceptable to God.  But before the Law was given, Abraham received God’s favor.  Before we were good Christ died for us.


God justifies the ungodly.  That was a radical idea, an abhorrent thought to the Jews.  To forgive the guilty with no strings attached is not right.  How could a just God forgive the wicked when they do not deserve it?  God cannot be an unjust judge.  But Paul says that according to the Jews’ definition Abraham was ungodly and God justified him and blessed him.


The Jews defined godly as loyalty to the covenant.  How do we describe a godly person?  Do you require baptism, attendance, good deeds, etc?  The contrast is between working and believing, and between earning and grace.


Abraham was reckoned righteous before the covenant and law.  Law, label, or liturgy does not earn God’s favor.  Abraham believed that God would justify him just as he was.  His faith was reckoned as righteousness.  No matter how bad I am, God can forgive and change my heart.  His grace is greater than all our sin, depression, or debt.  He does not require us to do anything to win His favor.  There are no formulas or rituals we can follow that will make God forgive us.  We must simply trust in His promise and obey.  Jesus said in John 6:29, “The work of God is to believe in Jesus.”


4:6‑8 David also suggests that God reckons sinners as righteous by faith and not by works.  “How blessed is the man whose lawless deeds are forgiven and sins are covered” (Ps 32:2).  God accepted Abraham on the basis of his faith.  It is all by grace that we are saved from the penalty of our sin, through faith.  Our good works cannot pay for sin.  Man can never put God in his debt.  The burnt offerings and other sacrifices did not pay for your sin.  They only indicated your desire to obey God.  It was your faith in God’s plan that brought forgiveness.


God’s reckoning is a reckoning of grace.  We are blessed because of God’s reckoning.


4:9  Now Paul focuses on Abraham’s ‘belief’ (9-21).  Abraham was not circumcised, but he believed in God and was reckoned righteous.  So righteousness is available to both the circumcised and uncircumcised.  Faith is the righteousness.  Total dependence on God is the righteousness.


4:10  When did God justify Abraham?  When did God fully accept Abraham?  When he believed.  Years before he was circumcised (Gen 17:23-37).  There is no hint of circumcision in Gen 12:1 or 15:6).  When did God forgive you?  Before you accepted it and before you knew it.  When is it effective in your life?  When you believe.  When you trust and obey.


God’s reckoning is not dependent on nor controlled by your visible good works of the law.


4:11 It could have been 15 years later that Abraham received the sign of circumcision.  So the faith of Abraham before the covenant made him the father of all the uncircumcised.  And after his circumcision, he also became father of the Jews.  The fulfillment of the promise was determined by his faith alone.  He is the father of all who believe.  Those who have faith in God are all sons of Abraham (4:24).  God never intended for the Gentiles to keep the Jewish laws and rituals.


The Holy Spirit is a sign for us that we have been reckoned righteous by faith.  He writes God’s law on our heart.  The gift of the Spirit is the circumcision without hands.  Baptism was not considered a sign till late in the 2nd Century.


Like the Jews we confuse the outward rituals with inward faith.  Am I a Christian because I go to church or do I go to church because I’m a Christian?  The sign of circumcision meant that Abraham was already accepted and reckoned righteous.


4:12 Righteousness was dependent on faith.  Abraham was the father of all who faith in God.  Faith makes you a son of Abraham.  Faith is the bottom line of your relationship with God.


“Not only” means that circumcision still is valid to identify the Jewish people, but there is more.  God always had all men in mind when he called Abraham.  God’s plan has always been that all men are saved by faith alone.  All God’s children are faith children.  Some practice circumcision and some don’t.


4:13 The promise was given and accepted apart from the law.  Righteousness comes to those who believe.


4:14 So who are the heirs of Abraham?  God planned that all men could be saved by faith in Him and by faith they receive the promised blessing.


Gen 15:6 says Abraham’s faith was a complete and satisfactory response to the promise of God.  The promise only required faith.  The traditional Jewish understanding of the covenant promise added a lot of fine print to the covenant which required more than faith and thus nullified the promise.


4:15 So what is the place of the law?  The law identifies sin.  The law reminds all men that they cannot keep the law perfectly.  They need God’s grace/favor.  We find favor with God by simply trusting.  The law does not separate Jew from Gentile, but identifies sin for all.  The law puts Jew and Gentile side by side.  Those with the law will be more conscious of their sin than those without the law.  They should be more dependent on God’s grace.


There are 3 negative words in this verse: law, transgression, and wrath.


4:16 There are 3 positive words in this verse: promise, faith, grace.  The promise was an act of complete generosity.  The way God gave the promise to Abraham is the way God does things.  How did God give you life?  Did you earn it before you were born?  How does God give you eternal life?  Did you deserve it?  Abraham did nothing but trust and obey.  It is all by grace through faith.  Abraham was a prototype for us.  He simply trusted God.


God’s plan is the same for all.  The ‘all’ here is emphatic like it was in 4:11.  The ‘not only, but also’ phrase is repeated in this chapter too.  The ‘all’ really means ‘all’.  Paul is saying that the heirs of the promise are not to be identified with the law, but belief in the promise of God.  The promise was given apart from the law.  It was an act of complete generosity before Abraham was a father.


4:17 Describe your God.  The character of your faith is determined by the character of your God.  “Oh, ye of little faith.”  In a sense, faith is neither little or big, but your understanding of God is what is small or great.  Your relationship with God determines your faith.


Abraham had a big God who created being out of non‑being.  Abraham’s God created life out of nothing.  He brings hope in despair.  He creates without precondition.  The created must be totally dependent on the creator for existence.  All God’s relationships with humans are the same.  The same principles govern all God’s dealings.  As He creates so He redeems.  He reckons righteous in the same way He makes alive.  That which does not exist cannot place God under obligation.  All men are dependent on God whether they know it or not.  (The root of sin was described in 1:21.)


Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but give life to the sinner.”  The Bible says that a sinner is spiritually dead.  How can a dead person negotiate with God to give him life?  Or how can something that is non‑existent negotiate with the Creator?  Abraham believed God.  He had total trust.  God has not changed.  God saves us just like He creates.  We are born again and receive eternal life and we have nothing to do with it.  The dead cannot negotiate terms.  We are saved by faith in God’s grace.  We are born again by faith, simply believing.


4:18‑19 The promise God gave was without condition.  He did not tell Abraham to confess his sins and repent.  Abraham contemplated his situation.  He looked at the facts.  Then he looked to God and believed.  Faith that depends on me becomes weaker and weaker.  Faith that looks to God grows.  Abraham was powerless in himself.  He faced the facts.  The strength of his faith is the recognition of his weakness.  Do you understand what Paul means when he says, “When I am weak, then am I strong?”  So long as we believe everything depends on our efforts we are bound to be pessimists.  When we realize the battle is the Lord’s our faith grows.


Faith is strong when it does not depend on human effort.  Faith is weak when it allows itself to be determined by or depend upon what lies within human power.  Faith in your own faithfulness is the error of the Jews.  Strong faith is complete trust in God’s Word.  Abraham’s hope was solely in God and His promise.  His powerlessness is in sharp contrast to God’s omnipotence.


The strength of our faith is in recognizing our weakness and trusting completely on God.  Do you see the difference between having faith in my faith/faithfulness vs. having faith in God’s faithfulness?


4:20‑21 Abraham just trusted God and grew from faith to faith.  He bought a baby buggy.  How do we grow strong in the faith?  Follow the footsteps of Jesus.  He kept entrusting Himself to the Father.


Giving thanks and honor to God strengthens faith.  Being a disciple/learner of God strengthens faith.  Abraham’s faith was not in his faithfulness, not in his covenant loyalty, not something he could do.  It was just trust in the God who gives life.


Faith is a dynamic relationship that can grow strong or weak.  Growing strong in faith brings glory to God.  The more you know Him, the more you trust Him.  The character of your faith is a reflection of the character of your God.


Faith is a calm certainty in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Presumption is jumping off a building with faith in my faith.


4:22‑24 The argument is finished and restated.  God is the same today.  The Scripture has been written for our good.  The promise that God made to Abraham extends to his children.  If faith brought Abraham into a right relationship with God, it will do the same for us.


4:25 Abraham’s faith would have been vain if he did not have a child.  Our faith would be vain if Jesus was not raised as promised.  The same life-giving power has not changed.


What is faith?  For Abraham it was belief in God’s promise for a son.  For blind Bartimaeus it was complete trust in God for healing.  For Jesus it was complete trust in God for life itself.  He said, into your hands I commit my spirit.  Faith is simple trust, and nothing but trust in God.  You can only be saved by faith.  At some point you must make a decision to believe there is a God and trust Him, trust His prompting in your heart and trust the truth in His word.  We are saved by faith.  We live by faith.  The life of faith is accepted by God and receives God’s favor.

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