A FAITH WORTH BELIEVING
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 23
Romans 4:17-25 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
More than sixty years ago Russian cosmonauts orbited the earth for the first time spending a little more than 108 minutes in space. They came back with their thumbs under their suspenders bragging: We have been in the air. We have been around the earth. And we did not see God! The following Sunday, W.A. Criswell, renowned pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, gave a classic response. He said: Ah, if those cosmonauts had stepped out of their spaceship, they would have seen God! Unfortunately, there are a growing number of people today who are like those bold cosmonauts. Topics such as God, faith, or the Bible are often portrayed as a blind leap of ignorance. In fact, the 2004 “newly revised and updated” Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary 11th edition goes so far as to define faith as the “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”
I’m not sure what kind of faith the dictionary editors had in mind, but I know it is not the kind of faith the Bible talks about. Paul tells us in Romans 1 the evidence that God exists has been made known within each of us personally by God Himself. Listen to Paul’s words: That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:19-20). Paul is simply saying the evidence of creation plainly points to a Creator. One of the world’s leading atheists, Dr. Anthony Flew, came to realize this toward the end of his life. “Although I was once sharply critical of the argument of design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formatted (information put in right context), this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God” Anthony Flew, atheist for 50 years, There Is a God, p. 95. For Dr. Flew, faith in God was anything but a blind leap of ignorance. Faith in God is the only thing that makes sense!
This morning I want to talk to you about A Faith Worth Believing. It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him (Hebrews 11:6, NLT). What is the kind of faith God rewards? We’re going to look at this morning.
Over the past number of weeks now we’ve been working our way through the book of Romans. Romans is really a careful study how we can be made right with God through our faith in Christ. The great theme of Romans is justification by faith alone. Nowhere is this more evident than in the life of Abraham, the Old Testament’s supreme example of saving faith. Paul writes “For what does the Scripture say, ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:3). Paul’s whole point is this same acceptance by God through faith is equally available to all, no matter who you are.
Open your Bibles with me to Romans 4:17-25 (Read). Paul is putting Abraham’s faith under a microscope showing us what the nature of a true faith looks like. There are three elements of true faith he points out. 1)The object of true faith, 2) the obstacles of a true faith, and 3) the objectives of a true faith.
- The object of a true faith. The object of Abraham’s faith was God alone. As it is written, “A
father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist (Romans 4:17). Your faith is only as good as the object you place it in. While I was in graduate school I worked for a time at a federally mandated drug and rehabilitation facility. A major part of the rehabilitation process was based on the 12 Steps. Step 2 says, “We came to be aware that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” In one way this was great because it opened the door to point them to the God of the Bible. In another way, it was potentially disastrous because they were told this power greater than themselves could be anything they wanted. Their higher power could be doorknob if they wanted. I tried to help them understand their faith was only as good as the object they placed it in. If you put your faith in a doorknob for your recovery, you may do a lot of turning, but it’s not going to turn your life around. What you place your faith in makes all the difference in the world. Some people have had strong faith in thin ice but didn’t live to talk about it.
Abraham’s faith was extraordinary because of what he placed it in, the God of the Bible. We all have faith. We exercise faith every day of our lives. The real issue is where we place our faith. There were two gigantic beliefs Abraham had about God.
- He learned to completely trust in the power of God. God, who gives life to the dead (V.
17). Paul has in mind Abraham’s great act of faith by putting his son Isaac on the altar to sacrifice him and his firm belief God would raise his son from the dead (Gen. 22:5; Heb. 11:19). Up to this point in Abraham’s life he’d never witnessed a miracle of God; he’d never seen God raise a person from the dead. But he firmly believed God could and would raise Isaac. He completely trusted the power of God.
When you think of it, Abraham had less to go on about God than we do. He didn’t have the Bible. He knew nothing of God parting the Red Sea to save Israel or knowing Jesus rose from the dead because none of these things had happened yet. He knew nothing of the great miracles God would do in the future, yet he believed in the power of God. Why is that? Because Abraham’s complete trust in God came from knowing the character of God. At the time God called Abraham to sacrifice his son he had walked with God for many years. They were not idle years filled with empty rambling. They were seasoned time-tested years of learning to trust the character of God. There were a number of major obstacles he had to work through. Abraham’s faith was great because he understood the greatness of who God is.
- He learned to completely trust in the promises of God. God, who… calls into being that
which does not exist (V. 17). For years God had promised Abraham a son and for years Abraham waited. It was not until every possible means within Abraham’s control to have a son was exhausted that God stepped in and gave Abraham and Sarah a son. God called into being that which did not exist, namely Isaac. Theologians use the Latin phrase ex nihilo when describing how God created the world out of nothing. In the same way, when it was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child, God created Isaac ex nihilo from nothing. At the time, Sarah was ninety-nine years old and Abraham almost 100. The promises of God are always fulfilled by the power of God. The Guinness Book of world records says the oldest mother on record is a woman in the UK named Dawn Brooke. On August 20, 1997, she gave birth to a son by Caesarian at the age of 59 years! Guinness Book of world records obviously has not read the Bible!
Is God the object of your faith? How well do you know Him? What are you doing to get to know Him more? An unexamined faith is an unreliable faith. How do you get to know God better? Spend time reading and reflecting on His Word. I read this past week that Billy Graham read five chapters of Psalms every day and one chapter in Proverbs in addition to his other reading. The Psalms richly remind us of the character and promises God.
- The obstacles of a true faith. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a
father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God (Romans 4:18-20). True faith will always be laced with obstacles, trials, threats that will attempt to derail it. Whether he brought them on himself, or they came in other ways, Abraham’s faith faced a number of faith-trying obstacles. Leaving his comfortable home of Ur to go to Canaan was certainly no picknick. Once there, he faced famine (Gen. 12:10), conflict with Lot (Gen. 13:5-9), a harrowing rescue mission confronting five kings and their armies with only three-hundred and eighteen men (Gen. 14:14-15), a struggle with fear (Gen. 15:1). The one chief obstacle Paul continues to focus on is Abraham and Sarah’s inability to have children. There are a couple of lessons here.
- True faith requires perseverance. We’ve already touched on the fact that God didn’t
fulfill His promise of giving Abraham and Sarah a child until it became a biological impossibility for them to have children. God did tell them they would have a child, but He never told them when. Yet it says, In hope against hope he believed…he did not waver in unbelief (Vv. 18, 20). They faced the obstacle of waiting. For twenty-five years they waited. With each passing birthday the stress of waiting was building until it must have seemed almost unbearable. But it says Abraham did not become weak in his faith. Why? Because he had a strong and determined belief in God and His promise no matter how long it took to become a reality.
This kind of unqualified trust is not limited to Abraham. Noah demonstrated the same kind of trust. God told him to build an ark. Even though he’d never seen rain, nor had he experienced a global flood, he did exactly what God wanted him to do. By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household (Hebrews 11:7).
No doubt both Abraham and Noah must have appeared foolish to the world much the same as we do in trusting God and His promises today.
- True faith requires obedience. but grew strong in faith (V. 20). Perseverance doesn’t
mean setting around twiddling our thumbs and waiting for God. Faith doesn’t grow strong by doing nothing. It grows strong through obedience. One of the reasons our faith fails to grow is not simply because we’re doing the wrong things as much as we’re not doing the right things.
What are some of the wrong things we do? This is the obstacle of ignorance. We make the mistake of thinking we have to have it all figured out before we can fully trust God. Abraham certainly didn’t! Noah didn’t! Moses didn’t! Daniel didn’t! They refused to allow their inability to know how God was going fulfill His promises to get in the way of trusting and obeying Him. They didn’t have all of the answers, nor will we. Sometimes we think having a strong faith means we have all of the answers. Not so. John Calvin gave this refreshing observation noting that believers are never so enlightened that there are no remains of ignorance, nor is the heart so established that there are no misgivings. Every great saint has their struggles with doubt and questions they can’t answer. But they refuse to let them dictate their relationship with God.
Can you imagine someone coming to Abraham and asking, “How can you say you’re believing in God for a son? Have you looked in the mirror lately? You’re not being honest about the facts.” They are making the mistake that a lot of people do thinking faith is without reason. It’s called fideism. God never asks us to believe without reason. True biblical faith rests on the most assured time-tested reason possible – God and His Word. It has been well said that godly faith is not full understanding but full trust (MacArthur, p. 265). True faith will have obstacles, but God assures us if He is for us who or what can be against us (Rom. 1:31).
- The objectives of a true faith. he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory
to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:20-22). Paul gives two objectives.
- True faith brings glory to God. he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving
glory to God (V. 20). God uses our faithfulness to show the world the greatness of His majesty and that He is worthy of our unqualified trust. Abraham lived more than four-thousand years ago and yet he is still bringing glory to God through his life of faithfulness! In the same way, our faith shows others God is worthy of our supreme trust and has a far more reaching impact than you can know.
- True faith receives the righteousness of God. Therefore it was also credited to him as
righteousness (V.22). This is the main point Paul has been driving home. We are saved in the same way Abraham was – unyielding trust in God. Paul brings this home. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:23-25). We will never be good enough for Heaven on our own; it is not something we can achieve aside from placing our faith in the staggering promise of God that He sent His Son was put to death for our sins and was raised for our justification.
Every true faith has three elements: An object, obstacles, and objectives. The object of our faith is the God of the Bible. Yet, God doesn’t hold anything back. Following Him will not be easy. The road of faith will be filled with obstacles; unanswered questions, struggles, seeming impossibilities. But God is faithful. Finally, the objectives of our faith are to glorify God and receive His staggering gift of righteousness through our trust in Him alone. Have you placed your trust in Him.
Robert Dick Wilson was one of the great professors at Princeton theological seminary while he is mostly remembered for his outstanding achievements in linguistics having learned more than 45 ancient languages in his quest to understand the Bible more accurately. But his students remembered him more for his unique approach to evaluating their preaching. He didn’t critique their ability to parse a verb or dissect ancient turns of a phrase; he didn’t analyze their scholarship or pay attention to their charisma. Instead he listened for another more crucial quality. He listened for the kind of faith they have.
It is said that one of his students had been invited to preach at Miller Chapel 12 years after his graduation. The then old doctor Wilson came and sat down near the front. At the close of the meeting, the old professor came to his former student, leaned his head to one side in his characteristic manner, extended his hand, and said “If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once. I am glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I came to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.” His former student asked him to explain, and he replied, “Well, some men have a little god, and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of his people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders. Then, there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him. You have a great God; and He will bless your ministry.” He paused a moment, smiled, said, “God bless you,” and turned and walked out. If our view of God is as great as Abrahams, the object of our faith will be the big God of the Bible and an unqualified trust in Him. And though our lives may be filled with obstacles; unanswered questions, struggles, seeming impossibilities, we like Abraham will have a faith that does not waver in unbelief but will grow strong, being fully persuaded that what God has promised He is able also to perform. We can be assured that He will accomplish the objectives of our faith bringing glory to Him that will last for eternity and receiving the gift of His staggering righteousness through our faith in Jesus Christ alone.