Mar 19, 2023


God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 21

Romans 4:1-12 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney

            If you’re a Major League Baseball fan, you’re probably familiar with the name Keith Hernandez. Keith is one of America’s baseball legends. He’s a lifetime 300 hitter who has won numerous Golden Glove Awards for excellence in fielding. He’s won a batting championship for having the highest average, the Most Valuable Player award in his league, and even the World Series. Yet with all his accomplishments, he has missed out on something crucially important to him – his father’s acceptance and recognition that what he has accomplished is valuable. Listen to what his dad had to say in a very candid interview.  One day, Keith asked his father, “Dad, I have a lifetime 300 batting average. What more do you want?” His father replied, “But someday you’re going to look back and say, ‘I could have done more.’”  Let me ask you, does that sound like something you’ve heard from your father? Sadly, many of us have.  

            This morning I want to share with you something that can change your life.  We’ve been looking at the Book of Romans over the past number of weeks now.  If there is a word from God we need to hear, it is from His inspired letter to us in Romans.  Fredrick Godet, in his classic commentary on Romans said, “The probability is that every great spiritual revival in the Church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book.  He’s far from alone.  The late R.C. Sproul commented, “If there is any  one individual book, out of the sixty-six, which God has used to change lives more than any other, it is the book of Romans.”  If we could crystalize Romans in one key verse, I think it would be Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. We saw a couple of weeks ago that Justification is the sovereign act of God where he declares me righteous, the believing sinner, while I’m still in a sinning state.God says that when you believe in my son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins you are justified and declared righteous. You may not feel like it. You may not always live like it. Others may not believe it – but what is important is that God says you are! Justification means when we trust Christ, we are fully accepted and fully pleasing to God.  The Apostle Paul is going to help understand this in Romans 4.  What Paul did by way of explanation in chapter 3, he’s now going to do by illustration in chapter 4. Paul wants to show us that this idea of being justified, that is accepted by God, through faith in Christ is nothing new. In fact, Abraham and David; two of Israel’s greatest forefathers taught and lived this very truth. Read Romans 4:1-12 (NLT). Ways We Try to Gain God’s Acceptance

  1. Through our performance. Performance says: I must meet certain standards for God to accept me.  Many Jews believed that Abraham was accepted by God because of his own commendable character. He was, after all, the father of the Jews and a friend of God (Isa. 41:8). Like the lives of so many great people, their legend becomes greater than their actual life. The fact that they were ordinary people, used in an extraordinary way by God, escapes the memory of their admirers.

The Jews created an Abraham that was made more of the stuff of legend than of truth. Several Jewish apocryphal books (non-biblical books written between the times of the OT & NT) taught that Abraham was justified by keeping God’s law, that he was he had no need of repentance.  One of those books called The book of Jubilees, asserts that Abraham was completely sinless, “Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life” (23:10). So perfect was Abraham that another book, The Prayer of Manasses, said that Abraham never had need of repentance (R. H. Charles, The Apocryphal and Pseudepigrapha of the OT, p. 622).

That sounds impressive, but it’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says Abraham wasn’t accepted by his performance, but by his personal faith.  That’s not to say Abraham wasn’t impressive, he was!  How many of us would be willing to sacrifice our own children in obedience to God?  Let’s face it, that’s off the map for most of us.  Abraham was impressive.  But the problem was the Jews had created an Abraham of fiction rather than truth.  Paul is about to storm the very fortress of Jewish legend by proving that God’s acceptance of Abraham had nothing to do with his performance, but everything to do with his faith.  After all, the whole Jewish nation came from Abraham and Paul says in verse one, What did he discover about being made right with God? He answers in verse three: For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.  It was Abraham’s belief, that made him accepted by God.  What was true about his relationship with God is true of everyone who follows in his footsteps. If Abraham could not and was not acceptable to God by his own performance, then neither are we.   But, if God accepted him on the basis of his faith alone, then everyone else could be as well. Abraham is the father of all who believe (V. 16).

Genesis 15 is the actual account of how God dealt with Abraham.   Abram was 85 years old and didn’t have any children and God says you are going to be a great nation, as great as the number of stars.  Verse six, Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.  The word for belief emphasizes that Abram entrusted his future to what God would do for him as opposed to what he could do for himself to obtain God’s promises.  When he believed God for his future, God counted him as righteous.  The word counted is an accounting term used to credit something to someone else’s account.  It wasn’t Abraham’s performance; it was his faith which drives home Paul’s point – Abraham was justified by faith before he did any great works.  Abraham’s actual performance was somewhat embarrassing.  When God called him, He told Abraham to leave his family.  Instead, Abraham packed up his family and took them with him! Lot (his nephew) & Terah (his father).  God had specifically told Abraham to leave his home, and his relatives (Gen. 12:1).  And then, when Abraham went to Egypt to escape famine, he lied to Pharaoh saying Sarah, his wife, was his sister in order to protect himself (Gen. 11:32; 12:10-17). A little later, he became impatient waiting for God to give him an heir.  So, he took his wife’s maid-servant Hagar and had a son, Ishmael, with her. From Ishmael, came the nation of the Arabs, the Jews cousins and they have been fighting ever since. 

Abraham’s life was not marked by total failure, however.  It was also marked by impressive acts of faith.  But they were not what gained God’s acceptance.  It was his faith in God alone. 

Verse six, King David says the same thing, David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it (V. 6).  Then he quotes from Psalm 32.  This is one of the Psalms of confession after David had murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.  David said, I got myself in such a mess because of my sin but God cleared my record just because I believed.  Not because I deserve to be forgiven simply because I believed.  What joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin (Ps. 32:4). Not because he worked for it, earned it, or deserved it.  But simply because God honored his faith.   Even the greatest king of Israel understood how to be accepted before God. Abraham and David are two of the greatest heavy weights in the Bible!  There is no one else he could appeal to with so strong an argument.

Paul is illustrating God’s answer to our need for acceptance, for self-worth.   God’s answer: JUSTIFICATION.   You are now FULLY ACCEPTED and FULLY PLEASING to God.  God declares us righteous (right standing before God), and when He does, He does two things: 1) He forgives our failures and 2) He replaces our failure with Christ’s righteousness. (Heb. 10:17 their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more).  If you base your acceptance and self-worth in your performance, you are setting yourself up for failure. You will never be satisfied with your self-worth by your performance.  Only by Christ’s performance.

The moment you try to gain God’s acceptance by your performance you will live in a constant fear of failure.  It’s like stacking marbles, you can count on failing.  The bottom line is this:  There is nothing that you can do that will make God love you more than He does right now.  If you’ve turned from your sin and placed your trust in Christ, there is nothing you can do that can make God love you any less.   You see, because of your faith in Christ you are fully pleasing to God.  Would you say that with me?  Because of my faith in Christ, I am now fully pleasing to God. 

  1. Through our Approval. Approval says: I must be approved by certain others to be accepted by God.  In verses 9-12 Paul is going to talk once more about circumcision. He first addressed it in chapter two. Circumcision for the Jews had become a means of doing religious things in order to gain the approval of God and others.  It was the most important sign of approval to the Jews.  Many Jews based their eternal security on this act alone.  Rabbi Menachem, Our Rabbins [rabbis] have said that no circumcised man will ever see hell (The Book of Moses, fol. 43, col. 3). Circumcision was literally The Mark of God’s approval.

Paul anticipates the question that the Jews would have: If Abraham was justified by faith alone, then why did Abraham have to be circumcised? Didn’t he do it because he had to gain God’s approval? So Paul asks in verse 10 when did God say that He accepted Abraham? Was it before or after he was circumcised? It was not after, but before! In Genesis 15:6 Abraham first believed and was fully accepted by God.  In other words first believed and then fourteen years later he was circumcised! (Genesis 17:23). All this to say, Paul is saying, read your Bible!

Leading into the West entrance of Multnomah Bible colleges campus library is an arched walkway.  As you leave the library on the right hand side of the wall there is a plaque with a famous quote on it by the founder of the Bible college, John G. Mitchell. It simply says, “Don’t you folks ever read your Bible?” that is what Paul is saying here. If you would have only read your Bible’s, you would have clearly seen that circumcision was only a symbol of what was already true.  Paul points out, Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised (4:11).

We often gauge our approval from God based on the approval from others.  As long as we do things that gain acceptance of others, we feel okay with God.  In fact, this is the sure formula for disaster: Try to please everyone, especially certain others.   You don’t have to please anyone but God. 

God’s answer: Reconciliation – Reconciliation is God saying, “I will love you and accept you unconditionally forever, and I mean forever!”  This is a word we looked at a couple of weeks ago.  It is God saying, “I not only purchased you with My Son’s life, but I will love you and accept you unconditionally forever, and I mean forever!”  Reconciliation means, I no longer fear rejection because God has said He will always accept me. 

So many people are literally starving for acceptance but are never able to find it.  They wrongly believe acceptance is something you earn by your performance which says: I must meet certain standards for God to accept me.   Or, by approval, which says: I must be approved by certain others to be accepted by God.  You’ll never find the acceptance your heart longs for until you find God’s.   

            Elizabeth Barrett’s parents disapproved of her marriage to Robert Browning so strongly that they never forgave her.  Almost weekly Elizabeth wrote her parents letters seeking reconciliation.  Not once did they reply.  After ten years had passed, she received a large box in the mail.  Inside, she found all of her letters; not one had been opened!  Had they opened them, and read the beautiful language she used, they may have forgiven her.  Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. The Bible is God’s letter to give us reconciliation, yet many people never read it.  Have you?

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