Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Romans 4

Not Ashamed of the Gospel
Romans 4

Before we get into the text of Romans 4, I want to share two other passages from the Scriptures which I think will help us grasp the impact of Paul’s words here:

Deuteronomy 9:4-6 - “Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.”

Notice three times that God, through Moses, emphasizes that Israel is not receiving the promised land because they were righteous. It was by the grace of God, which they needed to obey will fear and humility.

Now let’s jump forward to the gospel of Christ; in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, Paul says, in essence, the same thing. It is not because we are somehow special that God has saved us through His Son. In fact, it is clearly because we are not special (no one is!) that God saves us through Christ:

“Consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

We are studying along with our Lads to Leaders group the letter of Romans, in which Paul discusses the “Power of the Gospel” (Rom. 1:16).

In Romans 1, Paul has pointed out that the gentiles are lost without the gospel.
In Romans 2, Paul pointed out that the Jews were lost without the gospel. Specifically in that chapter, Paul wanted to separate the concept of salvation by faith from salvation through circumcision. This was done for two reasons: 1) Gentiles were not required by God to be circumcised to be saved; 2) Jews needed to quit thinking that salvation was inextricably linked to circumcision.

I fear that many of us, Christians, have made baptism the be-all and end-all of salvation. I think many of us have got it into our minds that baptism is all one has to do to be saved and we have turned it into a work. We have put so much emphasis on getting people dunked under water that we have practically divorced baptism from discipleship. We talk - “You’ve got to be baptized! She has to be baptized! He needs to be baptized! Baptism! Baptism! Baptism!” And we have practically divorced baptism from discipleship and walking with Christ. Can you be saved without baptism? No. Is baptism the “end-game?” No. That’s when you start your discipleship with Christ and we have to still remember that our salvation is based on grace. If you separate your baptism from the grace of God, you have turned salvation into a salvation-by-works religion.

Before we get to chapter 4, in chapter 3, Paul has emphasized that everyone is lost without the gospel. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Paul had written in 3:20 that “by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight.” I cannot overemphasize this point… if we also separate baptism from discipleship, walking daily with Jesus Christ, then we have fallen into the same trap as the Pharisees of Paul’s day: salvation by works.

There is no boasting before God, Paul emphasizes at the end of the last chapter (chapter 3). God justifies by faith and through faith (3:30).

Abraham was the physical forefather of the nation of Israel (4:1). Abraham is mentioned in the NT 73 times. Paul mentions him 19 times, 9 times in Romans and 9 times in Galatians.

If Abraham had been justified by works, he would have been able to boast (ver. 2). But he could not boast before God.

Romans 3:27 is the first time, out of 22, that the NT uses the noun “boasting.” If “Father” Abraham could not boast before God, then how could we?

In verse 3, Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6, where Moses records that Abraham believed God and God credited that faith to Abraham as righteousness. At that point in Abraham’s life, God had already begun a relationship with Abraham, at the beginning of chapter 12 when God appeared to Abraham in Haran and told him to leave his family and go to a land where God would show him.

Verse 4 of that text states that Abraham “went forth as the Lord had spoken to him.” At Shechem, Abraham built an altar and worshipped the Lord (12:7). Between Bethel and Ai, Abraham built an altar and worshipped the Lord (12:8). After spending some time in Egypt, Abraham returned to Bethel and Ai and worshipped the Lord (13:4) and called on His name. In Hebron, Abraham built an altar and worshiped the Lord (13:18). After saving Lot from the kings who attacked, Abraham gave 10% of the war spoils to Melchizedek, a priest of Jehovah God (14:18-20).

God appeared to Abraham and promised him that he would be a shield to Abraham and his reward would be great (15:1). Abraham said (and I’m paraphrasing), “God, I’m childless. How can you make me a family?” God took Abraham outside and showed him the stars of the sky and told Abraham that his family would be just as numerous. Abraham, “Ok. I believe you.” That’s when God said, “Ok, Abraham. I’ll consider you holy and righteous” (15:6).

That’s how it played out in Abraham’s life.

Back to Romans 4… “Work” and “grace” are mutually exclusive (ver. 4). If you work and earn a salary, that’s not grace. That’s justice, or fairness.

But, if you trust God and do what He says to do, that He is the one who justifies the ungodly as Paul talked about in chapter 3, then that trust is credited as righteousness, just like with Abraham.

For a second illustration from the OT, Paul uses David and quotes from David’s psalm, Psalm 32:1-2. In our minds if anyone needed grace, it was David. Not only did he commit murder and adultery, but the penalty for both those crimes under the Law of Moses was death. Because David repented of his sins - and the story is told in 2 Samuel 12 - God forgave David, even if God still punished David for his sins. David repented; he received God’s forgiveness and he wrote Psalm 32:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

That is grace! We want our sins to be “forgiven.” We want our sins to be “covered.” We want our sins to be not “taken into account.”

The gospel explains how justification comes through faith in Christ.

Righteousness through the Gospel - Romans 4:9-15:
In this paragraph, Paul wants to show that the blessing of righteousness through faith is not dependent on the Law; salvation is available to the uncircumcised (Gentiles) also (ver. 9). Speaking of “Father” Abraham, he was credited with righteousness, based on his faith, before and without circumcision (ver. 10)!

Here, it is important to remember that Abraham was not circumcised until Genesis 17. But he was declared righteous in Genesis 15! Before and without circumcision.

So Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 15 and God gave him the sign and seal of their covenant with circumcision in Genesis 17. In this way, Paul writes in verse 11, that Abraham then became the “father” of all who trust God, just like Abraham did. And that trust brings righteousness. Verse 11 has in view the Gentiles, those who were not circumcised while verse 12 views the Jews, those who were circumcised but still trust in God’s plans, rather than trusting in their own righteousness like that Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14.

All those promises God gave to Abraham in the book of Genesis - and I counted 9 promises relative to the land of Canaan from the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 to his death in Genesis 25 - were not based on the Law of Moses since it wasn’t given until Exodus 19 some 430 years later (Gal. 3:17), but it was based on the righteousness Abraham had based on his trust in God (ver. 13).

Now, if salvation comes through the Law of Moses and obedience to it (remember, we’re not taking into consideration the coming of Jesus), then there is no room for faith - salvation is based on works - and the promise God made to Abraham is nullified because, again, there is no room for faith (ver. 14). If salvation can come only through obedience to the Law - because no man can glorify God consistently and perfectly - then the promise of righteousness is nullified; there can be no righteousness.

The Law brings about the wrath of God because man violates the Law and earns the wrath of God (ver. 15). Where there is no law, as with Abraham’s walk with God, there can be no sin. The law speaks to those who are under the Law (3:19); Abraham did not live under the law; therefore, he was not subject to it. But the same thing is true of all Gentiles. They were not and are not under the Law, therefore, they are not required to be circumcised.

The Gospel According to Grace: Romans 4:16-25:
In verse 16, Paul basically summarizes what he has said so far… Righteousness is by faith, so that it can be consistent with grace, so that the promise of salvation / righteousness can be guaranteed to all the descendants - Jews and Gentiles - who are of the faith of Abraham. Yes, we are all descendants of Abraham who walk by his faith, because, Paul quotes Gen. 17:5 in verse 17, God made him a father of many nations.

Beginning in verse 17, Paul gives another illustration of the faith of Abraham, the faith that obeys, and that is the biological fact that Abraham was past the age of child-bearing when God first promised and subsequently promised that God would give Abraham a family. The promise in Genesis 17:5, which Paul quotes here, is given in the context of that promise of circumcision.

In that same event, Abraham hoped against hope (ver. 18) that God would give him the ability to become a father. But Abraham’s hope was that God would make him a father of many nations, just as he had promised when God showed him the stars in they sky and told him that’s how many descendants Abraham would have (quoting Genesis 15:5).

Abraham contemplated his own body (ver. 19) and considered what it would take to make him a father, but he did not become weak in faith. Being 100 years old, Abraham considered himself as good as dead, and Sarah too was way past child-bearing years at 90 years old. Of course, having the relationship with Hagar in the next chapter - Genesis 16 - reminded Abraham that he could, at that point, have a child. But God would wait even longer before He fulfilled His promise to Abraham.

So in contrast to earning righteousness, God took Abraham to the very point of hopelessness before God fulfilled His promise. But because Abraham continued to trust God and did not turn to idols, God considered Abraham as righteous. Abraham did not waver in unbelief (ver. 20), but grew stronger in his trust and gave God glory when God blessed Abraham at various points in his life, including the gift of Isaac once he was born.

Abraham trusted God; what God had promised, Abraham was “fully assured” that God could bring it about (ver. 21). Can God bring about righteousness in our lives without us being sinlessly perfect? Yes, indeed. God has promised that. Are we fully assured that God can accomplish it?

Because Abraham was fully assured, therefore God credited his faith as righteousness (ver. 22).

In this last paragraph, Paul brings this discussion back around to Christians (ver. 23)…

Righteousness can be credited to us as well (ver. 24), because we trust God because He raised Jesus from the dead - our whole spiritual lives is tied in to the resurrected Christ.

But not only through the resurrection, but in verse 25, Paul says that Christ was “delivered over” because of our transgressions and He was “raised” to justify us.

The verb “deliver over” refers to what God did to Jesus in sending Him to the cross. It refers to what Judas did in betraying (the same verb in Greek) Jesus into the hands of the Sanhedrin. It also refers to what Pilate and Herod did in giving Jesus into the hands of the soldiers who actually performed the crucifixion.

“Justification” is the noun related to the word “righteous.” It means to “declare one righteous.” What does that mean? Look back at verses 7-8: It means your sins are forgiven. It means your sins are covered. It means your sins are not on your spiritual bank account.

Take home message: We are not saved by our works; we are still saved by trusting God, through Jesus Christ, to take away our sins.


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