What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”
Now does this blessedness come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
Father, we pray that as we look into Your word today, as we consider this passage of scripture, that You would continue to instruct and teach us. We thank You God, that You transform us by the renewing of our minds as we consider Your word, and as You, by Your Spirit, work in our hearts and in our lives. So we pray that You’d do that today, in such a way that we would be able to prove, or to display, reflect to the world around us Your great grace and love and mercy. So God work in us today we ask, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
The Bible, although it is composed of 66 different books, and written by 40 different authors, on three different continents, over a 1,500-year period, in three different languages, the Bible is one cohesive story. It, the Bible, it begins with God; it begins with God and His creation, in Genesis, chapter 1, and in Genesis, chapter 2. And then it moves from there, and it speaks about man, and the fall of man into sin, in Genesis, chapter 3. And then from Genesis, chapter 4, all the way to the very end of the Bible, there is one cohesive ultimate focus. The Bible begins with creation, it moves to the fall, and then from Genesis 4, verse 1, to Revelation 22, verse 21, the entirety of the rest of the Bible is about redemption. Redemption is the core focus of the scriptures. This is the story of what God is seeking to do, in drawing back to Himself humanity, who has fallen into sin. And therefore, although in the early chapters of the book of Genesis, we’re introduced to two individuals, Adam and Eve, from there, the storyline, although they had many, many children, the storyline focuses on just one of their sons. The story focuses on their son Seth. And although Seth, we’re told in the book of Genesis, had both sons and daughters, the story continues to follow from Seth to his son Enosh. And then, although Enosh had many sons and daughters, the story follows Enosh to Cainan, and then Mahalaleel, and then Jared, and Enoch, and Methusaleh, and Lamech, and then down to a man named Noah. Many people, even those who don’t go to church, often know the story of Noah, because it was there, during the life of Noah, that God brought a judgment upon the world because of sin. He brought a judgment upon humanity because of sin. And so, the world was judged by a worldwide flood, at least that’s what the scriptures describe. And only one man, and his wife, and his sons – Shem, Ham, and Japheth – and his sons’ wives, they were the only ones that were spared during that judgment upon the earth. Now, the fact that they were spared is not because they were anything special; it’s not because they were perfect, but merely, we’re told in Genesis, chapter 6, because Noah found grace in the eyes of God. And so, he and his family were graciously saved through that event, through that flood.
And so, after the flood, in Genesis, chapter 9, the world begins to be repopulated again. The same message, or same command that was given to Adam and Eve, was to be fruitful and multiply, is now given to Noah and his family. And so his sons – Shem, Ham, and Japheth – they also begin to have children with their wives. But only one of the sons of Noah is focused upon in the story, the son Shem. Because it was through Shem that God is ultimately going to fulfill His plan of redemption. Because the Bible, the metanarrative, or the over-arching story of the Bible is: creation, fall, and redemption. And so the redemptive plan and story of God, it continues to proceed down through Shem. And Shem had a son named Arpachshad. Now how’d you like to sign that on your check every single time? Arpachshad… So, he had a son named Arpachshad; and then Arpachshad begot Sela; and Sela, Eber; and Eber begot Peleg; and Peleg begot Reu; and Reu begot Serug; and Serug, Nahor; and Nahor begot Terah. And Terah had a son whose name was Abram.
And in Genesis, chapter 11, and then on in to Genesis, chapter 12, the story of God’s redemptive plan zeroes in on the family of Abraham. And God calls out this individual, this man, Abram, because God’s redemptive plan was going to be worked through this individual. And so the rest of the Old Testament focuses upon Abram, and then his descendants. Now, when we’re introduced to Abram, in Genesis, chapter 11, and the opening verses of Genesis, chapter 12, we learn his name, and we know that his name means father of many. Abram means father of many. He lived about 4,000 years ago. We’re not talking about Abraham Lincoln, when we’re talking about Abram here. But this Abraham, or Abram, there in Genesis, chapter 11, he lived 4,000 years ago, and God began to do a work in and through the life of Abram in Genesis, chapter 12. So, would you turn in your Bibles to the first book of the Bible, Genesis, chapter 12.
Now when we’re introduced to Abram, he is at this point 75 years old…75 years old. And this man, whose name means father of many, is married to a woman named Sarai, and she is about 10 years younger, 65 years old. And at 75 and 65 respectively, they have no children. So, kind of a strange thing that his name means father of many, and he’s got no kids. So we read this, Genesis, chapter 12, verse 1: “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation; and I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
“So Abram,” verse 4, “departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was 75 years old when he departed from the city of Haran. And then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son,” or his nephew, “and all of their possessions that they had gathered, and all the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the west, to the land of Canaan,” a land they’d never been to before. “And so they came to the land of Canaan. And Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were in the land.
“And then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants will I give this land.’ And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared unto him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel,” Bethel means the house of God. “And he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and he called on the name of the Lord. And so Abram journeyed, going still southward.”
So Abram, at this point, in Genesis, chapter 12, we’re told that he was 75 years old when he followed God by faith. He didn’t know exactly where he was going; he just had heard the voice of God saying, “I want you to go and follow Me to a land that I’m going to tell you, to a land I’m going to show you.” And so he goes out; he leaves all that he knows. He left his family, he left the city that he lived in; he left the… Most people during that day, if they lived in a city like he did, a city like Ur, they lived in a walled city, and they stayed pretty close with their families, because it was a dangerous place in the world during that time. If you…your walls were there for protection. So he leaves protection. And he takes his wife Sarai, he takes his nephew Lot, he takes all of those that were a part of his household, many servants that were there with him in his household, and they move to the west. And now for the rest of his life, he will live, not in a walled city, not in a house that is built out of stone or brick or whatever, but for the rest of his life he will live as a sojourner, a traveler, in a tent. His whole family, and all of those that were with him, they would just move their camp from one place to the next; this giant encampment of Abram’s family.
Now when we follow his story, just a few years after this point, in Genesis, chapter 12, we find that he and his wife, they’re still childless, they’re still barren. He’s in his early 80s, and now when we get to Genesis, chapter 15, Abram has essentially picked a fight with all of the people who lived in the land of Canaan, where he was living as a stranger in tents. You see, his nephew Lot had made some unwise decisions in the previous chapter, in chapter 14, and as a result, he had been taken captive by a group of kings who had come and sacked the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the south of the nation of Israel, south of the Promised Land at that time. And so Lot and his family, Abraham’s nephew, they were taken captive. And so, in the night, Abraham gathers the trained men of his household, more than 400 men that were a part of his household, that he had trained to be ready in an event like this. And so now, in the middle of the night, they go and they track these men down who had taken his nephew and all these people captive; and they basically tear it up. And they do away with these kings that had caused all this trouble, and he captures his nephew Lot back.
But in the process of all this, by doing what he did, he has essentially set himself up to be the problem child in the land of Canaan. He’s the guy who now has been something of an aggressor, and so it seems as though he’s the problem. And now he’s a little concerned. I mean, wouldn’t you be a little fearful if all you have for protection is these tents that you live in, and now the cities all around you, the nations all around you are a little upset at you? And so we read this, Genesis, chapter 15, verse 1, Genesis 15, verse 1: “After these things;” after the capturing of Lot back from those who had captured him. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid.’” Now, if God says to you, “Do not be afraid,” what is the implication? That you’re probably what? …Afraid. And he had reason to be fearful in this situation. So God says to him, “Abram, do not be afraid.” Why? “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” Abram, you may not have a city, you may not have walls to protect you, but God says, “I am your protection. I am the One who will reward you.” Now Abram had something to say to God, verse 2: “Abram said, ‘Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my household is Eliezer of Damascus?’ Then Abraham said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!’” You see, still now in his early 80s, Abraham has no children, and the person who’s going to inherit all of his goods if he were to die, the one who would inherit all of his goods, under that culture, was a servant who was born in his household. And he names him here, he says, “Listen, if I were to die, God, Eliezer of Damascus is the guy who’s going to take over everything in my house. He is my heir. You promised me that if I followed You, You would make me the father of many nations. You promised me that You would give me descendants, and here I am, in my 80s, and I’ve got no kids. My name means father of many, but I’m father of none. And so the Lord came and spoke to him in verse 4, saying: “’This one, this Eliezer of Damascus shall not be you heir. But one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ And then He brought him outside and He said, ‘Look toward heaven now, and count the stars if you’re able to count them and number them.’ And He said, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” So God says, “Listen Abraham, Abram, this Eliezer, who was born in your household, he’s not going to be your heir. I want you to come outside your tent. Look up at the stars; if you’re able to number the stars, that’s how many descendants you are going to have.” Now look at verse 6, underline it in your Bible, put a star next to it, it’s an important verse in the scriptures: “Abram believed God, believed in the Lord, and He [God] accounted it,” or credited it to his account, “for righteousness.” Abram put his trust and his confidence in the word of the Lord, and what God was saying, and God accounted it unto Abram’s life for righteousness.
Well, as you follow the story, some time continues to pass. Abram is now 85 years old in the book of Genesis, chapter 17. Turn to chapter 17. Abram is 85 years old, his wife is 75, they still have no children. And so he and his wife decide to take things into their own hands. God isn’t moving quickly enough, and so they plan to get the work done, so they get busy…literally. They get busy. And so, Sarai, Abram’s wife, says to him, in one of the previous chapters, she said, “Listen, God had not given us a child; I know you believe that He’s going to give us a child; so here’s what we should do; we need to help God out.” Have you ever been in one of those situations where you’re trying to trust in God, but you’re like, “Well it’s not exactly happening the way I expected it. It’s not happening in my time, so maybe we need to kind of help this along.” Abram…just like that. And so she says, “Here’s what we should do: you take my handmaid, one of the servants within the house, Hagar, this woman that they had picked up when they were in Egypt, and you have a child with her, and that…she will be like a surrogate for us, and that child will be our child.” And so Abram says, “Okay! Sounds good.” And so he does. And so Abram, with this woman Hagar, has a son whose name is Ishmael. And from that point on, Abram is 86 years old when he has this child, Ishmael, by Hagar, God is silent, doesn’t say a word to Abram for 13 years.
And then we pick up the story here in chapter 17, verse 1: “Now when Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.’” You see it was 24 years before this, 24 years before this when Abram believed God and began to follow God, that God accounted unto him righteousness. Now 24 years later, God says, “I’m going to establish a covenant with you, and I want you to walk before Me and be blameless.” The implication is: “Abram, to this point you’ve not been blameless.” This is actually the first command that Abram has received from God, to walk in an upright or righteous way; even though God has already accounted him as righteousness. God has already declared him righteous. And now, 24 years later, God says, “Okay, now that you’re righteous, I want you to walk before Me and be righteous, because we are entering into a covenant with one another. I will make a covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Verse 3: “Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you.’” Notice, it is God who is establishing this covenant here. “’My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.’” “’Just as I declared to you when I called you 24 years previously, you are going to be a father of many nations.’” Verse 5: “’No longer shall your name be called Abram,’” which means father of many, “’but now your name shall be called Abraham; for I have made you the father of many nations.’” So what do you think Abraham means? …father of many nations. So He says, “Just like I promised you 24 years before that you will be the father of many nations, now I want you to walk before Me and be blameless in this covenant relationship that we have. And so you will be a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful;’” verse 6, “and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I’ll establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all of the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’
“And God said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, and your descendants after you throughout their generations.’” And so God, in Genesis, chapter 17, He assures Abram, Abraham, of a child by his wife Sarai. If you continue to read on from this point, God says to him, “Your wife Sarai is no longer going to be called Sarai, now her name’s going to be Sarah, and she’s going to have a child.” And when he hears this, he laughs; he says, “God, I’m 99 years old, she’s almost 90 years old. Would to God that Ishmael would live before You!” “God, remember that son that I had by Hagar 13 years ago? Would to God that he could live before You.” “This is just not going to happen, that Sarah is going to have a child. It’s just not possible. I’m almost 100, she’s almost 90. Would to God that Ishmael would live before you.” And God says this in response to that, down in verses 18 and 19: “He says, ‘No, Sarah your wife will bear a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.’”
Remember, the Bible is a story about creation, the fall, and redemption, and the work of redemption. You see God, He created, only He has the power to create, ex nihilo, out of nothing. He spoke everything that we see, and even that which we don’t see into existence. Only God, by His power can work to create in that way. What does man bring to the table? A fall; he brings sin. And only God can bring about the return; only God can bring about redemption. And so when Abraham says, “God, would to You that Ishmael would live before You,” God says, “No, it’s just not possible, because Ishmael is a product of your own working. And redemption, My plan for redemption cannot come through your own effort. My plan for redemption has to be by My divine, miraculous power.” And the only way that Sarah could conceive and bear a child, whom God says, “You’re going to bear a son, and his name’s going to be Isaac.” The only way that that could happen would be by God’s divine power, because redemption can never be by our own efforts. All we bring to the table is sin and a fall.
And so it was, at 100 years old, his wife Sarah was 90, they have a son, Isaac. The son of the promise was born, and the story of redemption continues. From Abraham to Isaac; through Isaac and down on, turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Matthew. It’s the first book of the New Testament, the first gospel; Matthew, chapter 1, Matthew, chapter 1. Matthew 1, verse 1, there we read, “The book of the generation,” or “the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of…” who? What’s it say, a little louder? “…Abraham.” Look at verse 2, “Abraham begot Isaac,” the son of the promise, “Isaac begot Jacob, Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. And Ram begot Ammindab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. And Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king.
“David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon begot Reheboam, Reheboam begot Abijah, Abijah begot Asa. Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, Ahaz begot Hezekiah. Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, Amon begot Josiah. Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time that they were carried away into Babylon.
“And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, Eliakim begot Azor. Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, Achim, begot Eliud. Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, Matthan begot Jacob. Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called the Christ.”
Yes, that was hard. So this is the genealogy of Jesus. Because, you see, the Bible is the story of redemption. And Jesus, the Christ; Christ means the anointed One. Jesus, His name, the root of it is Yehoshua, or Joshua, means the Lord is salvation. So He is the anointed One to bring redemption. You have creation, you the fall, the rest of the story is redemption, and redemption comes only through Jesus Christ. And so Paul here, in Romans, chapter 4, he now turns to Abraham. Because you see, in the early church, as we’ve already discussed as we’ve been going through the book of Romans; in the first 30 to 50 years of the church, there was a cultural divide within God’s church. You see, in Romans, chapter 1, verse 16, you may remember, Paul said, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” And you see when Paul wrote this letter, in the late 50s A.D., there was a cultural divide between Jewish Christians in the church and Greek or Gentile Christians in the church. But God’s aim, God’s intent, was that the church would be one, that there would be no cultural divide. And so Paul, having the heart of God, is writing, part of the reason he’s writing this letter, is to help mitigate, or do away with this cultural problem within the church. You see, the gospel came to the Jewish people first, just by order of the fact that Jesus came by the line of Abraham. And so the redemption, Jesus, is the One who came to them first, and so they had the privilege and the opportunity of first knowing of Jesus, the Messiah, of first knowing the gospel of God.
But it wasn’t very long after the gospel came to the Jews first that it began to go out into the world, because Jesus Himself said, “Go into all the world and make disciples, followers, of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, in Acts, chapter 1, He says to His church, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit will come upon you; and you’re going to be witnesses of Me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” You see, God’s redemptive plan was always for the whole world, it was never just for one nation, or one people group. But early in the church there was a divide between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. And those who had a Jewish heritage, a Jewish lineage, they looked at Abraham, their father, this one who is called out by God, the one who received the promise from God, the one who received the promise that he would be a blessing and be a blessed individual; and so they, the nation of Israel counted that by the very fact that Abraham was their father, that they were descendants, and that they were from the bloodline of Abraham, they counted that as a great thing. And they said, that’s got to count for something. They figured that by the very fact that Abraham is our great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, we’re blessed more than others. And so they looked at themselves very highly, and looked down upon those that did not have the same heritage within the body of Christ. So much so that one of the early problems in the church was that there was a group of Jewish Christians that were going around to other churches throughout the world, that were predominately Greeks or Gentiles, non-Jews, and they were saying, “Listen, if you want to really be right before God, you really need to become Jewish first. Before you can truly have the blessing of God, you need to be circumcised.” Now, it’s not a topic we choose to talk about very often, the issue of circumcision, but the Bible talks about it from time-to-time, because there in Genesis, chapter 17, when God established His covenant with Abraham, 24 years after he had believed in God and received righteousness, God establishes His covenant with him, and says, “I am giving to you a sign of My covenant, and the sign is circumcision.” Now, the issue is: that sign is not something that’s worn on the outside, you know it’s not something you parade around. But it was the sign that they were God’s people through Abraham, dedicated to the Lord. And so this group of people in the church, 2,000 years later, after Jesus had come, after He died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, as the church began to grow, this group of Christians who had Jewish background, they counted that as a big deal. Abraham was their father, they had the Law of Moses, and they had circumcision, so they said to people, “If you really want to be blessed, you need to be circumcised, and keep the Law of Moses.” And this is one of the problems that Paul was facing in the early church. And the Jewish Christians, they looked back upon Abraham and they said, “Listen, he is key to the whole thing, Abraham is very, very important.”
And so Paul, after he has established in Romans, chapter 1, and 2, and 3, he’s already established that we are not made righteous by works. He’s already established that we’re not made righteous just by our bloodline. We’re not made righteous because we have done anything special. We’re made righteous by the grace of Christ, because all of us are unclean. And so he has revealed the impossibility of salvation, or redemption by our own good works. But again, the Jewish Christians within the church, they put a lot of stock in their stock. They put a lot of stock in that they came from Abraham. And so Paul knows, after he has just said in Romans, chapter 3, verse 23, that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and that there’s no way that we can make ourselves righteous, he knows that the Jewish Christians in the church are going to object and say, “What a minute, but what about Abraham? He was justified by his works. Right? Look at what he did. He followed God; he kept the covenant. What about Abraham?” And so Paul answers that question here as he says, in verse 1, “What then shall we say about Abraham our father? What did he find according to his flesh?” What did he find according to his good works? And then he gives this great question, a big “if” question in verse 2, “For if Abraham was justified by works, then he has something to boast about.” You see, if Abraham had done something good to earn a good position with God, then he could boast about all the good things that he had done to earn a good position with God. Makes sense, right? But you see, when you read through the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis, you find that this guy, he didn’t do a lot of good things; in fact, he did a lot of really stupid things. In fact, I think that as we start to discover the life of Abraham, we could identify with his stupid, stupid things that he does. Maybe not in the exact same way, because probably you’ve never done this – in Genesis, chapter 12, we’re told that Abraham, there was a famine in the land of Canaan, and he decided to go down to Egypt. And so he takes his whole family, he takes his wife Sarai, he takes his nephew Lot, he takes his entire household of servants, and they go south towards Egypt. And as they’re approaching the border of Egypt, he turns to his 65-year old wife and he says, “Listen Sarai, you’re beautiful!!” She prob…“Oh, thanks. That’s so nice for you to say that.” “You’re so beautiful that when we get into the cities of Egypt, when the Pharaoh recognizes your beauty, he’s going to take you into his household to be one of his wives, and he’s going to kill me. So here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to tell them all that you’re my sister.” And she’s probably saying, “Yeah, you had me at ‘you’re beautiful.’ You lost me.” So they go into Egypt, and she submits to that, she says to those, “Well I’m his sister.” And sure enough, Pharaoh takes her into his household as one of his wives. God strikes the household of Pharaoh, and reveals this to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh has to basically kick Abraham out of Egypt, and say, “Hey listen, what’s wrong with you, you scoundrel?” Well, you would think that after that, you’d learn, but it wasn’t maybe 12, 18 years later, that Abraham was getting ready to go into another city. And as they’re approaching this city, he again turns to his wife and says, “You know, you’re beautiful.” And she say, “Wait, wait, wait a minute. I know about this whole situation.” He goes, “No listen, they’re going to see how beautiful you are, they’re going to find out I’m your husband, they’re going to kill me, and take you. So tell them you’re my sister.” She does. And he goes in; and once again God reveals it to this king in Shechem, and says, “Hey, this guy Abraham, he’s duped you.” And so, this guy’s gotta take Abraham out and say, “What your problem man, I thought you were a prophet of God? And here you are, lying to me, doing this sort of stuff.” This guy was not perfect. The Bible reveals warts and all, that Abraham was not perfect.
And so Paul asks the question, “What did Abraham find according to his flesh?” Was he justified by his works? Was he made right with God because of something he did? If he was, then he would have something to boast about, but notice what Paul says at the end of verse 2: “But not before…” Who? “…not before God.” Why does he have nothing to boast about before God? Well notice that ultimately, although Abraham was not perfect, Abraham did keep the covenant that God established with him there in chapter 17 of Genesis. After that point we see that he does seek to faithfully follow the Lord, as God commanded him to do. But God’s commandments and God’s covenant, that came in Genesis, chapter 17, let me read it to you again, verse 9: “God said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout your generations.’” That covenant that was given there in chapter 17, verse 9, came more than 13 years after we read this in Genesis, chapter 15, verse 6: “And Abraham believed in the Lord, and He [God] accounted it to him for righteousness.” See, what do we see there? We see that Abraham was made right with God, not on the basis of his keeping the covenant, because the covenant had not been established yet, but Abraham was made right with God because he trusted God, and God graciously credited to his account righteousness.
And so, what do the scriptures say, Paul says in verse 3, he quotes Genesis 15, verse 6: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now verse 4, Romans 4:4, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” You see, if salvation or redemption was by anything that we did, then when God would give to us salvation, we would know that it wouldn’t be a gift, because He owes it to us. If I could do anything to earn my salvation, then I would stand before God and say, “Pay up.” But the reality is the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, shows that God gives salvation by grace. That means it’s an undeserved, unmerited gift. And so it can’t be according to works. If it was according to works, then God would owe it to us. But look at verse 5, “But to him who does not work but believes,” and notice this, not just blind sort of faith in nothing, “but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Another translation, the New International Version reads it like this: “However, to the man or woman who does not work, but trusts in God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
Now there are a lot of people today who really think that faith is important. There’s always quite a few disappointed Charger fans at the end of the season, who thought that faith was important. Sorry, had to go there. But… And so there’s a lot of people who say, “You just need to have faith.” That’s a saying that’s been around for many, many years, “You just need to have faith. You’ve just got to believe. You’ve just got to trust.” The question is: believe, or have faith, or trust in what? You see, just faith for the sake of faith, has no power. Faith, for it to be effective, for it to have potency, needs to be faith or trust that is in something that is trustworthy. And so notice what Paul says here; he doesn’t just say, “You need to believe.” He says, “You need to believe on Him who justifies the ungodly.” Let me illustrate it this way: If I had a debt that I needed to pay, of one million dollars, a debt of a million dollars, and someone comes to me and says, “Listen, you’ve got this debt to pay of a million dollars. What are you going to do?” “I’m just going to believe. I’m just going to believe that it’s going to be paid. I just trust it’s gonna be paid.” They say, “What else are you going to do?” “I’m just going to trust. I’m just going to believe.” You would think I was completely nuts. “Are you going to work?” “No, I’m not going to do anything. I’m just going to believe that it’s gonna be paid. The bill’s coming up. I’m believing, I’m just believing.” But, if, BIG IF, it’s not a true if, if Bill Gates were my uncle, and not only were he my uncle, but he promised me, he said, “Listen, I’m declaring my intent to you, I promise you I’ll pay my debt.” And then I say, someone says, “What are you going to do about that million dollar debt?” I say, “Listen, I believe that my uncle Bill is gonna pay up, all the bills, and he said that he would, and so I’m trusting in him, because he’s got the money to be able to do it. And he promised that he would do it; so I’m trusting in him.” You’d say, “Hey, that’s a great plan.” You wouldn’t think I was a lunatic. Now you’d think I was nuts if I just said, “I’m just believin’, I’m just believin’ that it’s okay.” But if I said, “My uncle Bill Gates, he promised that he’d pay my bill, and I’m trusting in him to do so,” you’d say, “Oh, that’s, that’s great; that’s great.” You see, here’s the awesome thing that we find in the scriptures – God is the only one, the scriptures say in Mark, chapter 2, “Who can forgive sins but God?” Only God can forgive sins. Not only can He, that means not only does He have the resources, the ability to forgive sins, but throughout the Bible, He has made a promise, He’s declared His intent to us, to forgive our sins, and He does so by a gift of grace that is received by us through faith. And so he says here, “But to him who believes on Him who justifies,” or makes righteous “the ungodly.” And what does he say? Well, his faith is accounted unto that person for righteousness. God in heaven looks down upon the person, the sinner, who puts their trust and confidence in the only One, God, who can forgive sins; and He says, “I am going to declare you righteous.” So, I cannot make myself righteous according to my own works; it’s not possible. But God can make me righteous, and He does and will, as we put our faith in Him.
And so Paul goes on, verse 6, he says, “Just as David,” that is King David. “Just as King David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from the works;” when he says this, and so Paul now quotes Psalm 32, verses 1 and 2. “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin.” Now this word “blessed,” it literally means O how happy, O how happy. And it is believed by many Bible teachers, scholars, that Psalm 32 was written right around the same time that Psalm 51 was written, and Psalm 51 was written after King David had been found out for his sin. You say, “What sin?” Well, this sin: You see, King David, after he had ruled the nation of Israel for a period of time – many, many years – we’re told in 2 Samuel that he fell into sin when he took another man’s wife to himself and committed adultery. And that woman, a woman by the name of Bathsheba, she got pregnant in that whole situation. Now, the guy who was the husband of Bathsheba, he was one of David’s key military generals. That’s a little bit of a slap in the face. And this key military general was out fighting a war on behalf of King David when David did this. Now David knows that this is not a good thing. “I committed adultery, she got pregnant, I’m gong to be found out.” So here’s what he does. He devises a plan to try and get it to look like this guy actually produced this child, conceived this child with his wife. Didn’t work. So this is what he did. He said, “Okay, that didn’t work. So here’s what we’re gonna do; we’re going to put him out on the battlefield, we’ll pull all the people away from him in the middle of the fight, and he’ll be dead.” So David not only committed adultery, but planned the guy’s murder. And then he covered it up for a year. And after a year, we’re told in 2 Samuel that one of David’s advisers, a prophet by the name of Nathan, came and told him a story which ultimately revealed David’s guilt. David is found out by the nation of Israel to be a murderer and an adulterer. And in Psalm 51 he cries out to God for forgiveness, and God forgives him. And so he writes this in Psalm 32, verses 1 and 2: “O how happy is the man whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; O how happy is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” And literally he says, “O how happy is the one whose transgression,” that is his rebellion, his trespass, his willful disobedience. “O how happy is that one whose willful disobedience is forgiven.” That is: it’s cleared. O how happy is the one who even his unwillful sin, his accidental sins are covered, or concealed.
And so Paul says, David, he describes the blessedness of the one who God gives righteousness to, apart from works. Because you see, David knew that his works were evil, his works were unrighteous. He committed lawless deeds that, under God’s law, were punishable by death. And yet God was merciful, God was gracious. Not because David deserved it, but because God was gracious. And so he pled with God, he trusted in the One who forgives iniquity, and God accounted him as righteousness. He didn’t deserve that. I mean, you can be certain that Bathsheba’s dad, he probably wasn’t too happy about that. He wanted probably justice. Uriah, the one who was killed, his family probably wanted justice. And yet God was merciful.
Verse 9, Romans, chapter 4, Paul says, “Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only?” Is this blessedness only for those who are children of Abraham, or children of the covenant? “Or is it upon the uncircumcised also?” This is, people who are not Jewish. So just implant for the word circumcised, just implant Jewish; for the word uncircumcised, just put in Gentile. He says, “So, does this blessedness come upon Jews only, or is it upon non-Jews? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for forgiveness. How then was it accounted? Was it while he was circumcised, or was it while he was uncircumcised? Not while circumcised,” says Paul, “but while uncircumcised. You see he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all of those who believe.” You see Abraham is not only the father only of the nation of Israel, but by grace through faith, we who put our trust in the same God that Abraham trusted are grafted into the family tree…made righteous by faith. And so “he’s the father of all those who believe; though they are not Jewish, uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,” or placed upon their account. And he is “the father of the Jews, or the circumcision, to those who not only are of the circumcision, but also who walk in the steps of faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”’
“All we like sheep,” says the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we’ve turned, every one, to his own way.” Romans, chapter 3 says, “We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” We’re going to see, when we get in to Romans, chapter 5 in a couple of weeks, that through one man, Adam, in Genesis, chapter 3, sin entered the world, and death through sin, and death spread to all humanity for all of us sin. According to our works, our sinful works, the wages of sin is death, says Romans, chapter 6, verse 23. That means, what we deserve is judgment, just like David deserved judgment. But, the free gift of God, in Christ Jesus, is eternal life. Because, you see, the story of the Bible is the story of creation, the fall, and redemption. And Jesus is the One who redeems. Jesus is the One who makes open the door to forgiveness, to, not the person who works for it, but to the person who trusts in Him who promised it. You see, this is the glorious reality of the gospel; this is what we have in Jesus Christ. And this is what God has called those who have put their trust in God for justification. This is what God has called us to declare, to reflect to our world – the glory of God. “Would to God that Ishmael would live before You,” said Abraham in Genesis 17. And we find ourselves sometimes thinking, or saying, “But I’m a good person; I do good works. Would to God that my Ishmael would live before You.” And God says, “No, it’s not possible, because there’s no righteousness imputed by the works of the law, it only comes by grace through faith.” It’s a work of God only, and not by our works. Oh that God would so impress that upon our hearts; that wherever He would take us this week, this year, on into the years to come; whether it’s in a workplace, or on a campus, at a school, or throughout the community, or to the uttermost parts, would to God that He would so impress this upon our hearts, that we could not help but declare it to those who still find themselves in that place of unrighteousness. But they have the opportunity to put their trust in the One who makes us righteous.
Let’s stand and pray.
Father, I thank You for Your great grace. I thank You Jesus, that You have made the way open, You are redemption. The Bible says You are the propitiation, that means You are the payment to be paid, the redemption price for our salvation. God, without You, we could do nothing. But we thank You God that You have opened the way unto salvation. We thank You that You call to us to come, all who are weary and heavy laden, who are burdened, trying to work out their own salvation, you call to us that we would put our trust in You, who justifies the ungodly. And God we pray that You would enable us to share that glorious grace with whoever we come in contact with; that You, by Your Spirit, would work in our midst. Continue to draw people to Yourself. Jesus, You said no one comes to You expect Your Spirit draws them, so Lord, would You draw by Your Spirit now. Thank You that You are working by Your Spirit. Father, work in us who believe, work in us Your church, to be witnesses unto You in our community this week. We ask this in Jesus’ name,