Sermon: No Help Needed Romans 4:1-8

No Help Needed

Romans 4:1-8

Truth Taught- All people through history from the Old Testament to the New Testament must come to God by faith for righteousness

Introduction

Today, we begin Chapter 4 of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Chapter 4 is about Abraham and the fact that he was justified by grace through faith just like everyone else must be. He was saved exactly the same way we are today. Paul’s argument is one we must understand. I realize what Paul writes is guided by the Holy Spirit and inspired. I also realize Paul’s logic is brilliant. In order to prove that the Jews must be saved by grace through faith exactly like all people, Paul uses the man all Jews traced their ancestry back to and tells them that Father Abraham was also saved by grace through faith.

Last week we saw his first proof that salvation comes to all people whether Jew or Gentile the same way, not by works but exclusively by faith alone. His proof for this is that there is only one God and this one God has one plan of salvation, which is the same for all.

Romans 3:29–30 (ESV)

29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

The Apostle Paul uses Abraham as the ultimate example of someone being justified or counted righteous by faith apart from the Law of Moses. He selects Abraham for a few reasons:

Abraham lived 600 years before the Law of Moses ever existed. So, if salvation only came from keeping the Law then how could Abraham ever be right with God seeing that the Law did not even exist yet?
He also uses Abraham as an example because he is the premiere Jewish Patriarch. It was through Abraham’s lineage that all these Jews who claimed to be right with God traced their ancestry.

Third, he would use Abraham as proof because at the time God declared him righteous by faith he was not circumcised yet. Remember circumcision was that ritual or mark of keeping the Law, which the Jews saw as entering into the covenant between them and God. Yet, he was declared righteous before circumcision.

By using Abraham as the supreme scriptural example of justification, or salvation, by faith alone, Paul was storming the very citadel of traditional Judaism. By demonstrating that Abraham was not justified by works, the apostle demolished the foundation of rabbinical teaching-that man is made right with God by keeping the law, that is, on the basis of his own religious efforts and works. If Abraham was not and could not have been justified by keeping the law, then no one could be. Conversely, if Abraham was justified solely on the basis of his faith in God, then everyone else must be justified in the same way, since Abraham is the biblical standard of a righteous man.[1]

 

Human Need

 

Father, You have Gathered Your people that You may let us hear Your words, so that we may learn to fear You all the days that we live on the earth, and that we may also teach our children…amen

Romans 4:1–8 (ESV)

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather 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 counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

   “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered;

   blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

  1. Abraham Was Justified by Faith (4:1-3)

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather 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 counted to him as righteousness.”

Paul is proving his point by asking his Jewish brethren a series of questions. What advantage is there in being Jewish? What about our boasting? Now, the inquiry goes straight to the heart of what some might still base their salvation, namely, being a descendant of Abraham.

Romans 3:9 (ESV)

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,

Romans 3:27 (ESV)

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

Paul goes straight for the heart in his proving that all have sinned and all must come to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It makes no difference if you’re Jewish or Gentile all people stand on the same level when it comes to being lost without Jesus Christ.

He begins by asking, what was gained by Abraham, our forefather, according to the flesh. Then he makes his point. If Abraham was justified by works of the Law then he has something to boast about. He can say to all others, look what I’ve accomplished.

In verse two at the end there is a difficult phrase. It seems awkward in English because it is awkward. Sometimes in translating the Bible, the translators steer away from doing any interpreting but here it is required to really get what Paul means. We could understand it this way:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God or but before God such a thing is inconceivable.

Rather than even thinking for a moment that Abraham was somehow made right with God based on works, Paul goes on in verse 3 to tell us that the Bible has the answer to how Abraham was made right with God.

There are some folks who promote the idea that OT people were made right with God in a different way than we are today.

Some people mistakenly believe that only New Testament believers are saved by grace, and that Old Testament believers were saved by their obedience to the law or by some other means. Extreme Dispensationalists of the 20th century such as C. R. Stam and J. C. O’Hair held the view that law-keeping saved in the Old Testament. But the Apostle Paul makes the impossibility of salvation through law-keeping abundantly clear here and in Galatians.[2]

It may come as a surprise to folks but Abraham was saved exactly the same way we are saved today.

Galatians 3:6–16 (ESV)

just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

God preached the Gospel to Abraham before Jesus was ever born and Abraham believed every word and God counted that faith as righteousness in exactly the same way we look back to Christ and believe and are made right with God through faith in the same Savior, Jesus Christ.

  1. All People Must Be Justified by Faith (4:4-5)

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Paul now gives us an example from the world of employer/employee.

Now he has already stated the fact that salvation is by grace through faith and it is a gift from God to all who believe.

Romans 3:22–24 (ESV)

22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

His main point here is that you cannot work for a gift. The very fact that it is a gift means it’s free and not earned.

Let’s say your employer keeps your wages for the month of June. You have worked and earned the pay that is owed to you and he does not pay you. You would become angry and make claims that you’ve been robbed etc. You are owed those wages because you did the appropriate work to earn them, they are yours. Let’s say that on Christmas morning under the tree is an envelope from you employer that says Merry Christmas and you open it to find the back wages you are owed. He wrote please accept this gift on behalf of (the company where you work). That’s no gift but wages you have earned.

Salvation is not payment for work done by us but, as Paul states, it is a gift of God’s grace. Therefore, a gift cannot be something earned that makes it a wage.

Another reason that God gives salvation to us as a gift is that He will not be in debt to us. The employer is in debt to the worker until the worker has be compensated appropriately. God is not nor will He ever be in debt to man for anything. The employer is indebt to the employee until payment is rendered and God will not ever be a debtor to anyone. Therefore, salvation must come to us as a free gift entirely of grace never as a result of works.

Let’s look together at verse 5…

There are two statements in this verse that should stop us in our tracks.

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

A- And to the one who does not work

Literally, for the person who has no works to plead as a means to gain a reward. We do not work but fully believe and trust God. We believe that God accepts us in Christ through no work of our own.

Now we read in other places in the Bible that hard work is good…

Proverbs 12:11 (ESV)

11    Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,

but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

Proverbs 14:23 (ESV)

23    In all toil there is profit,

but mere talk tends only to poverty.

Colossians 3:23–24 (ESV)

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

God greatly encourages hard work. He greatly discourages laziness. However, in the realm of salvation He greatly discourages hard work or work of any kind. The reason is that we cannot add to what Christ has already done and God will not be a debtor. Salvation is not given to anyone because God owes it to us. It is entirely given freely as a gift.

B- believes in him who justifies the ungodly

I pray you stand in awe of these words…God justifies the ungodly. Do you know what that means? The person who comes to God broken over sin can be saved. The person who is God’s enemy can be saved. The murderer can be saved.

Jesus tells us a story about two men. One thought he could earn righteousness and the other knew he was a sinner…

Luke 18:9–14 (ESV)

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

So, weve seen that Abraham was saved by grace through faith. We’ve seen that all people whether Jew or Gentile must all be saved by grace through faith. Paul gives one more example to finalize the beginning of his teaching today…Even King David was justified by faith and not by works.

  1. Even King David was Justified by Faith (4:6-8)

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

   “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered;

   blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Notice what David is really saying here. Verses 7-8 are quoted from Psalm 32:1-2

Psalm 32:1–2 (ESV)

   Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

   Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

He’s telling us that there are those whom God does not count their sin against them. There are ungodly people much like King David whom God does not count their sin against them.

Paul adds this to his list of proofs because even David understood that sin is too black to ever be made up for or cancelled by human efforts. King David like all the OT patriarchs waited for his Savior.

I want to bring one more thing to our attention today. Notice with me how throughout this section Paul uses the counts. The context is that God does not count our sin against us. We have sin because we are sinners. Our sin is ever before us the Bible says. Yet, when we come to God on His terms, namely, by faith He doesn’t count those sins against us and God counts our faith as righteousness. Beloved, this is the wonderful doctrine of imputation. Our sins are not counted against us because they were counted against Jesus. His righteousness is counted or given to us.

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

   blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

God doesn’t count our sin against us because Christ died for it. Because Christ died and paid the penalty for our sin, there can be no legitimate boasting and no real claim to works salvation but only by grace through faith.

Romans 8:1 (ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Application

We live in a world that tries to convince us that God requires some accomplishment or some level of goodness in order to make one ready to receive salvation. The old idea of turning over a new leave or in some way living a godly life first then God will save us is not biblical at all.

God is not looking for good hard working people to save. God is looking for ungodly people who come to Him empty handed without any claim to merit. God is looking for sinners who have no claim to being owed anything by God. God does not owe us anything but for those who believe gives us everything.

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

 

 

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (p. 233). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] http://www.teachingtheword.org/apps/articles/?articleid=59456&columnid=5435

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