Sermon on Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Text: What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
13It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed — the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
Have you ever been given something by a loved grandparent? They wanted you to have a special memory of them. Especially, if you were a little older, you probably treasured that gift. How would you feel, if you lost that gift? Perhaps, that has happened to you, already. When you found that it was missing, I am sure that you searched frantically for it. You devoted a great deal of time looking for it. You weren’t going to be satisfied until it was safely in your possession again. This morning, Paul speaks of an inheritance that has been handed down to each of us from our spiritual ancestor, Abraham. Paul urges us to HOLD ON TO YOUR INHERITANCE. 1. Let Go Of The Law. 2. Take Hold Of God’s Grace. 3. Possess It By Faith.
The inheritance that is spoken of here is righteousness. The word “righteousness” means having a right relationship with God. It is a restoration of what was lost in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Before the Fall, they were in perfect harmony with God. Everything God wanted, they wanted. Everything God didn’t want, Adam and Eve shuddered at the thought of doing. This righteousness, this right relationship was lost when they fell in to sin. Ever since then, man has had to return to that right relationship with God in order to be saved. We are told that this inheritance, this righteousness, is ours as spiritual heirs of Abraham.
It may seem obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you want to hold on to something so that you don’t lose it, you have to get rid of other things in your hands. If you are going to keep it, you have to hold on to it with both hands. This was part of the problem in the Roman congregation. Some of the members felt that they still had to keep the law perfectly in order to be saved, or at least help God out with a righteous life. However, because they were trying to hold on to two things, they were in danger of losing their inheritance.
Paul shows them that it is not the keeping of the law that saves. He says in verse 4, “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.” We can understand that. If a person does his job, his employer is not paying him as a special favor. The person and his employer are in a contract situation, where the employee does his job in exchange for his paycheck. Paul uses that picture to say, if we did live a perfect life, from birth on, God would owe us eternal life. God made that contract with the world. If they kept his law perfectly, they would have eternal life. It is a very simple contract.
There’s only one problem. We can’t do it. Try as we might, we cannot keep God’s law perfectly. Sooner or later, we are going to become frustrated with others and become angry, saying hurtful things. Sometimes, in our unguarded moments, we catch ourselves worrying about how things will turn out. Because of these sins, even though we might consider them to be little, there has been a breach of contract and, therefore, there is no life waiting. With sin comes death. As Paul wrote earlier in this letter, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)
Since the law cannot make us righteous, it is amazing that so many people think that their good lives will earn eternal life for them. So many people, when asked why they think they should be allowed into heaven, answer, ‘I have tried to live a good life. I’ve never seriously hurt anyone. I’m a lot better than some people I know.’ There are church bodies that teach you must make up for the sins you commit, as if you can partially repay the debt of sin you owe to God.
However, by clinging to the law, they are in danger of losing this inheritance. God doesn’t grade on a curve. He goes by a strict percentage basis. He tells us, ‘If you want to save yourself by keeping the law, you must keep it perfectly. You have to be perfect from the time of your conception on.’ If we feel that we can help repay part of our debt, God tells us we are responsible for all of it. You see, by holding on to the law, you are losing your eternal life. You are trusting in yourself to save you and, as Paul said, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.” Romans 3:20) To hold on to our inheritance, we must, first of all, give up any ideas of trying to save ourselves by obeying the law.
How is this righteousness won for us? We read in verse 16, “The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.” Notice that one little word in that passage: grace. That little five letter word is very important. It is one of the chief cornerstones upon which we rest our faith. Grace simply means God’s undeserved love. God chose to love us who, by our sins, were unlovable. He chose to love us, in spite of the fact that we did not deserve to be loved.
At this time of year, we see God’s love coming into an especially clear focus. As we travel with Christ in his Passion, we see all of the things that he endured. We see him whipped and beaten, slapped and mocked. We see the crown of thorns being placed on his head. We see the nails being driven into his hands and feet. We watch as he suffered and died on the cross. The reason for our careful observation is that he did all of this for us. He endured the shame and the pain for us. There was not only the physical agony that he endured, but also spiritual agony as he suffered for every one of our sins. He paid the debt that we could not pay. Why? The answer is because he loved us so much that he did not want to see us perish in hell. He did it all for us. When we see all that he has done for us, when we hear him cry out, “It is finished,” why would we want to try to save ourselves by observing the law? Let go of the law and hold on to God’s grace. As the hymn writer put it so well, “Not the labor of my hands can fulfill Thy law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.”
How are we saved? How are we made righteous? How do we take possession of God’s promised inheritance? Paul says in verse 3, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s faith brought him into that right relationship with God. Abraham’s faith is well-documented. God told him to go to a land that he had not seen, and Abraham did. God told him that he would have a son, even though he was 99 years old and his wife, Sarah, was 89. Abraham believed, and the Lord blessed him with the birth of a son, Isaac. Because he believed, he was righteous before God.
The same holds true for those after Abraham. We read in verse 5, “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” To the person who does not trust in his own works, but believes in God, he is counted as holy and perfect in God’s sight. Notice that it is God who does the crediting. It is his decision to declare us “Not guilty.” When a man asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?”, they told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:30, 31) It is faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior that saves us. Even this faith is not something that we decide to do. It is through the working of the Holy Spirit that we are brought to faith. It is through the working of the Holy Spirit that we are made holy, righteous in God’s sight. Possess the inheritance by faith and treasure it. As Luke reminds us, “There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) This inheritance is ours through faith in Jesus as our Savior from sin.
Earlier we spoke of losing something precious that was given as a special gift by a relative or friend. If we lost it, we would tear the house apart looking for it. If it was especially valuable, we might put it in a safe. People put a great deal of importance on matters such as these. It is really a shame that many people don’t take as much care to keep hold of the inheritance that God gives them. There are a number of ways people can lose it. One is, as was said earlier, by trying to hold on to the law at the same time. By doing so, people look only to themselves for their salvation and they are lost. Another way people can lose this inheritance is by becoming careless with it. We possess this inheritance by faith. However, if we become careless with our faith, we may lose it. This often comes in the form of neglecting God’s Word. It is not something that starts off this way. It is a gradual process, but the longer we go without the food of God’s Word, the weaker our grip becomes. The weaker our grip becomes, the harder Satan will pull at it. This also happens when we feel that we’ve heard all of this before, so we can kind of just take it easy. I know it’s there when I want it. Rather, let us strengthen our grip by a steady, attentive diet of God’s Word. Let us also train our children and grandchildren how important it is to keep in constant contact with God’s Word and let us show this by our example.
We have been given a most precious inheritance. Let us not lose our grip on it, by clinging to the law. Let us grasp it firmly, by believing in Jesus. Then we will receive our full inheritance when our heavenly Father calls us home. Amen.
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