Christ’s followers walk by faith not by sight (Romans 4:18-22)

Romans 4:18-22

Abraham had big thoughts about God. Abraham believed that God had the power to bring dead things back to life. Abraham believed that God could summon things into existence that did not previously exist.

Abraham did not put much stock in appearances. Decades had passed since God promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation. That promise depended upon a son, which he and Sarah did not have. Now their reproductive organs were as good as dead, which meant for a child to be born to them at their age was about as likely as a virgin giving birth. Though they wavered, they did not break. Though the branches of the tree swayed in the winds of life, its roots remained firmly planted in the promises of God. Though the ship tossed in the high seas, its anchor remained firmly wedged in the promises of God. Instead of his faith weakening over the years of waiting, Abraham’s faith matured, deepened, and became stronger. He did not walk by how things appeared; he walked by faith. (Romans 4:18-22)

Do you walk by faith in the promises of God that he has made to you in his Holy Scriptures? Faith can look very strange to the world. By faith, the followers of Christ do things that make no sense to the world. Christians spend their time, money, and energies doing things the world does not understand. We love and pray for our enemies, not motivated by anything we will get from them in return. We just love them. We sacrifice our time, perhaps even our vacations, to provide acts of kindness and compassion. We speak the truth even when no one wants to hear it. We proclaim Christ to a dying world, which often seems quite content on dying.

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Two different displays of the same grace of God (Romans 4:9-12)

Romans 4:9-12

The doctrine of justification by faith alone was not invented by the New Testament authors. The Apostle Paul demonstrated that both Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, and David, Israel’s most renown king, were justified by faith alone (Romans 4:1-8).

The Apostle then goes on to illustrate that even circumcision, the covenant sign of Israel, was given to confirm the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Circumcision was not an action done to earn favor with God, but a proper display and response to the favor God gives as a gracious gift received by faith alone.

The Apostle said, “For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.” (Romans 4:9–10, see also Genesis 15 and 17) Circumcision was not the basis of Abraham’s righteousness before God, circumcision confirmed the gift.

God’s gracious character has not changed between the Old and New Testaments. The blessed person of the Old Testament is really the same type of person in the New Testament, because both come before the same God. The only difference between them is their place in time relative to the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation on earth. The believers of the Old Testament trusted in the shadow and symbolically displayed the grace of God through the covenant sign of circumcision. Believers today now see the body of that shadow and symbolically display the grace of God through the covenant sign of baptism. Both covenant signs – though different relative to the stage of God’s plan of salvation in which they were instituted – point to the same gracious gift of God.

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Blessed is the one whose sins are forgiven (Romans 4:5-8)

Romans 4:5-8

King David is considered the most righteous of all the kings of ancient Israel. How did David receive his righteousness before God? The Apostle Paul said, “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 (Romans 4:5).”

The Apostle goes on to quote Psalm 32, “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 (Romans 4:7-8; see also Psalm 32:1-2).”

The blessed person in this Psalm refers to, in contemporary language, the happy and whole person. This person is living life the way it was meant to be lived. According to the Holy Scriptures, David’s works did not justify him before God. Rather, David claimed quite the opposite. His transgression and iniquities should have cut him off from God’s righteousness. He should be called the cursed person, not the blessed person.

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You might have been taught that salvation is by works without knowing it (Romans 4:3)

Romans 4:3

Many people from their youth have been taught a salvation by works narrative. I do not mean someone said to them this is how you get saved, but that someone taught them that if they want to count for something they need to do certain things.

The American version of this teaching says, “Do good in school, get into a good college, land a good job, and then you will live the good life.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to do good in school or land a good job. However, that messaging can easily become a salvation by works narrative. We can begin to think that if we do not do good in school or fail to land that job, somehow it diminishes our worth.

Disney and the promoters of the self-esteem movement have said similar things, like, “You can be whatever you want, if you put your mind to it.” I suppose they were trying to tell kids not to let other people tell them what they cannot do. However, that messaging can easily be turned into a salvation by works narrative. If someone really puts their mind to something but fails to achieve it, does their worth diminish?

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Salvation by faith alone upholds the law (Romans 3:31)

Romans 3:31

The Apostle Paul said: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31)

Many people mistakenly think that the New Testament in some way depreciates the significance of the law written in the Old Testament. Some say that the doctrine of justification by faith alone supports this. The Apostle says, “By no means!” Why?

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Justification by faith alone banishes boasting in oneself (Romans 3:27-31)

Romans 3:27-31

Let me ask you a question: what is the rally cry that gets you going? What helps you get out of bed in the morning? I am talking about your “boast” in life. Pastor and author Timothy Keller said, “What you boast in is what gives you confidence to go out and face the day. It is the thing of which you say: I am somebody because I have that. I can beat what comes against me today because I am this. What you boast in is what fundamentally defines you; it is where you draw your identity and self-worth from.” 

Take out a piece of paper and write on it whatever you thought of when I asked you the above questions. Finished? Now set that piece of paper aside – we will come back to it. The doctrine of justification by faith alone does something very counter intuitive to all our boastings.

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The solution to racism is tucked away in the pages of the Bible (Romans 3:30)

Romans 3:30

Messages regarding racism surround us. Many claim to have the answer that will help resolve racial divisions and prejudices. Only time will tell whether these novel solutions will deliver what they promise. But what if the answer exists tucked securely in the pages of the Bible? What if our racial divisions need not something new but something that has always been there though underused?

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Christ came to redeem every part of us (James 3:8-10; Romans 1:26-27)

James 3:8-10; Romans 1:26-27

God gave us our bodies with purpose and meaning. Take for example the human tongue. Jesus’ brother James said of the tongue, “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:8-10) Johaness Benz, who helped lead the reformation in Germany, said something similar of our whole body: “Our whole body was created so that it might offer itself in obedience to the Word of God. For which reason, if it passes over to the service of Satan in obedience to sins, the whole body is dishonored. Therefore, nobody, no matter how powerful an enemy they might be, can dishonor us as much as we ourselves do by the abuse of our own bodies.” The Apostle Paul gives another example of dishonoring the body. Though it has become culturally controversial, you can read about it in Romans 1:26-27.  

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Become part of the cure instead of the cause (Romans 1:29-31)

Romans 1:29-31

We live in one of the most advanced societies of all time. However, morally speaking, things have not really changed. In the first century, the Apostle Paul said, “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Romans 1:29-31) He was painting a painful picture of what happens when the human race refuses to acknowledge God.

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God’s abounding love calls us home (Romans 1:24-32)

Romans 1:24-32

Trying to help a family member or dear friend who has gone off the rails can be one of the most difficult things in life. They habitually make poor decisions, and you do everything in your power to try to help them. Yet, no matter how much you try, they keep making the same harmful decisions. You will always be there for them. You will wait for them like the father of the prodigal son, longing for the day of their return. But, also, like the father of the prodigal, you will let them go. You will give them what they want, to be left alone to do what they want to do, hoping that just maybe they will finally come to their senses, see their errors, and come home.

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