Strong in Faith, Glorifying God

Strong in Faith, Glorifying God

“Strong in Faith, Glorifying God”

(Romans 4:1-25)

Series: Not Guilty!

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

First Baptist Henderson, KY

(6-7-09) (AM)


  • Take God’s Word and open to Romans, chapter 4.


We are making our way, verse-by-verse, through the powerful book of Romans.  Our series of messages is entitled, “Not Guilty,” largely because so much of this book tells us how we may stand before God free of guilt and condemnation.


Before we read chapter 4, we need to remember the Bible’s teaching in chapter 3.  The Apostle Paul just finished talking about how Christians are “justified freely by God’s grace” through faith in Christ.  This is the doctrine of justification, that God declares believers righteous, declares them “not guilty” of sin because of what Christ has done in their place.


This right standing before God does not come by way of our own works of righteousness, our good deeds and so forth.  Paul is going to further illustrate this truth by going to the Old Testament.


  • Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.


1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”


  • Pray.




When I studied journalism at Georgia State University, I had an introductory class that focused on saying as much as you could in as few words possible.  That really is so much of journalism: saying as much as you can in as few words as possible.  That’s important because only so much content could be printed on the paper and the key was to get in as many different stories and as many advertisements as possible.  And so we would be given these long headlines that we were told to reduce to as few words as possible and then we were given these stories and were to do the same.  I think of that experience frequently when I prepare sermons from Paul’s letters.  He just gives so much and it is such a challenge to teach and apply what he says in as few words as possible.


I want to give you two overarching principles about faith that I hope you will remember from chapter 4.  The whole chapter is about our being justified by faith.  The message is entitled, “Strong in faith, glorifying God.”  How do we glorify God—make much of God—through faith?  First, we glorify God when we understand:


I.  Acceptance is not based on Performance


1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?


Abraham was the founding father of the Jewish nation.  Paul says, “What has Abraham found according to the flesh,” that is, “according to this matter.”  What about Abraham?  Was he justified—declared righteous—by his works or by his faith?


2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.


Now remember the word “justified” means “declared righteous.”  Justified means “declared righteous.”  Church, what does justified mean?  Declared righteous.   Verse 2 again, “For if Abraham was justified, which means declared righteous.  If Abraham was declared righteous by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”


3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”


That’s a reference to Genesis 15:6, the first time justification by faith is stated clearly in the Bible.  In Genesis 15 the Lord appears to Abraham in a vision.  The Lord took Abraham outside and told him to look up at the stars and try counting them.  Then the Lord says, “These stars represent how many children I am going to give you.”  Then, the Bible says, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  That is, the Lord declared Abraham righteous by his faith.  So Paul illustrates justification by faith in Abraham, all the way back in Genesis 15.  Abraham’s acceptance was not based on performance.  It was based on faith.


4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.


If we are justified or declared righteous by our works, by our doing good deeds or being good people, then there is no grace.  Rather, says Paul, the one for whom we work is indebted to us and must reward us for what we have done.  If you put in 40 hours of work at a company then your employer is indebted to you and you can even demand that he pay you because he owes you.  Paul says, “We are not justified that way.  We are not saved that way.  God is indebted to no man.”


5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,


Justification, being declared righteous, does not come by our doing good deeds or by being good people.  Acceptance is not based on performance.  Justification comes by faith, by believing on Him—the Lord—who justifies the ungodly.  Paul says, “His faith is accounted for righteousness.”  That is, through believing, through faith in the Lord, the Lord—like an accountant—credits to the believer righteousness.  Then Paul says, “Let me give you another example from the Old Testament.”


6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered;

8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”


Paul uses King David as another example of a man who was justified—declared righteous—by his faith.  He uses David to illustrate, “the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes,” or credits, or ascribes, “righteousness apart from works.”  Paul references Psalm 32.  Verses 7-8 here in Romans 4 are from Psalm 32.  This is David, as a believer, a man who has sinned, cries out, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”  Covered in what?  Covered in the Lord’s righteousness.  “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute,” or credit, or reckon, or ascribe, “sin.”


So Paul is teaching that this idea of being declared righteous by God is not a new teaching.  It is found in the Old Testament.  Both Abraham and David were justified—declared righteous—not by works—doing good deeds; being good people—but by faith.  They were saved the same way people in the New Testament are saved: by grace through faith.


9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.


This blessedness of justification—and we could add, salvation and all the blessings of being in right standing with God—this blessedness does not come only upon the circumcised (the Jew), but also upon the uncircumcised (the Gentile).  Paul asks, “When was Abraham blessed with justification?  When was he declared righteous?  Was it before or after he was circumcised?”  And the answer is before.  In other words, the “work” of circumcision, or the “good deed” of circumcision was not the basis of Abraham’s salvation.  The seal of circumcision came after Abraham believed.  It was an outward sign of an inward belief and trust in the Lord.  Why? Because acceptance is not based on performance.


Genesis 15 is where we read that Abraham is saved by grace through faith.  He believed God and it was credited to Him as righteous.  Genesis 17 is where we read of circumcision.  Chapter17, occurs anywhere from 15 to 30 years after chapter 15.  That is, Abraham was saved, was justified, back in chapter 15 before the work, the good deed, of circumcision.  That’s Paul’s point.


11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the 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,

12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.


Abraham was circumcised as a sign, or symbol, or seal, of the righteousness that comes by faith.  He was saved first.  He was justified first.  He was declared righteous first.  Circumcision was a later outward sign or symbol of a previously occurring inward change, much as baptism today is a later outward sign or symbol of a previously occurring inward change.  Circumcision didn’t make a person righteous and neither does baptism.  We are saved first and then baptized.  Paul goes on to teach that Abraham is the father not only of the Jews, but upon all of those who believe, all believers including us.


13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect,  15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.


Paul’s point is that this salvation, including justification—being declared righteous—comes not by works, not by good deeds, but by faith.  We are not saved by keeping the law, the moral commands of Scripture.  If Abraham were saved that way, God wouldn’t have credited him righteous through faith.  And then Paul says in verse 15 that the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.  When we try to keep the law we find out how often we break it.  It punishes us.  It’s almost like he’s saying that the only way to avoid the law is to have no law to break.  And the entire point is that our acceptance is not based on performance.  We are not saved by being good people are doing good deeds.


16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law (the Jews), but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (we non-Jews)

17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed — God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;


Abraham is the father of us all in the presence of Him whom he believed.  That is, in God’s sight, in God’s eyes, Abraham is not only the father of the Jews, but the father of the Gentiles, too.  Our faith is in the God who can do anything, including giving life to the dead and calling into existence things that do not exist, things like the “many nations” that did not exist in Abraham’s day, but exist today.


Acceptance is not based on performance.  There are two crucial ways we need to understand this.  We need to understand it as it speaks to becoming a Christian and living as a Christian.  What do I mean by this?  First, let’s talk about how the principle that acceptance is not based on performance applies to becoming a Christian.


We cannot earn God’s approval, or gain a good standing with God, based on our performance.  This is one of Paul’s primary points here in this passage.  Even Abraham, the father of the Jews, needed to be justified, needed to be declared righteous.  Even Abraham and David needed to believe, verse 5, in the God who “justifies the ungodly.”  Abraham and David were equally ungodly before God.  That was a shocking statement to Jewish ears.  Perhaps it shocks some of us today to think of all people everywhere as equally ungodly.  There are two categories of people: Godly and ungodly.  There are those who are followers of the Lord and those who are not.  That’s it.


Sometimes we look at this person or that person and we compare that person with someone else and we say, “This guy really, really, really needs Jesus.”  The moment we say that we betray our true belief about righteousness.  When we say, “This person really, really, needs to be saved” what we are saying is that we believe there are some who are “more righteous” than others.  There are some who need Jesus only a little and some who need Him a lot.  We need to remind ourselves daily of what Paul is teaching here in these opening chapters of Romans.  “There is none righteous, no not one (3:10).”  We are all ungodly and equally in need of salvation.  It doesn’t matter whether we have stolen from others, lied, cheated, and used methamphetamines or whether we are winsome and thoughtful and have donated thousands of dollars to charity.  We are all equally ungodly and in need of justification.  Acceptance is not based on performance.


Now that is true not only of becoming a Christian, but living as a Christian.  The principle that our acceptance is not based on performance is true every day of our Christian life.  Let me say that again.  Our acceptance by God is not based on our performance as we live out the Christian life.  This is where many so-called Christians, and many Baptists, miss the joy of salvation.


Justification is a present reality of Christian living.  Our acceptance by God is not based upon our performance, including our most recent contributions to the Kingdom—whether that be a tithe or sharing the Gospel, or visiting a shut-in, or teaching a class or anything else.  Our acceptance by God is never based on duty, on what we do as Christians.


The Christians leaving for Brazil today to do mission work are no “more acceptable” to God than the Christians who stay behind.  The Christians who teach VBS this week are no “more acceptable” to God than the Christians who don’t.  Why?  Because acceptance is not based on what we do, but on what Christ has done for us.


Similarly, our acceptance is not based upon our recent failure.  A Christian sins and feels like he has lost the sense of being accepted in God’s sight.  No, Jesus paid in full every sin you have committed and will commit.  When you sin, you confess that sin to God and repent of it, but know that your standing in His sight is not based on your performance, but always and forever on Christ’s performance in your place.


When you sin, God forever sees you “in Christ.”  Your faith in Jesus Christ is the basis of your acceptance before God.  It is as though God forever says of Christ, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” and when He says that, He sees you together with His Son.  God includes you in that statement!  Acceptance is not based on performance.


Paul further amplifies this faith of Abraham’s.  From verses 18 and following we see that faith is not only important from the standpoint of justification, but faith is important in our daily life.  The main principle here is that faith strengthens when knowledge rises.


II.  Faith strengthens when Knowledge rises


18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”


Abraham believed God, Abraham had faith in God, in spite of the overwhelming odds.  “Contrary to hope, in hope believed.”  This idea of his becoming the father of many nations was practically hopeless.


19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.


See, this thing made no sense.  How could Abraham become the father of many nations when, first of all, he had no children whatsoever?  And not only that, but he was 99 years old at the time!  I mean, he’s 99 and his wife is 90.  Imagine the next day he shares this information with his buddies: “I’m going to have as many children as the stars in the sky!”  They laugh.  You wish!  Have you looked in the mirror, lately?!  You and your wife are long past childbearing years.  But Abraham believed God.


20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,

21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”


Abraham did not waver at the promise of God.  That doesn’t mean that Abraham did not at first wonder how this was all going to work out.  In Genesis 17, where God renews this promise, the Bible says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said in his heart, “I’m nearly 100 and my wife is 90—how in the world?!”  Faith doesn’t mean we don’t pause to wonder at the miraculous.  Faith means that, at the end, we rest fully in the God who can do anything.


That’s what Abraham did.  He knew the obstacles, but he submitted his knowledge of the obstacles to the knowledge of God.  So he was, verse 21, “fully convinced that what God had promised He was also able to perform.”  And so “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”


Some of you are going through difficult times.  All you see is the obstacles.  Take your knowledge of the obstacles and submit them to your knowledge of God.


23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him,

24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead,

25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.


So we too may receive the same justification by having the same kind of faith Abraham had.  If we believe God, then God will credit righteousness to us.  We believe that God raised Christ from the dead and we will be justified.  We must believe that Jesus was “delivered up because of our offenses.”  That is, He died for our sins.  And then we must believe Jesus “was raised for our justification.”  He was raised from the dead so we might be declared righteous, declared “Not guilty.”  You see there that the bodily resurrection of Christ is absolutely essential.  We cannot be declared righteous without the resurrection.


Now this second principle is that faith strengthens when knowledge rises.  Verses 20-21 say that Abraham “did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.”  Abraham gave glory to God—he made much of God, much of God’s greatness—how?  By being strong in faith.  And how was Abraham strong in faith?  Verse 21, “Being fully convinced that what God had promised, He was also able to perform.”


Abraham was strong in faith because he was “fully convinced” about the character of God.  This suggests a thinking through the matter, a weighing of the possibilities, a reflecting upon the character and nature, and attributes of God.  After this thinking through what he knew about God, Abraham applied that knowledge and so was “fully convinced” that God was able to do deliver on this promise of making this 99-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife proud parents of a multitude of nations.


How we need to grasp this!  Do you want to be strong in faith?  How many of you would like to be known as people of great faith?  We have the wrong idea of how to be strong in faith, or great in faith.  We think it comes by bearing down, closing our eyes, gritting our teeth and saying, “I’m going to be greater in my faith, even if it kills me!”  That’s not how to do it.


We become strong in faith, thus glorifying God, making much of the greatness of God, by knowing about God and applying what we know.


The centurion who came to Jesus asking Him to heal His servant simply said, “You don’t need to come and do anything.  Just say the word and he will be healed.”  In response, Jesus says, “I tell you I have not seen such great faith, not even in Israel (Luke 7:1-9).”  The centurion didn’t drum up this faith.  He simply took the knowledge he had of Jesus and applied it.


The more we know about the Lord, and apply what we know, the greater our faith will be.  This is why it is so important to be regularly learning about God in Sunday school, worship, in daily Bible reading, and so forth.  We don’t do those things just to do them, as duty-bound slaves, doing what we’re “supposed to do.”  We do those things because, it is in the doing of them, that we learn about this God.  And the more we learn about Him the greater will be our faith.  But we’ve got to apply what we’ve learned.


The disciples failed to apply what they had learned about Jesus in the boat.  When the storms raged, they woke up Jesus and He aks, “Where is your faith?”  Don’t you know who I am?  Do you want to have great faith?  Do want to have the faith of Abraham?  You can.  It comes by knowing God.  You’ve got to know Him, to learn of Him, to grow in your understanding of Him, and then apply all of that knowledge to your situation.  Don’t think so much about your faith.  Think much about your God.  Faith strengthens when knowledge rises.


  • Stand for prayer.

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