July 3, 2011

Abraham's Faith Credited as Righteousness - July 3, 2011

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Of the 27 books that we find in the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote thirteen of them.

Now, the books that Paul wrote were actually letters sent to different Christians, with different problems and issues that they were dealing with. For this reason Paul didn’t write all his letters in the same way.

Paul did, however, begin a good number of his letters in the same way: by using the word “saints”. Paul was addressing these letters to his fellow Christians and he calls them “saints”.
“7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints:” (Romans 1:7a NKJV).

“2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,” (1 Corinthians 1:2a NKJV).

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia:” (2 Corinthians 1:1b NKJV).

“To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1b NASB).

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:” (Philippians 1:1b NKJV).

“To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse:” (Colossians 1:2a NKJV).
Now, if you look up these passages in the New International Version, you’ll find the Greek word for “saints” translated as “holy people”. And that’s what the Greek word for “saints” actually means, “holy ones”.

Now here’s the question – how can Paul call these people holy? They were obviously sinners. All we have to do is read a little bit in these letters, and we find that these people were ordinary people like you and me. These people were sinful. They did bad things every day. They said bad things every day. And yet, Paul calls them holy. Why?

Simply put, these people trusted God. They believed what God said in the Bible and were confident in His promises. And the Bible says that when you trust in the true God, God counts that faith as righteousness.

That’s the main point of our sermon meditation today - trust in the LORD is credited by Him as righteousness. Or to put it even more simply – By faith sinners are considered sinless.

Now, you may remember that last Sunday’s sermon reading was from Romans 3. This Sunday’s reading is from Romans 4. Throughout this summer we’re going to be working our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans. We won’t cover each and every verse, but we’ll move through the main thoughts of each chapter.

The congregation in Rome was made up of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Some of the people had grown up knowing the God of the Bible, studying His message, going to His temple. Somewhere Along the way these Jews had come to believe that Jesus was God’s promised Savior. They had become Christ followers.

Other people in the Roman congregation had grown up not knowing the God of the Bible perhaps they had worshiped other gods in the pagan temples of Rome. Perhaps they had bowed down to images carved in wood or stone. But somewhere along the way they had come to believe that the true God was the God of the Bible, and that Jesus was His Son and the Savior of the world. They had become Christ followers too.

Now, these two groups within the Roman congregation were prone to judging each other. After all, they were sinners. But in his letter, Paul reminds them that it isn’t what nation or culture or family that you’re born into that makes you holy before God. It’s faith in Him.

Both Jews and Gentiles were on the same level before God - condemned sinners. And, both Jewish Christ followers, and Gentile Christ followes were on the same level before God - declared sinless through faith in God’s Son.

In Romans, chapter 4, Paul addresses his thoughts to the Jewish Christians in Rome. They had great pride in their nation. They were proud to be the descendants of Abraham. Paul uses this national pride to remind them where their righteousness came from.

In the beginning of Romans 4, Paul says…
“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’” (Romans 4:1-3 NIV).
Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. This idea of faith being counted by God as complete righteousness is found over and over in this chapter. Eight different times, in this chapter alone, Paul talks about faith in God resulting in righteousness.

I’m not going to read all those references, but go ahead and do that on your own at home. Read through Romans 4 and see for yourself how many times Paul says that faith counts as righteousness before God.

Paul goes on, in Romans 4, to prove that Abraham wasn’t holy because of the ritual of circumcision. His faith was counted as righteousness before he was circumcised.

Paul talks about how Abraham wasn’t righteous because he obeyed all God’s laws and never sinned. Ever since Adam and Eve humans have been breaking God’s law, not keeping it. Abraham was no exception. You can read about his life in Genesis and find that he too was a sinner.

Paul proves that Abraham was counted holy by God because Abraham heard God and believed Him.

Now, before we read what Paul wrote, let’s read the scripture that Paul based his writing on.

Genesis 15:1-6 (NIV)

15:1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward. ”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

On this foundation, Paul then wrote to the Romans…

Romans 4:18-25 (NIV)

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for [because of] our sins and was raised to life for [because of] our justification.

Again, Paul’s point to the Jewish Christians in Rome was this – what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3)

Paul’s words here are so important. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been taught, or what your personal opinion is – what does scripture say? What does God say? Sinners are declared righteous by faith, not by anything we have said or done, not by any nation or culture or family we’ve been born into, or anything else. It’s a faith thing.

It was a faith thing for Abraham, and it is a faith thing for us sinners today. We believe that God’s Son was crucified because of our sins, and He was raised from the dead because His sacrifice in our place was accepted. Through that sacrifice our sins were erased, and through faith all the blessings of his sacrifice become ours.

Romans 4:3 is a great passage to tuck away. Maybe you’ve got a Jewish friend you can use that passage with. Abraham was holy before God because of his faith. And we are holy before God for the same reason. God promised a Savior, sent that Savior, took our sins away, and gave us faith through that Savior’s message.

Tuck this passage away for yourselves too. And the next time your heart is weighed down with guilt over some sin you’ve done - remember, you aren’t a saint because of what you’ve done, but because of what God did for you.

Like Paul says in Ephesians
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV).

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.

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