Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#8 – In Defense of Justification by Faith

(Romans 4:1-25)

Let’s recap what we’ve covered about Justification by Faith.

  1. Paul defined the gospel as the righteousness of God.  He did this in his introduction in Romans 1:16 and 17, and now in his definition of the gospel in chapter 3:21 he says:

    But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

    The gospel is the righteousness of God.  This means it is all of God’s doing.  He planned it, He performed it, and He makes it available to us without any human contribution.  It’s all of God.  That’s in verse 21 of Romans 3.

  2. This righteousness, which God has obtained not only for us, but for all people, is made effective, becomes yours, by faith alone.  You can’t earn it by your works, and you cannot buy it with your money.  It is made effective by faith alone apart from anything else.  And that’s in verse 22, and verses 28-30.  Hence, for this reason it is called, justification or righteousness (the two words are synonymous in Greek), it is called justification or righteousness by faith.

  3. This Justification by Faith is the only way to be saved.  Oh, there are many other methods that are taught in the world today, but this is the only method, this is the only way, mankind can be saved, whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile, whether you lived in the Old Testament times or whether you live in the New Testament times. God is One, and He has only one way of saving man, it is through Justification by Faith.

  4. Justification by Faith qualifies you and me for heaven, now, and in the judgment.  Because the word justification is a legal term.  It’s a term that is applied to those a judge acquits in a case.  Justification by Faith is the only way that qualifies you and me for heaven now and in the judgment.  That’s in verse 24, and also in Isaiah 55:1,2 because, further, it is freely and graciously bestowed.

    Then what about sanctification?  Sanctification is the fruits of Justification by Faith.  Will sanctification not be used in the judgment?  Yes.  But never as the means of justification, but as the evidence of justification.  Never forget that.

  5. Because of the redemption in Christ, the righteousness of God is not only a promise, it’s a historical reality.  It is ours because of the doing and dying of Christ, or as the Bible puts it, as Paul puts it [Romans 3:24]:

    ...And [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

    God is legally just in justifying us sinners.  God doesn’t “make believe” our righteousness, He is legally just in declaring us sinners righteous in Christ.  And that is extremely important, Paul defends it, points it out, in verses 24-26.  And by the way, Hebrews 9:22-26 brings this out also.  By the doing and dying of Christ, God has a legal right, He can uphold His law and, at the same time, justify us.

  6. Justification by Faith leaves no room for boasting, for human boasting, for man’s boasting.  Why?  Because we have not contributed one iota towards it; it is entirely by grace, God’s doing.  We don’t deserve it, we haven’t earned it, we don’t contribute to it, not even our faith contributes to it.  Therefore, it’s entirely God’s doing; therefore, there is no boasting, as far as man is concerned.

    Now is there no boasting?  Yes, there is boasting, but only in God.  That’s why I’ve given 1 Corinthians 1:30,31.  But Romans 3:27 says there is no boasting, because faith, Justification by Faith means that I am justified by what God has done, not by what I have done.  Faith is never contributing towards our justification, it simply is accepting.  We are saved by faith or we are saved through faith, but never because of faith.

  7. Justification by Faith fully satisfies or establishes the law. Now folks, we must be clear on this.  The righteousness of God that justifies us, which is made effective by faith, fully establishes the law.  Not because of sanctification.  Our keeping the law, which is the fruits of Justification by Faith, doesn’t establish the law.  It is what Christ did that establishes the law.  It is His life, it is His death that met all the demands of the law.  You and I can never establish the law.  Yes, it is possible, through the indwelling spirit, it is possible, as we walk by the Spirit, for the righteousness of the law to be fulfilled in us, but never to establish it.  Because to establish the law you have to meet every demand of the law, not only it’s positive demands, but also its justice.  And the justice of the law says [Eze.  18:4 & 20]:

    The soul who sins is the one who will die.

    None of us can die the second death and still live.  So please remember, it is only Christ Who has established the law.  When we preach Justification by Faith we are not doing away with the law, we are upholding the law, because in Christ we stand perfect before the law of God, both in its demands, in terms of positive demands, as well as in its justice.

This is the fundamental definition of Justification by Faith.  It has fruits, which we shall see in the next study.  But, wherever Paul preached this folks, wherever he did it during his ministry, he came under fire.  And in chapter 4 he is still dealing with Justification by Faith.  He has not yet moved to sanctification, he will do that in chapter 6.  But in Romans 4 he is defending Justification by Faith against the three-fold opposition that he faced in his ministry.

This opposition came mainly from the Judaizers, these Jewish Christians who followed him everywhere, who “bugged” him everywhere.  What was the three-fold opposition?  Let me give it to you in a nutshell and then we’ll go into detail:

  1. The first opposition was works.  That’s found in verse 1 through verse 8 of Romans chapter 4.  The Jewish Christians were demanding, were insisting, that our works were essential for our Justification by Faith.  Now let me clarify, what they meant was:  God requires us to do good works in order to be saved.  Paul is meeting this objection.  Because He said, “We are justified without works, only by faith.”

  2. Number two, which was something very important to the Jews, but we can apply it to ourselves in a different form, was circumcision.  Circumcision was very important to the Jew, it meant everything to them.  The Jewish Christians, these Judaizers, were insisting that you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised.  And that, Paul is dealing with in verse 9 to verse 12.

  3. Then, in verse 13 to verse 16 or 17, Paul is dealing with this third element, this third objection, which we can apply today, and that is the keeping of the law.  The Jewish Christians were saying, “Yes, it is not enough simply to believe, we must keep the law in order to be saved.”

In other words, the Judaizers were saying that works are essential for justification, circumcision is a requirement for salvation, and the keeping of the law is necessary if you are to be saved.  And to all these three Paul says, “No!”

Now before I go any further, I want to say something very important:  Paul is not against works, he is for it.  He is not even against circumcision; He circumcised Timothy.  And he is not against the keeping of the law, he is for it.  He’ll say much about it, in chapter 13 of Romans.  Then what is the problem here?  The problem is these three things are never to be used as a means of salvation.  He is for it as a way of life.  He is against it as a means of salvation.  That’s the issue here.

I want you to be clear, so I’m going to give you two texts.  These two texts are just an example of how Paul relates works in terms of our salvation and in terms of Christian living.  You will notice that he makes it very clear in Ephesians 2, and I’m going to read three verses, and you will notice in these three verses the word “works” appears twice — once in the negative and once in the positive.  Ephesians 2:8-10:

For it is by grace [God’s doing] you have been saved, through faith [that is, faith makes that salvation effective] — and this not from yourselves [you did not and I did not contribute one iota towards that salvation], it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

By the way, there is much confusion with that word “it” (“it is by grace....”).  In the Greek, the grammar implies the word “it” refers to grace and not to faith.  The salvation that comes to us by grace is a gift of God.  Our works do not contribute towards that gift that saves us, that grace that saves us, “so that no one can boast.”   So please remember, Paul is very clear:  our works are not the means of, nor do they contribute towards our justification.  But now look again at verse 10:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

So Christ didn’t only save us to have a ticket to heaven, but He created us, or recreated us in His Son, God did that, that we may do good works.  Please notice that it is the fruits, and that is the fruits of Justification by Faith which we will cover in this lesson.  But one more text:  Titus 3:4,5 and 8.  In chapter 3, verses 1, 2, and 3 (especially verses 2 and 3), he talks about us as we are:  sinners, disobedient, and so on.  Now look at verses 4-5:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done [it isn’t because we did something good that deserves salvation], but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit....

Having told us the good news, he continues in verse 8:

This is a trustworthy saying.  And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good....

Now please notice that he is talking now to believers who have already experienced Justification by Faith.  He’s saying, “Now that you believe, you who believe in God should be careful to do good works.”

Have you got that?  On the one hand, our works do not save us one iota, it doesn’t even contribute.  On the other hand, genuine Justification by Faith always produces good works.  It is the evidence of Justification by Faith.  Here’s the last part of verse 8:

These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Please notice, they may not be profitable to you; they are profitable to other people.  In other words, the good works of the Christian church should always be a blessing to humanity.  If you look at the history of the world today, much of the blessings that have come to this world we take for granted.  You take education, schools.  Who were the ones who first introduced schools?  The Christian church.  Who were the ones who were behind all the wonderful social work in this country, like welfare?  It began with men and women who were controlled by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I want you to remember that Paul is not discussing works, He is not discussing circumcision, He is not discussing the keeping of the law as the fruits of justification, but he’s discussing this thing as the means of justification.  Paul is against salvation by faith plus works, but he is for salvation by faith that works, two different things.

So please remember the context in which we are discussing Romans four.  Paul will have much to say about works, he will have much to say about sanctification, and about Christian living, and about keeping the law.  We will come to that as we go on to chapter 6 onwards.  But here he’s talking of how a man is justified before God.  And it is by faith alone! Our works, circumcision...  (Do you want to add baptism to it?  Because we don’t practise circumcision today [in the Christian church].  But in Colossians 2, Paul tells us that baptism and circumcision are synonymous in their meaning.) So our works, our baptism, and our keeping of the law do not contribute towards our justification.

That is the issue.  So please, I want nobody here to say, “Pastor Sequeira is saying we don’t have to do any works, we don’t have to keep the law.”  I am not saying that, neither is Paul.  He is defending the doctrine of Justification by Faith, alone, as our standing before God.  With this clear, let us go on and look at it in detail.

Since Paul is dealing with the Jews, he has to use somebody who was very special to the Jews:  Abraham.  Abraham was the father of the Jews.  Now, in the western world, the father simply is somebody who produced you.  But in the eastern mind, in the mind of the Jews, a father was more than somebody who was instrumental in bringing you into this world.  He was your example, he was your prototype.  Please remember that.  Put yourself in the Jews’ shoes. To the Jew, Abraham was their father; he meant everything to them.  So he’s using Abraham as a model.  Romans 4:1:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?  [Some translations read:  What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?]

“What is Abraham meaning to us?”   is the question.  Now the statement I want you to look at in verse 1 is that expression or that phrase “pertaining or according to the flesh.”

What did Paul mean by the word “flesh”?  In English, the word “flesh” means the soft part of the body.  Paul was not referring to the soft part of Abraham.  What did Paul mean by the word “flesh”?  Well, he means “the natural man.”  The best example, the best explanation I can give you of the word “flesh” is in Philippians 3.  Let’s see how Paul defines the word flesh, because we need to understand what the phrase means.  It does not mean the soft part of the human body.  That’s not how Paul is using it here.  It does mean that in some places, but not here.

So in Philippians 3, Paul uses the word “flesh” in the same way as Paul uses it in Romans 4:1.  Now you will notice something in verse 3.  I’m going to read verse 3 to 6 in Philippians 3.  You will notice that Paul is not against circumcision, because in verse 3 he says:

For it is we [i.e., believers] who are the circumcision....

So Paul is not against circumcision as a truth.  He’s against circumcision as a means of salvation.

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh....

So what is circumcision?  Depending on God and not on us. That’s why Jeremiah says in chapter 4 [verse 4]:

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts....

And Moses says in chapter 10, verse 16 of Deuteronomy:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

“Circumcise your hearts” means “remove unbelief, remove the flesh.” 

Paul says, “We rejoice in Christ and have no confidence in the flesh.”  Then, in verse 4, and 5, and 6 he defines what he means by the word “flesh”:

...Though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

“If you are depending on yourself for your salvation, I want you to know, Philippians, that I have more confidence than you.”  What did he mean by that?

He gives his history now in verse 5, and that’s what he means by the flesh:

  1. He says, “I was circumcised the eighth day.”

    “How many of you Gentiles,” he says, “were circumcised on the eighth day?  I was not only circumcised according to the law of Moses, but I was circumcised the eighth day, too!”

  2. “I am a pure-blooded Hebrew.  I have a pedigree.  No mixed blood in me.  I am of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.  So, regarding Abraham, I can claim to have 100 percent of his blood, his genes.”

  3. “Concerning the law, I was a Pharisee.”

    Now the word “Pharisee” today means something negative.  But please remember, the word “Pharisee” means somebody who was very zealous for keeping the law in every detail.  If he were living today he would belong to the “holiness club.”  We would call him a “Holy Joe.”  That’s what the word Pharisee meant to the people in Paul’s day.

    So I was zealous of the law, Paul says.  Verse 6:

    ...As for zeal [i.e., zeal for God], persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

    Please remember one thing:  even though Paul persecuted the Christian church, his motive was never bad.  He really thought he was serving God when he persecuted the Christian church.  So his heart was right, and God knew that, that’s why He met him on the Damascus Road.  His actions were wrong.

    Keep this in mind, because, I’ll tell you, many Sunday-keeping Christians have a right heart.  They’re actions may be wrong but their heart is right, maybe righter than some of us, if I can use that word.

    Paul’s zeal for God led him to persecute the church.  He thought he was doing God a favor.

  4. “Concerning the righteousness of the law (which to him meant the rules and regulations his church gave him), he was blameless.”

Of course, when he goes to verse 7 onwards, he says:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  [Some translations read:  All these things which I attained in the flesh, I gave them up for Christ.

So what does Paul mean by the word flesh?  What does he mean when he says:

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

Flesh means whatever is true of you in terms of your birth, in terms of your genealogy, in terms of your background, in terms of your performance, whatever is true of you, that you are depending on, either partially or wholly, for your salvation.  That is the word “flesh.”

If you come to me and say, “I am the great, great granddaughter of Ellen G.  White,” I will say, “So what?” That doesn’t give you any extra privilege before God, folks. The fact that you’re a Seventh-day Adventist, you belong to the Remnant people does not give you an extra position before God.  The fact that you are keeping the Sabbath doesn’t make you a better child.  What about Abraham?  Look at Romans 4, verse 2:

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God.

Now let us be honest, did Abraham do works?  Did he obey God when God said to him, “Leave your country, leave your people, and go to a land that I will give you”?

Did Abraham obey God?  By the way, that was works.  He didn’t have a Mercedes-Benz to go to Israel, he had to walk, or go on a camel. I don’t know how many of you have ridden a camel.  It’s a world of difference between riding a camel and riding a horse.  It’s bad enough riding a horse if you don’t know how.  I’m talking from experience.  But have you ever tried riding a camel?  It’s not only moving up and down but from side to side.  I’m talking of getting seasick, or “camelsick.”  You try it.  My wife tried it. I took her once to Egypt and put her on a camel and she lost some of the color of her hair, it turned grey.  It was hard; it was not easy.  Maybe for the youth, it’s okay, you know.

Abraham did a lot of works, a lot of works, much more than we do.  When the church sends us to the mission field today, they give us a freight allowance, they give us all kinds of allowances.  We can take this plastic food from Worthington and Loma Linda with us so that we can enjoy American food while we are in the mission field.  But when God sent Abraham to Israel, He gave him no furlough, He gave him no allowances, and Hebrews 11:8 says:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

But when we go, we ask the General Conference [the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters], “Is there a refrigerator where we’re going?  Is there electricity there, and is there this, and is there that?”

Abraham did many works, but did those works contribute towards his justification?  Paul says, “No.  If it did then I can boast, ‘I obeyed God, therefore I have a right to go to heaven.’” Romans 4:3:

What does the Scripture say?  “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now, verse 4:

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.

If, at the end of the month, you go to pick up your salary for which you worked, and you boss says, “By the way, this is a gift from me,” I know what you will say:  “You need your head examined; I worked for this! If you don’t give it to me as a wage I will take you to court!”

That’s what Paul is saying here.  If Abraham worked for his justification, then it would be no longer by grace.  God owed it to him.  That’s what the word means.  Verse 5 says:

However, to the man who does not work....

Did Abraham work?  Yes.  Did Abraham work for his justification?  No!

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Abraham was justified by faith without works.  Did he do works?  Yes, plenty of works.  But only as fruits of Justification by Faith, never as the means.

Now Paul adds in verse 6 and 7 and 8 a very important person besides Abraham, because, besides Abraham, the Jews had somebody very high in their thinking, who was a friend of God, who was a man after God’s heart.  That is David, David the King.  Paul is saying David was justified the same way that Abraham was justified.  These two men were justified in the same way that I am teaching you in Romans how we are justified before God.  I read in verse 6:

David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.

How plain could it be?  I’m not squeezing my ideas into the text.  The text is plain; it doesn’t even need explanation.  It’s clear.  And then he quotes from Psalm 32:1,2:

Blessed [which means happy] are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.

Folks, here you are justified by faith.  If you are you are blessed, you can be happy.

Now, having made it clear that works do not contribute towards our justification, Paul turns to circumcision.  Verse 9:

Is this blessedness [the blessings of Justification by Faith] only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?  We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.

“Do we need to be circumcised in order to be justified?  Or do we need to be circumcised in order for us to be accepted before God, and be saved?”   The Judaizers were saying, “Yes.” Remember, I was going to give you a text?  I’ll give it to you now.  Turn to Acts 15.  Is Paul against circumcision?  No.  He circumcised Timothy.  He spoke of circumcision in Philippians 3 in a positive way.  He does the same thing in Colossians 2, but now, here it is, Acts 15:  the first “General Conference” of the Christian church.  What was the issue?  Almost the same as 1888.  Here it is.  Chapter 15 of Acts, verse 1:

Some men came down from Judea [that means they were Jews] to Antioch and were teaching the brothers [the believers there]:  “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Please notice that the issue is not circumcision.  The issue is circumcision as an essential requirement for salvation.

Does Paul say, “You know, you Jewish brethren, I think you have a point”?  No.  Listen to verse 2 of Acts 15:

This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them....

Paul did not take this sitting down, neither did Barnabas. Now Barnabas was a very mild fellow.  Paul, I can see, was aggressive.  He had the short man’s complex, you know.  (They tell me he was short.)

But here are Paul and Barnabas, they would not give in.  They fought with all they could.  Finally, the brethren said, “Let’s take this matter to the General Conference.”  And they did.  So you have the first Jerusalem Council beginning in verse 6.  What was the argument?  Here it is in verse 5:

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees....

These were Jewish Christians, but were still zealous for the law.  We still have them today in our church.  Nothing wrong with being zealous for the law, but we must be zealous for the law in the right way.  That’s my issue, that’s Paul’s issue here. These Pharisees were zealous for the law in the wrong way.  What were they saying?  Look at what they were saying in verse 5:

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”

That is, besides circumcision, they must keep all the law, both ceremonial and moral in order to be saved.  They said it’s required to be saved.

So the argument was:  is it required?  What side did the leading brethren take?  If you read the rest of Acts 15, you will discover that Peter and James, the pillars of the church, said, “Paul is right.  We must not put on these Gentile Christians a burden that we could not carry ourselves, neither could our fathers.”

So Paul is saying here, in Romans 4, that circumcision does not contribute towards our salvation, neither does baptism.  It is the outward confession of our faith.  Then Paul says, “Why then?  I know what you will say, Jewish Christians.  Why did God give circumcision if it does not have anything to do with our salvation?”   And here Paul says, “There was a reason why God gave circumcision.”  It’s in Romans 4, verse 11:

And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

Why did God give circumcision?  It was a sign.  It was a seal.  The word “seal” means to confirm, to authenticate something that is already there.  To confirm something, to confirm a fact, you put a seal on it:  “This is it.”  What was the fact?  Justification by Faith.

I want to pause here, because there is coming a time that before God lets loose the four winds of strife, before this church, the Christian church is plunged into the great Time of Trouble, God’s people have to be sealed.  We, as a church, teach that the sign of that seal is the Sabbath, and I believe we are right, if we understand the Sabbath correctly.

So what I want to do in the next few moments is to use circumcision as a model of the seal of God, because we must apply it in the same way to the Sabbath in the last days.  How and why was circumcision a seal of the righteousness of faith?

To understand this, you need to have the background.  The call of Abraham is found in Genesis 12, the first 4 verses:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.  I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.  Abram was 75 years old when he set out from Haran.

God comes to Abraham and says, “Look, I want you to leave your family, your country to the land I will give you.  I will make you into a great nation, and in you, Abraham, I will bless the whole world.”  That was the promise of salvation to Abraham.  And, of course, John 8:56 tells us that:

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.

How old was Abraham when the promise was made?  He was 75 years old, Genesis 12:4 makes it clear.  But he had no children.  How could God bless the world, how could God make him a great nation when he had not even one son?  So God promises him a son.  In that promise was a son.

Eight years went by.  Now it takes human beings nine months to produce a child.  But now eight years went by and no son had come.  So in chapter 15 of Genesis, Abraham’s faith begins to dwindle.  It begins to waiver.  And God says to Abraham, “Why are you fearful?”   (which, in the Hebrew language, means, “Why are you doubting my promise?”).

Abraham said, “God, it’s because you have not kept your promise.  The only son I have in my household (which to the Jew was the extended family) is this boy of Eliezer my slave.  Is he the promised son?”

And God said, “No.  The son I promised you will come out from your loins.”  And he took him for a walk.  When you have problems with God, go for a walk with him.  God said, “Abraham, look at the stars.”  Of course, in the Middle East, it doesn’t rain very much, and we have many clear skies.  And God said, “Count the stars.”

Abraham said, “Lord, even if I had a Ph.D.  in computer science, impossible.”

“That is how many children you have,” said God to Abraham. And there you have that famous statement that Paul loves, that he quotes more than once in the New Testament, Genesis 15:6:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

There was no evidence.  He didn’t have even one son, but he believed God that he would have millions of children, when he had, in actual fact, not even one child.  That is faith.

Two years later, chapter 16 of Genesis, Sarah comes to Abraham, “Yes, you are depending on God, but I think what God expects is for you to do your part.  And since you, Abraham, cannot produce a child through me, I will give you permission to go to my slave woman, and produce a child.”  Which was a common practice in those days.  Surrogate motherhood is not something new; the method is new, but the system is not new.

Abraham said, “Yes, Sarah, I think you are right.” Because now it is ten years, because as I read verse 3 and verse 16 of chapter 16 of Genesis, I discover that he is 85 years old when Sarah comes up to him, and he’s 86 years old when Ishmael is born.

Ten years after the promise, Abraham commits an act of unbelief. He is not trying to be bad or sinful, he’s trying to help God to keep His promise.  That’s all he’s doing.  So Abraham says to God, “Here is your promised son.”

And God says, “Nothing doing.”

Do you know how long God waited after that?  Fourteen more years.  Talk about patience! God waited 14 more years after that incident.  Going to the next chapter, chapter 17, now Abraham is 99 years old — that’s 14 years later — and God says something to Abraham.  I want you to notice what He says.  This is one text I want to read, Genesis 17:1, because we hear this word very often, but we use it in the wrong context, so I want you to look at this word in the right context.  You will notice it’s part and parcel of the wonderful truth of justification, or righteousness by faith.  Please notice his name.  He is not yet Abraham, he is Abram.  It is only after circumcision that he is called Abraham.  Genesis 17:1:

When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless....”

Blameless in performance, or blameless in faith?  That’s the issue.  Righteousness, whether imputed or imparted, is God’s part.  My part, from beginning to end, is faith.  God is saying to Abraham, “Your faith has not been matured, it has not yet reached perfection.  I want you to be perfect in your faith.”

Abraham said, “What must I do to be perfect?”

“I want you to be circumcised.  Remove all doubt.  Remove unbelief.”  That’s the meaning of circumcision.  And so in verse 9, 10, and 11, God gave him the covenant of circumcision, as a token.  You’ll find that word, “token” (or “sign”) in verse 10.  Genesis 17:10-11:

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep:  Every male among you shall be circumcised.  You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign [the King James version uses the word “token”] of the covenent between me and you.

In other words, “From now onwards, Abraham, it is by faith alone that you must walk.”

And Abraham said, “Yes.”

By the way, 17 years later, that faith that was sealed was tested.  Abraham passed it.  The test was terrible.  Hebrews 11:17:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him offered Isaac as a sacrifice.  He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son....

“Take this son, in whom I promise salvation, and kill him.”

And Abraham, by faith, obeyed God because he believed that, “If he gave me a son when I couldn’t produce it (scientifically, medically, humanly, whatever way you want to put it), I believe that he can raise this son from the dead.  I will sacrifice him.” Folks, when your faith is sealed, we will be tested also.

Circumcision did not save him.  It was only a sign, it was a seal. The Sabbath doesn’t save us.  It is a sign, it is a seal.  Read Exodus 31:13, because there I read that God also gave the Sabbath as a sign.  Exodus 31:12-13:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths.  This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.’”

Circumcision did not make Abraham righteous.  It simply sealed, confirmed, authenticated what was already there:  righteousness by faith.  It confirmed it now, and from now onward.  Abraham made mistakes after that, but he walked by faith alone.

Now read Romans 4:11-12:

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

I want you to notice that, because Abraham was justified by faith, he became “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:11), not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles.  He’s the father of the circumcision (Romans 4:12) and also of the uncircumcision, which is the Gentiles.  He’s the father of all who believe, who walk after the faith of Abraham.  That is why I want you to put next to these verses Galatians 3:29.  Because there Paul tells us that:

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

But now, what about the law?  The argument is the same.  Paul says that, just like Abraham was given justification by faith before circumcision, likewise he was justified by faith before God gave the law.  In fact, about 400 years after Abraham was justified by faith the law was given.  So please remember the law was not given as an added requirement.  Then why was the law given?  Well, let’s read the text, Romans 4:13-14:

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring [that is, to you and me who are believers] received the promise that he would be heir of the world [not the heir of Canaan, but the world, i.e., the earth made new], but through the righteousness that comes by faith.  For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless....

What is Paul saying here?  He’s saying that legalism — righteousness by works of the law — and justification by faith are two opposite systems.  You can’t join them; you can’t marry them.  We are not saved by faith plus works; we are saved by faith that works, but we are saved by faith alone.  That faith does produce works, but not a contribution to our justification.  The two are opposites.  Why?  Because the law says, “Do this! Or don’t do this if you want to live!”   The gospel says, or grace, says, “You are justified by faith apart from works.”  So they’re two opposite systems, you can’t marry them, you can’t synthesize these two.  You are perverting the gospel when you do that.  Then in verse 15, he goes on to another point of the law:

...Because the law brings wrath....

In other words, the moment you try to save yourselves by the law, you come under wrath.  The moment you save yourself by faith, you come under peace.  Why wrath?  Because the law says, “If you don’t obey me in every detail, you are condemned.”  Look at the rest of verse 15:

And where there is no law there is no transgression.

Paul is a very systematic theologian.  He’s very careful in how he chooses his words.  What he’s saying here is this:  that while everybody sins (he’s not discussing the sins here, he’s discussing the transgression), you can sin without knowing the law.  But you can never transgress without knowing the law.  Because sin is “missing the mark”; transgression means the willful, deliberate violation of a law.  [See The Biblical Definition of Sin for more information.]

Paul is saying that, when God gave the law, it turned sin into transgression.  It means that it made guilt all the worse, because before you did not know that you were guilty, in many areas.  The Arab in Saudi Arabia who breaks the Sabbath doesn’t know that he is guilty of breaking God’s commandments, the fourth commandment.  But the moment you give him the Sabbath law, he becomes guilty because sin has become transgression.  Galatians 3:19 brings this out:

What, then, was the purpose of the law?  It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come....

So God gave the law not to solve the sin problem, but to make you worse.  Why?  That salvation by faith may become desirable.

So the law doesn’t save us; the law makes things worse.  In verses 16 and 17 he brings it out in the positive:

Therefore [since the law can’t save us], 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 are of the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.  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 things that are not as though they were.

I love that.  My salvation is guaranteed, even though I’m a failure, even though I’m a sinner.  Because it is not of works, but is of faith in Jesus Christ.  It is guaranteed.  And it is guaranteed because Abraham is the father of all those who believe.

How does faith work?  Because Paul, having defended justification by faith, does not stop there.  He ends chapter 4 — in verse 18 to the end — in how faith works.  How does it work in your life?  How does it work in my life?  How did it work in Abraham’s life?  Let’s read what it says.  Romans 4:18:

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.”

Have you got it?  If you are to be a seed of Abraham, if you are to be a child of Abraham, and, therefore, heir according to the promise, you must have the faith that Abraham had.  His faith must be realized in your life.  Now how does it work?  Romans 4:19-21:

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.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God [remember, this is after circumcision], but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

He is convinced about not one, but two things:  that what God had promised, He was also able to perform.

Who does the promising in this text?  God.  Who does the performance in this text?  God.  Both were done by God, the promise and the performance.  What did Abraham do?  Believe.  That’s all.

Now, the conclusion of Romans 4, verses 22-25:

This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

This is the way that you and I must live.  Every believer must allow faith to work in their lives the way it worked with Abraham.

Let me put it in a nutshell:  what is faith, how does it work?  Faith is taking God at His word.  God tells me, “I created this world in six days.”

I don’t say to God, “Please give me scientific evidence.”  I don’t say that.  I don’t say to God, “Prove it to me by the scientific method.”  I don’t say that.  Faith doesn’t allow that.

Faith says, “I believe that God created this world without any preexisting matter.”  Do you believe that?

Abraham’s faith was not based on the scientific method.  I want to explain what I mean by that, because I’m not against the scientific method.  Do you realize that, because of the scientific method, we have such wonderful inventions today?  The computer — I don’t understand it, but it’s amazing — medical science, technology, all these things are the result of the scientific method.  But here is the problem:  the scientific method only works on the rim of the natural.  It is not capable of dealing with the supernatural.  Faith deals with the supernatural.

God comes to me and says that, “I created this world in six days, just by My breath, I had no pre-existing matter.”  (And Hebrews 11 brings this out.) By faith I believe it.  If I were to use the scientific method, I would say, “You are talking nonsense.”

You see, if I depended on the scientific method, I would no longer believe in the miracles of Christ.  I would say to you, “Well, you see, what Jesus did is, He hypnotized the people, mass hypnotized the people and made them think the water was wine, or grape juice.”

No, folks, He actually turned water into the fruit of the juice.  He actually arose from the dead.  The disciples were not inventing the resurrection.  He actually performed miracles.  All these are supernatural, and I believe it.  That is what “faith” is.  Faith is taking God at His word.

Abraham never questioned God.  He never said, “Show me where in history a woman has produced a child after she had passed the age of child bearing.”  He never said that.  He never said to God, “Prove to me scientifically that Sarah is capable of bearing a child now.”  Against all hope he believed.  He did not even waiver, says Paul.  He believed that God was capable of doing the impossible.  That is what faith is.

Faith goes beyond the rim of the natural.  When God comes to me and says, “If you walk in the Spirit, the righteousness of the law will be fulfilled in you,” I don’t question God.  Do you believe it, or do you say, “Show me one person who has done it.”

Yes, naturally, impossible.  God Himself says, “By the works of the law shall no one be justified.”  He says, “There is none righteous.”  But we are not talking of the natural, we are talking of Justification by Faith.  God comes to you and says, “You are a sinner, but I look at you as if you are perfect in my Son, as if you had never sinned.”

But you say, “I don’t feel righteous.”  The question has nothing to do with your feelings.  Do you believe what God says?  Do you believe that, by walking in the Spirit, or by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, we can make no provision for the flesh?  Do you believe that this sinful flesh can be kept subdued every moment by faith?  That is what Abraham’s faith was like.  He believed the impossible.

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