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Can I Be Justified?

Tom Pennington • Romans 4:9-12

  • 2016-11-06 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


Well, this morning I want us to return to our verse by verse exposition of Paul's letter to the Romans. Unless you're new here, you know that this church is committed to consecutive exposition. That is, it is our usual pattern. There are, of course, exceptions and special series and things, but our usual pattern, year in and year out, is to teach through the Bible book by book, verse by verse. Why is that?

Well, there are a lot of answers that could be given to that question. I think the most important one is the answer I gave you this summer when I preached through the Hold Fast series and preached a message entitled Expository Preaching is the Biblical Pattern. If you weren't here or you struggle with whether or not that's true, I encourage you to go back and listen. It is the pattern of the ministers of God from the time of Moses on, and I proved that to you in that message.

So that's the main reason, but over my vacation I kept coming across passages that reminded me of another reason that we're committed, that I'm committed, and our church is committed, to exposition. It is the power and the uniqueness of this book. Hebrews 4:12 puts it this way, "the word of God is living." There are no other books in your library that are living. It is a living book, "and active." The Greek word for active is the word from which we get our English word energy. There is a divine energy at work in and through this book in the lives of those who encounter it.

What is that energy like? What is it doing? Well, in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 13, Paul puts it this way, he says, "you received the word we preached as it is, in fact, the word of God," and then he says this, "the word of God," this is 1 Thessalonians 2:13, "which performs its work in you who believe." Have you ever thought about that? This book is alive and it is at work in you every time you sincerely encounter it. God is at work in you through His Spirit through this Word.

And what's He doing in you? Well, there are a lot of different ways to answer that question too. A couple that just jumped out at me over my vacation, one of them was in 1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 6, where Paul says to Timothy, I want you to keep teaching the Word and as you teach the Word you will be "constantly nourished by the words of the faith." That's one way the Word works in us, it is nourishment to our souls; the Bible is like food for your soul. Another way it works is what our Lord prayed in John 17:17 when He said to the Father, "'Sanctify them,'" make them progressively more holy, more like Me, "'through the truth; Your word is truth.'"

God uses that book you hold in your hands to make you, day by day, week by week, year by year, progressively more like His Son, because if you're in Christ that's what you were predestined for, and the only way that happens is through this book. That's why it's so important. This book is living, it is filled with divine energy, it is at work in us who believe, it changes our thinking, it reorients our lives, it changes and renews our minds. In fact, according to 1 Corinthians chapter 1, I'm sorry, chapter 2, 1 Corinthians chapter 2, Paul says, in this book "we have the mind of Christ."

You want to know what Christ thinks about anything? It's here, it's between the covers of that book you hold in your hand. That's why it's so important that we take the time to slowly, carefully try to understand the mind of Christ. And as we do, it nourishes our souls, it is a divine energy, through the work of the Spirit to change us, to shape us, to effect real change in our lives. And let me just say that the divine energy and power of the Scripture that works in us who believe, it is a reality even when we come to passages that don't seem to be immediately applicable. You know, passages that are never going to show up on those little memory verse cards. Passages that don't, sort of, overwhelm us with warm and fuzzy feelings when we read them, like Leviticus, the minor prophets. It's all living, it's all active, it's all nourishing, it's all at work in us who believe, whether you see and fully understand how that's happening or not.

And it's also true of the passage that we come to this morning, because the passage we will look at this morning, I can promise you, is never one you will hear preached in a seeker sensitive church, because it doesn't, on the face of it, appear to be particularly relevant. But the Scripture is always relevant and I can promise you this this morning, by the time we're done you will understand that it is profoundly relevant, to you and to me. Let's read it together, Romans chapter 4, the paragraph that begins in verse 9 and runs down through verse 12.

Is this blessing then on the circumcised or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness." How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

Now, let me remind you how this paragraph fits into the flow of the book of Romans. We are in the first main section of this book. It begins in chapter 1 verse 18, runs all the way through the end of chapter 4, it is the gospel explained. And at the heart of the gospel is justification by faith alone. As we have seen, Paul starts with why we need righteousness, and it is our personal lack of righteousness. And then, in chapter 3, beginning in verse 21 down through verse 31, we really get to the heart of the gospel and Paul explains God's gift of imputed righteousness. This is the gospel. This is what Paul preached.

But then in chapter 4, having explained the gospel, Paul sets out to defend it, and the entirety of chapter 4 is essentially a biblical defense of justification by faith alone. Paul has already made the point in this letter that the gospel he preached was perfectly consistent with the Old Testament. And so here in the fourth chapter he sets out to prove that, to prove that justification by faith alone comes from the Old Testament. You'll notice back up in chapter 3 verse 21, he says that the gospel he preached, this righteousness from God that comes as a gift, was "being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets," that's the Old Testament.

As proof, Paul cites two Old Testament examples in chapter 4. The first one comes from the Law, the first five books, the story of Abraham. The second one comes from the rest of the Old Testament, the Prophets, the story of David. Now, really the focus isn't on David, the focus is on Abraham, primarily using Genesis 15:6; you see it in verse 3, "'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" That is Paul's text for this entire chapter and using that text Paul answers several key questions about justification from the Old Testament.

Now, we've already examined verses 1 to 8 and found Paul's answer to the first question, and that is the question, on what basis are we made right with God? We saw in verses 1 through 8, the simple answer to that question is, by grace alone, without any human work, without any human effort.

Today we come to the second question that Paul answers using the example of Abraham and that question is, who can be made right with God? Who can be made right with God? And He answers it in verses 9 through 12, the paragraph we just read together. Now, as Paul explains his answer to this second question, he first identifies the real question. The real question is this, is justification only for the Jews? Now, you can see why this question would come up, I mean, he's just used Abraham as an example. So, does the fact that God chose Abraham and his descendants, and justified Abraham, mean that justification is only for Abraham and his physical descendants, the Jews?

Now, as you sit here this morning you may think to yourself, is this really even a question? And that's because we're 2,000 years removed from the life of our Lord. We sit here having enjoyed 2,000 years of church history. And so, we could say, is this even relevant? But this question, and Paul's answer to this question, listen carefully, could not be more relevant for most of us here this morning. Because just as was true in the churches in Rome to whom Paul wrote this letter, most of us sitting here this morning are not Jewish, most of us are Gentiles. By birth we did not belong to God's chosen people.

Have you ever thought about that? By birth you didn't belong to God's chosen people. And there are serious consequences that come with that. We've seen them already in Romans, you remember, he talked about the Gentile pagans back in chapter 1. Because we were Gentiles by birth we were, chapter 1 verse 21, ignorant of the true God. And in fact, in verse 28, we were willfully ignorant of the true God. In addition, we were idolatrous, verse 23 of chapter 1, verse 25. Now, that doesn't mean you necessarily fell down in front of a piece of rock, but if you didn't worship the true God, you were an idolater. We were depraved and wicked. The rest of chapter 1 goes on to list all of these sins that Gentiles commit, pagans commit. In chapter 2 verse 14, Paul says, the Gentiles don't have God's law. If you didn't grow up in a country that has some sort of Christian heritage, you would grow up as a Gentile that had no way to know what God expected of you.

But I don't think any divine description of us as Gentiles is more comprehensive or, frankly, more chilling than Paul's in Ephesians 2, turn over there for a moment. Here in Ephesians 2, Paul says, listen, as Gentiles you had a couple of serious problems. The first problem was that socially you were alienated from God's chosen people. Look at chapter 2 verse 11, "Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh." He says listen, I want you to think back Christian to before you came to Christ, if you're a Gentile, if you're not Jewish, then you were alienated from the chosen people of God.

Notice what he says in verse 11, "you, the Gentiles, who are called the 'Uncircumcision' by the so-called 'Circumcision,' which is performed in the flesh by human hands," you were distant, you were far off socially from the people of God. But that wasn't the serious problem, the serious problem was a spiritual problem. Verse 12, "remember that you were at that time," again, he's taking you back Gentile, to before you came to Christ, and here is God's description of what you were like before you came to Christ, "you were at that time separate from Christ." That is, you did not know and could not get to the Messiah. Why? Because the Messiah comes through the Jews. You were "separate from Christ," the Messiah. You were "excluded," or alienated, "from the commonwealth of Israel," you didn't belong to God's chosen people. God didn't choose you in that sense.

Verse 12 goes on to say, "and strangers to the covenants of promise." None of the promises of the Old Testament that God made, those wonderful gracious promises, were yours. You had no right to claim them. And, because of that, you had "no hope." Of course you had no hope, of course we had no hope, we were separated from the Messiah, we didn't have the Scripture, we weren't connected to the people of God. And we were "without God in the world." We didn't know the true creator God. We may have been religious, but even if we were religious, we were idolaters. That was our true condition. We needed to be made right with God. That was our position by birth, as Gentiles.

And yet, the Old Testament points to the fact that Gentiles could be saved. It records, for example, the conversion of a number of Gentiles. In fact, until Genesis 12 and God chooses Abraham, all those people He justified were Gentiles. Adam and Eve, and Abel, and Seth, and Noah, and Noah's sons, and all of those that are listed in the first 11 chapters of Genesis who were in the line of faith. And, in the rest of the Old Testament, even after God chose Abraham, you had those like Rahab the Harlot, and Ruth the Moabitess, and the people of Nineveh who repented at the preaching of Jonah, and King Nebuchadnezzar, whose story we read this morning in Daniel 4. And Naaman the Leper. That's an interesting one. You know where Naaman was from? He was the captain of the army of what is modern day Syria.

But the Old Testament also clearly teaches that it was always God's plan to save Gentiles like us from all the nations on Earth. It was always His plan. Go back to Exodus. Exodus chapter 19, this is at Sinai, God's brought the nation out of Egypt, He's brought them to Sinai, and here is the forming of the constitution of the new nation. And woven into the constitution of the new nation is God's purpose, verse 4, He says, I redeemed you, I brought you out of Egypt, "'brought you to Myself,'" verse 5, and here's why, "'if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine.'" You will be uniquely mine, but to what end? Notice verse 6, "'and you shall be to Me,'" or for Me, "'a kingdom of priests.'" What does that mean? Israel, you're going to be a kingdom of priests, you're going to be a nation of priests. In other words, your job, your job description, is to mediate between Me and the rest of the people on the planet, to expose Me to them. You're to be My witness nation. In other words, it was always God's intention to save the peoples all over this planet.

I don't have time to take you there, but if you haven't read it recently, read Psalm 67. It's a brief Psalm, but it is a Psalm that essentially says this, God blesses His chosen people Israel. Why? So that all the peoples on the planet see and learn to fear the true and living God. This was God's plan. God is, by nature, a missionary. He is, by nature, an evangelist; that's why we should be.

But now, go back to the book of Romans, because here in Romans, Paul has already made it clear that the gospel that he preached, the gospel of justification, is for the Gentiles and not just the Jews. Chapter 1 verse 5, "through Jesus Christ our Lord we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake." Go down to verse 16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel," here's the theme of the whole letter, "for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first," yes, in order of priority, that's to whom our Lord came, "but also to the Gentiles."

Go over to chapter 3, chapter 3 verse 29, as Paul unfolds the gospel and its implications, he says, "is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised," the Jews, "by faith and," the Gentiles, "the uncircumcised through faith," He's the same God, and it's the same way to be right with Him. This was God's purpose and intention.

Paul will come back to this later in the letter, so I'll let it stay there, but what he does here in chapter 4 is, Paul wants to prove this point, that the gospel is for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews, from the Old Testament, specifically, from Genesis 15:6 and the story of Abraham. Now, as you sit here this morning, whatever category you fall into, whether you are Jewish or whether you are Gentile, you should be asking this crucial question. Can I be justified like Abraham was? Can I be justified like he was? Will God graciously declare me to be righteous with Him through the work of the Messiah, just like He did for Abraham?

Verse 9, "Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also?" What blessing is he talking about? Well, look back at verse 6, "David speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works." He's talking about justification, that's the blessing. So, is the blessing of justification only for the circumcised, for the Jews, or is it for the uncircumcised also, for Gentiles? Paul goes on in verse 9 to say, "For we are saying," he requotes his text here, "'Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness,'" he paraphrases it a little, but it's essentially Genesis 15:6. He says, that's what I'm talking about. What Paul is really saying at the end of verse 9 is whatever Scripture teaches about justification is authoritative. So the question is, what does the Bible say, who can be justified? And the real question is this, is justification only for the Jews?

Now, again, as you sit here this morning, you might be tempted to think, does anybody really think that? And the answer is, absolutely. The Jewish rabbis have often taught exactly that. Let me give you a quote from the Jewish Talmud, "On the Day of Atonement, God cleanses Israel and atones for its guilt, and if you say, 'another nation too, He cleanses,' it is not so, but it is only Israel. For so spoke the prophet Micah, 'Who is a God like You, that pardons iniquity and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage,'" in other words, of Israel, and then the Talmud says this, "It is only Israel that God forgives." In other words, they believed that Gentiles could be forgiven, but if you were going to be forgiven, you first had to become a Jew, you had to convert to Judaism, that was the only way. So, I hope that helps you understand the importance of this question as people are sitting in the first century in the churches there in Rome. What does the Scripture teach? Is this blessing of justification, verse 9, on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? That's the real question.

Now, that brings us, secondly, to the key issue. The key issue is, when was Abraham justified? That's really the key point. Verse 10, "How then was it," it being righteousness, "How was righteousness credited," or put into Abraham's account? That's justification. Now, Paul uses the word how, but the context makes it clear that the essence of his question is not how, but when. When was righteousness put into Abraham's account? And he's going to use the story of Abraham to answer that question.

Now this is truly remarkable because the apostle Paul, his exclusive argument, that you and I can be justified like Abraham was, is based solely on the chronology of Genesis. It just shows his confidence in the Scripture. He says, you want to know if you can be justified like Abraham was? Well, let's think about Abraham's life and the order in which God did what He did in Abraham's life. He takes them back to the Scripture.

If you want to know whether you can be saved like Abraham was, the key issue is, was he justified, verse 10, "while he was circumcised, or uncircumcised?" In other words, when did Abraham receive the distinctive sign of Jewishness in relationship to his justification? Well, those sitting in the church in Rome knew. Let's go back to Genesis and discover ourselves, go to Genesis chapter 15. Here's Paul's text, this is what he is explaining in chapter 4 of Romans, Genesis 15 verse 6, "Then Abraham believed in the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness." There is the statement of Abraham being made right with God.

So when in chronology did Abraham's circumcision fall? Well, turn over a couple of chapters to chapter 17 verse 10. God says to Abraham,

"This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you."

So there's the circumcision. So the question is, how much time elapsed between Genesis 15 and Genesis 17? Well, the answer is obvious, go down to verse 24 of chapter 17. "Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised," verse 25, "Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised," and verse 26, they were both circumcised on the same day. Well, in chapter 15 there's no Ishmael, so do the math. There had to be, between the statement of his justification and his circumcision, at least 14 years, the 13 years of Ishmael's life, plus a year of his being in the womb, almost a year, I won't do that to you ladies.

You get the point, about 14 years between the two events. There had to be that kind of gap, but the gap might be much longer because the rabbis taught that the gap was 29 years. And I think a really good case can be made for the fact that Abraham was justified, not in Genesis 15, but all the way back in Genesis 12, when he left Ur of the Chaldees. Because what does Hebrews 11 say? "By faith Abraham" left Ur of the Chaldees. He was already exercising faith when he left Ur. If that's true then there is a gap of 25 years between his justification and his circumcision.

Now, based on that clear timeline, go back to Romans 4 and notice what point Paul makes. Romans 4 and verse 10, he makes this assertion, based on the timeline in Genesis, "Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised." Abraham was declared to be just before God at least 14 years before his circumcision and probably 25 years. Obviously then, circumcision was not the grounds of his justification, it came much later. So, what was the purpose of circumcision then? Verse 11, it says, "and he received the sign of circumcision," after his justification, 14 to 25 years after his justification, "he received the sign of circumcision."

Now, the word sign here refers to a distinguishing mark by which something is known. This is what God said, we saw it in Genesis 17, where God says, "'this is the sign of the covenant between Me and you.'" God intended that circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin, to be a distinguishing mark to remind Abraham and his descendants that they were beneficiaries of the gracious promises God made to Abraham, promises of grace. It symbolized the removal of the guilt and the pollution of sin for Abraham and thus justification. Abraham's circumcision was not his justification, it wasn't the grounds of it, it wasn't the cause of it, instead it was simply a physical mark that distinguished him as a recipient of God's gracious promise of spiritual blessing: forgiveness, justification, righteousness.

Now, in what way was his circumcision a sign of his justification? Paul goes on verse 11, he says, "he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised." The Greek word translated seal simply refers to that which confirms or authenticates something. I have on my finger here a wedding band. That wedding band is not my marriage, it is a seal of my marriage. In the same way, Abraham received the sign of circumcision to confirm, or to authenticate, notice what Paul says, "the righteousness of faith," that was already his.

Now, this is absolutely crucial for you understand. In and of itself, circumcision has no value. It does not make someone part of God's people. In fact, many of the nations around Israel practice circumcision, the Egyptians and others, it was really only the Philistines, that was the primary culture, that didn't. It doesn't even truly mark a person as belonging to God's people, unless they have first experienced justifying faith.

This is what Paul says in chapter 2. Go back to chapter 2 verse 28, "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is [real] circumcision that which is outward in the flesh," that doesn't really matter. "But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision [real circumcision] is that which is of the heart," where there is regeneration, the spirit has changed and circumcised the man's heart, the person's heart, that's the real thing.

So, understand then that circumcision was merely, for Abraham, merely a seal of the righteousness which he had received by faith, 14 to 25 years earlier. It was a constant reminder to him of what God had done in cutting off from him the pollution of his guilt and sin. God declared Abraham to be righteous while Abraham was still uncircumcised and his circumcision came 14 to 25 years later and it simply confirmed or authenticated God's gracious promise to him that he had been justified by faith alone. It was a reminder to Abraham that he had been justified.

Now, that brings us, thirdly, to the divine purpose. Why does it matter? I mean, why should it matter for us? What was so important to Paul, why was it so important to Paul, to establish that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised? And here it is, it's because it proves that both Jews and Gentiles can be justified the same way Abraham was. It's why God did it this way, by faith alone in the Messiah alone.

Notice in verse 11 those two little words, so that. Here we're going to learn God's purpose in why He did this in this order, when and why he saved, or justified, Abraham. God had two distinct purposes in mind for how he fleshed this out in Abraham's life. The first purpose, He wanted to Abraham to become the spiritual father of all Gentiles who believe. Verse 11, "so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised," in other words, all who believe who are Gentiles. That is the reason God justified Abraham so many years before he was circumcised.

Now think about this for a moment, put yourself back in the first century. Abraham was clearly the father of the Jewish nation, and it was through the Jews that both the Scripture and the Messiah and salvation came, so most of the people in the ancient world believed that the only way you could become Abraham's spiritual descendant was by becoming part of Israel, either by birth, which, of course, you had no control over, or by conversion, becoming, converting to Judaism. But Paul says something very profound here, Paul says that simply by believing what Abraham believed you become his spiritual descendant.

Like Abraham, you must come to a place in your life where you realize that you are a rebel idolater against God. That's where Abraham was in Ur of the Chaldees, he was an idolater. He came to that point, he came to realize that he was an idolater and to repent and confess his rebellion against God. You must believe as he did, God's promise that He will forgive your sins, that He will make you right with Him, that He will spiritually bless you, even though you deserve His wrath. And He will do that through the work of one descendant of Abraham, the Seed, capital S, the Messiah. And, of course, the New Testament reveals that the Messiah is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Here's the point, if you will repent as Abraham repented, of your idolatry and your rebellion against your Creator, and if you would believe in the work of the Messiah as the way you can be made right with God, then you will experience justification as he did, and Abraham becomes your spiritual father.

Now, what's the benefit of Abraham becoming your spiritual father? Well look at the end of verse 11, in order "that righteousness might be credited to them." We can be justified in the same way Abraham was. If we become his spiritual descendants, we get in on the same promise God made to him, spiritual blessing when he didn't deserve it, justification. Like Abraham, to everyone who believes as he did, God credits righteousness, He puts it in their account, the righteousness of the Messiah, Gentiles.

God's second purpose in doing it this way with Abraham was for Abraham to become the spiritual father of all the Jews who believe. Notice verse 12, "and," here's another purpose, so that Abraham might be or become "the father of circumcision to those who not only are," excuse me, "who are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised." Here is another part of the divine purpose for the way God saved and justified Abraham. Notice here, Paul describes in verse 12 a group of Jews who are not only physical descendants of Abraham, marked by circumcision, but who have followed, notice how he puts it, "in the footsteps of the faith that Abraham had before he was circumcised." Who is he talking about? He's talking about Jewish Christians. Because Abraham was eventually circumcised, 14 to 25 years after he was justified, he was also qualified to become the spiritual father of all who are Jewish and become true believers in the Messiah, as Abraham was.

I know we have here in the service this morning, we have had in each service, those who are Jewish. Listen, if you are a Jewish Christian, Abraham is not only your physical father, he is your spiritual father. If you believe in Jesus the Messiah, you are simply walking in the footsteps of the same faith Abraham had back in Genesis 15, and probably Genesis 12. You see how Paul brings us all together? As we sit here this morning, all of us are either Jewish or Gentile, and whether we are Jewish or Gentile, if we believe in the Messiah and the promise of spiritual blessing and righteousness through Him, as Abraham did, then Abraham is our spiritual father. Look at verse 16, "For this reason justification is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise," – what promise? – the promise of justification, the promise of righteousness, the promise of forgiveness, "the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants," uh oh, does that include me? Yes, look at the rest of the verse, "to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all." Wow.

So, what are the implications of this? What is the importance of this passage for today? What are the lessons for us? Let me very briefly draw them out. Number one, and this is the main point of a chapter 4, the gospel is God's way of salvation for all people, for all time. In its most basic rudimentary form it was preached to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, there is coming a redeemer who will permanently deal with sin. A little more is added, and Abraham, in a basic rudimentary form, understands that one of his descendants is going to be that person who comes and deals with sin, and he puts his confidence in that coming Messiah. Didn't Jesus our Lord say, "'Abraham rejoiced to see My day, he saw it and was glad.'" That's where Abraham's hope was, in that coming Redeemer. He didn't understand all that you and I understand, but he understood enough to know that that was his hope, and "'he believed God, and God reckoned it to him for righteousness.'"

So, think about it, this is the way, the very gospel Paul preached, although in its more basic form, it's the way Abraham was made right with God 4,000 years ago, 2,000 years before Christ. And according to verses 6 through 8, it's the way David was justified, and that was 1,000 years before Christ, 3,000 years ago. In the first century, Paul and the Roman Christians, this is the way they were made right with God, the way they were justified, 2,000 years ago, and it's the same way you and I can be made right with God today.

There is only one way to God and it is through the sacrifice of His chosen Messiah, His only Son, Jesus our Lord. John 14:6, Jesus says, "'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by Me.'" Peter says, in his sermon in Acts 4:12, "there is no one else in which there is salvation," there is no one else, "for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Listen, your only hope of being right with God, is the same hope Abraham had 4,000 years ago, and that is, the Messiah. And if your hope is anywhere else, you are without hope.

Secondly, if you are a Christian, Abraham is your spiritual father and the spiritual promises God made him and his Seed, capital S, singular, that is, Christ, those promises are yours. Look at Galatians 3, this is the main point Paul makes in Galatians 3. Verse 6, he quotes Genesis 15:6 again, "Even so Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Therefore," verse 7, "be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham." This is exactly what he's saying back in Romans 4, and, in fact, Abraham believed a basic gospel in verse 8, and that is, that promise that, "'all the nations would be spiritually blessed in him,'" that is, through one of his descendants; he got it, he understood it.

Notice verse 13, "Christ," or the Messiah, "redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us," verse 14, "in order that in Messiah Jesus the blessing of Abraham," – what blessing? – the promise of spiritual blessing of forgiveness, of justification, of righteousness, "might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." And then verse 16, "the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He doesn't say, 'And to seeds,'" he's playing off of, there are places in the Old Testament where God speaks of one descendant of Abraham, and that is, the Messiah, and the promises were made to Him as well.

Now go down to verse 28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek," that is Jew or Gentile, "there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you're all one in Christ Jesus." Paul is not here abolishing all order and structure within the home or church or whatever. What he's saying is, there is complete spiritually quality between all of us, regardless of what categories we fall into in verse 28. We're spiritually equal before God. Verse 29, "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." What promise? The promise of spiritual blessing, of justification, of righteousness, of forgiveness, and the promises that were made to Christ. They are all yours, just as truly as if you were Abraham himself.

Thirdly, having the sign, another lesson we learn is, having the sign of justification did not save Abraham, and similar external signs will never save you. Paul's point is, justification came first and then, much later, came the sign; the sign doesn't give you a right standing before God. And yet, many professing Christians get the cart before the horse. What are some of the contemporary signs of supposedly belonging to God, in which people put their mistaken hope?

Well, some people put their hope in a spiritual heritage. A lot of people in North Texas think because they were born in a Christian home, they have Christian parents, they are basically good people, they were raised in the church, that that means they're in. That's where their hope lies, in that external reality.

Others put their hope in experiences, like when they were six or seven or eight, or ten or eleven or twelve, they responded to some emotional invitational appeal, and they walked down an aisle and prayed a prayer and signed a card. And they walked out of that church and, for decades in some cases, they have lived in complete rebellion to Jesus Christ. And they still think they're a Christian; that's where their hope lies.

Others put their hope in a mystical encounter. I've talked to people who have said to me, look Tom, I know I'm a Christian because I had this near death experience, this accident in which I saw Christ, or Christ spoke to me. Others trust in rituals like baptism, confirmation, communion, or in activities, like attending church regularly or reading the Bible.

Listen to me, just as justification for Abraham was not tied to his circumcision, none of those external signs I've just mentioned will save you, will justify you. So what has to happen? You know, I really worry about this, I pray about this a lot, I prayed about this several times this week. I know there are people in this church, there are people sitting in this service, who don't know the Lord, who grew up in Christian homes, who maybe are here because your parents make you come, or perhaps you're here because a spouse urges you to come and you come out of respect for them, but you don't know the Lord. What has to happen? You have to personally approach God your Creator, you have to fall on your face before Him, you have to acknowledge your sin and rebellion against His right to rule you. You have to put your faith solely in the work of the Messiah His Son, the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. You have to plead with God as a beggar, to save your wretched soul.

If you will do that, and you will express your repentance, and you will put your faith in the Messiah, as Abraham did, and then you must follow Him as Lord, by the way, that's part of what it means to believe in Him, that's what Abraham did. God says, okay, you're leaving Ur, you're moving up to Canaan. What did Abraham do? He packed his bags and went. This is part of what it means to follow Christ. If you will follow him as Abraham did, if you will believe in the Messiah as Abraham did, then God will justify you, just as he did Abraham. There's no difference, 4,000 years later you can come to know God the way Abraham did. If you will believe the same promise of spiritual blessing through the Messiah, God will justify you, declare you righteous based on the righteousness of the Messiah, just like Abraham. Let's pray together.

Father, we are amazed at Your wisdom, that You so ordered and structured Abraham's life to make such profound points to him and to us. Thank You, O God, that You are a redeemer, by nature You are a savior, and that You save Jews and You save Gentiles, and You reconcile us all to Yourself and to each other through Your Son the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray for those here this morning who do not know You through Your Son. O God, help them to see the truth, help them to see their true condition before You. Don't let them live in self-deception or in open, knowing rebellion. Father, before this day is over, may they truly come before You their Creator, throwing themselves on Your mercy, pleading for Your grace, knowing that they will find You to be receptive, just as with Abraham. Lord, make it so, by Your grace, by Your Spirit, by Your Word. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.