Introduction: the Christian faith has been in the forefront of social media lately and making the news because of it.
Joy Behar, one of the hosts of ABC’s “The View,” recently made the news for her comments about Vice-president Mike Pence and his Christian faith. She said that it was ok that Mike speaks to Jesus, but if Jesus speaks to him, well, that’s called Mental Illness. She went on to ridicule his rule about not meeting with women alone. She said she wondered if his wife would let him talk with Mary Magdalene if they were alone in a room.
Super Bowl Sunday, Tony Dungy, the former NFL great defensive back and Super Bowl winning coach made a comment in the post game show about how he had visited with Nick Foles, the QB for Philadelphia Eagles – the winning team. Coach Dungy told the audience that he visited with Nick before the game and Nick wasn’t worried about things. Dungy said that Nick would play with confidence because of his Christian faith. He felt that God had him there for a purpose. Twitter and other forms of social media lit up, tearing in to Coach for his inappropriate use of the time NBC gave him.
The hate and vitriol has spiraled out of control. Christians are being harshly criticized and maligned for simply calling on prayer for the victims of the Florida shooting this past week. It’s getting to where you risk being ostracized for your Christian faith if you display your faith in public.
Is that really such a bad thing?
Mindy Belz posted on her weekly update, Globe trot, some statistics from the International Bulletin of Mission Research that are really eye-popping concerning Protestant numbers and statistics world-wide: A recent academic paper on 500 years of Protestant Christianity has striking statistics (see report, page 3): In 1900 1.7 percent of Protestants lived in Africa and today 40.8 percent reside on the continent. Conversely, in 1900 63.1 percent lived in Europe, and today 16.3 percent of Protestants live there. Averaging across 5 ½ centuries, Protestants in North America represents under 14 percent of global Protestantism. If you add up all of the Protestants in the entire world outside of Africa and Asia, they don’t even add up to the numbers of Protestants living in Africa alone.
North American Protestants (which of course includes Canada and Mexico) represents less than 11% of all Protestants (it’s 10.9%) worldwide.
Transition: maybe we do need our faith on display? Now, when I say that, what does it mean? In today’s American Culture, Faith is a very private thing. But for Christians, it shouldn’t be.
We’re in the midst of a study in Romans. Your very rough and simple outline we’re following looks like this:
- Sin: 1-2
- Salvation: 3-5
- Sanctification: 6-8
- Sovereignty: 9-11
- Service: 12-16
In the first couple of chapters we noted how Paul addressed the issue of sin and his great desire to preach the Gospel because it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. Here in the 2nd section, Paul is addressing the issue of salvation through faith alone.
In 4.9-16 this morning, we open up our text with two questions:
- 9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? This first question is in response to a quote from King David to which Paul just referred: rd v 7-8; Is this blessing of forgiveness only for the circumcised?
- 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised?
Paul answers both questions in each of those verses. Then, it v11-12, Paul defends his answers. You might say he clarifies his answers. First he declares that:
- Abraham was counted righteous by faith, not by circumcision or works of any kind. (9)
exp.: Paul makes this declaration because some Jews believed that Abraham was right before God because he was circumcised. As you probably already know, circumcision was a sign of the covenant that Abraham had with God. It was required of all male Jews to enter into that covenant. Otherwise, they weren’t considered to be a part of the people of God. You were either circumcised and in covenant with God or you were considered outside the covenant.
ill.: Circumcision vs. Baptism: That struggle was very similar to baptism today. I’m talking about the struggle that the Jews had with uncircumcised Gentiles becoming Christians. Both baptism and circumcision are like rites of passage. Some see it as initiation into the faith. Some Jews believed that circumcision of Gentiles was required for salvation and some Christians today believe baptism is required for salvation. You probably have friends or even family members who feel this way. So, as we approach Romans 4.9-16, it makes sense for us when we see it that way and easier to understand why some Jews pushed for all believers to become circumcised.
But Paul minces no words here (9b): it was by faith that Abraham was counted as righteous. It isn’t by circumcision, nor by any other work.
How so? Well, Paul’s first argument or defense of his answer is:
I. Abraham’s justification came before he was circumcised. (10)
exp.: his first argument is a chronological one; rd v 10; in Gen 15 Abraham was declared righteous because he believed God; in Gen 17, some 10-15 years after he was declared righteous, he is then circumcised. In the same way as Christians, we understand that Baptism doesn’t save anyone. We trust God, first. We put our faith and trust in Christ as God has promised. We believe God and so we’re saved. Baptism is a work of the believer, who obeys the command to be baptized. Baptism is really a believer’s first step of obedience.
app.: if you’re sitting here today and you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then congratulations. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ve never been baptized, then something is wrong with that.
t.s.: Your baptism is a public demonstration of this new life in Christ. Talk about Faith Displayed.
Paul continues his defense: Paul’s next argument is:
II. Circumcision was a sign of what had already taken place (11-13)
rd v 11; note those two very important words: sign and seal; it is a sign and seal of his righteousness by faith. Circumcision did that for the Jew. It was an external sign and seal of the Abrahamic Covenant.
ill.: I received a letter from President Regan back in the 80’s for some work that I did while serving in the military. It will always be something that is precious to me. It came to me through my chain of command. The seal of the President of the United States of America validated the letter. I was taken into a room where my leadership was waiting for me. My platoon leader, 1st SGT, company commander and others were there. There were people I didn’t know. They showed me the letter and then read it to me. To be sure, the letterhead and the seal were pretty cool, but these weren’t more important than the letter, itself, what it said and the signature. What was in the letter was what I value. Unless I live to be 93, I don’t think that letter will ever see the light of day. It is classified Top Secret. It was closed up and sealed and deposited with my records somewhere in a warehouse where Indiana Jones is keeping the Ark of the Covenant. I’m rambling now, but don’t miss the point: I was recognized for some work I had done for the President. He commissioned the work and I was selected to do the job. It isn’t the envelope or the seal that made that letter important. It was what was inside.
app.: Paul is saying that the circumcision of Abraham was a sign and a seal of something that had already taken place.
t.s.: So, Paul continues his teaching in v13-16; and, really, he just repeats himself. There isn’t anything new or different presented in these next few verses.
III. Abraham was counted righteous through faith, not through the law. (13-16)
exp.: in v 13-16, Paul reflects upon the promise: that Abraham would be heir of the world. Rd v 13; Hold it – heir of the world? Genesis 12 God promised Abraham that he would possess the land of Canaan. God told him to go to a land that he would show him. When he got to Shechem, God promised him the land of Canaan. That’s in v 7 of Chapter 12; Now, in Gen 12.3, God told Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him – so there is this idea of ‘the world’ here.
ill.: This is a great example of using the New Testament as a commentary on the Old Testament. Sometimes, when you’re in the OT and something doesn’t make sense, or, you’re simply studying an OT passage – a wonderful tool already in your hand is to find any reference of that OT passage in the NT. The NT writers had a tremendous grasp of the OT and it’s meaning.
Back to our text in Romans 4, Paul tells us why Abraham is going to inherit the world. It must be because of his tremendous body of work! Rd v 14; Some folks think or at least act like the righteousness of God is imputed, credited to us through both faith and works, but Paul clearly tells us here that it isn’t. Because, he says, if works has any part in our justification, then faith is null and the promise void. You can’t have both.
But, why not? Rd v 15; if you try to gain righteousness through the law, you will fail. Why? because the law brings wrath and you can’t obey the law perfectly.
As a matter of fact, there is only one who obeyed the law perfectly: Jesus. Added to this, he then died on the cross for our failure to obey the law perfectly. That’s where our faith comes in… rd v 16;
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
app.: faith, by grace to everyone who believes: to the adherent of the law – that is the Jew; and to the one who shares the faith of Abraham.
Conclusion: if you believe like Abraham, that what God said to you is true, then the righteousness of God is credited to your account, your sins are forgiven and you have the promise of heaven. What is it that God says to you? Simply this:
- God is Holy
- You and I are not – we’re sinful.
- We cannot remedy this situation on our own – we need an intercessor.
- The sufficiency of Christ in remedying our situation.
Application: Faith displayed:
- Faith alone is what brings justification before God, not works of any kind. This is a reminder to us that works, which display our faith, cannot save us.
- However, when it comes to faith, Faith must generate good works. Think James Any and all work we do must flow from this faith that we have in Christ. We don’t do it because it saves us. But, rather, we do good works to demonstrate the faith we have. If this is true, then wouldn’t a lack of works demonstrates a lack of faith. You don’t do anything because you don’t truly believe.
- It is deeply humbling to realize that our gift of salvation comes through faith and isn’t earned.
CS Lewis said: That Christ offers something for Nothing …That He even offers everything for Nothing …That we have done and can do Nothing …That we must stop trying to overcome… Then, Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair!
- True Faith exhibits itself through a positive lifestyle. That doesn’t mean that everything in our life is positive. I got an email this morning from one of my students’ mom letting me know that this student’s grandfather passed away. That’s negative. My mom told me her nephew in Korea committed suicide this week, leaving behind a wife and two little children. That’s negative. There could be some absolutely negative experiences in your life; however, a life of faith rolls with the punches because that believer knows God has got this. A positive lifestyle in the face of calamity demonstrates one’s faith in God.
- One of my favorite stories where this is demonstrated is with David when his son Absalom had launched a coop against his father.
ill.: 2 Samuel 16 7-8: “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! 8 The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” Then Abishai, who was one of David’s mighty men implored David that he might go over there and cut his head off. David was like: No. Maybe he’s only doing what God told him to do.
We all at some times in our lives experience struggle and pain. But a life of faith really comes out at during those times. Being discouraging toward others, grumbling and complaining about your situation, that demonstrates a lack of faith. It really does demonstrate that you don’t trust God.
ill.: John Piper has said: The Essence of faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.
Are you satisfied in Christ? Do you find yourself longing for what you see in others? Maybe that’s something you need to lay before the father today and declare your trust only in him. Maybe you’ve never trusted him before? Maybe this is a new thing and you’re wanting to place your life in his hands. You’d say you’ve made a mess of things.
We’re going to have a time of fellowship around the coffee and cookies in the back. Come and visit with us. If you have a question about Christianity, Church membership, our missions and ministry, baptism – or you just need to talk, we’d like to visit with you. The elders and staff and membership will be gathered back there.
Let’s bow our hearts before God in a moment of silence. And then afterward, I’d like to ask … to lead us in a benedictory prayer.