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Abraham's Justification by Faith

Romans 4

Jim Davis

Justification by faith in Christ should be a humbling experience for it leaves one person no more or less justified than another. There are no degrees of justification for belief in Christ justifies all alike. Whether one has just entered into the body of Christ or has been in Christ for 75 years, both are justified on the same basis, the blood of Christ. A person with a weak faith is just as safe as the person with a strong faith. (Romans 14:1) One may be more Christ like because of certain degrees of spiritual maturity due to the sanctifying work of God over the years, but faith declares both equally justified before God.

Romans 3:22-24
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (NIV)

Through justification God provides the solid foundation of security needed for spiritual growth. Often sanctification and justification are confusing. Sanctification is the process whereby we become more and more Christ like. There are differing degrees of sanctification due to differing levels of spiritual maturity. One may be more Christ like than another, but justification is not due to our level of spiritual maturity in Christ. One may be more qualified to fill one office than another, due to the level of maturity. But one is no more justified than the other. Justification is equally enjoyed by the mature and the immature alike.

Abraham’s Justification came through Faith

Abraham had no knowledge of the church, Jesus Christ, the prophets, Moses or the Ten Commandments but he was saved through faith in God's promises. Abram had no real knowledge of what the promises of God entailed through Jesus Christ, but he chose to believe in God's promises.

Genesis 12:1-4
The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to 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 seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. (NIV)

We can position our minds at these verses and see all the way to the cross with an understanding of what these promises entailed. However, historically Abraham was standing at Genesis 12, long before Genesis was even written with no knowledge of the rest of the story revealed in Genesis; and absolutely no knowledge of the 66 books of the Bible yet to be revealed. But he chose to step out upon God’s promises although he couldn’t see what tomorrow would bring.

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father

stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known.

Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see, and with faith we are freed from the flimsy fearful enclosures of life that entraps. Abram chose to step into the unknown and God reckoned it to him for righteousness.

Genesis 15:2-6
But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir." Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars-- if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (NIV)

Romans 4:5-8
However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." (NIV)

Abraham was righteous because God did not count his sin against him. Abram wasn't saved because of his sinlessness or the strength of his faith. The Bible says God did not hold his sin against him; therefore he was a sinner. In Genesis 15:6 God declared Abram righteous because he believed God would give him descendants, in Genesis 16 Abram and Sarai set out to fulfill God's plan through their own scheme. His faith wavered more than once. In famine he fled to Egypt, more than once in an effort to protect his family he resorted to lying, in having a son he trusted in his handmaid and on at least one occasion we find him laughing in God's presence at how ridiculous God's promise sounded. It is easy to understand Abraham was not justified because of his righteousness, but in spite of his unrighteousness. He was justified because he trusted in God's promises, however feeble his attempts were in understanding and following them.

Abraham was like many who believe today, he trusted God, but if all else failed he had a backup plan to make life work. The second time he lied about Sarai being his sister, he told Abimelech, "I said to my self, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.' Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go say of me. "He is my brother."'" (Genesis 20:11-13 NIV) He stepped out on faith, but apparently had a survival plan in case all else failed. It took Abraham at least 25 years to whole heartily trust in God. The last 75 years of his life seemed to be lived in total trust, but initially it was tough.

Abraham Hoped Against Hope

Romans 4:17-21
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. 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." 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, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (NIV)

The difficulty with faith is that God wants us to believe the impossible. Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. "There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man's power ends." (George Muller)

"In one sense, the command of God to Abram was very specific. Abram was told in detail what he must leave behind. He must leave his country, his relatives, and his father’s house. God was going to make a new nation, not merely revise an existing one. Little of the culture, religion, or philosophy of the people of Ur was to be a part of what God planned to do with His people, Israel.

"On the other hand, God’s command was deliberately vague. While what was to be left behind was crystal clear, what lay ahead was distressingly devoid of detail: ' . . . to the land which I will show you.' Abram did not even know where he would settle. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, ' . . . he went out, not knowing where he was going.' (Hebrews 11:8).

"The faith to which we are called is not faith in a plan, but faith in the person who gives the plan. Much more important than where he was, God was concerned with who he was, and in Whom he trusted. God is not nearly so concerned with geography as He is with godliness." (Robert Deffinbaugh, Genesis, Lesson 12: The Call of Abraham, http://www.bible.org/docs/ot/books/gen/deffin/toc.htm/)

Faith is the ability to trust in what we cannot perceive. "God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity." (Augustine) Abram's faith forced him to face the impossible. Abram's faith was tested at its extremities. His love life, his family life, his business life, his physical life were all subjected to pressure, but he learned that even though his faith was often shaky, his God was steadfast at all times. (D. Stuart Briscoe, Genesis, The Communicator's Commentary, Word Books, Publisher, Waco, Texas, 1987, pg. 128)

When we discover the deadness of all our faithful schemes, we must eventually realize that it is God who makes life work. Abram learned his best schemes and finest plans could not direct his life to God's desired end. Paul told the Philippians to " . . .work out your salvation with fear and trembling . . ." (Philippians 2:12b NIV) Abram definitely trembled in fear as he wondered as a nomad. He was doing everything to make his life work for God because he believed. However there was another part to making his life work for God, it is found in Philippians 2:13, " . . .for it is God who works in you to will and act according to his purpose."

It is when we believe and move toward what we know is hopeless without God that God reckons our belief as righteous. A few years ago, the Associated Press released a study done by an agricultural school in Iowa. It reported that production of 100 bushels of corn from one acre of land, in addition to the many hours of the farmer’s labor, required 4,000,000 pounds of water, 6,800 pounds of oxygen, 5,200 pounds of carbon, 160 pounds of nitrogen, 125 pounds of potassium, 75 pounds of yellow sulfur, and other elements to numerous to list. In addition to these things, which no man can produce, rain and sunshine at the right time are critical. It was estimated, the report went on to say, that only 5 per cent of the produce of a farm can be attributed to man’s efforts.

The Jews to whom Paul is speaking in Romans didn't want to be told that salvation was due to God's choice and not their own effort. God's choice to save Abraham's descendants was not due to circumcision or the law. They were saved before either was given. They were saved because they believed and not because of their adherence to the rituals and commands. Obedience of the rituals and commands was the result of their faith. God would not reckon their sin against them because of their faith.

Abraham had nothing to boast about before God. The most moving moment in Abraham's life was when he offered his son upon the altar. It was there he declared his ultimate faith in God.

Genesis 22:9-18
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.

"Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." (NIV)

Throughout Abraham's life we find him articulating his faith. He told Abimelech that God had called him. (Genesis 20:13) When Isaac asked him what they were going to sacrifice, Abraham said, "God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." (Genesis 22:8) His faith, which began with articulating his knowledge of what God did or would do eventually led to a life, which experienced God's providence. When God provided a lamb as a substitute for Abraham's son, Abraham named that place, "The Lord will provide."

Romans 4:16-21
Therefore, 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. 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." 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, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (NIV)

God sacrificed his own Son almost 2000 years later to provide for our salvation.

Romans 4:22-25
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. (NIV)

Justification is a legal matter. Jesus Christ satisfied the legal requirements of the law for all who believe as Abraham believed. Our willingness to become more Christ-like through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13), declares our faith in Christ, but sanctification is not our means of justification. It is because of our faith in the provisions of Christ sacrifice that God declares us righteous.

James 2:21-24
Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (NIV)

Abraham’s life demonstrated his faith in God although his faith was very weak at times. It is easy to put all the emphasis on positional theology rather transitional theology. Positional theology is concerned about where we are positionally. We may be baptized, we may be in the body of Christ, we may members of a particular congregation and we may be in attendance each Sunday. However, the question is, Does your walk demonstrate you trust in God? Are you making a transition from trusting in your position which has been attained by your obedience or are you trusting in God to salvage your life?

The moment we begin to think we are justified through our longevity in the body of Christ, or degree of knowledge, or our level of spiritual maturity, or our good works we begin to boast. Having to accept Christ as my only means of justification eliminates all boasting, for I must recognize that I am no better than anyone else regardless of how good I may think I am.

Most of us feel like a little boy at a certain Children's hospital, he had gained a reputation for wreaking havoc with the nurses and staff. One day a visitor who knew about his terrorizing nature made him a deal: "If you are good for a week," she said, "I'll give you a dime when I come again." A week later she stood before his bed. "I'll tell you what," she said, "I won't ask the nurses if you behaved. You must tell me yourself. Do you deserve the dime?" After a moment's pause, a small voice from among the sheets said: "Gimme a penny."

There are many things in life that we are very capable of doing, aren’t there? But for all of us there will come a time when we need to recognize our own inabilities . . . and needs. There are many times when we need to reach out to one another and help one another, but there are those times when mere human help just isn’t enough. "I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalms 121:1-2 NIV)

This morning I ask you?

Have you come to that point in your life? A time of recognizing that you can’t do life all alone, that you need help beyond yourself. You need someone or something bigger than you are.

The African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall.

Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see, and with faith we are freed from the flimsy enclosures of life, which entraps us through our fears.

Not many people enjoy going to the doctor, but according to Reuters, in 1994, one London accountant took that to an extreme. The sixty-three-year-old man knew he needed bladder surgery but he could not overcome his fear of doctors and hospitals. So he self-reliantly did what had to be done: He tried to perform the surgery on himself. Tragically he got an infection from the self-surgery and later died. The coroner said, "Unfortunately, [his] drastic remedy went wrong. A simple operation would have solved the problem."

Just as this man didn't trust doctors or hospitals, many people don't trust God. In their self-reliance, they destroy themselves.


In the following verses Paul concludes his argument, which began with Abraham in chapter 4.

Romans 5:1-9
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! (NIV)

In January 1985, a large suitcase, unmarked and unclaimed, was discovered at the customs office at Los Angeles International Airport. When U.S. Customs agents opened the suitcase, they found the curled-up body of an unidentified young woman.

She had been dead for a few days, according to the county coroner. As the investigation continued, it was learned that the woman was the wife of a young Iranian living in the U.S. Unable to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. and join her husband, she took matters into her own hands and attempted to smuggle herself into America via an airplane's cargo bay. While her plan seemed to her simple though risky, officials were hard pressed to understand how such an attempt could ever succeed. Even if she survived the journey in the cargo bay, she would remain an illegal alien, having entered through improper channels.

Some people believe they'll enter the kingdom of God on their own since they've been reasonably good citizens or church attendee's. But entry plans of our own design prove not only foolish but also fatal.

Offer plan of salvation.


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