August 26, 2011

Saturday after the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 18:1-20, 1 Sam. 17:41-51, Lk. 19:11-28
Evening - Ps. 84, Micah 3:1-8, Rom. 4:1-12

Commentary
Romans 4:1-12

Verses 1-5. Justification by faith is not new. It is not something that came into existence with the New Testament. Justification by faith has always been the way God saves sinners. Paul proves this with two Old Testament examples, Abraham and David. Again it must be emphasised that the Old and New Testaments comprise one faith and one way of being reconciled to God; justification by faith. The Old Testament reveals the problem we created when we turned away from God. The Old Testament law, especially the Ten Commandments, shows the absolute moral perfection of God. It also reveals the standard of 100% righteousness He requires of us, and the absolute failure of all people to measure up to the standard. Finally, the Old Testament reveals a way to be justified apart from measuring up to the standard. It shows a substitute, a lamb without blemish, not guilty of sin, which bears our sins and dies for them in a ritual, intentional sacrifice.

The Old Testament often emphasised that the sacrifice of animals was not enough to cover human sins. Nor were the sacrifices something the people were doing for God. God didn't need their animals or require them for Himself (Ps. 51:16). The sacrifices were pictures of what God was doing for the people. He was justifying them by allowing something else to pay for their sins with its life. All of the animal sacrifices pictured the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The blood of bulls and sheep could never really pay for the sins of people, but they could point to the one sufficient sacrifice that could atone for all sin, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ on the cross. Thus, the Old Testament reveals that we are all, whether in the Old Testament era or the New Testament era justified by an act of God, which we receive by faith.

Abraham was justified by faith. Many people mistakenly believe people in the Old Testament were justified by their works that is, keeping the Commandments and offering sacrifices, while people in the New Testament are justified by faith. They call the Old Testament era the "Dispensation of Law" meaning God dealt with people on the basis of commandments and animal sacrifices. They call the New Testament era the "Dispensation of Grace," meaning God deals with us by grace alone. So these people create two religions; an Old Testament religion of justification by works through keeping the law, and a New Testament religion of justification by grace through faith in Christ. This passage of Romans refutes that idea. Romans 4 shows plainly that justification has always been by the grace of God, and received by faith, Old Testament and New Testament eras alike.

The point of verse two is that Abraham was not justified by works. Works means keeping the Commandments and offering sacrifices. If Abraham were justified by his own works he "hath whereof to glory." If Abraham's works could justify him he is glorious in himself. If he is good enough to earn his own justification, his own place in Heaven, his own place with God, then God owes these things to him. They are a debt owed to Abraham by God (4:4).

But Abraham was not justified by works. He was not justified by sacrificing animals, or circumcision, or in any way measuring up to the ceremonial or moral standards of the law of God. In fact, before the sacrificial system was fully institutionalised through Moses, and long before circumcision was required of him, Abraham was justified because "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (4:4. See also 4:22).

Some people mistakenly believe the only promise offered by God and believed by Abraham in this verse is the promise that Abraham would have a son and would become the father of a great nation and his descendents would be like the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach (vss. 12-21). But the promise to make Abraham a great nation includes the promise of the Saviour. A major reason for calling Abraham and giving him descendents was to establish the people through whom the Redeemer would come into the world. Abraham may not have understood this as well as we do from our vantage point of having the complete New Testament, but he understood it in some way, for Jesus said, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad." (Jn. 8:56). So Abraham's faith was absolute faith in God to make him worthy of Heaven as a gift of God's grace. Thus verse 5 tells us, "to him that worketh not," meaning does not trust his own good works to make him good enough for God, "but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." This faith receives righteousness as the gift of God.

This raises the question, what is faith? Faith simply believes God. This is somewhat different from believing in God. To believe in God is to believe He exists, or it could be to believe in what He is and stands for, as one might believe in the goals and values of a person or civic organization. To believe God is to trust Him to keep His promises. It is to believe He is who He says He is, and will do what He says He will do. It is to regard God as trustworthy. But faith also means to believe God when He tells us about ourselves. This is a difficult thing because we want to believe the best about ourselves. We want to believe everything is fine between ourselves and God, and we will be fine and all go to Heaven. We don't like to believe we are sinners under the wrath of God and in need of an act of God to rescue us from the fires of hell. So, real faith includes believing God when He tells us about ourselves. . I quote Dr. Schaeffer again.

"A person can never find salvation until he knows that he is a sinner. We're all sinners, but not all of us know we are sinners. That's why, when a person expresses a desire to be saved, I never let a person say ' I accept Christ as Savior' until first of all he or she has said, 'I acknowledge that I deserve the wrath of God.' I think that a lot of people put up their hands in evangelistic meetings and say they've accepted Christ as their Savior, but they haven't really because they don't realize that they are among the ungodly. They don't see that they are deservedly damned. If I don't see that I am deservedly damned, then I can never accept Christ as my Savior. I may say the words, I may join the church, I may be baptized, but I am not saved, (Finished work of Christ., pp. 92-93).

Faith is not just to believe in something. In The Sound of Music, Maria sings, "I have confidence in confidence itself." Many people have faith in faith itself. But that is not Biblical faith. Many people have faith in their own versions of God and salvation. But that is not biblical faith, and that is not the faith that receives justification as the free gift of God. Let us be very clear that the faith we call "saving faith," which truly receives the gift of justification, is defined by God in Scripture, not by us. The problem many people have with the Bible is their own desire to pick and choose the parts they like, and discard the rest. But if you choose to believe the Bible when it tells you of God's love, how can you not believe it when it tells you of God's wrath? If you choose to believe the Bible when it tells of God saving sinners, how can you not believe it when it tells you how God saves, and on what conditions sinners will be saved? Either the Bible is trustworthy in all that it says, or everything it says is suspect. If the part about how God saves isn't true, how can we believe the part that tells us God does save, or even the part that tells about God in the first place? And so faith believes God. That is the very first thing we must know about faith. This is the faith that receives justification by grace.