Scripture: Romans 4:9 - 25 (NET)
Intro: If God is good He is forced to deal harshly with
Ever heard the argument “If God is good He would not condemn anyone?”
We are so full of double standards. Someone wrongs us we desire justice and for the offender to be held accountable. Ever wondered if a thief calls the police when they have been stolen from? Actually they do at times, and they demand the wrath of the land upon the one who stole from them, but expect kindness and lenience when it is them who are caught.
Parents see this phenomena all the time with children. One child is quick to come running swiftly to accuse the other brother or sister of what they did wrong if it benefits them, but how they declare injustice and unfairness when their brother or sister points out their sin.
Human nature is like this towards God - we are quick to find fault with God’s right to judge us for our sin and slow to own our sin that deserves God’s judgment.
We also claim to be comparatively good. Compared to an evil violent narcissist who has killed millions of people we are all comparatively good. But compared to a holy God who is without sin we all look pretty shabby and our comparative goodness looks more like a black stain of guilt and not the face of pure white angelic goodness we would like to pretend we have.
One of the greatest miracles of the last 70 years is that humanity is still around, and earth has the ability to sustain life - humanity in this time has faced a number of incidents of nuclear annihilation and yet but some miracle we still can walk outside enjoy nature and pretend humanity is all good.
If we were blatantly honest and demanded God to treat us as we treat those who we think have offended us there would be no hope, merely the certain expectation of eternal separation from God. Yet the Christian message says that God’s love towards humanity allows whosoever to be forgiven, that is to be declared without guilt through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
Our question today is how does God forgive us?
To answer this question I will need to do the following:
Explain Paul's example concerning Abraham.
Discuss the essential doctrine of imputation.
Show what faiths focus is.
Describe what the content of real Christian faith is based on.
Point 1: Unpacking the scripture:
Romans 4:11 (NETFull) And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised...
Faith came before circumcision. This is an essential part of understanding Christian theology, essential to a true view of what it means to be Christian and live out the faith waiting for the Kingdom of God to be established:
God does not wait for us to be good enough, moral enough or Christianized to extend us the gift of salvation.
Grace is never dependant on our effort to be anything more than sinners caught in the pit of despair and temptation.
That there is nothing but a true dependence on God that opens the door of grace from heaven to the human heart.
This is not an excuse for the pursuit of sin, or an excuse for bad behavior as Christians. But rather the cold reality that through this life we are moving towards but never arrive till the kingdom of God is established in its perfection as stated in Revelations 21.
All Abraham brought to the table in Genesis 15 was the simple belief that God was faithful to Himself and so he could trust the promise made by God - and this alone pleased God and brought blessing to Abraham and his descendants.
First lesson is simple - we bring ourselves exactly as we are - and through our Christian walk that is all we can bring, and that is why we have nothing to boast about, it is God who credits us as righteous because of our confidence in who He is and what He has done through Jesus Christ.
Romans 4:15 (NETFull) For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either.
To the Jews of Jesus day their claim to be more favored was based upon their perceived status before God. They would talk of how they were favored by God for they had received the Law, the divine standard of God. They would hold to the law and the more fanatical the more desperate they interpreted the law to elevate their position before God.
Abraham believed before Moses had the Law - that meant faith comes before Law, and that means the aim of the Law of God is to draw people to have trust and confidence in God. Therefore where there is faith in the provision of God because of who He is there is legal satisfaction from the eternal courtroom of God and the law is silenced. In this moment the one truly offended by sin, God, declares the law silenced and all charges dropped. And this is done through an amazing transaction called being “credited” or “imputed”.
Romans 4:16 (NETFull) For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants...
Faith brought Abraham the promise fulfilled in his son being born called Isaac. Faith and grace go together, just as Law and judgment are bound together. Those who would seek to impress God by merit, effort, and law or mysticism discount faith and therefore discount grace.
And what is faith?
Faith is the confidence and trust that God is who He is, and what He promises He is capable and able to do. Trust is the simple act of casting our burdens on the Lord knowing He is capable and willing to do exactly what He says - Save us from our
Sin and deliver us from the Laws condemnation.
Romans 4:21 (NETFull) He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do.
In this verse Abraham's faith is described, and in this description we have a definition of what it means to live our lives faithfully in Christ:
He was fully convinced not so much in the promise per say, but in the source of the promise. It is in the “able to do” that Abraham’s faith became real.
This able to do was a progression - One might say that Abraham was fully convinced and over time came to understand the depth and breadth of what it meant to trust God.
Romans 4:24 (NETFull) but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead...
Like Abraham we too have been credited righteousness based upon our faith in God. This credited in Greek means to have been considered, accounted for and imputed being made right because God has been satisfied with the act of faith and passes the state of being right to us.
In this verse we find one of the deepest truths of the Christian faith - imputation.
One reason we look so weak in the church is that we lack understanding in the most basic doctrines that qualifies the whole of salvation history.
This must now become our focus; we must understand this before we can venture further into Romans, for without a clear understanding of this we are spiritually impoverished in understanding and Christian truth.
Point 2: Understanding imputation.
God has always worked within the shadow of the cross and the atonement of Jesus Christ:
Passover - the shadow of the cross fell on all behind the door.
Day of Atonement - a ‘perfect’ lambs sacrifice points to the shadow of the cross, and the perfect lamb who takes away sin of the word.
The Gentile Rahab was saved by hanging a rope that had red dye in it - the shadow of the blood of the new covenant in Jesus Christ paid by his blood (Joshua 2:18-19).
The shadow of the cross in the Old Testament is the crediting of God backwards upon His people before grace through Christ had yet come. If you like the Jewish saints were under the cross just as we are, their faith in their sacrifices pleased God to foreshadow the cross of Christ on them.
Abrams story in Genesis 15 shows this when God declares in verse 1 that He was “Abram’s shield” - His promise and His faithfulness to Himself imputes to Abram through faith God’s righteousness; the favor of God, and therefore God’s pleasure towards him. The shield can be therefore the imputation, the crediting of God’s promise and favor.
So how does imputation work?
1 Peter 2:24 (NETFull) 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. (quoting Isaiah 53).
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NETFull) God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
Our sin was transferred to Jesus as one who by choice paid the price for our offence against the law, our sin and rebellion and all its cost became his to bear in his body. The one who did not offend the law, nor rebelled against God, carried our rebellion and our offence.
We who did rebel, the very ones who the Law has no choice but to convict justly and rightly, have Jesus Christ’s goodness and rightness credited to us.
God looks upon His son and sees the Law silenced as the price for our shame and guilt is transferred to the only one who could carry it - the son of God.
Our sin paid for, His goodness transferred to us, the Law is satisfied and silenced and we find ourselves “credited as righteousness”.
Our faith in His work on the cross opens grace up to declare us sinless and guiltless - and what does this faith look like?
Point 3: What is this faith Abram had?
Abram was fully aware of the problem that would interfere with the promise (Genesis 15:3).
Paul recognized the issue and the realism that Abram had with God’s promise in Romans 4:19 as an old man his body was near to death, and Sarah no longer able to produce a child either.
The faith of Abraham was not in the promise, not in a mystical transaction nor in self talk emotionally pumping him up. Paul points out that Abraham's faith was based upon who God is as said in verse 21 “He was fully convinced that what God promised he was able to do.”
Our faith is not based upon our emotions.
Our faith is not based upon denomination or creed.
Our faith is not based upon some mystical sensation of God’s presence.
Our faith must reject all human effort and human elitism.
The only legitimate faith is solely on who God is, and what he has accomplished in Jesus Christ - all other ‘faiths’ are hollow men promising much by leaving the soul empty and relying on law, merit, ritual and mysticism.
Faith that pleases God is the reversal of the order of Adam and Eve who doubted God.
Our salvation and God’s declaration that we are right, guiltless, and free of laws judgment and washed from all the shame of our sin remains based upon our faith in who He is, and what He has done through Jesus Christ.
Such a faith is nurtured through Bible study, Christian discussion, questions and doubt that lead to investigation. Such a faith grows because it focuses not on our selfishness and faults, but upon the work of Jesus Christ. Such faith grows when we turn our attention towards God and not the pursuit of egocentricity and human religion.
In the next section Paul expands how such faith grows us through the work of the Holy Spirit, but the first step is established well if we recognize the following:
In Romans 1 Paul teaches us the we are all sinners and by our own effort there is no hope to please God, in fact such is the condition of humanity with its self worship and desire to be its own god that we are freely given over to the very desires that would destroy us.
Romans 2 he expanded the idea that we are all judged by the Law, and we are all going to be judged not merely for the obvious sin but the secret sin within.
That the Jews and their elitism based upon the law have failed to understand that law declares them guilty and a bad example to humanity.
Romans 3 completes the argument that all humanity is guilty of sin, no one is good of themselves and the Law has only proved that Jew and Gentile alike sin and are therefore unable to save themselves.
Our section picks up the only way to be saved, to be right before God, and to have the Law silenced of all its accusations - a confidence and trust in the person of God and what He accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We must have Abrams (Abrahams) faith in who God is which gives us the confidence to trust God in what he has promised. Such faith inspired Abrams loyalty to God and this faith God is pleased with – for it is the reversal of the order of Adam and Eve.
In such faith righteousness is imputed and the law is silenced.
In this silence from the Law we have forgiveness of sin and new life in Jesus Christ – a life pleasing to God.