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The Jews to whom Paul was writing were caught up in their history. Every part of their worship was given to them through their historical experience. This was how God worked in human history to gather the community of Israel to himself. But their religious practices had become so far removed from God’s original plan for worship that they had diluted and distorted true worship.

Paul challenges this approach to worship by pressing home that our righteousness from God can only come by faith. It doesn’t come through any physical action, sign or seal on our part. Paul throws a questions to his readers that gets their minds going as they consider was Abraham, the great father of the Jews, made righteous before or after he was circumcised? On top of this Paul reminds them that Abraham lived before the law was given so he was made righteous through observation of that law.

Being made right with God then, as it is now, only comes through faith and for us it is faith in Jesus Christ as the one who took the punishment for our sins.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find out more at

David McCullagh:

So today, in one way or another, we each have been thinking a lot about history. We yes, have remembered those who fought and died in various conflicts, but perhaps we've also thought about how that has shaped who we are today. Because our history shapes us and it has meaning for us. Each and every one of us. If we were to tell our family's story could trace different events or even traits that shape who we are today. From the man who failed to get onto the Titanic and instead rushed home to the love of his life to the person that had a bad 11th, 2001 and stayed away from the office in downtown Manhattan. Our history shapes who we are, and history is important to us. I think we all know that. It tells the story of God in our lives. Our testimony tells the story of God in our families over generations. And how he has seen us through both the highs and the lows of life. History is important and that is where Paul brings us this evening. He's already spoken about the history of the Jews and he's made reference to Abraham. He's made reference to Moses and to the prophets. And these are key moments for Jews in their history. For Abraham, he was the one that received the covenant promise. Moses received the law, the law by which they lived, and were governed by. And the prophets, well, they spoke truth in times when the nation was turning away from God. So Paul is going to refer to the history of the Jews so that they will pay attention. Because what's happened by the time we reach, uh, when Paul is writing, the Jews understanding of Abraham, of Moses and the law, and of the prophets had been tainted. It's Chinese whispers. It was a story or a narrative that suited the Jewish leaders at that time rather than a full understanding of what God was doing throughout human history. And it's particularly tonight in Abraham that Paul teases this out. And so far in Romans, Paul has been arguing about sin. And the last time that we were in Romans chapter 3, there we, a few weeks ago, Paul was quite literally overflowing with the good news that faith is the only way by which we can be made right with God. And this went against what the Jews believed, as well as what we are comfortable in our society hearing today. We like to think that a set of rules is good for us, and if we keep them, then we will earn something to our benefit. We think that if we keep the Ten Commandments and do no harm to anybody, then we are worthy of salvation on the final day. If this is how we think, well then, this is a works righteousness that is actually no righteousness at all. And in the historical writings of the Church... Paul has already debunked this idea, because in Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 and 9, he has said, For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one And what do we all want to do at this point? We all want to shout, well you were going to clap your hands earlier. We want you to shout Amen! Because this is what we believe. That it is by grace that we have been saved through faith, not of works. So that we can't boast, we can point people to Christ. As the one who is our salvation. And yes, we believe this in our hearts and we proclaim it in our voices. But sometimes our actions betray us. And we think, if we do good, then we are more deserving of good. And this is where Abraham comes in. Because in verses 1 to 3, Paul presents a problem for the Jews. And the conundrum is this. Abraham lived before the law. Now at this point, you can almost hear the cogs going round in the brains of the Jews. They have to think about this for a moment. Abraham was born before the law. So how can he be righteous before God? Because in a Jewish mind the only way to become righteous is to obey the law. So Abraham is introduced to us as a means to illustrate the importance and indeed the nature of the faith through which God justifies. And Paul's argument in verse 2 is that if Abraham was indeed justified by works, then he had every right to boast because he would be considered a truly good person. If he was justified on his own merit, then he determined God's standard, and thereby he could then boast. But Abraham was actually justified by circumcision and his offering up of Isaac. That, that's what we learned whenever we studied Genesis. So, Paul denies that Abraham's works justified him. Abraham cannot boast about his own merit before God because, just like all humankind, he could never be good enough. And we are assured of this in verse 3 of this passage because Paul draws us back to what is already said in Genesis 15 verse 6. But here in, in verse 3 he says, For what does scripture say, and now quoting Genesis 15 verse 6, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. And this is the good news that Paul is telling us about. Our salvation, our being right before God, is all of faith and not of works. And it is God who reveals to us what we can know about Him so that we can trust His glory. Gospel. And what Paul is doing is he's weaving a golden thread of salvation throughout our human history so that we will know that there was never a time when we didn't have access to God. That's why he brings Abraham. That's why he'll go on to talk about David, introduce the law of Moses, as well as the prophets, so that we, as well as the original hearers, the Jewish readers, can understand the golden thread of salvation that is weaved throughout all of human history. There's never been a moment where that thread was not weaved and where that thread was not responded to. But with that thread, with that golden thread of salvation that is weaving throughout all of human history, the only way we can access it is on God's terms, not our own. And verse 4 breaks for us with a lesson from life. Paul says in verses 4 and 5, Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. None of us work thinking that at the end of the month we're going to get a gift. That's ridiculous. We work and we get paid a fair wage so that at the end we will get what we're due. We work the hours, we get the wage or the salary. But Paul goes on, and to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, well his faith is counted as righteousness. Now, Paul's diverging from where he begins at the start of verse 4, because again he's pointing us to faith. He's saying, look, you can't work for your salvation. You can't think that you can do all of these good things and then you'll be entitled to this great free gift of God, salvation. No, it is by faith in believing that God, by his mercy and by his grace, as we come in faith, will receive us, forgive us, restore us, and invite us to be with him for all eternity. And at one level, this verse seems to state a common sense observation. We earn what we work for. But in context, however, it has a deeper complication, uh, implication. God gifted Abraham with a righteous status. It's totally contrary to what he was due, because all he did was hear God's promises and he trusted them. That's what verse 3 tells us. He did not work in expectation of getting paid for it. This means Abraham's believing, though it was an act on his part, an act of faith, was not a work in the sense of obedience in demand of a reward. Abraham knew that the only way to know the blessing of God was through faith. But then back to this one who does not work, and this is setting up a contrast with what we read in verse 4. Because Paul uses the impersonal language here, but he has the biblical figures such as David in verse 6 and Abraham in mind. And key to this verse, and indeed to the whole chapter, is that God justifies the ungodly. Now, that's revolutionary, because in our human terms, those who have done wrong should never be justified, and we would say that. No wrong can ever be justified, but yet God is the one who says, well, actually, in my case, because of my love towards humankind, I will, I will justify the ungodly, because of my son, Jesus Christ. Later in Romans, in chapter 5 and verse 6, Paul will go on to say, For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Christ dying for the ungodly is an astounding assertion. It's not the point of religion to provide a way for people to get right with God, whether by acts of worship, or by deeds of kindness, or by spiritual experience. Is that not what we think? Does not God reward religious commitment with His acceptance and blessing? That's what it's easy to think, and that's what the world thinks. But the Gospel message is that the grace of justification precedes human acts of obedience and loyalty that God deems pleasing. Abraham did not perform meritous acts to earn God's favor. He didn't. It was his believing that God counted as righteousness. And the image here brings us back to a courtroom in which a judge gives a verdict declaring the accused guilty or innocent. And like all humans, Abraham was a sinner. And so as the gavel goes down, the judge declares Abraham guilty. Or at least he should. Because the surprising verdict is, as the gavel goes down, not guilty. God imputed a righteousness or a righteous status to a person with clay feet, just like all other people, thereby demonstrating his love and his salvation to humankind. And so when confronted with God's promise in Genesis chapter 15 and verse 5, Abraham believed the Lord. It was his faith that made him right. And moving on to verse 6, Paul now quotes another of Israel's heroes, King David. And between the time of Abraham and David, Moses intervenes and gave the law. But despite living under the law, David praised the law as something to delight in and a means of flourishing, not as a means of salvation. And that's how the Great Songbook of Israel opens. Because Psalm 1, 1 verses 1 to 3 says, Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Not for salvation, but that he may flourish. And that's what the image is given. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. That's what the law was given. That's why God gathered his people around the law so that they may flourish. The only way they could be saved was by worship of God. And worship could only happen if they believed by faith who God said he was. And so these words show us a mediated relationship to God like the one Abraham enjoyed. And this is not a doctrine cooked up by Paul, but a relational reality of what is really the spiritual DNA of faith's forerunners. Like Abraham, and indeed like David himself, who heard God's promises. And they let those promises transform their hearts and their lives by faith. And so Paul, quoting David, and in using it, he is once again pointing out, as I've just mentioned just a few minutes ago, that throughout all of history, God's way of salvation has always been about faith that has led to worship of him. And so as we come to verse 9, it breaks with another question and we are drawn back to circumcision. Perhaps there was too many uses of that word in that passage for us this evening. But circumcision is the sign. And it is the seal of the covenant promise with Abraham. Every covenant in scripture has a sign and it has a seal. So Paul asks in verse 9, Is this blessing then only for the circumcised or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. Again, remember who he's writing to. He's writing to this mixed community of believers, Gentile and Jew. They will have their arguments over circumcision. In fact, it will be those who will insist that Gentiles should be circumcised because they believe that that is the continuation of the Covenant promise. And Paul is basically asking how we now figure this out by addressing that very sign and seal of the Covenant. And he continues by asking, was Abraham's righteousness credited to him before or after his circumcision? That physical sign of his commitment to God. And he answers in verse 10, it was not after but before he was circumcised. And in verse 11 he goes on to explain what he means. And so Paul presents to us the true meaning of circumcision, and thereby the significance of Abraham and why Abraham is his chosen character for these verses. Circumcision is not a meritous marker earning acceptance by God. In other words, circumcision didn't make you right before God. What it is is a sign and a seal of the righteous standing with which God graced him while he was still uncircumcised. Abraham and his descendants were known as God's set apart people by a number of practices including dietary laws and sabbath observance. These were not a warrant for salvation in themselves, they were indicators or a sign of God's claim on and expectations for his people. And so Paul is driving home the truth that because one is circumcised, they are entitled to some way to the righteousness of God. Jews depended heavily on this physical mark to demonstrate their orthodoxy. But Paul blows that idea out of the water by saying that circumcision counted nothing towards Abraham's righteousness. And if it didn't do that for Abraham, then it certainly won't do it for anyone in the Roman Church, as Paul is writing. And before we judge the Jews too quickly, let us take stock of our own situation. We can be uncomfortable, or we can be comfortable in our orthodoxy, or our birth into a certain community or tradition, or we can hold to the heritage of faith of the Reformation, or by simply being baptized. And we think these are the things that merit us God's special favor and righteousness. None of these things can save us, nor can they make us righteous before God. We cannot depend on anything but the work of God in developing faith in our lives to save us. Baptism is important as the sign and seal of the new covenant, as the replacement for circumcision. But it does not and cannot save. Only faith in Jesus Christ can save us, and we must not think that we can earn it in any other way. As we looked in one of our morning series, Acts chapter 4, verse 12 says, And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name given, or under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved. There is no other way to salvation except through Jesus. And so Paul finishes this section by affirming that salvation was not for the Jew only. We need to focus on the second sentence in verse 11 because it's important here. So as we do the second half, read the second half, verse 11, into verse 12. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised. So that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised, who are not merely circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. This is a great missionary pronouncement. Abraham was to be the trailblazer of faith, and not just for the Jews, but for the whole world. They were to, quite literally, walk in his footsteps. The law was given so that humankind would know how to live as God's people, but it could never save. Once again, salvation is by faith alone. And so as we finish this evening, there are three great lessons to be found in Romans chapter 4, verses 1 to 12. And really, the first one is where we've just left off, that the gospel is for everyone. For the circumcised and for the uncircumcised. That great missionary pronouncement that the purpose was to make him, Abraham, the father of all who believe without being circumcised. Who were the ones who weren't circumcised? It was the Gentiles. So even from the very beginning, this good news was to go to all nations, and so the gospel is for everyone. Abraham truly is the father of all who believe, as verse 11 tells us. The Lord declared in Genesis chapter 12 and verse 3, that all peoples on earth are blessed through Abraham. And this happens when we believe in Jesus. And so the Lord calls everyone to faith. And it is harder, but no less essential, for God's people to call our family members, our neighbors, and our friends to the gospel in a secular age. Methods of evangelism that assumed at least semi Christian concepts of God, humanity, and sin may not function as they once did because of the shift in the thinking of the secular age. So, we must be wise and we must build other bridges by listening well and speaking plainly of the truth of the Gospel. That's what it means that the Gospel is for everyone. That we will speak well of it in this age, recognizing that we live in a different time than even a decade ago, and we must be ready and adjust so that we can build those bridges by listening to society and hearing where it is. and then speaking plainly into it. The second thing is that we're not to distort the gospel because Romans 4 is cautionary. Paul's interpretation of Abraham's life has a better and corrective aspect to it. The question was asked, what does the scripture say in verse 3? And the additional questions of verse 9 rebuke the teachers or the rabbis of Paul's day. How could they think that Abraham's works redeemed him? They should have known better. Because the rabbis or the teachers were the, the shepherds of the flock. Who were to know the truths of scripture. But in all of this, there's a more personal question for us. Are we perhaps like the rabbis of old? Do we ever distort the gospel? And we will want to cry out, No! But before you do, have a think. Do we ever distort the gospel? You see, we do. If we preach and believe the gospel on a Sunday. But then condemn ourselves through our words and our actions and our thoughts About ourselves, about others, about the church on a Tuesday. Yes, the Lord is pleased when we persevere in good deeds But they can no more earn God's favor than a child can earn her father's favor by hiking well Or playing well on the sports team or doing well in school Good hikers, sports players and students please their parents, but good parents love their children unconditionally. And when they do, they echo the love of God the Father. We must live well, knowing the unconditional love of the Father, so that we don't end up distorting the Gospel. That we actually become more unloving, because we as the Church ought to know how to love better. Because we have had the clearest and best demonstration of love. Don't be too quick to say that you don't distort the gospel, because I believe and I think in some ways we each do, because we want it to be about ourselves. Be careful. Be very careful. As you know the unconditional love of God, so show that love unconditionally to those in this place tonight and to the world around us, so that we will live faithfully for Him. And the final thing is to walk with Christ. Because once believers are justified, they can and should walk in the footsteps of Abraham. And, you know, footsteps is a very good term for Abraham's life when you think about it. Because Abraham's life in faith was often expressed in his walking. In Genesis 12, he walked away from his home in Haran toward the wilderness, protected by God and not by city walls. Abraham's rescue of Lot also required walking, but above all, he walked one anguished step at a time up a mountain to offer Isaac. His journey of faith was quite literally footsteps, one after the other. And for believers, faith is a long walk in the right direction. Abraham had a unique role in what we call redemptive history. Yet his daily life was as mundane as ours. He looked for water, he sorted out quarrels between his servants, and he slept with Sarah at night, hoping for a child. Then and now, faith normally manifests itself in a walk, in quite simple, ordinary acts, with family, with friends, associates, and clients. And what we do is we build buildings one brick at a time. We write, uh, copy out one word at a time, or if you're a programmer you write code line by line. We raise children one meal, one story at a time. Our Christian faith is one step in front of the other. But it takes that movement and it takes that direction. Are you walking towards Christ? Are you actually walking towards him or are you at a standstill? Or maybe actually are you walking backwards? Where are you when it comes to your relationship with Christ? Because what he does is he calls us to come to him, one foot after the other, intentionally towards him, so that we may know his salvation. We are to walk as Abraham did, as a father of the faith, step by step by faith. On the path of salvation with Christ. In Romans 4, Paul is helping us to see how. God makes us right before him. It is all because of his work in Jesus Christ. And what he does is he calls us to recognize that the gospel is for all and not exclusively just for us or a subsection of a community. He says, do not distort his gospel by thinking that we know better. We try to adjust it here and there to suit us and, and how, how we might be received by the word, world. And finally, we're commanded to walk with Christ so that we will not fall away, but remain faithful. Will you know the heart of the gospel tonight? Will you live well in the gospel? knowing its power to see you through and that indeed you will know it as the full expression of grace of our loving God. May it be so in your heart and in your mind and in your home this night. Let's pray. Our father God we thank you for what we learn about the gospel for how we we see it as the golden thread weave throughout all of history and and this evening how How Abraham, and that whole sign and seal of the covenant and circumcision, how he was made righteous before it. Father, thank you that the burden is removed from us, that there's nothing we can do to make us right before you except believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we will be saved. So may we live as people who know that. Forgive us for the times when we've distorted the gospel, when we haven't lived well by it. And we've tried to change it so that it suits our agenda. Help us to be people who are, who are galvanized, living by faith, and ever walking one step at a time towards you. Thank you that you are the gentle shepherd who leads us ever on. So may we trust in you this evening, and we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

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