By Simon ManchesterSunday 30 Jan 2022Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute
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So let’s pray together. Heavenly Father, once again, as we come to your word, we pray that what we know not you would teach us and what we have not, you would give to us, and what we are not, you would make us. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
One way to get a handle on this book, if you want to get a grip on the book is to see the gospel, which Paul talks about the message of Christ in chapter one, verse 16 as a great bowling ball. And then the question is, can this gospel deal with the pins of trouble and doubt, which are in front of us? And the answer as you go through the letter of Paul to the Romans is yes, the gospel can deal with these great pins of trouble and doubt. So for example, is the gospel needed for the whole world? Yes. Romans 1, 2, 3 it’s needed by everybody. Chapter four, is the gospel something that’s brand new? Has it just been invented? No, it goes right back to Abraham in the Old Testament. And then is the gospel going to make us right with God? Yes, chapter five. Will it help Christians who drift to the left and the right? Yes, chapter six, chapter seven. Has it got in thing to say about suffering? Yes. Has it got anything to say about the world in which we live? Yes. Has it got anything to say about death? Yes. Does it change people? Yes. This bowling ball of a gospel marches or rolls through, dealing with every pin of trouble or doubt.
Now the world cannot do this. The world doesn’t have great answers. And so it just turns away often to diversions, but the gospel gives us great answers.
Now, the issue that we come today to in chapter four is whether the gospel is a new invention. As one writer has said, is the gospel a novelty, because Paul has been showing that the law doesn’t save people. And you can imagine some who are hearing Paul or reading Romans, especially Jewish people would’ve said, “Well, this must be a new heresy, because God gave the law and obedience is crucial.” I mean, let’s look at Abraham for example. He kept the law. The apostle Paul, who was a Pharisee and knew his Old Testament very well says, no.
Let’s go back and see how Abraham received the blessing of God. Abraham, of course, being the great father figure for the Jews and also for the Christians and also incidentally for the Muslims. But what do we know of Abraham? Well, Paul takes us back into the Old Testament and we see that Christianity is not a novelty. It’s not a new thing. And we also see that God has always dealt with people by faith, not by law. And we’ll also see a little bit of what faith is all about. Now therefore, this is a great chapter for us this morning, because people have such funny ideas about faith, don’t they? They think of faith as something irrational, unreasonable. It’s a leap into the dark. You leave your brains behind. It’s a strange willingness to believe the ridiculous, all that sort of thing. And people will say, occasionally, I wish I had your faith, as if your faith is a talent like cooking or juggling and some people catch it and some people don’t. I hope you will see from these verses this morning, that faith is always tied to facts.
And Paul has given us enough information and God has given us enough information, we are told, for everybody to have faith. I’ve just finished reading a very annoying book called Mortals, which is written by two psychiatrists who actually work in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney. And they have spent the book looking at the ways people try to cope with death. And of course for them, Christianity is just one more coping mechanism. So they would see Christianity as not based on facts, but just wishful thinking. And the sentence in the book which stands out, goes like this. And I quote, “Humans will do anything to bring about control, especially in the face of death, even going as far as inventing gods or the afterlife options.”
Now friends, this is a very old and feeble argument against Christianity. It turns away from the historical foundations and it moves into psychiatric inventions or explanations. But I hope you know that religious leaders are factual. Jesus, the Buddha, Mohamed. These are people of history. They’re not fiction and they need to be tested or evaluated, all of them. And as we test or evaluate the person and the work of Jesus Christ, we find that he is so persuasive. In fact, his arguments are so watertight that it would be a cowardly thing to look away from him and just explain him away. But it takes courage, humility, and reality to face the facts.
Well, as we turn to Romans four and we consider Abraham especially, I’m going to point out quickly three things, three mistakes about faith, which Paul mentions at the beginning of Romans four. And then we’re going to look quickly at three marks of true faith, which he mentions in the second half of Romans four.
So first of all, three mistakes about faith. These come from chapter four of Romans and the first 17 verses, which were not for us, but I’m just going to ask you if you’ve got the Bible open to have a look with me at first of all, saving faith is not helped by just living a good life. You see in verse three, chapter four, verse three, we’re told that Abraham believed God. And because he believed God, it was credited to him as righteousness. So God didn’t come to Abraham because he was good. God didn’t look down on the world and say, well, where’s a good man? Ah, Abraham, he’s a good man. Let’s go and ask him. No, no, no. Abraham and his family, we’re told in the Old Testament, worshiped idols, but God confronted him in his grace and told Abraham that he would be the father of a global family. And Abraham believed him. This was God’s gift to Abraham. It was not a trophy. We may like to think that Abraham was a very great man, but actually he simply believed in a very great God.
And so Paul takes his readers who might have been saying to themselves, look, this faith business is too simple. The great Abraham who is our model, he won his place in God’s family by being so good, by being so faithful. Paul says, no, he didn’t. He believed what God said.
Secondly, saving faith in God is not helped by just being religious or keeping certain rituals. We see in chapter four, verse 10, that Abraham became a believer before he went through the ritual of circumcision. You can imagine people, and somebody said this to me not long ago from this very area of Woollahra. You have to make a con contribution to your salvation, they said. You have to contribute to your salvation. And you can imagine somebody saying, well, Abraham was a good example of this because he obeyed the religion of circumcision, and that’s what made God pleased and that’s what made him righteous.
Paul says, no. Abraham believed God and entered into friendship with God years before the ritual of circumcision. In fact, 14 years before. Abraham believed God. 14 years later, he went through the ritual. And just as we would want to say to people today, you don’t enter into God’s family by taking baptism or taking communion or turning our up Sunday by Sunday. No, you enter into God’s family by hearing his invitation, receiving it, receiving his word, receiving his son as Saviour and Lord. And then the religious symbols like baptism, communion, they’re like the wedding ring placed on the finger after you’ve come into relationship. So relationship first, ritual, maybe second.
The third mistake that Abraham is not guilty of is the idea that saving faith in God is not helped by just keeping the law of God, which we see in chapter four, verse 13. It was not through the law that Abraham received God’s blessing, but it came through the promises which Abraham believed. Now of course the law, which was given to Moses, came hundreds of years after Abraham. So Abraham didn’t have the 10 commandments, but even if we were to say that God’s command to him to leave his family and his area and to go off to the promised land, even if we were to say that that was a kind of law, it was not Abraham’s obedience that saved him. It was God’s grace that saved him. Christopher Ash, who’s a fine writer and has written two little paperbacks on the book of Romans, he says imagine if God had said to Abraham, I want you to go and be good. And if you are good, I’ll be able to save and bless the world. Well, the whole plan would’ve fallen apart. It would’ve crumbled to nothing.
But what God actually said was I will do this. I want you to believe me. And the whole thing says God will hang on me, not you. And so the whole world has been transformed because God keeps his promises.
My friends, do you see, Paul takes us back in the first half of Romans, chapter four to Abraham, the father of faith. And he shows us that faith is not a reward for a good life. That faith is not a reward for a religious life. That faith is not a reward for a law-keeping life and how good that it isn’t, because where would we be if our salvation depended on us being good, keeping all the rituals, keeping all the laws? We would completely perish. How good that it all hangs on the faithfulness and the promise-keeping God.
Well now secondly, three marks of true faith. These are the verses that were read for us today by Lizzy and coming Romans four 18 to 25. And I have three marks of true faith. First, faith faces the facts. Faith faces the facts. In other words, faith is meant to be reasonable. You see in chapter four, verses 18 and 19 that Abraham faced the fact, number one, that he and Sarah were old and could not have children. Therefore, they were not going to be the producers of a global family. It would not happen. But he also faced the fact, verse 21, that God had made a promise. And he was persuaded that God who’d made the universe could keep his promise. This is great logic. It’s saying on the one hand, I can’t do this. And on the other hand, he can do this. And there’s a great deal of humour in this as well, isn’t there, as there often is with God. You can imagine Abraham and Sarah going down to the antenatal clinic and sitting there, he looking 100 years old, she looking 90 years old, and the nurse comes out and says, “Nice to see you. Are you here to visit your grandchildren?”
And they say, “No. Sarah is pregnant.” It’s full of humour because it’s impossible humanly, but it’s possible for God. So this is what faith does. Faith is not unbelief, which ignores what God says. Faith is not a leap in the dark, as if God has said nothing. Faith faces personal helplessness and then turns and faces divine help. And it makes a decision. Exactly the same as if this week your car completely falls apart and you’ve got a choice of two mechanics. You’ve got yourself. Let’s imagine you can do nothing for cars like I can do nothing for cars. And you’ve got a mechanic who’s an expert and a great friend. Well, it’s a simple decision, isn’t it? You face your helplessness. You face his help and you make your decision. It’s utterly sensible.
We don’t incidentally know how God proved himself to Abraham, but we can be pretty sure that if the God of the universe came to Abraham and spoke to him, he managed to persuade him that he was worth trusting. I’m sure God is capable of that. Faith faces the facts.
Secondly, faith feeds on the promises. You’ll see in verse 21, Abraham was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he’d promised. Now this is very important. Abraham was not persuaded that God would do anything he wanted. He was persuaded that God would do what he’d promised. Faith is not a confidence in myself that I will go and tell God what to do. Faith is hearing what God says he will do and believing that he can do it. This is extremely important in church because there’s always people on television who are preaching away and there’s people who sneak their way into churches. And they kind of invent things that God must do. And they tell sad and uncertain Christians that they need to believe that God will do whatever they want. And this is really just trying to get power over God. It’s manipulative. It’s treating God as if he’s a servant who must do what he’s told. Now God says he will do what he’s promised. And we must go back to the promises and feed on the promises. Without the promises, our faith will staff.
This becomes a terrible situation where people manipulate God when somebody is very sick and close to death, and somebody comes along and says, “Well, I believe that God doesn’t want this person to be sick or even to die. And we’re going to pray and tell God that he’s to make this person well and raise them back to health.” And the person dies. And suddenly of course, God is mistrusted. The church is confused because somebody has come and tried to be manipulative in the whole area of faith. Now God gives us promises to stand on. You may remember in Mark’s gospel in chapter five, that there was a little lady who I think was quite superstitious. And she sneaked up behind Jesus in the crowd. And she touched his cloak. And because she’d come to the right person, Jesus, she was made well, but Jesus would not let her go home superstitious. So he stopped. He turned to the crowd. He made sure that she came out. He then said to her, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” He gave her a promise that she could go home on and stand on and be confident in.
Now of course, faith is always as good as its object. If you’ve got great faith in a two-legged chair, you will simply fall over. If you’ve got weak faith in a strong four-legged chair, you’ll be perfectly safe. You may remember that old story of the four men in the plane. One is a pilot. One is a brilliant professor. One is a Bishop and one is a student and they’re traveling along in a small plane and the engines fail. And the pilot radios back to the three. And he says, “Look, I’m sorry. The engines have failed. We’re going to have to bail out. And I’m even more sorry to tell you that there’s only three parachutes, but since I own the plane and have a small family, I’ll be taking one,” and out he goes.
The brilliant professor then stands up and says, “Look, I’m so intelligent. And I’m so wonderful. We owe it to the world to keep me alive. So I think I should take one,” and out he goes.
The old Bishop then stands up and says to the student, “Young man, I’m an old man. I’m ready to meet my maker. There’s only one parachute left. You take it.” And the student says, “No, sir, that won’t be necessary. There are still two parachutes.”
The Bishop says, “How could that be possible? There were only three.”
And the student says, “But the brilliant professor has just left with my rucksack.” Now the importance of that silly story is that you can be brilliant and sincere, but if your faith is in a rucksack, you’ll die. You can be nervous and anxious, but if your faith is in a good parachute, you’ll survive. There is no more or reliable person than Jesus, the one who carefully made promises and carefully made proofs. He’s not asking people to be foolish in becoming a Christian, but you will be foolish if you turn away from somebody who is so faithful, generous, wise, powerful and who promises eternal life. So faith feeds on the promises. And I say again, dear friends, if you don’t have some promises, you will starve. You’ll not know where you stand. You’ll not know where to go. Faith feeds on the promises.
Finally, faith in Jesus means a global family. You see in chapter four, verse 24, what God said to Abraham, that is you’re mine, is exactly what God says to us who believe in him. When we put our faith in him, when we put our faith in Christ, he gives us righteousness. We swing our confidence over to him. He swings his righteousness over to us. And Abraham, you see, believed what God says. And Paul says, if you believe what God says, then you share in the family of Abraham. You share in the righteousness of God. And if you want to know the heart of what God says to us, it’s in verse 25. Jesus was delivered to death for our sins and he was raised to life to prove that we are justified. He was delivered to death for our sins. Do you believe that? And he was raised to life to prove our justification. Do you believe that?
Because there are many people who will say they believe in God, but they don’t believe that. And therefore they don’t belong. There are many people of the Islamic faith who don’t believe verse 25. And therefore they’re not really in the same line as Abraham because Abraham believed what God said. And we are called on to believe what God says. The wonderful thing about this difference is that we are all as a human race on the same playing field. Jesus doesn’t come to the world and say, listen, if you are really attractive, I want you. He doesn’t come and say, if you are really well educated, I will invite you. No. He comes and he says, I don’t really mind what your background is. I don’t really care about your education, your family, your successes, your failures, your weaknesses. I don’t care about the messes you’ve made. I am offering you eternal life at my expense. And if you receive me as Savior and Lord, it will be yours. We’re all on the same playing field. It’s very wonderful.
And the other thing is we are part of a family of faith that has been going for 4,000 years, down the centuries and around the world. We have caught when we catch Jesus, when we turn ourselves into Jesus, we have caught a gospel train that has been running through the world for 4,000 years. This is bigger than the Olympics. This is bigger than the Oscars. This is bigger than getting a Nobel prize. Abraham was the starter of a family of faith. But if your trust is in Jesus, who was delivered for your sins and raised to life, you belong to the same family of faith and you will belong forever.
Well, please remember dear friends, everybody that you’ll ever bump into this week has faith. It may be in themselves, which is very limited. They’ll have faith in their car. They’ll have faith in the person who hands them coffee over the counter. They’ll have faith, for example, in their doctor. They’ll have faith in the pilot of the plane they travel with. But Christian faith looks at the facts of Jesus. Christian faith feeds on the promises of Jesus and Christian faith is part of the family of Jesus. And as I’ve often said to people who struggle with this, don’t look too much in the mirror and ask yourself, how great am I? How bad am I? Look out the window to the cross of Calvary and say how great was he? How wonderful his death, how wonderful his resurrection. I’m trusting him.
Let’s pray together. Father, thank you so much that you are a gracious, faithful, powerful wise and wonderful God. And that your son was delivered over for our sins and raised to prove justification. We ask that you would give us that great gift of not only believing you, but being assured that you are trustworthy. Help us to do this, to grasp this and to live this, we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.