The Faith of Abraham (Romans 4)

Note: This is a long devotion intended to be taught over the course of two days. It will be the only blog post for this week. Chapter 4 of Romans is really one big passage with one main idea – the example of Abraham’s life for how we must be saved by faith. There was no good way to divide the chapter, so we will deal with it as one text with one message.

A common misunderstanding of the Old Testament is the belief that God’s people, Israel, were justified or made righteous by their obedience to the law. Actually, that is still a common misunderstanding about God’s people, the church, today. Many people think that Christians are good people whom God has accepted because they are good. The idea is simple to our natural minds: God has given us these commandments, or rules, and if we just try to follow most (or some) of them most (or some) of the time, then He will be happy with us. He will somehow overlook all the times that we didn’t obey his commandments, both outwardly in our words and actions and inwardly in our thoughts and desires. If we just try to be good when we can, then God will bless us in this life (or at least not bother us with punishments) and then eventually let us into His heaven when we die as long as our good deeds outnumber our bad ones.

Well, I hope that you’ve seen by this point in our study of Romans that the popular mindset I’ve just described, what the Bible calls “justification by works,” is not true at all. Salvation by works doesn’t work! It won’t work for us, and it never worked for anyone in all of history. Instead, as we read in Romans 4, God’s people have always been justified by faith alone, not by religious works or good behavior. Abraham, the father of Israel, was not made right with God by his works (Romans 4:2). No, the Bible tells us in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham was declared righteous by God when he believed His promises to give him a son, a land, and many descendants, including the most important descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 4:3). Abraham was a sinner like us before and even after God called him into the faith. He came from Ur, a pagan city, where he probably worshiped the same false gods and idols as his neighbors. He twice lied by covering up the identity of Sarah as his wife because he feared the wrath of foreign kings. Abraham doubted God and committed adultery by fathering Ishmael with his wife’s servants, Hagar. Abraham was a sinful person like us.

Yet in all these things, Abraham was a man of God-given faith. He had a relationship with God founded on God’s grace. And true enough, because Abraham’s faith was real, it led him to eventually obey the Lord with the overall course of his life even though he had periods of doubt and disobedience. Real faith always leads to obedience, but obedience does not cause faith. Because Abraham believed God’s promise to give him a land, he moved his whole extended family and business to Canaan. He became a sojourner or wanderer for His God. Abraham maintained hope that against all odds he would have a natural son by Sarah, even though she was 90 years old or “as good as dead” regarding her ability to bear children (Romans 4:16-22). Because Abraham believed God, he was even willing to sacrifice his son Isaac at the Lord’s command, believing that God could raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill His promises (Hebrews 11:17-20). Abraham and His descendants were physically circumcised in obedience to God’s command, but that was only intended to be an outward sign of the inner circumcision of the heart by faith that God required for their salvation (Romans 4:9-12). In the same way, as Christians we are baptized to show our faith in Christ, but that baptism is not what saves us. Our faith, our trusting belief in Christ, that is what makes us right before God’s holy standard of judgment.

The relationship between faith and works can seem confusing to many, but it is very important that we understand it. Faith in Jesus Christ, in His death and resurrection, is what saves us from the punishment of hell and brings us into an eternal, loving relationship with God (Romans 4:23-25). Abraham had that kind of faith, as did all the Old Testament saints like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, and David. They all understood that the greatest blessing that we all need from God is to have our sins forgiven by repenting of our evil ways and trusting in His grace (Romans 4:6-8). Yet their faith was proven to be genuine by their works. We know that Abraham had a saving faith because his life showed it (James 3:18-20).

As your teachers, our great prayer for our school is that all of our students would come to a sincere, saving faith in Jesus Christ that then becomes clearly evident in the holy lives that they live at school, home, church, and wherever they go. We labor in teaching you the Word and in praying for your souls for that you might become mature, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. May we all have the faith of Abraham.

The Text (Romans 4)

1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

And whose sins are covered;

8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”

9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

Questions to Think About

  1. Why do you think that God chose to offer us salvation by faith instead of by our doing of good works?
  2. How would you explain the idea of “faith” to a nonChristian?
  3. How can we see that Abraham’s faith was real?
  4. Can other people see that your faith is real? How?
  5. In what ways is God calling you to follow Him in obedient faith this school year? Are you doing what He is calling you to do?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Why I Read My Bible (Rom. 12:2; Ps. 1:1-3; 1 Peter 5:7; Ps. 119:105; Philippians 3:10)

I wanted to take a quick break from our study of Romans to clear up a possible misunderstanding for some of our students. By now, every student in grades 6-9 knows that Mr. Reel is always talking about the importance of reading the Bible. But I am afraid that some of you may not understand why I am always saying this.

I am not saying and never have said that we should read our Bibles to earn God’s love and approval. God loved us while we still sinners (Romans 5:8), and His love for us as Christians does not change based on how often we read His Word. Once you are God’s child, you belong to Him forever. He is the shepherd and as Christians we are His sheep; we know His voice and we are safe in His hands for all eternity (John 10:27-30). When someone has truly accepted Christ, they have been sealed or marked by God as His own possession by the placement of the Holy Spirit inside them at the moment of their salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). That is God’s guarantee of our place in heaven. That change of heart that you experienced when you received Christ was you becoming a new creation, and the Bible teaches that you can never go back to being lost and dead like you were before (2 Corinthians 5:17). If you have really become alive in Christ, then remain alive in Christ both now and forever.

So if we are saved by God’s grace and not our own efforts, why should Christians read their Bibles? Again, not to check off a box and try to earn God’s approval by completing a ritual. Please forgive me for not recognizing the performance trap that some of you may struggle against. I have no concept of reading the Bible as a chore or something I was supposed to do as a kid or young adult. I did not grow up in the Bible Belt. I did not grow up in a gospel-preaching church. I did not attend a Christian school until college. Nobody ever told me that I should read the Bible. I started reading the Bible before I was saved because I was seeking God. I had met godly, loving Christians from a healthy church. I wanted to know the Jesus they knew. And after I was saved in college, I wanted to read my Bible even more for the same reason. I wanted to know the Lord. No one had to motivate me to read the Bible.

Why did I read the Bible in my teenage years and early 20’s? Why did I start reading my Bible regularly again about three or four years ago in my mid-30’s? For the same reasons that we as your teachers are encouraging you to read the Bible now.

As Christians, reading your Bibles regularly will help you to:

  1. Keep renewing your minds with the soul-saving truths of God’s Word instead of the soul-destroying lies of the world (Romans 12:2).
  2. Gain victory over sin and temptation and find strength to live like Jesus (Ps. 1:1-3).
  3. Keep your eyes on Jesus instead of your circumstances and trials (1 Peter 5:7).
  4. Allow God to lead and guide you into following His will for your life (Ps. 119:105).
  5. And most importantly, reading your Bibles will help you to enjoy fellowship with Jesus! Like the apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:10, Christians want to “know Christ” and “the power of his resurrection.” That is our greatest desire of all!

So that’s why I read my Bible and encourage others to do the same. How about you?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Scriptures Referenced (NKJV):

Romans 12:2

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Psalm 1:1-3

“1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.

1 Peter 5:7

“Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Philippians 3:10

“That I may know Him [Christ] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”

No Room for Pride (Romans 3:27-31)

Grace leaves no room for pride. Pride says, “I can do it myself. I can earn my way to heaven. I am a good person. I am not nearly as bad as so and so. I do this and this and this good thing, and I never do this or this or this bad thing. I can justify myself before God with my good behavior.”

But grace comes us and says, “No my friend. You may seem like a good person compared to others. But compared to God’s standard of behavior, which is perfect obedience to His commands, you fall very short. And furthermore, God demands that not just our behavior, but our motives be totally pure and holy. Only the pure in heart can see Him (Matthew 5:8). No, you are not good enough for heaven. And that is a big, big problem for you and for me and for all of us. But praise God,” says grace, “that there is another way to salvation – the way of faith.”

Faith says to us, “Forget your pride – stop boasting or bragging about how good you are” (Romans 3:27). Faith says, “Your obedience to the law of God cannot save you, but the God who made that law can save you.”

We say, “How can that be? What must I do to be saved from the punishment I deserve for the sinful behavior and evil heart that God’s law has exposed to my conscience?”

And then faith says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Look to Him and live. See the cross where He died for you. See the blood He poured out for all the bad things you’ve ever done or ever will do. Swallow your pride and receive His sacrifice for you. See the empty tomb and believe that Jesus rose from the dead, forever proving that God the Father had accepted His Son’s payment for your sins. Put your hope and trust in Christ alone. No matter what your life was like before, whether you’ve been around the things of God for all your life or just a few weeks, if you will repent and believe in the gospel, you will be made right with God. He will become your God and you will become His child, by faith and faith alone” (Romans 3:28-30).

But what about the law? What about living for God and obeying His commands? Is that no longer necessary since we are saved by faith? Not at all! The law is still of great value to the believer (Romans 3:31). The law now becomes our guide for walking in God’s grace. The law that once burdened and condemned us, the law that once showed us our desperate need for a Savior, now becomes a pattern for how we can live in a way that pleases our loving Father.

So there it is. Where are justified or made right with God by His grace through our faith in Christ, not by our obedience to the law. But once we have been justified, we find that we both want to and can follow God’s commands. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit who now lives in us to both love and keep God’s law. We still sin and fail, but as we will see in the upcoming chapters of Romans, we don’t have to. Praise God, faith can save us from the penalty AND the power of sin. May we experience that power today!

The Text (Romans 3:27-31)

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

Questions to Think About

  1. If a person could be saved by their behavior instead of a relationship with Jesus, what would that person do when they got heaven? Heaven is where we will worship God forever. Would a person who earned their way to heaven have any reason to worship Christ?
  2. Why do you think that some people would rather believe that they are good persons than accept that they are sinful and need Jesus to be their Savior?
  3. Have you ever met someone who said that they have accepted Christ as their Savior but did not show any desire to obey His commands and try to do His will? What should we say to people like this? How do we talk to them about faith? How would God want us to pray for them?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

The Just Justifier (Romans 3:21-26)

Finally, the good news! For two whole chapters, from Romans 1:17 to Romans 3:20, the apostle Paul has pounded away at our pride and self-sufficiency. God has driven the sword of His Word into our hearts, showing that no matter what our background, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard of obedience. Whether you’ve grown up around Christianity all your life or hardly been exposed to it at all until recently, your problem is the same – your sins have separated you from God and you need His help. Now, in today’s passage, we see the solution that God offers us.

The great riddle of the Old Testament was this: How can God be both just and merciful? We know that God is holy and must punish sin. He cannot just ignore or overlook it like we do. The blood sacrifices showed Israel and us that the penalty for sin had to be death. Yet God is also rich in mercy and loving kindness. The whole history of Israel from Abraham to the prophets is filled with examples of God showing grace and forgiveness to people who had sinned and disobeyed Him many times. How was this possible?

The answer is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God punished His own perfect Son on our behalf, so that “all who believe” in Him are “justified freely by His grace” and receive His righteousness credited to us (Romans 3:22, 24). Jesus was put forth as a sacrifice for us; His precious blood paid our sin debt so that we would not have to spend eternity in hell (Romans 3:25). In this way, all the sins of people that God had seemed to overlook were actually never forgotten at all. Instead, they were nailed to the cross with Jesus. At the cross, God satisfied His demand for justice while at the same time justifying or making us right with Him without having to destroy or condemn us (Romans 3:26). He proved Himself totally righteous and totally loving. Look to the cross of Jesus today and marvel again at what God did for you. He is the Just One who justified you, the unjust sinner, because of His amazing love.

The Text (Romans 3:21-26)

21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you ever had a teacher or other adult leader who allowed kids to get away with being bad? How did it make you feel?
  2. Do you care about justice? Why or why not?
  3. What would God be like if He was loving but unjust? How about if He was just but unloving?
  4. Do you both fear and love the God of the Bible? Why or why not?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

All Have Sinned (Romans 3:9-20)

All have sinned. No one is good in their own strength (Romans 3:10-12). The human heart is corrupt and selfish. On our own, people do not seek to love and glorify God. Instead, we naturally seek to glorify ourselves in all that we do. All people everywhere for all time have been sinners who need to be forgiven and redeemed by their Creator. We are all born with a broken relationship with God that can only be healed by the blood of Jesus. People left to their own without the intervening influence of God’s grace will become wicked in their words (Romans 3:13-14) and deeds (Romans 3:15-16).

Today’s passage from Romans 3 is the clearest, most direct teaching of the doctrine of original sin all the Bible. Yet we notice that Paul is putting together several Old Testament verses, which shows that the universal problem of our sin nature is taught throughout the whole Bible. And let it sink in, Paul is still addressing the Jews, the religious people of his day. Like them, we might be tempted to see the sin in other people’s lives but be blinded to its power in our own lives.

So how should we respond to such an honest description of our sin problem? With humility before God. We stop talking and get on our faces before the just Judge of all the earth (Romans 3:19). We repent of our evil ways and ask God to forgive us. And we turn to Jesus in faith each day, pleading for His mercy and grace to sustain us and keep us from evil (Romans 3:20). “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). I would rather have God’s grace in my life than Him be against me. How about you?

The Text (Romans 3:9-20)

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.

10 As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;

11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.

12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”

13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”;

14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;

17 And the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Questions to Think About

  1. When do you first remember being humbled by your own sinfulness and need for God’s forgiveness? When was the last time that God taught you a lesson in humility?
  2. Do you think that our culture acknowledges or denies the doctrine of original sin? How can you tell?
  3. Have you ever been near a place or group of people that felt so truly evil that you just wanted to get away? What happened?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel