Justification by Faith


Sermon Text: Romans 4:1-25

Main Points:
I. Justified by faith (vs. 1-8)
II. Justified by grace (vs. 9-17)
III. Justified by resurrection power (vs. 18-25)

We’re back to Romans, ch. 4, and, Lord willing, will continue to read and meditate up to ch. 8 in a series. In the first three chapters of Romans, we learn about the universal sinfulness of mankind and God’s wrath against sinners. These chapters teach that none is righteous and all have turned aside in their rebellion against the righteous God. Then, in the closing of ch. 3, that is, in vs. 21-31, this book tells us that justification is not by works, but by faith, as v. 22 sums up and says, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Ch. 4 which we’ve opened and read today is an illustration of that doctrine of Christian faith. In other words, this chapter is a commentary on the biblical truth of justification by faith alone.

Before we move on, let me tell you that ‘justification’ means God’s declaration of a sinner to be righteous in His sight. In other words, God forgives the sins of a sinner, declares him/her as righteous, thus, restores His once-broken relationship with the forgiven sinner back to that of father and child.

And this justification is possible only by and through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and only Saviour of the world. This doctrine is one of the pillars that sustain Christian faith. If anyone or any group denies this doctrine, that individual or group is to be regarded as heretic or apostate, like the cases of denial of Jesus’ divinity as much as His humanity or of denial of one God in three Persons as the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is not my words, but the word of God. Gal. 1, for example, is clear about this. We read from vs. 6-9 of that chapter that anyone who turns to a different teaching than the gospel delivered through the apostles is ‘accursed.’ And the gospel of Jesus the apostles delivered to the ears and hearts of Christians is, as Gal. 2 clearly testifies, that sinners are justified by faith alone. Especially, Gal. 2:21 confirms this as true, saying that if ‘justification was not by faith but through the law (or works), then Christ died for no purpose.’ So, as anyone who nullifies the purpose of Jesus’ death is accursed, anyone who denies sinner’s justification by faith alone is a heretic.

The 16th century Reformation was based on this truth. The Roman Church had lost this biblical truth for centuries and God’s Church suffered greatly from the loss of this saving truth. Then, God’s light was shone upon His Church and this doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ was restored. By this light, God raised His Church and established her firmly on this basis of ‘justification by faith alone.’

So, this doctrine is a beautiful jewel of the Reformation and dealing with this doctrine is to enjoy the beauty and wealth of this heavenly treasure. This 4th chapter of Romans validates this truth with an illustration, that is, the case of Abraham’s justification. So, let us follow the Holy Spirit who inspired and worked through the Apostle Paul and gave us this simple yet rich explanation of our heavenly treasure.

The first point the Apostle Paul raises to validate this doctrine of justification by faith is the case of Abraham of the OT. Abraham is a well-known figure of the Bible. He is, in fact, the root and beginning of Israel and the most significant patriarch. All Jews are his posterity and that’s why Paul the Apostle calls him in v. 1 of our text chapter, ‘Abraham our forefather according to the flesh.’

Paul’s presentation of Abraham’s case to the Jews is wise and appealing to the Jews because many among the original recipients of this letter were Jews. Also, non-Jewish Christians of the 1st century church knew Abraham and his life well because they had read the OT and believed that that book was the very word of God, thus, knew the position of Abraham in their faith. In fact, Paul’s argument is not so difficult to follow because he appeals to a common sense everyone knows and uses daily basis. What he says is something like this: ‘Justification is by faith alone and seeing it as God’s truth is not so difficult because it has always been God’s truth from the beginning as with the case of Abraham.’ He points out that it’s not a new invention, nor a new discovery; but this truth has always been taught by God and all true children of God have been justified in this way. Simply put, it has always been like this from the beginning.

What happens when something is proved to be true since the beginning? All mouths are shut; no one dares to reject or oppose. That’s what happened to many Jews of the first century AD; they were silenced and many souls – both Jews and Gentiles – were brought to Christ Jesus and justified by faith in Him alone. That’s what happened also to the Roman Catholics during the 16th century Reformation, and many souls were justified by faith alone and led to the true Church of Christ. It is the same even in our day and age; numerous sinners are saved by believing in Jesus Christ.

Then, how does Abraham’s case validate this precious doctrine of justification? Most of all, as v. 3 of our text chapter says, Abraham ‘believed’ God and that ‘belief’ was counted to him as righteousness. This points out God’s initial appearance to Abraham in the land of Ur where he and his clan had lived for long, and His command for Abraham to leave that land to a far away, unknown place. So, Abraham left his family, left his hometown, left his entire life built there in the midst of his people since his birth, and followed God’s word. This is the beginning of Abraham’s belief and this was counted or credited or reckoned as his righteousness – in another word, justification, that is, forgiveness of sins and restoration of his relationship with God.

Someone might say that Abraham’s act of leaving his hometown and following God should be recognised as an important part and basis of his justification. But that’s not right because he did not approach God, did not ask God to appear to him and lead him to a place. Instead, God visited him and commanded him to ‘Go,’ telling him that God ‘would’ make him a great nation, He ‘would’ bless him and make his name great, and so on. The part Abraham took in this is ‘belief’ – he heard God’s voice and believed Him that He would surely do what He promised!

If I may compare Abraham’s case with any ordinary Christian like you and me gathered together here this morning, it would be like this. One day, you were curious about church, although you had no idea what a church was about. You might’ve heard of who Jesus was, but surely not believed Him as your Saviour. So, on a day, you became curious – whether by an invitation of your friend or parents or simply out of novelty – and you walked into a church. You attended a worship service. Then, you found yourself more often in church worship services, then, in the midst of Christians. Then, one day you woke up and found yourself believing in Jesus. You believed in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour of your soul, and you confessed it with your mouth. So, you were justified and became a child of God, a member of His eternal household.

In this, you were exactly like Abraham. You didn’t know where you were heading when you first stepped into a church. You had no idea what would happen to you in the coming days and months and years. In this sense, you were exactly like Abraham of the OT. You don’t remember but surely God visited you one day and spoke to you to ‘Go,’ as He had done to Abram of Ur. So, like Abram had done, you left your kinsman, you left your friends and life behind, not really knowing what you were doing, what you would face in the coming days. And that was the beginning of your life in the Lord Jesus through faith in Him.

In this, can you say that your decision to visit a church and attend a worship service was the key to your salvation? Can you claim that your act of coming to a church saved you from sin and delivered you from death which was the penalty of your sins? No, you cannot! None can claim that such a work cleanses him of his sins and justifies him in God’s sight. That’s because, at the time you visited and attended worship, your heart was full of disbelief, full of doubt, if not sneered at God’s word read and declared in the service.

So, instead of your work, what happened to you earlier that day, what arose from the depth of your heart and soul on that day, was the beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit, that is, cleansing of and reviving your soul through ‘faith.’ So, not your works, but faith that arose in you justified you and saved you!

That work of the Holy Spirit in a sinner’s heart, initiating faith that saves, is grace. And a sinner is ‘justified by grace’ which is our second point to consider today. In fact, justification by faith and justification by grace are synonyms – these are not two but one same justification – because faith is a gift of God to whom He delights to give and that is the definition of ‘grace.’ The Apostle Paul once again proves that justification is by grace with the case of Abraham, telling all people in this sense – ‘This has been true from the beginning.’

What he refers to is God’s grace Abraham received, and Abraham’s response to that grace or gift or favour. Having left Ur, Abram arrived at Canaan. Then, God promised him that He would give that land to him and his descendants. Moreover, his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the night sky. Gen. 15:6 tells us, as we’ve read earlier this morning, that Abraham ‘believed the LORD, and God counted it to Abraham as righteousness (or, in another word, justification).’

To explain this point, that is, justified by grace, let me draw your attention to God’s promise made to Abram. Why do you think God promised him two things – the land and numerous descendants? It was not because that land of Canaan was special, more meaningful than the land of Ur. It was not because having numerous children was the best virtue of that time. Neither was the right reason. The true reason for that promise is to describe the nature, scope or extent of God’s grace to Abraham and all believers after him and teach everyone that justification is by grace alone.

Abraham had no portion of that land; he was a stranger, sojourner, alien to the residents of that land. They had been living on that land for generations after generations. Abraham had absolutely no share in that. But God promised him that He would give that land – not a piece of pastureland, but the entire region in the Palestine. The land he had no share, no connection, no right in whatever sense would be given to him as his eternal possession. This promise describes the nature of God’s favour, grace, that is a gift.

The promise for numerous descendants implies the same. Abraham had no child at that moment in time and could not have any ever after. Both he and his wife, Sarah, were unable to produce any child. Abraham was old and Sarah was both old and baren. But God’s promise was for descendants as numerous and uncountable as the stars in the night sky. Again, this promise pinpoints God’s grace, His gift, as the only means of justification!

And Abraham believed it and God counted that belief as his righteousness, as his justification. Let me ask you a question, that is, ‘Believing this gift of God, did Abraham do anything in response?’ Did he draw his sword and summon all his male servants to start a war in the name of God to conquer and take possession of that land? Did he start having numerous wives to fulfil God’s promise for an uncountable number of children? No, nothing did he do. He simply believed God and continued his walk with his God.

With this example of Abraham, our justification is, as was with Abraham, by faith alone which is God’s grace alone. In justification, works or keeping the law is absolutely excluded. Man cannot save himself, but only through faith in Jesus saves which is God’s grace.

So far, we’ve heard through the Apostle Paul with the case of Abraham that sinners are justified by faith, not works. This is, in another word, justified by grace, not by keeping the law.

Having presented these points to us, Paul adds in vs. 18-25 one more important aspect of justification, that is, we’re – as was Abraham – justified by ‘resurrection power.’ Two happenings in Abraham’s life are pointed out here to explain this. One is the birth of Isaac and the other is Abraham’s giving Isaac to God as a sacrifice.

Firstly, Isaac’s birth was a miracle of resurrection. Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 90 when they conceived Isaac and when they were 100 and 91 respectively, Isaac was born. You don’t need any further explanation than a simple description of it as a miracle of resurrection. It was God’s work, His grace and gift, and Abraham believed Him, and that belief was counted as righteousness.

Jesus’ coming into the world is exactly what Isaac’s birth signifies. To the humanity dead in sin, the Life from heaven came, and believing in this Life from above cleanses and justifies sinners from their sins.

Moreover, Abraham was about to give Isaac, his son, to God as a sacrifice as directed by God. Then, God stopped him and provided him a ram as a sacrifice in place of Isaac. About this, Hebrews 11:19 comments and tells us that Abraham believed once again that his God, our God, would surely raise Isaac even from the dead and bring him back to his arms. So, the conclusion Heb. 11:19 gives is that, figuratively speaking, Abraham did receive his son, Isaac, back from death. Abraham believed it and that belief was counted to him as righteousness. So, Abraham’s justification was by God’s resurrection power.

This directs our eyes again to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Saviour! Our justification is by His resurrection power. By faith in Jesus, we’re dead to sin, as Christ was crucified on the cross. Yet, by the same faith in Jesus, we’re risen as Jesus rose from the dead. So, belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection cancels our sins, washes them away, and justifies us.

So, what is the lesson for us to take? Our justification is by faith alone which is God’s grace. Moreover, our justification, our salvation is by the Lord’s resurrection power – He raised us up together with Jesus!

Then, if this life in Jesus is not by our own effort, but a gift of God, we must thank God for His grace. A person who owes his life to another man would surely thank him in all his life. If this is so with a human life, how much more and continually should we thank God for His gracious gift of life through faith in Jesus Christ who is the precious gift from above, yet, came and died for sinners like us? Our thanks to our Lord should be, therefore, now and always. This is why we must thank our God in times of happiness or trouble. Whatever comes to us, we cannot stop thanking our gracious God who justifies us and makes us His own through Jesus.

While we thank God endlessly, we should strive to please Him, and pleasing Him is, as Col. 1:9-14 tells us, to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Simply put, we ought to know what God’s holy book says and, understanding what He says, follow His ways.

And lastly, we must know that, being justified by faith and by grace, we’re free from the bondage of sin, and sin has no power over us. So, we should let God’s grace and His resurrection power lead our life, instead of following sin’s passions and living apart from the Lord. Walking with Jesus, our Lord, we fight a good fight of faith daily, destroying sin’s strong defence line in our life one by one every day. ***

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