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4-16 The Evidence of Saving Faith

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MBC – 4/17/2005 - Pastor Doug Thompson

“The Evidence of Saving Faith”

Romans 4:16-25

Ø      ROM 4:13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Ø      ROM 4:14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified;

Ø      ROM 4:15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Ø      ROM 4:16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, 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,

Ø      ROM 4:17 (as it is written, "A father of many nations have I made you") in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

Ø      ROM 4:18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, "So shall your descendants be."

Ø      ROM 4:19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb;

Ø      ROM 4:20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God,

Ø      ROM 4:21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

Ø      ROM 4:22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.

Ø      ROM 4:23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him,

Ø      ROM 4:24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,

Ø      ROM 4:25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

This passage sounds complicated, but it’s extremely relevant to you and I, because Abe is called “the father of all who believe” (Rom.4:11). He is the pattern for saving faith. Look at verse 12: those who are saved “also follow in the steps of faith of our father Abraham.” This means that every person in heaven will be there because they believed God the way he did, and gave evidence of that faith, the way he did!

What kind of faith did he have? What is the saving faith that connects a person to God and grasps salvation? 1.) It is a faith that renounces works. But, 2.) It is a faith that results in works.

The first thing we have learned is that faith begins with thinking, believing, reckoning something to be true. It is believing in what Christ has done for us and refusing to do anything to contribute to what He has done.

Ø      ROM 4:5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

We’ve probably said it 1,000 times since we began our study of Romans: It is trusting in Christ alone that connects us to Him--apart from any works or action or physical motion on our part—. We can go further: the faith that connects us with Christ must renounce all good works, turn its back on all human achievement and walk away from it to trust in Christ alone. In Gal.2:16, Paul says it 3 times in one verse--

Ø      . . . nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.


You had nothing to do with your salvation:

Ø      The Trinity worked it all out without consulting you, before creation; the Father chose you to be His own, the Son finished the work on the cross before you were born; and the HS applied it to you through the new birth before you even knew what hit you! So the next time you look into a mirror say to yourself, “I am a Christian and I had nothing to do with it!”

God justifies those who trust in Jesus Christ—“being assured that what God has promised, He is able also to perform.” He doesn’t consider all the years of ministry and sacrifice that might follow your initial faith, and neither does He consider all of your sins that follow. At the heart of all false religion is the idea that God does consider the fruit of a person’s life to determine whether or not they will be justified. This is at the center of the false gospel of Roman Catholicism, and I believe it’s at the center of the so-called “New Perspectives” that is creeping into evangelical churches.

Saving faith renounces works, but saving faith results in works.

Faith proves that it is genuine by what it does. You can’t see faith, but you can see what it believes by what it does. This is exactly what James was saying--

Ø      JAM 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? [No! Why not? Because it’s phony!]

Ø      JAM 2:15 [practical illus.:] If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,

Ø      JAM 2:16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

Ø      JAM 2:17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

Ø      JAM 2:18 But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works;”
”Show me your faith without the works, [. . .I’m waiting. . .] and I will show you my faith by my works."

I hate to sound like Forest Gump, but “Faith is as faith does!”

Ø      Imagine that you are sitting at a table, and in front of you is a stack of 1,000 thousand dollars bills—a million dollars, and on top is a post-it note with your name on it—it’s yours! And sitting next to it, is a cup full of liquid that says “potassium cyanide”—fatal if swallowed. Pastor Jim and I are also sitting at the table with our right hands on our Bibles, and we both say to you: The million dollars is yours if you take it, and the poison will kill you if you drink it.” [This sounds like a weird dream, doesn’t it?] We ask you: Do you believe these two things to be true? “You say, yes, absolutely, I would stake my life on it that both are true. There is no doubt in my mind. None.” But if you wish Jim and I a nice day, get up and leave the money on the table, or chug down the poison because you’re thirsty—what do you really believe?

What you believe is what you do. You say that you believe God’s Word—every word of it. But what do your actions show?

Ø      You say you believe ROM 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Ø      But then a trial comes along and you fall apart, you lose your joy, you become depressed and despondent—what you believe is what you do.

Ø      You say you believe Jesus’ words in Matt. 6:31,32: "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

Ø      But then you get hit with a major unexpected bill, and you are consumed with worry—what you believe is what you do.

Ø      You say you believe 1Tim 6:9,10: “those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.”

Ø      But you go to the casino and throw your money away to chance hoping to get rich—what you believe is what you do.

Ø      And finally, you say that you believe the Gospel. You believe that your lawless deeds have been forgiven, and God will not take your sins into account.

Ø      But then you fall into sin, and you are paralyzed with guilt. You can’t read your Bible, you can’t pray because you think God has turned His back on you. What do you really believe?

My prayer for you this morning is that you would grow strong in faith, giving glory to God! But you have to be brutally honest with yourself in answering this question: How does my life--my actions, my decisions--square with what I say I believe?” And where it doesn’t, that’s just where you need to pray for God’s grace to put your faith into action, and live what you believe. Faith is just like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

Up to this point in ch.4, the emphasis has been on Abraham’s works-renouncing faith, but in this section it puts the spotlight on the way his faith resulted in works. Abe’s faith proved itself to be genuine saving faith by the way he lived. He walked in faith. And you and I can follow in the footsteps of his faith.

We are going to see his faith (and Sarah’s too) illustrated through three major tests that they faced in their lives: leaving home, getting a son, and losing a son.

I. Leaving home.

Ø      HEB 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Ø      HEB 11:9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;

Ø      HEB 11:10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

When Abram and Sarai began their journey, they didn’t have a map, they didn’t have a plan. They probably had never even heard of the land of Canaan. In fact, when they left Ur they had no idea where they were going! It just says: “Abraham, when he was called, obeyed!”

Ø      Now think with me: When you are reading God’s Word, or hearing it in a sermon or at a Bible study and through His Word, God calls you, “Stop doing that!” or “Start doing this!”, do you obey?

What makes their immediate obedience all the more incredible is that before this call, Abraham and Sara had probably never even heard of the true God!

Remember that when Abraham was first called by God, he lived in Ur of Chaldea, a thoroughly pagan city. Joshua 24:12 tells us that Terah, Abe’s father, was an idolater, so Abraham was undoubtedly raised as a happy pagan. This was an unknown God calling him to go to an unknown country!

Ø      GEN 12:4 So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Ø      GEN 12:5 And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.

We all know what it’s like to pack up all your stuff and move, but this was several households, all their belongings, and supplies for a long roadtrip!

Think about Abraham and Sarah’s faith: It’s one thing to pack up the servants and kids to move to a bigger house, nicer place, better job, and more money--but they left everything they had ever known for the unknown! All they had was the promise of God--and even this God was pretty well unknown! But it was enough. God’s promise to Abraham--of something unseen, in the distant future, miles away--was enough.

Ø      Janice and I felt a little like Abraham and Sarah a little over 15 years ago, when God called us to Middletown. But we had much more information than they had: we asked for maps, brochures, water samples, soil samples, seismic data, samples of the flora and fauna--meteorological forecasts for the next 5 years, and menus from all the local restaurants at the time—both of them!

Ø      We asked for pictures. We got 2 polaroids, one of the old 76 gas station—and the other of Beulah’s. But still we came and that’s how I know that we have saving faith!

But their faith didn’t stop at leaving home: Heb.11:9: “By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise.” I.e., he never received the land that God had promised him. The only part of the promised land that Abe ever owned was a lot that he bought for Sarah’s grave. This was the real test of his faith—and Sara’s too: Day in, day out, for years, every morning that they woke up in tents. They were renters, not owners, and they were reminded that the promise was still unfulfilled. But they went to their graves believing that God’s promise was still true. Why?

Ø      HEB 11:10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

What was Abe looking for? Where were his eyes set? The next life, the next world. Somehow, God had shown him that this life is not all there is. There is more to come. And all of God’s promises are true and every word He has ever spoken will be fulfilled--but we might not see it in this life!

Ø      Look at your own heart: Do you trust in God’s promises when they are unfulfilled? Do you continue to be fully assured that what God has promised, He is able also to perform? Or does your faith fade if you don’t have sight? Beloved, God’s very best promises to His children cannot and will not be fulfilled until we get to heaven! This is why Paul said in--

Ø      COL 3:1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Ø      COL 3:2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

Ø      COL 3:3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

We need a faith that crosses over into the next life—the next world. That’s what  Abraham and Sarah had. This is what gives us staying power, and endurance in the grind of everyday life. One man called it, “A long obedience in the same direction!”

There was a second major test of Abe and Sara’s faith--

II. Getting a son.

That brings us to our text in Romans—

Ø      ROM 4:17 (as it is written, "A father of many nations have I made you") in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

Ø      ROM 4:18 In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, "So shall your descendants be."

Ø      ROM 4:19 And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb;

Ø      ROM 4:20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God,

Ø      ROM 4:21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.

Ø      ROM 4:22 Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

God was asking these two to trust Him for a miracle—something that would go against anything and everything they had every experienced in their lives. And as far as we know, Abraham and Sara had never witnessed one miracle of God. So far all of God’s promises were just I.O.U’s. They had no category to put this in except the faithfulness of God.

But I want to back up in the story to show you what a monumental thing it was for them to trust God for this child—

It begins with God’s call to Abram back in Gen.12. When God told him to leave his country and go to the promised land, He promised to give this land to his descendants, and He promised to make him a great nation—but he didn’t even have one child, and 11:30 says that Sarah was unable to have children.

For a man in that culture, his wealth was measured by the size of his family. Now Gen. 13:2 says that “Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” but no children. And to top it off, his name was a constant reminder that the promise was not fulfilled. Abram means “father of many!” One writer described it like this--

When the caravans of the rich merchants came into the land, either from the north or from the south, they stopped at Abram’s wells. The servants of Abram took care of the needs of the camels and the servants of the traders. Food was sold to the travelers. And in the evening time the merchants would have come to Abram’s tent to pay their respects. The questions would have followed a set pattern. How old are you? Who are you? How long have you been here? When the trader had introduced himself, Abram would be forced to name himself: Abram, father of many.

It must have happened a hundred times, a thousand times, and each time more galling than the time before. “Oh, Father of many! Congratulations! And how many sons do you have?” And the answer was so humiliating to Abram: “None.” And, there must have been the half concealed snort of humor: “The Father of many is the father of none!”

They trusted God, but they couldn’t imagine how He was going to fulfill His promise--

Ø      GEN 15:2 And Abram said, "O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"

Ø      GEN 15:3 And Abram said, "Since Thou hast given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir."

I.e., “I know Lord, since you aren’t giving me my own son, call Eliezer, my servant, the son of the promise! Make him the heir!” But that’s not a miracle. Abe was leaning on human reason.

So God said, “I need to be more specific:”

Ø      GEN 15:4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir."

Still not specific enough! In ch.16. Sara substitutes her human reason for faith, and says, “Well, God said it would be your son, He didn’t say it had to be mine--go into my maid, Hagar, and have a son through her!”

Bad plan.

So in ch.17, God finally gets very specific, and says, “No, it won’t Eliezer, or Ishmael, I’m doing things My way--the son will come through you and Sarah--it will be a miracle baby!” I want you to see Abe’s reaction—

Ø      GEN 17:17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?"

Ø      GEN 17:18 And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!" [This guy is just not giving up!]

Ø      GEN 17:19 But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

And what was Sara’s reaction when she heard the news? She laughed too!

But how does this jive with—

Ø      ROM 4:20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God,

Ø      ROM 4:21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.

Did they trust God or not?

The answer is, their faith was real, but it wasn’t perfect. In their heart of hearts, they trusted God—that’s what Scripture says, but they struggled to understand how God would fulfill His promises. To them it was inconceivable--

Ø      Didn’t Mary have the same reaction when an angel told her that she was going to conceive a child who would be the Lord Jesus Christ? “But how can this be--I’m a virgin?” And yet Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (v.45)

As long as we are in this skin, our faith in God will never be perfect. It’s not a matter of how strong it is, or how great it is, it’s just a matter of this: is it real? Is it genuine? And when push comes to shove, will you live by faith? Will you do what God says even though your mind is swirling with questions? That’s the test.

Ø      In Mk.9. Jesus came across a man with a demon-possessed son, and the demon was killing his son. He cried out to Jesus, “If You can do anything, please have mercy on my son!” Jesus pointed out his weak faith--“If you can?” What did the man say? “Lord, I do believe, but help my unbelief!” Godly faith is not full understanding but full trust.

His faith was genuine, but not perfect. It was weak and struggling. Just like yours and mine. Just like Peter, James, and John, when Jesus took them with Him to pray on the night of the crucifixion. Remember? As sincere as they were, they couldn’t pray with the Son of God for an hour. He said, “Your spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak!”

That’s us! It was Abe and Sara, and it’s all of their spiritual children!

III. Losing a son.

Ø      Heb.11:17: "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac." He laid his son on the altar and lifted up his knife to bring it down and kill his own son.

Why was this such an act of faith? It’s not just that a father loves a son. And not just that the Ten Commandments will say not to murder. It’s because God had given Abraham a promise that he would have many descendants and that this very son--his only son, the son of his old age--would be the one through whom the descendants would come: Verse 18: "In Isaac your descendants shall be called." If this boy dies, everything in human experience says, the promise of God will fail.

So here's the test: will Abraham reason his way out of obedience or will he trust God that the humanly impossible will come to pass? The answer is in verse 19: "He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead;”

But he had never seen that happen! He was still trusting God for something that was unseen, unproven. Again, when his own son’s life was at stake, the only category he had to put this is was the faithfulness of God.  

Like Job, sitting ashes, covered with boils, his children are dead, he has lost everything on earth, and he says:

Ø      JOB 19:25 "And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.

Ø      JOB 19:26 "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God;

Like Paul, in a damp, filthy prison, within days of being beheaded--

Ø      2TI 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

Ø      2TI 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;

Ø      2TI 4:8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

* * *

How is your faith this morning? Are you living what you say you believe? Are your actions and decisions evidence of a person who believes the promises of God? How about your attitudes-- and even your demeanor?

Everyday you and I are faced with the choice as to whether we will trust an unseen God and His mostly unfulfilled promises, or what seems to be real and true based upon our feelings, and our reasoning.

Ø      I.e., We must choose whether appearances are telling us the truth about life or whether God is telling us the truth about life.

I remember hearing when I was a young Christian, “You have to put the facts before your feelings. Remember what is true: the order is: “Fact, faith, feeling.” But I’m telling you this morning: you and I are bad judges of what are “facts.” I’m saying that the order is “Faith, then facts and feelings.” With Abraham, the facts weren’t the answer, they were the problem.  What established Abraham’s faith was not facts but God’s Word.  Christians don’t worship facts.  Christians trust God.  They trust God in defiance of all the so-called facts arrayed against them.

Listen to this quote from Martin Luther:

“Faith grips reason by the throat and strangles the beast.  But how can faith do this?  By holding on to God’s Word and by accounting it right and true, however stupid and impossible it may appear.  By this means did Abraham imprison his reason. . . . And in the same fashion do all other believers . . . throttle reason, saying: Listen, Reason, thou blind and stupid fool that understandest not the things of God.  Cease thy tricks and chattering; hold thy tongue and be still!  Venture no more to criticize the Word of God.  Sit thee down; listen to his words and believe in him.

Don’t trust your feelings or your reasoning! Get tough with yourself. Sit still, and stop babbling in your mind. Take hold of God’s Word to you whether it is a command or a promise, and say, “This is God’s Word, it is more true than anything I feel, more true than my faulty reasoning. These are my marching orders. This is the way I will walk!”

That is authentic, justifying faith.  That’s what God wants from us.  God wants us to listen to him and trust him.

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