Not Just Knowing But Believeing
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Rom 4:4-8 GW  When people work, their pay is not regarded as a gift but something they have earned.  (5)  However, when people don't work but believe God, the one who approves ungodly people, their faith is regarded as God's approval.  (6)  David says the same thing about those who are blessed: God approves of people without their earning it. David said,  (7)  "Blessed are those whose disobedience is forgiven and whose sins are pardoned.  (8)  Blessed is the person whom the Lord no longer considers sinful."

Paul states a simple economic fact in verse 4, but one that we would do well to dwell on for just a moment.  If you have a job, the wages you receive are counted as a debt owed to you by your boss. If you work a 40 hour week at 10 dollars an hour, your employer owes you 400 dollars.

Suppose you were to die today and stand before God and He would ask you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” How would you respond? “Well, I go to church regularly, I tithe, I volunteer, I’m baptized, I’m basically a good person, I try to keep the 10 commandments.....

All of these responses are telling God that He owes you because you worked for Him, but the truth is, all our “righteousness (our workings) is as filthy rags.” (Isa. 64:6)

What must we do then to be saved? We must have that child-like faith of Abraham that we talked about last week. “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness.”  It’s not just believing in God, it’s believing what He says.  Then and only then will we have “right standing” before God.

So when you and I stand before God, and should He ask us, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” Our only response must be, “Because Father, by Your grace, I have taken You at Your Word and I have believed in Your Son Jesus Christ. I believe He died on the cross so that my lawless deeds are forgiven, so that my sins would be covered, so that my sins would not be held against me on this Day. This is my only claim.”

You don’t have to wait until Judgement Day to make that claim, in fact if you wait that long it will be too late. Make that claim today! Stop trusting in your good works and deeds as if God will owe you something on that last Day.

Take God at His Word in the matter of your salvation and it will be accounted to you as righteousness.  Then take Him at His Word as you continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. 2:12)

In Henry Blackaby’s Book, The Man God Uses, he writes, “God reveals Himself to us through His Word by the Holy Spirit. Because this is an encounter with God, whatever you do next reveals what you believe about God.”

What a powerful statement!  It speaks of encountering God not only as He invites us to receive Jesus as our Savior, but also speaks of what we believe about God as we respond to His commands. Abraham believed God. He, first of all,  believed His promises of salvation, forgiveness, and fellowship, then he responded with obedience to His commands.

Believe God with child-like faith and begin to live in the blessedness that David spoke of. “Oh how very happy are those whose disobedience is forgiven and the person whom the Lord no longer considers sinful.”

By God’s grace I have received the gift of faith in Jesus. Did I stop sinning once I received that gift? No! Due to the PROCESS of sanctification, I may have slowed down a little, but frankly there is no difference between me and any other person on the street. I sin and I deserve eternity in hell for my continuing disobedience, just as he or she does.

The only difference is because of this God-given faith and nothing else, God no longer CONSIDERS me sinful. I am still sinful, but he no longer considers me sinful! “O Lord, somehow, through my witness, through Your Word, through the witness of this church may others come to know the blessedness of no longer being seen as a rebel in Your sight. No longer considered to be a sinner.

Let that be our attitude here at Living Word. Let us have a heart for those who have not yet come to believing God, those who have not yet come to faith, no matter what their sins may be. Let us guard against the attitude of the older brother of the Prodigal Son:

Luk 15:27-32 GW  "The servant told him, 'Your brother has come home. So your father has killed the fattened calf to celebrate your brother's safe return.'  (28)  "Then the older son became angry and wouldn't go into the house. His father came out and begged him to come in.  (29)  But he answered his father, 'All these years I've worked like a slave for you. I've never disobeyed one of your commands. Yet, you've never given me so much as a little goat for a celebration with my friends.  (30)  But this son of yours spent your money on prostitutes, and when he came home, you killed the fattened calf for him.'  (31)  "His father said to him, 'My child, you're always with me. Everything I have is yours.  (32)  But we have something to celebrate, something to be happy about. This brother of yours was dead but has come back to life. He was lost but has been found.'"

Look what happened here. Rather than celebrate the return of a sinner, (his own brother we might add) he becomes angry and refuses to join the party. This is no slight rejection, this is very serious. So serious the father comes outside and begs him to change his heart and come in.

But the older brother clings to his resentment, a resentment that keeps him from the party. (A picture of the heavenly banquet) A resentment that centers on the fact that his younger brother threw away the father’s lavish grace and exchanged it for sinful living.

But here’s the irony of this story. The older brother didn’t throw away God’s grace, rather he did something just as bad.....he never availed himself of it! Bottom line? What’s the difference? They were both without it. The older son dutifully obeyed his father but never took advantage of his father’s grace....not even one little goat’s worth.

It was always fully there, but he chose to work to gain his father’s favor rather than just receive it. This is a very dangerous trap, and one that could result in being left on the outside looking in. The cure? No different than the cure for the Prodigal.

He came to his senses. He purposed in his heart to come back to his father and say, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and you. (He had wasted his inheritance (which we will call grace, on sinful living) I don’t deserve to be called your son anymore. Make me one of your hired men.” Do you see the order? Repentance and forgiveness first, then works, then obedience, (make me one of your hired men) not the other way around.

 The older son needed to come to his senses too. He needed to come to his father and say , “I have sinned against heaven and you (I have not availed myself of your inheritance (grace)  and have chosen legalistic living. ) Forgive me and make me one of your hired men.

One thing often overlooked in the story of the Prodigal Son is the fact that the father didn’t just give his inheritance (his property, his grace ) to one son. He gave it to both of them.

Luke 15:12b - “So the father divided his property between his two sons.”

One wasted it, the other never apprehended it, both leave the sons lost, without grace, both were in spiritually deadly situations. One came back to life, was lost but was now found, the other chose to remain outside the wonder the father begged him to come in. He begs you and I just as fervently today. Give up on legalism and come to grace!

Paul continues:

Rom 4:9-12 GW  Are only the circumcised people blessed, or are uncircumcised people blessed as well? We say, "Abraham's faith was regarded as God's approval of him."  (10)  How was his faith regarded as God's approval? Was he circumcised or was he uncircumcised at that time? He had not been circumcised.  (11)  Abraham's faith was regarded as God's approval while he was still uncircumcised. The mark of circumcision is the seal of that approval. Therefore, he is the father of every believer who is not circumcised, and their faith, too, is regarded as God's approval of them.  (12)  He is also the father of those who not only are circumcised but also are following in the footsteps of his faith. Our father Abraham had that faith before he was circumcised.

The point of these passages is that Abraham’s faith was apart from his circumcision. This is great news for the uncircumcised of Paul’s day and a very important topic for the early church which consisted of many Jews.

Paul needed to make his case strongly for the acceptance of Gentiles into the church apart from circumcision. He needed to do this, because the Jews were insisting on it. They had turned circumcision into a work! Theylacked understanding of the meaning of circumcision and they wanted to make it a requirement for acceptance into the church.

They regarded circumcision only as a mark of obedience to God and not as something of great value that was given to Abraham and his descendants by God. Paul proves here that circumcision was only received by Abraham as a gift, not as something rendered to God by Abraham, offered as a service to God. .

  The same erroneous view is held by many today with regard to baptism. Some say, Christ commands it, we obey His ordinance, and He receives our obedience. What they fail to realize is that we RECEIVE baptism, it is something God does for us, not something we do for Him.

Righteousness by faith (which is an invisible verdict of not guilty) is pronounced in the secret chamber of heaven!  And  it is sealed here on earth by visible means. Hence we have the seals of circumcision and the Passover in the OT, and baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the New.

Think about a seal for a moment. In context here we are talking about a signet. What was the purpose of a signet  It was a stamp that was used to indicate ownership and authenticity. In our baptism we are stamped by a representative of God who has declared that person to belong to God through God-given authentic faith. (The only authentic faith is that which is given by God!)

It is a permanent mark   that can never be washed away, that’s why we don’t need to be rebaptized. The only thing that can make the seal invalid is a loss of faith. “He that believes and is sealed (baptized) shall be saved, He that believeth not (sealed or not) will be damned.

Now, I want you to follow this line of thinking as I connect it to the story of the Prodigal. Baptism is a means of God’s grace by which God declares us righteous in the secret chamber of heaven. What did the Prodigal say when he returned to his father?

“I’ve sinned against heaven and you!” I’ve neglected the faith given to me from above at my circumcision and I’ve trampled on your grace! And what did the father do? Well one of the things he did was command that the family ring, the signet be put back on his hand.

Lk 15: 22 - “Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet!”

The family seal endures, it is only our lack of faith that makes the seal of no value.

Now Abraham participated in what we would call “believers circumcision”. His confession of faith on that starry night when God promised him that the world would be blessed through his seed, occurred approximately 29 years before he was circumcised.

As Paul says, this proves that it is faith that makes us the spiritual children of Abraham. But God told Abraham that he must not only be circumcised himself but he was to circumcise all males who were at least 8 days old.

Listen to what God said,

Gen 17:9 ”You and your descendants in generations to come are to be faithful to My promise.”

To who’s promise? To God’s promise!

To God’s what? His promise. Promise of what? Salvation by faith alone.

Gen. 17:10,11 “This is how you are to be faithful to my promise. Every male among you is to be circumcised.” All of you must be circumcised. That will be the sign (the mark, the signet) of the promise from Me to you.”

There was nothing said about the necessity of the Hebrew child to have an understanding of faith, or to make a decision for faith and then be circumcised. God said that circumcision was His seal, His method of marking that child with faith that originated in heaven.

He does the same thing today with infant baptism.  How He works that faith is up to Him, we just need to know that baptism is God’s faithful promise that faith has been granted..

With faith in Jesus Christ you can go out on any starry night and look to the heavens just as Abraham did, and you can claim to be one of those stars that God promised Abraham as spiritual descendants. Stand in awe and gaze and rejoice that God has given you the trust, the faith to believe Him and to be counted as a member of His family!

Rom 4:13 GW  So it was not by obeying Moses' Teachings that Abraham or his descendants received the promise that he would inherit the world. Rather, it was through God's approval of his faith.

Just some quick comments on this verse before we wrap it up this week.  Paul has made it clear that obedience to the Law does not bring salvation. Salvation must come by God-given faith. The faith that says, “I believe whatever You say Lord.”

Please note here a new twist to the “promise.” Not just a promise of salvation, but a promise to inherit the world! Remember when Satan took Jesus to the top of a mountain and showed Him the world and said it could all be his, if He would just worship him now?

He was saying to Jesus, no need to go through this obedience thing, no need to go to the cross, You can have it now, and He could’ve had it. Just like you and I could have it today. Bow down to Satan, enjoy the things of the world to the hilt now today! This is one of his temptations for all of us.

But think that temptation through before you buy into it.

1Jo 2:17 GW  the world and its evil desires are passing away. But the person who does what God wants lives forever.

2Pe 3:12b GW  When that day comes, heaven will be on fire and will be destroyed. Everything that makes up the universe will burn and melt.

So much for your inheritance when you lose your child-like faith. If you refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation, if you despise His grace or refuse to avail yourself of it.....look around, verily verily I say unto you, you have your reward.

A world that at first glance looks pretty good, but it is sin-stained and has been since the fall and it is destined to be reduced to nothing. So if you refuse to surrender to Christ, enjoy your world now baby, because that’s it! But one day, when our Lord returns a new heaven and a new perfect world will be inherited.

Rev 21:1-5 GW  I saw a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven and earth had disappeared, and the sea was gone.  (2)  Then I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, dressed like a bride ready for her husband.  (3)  I heard a loud voice from the throne say, "God lives with humans! God will make his home with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and be their God.  (4)  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There won't be any more death. There won't be any grief, crying, or pain, because the first things have disappeared."  (5)  The one sitting on the throne said, "I am making everything new." He said, "Write this: 'These words are faithful and true.'"

This will be a place of indescribable beauty and peace. The new digs will be dressed like a bride for her husband, meticulously prepared for her groom. There will be no more tears, no more death, no grief, no crying, no pain, because the world that the devil wants to give you will have disappeared. Everything will be made new!

Can you identify with something new and how pleasant that is! A new car! A new home! A new bike! A new baby! Everything will be like that only even better! Why would anyone want to settle for the used, worn out things of this world today!

Jesus said, “the meek shall inherit the earth.” He was talking about the new heaven and the new earth. Who will inherit it? The meek. Who are the meek? They are the ones who have the child-like faith of Abraham. The ones who say in their heart. I believe everything You say Lord.

Thank God for the child-like faith He has given you, and if you are like the Prodigal Son and his brother...come to your senses! Repent! Think differently about the inheritance you have been given.

Don’t squander it on worldly living, and don’t refuse it as you seek to work for God’s favor. He begs you to give up on that line of thinking and surrender to His grace. Receive it, and rejoice in it. Persevere in it and one day the world will truly be yours. Not the piddly, imperfect, temporary world offered by the devil, but the full, perfect, and permanent world that He will re-create for His faithful children.