Romans 4: Abraham’s Children

Sermon on Romans 4

Every Vacation Bible School needs a wiggle song. One that was a lot of fun is Father Abraham. It goes like this

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
and I am one of them and so are you
so let’s just praise the Lord!

After each chorus a body part is named, left arm, right arm, left foot, right foot, then turn around, then sit down. It’s a simple song; however, there is a profound truth hiding behind the words. 

It is that God considers those who share Abraham’s faith to be just as much Abraham’s children as his physical descendants and they share in the promise that their faith justifies them before God.

In chapter three of Romans, Paul argued that everyone messes up, that there are no exceptions and no tolerance for failure in the law of God, and that, therefore, God had to provide a way for our crimes to be charged to someone else so that we could be forgiven and counted innocent when he judged us, That someone else was Jesus Christ, his Son, who was crucified for our transgressions and raised for justification (Romans 4:25). This same Jesus has become our Lord and the ultimate ruler of all nations under heaven.

But was Abraham justified by faith? Paul points to what Moses wrote in the first book of the law:

“Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Romans 4:3 (cf. Genesis 15:6)

And adds this comment,

“To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift, but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

Romans 4:4-6

So, while we think of Abraham as a good man; he was not justified before God by his works, rather his faith was counted as righteousness.

Paul says that what was true of Abraham is also true of all who believe. That’s good news to me and I hope it is to you.

At times like these it is terribly easy to get into a depressive funk where negative thoughts chase one another through our heads. For example, it has been three and a half months since we last met together. We’ve been waiting for the number of active cases in our community to decline to levels more in line with those of nearby communities, but this week the count is creeping up again. It seems like the count will never come down. What kinds of thoughts are going through my head? Sadness and gloom over the state of our community and our nation, anger and frustration with myself and others, and a sense of failure and uselessness.

One of the challenges of depression is that one’s focus shifts from the positive to the negative. When they are depressed, people tend to brush off compliments and focus on criticisms that they would otherwise dismiss with a shrug. This tendency can make them an easy target for those who dislike and oppose them and magnifies the effect of normal disagreements and harsh words that arise in their families.

But here Paul tells us that God even justifies the ungodly.

So even if all of the criticisms I have been heaping on myself are actually justified, God doesn’t give a rip because Christ was delivered up for my transgressions and raised for my justification and God accounts me as righteous for Christ’s sake.

The same is true for you. Even if all of the negative stuff you have heard from others or thought up yourself is perfectly true, God accounts you as righteous for Christ’s sake. Even if you truly have NEVER done anything right, God loves you and will fulfill his promises to you, for the promises do not depend upon the quality of your works. They depend upon faith; so that, all who call upon him can be saved.

But you say, I’m not experiencing that now. God has called me righteous, but I haven’t seen it in my behavior. I don’t feel like a child of God. I know what you mean. Again, the experience of Abraham is instructive.

God had promised Abraham that the land of Canaan would belong to him and to his descendants which would be as numerous as stars. Abraham was old and didn’t have any children and his wife was long past menopause, but Abraham believed God’s promises and it was counted to him as righteousness. And God gave him a sign that the promise would be fulfilled: a mark in his flesh that he could never lose; the sign of circumcision.

Abraham and Sarah eventually had a son to whom both the promise and its sign were passed, but Abraham remained a nomad in the land God had promised him until the day of his death. Nonetheless, a thousand years after God gave the promise to Abraham it had been fulfilled and in another thousand years all of the nations of the world were blessed by the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus, a direct descendent of Abraham, and when Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the righthand of God, he received the entire cosmos as his domain.

So, what has Abraham found then? He trusted God and God not only fulfilled his promises in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, he over-fulfilled them. God made a miracle baby to bring forth a new nation that he used to fulfill his plan for the salvation of people from every tribe, race, language, and nation. Today, it doesn’t matter what color you are or what language you speak, if Jesus is your Lord, Abraham is your father.

Now, almost two thousand years later, the promise of salvation through Christ Jesus has been passed on to you and with the promise you’ve received a sign. Your baptism is that sign. It stands as the symbol of God’s love and mercy and the salvation that is yours through faith in Christ Jesus.

These promises depend on faith, not your ability. Paul says the promises depend upon faith so that they may be certain and received by all. If they depended upon our ability to do good and avoid evil the promises would be empty. No one, not even Abraham would succeed in obtaining them. But because they depend upon God and are received by faith, they will be realized and fulfilled beyond our wildest expectations. The righteousness and peace that God has promised you will be yours. God is faithful. Everything he has said he will do 

Where sin abounds, grace will abound even more. It is yours through the death and resurrection of Christ. Where righteousness is lacking God will call it into existence, just as he once created many nations from an old man who had no children. Comfort yourself with these truths. And wait patiently. Trust God’s power and faithfulness to accomplish all he has promised.

Let us pray:

Lord God, heavenly Father, grant us faith like Abraham’s, so that we don’t lose heart or doubt, but trust that you will fulfill your promises to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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