June 11, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 4)

Submitted by Kevan H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 4

Working for righteousness vs. being “counted” as righteous

Through chapters 1-3, Paul argues that all man’s striving and work for righteousness–righteousness before a holy God–is destined to fail. Man’s very best moral striving ultimately fails when measured to the standard of God’s law. Paul clearly declares this in 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The message is clear: works-based righteousness is destined to fail. It’s a modus operandi frustrated and sabotaged by my fundamental sinfulness. Paul preaches this not only in Romans 4, but also throughout the Epistles, and it’s a message found throughout Jesus’ ministry. And yet I find it is such second nature even though I’ve been Christian for so many years, I slip again and again into this pattern of works-based righteousness!

• I try to do spiritual things in order to earn approval and acceptance before God and in the eyes of others.

• I think that if I do more “good” things, that it will outweigh and out-pay for the “bad” things I’ve done. Sin a little in the morning, but I work hard the rest of the day to be holy, to do godly things, and to do churchy things. And although I’d never articulate it this way, my emotions and the satisfaction I feel about myself after I’ve done “godly” things reveal a subtle undercurrent of works-based righteousness in my psyche.

• I have a picture of a “successful” and an “unsuccessful” spiritual day before God. But the reality is that neither of the two makes me any more or any less acceptable before God. I come to God as a sinner–not a less sinful or more sinful one. I’m just a sinner before a holy God, in need of His mercy and in need of the righteousness that comes from God.

Again and again, I need to remind myself–whether on the one hand, it’s the best of days in living out Christian life, or, on the other side of the spectrum, even if it’s the worst of days living out my convictions–I can’t manufacture my own righteousness. Nothing I do with my hands can ever make me a righteous person before God. Righteousness comes from Jesus’ life and death on the cross, and I need to come humbly before God, placing my faith and belief in Jesus. That is the only path to righteousness before God.

That I am counted righteous before God frees me from being enslaved to keeping track of my good moments and my bad moments. It frees me from the preoccupation of wondering what others think about how holy or good I am. It frees me even from my own voices of accusation, of guilt and shame from my past. I don’t have to make up or pay back in order to come before God. No, I can come before God today because I come to God through the blood of Jesus. Praise the Lord!

Living out a life of serving God, then, isn’t a chore nor is it a tiresome set of works or tasks that I need to do to earn God’s acceptance or approval. Rather, living a life of serving God becomes a grateful response to God’s unconditional, free gift of salvation. I can try my very hardest to live a holy and God-honoring life because I am empowered with the knowledge that the God of the universe loves me and has counted me as righteous. Nothing I do (or don’t do) makes me less a son of God.

Romans 4:17 says, “… the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” I love this verse because God has given life to my dead soul through the gospel. Even though I am not righteous but am a wretched sinner through and through, God has called me righteous. Praise the Lord.

Submitted by Jenny H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church.

        Working for righteousness vs. being “counted” as righteous

There’s such an ingrained desire to earn things that we are given. There are probably a lot of different reasons for this. We want to earn things, because there is something inside of us that wants to deserve things. I think also because the notion that something is “free” goes against the way we think the world works. We grow up experiencing and hearing mantras like: “There is no free lunch;” “There’s nothing free in this world;” or, “If you want something, you need to earn it.” It’s a message that infiltrates a lot of our relationships, even with our parents.  We feel like we have to be “good enough.”

As overachievers, there’s something inside also that thrives on this. Earning something feeds your ego, sets you apart from others who didn’t earn it, who didn’t put in their dues.  This might be why the Jews took pride in the law and in their ancestry.

In this light, to be “counted as righteous” is a humbling thing for proud sinners. To accept that is to accept my inability to earn or work for something I desperately need. It’s something foreign to the proud, to be given something for free that I did not deserve. I’m not much of an overachiever, but I have seen this working out in my own heart, wanting to earn my place, wanting to earn approval from people and God despite being handed something purely out of grace and mercy.

It’s only to those who see their inability to earn a place before God, to cover over their own sins, this prospect of being counted as righteous comes as the good news, the greatest news.

For me, the older I get, the truth that surfaces again and again is my inability to earn the things that are given to me.  The more time passes, the more I see my inability to do many things, I see my sins and failings emerge in fresh ways, I see how true it is that I’m in need.  And as I see these things, the more this truth that I’m counted as righteous – this is such relief to me. As I go through life, fumbling through situations, hurting people who are most important and dear to me because of my pride and selfishness, seeing how unable I am to bridge the gap between myself and a Holy God, the fact that I am counted as righteous before God has become more important, more precious, and something that is so much better than earning.  Why?  Because earning something based on merit means I can also lose it if I stop performing.  But something given out of grace is not dependent on the performance of the recipient, but on the character of the giver.

So what is God like?  He is the one who “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”  Over the years, these truths about God have become not only truths I’ve held onto, but things I have discovered to be increasingly true and more of a wonder to me.  Who am I? Sinner, Selfish, Proud, Guilty.  He calls me Beloved, Forgiven, Blessing, Minister.

If there is one issue in life that needs to be settled before you die, it’s where you stand before the Creator of the universe, it’s making sure you’re right with your Maker. When I die, I will be before my Creator and Judge and what I deserve is not eternal life and to be reconciled with him, but rather to be separated from Him and anything good and to be haunted by my sins.  Commentator R.H. Mounce says, “Believers are the most fortunate people imaginable because the question of their sin has been settled forever. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us’ (Ps 103:12). Guilt dogs the steps of the unbeliever, but forgiveness is the sweet reward of those who trust in God.”

        What faith is

What is Faith?  Romans 4:18-19 states, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘so shall your offspring be.’  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.”  Looking at this set of verses in 18-25, faith is not some unreasonable or blind belief.  Instead, it includes confronting and facing up to some hard truths. Abraham faced the fact that his body was “as good as dead.” He looked at his wife and her womb was “also dead.” In other words, the prospects of bringing about the life he dreamed about of having children, his ability to bring about the fulfilling future he hoped for was dead.  For me, I may not be 100 years old, but there are many things in my life that I also saw that were “as good as dead”—my ability to do good and to love the people in my life, to be faithful to my own earnest commitments, to have a mind and heart that are pure. Not only these things, but to face the fact that this world is fundamentally broken, that life is a hard trek to go through as sinners among other sinners, full of heartache and things just not panning out. Faith is not to ignore the hard truths in life, but to face them and “against all hope,” to hope not in my own willpower or some hollow optimism that things will work out, but to hope in a God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.  In verse 20, it says “yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

R.H. Mounce writes: “His hope was not the invincible human spirit rising to the occasion against all odds but a deep inner confidence that God was absolutely true to his word.[1] Faith is unreasonable only within a restricted worldview that denies God the right to intervene. His intervention is highly rational from the biblical perspective, which not only allows him to intervene but actually expects him to show concern for those he has created in his own image.”

Personal Application

So for me, as a person of faith, to walk as Abraham did, I need to face the uglier and harder truths head on, but also to not restrict my worldview to just my own circumstances or what I can/cannot do, but to believe there is a God who has the power to, right to, and desire to intervene in my life and in the lives around me.  Faith isn’t trying to psych myself up or relying on spurts of emotions or excitement, but “being persuaded that God has the power to do what he promised.” To be persuaded means to cause someone to do something through reason and argument.  God is faithful to his promises, and He desires to work through broken sinful people.  The struggle to have faith comes up for me when I’m confronted with my sins again and I doubt that God receives me back, that I am his child, or when I fail and begin to feel illegitimate and doubt that He wants to use me and like I have no place in his kingdom work. But like Abraham I need to not waver through unbelief but instead be persuaded that he has the power to do what he promised in my life and in the lives of those I’m ministering to, and in our church as a whole. In despairing situations, even when there is very little or no hope to be seen, I can actually look to God, I can walk in faith and obey God step by step with a sense of anticipation and real hope based on His character and His promises.

Submitted by David W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Analysis of the Text

Think about what this chapter says about:

– Working for righteousness vs. being “counted” as righteous 

– Walking in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham 

– What faith is

This chapter says that we do not work for our righteousness, but we are counted righteous because of our faith, because of our trust in God, who justifies the wicked.  Abraham, our example, was not justified by works, but he believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  It is the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.  The words “it was credited to him” were not written for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  So then, in our lives, we do not work for our righteousness.  It is not our works that translate into righteousness.  It is God choosing to grant us righteousness, to see us as righteous, even though we aren’t, because of our faith, because of our trust in Him.

This chapter uses Abraham as the example of righteousness credited by faith and not by works.  He is the one who has gone before us.  In fact, the chapter tells us that he is the father of us all, our father in the sight of God.  Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said, promised to him by God.  Staying strong in his faith, despite the facts of reality that would say otherwise – of being too old and Sarah having a barren womb – he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  And thus it was said of it, “it was credited to him as righteousness”.  But it was not just for him, but for us as well.  We are recipients of it, beneficiaries of it, through our belief and faith in God, who will likewise grant us righteousness.

Hebrews 11 says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This chapter says that faith is believing God, trusting God, in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  Through Abraham’s example, faith is hope and belief even against all obstacles, all realities, trusting in God’s promises and being fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised.

Personal Application 

v.4-8 – Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts in God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:  “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”

This is a truth that speaks against the natural way that I think.  I have been brought up in the world with the world’s mentality that what a person does, what he can accomplish, his deeds, his works, are the things that are of any worth.  Sentiment is nice, but ultimately it is cheap.  There is at times the feeling inside me that I need to do something to earn my salvation, that I can make up for all of my wrongs, my sins with good deeds, good works.  There is something within in me that wants to be able to earn it, to be able to work for it, and in essence to gain salvation by my own hands, by my own means.  That is so offensive to God and contrary to the message of the Gospel.  There is no amount of works that I can do to gain salvation, to gain righteousness.  My sin is too much; it is too great.  It is only the gift of salvation that is given to me through faith, through trust in God who justifies the wicked, who justifies me on my behalf, not because of anything I have done, not because of any of my works.  And before this I can only be humble and grateful.  I am reminded of this truth, and whenever these feelings of deserving or earning righteousness through what I do, through my works, comes up, I need to bring this truth again back to the forefront, to see how foolish this thinking is and how disrespectful and offensive to a Holy God it is.  No matter how righteous or good I think my works and my deeds might be, they are always tainted by my sinfulness, and it is only by God I am saved, that I am counted as righteous.  Thank God, because even my works so often fail short.

v.17 – As it is written:  “I have made you a father of many nations.  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

This is who God is – He gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.  This is what God has done in my life.  He gave me life when I was dead in my sin and transgressions.  He turned me around and gave me a new life, a new purpose, a new way and a new reason to live.  He calls me things that I am not as though I was, granting that to me, giving me the opportunity to rise up to it.  He calls me righteous even though I am not.  He calls me to be a staff and a leader at this church, even though I do not deserve it and so often fail in that role.  He calls me to love others even though I am so selfish and unloving.  He calls me precious and son, even though I sin against Him and hurt Him again and again.  And on and on it goes.  Again, all I can do is be humble and grateful before such undeserved grace and mercy.  Thank God that He calls me things that I am not as though I was.

v.18-21 – Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Abraham had this kind of faith in God and His promises despite the facts and harsh reality to the contrary.  In the face of difficulty, hardship and cold, harsh reality, Abraham was able to have this kind of faith.  This is a challenge and example to me, as I don’t have this kind of strength, this kind of hope, this kind of faith.  So often, fears and anxieties, sadness and despair can creep in and take over and usurp the faith and trust in God and His promises.  I can keep looking at the facts, at reality, and see no hope in the face of difficulties and challenges.  My trust and faith can waver at these times, and I can be tempted to just want to give up, to give in, to let go, to stop striving, to stop struggling, to stop persevering in whatever it might be.  I pray that I can grow in my faith, in my trust, especially when it seems to go against reality and reason, and to be strengthened in my faith and give glory to God, to remain fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised, despite difficulties, hardships, defeats and letdowns.  I pray that I can grow to have the faith that Abraham had.

Submitted by Grace L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

        Working for righteousness vs. being “counted” as righteous

In this chapter, Paul talks about Abraham, the father of faith.  Why did God choose him to be the father of many nations, the father of faith? Was it because he had worked for it or earned it? Paul points out that it’s not because he did anything except that he trusted God. “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” It’s purely a free gift of God because Abraham believed God’s words, God’s promises.  Righteousness is a free gift of God.  It has nothing to do with what someone did or how they earned or whether they did religious acts or performed religious duties, but it’s completely just a free gift, an attribute given to us by God.  Apostle Paul also brings up the example of David, who knew the blessedness of the forgiveness of his sins and being counted as righteous, despite his adultery and his act of murder.  Both David and Abraham are counted as righteous, not because they deserved it, not because they knew the law and tried to act upon it, because David clearly fell really hard, but because they believed God’s words, believed in God’s promises, and that was counted as righteous.  How different this is from my usual conception of what righteousness is.  I usually consider righteousness as a quality of a person from how they act, whether they’re one to uphold the law, but we are counted as righteous by the God who gives life to the dead and calls things not as though they were.  We are clearly not righteous.  I am clearly not righteous, but God just counts me as righteous because I have chosen to believe in His word, in the promise that I have been forgiven from my sins once and for all by the cross of Jesus.

        Walking in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham
The Jews were confused thinking that to be considered righteous, to be considered a child of Abraham was purely by lineage and therefore by circumcision, but Paul points out that it is those who follow in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham that are the children of Abraham, that are a part of Abraham’s nation.  Abraham received the circumcision as a sign of his faith in God.  He was counted as righteous therefore he was given this mark.  Therefore to be heirs of Abraham, to be heirs of God, is not to base it off of the law, but to believe God as Abraham believed.  Apostle Paul actually says, “For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.” Faith has no value if we could earn our righteousness, if we could earn our inheritance with God.  There is no point to believe in God and His words because we could earn it.  I would be able to control my life just fine.  I would be able to withstand the temptations and sinful nature just fine and fulfill the law, the holy standard, just fine on my own.  There’s no transgression therefore there is no point to faith.  Abraham didn’t look to his own life and ability, but completely trusted God and that was righteousness.  There’s nothing I can do to earn my place among God’s people, but just to believe in God’s word.

        What faith is
In thinking about what Apostle Paul describes as what faith is, I’m particularly struck by v.18: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”  It was against all hope.  Both Abraham and Sarah were way too old to be having children.  They were super, super old.  From the ordinary human perspective, there was no hope for Abraham and Sarah to be the father of many nations.  I in my pessimism would’ve scoffed at God telling me that my offspring would be as many as the stars in the sky or like the sands on the seashore.  Yet, Abraham against all hope, hoped.  He hoped.  He believed God’s words, not because there was good evidence that this would happen, but because it was God.  Because God said so, Abraham believed.  Because it was God’s word, He believed.  It was that simple for him.  He knew that because God is almighty, powerful, and loves his creatures, if He said that He was going to do this thing for Abraham, Abraham believed.  “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’”  He didn’t just say he believed, but he was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.  He believed God’s words so much that he gave glory to God for it.  He praised God for His promises even when it seemed like there was no hope.  Faith is not having the worldly perspective or a perspective of life that doesn’t include God, doesn’t include the characteristics of God and what God has done through the cross and will continue to do in our lives.  Faith is believing in God’s word against what might be rational from the world’s perspective.

Personal Application

There are several personal applications I can draw from today’s text.  First of all, I can see how important it is to know God’s word.  What did Abraham put his faith in? In God’s word, in His promises.  If I don’t know, if I don’t saturate myself, let myself get addressed by God’s word, then how am I supposed to believe in it, how am I supposed to live and walk in the footsteps of Abraham? It’s important to really know God’s words so that I can really be counted as the children of Abraham.  I’m so thankful that we have this daily devotional structure and that everyone around me has built their life around devoting their life to the word.  It really encourages me to not only spend that time reading and reflecting on the God’s promises, God’s word, who God is, but it also helps me to open my heart to God and come to know Him as Abraham knew God, completely trustworthy, against all hope.  Especially as a pessimistic person, someone who has a hard time finding hope, I think it can be really grounded in not taking God’s promises, God’s word, who God is seriously into my life.  It’s having a worldview that doesn’t include the almighty, powerful creator God who created the universe, and calls things not as though they were.  So even when I feel down and pessimistic about my sin issues, I can trust that God will complete the work that He has started in me, will make me as white as snow, that I am truly a new creation, that it is finished upon the cross.  I think another lesson is the origin of righteousness.  It’s not about me.  It’s not about how much I do, how much I don’t do.  All that I do is not for the purpose of gaining righteousness, but it’s sharing in God’s heart, learning about God more and more, learning about myself more and more so that I can appreciate righteousness not from myself but from God.  The longer I minister, the longer I am a Christian, it gets more and more clear that there was never and there will never be a way I can achieve righteousness, that I can be justified in my works.  I see how clearly my heart is lacking, how my heart just naturally is rebellious and desires darkness instead of light.  I remember how different my life is from a past life that was completely under my control and it’s clear that the life I have, the blessings I have received aren’t because of my righteousness or my works, but it’s a gift of God.  I have to reorient, reteach my heart and mind that righteousness is a gift.  It has nothing to do with the law. It has nothing to do with what I do, but it’s living a life that’s completely, fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised in my life, in others’ lives. I can take risks for God.  I can live a counter-cultural life.  I can bare my soul before God.  I can trust that God is faithful, that God, who raised Jesus from dead to life, who raised me from dead to life, will call me not as I am, but will count me as righteous purely on the basis of faith and His great love and mercy. Truly how blessed it is that my transgressions are forgiven and that my sins are covered.

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