June 21, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 4)

Submitted by Angell S. from Gracepoint San Diego Church

Romans 4:3-8  

3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

                        7 “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.    8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”

For Abraham in Genesis 15, he had followed God’s call to leave his country and clung onto God’s promise to make him into a great nation. Yet in the interim, he had experienced separating with Lot (his nephew and hope for an heir), rescuing Lot from Sodom/Gomorrah and antagonizing the king of Sodom by refusing to accept any reward. In the midst of this, God comes again to reaffirm his promise. Although Abraham could not see how God could fulfill his great promise to multiply his offspring like the stars, he continued to believe in God’s promise. Even though his eyes and practical mind could not comprehend God’s way, he somehow trusted that God was greater than him and would somehow provide where he could not see a way. It’s this same kind of attitude and faith that Paul now parallels to how I view my sinfulness.

When I see my sin as something I can “make up for” or justify, I am like a man whose wages are credited as an obligation. I view God’s forgiveness not as grace but a deserved response to my good deeds. I don’t see God’s forgiveness as a blessing, nor do I need to rely on faith to believe in my righteousness. I carry a self-righteousness that’s based off of my actions. This is what the Pharisees did and I know this attitude well. There’s such a pull within my heart to justify my actions or to try to make up for my mistakes. There are times when I catch myself rapidly dismissing my selfishness by placing the blame on the other party. Or if something is pointed out, I apologize, do something nice in return and expect that I’ve made up for what I’ve done. When I engage in these behaviors, I don’t see myself as very bad and feel that the forgiveness that I actually receive is justified.

But as Paul outlines here, the true reality of my sinfulness is that my sins are so deep and destructive that I do not deserve the forgiveness that I actually receive. There’s no way I can hope to “work” to earn enough justification for my righteousness. Once my sins are committed I’ve created relational scars and damage that I can never hope to repair despite my best efforts. And before God, how can I even begin to declare my own righteousness when many times I betray Him or live for myself? When I see myself in this light, it becomes very difficult to believe that God can completely cleanse my sins. Surely there must be something I need to do in return. Surely God cannot fully forgive me. He must tolerate me but not really consider me a son whom He trusts with His work. But that’s where I need to have the same faith as Abraham. Just as he could not see the promise of God fulfilled, so I too in the midst of my sin have a hard time seeing my sins completely cleansed. I have a hard time believing God and people will forgive. In response to that God’s promise is that my transgressions are forgiven, my sins are covered and God will NEVER count my sins against me. This is the true reality that I need to believe in and trust.

Romans 4:17

  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 particular verse has been very challenging to me because it portrays a God of transformation and hope. Those who were once dead now have life. Those who are not He now calls as though they were. When I look back at my life, this verse captures my testimony. I was once dead in my sins. I lived a very competitive and selfish life. I only had care for myself. I hurt so many people and took advantage of all my relationships. My goal in life was to be successful and respected by others through my hard work. I didn’t care if I had to step on others to get there or if my life only consisted of myself. Somehow through the church, family, people in my life, the gospel came to me and I was saved from this dead life. God showed me the sinfulness of my ways and displayed His forgiveness on the cross. My life was transformed and I started to have a new direction, purpose and meaning in my life.

More recently I have been experiencing what it means for him to call things that are not as though they were. Just two years ago I was part of the mission team that came down to SD. It just happened that I was finishing medical school and was at a good point in my life to have the opportunity to move to SD as part of the new church plant. After moving down, I remember praying through the prayer list one day and all of a sudden being struck by the fact that I was now a “missionary”. That definitely wasn’t how I felt. Growing up I saw the missionaries like Jim Eliot, Hudson Taylor, Mother Teresa as spiritual giants who were pious, righteous, sacrificial, and holy men and women of God. Yet here I was still struggling with different aspects of my heart, finding myself being selfish in different circumstances, having lack of generosity, etc. But somehow God was calling me to do His work and spread His gospel in very much the same way as them. He was calling me His missionary to UCSD with the same seriousness and vision as He had called them. At that moment I felt a sense of unworthiness and the greatness of God’s vision for me – calling me what I was not with the hope of one day growing into that identity. I’ve also experienced this in my role as a ministry staff. I know myself and how I still lack so much in terms of loving others, wisdom in how to deal with ministry issues, emotional availability. Yet somehow God has placed people under me and given me responsibility to help them grow and experience Him. He calls me to love them, share His heart for them, and live sacrificially so that they might experience Him. I am not yet there but God calls me such because that is His vision for me and through that I have grown bit by bit to trying to embrace that role.

As I think about this verse, I am also reminded of our students. A few weeks ago we had our first baptism here in SD. It was such a powerful moment as I saw the 12 students standing there in the pool and was reminded of each of their testimonies about how God brought life to them through the gospel. I remember how many of them were here when they first came to our group. Honestly I wasn’t sure how God could or would work in them. But in just these short years I saw how He used His Word, the church and different situations to transform them. Their baptism was such a powerful reminder that God is real and He truly brings life in the midst of death. I’m also challenged to have the same hope/vision for them that God had for me and has for them. This past week Pastor Daniel issued a challenge for the students to co-labor with us in building the church and continuing the vision of an Acts 2 church in every college town. Looking at our group of mostly freshmen and sophomores, I knew that there were still a lot of issues with sin, commitment, strongholds that needed to be dealt with. Part of me wanted to ask how God could use them to build His church and even plant more churches. But I saw that I was once this way as well. Somehow God had hope/vision for me and guided me to the point where I was now a missionary. In my life He called me something I was not, and through that my life has been so blessed. In the same way He calls our students missionaries, church-planters, ambassadors because that is how He sees them. That’s the vision and hope I want to share in as well.

Romans 4:22-25

22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

I’m reminded again that my righteousness does not come from my actions. It doesn’t stem from how good I act before others, what a loving person I am, or how much I give. My righteousness is simply found through believing that Jesus Christ died for my sins and was raised to life so that I could be completely justified. All of this was given freely to me as a gift of grace.

Dear God, thank you so much for the grace that I have received. So many times I’m tempted to try to create righteousness out of my own. I minimize my sins or justify myself in an attempt to earn my righteousness. But the truth is that I’m a sinner and nothing I can do can ever come close to justifying my betrayal of You and others. So help me to discard this false righteousness that causes me to hide my true self from others. Deliver me from the pride that says that I can somehow deserve Your favor. Instead, help me to find righteousness through the amazing fact that You delivered me from death and have fully justified me.

Submitted by Jessica Y. from Gracepoint San Diego Church

Romans 4:1-25

“It was not the fact that Abraham had meticulously performed the demands of the law that put him into his special relationship with God, it was his complete trust in God and his complete willingness to abandon his life to him.”

  • Reflect on the fact that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  (Genesis 15:6).  What can I learn from this about how God relates with man (and with me)?

At first it seems a little strange that God would call Abraham righteous simply because Abraham took God at His word and believed.  In what sense was Abraham righteous?  Romans 5:5 says, “… to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”  God didn’t choose Abraham because he had obeyed all the laws or merited God’s favor.  Abraham had not done anything that would make him somehow worthy to be accepted by God or worthy to be in a relationship with God.  Abraham simply trusted God, and God called Abraham righteous.  This is such an astounding fact to me, that God would call someone who is unholy righteous simply because he believed God.  This is not only true of Abraham, but it’s also true of me as well.  Every time I try to wrap my mind around this fact, I am utterly amazed that the holy God of the universe would call someone who is as impure, unholy, wicked, and rebellious as me, righteous.  I know I am not righteous, my track record proves this, but the fact that God sees me as righteous because of my faith in Him, not because of anything I have done, causes me to stand in awe and wonder of God.  I feel so unworthy and undeserving to have been given this gift, yet the amazing thing is that God has done this for me.

This shows me that God doesn’t relate with man, or me, based on merit.  He doesn’t look at my achievements and failures and decide that I am worthy to relate with Him.  No, God relates with me based on His mercy and grace.  He relates with me out of His love and compassion for me.  Even though God is holy, He chooses to relate with me, an unholy person.  This shows me that I don’t need to be afraid of confronting the truth of my sins and taking responsibility for them because no matter how terrible my sin is, God will not reject me when I confess and repent of those sins.  There is nothing I can do to cause me to “fall out of favor” with God because I never earned it in the first place.  This frees me from the chains of perfectionism in which I think that I have to be faultless, otherwise God will be angry with me and will reject me.  This truth also gives me the freedom to be me, to fail, and to confess them and experience God forgiving me and accepting me just as I am.  And as I experience God’s grace afresh in my life on a regular basis, my faith in God and my love for God grows.

  • Are there ways in which I am still trying to be “justified by works” before God?  Do I allow my performance to affect how I think God views me?

In some ways I find that I am still trying to be “justified by works” before God in that when I fail in my duties as a ministry staff, I feel like God is upset at me.  Sometimes when I don’t do my DT for the day I feel guilty.  And on those days, I think that I can’t go to God in prayer.  I think that since I didn’t do my DT, God will not listen to me or answer my prayers.  My own insecurities about my abilities when I compare myself to others cause me to project my own ideas of how I think God views me onto God.  I think because I am not as talented as so and so or I never have deep, insightful DTs that really bless other people or because I am not as interesting or exciting as another small group leader, I am less valuable to God.  These thoughts and feelings cause me to think that I need to merit God’s favor and I forget the truth that I have never merited God’s favor.

[…]

Romans 4:6-8

  • How much am I in agreement with the notion of blessing as David defines it?

As I get older, I experience more failures and I come to know myself more as different sin issues come up.  It’s painful and uncomfortable when the ugly truth of who I am comes out, but each time I confess and repent of my sins, I am amazed and so grateful that I am forgiven of my sins.  The fact that I don’t have to be weighed down by the burden of my guilt is indeed such a huge blessing.  The fact that I have a place to go to unburden my heart of my sins and be restored in my relationship with God, not having to worry about how I can make it up to God in some way, is such a huge relief because I know that I can never pay the full penalty of my sins.  How can I take back the hurt or the offense I have incurred on someone else or on God?  I can’t.  So the fact that, the holy God of the universe does not count my sins against me is indeed the most blessed thing I can receive in life.

  • Have I accepted in faith that I am that blessed person “whose sin the LORD will never count against him?”

I have accepted in faith that I am that blessed person “whose sin the Lord will never count against him” mainly because of the forgiveness and grace that I have received through our church.  I have done and said some pretty hurtful things to people in the past, but each time I have only been met with mercy and a lot of grace.  As I apologize and make amends with the other person, I experience total forgiveness and my relationship with that person is completely restored.  This concrete experience of complete restoration in my relationships with my leaders or with other sisters has helped me to understand the kind of total forgiveness and complete restoration that happens in my relationship with God whenever I confess and repent of my sins.  Each time I think what I said was too hurtful to be forgiven, I am amazed that when I apologize, the other person readily forgives me and our relationship is back to how it was before.  The kind of grace that I receive from others shows me the kind of forgiveness and grace that God gives me whenever I go to Him for forgiveness.  It is through people’s forgiveness that I have come to fully trust in God’s forgiveness of me and know that God does not count my sins against me.

 

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