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"Lessons in Righteousness from Abraham 'The Believer'"
Romans 4:1-25

Wednesday PM Home Bible Study
September 10, 2003

When I was little, my favorite Sunday School stories involved the great Bible hero Abraham. If only my Sunday school teacher had known what was in my head, though! I had images of a tall man with a stove-top had, a bearded chin, and a wart on his cheek!

Did you know that the Abraham of the Bible is a main figure in three great world religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity? He was the first man to be called a "Hebrew" (Genesis 14:13). But what may come as a surprise is that this great Old Testament saint is held up to us as the prime example of what it means to be declared righteous by faith in Jesus Christ.

In the first three chapters of Romans (the systematic explanation of the Gospel he preached) Paul demonstrated that all people - Jews and Gentiles alike - have sinned against God's law and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). But in the latter half of chapter three, he shows us that God has revealed a declaration of righteousness that can be ours apart from the law - a righteousness by faith that God is pleased with and fully accepts, because He Himself is the Author of it (3:21-24). Finally, Paul argues that God's plan of "justification by faith" does not "make void" the law; but rather "establishes" it.

Now Paul, no doubt, anticipates the objection of the pious Jew - that this idea of "justification by faith" is some new idea that is alien to the Scriptures God gave us through Moses. And so, in the fourth chapter, Paul demonstrates that this isn't a new idea at all; but that it is as old as God's gracious salvation of Abraham - the very first Jew.

This means that God's plan of salvation was the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New. All people who have been justified before God have been declared righteous through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ - whether in the Old Testament times or in the New. Let's learn, then, the lessons in 'justification by faith' that we gain from Abraham. His experience teaches us the "how", the "when", the "who", the "why", and the "what" of God's gracious gift of righteousness.

1. HOW: How does God declare people righteous? By faith (vv. 1-8).
A little background about Abraham. He was originally a pagan man (Josh. 24:2); but one who was called by God to leave his pagan country and family, and come to the land God called him to. God gave him the promise that distinguished the Jewish people from all others; but that also would be the blessing to the world (Gen. 12:1-3). God promised that, even though Abraham and his wife was old and childless, his descendants would nevertheless be beyond number (Gen. 13:16). As the years went by - and still no child was born - Abraham struggled with this promise. But God took him outside one night and asked him to look up and count the stars. God told him, "So shall your descendants be" (Gen. 15:5); and then we read, "And he believed the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (v. 6). The promise was finally fulfilled when Abraham was 100 and his wife 90 - just to show that nothing is too hard for God (Gen. 18:14).

2. WHEN: When does God declare people righteous? Before works of the law (vv. 9-11a).

Historically, Abraham was not circumcised until Genesis 17:10 - fourteen years after He had received the promise from God and believed it!

3. WHO: Who does God declare righteous? All who believe as Abraham did (vv. 11b-12).

What God looks to is not the "outward sign" that characterized the Jew; but rather at the inward condition of the heart (Rom. 2:28-29). This means that justification by faith is not the exclusive property of the Jew; but of all who believe as Abraham did.

4. WHY: Why does God declare people righteous? Because of His grace (vv. 13-17).

God didn't tell Abraham that He would fulfill this great promise if he was careful to obey His commandments and show himself "worthy". If that were the case, then faith would be made "void" that the promise "of no effect". But the good news is that righteousness by faith is of God's grace - His free gift.

5. WHAT: On what basis is God's declaration of righteousness sure? His power (v. 18-25).

Note God's power described in verse 17! Abraham's confidence was in God's power (vv. 20-22); and that power is further described in verses 23-25. We are justified by faith; and the power to have that faith and to be kept in that faith is of God Himself!

* * * * * * * * * *

The Gospel was preached long ago to Abraham; and he is presented to us as "the believer" (Gal. 3:6-9). He is the prime example of what it means to be declared righteous by faith. May we have the same faith as Abraham - the believer!

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