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Growing Strong Faith

November 6, 2022 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Romans

Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 4:17b–25

 

Introduction

(Read Text) This passage reflects on Abraham’s faith, which has always fascinated me. When we first meet Abraham, he’s living in Ur, somewhere in modern Iraq. Ur was the place to be. It was wealthy, powerful, and secure. And Joshua 24:2 states that before God spoke to Abraham, he was a pagan who served other gods.

So, this pagan man is living a secure and relatively wealthy life in Ur when God tells him to leave everything he’s ever known and to move to a new place, because is going to make a nation of him. Imagine Abraham telling Sarah, “A God that we’ve never heard of just spoke to me and told us to move across the world. What do you think?” Ladies, how would you respond?

But Abraham believed God, left everything he knew, and moved to Haran and ultimately to Canaan. While God prospered Abraham, he appeared crazy to an outsider. Imagine a new neighbor coming to meet Abraham. He says, “I moved here from Ur because God told me he would give me this land and make a great nation from my ancestors.”

The neighbor replies, “Wow, that’s quite a promise. How much land do you own?” Abraham replies, “None yet.” The neighbor answers, “Okay, how many kids do you have?” Abraham says, “My wife is barren, so we don’t have any.” The neighbor replies, “It’s hard to build a nation without land or kids you know?” Abraham answers, “I know.”

Years pass, and the neighbor returns. “Abraham, you’ve been here 20 years. How’s that promise coming? How much land do you have? I bet you have a dozen kids by now.” Abraham hangs his head and says, “Actually, I still live in a tent, but God said I’ll have a son.” The neighbor says, “You’re getting kind of old and so is Sarah. Are you sure this God will keep his promise?”

It's one thing to talk the talk of faith, but Abraham lived it. And today’s text reflects on his amazing testimony. Paul’s primary purpose is to provide a model of the saving faith he has been discussing since Romans 1. So, if you aren’t saved, and you are wondering what believing on Christ means, this passage tells you. But the entire Christian life is a life of faith; therefore, Abraham is an encouraging and challenging model for every Christian as we seek to walk by faith day by day. My outline is built on 4 characteristics of saving faith.

I.  Saving faith anchors itself to God’s character (v. 17b).

The Hallmark aisle at Walmart has a lot to say about faith. “You can do anything, if you just believe in yourself.” “Don’t stop believing.” “I believe in you.” It all sounds good, but most of it is blind optimism. It doesn’t matter what you believe, most people are too short to play in the NBA, not attractive enough to be a Hollywood star, and they don’t have the intelligence to be an astronaut. But biblical faith is different. Notice…

The Focus of Abraham’s Faith (read): Abraham’s faith was fixed on the objective truth of Almighty God, who “gives life the dead.” Verse 19 tells us what Paul means by “dead” (v. 19). By the time Sarah conceived, Abraham was “as good as dead” because he was almost 100 years old.

Kids, that’s not the best way to endear yourself to your grandparents. “Man, Grandpa, you’re as good as dead.” Of course, Paul is primarily thinking of fertility. No one expect a 100-year-old man to father a child. And not only was Sarah 89 years old, but she had never been able to conceive. Her womb was practically dead.

But Abraham believed that God is able to give “life to the dead.” He’s Almighty God. He’s not limited by human age or incapacities. As well, Abraham believed that God can “call into being that which does not exist.” Abraham didn’t have any land or any children, but God is God. He spoke the universe into existence. Certainly, he could also create a nation.

So, Abraham sets an important example because he didn’t let himself get overwhelmed with what he could see or the roadblocks before him. Instead, he anchored his mind to the power and faithfulness of God. He focused on God’s truth, not his circumstances.

The Focus of Our Faith: That’s what genuine Christian faith always does. We especially focus on the truth of the gospel. Notice the application of Abraham’s faith in vv. 24–25. Believing on Christ is not a blind leap of faith. It’s not merely a “burning in the bosom,” or an emotional impulse to give God a try.

No, Jesus died on the cross, and God raised him from the dead. The resurrection is objective proof that God is mighty to save. Therefore, saving faith isn’t about mustering great faith is or extreme emotions. It’s not about me. Instead, saving faith focuses on the power and faithfulness of God and the proof of that power in the resurrection. That is the anchor.

So, if you struggle to believe the gospel, or if you struggle with assurance of your salvation, don’t look to yourself for confidence. Saving faith is not faith in my faith or in my ability to hold onto Christ. No, focus on God, focus on the love he demonstrated in the cross and the power he displayed in the resurrection. Rest in him, not in yourself.

And Christian, keep living with the same focus. You don’t grow radical faith by focusing on your faith. Instead, you build faith by growing the fear of the Lord. So, study the Word with an eye to see God in all his glory and wonder. Dwell on his power and wonder at his goodness. Meditate on his mighty works from creation to the miracles of Scripture to answered prayers.

Rejoice in the gospel every day. Be amazed that God loved you in your sin and that Christ suffered and died for you. Stand in wonder that Jesus is alive and that he conquered sin and death. Then anchor your soul in the promises of Scripture. Memorize them, pray them, and meditate on them.

What Abraham did was not complicated. He focused on God, not on himself or his circumstances. By God’s grace, you can do that too, and you can grow a strong faith that transforms the direction of your life. 2nd characteristic…

II.  Saving faith confronts and looks past roadblocks (vv. 18–19).

The Roadblocks (Age and Barrenness): Verse 18 begins by acknowledging that, Abraham’s situation was “hopeless,” humanly-speaking. That’s because, as v. 19 says, “his own body (was) now as good as dead” and Sarah’s womb was practically dead.

What would Abraham’s pagan neighbor think of him? “This guy is nuts. He moved across the world because some God said he’d make a nation of him. But he’s been tent camping for 25 years (You might enjoy tent camping for a few days but imagine 25 years). And now he’s old and wrinkly, and so is Sarah. They aren’t having any kids. That crazy Abraham has wasted his life.”

The Confrontation: I love the fact that v. 19 says Abraham “contemplated” these realities. That’s because so many people live by an irrational faith. For example, they keep swiping the credit card without any money in the bank, and they justify it by saying, “I just believe God wants me to do this and that he will provide.”

Pastors and churches ignore reality and make terrible choices based on a hunch they call faith. It’s not biblical faith; it’s delusional foolishness.

In contrast, Abraham was realistic about his situation. “Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife…I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child’” (Gen 17:15–17)? Abraham understood the situation.

We also face many difficult challenges to our faith. I love how John Calvin put it, “Let us remember, that the condition of us all is the same with that of Abraham. All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: he declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins: He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true.”

The Victory: That’s exactly what Abraham did. Verse 18 says, “In hope against hope he believed.” And v. 19 says that even as he contemplated the human realities of his situation, he did not become weak in faith.

Of course, we just read that he laughed at God’s promise, so it’s not as if Abraham was untouched by the challenges. He was a man of flesh like the rest of us. But he pressed through, and his faith remained strong.

In fact, v. 18 says that by faith he had the vision to see that God would give him many descendants and that he would “become a father of many nations.” It is an amazing testimony of faith in the Lord. It brings us to the 3rd

III.  Saving faith stands on God’s promises and receives his reward (vv. 20–22).

I’d like to emphasize 4 actions in these 3 verses.

Abraham “grew strong in faith” (v. 20a). As I already mentioned, “he did not waver” does not mean that Abraham never struggled with doubt. He laughed when God said he and Sarah would have a child at ages 99 and 89. Sarah also laughed at the promise in Genesis 18.

And Genesis 12 describes another struggle when Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt during a famine. Abraham feared that an Egyptian would kill him to take Sarah; therefore, he told her to lie about being his wife. He almost lost her and pushed her into adultery. It wasn’t Abraham’s best moment. And God includes the story in the Bible to tell us that Abraham wasn’t perfect.

Therefore, genuine faith is not the absence of doubt. Unfortunately, as a child, I often thought that God would only save me if I didn’t feel any doubts at all. I thought saving faith had to be perfect faith.

If you are in a similar spot, recognize that God knows our weakness, and he is compassionate toward it. He doesn’t demand perfect feelings of faith or that doubts never cross your mind. Instead, Jesus only requires faith the size of a mustard seed.

As well, genuine faith is defined by action, not feelings. Abraham’s life of faith, including moving across the world and living in a tent for 25 years mattered far more than some occasional emotional lapses.

Don’t listen to Satan’s accusations. He wants you to despair over some temporary struggles. However, your faith is probably more impactful than you realize. I’ve had seasons of doubt, but overall, faith has radically altered the course of my life. That’s probably true for most of us. You’re here, you put money in the offering, you read your Bible and pursue holiness. All of it is a testimony of faith. Don’t listen to Satan’s accusations or be a slave to feelings.

That’s what Abraham did. As a result, he “grew strong in faith.” Once again, he didn’t wait on his feelings; instead, he focused on God, and he acted by faith no matter how afraid or doubtful he felt. That’s how we all grow strong faith. I’ve certainly seen God do that in me.

My faith is much stronger than when I came 7 years ago because I’ve had to walk by faith through a lot of challenges. I’ve felt nervous and anxious many times, but by God’s grace, I kept walking, God worked, and my faith grew. That’s always how God grows faith. So, keep your eyes on the Lord and press through every fear and watch God strengthen your faith. The 2nd action is…

Abraham “gave glory to God.” I love how God-centered this note is. So often we make faith all about me, but faith is really all about God. Notice that in the chronology of our text, Paul is not saying Abraham glorified God after Isaac was born because v. 21 continues to describe Abraham’s thoughts prior to Sarah conceiving. Therefore, Abraham glorified God even as he waited.

More specifically, his life glorified God. Every day that he lived in that tent was a declaration that God would keep his promise. When he circumcised himself, circumcised his house, and offered sacrifices to God, he declared that God was strong and faithful and that he is better than any earthly city.

I love how Hebrews 11:8–11 put it, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.”

That’s a life that glorifies God. It impacts those around you. Your spouse, your kids, your parents, and your friends know if you have faith because they see how you live. They see what you prioritize in your schedule and with your money. They see what gets you excited and what doesn’t. I hope you are glorifying God by living a life that is truly shaped by faith. The 3rd action…

Abraham was “fully assured” of God’s promise. Yes, Abraham had struggles, but at the end of the day, he believed that God would keep his promise, and he acted on that conviction. What a testimony. The 4th action…

Abraham was “credited…as righteous.” He was justified before God, and he is in heaven today as a result. Don’t forget that as wonderful as the gift of Isaac was, justification was far more valuable. God himself is always the greatest blessing of faith no matter what the prosperity preachers say.

So, Abraham sets a wonderful example of saving faith. God made a promise, and Abraham believed God. God emphasizes in Genesis that he endured doubts and moments of weakness, but he really did believe, and he proved it by the way he lived, and the way he lived continued to strengthen his faith. Abraham sets a marvelous example.

So Christian, grow in faith and walk by faith. Live in God’s presence. Obey his Word even when you don’t feel like it and there doesn’t seem to be any benefit. Invest your time, your heart, and your money in eternal rewards. And watch God grow your faith and reward your faith. You won’t regret it.

Then vv. 23–25 apply all of this to saving faith and ultimately bring the entire argument of Romans 1:18–4:25 to a close. The 4th characteristic is…

IV.  Saving faith trusts the work of Christ (vv. 23–25).

Relevance: Verse 23 makes one of the most important assertions in Romans 4 (read). God says that Genesis 15:6 is not a random note on Abraham’s life. Instead, the Holy Spirit made sure that Moses included it in the text because he wanted to declare for all time that justification is by faith.

No one will be in heaven based on their family heritage, their religious affiliation, their good works, or a feeling that God is near. No, our only hope of salvation is to have righteousness of God imputed to us. And the only way that happens is by faith. Verse 23 declares that the Bible is unified in this message. You can only be saved by faith. You must be saved by faith.

Continuity and Discontinuity: But while salvation has always been by faith, vv. 24–25 note that the content of our faith is different from Abraham’s. As dispensationalists we believe that God’s revelation has unfolded over time, and people in every age have been responsible to believe the revelation they have, not what is still to come.

So, Abraham was responsible to believe what God revealed to him in the Abrahamic Covenant. He had to believe that God would give him a son, and that this son would grow into a nation, and that a descendant of this son would bring blessing to every nation on the earth. Abraham believed, and God justified him.

But we live after the cross. Therefore, no one today can be saved by simply believing in God or a higher power. Having faith for faith’s sake is not enough. It’s not even good enough to believe the Abrahamic Covenant. That’s why the apostles were zealous about preaching the gospel to the Jews. In this age, the only way anyone can be saved is to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Content of the Gospel: And vv. 24–25 beautifully articulate the content of saving faith. We must believe that Jesus “was delivered over because of our transgressions.” Jesus’ death was not an unfortunate tragedy. No, we are sinners who have transgressed God’s Law; therefore, we deserve God’s judgment. But Christ endured our judgment on the cross. He became our substitute.

But Jesus is no ordinary man. He is God, and God raised him from the dead! The resurrection fully and finally defeated sin. If I am in Christ, I am free from the penalty of sin in hell. I will never face condemnation. I am also free from sin’s ongoing power over my life. Sin has no dominion over me.

And v. 24 makes the incredible promise that if I believe these basic gospel truths about who I am, who God is, and what Christ provided in the cross and the resurrection, I will be credited with the same righteousness that Abraham received 4,000 years ago. I can be saved.

The Assurance of the Resurrection: And notice that this faith is not wishful thinking or blind optimism. Instead, our faith is anchored in the objective proof of the resurrection. Just as God gave life to Sarah’s dead womb and allowed her to bear a child, God gave life to Jesus’ dead body. “God raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”

That’s a lot better than a “burning in the bosom” or a feeling that God is real. Our faith much more than a feeling; it is anchored in historical events that really happened and in events of eternal significance.

BTW, believing this story is not the same as believing a fable. The secularist scientist and sociologist want us to believe they have disproven Scripture. They haven’t. There are multitudes of good reasons to accept the Gospel accounts as true.

Conclusion

Have you believed on Christ for salvation? Are you resting solely in the finished work of Christ to save you from your sins and to bring you to heaven. If not, believe right now. Tell the Lord that you have broken his law, that Jesus is Lord, and that you believe his death and resurrection are fully sufficient to save your soul. Believe God the same way Abraham did and the same way many people around you have. You can be saved today.

Christian, keep walking by faith. The challenges are many, and sometimes our fears overwhelm us. But keep your eyes on God and chose to walk by faith. God will strengthen your faith, he will transform your life, and he will satisfy your soul.

More in Romans

November 13, 2022

5 Gospel Benefits

October 30, 2022

Abraham’s Sons and Daughters

October 9, 2022

Faith Alone