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Seeing Faith: Apart from the Law (Romans 4:13-25)

Hi Everyone

Last Sunday I had the privilege of teaching the flock in our Romans series:

Seeing Faith: Apart from the Law (Romans 4:13-25).

Audio is here, sermon notes below.


Well, we’ve been trudging hard through this heavy book the past couple of months.
But this is what we need to do, because the book of Romans is a foundational document of our faith. The Apostle Paul went to great lengths to ensure that there were no grey areas with respect to how the judgement, the mercy, and also the grace of God are all meted out.
Therefore, it deserves the respect of being examined properly.
So, we zoom into each nook and cranny. We dissect its’ form and function. We x-ray and scan the parts we can’t see.
And we do all this so that we can be sure we get it right – because, if we get Romans wrong, we may get our salvation wrong. And if we get our salvation wrong, well, we get our eternity wrong, don’t we?
So, what have we learnt so far in this sermon series?
Well, that everyone knows who God is (God doesn’t believe in atheists)
The immoral person is rejected by God, and given over to his pleasures
The moral person is rejected by God, because he is a hypocrite and can’t keep the law himself
The religious person is rejected by God, as God cares more for the heart than outward appearances
We all fall into one of those categories, so everyone has sinned and fallen short of His standards
Reconciling with God involves believing through faith that Christ paid the penalty for us
And last week we read that the Apostle Paul uses the example of Abraham – who was considered the founding father of the Jewish faith – how his faith circumvented everything that he could try to earn through himself.
We learnt that he was justified, apart from any good works that he had done, and apart from circumcision, or religious ordinances
And today we will see that Abraham was justified apart from the law.
Before we start, we need to ask the question “when Paul mentions the law, which law is Paul referring to?”
Well, we know that it’s not the ceremonial or civil laws, because Colossians 2:11-17 and also, as we learnt in the whole book of Hebrews, it tells us that they are type and shadow of Christ. They point us to Him.
So, Paul is referring to the law given to Moses by God on Mt Sinai, the 10 Commandments. And most of us can reel it off by rote:
1)      No other gods before me
2)      Do not make an idol and bow down to it
3)      Don’t take the Lords’ name in vain
4)      Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy
5)      Honour your father and mother
6)      Don’t murder
7)      Don’t commit adultery
8)      Don’t steal
9)      Don’t lie
10)   Don’t covet
Hands up who’s managed to keep them all. Anyone? What a bunch of heathens, all of you!
Well, this law was given to the Israelites, to keep them focused on following God. Did it work? Not really. And when they were in the wilderness, they had God with them every step of the way – cloud by day, fire by night, manna from heaven 6 days a week, dry passage through the Red Sea – all this, and yet they still found ways to rebel and sin against Him!
We’ll get into the reasons why, later on.
I’ve broken this section into 5 parts to make things easier. I tried to hijack some alliterated headings, but couldn’t find any, so I made some up myself:

Seeing the Arrival of the Promise (4:13)
Seeing the Annulment of the Promise (4:14-15)
Seeing the Attributes of the Promise (4:16)
Seeing the Amplitude of the Promise (4:16)
Seeing the Attainment of the Promise (4:17-25)
So, let’s dive in and read from verse 13:

Romans 4:13-16 (NKJV)
For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

Seeing the Arrival of the Promise (v 13)

Romans 4:13 (NKJV)

For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Now, if you remember from last week, the promise God gave to Abraham pre-dated circumcision. And what that meant, was that circumcision was not a pre-requisite for righteousness. Why? Because God declared Abraham righteous 15-25 years before he was circumcised.
Well, in the same way, we can make the exact claim with regards to the law.  
Who did God make the promise to? Abraham.
Who did God give the law to? Moses.
So was it around the same time? Well, I looked in the margin of the Bible that gave me a Bible reference with the answer straight away:

Galatians 3:16-18 (NKJV)

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

So God declared Abraham righteous, and promised the inheritance 430 years before the law was given. Therefore, it stands to reason that fulfilment of the law can’t be a requirement for righteousness. It’s impossible. If it was, then God would be a liar.
And also, if it was a requirement, then the promise would have been an empty one – which brings us to vv 14-15: 

Seeing the Annulment of the Promise (v 14-15)

Romans 4:14-15 (NKJV)

For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

OK, so lets’ split these 2 verses up.
In verse 14, firstly, we know that the law could have been only kept by the Jews, because, who was the law given to? The Jews.
But if the promise was attached to the law, then no Jew could obtain the promise, because no Jew could keep the law fully. That’s why they had to present themselves at the temple once a year to be ceremonially cleaned, in case they broke God’s law. So the promise was rendered void, because it was unattainable.
Secondly, in verse 15, we see that the law brings about wrath. What does the law do? It is a mirror to show us how wicked we are. It can never save anybody. But the law exposed the problem in us.
Jump forward to chapter 7:

Romans 7:7-11 (NKJV)

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”. But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.

Thinking practically, if I had have told Nik when he was young that the vase over there on that table that he could reach was very expensive, and if he touched it, he would be in big trouble.
He would think ‘What vase? Oh, you mean the one over there? I never noticed it before. OK, so I can’t touch it. But it does look pretty. Maybe if I just go over and have a look. Wow, look at those sparkly blue and green colours, they do look cool. How does the light do that? Maybe if I look around the other side. I can’t get around the table to see it. I’ll carefully pick it up and check the other side. Wow, it’s very slippery. Oops, it slipped out of my hands. Oh, no, now I’ve smashed it! I’m going to be in big trouble’.
Beforehand he was innocent, but as soon as a rule or law was given, sin triggered temptation to break it.
Which is why some parents move stuff higher, to take the temptation to touch it away.
So, why are we like this? Well, to find out, we need to go way back to wear it all began – in the garden of Eden:
Genesis 3:1-13 (NKJV)
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ “
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 

Now, we don’t know how long between the time God gave the command and when Satan turned up, but it doesn’t really matter. All we read is, God apparently gave them a rule, and then we see that Satan turned up, and manipulated Eve, then Adam, to break it.
And ever since then, man has inherited this sin nature. We were born that way. Before you took your first breath, you were already declared unrighteous. Sin comes naturally to us – you’ve all heard the saying “we aren’t sinners because we’ve sinned, we sin because we are sinners”. We can’t help ourselves.
Forget that James 2:10 says that if we break one law, we are as guilty as if we’ve broken all of them – we were doomed even before we could choose to climb on the treadmill of law following!
That’s how sin works. But back in Romans 4:15, Paul says that no law = no sin. With law, we are dead in sin. God gave the law to show us how sinful we are. That’s why in verse 15 Paul says the law brings about wrath.
And Abraham (and anyone else who had faith in God) was counted righteous before the law was given, because in verse 15 in Roman 4:15, Paul says ‘no law, no transgression’.

I like what Harry Ironside said (no, not the TV wheelchair detective, the reformed biblical scholar):
“The law promised blessing upon obedience and denounced judgment on disobedience. None have kept it. Therefore, “The law worketh wrath.” It cursed. It could not bless. It intensified sin by giving it the specific character of transgression, making it the wilful violation of known law. It could not be the means of earning what was freely given.”
So, the Promise would be annulled, or cancelled out by the law – firstly, because it is unattainable (meaning I can’t meet the requirements of the law), and secondly, because it is worthless (the law makes me worse, not better).
So that’s the Annulment of the promise, but in verse 16 we see the

Seeing the Attribute of the Promise (v 16)

Romans 4:16 (NKJV)
Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

So we see here that the promise is given by grace. What is grace?

Well, if I get what I deserve, that’s justice.
If I don’t get what I deserve, that’s mercy.
If I get what I don’t deserve, well, that’s grace. Grace is unmerited favour.
But how did God get away with declaring sinners unrighteous and sending them to hell, yet pardoning sinners?
Even Solomon, in all his wisdom said in 

Proverbs 17:15 (NKJV)
He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD. 

What happened there? Did Solomon just throw God under the bus? How can God get away with justifying wicked people? Because He sent His Son to die in our place. He made His Son an abomination, and poured out His wrath on Him. Therefore, the price has been paid for us. And all it needs is faith. Faith in Christ.
Going back to grace, it is the opposite of works. It is the opposite of religious ordinances (eg circumcision), and it’s also the opposite of the law.
I can’t earn it, I can’t work for it, and I can’t pay off the bad by doing good.

Galatians 2:21 (NKJV)
I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

Grace is given through faith, and faith circumvents works, circumcision and the law. It means that instead of trying to please God in my strength, I place my faith in the one who has already pleased God by divine strength. Why? Because He fulfilled the law perfectly, and I can’t. He’s perfect, I’m not. 
That’s how Abraham became righteous – because God was gracious. We are saved by grace. We all know that verse by rote:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

You see, God knew exactly what He was doing all along. We are saved for God and His glory, from God and His wrath towards us, by God – in the form of faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
When you think about it that way, it makes perfect sense.
And that’s That’s the attribute of the promise.

Seeing the Amplitude of the Promise (v 16)

Romans 4:16 (NKJV)

Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

Another word for this might be ‘scope’. Who is this promise of salvation offered to? In verse 16 it says ‘to all the seed’. According to the verse, Abraham had two types of seed – one represented through the law (which was the Jews), and the other via faith.
God’s grace is offered to all. Everyone has the opportunity to receive the promise of salvation.
It is offered to all, but only granted to one – to the one who, like Abraham, places their faith in God.
And I wonder, have you done that? I’m guessing that most here would shout ‘Amen!’
But you never want to take these things for granted. If you’re sitting here today, and you’re trying to be good, trying to do the best you can to earn your salvation through works, through religious activity, or through following the law to the letter, then the only person you are fooling, is yourself.
I can remember when I was a kid, my dad had this old Ford Prefect. This was the late 60’s. He wasn’t a classic car collector, he was a blue collar worker with 6 kids, so that was all he could afford. 
[6 kids to 13 kids, to 14 kids, plus foster kids].
So he had this car, and he would often let me sit in the driving seat turning the wheel. I would work the clutch, change gears, plant my foot on the accelerator, and squeal around the corners.
But there was only one problem: the key wasn’t in the ignition, so the car never left the driveway.
And that’s what we can be like with God. We can go through all the motions, trying our hardest to do all the right things in an attempt to convince God of how much we deserve his righteousness.
But, it’s all meaningless. It’s all a waste of time.
I could have put a helmet on, gloves, goggles, and a fireproof racing suit – but I would never be able to convince my father that I’d just won the Grand Prix. He might play along with it, but in reality, he knew the truth.
Salvation can’t be bought. It can’t be earnt, and you can’t bribe or cheat it out of God.
You may think you’re climbing the stairway to heaven, but you’re actually on the highway to hell (that’s a reference for all you old rockers out there).

So stop fooling yourself! Salvation is a free gift, granted only by grace, through faith.
So how did this play out in Abraham’s life, and how does it do the same for us? Well, let’s read from verse 17. I won’t offer any commentary, because the verse does it so beautifully for me.

Seeing the Attainment of the Promise (v 17-25)

Romans 4:17-25 (NKJV)
(as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed–God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”

And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.
He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

And the best part of all, from verse 23:

Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

And all God’s people said…Amen!


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