Date: April 14, 1997
Bible Text: Romans 4:1-8 | Roger Voegtlin
Series: Transcribed Sermons
God loves to show us examples in the Bible. We’re told over and over again that all the events of Moses and the children of Israel – their coming out of Egypt, their wandering, their entering into Canaan land – were all given as examples. I Corinthians chapter 10 verse 11 says, “...these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come.”
We’re told to pray, for instance, as Elijah in James chapter 5. All through the Bible you see faith, faith, faith. If you don’t have faith in prayer, then you’re not really praying. How we need to pray in faith. James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” Again, Elijah is given as an example of how to pray.
In the same chapter Job is given as an example of patience. James 5:10 and 11 read, “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job....” One of the things I want to add to my life is patience, and it’s becoming more and more evident to me that we as Christians might not even know what it is. Patience. We quote Job when he says, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” But let’s think about what he was talking about. He had lost his entire family, barring only his wife. He had lost his whole income. He had lost everything. He had lost his health. And basically he was saying, “God was very good to me. And I’m going to have patience, and I’m going to have faith in God and allow God to do what He wants, because I trust God. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed is the name of the Lord.” Remember he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” His children were dead. Everything he owned was gone. His wife was laughing at him, basically. He had nothing except his life; and he said, “If he wants to slay me, I’m going to trust him.” Patience.
Job is given as an example of patience, and how we need it. “Behold we count them happy which endure.” You need to have patience to endure. We want things immediately. That’s what’s wrong with us. We pray, and we want it taken care of that day, that week, or else we think God is not hearing us. If a month goes by, God hasn’t heard us. Patience. Faith. They go together. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.”
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a wonderful, wonderful passage. It talks about the saints of God who are mighty in faith and prayer. You can’t live the Christian life without faith, and you can’t have patience without faith. Hebrews 11:4 says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice....” Verse 5, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death....” Verse 7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house....” Just think about the faith he had to build that huge ship on dry land as they laughed at him and scoffed at him. Do you think you’re alone at work? He was alone; he was completely alone, and they just laughed at him. But by faith he did what was right. Verse 8, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went....” Verse 11, “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age because she judged him faithful who had promised.”
Verse 13, “These all died in faith....” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To really die in faith, not just die in the Lord, but die with faith. Not many people do that. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises.” We talked about George Mueller praying for over 50 years for certain men to be saved — one being saved the last service he preached, and another being saved the year after he died. Notice what verse 13 says, “These all died in faith, NOT HAVING RECEIVED THE PROMISES....” But they had faith. “...but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them....” Verse 17, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.” Verse 24, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter....” Just think of what he had to do. He turned his back on being the ruler of the world and went out and lived on the back side of the desert. “...Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Again, these are all given to us as examples.
Then comes chapter 12. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience....” There it is again – faith, patience. “...the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus....”
The Bible loves to use examples; and in the matter of salvation, God uses Abraham. He is held up as an example. Turn to our text in Romans chapter 4. In the preceding chapter, we’re shown we must be justified by faith and that Christ is the only remedy for sin. Romans chapter 3 verse 28 so clearly says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
I’m going to read the first eight verses of Romans chapter 4, and I don’t think anybody can believe the Bible and read this passage and think that works have anything to do with salvation. “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?” Again, he is being held up as an example. What about Abraham our father? “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
Abraham’s conversion was held up here because he was the father of the Jews. If you know the Bible, and if you know history today, you understand that the Jews feel they should be saved by works as the Pharisees of the New Testament felt. Abraham is used as an example here “that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also.” He is the model conversion. The way he was saved is the way everybody must be saved because he is the father of all them that believe. So again, if Abraham needed to work to be saved, then we need to work to be saved. If Abraham needed to shout and speak in tongues to be saved, then we need to speak in tongues to be saved. If Abraham’s salvation was bound up in ordinances and ceremonies, then so must ours. But praise God, if Abraham’s salvation was a simple matter of faith, then so must ours be.
If you think about it, there are only two plans of salvation in all the world. There are lots of religions; but if you analyze all the religions of all the world, there are only two plans of salvation. One says you have to be saved by works. Again, different religions would have different works. But one says you have to be saved by works, and the other says you have to be saved through faith. There is Cain’s way. Cain’s way is the prideful way — works. “I’m going to do good works, and I’m going to be saved.” That’s why he killed his brother; he was mad because God said, “No, you’re wrong; your brother’s right.” There is Abel’s way — the way of faith. It’s illustrated very clearly in Luke chapter 18 when the Pharisee boasted, “I am so glad that I tithe. I’m so glad that I pray. I’m so glad that I fast.” He worked, and he was depending on his works for salvation. Then there was the publican who said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Works versus faith. Who went to heaven?
A big part of the world has taken the human route — you’re saved by doing good. Oh, we could make a list. Please don’t misunderstand me. All these things that I’ll name, or almost all of them, are good things; they are things the Bibles teaches to do, but not in order to get saved. They are things to do because you’re saved, and there is a big difference. People say you need to be baptized to be saved. People say you take the Lord’s supper to be saved. People say you join the church to be saved; you just do your best to keep the ten commandments; you do unto others what you would like done to yourself. You treat your neighbor as yourself. People talk about virtue; people talk about character, and they say, “This is what you need to do to be saved.” Now I want to say again, it is good to have virtue; it is good to have character. But that has nothing to do with salvation.
For some reason people want to work their way to heaven. Why? Pride. Cain’s pride. The Pharisee’s pride. Pride comes before the fall. Parents will say to their kids, “Now you be a good child, and God will take you to Heaven.” No, no, you’ll go to hell that way. You could be the best person on earth; if you’re not saved, you’re going to go to hell. Let’s suppose that Abraham were justified or counted righteous just by his works. Verse 2 says, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory.” Now understand, we’re saying “IF” Abraham were justified by his works, he could glory — “...but not before God.” Not before God.
Consider for a moment if Abraham saved himself. Consider him prancing around Heaven telling people what a great guy he was. He was the father of the Jews. You wouldn’t be able to shut him up. He would just brag down through the eons, but he wouldn’t be boasting about our Lord. If Abraham saved himself, he couldn’t brag on Jesus. If Abraham saved himself, he wouldn’t glory in the cross.
Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you’re saved by works, then why did Jesus die? People might not like to hear this, but if you’re saved by baptism or keeping the ten commandments or being a member of the church, then God made a mistake. That is what the verse says. If righteousness come by the law or works, then Christ is dead in vain. Why should we sing these old songs? Why should we sing, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Why sing them? The liberals understand that — they actually take them out of the songbook. They changed their songbook. But if a person could be saved by being good, why sing, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Or, “Jesus paid it all; all to him I owe.” Before you decide that you can get saved by works, you’d better read verse 2 again. “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” If you’re saved by your works, then it’s foolish to brag on the love of God. It’s foolish to glory in the cross. As I said, it’s foolish to sing hymns that we sing. But Abraham was not justified by his works. Verse 3 says, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
There are two plans of salvation, but there is only one found in the Bible. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” There are so many who say, “Oh yes, I believe in Jesus Christ dying on the cross.” Most people in America call themselves Christian. We’re called a Christian nation, but our nation is on its way to hell. You either believe you’re saved by faith and faith alone, or you’re going to hell. It’s as simple as that.
People say, “Yes, we’re saved by faith, but you have to speak in tongues.” Or, “You’re saved by faith, but you have to take communion.” Or, “You’re saved by faith, but you have to get dunked in the baptismal tank.” If they would only read verse 3, “What saith the scripture?” Not their preacher, not some prophet, not some book they read, but “What saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Belief, and belief only.
Rebellious hearts say, “I love God and I want to be saved and I believe he died on the cross; but I believe you’re saved by character or some kind of merit, some human way.” That is Cain’s way, and Cain is burning in hell. Look at verse 3 again, “What saith the scripture? Abraham....” How was Abraham saved? He’s the one who is the example. He believed God; and because he believed God, it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Jesus said in John chapter 8 verse 56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” Abraham lived hundreds and hundreds of years before Jesus. He was looking forward to Jesus — that’s how he was saved. Nobody was ever saved any other way.
I have heard people who call themselves Bible believers and fundamentalists say people were saved one way in the Old Testament and another way in the New Testament. That’s such foolishness. At the beginning of the Bible, Adam and Eve sin; and God comes down, slays a lamb, and spills that blood so that they can be covered. That was looking to Jesus. When the firstborn males were all supposed to be killed at the original Passover in Egypt, God said, “If you’ll take some blood and put it on the doorposts and the lintel, when I see the blood, I’ll pass over you.” They were looking to Jesus all the way through the Bible.
Do you remember when the snakes were biting the people, and they were dying? Moses said, “Take a snake, a replica of a snake, and put it up on the tree.” A snake? How could that be looking to Jesus? Jesus had the sins of the world laid on him, and that old snake represented the sins of the world. In John chapter 3 verses 14 and 15, Jesus makes it very clear, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness on that pole, he was looking to Jesus.
Every time a sacrificial lamb was placed on the altar and slain, they were looking forward to Jesus. When John the Baptist saw him coming, what did he say? “Behold the Lamb of God.” Behold the one we’ve been looking for all these years. “Behold, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” No need for any more lambs. No need to look forward anymore. The whole Bible looks to Christ. The Old Testament looks forward; we look back. Abraham was looking forward to his Messiah in confidence, trusting his Savior that he would provide for his salvation.
The question of whether you earn salvation or receive it as a gift comes in verse 4 of our text. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” We have several men here who work as contractors. Let’s say they hired someone as a laborer. They hired him for a day, and he worked for a day. The contractor promises, “I’ll give you $50 if you work a day for me.” After the day is over, the laborer comes and the contractor gives him the $50. He would expect the $50, wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t be falling all over himself saying. “Oh, I don’t deserve this.” No, he worked for the $50. He deserves the $50. Again, “Now to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace but of debt.”
I know this isn’t politically correct, but let’s say a bum comes stumbling along, some tramp. He tells this contractor what a hard life he’s had, and how he’s trying to do right and needs a place to stay and some food. The contractor reaches in his pocket and gives him $50. How would the bum act or react? He would be stumbling all over himself saying, “Thank you.” That’s because it was grace. Pure grace. He didn’t deserve a thing. The gift was prompted only by grace.
Here again are the two plans of salvation. Either/or. If he gets there by his own deeds, there is no need for a crucified Savior. If he gets there by his own deeds, there is no need for atoning blood; he can boast all through eternity, but this is all “IF.” No one is going to get to Heaven by works.
The Bible is full of this truth. Galatians chapter 2 verse 16 so clearly says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ....” If people would just read the Bible. I always wonder how these people can think you’re saved by works. It says so clearly, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” How much clearer could it be?
Titus chapter 3 verse 5 says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Look at our text again. Romans 4:5, “But to him that worketh not....” Could anybody here ever make it any clearer? “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
How foolish for people to think that they can even help in any way. Yet if you ask most people if they’re saved, and they honestly converse with you, they feel they must do some good to be saved. Yet the entire chapter preceding our text is used to show the hopelessness of man. Man can do nothing. Who do you think you are? I’ll tell you. You think you’re a pretty good person, and good people are going to hell.
I’ll tell you what God thinks you are. Look at Romans 3:9-14, “What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise....” You’re not better than anybody. “No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” You say, “I’m going to do a pretty good job.” No, you don’t even have enough sense to seek after God. “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” You can’t do good. It’s impossible for you to do good. It’s not within you to do good. “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” And it goes on and on. That’s God’s view of you and me. So don’t sit there and think you’re so good. Neither should you Christians think that. Look at verse 23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
We’re told that even the ten commandments are used to stop the mouth of the boaster and let the world stand condemned before God. Verses 19 and 20 read, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” The law was given to make sure you and I know we’re sinners and to shut our mouths up. People say, “I’m going to keep the ten commandments.” Every time somebody tells me he is going to keep the ten commandments I want to ask him, “Do you know two or three of them?” The ten commandments say you’re not supposed to lie; you have broken that one. They are given to us to show us we can’t live by them. We’re sinners. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” The ten commandments and the rest of the law are not given to us to save us but to show us that no one can keep them and to show us our need for a Savior. Galatians 3:24 says, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ....” The Bible tells us that the law is a mirror that we might see our reflection and see what sinners we are and turn us to Christ. The conclusion of Romans chapter 3 says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
“What saith the scripture?” Don’t say we must have faith but, of course, we also have to live a good life to get to Heaven. You’re going to go to hell like that. You’re cheapening Christ’s death; you’re taking away from Christ’s death; you’re saying it’s not good enough. “Without the deeds of the law.” “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified.”
Neither Abraham nor any other person is saved by works. We must accept Christ as our Savior. The Bible says our works are as filthy rags. It must be faith plus nothing. Not faith plus church membership. Not faith plus the prayers of the saints. But faith plus nothing.
Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We must accept that gift. The Bible teaches us very clearly that we are sinners, and we deserve death. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Every one of us deserves hell. I deserve hell as much or more than anybody in this room. We all deserve hell. We’ve earned hell by our sins. But nobody earns Heaven. If anybody gets to Heaven, he gets there on a free pass.
Romans chapter 4 verses 6 through 8. “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Verse 6 says that God counts a man good who isn’t good. He imputes righteousness without works. Verse 7 then reads, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”
Let’s say a man got saved today. This would be impossible, but let’s say he could live a sinless life for the rest of his years. He gets saved today, lives for 30 years a perfect, sinless life. What would he do with his past sins? He can’t do a thing to blot them out. But those who trust in Christ, those who have faith without works, the Bible says their iniquities are forgiven and all their sins are covered. In verse 8 we learn that God will not even impute sin on one who is trusting him in the future. We as Christians ought to praise God. When we get saved the Bible says all our sins are covered from the past, and all our sins of the future are covered. He won’t impute sins even in the future. We have a lot to thank the Lord for. Every sin in the future will be charged to Christ’s account. Oh, if we sin, it will hurt our relationship with God here on this earth; but praise God, it won’t change our relationship as far as Heaven is concerned one bit. We’re saved through faith.
Hebrews 9:22 says, “...and without shedding of blood is no remission.” The Bible teaches that you’re not saved by puny works. There has to be blood. God shed the blood of that lamb to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness. There has to be blood. Every time a lamb was slain, the blood spilt was looking toward Christ. There has to be blood, and Jesus Christ shed that blood. He was the God Man, the only one who could ever die in our stead. He shed that blood. That’s the only way we could ever be saved. If we die in our sins, then we’re going to die for an eternity in hell. If we want to go to Heaven, we must trust in His blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.
There is only one way to get to Heaven, and that is through Christ. “I am the way,” He said, “I am the truth, I am the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Ephesians 2:8 and 9 say, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God....” It couldn’t be any clearer. “...Not of works, lest any man should boast.” If somebody wants to know how to be saved, look at the Bible as we did. “What saith the scripture?” The scripture says, “But to him that worketh not.” Let that ring in your ears. You’re sitting here and you’re saying, “I never saw that so clearly.” If you were trusting in works when you made a decision that you wanted to go to Heaven, you’re not going there. It’s only through faith. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” If you want to go to Heaven, you have to trust God. Right now, pray and by faith trust Him as your Savior. Turn from your sins and turn to Him asking for salvation.