Date: January 6, 2008
Bible Text: Romans 4:1 | Roger Voegtlin
Series: Transcribed Sermons
God loves to show us examples in the Bible. All the events of Moses and the children of Israel—the going out of Egypt, the wandering, the entering into Canaan land were mentioned repeatedly as examples. I Corinthians 10 says, “Now these things were our examples… and they are written for our admonition…” We are told to pray like Elijah in James, “…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.” He was a man of “like passions as we are.” The devil tries to tell us all he was different. Well, he’s only different because he was given over to God.
Job is an example of patience in that same chapter where we 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, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” Praise God, that is true.
The entire 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews tells us of the saints of God who were mighty in faith and prayer. Beginning in verse 5 we read, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death…” And then, “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… 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… By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel… By faith the walls of Jericho fell down…” And then, of course, the beginning of the next chapter, chapter 12, “…Looking unto Jesus…” The Bible is full of examples. God likes to hold people up as examples.
Now turn to our text in Romans 4:1. In the matter of salvation, Abraham is held up as an example to the whole world. The chapter before shows us that we are justified by faith through Christ only, and that He is the only remedy for our sins. But here, Abraham is given as an example. Let’s see how Abraham was saved, and by it see how the whole world can be saved. Again, Romans 4:1, “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 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…” (to me this is the key to the entire chapter) “…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 as an example because he was the father of the Jews. The apostle Paul was talking to the Jews. He was trying to convince the Jews. But I would say to you this morning that the Jews had more tradition than most of us would have been taught in our lives. And if the Jews were not saved by their church, by their tradition, or by their works, then nobody would be.
Now, I would stress that Abraham is held up for us as Gentiles, also. What happened to him was “…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 was the model conversion. He was, according to the Bible, the father of all. If he had to work to be saved, then we must work to be saved. If he had to shout and speak in tongues to be saved, then we must shout and speak in tongues to be saved. You see, if his salvation was bound up in ceremony and ordinances, so must ours. But, if Abraham’s salvation was a simple matter of faith in the heart, then every sinner might be saved in the same way—by simple faith in their hearts.
You know, if you study all the religions of the world, there are really only two plans of salvation, and these are, Christ’s plan and the way of works. Only two were ever invented: Cain’s way—his pride, or Abel’s way—his faith, following God. This is illustrated in Luke chapter 18 where the Pharisee boasts, “I’m so glad that I pray, I’m so glad that I tithe, I’m so glad that I fast, I’m so glad that I’m not like all of these others.” And then the publican just says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” It was the publican who went away justified.
A big part of the world, though, is taking the human route—that we’re saved by “doing good.” We’re saved by “keeping the Ten Commandments.” We’re saved by “loving our neighbor.” We’re saved by “joining a church” or “being baptized.” We’re saved by “people praying for us after we’re dead,” whatever it might be. People will tell their children, “Now you be good, and Jesus will take you to heaven someday.” I guess it’s human pride, but most people want to think that they can help get themselves to heaven.
So let’s suppose that Abraham were justified, or counted just, by his works. Verse 2 says, “…if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.” Consider for a moment, if Abraham saved himself, he would have plenty to glory in. Can you hear him in heaven saying, “You know, I slipped for a while, and I was worried. But, boy, I came on strong at the end. I came flying across the finish line. I made it.” We couldn’t shut him up.
But listen to me, he didn’t. If he did, he could not sing, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” If a person can get 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.” No reason at all. Before you decide that you can get saved by works or good deeds, read verse 2 again, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” Not before God. It would be foolish to love and brag on God, to glory in the cross, and to sing these songs if you could be saved by doing anything else.
But praise God, Abraham was not justified by works. Look at verse 3, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” There are two plans of salvation, but only one in the Bible. There’s only one way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Now, you may read books or you may listen to some professor, but I’ll tell you, they have not read the Bible. You have to understand that it’s the devil talking when you think, “Well, it doesn’t matter; just so you believe.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” Now listen, “…no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” You don’t get to heaven through the Mormon religion or any other religion. You don’t get to heaven by the Baptist religion. It’s only through Jesus Christ and His shed blood.
If all people who believed in being saved by works would only read the Bible. “For what saith the scripture?” The matter would be settled. You see, human pride says, “Saved by works.” Churches say you are saved by baptism, by communion, by prayers of the saints, and these types of things. Rebellious hearts say that you are saved by your own merits or by your character. This is the human way. This is Cain’s way. But verse 3 says, “For what saith the scripture?” What is God’s way? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” To make it even clearer, Jesus said in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”
All the way through the Bible we see those Old Testament saints; we see God giving us examples of looking to Jesus. When Adam and Eve sinned, the first sinners in the Bible, God said, “Take a lamb and slay it,” [there is the shed blood looking unto Jesus] “…and cover your nakedness.” In the original Passover, when the death angel was coming, God said, “Take a lamb of the first year, a clean lamb,” [looking to Jesus] “Slay that lamb, take the blood and put it on the mantel and the posts, and the death angel will pass over.” These are all illustrations of looking to Jesus. Concerning the brazen serpent in the Bible, Jesus himself said in John 3:14-15, “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.” All the way back when Moses lifted up that serpent it was an illustration, a pictorial or picture, of Jesus dying on the cross. You say, “What do you mean Jesus? A serpent?” It was the sin upon Jesus.
All the way through the Old Testament, in case you don’t know anything about the Jewish religion, they would kill a lamb, a young, clean lamb, and this was looking to Jesus. When John the Baptist first saw Him, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” You see, all the way through the Bible, in the Old Testament and the New Testament, people were looking to Jesus. Abraham looked forward to the coming of his Messiah and put confidence in God and trusted in the Savior that He would provide. And in doing so, he was saved, looking forward to Jesus.
Now the question of whether you earn salvation or receive it as a gift comes up in verse 4. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” Let me illustrate that. Let’s say one of you contractors hired someone to do some labor for a day, and you said you would pay him $50. He works his eight hours, and you give him the $50. The employer doesn’t expect any praise. The workman is not under any obligation. He worked, and he got his $50. But let’s say a fellow came along and was really hard up. I mean, honestly hard up, and you gave him $50. Now, he would be thankful, wouldn’t he? He would want to show his appreciation. He would talk about how obligated he was, and he would thank you. You see, the gift was prompted by grace.
Here again are two plans of salvation. Either/or. If he gets there by his own deeds, there is no need for a crucified Christ. There is no need for atoning blood. If a person gets to heaven on his own, he could brag throughout heaven all the way through eternity. But remember, that’s an “if.” The truth is no one ever works his way to heaven. Look at verse 5, “But to him that worketh not…” Could it be any clearer? For some of you who say, “Oh yes, I believe it’s by faith, but also by …” Could it be any clearer? “But to him that worketh not…”
That’s not saying after you are saved you shouldn’t work for God. The Bible is full of verses telling us that we ought to give to God. We ought to be soulwinners. We ought to work for God. But it has nothing to do with salvation. When it comes to salvation, it’s clear here, isn’t it? It is “to him that worketh not.” If you depend on anything in addition to Christ, you are going to hell. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
Galatians 2:16 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.” People say there are many different ways to be saved, that it depends on how you read the Bible. No, it doesn’t! There is one way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Again, the confusion is that people will talk about what you should do after you are saved. Yes, after you are saved, work! You ought to be in church. I believe you are sinning against God if you are not in church tonight. But that’s after you are saved. It has nothing to do with your salvation. Titus 3:5 is so clear, “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.” There are not “many” ways to get to heaven, and works have nothing to do with it.
How foolish for people to think that they could even help in any way. How foolish for people to think that they can do anything to help God save them. People think, though, that they have to do some good. People think, “Well, I have to add to it. I have to improve on it.” But the entire chapter preceding our text chapter is so clear to show the helplessness of man. It so clearly shows us how man cannot get saved without Christ. Chapter 3:9 says, “What then? are we better than they? 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.” What is that word? “None.” “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh 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 say, “I go to church. I have given much of my funds. I treat my neighbor as myself like the Bible says.” That’s fine, but the Bible says without Christ, there is nothing that you do that is right. In fact, everything you think is a good work Jesus said is filthy rags. There is nothing that we can do. Verse 23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
We’re told that even the Ten Commandments were given to stop the mouth of the boaster. People like to think they are saved by doing works. The people who bring up the Ten Commandments, don’t even know what they are. Do you know what some of the Ten Commandments say? They say that you are supposed to obey your parents. Is there anybody here who ever disobeyed his parents? I guess so! You broke that one. They say you are not to be covetous. That’s the biggest sin in America. “I want that car. I want that house. I like his wife better than my wife, etc.” You broke that one. Everybody, including me, has broken them. They say not to lie. Has anyone in here ever lied?
The Ten Commandments are good, and we should try to live by them. But they are there to show us we can’t—to shut the mouth of the boaster and let the world stand condemned before God. Verse 19 says, “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 Ten Commandments were given so that we will have enough sense to know we are guilty.
Adultery is such a sin. You may say, “Well, I think it’s okay.” It’s a sin. It’s an especially wicked sin. Homosexuality. People say it’s okay now. What made it okay after thousands of years? Because the government said it’s okay? Because Jesse Jackson said it’s okay? The Bible says it’s a wicked sin. The Bible says that God rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah because of it. We can’t just listen to other people. We are 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.” If you’ll read the Bible, you’ll see you are a sinner just like I am. We need Christ. The Ten Commandments were not written to save people but to show that no one could keep them and to show our need of a Savior.
Galatians 3:24 reads, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ…” The Bible says the law was the mirror to let us see ourselves for what we are. The conclusion of Romans chapter 3, in verse 28, says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Don’t try to add works to Christ’s death. Don’t say, “Of course, we need faith, but we need to do something also.” This cheapens Christ’s death. It is saying that His death was not enough. “…without the deeds of the law.” Again, verse 20 says, “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.”
So you see, neither Abraham nor any other person was ever saved by works. We must accept Christ as our Savior. It’s faith plus nothing that equals salvation. It’s not paying your bills, even though we should all pay our bills. It’s not loving our neighbor, even though the Bible teaches we should all love our neighbor. It’s not giving to the poor, but faith in Christ’s death. Romans 6:23 clearly tells us, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The only wages any man earns are from sin, and it gets you death. If you are a sinner, you deserve death. That’s all we deserve is death. “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Every man who goes to hell pays his own way. He earns his way. But everybody who goes to heaven goes on a free pass. Praise God!
Let me finish our text passage in Romans 4:6. “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.” Notice in verse 6 it says that God counts a man good who is not good. God imputes righteousness. What that means is He just puts it on us. Isn’t that something? He just says, “You are righteous.” Now that’s exciting because I am not righteous on my own. The only way we get to heaven is to be righteous, and this says God imputes it. He just puts it on us.
Then verse 7 reads, “Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” Let’s say that a person did good works from this point on. Now that’s impossible, but let’s say that some way from this point on, he was perfect. What would he do about his past sins? He couldn’t do a thing about blotting out his sin. But those who trust, those who have faith in Jesus, his “iniquities are forgiven, and [his] sins are covered.”
In verse 8 we learn that God will not even impute sin on one who is saved; He won’t do it. Every sin of the future will be charged to Christ. When Jesus Christ died, all of our sins were in the future, and He died for all of our sins. God is just and will not demand payment twice. Hebrews 9:22 says, “…without shedding of blood is no remission.” You are not saved by puny works. The only way you can be saved is by shedding blood. Someone must die. We must die and burn in hell for an eternity, or we must accept Christ’s death. He was God, yet man. And we all know John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Listen, God loves us. He doesn’t want us to go to hell. He created this plan of salvation so that we might go to heaven. It’s our sin that sends us to hell. And if you go to hell, it will be despite what God did for you. It will be by ignoring, spitting on, and trampling on the blood of Christ. But remember, someone must die. God says that your works, no matter how good, are filthy rags.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” I don’t know how the Bible could be any more clear. If you believe the Bible, you must believe the only way to be saved is by faith in Christ. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”