Skip to comments."His Faith Is Counted as Righteousness" (Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, on Romans 4)
Posted on 03/19/2011 11:13:19 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
His Faith Is Counted as Righteousness (Romans 4:1-8, 13-17)
Do you know how much you have in your bank account? Its good to have at least a general idea, to know that you are on the positive side of the ledger and not about to overdraw your account. Because if you write a check and you dont have enough money in your account to cover it, your bank will then hit you with an overdraft charge. There is a penalty for falling into a negative balance. So you want to know how much is in your account and to make sure you keep it on the positive side.
Now if that is the case with your account down at the local bank, how much more important it is with your account in heaven! Are you running a negative balance? Do you know there is a serious penalty, with eternal consequences, for being in the hole in heaven? Are you keeping score, keeping track of your debts and credits? Do you have enough righteousness in your heavenly bank account? What will God see when he looks in your ledger book? If youre in debt, how will you get out of it?
These are questions raised by a consideration of our text for today, the Epistle reading from Romans 4. The Apostle Paul here uses accounting language in this portion of his letter. Its about what counts as righteousness for you before God, in your heavenly bank account, and how you get it. Because thats what you need, righteousness, in order to stand before God and live and not die. How will you do that?
You see, your sins can be thought of as debts. Every time you break one of Gods commandments, whether in thought, word, or deed, its like youre draining your bank account. The debts start piling up. Your record book doesnt look very good. Lets see, cursing at that guy you got angry with yesterday--thatll knock you down a couple of points. Adulterous thoughts? Minus six. Gossip, being gleeful about making somebody look bad? Negative ten. Not loving and forgiving your spouse? Minus fifteen. Failing to do your job as a parent, by teaching your child Gods word at home and taking them to church every Sunday--have you been sloughing off on that? Oh, thatll take twenty points off your score. Youre really down a whole bunch by now! What are you going to do to boost your balance?
Ive got it! Ill start to work harder! Earn some righteousness points and build up my bank account again! Hey, this is Lent, after all! Im going to make a more concerted effort at not sinning. Thatll make God take notice! Hell give me points for trying! OK, today I will not sin. Ill do some good works even, to put some plusses in! Yes, more good works, thatll do the trick. More good works than sins, and thatll tip the balance in my favor. Yes, sir, Im on my way to heaven!
Is that how it works? No, not really. Not at all, in fact. You cannot pile up enough brownie points to outweigh the debt of your sin. First, you will soon discover that your resolve is not strong enough to maintain your pious efforts. You will keep falling and failing in your attempts at sinlessness. And if you think you are making it, then youre being guilty of the sin of pride. You cant win at the good works game.
Besides which, God can see through your works to your motives, even better than you can. He can see that all of your works are still stained with sin, still far from perfect, no matter how good they look to the world. And God does not grade on a curve. Relatively better than the bad people is not good enough.
So you cant win at the good works game, as far as earning your way into heaven. The debts will always outweigh the credits, and you will be in the hole. And that will send you to hell.
So declare bankruptcy. Give up on that game, it wont work. Thats where Paul is going with this in our text, showing us what wont work, but also the one thing that will, as far as this righteousness bank account in heaven business is concerned.
As I say, Paul uses accounting language here, and he does so several times, using as his example the case of the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. The bottom line, Paul says, when it comes to Abrahams account, or to that of any other believer in Gods promises, is that His Faith Is Counted as Righteousness.
Now the accounting term that Paul uses here is the Greek word logizomai. Five times in just the first eight verses Paul uses a form of this verb. He writes: Abraham believed God, and it was counted--logizomai--it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted--logizomai--as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted--again, logizomai--as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts--you guessed it, logizomai--righteousness apart from works. Finally, Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count--logizomai--his sin.
So you can see that Paul is using the idea of a bookkeeping account with his use of this word logizomai. It can be translated count, credit, take into account, or reckon. You see, youve got a righteousness account in heaven, and if youre running a negative balance, youre in trouble. But if God credits righteousness to your account--logizomai--credits it as a gift, like he did with Abraham, then you are in good shape.
Paul here shows, from the Old Testament Scriptures, that you cannot achieve righteousness by works, that is, by your own efforts. Rather, like Abraham, you can only reach a positive balance in your righteousness account when God credits it to you as a gift--when you receive his promise of righteousness for Christs sake by faith.
Abraham is the prime example of this. And this case works perfectly to counteract the false notion that weve got to earn our righteousness by our works. For that is not how it was with the patriarch Abraham.
As you heard in our Old Testament lesson today from Genesis 12, it was the Lord God who initiated the covenant with Abram, as he was then known. God took the initiative and came to this man Abram with a promise. I will bless you, was the gist of this covenant promise. I will make your name great. I will bless those who bless you. You will have lots of children, a great nation will come out of you, and I will plant you in the Promised Land. In you, and in your seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Those were the main points of the covenant promise to Abraham.
That was in Genesis 12. Then later, in Genesis 15, the Lord God, reaffirms his covenant with Abraham. He takes him outside and shows him the stars of the heavens, and says, Look at the sky, and try to count all the stars. That is what your descendants will be like. So shall your offspring be. And then it says, in the verse that Paul quotes, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.
The fact that this occurred in Genesis 15 is crucial to Pauls argument. For some of the Jews of Pauls time thought that it was because of Abrahams works that God considered him righteous. And chief among those works was circumcision. Abraham obeyed God by getting circumcised and having his children circumcised, and thats how he became righteous, so the thinking went. But Pauls point is that circumcision was not instituted for Abraham and his people until Genesis 17, after--after!--Abraham was already pronounced righteous! The verse where it says, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness--that was back in Genesis 15, before the command to circumcise, before that became a law for Israel. So it was not by works that Abraham was justified, but rather by faith in Gods promise, and thus purely by grace.
Friends, this is how you also become righteous: not by your own works, but simply by receiving Gods free and gracious promise of righteousness. This righteousness was not gained by your efforts but instead by the truly good works of Gods own Son, Jesus Christ. He, Jesus, is the seed of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth are being blessed.
Its a forgiveness of sins thing. Its a blessed exchange thing. Christ, who kept all the law perfectly, who earned a perfect score of righteousness--hes the only one who ever did--Christ, the Son of God, willingly went to the cross for you. All our sins, all our debts, all our negative balance, hung in the balance, as Jesus was hanging there on the cross. He took the severe penalty for our shortfall when he died under Gods judgment in our place. And in exchange, Christ gives us his righteousness, which is more than enough to pay off all our debt and put us positively in Gods good graces for eternity. Its a forgiveness of sins thing. Its a blessed exchange thing.
Jesus Christ is our perfect righteousness, and we take hold of him by faith, that is, by being given to by God. Faith is no heroic effort on our part, as though we were finally doing one great good work to boost our own score. No, it is just the opposite. Faith is giving up on our efforts at self-justification and instead laying hold of Gods free promise of righteousness for Christs sake.
Look, its like youre broke, youre bankrupt, and someone comes along and, out of nowhere, hands you a check for 40 million dollars. The fact that you receive the check in your hand and say thank you and take it to the bank and deposit it--that is not some new way of you deserving credit by a work you have done. No, its pure promise, its pure blessing, its pure grace. Its a gift--you dont deserve it, you dont earn it, you simply receive what God freely gives you.
So thats how it is that you now have the riches of heaven credited to your account. Faith--because it is faith in Christ, who earned all the righteousness you will ever need--faith in Gods promise is reckoned to you, credited to you, logizomaied to you as righteousness. Got it? Yes you do! Youve got it good, youve got it in abundance, the treasures and riches of Gods grace in Christ, socked away in your heavenly bank account, where it will never run dry! Thanks be to God!
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. . . .
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring--not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, I have made you the father of many nations--in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Amen, and AMEN !!
Amen. Amen. That is hard for many people to understand.
Do they have faith in His promises?
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