Our subject is saving faith. Our first task is to establish that there is a faith that does not save (Jas. 2:19; John 12:42). These will suffice; the reality that saving faith exists will be made evident in our study.
Now we must add Romans 4:1ff. We will read various passages, so I encourage you to keep both locations available. We have a large task, a huge subject, a big job before us to understand, with new concepts, opportunities for learning, growing.
Review: God loves us, wants to be the center of our lives. He made us, provides for us. We may deny God's existence, but He made us incredibly wonderful, placed us on earth, although he never intended it to be our permanent dwelling place. Because of rebellion and sin, because of the terrible criminal nature and act, the decision to do our own thing, because of sin, the loving, infinite God struggled with the problem of mercy and justice and love. He developed a wonderful plan that we might share a common nature with him, one who was God came to earth to help us, restore us, redeem us. He went about doing good. He showed us God. He showed us the hardness of man, thus he died on Golgotha, in a great miscarriage of justice (Rom. 4:25), he provided a way for us to be right with God, he settled our legal debt. He was buried in a tomb that could not contain him, a dead man who was more than a mere man, and before the sun arose, the Son arose. He has power to raise the dead, his resurrection is the pledge that earth will not hold our bodies, so John 5:28-29 is his pledge to our victory over death. He was here another 40 days, giving infallible proof, not imaginary, then he returned to the Father to intercede for us (1 Tim. 2:5). He was glorified, is sitting on God's throne to help us who will become his. In our failures, struggles, and sin, we can know him as long as our life is for him. Then in Heb. 9:28, the promise is that he will come again for those who are his, those who anticipate eagerly his coming, so we might receive a great and wondrous reward.
This lesson is not for those unprepared for that coming--rather this lesson is for those who are his. The culmination of all that God has promised, the maranatha "come, Lord Jesus," our anticipation is because we have by faith embraced the marvelous gospel message (Rom. 1:16). We have set our faith and trust in these things as true about Jesus, we repent and get self off throne, we were immersed in water, and we became sons and daughters of the Almighty God, by faith we walk with him until death. Embracing that Christ, we are faithful that we might gain heaven.
This lesson is for those who know the gospel message, what God has done, is doing, will do. God is at work with our weakness problem. Thus to understand this process we study the nature of saving faith, the content of saving faith, and the application of the truths we glean, primarily from Romans 4 and James 2. With Abraham as our guide and example, we study saving faith.
I. The Nature of Saving Faith
Romans 4 is the development of the theme of Romans. God is acting for man, when we embrace that work by faith, we can be accepted. This acceptance is always on the basis of faith. 4:1-8 is an illustration of Abraham of old. 4:9-12 tells that he was justified before his circumcision, that one does not have to be part of the select OT community to be saved before God, that one does not have to become a Jew to become a Christian. 4:13-16 tells us that Abraham was not saved by the law of works. Thus we come to vv. 17ff, our text, which we will read more closely. This is our text for the nature of saving faith.
We first meet Abraham in Gen. 12 and the following chapters. God deliberately did something to Abraham, designed with us in mind. OT was not really for the Jew, but was about the Jew. Rom. 15:4 says it was at least in part for us. Here is the Jewish story, in Hebrew language, but it has applications not only for their reality, but it has us in mind also.
Abraham here is the pattern of faith for all the nations. Here we understand salvation by grace through faith. What is this faith? What does God mean when he tells of saving faith?
4:1, Abraham is the Jewish forefather, but he is forefather of the Gentiles also. 4:11, he is father of all believers, also reflected in vv. 12, 16, 17. Abraham becomes for us a living pattern of faith, as our father in the faith. He was saved by faith, he is walking by faith. We can understand this concrete example. This summary from Paul's pen in the Roman letter tell us several things about faith.
II. The Content of Saving Faith
Now we look at James 2:20-24. Perfect faith. We know the nature of saving faith, so why is Abraham's faith not yet complete? Abraham is not yet the pattern, something else has to happen. Back to Genesis, we can trace Abraham's history--from Ur (Sumer), to a different country. Abraham went, believing God could make him a new life there. He was dying to a comfortable lifestyle to go where he was called, and so he went. When we find a new life in Christ, genuinely--that answers the need for missionaries, leaders, preachers, evangelism, church leaders. When we are not sure we can die to life here, we cannot be sure of glory elsewhere.
Abraham's story is a long one. Gen. 15-16, he believes God can give new life, the promise for the seed of Abraham. The promise will not be through Eliezer. Abraham is as a dead man, but he believes God, he thinks God can bring to him the power of procreation, and in this belief in God, Hagar bears Ishmael. But God says no, this is not the seed.
So in Gen. 17-18, not only can God revitalize Abraham, but also Sarah. One step at a time. Abraham laughed. And when Sarah heard, she also laughed. And Isaac (laughter) was born, 9 months later. "Laughter, come and eat." God has the power to give life to a dead womb, but faith is not yet perfect, for there is yet one more thing.
Gen. 22--Abraham receives the command to sacrifice Isaac. He has walked a long time now with Yahweh, and what used to be a problem for him is no longer a problem. But how can I do it? All the promises are in this boy, yet God tells me to kill him. And before he gets to the mountain, without any additional revelation, he decides God has the power to give life to a dead son, and he takes Isaac to the mountain, having told the servants "we will come again," and in his heart he killed him, but God saved him, and provided the sacrifice. "I will provide the lamb." James 2:20 says now his faith was perfect. He believes the promise of the seed, the power to raise men from the grace, and that is saving faith.
III. The Presence of Saving Faith
What about our faith?
Now we come back to Romans 4. Can this saving faith be yours? Mine?
4:23-25 says saving faith that believes God's word of promise, in spite of the obstacles, without wavering, in full assurance, and thus obeys must believe in the God who raises men from the dead. Here are great implications.
Romans 6:3-4 follows closely in the text. Here is an invitation, an invitation which has been in the mind of God from eternity. We preach today the same God who raises the dead, we encourage all people to receive him, to be faith in him, as in Rom. 10:9-10. We preach the same God who can bring forth newness out of oldness, who can make life where there was only death, who can not only help us participate in his death, but also in his resurrection, and will signify both in baptism. Brethren, before God, if you believe, and if you have confessed Jesus as Lord, and you are alive in Christ, submit to him. If you have not loved and kept his commandments, believe in full assurance in his power. And if you have never begun your faith journey, begin now.
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