Lesson 5

The Faith of Abraham

(Romans 4:1-17)
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Introduction: Do you have one belief that is at odds with the rest of your beliefs? For example, are all of your cars made by Chevrolet, but you always buy a Ford truck? That is how many of you may view the lesson this week. My father taught me to work hard and faster than anyone around me. It is difficult for me to relax for too long, I feel driven to do something. This view collides with righteousness by faith. It is a gift from God that I cannot earn. But then, if I think about this more carefully, I realize having a father with a strong work ethic was not my decision. The blessings and direction of God in my life have been a gift. Perhaps this is consistent with a right view of grace? Let's dig into what Paul teaches us about grace, so we can get God's teachings on this incredibly important subject right!

  1. Abraham's Boast?


    1. Read Romans 4:1-2. If Abraham was so good that he could be justified by his works, why should his boasting be limited to other humans? Being justified is being justified, so why can't he boast to God?


    2. Read Romans 4:3. How did Abraham become righteous? Who made him righteous? (This is the answer to the previous question. Abraham cannot boast before God about his own works, because God credited righteousness to him by faith. Abraham could hardly tell God that he was justified by his works.)


      1. In Romans 4:1 Paul says "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works." When Paul uses an "if," does that mean that Abraham might not have been justified by his works? (Exactly! I don't think Paul is saying that Abraham was truly justified by his works. We know enough about Abraham to know this cannot be true. See Genesis 20.)


  2. Works v. Gift


    1. Read Romans 4:4. What is the difference between wages and a gift? (You have an obligation to pay wages, but no obligation to give a gift.)


    2. Read Romans 4:5. What kind of people does God justify? ("The wicked.")


      1. I recall that at one time it was popular to ask people if they were "safe to save." The idea was that you could not be saved if you might unleash sin when you got to heaven. What would Paul say about this theory? (Obviously, it cannot be true if God is justifying "wicked" people. The "safe to save" theory is just another righteousness by works argument.)


      2. Aside from being "wicked," what other attribute of the righteous does Paul mention? (They do not work, they trust God. Do you trust God?)


    3. Look again at Romans 4:5. This morning I was reading an excerpt from a discouraging article that argued that those who were saved were not like ordinary Christians. Instead, they were extraordinary in their character and behavior. It was like other statements I used to read when I was a young man by this same author, and they seemed to set the bar for salvation so high that I wondered why I even tried. Do you think these kinds of statements are absolutely false?


    4. Read 1 John 3:4-8 and then compare it to Romans 7:14-20. John tells us that "no one who lives in Him keeps on sinning." Paul tells us that he cannot help sinning - even when he does not want to sin. Is the discouraging article that I read correct? If not, how do you understand the very plain statements written by John? How do you explain the apparent contradiction with Paul? (There are two issues that are easy to confuse. The first is salvation. Salvation is a gift that is given apart from our works. The second issue is trust. If you trust God, then you take seriously what He says about how to best live your life.)


    5. Re-read 1 John 3:8. What is "the devil's work" that Jesus came to destroy? (Rebellion against God. Satan's work to harm you and everyone you know. When we accept the gift of grace, we choose a side. You will still find sin popping up in your life, but you have made the decision that you want to walk with God. Consider again the "safe to save" slogan, not from the point of view of you infecting heaven with your sin, but rather from the point of view of whether you want to live where there is no sin.)


    6. Read Romans 4:6-8. Why is Paul citing both Abraham and David, when they lived long before grace was accomplished by Jesus living, dying and being raised to eternal life? (Paul argues that this was always the understanding of what God was going to do for His people.)


      1. How do you feel knowing that when you are forgiven, God will "never count against" you the sins you have committed?


  3. Who is Eligible for the Gift?


    1. Read Romans 4:9-10. Is grace available to all? (Yes. It does not turn on being Jewish or not. It does not turn on being circumcised or not.)


    2. Read Colossians 2:11-12. Paul equates baptism with circumcision. Does this mean that we can be justified by faith whether or not we are baptized? (There is one substantial difference between circumcision and baptism. Circumcision was a mark given to all sons of Abraham regardless of their spiritual inclinations. Colossians 2:11 refers to the "circumcision" of baptism as a "putting off of the sinful nature." That sounds like a voluntary choice.)


    3. Read Romans 4:11-12. What does this say about the mental component of grace? (It calls Abraham "the father of all who believe." This tells us that the trigger for grace is belief in what Jesus has done for us.)


    4. Read Romans 4:13-15. Paul tells us that Abraham was not promised that he would be "heir of the world" because Abraham kept the law. What is Paul saying as a follow-up in verse 15 when he asserts that "law brings wrath" and where there is no law, there is no transgression? (He says the law can never be the means to righteousness. It always points out our failures. However, if there is no law, there is no responsibility for sin. How can Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf be meaningful if the law does not exist?)


    5. Read Romans 4:16-17. Who is eligible to accept righteousness by faith? ("All.")


      1. What does this do to the claim that some people are predestined to be lost and some to be saved? (Abraham "is the father of us all" and grace is "guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring." You have God's guarantee that righteousness by faith is offered to you!)


  4. Calling Things


    1. Let's look again at Romans 4:17. What are the two things that God does for us? (He "gives life to the dead" (meaning He gives life to us who deserve eternal death), and He "calls things that are not as though they were.")


      1. What does God describe differently than it is? (The obvious meaning is that God calls you and me righteous even if we are not "safe to save.")


      2. I once heard a preacher who used this text to mean that if you called on God for something that you did not presently have, God would give it to you. Is that a fair understanding of this text?


      3. If you are a student of the Bible, you know that it is very generous in describing Abraham, David and Samson. It gives me comfort that God has such a positive view of them. Do you think that God has this kind of positive view of you? (Yes, He calls you righteous even when you are not.)


    2. Friend, what is your attitude? It cannot be that your works save you. It cannot be that you want grace only to have eternal life. It must be that you believe that Jesus has the right approach to living and you choose Him as your Master. Why not ask the Holy Spirit, if you have not made that choice, to change your attitude to choose Jesus today?


  5. Next week: Adam and Jesus.

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