Romans 4:22-24 “This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
We have been studying this chapter which concentrates on the example set for us by Abraham’s faith in God. That is the paradigm for all of Abraham’s spiritual children. We believe in God as he did; we are justified as he was. The same elements have to be present in everyone who becomes a believer. I am not arguing for the same chronology. Saul of Tarsus was confronted with Christ one day, on the road to Damascus, and he was never the same again, but when was the apostle Peter converted? There were great crises in his life, but I don’t think anyone knows which was the saving crisis. I don’t think we can tell what year he was converted. I am not sure whether Peter himself could tell you, but in the end both Paul and Peter believed that they were sinners and God in mercy had provided salvation for them through the life and work of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. HOW OUR FAITH IS IDENTICAL TO ABRAHAM’S.
I want you to think about the ways that our faith is identical to Abraham’s. Of course there are many different circumstances, we live in a different land, a different time, different technologies and at a different stage in the history of redemption. There are all sorts of differences that we could point to between Abraham and ourselves. But there are three ways in which our faith is identical to Abraham’s faith.
i] Abraham too, like us, believed in the person of God. What does Paul say in verse 24? We believe in God. See there again those words ‘us’, and ‘we’, the union of Paul with the congregation in Rome, their solidarity. What the apostle and these Christians shared in common was that they all believed in the personal God of Scripture, the God of the Bible. Abraham also believed in that same God, the one in whom we also trust. All truly justified believers believe in God. Well, that seems fairly simple. You say “Why bring up that point?” Because there are a lot of people today that think that you’re saved by just believing hard enough. They think that it’s your faith that saves you. They will tell you, “Oh, I have strong faith.” Their faith is in their faith. They think if they believe that they’ve got faith then they’re O.K. and you’re O.K. They think they’re saved in and by being ‘people of faith,’ that it’s the believing is the thing that makes us safe.
But you know what I have often said, that our faith didn’t die for us; it didn’t lie in the grave for us; it didn’t rise from the dead for us; it hasn’t ascended to heaven for us; it doesn’t intercede for us. That is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Abraham’s faith was focused away from himself. It wasn’t looking inside himself saying, “If I just believe hard enough then I’m O.K.” Abraham’s faith was focused on the God who lives and was not silent, the speaking Jehovah. Abraham was not trusting in positive thinking; he wasn’t trusting in his own strategies or attitudes or feelings so that some days he felt, “I really am a believer!” and other days he didn’t feel like that at all. No! Every day he was trusting in God. He began to believe n that first definitive time when God drew near and spoke to him, and then he acted upon what God said. Then he kept going and kept trusting in him. So Abraham believed in the God of the Bible, the Creator, the God who has given men a conscience, the God of Enoch and Noah. Abraham was looking away from himself and he was looking to Jehovah. We believe in that same God whom we know to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we look away from ourselves, entrusting ourselves to him. So faith was in the person of God.
ii] Abraham too, like us, believed in the power of God. He didn’t believe in some sweet, sugar-plum fairy of a god. He believed in Almighty and Omnipotent God. Look at what Paul emphasizes in verse 24: “To whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead.” We believe that our God is mighty. We believe that he is more powerful than death itself for he raised our Lord Jesus from the dead. Abraham believed in the power God had to raise his son Isaac from the dead – if God had allowed Abraham to go ahead and sacrifice Isaac. God could resurrect Isaac. We believe that the power of God raised Christ from the dead. Abraham believed in God’s power to raise his son and we believe in the might of the same God. He is going to raise us up from the dead
iii] Abraham too, like us, believed in the promises of God. We are told that Abraham was promised that he would be “the father of many nations” (v.18). It was the death and resurrection of Jesus that was the means of God fulfilling this promise to us in Wales, far away from Israel and far after the time of Abraham. His promise was of a world-wide kingdom of forgiven sinners, the kingdom of God! Abraham was going to be the father of many nations, in other words, in every part of the world there would be people who had trusted in God and been forgiven for their sins and entered this kingdom of light and mercy. We Christians believe in the promises that God has made about that. He will forgive every one who trusts in his Son. So your faith is just like Abraham’s faith. You believe in God, you believe in his person, in his power, and you believe in his promises. We don’t put our faith in faith, we don’t put faith in self, we don’t put faith in positive thinking. We put our faith in God who is all-powerful and who promises us forgiveness in the risen Jesus Christ. People are saved today the same way that Abraham was saved, by faith in this God and no other.
2. THE FOCUS OF OUR FAITH.
You say, “Okay, you’ve told me why Abraham’s story is relevant to me, but what ought to be the focus of my faith? Where specifically do you want me to look?” Maybe I should rephrase the question in this way: who is the one who ought to be the focus of our faith? Paul tells us here in verse 25 that faith is to look to the promises of God, to what have been accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and all that we have got from that, eternal life, mercy, pardon, grace that is sufficient for us through Christ. All that comes from our union with the risen, living Christ. It does not come from any other god or from any other religion. John 3 and verse 36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Saving faith says, “I know whom I have believed.” Not, ‘I know that I have believed.’ Not, ‘I know what I believe.’ Not, ‘I know when I believed.’ But, “I know whom I have believed.” We look to Christ. We are justified by faith in him. Saving faith has to be directed to Jesus Christ. It is in union with Christ that we are justified. As we trust in Christ, then we are united to him, and it is then that his righteousness is credited to us. The righteousness of Christ is the righteousness whereby we are justified. It’s not our own goodness that justifies us. It’s Christ’s goodness credited to our account, as we trust in him that justifies us. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the great events that accomplish the forgiveness of sins and our being counted and declared as righteous before God, and it is through Jesus’ intercession for us that we come to stand in the presence of God. We look to the promise accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins. That’s where we look. The focus of saving faith is on Jesus Christ.
Paul adds a most important word in verse 25 lest anyone think that faith in general saves. Not so! The only faith that saves us is faith that is grounded in the only one to become the Lamb of God, the only one who has taken away the sin of the world, and the only one to rise from the dead. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.” Here is a crucial point. The Christian faith rests ultimately on the reality of two events that actually happened 2000 years ago. One is the death of Christ on the cross; the other is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The first paid for our sins; the second, Christ risen and ascended and our mediator with God, is the guarantee of our right standing before God. Do you understand?
Let me explain again the gospel to you. Man owes God a debt for his transgressions and no man could repay it. However, the Almighty, who is merciful and gracious, sent his Son to pay man’s debt. Jesus Christ took the bill in his hand and paid it in full on Calvary. The payment was made in his own blood. Three days after he was buried and lying in a tomb, Jesus rose from the dead and presented the bill as paid to his Father. The Lord stamped it ‘Paid in Full’ and gave his Son the receipt. Thus, any person who trusts the Jesus who died for our sin and rose from the dead for our justification is secure forever. The Son has the receipt to prove it!
The only question that remains is this, have you accepted personally what Jesus Christ has done? The right response to that question will mark the difference between heaven or hell, salvation or condemnation, eternal life or eternal death. Have you cast yourself fully on his mercy or are you still thinking that you have done something to get to glory? You know that you can summarize Christianity in three sentences: “I deserved Hell.” “Jesus took my Hell.” “Heaven alone is left for me.” So if you’re willing to respond as Abraham responded, believing in God then you too can be saved. Are you willing to believe the promise of God in order to be saved? Heaven is as close as your response to those questions. One action God commands, that you stake your life forever upon Jesus Christ who died for sinners and rose again. Nothing more needs to be added. Nothing more could be added. Jesus paid the price for our salvation. You know that a time comes in the life of everyone of us when thinking and planning and resolving are not enough and it is time to respond to Jesus Christ and take action. I trust in him.
And that’s the challenge for every one of us today, for you believers to continue to focus the hope and the foundation of your lives in the work of Jesus Christ alone. And for you unbelievers to realize that your number one problem is not money, nor your addictions, nor your lack of good looks. It is your sin. There may be a lot of other problems out there pestering your life; health matters, paying bills, bad business deals; VAT back taxes; family issues. But the biggest single problem that you have is separation from God, alienation from him because of your sin. That problem is only remedied, completely remedied, in Jesus Christ. So you look to him, you believe in him, you commit yourself to him, you rest in him, you receive him as your risen Lord, and you find total peace with God, forgiveness of sins. O God deal with hearts today and work that truth in them.
3. THE CONSEQUENCE OF SUCH FAITH IS THAT GOD WILL CREDIT RIGHTEOUSNESS TO BELIEVERS IN CHRIST.
See the number of times that this phrase “crediting it to him as righteousness” occurs – in these three verses? Verse 22 and it is there; verses 23 once again; verse 24 there it is again. Three times in three verses, and so it has to be very important. That Roman congregation listened to an elder reading these words for the first time on a Lord’s Day during the late spring of the year of 55, but we are not certain of the year. Maybe the late spring of the year following or even the year following that. However we are certain that in the late spring of one of those years an elder stood before the congregation and said, “We have had a letter from the apostle and here it is . . .” a fat scroll was shown to them, “ . . . and I am now going to read it to you.” So they listened in a breathless silence especially as the letter developed, and they asked the Holy Spirit in their hearts to help them to understand it, and over many of the following weeks it was read to them again, and then it was copied and they got more and more familiar with what it said. After hearing chapter four read many times numbers knew it by heart and increasingly they understood the meaning of this repeated phrase, “credited to him for righteousness.” They increasingly knew that they had come across a fantastic treasure. They had been introduced to the greatest letter that had ever been written or ever shall be written.
Let me try to show you the significance of this phrase, “credited to you as righteousness.” Let me go about this by asking you whether you think your legal standing with God as being a righteous person is based on what you are . . . or is it based on what the Lord Jesus Christ is? You may not see why this is very big, but it is big . . . very, very big. On knowing this hangs the full glory of God’s grace in your justification, and on this hangs your full enjoyment of peace with God in justification as the next chapter’s opening words memorably declare. So God’s glory and your peace are at stake in this question.
I need to explain that I am simply discharging my own duty in going over this truth with you and making it clear. The goal of my preaching ministry has to be that you “are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” I want you all to be strong and stable and mature. In particular, I want you to know this supreme blessing, to be credited with divine righteousness. Christians for hundreds of years have understood this, taught it to others, written hymns about it and it has been the stuff of believing meditation, that God credits to us his own righteousness through faith because of Christ’s obedience even to the death of the cross. Why should this congregation be denied what tens of thousands of ordinary Christians have been strengthened by for centuries – the crediting to all who believe of God’s righteousness in Christ? It’s a glorious truth that will change your life if you see it and savour it for what it is. His righteousness credited to us, as these verses say three times, in other words, his righteousness ‘put to our account,’ ‘reckoned to be ours,’ ‘imputed to us.’ I ask myself as a pastor, why should the people of Alfred Place be denied the knowledge of this glorious liberating truth that has sustained the saints of Wales for centuries? Why should we cave in to the modern pragmatism that says doctrine is impractical, doctrine is boring, doctrine is tough going? And I answer: we shouldn’t.
Perhaps the most pointed way I could put it would be like this: I am lingering unapologetically over this issue of you being credited with divine righteousness because when perhaps I stand by your bed at the hour of your death, I want to be able to look down at your face and remind you of the most comforting words in all the world, and encourage you to be at peace as you approach that river over which there is no bridge. I will say things like this to you “Remember, Jesus Christ is your righteousness. That is your status. Christ is your righteousness legally and in the courts of heaven right now. Your righteousness is already there in heaven. That righteousness doesn’t get better when your faith is strong. It doesn’t get worse when your faith is weak. It is perfect. It is Christ your righteousness. Look away from yourself. Rest in him now and know that when you see him you will be like him. Lean on him.”
In the text before us we read these words; (please consider it with me now), verses 22 through 24, “This is why ‘it was credited to him [Abraham] as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Do you see it before you there, now? We believe in God and then we are credited with the divine righteousness, not when we get the second blessing, and not when we have agonized and asked for it for ten years. Then, when we believe we are justified, and such a declaration of the blessing of the free gift of justification is not only found here. It is found eminently in 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 21, “He [God] made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Here we have a double imputation. Remember John Williams of Bethel, Gorseinon earlier this year speaking to the children on double imputation and using two T-shirts one of which was pristine white while the other was covered over with the names of many different sins. They were hanging on two chairs, and then he transferred them, the chair with all the sins received the pure clean T-shirt, while the one that was as white as snow received the defiled and sinful T-shirt. That was a beautiful display of 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 21, God imputing our sins to the Christ who had never committed one sin, but also imputing Christ’s righteousness to us who had no righteousness of our own. Think of it. Christ’s own spotless, divine and human righteousness credited to me! To this old hypocrite, this dirty weakling! I have been credited with his spotless righteousness. The key phrases for us are “the righteousness of God” and “in him.” It’s not an improved righteousness of our own that we get here when we believe. It is ontologically different, it is God’s righteousness. And we get it not because we have perfect faith in the Lord but because we are joined to Christ – “in him.” Faith unites us to Christ. And in Christ we have this alien righteousness. It is God’s righteousness in Christ. Or you can say that it is Christ’s righteousness. He takes our sin. We take his righteousness.
Or there is also one other verse, it is 1 Corinthians 1:30. John Bunyan said that when he had seen that his righteousness was in heaven he walked home and he looked for Biblical support. He hit upon 1 Corinthians 1:30. “Jesus Christ, who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” ‘By this scripture,’ Bunyan said, ‘I saw that the man Christ Jesus . . . is our righteousness and sanctification before God. Therefore I lived for some time afterwards very sweetly at peace with God, through Christ.”
Here is a story that might help you. It’s not perfect (as no illustration is), but it can still touch your imagination and affections. Suppose I’d said to Fflur, my youngest daughter, “Clean up your room before you go back to school on Monday. You must finally have a clean room. I have asked you often enough, or you can’t go to the concert on Monday night. ” Well, suppose she planned poorly and she did nothing on Saturday and left for school without tidying the room. And suppose I discovered the room still looking as if a burglar had trashed it, and so I cleaned it up myself. Fflur gets home Monday afternoon realizing what she’s failed to do and she feels terrible. She apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences.
To which I say, “Fflur, I’m going to credit your apology and your submission as a clean room. We had told you, ‘You must have a clean room, or you won’t be going to the concert.’ Now your room is clean. So you can go to the concert.” What I mean when I say, “I credit your apology as a clean room,” is not that the apology is the clean room. Nor that she really did tidy up her room. I cleaned it. It was pure grace that has done that and given her the right to go to the Bryn Terfel concert. All I mean is this, that in my way of reckoning – in my grace – her repentance and submission to me connects her with the promise given for having a clean room. The clean room is her clean room. I credit that to her. Or, I credit her apology as a clean room. You can say it either way and the result is that she goes to the concert. And Paul said it both ways: “Faith is credited as righteousness,” and he says, “God credits righteousness to us through faith.”
4. THE RESURRECTION THE FOUNDATION OF JUSTIFICATION.
There are people who believe that religious faith is an opiate; it’s a narcotic. It’s unreal. It’s something by which you escape from reality and anesthetize yourself from all the pain of life. It is obvious that you really can’t handle trouble by yourself; you need a crutch, and so ‘believing in Jesus’ is offered to people as a sort of zimmer frame that they lean on in every trouble of life. Karl Marx famously said that, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” But that was not Abraham’s faith was it, to give himself an easier time in Ur he dreamed of a blessed future? Abraham didn’t stay in his super house and have all his cleaning and cooking done by his slaves in Ur. He hit the road, lived in tents, went into uncharted territory and confronted all the dangers of felons. It wasn’t some blind faith that Abraham had. God had come to him and had brought words to him, and how God spoke and what he said was so overwhelmingly divine that there could be no other response than believing it all to be God’s directive and God’s promise. Abraham responded to that promise and he lived for years upon God’s providence, believing God’s word, trusting what God had said, and trusting in the living God with whom he was in relationship.
Faith is belief in the propositions of Scripture, and it is trusting in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith is three things: it is a response to the word of God that has been shared with me, it is the embrace of that word as being the truth, and it is trust in the person who’s at the heart of that word. Biblical faith is not blind faith. Abraham wasn’t leaping into the dark. This is not what God was asking him – or anyone – to do.
Let me give you an illustration: you and your friend are climbing Snowden. Then a thick mist and cloud suddenly comes down and separates from one another; there is no visible contact between you. You are tied together by a rope and your friend is already down on a great wide ledge below you in the fog. But the clouds have now cut you off from any visible sight of him. Your friend is standing there and he shouts, “The only way you are getting down here is to let yourself down over the edge and drop.” You say, “I can’t see the ledge.” Your friend says, “I’m standing on it. Drop or you’ll freeze to death.” Now your dropping down from the edge of that cliff onto the ledge below in the dark is not blind faith, it is not merely a leap into the dark, because you trust your friend, and you hear his voice close at hand. You pull on the rope and he pulls back, and he speaks reassuringly, and he wouldn’t let anything happen to you. You can’t see him on that wide ledge but you trust him. Faith is not sight, but it’s also not blind, and it’s also not foolish. You trust your friend. That’s your best friend, you have known one another for years, and he’s saying, “Let go. Drop. I’ll be there for you. The ledge is here. Drop down.” You can’t see him but it is a very sensible thing to do to trust the counsel of a friend.
So biblical faith is a response to God’s revelation in Scrripture; it’s not asking you to contradict all known laws of rationality. It’s asking you to trust in a God who has proven himself over and over in his Word, and in his providence, and in Christian experience, and in the life and words and works of his Son Jesus Christ, and in the lives of Christian friends, family and fellow students who have spoken to you and shared their faith with you for so long, and in remembering the themes of many messages about Jesus that you have heard all your life. Saving faith involves knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done, trusting in him and committing yourself to him.
Some of you are still not persuaded. Some of you are thinking, “You Christians can talk the talk . . . ‘Crediting righteousness to us . . . the imputed righteousness of Christ’ and so on. Words. Just words.” No. God has given us assurance that what I am saying to you today is absolutely true – true truth – by one great event in history, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. So here in our text Paul reminds us who God is. He “raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (v.24). Do you understand? The glory of the resurrection is that it did not belong to the world of hypotheses, or theories, or to the realm of ideas or emotions, or in the sphere of theology. It belongs to the realm of facts. The empty tomb; the stone lying flat, the great word of the angel, “Behold the place where they laid him. He is not here; he is risen;” that empty tomb, the triumph of Christ over death and all the forces of evil. There were hours in which the Son of God lay in the tomb; love incarnate, wisdom incarnate and power incarnate seemed to have been overthrown and evil seems to have triumphed, but God raises him from the dead; God gives him the victory; God vindicates incarnate grace and so the Son of God arose, and that is the great guarantee of our resurrection. It is the model of our resurrection. There on the first Lord’s Day is the eruption of the power and goodness of God into our world where all must die in the vindication of his Son in raising him from the dead. In that simple fact that Jesus rose on the third day is the reason for our hope. God thus gives us assurance of this hope.
Peter, the companion and eye witness of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3). Peter had been a know-all; not even Jesus Christ could tell him much. He didn’t need warnings or straightforward predictions about the future. He knew it all. He didn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ; he could see no reason why Jesus should die. But that unthinkable had happened. Jesus of Galilee had been crucified. He was dead and Peter was in despair. He had given up three years of his life and seems to have followed a healing, dreaming rabbi who had fantastic ideas and memorable stories, but that was all. Jesus was dead; God had permitted the unthinkable, and Peter was shattered. Then on the third day he ran after John to the garden and he looked into the tomb and found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Jesus was risen! Then in the upper room he saw and spoke to the risen Jesus Christ. He had a personal encounter with him in which he was forgiven and recommissioned. Jesus also ate and drank with him on the beach of the Sea of Galilee, and in the Upper Room, and on the hill of ascension and with 500 of his fellow-Christians.
Peter’s whole life was reborn; he was a new creature; he had a living hope and he spent the rest of his life telling people of God’s way to have credited to you the righteousness of Christ. At Pentecost he told the thousands listening in silence, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). He told them, “he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:31&32). He told them in Jerusalem a few weeks later, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15). And a little later he said to them, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:15). We are told about the twelve, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). He preached to the Gentiles in the household of Cornelius the centurion, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41).
Why do we keep telling you that this blessedness can be yours – the forgiveness of your sins, the removal of your guilt and shame, all of it being credited to Christ on the cross and condemned in his body, while his righteousness is credited to you? What are the grounds of saying this, and assuring you that it is true? It is that truly God spoke to Abraham and the prophets in days gone by, and what he said was written down in the Old Testament, and also that in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. Jesus Christ is the most powerful reality in the universe. He is mightier than death. God raised him from the dead as a declaration that Christ did indeed make full atonement for our sins. His work was finished, so that forgiveness can now be preached in his name to all the world. “God will credit righteousness for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (v.24).
This is what Christ came to do: to fulfill a righteousness, and die a death that would remove all your sins – all your past sins, all your present sins, and all your future sins – and then also become for you a perfect righteousness. He offers you this today as a gift. If you see him as true and precious, if you take the gift and if you trust the giver, you will have a peace with God that passes all understanding. You will be a secure person. You will not need the approval of others. You will not need the ego-supports of wealth or power or revenge. You will be free. There will be times when you will overflow with love. You are prepared to die in peace trusting in Christ for the joy that is to be set before you. Look to Christ and trust him for your righteousness.
21st September 2014 GEOFF THOMAS