(Rom. 4:1-3) 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.”
I have lingered over chapters 3 and 4 for years. It is so important to understand justification by faith alone apart from works. It’s also important to understand that true faith always bears fruit. There are no more words that speak so clearly as Romans 4 on being counted righteous by faith. Just to clarify, I don’t think this declaration makes me righteous but rather gives me a right legal standing before God for which I am forgiven and Jesus’s perfect righteousness is in my account. Because of this, the Holy Spirit (God’s presence) can live within me and change me which is sanctification.
I remember thinking through how scandalous the gospel appears to be. It seems obsurd that salvation is only by faith and not works. All we know in life is the fact to get something we must pay for it. Some people don’t do well with gifts. They immediately feel an obligation to return the favor. Isn’t it strange how we want to pay someone back for a gift! We are so wired like this that the gospel doesn’t make sense to us.
Paul says this: (Rom. 4:4-5) 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.
I had to discipline myself and retrain my heart and mind to think and feel rightly about this. Here’s part of my retraining: when I receive my payroll check, I never say thank you. I understand that someone owes me that money. I have earned that wage. Therefore, I should not praise them for that which is not a gift. Maybe a bonus or something like that is worthy of it but my regular salary was earned.
That’s not so with the gospel. The reason the gospel shuts every mouth is because we cannot earn salvation by working for it. We completely trust in the perfect, finished work of Jesus. He earned it for us. His merit is our merit by faith. So much so, that Paul points out that Abraham’s justification happened BEFORE he was circumcised. Order matters. Abraham has nothing to boast about. His situation was impossible apart from the work of God. And our salvation is impossible apart from the work of God, too.
God reconciled Himself to us. We did not reconcile ourselves. We were His enemies. But now, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God. Our union with our father Adam has been broken which led to death. Our union with Christ has been sealed which leads to eternal life with God. This is how it was meant to be. A new and better Eden awaits those who are joined to Christ by death. Yes, death. Faith and repentance can be understood as our death. His death is our death. Our penalty was paid by Jesus. Our sins were nailed to the cross. By his strips we were healed.
So, now let us put off the old man. We are a new creation. Sanctification can now happen. We can be made righteous. We must present our members as slaves of righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
Let’s consider some ways to put to death the deeds of the flesh:
1. There are some things that can and should be avoided completely. Don’t go to places (websites, people, buffets, certain movies, etc.) that will tempt you to sin.
2. Be actively comitted to a local body of believers to which you are accountable. Do not hide out in the services but rather be intimately connected with a group.
3. Consider the consequences of an action. Play out where this leads in your mind before doing it.
4. We are going to mess up. Be quick to repent. I have often needed to repent of not repenting quickly. I have lingered proudly instead of agressively throwing myself at the feet of God’s mercy.
5. Be in the Word of God regularly. That is the place where God’s speaks to us. Listen and respond.
6. Read good books that will help you identify sin in your life and ways to eradicate it.
7. Preach the gospel to yourself everyday. You will never find yourself in a position that you do not need the gospel. Paul was writing this letter called Romans to believers in Rome and the content is the gospel. Start the day low before the Lord in confession and appealing for His mercy and grace.