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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Like Abraham, those who believe are counted righteous before God
Text:Romans 4:23-25 (View)
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 31

Hymn 11:9 (after the law)

Hymn 28:1,2,6,7

Hymn 37

Hymn 41

Scripture reading:  Romans 4

Text:  Romans 4:23-25

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our risen Saviour Jesus,

He is risen!  This morning we commemorate the day that our Lord Jesus rose victorious from the grave.  Some 2000 years ago, our Saviour’s body miraculously came back to life.  The tomb could not hold him.  This was an event of enormous significance for our salvation.  There’s a reason for our joy today!    

Our text on this Easter morning connects faith and the resurrection to the crucial gospel doctrine of justification.  I’m going to say a lot about justification this morning, so it’s important that we have the basics of this doctrine clear in our minds before we start digging into the text.  Let me first give you the basic definition that the catechism students get when they come to Lord’s Day 23.  Justification is God’s declaration that we are right with him because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. 

Now we can take that basic definition and we can expand on it.  The Bible teaches us to think about justification in terms of something that a judge does.  We’re in the setting of a courtroom.  God is the Judge.  We are the accused.  We are accused of breaking God’s law, never keeping any of his commandments, and being inclined to rebellion against him.  Not only are we accused, but there’s no question about our guilt.  There’s also no question about the punishment that we deserve.  We deserve the Judge’s just wrath forever.  Now into this situation steps our defense lawyer, our Mediator.  Jesus Christ offers a defense for us, a solution to our legal predicament before the Judge.  If we have taken hold of him by faith, he tells the Judge that he has paid the penalty for our sins – our punishment has been taken by our Mediator.  But the Mediator has also kept all of the commandments in our place – our obedience has been offered up by our Mediator.  The Judge accepts what Christ says he has done for us.  Because he accepts it, the Judge makes his declaration.  He declares us “righteous.”  No, not “innocent,” but something better: “righteous.”  You see, not only have all our sins been forgiven, but we are also seen in Christ as being perfectly obedient.  That’s why the Judge declares us “righteous.”  Having made that declaration, the Judge comes down from the bench, he puts his arm on your shoulder and says, “Welcome to my family!  You are my child.”  Through justification, we go from the courtroom to the family room.  We go from condemned to adopted.    

Justification is a one-time event.  It happens when you first take hold of Christ by faith.  Justification is not like sanctification, an ongoing process, something which has to take place every day.  Justification takes place once for each believer.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  The Judge has declared us “righteous,” and he says that we are now his family.  Do you really think that a day passes by and the Judge’s verdict is suddenly invalid or doesn’t apply anymore?  That we have to go through the whole thing all over again every day?  No, when we have been justified in Christ, we are justified for good.  The Judge has permanently become our Father.  That’s a comforting thought, don’t you agree? 

The apostle Paul taught the doctrine of justification in Galatians and especially in the book of Romans.  He was up against those who were teaching a doctrine of salvation by works.  They were saying that you need Christ for salvation, but you also need to contribute your personal obedience to God.  In the first chapters of Romans, Paul argues the case for human depravity.  He points out that all of us have a sin problem which puts us in a world of trouble.  In chapter 3, we read about how the law points out sin.  Further, no human being will obtain justification in God’s sight through works of the law.  We are justified by God’s grace as a free gift through Jesus Christ.  Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Paul’s argument is furthered in chapter 4 by appealing to Abraham.  According to Genesis, Abraham was justified before God.  “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” those words from Genesis 15 are quoted in Romans 4:3.  So now Paul says, Abraham’s justification, did that come through his works or through faith in God’s promises?  Specifically, Paul is thinking about circumcision as a work of the law.  Well, Abraham wasn’t circumcised until Genesis 17.  But his justification is mentioned in Genesis 15.  So that obviously seals the case that justification has nothing to do with works of the law whether circumcision or anything else. 

Scripture says that justification is by faith alone – works have no part in that.  By faith, we mean simply receiving the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Faith is the means by which we take hold of Christ as our Mediator in the courtroom.  By faith, we say, “The case he makes, he makes for me.”  In technical terms, faith is the instrument in our justification.  It was that way for Abraham and it needs to be that way for us too.       

So when we come to our text, all of that is in the background.  We’ve got justification by grace as a gift and Abraham as an example of justification by faith alone.  At the end of chapter 4, we’re reminded of how these things connect to us as well.  So I preach to you God’s Word with this theme:  Like Abraham, those who believe are counted righteous before God.

We’ll look at:

  1. Who they believe in
  2. What they believe he’s done
  3. Why they believe he did it

Verse 23 begins by looking back again at the words to Abraham in Genesis 15.  God had approached Abraham and gave him a promise of offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky.  Then in Genesis 15:6 it says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”  Who were these words written for?  Well, according to Paul here in Romans 4:23, they were written first for the sake of Abraham.  What that means is that these words were first written because of Abraham and God’s dealings with him.  It doesn’t mean that Abraham saw the words of Genesis 15:6 written on a scroll or something like that.  No, this is referring to God’s intentions with these words.  The intentions were not only related to Abraham personally, but those who would come later and believe.  Another way of saying it is that the story of Abraham is in the Bible to teach us, even though we’re living thousands of years later.

It’s to teach us about faith and how we are counted righteous before God through it.  Like Abraham, righteousness will be counted to us when we have faith.  Now in our world today, people sometimes talk about faith in a rather general way.  Even unbelievers will talk like that.  They’ll talk about “keeping the faith,” or they may say, “You just gotta have faith.”  But when the Bible speaks about faith, there’s always an object.  There’s always something or someone that you have faith in.                               

Look at Abraham.  In Genesis 15:6, his faith clearly had an object.  There was someone in whom he believed.  He had faith in Yahweh, in God.  When God spoke and gave the promise of offspring, Abraham said, “I believe you.  I take your word for it.”

Similarly, for Christians today, our faith also has an object.  There is someone in whom we must believe.  Often our thoughts at this point will turn to Christ.  It’s true that Scripture teaches us that we must place our faith in Christ for salvation.  Paul himself speaks like that in places like Galatians 2.  Galatians 2:16, “…so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ…”  But here, because he’s been working with the example of Abraham, Paul speaks of faith in God.  When he’s speaking about faith in God, he’s thinking of Yahweh, the Triune God who also approached Abraham in Genesis 15.  Today as Christians we too believe in God.  Justification comes when we believe what God has promised us in the gospel.  In the gospel, God promises that your sins can be washed away, and you can be righteous, through Jesus Christ.  In the gospel, God promises that you can live forever with him in perfect blessedness.  By believing God’s Word of promise, you’re believing in God.

Loved ones, when you believe God’s gospel promises through the power of the Holy Spirit, you are counted righteous before God.  Justified.  That’s true of all who believe.  What an awesome thought!  When we take hold of his promises, when we believe in him, he counts us as righteous.  And look, that’s not because of the quality or quantity of our faith.  It’s only because of who he is and what he’s done. 

And what has he done and why did he do it?  That’s described for us in verses 24 and 25.  We believe in the One who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, the one who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.  Here we get to the Easter story.  Here we arrive at the fact of the empty tomb.  After Jesus died on the cross, his body was lovingly brought to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  Though he died a shameful death, he still received an honourable burial in a new tomb.  On the first day of the week, three female disciples came to the tomb and found it empty, with the stone rolled away.  Peter and John heard about it and came and saw the same thing.  Jesus was not there.  He had risen from the dead.  Death could not keep him down.  Death did not have the final say over Jesus.

When the Bible speaks about Christ’s resurrection and who was behind it, it speaks in two different ways.  They’re not opposite ways, just different.  In a few places, the resurrection is said to be Christ’s work.  For instance, in John 10:18.  Jesus said that he had authority to not only lay down his life, but to take it up again as well.  Or think of what he said in John 2:18, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  He was referring to the temple of his body and he said that he would raise it up.  But there are other places where Scripture speaks about the resurrection as God’s work.  That’s actually the most common way of speaking about the resurrection in the Bible.  And it’s what we find here in Romans 4:24.  We believe in God “who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.” 

What that means is that when Christ’s lungs once again began to contract and expand, God was behind it.  When his heart started beating again, God made it happen.  When his eyelids popped open and light entered into his retinas again, this was the doing of Yahweh, the God of Abraham.  He had done it before with others.  We can think of the son of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17.  He was dead and then, after hearing the prayer of Elijah, God brought him back to life.  Something similar happened with Lazarus in John 11.  But there was an importance difference.  Those other people raised from the dead, where are they now?  They all eventually died again.  When God brought Jesus back to life, he brought him back to life for good.  He is permanently alive in his resurrected body.         

So the resurrection was God’s work.  But there was something else prior to the resurrection that the Holy Spirit also refers to here.  This is at the beginning of verse 25, “who was delivered up for our trespasses.”  Jesus our Lord was delivered – notice the language there.  It’s what we call the passive voice.  Jesus didn’t deliver himself, but he was delivered.  Someone delivered him.  That someone again is God.  In his love, God sent his Son to take care of the problem of our trespasses.  God ensured that the plan fell into place.  Part of the plan included delivering Jesus over to wicked men and their satanic schemes.  That word “delivered” is a loaded term.  It’s the same word that’s used in the Greek original to refer to the betrayal by Judas Iscariot.  It’s used in another place for the handing over of Jesus to Pilate.  It evokes all these instances where Christ was in the hands of wicked people who had a plan to put him to death.  And God had his own plan for it:  it was the way in which our trespasses, our sins, would be addressed.  Through his suffering before and at Golgotha, our Saviour would ensure that our debt to the heavenly Judge would be fully paid.

Our faith is directed to the One who had Jesus handed over for our sins, and who raised him from the dead.  Brothers and sisters, we’re to place our trust in the God of Abraham, the God who had a plan all along.  It was a plan that was in place even before Abraham.  Already in the Garden of Eden, God revealed his end-game for dealing with human sin.  It would involve the seed of the woman receiving a bruised heel, but the seed of the serpent received a bruised head, the death-blow.  When you look to this God in faith, like Abraham did, when you believe his Word that there is life in the death of Christ, that there is victory in the resurrection of Christ, you are among those counted righteous before God.

The historical fact of the resurrection is directly connected to our justification.  This is about the why.  Why do we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead?  What was his purpose in doing that?  There are a few different correct answers you could give, but here in verse 25 the Holy Spirit draws our attention to just one.  Jesus our Lord was “raised for our justification.”  Have you ever thought about what that means?  I think it would be easy to just glide over that while you’re reading Romans and not really stop and ponder.  “Raised for our justification.”  The connection between the two is not something right away obvious. 

To understand it, we have to ask ourselves what difference it would have made if Jesus had stayed dead.  What if those women had come to the tomb and Jesus’ body had been there just like they expected?  What would that have said about him and everything he went through prior to that?  As I mentioned on Good Friday, he had to die, because the curse on sin was death.  The wages of sin is death, Paul will write in Romans 6.  But what if Jesus had remained under the power of death?  It would have said that death was powerful than he was.  It would have said that the curse of sin had the final word with him.  It would have said that God was not satisfied with the sacrifice he made.  This is why Scripture prophesied that the Messiah would come back from the dead.  The resurrection was foretold in Scripture in places like Psalm 16.  Salvation for sinners absolutely required the resurrection of the Messiah.

Jesus was raised for our justification – what that means is that when God raised him from the dead, he was announcing to the world that Jesus’ sacrifice for sin was accepted.  When God raised him from the dead, he was announcing to the world that our Saviour did what he set out to do.  The resurrection is the guarantee.  It’s the guarantee of the basis of our justification.  The basis of our justification is in Christ’s work.  If you had no confidence that Christ’s work was sufficient, that it was enough to turn away the Judge’s wrath, you couldn’t be confident of justification.  But it’s not like that.  Instead, we can have full assurance that believers are counted righteous before God because Jesus, from whom we obtain our righteousness, Jesus is alive.  Praise God!  His sacrifice was the key that unlocked the door into eternal blessedness.

Throughout history, there have been those who argued that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only hard to believe, but also not of great importance.  There have been (and still are) those who argue that you can be a Christian without believing that Jesus actually rose from the dead on the third day.  Or they argue that the important thing is that you believe he’s alive in your heart.  The Bible shoots holes right through all those ways of thinking.  The Bible is insistent on the fact that the Christian faith stands or falls on the historical resurrection of Christ.  You could read 1 Corinthians 15, but you could also study our text closely.  Jesus was raised for our justification.  If he was not raised, we don’t have justification.  If he was not raised, you will not be counted righteous before God.

Praise God that the reality is something different.  We don’t have a dead Saviour.  The tomb was empty on that first Easter Sunday morning.  Because it happened the way the Bible describes, all who believe can be confident of their justification before God – just like Abraham.  Do you ever doubt that God is your loving Father?  If so, you’re really doubting your justification, because justification is what brings you the benefit of having God as your Father.  Now if you ever doubt that, you need to look back at the resurrection.  That Saviour who lived and died for you was brought back to life again.  God accepted the work done in your place and then announced that with the resurrection.  Therefore, Christians don’t need to doubt their justification, and therefore they don’t need to doubt the love of their Father either.  He’s given the guarantee at the empty tomb.

We should we all believe that guarantee.  Believe God and take him at his Word.  Let’s believe together that our salvation doesn’t rest on anything we’ve done – but on what God done in his sovereign grace for us.  He sent his Son.  He delivered over his Son for our trespasses.  He raised his Son for our justification.  There’s an empty tomb – and that should lead to hearts ever fuller with faith, love, and praise.  AMEN.      


Our heavenly Father,

Like Abraham, we believe in you.  We believe that you raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  We trust what your Word says.  We believe that you delivered him for our trespasses and raised him for our justification.  We not only believe, but we thank you and praise you for it.  We love you for this good news that you’ve given to us this morning in your Word.  Thank you for a risen Saviour who successfully completed his mission to redeem us.  Thank you for accepting his work in our place, so that we could be accepted by you.  Father, we thank you for that gospel gift of justification.  We’re glad that you’re not our Judge who will condemn us, but our Father who loves us.  We’re thankful that we have your declaration of us as righteous.  Please help us to understand that more and treasure it, then also live in a way that fits with who we are as your children.  Thank you for your grace, thank you for your love. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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