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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God’s Power for All who Believe!
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-04-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 105:1,2                                                                                          

Ps 136:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Romans 4:1-25; Romans 10:1-21

Ps 115:1,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 7

Hy 28:1,2,4,6

Hy 13:1,2,3,4,5

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


Brothers and sisters, do you remember Martin Luther? Luther lived in Germany about 500 years ago. As a young man, Martin committed his life to the Lord’s service. He quit the study of law, and became a monk. But this Luther wasn’t a happy man. Though he had followed God’s call, he was harassed by an inner voice. Day and night, he heard his conscience: “Luther, you’re a sinner. You’ve broken all the commandments of God, again and again.”

You recall how he tried to ease his guilt. If his conscience was going to accuse him, then he wanted at least some credits to his name. He wanted the record to say that he’d done some good along with all that evil! So he went on pilgrimage to Rome. He deprived himself of food and drink. He put in endless days of work and rejected creature comforts, to try earn some peace.

Yet the voice was relentless. It pointed out his failures, even in the good he tried to do, and reminded him how far he had to go. Because of this, Luther fell into deep despair. He knew that he was a total sinner, and that God is perfectly righteous. So Luther lived in terror of meeting his Maker, and giving that final account.

Luther’s struggles are legendary. But in a sense, they shouldn’t be that unusual. For if we’re listening, our conscience is often accusing us: “You’re a terrible sinner. You’ve broken all of God’s commandments, #1 through to #10.” We all should tremble before our Maker and Judge, because when we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, we know that He’ll lift us up! That’s what happened for Luther. A ray of sunshine suddenly pierced the black clouds hanging in his heart. One day God showed Luther a single text of Scripture—and that text changed his life. And what was the text? It was Romans 1:17, “The just will live by faith.”

In a moment Luther saw it: a sinner, on his own, can never hope to be right with God. No matter what he did, it wouldn’t be enough. To be just, or righteous—to be on good terms with God—is an impossible thing. Except by faith. “When a sinner believes in me through my Son Jesus Christ,” God declares, “that sinner will no longer be merely a sinner, but he’ll be righteous. And because he is righteous, he will live!”

Somewhere Luther writes about that wondrous discovery of Romans 1:17. He writes of that moment, “All at once I felt that I had been born again, and entered into Paradise through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light.” It’s this marvelous truth of salvation through grace alone by faith that we’ll look at today, summarized in Lord’s Day 7 of the Catechism,

The gospel is God’s power for the salvation of all who believe!

  1. we can have the faith of Abraham
  2. we can receive faith through the Word
  3. we can be saved by this faith                              

 

1) we can have the faith of Abraham: There’s something called “The Romans Road.” The Romans Road is a simple way of explaining the gospel, using a few verses from Paul’s greatest letter. Along the Romans Road, we pass the first signpost at Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” This tells us that we’ve all done things deeply displeasing to God, that there’s no one innocent before him.

And after that we come to the second signpost (at 6:23), which gives us more bad news: “The wages of sin is death.” Such is the punishment that we’ve earned by our sins: not just temporal, but eternal death! It’s the doom that Martin Luther feared so intensely.

Despite all that, the Romans Road is not a dead end. The third signpost shows the way, for in 6:23 we read those wondrous words: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has opened up a pathway to life-everlasting!

But we’ve also got to pass that checkpoint at Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus… you will be saved.” You have to confess, you must believe. It’s what Paul announced already in chapter 3: “A righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (v 23, NIV). There’s Paul’s favourite word: righteousness—and also his second favourite word: faith.

To that theme of saving faith, Paul then devotes an entire chapter, in Romans 4. He does so by focusing on Abraham, that great father of the people of Israel. One who received all those promises, and one who talked to God, even as man talks to his friend.

Why does Paul choose Abraham for this lesson on faith? Quite a few in the Roman church were Jewish. These were people who’d been raised on the stories of Abraham and the patriarchs. They had great admiration for this father of the nation. And if anyone could be called holy on the basis of his good deeds, it was Abraham! The Jews recognized Abraham as a great hero of works; they looked to him as supremely righteous in the way he lived. This is even what God said in Genesis 26:5 said; the LORD blessed him “because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”

When God ordered Abraham to leave Ur for an unknown land, he listened. When God commanded Abraham to circumcise all the males of his household, he obeyed. Even when God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, he was ready to do it. Yes, Abraham almost always did what was right. Surely this is the reason he had such a good relationship with God!

But, with all due respect for the patriarch, Paul takes away this hero of good deeds. He tells the Jews to think again. He asks: “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found…?” (4:1). Did he have good standing with the LORD because of his obedience? Was God’s favour on him because of all his accomplishments? If so, “he has something to boast about” (4:2), but not really. For “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (4:3).

That’s a really important text that Paul quotes, from Genesis 15:6. For in that chapter, when God makes his covenant with Abraham, the patriarch responds in the only appropriate way. He believes. For Abraham, that came before anything else—before circumcision, before sacrifice, before any work of obedience. What came first for him was faith!

And by his faith, Abraham was considered by God to be righteous. Because he believed in Him, God accepted him. Abraham hadn’t done a thing to earn this favour, just as Luther couldn’t earn it by sleeping on the floor, or praying a thousand “Our Fathers”—just as we can’t earn God’s favour by being well-mannered church-going people. There’s no place for boasting, because God grants his grace only to those who humbly believe.

The Jews had to remember this key truth: salvation is never by keeping the law. The Gentiles had to understand that, too. For as Paul writes, “[Abraham] is the father of us all” (4:16). He’s the father of all who give up trying to save themselves, or make themselves secure, and who simply trust that God will do it. Here’s the thing: Everyone—Jew and Gentile, Canadian and Australian, you and I—we all have to “walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had” (4:12).

We must walk in the steps of faith… That’s a great image. For Abraham, these steps took him all the way to the Promised Land, believing in things that seemed impossible. For Abraham, these steps even took him up Mount Moriah, to offer the son he’d waited a lifetime to receive. Abraham only had a handful of promises to cling to: something about descendants and land and blessing. But Abraham resolutely put his confidence in the LORD. Paul writes, “And not being weak in faith, [Abraham] did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (4:19).

Abraham looked at himself, he looked at his wife, and he had to wonder: “How can God possibly fulfill his Word, even to two wrinkled old folks like us? How can the LORD ever keep that promise of a son?” Surely God had vowed to do an impossible thing.

Sometimes we start thinking the same way: How can God possibly do what He has promised? Will He actually forgive all of my many and ugly sins? Can God actually turn this terrible hardship to our benefit? Is the LORD ever going to show me the way through this confusion, and give me peace? Sometimes we feel that God is surely going to be proven wrong.

“Yet [Abraham] did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith… being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (4:20-21). When there was no human grounds to do so, Abraham believed God’s promise. Because he knew God, he believed God. And God blessed him for it.

Beloved, as we walk in Abraham’s footsteps of faith, we can see much clearer than our father ever saw. Just look at the Nicene Creed—such a resounding statement of who God is, and what the Triune God has done! Incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection—the gift of the Spirit and baptism, the promise of everlasting life.

And this is still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We believe in the same God, “who gives life to the dead” (4:17). That’s what God does: He gives life to the dead! He gave that gift to Abraham and Sarah, in a little child named Isaac. And He also gives new life to us, through a man named Jesus Christ and through his Spirit.

True faith is accepting that all this is real. True faith is a confidence that God “has granted [to us] forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits” (Q&A 21). When you think about it, it seems impossible. It’s even less believable than two senior citizens producing a child—this fact: that God would give his own Son to die for sinners. Yet we can believe it, fully and confidently. We can trust this God for absolutely everything that we need, for every single moment!

For our Almighty God can do exactly what He says. Our gracious God renews our hearts, and He makes us alive in Christ. Our faithful God takes our empty spirits, and He fills them with an abundance of hope and love and joy. By faith in him, our merciful God gives life-everlasting.

 

2) we can receive faith through the Word: So we need to believe in this God. How then do we find out about him? One place is creation, where we see evidence of his power and majesty. But God reveals himself in another way, too: in Holy Scripture. There God tells us plainly who He is. He tells us about his compassion and his mercy, his goodness and grace; his eternity and infinity and immutability. He tells us things that are wonderful and amazing, even things we can’t understand.

Think of Lord’s Day 7, “True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word.” This means when you’re confused, despairing, when you’re in the lowest place—you can take the Word, and you can have confidence that these words are absolutely and undeniably true, that they can be wholeheartedly believed: “I accept as true all that God has revealed to me in his Word.”

And that’s how our faith works: it works through the Word. It’s the Word that will produce faith in your heart, a confidence in the God who has spoken. In Romans 10, Paul explains this. We’ve mentioned already how Paul reached out to his Jewish brothers and sisters in Rome. Also in chapters 9 to 11, he speaks to them very directly. For Paul was deeply saddened that so many of them did not accept the promised Messiah.

Because they should’ve. They should’ve believed, because they heard the message so often: from the prophets, from the apostles, from the very pages of Scripture. It’s laid down in 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In his Word, God wants us to see his great majesty and wonders, his stunning glory and wise plan. From his Word, God wants us to know his promises. For it’s by this means that our faith receives the breath of life. By his Word, God speaks to our hearts, and He tells us the Truth!

Think again of Martin Luther: the real turning point for him came when he was reading Scripture. The turning point for his faith and his life wasn’t when he was sitting under the stars one night. It didn’t happen through a blinding vision of glory, or through a mystical dream. Faith came when Scripture was open. He read Romans 1:17, and God’s Word transformed him!

“Faith comes by hearing.” Beloved, that simple statement has consequences for us. As Paul asks, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (10:14). Or how can we believe, if we won’t read the Word?

If we desire a faith that is alive and well, then we must desire the Word. We must search that Word, and know it. There’s no easy way around this. Sure, you’ve put the Bible on your nightstand or on your phone with the best of intentions. And perhaps you pray to God many times throughout the day, while you drive and shop and prepare supper. You might listen to lots of good Christian music, and read good Christian books. But to stand fast in the faith, to mature in the faith, to have a faith that endures, the Word has to be open before us—each day, every day, for as long as we live.

It doesn’t mean we’re all going to have a “Martin Luther moment,” when the light of God’s Word suddenly illuminates everything in our life, and we see everything as clear as day. Likely, it’s going to be a lot less exciting: reading the Bible at regular times each day, memorizing verses here and there, opening the Bible as a family, listening to the Word Sunday after Sunday, talking about the Word with other believers. Normal, routine stuff, for reading Scripture isn’t always earth-shattering. We don’t always close the Bible feeling like something important has happened, like we’ve been changed—don’t expect this, either! Yet this is the way God works—this is the way faith works.

Because time and again, the Word confirms us in what our God has done. Time and again, the Word reminds us of who we’ve become in Christ. Time and again, the Word reveals what kind of God we worship and trust and serve. Read this Word! Listen to this Word! And then by his grace, our faith will grow.

In all the many opportunities that we have to read the Word, there’s also a warning. Paul says the Jews had no excuse for rejecting the message. He writes in verse 18, “Have they not heard? Yes indeed, ‘[God’s voice] has gone out to all the earth, and [his] words to the ends of the world.’” The gospel went out to the Jews, but so many weren’t willing to accept it. They were too proud, or too self-sufficient, or too whatever, to really care. All day long God held out his hands, but they remained defiant. They closed their eyes, and stopped their ears to the Word.

Isn’t that a danger for us too? After years of preaching, years of teaching, years of after-dinner Scripture reading, years of Bible study, our love for the Word can dwindle. You’ve heard it all so many times before! So do you persevere? Do you keep going back to the Word? Do you treat Scripture like the power of God that it actually is?

It can be a lot of work, to study Scripture, to think it through: “What does it mean that God gave his Son to die for sinners? What does it really mean to believe this? Who is this God who keeps talking to me?” Reading the Bible isn’t hard—we can all read the words written there on the page. But to read it in a meaningful way can be tough; to read with understanding requires an effort. It’s a lot easier to scroll through Instagram. It’s a lot easier to talk about ourselves, or get deeply into something that catches our interest. For example, we can learn everything there is to learn about cricket or ice hockey or baseball. We can get immersed in the world of cars, or the world of finance, or some other intriguing thing. But do we take the time to learn the Word? Do we immerse ourselves in God’s truth?

“God’s voice has gone out to all the earth,” and it’s gone out to us. And God tells us his Word never returns to him empty. It will either expose unbelief, or it will produce faith. So what is our response to the Word of God? What is your response?           

 

3) we can be saved by this faith: Lord’s Day 6 mentions some basic aspects of Christ’s work: He is our righteousness, our redemption, our atonement, our peace. Today we could add another: He is our salvation. This idea is perhaps the simplest of them all. Christ saves us, rescues us, delivers us from trouble. When it comes down to it, that’s what we need—salvation from sin. No wonder people came up to Jesus and the apostles with that pointed question, “What must I do to be saved?”

The Catechism tells us, “Only those are saved who by a true faith are incorporated into Christ and accept all his benefits” (Q&A 20). Remember how Paul puts that same truth: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9). That’s what it takes: believing Christ stood up for you, and that He took all your guilt upon himself. Trusting that Christ was crucified, dead and buried, and rose again—so we might live. Confessing He’s now Lord of your life, and all you do.

If that is our faith, then we’re granted what we need more than anything else in this life: a proper relationship with God, peace with our Creator, and the promise of everlasting fellowship. If we believe, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can take away this gift: “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on him will not be put to shame’” (10:11). No matter where we’ve come from; no matter what we’ve done; no matter how we’ve delayed; if we believe, this salvation will be ours in Christ Jesus!

It’s true, our faith is often weak. Often we go through a day without thinking much about God at all. Often our faith is a wandering thing, withered and wilted. Over in Lord’s Day 23, the Catechism gives us a good reminder: We are not “acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of [our faith].”

That is, we’re not saved because of faith, but by faith. Our faith is only the puny arms that reach out and embrace Christ Jesus. Faith is only that humble connection of the branches to the life-giving vine. Faith is only the fragile nerves linking the body to its powerful Head. Our faith is weak, sinful, hesitant—but by God’s grace, our faith is enough. That’s the message Paul wanted to bring to the Roman congregation: “The righteous will live by faith.” If you’re a sinner, it makes all the difference in the world, because faith links you to Christ and all his benefits.

It certainly made a difference for Martin Luther. And then after that earth-shattering moment, Luther often returned to the book of Romans. He even wrote a commentary on it. And in the preface to that commentary, he shared a few words about what Romans meant to him.

There Luther wrote, “This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word, but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.”

Notice that challenge, from one of the fathers of the Reformation to us: to memorize Romans, word for word, chapter for chapter. Think about that. Maybe give that a try. In any case, we should write Romans on our heart, because this wonderful book is food for the soul. Like all of Scripture, it gives a sure energy, and good endurance, and even leads to eternal life. It inspires a faith that works, no matter where or how God has called us to serve.

Even if we’re not theologians like old Martin, faith can do marvelous things. Faith, given by God, and worked in us through the Word—this faith can accomplish marvelous things. Let faith move you to praise. Let it inspire you to work hard. Let it inspire you to be holy. May faith drive you to prayer. Faith gives us hope, shows the way, and fills us with joy. And most importantly, this kind of faith resounds with worship—worship for the Triune God who saved us! To him be all our praise and thanksgiving!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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