Derek Prince - Abraham Was Justified By Faith
We’re beginning now, stage 5, in this pilgrimage that we’re making of which the destination is Romans 8. We’ve covered a lot of ground, but we have a lot of rather difficult country still to cover before we get into our destination. In the previous session we looked at God’s provisions for man’s problems. That was at the end of chapter 3. Up to that point Paul had simply been unfolding the problems, and the problems had been intensified. But in the latter part of Romans 3, beginning with verse 20 and onwards, he unfolds God’s final, total, all-sufficient sacrifice which is through faith in the atoning death and the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, in this session and the next, we’ll be dealing with Romans 4. In essence, in Romans 4 Paul looks to two of the great fathers of Israel, Abraham and David, and he proves from Scripture that each of them was not justified by works but by faith. He focuses mainly on Abraham who is the father of all who believe but he also quotes from a psalm of David. So we’ll look now and start reading in chapter 4. We’ll read verses 1–5. What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? Now this is a very important question for all of us. For Jews and Gentiles.
How did Abraham achieve righteousness with God? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor [or as grace] but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. Here’s one of the most important passages from the Old Testament. Genesis 15:6. Because of its importance, we need to turn there and look briefly at it. Abraham has been having a conversation with the Lord about the fact that the Lord has made great promises to him, all dependent upon his having an heir, and he has no heir.
There follows this conversation between the Lord and Abraham in Genesis 15 verses 5–6. He [the Lord] took him [Abraham] outside and said, Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars,... [Obviously, it must have been at night.] if you are able to count them. And He said to him [that’s God said to Abraham], So shall your descendants be. That was the promise and then the comment is: Then he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and He [the Lord] reckoned it to him [Abraham] as righteousness. Abraham at that point did absolutely nothing but believe. And Paul, and also James in his epistle, points out that was how Abraham achieved righteousness. He didn’t earn it, it was not on the basis of what he had done but it was credited to his faith.
Paul says, going back to Romans 4 verse 5: But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness... That’s a very powerful verse because it points out if you want to receive righteousness by faith from God in the same way as Abraham, and there’s no other way, what’s the first thing you have to do? Look for a moment at verse 5. What’s the first thing you have to do. Stop doing anything, that’s right. To him who does not work. You’ve got to come to the end of all that you can do to earn God’s favor and you have to do nothing but believe.
This is the pattern and example of Abraham. At this point Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness. Does that mean that Abraham never made any mistakes after that? I’m glad it doesn’t, because that would put us in a difficult position. We find if we go on in the ensuing chapters that Abraham made some serious mistakes. In chapter 16 we read how he and Sarah took the initiative out of God’s hands and decided they’d better get a child by Hagar. I want to point out to you in the life of faith we never take the initiative. This is a basic principle. The initiative must always come from God. This is the pattern of Jesus. He said, The Son doesn’t do anything except what He sees the Father doing.
The only safe basis for living the life of faith is invariably letting God take the initiative. Each time we do what Abraham did and take the initiative out of God’s hands, we end up in trouble. And then in chapter 20, further on, Abraham told a lie about Sarah and permitted her to be taken into a Gentile king’s harem, which was not good behavior. How many of you wives would agree? That isn’t the way a husband ought to behave. We are told that Sarah was a model wife; she didn’t demur, she submitted. That’s remarkable. She submitted in faith and God intervened.
What I want to point out is God did not approve those two aspects of Abraham’s conduct, but his faith was still reckoned to him as righteousness. This is tremendously important for you and me because the moment we truly put our faith in the atoning death of Jesus on our behalf and believe that on that basis righteousness is reckoned to us, we are reckoned righteous. That does not mean that we’ll never make mistakes. How many of you would agree with that? That’s right. Thank God that isn’t what the Scripture says, that we’ll be perfect from then on. But what it says is our faith will still be reckoned to us as righteousness as long as we go on believing. The real danger is that we give up our faith.
I want to turn to a passage in Luke 22 which to me is very, very significant. This is a scene at the Last Supper and the Lord Jesus has been warning His disciples that they’re going to betray Him, flee from Him and desert Him. Simon Peter in particular, but all of them, say, this could never happen. In verses 31 and 32 Jesus says this to Peter: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;... That’s a remarkable statement. Apparently Satan went to God and said: Let me get at those apostles! The you there is plural. You can’t tell that in the English, but it’s clear in the Greek. Sift you [apostles] like wheat. Then he says specifically to Peter: "...but I have prayed for you" [and it’s singular], I have prayed for you Peter, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.
Now, what impresses me about that is Jesus did not pray that Peter would not deny Him. In the circumstances, it was inevitable that Peter would deny Him. Given Peter’s character at that point and the tremendous onslaught of the forces of darkness that was to come against him very shortly, it was inevitable that Peter would deny Jesus. Jesus was a realist, He always is. I’m so glad. He didn’t pray some pious prayer that Peter would not deny Him. What did He pray? He said, I’ve prayed that your faith will not fail. Peter, you’re going to make a terrible mistake, you’re going to feel terribly ashamed, you’re going to feel the bottom has dropped out of life, but don’t give up believing. If you can hold on to your faith, I’ll see you through. The subsequent course of events proved it true.
I want to say to each of you: you may be facing tremendous tests and temptations, some of you, which you didn’t expect. And at a certain point in that you may feel you’ve failed God and the bottom has dropped out of life and what can I do? I’ll tell you what you can do. Go on believing, don’t give up your faith because God will see you through if you don’t abandon your faith. That’s the one critical mistake you must not make. So as long as we continue sincerely believing in Jesus and accept the righteousness which God offers on the basis of that faith, brothers and sisters, there’s no guarantee we won’t make mistakes. There’s no guarantee that we won’t get into problems. There’s no guarantee that we won’t fail. I don’t have any guarantee from God on that. I can preach here and walk away tomorrow and I can fall into some snare of Satan if I’m not careful. But God will get me out provided I do what? I go on believing.
That’s so important. It’s lifted so many problems from my mind because I’ve seen myself and I’ve seen other Christians do things that were regrettable and even bad. But God says: As long as you keep on believing, your faith will be reckoned to you as righteousness. And on that basis I’ll bring you through. You may not know how, it may seem impossible, but don’t give up your faith. I wonder if there are those here tonight, you’re on the point of giving up. You’ve almost come to the end. Please don’t. I’d like to pray for you, I feel urged to do this. Just quietly raise your hand if you’re saying, I’m at the point of desperation. God bless you sir, God bless you. Let’s unite in prayer for these brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus, we believe You treat us like You treated Peter. You’re prepared to deal with us just the same. You may be disappointed in us, we may fail You, we may feel we’ve come to the end, the bottom has dropped out. But Lord, I want to pray for those that raised their hands, that their faith will not fail. Jesus, I believe I’m in Your place tonight praying for them, that their faith may not fail. Amen.
Now we’re going to continue with verses 6–8. Here is where Paul brings in David. He says, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:... This is from Psalm 32, the opening verses. Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered, blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account. Notice, David says there are three things included in this blessing. Our lawless deeds have been forgiven. Our sins have been covered. And God no longer takes our sin into account. That’s the negative side of reckoning righteousness to us. He reckons righteousness to us, He doesn’t any longer keep a reckoning of our sins.
Paul returns again to Abraham after that little digression about David and he deals with this very important question relating to circumcision which was: Did Abraham have to be circumcised before his faith was reckoned as righteousness? This is a vital question for all who come from a Jewish background but it goes beyond that because there are other external ordinances of the faith. Many people compare baptism to circumcision. I think there are limits to that comparison. It can be that we would say: Is my faith reckoned to me as righteousness until I’m baptized? and my answer is yes. If you sincerely believe and you intend to obey, your faith is reckoned to you as righteousness from the moment you believe. Afterwards, I believe baptism, in a certain sense, is a seal of the righteousness which you already have by faith.
You see, there’s a difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism. I don’t know whether you’ve ever realized it. The people whom John baptized were baptized because they were sinners who’d confessed their sin. In Christian baptism, we are united with Jesus in burial and resurrection. We’re baptized because we’ve been made righteous. It’s the fulfillment of our righteousness. Jesus was baptized that He might fulfill all righteousness. When you and I are made righteous by faith in Him, then we fulfill our righteousness, we complete it by the external act of baptism. Now let’s look at what Paul says in this context, beginning at verse 9. Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;... This is an extremely important point. Abraham didn’t experience circumcision before Genesis 17 but his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness in Genesis 15.
There was a considerable period of time between those two. and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them [that’s the father of all people from a non-Jewish background], and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. So the point is there that God had promised Abraham that he would be a father of a multitude of nations. Not just of one nation, Israel, but of all nations, and that in due course people from every nation on earth would become spiritual descendants of Abraham through faith in Abraham’s seed, the Lord Jesus.
This was the promise of God to Abraham. And he didn’t have to be circumcised for the promise to be given him, it was given to him while he was uncircumcised. The point being that God intended to make it clear to those who follow, to you and me, and I’m not Jewish, that we don’t have to be circumcised to become descendants of Abraham. We are descendants of Abraham by faith alone. Just as Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, so our faith also is reckoned to us as righteousness. And so, Abraham becomes the father of two different kinds of people. First of all, those who are circumcised on the basis of faith. And bear in mind that without faith, circumcision is of no benefit. The vital deciding factor is faith. And then he becomes the father of those who exercise faith as Abraham did, without being circumcised. That’s all believers from a non-Jewish background.
So in this way the promise of God to Abraham was fulfilled before circumcision was introduced. Then Paul goes on to say concerning Abraham that he’s the father of circumcision not merely to those who are circumcised but to those who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham, which he had while uncircumcised. So you see, it’s not enough for a Jewish person to be circumcised to become a descendant of Abraham according to this. No one is a true descendant of Abraham unless he walks in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham. The essential condition is faith. And God reaches people in two different ways. He reaches the circumcision on the basis of the faith which caused them to be circumcised and he reaches the uncircumcision, that’s the rest of the world basically, without demanding circumcision on the basis of their faith.
Here is the pattern of Abraham established, and since we are all descendants of Abraham according to the Scripture, through faith in Jesus, the seed of Abraham, this is extremely important for us. It takes us also beyond simply the issue of circumcision, it makes it very clear to us that it’s faith and faith alone that makes us sons of God and sons of Abraham, and that this faith does not depend on some external ordinance. This is really a basic issue. We are saved by faith alone. Not faith plus something else. Always be on your guard against people who want you to add something to faith, who demand some other conditions besides faith. That’s unscriptural. The only condition for being a descendant of Abraham is faith. And that God insists upon, He will not waive that condition. He’ll be very tolerant in other areas, He’ll allow for many differences. I don’t believe God wants all His people to look alike, to behave alike, to conform to one single pattern. I really believe that God enjoys variety. At least I want to say, I do.
I’ve had the privilege in the last many, many years of being in so many different countries, among so many different people, from so many different racial and cultural backgrounds, and I tell you, I find life boring if I was just with one kind of people who all dressed alike, had the same color, looked alike and talked alike. I would find it monotonous! Some of you know that I’m a kind of amateur follower of Abraham because I have nine adopted daughters. Many of you know that already. Our family is a kind of, I would say, a United Nations. We’ve got six Jews, one Arab, one English, and one African. We are all descendants of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the key issue. I feel that God would have me at this point emphasize once more the vital importance of faith.
I want to say to you as Jesus said. I pray for you that your faith may not fail because that’s the basic requirement of belonging to God, of being a child of Abraham. I think we’ll begin to look on a little further but we’ll not be able to complete in this session. Paul says there in verse 12 that: [Abraham is] the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow [or walk] in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. Abraham is more than just a figure, he’s a pattern. He went ahead, he laid out the pathway, he took certain steps. And to be truly his descendants, we have to walk in that pathway, we have to follow in his steps. I will just briefly list the steps of the faith of Abraham and then in our next session we’ll deal with it more fully. But you’ll find them there listed in your outline if you’ve still got your outline with you.
It says that Abraham did five things. He accepted God’s promise by faith alone without evidence. Second, he recognized he was incapable of producing the promised result. He focused without wavering on the promise, and this was reckoned to him as righteousness. As a result, he and Sarah both received supernatural life in their bodies and thus, the promise was fulfilled and God was glorified. So that’s the steps of the faith of our father Abraham.
Step number one, he accepted God’s promise without wavering, without asking for any evidence. Step number two, he recognized he himself was incapable of producing what the Lord had promised. Step number three, he focused without wavering on the promise and this was reckoned to him as righteousness. Step number four, here’s where God intervened. He and Sarah both received supernatural life in their bodies. Step number five, the promise was fulfilled and God was glorified. So there’s what Abraham has left us as a pattern. This is the pathway of faith which is set before every one of us. It’s not some external ordinance but it’s a lifetime walk of faith following in the footsteps of Abraham. We have to do as Abraham did. We have to accept God’s promise just the way it is. We have to reckon that we are incapable of producing what God has promised in our lives. We have to focus on the promise and not on our own ability or inability. And then we will receive the supernatural grace and power of God released in our lives through our faith.
In this way the promise of God will be fulfilled in our lives. Now in the next session we’re going to deal with the question of whether the law had to be introduced in order for Abraham to receive the promise. You’ll see that this whole question of the law is a very major one in Romans. In due course we’ll go on and in chapter 7 we’ll come head on to this problem of the law and why it was given and how we can receive what was provided for us through the law. The next session we’ll continue with the pattern of Abraham.