Derek Prince - By Grace Through Faith
We’re continuing now with our study in Romans 4. In the previous session we looked at the first half of the chapter which establishes the fact that the two great fathers of Israel, Abraham and David, both received righteousness from God on the basis of faith and not of their works. Paul focuses mainly on Abraham in the rest of this chapter and he deals with the fact that righteousness was reckoned to Abraham simply because he believed God, he didn’t have to do anything else but believe God. In due course, quite a number of years later, he received circumcision as a seal of the righteousness which he already had by faith. But the basis of his righteousness was faith and not circumcision.
In that way it was possible for Abraham to become a father and a pattern to all subsequent believers. To those from a Jewish background whose circumcision is the expression of faith, because circumcision without faith is of no avail, and to those who did not require to be circumcised as the expression of their faith, that is, believers from a Gentile background. In this way, as I pointed out, Abraham became father to two different kinds of people but all of them have one thing in common which is faith, that’s right. In the case of the Jews, the faith found its expression in circumcision. In the case of non-Jews, circumcision was not a necessary expression of faith.
Then Paul said, as I pointed out last time but I want to return to it just once more, the faith that we need to become and be the sons and daughters of Abraham is expressed in walking in the steps of Abraham’s faith. We have to follow the pattern of Abraham. I outlined for you, and I’m going to do it once more because it’s very important, the steps of Abraham’s faith. And as I do this I would like you to consider whether you’re really following in those steps. This is not just an abstract study, this is a very practical pattern.
So here we are, what were the steps of Abraham’s faith? Number one, he accepted God’s promise by faith alone without evidence. It’s very important. Number two, he recognized he was incapable of producing the promised results. Number three, he focused without wavering on the promise. He didn’t focus on his problems. Number four, as a result he and Sarah both received supernatural strength which they could not produce by their own efforts. Number five, as a result, the promise was fulfilled and God was glorified.
Now let’s look at how Paul fills this out, we’ll go back to Romans 4 and go on reading at verse 13. For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified;... What Paul is saying is God made this initial promise solely on the basis of Abraham’s faith. It would have been totally unfair and inconsistent later on to add as a further condition, but you have to keep the Law. Paul points out that the Law was actually given 430 years later. It was never a condition of entering into the promise that God had made to Abraham. In fact, what he points out is, and this is a very remarkable statement, but it’s also very true verse 15: for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation [or there is no transgression].
Now, that’s worth pondering on for a little while. I think in one of the earlier sessions I gave you the example of the little girl of five, when her parents were out she rumpled in her mother’s drawers and pulled out the handkerchiefs and all that sort of thing. And this is actually not a make-believe story, this is something that actually happened. I hope she won’t be embarrassed, but it happened with our little African daughter when she was about that age. So, anyhow, the parents come back and they found these things in a state of disorder and they say, You shouldn’t have done that. That was not right. But they’re not very angry. Next time they go out, they say: Now, don’t you go inside those drawers. They come back and the drawers are turned upside down.
Now what happens, tell me? They’re angry. Because when there’s a law, the breaking of it produces wrath. When there’s no law, somebody’s done the wrong thing but there isn’t that reaction of wrath. But when a law is imposed and it’s broken, the reaction of the one who made the law is wrath, anger. That’s a reason, parents, for not making too many laws for your children, Because the more laws you make, the more angry you’re likely to get at some time or another. I don’t say, don’t make any laws, but keep them few and keep them simple. You see, we have a very incorrect picture of what the law does. We have somehow an idea that the law will get people closer to God. It won’t. Bear in mind that when the Law was given on Sinai, no one, neither man nor animal was allowed to touch the whole mountain. God set limits and said, Don’t come any closer. Anybody that comes any closer will die.
See what He was saying? The Law doesn’t bring you close to God. That’s very important because a lot of people trying to get close to God start making all sorts of laws for themselves and actually what happens is they get further away from God. Let me say this and then I want you to repeat it. Law does not bring us close to God. Would you say that? Law does not bring us close to God. Okay. See, what we’re fighting is, if I can say it that way, centuries of religious tradition that somehow want to persuade us that the Law was going to do us good. Or was designed to do us good. Okay? We’ve already gone into the reasons for which God gave the Law, we can’t go back on that. But if you are a little confused maybe you need to go back in your personal study on that particular subject. Going on in verse 16 of Romans 4. For this reason it is by faith [that’s the promise of righteousness], that it might be in accordance with grace,... You see, the only way we can receive grace is by faith.
Ephesians 2:8 really says it all By grace you [are] saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anybody should boast. What is God always guarding against? Pride, that’s right. What does religious legalism invariably produce in the people who practice it? Pride. Does God like pride? He doesn’t. What was the first sin in the history of the universe? Pride, that’s right. You see, in our churches we tend to get angry with adultery and fornication and drunkenness, which is very right, I’m not suggesting we should tolerate those things. But we tolerate a whole lot of pride. That’s a much more serious sin than the others. For this reason [we’re in verse 16 again.] it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. God wanted to make sure that no one would be excluded from this promise and so it had to be by faith that it might be by grace. Do you understand?
Let me say this, it’s very simple but very important. None of us ever earned righteousness from God. We either receive it as a gift by faith or we don’t get it, there is no alternative way to be reckoned righteous with God. Then Paul goes on again quoting from, actually, this is Genesis 17 in verse 17 of Romans 4. As it is written, A father of many nations have I made you in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist I personally prefer a different translation at the end, call things that which do not exist as though they did. You see, He called Abraham a father of many nations when he didn’t have a child of his own body. And it’s very important to understand when God calls something something, that’s what it is.
You may not see the evidence. When God calls you a saint, what are you? You may not feel like it, but it’s not feelings, it’s faith. When God called Gideon a mighty man of valor, what did he feel like? He felt like a timid coward. But you see, God called him a mighty man of valor. What did he become? A mighty man of valor. God’s calling comes before the reality because it’s always on the basis of faith. I remember in 1944, I didn’t intend to say this but I believe it’s appropriate, God specifically called me. I was still a soldier in the British Army, relatively unskilled in the Word of God and God called me a teacher of the Scriptures in truth and faith and love which are in Christ Jesus for many. I will never forget those words as long as I live. Was I immediately a teacher? Believe me, I was not.
Today I can say I am what God called me to be by His grace. Not by my works, not by my efforts, but by His grace. You see, it’s not of him who runs or of him who wills but of God who shows mercy. If anybody needed the mercy of God, believe me, I did. Furthermore, believe me, I still do. But I have one strong point. I know I need it. Going on now in verse 18. I love this description of Abraham, I can always identify with Abraham. There are certain characters in the Bible, Abraham is one of them, David is another when I read about them I just feel as if I’m right there on the spot with them. There’s no gap of time or culture. Verse 18. In hope against hope he believed,... Who can comment on that expression? There’s no way to say it better. He hoped and yet he had no hope. How many of you know that experience? You hope and yet there’s no hope but you go on believing. Go on believing.
I want to say that again to each of you. Go on believing. Whatever you do, don’t stop believing. In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall your descendants be [verse 19:] And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb;... Now you’ll find in the old King James, whichmost of us are familiar with, there’s a not put in. He did not contemplate The reason for that is simply that the old King James translators did not have access to some of the most reliable Greek texts. But on the basis of the researchers and examination of scholars, most people believe that the correct reading is without the not.
And I think, on the whole, it makes better sense. So let’s take it without the not. If you are absolutely set on the not, just forgive me and we’ll still be friends. Okay? I want to read it then this way: Without becoming weak in faith, he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb;... I want to say that faith is realistic. Faith tells it like it is. All right. My body’s dead. But that doesn’t make any difference to God’s promise. I don’t try to somehow persuade myself that there’s a little light still left in my body. That would be not faith. I say there’s no hope. In the natural there’s no way this could come about. I accept this fact. Not only is my own body dead but Sarah’s womb is dead, too. There’s no way in the natural we could ever have a child of our own. I accept it. I look it full in the face, I don’t try to blink my eyes, I don’t avert them, I don’t say there’s some other aspect of this situation. But I still believe what God said. I’ve dealt with so many people who come and they want prayer but they try to kind of persuade themselves that the situation isn’t all that desperate.
Really, it’s much better to face the fact the situation is desperate. There’s only one person who can help you and that’s God. That’s faith. Going on with this, verse 20: yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God,... I personally prefer my own translation there which says he was made strong by faith. I think that’s what it means. He received strength in his physical body through faith. And Sarah received strength, her womb was quickened, she became alive again in that respect. I don’t know whether you’ve ever meditated on this, it wasn’t a temporary change in Abraham because after his wife Sarah died he married again and he had five more children. That was a pretty permanent miracle, wasn’t it? Not bad going for a man who at a hundred years old said there’s no hope.
You see, there was hope, because he believed in hope against hope. Verse 20: yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief,... Do you remember what James says in his epistle about the people who waver? Let not that man think that he will receive anything of the Lord. He’s a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. but [was made] strong [by] faith, giving glory to God,... In Romans 3:23, many of you who are skilled in leading people to the Lord in personal dealings know Romans 3:23 says: All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. What’s the real serious aspect of our sin? It’s not what it does to us but the fact that it robs God of His glory. That’s the real terrible fact about sin. We’ve robbed God of His glory. Is there any way we can ever give Him back the glory of which our sin has robbed Him? The answer is yes. By what? By faith.
How did Abraham give glory to God? Not by his efforts but by believing. So God has provided a way by which we can give back to Him the glory that our sin deprived Him of by believing. When you believe God and His promise is worked out in your life, that gives glory to God. That’s the only way we’ll ever be able to give glory to God, is by faith. Let me say a little bit about grace which you’ll find there at the bottom of that page. Just three statements. I hope this won’t offend anybody but I’ve preached in a number of churches which were GraceSomething Church. And my comment is, generally speaking, the people who talk most about grace know least about it. I think the people that emphasize being saved by grace really usually don’t have a clear vision of what grace is at all. Their idea of grace is some kind of modified religious effort.
So I want to say these things. To me, this is extremely important. If you happen to be the pastor of a Grace church, please accept my statement that this remark is not directed against you nor any specific church, it’s just a fact that I’ve noticed. I want to bring out these three facts about grace. Number one, it begins where human ability ends. As long as you can do it yourself, you don’t need God’s grace. When you’ve come to the point where you know you can’t do it but God wants you to do it, then you move out by faith into the realm of grace. Many Christians are afraid to do what God tells them because they say, I can’t do it. In a certain sense, God never tells us to do something we can do. Understand?
God is always moving us out beyond our own ability into the realm of grace by faith. Every time your faith is challenged, you can react one of two ways. You can say, Oh, God. Are you asking that of me? Or: Thank You, God. I see You want my faith to be strengthened. You want me to receive more of Your grace. I accept this challenge. I want to tell you as I look back over my own life, every major step of progress that I can think of that I’ve made in Christian life I’ve made in response to a challenge when God challenged me to do something I felt I couldn’t do. So I don’t say I always welcome it, but at the same time I’ve learned this is the way to grow.
Every time you run away from a challenge you’re diminishing your spiritual stature. But every time you accept a challenge you’re growing in spiritual stature. I think of that Scripture in Hebrews 10:37–38, I believe, where the writer of Hebrews quotes Habakkuk 2:4 and he says: The righteous man will live by his faith, but if he draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. That’s God speaking: If he draws back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. Now I have to say this very carefully. But in the course of many years of the Christian life I can think of brothers and sisters who came to a point where they were afraid to go forward in faith, where they felt God was facing them with a challenge that they weren’t prepared to accept. I just have to observe from that time onwards they began to die spiritually.
You see, the just will live by faith. The only way you can have life is by faith. The more God requires you to operate in faith the more life you’ll have. If you want to play it safe and say, God, I don’t want to take any risks, I just want to do the safe thing that I know I can do, you’re shutting yourself off from divine life. I don’t mean that you’ll be a lost soul, but I mean that you will not know the fullness of divine life which God plans for you in this world. Don’t be afraid of the challenge of faith. Ruth and I can look back over the ten years we’ve been married, God has consistently stretched us beyond our limits. Sometimes we wonder whether He’s stretched us too far. Right now at this moment that’s a really important question for us. But I have confidence in the faithfulness of God that if He sees our heart and our sincerity, sooner or later we’ll get the return that comes. I believe we’re living in a world today which desperately needs God. Desperately needs the Word of God.
I want to tell you it’s not going to get any easier to bring the Word of God to the nations. In Matthew 24:14, my favorite Scripture, Jesus said: This gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in all the world,.. to all the nations; and then the end will come. When will the end come? When the church has done its job. But at the same time, in the preceding verses He warned us of persecution, false prophets, famines, wars, abounding lawlessness. He didn’t say the world situation is going to get easier. In fact, He made it very clear that the world situation is going to get harder. But that’s the opportunity to stretch your faith. That’s the challenge. I want to say by the grace of God for Ruth and myself, and I say this as in the presence of God. I’m very careful what I say before God. Lord, to the best of our ability, we’ve accepted the challenge.
Every one of you has to make a personal decision. But remember, if you take the cowardly way, you’ll wither. If you move forward in faith, you may stagger, you may feel you’ve failed, but sooner or later God will see you through. That’s my promise because it’s God’s promise. We come to the application to us and the gospel at the close of this 4th chapter. We’re now in verse 22. Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written, that "it was reckoned to him" but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, What is it? Righteousness. Righteousness will be reckoned as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised [for] our justification. Justification, our acquittal, our being reckoned righteous, our being made righteous, our being just-as-if we’d never sinned.
What are we required to believe in order to receive righteousness reckoned to us by God? We’re required to believe that the Lord delivered up Jesus our Savior, our substitute, to the punishment of death because of our sins, but that on the third day He raised Him up again that we might receive righteousness. You see, the key to this, and it’s in the Scriptures in your outline but I don’t have time to turn to them, the key to this is one word. Listen carefully. It’s identification. When you grasp that, it’s the key that unlocks what happened at the cross.
On the cross there was a two-way identification. First of all, Jesus identified with us. He took the sinner’s place, He became the last Adam, He exhausted the whole evil inheritance that had come upon the whole Adamic race. And He was buried. When He was buried, that whole inheritance was terminated. Then He rose again the third day the head of a new race. We have to realize and reckon that He was our representative. So when God vindicated His righteousness by the resurrection on the third day, that was our righteousness that was vindicated, too. We were reckoned with Him in death, reckoned with Him in burial but bless God, reckoned with Him in resurrection, righteousness also. That’s what we have to believe. They key word: identification. When Jesus died, I died. When He was buried, I was buried. When He rose, I rose. Believing that, I receive righteousness by faith from God.