Robert Jeffress - What Did Abraham Do? - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul makes it crystal clear there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. But that doesn't mean our relationship with God is hopelessly broken. Gratefully, God has graciously provided a way for everyone to be saved, regardless of our past sins. And today we're going to look at the life of Abraham as an example of how you and I received the gift of salvation. My message is titled: What Did Abraham Do? On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Pastor John MacArthur writes about a Hindu religious festival in which Pilgrims from the Hindu faith from all around the world would gather at the Ganga River in order to immerse themselves in that river for the cleansing of their sins. Along the riverbanks of the Ganga River, there are shaving booths in which hinders are told before they bathe in the river they need to shave and remove every hair from their bodies. Why do they do that? Because of according to the holy Hindu book for every hair that a Hindu shaves and throws into the Ganga River God will add 1 million years and heaven to that person. MacArthur writes what a damning deception of Satan but that deception is not just limited to the Hindu religion. That deception of Satan is being used by any religion even those that carry a Christian name to it that say we earn a place with God by our works, our ritual, our keeping of the law.
There are many people who are headed to an eternity of separation from God because they have fallen for that great deception that we can somehow merit a right relationship with God. And it's that deception that the apostle Paul sought to dispel in his letter to the Christians at Rome. Remember what Paul said throughout this letter? He says a right standing with God God's righteousness is available to everyone who trust in the redemptive work of Christ. That's the theme of the book of Romans. And remember, we looked a few weeks ago with that verse, Romans 3:28. When Paul says, for we maintain that a man is justified that is declared righteous in the eyes of God, by faith apart from the works of the law, how do we know that's true? Paul says, just look at Abraham. And that's what we're going to do this morning.
Turn if you would, to Romans 4 as we discovered what Abraham did that resulted in his right relationship with God. Now, all of Paul's audience Jews and gentiles alike agreed that Abraham was a righteous man that he was going to be in heaven today, Jews, Christians, Muslims, they all look to Abraham as a supreme example of righteousness nobody argues against that. The question is what is it that made Abraham right with God? And so Paul uses Abraham's life to answer that question. He says, Abraham's righteousness. That is his right standing with God was apart from his works. Many people think today it is good works that earn your way to heaven. But Paul said, let's look at Abraham. Was it his works or his faith that made him right before God. And remember in Genesis 15:6, we looked at it last time. Paul points to that event early in Abraham's relationship with God, when Abraham believed the promises of God that he would be the father of a great nation and Genesis 15:6 says, and Abraham believed God and his faith was reckoned. That word means counted as righteousness.
And then Paul makes the point in Romans 4:5. It's the point that turns everybody else's expectations upside down about how you go to heaven. Paul says, but to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Abraham's righteousness was first of all apart from works. Secondly, will you notice on your outline? Not only was Abraham's righteousness apart from works, it was apart from ritual. Many people think it is religious rituals whether it's bathing in the Ganga River or getting baptized or taking the Lord's supper or joining the church they think that is what earns a right relationship with God. Well, to the Jews they believe the ritual that ensured your place in heaven was circumcision. Every male, eight days after he was born was circumcised. Not only assuring his right relationship with God but those of his family as well.
And so the question is, was it righteousness or was it circumcision that made Abraham right before God you can't argue with the fact that Abraham was in fact circumcised that's clear. And so people who believe in ritual will say, well, look at Abraham he was declared righteous and he was circumcised. Well, look at what Paul says in Romans 4:9-10 "Is this blessing then upon the circumcised or upon the uncircumcised for we say faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness but how was it reckoned or accounted while he was circumcised or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised". Here's what Paul is saying he's saying ask yourself the question, when was Abraham circumcised? Paul says to his audience now, if it is true, that Abraham was circumcised first and then declared to be righteous my whole argument falls apart, but Paul says look at the chronology in the Abraham life Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 15:6 when he was 86 years old, he wasn't circumcised until 13 years later when he was 99 in Genesis 17 his circumcision came after he was declared righteous. Circumcision was the result of his righteousness not the cause of his righteousness. It wasn't the ritual that made him righteous.
Look at verse 11, "For Abraham received the sign of circumcision a seal of the righteousness of the faith he had when while he was uncircumcised". His faith came first his circumcision later. But today in the Christian faith baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of our salvation. And that's what the Bible teaches. Notice two things about baptism you may have on your notes. First of all, baptism is a sign. It is a sign we're not saved by our baptism but baptism is a sign. A sign is something that points to something else. Isn't it? If you're riding down the freeway and you see a big billboard that says McDonald's hamburgers 11 miles ahead, do you pull off the road go underneath that billboard and say I think I'll have a big mac with cheese. Baptism is a sign that after you become a Christian when you become a Christian, you die to your old way of living and you are raised to a new way of life that's what the text says.
Baptism is a sign that you have died to yourself and you were being raised to a brand new way of living and ladies and gentlemen, if that's not true if you're the same after you became a Christian as you were before you came or Christian is if you are just as disobedient to God after you're saved as you were before you were saved, guess what? You're not saved. If you have truly been saved you have died to your own way of life you have been raised to a new way of living. That's what baptism is a sign of. It's a sign of a whole new way of living. It's not only a sign, but secondly it is a seal. It was a sale. In Paul's day, a seal was something that showed the authenticity of a document. If a document was really legitimate it would have a Roman seal on it. Well, baptism is a sign, it's a seal that we belong to God just as a circumcision, the act of circumcision, mark somebody as being of the covenant of promise.
So water baptism is a way of authenticating our faith. And we've talked about this before in the New Testament it was always believed first and then be baptized. You don't have one instance in the New Testament of anybody who was baptized first and then later believed there was no infant baptism in the New Testament. It was a profession of faith but it's an important profession of faith. Now, every now and then I have encountered people who supposedly make a profession of faith as a Christian but they never get baptized. For some reason they can never find the time to get baptized. There's something in them that keeps them from being baptized. The Bible teaches if that's true their faith is highly suspect because a person who has truly been born again is going to want to profess that through baptism, baptism, authenticates a person's faith baptism liked circumcision was a sign, it was a seal of salvation, but it was never intended as a means of salvation.
Titus 3:5 says "God saved us not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness but according to his mercy, by the washing of not water but of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit". It's not by water baptism we are saved it's by the baptism with the Holy Spirit water baptism is simply a sign, a seal of that. And yet today there are many even Christian denominations and groups that teach the baptism or the Lord's supper or going to the priest or whatever you want to add that those are necessary efforts in order to be saved. For example, in his book "Fundamentals of Catholic dogma", Dr. Ludwig Ott writes baptism affects the forgiveness of all punishment of sin, both the eternal and the temporal and baptism is necessary for all men without exception for salvation. Paul says, no, no, just look at Abraham he wasn't saved by his works he wasn't even saved by religious ritual. The cry of the reformation has been it is by God's grace alone that we are saved and we are saved through faith alone. It is not faith, grace and ritual.
Notice what else Paul says about Abraham's righteousness not only was it apart from works or ritual it was also apart from the law. Look at Romans 4:13, "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". Now, again some Abrahams are, pardon me? Paul's audience thought that the way you're made righteous with God is by keeping the mosaic law the best you can. That's what the Jews thought will be made right with God by keeping the mosaic law. So Paul asked the question was that true to Abraham was Abraham declared to be righteous because he kept the mosaic law. Paul answers the question by saying, look at the chronology. Abraham lived 430 years before Moses received the law according to Galatians 3:17. So it was impossible for Abraham to keep the mosaic law 'cause it hadn't even come into existence.
So it's very obvious that Abraham was not declared righteous because he obeyed the mosaic law by the way for you Greek scholars here, you'll notice that the word law doesn't have an article in front of it in the original language. It's an arthrocace, it just says law. That means Paul is not just talking about the mosaic law he's saying nobody can be saved by any standards by keeping anybody's law. Why is that? Why is it that it is impossible for you and for me to be saved by keeping the law a list of standards? Well, one reason is because law and grace just don't mix. In fact, trying to mix law graces is like trying to like trying to mix oil and water. That's what he says in verse 14 "For if those who are of the law are heirs" that is they've been saved. "Then faith has made void and the promise is nullified".
Let me illustrate what he's saying. Let's suppose tomorrow morning I'm pulling out of the driveway and Amy runs down and says, where are you going today Robert? And I said, well I'm on my way I'm driving to Oklahoma city in Houston. Say what, I'm going to Oklahoma city in Houston. Well no, those are two opposite directions. I'm either going north or I'm going south but I can't be doing both at the same time. It's the same way with people who say, well the way I'm going to be right with God is by God's grace and keeping the law. No it's one or the other it can't be both grace and law don't mix. You say most Christian denominations today they can stand up and sing "Amazing Grace", just like we did a few moments ago. They love God's grace. It's not that they don't believe in God's grace. They just think you have to add to God's grace. It's a mixture of grace and ritual our works, our law. And the two walk hand-in-hand together to secure our salvation that's what Paul says is wrong verse 14.
Look, if you're trying to work your way to heaven then there's no room for grace. If you play any part in your salvation then your salvation is not a reward it's an obligation on the part of God. He's giving you what you deserve but God refuses to one man or woman salvation. He says, it's all of grace. You have to receive it completely as a gift or you can't receive it at all. That's why the law can't save us it's incompatible with grace. The second reason we can't be saved by the law is there's nothing in the law that can make you a better person, did you know that? There's nothing in God's law that makes you a better person at least in God side. Let me illustrate that for you. Let's say I'm having a terrible stomach pain. So I go to the doctor and I complain about this pain in my stomach and the doctor says, well, let's do an x-ray. So he does an x-ray and he's comes back and he says, I've got some bad news Robert, you've got a tumor in your stomach the size of a basketball. What do I do at that point? Do I grab the x-ray out of the doctor's hands, clutch it close to my heart and say, oh, thank you thank you x-ray I'm already starting to feel better.
Now that x-ray is powerless to heal my problem, all the x-ray does is show what the problem is. And it's the same way with God's law. You can't be saved by God's law it can't make you a better person. The reason God gave the law was to show us the spiritual sickness in our hearts how desperately we needed God's forgiveness. Will you notice here? Paul is saying that we cannot be declared righteous by our works by religious ritual or by keeping the law. None of those things will get us out of our sinful and desperate state we're all in.
James Bolws has a great illustration of that. He notes that in the state of California, you have both the lowest point below sea level and the highest point above sea level in all the continental United States. Did you know that both places are in California? The lowest point in the us is death valley I was about to say the Red Sea that's Israel it's death valley. You've got death valley and then the highest point in the continental United States is mount Whitney. And it's all in the state of California. And boy says, what's interesting is it doesn't matter how much effort you exert. You can start down at death valley and you can say I'm going to go up from here and you can travel all the way up to sea level. And at sea level, you can keep going and exert a lot of effort and go up to the summit of mount Whitney. But guess what? After all of that effort you're still in the state of California.
Now it's the same way in our relationship with God apart from Christ, you may be down here at the bottom rung of humanity. You may be at the moral depravity of Adolf Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer. And you may say, I'm going to clean my act up. I'm going to get better. I'm going to do better. I'm going to exert effort and make myself a better person and you can travel up that moral ladder. And you can go all the way to the heights of Mother Teresa or Billy Graham. But guess what? No matter how much effort you exert you are still in your sinful state. It is not by effort, it is only by the grace of God that we are delivered out of our sinful condition and declared righteous before God our righteousness doesn't depend upon works, it doesn't depend upon ritual, it doesn't depend upon law. What was Abraham's righteousness dependent upon Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith in God's grace.
Now, I want you to notice in this passage five characteristics of Abraham's faith. First of all, notice that his faith that secured God's grace, first of all, came by God's grace. He had a faith that first of all, came by God's grace. Look at verse 16, "For this reason, it is by faith that it might be in accordance with grace in order that the promise may be certain to all of his descendants". Why is it that God chose to save Abraham? Then God looked down at the wicked city of earth, the kaldI's and say, everybody down here is so wicked but I see one righteous man named Abraham. And because he's the only righteous one, I'm going to call him and save him. Is that what happened? Abraham was an idolater the Bible says he wasn't any more or less wicked than anybody else in all Kaldi's then what is it that made God choose Abraham? Why did he choose Abraham? Because of his grace? He's undeserved love, that's the only reason he chose him. And that's the only reason he chose you and chose me. Have you ever wondered why it is out of all of the billions upon billions of people who have ever lived on this planet? God would choose you to become a Christian. Why is that?
Let me tell you why is that. God didn't look down at you when you were a non-Christian and say, I see something good in his or her heart. I see something worth saving. It's not because God looked at you and said, I believe that if I gave him or her the opportunity to believe somewhere in the corridor of history he or she would actually believe no, your righteousness your forgiveness had nothing to do with you. It had everything to do with the grace of God. It is by grace we have been saved through faith and that not of itself. It is a gift of God, not of works let any man should boast. Listen, ladies and gentlemen our ability to even believe upon Jesus Christ. Our ability to have faith itself is a gift from God. And that means there is no room for boasting. That was true of Abraham, Abraham's faith was first of all based, it came by God's grace. Secondly, it was centered on God's character. Look at verse 17, "For as it is written a father of many nations have I made you and the side of him in whom Abraham believed even God who gives life to the dead and caused him to be that, which does not exist", underline that phrase in verse 17, "In whom Abraham believed". Abraham's faith, that God would do what he had promised to do was built on God, character.