A Portrait of Faith (Part 3)

Romans 4:17-22

Tom Pennington  •  December 11, 2016
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Today I want us to return to Romans 4. As we continue our study through Paul's letter to the churches in Rome, we are looking at the issue of faith. Martin Lloyd Jones relates the story from the life of Andrew Murray of South Africa. Andrew Murray was a brother in Christ, but he was much more mystical in his approach to Christianity than Lloyd Jones was comfortable, or certainly that I would be and our church would be as well. Murray believed that Christians should not use doctors or means in order to promote or preserve one's health. This was the practice of his life, it's what he taught for many years.

Once when Murray was about to leave on a preaching ministry tour his nephew expressed a desire to join him on this trip and so there was some discussion about it, but the problem was that his nephew suffered from terrible tuberculosis. It was obvious that medically he was not physically fit to go, he shouldn't go. But Murray, being driven more by a mystical understanding of things, reminded his nephew of passages like Mark 11 that say we are to have faith in God and that when we pray we're to believe that we will receive what we ask and we will have it.

So Murray asked his nephew, he said, "Do you believe that God can heal you?" To which his nephew, of course, replied, "Yes, I believe God can heal me." And so Murray suggested that they pray in faith for healing and so they did just that and they even ended their prayer by thanking God for the healing which they were confident had already taken place, they took it by faith as it was described. And soon they left on this extended preaching ministry tour together, confident that the nephew had been totally and permanently healed. Three weeks later he was dead.

You know, when I read that story I'm reminded of the fact that tragically there are countless other stories like that, that follow a similar path and end, for well-intentioned believers, in similar devastation. I have personally witnessed many examples where people have taken this approach to faith and have found themselves disillusioned and disenchanted. Why does this happen? I think it's because many Christians have a flawed understanding of the nature of faith.

As we work our way methodically through the second half of Romans 4, we are discovering what real true biblical faith is. Let's read it together, Romans 4, and I'll pick up in verse 16. Paul, in the middle of a sentence, really begins to change the direction of thought, so we're going to pick him up in the middle of the sentence as well, beginning in the end of verse 16,

Abraham is the father of us all [verse 17], in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, "So shall your descendants be." 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; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.

Now, this paragraph occurs in the larger context of Paul's biblical defense of justification by faith alone, a defense that is taken from Genesis 15:6 and the justification of Abraham that's recorded there. We're looking at the last half of this biblical defense. Beginning in verse 13 of chapter 4 and running down through the end of the chapter, Paul uses Abraham to prove that the means of justification, that is, the means by which we are made right with God, was for Abraham, has always been, continues to be, and always will be, by faith alone.

Now, let me just remind you of the flow of Paul's thought here. Beginning in verse 13 we see justification by faith alone, stated. Paul simply makes a point blank statement. This is the reality, he attained righteousness by faith. In verses 14 to 16 then we saw justification by faith alone, argued. Paul laid down a series of negative and positive arguments for why it is that we should believe justification must be solely by the means of faith.

Now, we're studying the third part of his argument, beginning in the middle of verse 17, and it's that justification by faith alone is illustrated. The key to this paragraph is verse 22. Notice the word therefore. Verse 22 is the conclusion of the paragraph we just read, "Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness." In other words, the faith that Paul describes in the previous verses, verses 17 to 21, is the faith that was the means by which Abraham was justified. In other words, Abraham's faith illustrates the faith that justifies. This is really important for us because this passage then becomes a mirror for us to examine our own faith and see if it's truly saving faith that we have exercised. If it's like Abraham's then it's saving faith. If it's not like his then whatever it is we've done, it's not truly saving faith.

Also, we're taking our time marching through this passage. I have intentionally slowed down in this paragraph because this paragraph not only teaches us what saving faith, justifying faith looks like, but it is clearly an illustration of the faith that we as Christians must exercise every day. We, Paul says, "walk by faith," that is the Christian life and experience. So there's nothing more important for us as believers than understanding how faith functions, because it is the very air we breathe as Christians. This passage is a portrait of faith. In fact, I think it is the clearest, most complete picture of saving faith, and even of the faith that we walk by as believers, found anywhere in the New Testament.

Now, Paul identifies here several qualities that marked Abraham's faith and that mark all true saving faith. We've already discovered several of these qualities, let me just remind you. First of all, we discovered that saving faith is biblical faith. We looked at the words, the Greek words that he uses for faith in this passage and we discovered that biblical faith isn't merely knowing the facts about Christ in the gospel. It isn't even knowing the facts about Christ in the gospel and agreeing that they're true. The demons believe that. There is a third element to saving faith, it is entrusting yourself to Christ, it is confessing Him as Lord, it is believing in Him to the extent that you stake your life, your eternity, on Him and following Him.

Secondly, we discovered that saving faith is rooted in God's character. Verse 17, Paul says, the reason Abraham was able to believe is because he knew that "God gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist." Our faith in God's Word ultimately is rooted in our confidence in God's character. Because He is who He is, we can believe Him.

Thirdly, saving faith, we discovered, is a certain hope in God's promise. Verse 18 says, "In hope he believed." As I reminded you last week, when you come to the word hope in Scripture, forget everything you know about the English word because it is not biblical hope. Biblical hope is that certain confident anticipation of what you know is going to happen, that's biblical hope. And "in hope," that kind of hope, "he believed."

Fourthly, we discovered last week that saving faith is contrary to human expectations. Again, verse 18 says, "In hope against hope he believed." Against all human expectations, he believed God. He looked at his own body, he looked at Sarah's body, and said, there is no way, but against all human hope, he believed. And that's how it is with saving faith. We look at ourselves, we look at what we deserve from God, we look at the sinfulness of our hearts, and we're easily tempted to doubt the promises of God. But saving faith believes contrary to human expectation.

Now, today I want us to discover two additional qualities that characterize saving faith. A fifth quality that we need to see here, that marks all true saving faith, is that saving faith is a gift of God's grace. Saving faith is a gift of God's grace. Look at verse 18, "In hope against hope he believed, so that," now, I want you to notice this, "he believed so that he might become a father of many nations." Obviously, the Greek construction, and it's reflected in the English construction here, "so that" speaks of purpose, he believed for this purpose. The question is, whose purpose are we talking about? Are we talking about Abraham's purpose? Are we talking about God's purpose?

I have to agree with one of the eminent commentators on the book of Romans, John Murray, who says that Paul probably intends both. He intends both. Let me explain what I mean. Notice again verse 18, "Abraham believed." And what was his purpose? That he might receive what God had promised. The purpose of Abraham in believing was so he could gain what God had promised. And you and I believe in a saving way for that reason, right? You believe the gospel. Why? So that you can receive what's promised in the gospel.

But behind Abraham's purpose in believing was God's purpose. It's interesting, the same promise and the same Greek construction occur back in verse 11. Look at verse 11. Let me just remind you what we learned there. It says, "Abraham received the sign of circumcision, which was a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that," here's the same exact construction, "Abraham received circumcision, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them."

Now, Paul is not saying that it was Abraham's purpose. That, in the mind of Abraham, he said, I'm going to be circumcised so that I can be the father of those who believe without being circumcised. No, this was God's purpose. God had him initiate the practice of circumcision so that he could be both the spiritual father of believing Jews and the spiritual father of believing Gentiles. Clearly, in verse 11, it's God's purpose, not Abraham's. So, it is likely then, that in verse 18 Paul also means, predominantly, God's purpose. Let me explain it. Look again at verse 18, Abraham believed because it was God's purpose for Abraham to become the spiritual "father of many nations." God was the ultimate cause of Abraham's faith.

You see, no one believes unless God has first given them the capacity to believe. That's what the Scriptures teach. There are so many places we could go, let me just give you a couple of examples. Acts 16:14 speaks of "Lydia, who is from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshipper of God." In other words, she was an Old Testament believer. She was listening to Paul, listen to this, "and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." Luke says, God gave her the faith, "He opened her heart to respond."

Paul puts it even more directly in Philippians 1:29, where he says, "to you it has been granted to believe," to you it has been given, it's been granted by God, "to believe." But, of course, the classic text is Ephesians 2. Turn there with me. Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that," mark that word, we will come back to it, "and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Now, the key question in this text is, to what does the demonstrative pronoun that refer? What's it's antecedent? Could be faith. But more likely, it's being saved, it's salvation. "For by grace you have been saved," and that salvation is "not of yourselves." However, clearly faith is included in the package, right?

And so, let me reword this, kind of paraphrase it for you, with that emphasis in mind. By grace you have been saved, through faith, and the entirety of your salvation, including your faith, is not out of you, literally, you're not the source of it, but it's a gift of God. This is what's true of faith. Your faith is a gift from God, as is the entire package of the salvation you enjoy. Here's how Luther put it, "Faith is a divine work which God requires of us, but He Himself must give us the strength to do it." Christian, if you sit here this morning and you have believed in Jesus Christ, if you have come to true saving faith, it is only because God gave you the capacity to believe, it was an expression of grace.

Now, if you're here this morning and you're not a Christian, you might be tempted, hearing that, to think, well, there it is, that's the reason I haven't believed, God hasn't, it's God's fault. The fact that faith is a divine gift doesn't remove your responsibility to believe. In fact, in the first sermon that Mark records of Jesus, in Mark 1:14-15, he says this, this is Christ speaking, to the crowds, this is what Christ says to you, "'repent and believe the gospel.'" Those are commands. In other words, Christ commands everyone who hears the gospel to repent and believe.

If you haven't believed, it's not God's fault. It's because you have refused to humble yourself, to acknowledge the gift of God's Son, you have not obeyed Christ's command to repent and believe and you have added that on top of all the other sins for which you will receive the judgment of God. But if you have believed, it's because God has enabled you to believe. Or, if you will believe, it's because God will enable you to believe and give you the gift of faith.

Now, look again at verse 18, Abraham believed, in keeping with God's purpose. What was God's purpose in giving Abraham faith? "That he might become a father of many nations." It's not primarily referring to his physical descendants. Paul has already made it clear that in Romans 4 he's not talking about the physical descendants of Abraham, he's talking, as he says back in verse 16, about Abraham's spiritual descendants, those who exercise the same faith Abraham exercised. So, Paul is saying then that God chose Abraham and granted him the gift of faith because God wanted to produce from him a spiritual family who would believe like he believed.

Can I just say in this Christmas season that it's important for you, believer, to understand that God has given you the gift of faith for a very similar purpose. God wants you to believe and gives you the gift of faith to believe so that through you others might come to believe the gospel as well. This isn't all about you, it isn't all about me. Here's how Peter puts it in 1 Peter 2:9, he says, "you are a chosen people." We love that, don't we? Yes, God set His love upon us in eternity past. Yes, but listen to how he continues, "you are a chosen people," in order that, "so that you might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." God didn't just save you so you could enjoy the privilege of being His. Like Israel, we become His witness nation, His witness people. He has chosen you as His people "so that you," as one of His people, "might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Use the platform of this Christmas season to look for opportunities, to make opportunities, to share the gospel.

So, true biblical saving faith is a gift of God's grace. There's a sixth quality of faith and it is the most crucial, the most important of all the qualities we will consider together in this passage. This one is the most foundational. This is the essence of what faith really is. The sixth quality of faith is that saving faith is founded on God's Word. Saving faith is founded on God's Word.

Now, before we look at the passage itself, I think it's important to note that much of what passes for faith today is, in fact, not really faith at all. Let me just consider with you a few examples of what is not a legitimate foundation for faith. And yet, these are places people put their faith. These are the foundation points for many who profess Christ. What are not legitimate foundations for faith? Faith is not confidence, first of all, in visions and dreams. There are a lot of people who have embraced that, in light with the modern charismatic movement, but with the completion of Scripture, divine revelation ceased. If you have a question about that, if you struggle with that, go back and listen online to the couple of messages that I preached on the biblical case for cessationism. That's not a place for faith to be founded, with the Scripture having been completed.

Secondly, faith is not confidence in spiritual experiences. Many professing Christians have had, and claim and talk about, some sort of encounter with God where they had this warm fuzzy feeling or something strange happened and they're confident they had some sort of encounter and their faith, quote unquote, rests in that to the extent that they downplay the priority of Scripture in their lives. Faith is not confidence in spiritual experiences.

Thirdly, faith is not confidence in feelings and impressions. Christians will often speak of God directing them, God guiding them, by giving them some feeling in the pit of their stomach. You say, well, why did you make that decision? And they'll say, well, I just felt a peace about it. Like that's something, you know, really, profoundly spiritual. It's like, where is that in Scripture?

Fourthly, faith is not confidence, and there's some overlap here, but I want to call this out as a separate item, faith is not confidence in subjective revelations. Sometimes Christians claim that God speaks subjectively to them through the Scripture, not objectively, not by reading the text, understanding the text in its context, but subjectively, kind of separate from the meaning of the text. This is the Christian who comes to the Bible and they don't bother really studying what it says in context, they simply ask the question, well, what does this mean to me? Who cares what it means to you? The question is, what did the original author mean? What did the Spirit of God mean when He inspired that text? That's the Scripture. You can make the words of Scripture mean whatever you want to, but you can't use them like a Ouija board. What does it mean to me? They take something completely out of its context.

Others claim that God speaks to them subjectively apart from the Scripture. Now they're not even claiming that it's connected to the Scripture, it's a subjective revelation that just, sort of, God tells them stuff. You hear this. Christians will say things like, well, God told me to do this. And they're not talking about something that's in the Bible. They're talking about something that isn't. God told me to buy this house or God told me to get this color car or God told me to move from Oregon to Texas. Okay, maybe that was God, but no, just kidding, just kidding. No, God didn't tell you to move from Oregon to Texas. Well, I just feel God wants me to make this decision. Or, I know God is going to do this or that thing that isn't in the Bible. Well, how do you know that? Because God told me. No, God didn't tell you. None of that is faith. The only way God speaks to us is through His Word. As Luther called it, "the external word." It's outside of you, it's words and sentences and letters, that's God speaking, but no other way.

Fifthly, faith is not confidence in one's own thoughts or conclusions. We are very tempted, and I've heard many Christians say, after they've heard what the Scripture says about something, I have heard many Christians say, well, you know, Tom, I know that's what the Bible says, but. Listen, whenever you hear yourself saying that or thinking that, or you hear someone else say that, be very concerned, let the warning lights go off. I know what the Word of God says, but I know God wants me to be happy. Really? Well, where is that written? Where is that written? Another false foundation for faith is extra biblical revelation. By this I mean things like the modern prophecies connected to the charismatic movement, or even, sort of, quasi prophecies like those in the popular book Jesus Calling.

Listen, if you have confidence in any of those things, understand, that confidence is not faith. True biblical faith is always founded on the Word of God. John Calvin writes, "Take away the Word and there will be no faith left." There is no faith without God's Word. In another place he writes, "Faith is not the right kind unless it is founded on the Word of God. It ought to rest exclusively on the promises and Word of God." Now, I love those quotes, they're great quotes, but the question is not what does John Calvin say, but what does the Scripture say, is this what the Scripture teaches?

Well, let's consider then, what is the only legitimate foundation for faith? Excuse me. And the answer is God's Word. That is the only legitimate foundation for faith. Look at verse 18, "In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become the father of many nations," now, watch this expression, "according to that which had been spoken," that is, what God had said, "'so shall your descendants be.'" Now, in verse 17 Paul quotes from Genesis 17, but here in verse 18 he quotes from the earlier promise God made to Abraham back in Genesis 15. Turn back there with me just for a moment, Genesis 15, and I want you to see the emphasis, the stress on what it was Abraham believed. Verse 15, or chapter 15 verse 1,

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying,

"Do not fear, Abram,
I am a shield to you;
Your reward will be very great."

Abram said, "O Lord God, what will You give me, since I'm childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir."

You see, Abram, even though he doesn't have a child, he's still believing the promise God made him, that he would have all these descendants. And he's thinking of how's God going to do this? Well, maybe He's going to do it through my servant, a sort of surrogate heir. And verse 4,

behold, [again, notice the stress] the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "this man will not be your heir, but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." And God took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you're able to count them." And [notice this] He said to him, [and here's our quote from Romans 4] "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Now, what I want you to see is that the stress in Genesis 15 is on him believing the Word of the Lord. Now, obviously, in his case there was no revelation at this point, there was no written revelation, he lived before the Scriptures were written, and so God actually spoke to him in a vision and reaffirmed the covenant that He had made with him back in Genesis 12. But what ultimately was the foundation of Abraham's faith? It was the bare Word of God. He believed what God said to him. Go back to Romans 4 and Paul emphasizes this, verse 13 says, "the promise" God made to Abraham was what stood in his mind, that's what he believed, "the promise." Verse 14, "the promise." Verse 16, "the promise." Verse 20, "the promise."

Now, go back to verse 18 and here he expands on it a little bit. It was the promise "according to that which had been spoken." You see, at its core, Abraham's faith was faith in the promise of God, and all saving faith rests on the Word of God. Now, God no longer speaks audibly to us as He did to Abraham, but now that the Scriptures have been completed, that revelation has ceased, we would say, according to what God has spoken in His Word, according to what has been written. For us, the only legitimate foundation for our faith is the written Word of God.

Now, before we leave this, I want to take it a little further. What promises were the specific foundation of Abraham's faith? Now, in identifying exactly what Abraham believed, Paul quotes several times in Romans 4 from what's called the Abrahamic Covenant. Don't be shocked by that word, a covenant is simply a legally binding set of promises. When you're married, you make a covenant, you make legally binding promises. That's all a covenant is. God made a legally binding set of promises to Abraham. God originally made that covenant back in Genesis 12 when He called him out of Ur of the Chaldees, but then He repeats it on several occasions during Abraham's life, for example, in Genesis 15, as we just saw, in Genesis 17, in Genesis 22. When you look at all of those occurrences, the Abrahamic Covenant included four basic promises God made Abraham.

Promise number one is that He would give Abraham seed or descendants. Promise number two, He would give him the land of Canaan. Promise number three, he would make of Abraham a nation. And promise number four, and the one Paul really focuses on in Romans 4, is that God, through Abraham, would bring spiritual blessing to the nations.

So understand then that when you look at the Abrahamic Covenant there are two aspects to the Abrahamic Covenant, there were physical promises made to Abraham's physical descendants, and there were spiritual promises made to Abraham's spiritual descendants, those who believed like he believed. You say, did Abraham get that? Did he understand that he was after more than a piece of land in the Middle East? Absolutely he got it. Look at Hebrews 11 where it says he looked for a city "whose architect and builder is God."

But you can see that Abraham was after the spiritual aspect to the promise right here in Romans 4. Notice verse 1 of Romans 4, "What has Abraham found?" Verses 2 through 5 is Paul's answer to that question. In verse 3 he quotes Genesis 15:6, we just saw it in its context, and then in verses 4 and 5 he exposits, he explains, Genesis 15:6. So notice in verse 5 what Paul says Abraham found, he found to be true, he discovered to be true, and he believed. This is what he found, first of all, he found and believed that he was a sinner. Notice the word ungodly. Abraham understood he was ungodly, he was an idolater living in Ur when God found him. He was a liar; he struggled with lying. And there were other sins I'm sure the Biblical record doesn't record. He understood he was a sinner, he was ungodly.

Secondly, he understood that his own efforts could never give him a right standing before God. Again, look at verse 5, "the one who does not work." He understood his own efforts could never bring him a right standing with God. Thirdly, he understood and believed that God, who is by nature a saving God, has made a way of redemption. Even though we're ungodly and He's holy, He's made a way to redeem us. Again, verse 5 says of God, "it is He who justifies the ungodly," who declares right with Him, "the ungodly." God, in His wisdom, found a way and Abraham understood this.

Fourthly, Abraham understood and believed that God's plan was to credit righteousness to him, to put the righteousness of someone else in his account when he seriously lacked righteousness. Again, verse 5, it says, "it is," righteousness, "is credited." Fifthly, Abraham understood and believed that the only way to enjoy this blessing was by faith alone. Notice, "the one who does not work, but believes in Him."

Now, I'm going to add a couple more, not from this passage but from Galatians 3, where we looked a couple of weeks ago. I won't take you there, but just remind you of them. According to Galatians 3, Abraham also believed that the truth of the gospel, in its elementary form as it was communicated to him, is a saving message. Galatians 3:8 says, "the Scripture preached the gospel to Abraham." Where and how did Abraham hear the gospel? Through the promise of spiritual blessing. Because God can't spiritually bless those who are His enemies. Somehow He has to reconcile them to Himself. So, the gospel was contained in a, sort of, rudimentary form in the promise of spiritual blessing through Abraham to the nations.

And, number seven, Abraham understood and believed that one of his descendants would accomplish his redemption. Galatians 3, remember, he saw the seed, singular, "that is, the Messiah." Abraham knew, think about this, Abraham knew that the Redeemer that God had promised Adam all the way back in Genesis 3:15, would be one of his descendants. And he believed that through the work of that Redeemer, and by the way I think he understood that it involved sacrifice in some way because he was continually making sacrifices, through the work of that Redeemer God would redeem man from his sin. And "'Abraham,'" Jesus says in John 8, "'rejoiced to see My day, he saw it and was glad.'"

So what was the primary object of Abraham's faith? It was the spiritual aspect of the promises God had made him in the Abrahamic Covenant. That is, his being declared right with God by faith alone, receiving the spiritual blessing of forgiveness and salvation made possible by the coming Redeemer. In other words, Abraham believed in the same Christ and the same gospel you do, just in a more basic, simple form. Abraham believed God's Word. This is always how genuine faith works. The rest of the New Testament stresses that saving faith believes God's Word.

I have a string of references in my notes, but let me just show you a couple. Look at Romans 10, this is a key text, Romans 10:13, "'Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" Whoever calls out to God for salvation, willing to turn from their sin and trust in Christ, as he's explained earlier in the passage, "'Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord'" like that "'will be saved.'" Verse 14, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?" Isn't that interesting? Calling on God in prayer for salvation follows believing. The reason you're calling is because you've already come to believe. "How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?" There has to be content to your faith. In order to savingly believe you have to know who Christ is and what the gospel is. "And how will they hear without a preacher?" This is why it's so important for us to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us "out of darkness into His marvelous light." "How will they preach unless they're sent?" But notice verse 17, "for faith comes from hearing." Hearing in what way? Hearing comes by "hearing the message about Christ." Again, what's faith based on then? It's based on the message about Christ, ultimately the gospel, the Word of God. It's God's gospel.

Turn over to 1 Peter. So many passages I would love to take you to, but let's just go to one more, 1 Peter 1, verse 30, verse 23 rather. He says, "you have been born again," you've been regenerated, you've been given new life, and the seed which produced that new life "is not perishing seed, it's imperishable seed." What is this seed that brings new life to our souls? It's "the living and enduring word of God." Verse 25, "'the word of the Lord endures forever,' and this is the word which was preached to you" and understood, which you believed. Ultimately, faith is founded on the Word of God.

Turn over to one other passage, 2 Peter 1. In verse 16 and following Peter recounts the transfiguration. Can you imagine what it was like to be on the Mount of Transfiguration and see Jesus revealed in His glory, to hear God speak from heaven, this booming voice, this thunder cloud, and to hear God say, "'This is My Son.'" But notice what Peter says, verse 19, in verse 18 he says, "we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain," and then he says, but "we have the prophetic word more sure." Wow! "The prophetic word made more sure."

Jonathan Edwards, commenting on this text, writes this, "Why cannot we be contented with the divine oracles, that holy, pure Word of God, which we have in such abundance and clearness now since the canon of Scripture is completed. Why should we desire to have anything added to them by impulse from above? Why should we not rest in that standing rule that God has given to his church, which the Apostle teaches us is surer than a voice from heaven?" Do you understand, what you hold in your hands is better than hearing God speak from heaven? Because He has spoken, in a book you can read and study, learn. The Word of God is the only legitimate foundation for our faith.

Lloyd Jones writes, "Abraham's faith enabled him to believe God's promise on the bare Word of God and nothing else whatsoever." Abraham had nothing to go on when he believed except the mere statement of God, and this is always true faith. Faith, you understand, is not a blind leap. Faith is not a vague human confidence that what you would like to happen is going to happen. Let me give you a definition of faith. Faith is believing the statements God makes in His Word and acting on them as true. That's faith. Believing the statements God makes in His Word and acting on them as true.

Let me ask you this morning, do you believe God? Do you believe the bare Word of God? In Romans 4 Paul is talking about the promises of justification, the promises of spiritual blessing in Christ and in the gospel. Do you believe, do you really believe the bare Word of God in the gospel? Do you believe the negative promise of the gospel? Did you know there's a negative promise in the gospel? Do you believe it? Do you believe that if you refuse to repent and believe, that if you refuse to place your faith in the Son of God, that God in His perfect holiness and justice will condemn you, body and soul, to eternal suffering in hell? Do you believe that?

Do you believe the positive promises of the gospel? Do you believe that what Jesus said in Matthew 5 is true? That those who become like a spiritual beggar, "blessed are the beggars, for to them belongs the kingdom of God." Do you believe that if you will be reduced to a beggar before God and you will plead with Him for mercy and grace and forgiveness, that He will save you, that He will give you new life, that He will give you a heart to know God, that He will give you spiritual life, a relationship with God, that He will give you the gift of faith and repentance?

Do you believe that He will take out your heart of stone and give you a living heart that will enable you to have a relationship with Him, that He will, as the gospel promises, write His laws upon your heart, enabling you both to love and to obey Him, He will set you apart as his own special possession and will become your God? Do you believe what the gospel promises, that He will credit your sins, plural, think of the sins you've committed, He will take those sins and credit them to Christ's account and because Christ fully and completely paid for them in His death on the cross, God will forgive your sins once and forever?

To help you understand just how thorough and complete His forgiveness is, will you believe the promises of how He extends that forgiveness? That God will erase the divine record of your crimes from the books of heaven. That He will bury your sins in the deepest sea where they can never be seen, they can never be recovered. That He will separate your sins as far from you as the East is from the West, an infinite distance. That He will cast your sins behind His back. In other words, He will never look at them, He'll never choose to see them again, He will bury them in His omniscience so that He will never remember them against you again forever.

Do you believe the promise of the gospel? That He will credit the righteousness of Jesus Christ to you. That He will take those 33 perfect years of obedience that Christ lived and He will put that in your account and He will treat you forever as if you had lived that perfect life. He will adopt you as His child and become your loving, gracious, eternal Father. He'll put His Spirit within you as His abiding permanent presence with you. He'll cause all the things that happen to you in this life to work together for your spiritual and eternal good. And whatever He brings, whatever happens in this life, He will never leave you, He will never forsake you, and throughout the rest of this life He will be at work in you, "to will and to work for His good pleasure." He will be working in you the image of His own Son. He will preserve and protect you throughout this life. He will provide for you. He will preserve your soul until the day of Jesus Christ. And when your life ends here He will be with you as you "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" and He will bring you into His eternal presence. And then in the ages to come, He will demonstrate the surpassing riches of His grace by showing you kindness and goodness because you're in Christ. Those are just a few of the promises the gospel makes. Do you believe God? Are you willing to believe the bare Word of God? Are you willing to stake your life, your soul, your eternity on the Word of God and entrust yourself to Christ because of that faith? This is saving faith.

Now, let me just say that when we hear amazing promises like that we are tempted, and I say we because I'm tempted, I'm assuming you're tempted in the same way, we're tempted to hear those amazing promises and say something like this, well, Tom, that sounds great and you know, I don't doubt God, God is good and He'll do all of that, but you know, I doubt myself. That sounds spiritual, doesn't it? This week I came across a quote from John Calvin that just demolishes that. It's worth listening to, listen carefully, "We are indeed in the habit to excuse ourselves that we take nothing from God's power when we hesitate respecting His promises." In other words, we say, look, I'm not like attacking God here by saying that, you know, His promises aren't going to work that way for me. What we commonly say, he says, "The thought that God promises more in His word than He can perform, that's a falsehood and a blasphemy. That is by no means the cause of our hesitation, but the reason we hesitate respecting the promises of God is the defect which we feel in ourselves."

Have you ever been tempted that way? Listen to this, Calvin goes on to say, "But we do not sufficiently exalt the power of God." "But we do not sufficiently exalt the power of God unless we think God's power greater than our weakness. Faith then ought not to regard our weakness, misery, and defects, but to fix wholly its attention on the power of God." We must never rationalize our unbelief, instead we must believe the bare Word of God because He is truth itself, because He cannot lie, because He has the power to do everything He promises and because He's always faithful to keep the promises He makes. "'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness.'" Are you willing to believe the bare Word of God about Christ and the gospel? That's faith. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are overwhelmed by Your mercy and grace. Lord, we thank You for the gift of faith to believe, only You can produce this in our hearts. Father, we thank You that You have given us Your Word, Your bare Word, Your promises.

Father, I pray for those here this morning who are not believers. Lord, may You help them to see the terrible slur on You that their unbelief is. Lord, help them to see that they are, as the Apostle John said, calling You a liar. May this be the day when they take You at Your Word and repent and believe the gospel promises, based on Your bare Word alone, and follow Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray for those of us who have already come to faith. Help us to see that this is faith. Lord, don't let us put our trust and confidence in mistaken, illegitimate foundations, but may our faith be rooted only, exclusively, solely in Your Word. But what You have said in Your Word, Father, may we accept as Your bare Word, and cling to it throughout this life because You are worthy of our trust. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.