God Guarantees It
Text: Romans 4:1–8, 13–17
2 Lent, A
In this season of Lent we continue to be confronted by the reality of sin and grace, judgment and mercy. In our reading from Romans this morning we are shown the two iron-clad guarantees that come along with such Law/Gospel truths. First, God guarantees that Wrath and Condemnation must always come through the Law, and second, God also guarantees Salvation by Grace through Faith ... And Abraham, our forefather in the faith, is a prime example of both!
1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. Adherents to the three great monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) all agree, Abraham was a righteous man, deserving our respect as an example of faith. But, Paul tells us, when Abraham thought or spoke of his own good works, his pride could only go so far. Why? Because what made Abraham so worthy of respect was not what he himself did for God, but what God Himself did through Abraham. Any good that Abraham did, he was able to do only by God's grace at work in him. No boasting for poor old father Abraham.
As our Book of Concord states, Apology (Tappert 120): “Therefore [God] excludes even the merit of works according to the moral law; for if by these we earned justification before God, faith would not be accounted for righteousness without works.” In other words, if it were possible to be saved by keeping the law, then faith is totally useless. Such a person would have no need of God’s forgiveness or grace or mercy. They would have no need for Christ! Or as St. Paul said it: 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. But what did God owe Abraham? Nothing, of course! What works justified Abraham’s faith? Not one. He needed the promised Messiah every bit as much as you or me.
13For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 15For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. As Luther explained: “The law brings about wrath rather than grace, because no one keeps the law out of love for it and pleasure in it. What comes by the works of the law is thus disfavour rather than grace.”
Apology (Tappert 112): “Paul does not say that by the law men merit the forgiveness of sin. For the law always accuses and terrifies consciences. It does not justify, because a conscience terrified by the law flees before God's judgment ... (Tappert 147) But without Christ this law is not kept. It always accuses the conscience, which does not satisfy the law and therefore flees in terror before the judgment and punishment of the law...” In short, the law must always accuse us because apart from Jesus we can never satisfy it. You have God’s guarantee on that.
So where does that leave us sinners? Where did it leave Abraham? In dire need of Salvation by Grace which God has guaranteed through Faith! 1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 8blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. 3For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 5And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, It can't be by law through human achievement, because the law does nothing but accuse, convict, charge with sin. "Therefore it must be by faith" which means believing in what Christ did, rather than in what we do. Look at the words Paul uses in this passage: “Of grace”, “without merit”, “without Law”, “without works”, “not of works” ... all these words together mean that we are justified and saved through faith alone in Christ. (FC Ep III 10)
13For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 16That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
God's accounting did not change Abraham, it changed his status with God. Though he was not righteous, God counted him as righteous nevertheless. The believer in himself is never truly righteous; we are only righteous in God's accounting. Christ's merit and righteousness is His own; God counts it as if it were the believer's. Salvation, in Christ Jesus, is always by a declaration from God Himself. It is the most amazing thing in history. And what is more, nothing but God's mercy and grace for Jesus' sake moved Him to do this.
In other words, Faith does not justify us before God as if IT were a good work, but Faith justifies only on account of Christ who it clings to in trust! The promise made to Abraham was the promise of Christ. Through this one Seed, Christ, Abraham would obtain that seven-fold promise of countless posterity from all people; through the one Seed, Christ, the seven-fold blessing would come to all people … even you and me.
Again, as Luther explains it: “As Abraham’s circumcision was an external sign by which he showed the righteousness that was already his in faith, so all good works are only external signs which follow out of faith like good fruit, they demonstrate that a person is already inwardly righteous before God.”
And so our life is one of good works. Repentance, worship, service to God and our neighbour. There is never enough we can do to properly say thanks for all God has first done for us. But our works gain us nothing, earn us nothing before God. If you think God owes you anything, think again. If you think you deserve something for all your faith, then stop right now. That line of thinking is guaranteed to leave you both disappointed and in doubt. But, where the grace of God and Faith are rightly preached and taught, there you will have certainty. Absolute certainty of forgiveness and everlasting life. A promise to all Abraham’s children by faith, Signed in the blood of God’s Holy Son. Delivered by the working of the Holy Spirit. Lived out in faith and good works that seek no return. It is God’s own guarantee. And the only guarantee worth having!