Abraham's Example (Romans Sermon 24 of 120)
August 06, 2000 | Andrew Davis
Faith, Walk by Faith
Three Men of Great Faith: Mueller, Taylor, and Paton
Please take your Bibles if you would, and open to Romans chapter 4. We're going to be looking this morning at verses 17-22 on the nature of true faith. Now, last week as we took a break from Romans, I began by talking to you about Charles Spurgeon, who preached in England. And he said that the blessings lavished on England of a worldwide empire were given by God for the purpose of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that we ourselves need to realize that, that any wealth, or any advantage, or blessing we have is for a purpose. And the purpose is to advance the gospel. Well recently, I've been reading some biographies of some godly Christian leaders, and I just noticed something. I started to see something and it came together, that all three of these godly men who I'm reading about these days werealive at the same time. Their ministries all began in Great Britain. And they were all working at the same time. And it all kind of came together in one year in 1857. In that year in England, George Mueller, great man of faith, for the first time took a major faith step away from just simply taking care of a handful of orphans to trust God for 700 orphans. Now you stop and think about that. What would you do with 700 orphans?
How would you care for them? Three meals a day, changes of clothing, bedding, and shelter. But he believed that God was laying this on his heart, this great burden. Some of these orphans he'd found on the dock, some he'd found wailing in alleys and on streets. And every one of them spoke to him of his personal responsibility. And so there was a tremendous burden laid on him. And he could not have borne that burden, except that God had given him a promise from scripture, Psalm 81:10, in which he says, "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." And time and again, he went to that. Again and again, and he was on his knees, he was praying and trusting God. And this verse would come up and he'd say, "All right, Lord, we're needy. We need food, we need clothing again," etcetera. More than anything, they needed a place big enough to house all these orphans. And in that year, 1857, the money started rolling in. Wealthy English businessmen that he had never met heard about what he was doing. And he would open not just wide his mouth, but open envelopes with 500 pounds, 1,000 pounds, 3,000 pounds. In one envelope, the most money he'd ever seen in one place at one time, 8,100 pounds. And as this money just rolled in, he just kept remembering this promise, "Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it." He was trusting God for something far bigger than him. And God was faithful to His word.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world in China, another man, Hudson Taylor was taking a major step of faith at that point. He had moved away from the coast of China, where all the missionaries were doing their work, and had moved inland to the Inland regions of China. God had laid China, the inland regions, on his heart. And around about that time, I don't know the exact year, but 1856, 1857, he decided to discard his European dress, to dye his hair and have a long pony tail and wear the traditional outfit of a Chinese teacher. Now in doing so, he discarded any advantages he might have had in being European, but doors started opening to him and he started preaching the gospel in powerful ways, 1857. Now God had given Hudson Taylor a tremendous burden, far greater than he could bear. Tens of millions of Chinese people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. And this burden was fit to crush him, except that God had given him a scripture verse. In this case, it was John 4:14, in which Jesus said to the woman at the well, "Whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never thirst." And so 20 times a day, he says in his diary, he went back to that verse and said, "I'm thirsty, fill me up. I need you. Help me through this." And God was faithful to His word. And from that came that great slogan that we know Hudson Taylor by, "God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply," based on a scripture verse.
Now a third man that perhaps many of you haven't heard about, we're reading this biography right now in our family. John Paton. Perhaps many of you have never heard of John Paton. But John Paton was a Scotsman, and he was doing a fruitful inner-city ministry in Glasgow leading many people to Christ, training young people. And God laid on him the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific. He had heard the story of their need, he had heard that the last missionary that had been sent there had been killed by a cannibal tribe right there on the beach, while the boat that had let him off observed. Now, what kind of courage would it take to get on a boat and sail back to that island and preach the gospel? Incredible courage. What a burden. Far greater than anything he could bear. And there was an elderly gentleman who was a good friend of his, named Mr. Dickson. And he said, "Please don't go. You'll be eaten by cannibals."
And I'll never forget his response. I'm going to read it. He said, "Mr. Dickson, you're advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave and there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I'm eaten by cannibals or by worms. And in the great day, my resurrection body will arise every bit as fair as yours." Isn’t that a marvelous faith-filled response? "I just want to live and die for Jesus", said John Paton. And in 1857, he got on that boat and sailed. And he led them to Christ. Incredible. Now, how do we unify these three stories to our text? George Mueller was trusting God for something far bigger than him based on the faithfulness of God to his promise. 700 orphans. Hudson Taylor was trusting God for something far greater than he could imagine. Tens of millions of inland Chinese, based on a promise of God. John Paton was courageous enough to face his own death, perhaps even a gruesome death, because of his faith in a promise of God.
I. What Kind of Faith Justifies Sinners?
Now, this is what I'm saying to you, all of you who are Christians today, you are trusting God for something far greater than anything these three men trusted God for in this world. You are trusting God simply because you heard a promise that a holy, holy, holy God is going to welcome you on judgment day. He's going to accept you, He's going to forgive all of your sins. He's going to welcome you into His very presence. He's going to glorify you with His own glory. Not only that, but at the end of the world, He's going to give you a resurrection body, and there you will live with God forever and ever. Now as you look at the three stories I've told you, and this, that you as a Christian are trusting God for, which is greater? And the same faith which enabled these three men to step out and do great things for God, they were clinging to for their own salvation as well. And it is the faith of Abraham as explained in our text today.
Look at it in verses 17-22. "As it is written, 'I have made you a father of many nations.' He is our father in the sight of God in whom he believed, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed, and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, so shall your offspring be. Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, since he was about 100 years old, and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith, giving glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised."
Now, the question before us in Romans 4 is simply this; what kind of faith justifies sinners? Now we've seen in Romans 1, 2 and 3 that all of us are sinners. Every last one of us has violated God's law. None of us has righteousness on our own. We will not survive judgment day through our own righteousness. Every last one of us, for the scripture says, "There is no one righteous, no, not one." So we need a savior. Romans 3, the savior is provided, Jesus Christ. He died on the cross, his blood was shed. He drank the cup of God's wrath. He has fully paid the penalty for our sin. And that we have access to that justification, that declaration that we are righteous in God's sight, we have access to it by faith alone, apart from works. And then He raises up Abraham in Romans 4 as an example of faith, so we can see positively what it looks like.
Now, James gives us the negative answer. What kind of faith does not justify? We looked at that, it would be dead faith, which produces no good works, that does not justify. Or demon faith, which knows all the right answers doctrinally, but hates God at its core. Or useless faith, which comes in and makes no change whatsoever in your life. Now that faith, that kind of faith, dead faith, demon faith, useless faith, does not justify. But what kind of faith does justify? Positively, you look at Abraham if you want the answer. And that's what Romans 4 is about. For you who are not sure whether you're Christians or not, read Romans 4, and you will understand what kind of faith you must have in order to be justified for your sins. And so he says in verse 1 of this chapter, "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?" Namely, how was Abraham made right with God? How was he declared to be righteous? He is set up as an example of justifying faith.
II. Abraham’s Example: True Faith
Now in our text today, we're going to see four aspects of that. True faith or justifying faith contemplates God's almighty power. It has eyes only for what God can do. Secondly, true faith or justifying faith produces supernatural hope. Thirdly, true faith is born and strengthened by God's word of promise. And then fourthly, true faith does not weaken or waver at massive obstacles. So let's look and see a little more carefully. First, let's get a definition of true faith. Now many people, when they say, what's the definition of faith, they go to Hebrews 11, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." That's a great definition.
But I think we have a good one right here in our text. If you were to look at the cover of your worship bulletin today, we have the verse right there. This is a great definition of saving faith or true faith. That Abraham, it says, "Being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." Isn't that a good definition of faith? Full persuasion that God has power to do the things He's promised to do. It's a great definition. Let's pull it apart. First, it says fully persuaded. The Greek word really means filled up. We're filled up with a certainty about God. Filled up with Him, filled up with the sense of who He is, what kind of being He is. Filled up, complete assurance, utter confidence, no question about it, fully persuaded. Secondly, fully persuaded that God... You see, true faith focuses on God and on nothing else. The characteristic posture of faith is reaching up. "God, give me what you have promised." Like a spiritual beggar, we're reaching out to a God who is fully capable. Fully persuaded that God. So faith zeroes in on God. Who is this being? He's created the ends of the Earth. His power is displayed in all that He's made, that's the being that we're focused on. True faith zeroes in on Him. And it says that God had power to do. Not just God as we invent Him, but a God who is omnipotent, a God who is powerful, who can do anything that He sets out to do, anything that can be done by power, God can do.
And so the issue is, what is His will? It's got nothing to do with whether He can do something, like the father of that demon possessed boy who said to Jesus, "If you can, help him." And Jesus said, "If you can?" Do you know who you're talking to? There's no if you can with God. With God, all things are possible. Anything that can be done by power, God can do. Being fully persuaded that God had power to do, now here's the issue, what He had promised. See, once he declares his intention, now we know what his will is. There may be many things that God is powerful to do he will not do. But the matter is what has he promised to do? And once he's promised it, he will keep his promise. That is faith. Whatever he's promised must come to pass.
True Faith Contemplates God's Almighty Power
Alright, now let's look at the aspects to it. First, true faith contemplates God's almighty power. Faith begins in the mind. We tend to think that there's some kind of an argument or disagreement between the rational process and faith. When I was a student at MIT, I used to have discussions with people. I'd say, "What is the matter with you? You have a good mind. You love science. How can you believe these things?" As though somehow my faith contradicted my reason. Not at all. Faith just goes beyond reason. It tends to go in the complete same direction as reason, just beyond it, if reason won't be twisted by the sin nature. It goes completely in the same direction, just beyond it. And so it begins in the mind. There's assurance, a conviction. What part of your body does assuring? What part of your body is convinced? It's up here. That's where assurance is. That's where conviction is. So faith begins in the mind, and it's not at all contrary to reason. When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, how was it that he was able to do this?
In Hebrews 11 it says that he reasoned that God could raise the dead. You see how it works? He thought it through and said, "Okay. This is the child of promise. No way he's going to die ultimately. God wants to kill him temporarily. He'll raise him up. And that's what he... That's how he worked it through and he went and did it. Faith reasons things out based on the fact that there's a powerful God who speaks. In this way, faith is totally contrary to law, totally contrary. That's why the whole antithesis is set up. Justification by faith versus justification by law. Law focuses on what you can do. It focuses on your capabilities, on your power, on your obedience. When you are reading a command, you look inward and say, "Can I do this?" You see. Faith doesn't look inward. Faith looks upward to a God who can do all things, even make a sinner like me obey his commands. That's the way it works. But law does not do this.
And so as we focus inward on ourselves through law, God gets no glory, and we get no justification. And so there's an antithesis between faith and law. But faith builds itself up with the power of God. We have a feast on the power of God, and our faith is strengthened when we contemplate who God is. We'll talk more about that in a minute. But the focus here is on, "Can God do this? Can the omnipotent creator of the universe do this thing that's in my mind?" Now, what do we know about that creator? Well, you see evidence of him every day. You walk out and you see the sunrise, that blazing ball of fire that's been putting out heat for thousands of years, incredible heat, the power of God. And that's just a little star, just a little one.
You remember, in order to help Abraham believe, what did God do with Abraham? "Come out of your tent. Look up at the stars. Who created all these? I'm powerful, so shall your offspring be." The first thought was, "Look at my power," then comes the promise. You see, that's how it works. And Abraham was able to believe God because of the view, the vision of the power of God. "If I can make these, all of these stars more than you can count, do you think I can't bring a son from your own body? Of course, I can do this." So that's the reasoning process of faith. If you can believe Genesis 1:1, you can believe everything that follows. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." If you can believe that and see what kind of power, and wisdom, and intricacy was woven into that, you can believe anything. If God has promised, He can do it. But the specific nature of God's power is clear. And Paul is so brilliant in this. He's focusing and kind of shading the way he's talking about this account with Abraham to make it available to us as Gentiles, to the whole world as we believe in Jesus Christ. Look what he says in verse 17. What kind of God is he? He's "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." This is a God with resurrecting power. Resurrecting power. Isn't that what you're trusting God for? The grave stands to mock your whole life if there's no resurrection.
If there's no life after death, then why do we live? What do we do? We're trusting in a God with resurrecting power, aren't we? The God who gives life to the dead. Now, it's related to Abraham in that his body was dead in terms of reproduction. He was 100 years old. Sara's womb had been dead all along. She was barren. And so he needed to give life to the dead in terms of their ability to have a child, but in the same way that he did that, he does it with us spiritually. That's the point. It's essential to the gospel. And you know why? Don't overestimate yourself. Realize Ephesians Chapter 2 says that apart from Christ, you are "dead in your transgressions and sins in which you lived." It's a living death. Yes, you're physically alive, but you're spiritually dead. And if God doesn't raise you from the dead, you will have no life. And so we're counting on a God who has resurrecting power for our own salvation. And then it says, "God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." He speaks the name and it comes to life. Do you realize that everything comes from the word of God? All of it. Let's consider the stars for example, Psalm 147:4-5, it says, "He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name." Now, that's a big job. How many stars are there?
He's got a name for everyone. He created every single one of them and calls them by name. Isaiah 40 says, "Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." And in the same way as He calls physical things into existence, He calls us by name as well. As He does with Abraham's children. Every one of us has name. Have you ever noticed how Jesus delights to say people's names, twice even? "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Simon, Simon, Satan is determined to sift you like wheat." He loves to say our names. And if we're his sheep, your salvation began the moment he spoke your name. John chapter 10, "He calls His own sheep by name… and his sheep follow Him." That's salvation. This is our God. Romans 4:17, he brings "life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." Now, which came first, light or the word light? Which came first? The word came first, didn't it? The word precedes the universe.
Do you understand that? God said, "Let there be light," and then there was light. The word comes first. You know nothing about God apart from His word. Do you understand that? That includes physical creation. God speaks and you understand who he is. The word comes first above all things. And so the word has power. He doesn't just speak a word and it just doesn't happen, but when He says the word light, there is light. And the God who said, "Let there be light, " called light into your soul. it says in 2 Corinthians 4:6. He spoke light into your soul and gave you eternal life. Just like He said, "Lazarus come forth," and gave him life and speaking his name, so also He does for you in salvation. This is a powerful God. You see what Paul's doing, Abraham body was dead, Sarah's womb was dead, God brought a son up out of that deadness. So also we are dead in our transgressions and sins, and by faith we come to life because God speaks our name.
True Faith Produces Supernatural Hope
Now, secondly, true faith produces supernatural hope. Have you ever heard hope against hope? It's kind of an odd expression that comes from this verse.
In hope or against hope, Abraham in hope believed. What does that mean? Well, I'm not quite sure in all honesty. As your pastor when I'm sure, I'd like to tell you I'm sure, when I'm not sure I'm going to tell you I'm not sure. I told you back in Genesis 9, when the animals came up Noah's ark, that they'd have to give an accounting to God for the life blood? I don't know how animals give an accounting. I told you then I don't know, I still don't know. I have my ideas.
I'm not 100% sure about what it means against hope Abraham and in hope believe but I'll give you my idea. There are two different kinds of hope in this world, there's a natural hope, and there's a supernatural hope. Natural hope works this way: "I hope my team wins the championship this year," if you like sports. "I hope my team wins the championship this year." That's the earthly or natural hope. And that hope is strengthened when you look at the roster and see a bunch of good players who've done well in the past. You see how that works? And then it goes even higher when they go undefeated through their first 10 games. You say, "Boy, they're looking good." Your hope is getting stronger, why? Because of circumstances. Things you're seeing naturally. Then if they hit a little bit of a rough patch, start to lose, the hope wanes a little bit. If the star player goes down with a season ending injury, that hope is gone. That is earthly or natural hope. And we live with it all the time, there's nothing wrong with it, it's just the way we are. And it's totally tied to circumstances.
But then there's a supernatural hope which has nothing to do with circumstances, and God actually delights to set it up against circumstances. He likes to put it up against obstacles and say, "Believe me anyway 'cause I can do anything." And so against the one kind of hope, Abraham received the second kind of hope, namely supernatural hope, to believe God for something which is physically impossible. And what was that? It was the birth of a son from a 90-year-old woman from a 100-year-old man. Physically impossible.
And Christian hope therefore is utterly unshakable. It's not tied to circumstances, there's no up or down. It doesn't waver, it's always the same. It's tied to who God is and has nothing to do with ups and downs. And it's so sad… Do you remember the two disciples walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus? And they're so downcast and so discouraged. Oh Christian, why are you ever downcast or discouraged? Why am I? Why do we ever get anxious? Why do we ever get depressed or down? Is God not on His throne? Will He not still be on His throne the day you die? But here they are, walking with the resurrected Jesus Christ, the happiest day in history of the world, and they're discouraged, they're down. You remember what they said, "We had hoped that He was the one that God would send." We had hoped, that's earthly natural hope, but the circumstances looked bad. Remember what Jesus said, "How foolish you are, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." This was not a natural hope, this was supernatural hope and nothing could change it. "God has raised me from the dead." Is your hope a supernatural hope, unshakable? I hope so.
True Faith is Born and Strengthened by God's Word of Promise
And then lastly true faith is born and strengthened by God's word of promise. Faith came to life in Abraham when he heard the promise. The moment that God spoke the promise, that's when faith came. So it was with you when you heard the Gospel, I mean really heard it for the first time. Might have been your mother, might have been your father, an evangelist, a friend, neighbor, somebody spoke, a pastor. But when you first heard it, when you really heard it, that's when faith came to life. Faith comes by hearing, scripture says. When you hear the word faith comes. And faith is strengthened by hearing. All of you who are already Christians, you're being strengthened by hearing this again. I know I am. It strengthens me to remember who it is that's talking to us. Faith is born by God's word of promise. We're not born with faith. Did you know that? Infants don't come into the world with faith. Faith is a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are you saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works." 2 Thessalonians 3:2, Paul says, "Pray for us that God may deliver us from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith."
It's not like we all have it, some use it and some don't. Not everyone has it, okay? But God gives it as a gift. And that faith comes the moment we hear, really hear the message. And not only does God give it that way, but He sustains and strengthens it. It says in verse 20 and 21 that Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. Now, on this wavering, same thing is true when we say that true faith doesn't weaken at massive obstacles.
Do you remember the days of AM radio? Maybe for you it's still the day of AM radio, I don't know. I don't listen to it much because when you go under the bridge, what happens? You lose the signal. When there's an electrical storm, you lose the signal. Sometimes at night the stations dim their power a little bit and you lose the signal. I remember when I was a kid I used to listen to sporting events and trying to turn my body in just the right way to keep the signal strong. That's the way some people are with their faith. It waxes and it wanes. It gets stronger and it gets weaker. But Abraham, he didn't do that. He didn't waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but he was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. And therefore true faith does not weaken at massive obstacles. Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead since he was about 100 years old and that Sarah's womb was also dead.
The world accuse us and says we keep our head stuck in the sand. It's like we're ostriches and we've got our head in the sand contrary to the facts we believe. Not at all. We face all the obstacles, we glory in obstacles, we rejoice in them, because they give glory to God when we overcome them. You see that? That was his attitude. He considered the obstacles. He knew about his body. He said, "I can't do this. Sarah can't do it. Believe me, we've tried. Been married a long time. No children. We know we can't do this. But God can do it." He faced the obstacles and he did not waver through unbelief.
III. The Outcome of True Faith: Glory for God, Righteousness for a Sinner
Now, what is the outcome of true faith? Well, it's simple, glory for God, let's keep that first, because the universe was created for God's glory. You exist for the glory of God. Everything you see around you exists for the glory of God. He redeemed us for His own glory, created the universe and redeemed us for His own glory, and so faith glorifies God. Now, how does it glorify God? Well, the origin of faith glorifies God because he gave it. The sustaining of faith glorifies God because He sustains our faith. The focus of faith glorifies God because we're not looking at ourselves, but at what God can do. The victory of faith glorifies God. When at the end of your life, you see him face to face, you will not boast about your works and you will not boast about your faith, you will boast about God who saved you. The victory of faith glorifies God. The outcome of faith glorifies God. In the end you will see him and you will love his glory and you will live on it and feast on it forever and ever and ever. It glorifies God.
But this kind of faith also justifies sinners, and that's the point for us today. This is the kind of faith that justifies a sinner. And it says in verse 22, "That is why it was credited to him as righteousness." Do you know that kind of faith? Has this kind of faith been found in you so that God saw it and justified you? Have you ever come to the cross of Jesus Christ and seen there God's promise of salvation to any who believe? Whosoever will, let him come. Let him come and let him believe. Have you come? And have you trusted that Jesus is your savior? That's what Romans 4 is about. This kind of faith saves. It's not a dead faith, not a demon faith, not a useless faith, it is a true gift of God, a saving faith which God has put in your heart.
Now, if you've already trusted in God, let me ask you a question, have you taken the same faith which you are trusting God for the removal of all your sins, the resurrection of your body, all of these things and applied it to lesser things like the evangelization of China? Or witnessing right here in the inner city? Or to international students that have come? Do you have a faith vision? Remember, we don't have the useless faith or the dead faith, we have the kind that does things. Are you stepping out in faith the way John Paton did? Willing to risk his life when there's a theory the last guy did get killed. He went anyway. He said, "I just want to live and die for Jesus." Do you have a faith burden that you'd be crushed by if you didn't have a sustaining promise from God? If not, can I urge you to get one? Let's close in prayer.