There is no doubt that the theme of Romans is the gospel. However, it is important to see Paul's ministry is stemming the great difficulty that is taking place where the gospel is going. As beautiful as the message it- it is revolutionary and causes problems where it takes root.
Jesus talked about this in the gospels:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." Matthew 10:34-36
The gospel saves, but it also condemns. The gospel heals, but it also wounds. The gospel is reconciliation, but it also divides. Such is the power of God as it works contrary to our broken condition as illustrated in Romans 1.
So, a great part of Paul's ministry was unifying a divided church in the midst of outright enemies. Inside the church were those who embraced the gospel message, but were still wrestling with deep issues. Gentiles, who were from a background of pagan worship and immorality, and converted Jews, who had the legacy of the law, were struggling to find a coherent unity of life.
Outside the church were Roman rulers who were distressed over the lack of conformity of these 'Christ followers' to emperor worship (and their lack of full participation in the immoral practices of trade guilds and the like) AND Jews who saw the new churches as heretics and apostate.
Paul never shrank back from this impossible task. He never wavered in the gospel, he never stopped confronting the 'judaizers' , the false teachers, and the immoral ones inside the church. He never flinched in his proclamation to the nations. He never lost his message or his hope.
So- in Chapter 4 Paul presents evidence to the Jews who do not believe that works no longer merit salvation (and never did merit salvation) and hope for the gentiles.
Paul's Evidence #1 - FATHER ABRAHAM- there you go- use the big dog! Genesis 15:6 says Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness. By the way, this trust in God was after the call of God and after the promise of God. This saving faith came after Abram had followed God in his call. This faith came after Abram had lied to protect himself and his wife. This faith came after he let Lot choose first. This faith came after he fought for lot's rescue. This faith came after he he tithed to Melchizedek. This faith came after God clarified the promise.
It is interesting that God instituted the Abrahamic covenant after Abraham's saving faith and in response to the question: 'How can I know that I will gain possession of it?'
By the way- I'm not trying to make some big theological point about a timeline of faith and salvation- We see this salvation as past, present, and future like all the elect- but I do think it is clear in this example that FAITH IS NOT A WORK- AND WORKS DO NOT MERIT SALVATION.-
Let me go a little deeper:
Abraham was wicked. Read Romans 4:3-5 together.
3What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 4Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Remember, Abraham was called out of a region of pagan idolators and the evidence suggests that his region participated in child sacrifice.
Abraham did nothing to initiate the process of faith.
Abraham stumbled along the way- his faith had to grow.
Paul's Evidence #2 - KING DAVID- Big dog #2. Paul quotes Psalm 32:1 as a prooftext of his gospel. This is in the context of forgiveness.
Paul's statement- things that make you go 'hmmm'. He asked a couple of leading questions: Is the blessing only for the circumcised (the Jew)? Didn't the promise and the crediting of righteousnes happen before the sign? So Father Abraham (the fatherhood of saving faith) is a Father to the Jews and Gentiles who demonstrate a trust in God.
ABRAHAM'S GREAT MODEL OF FAITH:
ROMANS 4: 18” In hope he (Abraham) believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.’”
A quick note: If there are no tough circumstances, there is no opportunity for great and growing faith.
Abraham grew in his ability to trust God. It took a long time of experience to follow the Lord this way. God was always faithful to His promise and Abraham learned to put stock in God.
When the pressures of doubt came, Abraham clung to his trust in God and refused to let go. He did not know how or when God would come through, he just knew that He would do as he always promised.
God’s Kingdom is always victorious and the gospel is never hindered. In the darkest moments of final despair is when God most wants to show up and conquer. God is a hero, and all He wants from us is to just keep swimming, keep swinging, keep praying, keep loving , and …..never, never , never lose hope.
It is important to note that Abraham had to grow in this faith, as we do. Jesus asked the question, "when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?" I believe He is referring to this type of faith- if we have anxiety, fear, or are overcome by circumstance- aren't we implying that we really do not trust God to keep His promises?
WHAT WE GET OUT OF IT! Look at the last 3 verses of Romans 4- READ IT AGAIN!
"23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification."
As we close Romans 4: Let's make a few points of application:
1) Faith is not a work, it has an object. Saving faith is not "Believe"- Saving faith is "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ". That is why the amount of faith is not the deal. Faith as small as a mustard seed is powerful, because it is the object of faith that unleashes the power of faith.
2) We are in the stream of God's great plan regardless of our background or ethnicity IF we come to God on His terms. The terms are repentence and faith. We must turn from ourselves and turn to Him. Do it now! Respond to the call of the Spirit right at this moment!
3) Father- give me Abraham's faith. "You don't know what you are asking". "Why? Great faith can only come in hopeless circumstances." Yes, Lord, but I do believe You- help my unbelief !"
Next lesson: Romans 5 - ANOTHER BIG 'OUN'