Introduction to the Scriptures

The book of Romans is perhaps the most magnificent theological treatise ever written. In Romans, Paul writes to the believers at Rome and demonstrates both Jew and Gentile that there is only one way to God and that is through his son Jesus Christ. We can also see a grand panoramic vision of God to redeem the world. Let us give attention to the inerrant and the infallible word of the living God from Romans chapter 4, verses 13 through 25.

Romans 4:13-25 English Standard Version (ESV), For 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.  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null, and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That 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, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 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. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Introduction

The plaque sat on the president’s desk for eight years. Every cabinet member, every secretary, and every American who had the privilege to meet Pres. Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office would see the inscription. The words of the sign had been attributed to Harry Truman and made more popular by the UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. But it was Ronald Reagan put the words into action in his administration. You probably remember hearing them:

“There is no limit to what a man can do what where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”[1]

Recently I retired from the Armed Forces of the United States, and I can attest that this maxim is true and yet is always challenged. Success in war, for example, involves strategic planning and the careful consideration of a multitude of variables: weather, force strength, and even land terrain. But one variable that should not be present is ego. History tells a different story. There always seems to be a military leader wanting to put their stamp on any success. Any student of World War Two, for instance, knows of the extraordinary feuds between British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery and General Eisenhower, as well as Eisenhower and his brilliant, but boorish General George Patton. Indeed, there are instances where the matter of who would get the credit came perilously close to jeopardizing a mission.[2]

The same can be said of the mission of God in the world today. You and I can feel that unless we convert those closest to us, they will never be saved. We never can see that it may be possible that God would choose to give someone else, quite apart from ourselves, to reach our loved ones who do not know Christ. Many times, this very matter has come before me as a pastor, and I’ve always advised believers to pray for those who or around their loved ones: teachers, other students, bosses, neighbors, and even strangers who could come into their lives.

Now take that feeling that we all have from time to time that “everything depends on me” and extrapolate it to the entire church. Then, magnify this sin to a whole denomination. Calculate the extraordinary wastefulness of arguing over who gets the credit for the advancement of the gospel. What did the Apostle Paul write to the Philippians?

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaims Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).

To approach the matter of who gets the credit in the evangelization of the world in a way other than St. Paul in this passage is to exalt one’s self over the larger Plan of God.

Into the Text

Now we come to the sacred words that are before us today, and we see that it is also about who gets the credit. And one thing is for sure: Almighty God is unrivaled in his supreme sovereignty in salvation. God has revealed that he has a plan to reach the entire world. The Gospel will ultimately save a lost race of humanity only because of the activity of Almighty God.

The apostle Paul teaches in Romans chapter 4 verses 13 through 25 that God will indeed reach the entire earth through the gospel of Jesus Christ. God will provide what He requires, righteousness of life and atonement for sin, through his plan. And while God will choose to use humanity in that plan, only God can receive glory. The salvation of mortal souls, dead in trespasses and sins and made alive in Christ, is the proprietary work of only One.

God’s plan for the redemption of humanity is based upon His promise: a covenant or a bond made in blood by God Himself.[3] In this Covenant, made before the World began, as Jesus tells us in John 10, the Father gave a gift of Creation to his Son.[4] That gift, though apparently tainted by the Fall, would be redeemed by Jesus. This promise, then, appears in Genesis 3:15. The covenant is revealed again in unambiguous terms to Abraham in Genesis 12. God would redeem the world in His way and by His word.

World missions are thus the Plan of God, to redeem the race of humankind from judgment by making sons and daughters of Abraham, that is, of God, throughout the world, and throughout the ages.

I once had someone say to me, “I am more interested in local missions then in world mission.” My response to him was one of understanding, and yet I trust that I guided him to the Biblical truth that it is not either/or but it is both/and. The truth is this: the commitment to go to the ends of the earth cultivates the courage to go to the end of the street.

And in this passage the apostle Paul treats the matter with the highest theological care, using the case of Abraham and the covenant of God made to him, to demonstrate that salvation to the ends of the earth is altogether to the glory of God. God alone receives the credit. For God is glorified in His world mission. So, the apostle Paul demonstrates this thesis by, at least, three essential theological truths.

Paul’s first great theological statement of truth is this:

  1. God is glorified through His Mode: His grace.

“It is of faith that is might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to oversee, not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of the soul” (vv. 16, 17).

There had been trouble, no doubt, in Rome as there had been in other places where the churches were growing. The problems centered on the relationship between the keeping of ceremonial law by the Jews and free offer of salvation to the Gentiles. It went further than that: the Hebrews felt that since they were the chosen people, those to whom the law of God was given, codifying how humankind should live, they are a superior class. Therefore, their genealogy and their history were weaponized to diminish others. In a sense, they were taking the credit for the covenant of God in the world today. Now to be entirely fair, we must recognize that there are cases in the New Testament where the Gentile believers were not giving honor that is due to those who indeed had received the law of God and through whom the promise came to the world. Both sides needed to recognize that it was not of themselves but all of God. It was God who chose Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. It was God who promised him a nation, a land, and out of that land would come forth the Messiah for the entire world. This promise would cause Abraham to become the father of all the nations: a spiritual father to all of his spiritual children.

To misunderstand this passage is to misunderstand the rest of the word of God. Salvation is by faith. The covenant of God—the promises of God to redeem humanity—is all of God.

The best illustration of this truth is found in the persons of Abraham and Sarah. The Bible says that Abraham believed God and it was accounted on to him as righteousness. He demonstrates his condition of grace in bringing a child to Sarah when it was physically, biologically impossible for her to conceive. God showed his mercy through the very lives of the people who would be the mother and the father of a spiritual line of descendants who would be saved by God’s grace.

We must never believe that we have a standing with God because of anything other than God’s grace. That is the condition. Jesus Christ also testified to God’s grace in his right as Heir to the Promises for the Messiah. Not only was he born to the Virgin Mary, but he fulfilled the promises made to Abraham by his adoption through the spiritual line running through the genealogy of Joseph, not through any biological genealogy.[5] He came underneath the headship of his earthly vicarious father, Joseph, and inherited the promises of Abraham. God speaks ‘grace” through an exclamation mark in the birth of Jesus. For it points to the central theological truth in the Bible: salvation is all of grace. Each of us must understand that this is the condition that is present for our salvation.[6] It is God’s grace that allows the gospel to go forward to the ends of the world. It is God’s grace that will ultimately cause representatives from every tribe, tongue, and nation to gather before the throne of grace on that magnificent day when Christ hands the kingdom over to the Father that God might become all in all.[7]

The mode—the condition, the disposition, the environment—of realizing the promise of God is entirely of grace.

As impressive as this is, the apostle Paul shows us that God is glorified in world missions in this second theological truth:

  1. God is glorified in His Means: His gift of faith.

“He [Abraham] did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, being fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to perform” (VV. 20 – 22).

Paul is here speaking not only of believing God that he would bring forward a Son. Abraham believed by faith that God would make him a father of many nations though at the time Abraham was not a father at all.

I believe that this is one of the most critical theological revelations in all the Bible, in all human history: that we can believe against all signs otherwise that God will accomplish what God has set out and promised he would do.

There was an elder at one of my churches who had given his entire life to the cause of world missions. I remember he said to me one time, “I never worry about whether we would fail. The sovereignty of God guarantees the success of world missions. Therefore, I have never doubted that we would be successful in our work.”

God’s covenant guarantees that He will fill heaven with lost boys and girls. His promise guarantees that they will be given faith to believe and receive the righteousness of Christ covering them like a fine, white-linen garment. We are justified by this faith. Not only was my friend correct in his theological assessment of God’s revealed (mysterious) design to secure his own Promise, but he was also speaking for a profound Biblical truth that applies to each one of us.

Consider this case: All the empirical data says that you shouldn’t be saved. Your parents were not believers. You grew up in a home that, perhaps, even cynically blamed the church and blamed God for all that is wrong with the world. You went to university, and there you heard atheistic professors denying God and his creation. You lived a life as if there was no afterlife, no God, no judgment. But then someone told you about the reality of God, the fact of sinful humanity, that we are unable to save ourselves, and subject to the judgment of God. But this same God of justice is a God of love who sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world.[8] Jesus Christ gave his life, and you believed. This story of one person is in many ways the story of us all. The details change here and there, but the truth is that we are sinners in need of grace. We must have it. There is no other way. Eternal life is all to the glory and grace of God. This is the means that God chose to save the world: sovereignly granting faith to his people to believe despite the information which would seem to confound the promises of God. Faith is the gracious means through which we lay hold of the claims of God.

Have you laid claim on God’s covenant promises by faith? Certainly, you do not seek to compete for God’s glory by supposing that your good works will produce enough merit to win God’s approval? Or, that this merit could somehow overturn the curse of Eden in your blood? We can receive the gift only by faith. No other credit card works. Only the password that God gives will unlock eternal life: “Whoever believes in Me has eternal life” (John 6:47).

That leads to our final theological truth from Paul in this beautiful passage in the book of Romans.

  1. God is glorified in His Mediator: The Savior, Jesus Christ.

Paul concludes this section by writing:

“Now, it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, and was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (VV. 23-25).

The imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ is one of the most brilliant theological gems in all the Word of God.

I remember that I took a course in college called “Statistics without Tears.”[9] I took it because I am not naturally inclined to mathematics and statistics. I guess they knew: I can cry a river over the prospect of calculus and trigonometry. But I remember a precious lesson from that course: imputation is a mathematical term that speaks to the process of replacing missing data with substituted values.[10]  Imputation provides missing or, better, corrupted data, also, in our spiritual DNA. We are born sinners. Our sin condemns us. That is the condition of the world today: the world is lost in sin. Jesus says that the world is doomed and without Christ, men and women and boys and girls face an eternity without God. Jesus talked about hell more than he spoke about heaven. Christ taught that Hell a place of punishment, a place of dark and painful separation from life, on ending sorrow and yet never relief in that sorrow. However, those who are there continue to shake their fists at God even as they live eternity apart from Him. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to everyone who will rep3ent and believe in the resurrected and reigning Christ. The missing (better put, “the corrupted”) data is substituted with the data of heaven: the life and the blood of Jesus Christ.[11]

The condition or the mode of God’s covenant is grace. The means of receiving God’s promise is by faith. And the method by which we can enter this covenant promises through the life and the sacrificial death of God’s only begotten son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus, in this passage, we see that both Jew and Gentile, all people, must be saved through Jesus Christ alone. There is no other way to God but through Christ.

Have you received Jesus Christ into your heart? It is a matter of reaching out by faith and laying hold of that which is extended to you by grace: the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ which justifies us before Almighty God.

Conclusion

Billy Graham went from being a farm boy made to go to church and Sunday School at an ARP church in Charlotte to preach to the world. His body was casketed in repose in the United States Capitol.[12] As the president of the United States stated, “This is extremely rare.” This is sacred patriotic space where lay the bodies of presidents: Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan. The last civilian to be given that honor was the civil rights activist, Rosa Parks.[13] What is quite amazing in both cases is this: a tiny black lady from Tuskegee, Alabama and a farm boy from Charlotte, North Carolina lived simple lives, and they had a simple message. Their simple message was greater than themselves. And in both cases, they did not worry about who got the credit as long as the mission was accomplished. So, while Billy Graham recently has gone to be with the Lord, I could do no better than, to sum up, the message of Billy Graham in this passage:

God loves you. He sent His Son to die for you. Christ lived a perfect life for you. Christ died a sacrificial death for your sins. And Christ calls you today to turn from yourself, turn from the world, and turn to Him alone. Believe that He is God. That God raised Him from the dead and you will be saved.

Don’t wait any longer. Come. Believe the Gospel. Repent and receive the Promises of God by faith in Jesus Christ. And as we do, let us always let our testimonies become our worship. So, that in our own lives, God is glorified in His mission in the world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Heim, Erin M. Adoption in Galatians and Romans : Contemporary Metaphor Theories and the Pauline Huiothesia Metaphors. 2017.

Kennedy, D. James and Tom Stebbins. Evangelism Explosion : Equipping Churches for Friendship, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Healthy Growth. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996.

Milton, Michael A. What Is the Doctrine of Adoption? Basics of the Faith. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub., 2012.

Murray, John. The Imputation of Adam’s Sin. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co.

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1985.

Rowntree, Derek. Statistics without Tears: An Introduction for Non-Mathematicians. [S.l.]: Penguin Books, 1982.

[1] See “Reagan the Man,” The Reagan Foundation, accessed February 25, 2018, https://www.reaganfoundation.org/ronald-reagan/the-presidency/reagan-the-man/.

[2] See, e.g., Fritz Stern, Alistair Horne, and David Montgomery, “Monty, the Lonely Leader, 1944-1945: A Biography of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery,” Foreign Affairs 73, no. 6 (1994), doi:10.2307/20046970. See, also, Mark A. Stoler and G. E. Patrick Murray, “Eisenhower versus Montgomery: The Continuing Debate.,” The Journal of American History 84, no. 2 (1997), doi:10.2307/2952708.

[3] The best study on the covenantal scarlet thread revealed in Scripture remains, O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1985).

[4] “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

[5] See, e.g., Michael A. Milton, What Is the Doctrine of Adoption?, Basics of the Faith (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub., 2012).

[6] It is the Apostle Paul who introduces that which we observe as he uses the metaphor of adoption. See, e.g., Erin M. Heim, Adoption in Galatians and Romans : Contemporary Metaphor Theories and the Pauline Huiothesia Metaphors (2017).

[7] “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28 ESV).

[8] For a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I continued to recommend the classic, D. James Kennedy and Tom Stebbins, Evangelism Explosion : Equipping Churches for Friendship, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Healthy Growth (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996).

[9] Derek Rowntree, Statistics without Tears : An Introduction for Non-Mathematicians ([S.l.]: PENGUIN BOOKS, 1982).

[10] See, e.g., “Common Menu Bar Links,” Statistics: Power from Data! Imputation, July 27, 2012, accessed February 25, 2018, http://statcan.gc.ca/edu/power-pouvoir/ch3/imputation/5214784-eng.htm.

[11] For a thorough study of Biblical imputation see: John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co.).

[12] “Billy Graham’s Body to Lie in Honor in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Rotunda,” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, February 22, 2018, accessed February 25, 2018, https://billygraham.org/story/billy-grahams-body-to-lie-in-honor-in-washington-d-c-s-capitol-rotunda/.

[13] Tara Isabella Burton, “Billy Graham Will Be the First Civilian since Rosa Parks to Lie in Repose at the Capitol,” Vox, February 23, 2018, accessed February 25, 2018, https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/2/23/17042100/billy-graham-funeral-processional-capitol-lie-in-repose.