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By Faith in Christ We Stand

Sermon 1846 Romans 4.1-5, 13-17 March 5, 2023

So much of the news today is tied up with legal issues. Big cases go before the federal courts or make it to the Supreme Court. I would imagine there is at least one case in Nevada where the Review-Journal will try to take a case all the way to the Supreme Court—can the authorities access a journalist’s files when he is dead? Does the First Amendment protect a dead reporter’s sources? That will be interesting.

But I’ve noticed a lot of cases get thrown out without a hearing. There seem to be two reasons. First, you can’t be guilty and win your case. I mean, if I am driving my car while intoxicated, I can’t sue the city for not having three foot bumper pads barriers at every intersection. I should not have been drunk behind the wheel. The second is I have to have standing to have my case heard. In other words, I must have suffered some wrong. Living in Nevada, I cannot sue an oil company for a spill from a pipeline in Nebraska. It does not concern me. I have no dog in that fight. I have no standing. My case, if it comes before a court, will be thrown out. Since none of the lawyers among us today have stood up and shouted, “Objection!” I assume I have gotten that straight.

Now, here is where it applies to all of us. We’ve got a case before God. Will we get to heaven? Some very bad things have happened. Promises have been made long ago. Are they still valid?

By Faith in Christ We Stand

1. Not guilty (1-5)

2. Claimants (13-17).

Don’t look at me like I’m your defense attorney. Let the Apostle Paul handle the case. He’s the legal sharpie.

“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness (1-5).”

By faith in Christ we stand. Are we guilty of sin? Are we on the wrong side of the law? If we are, we are going to be bounced from the courtroom and thrown into jail!

I can already feel the leg irons around my ankles if we are expecting to have a hearing in court on the basis of what we have done. Paul as much says we are wicked. We trust “God who justifies the wicked.” If we did everything God had told us to do, never sinned once, always did the good we could have to the fullest of our ability, we would have bragging rights among men—the slackers, the sinners!—but not before God. We were simply doing what we should have been doing. But that’s the point. We weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing. Neither was Abraham. By faith in Christ he stood before God.

God came to him and made a promise. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Abraham believed that promise. He moved to Canaan, the Promised Land. Later God repeated the promise. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. God took the faith of Abraham and treated Abraham as though he were righteous, that is, not guilty of sin, right in the eyes of the Lord.

How did Abraham walk out of that spiritual courtroom with his head held high? Was it through what he had done? No! It was because he believed in God who declared him not guilty of sin through Abraham’s faith in that future Savior, Jesus Christ!

Paul sets forth two pieces of evidence. You don’t credit someone something if they have earned it. You owe it to them. It is not a gift. The worst bosses in the world treat payday like it is Christmas and they are giving you a big gift. You worked hard for that paycheck and they better recognize it is the least they owe you. The second piece of evidence is Paul’s mention of trust in a God who justifies the wicked. That really shows we don’t get this “not guilty” verdict from God on the basis of what we do. We are wicked. Yet God declares us “not guilty,” not by our deeds, but because of our faith in Christ.

In the same way we stand before God by faith in Jesus Christ. Though our conscience troubles us, though the devil screams in our face the list of our misdeeds, our God declares us “not guilty.” By faith in Christ we stand.

Good. We’re not guilty. We can have a hearing in the courtroom. But do we have standing? Do we have a dog in the fight? I’ve never ordered that 23 and Me test to find out my background. German mutt. Hungarian mutt. Norwegian mutt. Mutt mutt. But I’m pretty sure a descendant of Abraham through the flesh I ain’t. But my defense attorney, Paul, is at it again.

“It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 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 (13-17).”

Abraham received the promise of eternal life through faith. He would be the heir of heaven, the new earth, the heavenly Jerusalem. By faith the promise was made to Abraham, not by works, not by human effort or merit or worthiness. So those who were from the blood of Abraham were claimants of the promise by faith also. They couldn’t acquire that inheritance of heaven by works. If they tried by works they would only get ticked off at God, like a child who can never please their parents. “If they think I’m bad, I’ll really show them what bad is!” The law produces wrath, our anger towards God and God’s anger towards us. That’s not the way to have standing before the court.

We are claimants who have standing before the court. By faith we get a piece of the pie. We get a share in the Promise God made to Abraham by faith. It is a free gift—by grace. It is an agreement with all who believe what Abraham believed. Abraham believed God’s promise that through his family tree God would bring the Savior from sin into the world. Through that Savior Abraham, as inconsequential a man as he was in the overall scheme of things, would live in heaven forever with God. We believe God fulfilled his promise and sent the Savior from sin into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, a descendant of Abraham. If it weren’t for the utility bills and the Social Security card we would have trouble proving who we were. But even us nobodies will live with God in heaven. By faith in Christ we stand.

But we’re not Jewish! You don’t have to be. God made mention of that, too. God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. He was the father to the Jew who lived under the guardianship of those Old Testament laws and he was the father of the Gentiles who believed the same thing he believed, that for the sake of the Savior God forgave our sins and promised us an inheritance in heaven. God has done it all. There is nothing for us to do. Since it is based on God’s promise and not our performance, it is guaranteed. No one can break that contract. The parties have gathered. The will has been read. We are included in it. We are heirs. We get our inheritance. We don’t have to do anything to receive it. We can’t do anything to receive it. It is guaranteed to us.

By Faith in Christ We Stand

1. Not guilty (1-5)

2. Claimants (13-17).

The judge renders his decree. He declares we are not guilty of mayhem. He rules we have standing in the eyes of the court. We are awarded the claim. We walk out of that courtroom into the bright light of a Christian life. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of who our God is. Not because of who are, but because of what our God has done for us. And since the Lord is the highest court there is, the judge of all the world, the judge of the living and the dead, there are no appeals. Take what we have been awarded. Our case has stood up in court.

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