The God of Promise

The God of Promise

You’ll join me in prayer for the reading of God’s word. Blessed Lord, in your great and kind providence. All holy scriptures were written and preserved for our instruction. We ask that you would give us grace to hear them proclaim this day. That you would strengthen our souls with the fullness of their divine teaching.

That you would keep us from pride in your reverence. And that it would please you to guide us in the deep things of your heavenly wisdom. From your great mercy. That you would lead us by your word into everlasting life. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In his name we pray. Amen. Beginning in verse 13. For the promise to Abraham to 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 adherence 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 your offspring shall be. He did not weaken his faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead. Since he was about a hundred years old. We considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No one believed 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 is delivered up for our trespasses.

And raised for our justification, the word of the Lord.

If you get an email or a piece of mail that says you may have already won, you either immediately hit delete or just throw the letter in the trash because it’s spam or a scam. As a kid, though, I remember our family getting these in the mail. And they often said things like, you have already won. You’re a finalist in our $10 million giveaway. Of course, it was very exciting.

You’d open it up, and you follow all the instructions. You get the little gold sticker, and you stick it where it’s supposed to be and scratch off all the little gray boxes, and you put it all together, and it matched perfectly. My first thought was, we won. We won $10 million. And you double check it, make sure.

Yep, it’s all right there. But it was nothing more than an advertisement trying to sell you something. There was this page of information that required a magnifying glass to see, and then you found out we actually hadn’t won anything. If you sent in all of this, if certain conditions were met, if they drew your name, and then you could end up as a finalist with a chance to win, if they drew your name from that group, I got billion to one ods.

That is how many religions sound with salvation. If you meet these conditions, if you figure out all the hidden steps, you do it all right, then you have a chance. After all, God helps those who helps himself. And if you maintain this all the way to the end without messing it up, you might make it. But that’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus comes to you, and he hands you a check that’s drawn from his account. And because the Lord declares us righteous by faith in Christ alone, we can rest in the assurance of faith that Jesus has fulfilled all the conditions.

Now, you think, why would anyone not be thrilled with this? Because there are people who aren’t thrilled with this. Proud people, self righteous people. They don’t like to be humbled. If you want to claim to be in a better status, superior to someone else, makes you special in some way, then Paul is cutting you off at the knees.

Or if you were having a bad case of the poor knees, you might object to Paul elevating you to everybody else. It’s hard to maintain a victim status if you’re not a victim. Paul levels everyone. This is a great promise of God in Jesus that brings us all to the same place. For the Jews, Paul is saying, there’s nothing new here.

Everything in the law points to Jesus. And for the Gentile, Paul is telling them, you have a rich spiritual heritage in the same Jesus, there’s no difference between you two. And then he goes on to tell us how we secure God’s promises. Verse 13. For the promise to Abraham, his offspring, that he would be heir of the world, did not come through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Now, for all those who want to argue for a special land status for Israel, Paul upends things. He says, the promised land is the whole world. It has always been bigger than just one little nation in one little spot on the planet. Jesus told his disciples, go into all the world baptizing them, making disciples of them. What role that geographical land may play in God’s mapping history, who knows?

But God’s promise was never just about a piece of land the size of New Jersey. God had always had the whole world in mind. Notice again how Paul stresses the promise does not come through keeping the law, but through faith. Verse 13. Righteousness of faith.

It’s shorthand for the righteousness that’s credited by God to those who receive it by faith. Receive it by faith. For if the adherence of the law, who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void, why? Because nobody keeps the law, he says, for the law brings wrath. Notice what he says next.

But where there is no law, there’s no transgression. And that word transgression is a technical word. Transgression is a violation of the law, not sin in general, but breaking specific laws. Paul’s not saying there’s no sin without the law. He’s saying the law gives us specific information about sin.

If you’re driving your car and you happen to miss the change in the speed limit, you will still get a ticket. Ignorance is no excuse of the law. However, if you see the sign and you go merrily on your way, indifferent to it, you’re now breaking the law intentionally.

And Paul is saying the law is good and right. It tells us what God’s intention for us are to be. It tells us not to swim in dangerous water. That’s its job. But it’s not the lifeguard.

Paul is telling Jesus especially that when you mistake the no swim sign for the lifeguard, the sign is worthless to you. The promise is the lifeguard, and that depends on God, not our ability to meet certain conditions. Why? Because we can’t even meet the smallest of the conditions. He goes on to say in verse 16.

That’s why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all of his offspring, not only to the adherent of the law, jewish Christians, but also to the ones who share the faith of Abraham, Gentile Christians. As is written, I’ve made you the father of many nations. We are a part of this promise because it’s fulfilled by the faithfulness of Jesus. Jews and Gentiles both enjoy this fulfillment together in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Abraham took God at his word even though he was 99 and Sarah was 90, the same God who made up all things from nothing, creation, X Nihalo, Latin for out of nothing, could also provide children as countless of the stars of the sky, out of what seems to be nothing.

And Paul is answering the question, how are we to be one family of both Jews and Gentiles, believers in Christ? He’s saying, only if we share the same space by faith, not by the law. And this is good news for the Jews. They’re not getting in because they somehow did a better job of putting the stickers and stamps together to win the prize. They failed miserably.

They just had a better understanding of how they failed, which is not a bad thing.

But both Jews and gentiles needed a way forward that neither could provide. One Old Testament New Testament scholar puts it this way. He says, God’s laws make demands which we transgress, and so we incur wrath. God’s grace makes promises which we believe, and so we receive blessing. Paul goes on to tell us in two corinthians five, he says, for our sake, he, Jesus.

God made him Jesus to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. It’s for our sake. Jesus became a sin offering so that we could become the righteousness of God. The fulfillment has to come by the righteousness of faith. Jesus fulfills the man.

His righteousness is credited to us. He secures the promises of God. Why does it matter? Because that’s also the foundation of our hope. Our hope springs from God’s promises.

How can I be sure that my sin is covered by God? How can I know that he won’t hold it against me later? Because my hope in God’s promises springs from what Jesus has already secured. Colossians two, and you who were dead in your trespasses, God made alive, together with Jesus having forgiven us all of our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with all of its legal demands, he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He’s taking care of it.

When you sit there and you wonder, where can I go with my shame and my guilt, with the things in my life that I don’t want anyone else to know about, I can go to Jesus. He’s nailed it to his cross.

Paul goes on. He says, in hope, Abraham believed against tope, that he should become the father of many nations. As he’d 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, or when he considered the bareness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God.

But he grew strong in his faith, and he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. Paul has already laid out how fallen humanity has ignored God, the creator. Abraham believed God, that he could create life even from that which is barren. Fallen humanity knew about God, refused to worship. Abraham knew about God, and he trusted in him.

Fallen humanity refused to give glory to God. But Abraham gave glory to God. Through Abraham came the promise. Because he was obedient, because he was so stellar. No, Genesis twelve is God who came first to Abraham.

God comes to him and says, go from your country, your kindred, your father’s house, to the land I will show you, and I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. That was all God’s doing. Abraham’s life of faith was like yours and mine, mixed at best. He heard this great promise, and he and Sarah went out and they bought a crib.

But as time went by, his hope wavered, and he tried to get the promise jump started another way. He took Sarah’s maid, hagar, and together they had Ishmael, his other son. And that failed in a rather large way. God had to bail him out. And along the route, twice, Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife.

He said, she’s my sister, because he was afraid that that would put him at personal risk, even while it put his wife at personal risk. He also put the promise of God at great risk, and God had to bail him out. And later, when the Lord appears to Abraham and he’s saying the fulfillment is just around the corner, Sarah heard this and she laughed. The thought of having a child at this old age, and then when she was confronted with it, she lied to the angel of the Lord about it. God had to bail her out.

Paul is giving us a very generous account of Abraham and Sarah. Why, he certainly knows all of this, because he serves a very, very generous God. And Paul, of all people, knew this from his own life. And he goes on, verse 22. This 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.

Justification? We have been declared righteous. We have been credited with the righteousness of Christ. Jesus has met the conditions. Jesus has done what we could not.

And now my sanctification, my becoming more holy, my growing in the knowledge of Christ, it does not change my justification. It flows out of it. You see, this is so important to get because there’s no. You may already be a winner. You may be a finalist.

No, the Bible’s very clear. We are sinners. We are losers, not winners. And Jesus comes with a check in hand that’s drawn on his account. He comes to the father, and he places it before the justice of God.

He says, paid in full. And whatever I do from this decree forward, nothing changes my status. Why? Because it’s not about what I do. It’s about what Christ has already done.

You see, a woman is not more pregnant in the third trimester than she is in the first. Bigger, more visible, a more developed child, to be sure. But it’s the same pregnant. That’s justification. We are declared to be in right standing with God because of Jesus.

It’s not based on how I feel at the moment. It’s not based on how big or small my sins are. It’s not based on how long and how hard I feel bad about them, of what I’ve done. It’s based entirely on what Jesus has done, what he has accomplished. Now, what happens immediately when you start to grasp what’s being said here?

Wait a minute, Paul. People will abuse this. Isn’t this kind of like telling someone what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Someone can go there and sleep with whoever they want and come back and say, my marriage status hasn’t changed because it’s not based on what I do. Or, as they did, tell Paul we should just sin.

So that makes grace more abounding. And Paul’s response is, no. If this is your attitude, you don’t understand what I’m saying to you. When you have been set free, when your sins have been forgiven, you receive the love of God in Christ Jesus. Vegas looks very dim and dingy.

You don’t find the love of your life and think you can sleep with whoever you want, and it won’t matter. They’re not going to look you in the eye and go, I love you, and I’m okay with you being unfaithful. This isn’t some pretty woman movie script where, well, as long as you don’t kiss her or be emotionally attached to her, it’s okay. No, it’s wrong. And yet, if you have been unfaithful to someone, if you have been unfaithful to the Lord, you’re sitting in shame and guilt.

And the truth is, we still have forgiveness in Jesus. That’s the good news. Don’t cheapen his grace by thinking you’re too dirty to deserve it. You don’t deserve it. Nobody does.

And don’t cheapen his grace by trying to become super spiritual and show that you’re better than everyone else, that you figured it out more. Your sanctification does not improve your justification. You come under his grace only through the finished work of Jesus Christ. What gives us assurance is that Jesus has secured the promise, and our hope springs from that. I’ve mentioned this before.

A pastor I had, he used to be a minister, a college minister down south. And on campus there was this great football jock that was. Everybody knew, and he was the big man on campus. And this led just a terrible life. And he came to faith and his life changed.

But one night he fell into gross sin, and he called a pastor, and he was just in tears, like, I’m no different. I’m still doing the same things that I did before. What’s wrong with me? And he was reminded, would you have cared before? Would you even thought about it as wrong?

No. In fact, he would have taken great pride in another conquest scored. And now he was cut to the heart. Because Jesus transforms us. We now care because his spirit’s residing in us, calling us to a life of holiness.

You see, sin can cause our assurance to waver, to be shaken, to be diminished. Yes, but for the believer, it’s never truly, utterly destitute of a life of faith because it’s not about us. It’s about what God has done in us. And that enables us then to be able to go to anyone and not look down on them, not despise them somehow. We’re better than you.

You’re a terrible person. Can’t you just get your act together? Because you’re like, I’m not better than you. I’m only here because of what Jesus has done.

It puts us all in the same place. And there’s no self loathing and wallowing in, oh, poor me, I’m just a terrible, terrible person. And how could Jesus love me? No, your unrighteousness is covered by Jesus. When you believe in him, it covers both things.

And there’s this idea, and people say well, if people start understanding this, they’re going to abuse it. If they really realize how free they are in Christ, they’re just going to do things they shouldn’t.

The reality is, if you understand this, you’re not going to want to. And when you do, if that happens, you’re cut to the heart because of the joy and the gratitude that flows out of what he has done. I’m not bound and stuck in the bondage of my sin. He has freed me from that, and I can rejoice in that. I don’t have to go back and wallow in it.

That’s the good news of Jesus. He has met all the conditions. He comes with the guaranteed check. There’s no fine print saying you may possibly win. If in that, and whatever it’s done, it’s accomplished, it’s finished.

And as we walk in that, flowing from that is a desire to grow in Christ’s likeness and in love for other people that makes me now want to reach out and care for them and to love them and to come alongside them. I don’t have to be defensive. I don’t have to be put off by their sinfulness, because I know that the righteousness of Christ is more than sufficient to cover it as well, because he did mine. Pray with me. Father, we do thank you.

We thank you, Father, that you have granted us such a blessing through faith. And father, we pray and ask that you would help us more and more to respond in such gratitude in our hearts. Lord, help us to see beyond what’s in front of us, to the majesty and the glory of Jesus. And Father, we pray and ask as well that this humility that the gospel brings, that we would freely walk in, Father, that in doing so, others would have the aroma of Christ around them because of our lives. And to be able to see the magnificence of your son.

And Lord, we pray that you would continue, Father, through your church, through us, to bring the good news of Jesus to a world in such desperate need. We pray and ask this all in his name. Amen. Please stand.

Discaimer: This sermon text was generated by an automated transcription service.