Chapter 5: Transformed by Faith

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 (NKJV)

Opening prayer: Father, I want to spend eternity with You, in Your presence. Help me understand how to be sure of my salvation and walk in faith, I pray.

Be Sure of Your Salvation

This chapter is about the ultimate "backwards" exercise: faith. Faith is completely contrary to human logic. Faith is putting complete confidence in the promises of an invisible God, despite the evidence of our worldly circumstances.

Faith is not a one-time backwards act. Faith is a lifelong process of trusting the promises of Scripture because we trust the One who makes the promises.

Faith is the process of following and trusting Jesus on the narrow path to Heaven. Faith calls us to distrust the pleas and taunts of folks on the well-worn path to destruction.

Faith is the backwards process of finding life through the merits of Jesus' death on the cross. Faith calls us to life by sending our fleshly lusts to the cross, despite their piteous cries for attention.

Faith enables us to find joy in the midst of hardship.

Faith sometimes requires heroic works, but the works themselves don't save us. To emphasize that point, let's look at Romans chapter 4, verses 1-3:

1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (NKJV)

When I was a little kid hearing Bible stories, guys like Abraham and David seemed like Supermen. They did lots of good deeds. But verses 1-3 make it clear that Abraham's good deeds didn't save him. Notice that "Abraham believed God ..." (he acted in faith on what God said) "...and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

The word accounted translates a Greek business term logizomai, meaning to assign something (e.g. a payment or bonus or dividend) to somebody's account. Abraham didn't earn Heaven by attending 400 consecutive synagogue sessions, or reciting Torah verses, or by sacrificing oxen and sheep. Abraham pleased God by acting in faith on God's promise. As a result, God wrote "Paid in Full" on Abraham's ticket to Heaven.

We continue in Romans 4 with verses 4-8:

4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin." (NKJV)

According to verse 4, if we were capable of earning salvation by our works, then God would owe us something for doing all that religious stuff down here. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how invested you are in religious stuff), God doesn't count our works. He counts our faith.

Note that in verse 5 we get the really Good News: "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."

Why does Paul keep repeating himself?

In Paul's day, most people didn't understand the concept of salvation by grace, bestowed freely on those who have faith. They still don't. For the first 30 years of my life, I never heard of the concept until I encountered the joyful people.

Even then, I fought the concept because it seemed so backwards. Could grace possibly be the secret of eternal life and durable joy? If so, why weren't more pastors preaching this?

It took several months of studying Scripture, but after reading and re-reading the book of Romans, I was convinced.

Now verses 9-10 of Romans chapter 4:

9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. (NKJV)

Let's pause for a second and let this point sink in. Abraham obeyed God in faith as a lifelong pattern. But his salvation was assured when he began acting in faith.

Are you ready for a lesson on Bible jargon? Our term for today is "the circumcision." In the Bible, it refers to the practice of the Law of Moses, symbolized by the mark of the circumcision on Hebrew men. Abraham underwent circumcision as an act of faith that God was able to keep His promise. The circumcision was the outward sign of Abraham's inward faith.

Circumcision did not save Abraham, any more than baptism can save you or your children. As we see in verses 11-12 of Romans 4, the circumcision was merely an outward affirmation of his faith:

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. (NKJV)

Remember the context. Paul's times were just like ours. Most of the pastors (rabbis) were infatuated by all the rules and regulations of the Law, rather than by God's call to faith. Then, as now, pastors (rabbis) found it easier to preach about sin rather than teach about faith. They trusted in their observance of the Law to earn them Heaven. God surely owed them an eternal debt of gratitude for all their tithes and all those Passover observances.

Paul had a notable religious career as a zealot for the circumcision. God personally ended Paul's religious career, and explained the way of salvation more clearly (see Acts, chapter 9). Paul thought he was perfectly righteous - until God struck him down. And Paul was fortunate that God didn't strike him dead.

How Good are You?

What God showed Paul is that nobody is good enough.

Jesus astounded His disciples by saying that "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 5:20) If those guys (advocates of the circumcision) weren't able to do enough good works, take a hint. Neither can we. Neither could Abraham, nor Paul.

Moving on to verses 13-16 of Romans 4:

13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, 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 us all. (NKJV)

To reinforce his earlier points, Paul repeats that the Law was given to the nation Israel after Abraham exercised faith in God's promises. That makes it clear that the promises derive from faith in God rather than from faith in the Law (i.e. in our own goodness and works).

To finish Romans chapter 4, let's read verses 17-25:

17 (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed - God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." 23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. (NKJV)

The story of Abraham is pretty remarkable. How many men would have the faith to undergo a painful surgery, at age 99, on the promise of having a natural son through a known-infertile 89-year-old woman?

Verses 19-21 are astonishing. Abraham did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief. He had faith. He gave glory to God. He was fully convinced that God was completely able and willing to keep His extravagant promises.

God counted that faith as righteousness. And - wonder of wonders - we can put our faith in the perfect work of Jesus and gain the same benefits of righteousness by faith.

God grits His teeth at my shortcomings, but He honors my faith. And He'll honor yours. Salvation by faith is the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. We realize that we can be sure of our salvation, because it doesn't depend on our merits. Amazingly enough, there's even more good stuff involved than inheriting Heaven at some unspecified future date. There are great benefits available now to believers.

In Romans chapter 5, verses 1-4, Paul explains some of these benefits:

1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. (NKJV)

This is really great stuff:

So why does Paul start talking about tribulation in verse 3? Isn't that the Bible word for trouble? How can Paul say we "glory in tribulations?"

Faith: The Secret of Durable Joy

Tribulation tests the genuineness of our faith and our joy. Furthermore, tribulation can even cause our joy to increase.

When we respond to hardship by trusting in God and praising Him, God strengthens our character. He builds endurance and hope and joy in our hearts. Nothing can shake our confidence in the faithfulness and integrity of our God. Therefore nothing can shake our confidence in our hope of eternal glory.

Now verses 5-8 of Romans 5, one of the most amazing passages in the Bible:

5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NKJV)

Think about it. Now that you've begun trusting in the completed work of Christ, you've become a new person. God has actually begun changing your crusty old heart into something resembling His own. Most days, you're a decent person. In fact, you've been really good for several hours now.

But Jesus didn't die for you a few hours ago. He died for you before you permitted the Holy Spirit to begin cleaning you up. Jesus died for the prisoner on Death Row, centuries before that prisoner repented of his sins.

Jesus died for the Apostle Paul, who wrote this epistle, while he was still known as Saul. Furthermore, Jesus not only forgave Saul for persecuting (murdering) His disciples, He permitted Saul/Paul to have an effective ministry that still benefits us today.

That type of love is too much for me to grasp. I'd be willing to lay down my life for my children, and you'd do the same for yours. But would I sacrifice my life to save a hardened murderer like Osama bin Laden or Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler? You probably wouldn't either.

Jesus willingly laid down His life for every sinner on earth, and thereby suffered the most painful death ever experienced.

Once this concept becomes real to you, you will never again doubt the character and faithfulness of God. Once you realize how God Himself suffered - for you - you will never again begin a sentence, "How could a good God..." Once you really grasp the awesome span of God's love, you'll never again doubt a single word of Scripture.

Verses 9-11 of Romans 5 return to the subject of assurance of salvation:

9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (NKJV)

Face it: while you were still trying to earn your salvation, you were an enemy of God. You didn't feel like His enemy, but you were still in rebellion against His plan and His Son. Remember your attitude toward "those born-again religious" folk? Now you realize the cold fact: you were the religious one.

By repenting of your religious works and trusting in the merits of Jesus' perfect sacrifice, you became reconciled with God and set free from bondage to man-made religions.

Why am I making such a big deal of this? Because your salvation was and is a miracle. Being reconciled to God was impossible for the person that you formerly were. You were determined to do things your own way. Now, through your faith, you have become reconciled to God's way. You can be sure of your salvation.

Only true Christianity can promise you assurance of salvation. Only true Christianity bases your salvation on faith, rather than your religious performance or your feelings about your religious performance.

What must we do to stay saved?

The rules don't change after we come to Jesus. Faith in Him is all that can save us. Faith in His completed sacrifice is all that can keep us saved. Some religions teach that you can lose your salvation at any time by committing certain sins. They (conveniently) also teach that you can regain your salvation by performing certain religious rituals. But these doctrines put too much reliance on the works of men and distract attention away from the completed work of Jesus.

Paul had strong words for the church in Galatia, where false teachers insisted that Christians must observe the Law of Moses in order to be saved. In Galatians 3, verses 1-3 we read:

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (NKJV)

In a future chapter on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, we will see that God expects us to walk in our faith. If we walk with Him in faith, abiding in Jesus, allowing His Holy Spirit to change our hearts, our lives will bear fruit. We can truly experience His joy and peace in the midst of this world's turmoil and sorrow. We can have a personal relationship with the God of the universe, and walk in the assurance of our salvation.

What if I commit a really bad sin?

Scripture makes it clear that your faith, not your works, will determine your eternal destiny. Jesus already paid the price for you and every other person on earth. Nothing you can do can improve on the merits of His sacrifice or lessen its effectiveness.

Sin, however, can hinder your relationship with God and make it harder to hear His sweet voice in your prayers. Sin can steal your joy.

If you commit sin, confess it to God and restore your fellowship. Remember the promise in the first epistle of John, chapter 1, verse 9:

9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The Christian's Bar of Soap

Sin can stain and harm you. Confessing your sin to God has two wonderful benefits:

You can be sure of your salvation as long as you're trusting in Jesus and not in your own good works. Now that you're saved, you can concentrate on pleasing Him by walking in faith. You don't need to fret about your future. Just follow Jesus.

The book of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus' redemptive work on your behalf is completely finished, as we see in chapter 7, verses 24-27:

24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (NKJV)

That is the Lord that I serve. Jesus loved me enough to pay a terrible price for my salvation. I can trust a Lord like Him more than I can trust my own works.

Closing Prayer: Lord, thank You for paying such a price to save a religious fool like me. Lord, I put my trust completely in the merits of Your perfect sacrifice. Thank You for cleansing me, reconciling me and giving me assurance of my eternal future. Amen.
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Copyright 2010 John Sears
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