Main Idea: Salvation is a gift. 100%.
Is anyone here from the South, like Georgia or South Carolina? That area? Any of you have family that live in the South? So, those of you who know, what does “bless your heart” mean? Yeah, it kind of means you’re an idiot, right?
I read about a foreign exchange student from Korea who stayed with a family in the South for 2 years while in high school. It was challenging for him to learn English, but Southern idioms were the hardest. A day or two before he returned home to Korea after graduating, his Southern host family went through a list of Southern idioms to see what he had learned. This was about the same time that Tiger Woods was in the news for his infidelity. So to show how well he knew his Southern idioms, the foreign exchange student said about Tiger Woods, “Yep, that boy done did it and stepped in it. His life is going to be rougher than a cob. Mm. Bless his heart!”
It’s funny sometimes how we use that word “bless.” When asked how we’re doing, sometimes we say, “I’m blessed.” Have you ever said that? Or maybe you’ve heard others say that? What we mean is, even though I’m not happy at this moment because of circumstances or whatever, I know I have lots of reasons I should be happy, so I’ll just say, “I’m blessed.” Have you ever done that?
That’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Because when the Bible uses the word “blessed,” it can literally be translated “happy.” So it’s kind of weird that we use the word “blessed” to say that we’re not really happy, but we know we should be.
So how can we be truly happy? One way to answer that question is found in the old hymn, “Trust and Obey.” Sing it with me.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey
And that’s true. To be happy in Jesus, you need to trust Him, having faith, and you need to obey Him, having works. And if you listen to the rest of the song, I think what it’s really saying is that obeying Jesus comes as a natural result of trusting Jesus, and that both of these are actually a result of being happy in Jesus. In other words, when you see that Jesus is good and trustworthy, you’ll be so happy in Him that you’ll gladly trust and obey.
To see that from Scripture this morning, we’re going to look at Romans 4:1-8.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)
Father, help us not just to know that we should be happy, but to actually be happy in Jesus. Help us to see Your goodness and grace toward us so that we would say that we are truly blessed. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
George William Knight was a preacher and professor who died this past week at the age of 89. He was born in Florida and died in North Carolina, so it’s quite possible that he said the Southern phrase “bless your heart” a few times.
Well, we don’t know if he said that, but we do know that he said this:
When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award–yet receives such a gift anyway–that is a good picture of God’s unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God. -George W. Knight
George Knight was exactly right. Grace is only grace when it’s completely undeserved.
Even though Christianity has been around for nearly 2,000 years now, and we’ve had the Bible for almost as long, it’s crazy to me that so many confessing Christians still misunderstand grace. I mean, this is basically why we have so many divisions in what we call Christianity. Most of it comes down to how serious we take the Bible when it talks about grace.
We saw last week that even though God’s wrath is rightly shown to all people because all have sinned, God’s righteousness is also for all people because salvation isn’t doesn’t come through works, but by grace through faith. There’s only one God, and He is the God of both the Jews and the Gentiles, that’s all people. So, whether Jew or Gentile, all can be made righteous by God through faith in Jesus.
But a lot of the people that Paul was writing to didn’t understand how all that worked. I mean, people today still don’t understand how this works. I certainly don’t understand how all of it works, because we’re talking about the plan of God, whose ways are always higher and better than ours. But as much as we might have questions about it today, it was even more confusing back then as they were dealing with the transition from the Old Covenant of the law, to the New Covenant of grace.
You see, the Jews always considered themselves as God’s chosen people, and they looked to Abraham as the father of their Jewish faith, since God called him specifically out of all the people of the world. So if we’re saying now that both Jews and Gentiles are being called out to be God’s people, then what was so special about the calling of Abraham? Well, actually, a lot. Verse 1.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:1-3)
So according to our text this morning, Abraham is special for at least two reasons. First, he was the forefather of the Jews according to the flesh. All of the Jews, if they are Jewish by blood, can trace their ancestry back to Abraham. This is significant for a few reasons, but primarily because God is faithful to His promises. God promised that Abraham’s family would be blessed and would be a blessing to all the world. That’s hugely important!
The second reason that Abraham is special is because he was the perfect example of how God calls people, even today. When God called Abraham, it wasn’t because Abraham had done a bunch of good things. It wasn’t because Abraham was already righteous. No, it says that Abraham wasn’t justified by works so that he had nothing to boast about! Abraham was called out simply by God’s goodness and grace, and Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.
You see, salvation is a gift. 100%.
I want to find the least deserving person here this morning. Who here is the least deserving person?
[Pastor Chris gives them a gift]
Did you do anything to deserve this? Did you earn it in any way? If you did anything to earn it, what would it be? It would be payment, or a wage. But since you didn’t do anything to earn it, what is it? Right. It’s a gift.
If we think that it’s anything other than a gift, that we have to do anything to earn it, we don’t understand salvation. Salvation is completely what God does, and not at all what we do. We’re made righteous not by what we do, but by what God did for us.
Here’s the thing. Jesus went to the cross to pay the price for the sins of the world! He died on our behalf, because God knew we couldn’t earn our way to heaven.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:48:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
That’s the standard for entering heaven. Most people seem to think that they can go to heaven for generally being good people who do more good than bad. But if God allowed us to heaven like that, heaven would no longer be perfect. We need to not just be kind of good, but absolutely righteous. That’s the standard.
But even along those lines, even if we thought it only took being generally good, the Bible addresses that, too. Jesus said that no one is good but God alone. And we saw the same thing in Romans 3, which was quoting Psalm 14. It says:
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)
So for us to think that we could somehow do something, anything, to make ourselves righteous is to call God a liar. It’s to tell God that Jesus didn’t really need to go to the cross for us because we think we’re good enough. No, in order to receive salvation from God, we need to recognize that it’s completely His gift to us that we did not earn in the slightest.
Notice even further from our text this morning that faith itself isn’t even what makes us righteous either. When we have faith, it doesn’t make us righteous; God counts it to us as righteousness. There’s a subtle difference, but I think it’s important. If faith literally made us righteous, we could boast in ourselves. We could say, “Look at me. I have faith. The difference between me and an unbeliever is that I have faith, and they don’t. So therefore I have salvation, because I’m smart enough to have faith, and those idiots don’t. Bless their hearts.”
Do you see how dangerous that is? If we think we’re saved because of our superior faith, all of a sudden, we’ve turned faith into a work which we must do in order to earn heaven. But that’s not what Scripture teaches. Faith isn’t something we do, but something God does in us. Look at verses 4 and 5.
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5)
Notice how God is described in verse 5. God is described as “Him who justifies the ungodly.” Do you usually think about God like that? Or do you think that God only justifies the godly? Do you think that you need to clean yourself up first so that you can start going to church, so that you can get baptized, so that God will accept you? Or, do you recognize that God saves you just as you are, before you had a chance to do anything good for Him?
That word “justified” is one of those church words that we can get confused about sometimes. But I love the simple explanation of it that I heard years ago that sounds like the English word itself. The word “justified” simply means “just as if I’d never sinned.” So when God justifies the ungodly, when God justifies you, He sees you as if you’d never sinned. He makes you righteous, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of what Jesus did for you.
Along the same lines, it’s interesting that in the fruit of the Spirit, the word translated “faithfulness” is far more often just translated “faith.” Galatians 5:22-23.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)
About a dozen translations of the Bible, such as the Young’s Literal Translation, the Bible in Basic English, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and even the King James Version to name a few read something like this:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a, HCSB)
And I think that’s a more literal translation of the text. Because even in most of the Bible versions that translate it “faithfulness,” it’s often the only time that word is translated “faithfulness” in all of the rest of the Bible. All of the other times that word is found in almost all of those translations, it’s simply translated “faith.” The fruit of the Spirit is faith.
Now I know that complicates things because we can only receive the Holy Spirit once we come to faith in Jesus, but I’m okay with the idea that God’s thoughts are deeper than my thoughts, and I can’t figure all this out.
All I’m saying is this: faith is not a work. If faith were a work, then we’d see salvation as the wages of our faith, like we earned it in some way. But faith is not a work; it’s a gift from God. And when God does that in us, God counts Jesus’s righteousness as our own.
Paul gives an illustration of this from David. Verse 6.
just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:6-8)
Trevor read this from the Psalms earlier. But the translation I gave him to read, the Christian Standard Bible, made it even more clear what’s going on here. Instead of “blessed are those,” Trevor read from Psalm 32:
How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How joyful is a person whom the Lord does not charge with iniquity. (Psalm 32:1-2a, CSB)
You see, happiness, joyfulness, being blessed by God comes from having faith in the God who forgives the ungodly.
We’re happy because Jesus has forgiven our sins. We’re not happy because we earned it, but because Jesus earned it for us. Salvation is a gift. 100%.
In talking this way about “blessed” meaning “happy,” I don’t at all want to imply that there aren’t also sad times in our lives when we don’t feel very happy. But even then, we can have a deep and lasting joy in Jesus that sustains us in our darkest times.
Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009. He and his wife, Abby, have four children. Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)