Second, once we turn away from ourselves in repentance, we turn toward Jesus Christ in faith. To hammer this point home about faith, I want to read some verses from Romans 3-4.
Rom 3 – 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
There are two kinds of righteousness. A righteousness that comes from following the law and this requires a great amount of moral effort and commitment and rituals and regular practices. But Rom 3 speaks of a second kind of righteousness and this was not something we can figure out on our own. That is why it says that this kind of righteousness had to be made known to us or revealed by God. And this righteousness is not the kind you get by observing laws, but you get through faith. And this is the same phrase used in Rom 1.
Romans 1 – 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
From first to last, this righteousness comes through faith. And this is not a one-time event, but the righteous will LIVE, day by day, living by faith.
So what does this faith refer to?
Rom 4 – 13 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.
Then, jumping down to v16 —
Rom 4 – 16 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.
The righteousness through faith has nothing to do with whether or not you are Abraham’s offspring. In other words, it has nothing to do with race, or heritage or tradition. You are not born into Christianity — just because your parents are Christian does not automatically make you a Christian. Also, this righteousness through faith involves a promise and we read about the promise in v18 —
Rom 4 – 18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
It is easy take a chapter like this out of context and simply talk about faith as being courageous or having an unwavering belief in God’s promise. But we mustn’t miss the fact that Paul inserted this illustration to demonstrate some aspect of the gospel. In Abraham’s case, he had faith that although he was old and his body was as good as dead and his wife Sarah was old and her womb was as good as dead, he still had faith that God would give him a son like he had promised. And because he had this faith, God credited Abraham with righteousness.
Think about it — Abraham was about 100 years old and Sarah was 90 years old and God had promised a child. Abraham was in an impossible situation, yet he believed, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness. Likewise, we who are sinners are in an impossible situation. I have sin and here is a promise that through faith in Christ, I can be forgiven and cleansed. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I can’t earn it, I can’t follow some law. There is nothing but a promise of another son, Jesus Christ and that through him, I can be made righteous.
For Abraham, he had to believe and then just wait for God to make good on his promise to grant a son. And relating this to our salvation and the gospel, I think for sinful people, something about completely relying upon someone else, even if that someone else is Jesus Christ, relying on anyone else 100% for everything just rubs us the wrong way. You mean, there is nothing I can do? Abraham waiting for a son, that makes sense because there is nothing he could do in his situation except to wait. But for salvation? There must be something I can do. We want to be able to say that I am saved because I am somehow worthy to be saved, or that I played some role, however minimal, in my own salvation. This is why we prefer religion and righteousness through laws. We want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to our salvation.
But like Abraham having faith that God would provide a son, when it comes to our salvation, we are equally helpless. We can’t do anything to be saved except to repent and to place our faith entirely on Christ and what He did for us on the cross. And that faith in Christ is credited to us as righteousness.
What does it mean for God to say our faith credits us with righteousness? If you have a credit card, you might have absolutely no money but the credit card company gives you a credit line and against that you can keep buying things even though you might not have the funds. And when we have faith in Christ, we are saying, I am helpless, I am hopeless, I can’t save myself. Therefore, all I can do is to receive the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And when we recognize that all we can do is to believe and receive Jesus, the Bible says, it is credited to us as righteousness. Meaning, Jesus’ righteousness, his moral perfection, is imputed or credited to us.
And the great news is that when God gives us a credit card statement, it says, PAID IN FULL. Your sins are paid in full. And we can actually enter God’s presence and not cower because of our sins. Our debts are paid for. We are forgiven and cleansed. Repentance followed by faith in Christ. All we can do is to repent and have faith, to believe and to receive the free gift of salvation. This is the gospel. And if this message takes hold of you, you will never be the same. How does the gospel play out in a believer’s life — that’s what we will talk about next time.
I want to end with one verse and a quote from C.S. Lewis.
Rom 4 – 17 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.
I love that phrase in v17 — the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. This gives the gospel an almost fairy tale-like quality, doesn’t it? God is good, we are not. We are in a heap of trouble because of our sins. We deserve God’s wrath. Yet, in Christ, God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. It sounds like make-belief. It sounds too good to be true. I mean, really? You mean, it’s that easy. We all live happily ever after?
Do you now see what those words (Our Father) mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God (lowercase “s”). To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realize what the words mean, you realize that you are not a son of God. You are not being like THE Son of God (capital “S”), whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centered fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 162-163)
I want to pause here and notice Lewis’ word choice: dressing up as Christ. Pretending. To pretend to be a son or daughter of God in the same manner that Jesus is THE Son of God is a kind of fairy tale. Then, Lewis goes on to say…
I have been talking as if it were we who did everything. In reality, of course, it is God who does everything. We, at most, allow it to be done to us. In a sense you might even say it is God who does the pretending. The Three-Personal God, so to speak, sees before Him in fact a self-centered, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human animal. But He says “Let us pretend that this is not a mere creature, but our Son. It is like Christ in so far as it is a Man, for He became Man. Let us pretend that it is like Him in Spirit. Let us treat it as if it were a reality.” God looks at you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you into one. I daresay this idea of a divine make-believe sounds rather strange at first. But, is it so strange really? Is not that how the higher things always raises the lower? A mother teacher her baby to talk by talking to it as if it understood long before it really does. We treat our dogs as if they were “almost human”; that is why they really become “almost human” in the end. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 166-67)
We are doing our share of the pretending, but in actuality, Lewis notes that God is the one who is doing far more of the pretending. He looks at us — a bundle of selfishness and sin — and he calls us sons and daughters. We are like little Christs, or Christians, in God’s eyes.
We are not sinners deserving the wrath of God. We are children of God, made completely righteous, cleansed, forgiven, spotless through our faith in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. It is a fairy tale ending.
For we are saved by a God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. We should be called sinner, outcast, rebel, yet he calls us children of God because of Jesus Christ. This is the gospel. Good news, the best news that sinners like us could ever hear.