Are You Saved?
Explore the Bible Series
October 2, 2005
Background Passage: Romans 3:21-4:25
Lesson Passage: Romans 3:21-28; 4:1-2; 18-25
Introduction: “Saved.” I have heard that term all of my life. I grew up in a pastor’s home, and I heard the sounds of southern revivalism from my earliest recollections. The gravest concern of life, according to the preaching I heard, centered on a person’s salvation. The question raised in the title of this week’s Sunday School lesson (I do not chose the titles) was quite common in the world of my adolescence. The answer to this question divided the entire population of the world into two groups, the saved and the lost. This terminology so dominated the religious landscape of my youth that I seldom gave thought to the meaning of these terms. I knew, of course, that being lost was bad, and it meant that a person was going to hell when he died. Being saved meant that a person had made a decision for Christ and, thereby, had a conversion experience. Often, I noticed that being saved was associated with a profoundly emotional experience that occurred at the end of a worship service. Instinctively, I sensed that the entire worship service led up to the decisive conclusion of the sermon. In fact, the “success” of the service seemed to focus on someone being saved. If this happened, the audience and minister rejoiced greatly. Most of the time, however, no one made a decision for Christ, and the audience and preacher seemed distressed that nobody responded to the invitation.
I thank God for the preaching I heard as a child, and, as I reflect upon the impressions of my youth, I find much that still resonates with me. The terms “saved” and “lost” come from the Scriptures, and we should not hesitate to punctuate our sermons with these words. Jesus spoke of lost sheep, lost coins, and lost sons (See Luke 15), and the angel promised that the Son of Mary would “save his people from their sins” (See Matthew 1:21). Yes, sometimes the preachers used these words in sloppy ways, and they did not always take care to define the words for the uninitiated hearers. Nevertheless, we should not abandon the nomenclature of Scripture; rather, we should use it biblically and carefully. Furthermore, I thank God that I grew up in a religious environment that expected God to save sinners in public worship. Parishioners came with an expectancy that anticipated the mighty intervention of God in the lives of sinners. Preachers, including my dear father, preached for decision. They called men to faith in Christ, and they prayed for the Holy Spirit to bring men to conviction of sin and the new birth.
Now, of course, I see the world with more mature eyes. The “invitation system” no longer holds my allegiance as it once did. I have come to appreciate a broader range of biblical words to describe God’s saving (there’s that word again) work: the righteousness of God, faith, justification, redemption, and propitiation (these words occur in our passage for this week). These wonderful words, however, do not prohibit me from inviting men to Christ. Gospel preachers should have a grave concern for the lost, and they should define and expound what “lostness” means. Ministers should preach the whole counsel of God, the gospel in all its fullness. Christ-centered preaching should always call men to decision: to decisive repentance of sin and faith in Christ. Hopefully, this lesson will help us to effectively communicate the gospel to a lost world and issue a clarion call for sinners to know the salvation that comes through Christ Jesus.
I. Righteousness Apart from the Law (3:21-31)
A. The manifestation of righteousness (v.21): Paul began the last section of Romans with the assertion that the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (See 1:18). Then, Paul initiates this new section by writing a similar statement. As the wrath of God was revealed to mankind; so, the righteousness of God has been manifested (3:21). Again, Paul affirmed that the gospel is not the fruit of the imagination of thoughtful men; rather, it comes from heaven, and God has revealed it to mankind.
1. This righteousness is manifested apart from the law. The gospel is not hostile to the law, but Paul made clear that God’s way of righteousness does not come to man on the basis of human merit.
2. The law and the prophets bear witness to it. The central purpose of the law and the prophets centered on revealing the gospel to sinners.
B. The free access to this righteousness through faith in Christ (vv. 22-23): Any and all, who believe in Christ, may receive the righteousness of God without distinction. Just as all sin and come short of the glory of God; so, all may receive the righteousness of God by faith in Christ.
C. The grounds of justification (vv. 24-26)
1. Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (v. 24): “Redemption” means to purchase with a price. Christ redeemed his people from bondage to slavery through his death on the cross.
2. Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood (vv. 25-26): “Propitiation” denotes the satisfaction of the righteousness demands of the law. Paul has made clear that all men are guilty before God’s law; thus, sinners, by their rebellious disobedience, have brought upon themselves the wrath of God. Jesus, for the sake of his dear people, satisfied the indictment of the law and paid the just penalty for their sins. Paul affirmed the righteousness of God in salvation. God’s holiness demanded that he could not merely dismiss the penalty of sin (See v. 26). Instead, he displayed both his love and holiness in Christ’s death on the cross.
D. Boasting excluded (vv. 27-31): Jew and Gentile alike receive the grace of God by faith, not by keeping the works of the law. Paul made very clear that his apprehension of the gospel did not negate the law (See v. 31). In fact, the proper understanding of the gospel actually affirms the law.
II. Abraham: The Great Example of Justification by Faith (4:1-25)
A. Abraham justified by faith (vv. 1-8): The Jews, of course, took great comfort in their descent from Abraham. Paul argued that Abraham’s justification was by faith and not by the observance of the law (See quotation from Genesis 15:6). Even the Davidic Psalms affirmed justification by faith (See quotation from Psalm 32:1-2).
B. Abraham justified before he was circumcised (vv. 9-12): Abraham’s justification preceded his circumcision; therefore, his circumcision did not affect his justification. Indeed, his circumcision served as a seal (a mark of authenticity) of his justification.
C. God’s promises to Abraham rested on grace and faith (vv. 13-22): The great patriarch did not receive the promises of God by obedience to an external code of conduct or through compliance with the command to circumcise the male children of Israel. God’s promises preceded the giving of the law and the Mosaic code. In particular, Paul identified God’s pledge to make Abraham the father of many nations (See v. 17). Abraham clung to the consolation of God’s promise even when old age had robbed the patriarch of his reproductive virility and providence had closed the womb of Sarah (See v. 19). He did not waver in his faith: that is, the old patriarch persevered in his belief that God would keep the divine promise.
D. All believers justified by faith (vv. 23-25): The same principle of faith applies to believers just as it did to Abraham (See vv. 23-24). As Abraham was saved by grace through faith in God’s promise, a faith that preceded Abraham’s circumcision, so the Christian’s faith brings him justification and precedes any act of compliance to an external code of conduct. Paul, it seems to me, did not intend to denigrate practical obedience to God’s commandments. Instead, the apostle took great pains to explain that such obedience was the result and not the cause of the believer’s justification.
1. Why did Paul use Abraham as an example of justification by faith? What does the example of Abraham tell us about God’s method of saving sinners in the Old Testament?
2. After careful word studies on these terms, discuss the meaning and application of:
- righteousness of God