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A Pitiful Sight

Romans 4:9-25




Every year a great throng of people make pilgrimage to the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico, a site where supposedly the Virgin Mary once stood...however unlikely that is.  They go there hoping to get her attention, and to get her to intervene for them w/ her son Jesus.  They crawl on their hands and knees for a quarter mile, and enter and light candles, one for every friend who has died, in hopes of reducing the amount of time they spend in purgatory.  It is a pitiful sight.


Every 12 years a multitude of Hindus gather at the convergence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers.  They make a 6 week journey for the largest religious festival in the world.  Naked holy men lead the parade into the icy waters, and the people follow because one of their holy books declares they will go to heaven if they do.  Another book of theirs says even if they have committed a hundred crimes, they will be forgiven as soon as they touch those waters.  It's a pitiful sight, and all the more because I know of a book that says we can indeed be forgiven no matter what we've done, not because of some silly ritual, but because of a heavenly sacrifice:  Jesus on the cross!  Forgiven, not because of stepping into water, but being plunged beneath the crimson flood of the blood of God's Son who died in our place!


Along the shore are "shaving booths" where every hair is removed from their bodies, including eyebrows and lashes...they gather them and throw them into the river because one of their books says for every hair they throw in, they will live a million years in heaven.


Some at this festival cut out their tongues, believing if they sentence themselves to eternal silence, they will gain heavenly favor.  Others stare at the sun until blind to appease their gods.  It's a pitiful sight of works centered religion.


The book of Romans is an all out assault on works-based religion. 


The Jews whom Paul dealt with thought there were 2 things it took to get into heaven:  The outward mark of circumcision and obedience to the OT Law.


They believed the moment an 8 day old child was circumcised it was automatic they would go to heaven, regardless of what they believed or did in their life.  And they thought keeping the law somehow played a role as well.


Paul uses chronology to disprove them.  He asks, when was your Father Abraham justified [saved] and when was he circumcised?

v. 9-10     It was before circumcision that Abe was saved [Gen. 15:6].  Then later in chapter 17, about 14 years later, he was circumcised. 


How is this relevant today?  Because people are still doing the same sort of thing.  They think being a good person, doing good works, being baptized, or joining a church will save them.  They give offerings and perform services in hopes of eternal life.  They confess, are confirmed, and complete rituals they have been told to do that aren't in the Bible...and that's a pitiful sight!  It's outward ritual instead of inward faith.


The Bible says you must be born again!


So why is circumcision even a thought?  Why did God make circumcision binding for all of Abraham's descendants if it had nothing to do w/ being saved?

v. 11        'sign' ... 'seal'


Circumcision is a sign and a seal. 


A sign is an evidence that the Jew was one of God's chosen people.  Much like baptism today.  Baptism is a sign you were truly saved, not a sacrament needed to be saved.  It's just an outward sign pointing back to that which has already taken place.


A sign points to something, but a seal guarantees it!


A seal placed on a letter or decree meant the authenticity was guaranteed.  Circumcision sealed some promises God made to His people, and guaranteed He would keep those promises.  So, what is our seal today?  The Holy Spirit!

Ephesians 1:13-14
13 ...after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Earnest means down payment.  The earnest is forfeited [like earnest money] if you renege.  God said, I'm so sure this one's gonna be in heaven that I'm placing the down payment of the Spirit in his heart...and if this one ends up in hell, I'll forfeit the earnest of the Spirit to go to hell along with him!  [not gonna happen]


v. 12        You see, Abraham is our father too...father not only of the Jews, but of Gentiles who believe by faith!  [sing 'Father Abraham']

So, we're not saved by circumcision or any outward work.  Next, we're not saved by keeping the Law either.

v. 13-16a         of faith / by grace

Understand that even Abraham's faith would not have been enough if not for the sovereign grace of God!  It was by God's grace that He decided to count Abraham's faith as righteousness.  So, we're not saved by faith, but by God's grace.  Otherwise we might have somewhat to glory in.  It's thru faith that we can come to God and His grace!


Faith is just a vehicle that brings us to God's grace.

ill.--a man hangs out the window of a tall burning building.  Firemen below compel him to jump into their extended canvas catchall.  He says, I can't!  They say, just trust us, you'll make it, we promise to catch you.  He finally works up the nerve and jumps, and they indeed catch him safely.  Suppose he walks away saying, "My faith saved me!"  Those firemen could say, hang on buster, we saved you.

        His faith just got him to the firemen, who actually saved him.  Faith can be misplaced.


All our faith does is gets us to the grace of God that's been waiting there for us all along, hoping we turn from the pitiful trappings of works salvation to just take the plunge...a leap of faith into the arms of God extending the catchall of grace!


The chapter ends with an amazing set of circumstances.

v. 17        God can raise the dead, amazing!

How old were Abraham and Sarah when they conceived Isaac, the child of promise?  99 and 89, amazing, because their reproductive systems were long since dead.  God waited to fulfil His promise for 25 years.  He waited until all human ability and fleshly strength was gone.  From a human perspective all hope of conceiving was gone.


v. 18-21   The application to salvation today is clear--God waits ‘til the unbelieving sinner dies to all hope in himself, utterly incapable of saving himself, then and only then can God release His saving power.


As long as a lost sinner thinks there's anything he can do to please God, like these pitiful sights of self punishment or outward rituals, as long as he hopes in himself, he cannot be saved.  It is only when we come to God empty-handed that He fills us.


ill.--in the Spanish American War, Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, was working in Cuba.  One day Col. Theodore Roosevelt came riding thru and he asked her if she would sell him enough food to feed his hungry troops.  She said no, it was not for sale.  He desperately needed that food, and offered to pay out of his own pocket.  But he was completely rebuffed by Barton.  He went to the surgeon of the unit and complained about her.  He replied, don't ask her to sell you food...go back and ask her to give it to you.  A smile crossed his face as he understood, and that's how it went down.


The food was not for sale, but would be given away freely to those who would ask for it.  And God's salvation is not for sale.  If we are to receive it, it will have to be thru faith, by grace, with no human effort.


Don't go away lost...that would be a pitiful sight!



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