Footsteps of Faith
The following is a manuscript of the sermon presented by Roger Patterson on Sunday March 7, 2021 at our West U Baptist Church campus. To view the sermon in full, please visit our YouTube page.
I was visiting with a dad about hunting season and he told me a story. He said…
“My oldest son and I were taking my younger son on a hunt. As we were beginning to get close to the area where we would hunt, I noticed that my youngest son was just walking freely…he was making noise, breaking off branches of trees, kicking rocks, and being careless.
We stopped and I talked to him about the importance of not making noise and not being careless…because there are a lot of ways to get hurt in the woods. I told him that when you go out into the woods, you need to be careful with every single step…especially hunting. You need to step softly on the ball of your foot, softly set your heal, and watch where you put your foot down. I then told him follow in my footsteps—put your foot right where I put mine and learn to walk very carefully.”
In Romans 4:12 we are going to see the Apostle Paul use the language, “the footsteps of faith” and today we are going to learn to walk exactly the way Abraham did.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather 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 counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
In this chapter, Paul gives a living illustration of his key thesis in Romans- the just shall live by faith. Recall that Romans is a doctrinal epistle that fully explains and defends the doctrine of salvation or soteriology. Paul has been laying out his case….
Last week, in chapter 3, we transitioned to the Good News…. we learned where true righteousness does not come from and where it must come from….
Today in chapter 4, like a good lawyer would, Paul is going to call witnesses in a sense to support his thesis. One of the huge questions that is raised when presented with the truth that salvation is by faith alone through grace alone in Christ…. is “what about people in the OT?” Have you ever asked that question?
Many people have a misunderstanding here… they think that OT saints were saved by keeping the law and NT saints are saved by grace….. this is not true!
Both Old Testament AND New Testament believers are saved by grace through faith alike! Those in the time of the Old Testament were saved by faith in the One who was to come. Those in the time of the New Testament and beyond are saved by faith in the One who came…our Lord Jesus.
In today’s text, Paul will give us two clear examples to prove this point and show us how we follow in their footsteps of faith before us.
1.) The faith of Abraham.(vs. 1-5)
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather 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 counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…
The first witness Paul calls to help make his point is Abraham.
- Why Abraham? Vs Why does Paul bring Abraham’s story to the forefront?
Here are some things about Abraham…
- Considered by scholars to be the most important person in the Bible apart from Do you remember God’s covenant with Abraham?
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
- He is a Supreme example for Jewish
- He was called and Saved before the law was given, thus he transcends the ages of law and grace
- The rabbis believed that he was the only truly righteous man of his generation.
- He is Father Abraham. If he can’t be saved by keeping the law, then no one
- Paul knows that Abraham is his irrefutable trump card….
James Boice states…
“If Paul can show that Abraham, the father of all the faithful, came into a right relationship with God by faith and not by any amount of human good works, his case is proved.”1
Now, let’s note a few things about Abraham’s faith :
- Vs 2- even Abraham cannot boast that he is justified by
- Vs 3- the scriptures actually tell us exactly how Abraham was justified. How was he justified?
Let’s look at Genesis. 15:1-6.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Abraham believed God.
·In Genesis 12, Abraham was promised that he would be made into a great nation through which all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
·In Genesis 15, as he is doubting whether God’s promise will actually ever play out in his life, the Lord graciously comes to him and says, “your very own son shall be your heir…and look at the stars…so shall your offspring be!”
It is here, that Abraham believed what God promised. He trusted it. He put his faith in it! This is how he was Justified…declared Not guilty!
Further, we see in Galatians 3:8-9 and 13-14 these words about Abraham’s faith.
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
So, what’s significant here is that Abraham had the gospel proclaimed to him. And Paul continues in Galatians to show us how through Christ, the blessing of Abraham (God’s covenant to bless all the nations and God’s promise that his descendants would be like the stars in the heavens) would come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ.
Look at verses 13-14 of Galatians 3.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Now, let’s go back to Romans 4.
4 articulates the problem with a belief that salvation is by works…
Here, Paul uses an illustration out of our every day lives to show us the fallacy of how being justified by works isn’t consistent with Abraham’s faith.
Notice verses 4 and 5.
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…
What would you think if your boss came to you on payday and said, “Because I really like you, I am going to give you a gift- your salary.” That is NOT a gift. It is a TRADE.
As Paul has show us, we cannot trade our works for righteousness. It’s not an even trade. It’s insufficient.
v.5 Paul explains the reality with Abraham and every believer: Faith is counted as righteousness for the one who believes that the ungodly are declared “Not Guilty!”
Once again, Paul clearly states that righteousness CANNOT be earned.
The key is found in vs. 3 & 5: “Abraham believed God” and “to the one who…believes”
Paul’s logic is airtight here! But some Jews would counter- “But this is Abraham!”
Paul writes that Abraham’s goodness was insufficient for justification but his faith was sufficient. And Galatians 3:16 shows us the object of His faith.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
Abraham believed in the coming of Jesus Christ specifically. The promise of blessing through a singular descendant of Abraham was given three times in Genesis 12:7, 13:15, and 24:7. Paul is saying that Abraham picked up on this and knew that the promise of blessing was coming through a singular descendant, the Christ. Abraham did not know his name, but he knew the Messiah was coming and would save the world.
So, the conclusion here is that even Abraham is saved by faith in the One who was to come!
He will now show us the faith of David before returning to Abraham.
2.) The faith of David. (vs. 6-8)
6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Paul gives a second OT example… David. He’s a different kind of example. If Abraham was a “good person” who could not be saved by keeping the law, then certainly there’s no way David could ever be saved apart from grace.
Think about David’s life for a moment…How can David be made right before God? Is he good enough?
David did a lot of Good, didn’t he?
David could hold out one hand: Goliath, delivered his armies, spared Saul, enlarged the kingdom and made plans and provisions for a Temple for God.
But David did a lot of bad too, didn’t he?
- Had Uriah Killed,
- He had wayward kids…
If you are manning the scales of KARMA, which way will the scales tip? Which way does it go for David?
Yet, he is called a man after God’s own heart AND GOD Promised him ONE who would sit on his throne forever. (Acts 13:22)
- How is this possible? Because of grace! David understood the forgiveness of God so well! David had experienced GRACE.
- Cf: Ps 32:1-2 Directly quoted in vs 7,8
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Have you experienced the blessing of knowing your sin is forgiven?
How did David receive this blessing?
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
- How did David receive this blessing? He asked for it, knowing it was according to God’s faithful love!
- David understood grace and mercy! David’s only hope in experiencing redemption was not any good merit of his own, but only the love of God!
- That’s our only hope too!
John Stott states…
“We are not like those who have earned these good wages, but we are like those who have not worked and have no right to payment. Instead, we put our trust in God, who justifies the ungodly, and our faith is credited to us as righteousness—that is we are given righteousness as a free and unearned gift of grace by faith.”
Have you asked for mercy? Have you asked for forgiveness of your sin?
David put his faith in the one who was to come…and you and I should as well!
Remember, the Apostle Paul says that these are the footsteps of faith. So, let’s look at our third point today. And it’s simply this:
3.) Follow their footsteps! (Vs. 9-12)
Look with me at Romans 4:9-12.
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
- We looked at Abraham’s faith and David’s faith, now what about us?
- Paul’s asked a great question in vs. 9. Was salvation by faith only for the Jews?
In vs. 10-11 Paul is using Abraham’s circumcision as an example to answer his own question about the order of faith and circumcision, noting that his faith was counted as righteousness (he was justified) in Genesis 15, whereas his circumcision did not happen until Genesis 17—some fourteen years later. However, while these events may be separated, they are not unrelated.
“Abraham’s circumcision, though not the ground of his justification, was its sign and seal” (Rom. 4:11). God had called circumcision the sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:11), and Paul is now similarly calling it a sign of his justification. “As a ‘sign’ it was a distinguishing mark, setting Abraham and his descendants apart as God’s covenant people. Indeed, it was not only a sign to identify them; it was also a seal to authenticate them, as the justified people of God.”
Put differently, Abraham received two distinct gifts from God: justification and circumcision (in that order). He received justification by faith while he was still uncircumcised. And then he received circumcision as a visible sign and seal of the justification which was already his.
Here Paul outlines two purposes of Abraham being justified by faith and his circumcision that happened later.
- First, it was that Abraham might be the father of all who believe (the father of Gentile believers). Circumcision is no more necessary to their justification than it was to his.
- Second, the combination of faith, justification, and circumcision was so that Abraham might be the father of the circumcised who walk in the same footsteps of faith.
In short, Abraham is noted as the father of all believers, regardless of whether they are circumcised or uncircumcised.
Additionally, we must recognize that being made right before God doesn’t come because of the sign—circumcision, baptism, communion, baby dedication. In faith communities, there are lots of signs that represent lots of things.
Here, he is saying, it’s not about the circumcision. It’s about being justified by faith. Paul is saying to his audience, “Your circumcision is a sign of the covenant…it’s a seal, but it’s not what made your right before God.”
The same would hold true for us with regard to a wedding ring.
Anyone can go and buy a wedding ring. Anyone can buy a ring and put it on their finger. But if they haven’t entered into a covenant with someone else, they aren’t married.
It’s the vow exchange…it’s the promise given and promise received that makes one married.
The ring is the gift. The ring is the symbol to declares what happened. I can take my ring off, but it won’t change the fact that I’m married…that I’m in a covenant relationship with Julee.
So, it’s not about the outward symbols, but the inward heart change that happens to me.
More than that, Paul is saying here that the God’s promise to Abraham reached far beyond just Israel. And that God’s plan was for more than just Israel. And that he justifies those who have faith, whether circumcised or not.
You know, there is something about that phrase in verse 12 that I really like…the footsteps of faith.
Just like that father was teaching his son about how to walk in the woods while hunting, many before us have taught us how to walk by faith.
We come into the faith and into a relationship with God by following the footsteps of the forefathers before us who claimed the gift of salvation by grace through faith. And then, we spend the rest of our lives following the footsteps of Jesus. That is what discipleship looks like!
1 Peter 2:21 says it like this…
1 Peter 2:21
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
May we be a people who put follow in His steps.
 James Boice, Romans vol 1, 441-442.
 John Stott, Romans, 129.
 John Stott, Romans, 129.