I'm on a cautious voyage of discovery. I have long bemoaned the fact that it seems incredibly difficult to find preachers in the United Kingdom who preach pure grace. So often it begins with grace but then ends up "applying" grace in lists of activities that are required to meet performance standards. When I listened and transcribed Pete Greasley's message at New Word Alive - I still maintained an element of suspicion, after all - everyone is on their best at conferences.
I was really encouraged by my friend Janelle's comment on that post that this message of grace is more wide-ranging across SGM than I feared from my experiences. So I decided to listen and transcribe Pete's message from last Sunday at his home church in Newport. Incredibly it was titled: "The Hope of Grace Alone" - sounds perfect. Here it is the video (the transcript is below):
"13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." 23 But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification".
Let’s pray together. Lord I do pray this morning that as we come back to this difficult portion of Scripture that You by Your Holy Spirit will make it clear to us. That we would not only understand it but Lord – that we would be affected by it. Lord I pray that wrong thinking and wrong mindsets that are not from You but from the enemy would be broken this morning by the truth of Scripture and that truth would truly set us free. That the gospel would be truly seen in all it’s glory and again we may glory not in the flesh but entirely and completely and only in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
I have a few questions for you to start off. Do you ever or have you ever worried about the reality of your salvation? Maybe your heart is not as warm as it once was. You can remember a time when you felt a lot closer to God and you start to question is this real? Am I truly saved? Are my sins forgiven? Maybe there is a besetting sin that has been plaguing you for years and you think how can a Christian still struggle with that. And you question the reality of your salvation. Maybe it is a fear that you could give all this up and go back into the world. Maybe it is a fear that God will say “I’ve had enough already. For years you have outstayed My patience”. Maybe there is a fear that on That Day – you won’t make it or be one that He says; “Well done My good and faithful servant”. If you have never had any of those fears you would be unusual because they are common temptations to man and to Christians. You may at some point – keep this in mind. You may be sitting here thinking this is a continual on-going struggle. My assurance – am I truly in Christ? Do I know it and feel it? Does it change me every day?
This Scripture is here to help you and all of us. We have an enemy and that enemy is the accuser of the brethren. He accuses us that what we believe is not real for us. He doesn’t accuse us that it is not real for us. He tries to get us to make that more real by what we do and move off the grounds of grace and into the grounds of what we do.
Satan doesn’t work by making us go downtown to have a wild time. Satan says “If you pray more or do this more or that more or the other more then God will love you more and accept you more”. He wants to move us off the grounds of grace.
I know we keep recapping in Romans – Romans 1 to Romans 3:20 is the bad news. The bad news that God is glorious and God the Creator has revealed enough of Himself to us so that we should worship Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and have no other gods beside Him. He shows us in that there is not one of us who seek God and not one glorifies God – but we turn our glory into ourselves and commit cosmic treason and God who should be adored and glorified and worshipped – is not. And we adore and glorify and worship ourselves and what God has created. The verdict at the end of the chapter is 3:20 – is “guilty as charged” without any appeal or anything left to say. God is right. Then we come to Romans 3:21-26 – worth learning by heart! Leon Morris said this is probably the most important paragraph ever written. In this here the incredible good news of amazing grace comes! Now there is a righteousness from God and of God that is made manifest and revealed apart from works – apart from us having to do ANYTHING to earn it.
As he opens that up to us in v21-26 – we see that those of us in Christ who believe (although the Old Testament pointed to this) for those of us who believe that Christ died and redeemed us and saved us and propitiated God’s wrath by His blood – for those God gives freely salvation and imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.
He considers us RIGHTEOUS apart from what we do!
There are two responses that go through to the end of chapter 4. This is what that good news does in us. Firstly it humbles us. Paul talks about application. Applying v21-26. “Let no one boast” – we have nothing to boast about because God has done it ALL in Christ! We cannot say “Didn’t I do great?”. The second part of application is assurance. Two things take place when we understand the glories of the gospel. One is humility and secondly assurance “It is ALL of grace”. This has got to be personal. We can know this theologically in our head but we have got to KNOW it so it completely fills us – we have GOT it – we are saved by grace alone and that I am in Christ and kept by Christ and be ultimately be with Christ!
I hope this Scripture serves you this morning – this is all about future hope because of what God has done. That is why you get the word “promise” here. In fact the word “promise” in vv13-25 is used five times if you see it! It keeps coming! Get the picture. Promise and faith! They keep coming back and back. At the beginning of chapter 1 Paul opens it up by talking about the gospel which He promised beforehand. So now he is opening up this promise of the gospel which should affect our hearts and minds.
We need to move from theology – understanding it – to doxology - embracing it, feeling it and glorifying God in our response to it.
We have just seen this incredible promise in the Gospel that God will count us as righteous with redemption through His death on a Cross. This incredible promise! The question comes – is this promise for me? Will God do this or has God done this for me? Can I know my future is secure? More importantly IS my future secure?
Knowing it is one thing but having it as a reality is more important.
And there will be very few people in this room who haven’t asked that question and haven’t at times struggled with that. I grew up understanding promises a bit. If dad made a promise it was concrete. If I could get out of him “I promise” – I would know that is secure as it can be. One circumstance that could change his promise for say us to go to the park is if I had been a very, very bad boy that week. There were a few weeks that I was particularly obnoxious. “You forfeited that promise because of how awfully you have behaved” – and you know the Bible is full of promises that come together with commands. If you don’t obey this command and do this. “Cast your care on the Lord” (command) “for He cares for you” (promise). “Delight yourself in the Lord” (command) “and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (promise). But not with justification! We will blow that apart! Sometimes dad would withdraw that promise or sometimes his intention would be to do it but he would have to go into work. The intention was there but sometimes I forfeited that promise or sometimes he was unable to keep it.
When we come to this Scripture, God wants to show us that when He makes a promise concerning our eternal salvation how we live has NOTHING to do with it at all – it is ALL by grace and He wants to show us that He has the power to carry it out.
That is the message! He goes into Abraham and comes back to this man who is their hero of faith. Abraham started it all up. God met Abe and told him to go and started the whole ball rolling with this man who will be the father of nations. If you look back into Genesis 15 and 16. You see God cutting a covenant with Abraham which is a picture of the Cross to come. God makes this covenant that he will be the father of many nations and shows him the stars and says “So will your descendants be numbered”. In Genesis 17 Abe tries to work it out for himself with Hagar but then God comes back and says “My promise is still here” and says it isn’t Hagar but Sarah. God says “I will call you father of multitudes”. This all points to Christ and essentially through a son – you will be the father of multitudes, the heir of the world and your descendents will fill and be the blessing of the world and …. You must be joking!!
When we examine the promise of grace alone by faith alone – He comes and shows us the picture of the promise to Abraham and says “See what I did and why I did it”. This is nuts! Abraham is 99 years old (almost 100) and I don’t want to get explicit here – but Abraham considers his own body and he says “I am past it”. He looked at Sarah and laughed and said “Her womb’s like a dried up prune!”. Excuse me ladies. You are telling me that I will get her pregnant?! He is twice my age! I know I am good for 50! But at the same point Abraham is 100 years old and his wife is 90 and God says you will get her pregnant! He presented Hagar and Ishmael – and he laughed to himself. Later on when Sarah overheard the Lord coming and speaking and she laughed too. It was ridiculous and absurd and naturally impossible. It provoked absurd hysterical laughter.
What?! This is MY promise to you. When we read verse 21 through 26 we should experience something of the same emotion that Abraham and Sarah experienced when God came and promised them the earth. When God came and said “I will do this for you” and it was beyond their ability to conceive or understand or grasp. The only natural response is “What?!”. “But now a righteousness from God is revealed apart from faith” – if we really get the promise of the gospel, our response should be hysterical laughter! This is how glorious and holy God is and how guilty God is – and yet He is counting us as righteous in the death of His Son!
The problem with so many Christians is that we don’t take it as it is. We try to add so much into it. As we see the gospel our response should be; “It can’t be so good that it doesn’t matter how I live”. You will say “Well I shouldn’t say that because that is close to antinomianism because the Bible says it does matter”.
I know the Bible says it matters how we live but the Bible says it DOESN’T matter how I live in order to be justified!
We must get this point otherwise we move from grace to works and fall from grace. Nothing from me? Nothing at all? No. A bit? No. Nothing! What does God want our response to be to this – this is why He is taking us back to Abraham. He wants us to see Him and His faithfulness and He wants us to see our response to it. So I have got four things that I will go through. It is all about where our hope can be found.
1. The Ground of Abraham’s Hope.
We find that he majors on what the ground isn’t. There is a negative that comes in here. (v13); “That he would inherit the promises … did NOT come through the law (what he does) but through the righteousness of faith”. He is saying “I tell you what his grounds weren’t – they weren’t ANYTHING of himself or what he could do”. This was God’s promise to him!
If you try and do something about this promise then it becomes null and void!
You have to trust completely. If you start to put your hand out (which is the natural thing to do) then the promise of me catching you is gone. If I see that hand move then my promise is over. You must trust completely. You can’t tense – I will catch you just before you hit the floor.
In your spirit – everything in you when God says “Grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone” – your very nature is towards works. I want to do something to support myself and God says “No”.
What could Abraham have done? He could have started a fitness regime or gone to the chemist or done something! This is real life stuff! This isn’t Aladdin – this guy was 100 years old and God said that they were going to get pregnant. Everything in him said “What can I do?”. He had already tried to make it happen! Abraham gave up and said there is nothing I can do to make this happen. That’s why the Scripture says he didn’t waiver in faith! It was absurd – so much so that only God could do this.
Our salvation – Romans 3:21-26 is ALL of grace. APART from works! Nothing that you do! Abraham knew this and did this but if you try and add works in then the promise is void. The promise is only based on what God would do – it is all of grace. So when we look that – we find he believed against hope! He hoped against hope! His hope was now outside of himself against the natural hope he had within himself. He gave up his own hope and hoped only and entirely on God. It is that giving up and refusal for self-atonement – even the smallest bit. You can have 99% promise and 1% works. It must be 100% or nothing.
C H Spurgeon says this. He said you would sooner yoke a gnat to an archangel than try and help Christ save you – it must be all of grace or none at all It is all of grace! It was 100% trusting God!
2. The Object of His Hope.
It turns from not himself to God alone. This is 100% proof grace. God alone and completely alone with grace alone. See (v16b) – this is why it depends on faith. The promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring. God’s promise of saving you by grace must rest on that grace – it must rest there! We have nothing to bring! Paul says it again and again – we must feel it and know it and get it.
It is not how we live but what He has done through Christ – His life and His death. Grace is the only guarantee!
You buy a computer and there is a thing on the back that says “If you peel this off or try to unscrew this computer to mend it – the guarantee is null and void”. You cannot touch it! Everything in you thinks I can sort this – how hard can it be? You peel it off carefully and unscrew it – but the moment you do that, it has gone.
God is saying that the moment you think you can go in to do something to aid Christ, the promise is no longer the promise.
In hope in God – in verse 20 you find it is all about God for him. “Fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised”. That is what God wants for us this morning. Would you jump out of the plane and flap your arms without a parachute? And when you have a parachute – flapping your arms doesn’t work either. Unless Christ saves you – all our works count as nothing. For us the promise is that we now see Christ. It is not just a promise to Abraham – now there is a righteousness of God revealed and it is apart from works! It is the salvation and redemption we get in Christ Jesus – we see Christ crucified and later on in Romans 8, he takes that. “If God did not spare His own Son … how much more will He not give us all things” – he expands and expands and it gets more and more scandalous!
This is too free and too good and too simple! This is ridiculous! It is amazing if you get it! Paul says “Get it!”. Abraham got it! Abraham gave up his own works and put his trust totally and utterly in God. That is how the Galatians started you know! The Galatians started by seeing Christ and Paul said in Galatians 3; “You have moved away from the gospel!”. Your faith centred around him and now you are hoping for the future in what you are doing rather than continually relying on Him. You are flapping your arms. You are far from grace! It is finished – it is sorted once and for all! Christ and His finished work is the object of our hope. He is an example for us to rely and trust on God alone.
3. The Certainty of His Hope.
He has the will and He has the power to make us and keep us righteous for all eternity. Remember my dad – you have blown this promise. Here he shows us that we cannot forfeit the promise. He has the power to keep this promise and nothing that we can do – He has the grace to keep this promise. This is the proof (v17b) – he says; “In the presence of the God who gives life to the dead … and calls into existence the things that do not exist”. Abraham believes God because God creates something from nothing. Paul is saying apply this to yourself. Righteousness apart from works – he takes nothing – he takes that which is dead and to the dead one, he brings life and creates from nothing. He creates someone who is loved, known and saved by Christ. He does it and He makes it. Here am I – Pete Greasley – not a Christian but before the foundation of the earth God calls into existence and He takes me from darkness to life, He takes His Spirit and places it within me and imputes Christ’s righteousness to me – and Paul says now I am a new creation! He promised it and He did it!
How can I undo that? You can’t! Will my works and failure undo it? No – because it is only promise! Promise with no added mixture of works! Will God reject Christ’s work on the Cross – no never! It is always going to be there!
My salvation and your salvation is entirely and completely outside of yourself. God takes that which is nothing. And brings it to something – so no one may boast and that we may trust in “grace that has brought me safe thus far and grace will take me home”. Will God show me grace? Romans 8:32 – He gave up His Son – what more proof do you need? He rose Christ from the dead – God can do this and it is the proof of His power and grace and the proof of His certainty!
4. The Effect of this Hope.
Faith and assurance! He is standing on something entirely outside of himself. How many times have I preached this?! There will be times when you haven’t got this and if they knew what I was like inside, they would question this! Challenges do come! He believes and did not waver or distrust but grew strong in faith and glorified God and most importantly – not just how he felt – but (v22) that is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness.
Those words were counted for us too – who believe in Him. He took the promise of Abraham and has transferred it into the New Testament. “Christ died for our sins”. Because he trusted on what Christ has done, therefore he was counted righteous before God. If our salvation is outside of ourselves then we are counted righteous before God.
How you feel is irrelevant. What you do is irrelevant. What you don’t do is irrelevant. What do think or don’t think or say or don’t say – nothing! How you put your arms out – nothing!
You are saved by grace! That is entirely outside of you and it is a gift of God through faith. That is a gift too by the way! That is why I know I am safe and secure in the promise of God and it will never ever be taken back or voided – because it was Christ alone! Faith alone by grace alone through Christ alone for the glory of God alone – the word is “ALONE”. For the glory of Christ alone! It is all outside of ourselves! On that day some of you (self-righteous people) and say “Did we not do this or that?” and He will look them in the eye and say “Depart from Me I never knew you”. But also on that day He will give us our reward. A lot of people who thought they would never make it will be there. You will be there and stand before Him and hear “Well done – thou good and faithful servant” and you will fall on the floor flabbergasted.
I believe God wants you to have an assurance of your faith. You can live your whole life without assurance and still be saved. Have you received Him? Yes. Do you feel saved? No not always – doesn’t matter, you are saved!
It is not your strength of your assurance that will get you there. We are in Christ! Christ has died for me and there is nothing I can do to find myself in hell. It is all of grace. Our assurance – that assures His promise by Christ’s atoning death – my hope is built not on my feelings or on my works or thoughts but my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. What happens when you move your hope outside of yourself and how you feel – it all floods back. We preach the gospel to ourselves daily – all of grace – all of faith – all of Christ! We worry about grace because we look within. Just like Abraham we can not waver in our faith but be fully convinced.
The conclusion? If God declares me righteous then who can condemn me! Can this or that? Or life or angels? Or anything? No! It can’t be that good! It is that good.