Did everyone have a great 4th of July this year? Who grilled out? Who watched fireworks? Who heard fireworks? I know that the neighborhood where we were at felt like Grand Central Station of fireworks-it seemed that every surrounding house was launching stuff off. With all sorts of booms and explosions, it sounded like the middle of a war zone when we got back home to the parsonage it sounded like a war zone around here! I mentioned last week that our cat was an inside/outside cat-but I think she was glad she was inside. You could tell she wasn’t sure what was going on with all that noise. But who felt like July 4th was Saturday instead of Wednesday? That’s what was so strange to me. All day I kept thinking that the next day was Sunday and we had church and I had a sermon to give. But then I realized the next day was actually Thursday and not Sunday-which was good because I needed to finish writing the sermon. But here we are on Sunday-sermon’s all written-and we’ve all celebrated the 4th of July this week. But obvio,usly the day exists to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Has it been a while since you last read it? If your recall from your history classes in school the document begins by saying-When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
And that means we sought to separate ourselves and dissolve the political bands connecting us to Great Britain. We want to be free from their control, our forefathers said, we want our independence. And so the famous part of the Declaration of Independence then says- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That is the principle America was founded upon. That each and every citizen, whether born rich or poor, can pursue life, liberty and happiness-that as a people we should be free to do that. So on July 4th now 242 years ago we made this declaration of independence from Great Britain and the rule of their king to pursue our own destiny as a nation. Now if you didn’t realize it the legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain happened on July 2-we just signed the document on the 4th-but that’s been commemorated as Independence Day ever since.
So as a people, we hold the value of independence to be a great virtue. That not only are we thankful to be independent from the king of England-but we want to be independent to live however we want, pursuing the careers or the jobs we want, not being dictated to or told how to live or where to work or where to worship. We cherish our freedoms in this country-the freedom of speech, the freedom to worship, our right to vote. As Americans, our mindset is centered on independence-and the ideal of the self-made man. That here in America you don’t have to be born into the nobility or upper class but with enough hard work and ingenuity you can become as successful as you want. Our independence grants us the ability to reach the American dream-and that’s a great thing. But this morning I want to talk about the opposite-because while independence is something to celebrate in our nation, I believe dependence is something we need to celebrate as believers; that when it comes to our relationship with God He doesn’t want us to make a declaration of independence, but rather to make a declaration of dependence on Him.
So open your Bibles to Romans 4 and we’ll see that idea unfold this morning. Romans is one of the greatest theological books in the Bible. Here’s where Paul takes the account of what happened in the OT and connects it with what Jesus has come to do in the NT so that we can see the great unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. And while Adam and Eve are the very first people you meet in the OT in the book of Genesis-it’s not long before you encounter Abraham in the book of Genesis. He’s one of the early characters in the Bible-but the things that happened to him are crucial in understanding our salvation today. So he’s who Paul begins talking about in Romans 4-v. 1-3. Now if you stop there a moment, you might remember that Abraham was considered the forefather of the nation of Israel and their supreme example of righteousness and obedience. Probably the most famous story about Abraham was when God had told him to take his son Isaac and go up on the mountain to sacrifice him. And Abraham obeyed God and did it-he went up on the mountain, gathered the wood for the altar, tied Isaac down and wa ith knife in hand was ready to plunge it into Isaac and sacrifice him- until at the last minute God intervened and provided a ram for the sacrifice instead. And we’re all really relieved to read that Isaac wasn’t sacrificed but it displays Abraham’s deep seated desire for obedience to God. Who would be willing to do that? As parents anytime we read that story in Genesis what do we all conclude? There’s no way I’d go sacrifice my child on the altar like that-that kind of obedience is just too much for me. And of course the good news is that God isn’t calling us to perform child sacrifices like that so we’re off the hook there. But the bottom line is that Abraham was a radical example of obedience. He was willing to sacrifice before the Lord what was most important to him-so if anybody could be justified by their obedience and good works it would be him.
In fact, before being called to sacrifice Isaac, God had also called Abraham to institute circumcision as a sign for the Jewish people-that every Jewish male 8 days old would be circumcised and set apart as God’s people. Yet Abraham was 99 years old at the time God commanded that-and he still agreed to be circumcised at that age-so without going into too many of the details we can all assume that this was a painful experience with a recovery time that took a while. But again, this is where Abraham’s obedience to God was so exemplary-that he was willing to obey even at personal cost and discomfort to himself. That’s the point Romans 4 is making-that if anyone ought to justified in God’s sight-if anyone ought to be saved on the basis of their good works and obedience it would be Abraham. But the text is clear he wasn’t-v. 2-3. Abraham was a man of faith who trusted in God-he believed God-and it was on that basis-the basis of his faith, not his good works or his obedience-that God counted Abraham righteous. Look at how the text goes on-v. 4.
So I want us to think about work for a minute. I realize it’s the weekend and you’re trying to block work from your mind. But think back a minute to some of the first places you worked in life, some of your first jobs-maybe it was working at McDonalds or Wendy’s or waiting tables or babysitting. I have to say that as a kid growing up in Iowa my first job was detasseling corn. This was sort of rite of passage, so as teenagers of 14 and 15 we’d walk through the rows in the cornfields and pull off the tassels so that the pollen from one type of corn lands on the silk of another type of corn in the same field to create the right hybrid. There was a lot of agricultural science that went into it-but ultimately for me and my friends it meant following the directions of our crew leader and trudging through wet corn fields at 5am and having shoes caked with mud. By midmorning, the cornfields were dry as the dew evaporated and it was blistering hot out. But we were home by 2pm and the pay was good for those few weeks so we did it. And isn’t that the point of a job-especially those early jobs you do in life to make money and save for college or to buy your first car. Isn’t that why you work now? After you put in the hours and do the hard work you’re ready to be paid? That paycheck is your due for the work you’ve done-that’s the everyday principle that v. 4 is making and we all understand it because we like getting paid. But that’s not how it works when we come to the gospel. The gospel operates on a totally different principle that we wouldn’t normally think-v. 5. That’s a really important verse-and if you’re someone who likes to mark in your Bible let me encourage you to underline it. This is a crucial one to get into your head for two key reasons. The first is that the gospel isn’t about works-meaning the person who does all sorts of good deeds and serves a lot and gives all their money to charity-v. 5a-and what do they do instead-but trusts. Salvation isn’t earned through all your good deeds, instead salvation is a gift that comes when you trust in God. Earlier in the book of Romans, Chapter 1 Verse 16. The gospel doesn’t bring the salvation that you deserve by being a good person who’s tried hard to obey God and keep His commands. The gospel brings the salvation that you receive by believing, meaning trusting in God. And what does He do according to the rest of v. 5.
That’s the second key piece to notice-that God justifies the ungodly-because that’s where the gospel becomes totally different and unlike what we would normally think or expect. If you were to go out and take a survey about the people God saves what would you anticipate as their response? The opposite-that God justifies and saves the godly. That God would say well done and accept those who’ve lived a good life, tried their best and deserve it because of their performance. That God saves the all the obedient, religious people who rarely get in trouble or do anything wrong. But that’s not what the verse says-God justifies the ungodly; God justifies the sinner who realizes he can’t justify himself. This would be like God acting as the coach or owner of a sports team who hires the un-athletic. Who would do such a thing? You want your team to hire the most athletic or the best player out there, not some un-athletic guy. Maybe you get after your favorite team in the draft, wondering why in the world they selected some certain player-what’s that guy got for the team? How’s he going to help us win a championship? By bringing on this guy we’re destined to stay at the bottom of the league! Or maybe as a kid in school you got picked last on teams because you were un-athletic. There you stood at the end hoping someone would pick you out of pity because of your ability to play the sport was miserable. And yet this is who God picks. Or if He’s a CEO-it’s as if God goes out to hire the uneducated. To give a job to the person who doesn’t have the qualifications or credentials and falls below the standard. That’s what God is doing spiritually for us-because of our sins we don’t have the credentials or qualifications to earn our way into heaven or be justified by our behavior. We might hope we do, we might try to think we do-but because of our sins we’re separated from Him, we fall short of His righteous standard and are stuck; as unbelievers we’re ungodly in His sight. But in His bottomless grace that’s exactly the kind of person God justifies. God justifies the person who doesn’t cling to all their good works and says, Look at me, Lord; He justifies the person who clings to their faith and says, I look to you, Lord, as my source of righteousness and salvation.
Do you remember the short parable Jesus told about this-Luke 18:9-14 NIV. That was a declaration of dependence! It’s amazing, yet it’s so different from how we tend to think. God doesn’t save and justify the good people (who don’t actually exist anyway-earlier in Romans it says no one is good-look at v. 3:10-12); so we can’t pretend to be a good and godly person- therefore God justifies the ungodly people who turn to Him in faith. I like how John MacArthur says it in his study Bible-Only those who relinquish all claims to their goodness and acknowledge they are ungodly will be justified. Could you do that? Could you let go and relinquish all claims to your supposed goodness and admit that in your natural, fallen state you are ungodly? There’s 3 reflection questions I want you to consider this morning-and that’s the first-Are you willing to admit that in your natural, fallen state you are ungodly? It takes great honesty and humility to admit that. It’s hard to take a cold, hard look at ourselves in the mirror and recognize how fallen we are-but deep down in our hearts we all know we’ve not done it all right. We know the things we’ve done, the thoughts we’ve had, the attitudes we’ve harbored. It may be hard to admit that-but it’s also immensely freeing to not have to pretend we’re something we’re not. To own up to our sins and confess them because once you do and allow God to justify you through faith then there’s no room for boasting; there’s no room for comparing yourself to others or saying, I’ve sure lived better than you-God’s happy with me, but He doesn’t care for you. And how often do we do that? Try to elevate ourselves because we think we’re living better than the person next to us? But when God justifies the ungodly through faith-all man-centeredness is removed from the equation because salvation ceases to become your due that’s owed you-it’s no longer your paycheck and it becomes a gift of grace you receive with gratitude and humility. Don’t forget that salvation isn’t the reward you get by being good, it’s what you get because of God’s goodness and grace that He’s poured out to you-v. 5-7a–whose deeds are deserving of God’s favor? Blessed are those whose life is perfect and have never stumbled or made too many bad mistakes or gone down a bad road? No-v. 7-8. And those were David’s words from Psalm 32 where he knew his sins and mistakes all too well. David didn’t pretend he was perfect or godly. David didn’t try to hide behind his sins or deny them or pretend they weren’t there. Instead, he honestly admitted them and owned up to them before the Lord. Despite some of the ugly stuff he’d done-murder and adultery, David trusted in the fact that his sins would be forgiven, that they would be covered because even in a limited way back in the OT he knew that God justifies the ungodly. David is raising his hand, saying that’s me, I was one of the ungodly. I’ve done things I regret and am ashamed of-but because of God’s grace I’ve been forgiven and made new, I’ve been set free and those sins are no longer counted against me.
And today you and I can understand that reality because we see the gospel fully revealed as God sent His Son Jesus to pay for our sins on the cross. Our sins are covered because of the blood of Christ that was poured out on our behalf. It says it so well in Titus 3:4-7. We are justified by His grace, not justified by our works, just as Romans 4 is telling us. So what does that mean for you and me? That we don’t have to live a life trying to earn a right standing with God or trying to pretend we’re something we’re not; instead we simply trust in the fact that we receive a right standing with God because of what Jesus has already done for us. Or to say it another way, it means making a declaration of dependence on Jesus. It’s saying, “Lord, I don’t look to myself or my good deeds to save me but I depend on you, on the fact that you have saved me by giving up your life on the cross for me.” And that brings freedom.
It’s so interesting how an unbeliever tends to think that he’s got all the freedom in the world to do whatever he wants or live however he wants, no one’s going to tell me what to do-but that freedom is a façade, it’s not real, because living and doing whatever you want is really just slavery to sin and being enslaved by your passions. Real freedom is found when you confess those sins to Jesus and He unlocks the chains of sin that once bound you. Real freedom is found in not living out all the sinful things you want to do or think you must do, but instead choosing to trust in God and follow Him. Flip ahead a page or so to chapter 6-and look at what it says about this-6:6-7; 20-23. And that’s the good news of the gospel-we don’t get what we deserve-that the wages of sin is death-we get what we don’t deserve but desperately need-and that’s eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord-and it happens as we put our trust and dependence in Him.
And that leads us to the second reflection question this morning-Have you made a declaration of dependence on Jesus-or are you still depending on yourself? That’s what you’ve got to wrestle with-because everything hangs in the balance. Have you relinquished all your claims to goodness and admitted to the Lord that you can’t save yourself; that you won’t ever be good enough to save yourself and that you need Him? Or do you still believe the lie that somehow you can-that somehow you will do enough to keep God happy; that you’re not too bad because you’ve tried hard to be a moral, religious, law-abiding, church-going, good-natured person? There’s nothing wrong with those things-but when you put our confidence in those things as your means of salvation-then you’ve missed the gospel. So ask yourself-are you trying to independently earn your way to heaven and justify yourself before God? Or are you depending on the justification that comes by faith in Him? Examine your heart because it’s such a crucial distinction-and a lot of people miss it because our default mode is to think that we have to justify ourselves. I really like what the author JR Vassar says in his book, Glory Hunger, 43-44. He’s saying, drop those lower courts, stop trying to obtain a positive verdict from other people, stop trying to think you’ll somehow convince God of your goodness, but instead depend on the fact that you are fully loved and accepted by Him, fully justified in His sight and credited with the righteousness of Jesus-all because of Him and what He’s done for you by giving up His life.
And that leads to the last question I want you to reflect on this morning-Pt3:Are you living a life of ever deepening dependence on Jesus? Because here’s the part you can’t forget-you don’t just depend on Him to save you and give you that entry ticket into eternal life. Dependence on Him isn’t a one-time event that gets you in and makes you a Christian-rather dependence on Christ becomes a lifelong endeavor. Dependence on Christ is what it’s all about. Think about it this way-maybe you’ve encountered a really difficult season in life where you were hit with suffering or illness or unemployment or the pain of a broken relationship and every day and every moment you were forced to depend on Christ to get you through it-that without depending on Him you would have quickly collapsed. And so despite the pain of your circumstances it was this sweet season of trust and reliance on the Lord. But then after the circumstance had passed and life went back to normal-what happened? If you’re like a lot of people you stopped depending on the Lord so much, right? You went back to being independent and managing life all on your own, having the confidence that things were under control. And that seemed fine-until the next challenging circumstance came up and you realized all over again how much you needed to depend on Jesus. He never intended for dependence on Him to be a momentary thing, where once you’re back on your feet you can go back to living independently. As a Christian, dependence becomes your default mode of living. Dependence becomes your eternal mode of living.
As a follower of Jesus there will never come a time when you’re not dependent on Him. It’s how you were created. Not only will He take care of all your needs now, but He’ll take care of all your needs and bless you for eternity. Entering into heaven isn’t like checking into a hotel room, where the hotel clerk hands you the key and says have a nice stay, call if you forgot something-and off you go to your room to enjoy your stay, never to see or talk to the clerk again. Entering heaven is finally and forever being the presence of the one we were meant to be with; the one who meets all our needs and does so abundantly. There’s not a pocket of heaven with a group of people who’ve got it all figured out and graduated to some level where they don’t need to interact with Jesus. No part of the Christian life graduates you to a place where you don’t need Jesus. So Heaven is where He’s at the center, on the throne and it’s our delight is to gather around Him. I go back to the words of David. This time in Ps. 16:11. That’s what awaits us in eternity, and that’s what our hearts can experience now by faith. We were not meant to live independently of Jesus, but to depend on Him both now and forevermore being filled with the fullness that only He brings to us. I trust that you have made a declaration of dependence on Him-because that’s where true freedom is found!