HOW GOD SAVES SINNERS
Dr. W.A. Criswell
8-1-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled How God Saves Sinners. It is an exposition, an expounding, of the first five chapters of the Book of Romans. Usually I will ask God to help me to bring a message from a text or a small passage of Scripture, but this morning I am going to take five chapters, and we are going to look at them. They have in them a tremendously pertinent and significant theme, and it concerns us.
In the first chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul takes a text, just as the Apocalypse follows a text. The text of the Revelation is Revelation 1:7: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him.” And the whole twenty-two chapters of the Apocalypse are but an unfolding of that text; Christ cometh again.
The text of the Book of Romans is the sixteenth verse of the first chapter.
I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the dunamis, the dynamite, the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew, and to the Greek.
To the Hebrew and to the Gentile, to the whole world, the gospel of Christ; then, having avowed the theme of his message, he proceeds to expound it [Romans 1:17-32].
Now, he begins with a fact in which all of us share. He speaks of fallen human nature, and the first chapter of the Book of Romans describes it, and does it in such language that you don’t read it in public. I have never heard the first chapter of the Book of Romans read in a public assembly, and yet, as you read it, you will think that the man has visited America and is describing the modern depraved life of our nation. Iniquity, sin, transgression, shortcomings, a depravity that is unthinkable and unimaginable [Romans 1:17-32]. This is the beginning of the Book of Romans and the beginning of the gospel of the Son of God.
Then, in chapter 2, he talks about us who have just read the first chapter of Romans: “But thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” [Romans 2:1].
As I read the first chapter of the Book of Romans, my response, our response is, “Why, I never did that, and I never did that, and I never thought of doing that! Now, they do it, and he does it, and she does it, and over there, that describes them, but it doesn’t describe me.” So he begins the second chapter with our response to this description of fallen human nature: “I am not guilty of that!” Then he avows, “But when you condemn these other people, you have condemned yourself, because you do the same things” [Romans 2:1].
“Why, that’s not so. I never killed anybody. I never murdered anybody.” But Matthew 5:21-22 says that anger is murder. Were you ever mad? Were you ever angry? “But I never have committed adultery.” Matthew 5:28 says that he that looks with desire is an adulterer. “But I never bowed in heathen craven worship before images and idols”; [Colossians 3:5], says that covetousness is idolatry. Sin is not so much an overt act as it is a state of being, and all of us alike are fallen human beings, and the overt act is but an affirmation and a confirmation of that fallen nature. You do the same things. You’re guilty of the same things, and you who condemn and are censorious, you’re guilty of the same things—all of us alike [Romans 2:1].
When I began my ministry, I was the pastor of a little church. And upon a day, one of the leading deacons of that little church came to me and said, “I saw so-and-so in our church drinking beer in a public place. Now at the next church conference, on Saturday afternoon, you must have him come before the church and confess his transgression and apologize to the church, or we’re going to turn him out; we’re going to withdraw fellowship from him. So you get him there at the conference.” Well, I was a neophyte, I was just beginning my ministry, and I didn’t know many things as I’ve learned them since.
So I went to that man and I said, “You have been seen by such-and-such deacon drinking beer in a public place, and at the next church conference on Saturday afternoon, you must come and confess your transgression and ask forgiveness of the church, and if you do not, we’re going to turn you out. We’re going to withdraw fellowship from you.” So he came before the church conference on Saturday afternoon, and I stood up there before the people and preferred charges against him, and he stood up and confessed his transgression and asked to be forgiven.
But that deacon who got me to do that, I began to know him, and the first thing I found out about him was that he sold his corn to a distillery because he could make a little more money than selling it to a mill; first thing I found out about him. Second thing, as time went on: he actively campaigned for the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, the prohibition amendment. And then, as time continued, I found that he was a running feud in the church, dividing it all the time. He was a vile, vicious, evil, mean old man, yet he had me hale Benny up there before the church because he was publicly seen drinking beer. I had a thousand times rather be the pastor of Benny drinking beer than that vile, vicious, evil old deacon who kept the church in a turmoil all the days of his life.
When I grew up as a boy, we had the Lord’s Supper. There was an aisle down the middle of the little church. So the pastor, in presenting the memorial of the Lord’s Supper, said, “All of you who are worthy, you sit on this side of the aisle, and all the rest of you, you sit on this side of the aisle.” And they served the elements of the Lord’s Table just to those on this side of the aisle. Now, I was just a little boy, and I remember looking at all of these worthy ones on this side of the aisle. Then I looked at all of these unworthy ones on that side of the aisle. And as a little boy, I tell you truly, it seemed to me that the unworthy ones were better than the crowd on the other side of the aisle.
I cannot help, when I read the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32], I cannot help but be impressed with a universal human reaction to the story. The prodigal boy wasted his substance with harlots and in drunkenness and in riotous debauchery [Luke 15:11-13], but when he came back home and to his father’s house [Luke 15:20-24], the elder brother said, “Father, never at any time have I transgressed thy commandments. I have done everything you have asked me to do and been here all the time! And this thy son”—not “my brother,” “this thy son”—“has wasted his substance with harlots and in riotous living,” and the elder brother refused to go in or to welcome the boy home. He was judgmental. He was censorious. He was critical. He was envious. He was jealous. “Because you never gave a fatted calf to me that I could make merry with my friends” [Luke 15:28-29].
As you read the story of those two boys, somehow your heart goes out to the prodigal with his harlots, and his drunkenness, and his riotous living, when the same time your soul recoils from the censorious, critical, hypocritical, judgmental response of the elder brother. You just do. “Thou, O man,” in the second chapter, “art inexcusable, whoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” [Romans 2:1].
And that’s the way the Book of Romans begins, with fallen human nature, and no one of us able to point his finger to the other of us and say, “That’s you, and that’s you, and that’s you, but I am removed and separate and apart.” Finally, Paul concludes the discussion in the third chapter with these famous and oft-quoted words in verse 10: “There is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10], and again, verse 23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23], all of us.
Now, having presented human nature and having presented us, he begins in the fourth chapter with something else that is typical of all of us, all of us. It is the natural, carnal response of human nature when we find that we’re sinners, and all of us do; there comes a time in every life when we wake up to accountability, and we feel ourselves transgressors [Romans 4:2]. A child will feel that in time. That’s what it is to be morally sensitive, to be made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27]. So as time goes on, all of us reach that age, that time when we feel that we’re wrong, we’re sinners.
Now our response to that is universally alike. There is always an attempt to try to make amends, to save ourselves by something we can do that’s good; by good works, as the Bible calls it. All of us have that response. Well, the apostle uses two illustrations here of men who sought to find peace with God and salvation by good works. His first illustration is Abraham. “What shall we say then about Abraham our father? Now if Abraham were justified by works”—by something good that he did—“he hath whereof to glory” [Romans 4:2]. If he saved himself, if he justified himself, if he made himself righteous by good works, by something good that he did—he’s going go reform, or he’s going to keep the commandments, or he’s going to begin a new life, or whatever—“If he were justified by his good works, he hath whereof to glory” [Romans 4:2].
“See what I did? I saved myself. I made it right, and I can stand before God on my own; don’t need any except just myself.” He can boast. He can glory. But Paul says, “but not before God” [Romans 4:1-2]. Why not? Abraham, Paul says, could boast before men. “See what a fine man I am. See what an outstanding citizen I am. See what a fine specimen of manhood I am.” He might be able to boast before men, but he couldn’t boast before God. Why? Because God knew him. God knew his heart, and God knew the secret recesses and innermost thoughts of his life. And if Abraham thought to boast of his goodness before men, he wouldn’t dare do it before God, for God knew him [Romans 4:2].
Why, even in the short, short story of Abraham in the Book of Genesis, in one of those chapters, in the twelfth chapter, Abraham is down in the land of Egypt with Sarah his wife. So he says to Sarah, “You are a beautiful woman, and when Pharaoh hears of you, he will want to kill me in order to take you, so you tell them that you are my sister. And when Pharaoh sends for you, you just go. Tell them you are my sister” [Genesis 12:10-13]. That’s Abraham.
And as though the rebuke of God in doing that in the twelfth chapter was not enough [Genesis 12:17], in the twentieth chapter, Abraham is doing the same and identical thing before Abimelech, king of Gerar. “You tell Abimelech you are my sister” [Genesis 20:2-5]. It’s a half lie, a half truth. She was his half sister [Genesis 20:11], but the purpose of it was to deliver himself at the expense of delivering Sarah into the arms of another man [Genesis 20:2]. How do you like that? That’s Abraham.
And as though that were not enough, when Sarah saw as the age of life came that she didn’t have any child, she said to Abraham, “I have a slave girl. Her name is Hagar. You go in unto Hagar, and you have a child by Hagar” [Genesis 16:1-2]. Why didn’t Abraham refuse that? He went in unto Hagar, and he had a child by Hagar [Genesis 16:4, 15], and the awesome result of that is as poignantly dreadful today as it has been through the centuries and the centuries, for out of that illicit union between Abraham and Hagar was born Ishmael and the whole Arab world [Genesis 16:15], when God said and promised that out of the womb of Sarah he should have a child of promise [Genesis 15:1-6]. And his name is to be called Isaac [Genesis 17:15-19], “gladness,” “happiness,” “laughter.” The father of the Hebrew nation [John 8:39]. Abraham, Abraham, the father of the faithful and the friend of God [2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23]; “What shall we say that Abraham our father hath obtained, hath found as pertaining to the flesh? If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to boast; but not before God” [Romans 4:1-2]. For in God’s sight, Abraham was as deep and abysmal a sinner as anybody else on the sacred page.
Then he uses a second illustration: trying to save ourselves by works. His second illustration is David, the man after God’s own heart [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22]. And David cried before the Lord and said, “If Thou desirest sacrifices, I will give them: but Thou delightest not in burnt offerings” [Psalm 51:16]. What does a man do when he finds himself in sin and transgression, which is you, which is us, which is fallen human nature? Micah cried our word when he said, “How shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” [Micah 6:6-7]; take my own firstborn child and offer it a sacrifice before God in order to hide my sin away? What does a man do when he sins? How can a man be saved who has sinned? Not by good works, the apostle says, for even Abraham wasn’t good enough, and David found nothing, though he was the king, that he could offer before God—money, his crown, the kingdom, a reformed life, the keeping the commandments—nothing, nothing. But that’s the fourth chapter of the Book of Romans. It is not by works. We could never be good enough, nor could we ever be rich enough; not by the works of which we could boast [Romans 4:1-25].
Now we turn to the fifth chapter. What is God’s response to fallen human nature? What is God’s response to human sin? Three times here in the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans he uses the illustration of Adam. God’s response to human sin is one of judgment and death. Verse 12: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered in the world, and death by sin” [Romans 5:12]; that’s God’s response. In the seventeenth verse, he repeats it again: “For by one man’s offense death reigned by one” [Romans 5:17], and the nineteenth verse: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners …” [Romans 5:19] God’s response is seen in Adam. It is one of immediate death and judgment.
“In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely, surely, surely die” [Genesis 2:17], and that day the soul, the spirit, of Adam died. The image of God was broken [Genesis 1:27]. And in the day of the Lord—for a thousand years is as a day in the Lord [2 Peter 3:8]—and in the day of the Lord his body died. Isn’t it a strange thing that of all of those ancients in longevity, not one of them lived beyond that day of the Lord? Adam lived nine hundred thirty years: and he died [Genesis 5:5]. Methuselah, the oldest of all of those men, lived nine hundred sixty-nine years: and he died [Genesis 5:27]. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely, surely, surely die” [Genesis 2:17]; and that day Adam died.
The ground was cursed for his sake [Genesis 3:17-18]. It grew thorns and thistles, and great desert places fell upon the globe. The animals that God made became carnivorous. They ate one another. God never made animals to eat one another. In the millennial picture, in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, in that millennium, “the lion will eat grass like an ox” [Isaiah 11:7]. God never meant them to be carnivorous, but when Adam fell, not only was the ground cursed, but the animal world became vicious, full of attack and blood, eating one another.
And in that day, the first mound in the earth was raised, and beneath it was their boy, Abel, who died in his own blood that encrimsoned the earth [Genesis 4:8, 10-11]. I could so well think of Adam and Eve standing over that first raised mound and their tears in unbidden sorrow falling to the ground. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely, surely, surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. And the son that lived was cursed and the mark of Cain placed in his forehead [Genesis 4:11-15], and the whole earth was filled with violence and blood [Genesis 6:11]. This, Paul says, is God’s response to human sin and our fallen nature. It’s one of judgment, and of wrath, and of ultimate and final death [Romans 5:12-14].
But Paul says something else. As sin brings death and judgment and the wrath of God, something else moved in the heart of the Lord. For God is also a heavenly Father, and “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that look up to Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” [Psalm 103:13-14]. As the psalmist says in Psalm 130:3, “If Thou, Lord, didst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”
In the great day of His wrath, who could abide the presence of the Lord? [Revelation 6:17]. Sin and death; “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23], and “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20], but God, but God is also our heavenly Father, and, moved with mercy and love, God did something in the beginning. God did something through the centuries, and God did something on a hill called Calvary [Luke 23:33-45], that that sweet boy sang about just a moment ago. How does a man save himself? How do sinners ever stand justified in the presence of God? [Romans 4:25]. How do we ever have right to the pearly city, to the heavenly home? [Revelation 21:21-23]. How does God save sinners?
When the Lord drove the man out of the garden of Eden on the east side, at the east gate, He placed there cherubim [Genesis 3:22-24]. Who are they? They are symbols of mercy, always, in the Bible. They are symbols of forgiveness, of grace; even on the mercy seat of atonement, the cherubim arched their wings until they touched, looking full upon the blood of expiation [Exodus 25:17-20; 1 Kings 6:27]. At the garden on the east side were cherubim, symbols of God’s grace and mercy [Genesis 3:24-25]. And when the boy Abel came before the Lord, having learned at the altar on the east side of Eden, he brought the firstling of a flock, a lamb, and there poured out its blood in expiation before God [Genesis 4:4].
And throughout the pages of the Old Covenant, the sacrifices of the tabernacle and of the temple, what were they, and why? That was God’s way of teaching us the nomenclature, the language of heaven. What is an altar? I learn it in the type in the temple. What is a sacrifice? I learn its meaning in the offering up of the life poured out in blood and ascending by fire, the judgments of God [Leviticus 1-8]. What is atonement? [Romans 5:11]. What is expiation? [2 Corinthians 5:21]. What is propitiation? [1 John 2:2]. I learn these things and what they mean in the type by which God taught us the nomenclature, the language of heaven [Galatians 3:24]. An altar, a sacrifice, blood atonement, expiation, propitiation, forgiveness, and now having learned what it means, having been taught what the altar is and the sacrifice is, and atonement is [Leviticus 1-8], then Paul says, “When we were yet without strength, in due time, in God’s time, Christ came and died for the ungodly” [Romans 5:6]. All of the sacrifices of all of the centuries but taught us the meaning of when Christ should come and be sacrificed for us.
[But] God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died in our behalf, Christ died for us.
And if, when we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life of intercession in glory.
[Romans 5:8, 10]
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One,
All praise to the Father, all praise to the Son
All praise to the Spirit, the great Three in One.
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One.
Glory, I’m saved.
My sin is all pardoned, my guilt is all gone;
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One.
[“Saved by the Blood,” S. J. Henderson, 1902]
Abraham cast himself upon the mercies of God [Hebrews 11:8-19], and Abraham trusted God, and believed God, and his faith was counted, was reckoned for righteousness [Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:20-22]. And David came before the Lord and said, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” [Psalm 51:7]. That’s what it is to be a Christian. Lord, I am not able to cover my sins. I am not good enough to merit forgiveness, and I’m not rich enough to buy it. I cast myself upon the mercies of God, and when I do, God does something for me: in the blood of the Lamb, in the sacrifice of Christ, in the atoning grace and mercy of Jesus, my sins are washed away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. I could never do it myself. He does it. He does it.
Could my tears forever flow?
Could my zeal no languor know?
These for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
[“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” Augustus M. Toplady, 1776]
And Abraham trusted in God, believed in God, and God reckoned it to him, counted it to him for righteousness [Genesis 15:6]. He does it. “Unto Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . unto Him be glory, and dominion, and power forever, and ever. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. Not what I have done, what He has done. Not that I am worthy; but He is worthy. I couldn’t; He can. And that’s what it is to be a Christian. And the rest of our lives we give ourselves to praising Him. This is what He has done for me, oh, oh, oh! Sing about Him. Thank Him. Adore Him. Worship Him. Love Him. Praise and honor Him. That’s what it is to be a Christian. He did it, and every breath of my life and every word of my soul shall flow in unceasing gratitude and thanksgiving for what God has done for me; lifted me up out of the miry clay, that’s what He’s done for me—praising Jesus.
Ah, what a sweet message is the gospel message, the good news that God was in Christ, reconciling us unto Himself, not imputing to us our sins [2 Corinthians 5:19], but, having forgiven us and washed us clean [Colossians 1:14; Titus 3:5], asking us to come [Matthew 11:28], and to avow that love and faith in Jesus [Romans 10:9-10]. Will you do that for Him today? Lord, just thank You for dying for me [1 Corinthians 15:3], for saving me [Romans 10:13], for forgiving me [Ephesians 1:7], for writing my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]; thank You, Lord. Thank You. Thank You. That’s what it is to be saved: in trust, loving, accepting, believing in, receiving the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8].
In a moment we’re going to sing our hymn of appeal, and you, somebody you, coming to the Lord, would you stand by me? In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, on the lower floor, into the aisle, and here to the front; a family, a couple, or just you, as the Spirit shall make appeal, as God shall say the word, would you come and stand by me? “Today, unashamed, I confess my faith in Jesus as Lord. I take Him as my Savior, and I’m coming. I’m coming now.” Or to put your life in the circumference of this dear congregation, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, do it now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. God bless, and angels attend in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
A. The text of the
message and of the whole Book of Romans (Romans
of this letter is like the Book of Revelation: a text, then the sweep of the
revelation after the first dynamic avowal from God(Revelation
B. The gospel is the
power of God unto salvation(Romans 1:1, 3-4, 7,
II. Fallen human nature – chapters 1-3
1 is a description of human life thatisnever read in public
The inclusiveness of condemnation (Romans 2:12,
3:10, 12, 23)
Sin not so much an act as a state of being – how we are(Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, Colossians 3:5)
Overly zealous and righteous deacon vs. church member drinking beer
Lord’s Supper divided between those “worthy” and those “not worthy”
brother of the prodigal boy(Luke 15:11-30)
III. Human attempts toward salvation,
justification – chapter 4
could not boast before God (Romans 4:1-5)
knew him (Genesis 12:10-19, 15:1-6, 16:1-4,
sought the best he knew how to make propitiation for his sins, and it all came
to naught (Romans 4:6-8, Psalm 51:16, Micah 6:6-8)
IV. God’s gospel of salvation – chapter 5
response to human sin is one of judgment and death(Romans
5:12, 17, 19)
Fallen nature through Adam(Genesis 2:17, 2 Peter
That day Adam died in his spirit
Realizing their nakedness (Genesis 3:7)
Cast out of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24)
One son murdered and the other cursed (Genesis
Story of all humanity – fallen
Mercy and forgiveness in Christ (Psalm 103:13-14,
“In due timeâ€¦” – God purposed to work out our salvation(Romans 5:6, 6:23, Ezekiel 18:20)
Cherubim at gate of Eden were symbols of mercy(Genesis
Sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple taught the language of heaven
dying for us(Romans 5:6-10)
None of us will stand before God and say, “I did it;” but all glory to Him who
loved us(Revelation 1:5-6)
Hymn, “Saved By the Blood”
We are saved by faith(Romans 4:3, 20-22, Genesis
15:6, Psalm 51:7)
Hymn, “Rock of Ages”
does it (Revelation 1:5-6, 2 Corinthians 5:10)