Saving Faith


Saving Faith

July 18th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Romans 4:1-5

7-18-82    10:50 a.m.




Thank you, wonderful orchestra and choir.  And God bless the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television.  This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the doctrinal message The Faith That Saves.  In the series on Soteriology, two Sundays ago, The Two Words of Salvation; last Sunday, True Repentance; and today, The Faith That Saves.  The reading of our background text is in Romans, chapter 4, the first five verses [Romans 4:1-5].  Romans, chapter 4, verses 1‑5:

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 

For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory,

to boast; but not before God.

For what saith the Scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

[Romans 4:1-5]


The apostle first speaks of a way of salvation that would be the payment of a debt to the man who achieved it.  The man comes before God, dressed in his own righteousness, and he appears before the Lord as a self‑created character.  He is taking the responsibility personally for his destiny, now and forever.  And he appears before God with his deeds of holiness and righteousness, and he demands of God his salvation as the payment of a debt.  He has earned it.  He has won it.  He deserves it; God owes it to him, and his salvation is the reward of the payment of a debt.  He glories in himself.  He is self-righteous; he has presented himself to God in his own holiness and goodness. 

But the apostle Paul avows that there must be some other way for a man to be saved, for no man can be justified before God by his own holiness and his own good deeds and his own good works, because he cannot achieve it.  As an illustration, he chooses the greatest saint that he knew: Abraham, the friend of God, the father of the faithful, and the father of a nation.  And he writes, “If Abraham were justified by his good works, he hath whereof to boast and to glory; but not before God” [Romans 4:2], because God knew him.  Abraham might boast before us, he might boast before his friends and acquaintances.  But he couldn’t boast before God, God knew the intimacies of his life, even of His greatest saint. 

For example, in Genesis chapter 12 is told the story of Abraham as he lies to Pharaoh concerning Sarah, his wife [Genesis 12:11-20].  Four chapters later, in Genesis 16, is told the story of Abraham as he goes into the life of Hagar, a slave, an Egyptian.  And of her and that union is born Ishmael, the founder of the Arabic nations [Genesis 16:1-11].  Then four chapters later is told the story of Abraham, as again, he lies to Abimelech concerning Sarah, his wife [Genesis 20:2].  If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof the glory to boast: “Look at me I did it.”  But Paul says, “Not before God” [Romans 4:2].  God knew him and the weaknesses, and transgressions, and faults, and failures of his life, even of the life of this greatest of the saints, Abraham. 

The apostle therefore avows there must be found some other way whereby a man can be saved.  And he finds it in the salvation of Abraham himself.  In Genesis 15:6, it says: “Abraham believed God; and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”  He was saved in the grace [Ephesians 2:8] and the mercy [Titus 3:5] of the Lord, mediated to him by his trust in God.  As the apostle writes in this fourth chapter of Romans:


Abraham staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God—

not to himself, giving glory to God—

And being fully persuaded that, what God hath promised, He was able also to perform.

And therefore it was imputed unto him for righteousness.

[Romans 4:20-22]


The righteousness with which he clothed himself was not of his own weaving or of his own making, but it was the righteousness of God: saved by faith, by trust.  And his faith was counted for goodness, for holiness, for righteousness, saved in the mercy [Titus 3:5] and forgiveness of the Lord [Ephesians 1:7]. 

It is thus the apostle is avowing with us.  If we are to be saved, it can never be as a debt God owes to us because we have earned it, we have achieved it by our goodnesses, and our holiness, and our righteousness.  We’re not holy, we’re not good, and we’re not righteous.  God demands perfection if we are to enter His beautiful and holy city and look upon His face and live.  But if we transgress in our lives one time, we have lost and broken that perfection.  The apostle James, the Lord’s brother, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, writes of that in his epistle, James 2:10, “If a man keeps the whole law,” obeys it perfectly in every part, “yet offends in one part, he is guilty of all.”  He’s broken the perfection.  It’s like a chandelier on a chain: you don’t have to break every link for the chandelier to crash to the ground, just break one link and it falls.  So with our lives: we can be righteous and holy in every area of our lives but if we sin, we’re under the condemnation of death: “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20], and “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].  No man, the apostle avows, can be justified—can be counted righteous, can be saved, by the achievement of his own good works [Ephesians 2:8-9]. 

There is a man in our city, a strong man, able and capable.  A crushing providence dashed the man’s life to pieces.  I went to him and I invited him to find rebirth, regeneration in Christ our Lord, find strength and ableness in Him.  He replied to me, “I am able to do it myself.  I don’t need God, and I don’t need Christ, and I don’t need the church.  I will find the answer in myself.”  Finally, he gave himself to drink and finally, to suicide.  No man, however strong he may be, is equal, in himself, for the judgments and the providences of life.  What does he do in the day of death?  And what does he do when he stands at the great judgment bar of Almighty God? [Revelation 20:11-15].  As Isaiah says, our righteousnesses in His sight are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]

There must be some other way whereby we can be saved, and that way is found for us as it was with Abraham.  He believed God.  He trusted in God.  He cast himself upon the mercies of God, and God saved him by grace, by faith, by trust.  God counted his faith for holiness, for righteousness [Genesis 15:6], “For by grace are we all saved through faith; and that not of ourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works,” lest any man should say, “I did it” and glory in himself [Ephesians 2:8-9].  And the apostle writes that forgiveness, that mercy, that grace is founded and grounded in the atoning love and merit of Jesus Christ our Lord.  He writes in the fifth chapter of Romans:


For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 

But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

Much more now, being justified—

being declared righteous—

by His blood . . .

[Romans 5:6-9]


In the mercy and death and suffering of our Lord, we shall be saved through Him, reconciled to God by His death, saved by His resurrected life and His intercession for us in glory, by whom we have now received the atonement for our sins [Romans 5:9-11].  No longer is it “I,” it is “He.”  No longer is it in my strength; it is in Him, saved by trusting, by believing, by accepting, by receiving, by looking [Ephesians 2:8].  Bless God, what Jesus has done for us! 

This is the occasion of Paul’s polemical letter to the Galatians.  They had found salvation, trusting in Christ [Galatians 1:6-7].  They received the Spirit, believing in Jesus.  And they were walking in the comfort of the presence of the Son of God [Galatians 3:2-3].  Then came the Judaizers who said, “Faith is all right, trust is all right.  But you can’t be saved by faith and by trust.  If you’re to be saved, you’re to be saved by the keeping of the law; by observing rites and rituals and ceremonies” [Galatians 1:6-8].  It was then that the apostle wrote this polemical letter to the Galatians.  It’s a storm, it’s a thunderous epistle.  And with one stroke, the apostle sweeps away all salvation supposedly brought to us by legalism, or by humanism, or by the observance of outward ordinances, by priestcraft, by rite, by ceremony [Galatians 3:1-5].  If a man is saved, he says, it’s to be in the love and grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave Himself for me [Galatians 2:16-20, 3:24-27]

As we read the Holy Scriptures, that is so evident in the sacred pages by which we learn and understand the mind and purpose of God for us.  A man can pray and pray forever and die lost.  In the sixth chapter of the Book of Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord describes men, Pharisees, who blow trumpets before them and stand on the street corners that all men might see them pray [Matthew 6:5].  And in that same gospel message, our Lord described the Pharisee who went up to the temple and prayed by himself and thanked God for all of the obediences of his life [Luke 18:9-12]

Then the Lord said, in that same temple at that same time came a publican sinner, who would not even raise his face to God, but beat upon his breast saying, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.”  And the Lord said that man, that publican sinner, went down to his house justified, righteous in God’s sight, because he committed his soul in faith and trust to the Lord who could save him [Luke 18:13-14].

Take again, in the Bible we have instance after instance of good men who appear before the Lord and His apostles.  Nicodemus was a righteous man; he was a member of the Sanhedrin, he was a ruler of the Jews [John 3:1].  But the Lord said to him, “Except you be born again anothen, from above, ye cannot enter the kingdom of God” [John 3:3, 5, 7].

Cornelius is described to us in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts as being a good and a righteous man who served the Lord the best he knew how [Acts 10:1-2].  But an angel came to him and said, “Send down to Joppa for one Simon in the house of the tanner, who shall come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved” [Acts 10:3-6].  I cannot be saved in my own righteousnesses and goodnesses; I fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].  I must cast myself upon the mercy of Jesus.  And it is He, He alone, who delivers me and forgives me and saves me [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].

Paul avows it is not Jesus and something that I do.  I’m not saved by Jesus and any righteous work that I do.  I’m not saved by Jesus and any ceremony I might keep.  I’m not saved by Jesus and my baptism, or Jesus and my observance of the Sabbath Day, or I’m not saved by Jesus and my tears or mourning.  I’m not saved by anything except Jesus; He alone, Jesus exclusively, Jesus eternally, Jesus alone.  And when I stand in the presence of the great Glory in heaven, the song will be, “Worthy is the Lamb” [Revelation 5:12].  Worthy is the Christ of God who washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . To Him be the glory and the dominion and the power forever and forever.  Amen [Revelation 1:5-6].

In the fact that a man would trust Jesus and something else, shows that he has never fully committed himself to Jesus.  He holds on to something else.  I have not committed my money to the bank if I hold onto it.  I have not committed the letter to the post office if I keep it in my hand.  I have not committed myself to that pilot and his airplane until I get in the structure and sit down.  I have not committed my life to Christ until I cast myself—a poor, undone, unworthy, lost sinner—and at His feet cry, “If I perish, I perish here.  If I die, I die here, trusting in the love and grace of the blessed Jesus.”  You know what happens?  When I do that, John 6:37 says, “He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.”  I am saved.  I am born again.  I am a new creation.  I am washed clean and white and pure, trusting, loving, committing, believing.  That’s God’s way of saving us [Romans 10:8-13].

May I now speak of why it is God has chosen this faith way of our salvation?  Number one: there is no other way we can be saved [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].  If I depend for my salvation on my holiness and my righteousness, what of the past?  What shall I do concerning the things in the days and the years gone by wherein I have fallen short, I have transgressed, I have sinned? [Romans 3:23].  What shall I do in the past?  Can I go back and undo those thoughts and those deeds?  I cannot; if there is not some other way for God to save me, I am lost because of the judgment of the past [Ezekiel 18:4, 20].  And what shall I do of the future?  How can I know that, from this moment on, I shall never transgress, never sin, never do wrong?  I sentence myself to a life of misery and hopelessness, if I try to find some other way of salvation other than in the grace [Ephesians 2:8] and mercy [Titus 3:5] and forgiveness of God [Ephesians 1:7].  I am helpless before it.  There is no other way for me to be saved except in God’s goodness and mercy to me [Ephesians 2:9; Titus 3:5]

Second, there is no other way that I might have assurance and security of my salvation [John 10:27-29].  If my salvation depends upon my works, my goodnesses, how could I ever know that I have repented enough, or I have wept and cried enough, or I have mourned enough, or I was sincere enough?  When I look for my salvation on the inside of me, I am filled with dismay and consternation and discouragement.  And the more I try, the more does that sense of loss, futility, overwhelm me. 

Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk in the monastery at Wittenberg in Germany, and he sought to make himself righteous before God.  He fasted until he swooned, fainted.  He beat himself in flagellations until the blood poured out of his body.  Finally, in hope to seek peace, he made a sacred pilgrimage to Rome.  And while he was crawling on his knees up the Scala Santa in front of the St. John Lateran Church, seeking salvation by his good works; on his knees halfway up, there came, like a thunderous declamation from heaven, “The just shall live by faith, by trust, by believing in God” [Habakkuk 2:4].  Luther stood up, walked back down the steps, returned to Germany, and the Reformation was on. 

When I look in myself, my efforts and good deeds, to find forgiveness of sins and the holiness and purity and righteousness, I am plunged into despair.  But when I look to Jesus, I am strengthened, and comforted, and helped, and lifted up, and raised out of the miry pit.  I may not be all right, but He is.  I may be weak, but He is strong.  I may cower before the onslaught of sin; He never failed, never lost a battle.  And my salvation is not subjective, in me; it is objective, in Him.  Like the ark [Genesis 7:23], like the blood of the Passover [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23], like the serpent raised in the wilderness, I look unto Him and am radiant, am justified, am forgiven and saved [Numbers 21:6-9; John 3:14-16].  I’m washed in His grace [Ephesians 2:8] and love [John 3:16] and mercy [Titus 3:5].  There’s no other way of assurance but in Him. 

Why this faith way of salvation?  Not only there’s no other way I could be saved [John 14:6, Acts 4:12], there’s no other way that I could find security and assurance [John 10:27-29]; there’s no other way that God could show Himself merciful and gracious [Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8].  In the first and the second chapters of the Book of Genesis, the Almighty Creator is presented there, as by fiat He speaks these universes into existence.  He flings these planets into space.  He creates the mountains and the seas, the great Almighty of the stars of the firmament and the glories of the world [Genesis 1:1-2:25].  But it is not until the third chapter of Genesis, and the fourth chapter of Genesis, and all of the chapters that follow after, do we see God as our gracious Redeemer and our holy and heavenly Savior.  It is wonderful to praise God for His almightiness.  It is infinitely more precious to love God for His wondrous mercy and forgiveness extended to us.  And how the Lord repeats in every page of the Bible that gracious invitation: for Jesus’ sake you are forgiven [Ephesians 4:32].  “Come, come, come; ho, every one that thirsteth, let him come to the waters.  Let him drink.  Come without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1].  That’s God in His mercy, in His gracious remembrance of us.  Why this faith way of salvation?  Because it is the only way whereby any one of us, and all of us, can enter into the kingdom [John 3:3, 5]; it is the open door, this faith way.  It is the open door for the vilest in our midst.  In our congregation, there is a man who was dirty and filthy, in the gutter like a rat, sentenced to the prison.  And the Lord lifted him up.  He’s clean.  He’s washed.  He’s a soulwinner.  He’s changed; the dirtiest and the filthiest, now saints of God. 

It’s the open door to the uneducated and the unlearned.  I have never been more moved in my life than listening to a Kentucky mountain preacher, saved when he was a grown man, baptized in his middle years, felt called of God to preach, standing up there in that country church, couldn’t read, untrained, uneducated.  But as I sat there and listened to that mountain preacher—Psalm 104:24, was his text.  Somebody had read it to him:  “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works!  In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.”  And he preached out of his life as a mountain man; lived there all of his days.  Those great mountains, he said, were to break the force of the hurricanes from the sea.  God put them there.  The trees that grow, they make lumber for their homes, make coffins in which they are buried when they die.  The streams bring water of life to their thirsty souls.  Why, as I sat there and listened to that man, uneducated, untrained, I felt my soul lifted up in adoration to the great God.  That’s the Lord: an open door for the uneducated and the untrained. 

This faith way of salvation is an open door for the hopeless and the helpless.  There’s no more poignant incident in the life of our wonderful Savior than when He died on the cross, and next to Him a thief, a malefactor, a traitor, a seditionist, a murderer.  Turning to the Lord, for he could do none other, said, “Lord, when You enter into Your kingdom, would You remember me?  Would You call my name?” [Luke 23:42].  And God turned to him and said, “Today, this day, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].  It’s the way, open to the hopeless and the helpless.  He could do none other.

It is the open door for the affluent and the worldly.  I can point out to you in this congregation, in every congregation that assembles here, husband and wife, parents, couples; wealthy, successful, giving their lives to the world, partying, selfish, fleshly, worldly.  Now  they have found the Lord, and there is meaning and purpose in their efforts, in their service, in their devotion.  They walk in the light of the glory of God [2 Corinthians 4:6].  And it’s an open door for each one of us.  I can draw a circle around each one here.  And in that circle, you can be saved, just you and God; by faith, by trust, by committal, looking to Jesus: “Lord, this is my heart, and I’ve opened my heart to Thee.”


He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. 

But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right—the prerogative, the privilege,

to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name—that lean on His arm.

[John 1:11-12]


Where you are, you can be saved.  Where you are, you can dedicate your home to God, “Beginning this moment, it shall be a new day for us in our family and in our home.”  Just where you are, not trusting and then ceremonies, and rituals, and priestcrafts, and fetishes, and good works, just where you are, “Lord, Lord, my heart is open to heaven, God-ward.”  “And whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13], just you and God. 

Oh, sweet family, come, come, come.  Precious couple, come, come, come.  A one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we stand, not in my righteousness, but in His; not in my strength, but in His.”  Looking to Jesus, His mercy and love and forgiveness, mediated to us through our trust and belief and faith [Ephesians 2:8]; and when I do, I’m saved.  God writes my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12,15, 21:27].  God does something in my heart.  God blesses me in the pilgrim way.  Come, come, come. 

May we stand for the prayer? 

Wonderful, wonderful Lord, winning a battle for us that we couldn’t win, overcoming an adversary before whose very presence we turn to dust and ashes; O Lord Jesus Christ, in Thy grace [Ephesians 2:8] and mercy [Titus 3:5] and love and goodness, save us all [John 3:16].  May no one go out the door of this sanctuary without first having said “This day, this moment, I open my heart, and my house, and my home heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward.”

In this moment, when our people pray and when we wait, a family you, “Pastor, here we stand.  We have decided for God.  Here we are.”  A couple you, “This is the day God has spoken to us, and we’re putting our home and our house and our lives in the hands of Jesus.”  One somebody you, “This day I take Jesus as my Savior and my Lord [Romans 10:8-13], and I’m coming.”  Do it.  Make the decision now in your heart.  And when we sing in this moment, down that stairway, down that aisle, “Here I come, pastor.  I’m on the way.”  May angels attend you and God bless you as you answer with your life.  And thank You, Lord, for the gracious harvest You give us, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen.  Welcome, while we sing, while we sing.