If there's one thing that all of us are very touchy about, it is getting our paycheck for the work we perform or for the goods that we sell. This is not a bad concern. It is one of God's concerns as well. In speaking to the rich, James 5:4 says, “Indeed, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”
The entire issue of wages for work that we do was one that Jesus addressed in a parable about labor in Matthew 20:1-16. In that parable an owner of a vineyard went out at various times of the days to hire workers. At the end of the day he gave them all the same wage. This caused some complaining by those who had worked longer in the day.
The use of our time in labor is probably one of the most precious things that we have to give. Time is someone that you can never get back. In a very real sense we trade time for money in order that we may have more time, because we live, in order to trade for more money in order to have more time...and the cycle goes on.
It is because of this cycle that we tend to put the highest value upon our own work. One of the funniest things is that we often have a tendency to overvalue what our time and labor is worth. The value of our labor is very rarely determined by us, but by the price of commodities or by the salary that an employer is willing to pay us. It's very infrequent for any of us to be able to command our own salary.
We value our time and labor very highly in our jobs and occupations. The unfortunate thing is that this mentally often carries over into the spiritual realm. We put a value on our good works that is different than God's value. And so this evening we are going to look at works and what sort of value we like to put on works as well as look at the value of faith. We will see that the faith of Abraham is the faith that brings righteousness.
What Abraham Discovered (vs. 1-3)
When one looks at the life of Abraham, from his initial call by God out of Ur of the Chaldees to his final test of faith with God's command to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham's life was one of a continual need to live by faith and not by sight. From the very beginning God makes a promise, Abraham believes, and then follows obediently in faith.
Abraham's life was one that was also marked by sin. He was not perfect. He lied more than once in denying that Sarah was his wife. He was impatient to see God's promise of a son fulfilled and so married Hagar and had a son, Ismael, by her. Yet, for the wrong things that he committed, if anyone has an ability to boast of his works, it would be Abraham. The Scriptural portrait of Abraham is one of a faithful man whom God called His friend. How many of us think highly enough of ourselves to believe that we are friends of God in the same or better way than Abraham. Matter of fact, throughout Scripture, God gives very few exalted titles to men. Abraham was the friend of God, David was a man after God's own heart. The Apostle John was the one whom Jesus loved.
In looking at Abraham's life, though, what do we see in the way that Abraham lived? We see that Abraham believed that his relationship with God was not based on self-righteous works, but rather on his faith in God's promises.
What is it about the faith of Abraham that makes it the pattern for you and me and makes such faith account to us for righteousness? Jesus said in John 8:56, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” How exactly did Abraham “see” Christ's day? He saw it through the eyes of faith. The promise of God to bless all the nations through His seed was something that He looked forward to in faith.
Hebrews 11:13-16, in speaking of the faith of those before Christ, said, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”
In many ways, what is the difference between those, like Abraham, who did not see the Messiah, but yet believed and those of us, who have not seen the Messiah, but yet believed the truth? There is not much. This saving faith that Abraham possessed was more than just a knowledge of God's promises, but it was an assurance of the faithfulness of God, an embracing of them and a confession with the mouth.
If there was anyone who would have reason to boast about works, it would have been Abraham, not you or me. But before God, He had nothing to boast about. Jesus said in Luke 17:7-10, “And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ” Even Abraham had nothing to boast about before God, because he had done only what was required of him. Rather it was his faith in the coming Messiah and all of God's promises to him that surrounded the coming of the Messiah that brought him the righeousness that was needed.
This is the case even with us. If we claim to have the same kind of faith that Abraham had which resulted in blessing from God, then we must follow in Abraham's footsteps.
What We Should Learn (vs. 4-5)
Verse 4 says, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” If you have an agreement with your employer for a certain salary or with the grain operator for a certain price per bushel, if you fulfill your side of the agreement, then your employer is indebted to you. If you are supposed to get $15 per hour for your work, then you are owed $600 for 40 hours worth of work. Your employer is in debt to you. It is the same thing for the current price of various crops, if you seal the wheat or corn then you are owed a certain amount of money.
Can you or I make God a debtor to us? Has God struck a bargain with us that if we do so many good works that we will be given entrance into heaven? No, there is no such bargain. God is not an employer. And so we should understand that salvation by works means that God is in debt to us.
When you really think about it, what is wrong with putting your trust in your own good works and in your own ideas of what salvation is all about? The problem is with the thought that you can strike a bargain with God that He will actually accept just for you. It is exalting yourself up and pulling God down. It is a foolish attempt to recast the relationship between you and God from God being the Righteous Judge and you the unrighteous rebel, to God being the employer and you being the employee...hoping for a raise and a promotion.
The second thing that we should understand is that salvation by faith means that we are in debt to God. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” How can you ever repay a gift of such magnitude? How can you repay a gift that brings you from eternal, everlasting torment in the fires of hell into eternal, everlasting bliss in the presence of God? You and I can never repay such a gift. We could strive to obey as much as possible and what it is the end? Luke 17:10, “...we are unprofitable servants, we have done what it is our duty to do.”
This is the grace of God to the ungodly us who believe in His Son, who is the realization of the promises made to Abraham. We can do nothing but stand in awe at the mercy and grace of God and sing His praises. Because it is God alone who justifies the sinner. God's grace is full and free and, in Jesus Christ alone, bridges the gap between the Holy One and the sinner.
We have no ability to make the Holy One a debtor to us through our works, rather we must accept that God's righteousness only comes through faith. And understanding that, the motive for how we live is the motive of love. 1 John 4:19, “we love Him because He first loved us.”
The salvation of sinners is all about bringing glory to God and not trying to bring glory to ourselves. It is a work of God from beginning to end. In that is our comfort and our hope. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by grace, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Your faith in Christ brings peace between a just God and you. Our faith in Christ brings hope. It is a hope that we share with Abraham and Sarah as well as all the other Old Testament men and women of faith. The hope of the believer is to go home. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world as were our fathers in the faith. We, as they, long for a heavenly home. This is the promise to all who believe in the promises of God.
Time...our most precious possession is time. What we understand about how and why we should be using time is very important. If we choose to spend our time during our journey here by working our way into God's favor, then life will be an agony for we can never spend enough time to work ourselves into God's favor. If we repent and believe in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, then life can be a joyous labor responding to God's grace with love for Him and for our neighbor.
May God's grace be poured out upon us so that we will live joyous lives secure in God's grace having received his righteousness through faith in Christ and not living in the agony of working for that which we cannot achieve. AMEN.