Moving on a Promise
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
This is the second Sunday in the season of Lent. As we journey toward the Good Friday we are reminded of God’s love for sinners. We are challenged to consider Why it was necessary for God to send his Son to suffer and die. We are invited to embrace the reality of God’s grace and forgiveness for us sinners.
The story of Abraham (read earlier) will lay the foundation for our faith lesson today. In Romans 4, Paul argues the case for our justification before God. The question that he tried to answer is: What makes us worthy in the eyes of God? Is it our works, that we perform out of a sense of Christian duty? Is it God’s grace, and God’s grace only without which we would certainly perish? Is it a balanced combination of the two elements of faith and works? The Apostle Paul’s position will become clear as we read the Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about -- but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but
through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring -- not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed -- the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
The Jews regarded Abraham as the great founder of the race, and the pattern of all that a man should be. Very naturally they must ask: Wherein lies the special position of Abraham? What makes him different from other people? Why is he called the “Father of the Faith”?
In the book of Romans Paul’s intention is to share the basic Gospel. That is, he makes the point that all have fallen short of the glory of God. We are all sinners and have broken the covenant relationship with God. However, God, in his love and compassion has a plan of salvation, which he has put in place through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the book of Romans Paul has tried to explain that what makes a man or a woman right with God is not the performance of works that the law lays down, but the faith of complete yieldedness which takes God at his word, and
which believes that God still loves us when we have done nothing to deserve that love.
The Jews reacted to the idea that their dedication to keeping the law could not buy them the favor and goodwill of God. The entire Jewish religious establishment was built on keeping the letter of the law to earn their good standing with God. For the Jews, if someone told them that God’s grace and not their works of keeping the law earned them God’s favor, this was outrageous and blasphemous.
When Paul began to speak about Abraham as a model of faith he was on ground that every Jew could understand. Abraham was the founder of the Jewish nation in a similar way as Jesus is the Founder of the Christian faith, and Menno Simons is the founder of the Mennonite faith tradition. Abraham was the man to whom God first had spoken, the man chosen by God to venture out into new and unfamiliar territory. Abraham was the man who had heard God’s call and had responded in obedience even though he did not see or understand the plan of God.
The essence of Abraham’s greatness was that God had come to him with the request to leave his home, his friends and relatives, his familiar surroundings and had said to him, “If you make this great venture of faith on the basis of my word, you will become a great nation and a great people.”
Abraham had acted upon God’s promise. He had not argued; he had not hesitated; he went out with a silent but firm conviction in his heart that God knew what He was doing.
To illustrate let me tell you this story about putting complete trust in someone based on their vision, not ours. Early one morning a father was awakened by the smoke detector in his basement. He woke his wife and they quickly went to their children's bedroom and woke them up and started heading for the door through the smoke which was getting quite heavy. The father was carrying his one and a half year-old daughter in one arm and held the hand of his four year-old son with the other. The son, being scared and unsure of what was happening pulled his hand from his father's clasp and ran to what he thought was a place of safety -- a corner of his bedroom where his favorite stuffed toys were kept. The father got outside and called to his son who appeared at the bedroom window crying and calling for help. The father called to him and told him to jump, but the boy yelled in reply, "But I can’t see you!" Then the father called back with a reassuring message: "That's all right, I can see you!"
Abraham responded to God’s call not because he knew the way. Not even because God had explained his intentions with him and had given Abraham a clearly marked road map. Abraham responded to God’s promise to guide and bless him. He completely and without a question trusted God and took God at his word.
It was not that Abraham had meticulously performed the demands of the law that put him in this special relationship with God; it was his complete trust in God, his complete willingness to surrender his will into God’s. His complete faith, that God could see “past the smoke”, enabled him to take a leap of faith and trust in God’s goodness.
Just like the Jews, we are often tempted to believe that a person must earn God’s favor. “If I only go to church regularly God will be pleased with me. If I give my time, energy and money for God’s service, God will smile on me. If I keep the law, love my neighbor, get along with my parents and siblings... If I only work hard enough... If I help the Bosnian refugee family... (by the way we still need volunteers) If I go to boys/girls club or Vermin... If I serve as leader in church and in my community... If I don’t cheat on my spouse... or in my exams... If I always walk in a straight line... keep a strict diet... recycle everything that can be recycled... If I don’t shop (leave alone work) on Sundays... If I only do (you can fill in the blank in a way that applies to you) ... I’ve done my part, and God will be pleased with me.
We believe that a person can never earn the favor of God. In that respect Mother Theresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu, your favorite preacher, (even Abraham, for that matter), have no advantage over any other person. Righteousness is a gift from God that cannot be earned. It is freely bestowed upon those who believe, through the forgiveness of sin and the grace of Jesus Christ.
William Barkley writes, “It is the supreme discovery of the Christian life that we do not need to torture ourselves with a loosing battle to earn God’s love, that what we need to do is to accept in perfect trust the love which God offers to us. True, after that any man (Woman) of honor is under the life-long obligation to see to be worthy of that love.”
I like that. Knowing that God loves us and forgives our countless imperfections is no excuse for running out to “Leon’s” and buying that lazy-boy. Knowing that God’s grace and love for sinners covers the multitude of our sins does not give us a license to fold our hands in our laps and wait for the rapture.
Our faith must be a faith that can be seen. It must be a practical faith that is not satisfied with letting God do whatever God chooses to do. Our faith must be expressed through specific, concrete, practical works. Here is another “saved from the fire” kind of story: When John Wesley was six-years-old the parsonage in which he lived with his family caught fire. The alarm was given and the parents thought everyone was out of the house safely. But when they started counting, they discovered that one of the children was missing. And, to their horror, they saw young John Wesley at an upper story window, caught in the burning building. The father, a devout, scholarly Anglican minister, immediately dropped to his knees, praying that God would save the boy. His mother, who not only was a person of great faith but also a very practical woman, immediately ran next door, got a
neighbor with a ladder and, working with the neighbor, rescued her son from the flaming house. There are times when the best way to express our faith is to get off our knees, go get a neighbor with a ladder, and do what has to be done in a given situation. Apart from works of love, faith is dead -- as "lifeless as a corpse."
Our faith must also carry the mark of discipleship. It must be seasoned with a sense of responsibility. If our faith lacks a sense of responsibility for God’s creation, we stand convicted by the words of Christ, our brother: I was naked, and you questioned my lack of modesty in my appearance. I was imprisoned, and you debated the legal aspects of interference. I was penniless, and you discussed tax-deductible donations from your wealth. I was sick, and you thanked the Lord for the blessings of your health. I was hungry, and you formed a club to study malnutrition. I was homeless, and you said God's love was shelter under any condition. I was lonely, and you left me by myself while you and your friends prayed. You seem so holy and close to God, yet I'm still sick and alone and afraid!
May our gratitude for God’s most precious gift to us never allow us to become complacent and self-righteous. Our faith must fill us with a passion to live out our conviction that God stands for His promise. Our lives must reflect an unshakable faith that God’s word is true.
Our faith must freely display the sign of the cross. That is, if we are called to suffer and endure being ridiculed or
persecuted for Christ’s sake, this too must be accepted with a firm conviction that God sees the full picture.
Abraham’s faith was based on God’s promise to bless him and to make him a great nation. Abraham believed that! He believed in God’s promise. He couldn’t see it. But he could accept the word of God and trust that God does not lie.
God calls you and me today to take His promises at face value. Perhaps he is calling you to make a faith commitment for the first time in your life. Maybe he is challenging you to affirm and claim as your own the faith of your parents and grandparents that has been with you from your childhood. Maybe God is calling you to be a witness for Him in a new and different setting. Maybe God is challenging you and me to stop talking about our faith, and to make a move (so to speak).
You know, standing up for faith is not always easy. Besides, it’s sometimes hard to explain why you believe what you believe. The point is illustrated by this story: A twelve year old boy became a Christian during a revival. The next week at school his friends questioned him about the experience. "Did you see a vision?" asked one friend. "Did you hear God speak?" asked another. The youngster answered no to all these questions. "Well, how did you know you were saved?" they asked. The boy searched for an answer and finally he said: "It's like when you catch a fish, you can't see the fish or hear the fish; you just feel him tugging on your line. I just felt
God tugging on my heart."
Do you feel God tugging on your heart? Do you hear his offer to freely receive the gift of His love and forgiveness? Do you hear God’s invitation to follow him in trust where ever he will lead?
It is my prayer that God would give each one of us the courage to “jump” into His loving arms (even when we don’t fully see or understand God’s will). It is my prayer that we would trust in God’s promise that He is with us always, even until the end of the world. It is my prayer that we would act on the promise of God’s presence and blessing.
If God is tugging on your heart today, then make your move...