August 12, 2001
Did you have any childhood heroes?
Who were they?
What was it about them that made them a hero to you?
One of my heroes was Captain James T Kirk of the starship Enterprise. It was his ability to command and direct that fascinated me.
Heroes are human examples of what we value in life. What about faith?
Today – Paul illustrates a point that he has already made – that we are saved, made right with God by faith – in highlighting a ‘hero’ to the Jewish believers – Abraham. In doing so, Paul puts a “face on faith.”
2 weeks ago – we read Romans 3:21 and 22 “But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight . . . when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.” We are saved, made right with God, not on the basis of the religious law that many of Paul’s audience had been taught was the way to God, but on the basis of faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone.
Paul concludes his thoughts in chapter 3 by declaring in verse 30 “There is only one God, and there is only one way of being accepted by him. He makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.”
Now Paul has spent quite a bit of time focusing on the issue of law vs. faith. Most of it has been a closely reasoned argument. But, now in chapter four, Paul puts a human face on his argument – Abraham.
A. Abraham and the question of being saved by faith. 4:1-5.
- 1. Abraham – the human founder of the Jewish nation.
- 2. Highly respected. Highly revered.
- 3. A man of great faith and a hero to many.
- 4. What were his experiences of being saved by faith? 4:1b
- 5. This is an important question to ask because of our human tendency to hero worship and Abraham was hero-worshipped.
Focus Point – While we need faith heroes we must avoid the tendency to look at the hero not the God of the hero! Our faith heroes will let us down. Our salvation is not based on those we admire but on the God who made it all possible.
Transition: So Paul brings before his audience a faith hero and asks about his experiences of being saved by faith. In doing so, he brings up and important point – pride.
B. The law can lead to boasting – to pride. 4:2
1. As we can recall in the gospel accounts, especially the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9 – 14, a constant problem that Jesus dealt with was a pride that was based on boasting about what one does to earn favor and forgiveness with God.
2. Paul addresses the same issue here. In 4:2 we read, “Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, he would have had something to boast about. But, from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride.”
Focus Point: Pride is a problem. We can become very prideful in our faith. We can take pride in our place of ministry. We can take pride in our personal church history. We can take pride that we are members of this church. We can easily start boasting that “I did this and I did that.” And this boasting can make us hard to live with and easy to dislike.
C. Salvation – A Wage or A Gift? 4:4 – 4:5
1. Now there are two words that I do not like to use when talking about the ministry of the church. “Programs” and “workers.”
To me, the church is not about ‘programs’ but about ministry. And we are not ‘workers’ we are saints, we are ministers of the Gospel! Programs, while a part of what do, often take the energy and drive right out of us and make us slaves to the wrong things.
And to be characterized as “workers” is quite frankly, to be demeaned. We are children of God we are saints in the making. God is more concerned about our character that our ministry performance.
2. Paul speaks of workers in trying to re-emphasize that it is not what we do that saves us but whom we believe in that does. “Workers earn what they receive. But, people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work.”
3. Salvation is not about working harder to achieve something that cannot be earned. It is about believing and trusting in Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins. We cannot earn forgiveness we can only receive and accept it!
4. Abraham illustrates this point as Paul says in verse 3: “Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous.”
Focus point – What or whom do you believe in for salvation? Your own efforts? Your own spiritual/church history? Or in Christ alone?
D. God’s promise and Abraham’s faith. 4:13-22
1. Paul is not done yet with re-emphasizing his point (Some might say he be-labors his point)
That salvation is by faith alone. He ties it in to one of the most treasured promises of scripture. A promise that the Jewish people took to heart and took very, very seriously.
2. 4:13 “It is clear, then, that God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was not based on obedience to God’s law, but on the new relationship with God that comes by faith.”
3. Now the law came first, but that was not God’s ultimate plan. His plan was to save the entire world! So, the promise to Abraham was far broader in scope and purpose because God’s will is for all of us to be saved.
4. Another reason that Paul brings up the promise is because Abraham’s response to God’s promise both answers and illustrates the question posed by Paul in verse 1, “What were his experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith?”
5. As we read verses 18 – 22 we find the answer to the question of verse 1.
a. Vs 18 – When God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, Abraham believed him.
b. Vs 19 – And Abraham’s faith did not weaken
c. Vs 20 – Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.
d. Vs 21 – He was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything he promised.
e. Vs 22 – And because of Abraham’s faith, God declared him to be righteous.
Focus point – It was Abraham’s faith in God that made him right with God! It was not the promise. It was an unshakable belief and unshakable faith in God that made him right with God! The promise was not the object of Abraham’s faith – God was the object of Abraham’s faith!
And in the concluding verses of chapter 4 Paul makes it clear that the declaration of God that Abraham was righteous was not just for his, Abraham’s benefit, but for our benefit as well. As we read in verse 24 “It was for us, too, assuring us that God will also declare us to be righteous if we believe in God, who brought back Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
1. So when you stand before God, what will be the basis upon which you declare your eligibility for eternal peace and life? Your church affiliation? Your family’s church affiliation? Your position on a church board? Your education?
2. That won’t cut it! The promise of eternal peace and life is possible only when by faith, we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and returned to life. That profession, and the subsequent, living out of that profession, is what will provide you and me with the promise of eternal life and peace with God.
One of my favorite authors is Dr. Seuss and in one of his memorable stories he tells of a character named Zoad that describes so many of us and our ability to choose: Did I ever tell you about the young Zoad?
Who came to a sign at the fork of the road
He looked one way and the other way too
The Zoad had to make up his mind what to do – Well, the Zoad scratched his head,
And his chin, and his pants. – And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance.
If I go to Place One, that place may be hot
So how will I know if I like it or not.
On the other hand, though, I’ll feel such a fool
If I go to Place Two and find it’s too cool
In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue.
So Place One may be best and not Place Two.
Play safe,” cried the Zoad,
“I’ll play safe, I’m no dunce.
I’ll simply start off to both places at once.
And that’s how the Zoad who would not take a chance Went no place at all with a split in his pants.
We cannot live a life of faith with a split in our souls. We have to choose to live by faith in Christ alone or not. What about you? Which way do you choose? Amen.