FAITH ALONE (part 5 of 5)

by Sean Foster on October 13, 2013

Romans 3:27 – 4:25
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised. For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

James 2:23-24
Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

A-men.

Over the last few weeks we have been engaged in a series that looks at the five sola’s or five alones, or five onlys that came out of the Protestant Reformation.

As we have been looking at these solas:
• To God’s Glory Alone
• In Christ Alone
• Scripture Alone
• And then, last week, Grace…Alone.
We have been looking at our relationship with God.

And I have saved: Faith Alone until last because I want to look at what does it mean to be saved?

Faith Alone.

Last week I shared a reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus that reads: For it is by Grace that we have been saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.

So last week, we spent time look at Grace. That Grace is the gift of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation. Completely undeserved and unearned.

Grace. It’s a gift. Whereby we are saved, made right, and adopted into the family of God. Paul writes: It is the gift of God. Not by works so that no one can boast.

Well, let’s deal with the boomerang that this theology can create. And theses are debates and arguments that have been look at and argued all throughout Church History.

You see, it is when we come to that statement about faith that people get stuck. And where people get stuck is they say, it can only be one way or the other. It is either by Grace, or by Faith. And you have to read the text carefully. Salvation is by grace. It is a gift, and salvation is lived out through faith.

But then the question comes, is faith a work. And again, I want to emphasize that faith is not what earns the salvation that comes from God. Faith is how we engage the relationship that we have with God.

But the other thing I want to say, and I am pretty adamant about this, and you can even see it in the that text from Ephesians 2:8+9. Faith is gift too.

As we think through the theology of grace, and the theology of faith, it has to match and connect with our theology and understanding of salvation. Whatever your theology, these three have to co-exist. You see, the key to understanding the idea of Faith Alone, we need to consider what it means to be saved.

To do this today, I want to look at the person who the Bible describes as being the greatest person of faith. And then it is my hope today that when I finish with this series, you will not only be encouraged in your own faith and relationship with God, but I also hope that you have a good understanding of that statement: Faith Alone.

So let’s look at Abraham, who is often called the Father of Faith. Paul the Apostle writes this: Abraham believed God, and credited it to him as righteousness.

The kind of faith that, really, matters to God, is the faith that actually changes a life. It is the kind of faith that actually engages God in a relationship.

And it’s about authentic faith. There is a real difference between what I believe, and what I think I believe. There are beliefs that we can hold in a moment, and then, time passes, and circumstances change, and it turns out – they were not actually beliefs at all.

Let me try to give you an example from the Scriptures. After God meets with Moses at the burning bush, Moses and Aaron – they gather all the Israelites together. Moses tells the people all about God, all about the burning bush, shows them the signs, and the Scripture reads: and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.

So they hear. .. And in the safety of being with Moses, they believe. They say Moses, lead us out of Egypt, out of slavery. And Moses does.

Now how long does it take before they start to complain? They are only on their journey three days to the Promised Land, and they start to complain. They start to say, we didn’t ask for this. We would rather be slaves in Egypt that to be stuck in this desert. Three days! They start to complain.

They had just witnessed a great miracle of how God saved them from the oppression of the Egyptians with God parting the waters of the sea; … and just three days later – they complain. We would rather be back in Egypt.

There is a difference in what I really believe, and what I think I believe. These Israelites, they said they believed but then crisis hits, why did you take us out of Egypt, they ask? When they believed, they were sincere, but then, crisis hit and when they were in trouble, that belief turns out to be fickle. When their circumstances changed, it turns out, they don’t have faith at all. And this actually happens in our own lives a lot more than you would think.

Let me give you another example. We know that Jesus said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. We know that! We come to church, we open our Bibles, we say, I believe God’s Word.

Now, Jesus also say’s: Don’t be anxious about what you eat or what you wear. Don’t be anxious about money. Don’t be anxious about your possessions. Trust your Father in Heaven. And we hear that, and we think, yeah, that’s what I believe. I don’t trust in money, I trust in God! Well, until the economy goes south. Now the last number of years the economy has not been all that great. I’ve listened to people complain about how their investments have gone down. And to be honest with you, I would guess that there’s more of that to come. But when our investments go down, we have less money, and what happens?
• We get anxious.
• We get stressed.
• And we start to worry.
Now wait a minute… What happened to the trust in God?

What this teaches me is that, we don’t trust in our money, as long as we have … what? Money! As long as we have money, when things get a little shaky, our true beliefs come to life. And what we said we believe, well, sometimes it comes to light that we didn’t actually believe them.

But this is what I was thinking. When the economy is down: isn’t that the greatest time to build our trust in God?

I mean, know this, as much as people will say, they don’t trust in their money, please remember, that:
• your money does not love you!
• It will not protect you!
• It will not save you from death!
Put your trust in something lasting. Something more powerful.

That’s why when Christ does come into our lives, he asks, what do you really believe? He did this with the disciples.

What does it mean to be saved?

There are things that I think I believe, and there are things that I really believe. And this is important to understand when we think through what it means: Faith Alone! What do we really believe? In the good times and the bad. When your faith is tested. Do you really believe?

The Protestant Reformer: Martin Luther,.. he was the great champion of Justified by Faith. Now remember, I said last week, as we allow God into our lives; and as we allow God’s grace to become part of our hearts and lives, we strive less for the things of this world and do good, without the guidance of the law, because we are following Christ in our hearts.

Luther was adamant that Faith is a living, creative, active and powerful thing. He said, Faith cannot help but do works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if the good works should be done; before anyone asks, faith has done the good work and continues in doing good works, without ceasing. And this faith that does good works does not look to be praised or acknowledged for doing the good work.

In my own thinking: it is impossible to separate faith and works. They go together.

OK, I said I want to look at Abraham today. Abraham is the greatest champion of faith in the Scriptures. Lot’s of people think that their faith is weak, but I want to encourage you in the faith today from that passage that was read to us from Romans 4 today. You see, it’s not the amount of faith, it is the quality.

Now bear with me here, because we ware going to wade through these words of Paul that are really dense and sometimes difficult.

Paul writes: What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. What does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned/ credited to him as righteousness.’

And then if you are following, I drop down to the end of verse, 16. Abraham is the father of all of us. He is the father of many nations — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Then verse 18. Hoping against hope. Oh, I love that! Hoping against hope, Abraham believed that he would become the father of many nations, just as it was said.

Then verse 19. Without weakening in his faith, he considered his own body, he face the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old, and that Sarah’s womb was also dead and barren. And yet, verse 20 tells us Abraham, did not waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Abraham is often presented as the model for faith in the New Testament. But if you actually read Abraham’s life story in the Old Testament, you come away thinking really? His faith wasn’t all that impressive.

Genesis 12, God comes to Abram and say’s: I’m calling you. I want you to leave your home and everything familiar and go to a place that I will show you, and you will have a son. You Abram, are going to be the father of a great nation. I plan to bless all of humanity through you.

So, as it reads in Genesis 12, Abraham and Sarah leave. They travel to Egypt. But listen to Abraham. He say’s to his wife Sarah, Sarah, you are a beautiful woman, and when the Egyptians see you they are going to want you as their wife. So let’s lie to them and just tell them that you are my sister so they don’t kill me. If one of them wants you, they can have you. Abraham, was husband of the year! But where’s his faith. Does Abraham not trust that God will watch over him?

But you know what happens? The Pharoah takes Sarah to join his harem. To become one of his wives. And in return, Abraham gets sheep, camels and cattle and slaves. Instantly, Abraham becomes a wealthy man. But poor Sarah!

But then the Pharoah finds out that Sarah is actually Abraham’s wife. But worse yet for the Pharoah, God is not happy about the arrangement that Sarah is part of his harem. And so, it is also fascinating to me as I read the story again that the same question that God asked Eve after the Fall, is the same question that is put before Abraham. The writer, Moses is being deliberate here to remind that this is sin.

Abraham, why did you do this? Even more fascinating is the fact that this pagan Pharoah, is more concerned with doing right than God’s own man Abraham. But this is not the only time that Abraham pawns off Sarah as his sister. He does it again in chapter 20 of Genesis. Now. Would we describe Abraham as a great man of faith?

Let me share another story about Abraham, this great man of faith.

Abraham and Sarah, are promised that they will have a son. They wait 11 years and nothing. Now, at this point Abraham is about 86 years of age, and Sarah is about 76. Sarah suggests to Abraham that the only way Abraham will have a son is by getting Sarah’s servant Hagar pregnant. And like every good husband, Abraham responds, well, if you think so Sarah, I would be willing to do that. And as you can guess, it is a complete disaster. In fact, the repercussions of that pregnancy are still with us today.

Now let’s jump forward 13 years. Abraham and Sarah in their old age, they have a son. And Abraham, the man of faith can’t believe it.

Abraham has so little faith in God that he pretends his wife Sarah is his sister twice. He has so little faith that he does not believe that God will bless him with a son, and he impregnates his wife’s slave Hagar.

Listen to Paul again. He writes, Hoping against hope, Abraham believed. His faith did not weaken.

Now let me say that Paul was a Rabbi. And as a Rabbi, he knew this story of Abraham, far better that I do. But, when we look at Abraham, we need to remember the context. Abraham didn’t have the benefit of the Old Testament. He didn’t have the benefit of the Ten Commandments. Abraham had to start from scratch. He had to feel his way through what it meant to be in relationship with God.

Abraham didn’t have all the benefits that we have.
• He didn’t have the Scriptures
• He didn’t have the testimony of others.
• He didn’t have Moses.
Also keep in mind his background. In Joshua it reads: Long ago, your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham – they worshipped other gods. Abraham was a pagan. He didn’t know what it meant to be in relationship with One God. This idea of faith was all new to him.

But here’s the key to Abraham’s faith. He knows nothing about faith. He knows nothing about a personal God. And let’s face it, God is pretty vague with his instructions to Abraham. Abraham, go from your country, your people, your father’s household, to the land that I will show you.

The key to Abraham’s faith: It reads, Abram went as the Lord had told him. This Abraham who is full of ignorance, pagan ways, superstition, cowardice, he believes. And he waits! Consider this. Abraham waits over 23 years before God’s promise of a son is fulfilled!!!

Paul writes, Abraham considered his own body, and he face the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old, and that Sarah’s womb was also dead and barren. Here’s a fact, people do not become more fertile with age. As we get older, things stop working. Abraham is completely dependent on God to fulfill the promise. He waits. In light of all of this: Abraham is a man of incredible faith. His faith does not become fickle in the light of struggle or hardship. Or even in the fact that he has to wait so long for the promise to be fulfilled.

But the hero of this story is not Abraham. Who is the hero in the story? It’s God! God is the hero. In reality, the only thing that Abraham got right is that fact that he goes to the place that God showed him – and stayed there. And that is key to his faith. He stayed.

So the point that I want to make today is that it is better for us that we have a little faith in a big God, rather than for us to have a big faith – in a little God. Jesus said, that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed. You see, it’s not how much faith you have, because you don’t need that much. It’s the size of your God.

Something else I said going through this series is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This son of Abraham and Sarah. The son that was promised and given by God – it all points to Jesus, who is the object of our faith.

I was thinking back to the Bible Study that we went through in the Spring – Who is this man Jesus? There is no one, and there never has been anyone like Jesus.
• His teachings.
• His life.
• His death of the cross.
• His sacrifice.
• His incredible love for us.
• His resurrection.
• Defeating sin and death.
There has never been anyone like Jesus. Jesus is the safe bet. You can bet your life on him.

So, as I finish this series, I encourage you, I invite you – to walk by faith. And don’t worry, focus on Jesus the object of our faith. Put Jesus at the very heart of everything you do. Every thought. How you live.

If you have given your heart and life to Jesus, learn from Abraham. Abraham considered God his friend. Make Jesus your friend. Engage and enjoy the relationship.

A-men.

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