Saturday, November 26, 2011

Romans 4:16-25 - Transcendent Faith

In Romans 4:16-25 the apostle Paul reminds us that Abraham believed God's promises against the reasonable knowledge of the flesh. He explains that if we believe God, like Abraham, then we too will enjoy the blessedness of being made right with God; not for this life only but for all eternity!

The Jewish idolatry of the circumcision, the law, the throne of David, and the temple; is based on the idea that God's favor and blessings is all about our peace and comfort here on earth. And that is the same theological and philosophical error that people like Joel Osteen make all the time. Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Jews wanted their Kingdom on earth. God is a great idea, as long as he is giving us what we want.

How do we know the Jews got it wrong? 1 Peter 2:11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. To be a stranger and a pilgrim on earth means to be a citizen of the heavenly kingdom, and a visitor of the earth. Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And that brings us to the central question "why faith"? God has paid the price for our redemption, so why does he require us to receive it through faith? The answer is simple. If the goal were the glory of mankind, living in peace and harmony here on earth, and everything we needed we could see with our eyes, then faith would not be necessary. But that is not the purpose of grace! Grace is to provide our redemption for God's glory. If our hope and our worship is focused on what we cannot see, then the spirit has overcome the flesh, and God is glorified.

16 Therefore it [righteousness] is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

So "it" meaning righteousness comes from trusting what you cannot see, to receive what you cannot earn (grace). If you could earn it, it wouldn't be grace; and if you could see it, it wouldn't be faith. But if you can't earn it, and you can't see it but you still trust it; when you receive it, it glorifies God. God is glorified when the obvious limitations of the flesh are overcome by faith in the spirit that is God.

So the Jews looked at Abraham as the father of one nation according to the flesh, but God called him the father of many nations according to the spirit. Not of flesh by the law, but as descendents of the faith of Abraham, we are his spiritual children. Here we see that God also operates by faith: "calling things that are not, as though they were", because God knows what He will do.

In Chapter 3:35 it said the atonement of Christ was "to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past". God in faith had extended his own holiness as the collateral to give grace to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and all those in the Old Testament who believed God; knowing that he would satisfy justice and pour our His wrath for their sins and ours against Jesus when He hung on the cross. And in this chapter Paul recalls that God in faith called "Abraham the father of many" when he was still the father of no one.

18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb:

What Abraham could see was that he was 99 years old, Sarah was past menopause and she wasn't even fertile back when she was young. But God said "next year you will have a son, you will call him Isaac, and my covenant will be with him" (Gen. 17). No physical way for this kid to be conceived, let alone born; but God not only names him, he signs his name to a contract. Abraham looks at the evidence and decides to trust in God.

20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

Abraham's faith in God's promises led to his justification (being declared righteous) and the imputation (or crediting) of God's righteousness to his account! In other words, his sin debt was "paid in full"!

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

So, if we believe (like Abraham) that Jesus "was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" then our sin debt will be paid in full; and Christ's righteousness will be imputed (credited) to our account!

Many who believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sin and rose from the dead to deliver them, do not behave like it. They say that they're forgiven yet they live in the shame of past sin, and the guilt of regret.

We must, instead, take God at His Word. If God says that we're forgiven, we're forgiven. If God declares us righteous then who are we to say that we're not? If God says that He has credited Christ's righteousness to our account, then who are we to say that we are still in debt from our sin? I'm sure there were numerous occasions in Abraham's life when he did not FEEL justified, but he had to take God at His Word and believe the promises that he had been given. God promises payment for sin to all who believe.

Abraham was a pilgrim and a stranger as he journeyed to the Promised Land because he was not home yet. We, as believers in Christ are also pilgrims and strangers in this world because our new home is heaven. We cannot see now what God has prepared for us (1 Cor. 2:9), but we should live like it's already built and we're about to pick out the drapes and the carpet.

But idolatry is all about what you can see, the symbols and statues that substitute for real faith, and focus exclusively on earthly blessings; worshiping God's stuff with no regard for the glory of the God who created it. Though we are certainly blessed in creation, we understand that the natural world is corrupt and temporary, and that those walking the path of grace are outnumbered by those headed for destruction. People have seen throughout history that godly people by virtue of discipline and self control, avoid many of the problems in the world (1 Timothy 6:10) and have wrongly concluded, that a moral life is the purpose of religion. While that may be true of some religions, it is not the focus of the Christian faith. While virtue will belong to those following Jesus, our redemption for God's glory is the real purpose of God's grace.

Tonia and I watched a strange movie called "The Tree of Life". The narrative contrasted the way of nature and the way of grace saying everyone must choose. But it also said that "No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end". While that is true, it is only true when your focus is on the kingdom of heaven rather than the kingdom of the earth. Jesus said "In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33). Paul likewise visiting his mission churches in Asia Minor said "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Abraham had trouble in the world. His brother died, his nephew was taken captive, his wife was barren, and he wondered about with no place to call home. But by faith he received a promise, not just for himself but also for us.

The same God that made all of those amazing promises to Abraham now makes them to you and me? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is our God too! Paul says in verse 23 of Romans 4, "now it was not written for his [Abraham] sake alone that it was imputed to him, BUT ALSO FOR US" (NKJV)! God has made very similar promises to us! We gain access to those promises the same way that Abraham did – BY FAITH.

Faith is transcendent. It reaches beyond natural ability and finite time, allowing us to receive what is supernatural and eternal. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), through faith all things are possible, not for our glory but for God's.

Isaiah 42:8 I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images. Idols are anything steal worship from God, and make us care for earth more than heaven, and the flesh more than the spirit. Faith moves our focus from the temporal things of earth, to the eternal fulfilling of God's promise.

Questions to consider:

  1. Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him". Why do you think God requires us to respond to His grace through faith?
  2. What causes our faith in God to fail?
  3. Hebrews 11:8-12 gives a summary of how Abraham walked by faith in God's promises; what does walking by faith in our everyday lives looks like?




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