August 16, 2010 David Balzer

Romans 4: Father Abraham

The AMERICAN FOUNDING FATHERS included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock. Some of them signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, or took part in various ways in the American Revolution, or the production of the American Constitution.

They’re universally respected across America as HEROES. As wise, brave, noble, moral, religious men. Men who put their country first, and personally risked everything.

The REALITY, no doubt, is somewhat DIFFERENT, but that’s not the way America likes to remember its heroes.

Australia just doesn’t have the same sort of noble beginning. OUR founding fathers were convicts, or soldiers, or freemen running away from something.

Sure, we had good men like Arthur Phillip, or Lachlan Macquarie, who did lots of good things. But I think they’re the exception rather than the rule.

So I don’t think we quite GET the adoration and the respect Americans hold THEIR founding fathers in. The PRIORITY OF PARENTAGE.

That’s AMERICA. Now, take what the Americans think about THEIR founding fathers, times it by TEN, and you BEGIN to get some understanding of what THE JEWS thought about THEIR founding father, ABRAHAM.

It was ABRAHAM God first spoke to when he was in Mesopotamia. God promised to make him the Father of many nations. That his descendents would be as many as the stars in the sky. He promised him A LAND for them all to live in. And he promised that Abraham would be A BLESSING to the whole world.

And, eventually, God’s promise CAME TRUE. Through Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Then hundreds of years in Egypt, then through Moses, Abraham’s descendents GREW. Grew into A NATION. Then in the wilderness, and finally into the promised land with Joshua.

Then through kings, and conquests, exiles and returns. The nation SURVIVED. Through Greek invasion and Roman invasion. All the way through to the time when Paul wrote this letter to the Romans around AD60.

And Abraham was THE FATHER OF IT ALL.

And the sticking point for the church in Rome, as we’ve been reading Romans, has been about how the JEWS, the descendents of Abraham, fit together with the GENTILES. How they can BOTH belong to Jesus. What that LOOKS LIKE.

Because it’s always been pretty easy to tell JEWS apart. Back in Genesis 17, God told Abraham to CIRCUMCISE his whole household as a sign of the covenant God was making with him. A visual identification that marked off the Jews, Abraham’s offspring, from every other nation around.

And it had been the same for every Jew since. Including all the Jews Paul was writing to in the church at Rome.

And so, they thought that gave them A HEAD START on being right with God. They had the SIGN of God’s covenant with them. And they had THE LAW that spelled out what they were to DO. And that was enough reason to be PROUD when it came to comparing themselves with the Gentiles they sat next to in church. Who had NONE of that.

But Paul’s just spent the last three chapters spelling out how it’s NO ADVANTAGE AT ALL. Because EVERYONE’S sinned. Those who HAVE the law break it, and so do those who DON’T have the law. And everyone receives the gift of being saved through Jesus BY FAITH. No difference. No one can EARN it.

You can see how he finishes up there at the end of ch 3, v28.

28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith APART FROM OBSERVING THE LAW. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only ONE GOD, who will justify the CIRCUMCISED by faith AND THE UNCIRCUMCISED through that same faith.

He’s made his case. There’s no difference. Everyone’s saved by faith, not keeping the law.

And now he’s going to give his closing argument, with a slam dunk. BY LOOKING AT ABRAHAM.

Because if ABRAHAM can prove his point, then it cuts the legs out from Jewish pride. Because it was Father Abraham they looked to as their MODEL.

And so he says, v1 of Ch 4, what did Abraham discover about this matter? If he was actually justified (declared right with God) by WORKS, then he had something to boast about. And presumably, so would the Jews in the Roman church. But what do the Scriptures say? V3.

“Abraham BELIEVED God, and it was credited to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

It DOESN’T say Abraham circumcised everyone, and God decided he was righteous. But Abraham BELIEVED God, and God CREDITED that to him as righteousness.

It’s a quote from Gen 15:6. When God promises Abraham offspring as many as the stars in the sky. And we’re told Abraham BELIEVED God. Took him at his word. And so God CREDITED it to him as righteousness.

And it wasn’t even that the BELIEF was the work that MADE him righteous. Because in v4 Paul goes on to talk about the two ways someone can receive money. You can EARN it – in which case the money is WAGES. Or you do NOTHING for it, and get it credited AS A GIFT.

Some of you have met Caron’s mum. She lives in Tasmania. And because she’s not around, she’ll sometimes deposit money into our bank account. To buy a birthday present, or a movie ticket. We’ve done nothing to EARN it, it’s just A GIFT. If we tried to pay it back, Sandra would be offended. It wouldn’t be A GIFT then.

And it’s the same with God’s gift of righteousness. He recognises Abraham’s TRUST, and he fills up his bank with righteousness. There in v5.

5 However, to the man who DOES NOT WORK/  but TRUSTS God who justifies the wicked, HIS FAITH IS CREDITED AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Even King David, a man after God’s own heart, doesn’t EARN God’s favour. He enjoys the free gift of forgiveness. Paul quotes one of David’s songs in v7

7 “Blessed are they whose transgressions are FORGIVEN, whose sins are COVERED. 8 Blessed is the man whose SIN the Lord WILL NEVER COUNT AGAINST HIM.”

Forgiven, covered over, not counted against him. All A GIFT you can’t work for.

The significance of sequence (9-10)

And then Paul pushes the point home even further. Because he’s going to talk about the importance of doing things in the right order. The SIGNIFICANCE OF SEQUENCE.

There’s an old episode of MASH. And in this scene they were there trying very carefully to disarm a live unexploded bomb. And they do this by reading an instruction manual. And the instructions said – Carefully cut the wires leading to the fuse. And they carefully cut the wires leading to the fuse. And then they read the next line in the instruction manual which said – But be careful to pull out the fuse first.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns5FkSHGVuY

The order of things is very important. And the order of things that Paul’s talking about here is the order between WHEN ABRAHAM WAS MADE RIGHTEOUS. And WHEN HE WAS CIRCUMCISED.

Do you remember what chapter God promised Abraham descendents as many as the stars? WHEN Abraham believed God, and God credited it to him as righteousness? Gen 15.

And do you remember when God commanded Abraham to be circumcised? Gen 17! If you do the calculations it’s 17 years later! AFTER he’d already declared Abraham righteous.

It’s the significance of sequence. God didn’t declare Abraham righteous BECAUSE he’d followed God’s command, and circumcised his family. It was the other way around. Abraham had already been declared righteous because he trusted God’s word. And THEN God instructed him to obey. As a SIGN of his right standing.

And that’s what Paul says in v11.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, A SEAL OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT HE HAD BY FAITH WHILE HE WAS STILL UNCIRCUMCISED.

Circumcision was only an EXTERNAL SIGN of what had ALREADY HAPPENED / ON THE INSIDE.

And he calls it a SEAL. A seal REPRESENTS the authority BEHIND it. There’s nothing special about the seal, it’s got no power on its own, but it’s visual sign of the one who DOES have the power.

When you get a degree or a certificate. There’s often A SEAL on it from the institution that issues the degree (show pictures). It SHOWS that the degree is authentic.

And you only GET the seal after you’ve graduated. You don’t get the degree BEFORE you’re trained. There’s a right order of doing things.

Nothing special about the SEAL. You could photocopy that, or forge it. That’s not what MAKES you a graduate. It’s the UNI that has the power to do that. The seal just gives people CONFIDENCE in what the Uni’s done.

Same thing with circumcision. On its own, means NOTHING. It’s only A SIGN when God’s done something ON THE INSIDE for it to POINT to. When God’s declared someone righteous. Just like he did with Abraham.

The revelation of relatives (11-17)

And that’s got some implications for WHO’S IN THE FAMILY. And who’s NOT. The revelation of relatives.

Have you seen that TV show on Channel 7 “Find my family”? They research people who’ve been adopted or separated from their families somehow. And they find long-lost brothers and sisters. Families they, sometimes, never knew they had.

And it’s sort of the same here – Paul is saying you need to REWORK YOUR FAMILY TREE. The way you’ve got it all lined up is totally wrong – because IT’S ALL ABOUT FAITH. Not bloodlines. Halfway through v11.

So then, Abraham is the FATHER of all who believe but have NOT been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE FAITH that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

The Jews thought they were related because they were PHYSICALLY descended from Abraham. Because they carried the same physical SIGN as Abraham. And that everyone else wasn’t part of the family.

But Paul says to the Jews, “You’ve got brothers you never even realised you HAD.  – you’re offspring of the same parent!”

It’s TRUSTING God’s WORD that makes you Abraham’s children, because that’s what Abraham did. And God does something on THE INSIDE. It’s got nothing to do with what’s ON THE OUTSIDE.

Paul’s saying – you Jewish Christians need to look across to the Gentile Christians sitting next to you. And recognise them as your long-lost brothers. And how about a big hug, and an emotional family reunion while you’re at it!?

And so Paul reaches his conclusion about THE REVELATION OF RELATIVES. About who’s your family. There in v16.

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.”

And it’s not just Jews and Gentiles. It’s EVERY external distinction. Colour, education, income, sex. None of that matters. If we belong to God BY FAITH. If he’s put us right with himself because we’ve TRUSTED HIS WORD. Then we’re ALL PART OF THE SAME FAMILY. With Abraham as our FATHER, because we’ve got the same faith as HIM.

Perhaps that’s something you’ve experienced with other Christians. Perhaps in another country or culture. An immediate connection, a shared experience. Even though you’ve never met before. That’s because you’re FAMILY! All descended SPIRITUALLY from Abraham, who trusted God, and who God declared righteous.

The figure of faith: What faith looks like! (18-22)

And, by the way, this really does say something about what faith is. Abraham is THE FIGURE OF FAITH. The EXAMPLE.

The way SOME people talk about faith, you’d think faith was like a cold – that you somehow catch. “You’ve GOT faith, I don’t have faith. I wish I had faith like you.”

But the way Abraham’s described here, faith isn’t simply something that SOME have and some DON’T. There’s no faith GENE. You don’t get faith. Or CATCH it. You EXPRESS faith.

That’s the point of verses 18-22. Abraham SHOWED faith in real, concrete ways. His wife was 90, and he was 100. On the surface, only a FOOL would believe the promise.

But God had SAID they’d have a child. And Abraham TRUSTED him. V19.

19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced 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. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being FULLY PERSUADED THAT GOD HAD POWER TO DO WHAT HE HAD PROMISED. 22 THIS is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

That’s what faith is. That’s what faith LOOKS LIKE. Being fully persuaded that God can do what he says. Despite appearances. And then CHOOSING TO SHOW that by being obedient.

So, Abraham’s not only the FATHER of all who have faith. He’s the EXAMPLE for all who have faith. But more than that, he’s THE MODEL. Someone to be COPIED.

The lesson of life (23-25)

There’s a saying that you need to LEARN THE LESSONS FROM HISTORY. And, like a good preacher, Paul wants the Roman Christians, and US TOO, to learn the lesson from the life of Abraham. Here’s the APPLICATION, the “so what?” part. Verse 23.

23 The words “it was credited to him” were written NOT FOR HIM ALONE, 24 but also for US, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who BELIEVE IN HIM WHO RAISED JESUS OUR LORD FROM THE DEAD. 25 He was delivered over to death for OUR sins and was raised to life for OUR justification.

Abraham expressed faith – despite all circumstances that pointed against God’s word being true. And he was made righteous.

His body was as good as dead. But God brought life out of death.

And that’s the lesson for US. So now, you and I are called to express faith – trust that God’s word is true – that Jesus DID die for our sin, and he WAS raised to life. Once again, we’re called to trust that God brought life out of death. That he did it with Jesus. And that he WILL do it with US.

And as we EXPRESS that faith, we’re made righteous as well. Just like Abraham.

We express it by not trying to ADD to it. By obeying God out of LOVE, rather than duty, or repaying a favour. We express faith by recognising the GRACE God’s shown us – recognising our own sin, and WORKING on it. Recognising our own sin means getting rid of pride, and ego. Because we’re sinner who deserve WRATH, yet God showed us GRACE INSTEAD.

We express faith by PRAYING. Prayer is faith in action. A LACK of prayer means you’re trying to live life YOURSELF. Because you don’t TRUST GOD. Don’t trust his power, or his attention, or his love.

And we EXPRESS FAITH. Every time we put heavenly priorities above EARTHLY ones, we’re trusting God’s word. Every time we consciously choose to build treasure in HEAVEN, rather than on earth, we’re trusting God’s word. Trusting that he’ll bring life out of death.

Every time we value Jesus’ opinion more than the opinion of others. Every time we make Jesus GREATER, and ourselves SMALLER. Every time we choose the NARROW way that leads to life, rather than the WIDE road that leads to destruction, we’re expressing our faith in God’s promise.

That’s what it means to live with Jesus as our Lord, and Abraham as our Father.

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