April 9, 2017 Romans 4:13-22
-Baptism is a sign that points to the reality that we have trusted Christ for salvation…it is the visible, public signifier of faith.
-A wedding ring is not the marriage…but it is a visible, physical symbol of the marriage commitment…the ring is important, the covenant commitment is essential.
-Baptism is the sign of the faith.
-Faith first, sign second
-The thing signified is more important than the sign…but that does not mean the
sign is unimportant.
–Faith is essential and the symbol is important.
*Without faith the thief on the cross would not have been saved…even though he was unable to experience baptism before his death.
-Linda has the essential…she has placed her faith in Christ alone.
-It is important to her that as a public demonstration of her faith, and an act of obedience to the God that she be baptized today.
-She wants to be baptized today as evidence of her surrender to Christ and salvation by Christ…she is yielded in joyful submission to him and will be baptized in joyful testimony before us.
In the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid the American Hockey Team made up of non-professionals and the youngest team in US defeated the Soviets in the medal round in what has famously been called “the Miracle on Ice”
The Soviets were professionals, there were virtually no odds given that the Americans would win…but they did.
Al Michaels, announcing the game asked the question “Do you believe in miracles?”
The Greek word for miracle is “sign”…a sign point away from itself to something more significant.
Signs are never about themselves…they direct our attention to the thing signified.
Miracles are signs that direct our attention to God.
What did the “miracle on ice” point to, what was it a sign of?
Was it explainable in non-miraculous terms? Yes.
All the laws of physics were obeyed…Players skated…hit pucks with sticks into nets…and in the end an improbable but by no means impossible thing happened…The US team hit more pucks into nets than the Russians…and the underdog won a game.
Former Atheist, who later turned Theist…Antony Flew: “A miracle is something which would never have happened had nature, as it were, been left to its own devices.”
Never would have happened by natural causes…good description.
Natural laws describe what happens regularly, by natural causes; miracles, describe what happens rarely and by supernatural causes.
Closed box and open box
God can reach in and affect the contents of the box…God can reach into our universe and perform what we call miracles…his oversight of the box is providence. (we pray and it rains…not a miracle, but providence, answer to prayers)
If God exists…then miracles are possible…nothing contradictory, nothing irrational about that statement
-A universe out of nothing…yes
-A man kept a man safe in a fish for three days
-Water into wine
-The dead raised to life
These are simple tasks for an infinitely powerful being.
-Meets certain criteria that would distinguish God’s acts from another unusual event.
- Power (cannot be explained naturally)…the power behind the event is supernatural
- Purpose (glory to God, confirm truth)…a sign, it points to God.
- Promotion (Of right behavior, thinking, belief, a faith response to God)
Miracles happen in a context…they are a sign pointing to God…in specific circumstances.
If the Red Sea opens at a precise time and saves a people God he has said he would lead and protect and then closes at a precise time on top of the pursuing army…then this opening and closing is not merely some natural anomaly…it points to God…it is a miracle.
If you were standing there and saw the sea open…you could, irrationally I might add, say…”That’s weird, didn’t know that could happen…but it still doesn’t mean there is a God…just a quirk in the physical universe…no purpose behind it.”
But the actual event (dividing of the sea) as well as the timing (precisely when Israel needs to cross) and circumstances (God’s people fleeing an enemy in response to a promise) are aspects of the fact of the miracle.
The Bible records only about 250 miracles…not all, but mostly during three windows of history:
- The life of Moses
- The lives of Elijah and Elisha
- The lives of Jesus and the apostles
That’s not a lot…considering the span of time of the Bible is thousands of years.
There are huge gaps of time in the Bible when there are no recorded miracles from God…doesn’t mean there were not any…but it demonstrates that the Bible isn’t merely a record of centuries of miracles…it is the record of activity of God.
And God normally works through normal life…but occasionally works through the miraculous.
A birth of a baby is not technically a “miracle”…it is God’s wonderful design.
However, about 2000 years ago, God reached into the box, created a sperm(without a man) and caused it to combine with an egg in Mary’s womb…
Then as John Lennox writes…the transfer from outside the box (God’s intervention) to inside the box (God’s design of the natural world) took place.
Pregnancy followed and according to all the normal laws, nine months later a child is born.
There is no natural explanation for the virgin conception…though the birth itself was in line with the laws God has ordained for nature.
About 30 or so years later, that child, now grown was executed by crucifixion.
He cried “It is finished”…signifying the purpose of his death…it was not just one of many billion other deaths…it accomplished a specific purpose of God…the payment of sin’s debt.
At that moment his heart stopped pumping blood and his cells were deprived of oxygen and rapidly began to die…it was a natural death (with eternal meaning)
Within three days…his body was in was in the full decaying process.
Then God reached into the box…and didn’t merely resuscitate the body of Jesus…he resurrected it…Jesus was alive…in a whole new way.
The basic principle regarding miracles is communicated in the word used to describe them: The Greek word for “sign”
They point to God…so we don’t “believe in Miracles”…we believe (put our faith) in God.
Because we believe in God…we believe miracles are possible…but our faith is not “in” them but rather “in” him…this is not mere semantics.
To have faith in miracles is to have faith in faith…faith in signs…not the one signified.
This is an important distinction because when our faith is in God and he does not reach into the box and change the outcome in a way we deem favorable…our faith remains firm.
We believe in him…not miracles. (we believe they are possible because he is God…but our faith (belief) is in him)
He has his purposes…since we trust him…we are learning to trust them (his purposes).
Rom. 14:8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
God can intervene miraculously…most often he doesn’t…if he does, we belong to the Lord, if he doesn’t we belong to the Lord.
If our faith is in faith…and we “really, really” believe we will get “our miracle”…then we don’t…what then?
Has God failed?
No…he cannot…but our faith can…so it must be placed in the one who cannot fail.
We can ask God to intervene whenever, however we choose…that is our privilege as his children.
But must trust God with his final choices…that is our responsibility as his children.
We must have faith in God…not faith in our faith.
Rom. 4:13 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. 18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 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.”
This section continues the discussion of the great Father of the faith, Abraham.
The last section demonstrated that this faith that was counted as righteousness (relationship with God) came before the sign of that faith, circumcision (15-30 years)
This section demonstrates that his faith also came before the law and so it was not contingent on his obedience to it.
In fact Galatians 3:17 says that it was 430 years after God made his covenant promise to Abraham that God gave the law.
So again, the way to God is open to anyone who places their faith in Christ Jesus…no prior obedience to laws or submission to certain rites and rituals are required.
In verse 17 he communicates that it was not the greatness of Abraham’s faith that mattered but the greatness of God, in whom Abraham placed his faith that mattered.
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 “father of nations” transcends the Jewish people…this designation applies to all who place their faith in Christ…all who believe the gospel are children of Abraham…declared righteous by faith.
This statement of life to dead and calling things into existence…Harkens back to:
-The creator God, who made everything from nothing
-The God who took two elderly people…Abraham and Sarah…far beyond child bearing years and gave them a son
-The God who brought Jesus back from the dead.
-And is personal to us…To the God who has given life to us while we were dead in our sins.
The thing we cannot miss is that the emphasis is on the one Abraham believed in, not on Abraham’s belief.
When we hear stories of people with great faith…we are prone to be impressed with the “amount” of faith they have…we must watch that we are not overly impressed with the “testifier” …that is the one giving testimony.
A testimony is about someone else…not the one giving the testimony.
We are grateful and challenged by those who exhibit strong faith…but we must always be most impressed with God.
Jesus said, just a little bitty amount of faith in him (mustard seed)…is enough to move a mountain.
Because the one who is being trusted (God) is impressive…not the one trusting.
We can learn from the faith of others and be challenged…but we must not become wrongly impressed with people.
Years ago I was with my pastor, Harold Bullock…I had gone to pray with him as he helped a person who was oppressed by demons.
As the demons began to manifest in this person in what was to me an unusual way…I suddenly stopped praying and started merely watching in amazement…I had not seen that before.
Harold looked at me and said…”Terry, you are here to pray.”
I resumed praying.
He later told me “We cannot be amazed by the demonic, amazement is one step from awe, and awe is one step from worship.”
I think the same applies to people…we can fairly easily go from amazement at a person’s great faith, to awe, to worship…God alone is to be worshipped.
God is the impressive one…he is the faithful one.
So with that in mind, let’s look at the character of Abraham’s faith:
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 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.”
Paul has moved from description of the God in whom Abraham believed to a description to that belief itself.
The emphasis is on Abraham (and Sara’s) conviction that God would do what he promised even when the “physical” evidence pointed in the other direction.
The opening phrase captures this tension well…“Against all hope…in hope he believed.”
He was a hundred years old…in terms of producing life, his body was as good as dead,
Abraham didn’t ignore this evidence…but he took the facts of his situation fully into account.
- 19 “he faced the facts of the physical conditions”
Some believe that you cannot make a negative confession (meaning say the wrong words) or that will “jinx” you.
This is more superstition than faith.
I have asked people how they are doing in regard to their illness and they have responded “I am healed, praise God.”
No, in fact they were ill…and it is okay to say so.
We can ask God to heal but God is not going to be coerced into healing because of the words we use…or turn away from healing because we use words that describe the reality of our situation.
Abraham was a faith-filled realist.
He was a realist concerning his situation: He faced the facts that his body was as good as dead…without weakening in his faith.
If you asked Abraham “So, I heard you believe God is going to give you a child, huh?”
He would not have replied “Yes, I’m healthy as a twenty-something praise God.”
You would likely have gotten..”Yeah, can you believe it…I mean look at me, look at us…this will certainly have to be God won’t it?”
Some have called faith a “leap in the dark”…that is simply not true…and would not be all that smart.
I don’t think we should leap into dark…you do not know where you where you will land.
Its always good to see where you will land before you jump.
My grandson, Chris, frequently takes ill-advised leaps of faith
Last week I looked over up and he was about to jump off of something and there was no one close enough to catch him…this is a leap of ignorance not of faith.
Abraham was aware of his situation and at the same time aware of the reality of God.
I’m not saying Abraham did not take a leap of faith…but it was certainly not into the dark.
His hope was in God’s word of promise…so he did not waiver in unbelief.
If God had not spoken to Abraham and told him he would give him a son through Sarah…no amount of faith would have brought Isaac to life.
Abraham believed God would do what he said he would do…not that God must do what Abraham believes he must do…he had faith in God not faith in his faith.
Some of you are remembering that Abraham, when told he would have a son, “laughed” and even offered God an alternative…how about Ishmael…he’s already here…wouldn’t that be easier than Sarah getting pregnant?
Gen. 17:17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Some have tried to give Abraham a break by saying his laughter was an expression of joy…but this is not the case.
In that moment…he didn’t think it was believable, it was just not possible.
Paul is not implying that Abraham’s faith was a path of perfection but that it was consistent in its direction.
He had his doubts…but in the end he doubted his doubts and believed God’s word to him.
Human faith is always going to be inconsistent…up and down.
It matters that our trajectory is towards him…when we fail to believe him…we repent and believe again.
We do not spend time beating ourselves up over our lack of faith…we simply get back on track.
Faith is like two open hands…we stretch out our arms and open our hands to receive the gift God wants to give us.
WE can take no credit for accepting a gift, nor can we take any credit for our faith itself.
We concern ourselves with living with arms open towards him…when we turn away, we repent and turn back.
Continual reorientation to the reality of God is what a life of faith looks like…he fills us, we leak…so we turn to him again so he can fill us again.
- How do I grow in faith?
If God, not our faith is the focus, what does it mean to grow in faith?
Paul indicates there are degrees of faith…it can be weak (19) and it can be strong (20).
How does faith grow “strong”?
For some strong faith essentially means some kind of a “faith feeling”
Trying to get “psyched up” for a game, or speech, or confrontation…working up my emotions in order to feel faith.
Elijah had a duel of faith with 450 prophets of Baal…a horrible human manufactured deity whose worshippers became like him.
They called on Baal from morning till noon…they shouted, they danced…no one answered.
They shouted louder, slashed themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed…into the afternoon and then the evening…no response, no one answered.
Finally…they were finished…nothing happened because their faith was in a non-existent deity.
Elijah stepped up the altar, had them thoroughly drench the wood and the sacrifice with water…
Then he prayed “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up all the water in the trench.
Compare the frenzied display of emotion of the prophets of Baal…with the confident confession of Elijah.
The narrative makes a point of saying over and over…in regards to the cries of the false prophets…”no one heard them”
We must not believe that strong faith is somehow tied to strong emotions.
I believe faith grows primarily through the mind (emotion is important but in this case I think the mind has priority)…
“Abraham was fully persuaded” that God had the power to do what he had promised.
I think he “laughed” as a result of spontaneous emotions…”hah!…no way.”
But he believed as the result of being fully persuaded…he had thought it through and concluded some important things to be true.
God is able to bring all things to life…God is not a liar, he always tells the truth…God has spoken to me…therefore, he was convinced…this is going to happen.
Faith grows by careful and ongoing consideration of God…who he is, what he has done, what he has said.
It does not grow by looking at the current “level” or “amount” of our faith…or how we are feeling about out situation.
Faith is weak when God is small.
Faith is strong when God is big.
Faith can remain the size of a mustard seed and be strong or weak…it is the size of God that is most important.
The size of God is a fixed fact in reality…but a moving target in our minds.
He grows large and stays large when we “set our minds on things above.”
When we love him with all of our “minds”
Why is this “mind” part so important.
Because in the end, faith has to be acted on…faith filled actions begin with our thoughts…what do we actually believe?
Now, in spite of what I feel right now…I will act on what I am persuaded is true.
- What can I “believe God for?
*Whatever he has clearly promised…he will do.
He has clearly promised that those who place their faith in him will be saved…we do not have to wonder.
He has promised that if we confess he will forgive and cleanse…we do not have to live in shame and guilt.
He has promised eternal life…we do not have to fear death.
He has promised an abundant life in him (not just quantity but quality).
He has promised trouble, trials, suffering in this life…but purpose in all of it.
Beyond that you may believe he has clearly told you that you will have a certain thing…job, spouse, physical recovery.
And indeed he may have…but he may not have.
My advice is that if it is not written in the Bible and interpreted correctly in context…then we should say “As best I can tell I believe God has spoken to me about this or that.”
I don’t doubt God speaks clearly, I do doubt we can always hear clearly.
If you believe God has spoken to you about something and it contradicts what he has said in his word…then your belief is misguided.
My point here is to simply say…trust him…not yourself.
Be fully confident in God…be suspicious of your own heart and mind…we will often “hear” what we want to hear.
We need to hear and believe what God has actually said.
We will finish this conversation and this chapter in Romans next week.