The Saving Faith of Abraham

Title: The Saving Faith of Abraham

Text: Romans 4:18-25

Time: September 3rd, 2006

Paul’s main theme in the Book of Romans after 4 chapters has been faith. The Apostle explains how salvation by faith works. He explains how Jews and non-Jews all must come to salvation by faith. But it might be good here to stop and ask the question: “What is this faith Paul speaks about? What does it look like? What is it? What is it not?” That’s exactly what the Apostle does in the fourth chapter, verses eighteen through twenty-five. He uses the father of the Jewish faith, Abraham, as an example of how saving faith looks. Why is it important to describe how real, saving faith operates? Because there are different kinds of faith that do not save, and Paul wants to make sure that everyone knows the difference. He wants everyone to have the right kind of faith, the kind that saves. Have you ever been to a baseball game and had a ticket for a seat? You march down to the front of the stands and you are just about ready to sit down in some really good seats when all of a sudden an usher at the stadium asks to see your tickets. You show him your ticket and he replies, “You can’t sit here, you’ve got the wrong kind of ticket. That ticket is for seats way up there” — and he points to seats way out in the outfield upper deck that you can barely see! At a baseball game it matters what kinds of tickets that you have, not just that you have tickets. And so too with faith. For salvation, it’s important to have saving faith, not just any kind of faith. Now to fully understand the difference between saving faith and other kinds of faith, we’ll turn to another Apostle who is sometimes said to counter Paul’s teachings on faith — but that’s not true because he really only tried to bring balance and clarity to some distortions that some people were drawing from Paul’s teachings: James. In James 2:14-19, it says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you will; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is a God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” Here we see James describing a general faith in God, but not saving faith. He describes a kind of intellectual, theoretical faith that while affirming truth doesn’t live the truth. It’s faith “that” instead of faith “in” God. It’s head faith, but not heart faith. It’s the kind of faith that people generally believe in the United States where polls indicate that around 90% of Americans believe that there is a God. Does that make them Christian, does that save them? No. So the Apostle Paul wants to describe what real, saving faith is before he goes further. He uses the faith of Abraham as a model of saving faith. Paul makes three important points about Abraham’s saving faith that I’ll cover, and then I’ll draw an application for us today. Romans 4:18-25 (read).

First, Saving faith believes God’s promises. Romans 4:20-22, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promises of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. That is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’” Now saving faith, the kind that the Apostle Paul has been talking about all throughout the Book of Romans, has to have a promise or promises from God to believe. That’s what we see is the case with Abraham in the Old Testament. The main promise that God made to Abraham is found in Genesis 12:2-3, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The only problem for Abraham was that his wife couldn’t bear him a son to fulfill the promise of the Lord. But Abraham continued to believe God’s promise to him. We see how important it is for faith to have a promise because without a promise there is nothing reliable to put faith in. Suppose God had never made any promise to Abraham, and Abraham simply wished to be the father of a great nation. Would that wish be the same as faith? No. A lot of people today have the idea that faith is something like a wish. I was once talking with a woman about heaven and asked her, “If you were to die today and find yourself standing outside the gates of heaven, and an angel came out and asked you why you should be allowed in, what would you say?” The woman replied, “Because I want to go in.” But faith is not a wish, it isn’t a desire for something, it isn’t a dream or fantasy. Faith is trusting in God and God’s promises. Now it takes faith in God to trust God’s promises because as we all know not everyone is trustworthy. Going back to the baseball ticket story, my dad and I were in Cleveland to see the Tigers and the Indians play a baseball game. We bought two tickets from some guy on the street outside the Jacob’s Field. Come to find out the tickets were different kinds, one seat was in the lower level third base side, the other was in the right field upper deck! We trusted this stranger and he deceived us. Not everyone nor everyone’s promise is trustworthy. Saving faith is trusting God and His promises because God is trustworthy. Now Abraham’s faith in God’s promises concerning a child and being the father of a nation was considered by God as righteousness. Or in other words, by trusting in God and His promises, God considered Abraham righteous in His eyes. For Christians, when we trust in Christ and the promise of His gospel — that Christ’s atoning sacrifice forgives us of sin, saves us from judgment, gives us access to eternal life, etc. — we are considered righteous in God’s eyes too, just like Abraham.

Second, saving faith can’t be talked or reasoned away. Romans 4:18, “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.’” In a sense, saving faith is stubborn faith; it can’t be talked or reasoned away. Abraham was given a promise by God that he’d have a son and that he’d be the father of many nations, but years went by and the promise wasn’t being fulfilled. From a human, logical standpoint, it appeared that the promise had failed. Human reasoning would dictate that Abraham give up on his faith in God and move on to something else, but Abraham refused to abandon his faith in God. He clung to God’s promise with tenacity, obstinacy, determination, resolve, persistence, doggedness, insistence, firmness, inflexibility, unreasonableness, pigheadedness, will power, grit, fortitude, steadfastness, resolution, etc. I remember a band director in my high school who was sometimes questioned by the students on his directing at certain points in a musical score. I remember this director waving both his hands, shaking his head, and saying, “No, No, No, No, No.” He wouldn’t be changed by anything the students might say concerning his interpretation of a musical piece. That’s how we see Abraham when faced with questions from others or even his own doubts arising from his own mind. “Can I trust God? Can I trust His promises to me? Shall I abandon God? Shall I abandon His promises?” We can see Abraham, like that music director, waving his hands, shaking his head, and repeating, “No, No, No, No, No. I will not doubt God. I will not doubt God’s promises. It will happen just as He said to me. Nothing can make me stop believing.” That’s the kind of faith the Apostle Paul says that saving faith for Christians is like. The gospel message from God promises us forgiveness and blessings from God forever and nothing can keep us from that faith. We trust Christ’s life, death, and resurrection will give us right standing with God the Father forever. There are plenty of places or points where it’s possible to doubt the gospel message today. Critical scholars doubt the words of the Bible, they doubt the words of Jesus, some of them doubt that the key events of the gospel actually happened, like the resurrection, etc. But true saving faith doesn’t allow the doubts of others interfere with trusting in God. There were probably plenty of people who laughed at Abraham’s hope in being a father of many nations, especially since his wife couldn’t even bear him a single son. It’s hard to be the father of nations, when one isn’t even a father of one son. But Abraham clung to his faith in God even against common sense and reasonability; and in the end, he was rewarded with the fulfillment of the promise, just as he had believed. So too, as Christians, we stubbornly trust in Jesus to save us whether it makes complete rational sense or not. We are saved by faith not by reason; life is bigger than logic.

Third, saving faith doesn’t consider experience or circumstances. Romans 4:19, “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.” Abraham wasn’t in denial; he didn’t deny that things looked hopeless humanly speaking. But he simply believed that God was powerful enough to override natural and human limitations and give him a son and make him the father of many nations. All of human experience was against Abraham’s hope from ever happening. This was in a time before the science of biology, but it doesn’t take modern science to inform ancient people that a 100 year old man thinking that he’ll father a child, or his near 100 year old wife bearing a child, is highly unlikely, if not impossible. Circumstances didn’t look good for Abraham. But again, Abraham didn’t count on human experience, nor circumstances of life; rather, he counted on God to do what was naturally and humanly impossible. That’s the kind of saving faith that Christians are called upon to have in respect to believing the gospel. The last point was that saving faith doesn’t have to make sense intellectually or make perfectly good, reasonable sense. This point is that saving faith doesn’t have to fit in with human experience or life’s circumstances. God is not only bigger than our ability to understand, He’s greater than any opposing natural or human power. God can override any earthly circumstance; that’s what a miracle is, that’s the definition of a miracle, an event caused by God that overrides natural, earthly powers. Abraham was counting on a miracle to fulfill the promise, so too do Christians count on a miracle to fulfill the gospel promises. We all die, our body goes back to the earth, but we are counting on a miracle from God to save our soul from death, and keep it alive forever in eternal blessedness with God. The skeptical and secular scientists may laugh at us for believing in such a thing as life after death, but that’s ok. We trust God, not secular scientists who insist that everything be filtered through fallible human reasoning. We go to funerals and witness our loved ones lowered into the ground and know that some day we too will be lowered into the ground when we die, but we believe that death is not the end because the promise of God gives us hope for eternal life. We are willing to trust in the promises of God rather than what we see or experience at a funeral, or what our natural reasoning tells us. We believe that there is more to life than logic. We believe that God is bigger than logic, and so we trust God rather than our own experiences or thinking or the experiences or thinking of others. We trust in God like Abraham trusted in God, and we believe we will be rewarded for that faith just as Abraham was rewarded for his stubborn faith.

Finally, fourth, saving faith is the only faith that truly saves. Romans 4:23-25, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness, for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” If what the Apostle Paul is saying is correct, many people who attend churches are not saved; they do not possess saving faith. Why? Because they do not trust God to save them on the basis of faith, but on the basis of their own good works. Paul has shown that Abraham was saved by his persistent faith in God in the face of many obstacles, yet he kept on clinging to the promises of God. That’s how Christians are saved, by clinging persistently to the promises of the gospel, which are, that by Jesus’ death on the cross our sins are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is given to us so that we are righteous in God’s eyes forever more. Now if a person isn’t trusting in the gospel promise, but still trusting in the law, fulfilling the laws, to save them, then they do not have saving faith. They are trying to be saved without saving faith. They possess a type of faith, but it isn’t the kind that saves them or the kind that God considers righteous in His eyes. The kind of faith that most people have, even many or even most people who call themselves Christians or who attend a church of some kind, is a general religious faith in God. It isn’t the kind of faith that clings to the gospel promises, that is, the promises that include Christ’s death on the cross as a sacrificial atonement for our sins, in our place, to bear our punishment for sins, and win our forgiveness. It isn’t the kind of faith that looks only to Christ for our right standing before God. Unfortunately, it isn’t the kind of faith that saves. It’s the kind of faith that disappoints and ultimately perishes. What kind of faith do you have? Is it the more general type of faith in God that most people have, the kind that believes in God generally, and the Bible generally, and in Jesus generally? Or is it the saving kind of faith that trusts in God persistently, in the Bible promises absolutely, and in Jesus’ gospel stubbornly in the face of doubts and all circumstances? Saving faith is the kind of faith one dies for and lives for, but in either case never abandons. The early Christians were willing to face death for their saving faith. They refused to deny Jesus at the point of the soldiers spear. They refused to deny the gospel when faced with death in the Roman arena. They were burned to death, boiled, fed to the wild animals, beheaded, etc. but they refused to abandon their faith. That’s saving faith. That’s the kind of faith the Apostle Paul is talking about.

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