Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Audacity of Simple Faith
Despite the good news that God gives new life free of charge, we humans have a hard time accepting such a gift. We, by nature want to earn or buy what we get. For the Roman Christians reading Paul?s letter, that would also have been true. In fact, many of them were Jewish Christians, and thinking about all that Paul has said about the inability of the Jewish system to bring about salvation must have put lots of doubts about their heritage in their minds. ?Salvation by trusting God?? As Paul has just said ?a righteousness from God apart from the Law?.
Some of them might even have started thinking back to the beginnings of Judaism, to the patriarch of them all, Abraham. Surely Abraham earned his blessing before God by obedience and Jewishness, right? Wrong. Has God now nullified Abraham? No, not at all. Grace gives us a new understanding of just what happened with God and Abraham.
So Paul takes this entire chapter to paint a picture of two of Israel?s most famous men: Abraham and David, and how their relationship with Yahweh, and ours, is based solely on faith. It comes down to: what did Abraham do, when did he do it, and through what did he do it.
Abraham was ?our? forefather Paul says. He is not just the forefather of the Jews, but of all believers. The Jews believed that Abraham was chosen by God because he was the only righteous person alive at the time. In Genesis 26:5 God remembers Abraham as one who ?obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.? But he was not a superman. In fact, Abraham had quite a journey of faith and testing of his faith?a journey not all that dissimilar from what we face?and that?s why his story is so encouraging to someone learning to trust God without earning anything!
2 ? 5
To understand Abraham?s journey of faith we need to go back to Genesis 11. Abram was a rank pagan when God found him. He was living in Ur, a Chaldean city near the present city of Nasiriyah, south of Baghdad in Iraq. For an unstated reason, Abram?s dad picked up the family, including Abram?s wife Sarai (who it says was barren), and started towards Canaan. When they reached Haran, which is near the border of Syria in modern day Turkey, they stopped and Terah, Abram?s father, died.
It was then that Genesis records God speaking to Abram about going ?to the land that I will show you.? It says ?The Lord said to Abram,? but it can also mean ?had said.? So it may be that God actually spoke to Abram in Ur and it was he that convinced Terah to pack up and leave. The journey of faith starts with an invitation without full explanation.
After a series of travels and trials, God promised Abram ?I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth.? (13:16). God also told him ?your reward shall be very great.? (15:1). He questioned God, ?what will you give me, for I continue to be childless??? God replied, ?your very own son shall be your heir.? He then took Abram out into the night, ?Look toward the heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.? Then he said to him, ?So shall your offspring be.?
For some reason, Abram had the audacity to take God at his word. Verse 6 says, ?And he believed the Lord, and he counted to him as righteousness.? Following this encounter, God has Abram prepare a ?cutting of the covenant? ceremony, where a formal agreement is made ? but it is God who is the only one who performs the ceremony. This has tremendous symbolism?namely that God is the only one that can fulfill his promises and if one party fails on the agreement it means death?in this case we failed to live up to God?s righteousness but he?s the one who paid for it with his own life (that?s why at the end of the chapter it says Jesus was ?delivered up for our trespasses?).
The Jews believed that Abram was blessed for his obedience to the covenants. Paul says that belief may have allowed Abraham to boast before men, but not before God, who is the one who made and performs on his promise.
Being ?counted? as righteousness is not from obedience but from the sincere affirmation and acceptance that God can and will do what he promised. The word is also sometimes rendered ?credited? or ?reckoned.? The righteousness was not from works of obedience but from faith and trust.
This is absolutely key for us understanding how a relationship with God starts and continues. We desperately want to ?do? something that will cause God to bless us. We go to church, we carry a big Bible, we tithe faithfully, we cajole God and even demand things based on a ?contract? that we have with him where he is obligated to bless us according to our desires. It doesn?t work that way. God owes us nothing because we did no work to earn his favor.
So now Paul turns from benefits apart from works, to forgiveness also apart from works.
6 ? 8
The Psalm quoted (32:1-2) talks about the wonder that when we admit and confess our sins that God ?will not count his sin.? The word ?count? here is the same Greek word that used in verse 5. So in God?s economy, trusting God results in both cleansing from sin and the imputation of righteousness. Awesome!
Now comes the crucial question, especially for the Jewish audience?was Abraham counted as righteous when he was a Jew or not?
9 ? 12
As we?ve discussed before, no ceremony can make you right before God, including circumcision. God, in his wisdom, brought Abraham into a place of faith prior to his circumcision in chapter 17. It was Abraham?s faith in God, not his faithfulness to certain rituals, that Paul focuses on. For us it is the same thing. Ritual does not cleanse us from sin, trust in God does. Ceremony does not bring about God?s blessings in our lives, faith in God does. We are then on equal footing with the Jews.
13 ? 15
Paul is saying here that if by adhering to the law brought about salvation, then Abraham?s faith, hundreds of years prior to the giving of the law, was unnecessary. The purpose of the law is to tell us right from wrong?and the consequences of disobedience. If we never had that standard we would not know the difference between our character and God?s. The good news is that the consequences of failure to follow the law were paid by Jesus on our behalf.
16 ? 17
Grace is the key?to the Jew and Gentile equally?God?s unmerited favor, his gift. Just as he gave Abraham a son, when it was impossible, humanly speaking, for that to happen. So too he gives us life when we were dead in our sins in a way that was impossible for us to attain. Abraham then, is your father too?you now derive your heritage from him.
18 ? 25
To read the account of Abraham and the birth of Isaac you might wonder what story Paul was referring to when he says Abraham ?did not weaken in faith ? but grew strong in his faith.? Back in Genesis 16, after the promise of an heir, many years past with no pregnancy. Sarai grew impatient and offered her servant for Abraham to marry and fulfill God?s promise by human means. It didn?t work out for them very well, either then?through the enmity between Sarai and Hagar, but also the continued enmity between Hagar?s offspring, the Arab peoples, and the Jews.
But Abraham merely assented to his wife?s request. Later, in chapter 17, Abraham said to God, ?Oh that Ishmael might live before you.? Abraham had his weaknesses, but he never doubted that God would fulfill his promise. Abraham had his failures (he would often lie under pressure, for instance) but he maintained a simple trust in God. That?s encouraging to us too. We might have weaknesses and failures too, but if we simply trust that God has done it all for us and lives in us and works through us and for us, we, like Abraham, can get passed those times.
So just to sum up: What did Abraham do? He believed God. When did he do it? Before circumcision and through what agency? Not the law, but through God?s promise.
Abraham had what you have and nothing more?and that is God?s word making promises to you. How do you respond when you have nothing except his word to go on? Do you have the audacity to believe God even when things are going bad and the promise seems far off? Yes, we have our moments of weakness but down in the bedrock of our hearts we know there is a God who loves us.
Compare Abraham?s response to another time God proclaimed a son would be born to a childless couple. In Luke 1, Zechariah stood in the temple before an angel who told him he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son who would be the one to prepare Israel for the coming Messiah. Zechariah said ?how shall I know this?? Zechariah wanted proof, God wanted faith and trust. So will you be Zechariah, or Abraham?