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Living by Faith (2)

Abraham – his faith in God became his righteousness

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 11:8-12
  • Genesis 12:1-19

Hymns/songs

  • “God has called us” (“We have come”)
  • “Beneath the cross of Jesus”
  • “As the deer pants for the water”
  • “May the mind of Christ my Saviour”

Introduction

A columnist of a computer magazine made this comment:

How many teachers continually learn? How many teachers practice what they teach? How many of those who teach writing actually write?  How many maths teachers do maths?How many teachers set tasks that have an audience for only one – themselves?

He asked these questions arguing that if there is no application of knowledge,  teaching knowledge is meaningless.  Why do you teach in the first instance?  Is it to educate students to help them make decisions, or to get them through the exam in the end of the year?

What’s the point of the teaching of Sunday worship if it is not lived out everyday?

Faith rests upon knowledge – we need to know God, we need to know that He exists, and we need to know how and why He speaks to us through his Word.  But this is not where it stops; the knowledge must be applied in daily living, it must grow through daily trust.  Faith without works is dead.

Abraham believed God.  We would not have much of the Bible if Abraham did not put to practice what he believed in.  His faith became actions of trust and obedience.

Sovereign grace that saves sovereignly

We will never fully understand the faith of Abraham before we understand the sovereignty of the a God who saves by grace.

The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ (Acts 7:2–3, NIV)

The God of glory.  This is a very important word in this context, especially connected to appear.  When the God of glory appears, we see Him, the most holy, sovereign God intervenes in human history, He does so because He is revealing Himself to bring about a change in the course of history.  This is what happened when Jesus was born:

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9, NIV)

When God appears to to someone He makes Himself known.  That’s what the word means. Put the two word glory and appear together and the Greek has much to say about revealing and causing to see.  When God revealed Himself to Abraham, He made him to see God for who He is.

Steven, preaching about the glory of Chris,t knew what this meant.  While the people stoned him the Bible says:

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55, NIV)

Because God revealed Himself that moment as the God of glory, together with Jesus in glory as the Son of Man, everything happening with Steven was not as important as the knowledge that God is looking down upon him.  Therefore he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  In his dying moments he prayed for grace upon those who were killing him, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.

Another instance in which the course of history was changed by God seeing and revealing Himself is also recorded by Stephen.  It refers back to the time when God appeared to Moses while he was in the desert and the Israelites were held as slaves in Egypt:

I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt. (Acts 7:34, NIV)

God sees, wants to save, and He saves.  He then is known as Saviour and worshipped as the God of glory.  He does all of this because He save sovereignly as Sovereign God.

God appeared to Abraham – and something spectacular is going to happen.

Where was Abraham at the time of God’s appearance.  Stephen said in Mesopotamia in the city of Ur.  The question now, “Was Abraham such a good bloke that God looked at him in favour to reward him for being good?”  Not at all.  Listen to this verse:

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. (Joshua 24:2, NIV)

Abraham was worshipping other gods.  Why did God call Abraham?  Dr RC Sproul writes:

Grace, by definition, is something that God is not required to grant. He owes a fallen world no mercy. If we cried out for justice at His hands, we could all receive the just condemnation we deserve. Justice is what we deserve. Grace is always and ever undeserved. If we deserved it, it would not be grace.

The only explanation why God appeared to Abraham is sovereign grace.  Like in the case of Paul who calls himself the “worst of sinners”, God intervened and made the difference.  Paul describes it this way:

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:13–14, NIV)

Romans 4

Romans 4 helps us to understand what happened in the life of Abraham and how God made the difference.

The question in Romans 4:1-8 is, “Did Abraham do good things in order to receive the grace of God?”  No!  Verse 2 says:

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. (Romans 4:2, NIV)

Like Abraham, we are not saved or we are not shown grace because we are good.  Like Abraham, we were dead in our trespasses, unable to savingly know or serve God.  Was Abraham saved, then – although he worshipped other gods before God revealed Himself in glory to him?  Yes!  But how? Verse 5:

However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:5, NIV)

The question in Romans 4:8 and what follows is, “Perhaps Abraham was saved because he was circumcised.”  To be circumcised in Old Testament times meant to be included into the Covenant people.  In our day one can say if you are baptised, then are counted as one of God’s covenant people.  Was this the case with Abraham? No!

And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. (Romans 4:11, NIV)

The next possibility was that Abraham observed to Law, and therefore God appeared to him.  No!

It was not through the 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. (Romans 4:13, NIV)

When God appeared to Abraham in Ur, even whilst worshipping other gods, Abraham saw the glory of God.  He understood that this God is the God of heaven and earth.

Abraham saved by grace

Without doubt Abraham then talked to his wife Sarah about this wonderful God.  He spoke to his father about it.  And he told them about the call and promises of God.  He believed God, he trusted God who saved him by grace.

It was nothing short of the conversion of Paul, and it is nothing short of how God bestows mercy on all believers.  It changed Abraham’s life, Moses, Isaiah’s life, Jeremiah’s life, Daniel, Ezekiel, Samuel, Elijah, the fishers of men, the blind man along the road, the man who lived in the cemetery who everyone thought was crazy; it changed Luther’s life, and Calvin, and John Knox, and John Piper’s, and Hudson Taylor, William Carey and JC Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, John Paton, and millions of other people. As well as mine, and I pray yours.  And together we pray that God would the same for our community. And the millions who have not heard about Him right to the ends of the earth.

O, should we not pray that God would once again appear to us in his glory!  Yes, we should.  We should pray earnestly for the glory of the Lord to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.  We should pray that the Spirit of God would move again afresh in our midst.  Would it not be wonderful to see the church mobilised like in the days of Abraham, only living by the promise of God’s Word?  Do you want to see that happen?  Yes?

Then, understand this: we have the promise, we have the Word, we have the Cross and the open grave, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit, and we have the promise the Christ will be with us till He comes back again.  These things we have.  It is only a matter of being gripped by grace.  If only we, like Abraham, would understand what great a salvation we have received.  If only we would shake off the sinful idea that somehow God owes us something because we might be in some way not as bad as those who don’t believe!  God owes us nothing; we owe Him everything.  Yet, He gives us everything – more than enough to glorify Him.

Like Abraham we need to start living by faith.  This is not an airy-fairy living somewhere in the clouds. No, to live by faith is to take life by the horns, wrestle with it and make the most of every opportunity given to us everyday.  We might need to make adjustments, for sure.  We will need to stop valuing our own program and dreams in the light of God’s Kingdom; we will need to stop chasing after things that perish.  We will for sure be called to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.  We will be called to count the cost of discipleship, take up our cross – and then follow Jesus.

That’s faith.  Faith is not what in my head and in my heart only.  I only begin to believe when I begin to enjoy the beauty of the grace of God, and then lose my life, only to find it!  That’s what Abraham did.  He walked away from a futile life of idol worship. He left home and family behind, and he followed God and his promise.  Such faith is credited as righteousness, not faith that warms the church pew Sunday after Sunday, which achieves nothing in the week.

What was the effect of sovereign grace in Abraham’s life?

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8, NIV)

He made his home in the Promised Land. Abraham was gripped by grace, and his whole life became a walk with the God who plucked him out of the slavery of idolatry to serve Him as the only living and merciful God.  His life now was consumed by grace, and never after that did he feel at home on earth anymore.

The Bible says he was a foreigner and a sojourner – someone who dwelt but never stayed.  He never built a home or lived in a city.  The only piece of real estate he ever had was a burial plot.

He lived by faith – the promise was as good as the real thing.  Because it was God’s Word – and it never fails.

God promised to bless him and make his descendants a blessing.  God promised him a land.  He received the promise that he would become a great nation, God also promise to protect him.  When he packed his bags to go to Canaan, he was seventy-five years old.  Sarah was somewhat younger, well beyond the years of having children.

We need to understand the significance of this statement in the Bible.  Only one chapter back a whole list of the of names of his ancestors appears with the years on which each had their first son.  The average is about 33 years.  Abraham was seventy-five; he had none.  His wife was barren!  But he had a promise of God!

They arrived in the foreign land and built an altar to the Lord; this actually became the pattern of Abraham: in the foreign land with foreign gods he proclaimed the Name of the living God.

But, something seems to be missing.

He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. (Acts 7:5, NIV)

Everything was missing!  No land, no child, no home.

Everything missing?  No it was all there: God and his promise.  This made Abraham look not to the horizons of human possibility, but to the heavens of reality.  Hebrews 11 says:

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10, NIV)

Let’s remind ourselves again what faith is:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

Further:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)

Faith is to have known and experienced the reality of the salvation by the sovereign God who calls sovereignly out of death into a living relationship with Him.  Abraham knew and understood this above all things.

Abraham, our father

In this sense Abraham is our father.

Setting the example of faith

He is our father in faith by setting the example of trust and obedience in God.  Like him we should believe if we want to be part of the family of believers.  Like him we look forward to the city of which God is the builder.  We look at our Saviour Jesus Christ and we trust Him with our life who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.  Paul put it like this in his letter to the Galatians:

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29, NIV)

Father according to the promise

But there is another way in which Abraham is our father:  in him the nations of the earth are being blessed, because according to this line of God-fearing believers the Lord Jesus Christ was born.  His death was not for the seed of Abraham only, but for those whom God would call to Himself through the Gospel of hope.  Paul puts it like this in Ephesians 2:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11–13, NIV)

Therefore:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, (Ephesians 2:19, NIV)

Conclusion

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. God speaks to you and me this morning.  He knows us by name.  By grace He saves from a futile life, and puts us in a relationship with Him – and He gives us his promise.  We have already received the promise in Christ.  Now He wants us to walk the road of faith in obedience and trust.  Are you following Him by faith?

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