Monday, August 15, 2016

The promise, the law, and a sign in the flesh

Read Romans 4

Paul is writing to the church in Rome, in the very capital of this pagan world, and yet the topic of Abraham seems essential to him.  Were he writing to believers in Jerusalem, he surely couldn’t leave out this connection with Abraham, but for believers in Rome we might ask was this really necessary?

Paul was just getting started on the topic of grace and now he jumps to Abraham?

But there was a group or actually several groups of Jews who said they followed Jesus who actually seemed to be following the followers of Jesus trying to persuade them to follow the law and take the sign in the flesh.  If Abraham had been central to you all of your life, it had to be hard to put him on the back burner and just put all of your faith in Jesus.

If you were a Jew the sign in the flesh was very important. Many believed that this was what made you right with God.  Many would argue that God commanded Abraham to be circumcised and his obedience and his actions made him right with God.  Paul said, that’s not exactly how the story goes.

There was faith then there was the sign in the flesh. Faith came first.  Paul notes that just as we have nothing to boast about in being made right with God; neither did Father Abraham.  The sign in the flesh came after he was made right with God by faith.

We understand this a little today.  We have faith then we receive the sign in the Spirit.  We call it baptism.  Paul wanted his readers to understand that faith is where we begin our journey.

Paul jumps from Abraham to King David and the first part of Psalm 32

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
 Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Blessed is the one who is made right with holy God.  Note that we translate this in what we might call the passive voice with the implication being that we did not do this for ourselves.  The forgiveness is totally from God.

Now back to Abraham and circumcision and the law, an interesting combination since the law was not fully promulgated by God to his people for another four and a half centuries or so after he selected Abraham to father his chosen people.

Paul had already noted that it was not by the law that Abraham and his seed would realize the promises of God.  In this chapter he adds that it was not by his circumcision that Abraham would realize the promises of God.  These promises would come to fruition through faith.  If everything rested on the works of Abraham, God would have just gone to the next resume.

But he didn’t.  God credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness.  Abraham was as messed up as most human beings but he had faith in God and what God had told him.  God credited this faith to Abraham as righteousness.

What had God told him?  What was the promise?  That he would be a great nation and that he would be the father of many nations and that God would greatly increase his numbers.

What was the problem?

Abraham and his wife were old and childless, but Paul notes that against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and became the father of many nations.  What does this mean?
Abraham believed that what God had promised was not possible but believed it anyway because God does what he promises to do.

Cognitive dissonance is where we have two conflicting beliefs in our minds that cannot be resolved.  Abraham knew that what God had promised could not happen; yet he believed that it would happen.  Abraham had no dissonance.

The promise was realized by faith and came by grace and not works.  Grace prevailed even before our own church age.  The favor and promises of God were poured out on Abraham not because of his works or because he took the sign in the flesh prescribed by God but they came by faith.

So those, wherever they were and whatever their agenda, who claimed Abraham as their father and whose compliance with the law that would come of his descendants would struggle with grace. 

And those who had never known the law or attached righteousness to God as a birthright as a son of Abraham were now also considered his offspring by faith.

To which all of God’s people said, “Do I really need to know all of this?  I want to study my Bible and follow Jesus and be God’s love, but do I really need to connect these dots?  Do I really need to know Abraham that well?”

It is not about knowing Abraham, but the God that chose Abraham for he is a God of forgiveness and love and is faithful to his promises.

He is a God who longs to pour out his favor upon his children.  He is a God who sees our hearts and desires our faith.

He is a God who doesn’t write report cards but signs his birthday cards to us saying, “I love you and always will.”  He signs them with the blood of Jesus.

He longs for us to be born into his kingdom and enjoy all that he has stored up for us since the beginning of the world.

It is not about getting to know Abraham.  It is about getting to know God.

God wants us to believe in him and in his promises.

God wants us to trust in him and in his promises.

God wants us to know the love that sent his Son to the cross to make that atoning sacrifice for our sins and he wants us to receive the justification he has in store for us.

God wants us to live in his promises.  Let’s go to a very familiar place.

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

How many of us live completely in the first half of verse 5?  How many in the second half?  How many feel like they are the ball in a ping pong match going back and forth?

If you travel through Oklahoma City or Dallas or Houston and get off of the interstate, you might just believe that there are a whole lot of people trusting in the Lord with all of their hearts because the light had been red for a full two or three seconds before they sped through the intersection.  In reality, most just think, “I can make it.”

It's a good thing that many of us old timers grew up learning to “look out for the other guy.”

Most people that we know including many, many Christians live in the “Leaning on our own understanding mode.”

God wants us embracing his promises to us.  God promised Abraham that he would be the “Father of Many Nations.”  That’s quite a title to lay upon an old man with an old wife and no kids of their own.

But God lived up to his promise.  He also lived up to his promise that the whole world would be blessed through the seed of this man.  While the Hebrew people were not very good at blessing the world; Jesus fulfilled this promise as our ultimate blessing.

What has God promised us?

Many things, but for now I want us to think upon life, life abundant and life eternal.

Do we really live? 

“I exist therefore I must live, right?”

Breath and a heartbeat—that’s living, right?  In combat triage, it might get you to the doctor instead of just some morphine while those casualties that might have chance go first.

But we know there is more to life.  Even the world knows there is more to life than just vital signs.  The world seeks after things and pleasures and vacations and job titles and the list goes on.  Tom T. Hall summed up the list in 4 things:  Faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money.

For those who don’t know who Tom T. Hall is, well, you just haven’t lived.

There is more to life than vital signs but there is an even fuller version of life that comes when we accept the gift of salvation and really commit to following Jesus.  This is abundant life.  This is something that Jesus said he wants us to have.

Jesus said that he came so we could not only know life but live it to the full, to the max, to the extreme limits of this sacred thing we have been given.  I would call it a promise.

I have come so that you may have life and have it to the full.

That sounds a lot like something that God says he has for me that I want.  How many live an abundant life?  How do you measure that?  Let’s look at things that fall short of abundance.

The word of the day, of the week, of the year and decade is fonly.

Don’t look it up in the dictionary.  The definition there will say foolish or fondly but that’s not what it means.

Fonly is how we say, “if only.”  People say it so much that it blends into a single word.


How should we define this contraction of if only?
·     The death of initiative
·     A perennial excuse for inaction
·     A procrastinator’s self-pardoning phrase
·     Cowardice by any other name
·     Having a tight grip on hopelessness
·     An excuse addict’s score
·     The kingpin of inaction
·     Addicted to one’s current state
·     Fear

The list could go on.  Add two or three of your own.  It should be easy because you have seen these two words—if only—kill recovery from drug addiction, marriage reconciliation, qualification for scholarships or competitive jobs, and so much more.

Fonly has been the death of many dreams.

What are the antonyms of Fonly?
·     Action
·     First steps
·     Just Do It
·     Courage

If you want to know abundance, get rid of these two words as a good start.  Believe the promises of God and start living in them.

God wants you to have a very full life.  As we will encounter in the next chapter, that doesn’t always mean we walk the primrose path without any struggle or suffering.

But we are called to faith.  We are called to believe.  We are called to live in what God has promised to us and for the limited point of this part of the discussion, that is abundant life.

We are also called to believe in the promise of life eternal.  We are to believe in the promise of everlasting life.

So what does that mean?  Are we supposed to sing When We All Get to Heaven every week?  We could, but it means that we live this day as if tomorrow is not promised but eternity is.


We live without fear, never denying God.  We live fully, never shrinking back from life.  We live thankfully, knowing the price that was paid for our life abundant and eternal.

We live running our race with our eyes fixed on Jesus not worried about what we get so much as what we give.

We live out our salvation trusting fully in God’s forgiveness. He is faithful and just to forgive.  We are called to confess with this assurance of his pardon.

We are called to live knowing all of God’s promises to be true. 

There is another example of Abraham that Paul did not mention in this chapter, mainly because it was not tied to the sign in the flesh but is surely speaks of faith.  God called Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Other than the gut wrenching task that was before Abraham, realize that God had told Abraham that the promise he made about being the father of many nations would be fulfilled through his son Isaac.  Abraham was willing to do this but God stopped him at the last minute.

In this whole faith business, realize there is a little difference between Sarah saying, “I have a headache,” and Abraham responding, “This might be the night that God fulfills his promise,” and dragging your son to the top of a mountain ready to sacrifice him.  You had to know with certainty that God would still do the impossible even if you did the unthinkable thing that God had asked of Abraham. 

Put yourself in Abraham’s place.  It all came down to faith.

Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Our faith brings us into the promised right standing with God.  Isn’t time that we started living out our faith?

We don’t’ contend with birthrights and signs in the flesh today.  People don’t follow us around telling us that we had better follow the Law of Moses.  Most of the things that Paul was knee deep in don’t impact us much in this century.

But are we trusting in God’s promises?

Are we living in God’s promises?

Are we looking for tangible rules—putting God’s promises into the box we call our own understanding—when God just wants us to live fully and to his glory?

He wants us trusting in him and in his promises.

Paul has taken his readers and us from everyone should have known there is a God to everyone falls short of God’s standards and his glory to God’s grace; but now he finds it necessary to remind us that faith is essential to realizing God’s promises.

God’s grace has saved us but we need to exercise our faith to realize his promises.

Let us live as people of faith.  Let us live trusting in and living in and growing in God’s grace and in his promises.

God has done everything that had to be done to be right with him.  Now let’s live in faith and realize all of his promises.


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