“Like Father (Abraham) Like Son(s and Daughters)” by Pastor Andy Braams

From the time we are very young, we learn a lot from the adults in our lives. For most children that learning is from one or both parents. Not all of what is learned is formally taught, and not all of what is learned is good. For instance, when I was about 2 ½ years old, I had the “gift” of stacking building blocks at about a 5-10% angle. And it wasn’t just a few, it was around 16-20. I have no idea how. In fact, maybe that is why no one taught me much about carpentry and such…they were afraid of what I might build. But after I would get several blocks stacked they would fall – of course. But then came the moment. Or I should say, then came the words. Whatever I said was not appropriate for an especially young child, if anyone. My parents thought they misunderstood what I said. But it happened again. And then the third time, the questions began. Where did he hear this? The answer was pretty obvious. The apple did not fall far from the tree. And that apple did not fall far from his tree either.

You have probably been on both ends of this type of situation. You probably did something that you saw your parents (or other adult in your life do) and may have got in trouble for it. You probably have also had a child imitate you, and maybe that was not so flattering either. We could go around the room and share plenty of experiences I am sure.

And the same is true of faith. We learn things about the Bible and about our faith in a setting like this. But we also learn by watching others – both those who claim to be Christian and those who claim not to be. In reality, we often believe and live what we see more than what we know to be true. And like the young child who emulates some adult, that can be both good and bad.

This week, I want to focus on the good side of that. The Bible is also filled with people who set both good and bad examples. Most biblical characters are a little bit of both. That is true of today’s example – Abraham, but his example is far more positive than it is negative. And thus, Paul shows the faith of our spiritual father Abraham to be a good example for all of his spiritual offspring.

The truth is that all of us will be judged, which is why this series is entitled, “And Justice for All.” So, let us seek examples that show us what faith should be, rather than what it often is.

The faith of Abraham is a perfect parallel for the faith of the Christian today.

As the father of the Jews, the people revered Abraham, but if Abraham is the father of all who believe (v. 16, the father of us all), what can we learn from him to then pass on to others as well?

This week’s post brings us to the end of the first 25% of Romans. But it is also the end of the foundation that Paul needed to establish for his reader then, and for us today, to help us prepare for what God has done for those who believe. So, Paul waited until these most recent verses to introduce Abraham to his argument, and now today, we see why Abraham was not just someone for the Jews to honor, but he serves as a great example for us AND as a great contrast to how Paul began this larger section of Scripture going back to Romans 1.18. I will share more about the five distinct points of contrast in the Monday video this week.

For this week, I want to focus on the three parallels between Abraham’s faith and our faith. Paul’s intent for this connection to be made is found in Romans 4.23 and the first few words of verse 24, which says, “But the words, ‘It was counted to him,’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.”

Paul means for us to make this connection. He demands that we make this connection. But what connection is he wanting us to make. Let me offer three parallels he provides in these last few verses of Romans 4. The parallels are the object of our faith, the source of our faith, and the reward for our faith. (Although the ideas are largely self-evident in the text, I am using the terms and ideas found on pages 116-117 in C. Marvin Pate’s commentary on Romans in the Teach the Text Commentary Series. Published in Grand Rapids, MI by Baker Books in 2013.)

The Object of Faith – The God of the Impossible (Romans 4.17b, 24)

Abraham: The latter part of Romans 4.17 shares a couple of thoughts related the nature of God making anything possible. Paul wrote that God gives life to the dead and brings into existence things which do not exist.

When speaking of Abraham, Paul was referring to the fact that both Abraham’s and Sarah’s bodies were essentially dead – at least regarding the ability to bear children. Abraham was 99, Sarah was 90. Neither age was considered ideal for childbirth. Granted in the early chapters of Genesis, people had children later and lived longer, but after the flood that began to change. Furthermore, Sarah was barren.

But God brought life from this couple (Romans 4.18-19). Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah showing that nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19.26). God was able to bring life when life was not able to exist otherwise (Luke 1.37). I believe Paul’s statement about something existing from nothing pertains to the possibility of childbirth. That idea fits this context. Of course, God did create the heavens and the earth from nothing, so that meaning is possible, but it does not fit the context of Paul’s example of Abraham.

Weekly Nugget: Abraham was 20 generations from Adam. However, using the records from Genesis 5, Adam was still alive when Methuselah was born (and lived for another 243 years). Methusaleh was alive when Noah was born (and lived another 600 years, dying in the Flood). And Noah was alive when Abram was born (and lived another 58 years). So, Abram/Abraham could have heard the story of Creation from a third-hand witness even though he was born almost 2000 years afterward.

The Christian Parallel: For the Roman in Paul’s day, and for Christians today, we must understand the God of the impossible to be the one who brought the dead to life in the resurrection of Jesus (v. 24). It is the bedrock of our faith. Yes, the cross is important, but many people have been crucified…only one rose from the dead. Indeed, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19.26). And what God made possible through Jesus, applies to us as well. Just as Abraham found life after being practically dead, God brings life to us as well. As Ephesians 2.1 tells us, “we were dead in our trespasses and sins…” We were dead. But for those who believe, God gives life.

The Source of Faith – The Promise of God (Romans 4.21; 25)

Abraham: Romans 4.18 says that “in hope he believed against hope.” Those words describe Abraham. Again, human experience and human wisdom would say that his time to father a child with Sarah had passed. Yes, Ishmael had been born through Hagar, and Abraham would later father six more children through another wife. But at this point, it must have been difficult to understand how he would be the father of many nations, when he only had one son. But Abraham believed God’s promise. Yes, he laughed initially (Genesis 17.17), but one moment of questioning does not negate a lifetime of faith. (By the way, the name Isaac means, “he laughs.”)

Abraham’s body was weak, but His faith he was strengthened spiritually and even physically by his faith, by his hope. Abraham believed God and gave glory to God for the promise knowing God would fulfill all that He had promised (Romans 4.20-21). Abraham held on to the hope of God despite the idea not making any sense to man. I like how Jim Wallis, from Sojourners magazine, defined hope. He said hope is “trusting God in spite of all the evidence, then watching the evidence change.” (1)

The Christian Parallel: Our promise is different, but it is important. Our promise is found in the death and the resurrection of Jesus. God’s promise to us is that just as Abrahams’ faith in God’s promise was “counted to him” as righteousness, our faith in God who make the resurrection of Jesus possible will be “counted to us” as righteousness as well. It is the same God who made the promise to Abraham that makes the promise to us as well. Abraham was strengthened by his faith in God and we can be strengthened by our faith in God as well.

The Result of Faith – Justification Before God (Romans 4.22; 23-24a, 25)

Abraham: Romans 4.22 gives us the now familiar quote from Genesis 15.6. In Romans 4, Paul has mentioned (or alluded to the fact) that Abraham’s faith was “counted to him” six times. As I have shared during the previous two sermons on Romans 4, Abrahams was justified for choosing to believe, not because of anything that he did. If Abraham did something to earn God’s approval, it would be to Abraham’s glory. But because Abraham was justified by believing what only God could do, it is God who receives the glory. Thus, Abraham was justified apart from any human works. He was “counted” as righteous because of his faith.

The Christian Parallel: Verse 24 is clear. What was true for Abraham is true for us. Just as Abraham was counted righteous before God because of his faith, we can only be justified for our belief as well. The promise we claim may be different than Abraham’s was, but the reward is not.

CONCLUSION

The phrase “the apple does not fall far from the tree” has been used for years. Yes, some children learn to break free from the habits of a parent – both for the better and the worse. But, for us today, I want us to consider that we should desire to stay close to our spiritual parent. We should want to be considered close to the tree of Abraham, the father of our faith. He was not perfect, but he lived a faithful life and was called a friend of God (2 Chronicles 20.7, Isaiah 41.8, James 2.23). I want that to be true of me. I want to be called a friend of God. I want to be considered faithful to my Lord. I want to be counted as righteous because of my faith. In other words, if Abraham is the father of our faith, I want to be a son who does not fall far from that tree.

The same should be true of all who call Jesus Lord. We, the sons and daughters of Abraham should be like our faith father. Doing so is a good step to becoming more like our heavenly Father. Our faith, and our obedience, can bring Him glory for what He, that is, God, is doing in our lives as we should ourselves be faithful to Him because of our belief in Him. So,…

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is RREVERE.

God is faithful. God is worthy. Why? Because He can (and has) made something out of nothing. Because He can (and has) brought life from death. Because He can (and has) kept so many promises that seem impossible to fathom. Because He can (and has) made a way for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And because He can (and will) keep His promise to send Jesus again to make all things new, and allow us to join Abraham, Moses, Paul, and so many others for all of eternity.

NEXT STEP(S)

LIVE.  In faith. Live with purpose. Not your purpose, God’s purpose. Seek what He would have you to do and know that if He is guiding you, you will not fail. That does not mean you will succeed as you might desire to succeed. But we will not fail when we live out our faith in God because He cannot fail Himself, and therefore He will not fail us.

(1) Witherington, B., III, & Hyatt, D. (2004). Paul’s letter to the Romans: a socio-rhetorical commentary (p. 130). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

“More Than a Sign” by Pastor Andy

As we drive down the road or highway, we see signs everywhere. In Fairfax, we see street signs, the school sign, signs on buildings revealing the type of business inside. At this time of year, we see political signs in yards. As we get to the highway, we see signs advertising various services such as real estate. And once we get to the interstate, we have signs advertising all kinds of businesses, including restaurants and gas stations. Other signs on the interstate include mile markers, exit signs, signs marking rivers or other natural phenomenon, etc.

In other words, signs are ubiquitous.

Likewise, you have your own set of signs and symbols that are important to you. Married couples wear rings, for instance. But other signs may be a flower garden or a vegetable garden which reveals something about the person who lives at the home.

So, again, signs are (nearly) everywhere. But a lot of times we put our stock in the wrong kind of signs. For instance, the type, or brand, of clothing we wear may be a sign. The type or price tag of a car or house might be an indicator. And again, at this time of year, a sign showing a political preference is common. None of these are wrong, but if we place too much emphasis, or the wrong emphasis, on the sign (or the meaning of the sign), we can deceive ourselves and deceive others as well.

The Bible talks plenty about signs (or symbols). The rainbow and the cross are two famous signs. But some signs are not as public. They are there, but not as readily seen. Abraham was given this type of sign, a mark, as a reminder of the promise God made to him. That sign also served as a seal – a confirmation of the covenant that God made to Abraham. That sign was circumcision.

Circumcision was not just a sign for the Jews, it is a seal for all who are made righteous by faith.

The sign of circumcision was not a guarantee of salvation (as the Jews believed), but God does provide a sign today although, like circumcision, faith is required. But before I reveal that sign, let’s look more at the sign of circumcision.

 A Sign of the Times

As we consider this week’s passage, we must note that Paul shows that the timing of two different events in Abraham’s life was key. Paul writes about two different events with the sign being given at the second time after a promise was given the first.

In Romans 4.9, Paul uses the same language he did in Romans 4.3, except for one word. Both of these verses refer back to Genesis 15.6 which is critical to Paul’s argument here.

In Genesis 15.6, the text says that Abraham believed and God counted it to him as righteousness. In Romans 4.3, Paul uses that same terminology. In Romans 4.9, Paul replaces the word believe with the word faith. In the Greek, the root of the word is the same. The difference is that in verse 3, Paul uses the word as a verb, in verse 9, it is used as a noun. Either way, Paul (and the original reader) know that the meaning is the same. Abraham believed (had faith) and God considered him righteous.

Let us remind ourselves that Paul is writing this letter to the church at Rome. That church consisted of both Jew and Gentile believers, but much of his argument to this point as been toward the Jew. It is the Jew that holds the Law in such high regard and Paul is trying to help all Jewish believers to realize that the Law is not what is ultimately important when it comes to justification.

With the idea that Paul’s primary audience in these opening chapters is the Jew, verse 10 is critical. Paul appeals to the chronology of the situation. The book of Genesis is chronological and God credited Abraham as righteous happened before Abraham was circumcised. In fact, Jewish rabbis had calculated the time between Genesis 15 and his circumcision in Genesis 17 to have been 29 years after he was declared righteous.

Thus, Paul’s argument that Abraham was declared righteous took place before he was circumcised seems obvious. But it is more obvious to us than it was to the Jews, even though they knew the chronology better than we do. As I mentioned two weeks ago, one of the challenges is that they interpreted Genesis 15 in light of Genesis 22 (when Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed), and thus equated the circumcision with his standing in righteousness – which actually led Jews to intertwine the covenants given to Abraham and Moses together (even though they were given 430 years apart).

But the timing of the events has an important implication that Paul was just beginning to show.

A Sign for All People

Most Jews were fine with Gentiles joining their faith, but doing so meant that the Gentile had to adopt all of the ways of the Jew. Specifically, that meant that a Gentile who was a new believer needed to be circumcised and then keep the law.

But Paul shows that the timing of Abraham’s circumcision reveals that circumcision was not what saved him, and thus, circumcision is not what saves anyone. Rest assured, circumcision was important for the Jewish identity, but Jews were not the only people circumcised. Other ancient cultures circumcised their males as well. The difference for the Israelite/Jew was that God had ordained the practice. But God wanted Abraham to be circumcised not so he could be made righteous; rather, it was so Abraham could show his obedience in righteousness.

In other words, Abraham was circumcised because of his righteousness. It was not just a sign to show himself as a Jew (or more specifically, as the father of Jews). Instead it was a mark that God put on Abraham as a seal (v. 11) of the righteousness he had already attained.

But, and here is the key to this section for the Jew and the Gentile then, and for us today, because God declared Abraham righteous because of his faith (belief) before circumcision, all who have faith in God will be declared righteous – whether they are, or get, circumcised or not. Thus, it is not circumcision that saves (justifies), it is faith.

So, circumcision is a sign, but Paul also uses the word seal. I will talk more about this in Tuesday’s video this week, but I ask you to consider the purpose of a seal. A seal shows ownership or belonging in some manner. If circumcision is a seal, then what God is saying is that Abraham belongs to Him, not because of circumcision, but because of faith. Circumcision, then, is the mark of that ownership. And for those who walk in faith, like Abraham did, we will be counted as righteous as well (v. 11).

The Sign with a Promise

The promise to Abraham and his offspring was that he would be heir of the world. This promise does not mean that Abraham inherits the rights to the world as we think of an heir. But the promise does place a premium on who Abraham is. This promise is not found specifically as a single promise in Scripture, but we find the truth of this promise in “three key provisions…in Genesis:

      • Abraham would have an immense number of descendants, embracing many nations (Genesis 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 17:4–6, 16–20; 22:17)
      • that he would possess “the land” (Genesis 13:15–17; 15:12–21; 17:8), and
      • that he would be the medium of blessing to “all the peoples of the earth” (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18).” (1)

Paul recognized the importance of this promise. In fact, the word promise is used 52 times in the NT, and Paul used the term exactly one-half of those instances. But when he uses the term, he often clarifies that the promise comes by faith (specifically, righteousness through faith), not through the law. In fact, “if the law is what makes us heirs, then the promise has no impact!” (2)

Therefore, because the promise came by faith, not through the law, Gentile Christians are also children of God. (3) In fact, if the law is what makes someone a child of Abraham, then Abraham would have to be called the father of one nation (Israel), not the father of many nations.

Furthermore, not only does the law not save, it cannot save. Verse 15 suggests this truth and Paul will comment further on this idea in Romans 7. The law simply points out our errors…our sin. And thus, the law is a part of understanding this series – “And Justice for All.” See, not only is faith in Jesus the great equalizer between the Jew and Gentile, but so is the law, if we understand it correctly. The Jew thought the Law gave them an advantage. However, the advantage is only true if the Law is kept perfectly. Because no human, apart from Jesus, can keep the Law, it means everyone – both Jew and Gentile – are equal before God – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Therefore, it is not the law that saves, it is the grace of God. (4)

Both Jew and Gentile must have faith. We are to walk in the footsteps of faith that Abraham walked before us (Romans 4.12). As we do, we will find the grace of God to be abundant to save us. No matter what our sin might be, the grace of God is greater. The law is important, but God did not give Abraham a law in order to be blessed; He gave Abraham a promise to be believed. One commentator said it this way: “What God said to Abraham was not ‘Obey this law and I will bless you,’ but “I will bless you, believe my promise.” (5)

Wow. What a great statement.

CONCLUSION

Church, you may be wondering how this fits today. Let me assure you it fits well. Let me ask it this way – what provisions do we make for others to be accepted? Or more directly, what signs do we demand from others before we will allow them into our church, or even to believe they are a person of faith.

Do people have to act a certain way to come to church?

Do people need to wear certain clothing to come to church?

Do they need to sing a certain way or serve in a particular area?

What rules must they follow? This is law. And law can lead to legalism.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that most people are as stringent about certain “requirements” as the Jews were in Paul’s day, but we must see these issues as partial truths (at least). We may want to dispel these ideas as myths, but ask those outside the church about their thoughts on why they don’t come to church, and you will hear, “the church is judgmental” or “I don’t have the right clothes to wear.” (I have heard this a few times since arriving in Fairfax, and despite my assurances to the contrary, I have never seen any of those individuals in our building.)

Other statements could be made as well, and I do not want to discount that these statements can simply be an excuse. But many times there is a hint of, or a lot of, truth in them. Again, this issue is part of what Paul is addressing in the letter to the Romans. The Jews were judging the Gentiles for not keeping the law, but Paul has repeatedly stated that the Jews are just as guilty. Maybe the type of sin is different, but the fact of sin is not.

Thus, the cross is our sign. And Jesus welcomed anyone to join Him through belief, with the cross as our reminder, our symbol, our sign. And because we all fall under that same sign…

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is UUNITE.

The promise of God was for all who had faith. Abraham is rightly considered the father of the Jews. But Paul has shown that Abraham is actually the father of “many nations” (i.e., the Gentiles are included), because God declared Abraham righteous before his circumcision. Thus, Jew and Gentile are not to fight over the matter of keeping the law or not. The issue is not the law, it is faith, and on that ground, both stand equal – either with God or against God. Thus, they needed to set aside their differences, and come together in Christ, united with each other to minister together instead of fighting with one another. It was true for the church in Rome then, and it is still true for the Church around the world today.

NEXT STEP(S)

LOVE.  Check your heart. What misunderstandings about people or, even worse, about the Bible are causing you, or causing me, to have false expectations and place false criteria on the faith and understanding of others? Do we want people to be a certain way or are we willing to welcome them just as they are?

(1) Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 274). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

(2) Pate, C. Marvin (2013). Romans (p112). Teach the Text Commentary Series, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, pp. 126–127). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

(5) Osborne, G. R. (2004). Romans (p. 114). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.