Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Children of Abraham - March 16, 2014 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Romans 4:1-8, 13-17
Last week we were reminded of the reason that Jesus came into this world, that is that God was born in human flesh. It was because of the sin of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden, that sin that has now infected our whole world. Jesus, who is and had to be true God, so that He is holy, sinless, and perfect, humbled Himself, giving up all the glory that was His in heaven in order to be born as a true human, being born of the woman Mary so that He might be our substitute. He did everything we could not do, namely live perfectly. He even resisted the temptations of the devil and did not sin. Jesus came to fulfill all the promises God made to Eve and Adam, and to all people, in the Garden of Eden, He came to be our Savior.
Today we move forward to hear God’s promise reiterated to Abraham and his part in God’s plan of Salvation. First, we hear Paul’s words beginning in verse one (v. 1-8), “1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’” Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden God promised to take care of their sin by sending a Savior. In our Old Testament reading for this morning we hear God reiterate the promise He first made to Adam and Eve. God reiterated this same promise to Abraham to send a Savior. Notice that this is a promise made to Abraham, not a deal struck with him.
To help us understand the difference between what is earned and what is a gift, Paul explains that our wages are earned, they are not a gift that is given to us. A gift is something that is not earned but is a gift that is given to us. Wages are what we are paid for performing services. A wage is expected and is due. A gift is given without cost or expectation, especially without any expectation of something given in return. If something is expected in return, then it is truly not a gift.
Paul also uses the analogy of an inheritance. An inheritance is usually given to the physical heirs of one who has passed away. Yet, Paul tells us that not everyone who is a physical descendant is counted as an heir before God. Let me say that again so that we understand, Paul tells us that not everyone who is a physical descendant is counted as an heir before God. In other words, just because someone is a descendant of Abraham by genetics, by their DNA, does not mean they are an heir before God. In the Gospel reading we hear Jesus point this out to Nicodemus, who is a teacher in Israel. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus and Paul’s words to us remind us that no one is saved by being born of a certain family, even the family of Abraham, rather salvation comes to those to whom it is given, that is to those who believe in Jesus, even to those who have been given faith in Jesus.
Salvation we understand to mean eternal life in heaven. Eternal life in heaven is not a wage earned, but is a gift given. It is given, not according to physical descent, but according to faith, which is also given.
And we know that forgiveness is also a gift that is given. We cannot pay for our sins, nor can we earn any less cost for our sins. The price, the cost for sin Paul talks about is death, eternal spiritual death. The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden, the day Eve and Adam partook of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they died. They began dying a physical death and they were subject to eternal spiritual death.
Yet, we know that Eve and Adam did not die an eternal spiritual death, because God granted them forgiveness. And forgiveness is not something that costs nothing. Yes, for the recipients of forgiveness, it costs nothing, but the price for our sins had to be paid and it was paid. Thus the price for our sins was paid, by Jesus blood, by His innocent blood and His innocent suffering and death, giving us forgiveness as a gift.
The promise was reiterated to Abraham with the reminder that the promise is given to us through faith. We read the last part of our text, picking up at verse thirteen (v. 13-17), “13For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Paul now lays out the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The purpose of the law is simply to show our sin. The law reminds us of what we have done that is sinful, that is what we should not have been doing. Here I would have us look at the Ten Commandments to see just how sinful we truly are. But the law also reminds us of what we have not been doing, our sins of omission, and again, I would refer you to the Ten Commandments to see how we have not been the people that God would have us to be. Thus, the law shows us our sin and how sinful we really are.
The difficulty of the law, is that it cannot save. If we think we can be saved by keeping the law, we are only fooling ourselves. If we could be saved by keeping the law then that would make the promise of God null and void. And here I would refer you back to Paul’s earlier words that there is a distinct difference between wage and gift.
Again, referring back to the Garden of Eden, God created everything and it was very good. God gave the perfect man and his perfect wife a perfect Garden to keep and yet, even in their perfection they could not obey God’s commands and so sin entered the world. To take care of sin, God promised to send a Savior. Notice that the promise comes from one who is able to keep the promise. It was not a promise from Eve and Adam to do better. It was not a promise from the man and his wife to be more like God (remember the temptation was to be like God knowing good and evil - and before they only knew good, so now they know evil). It was God who made the promise and God who keeps the promise.
Notice also that the promise does not depend on the one to whom it is made. Nothing depends on Adam and Eve, nothing depends on us. When God makes a promise, He keeps His promise. How well we know that what God commands and what God demands, God also provides.
So, what does this mean? This morning we are reminded once again, as we always need reminding, that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We are conceived and born in sin. We are accountable for our sins from the moment of our conception. Not only are we conceived and born in sin, we also daily sin much, adding to our sinfulness and our need for forgiveness. Not only are we completely sinful and lost and condemned creatures, by ourselves, we know that God demands perfection of us, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Thus, left to ourselves there would be no hope for us.
We are also reminded that we are by nature not physical descendants of Abraham. We are not members of the promised Messianic line. Most of us probably do not have any Jewish blood in us. But of course that does not matter. Here I would remind you, again, that when the promise was made to send a Savior, back in the Garden of Eden, at that time there was no Jew or Gentile, only Adam and Eve, thus the first promise was made to the parents of all people, and so was given to all people.
With that said, let me also remind you of Paul’s words in our text, that we are Abraham’s children. By faith we are Abraham’s children and heirs of eternal life. By faith, given to us through the means of Grace, we are children of the promised line of Messianic descent. And this faith is given us through the means of grace.
So, even though the law reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that we cannot boast about any part in our salvation, but must fully rest our confidence in what God has done for us. The good news is that we are gifted by God. God has gifted us with faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. These are not earned. These are not deserved. All that we have from God, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation are all gifts He graciously gives to us. “For,” as Jesus tells Nicodemus, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Thanks be to God that He does it all and He gives it all to us so we do not have to concern ourselves with the question of whether or not we have done the right thing, whether or not we have done enough good things, whether or not we have anything, but our confidence is in God who knows all, gives all, and does all. Certainly if there is anything in which to be confident it is in God, in His promises, in His keeping His promises, in His giving His Son, even His life for ours, in His giving us all the gifts and blessings He has to give, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. To Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.