Roman Road Less Traveled: Abraham’s Faith

This week we continue building on the case Paul is making in his letter to the Roman church — “the righteous will live by faith…” (Romans 1:17). Paul introduced that concept in the first chapter, then dipped briefly into the “bad news”–none of us are righteous; and now, for the rest of Paul’s letter, we’ll focus on the “good news” of God’s unconditional love, manifested in Jesus, which makes us fully acceptable, and rightly related to God. This truth includes everyone, everywhere. The only thing required of us is to believe it to be true.

Each week of this series, we’ve written about the word righteousness (dikaiosynē) and what it means. I’m not going to write the definition out again, but it is imperative that we understand it, because in Paul’s letter to the Romans it appears in noun, adjective, or verb form 45 times! It’s a key theme.

Righteousness (dikaiosynē) is not self-righteousness. God’s righteousness leaves no room for comparison.

Luke chapter 18:9-14, highlights this very thing by teaching:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified (dikaioō) before God.”

This week, in Romans 4, we learn how Abraham became rightly related to God. Our key verses are 16-22, but I’m going to briefly summarize verses 1-15. Paul makes the case that Abraham, the father of of our faith through the genealogy of Jesus, was not righteous because of his actions, but because of his faith: Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). It wasn’t obedience to “the law” that connected Abraham to God. It had nothing to do with his behavior. It had everything to do with his faith. He believed the Lord. Period. That’s the key to being made right in God’s sight. It’s that simple.

Paul wrote in verses 14-16:

If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless.  For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!) So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift…(TPT)

Since Paul is using Abraham as an example to follow, what can we learn from Abraham’s example? Pastor John gave us some things to consider:

Abraham’s faith was in the person of God. We can each choose to relate to God as far off, unapproachable, ethereal–or we can draw near to the person of God. Abraham did not have the revelation of God in Christ that we have; however, he walked with God, heard from God, spoke to God, believed God–there was a real relationship there. Through this relationship, God made a promise to Abraham–sonless Abraham would be the father of many nations and all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. Abraham believed God.

Paul doesn’t go into the entire story of Abraham in this passage, but if you are familiar with it, you know that Abraham wasn’t perfect. He became impatient and made some poor decisions as he sought to “help” God fulfill the promise. He bore the consequences of those actions, but God didn’t hold it against him, because God doesn’t hold our sins against us–and instead of highlighting that portion of Abraham’s story, God reminds us, through Paul, that Abraham believed God, and was therefore in right relationship with God.

Abraham had faith, yet was aware of the problem. The NIV translates it like this: …he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead…(4:19). Believing God doesn’t mean we deny the facts of a situation. It means we fully address the facts, but instead of focusing on the facts, we focus on God.

Years ago I did Henry Blackaby’s Bible study “Experiencing God” In that study, Blackaby taught what Jesus as Truth looks like. In the gospels, Blackaby asked us to identify what was “true”–what the facts were, and then what became True when Jesus stepped into the scene. For example: a widow’s son was dead–that was true; however, when Truth in the person of Jesus intervened, the widow’s son was raised to life. God’s Truth is ultimate, and, no matter what the facts are, he always has the final say.

A word of caution here–let’s not give in to the temptation to use “God has the final word” as a way of dismissing real suffering and pain. Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, yet he wept with the mourners. Acknowledging the facts means acknowledging the emotions that go with the facts, even while believing God always has the final say. It’s not helpful to say to a person whose marriage has just exploded “I can’t wait to see how God uses this.” Or to someone who’s just lost a loved one, “It must have been their time” or anything else that is dismissive. We face the facts and feel the emotions that go with those facts, even while acknowledging that God always has the final word.

Abraham’s faith was consistent. Abraham knew the facts, yet even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping (v. 18); Abraham’s faith did not weaken (v. 19); Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God (v. 20).

It can be immensely difficult for us to hold on to hope when we know “the facts”. It can be difficult to hope when there is no reason for hope. Wavering makes sense in these seasons–however, wavering is more than questioning. The King James Version says of Abraham: “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief”. I like that translation. To stagger means walk or move unsteadily, as if about to fall (Oxford Dictionary). Abraham staggered not. He stayed steady.

Remaining steady reminds me of Jesus. In Luke 9:51 we read: As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Jesus was steady in his walk with the Father even as he faced an incredibly difficult journey. As we know, Jesus agonized and asked God to remove the cup of suffering that was coming his way, yet he sought God’s will above his own and declared not my will, but yours be done. (Mark 14:36) Steady.

Paul knew this kind of journey as well. In Acts Chapter 20, Paul tells his friends in Ephesus that, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace…and they all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. (22-24; 37) Paul stayed steady despite hardship–his faith was in God, not the facts of his circumstances.

Faith faces the facts, holds on to hope and stays steady. The object of our belief is God; therefore, no matter what is going on in our lives, we can remain steady.

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. The Passion Translation clarifies that phrase a bit:… Abraham’s… faith transferred God’s righteousness into his account Love that!

Notice that Abraham believed God. Beth Moore wrote a Bible study called Believing God in which she highlights the difference between believing in God, and believing God. We get a hint of what that difference looks like by going back Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus closed that sermon by saying; Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice (acts on what they believe) is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock (it stayed steady). (Mt. 7:24-25, parenthesis mine)

We put into practice what we believe–all the time. We sit in chairs because we believe they will hold us. We press buttons (or turn keys) to start our cars because we believe they will start. We don’t fret that the sun will rise and set–we believe it will; therefore we plan our days. But when it comes to the things of God, do our actions reflect we actively believe him? Is God the object of our hope? Is God the object of our desires? Do we believe God is here, near, loves and accepts us (and those around us) right now? Do we complicate this beautiful simplicity by adding a list of requirements? Do we believe in God and live static lives, or do we actively believe God in every situation and live dynamic, hope-filled, fruit-bearing, God-loving and others-loving lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, despite the facts?

Do we believe God is who he says he is, and that he is 100% on humanity’s side? Do we believe God has gifted us with a beautiful relationship, and has deposited his righteousness (dikaiosynē) into our “account”? Do we believe we can draw on this account for life? Do we believe?

I believed God, and it was credited to me as righteousness. It’s really that simple…

–Luanne

In the presence of the God who creates out of nothing and holds the power to bring to life what is dead, Abraham believed… (Romans 4:17b, VOICE)

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed… (Romans 4:18a, NIV)

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. (Romans 4:19, NIV)

And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11:12, NIV)

Paul, in sharing about the God in whom Abraham believed, wrote in verse 17 that he has the power to bring dead things to life. Paul, who knew the stories of Dorcas, of Jairus’ daughter, of Lazarus, and ultimately, of Jesus, wrote about God’s ability to bring the dead to life. He wrote about Abraham in hindsight.

But Abraham had never seen the dead come back to life when he believed…

Verse 18 tells us, “Against all hope,” he believed. Verse 19 says, “. . .he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead. . . and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.Hebrews 11:12 reiterates that Abraham was. “. . .as good as dead.” Yet, he believed. Why?

Abraham had never seen God speak life into something that was dead… but Abraham had seen God. His faith was in the person of God. Luanne wrote, “Abraham did not have the revelation of God in Christ that we have; however, he walked with God, heard from God, spoke to God, believed God…” He did not focus on the hope of a child. Nor did he ruminate on the impossibility of God’s promise to him being fulfilled in the natural–the scriptures make it clear that he saw the reality of death in himself and in the womb of his wife. His faith was not in an outcome.

He couldn’t conceive of how God would fulfill the promise. So he didn’t focus on the promise. He focused on God. He had “seen” him throughout their journey together, experienced him in undeniable ways. So he trusted that the God who had revealed himself to him so many times before would be that same God, even when all hope seemed lost and death loomed large.

What about us?

The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. (2 Corinthians 5:7, VOICE)

We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection… (Hebrews 12:2a, TPT)

Faith does not come from ourselves, but is birthed by the life of Jesus within us. As we “fasten our gaze” on Jesus, we are led by him into “faith’s perfection.” What is faith’s perfection?

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1, NLT)

Faith shows us that what we hope for is real; faith provides the evidence within us of what we cannot see with our eyes. So, then, what is it that we hope for? What does the life of Jesus within us–our “faith”–provide evidence of?

The outcomes and expectations we’re naming-and-claiming? The fulfillment of our declarations of healing? The answer to our financial predicament? The spouse we’ve longed for? The prosperity we’ve dreamed of? The results we have worked for? These are all things we have hoped for, but not yet “seen,” right?

If these things, things not yet realities in our lives, are what we hope for–what we long to see become a reality as a result of our faith–we are living from a faith not rooted in the person of Jesus. The faith that is birthed in us by Jesus shows us the reality of God. Jesus, living in us, is the evidence of the God we cannot see. If God is what we hope for, what we long to see, our faith–made alive by the life of Christ within us–will grant us what we long for! We will see God!

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen… (Colossians 1:15a, MSG)

Seeing‘ God is the reality of our faith. Jesus shows us God. He shows us what God is like. Perfectly. This is the faith that begins in us upon encountering Jesus. It is the faith that grows in us and leads us on. When we see him, we believe him. When our faith shows us the person and the character of God–his goodness, his love, his grace–we trust him. Our faith is in who God is, not what he does for us. We can trust in his character and believe in his goodness, even when things look hopeless. Even when things don’t turn out the way we had hoped. Even when, as Abraham’s story illustrates, something is “as good as dead.”

Have you found yourself there? In the middle of a story that feels impossible? Facing hopelessness? Feeling that something you long for is as good as dead? Maybe you’re there now. It’s a hard place to be. It can suck the air out of a room. It can drive us to despair. It can also reveal what is unseen…

My mom died six and a half years ago. There were two things I heard her say over and over again in the weeks leading up to her passing. The first was, “I love you.” She was extra generous with those words. But the other thing she repeated–I can still hear her voice as I type the words–was:

“Glory to God for the life that I’ve lived. I choose to live for him–whether it’s here or in heaven.”

She really, really believed God was going to heal her. She believed she had more life to live–here, with us. She also knew that the facts said otherwise. She faced the truth of her situation, acknowledged that her body was, “as good as dead,” and with a smile and sometimes tears, she’d say again,

“Glory to God for the life that I’ve lived. I choose to live for him–whether it’s here or in heaven.”

Mom’s faith was in the person of God. She had seen him because the faith Jesus had birthed and grown in her heart had revealed God to her time and time again. Her faith was in the person of God–not in her healing. Not even in his ability to heal her, although she believed in that, too. Her faith was rooted, grounded, steadied in who he is. Period.

I struggled during my mom’s last months and weeks to pray for healing. I knew that he could heal her. I wanted that. More than anything, I wanted her healthy and whole and with me for many more years. But as the disease progressed, I found I couldn’t pray the words. The reality of her failing body stared me in the face as her illness gained ground at a merciless pace. As her caretaker, I saw the realities. And praying for healing felt impossible. So I didn’t.

Instead, with shaky insides, I prayed for mercy. Over and over again, as I listened to her jagged, gasping breaths, I said only two words:

“Mercy, Jesus…”

And I trusted God to answer that fragile prayer according to who he is.

For a long while after we buried her, I felt the icy grip of shame and guilt squeeze my heart. I wondered if I should have prayed harder, believed more, found more faith somehow…

But here’s what’s true–real faith is not quantifiable. More faith doesn’t equal better results. Because the idea that faith can be measured is a lie. Faith is, or it isn’t. We have it, or we don’t. We don’t earn it, work for it, or “find” it somewhere. Faith is birthed in us by Jesus. Full stop.

My mom prayed that God would be glorified in the life she lived, and she believed in her healing–whether here or in heaven–because her faith was in the person and character of God, revealed to her by Jesus living within her, not in a particular outcome.

I prayed for mercy. Because my faith was in the person and character of God, revealed to me by Jesus living within me, not in a particular outcome.

Her faith wasn’t “big.” My faith wasn’t “small.” We were both steadied in the face of death by a faith that was in the person and character of God. HE is what we both hoped for. HE is who we longed to see. Our faith wasn’t contingent on seeing her healed. It was in the person of God, revealed perfectly in Jesus.

As we face an unknown future, friends, may the path we walk be charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. May we look away from the natural realm and fasten our gaze onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection. May we look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. May our hope be in our God alone, and may we, by faith, realize what we hope for; may we see him who we cannot see. And as we live in the presence of the God who creates out of nothing and holds the power to bring to life what is dead, may we believe, as Abraham did, that against all hope–there is still hope. Because God is still God. And our faith is in him. (Portions of: 2 Corinthians 5:7, Romans 4:17-18, Hebrews 11:1, Hebrews 12:2, Colossians 1:15)

As you face the days ahead, whatever they might hold,

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord show you his kindness.
May he have mercy on you.
May the Lord watch over you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26, ICB)

–Laura

These flowers are growing after wildfires ravaged the landscape. Life out of what was dead…

New Growth after forest fire, Sand Dunes National Monument | Photo.net

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