Summary: When we do a job we expect to get paid for it. When we do something right we might expect God to repay us – but that’s not how it works in God’s economy. Learn about the four keys to faith by Paul’s account of Abraham’s faith.
In chapter 3 Paul has made two really important points: we are justified by faith, not works, and Jews and Gentiles alike have equal access to this justification. Now he expands on the point by using Abraham has an example.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about-but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
The story of Abraham is found in the book of Genesis 11-25. Some people think Abraham, or Abram, was born with a halo around his head. Not so – Abram was a pagan – just some guy. And God said to him – “I want you” and Abram said “OK,” and that was it.
The quote there is from Genesis 15. God appeared to Abram in a vision and told him not to be afraid, that God was his shield and very great reward. Abram asked God for an heir and God said not only would He give him an heir, but that his offspring would be greater than the stars of heaven. At that point
is when Abram said he believed what God said.
Had Abram done anything at that point? No. God made a promise and Abram just said – OK, I believe You. Isn’t that simple? Isn’t that wonderful? This totally frees me up. You mean I can please God simply by believing His promises? Absolutely. Let’s read on.
4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
So when we do good things and think we are earning God’s favor then we are treating him like an employer we are working for. God won’t go into debt for anyone. So instead of working I trust God. That’s it. I come to God and say “I know I can’t please you on my own, but I can trust You.” You see, that’s what God’s after. He doesn’t create a system of do’s and don’ts then implore us to follow them – instead He wants us to trust Him, to have a relationship with Him. Amazing!
Santa Claus gets out his list and checks to see who’s been naughty and nice. The nice get neat toys and the naughty get coal. That’s not the way God works. Isn’t that freeing? Instead of relying on our fervor for God or our sacrifices for Him, we cast ourselves on His grace – He does it all and we don’t earn any of it.
6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Do you see that? The Lord will NEVER count our sins against us if we are forgiven in Jesus Christ. Don’t you sometimes feel after you’ve blown it that God remembers it and keeps a grudge – just wait until he asks for something, then I’ll bring up that time when he got mad or cheated or fell into sin. He’ll be sorry then. God doesn’t work like that.
Paul quotes Psalm 32 above, written by King David. David wrote a Psalm about this: Psalm 103:12 “… as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Your sins are “covered” in Christ – and God doesn’t see them anymore. So how does this come about – through some act on our part, that’s what the Jews might add – through the act of circumcision. This was a continuing problem in the early church. In fact, much of the letter to the Galatians involves this debate – Jews claiming that to be a “real” Christian you had to be circumcised.
9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, 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. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
So God counting Abraham righteous happened before he was circumcised – and the circumcision was only a sign of what God had promised. Is there a modern counterpart? Yes – baptism.
Gal 3:26-29 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Baptism then is an outward sign – it doesn’t cleanse you, but it shows publicly that you have identified with the promise of God through Jesus Christ. Now I say that – but it isn’t absolute – I just suggest it. On balance, Paul goes on in Galatians to say this:
Gal 5:5-6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
For the Jews, circumcision meant you were going to obey the law, so Paul addresses that next.
13 It was not through 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. 14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring-not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed-the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
Basically – God promised Abraham 430 years before the law of Moses ever came about. Paul calls God the one that “calls things that are not as though they were.” We have a hard time understanding God because He lives in the eternal. God could talk about Isaac as if he already were born, even though Abraham and Sarah were not yet pregnant.
Living in the eternal gives God a good perspective on your life too. He knows where He’s taking you. You may feel out of control, but He’s not.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Isaiah 46:9-10 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel
shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. KJV
So God has your life and your end in mind – just trust Him. That’s what Abraham had to do – listen:
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 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.
So outwardly there was no reason why God’s promise should have come about. Abraham and Sarah were both past child bearing years. Maybe what God has promised you seems completely impossible. Jesus said “with men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” If we seek His will in our lives, then He’ll bring it about if we trust Him. Here’s how Abraham did it:
20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
There are four things happening here, and these are the four keys to faith:
Abraham ignored the human difficulty
Faith should be based on God’s promises in His Word, not on the circumstances that surround us. We don’t ignore circumstances, but the evidence or lack of what we want to see should dictate whether we trust God or not.
If a sick person isn’t healed does that mean God’s promise of healing is no good or that I lack something? No. We pray, God hears and answers. We need to keep seeking, keep asking, keep knocking – but don’t let what surrounds you be your gauge.
So Key #1 – Ignore the human difficulty
Abraham did not “waver” through unbelief regarding the promise.
This reminds me of James:
James 1:6-8 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
“Doubting” here means to be divided. This doesn’t mean we doubt whether God can do something, but going between self-centered and God-centered – between our own motivations and wanting what God wants.
If you pray for God to cleanse you from greed but then decide you’d really like that new Ferrari you saw in your neighbor’s yard – you are “wavering”. Abraham wasn’t a model person – but his belief was not in himself – he had simple trust in God.
So that’s Key #2 – have simple trust in God.
Abraham strengthened his faith & gave glory to God
Abraham had faith in a person, not faith in faith.