If you are anything like me, you would have someone in your family that you would always refer to as the one who did something special. Is it not amazing how people remember only the honorable side of their ancestry?
If ever there were a people proud of their ancestry, it was the Israelites. They took particular pride in being descendants of Abraham, believing that this physical descent made them better than others. They thought they were eligible for God’s blessings, simply because they were heirs to it. Before the coming of Christ, they shared salvation only with those willing to become Jews. With the coming of Christ, Christianity was altogether rejected by the majority of Jews. They did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. After all, they thought the Messiah was going to lead them to victory over the Romans and re-establish them in their homeland.
Jews who became Christians wanted to retain control, just as they had done in Judaism. Throughout the Book of Romans, Paul deals with the misconceptions and heresies of these Judaizers. He has already shown that “all,” Jews as well as Gentiles, fall short of the glory of God. In order to be saved from their sin and condemnation, all are in need of a righteousness not their own.
Let’s look at Father Abraham as the primary example of what it means to believe in Jesus Christ. God made three promises to Abram – then changed his name to Abraham.
First, God said, ”I will be with you and bless you so that you will be a blessing. No matter where you go and what you do in your journey of life, I will be with you and bless you with my Presence. And Abraham believed God’s promise.
Second, God told Abraham that his descendants would be numerous. They would be like the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky. And Abraham believed God’s promises.
Third, God pledged to him the Promised Land where they would grow their crops, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land rich in abundance. And Abraham believed God’s promise. Then, immediately this was all put to the test.
The first test was to leave his comfortable home in Ur and go, without knowing where, and Father Abraham did. Why did he get up and go? Because he believed that God would be faithful to his promises. No proofs. No signs. No wonders. No official deed in his hands of future lands he would own. He simply believed that God would be faithful to him, God would be with him. That is what faith is – to believe in God’s promises even when there are no signs or miraculous evidences or proofs that the promises will come true.
The second testing of Abraham’s faith was when Abraham and Sarah got older, and they didn’t have any children. But Abraham still believed God and God worked a miracle that gave Abraham and Sarah a child. Now, Abraham believed that God was faithful to his promise, even when he was ninety nine years old, before Sarah was pregnant. He didn’t start believing in God after God worked his miracle. That is what true faith is – it is believing in the promises of God, even before there is a sign or miracle.
The third testing of Abraham’s faith was when God commanded Abraham to take Isaac out onto the wilderness mountain and offer a sacrifice to God. When they arrived, God ordered Abraham to offer his only son as a sacrifice and when Abraham raised the knife to slit Isaac’s throat, an angel of God spoke sharply and said, “Stop.” Abraham passed the test that he loved God more than his son. And further, Abraham believed God would provide a sacrifice and sure enough, a ram was provided and it was sacrificed. Abraham believed in God before this miracle. He truly believed that God would provide.
All of this faith and belief occurred before Moses and the Ten Commandments, before ethics and morality, before obeying and following the religious rules, before the Jewish religion, before the commandment to love God and neighbor. What is true religion? True religion is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. Before there were these ‘rules’, there was Father Abraham and his faith in God’s promises. That is the deepest form of religion.
We are to have strong faith in God like Abraham. And all of this is a free gift of God’s pure grace. God’s promises of his blessing, the descendants, the Promised Land are all free gifts from God. Abraham did nothing to deserve them or earn them or work for them. God simply promised these gifts to Father Abraham and Abraham believed God. Faith enables God to save us, because it enables God to deal with us in accordance with grace.
Our friend Jesus Christ has opened that gateway for us to be in relationship with our Father God. We can live with that assurance! We can live in trust! We can live in faith!!
Rev. James Musgrave is interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Logan and a member of the Logan Ministerial Association.