In Romans 3 last week we were reminded that because of what Christ did on the Cross, forgiveness and new life is available to anyone who puts their faith in him. We are justified by faith, says the apostle Paul.
Unfortunately, faith, especially Christian faith, is often ridiculed and derided today. For example, Richard Dawkins has called faith a “great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.” Is Dawkins right? Or is there more to real faith than that? Scientists like Dawkins examine and evaluate evidence by dissecting it, or by putting it under the microscope to see what it is made of.
In Romans 4 today, Paul encourages us to put Abraham’s faith under the microscope. If we do so, we will discover that it was made of trust, patience and hope. If we look back at Abraham’s life and faith as it is recorded for us in Genesis, we see a man of patient faith and strong in hope. A man’s whose faith secured his approval and commendation in the sight of God.
Firstly, Abraham trusted God’s promises, and so should we. For Abraham, trusting God meant believing that he would have many descendants and become the father of a great nation. This can’t have been easy, when we remember that Abraham and his wife Sarah were well past retirement age. A visit to the maternity ward for Sarah looked highly unlikely, and for Abraham to trust that he would become a father seemed a foolish risk. But Abraham “trusted God”, and knew that the same God who made the whole universe out of nothing could also create a child out of nothing in Sarah’s womb.
For us, trusting God today means holding onto the promises he has made us as Christians. If God is God, he can and should be trusted. As you saw in Romans 3 last week, if we have faith in Jesus, then God has promised to forgive us and grant us everlasting life. Or, to use the technical language of Romans, in response to our faith in Christ, God has promised to justify us and credit us with righteousness.
The second commendable quality of Abraham’s faith was his patience. He did not become a father overnight, nor did his family immediately inherit the promised land of Canaan. Both took years to take place. Abraham learnt the lesson that God always keeps his promises, but not always as quickly as we might like.
There is a popular saying that God only gives one of three possible answers to our prayers – “Yes, No or Wait”. I think I dislike receiving the answer “Wait” almost as much as “No”! The reason is that none of likes having to be patient, having to wait for things. Huge credit card bills, massive debt and rising obesity are evidence of our society’s love for instant gratification, fast food, and a ‘quick fix’.
But to be faithful Christians, we do need to learn patience. God’s biggest and best promises to us, like new bodies in a new creation and complete freedom from sin, pain and death, won’t come while we are in this world. As Christian people, let’s pray that God will give us the patience to endure suffering and resist temptation, while we wait for all his wonderful promises to be fulfilled.
If Abraham’s faith involved trust and patience, then its third and final ingredient was hope. Abraham hoped for what was unseen, he longed for the day when God would fulfil all his promises to him. As faithful Christians, we too are to live in confident hope of God’s coming kingdom, when we shall be completely free from the temptations of “the flesh the world and the devil”, and at home in God’s wonderful new creation.
Contrary to what Richard Dawkins and others might say, Christian hope is not ‘pie in the sky’, or foolish belief that ignores the evidence. Instead, Christian hope is a confident expectation of eternal life, a hope based on the promises of God and on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So, as I finish, what came of Abraham’s faith in God? Was it wise or foolish? Well it was wise, because (as Romans 4 reminds us) God kept every one of his promises to Abraham:
- Abraham and Sarah did have a son, called Isaac, and we read in the book of Exodus that his descendants became so numerous that they became the great nation of Israel.
- And Romans 4 tells us that Abraham’s faith led to his approval in the sight of God. Abraham exhibited the most important quality in the eyes of God. Despite a few wobbles along the way, Abraham’s enduring belief in the promises of God was commended by the Almighty. Abraham’s faith was sufficient to for him to be ‘credited with righteousness’ and granted citizenship of the kingdom of God.
- And in the New Testament we also see how God kept his final promise to Abraham, to bless every nation. Gentiles like the centurion in our Gospel reading, even Gentiles like us, can have an Abrahamic-like faith. If we trust in gracious promises of God, like our forefather Abraham, then we too are adopted into God’s family.
With patient, hope-filled faith, we too can look forward to a seat alongside Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.