I had a conversation with a woman I met last night; we concluded that a person cannot know her capacity for faith or what her faith is if she has not experienced the difficult circumstances which cause her to rely on God and His Word. She told me that before she had gone through the terrible things she had gone through, her walk with God was casual, she said she trusted God but looking back, she could see she had relied on herself more than she realized. I could understand completely. Each time I have gone through hard times or dark periods I have come out the other side clinging harder to my Lord, knowing I must lean completely on Him and trusting that He is Almighty.
So, let’s read in Romans 4 today and see if we can learn something about faith and maybe not have to learn about faith in the school of hard knocks.
Yesterday, we read that salvation comes from faith alone, not law, not being moral, and not by doing good works. Like the Jews of Paul’s day, we can sometimes think that salvation is exclusionary, just for us, special people. But Paul answered them then and us now in Verses 9-12.
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Circumcision was the sign that the Jews agreed with the Abrahamic Covenant, it became a sign that meant one was Jewish, God’s chosen and if a person was not willing to be circumcised, he was not included in the community, not counted by the Jews as righteous. But God did not justify Abraham after his circumcision but many years before his circumcision. And the promise of salvation by faith was not for Abraham alone, but for anyone who believed God. Sarah was also justified by her faith (Hebrews 11:11).
What outside signs do we look for today to decide if a person is saved or not? May people consider baptism the sign that a person is or is not saved. Some denominations baptize children as babies, to include them in the faith community and assure themselves the children are Christians and so saved. Baptism, like circumcision is a sign, a proclamation that we agree with God. Many churches require a person to be baptized or have proof of baptism to join the church.
Do I believe we ought to be baptized? Yes! It is a commandment (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 2:38, Acts 10:48, Acts 22:16, Ephesians 4:5). But do I think it has anything to do with our salvation? No! Baptism does not save, it is a symbolic decree of our salvation, that our old selves and our sin are dead by the Crucifixion, and our new selves are alive with Christ’s Resurrection. Our salvation has nothing to do with adhering to laws and rituals. But some laws and rituals can enhance our faith. For instance, obedience to the ritual of the Lord’s Supper helps us to reflect on Jesus’ death, baptism moves us to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and gathering in worship and fellowship with the Body of Christ edifies us.
If we say we have faith, but then try and earn salvation by observing the law, we are relying on ourselves and annulling faith; we are emptying Jesus’ death and Resurrection of meaning. Verses 13-15 say it this way,
For 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. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
Without the weight of the law hanging over our heads, we are not subject to God’s wrath any longer, we are dependent on His grace and mercy. Since Jesus fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17) and by His death and Resurrection, He conquered sin. In Christ, we are free from sin (Romans 6:18).
Romans 6:10-11 reads,
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
So far, I have only re-iterated that salvation is not by works but by faith. We have not really looked at what faith is. But to understand what faith is, we need to understand what faith is not, it is not perfection, it is not having no doubt, no unbelief, or no questions. Abraham our great example of faith, had lots of doubts. He lied to kings. He had a child with his wife’s maid. He questioned God to His face about His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet, he was still counted righteous, God still recognized his faith instead of his sin. And when Abraham questioned Him, God chose to engage in the conversation. Abraham had enough faith to know he could question God. Because of that faith, Lot and his daughters were saved from Sodom’s obliteration. Abraham’s imperfect faith gives us hope and teaches us that even our faith does not depend on us. Our little bit of faith is enough for God to say we are righteous and then He grows that little faith into bigger faith. Verses 16-25 say it like this,
That 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, 17 as 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. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
My good friend Jim Barringer taught that if faith the size of a mustard seed could move a mountain, then even that great faith leaves plenty of room for doubt. Picture that mustard seed in the palm of your hand. How much space is left for unbelief? The little faith Abraham had in the face of his doubts meant that God could keep His promise regardless, prove Himself faithful and powerful, and allow Abraham’s faith to grow enough that years after Isaac was born, Abraham could trust God enough to sacrifice his son of promise. He was willing to sacrifice Isaac because his faith in God assured him that the LORD would never renege on a promise. If Isaac were dead, he would not have offspring like the stars and make him the father of nations.
I wonder if rather than wait decades for the promise of his son to be born, if Isaac had been born within a year, would Abraham’s faith grown enough to be the example of faith we know him to be. By the time Sarah gave birth to Isaac, it was a physical impossibility for her to have a child and greatly improbable for Abraham to father a child. It had to be God and not his own doing.
Faith is holding onto God, grasping at His Word when everything else says we cannot do it. Faith is believing despite our disbelief. It is born of God and developed by relying on God through everything, the hard stuff and the good stuff.
Which example of faith did not suffer? Even Jesus went to the wilderness and fasted and prayed for forty days to cultivate His faith and grow more reliant on the Father before He began His ministry. He suffered greatly but He turned always to the Father in His agony. Hebrews 5:7-10 tells us,
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Miracles, the manifestations of God’s promises to us are often not recognized unless they bring about an end to some trouble. Jesus healed lepers, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, and fed the hungry. I know Jesus has healed the nearsighted and given them 20/20 vision, but that miracle is not so widely proclaimed as the dying man healed of cancer. The bigger our discomfort, the more we recognize the power of God and for some of us, the more we rely on God.
As Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I can tell you, I have faith that God will restore my teeth to me. I will wake up one day with a mouth full of healthy, strong, and beautiful teeth. I cannot see it happening. It is impossible in the natural world and more impossible now since I have not a single tooth in my head. It is a crazy and silly dream. But nothing is impossible with God (Mark 10:27). When God restores my teeth in whatever way He will, His faithfulness will be once again proven, and my faith matured. He already gave me the miracle of dentures which I could not afford. He already healed me of a decades long health problem as I was on the brink of death. He brought me through deep depressions, and terrible persecutions. He has provided for me in every circumstance of my life.
Would I know the faith I know now if I had not gone through those things, if God had not done great things, good things, and little things for me? I doubt it. But, my doubt is okay, because faith is not the absence of doubt it is hope and assurance even through my doubt. Faith is knowing God is who He says He is, believing He is faithful and trusting He wants good for me.
Paul described how he could be faithful in His second letter to Timothy verses 8-13,
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful--
for he cannot deny himself.
Cherished, I pray that regardless of your circumstances, you will recognize the awesomeness of God and let your faith be like that mustard seed that begins as such a tiny seed and becomes a large tree.