Father Abraham Had Many Sons (and Daughters)
Romans 4:1 – 12
Father Abraham Had Many Sons (and Daughters)
The most Australian Australian?
You may have seen the news this week, that rugby player Nick Cummins also known as The Honey Badger, is saying goodbye to Australian rugby and moving to Japan.
This is a great loss for Australia, since Cummins has been called, and even one newspaper headline shouted this, “the most Australian man in the world!” But if not Honey Badger, If I asked you to call to mind the most Australian Australian you can think of, who would you come up with?
I’m sorry, ladies, that I couldn’t think of a woman in that category! But maybe in that company that’s not a bad thing!
What does the most Jewish Jew teach us about getting right with God? (v 1 – 3)
Abraham, was the most Jewish Jew, that the readers of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans could have called to mind.He stood at the head of all of Israel, and so if something was good for Abraham, it was good enough for any Jew.
Or, one morning this week, when I was taking my wife Kathy her cup of tea in bed, did you notice how I slip that in there, so you all think I’m a great husband! I did take her a cup of tea in bed, but don’t ask how long it’s been since I last did that!
But I noticed on the packet of Twinings Tea, it says, “By appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second” and the implication is that if the Queen drinks Twinings tea, then any self-respecting English man or woman, will also drink Twinings tea!
If it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for her subjects.
What’s good enough for the most Jewish man in the world, is good enough for those who come after him, and so Paul wants to show his readers, what Abraham discovered, about getting into a right relationship with God.
Look with me at verse 1 if you will, 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.
By the time Paul’s writing, the Jewish perception of Abraham, had been pretty much fixed, in what was called the Mishnah, the sayings and pronouncements of various ancient rabbis.
The Mishnah says this about Abraham, We find that Abraham, our father had performed, the whole law before it was given
See, popular perception, Abraham was justified, not by faith,
Not by trusting in God’s promises,
Not by believing that God would be true to his word, and would reconcile people to himself, and make an end to sin,
No, the popular perception of Abraham was that he was justified by his works,
That the basis of his relationship with God was that he had done enough good things.
Paul says, “Not even Abraham, who everybody knows lived a good life, he was the Mother Theresa of the ancient near east, not even he could get into a right relationship with God, by how he lived.”
Abraham couldn’t boast of his good works before God
So he says, “let’s, for the sake of the argument, assume, that the popular wisdom is true, and that Abraham was justified by works”
If that were true, Paul says in verse 2, then Abraham would have something to boast about.
And because it’s people’s relationship with God that’s on view here, it’s boasting before God that matters.
If you do enough good works to earn God’s favour,
To undo your sin and rebellion,
Then you could say to God, “Look what I’ve done!
Look how good I am!”
We have a thing in our family, where if we ask our kids to do some task, and they do more than we ask, they say, “I didn’t o-bey you, Daddy, I over-beyed you!” And if they have over-beyed, the kids want to tell us, they want to boast in that.
Same idea here, except its boasting before God that’s on view.
If you’ve done everything that God has asked of you, then you could boast before God,
So can Abraham boast before God?
No, he can’t.
He didn’t live, a perfect life.
He wasn’t sinless.
We only need to read the account of his life in Genesis to see that!
He did some terrible things to people, the people closest to him.
And so Abraham couldn’t boast before God, that he had lived entirely according to God’s pattern for life, which is why Paul says in verse 5 that his experience was that of the people he calls the wicked.
Abraham was one of those people, like you and I, who fall short of God’s standard of perfection.
When Paul said in chapter 2 verse 10, There is no one righteous, not even one; that included Abraham,
Abraham did not live in a way that allowed him to boast before God, and the point that Paul wants to make, is that this is exactly what the Jews’ own Scriptures, our Old Testament teaches.
The idea of justification by faith, have a listen to last week’s talk if you need to get these definitions clear in your head, justification by faith is not some theological novelty that Paul invented.
Abraham was justified by faith
Abraham, 2000 years before Paul, was justified, made right with God, by faith.
Verse 3, quoting from Genesis 15 verse 6, Paul says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
While the rabbis taught that Abraham obeyed every letter of the law of God even before the law was given, their Bible told them, “No, Abraham was made right with God, because he believed God.”
He was justified by faith.
It’s a salutary warning, I think, about the danger of swallowing tradition, and the opinions of people, even when the Bible teaches the exact opposite!
You’d think, how could they get it so wrong! It was written there in the Bible, in black and white!
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
They learnt the verse in Sunday School,
They had it printed on colourful posters and stuck on the back of their toilet door,
It was in their Bible!
And yet they believed the myth,
They got sucked in to the pop theology on the daytime talk shows,
The popular perception, that somehow Abraham had done enough, to boast before God, and get into a right relationship with him.
We would never fall for that, would we?!
If it could happen to God’s people back then, it could happen to us!
And I’m reminded of something that John Stott, the British pastor and author said when he was in Adelaide in 2002;, the person who has a Bible, and doesn’t read it, is no better off than the person who doesn’t even have one.
So a couple of things that I think are worth noticing here.
In Genesis 15, the belief, the faith of Abraham, is, in the first instance, his trust in God’s promise to give him many, many descendants,
But actually, since Genesis 15 is a re-statement of promises that God had already made about blessing all of the world, through Abraham and one of his descendants, ultimately, that’s the promise that Abraham is trusting in here.
I find it fascinating, that in Pau’s second letter to the Corinthians he says no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ, that is, it’s in Christ that God’s promises are ultimately fulfilled.
That’s what Abraham believed in.
He didn’t know the detail, but he believed God would honour his promises, and bless the world through his own family.
How very far removed is that, from what people often mean when they talk about “faith” today?
I frequently have people aren’t Christians, say to me, something like, “I wish I had your faith.”
Which generally means, as far as I can tell, “I wish I could believe what you believe, even though I know it’s not true!”
It’s a bit like the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass
"one can't believe impossible things,” says Alice.
To which the Queen replies, "I daresay you haven't had much practice, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Often that’s what people mean by faith, and yet that’s not Abraham’s faith, is it?
Abraham’s faith was a sure hope in God’s promises,
A confidence that God would make a way for people to receive God’s blessing.
The lesson from Abraham: Justification is about getting what we don’t deserve
Notice also, the accounting language in the quote from Genesis 15, that word credited.
A few of us, I’m sure, have already begun our tax returns, so that will help us here, because we’re already thinking in terms of financial categories!
This here is the language of having something credited into your account,
So if the Tax Office decide to give me a tax refund, they will credit that to my account. But that will be a refund that I deserve, or at least that I’m entitled to, something I’ve earned.
But when we look at how this language of being credited is used elsewhere in the Old Testament, it becomes clear that this is talking specifically, about being credited something that you don’t deserve.
So do you see that Genesis 15 uses the same language for getting into a right relationship with God, as Romans 3 and 4, about 2000 years later?
A right relationship with God comes about through faith, belief in God’s provision, and it’s undeserved, that is, it comes to us by God’s grace.
Which means that even Abraham’s faith, wasn’t something good that earned God’s favour.
Sometimes Christian people talk like this;
We offer God our faith,
He offers us righteousness,
We do a swap.
No, if that were the case, if our faith was a work, something that counted for something before God, then our righteousness wouldn’t be credited to us as something undeserved, would it?
It would be like my tax refund. I’ve earned it.
Notice also, Paul’s use of the present tense, what does the Scripture say?
Paul thought the Old Testament still spoke in his day, and it still speaks today.
The Old Testament teaches us today about getting into a right relationship with God.
The most Jewish Jew,
If he couldn’t get right with God through his own efforts, what hope does anyone else have?
But if the Queen drinks Twinings, then why would you drink anything else?
And if Abraham was justified by faith, why would you possibly think, there’s any other alternative for you?
Abraham is the model, for how someone who has ignored God, and rejected God, and lived in God’s world with little regard for God,
How someone like that, someone like us, can get into a right relationship with God,
And not just for the Jews, although he was the most Jewish Jew!
But as Paul will explain in just a moment, for Gentiles, non-Jews, also.
You can’t put God in your debt, but you can benefit from his grace (v 4 – 5)
So having made the point, that Abraham wasn’t made right with God by his own efforts, Paul wants to highlight the difference between works and grace.
See verse 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.
At the end of this month, someone in the Trinity Network office, will tap away on their computer, and 2 things will happen.
One is, some money will be transferred into my bank account.
And secondly, a payslip will be emailed to me.
It will have my name on it,
It will say, “The Trinity Network of Churches has sent this much money to your bank account.”
And it will say something like “Position, Senior Pastor, Trinity Mount Barker, July 2014.”
Many of you will experience something similar!
Someone who works, gets paid, not as a gift, but as an obligation.
Now, we don’t use this language, but if I work diligently and appropriately all this month, in effect, I put the church, in my debt.
There is an obligation,
We have a contract.
If I do the work, the church pays me.
So my payslip doesn’t say, “We’ve transferred some money into your bank account, just because we like you! It’s a gift!”
No, it effectively says, because you did this work, here is the money we’re obligated to give you.
In spiritual accounting, though, it’s different!
It’s different because you can’t put God in your debt!
Just think about it, if we’re made right with God because of our good works,
Then by doing good things,
By obeying the Law of Moses,
By turning up to church,
By putting our names on a roster, and showing up once a month,
By giving money to gospel work,
By talking to people about Jesus, or whatever it is, then what have we done?
If that’s how spiritual accounting works, we have put God in our debt!
We have obligated God, to give us righteousness,
We’ve painted God into a corner, and he has no other option but to give us what we demand,
If our good works can earn our justification, then we are the ones calling the shots.
But of course, we can’t put God in our debt!
God, the creator, doesn’t act towards us, his creatures, out of any sense of obligation.
God is never obliged to act towards us in a particular way, because of how we have acted.
No, justification is a free gift, and hiding behind that word gift in verse 4, is the word “grace”.
See, if you are ever tempted to think, that your good works count for something before God,
That by doing those things I mentioned,
Turning up to church on Sundays,
Reading your Bible,
If you think that by setting up a direct debit to the church, or serving in some ministry area where we have a great need, like our Kids’ Club, or our Sunday children’s programs, if you think that doing those things, counts for something before God,
You are fooling yourself into thinking that God is in your debt!, that you have got him right where you want him, and that he is obligated now, to offer you forgiveness and a right standing before him.
But you cannot put God in your debt.
That is not how righteousness is given.
See verse 5, to the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Don’t trust in your works, and your own abilities,
Trust in God, who justifies the wicked.
That does sound shocking at first glance,
We know who the wicked are, and we don’t like them!
Last week I saw a graphic, with various dictators from throughout history on it, with a tally of how many people they had killed during their reign, and the numbers of those killed were represented in columns, with little drops of blood.
But as I looked closer, I read the legend, that explained each drop of blood represented a million people killed, with the top 3 dictators of the 20th century killing nearly 120 million people between them!
Surely they are the wicked,
Why would God want to justify them?
But remember Paul’s got his eye on Abraham! Not the despots of the last century, or at least not just them.
Even Abraham, left to his own devices was wicked,
Before God called him he was far from God,
And his only claim was that by God’s grace he had believed what God promised, and his faith was credited as righteousness.
That’s how the wicked, those who deserve to go on a chart of dictators and despots, and actually those who look like Abraham, the Mother Theresa of the ancient near east, that’s how they get into a right relationship with God.
As God in his grace, declares the guilty not guilty, because he pays the price for sin himself, in the suffering and death of his Son.
Don’t think you can put God in your debt! But make sure you don’t miss out on his grace!
And so those of us, who are in paid employment, the next time you get your payslip, or you log on to your Internet banking and see that your wages have gone in,
When you receive what you’ve earned, will you please, take a moment to remember also, what you received, that you could never earn?!
Isn’t that kind of God, a regular reminder, every time you get paid, of that even greater gift, that you could never earn?!
The lesson from David: justification is about not getting what we do deserve (v 6 - 8)
But as if that were not enough!
As if making the case with Abraham, the most Jewish Jew, wasn’t enough, Paul says King David, perhaps the second most Jewish Jew, he found the same thing.
Paul quotes from Psalm 32 and says David also experienced righteousness from God apart from his works,
Verse 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.”
See what’s significant about David, is that there was no such confusion about his standing before God.
If Abraham was the Mother Theresa of the ancient near east, then David was the Bill Clinton.
Popular, considered a great leader, 5000 dollars a pop just to have dinner with him, but remembered always, for a very public sexual sin.
David lusted after a married woman,
Committed adultery with her,
And then had her husband murdered to cover up his sin.
Everybody liked him, but nobody thought David could earn his way into God’s good books!
And so David is an opposite example.
In Psalm 32, David’s not speaking of having good works, counted in your favour,
But of having, what we might call bad works, not counted against you.
And it’s that same accounting language as we saw in verse 3, being credited. It’s all about what is or isn’t being put in your account.
When David rejoices that your transgressions can be forgiven,
Your sins never counted against you,
That’s the same thing Paul says, verse 6, as being given righteousness apart from works
They’re 2 sides of the same coin:
Not getting what you do deserve,
And getting what you don’t deserve.
In David’s case it was very clear;, he didn’t deserve God’s righteousness.
What he deserved, was God’s condemnation,
But that’s not what was credited to his account.
David speaks of blessing, of being forgiven, as a gift of God’s grace.
And in forgiving sin,
In not counting your sin against you, God credits righteousness.
Which means, if you’re a Christian, any question of your past, your sin, is settled forever.
And any question of your future, is settled forever.
There is no sin for which provision has not been made.
If you trust in the righteousness that God offers in Christ, your sin is dealt with, and you enjoy this blessedness that David speaks of and rejoices in.
In forgiving your sin through Jesus’ death, God has credited you righteousness.
I was speaking with someone just this week, who was burdened, crippled, by the agony of their past, by the way they’ve treated other people.
They are exactly the type of person for whom Psalm 32 was written;
Someone who needs to hear that assurance, that when God forgives your sin, he then sees you, and treats you as righteous.
Your sin will never be dragged up and paraded before you again.
I don’t know whether you had to read much historical biography or novels in school, but there was always some nobleman who would say to some other man, “You have offended me, I demand satisfaction”, which really meant, “I want to shoot you or stick a sword through you!”, and so they’d have a duel!
Those who transgress, that is, who break God’s law,
Those who sin, who reject God and his pattern for life,
God is entitled to demand satisfaction, not because he’s been put out, or embarrassed, like some petty 16th Century nobleman,
But because we have committed the ultimate offence, living in the world that God made, but living as if God doesn’t exist, as if he has no claim on our lives.
But here is forgiveness, God, waiving the right to demand satisfaction from us, providing the satisfaction himself, so that our sin might no longer be counted against us.
No wonder David says, that’s what it is to be blessed!
Father Abraham has many sons and daughters (v 9 – 12)
But who is this for?
It sounds great!
But, maybe you know what it’s like, there’s a package, gets delivered, and you get really excited, hoping it’s for you,
Maybe even you can see from the box, what it is, “Haighs chocolates, special delivery”, or something!
And you really want it!
But then you look at the label, and it’s not for you, it’s for someone else.
This offer of blessedness sounds great!
It sounds like something we’d want!
Getting the free gift of a right standing before God that we don’t deserve,
Not getting the punishment for sin and rebellion that we do deserve!
Where do I sign up!
But there’s a problem, and perhaps you spotted it,
Is it for us?
Who were the 2 case studies?
Abraham, the most Jewish Jew,
And David, the second most Jewish Jew.
Both having that sign of belonging to God’s covenant people.
So maybe this great news, this blessing, maybe it has somebody else’s name on the label.
Maybe this justification, this crediting as righteousness is only available to those who are Jews,
To those who already belong,
To those who have the sign that shows they are already God’s people.
Is this blessedness for us?
Can we have God’s righteousness credited to us?,
Can we receive what we don’t deserve, and not get what we do deserve.
Or do we have to become Jewish, in order to receive the blessings of God?
Or perhaps we assume that this applies to us, but how can we be sure? It’s not something that you’d want to get wrong is it?
So what does Paul say? Are we in? Or are we out?
Does this package of blessedness have my name and your name on the label?
Well, let’s look at verse 9 together,
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?
Do you understand the question?
One way to know, if this gift of blessedness, and righteousness and forgiveness, is available to people who aren’t Jews, who aren’t circumcised, is to work out at what point in Abraham’s life, did God credit him righteousness?
If, verse 9, Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness after he was circumcised, it can still be a free gift, it’s not a reward for his circumcision, but he might only get the gift because he is circumcised, because he’s a Jew.
And so that might settle the case,
Yes, a right standing before God is a gift,
But it’s a gift that is only available to those who are already among God’s people, the Jews.
Therefore, to be forgiven,
To not have your transgressions counted against you,
To be declared right with God, you would first have to become a Jew, to adopt all the obedience and markers of Judaism,
And after you’ve done all that, then you could receive righteousness like Abraham, the Jew.
But that’s not what happened, is it?!
Verse 10, It was not after, but before!
Abraham believed believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness, that’s Genesis 15.
It’s not until Genesis 17, at the very least 13 years later, according to the Bible, and 29 years latter according the Jewish tradition, that Abraham is circumcised.
Clearly Abraham’s justification, his being given a right standing before God, did not depend on him being circumcised!
In fact, Paul says, it’s not just that circumcision wasn’t a prerequisite for gaining righteousness, the whole purpose of circumcision was to point back to the righteousness that he already had! See verse 11. And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith, while he was still uncircumcised
Abraham’s circumcision wasn’t the means of entry into blessing, it was a visible confirmation of the reality of blessing from God that he already had, because of his faith in God and God’s promises.
So this right standing before God, is universally available.
Having God’s righteousness credited to you, does not depend on you belonging to the nation of Israel, or on keeping the law that God gave to his people.
You don’t have to become a Jew first, in order to get right with God.
It can be your name on the package of blessedness.
If you went to Sunday school as a child, I’m sure you sang that song, and I know you’ve been waiting for me to sing it all morning!
Father Abraham had many sons,
Many sons had father Abraham.
I am one of them,
And so are you, in a non-gender specific kind of way, for some of you,
So let’s just praise the Lord,
Right arm, left arm, etc, etc
If you never went to Sunday school, I’m sorry that you missed out!
But the song needs a little bit of nuancing, and not just the gender thing!
But to say that Father Abraham had many sons, or children, physically, many descendants, it’s true, but it’s not the point that Paul is making, is it?
What Paul wants us to realise, even the promise in Genesis 15, that God was working towards, is that Father Abraham had many spiritual children,
People who followed in his footsteps,
People who followed his example of faith.
See, it matters not one iota, that you can trace your ancestry back to Abraham. And people do! This week I was looking at printed copies of people’s family trees, which they claim show their direct descent from Abraham.
But what matters, is your relationship to Abraham spiritually, not genetically.
In the only way that matters, Abraham is the father of 2 groups of people.
Those who believe, but have not been circumcised, verse 11, that is, Gentiles who trust in the forgiveness and righteousness that God offers in Christ.
And also, verse 12, he is the father of the circumcised, that is, the Jews, but not just those people, even today, who can trace their Jewishness back to him, he is the father of the circumcised, who not only are circumcised, but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised
See what’s important, what’s common in both groups of people, is not their ethnic identity, or their state of circumcision-ness, but their faith.
Do you have the faith of Abraham?
Not the same amount of faith, as Abraham?
Actually at times Abraham didn’t seem to have much faith at all!
But do you have the same kind of faith, the same object of faith, as Abraham?
Faith in the God who keeps his promises.
Faith in the God who makes a way to relationship with him.
As far as Paul’s concerned, you might be able to trace your physical ancestry back to Abraham, but unless you follow in the footsteps of his faith he is not your father.
So no matter who you are, it can be your name on the package,
And your assurance for that comes from none other than Abraham, the most Jewish Jew!
But God credited righteousness into Abraham’s account, before he was circumcised, even, we could say, before there was Jew or Gentile.
So in that way, he’s the most Gentile Gentile!
Even, the most Australian Australian!
Move over Honey Badger,
Here is someone who was, in every way that matters, just like us.
He was the typical Australian.
He was far from God,
He’d lived as God’s enemy,
He had nothing that could be credited to his account except sin and transgressions, but God in his grace, credited to Abraham, his very own righteousness.