Romans 4 – Week 5
When my oldest daughter was about three years old, I bought her a pair of Minnie Mouse tennis shoes. She loved those shoes! Since those were her favorite and she always wanted to wear them, I thought it would be the perfect ones to teach her how to tie her own shoes.
I had heard about a song or poem that had to do with bunnies so I thought I’d start with that. The problem was in order to use that song, you had to tie in a certain way which was different from the way I knew. So I decided to do it my own way. The first thing I did was take the strings out of the shoes all together. I took one of the shoe laces and showed her this long string and explained that we were going to play hide and seek with through all of the holes on the shoe. Once I got the lace through the holes and criss-crossed, I told her it was time to bring it all together. I crossed, I pulled, I looped, crossed and pulled some more. “Now,” I said, “ it’s all tied together.”
She picked up the other shoe lace that was on the floor and said, “But it was already all together.” Her thought was that it was already one object so why was it necessary to make it “more together”. (Her intellect has always been a bit of a challenge for me.)
I had to explain that yes, while the shoelace was already one thing, we were “sewing” it into the top of the shoe in order for the shoelace to tighten up the shoe. Otherwise the shoe wouldn’t fit like it should. It wouldn’t be secure. And even though the shoelace was one thing, it still had two ends and they needed to be brought together and criss-crossed in order to keep the shoe on her feet.
I want you to picture the shoelace with one end being God’s grace and the other end being faith in God. One shoelace represents the One true God. We, of course, are the shoe. As God’s grace is threaded into the holes in our life, our faith in Him should follow that same path. Criss-crossing one another along the way. And when God’s grace and our faith in Him are tied together in a knot, salvation occurs securing our eternity in heaven.
The Greek word for grace is charis, meaning “the state of kindness and favor toward someone, often with a focus on a benefit given to the object.” [i] Think of our word charity. Imagine if we took up a collection for charity and went to give it to the recipient only for them to reject it. That wouldn’t seem reasonable to us, would it? Especially if our donation was a sizable one that would make a major difference in their life.
The Greek word for faith is pistis, which means “be persuaded, come to trust”.[ii] Somehow we’ve adapted this notion that if we have faith in God, that’s our gift to Him. The incredible thing about grace and faith, or charis and pistis is that they are both gifted to us by God. Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.”
As Paul is writing to the Romans, he’s used a lot of those words that make up the foundation of our Christian beliefs. Righteousness, justification, grace, and of course, faith. The Romans would have been no different than us in that we love stories and examples of real people to inspire us. Paul is happy to refresh their memories.
Romans 4:1 “So what can we say about Abraham, the father of our people? What did he learn about faith? 2 If Abraham was made right by the things he did, he had a reason to boast about himself. But God knew different. 3 That’s why the Scriptures say, ‘Abraham believed God, and because of this he was accepted as one who is right with God.’ “
We first learn of Abraham (or Abram as he is called then) in Genesis 11:27. “This is the history of Terah’s family. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran was the father of Lot. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. Abram’s wife was named Sarai. 30 Sarai did not have any children because she was not able to have children.
31 Terah took his family and left Ur of Babylonia. They planned to travel to Canaan. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai (Abram’s wife). They traveled to the city of Haran and decided to stay there. 32 Terah lived to be 205 years old. He died in Haran.”
We don’t have a clear description of Abram’s religious beliefs up to this time. We do know that Haran was a city rich in idolatry and paganism. There is a little glimpse in the book of Joshua that suggests Abram may not have been raised believing in the one true God. Joshua 24:2 “Then Joshua spoke to all the people. He said, “I am telling you what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you: ‘A long time ago, your ancestors lived on the other side of the Euphrates River. I am talking about men like Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor. At that time they worshiped other gods.”
Regardless of Abram’s religious tendencies at that time, God chose to speak directly to him and give him a task. Genesis 12:1 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country and your people. Leave your father’s family and go to the country that I will show you. 2 I will build a great nation from you. I will bless you and make your name famous. People will use your name to bless other people. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you. I will use you to bless all the people on earth.”
Let’s be sure that we’re all understanding what’s unfolding here. Let’s assume for a moment that Abram has followed in his father’s footsteps and worships other gods. He receives this message which we assume is an audible conversation. The instructions are to pack up what you have, leave your home, your hometown, your family and go somewhere to which I’ll lead you. Destination unknown….to you!
It would have been reasonable for Abram to say, “Um, Who are You?” “Where do You want me to go?” “How far away am I going?” “How long will I be gone?” And if this were to take place today, “Is there a nearby Starbucks and WalMart?” But Abram does none of that!
Romans 4:4 “So Abram left Haran just like the Lord said, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran.”
Even if Abram had pushed away all worship of any other gods and worshipped the one true God prior to getting these instructions, is it not still remarkable that he did just like the Lord said?
Consider for a moment, that you hear your cell phone ring and it comes up as “Unknown Caller”. Most of us would expect to hear that frantic voice telling us that our car warranty is about to expire, but instead, we hear instructions much like Abram did. Leave your home, your country, your family. I’m not telling you where you’re going just yet, but I will show you along the way. I’m going to bless you for doing this and will look after you. How many of us would simply hang up the phone and go about our day?
But again, verse 4 gives us Abram’s response. He leaves just like the Lord said.
F.A.I.T.H. Forsaking all, I trust Him!
At the point of leaving Haran, Abram is 75 years old. During the next couple of decades, we know that Abram and God maintained their relationship. Abram pulled the “Sarai is my sister” routine twice but God intervened both times. Abram built altars to God in the places in which he settled and worships Him. Scripture gives us several encounters between God and Abram.
Did you know that the very first time that the word “Hebrew” is used in the Bible, it’s used to describe Abram? Genesis 14:13 “One of the men who had escaped went to Abram the Hebrew and told him what happened.” Want a little more Bible trivia? The word “Hebrew” in the Hebrew language means to cross over, or pass through. (That really “ties” in with the shoelace analogy, doesn’t it?) Abram is considered to be the first Hebrew because he he had crossed over the Euphrates River on his pilgrimage guided by God.
At a point in their relationship, there is a conversation in which God tells Abram that he will receive a great reward, but Abram says, “What can you give me? I have no son.” In Genesis 15:5 Then God led Abram outside. God said, “Look at the sky. There are so many stars you cannot count them. And your descendants will be too many to count.”6 Abram believed the Lord. And the Lord accepted Abram’s faith, and that faith made him right with God.”
F.A.I.T.H. Fully anticipating it to happen!
But there’s a funny thing about faith. If we don’t keep it tightly bound with God’s grace, that knot loosens up and we can quickly stumble. Doubts, questions, impatience, second-guessing can all cause that end of the shoelace to unravel. And Abram, despite at one time believing God’s promise of numerous descendants, goes rogue. As a result, Ishmael is born to Abram and Hagar, a handmaiden. Abram is 86 years old when Ismael is born.
Now remember, this all takes place many, many years before the law is given to Moses. There were no ten commandments. No “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” What Abram does with regards to Hagar isn’t necessarily uncommon for those times. But by doing what he did, he loosens the tie of faith which causes him to stumble.
Thirteen years later in Genesis 17:1 “When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him. He said, “I am God All-Powerful. Obey me and live the right way. 2 If you do this, I will prepare an agreement between us. I will promise to make your people a great nation.”
3 “Then Abram bowed down before God. God said to him, 4 “This is my part of our agreement: I will make you the father of many nations. 5 I will change your name from Abram to Abraham, because I am making you the father of many nations. 6 I will give you many descendants. New nations and kings will come from you. 7 And I will prepare an agreement between me and you. This agreement will also be for all your descendants.”
The name Abraham literally means “father of many nations”.
In that same conversation, God tells Abraham that he’s giving Sarai a new name – Sarah. The word Sarah means “a princess of multitudes”. And before Abraham can question God about the irony of these new names, God explains that Abraham and Sarah will have a son. Not only that, but God tells Abraham that kings of nations will come from Sarah.
In response in Genesis 17:17 “Abraham bowed his face to the ground to show he respected God. But he laughed and said to himself, ‘I am 100 years old. I cannot have a son, and Sarah is 90 years old. She cannot have a child.’18 Then Abraham said to God, ‘I hope Ishmael will live and serve you.’ 19 God said, ‘No, I said that your wife Sarah will have a son. You will name him Isaac. I will make my agreement with him that will continue forever with all his descendants.’ “
Have there been times in your life that God has given you instruction and your response it, “I can’t do it” ? And God responds, “But I said you can!”
At this point in his life, Abraham should know that God means what He says. And yet, Abraham laughs. What God is saying sounds impossible. That knot of faith Abraham has in God has loosened a bit. Abraham said, “I cannot”, but God replied, “I said!” How many of us can relate? Have there been times in your life that God has given you instruction and your response is, “I can’t do it!”? And God responds, “But I said you can!”.
After this heart-to-heart is when Abraham fulfills his part of the agreement even though he has doubts about God being able to fulfill His promise. This is when the circumcision takes place. Abraham gets Ismael along with every man and boy in his house and they are all circumcised just as God had instructed. Abraham is 99 years old when he is circumcised. We can’t gloss over the fact that Abraham is still obedient even when he has his doubts. And this wasn’t a simple act of obedience, either. Remember Dinah’s brothers who were set to seek revenge against Shechem who had violated Dinah? When Shechem wanted to marry Dinah, they said it would only happen if all of the men in their town were circumcised. So, all of the men in the town were circumcised. Three days later, they are still sore and weak. And Dinah’s brothers used that opportunity to attack and kill the men. (Story found in Genesis 34) Circumcision wasn’t to be taken lightly and yet, Abraham followed through even though he didn’t think what God was promising was possible.
But God doesn’t make empty promises, does He? Despite the odds, dismissing the improbability and defying all human logic, Abraham and Sarah conceive. What their neighbors must have thought! Can you imagine the baby shower invitation?
Abraham and Sarah are blessed with a healthy, bouncing baby boy. A baby boy named Isaac who is a walking, breathing reminder of God’s fulfilled promises. But when Isaac became a teenager, God didn’t promise the impossible to Abraham, he asked for the impossible from Abraham.
Genesis 22: 2 “Then God said, ‘Take your son to the land of Moriah and kill your son there as a sacrifice for me. This must be Isaac, your only son, the one you love.’ “
And Abraham does what most of us can’t fathom.
F.A.I.T.H For anything impossible, trust Him!
In chapter 3 of Romans, Paul emphasizes that we are justified by grace through faith; not works, not by following the law, not by circumcision. In chapter 4, Paul gives solid Biblical proof of that when he refreshes their memory of Abraham.
Looking up at the many stars in the sky as God extends the promise of charis , kindness and favor, Abraham is persuaded to trust Him and responds in faith. Abraham has faith in God and as a result, God declares Abraham righteous. Long before any laws are given. Years before he was circumcised.
Romans 4: 9b “We have already said that it was because of Abraham’s faith that he was accepted as one who is right with God. 10 So how did this happen? Did God accept Abraham before or after he was circumcised? God accepted him before his circumcision.”
Romans 4: 13b “But Abraham did not receive that promise because he followed the law. He received that promise because he was right with God through his faith. 14 If people could get God’s promise by following the law, then faith is worthless.”
Some of the early Christians were trying to add faith as a seasoning rather than making it the base of their relationship. They were mixing a big of pot of good works, along with laws, DNA and circumcision with just a little sprinkling of faith. But Paul who had for many years used that same recipe is saying “No!” The main ingredient is faith!
Romans 4: 16 “So God’s blessings are given to us by faith, as a free gift; we are certain to get them whether or not we follow Jewish customs if we have faith like Abraham’s, for Abraham is the father of us all when it comes to these matters of faith. 17 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say that God made Abraham the father of many nations. God will accept all people in every nation who trust God as Abraham did. And this promise is from God himself, who makes the dead live again and speaks of future events with as much certainty as though they were already past.”
Abraham was asked to believe God would do what God promised. We are asked to believe God did do what He promised and have faith that He continues to keep His promises.
This chapter ends with a message for us all. Romans 4: 21 “But Abraham never doubted. He believed God, for his faith and trust grew ever stronger, and he praised God for this blessing even before it happened. 21 He was completely sure that God was well able to do anything he promised. 22 And because of Abraham’s faith God forgave his sins and declared him “not guilty.”
23 Now this wonderful statement—that he was accepted and approved through his faith—wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. 24 It was for us, too, assuring us that God will accept us in the same way he accepted Abraham—when we believe the promises of God who brought back Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He died for our sins and rose again to make us right with God, filling us with God’s goodness.
I can’t help but point out that so many of children’s shoes are fastened by Velcro nowadays. It’s certainly an easier substitution, isn’t it? I admit that both of my girls had their fair share of Velcro shoes. The problem is that dirt gets easily trapped within the teeth of the Velcro and makes it less efficient. The Velcro doesn’t hold as well and the shoes become, well, less secured. Shoelaces, on the other hand, can get dirty but can still remain tightly knotted and they can be washed and bleached and made to look new again. There’s no good substitution for God’s grace and faith in God. God’s grace and our faith in Him and what He promises helps us to keep the dirty sinfulness from embedding in our lives and making us less efficient for His service.
Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, 9 not of works, so that no one should boast.”
F.A.I.T.H. Father, all in Thy hands!
[i] Strong’s Greek 5485
[ii] Strong’s Greek 4102
Just like sometimes it takes someone to point out that our shoes are untied, sometimes someone needs to point out that our faith isn’t tight enough.
We should have faith no matter what. We never know what we’re about to go through.
Faith is the base and we need that personal relationship.
Whatever He promises will come to be.
Sometimes it take tripping on an “untied shoelace” to get our attention to tighten that knot.