Monday, November 21, 2016

abraham's faith

Sermon notes & quotes on Romans 4:13-25. 
Download or stream "Abraham's Faith" 

What is faith?  Is it... 
-- a feeling of dependence or that everything is going to work out?
-- sincerely believing in something but the something doesn’t really matter?
-- believing in faith itself, as in “just have enough faith”? 
-- believing a creed or set of doctrines?
-- a leap in the dark, believing in something that is empirically unproven?
-- wish fulfillment, or visualizing a future outcome that we desire?
-- making a decision or "going forward" in a church service?

Four key concepts from Romans 4:13-25, which are characteristics of Abraham's faith that apply also to believers today. 


1) PROMISE. Faith looks to God’s gracious word of promise. (4:16-17, 20) It is not wishful thinking, projection, or a feeling, but is based upon God's revelation, in words, focusing upon a promise given in grace. Unless salvation is by grace, it is an uncertain thing. 

"Promise" (4:13, 14, 16, 20) “It is written...” (17)  “as he had been told” (18) “the words, it was counted to him” (23)  So faith is taking God at his word. 

There is content, history, and doctrine to be believed.  Christianity not merely idea, ideals, or moral code, but death and resurrection of God's Son in history, and what this means.  Not just truths about God but promises from God to us.   

"We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace."  (Luther)

2) POWER. Faith realizes our inability and relies upon the miraculous power of God. (4:17-21)  

An impossible, miracle birth which foreshadowed another miracle birth. 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. (4:17)  ...fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (4:21)   Abraham “hoped against hope... a divinely given hope that went beyond normal human hopes and expectations. 

Christian faith is supernatural from beginning to end...  We rely on God’s ability to do what he promised.  The Fact-Faith-Feeling illustration [below] shows that it is the engine of God's facts (truths, power) that pull the train; our faith is attached to that; and our feelings follow.  It would be futile to try to pull the train by our faith (we do not have faith in faith itself), nor to try to pull the train by our feelings.  The power is in God and his promises. 

So faith is more than just believing words, or accepting a creed, it is believing God has the power to fulfill his words.  It is not just believing whatever makes sense in the natural (material) world.

3) POSSESSION.  Faith appropriates God’s promise and power for oneself

Abraham owned it...  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."  (4:17) The words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  (4:23-24)

Righteousness is not achieved, but it is to be received.  Not a promise and power that stays outside of us, or for the world in general.  But for me.  It must be laid hold of (Phil 3:12) 

"Faith is the hand that grasps the finished work of Christ and makes it my own." (Lesslie Newbigin)

4) PERSON.  Faith is trusting a Person, it is walking in relationship with God

“ the presence of the God in whom he believed...” (4:17)  He believed not just the promise of God, but the God of the promise.  He walked with God.  He was the "friend of God."  (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23)  

Faith is relational.  It’s a turning TO God.  “Faith is the resting of the heart on God.”  (William Ames)  "But to all who did receive him..." (John 1:12) There is something to believe, to agree to, but behind and under that, there is a Someone to trust and walk with.  

Jesus our savior is a whole Person who brings a whole salvation: We do not receive a component of salvation, but a Savior, in whom is all our salvation... 
 In the Gospel of John we see this:  he is the Lamb who takes away our sin, he is the living water who quenches our thirst, he is the bread of life that nourishes and sustains us, he is the light of the world who gives us knowledge and understanding, he is the good shepherd to feed and guide and protect us, he is the resurrection who gives us eternal life, he is the vine that bears fruit in us, and he is our priest who intercedes for us.  


Not only for justification, but Abraham's faith exemplifies the lifestyle of faith for the believer:

  • Am I meditating on, thinking about, applying and clinging to the promises of God in Scripture?
  • Am I relying daily on the power of God to fulfill his purposes for me? Am I living a supernatural life to the glory of God?
  • Am I pursuing, clinging to, and making God's gracious word my very own?
  • Am I personally relating to God who is my Creator and Redeemer?  Am I walking daily with him in the light of his countenance?  

"God, hold us to what drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction and we wanted nothing else." (Amy Carmichael)

Faith does not come by looking at our faith.  It comes by hearing and believing the promises of God.  Consider them prayerfully: 

Matthew 11:28   "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." 
Acts 10:43  "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Acts 16:31 "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Romans 10:9, 12-13  "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved... For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 
Revelation 22:17  "And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price."

the God of the covenant

Among rational and moral creatures all higher life takes the form of a covenant.  Generally, a covenant is an agreement between persons who voluntarily obligate and bind themselves to each other for the purpose of fending off an evil or obtaining a good.  Such an agreement, whether it is made tacitly or defined in explicit detail, is the usual form in terms of which all humans live and work together.  Love, friendship, marriage, as well as all social cooperation in business, industry, science, art, and so forth, is ultimately grounded in a 
covenant, that is, in reciprocal fidelity and an assortment of generally recognized moral obligations.

It should not surprise us, therefore, that also the highest and most richly textured life of human beings, namely, religion bears this character.  In Scripture "covenant" is the fixed form in which the relation of God to his people is depicted and presented.  ..covenant is the essence of true religion.

Why should this be?  First of all, because God is the Creator, man a creature; and with that statement an infinite distance between the two is given.  No fellowship, no religion between the two seems possible; there is only difference, distance, endless distinctness.  If God remains elevated above humanity in his sovereign exaltedness and majesty, then no religion is possible, at least no religion in the sense of fellowship.

...religion must be the character of a covenant.  For then God has to come down from his lofty position, condescend to his creatures, impart, reveal, and give himself away to human beings; then he who inhabits eternity and dwells in a high and holy place must also dwell with those who are of a humble spirit (Isa. 57:15)... this set of conditions in nothing other than the description of a covenant. 

This is what no religion has ever understood; all peoples either pantheistically pull God down into what is creaturely, or deistically elevate him endlessly above it.  In neither case does one arrive at true fellowship, at covenant, at genuine religion.  But Scripture insists on both: God is infinitely great and condescendingly good; he is Sovereign but also Father; he is Creator but also Prototype [ideal human pattern].  In a word, he is the God of the covenant. 

~ Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II:568-70.

burdened or annoyed?

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:46-47 ESV)

"Are you burdened about the state of your country?  Are you merely annoyed at the increase in sin, or is your heart full of sorrow for poor men and women who are its victims?  Are you merely annoyed with young people, or do you feel sorry for them because they do know any better, because they have never heard about God and Christ and the possibility of being children of God?  Are you just irritated by them, or does your heart bleed for them?  Do you want to show them this 'marvelous light'?  Do you want to hold before them 'the word of life'?  People come together in fellowship in order that they might shine more brightly and show this evil generation to which they belong that there is a way of which they know nothing--the way of God, the way of Christ, the way of the life of God in the soul, the way of eternal salvation."

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity (Crossway, 2000) p 145.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

the quotable parsons

Burk & Amber Parsons
Twitter is my main social media venue because I can receive short (140 characters short) insights from a variety of people.  I have enjoyed reading the tweets of Burk Parsons, who is editor of Tabletalk magazine and serves as co-pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. He also has the distinction of being one of the founding members of the Backstreet Boys.  See Challies' interview with Parsons here.  

Here are a few recent tweets from the quotable @BurkParsons... 

"Theology is not simply the pursuit of knowledge about God, it's the pursuit of God himself."  

"Beware of those who teach theology without using the Bible."  

"We can't do theology without doing careful exegesis."  

"Pastors, if we focus on our sermon, our people get a sermon, but if we focus on Christ, our people get Christ."  

"Seeking first God's kingdom is the antidote to worrying about tomorrow because it means we're seeking his kingdom, not control over our own."  

"If you don't believe God is sovereign, you have every reason to worry about today."

"The Christian is one who lives in a constant state of sorrow and joy. Sorrow over sin and suffering.  Joy in God's gospel and grace."  

"I want to hate my sins more than I hate the sins of others who sin differently than I do."  

"We're living in a day when it seems many Christians are hating their enemies rather than praying for their enemies."  

"The question isn't whether you and your spouse ever argue in front of your kids but whether you repent and forgive in front of them as well."  

"Are we justified by works? Yes. Jesus' works, not ours."  

"If we live each day bearing the guilt and shame of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow we will never experience the joys of today."  

"Our hope isn't built on the constantly changing strength of our faith but on the eternal strength of the object of our faith, Jesus Christ."  

articles by alistair roberts

Oxford (UK) city skyline
I've recently enjoyed articles by Alistair Roberts in the U.K. and his insights into the state of evangelicalism in our country.  In the first article he describes the decline of the impact of evangelical scholarship, and in the second he describes the influence of what he calls "Manichaean social justice ideology."

"Currently we face another critical juncture in the development of the American public square and Christians’ place within it. An increasingly dominant secular liberalism antagonistic to orthodox Christian faith will only accelerate the process of squeezing evangelicals out of public life."

"Rather than adopting a gentle approach to navigating the differences between groups, seeking for ways for people with different values and beliefs to live together in peace, progressive liberalism pushes them into the fiercest of opposition."

Monday, November 7, 2016

we can know the incomprehensible God

"Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics. To be sure, the term 'mystery' in Scripture does not mean an abstract supernatural truth in the Roman Catholic sense. Yet Scripture is equally far removed from the idea that believers can grasp the revealed mysteries in a scientific sense. In truth, the knowledge that God has revealed of himself in nature and Scripture far surpasses human imagination and understanding. In that sense it is all mystery with which the science of dogmatics is concerned, for it does not deal with finite creatures, but from beginning to end looks past all creatures and focuses on the eternal and infinite One himself. From the very start of its labors, it faces the Incomprehensible One.

"All things are considered in the light of God, subsumed under him, traced back to him as the starting point.  Dogmatics is always called upon to ponder and describe God and God alone, whose glory is in creation and re-creation, in nature and grace, in the world and in the church.  It is the knowledge of him alone that dogmatics must put on display. 

"By pursuing this aim, dogmatics does not become a dry and academic exercise, without practical usefulness for life.  The more it reflects on God, the knowledge of whom is its only content, the more it will be moved to adoration and worship.  Only if it never forgets to think and speak about matters rather than about mere words, only if it remains a theology of facts and does not degenerate into a theology of rhetoric, only then is dogmatics as the scientific description of the knowledge of God also superlatively fruitful for life.  The knowledge of God-in-Christ, after all, is life itself...

"However little we know of God, even the faintest notion implies that he is a being who is infinitely exalted above every creature.  While Holy Scripture affirms this truth in the strongest terms, it nevertheless sets forth a doctrine of God that fully upholds his knowability.

"This knowledge does not arise from their own investigation and reflection, but is due to the fact that God on his part revealed himself to us in nature and history, in prophecy and miracle, by ordinary and by extraordinary means.  In Scripture, therefore, the knowability of God is never in doubt even for a moment.

"The purpose of God's revelation, according to Scripture, is precisely that human beings may know God and so receive eternal life..."

~ Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:29-30.

double imputation

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26 ESV)

"At the heart of the gospel is a double imputation. My sin is imputed to Jesus. His righteousness is imputed to me. And in this two-fold transaction we see that God -- who does not negotiate sin, who doesn't compromise his own integrity with our salvation, but rather punishes sin fully and really, after it has been imputed to Jesus -- retains his own righteousness, and so he is both just and the justifier, as the Apostle tells us here. So, my sin goes to Jesus; his righteousness comes to me, in the sight of God... This is the article upon which the church stands or falls."

~ R. C. Sproul, "The Protestant View of Justification" in the series, "Luther and the Reformation" 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

the responsibility of the church toward society

The following paragraphs are taken from the conclusion of an article by J. Gresham Machen, originally published in 1933 in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  Machen is addressing the relevance of the Christian message to American education early in the 20th century.  He answers the question of what responsibility the church has in working for the betterment of society... 

"The message will not be enforced by human authority or the pomp of numbers.  Yet some of you may hear it.  If you do hear it and heed it, you will possess riches greater than the riches of all the world.

"Do you think that if you heed the message you will be less successful students of political and social science; do you think that by becoming citizens of another world you will be come less fitted to solve this world's problems; do you think that acceptance of the Christian message will hinder political or social advance?  No, my friends, I will present to you a strange paradox but an assured truth--this world's problems can never be solved by those who make this world the object of their desires.  This world cannot ultimately be bettered if you think that this world is all.  To move the world, you must have a place to stand. 

"This, then is the answer that I give to the question before us.  The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age.  It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life--no, all the length of human history--is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it, a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth--no, all the wonders of the starry heavens--are as the dust of the street.

"An unpopular message it is--an impractical message, we are told.  But it is the message of the Christian church.  Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life." 

~ J. Gresham Machen, "The Responsibility of the Church in Our New Age" in Selected Shorter Writings (P&R Publishing, 2004) p. 376.