For hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, "faith" has been (a) one word of a group of words commonly confined to religious vocabularies and (b) a religious concept that should be used only in religious contexts. For example, if you or I use the word "faith" we automatically assume we are in a religious discussion. Today, how often do you use the word "faith" in a discussion that is not religious?

There was a time within my lifetime in this society when the word "faith" served a dual role. When the word "faith" occurred in a conversion, it might be a religious discussion, but it might not be a religious discussion. "That is one person you can place your faith in!" "This is a 'good faith' agreement." "He (she) is faithful to do what he (she) says."

At that time the word "faith" was both an important religious word and practical word. Yet, even then, commonly the religious concept and the practical concept were disconnected. You were either talking religion or you were talking business. In business, you were talking about trust. In religion you were talking about salvation.

Yet the basic concept in business or religion was the same--genuine trust or absolute confidence. The primary difference did not have to do with the concept. The primary difference concerned those bound by trust. If business was discussed, the bond of trust was between a human and a human. If religion was discussed, the bond of trust was between a human and God.

  1. First, I want to clearly narrow the focus of my thoughts tonight.
    1. I am specifically talking about a person who belongs to God, who has a relationship with God, who is accepted by God because he or she is in Christ.
    2. Both two scriptures I use tonight are based on situations in which the person or persons were God's people.
      1. The first scripture is about Abraham long after Abraham began following God's instructions.
      2. The second scripture is an illustration Paul used to expand the understanding of the Christians in Rome.

  2. I want to begin with an incident in Abraham's life found in Genesis 15.
    1. Before Genesis 15, Abraham obeyed God in ways that impress us.
      1. He left Ur, a center of civilization, to travel to Haran with his extended family.
      2. He left a world of idolatry to follow the God he recently met.
      3. Then, when his father died, he left Haran and his extended family to be a nomad in a dangerous area.
      4. When his livestock and Lot's livestock together were too large for the water and food supply, he gave Lot first choice of areas to go, and he (Abraham) went the other direction.
      5. When Lot, his family, and his possessions were captured in a war, Abraham rescued Lot.
      6. All of this happened because Abraham trusted God.
      7. As I focus you on a statement that declared God's attitude toward Abraham, keep your thinking focused on two facts.
        1. Fact one: Abraham followed God--he was God's man.
        2. Fact two: as God's follower, Abraham was very obedient.
    2. God appeared to Abraham after Abraham rescued Lot (Genesis 15:1-6)
      1. I will use my own words to state the conversation--read the text and make certain what I share accurately reflects scripture.
      2. God said, "Abraham, do not be afraid. I will protect you and reward you."
      3. Abraham said, "How can that happen? How can you reward me?"
        1. "The rewards you promised me depend on me having a son."
        2. "A slave will have to be my heir because I have no son."
      4. God said, "That will not happen. A slave will not be your heir."
        1. "You will have a son, a son truly from you."
        2. "From that son will come so many descendants that it will be as impossible to count them as it is for you to count the stars."
      5. Then this statement occurs in verse 6:
        Genesis 15:6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
        1. God said it, and Abraham trusted what God said.
        2. God promised it, and Abraham trusted God's promise.
        3. Why did Abraham trust? Because God said it.
        4. Was Sarah pregnant? No.
        5. Was the son to be born within the next year. No.
        6. Was Sarah young enough to have a reasonable hope of getting pregnant? No.
        7. Abraham trusted God's statement simply because God said it.
      6. Notice something extremely important.
        1. God did not reckon Abraham to be a righteous man because of one or all of Abraham's remarkable acts of obedience.
        2. God attributed righteousness to Abraham because the obedient Abraham trusted God.
        3. Did Abraham, the man who followed God, obey God? Yes.
        4. Was his obedience necessary? Yes.
        5. Did God attribute righteousness to him because of his acts of obedience? No.
        6. God accepted him as righteous because the obedient Abraham trusted God.

  3. Thousands of years later after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, Paul used this exact incident to explain a crucial understanding to Christians in Rome.
    1. Paul's specific statement we will examine is Romans 4:1-8.
    2. Before we focus on that statement, we need to establish some context.
      1. In the first two and a half chapters of this letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul emphasized the fact that everyone needs what God did in Jesus Christ.
        1. God's power revealed in what God accomplished in Jesus' death and resurrection is the only hope anyone has for salvation (1:16, 17).
        2. That good news is God's power to save.
        3. That good news reveals how God uses faith to make people righteous.
      2. Why does everyone need to understand that God uses faith in His accomplishments in Jesus' death and resurrection to make people righteous?
        1. Guilt--everyone has guilt they cannot escape.
        2. The only way to escape guilt is to trust what God did in the cross and resurrection.
        3. Only that trust allowed people who do not know God to escape their guilt.
        4. Only that trust allowed the people who knew God best (the Jews) to escape their guilt.
      3. What is so special about what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection? (Romans 3:21-31).
        1. God established a means of making people righteous that was based on trusting God's accomplishments in Jesus' death and resurrection.
        2. Everybody needs this means of being righteous because everybody is a sinner.
        3. God gave us all a gift, the gift called grace, by justifying us in the redemption in Christ.
        4. God paid our debt; He paid for our sins; He did it with Jesus.
        5. But the only way we can benefit from the things God accomplished in Jesus' death and resurrection is to trust what He did.
    3. Jewish Christians in Rome had a real problem with Paul's declaration.
      1. First, there was no way they were condemned by guilt just as were those people who did not know God.
      2. Second, two things made them different.
        1. They had the right ancestors.
        2. Long ago they received God's law.
      3. Third, God did not work like Paul said He worked.
        1. Paul misunderstood God.
        2. God would never base salvation on trust.
    4. Now pay close attention to what Paul said in Romans 4:1-8.
      1. Paul said, "I am not telling you that God has a new way of working with people to make them righteous."
        1. "I am telling you God is doing what He always did."
        2. "God always made people righteous on the basis of their trust in Him."
      2. Paul asked these Christians to think and to remember.
        1. First, if Abraham was righteous because of his obedient acts, God owed Abraham.
          1. Abraham had bragging rights because of what he did.
          2. Abraham had himself to thank for his righteousness.
        2. Second, Paul reminded them that God credited Abraham with righteousness because Abraham trusted God.
      3. Paul emphasized trust (faith) is the way God has always made people righteous.
        1. That is the way God made Abraham righteous.
        2. Hundreds of years after Abraham died, King David verified that is the way God works when David wrote:
          1. Blessed is the person whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
          2. Blessed is the person whose sins have been covered (by God),
          3. Blessed is the person whose sin God will not take into account.
        3. When a person places his or her trust in what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection, God forgives that person's sins instead of holding him or her accountable for those sins.
        4. That is the way God functions in making people righteous.
        5. That is the way God always functioned in making people righteous.

  4. It is essential for us Christians to focus on Paul's point.
    1. We want to take the focus off of us, and put the focus on the person who has not yet become Christian.
      1. Paul spoke to people who were Christians.
      2. Basically, Paul asked Christians, "What do you trust? Where do you place your confidence?"
      3. The powerful temptation for Christians is to place salvation trust in something besides God's accomplishments in Jesus' death and resurrection.
        1. Jewish Christians were tempted to trust their ancestry.
        2. Jewish Christians were tempted to trust their obedience, their works.
        3. Jewish Christians were tempted to trust their past.
      4. We have the same problem.
        1. Do you know who my family is? What my roots are?
        2. Do you know what my family and I have done for the church?
        3. Do you know how many generations my family has been in the church?
    2. There is a powerful temptation to reduce salvation to a system that measures faithfulness by human deeds instead of the depth of a Christian's trust in God.
      1. We make a check list of what a Christian is supposed to do, and our confidence is placed in our check marks.
      2. We declare ourselves righteous if we have the right number of check marks.
      3. God considers us to be righteous when we trust Him.

Will a person who trusts God obey God? Absolutely! Abraham did. King David did. But as remarkable as the obedience of Abraham and David was, their confidence was in God, not in their obedience.

Place your confidence in God, not in yourself. My salvation exists because of what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection, not in anything that I have done. The trust God values is centered in trusting what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection, not in trusting my obedience.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 10 March 2002

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