Just believe (1/4)

What would you do if you woke up one morning to find out millions of dollars that obviously don’t belong to you were deposited on your bank account?

Seriously, what would you do?

Go off on a spending spree? Trip around the world? Buy your long-desired own home?

Sounds like a fairy tale, right?

Melbournian resident Matthew Pearce was totally flabbergasted when one morning he opened his banking app only to find out that someone had accidently deposited $123 million dollars. He called his bank manager in total unbelief and the manager obviously replied that it was a glitch in the system.

Isn’t this our default reaction when we receive something that big? It’s too good to be true.

I guess that ‘justification by faith’ is something similar to many people. It literally hinges on a fairy tale. Too good to be true. There must be a string attached. A catch. Small letters in the insurance policy with a zillion of exclusions and exceptions to the rule…

But that is what the gospel, the good news of salvation, is really about. People are saved by grace through faith. When we come to terms with who we really are, RE-pent (turn from our way of living and thinking) and start trusting God, which goes beyond a merely intellectual consent, by faith, God transforms us from the inside out to become more like Jesus Christ. By grace through faith. It’s so simple…and still profound. The Good News transforms us. It is transformational and not just beneficial as it is often communicated.

Last time we looked at what justification means, this time we look at the second part of the term ‘justification BY FAITH’. What is faith really?

We go back over 4000 years in time…

The man I will talk about today has influenced three world religions being Christianity, Islam and Judaism, so it is safe to say that his life made quite an impact. Abraham is called the first man of faith in the Bible. Let me to retell the story briefly to make some points.

In Genesis 12:1-3 the Lord spoke to Abram saying this:

“Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So, Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him…

75 years old! His dad had just passed away. Abram saw himself on a defining point of his life. Father dead. Brother also dead. He was taking care of his nephew Lot and now, out of nowhere a ‘God’ called him to move on!

I remember the moment that we knew that we knew that the next step for our family was going to Australia. And I was 40, not 75! Big difference! God called Abram who was already advanced, not old, but certainly advanced in age to on a journey with Him. No GPS, map, road signs. Nothing! Just a commandment ‘GO’ and a promise ‘I will make you into a great nation’. That was it…

Just imagine you were Abram? How often would we ask God for some more signs or confirmations just to make sure we are in God’s will for our lives? Isn’t that the spiritual thing to do?

75 years and off he went. With his 65-year-old wife Sarai they went on a journey from Haran, which is situated somewhere in modern-day Syria, going further down south. They walked and walked until they crossed the land of Canaan. Then the Lord again appeared to Abram confirming that the land they were now going through would be the place for Abram’s descendants.

So, Abram had a promise of becoming a great nation of many peoples through his lineage and now he also knew the place which was called Canaan. God was already multiplying Abram’s wealth and gradually he unveiled his plan. Abram’s reaction was an attitude of worship. Here he started calling on the name of the Lord (Genesis 12:8).

Still, I can imagine Abram now thinking: ‘Great, we made it! Now God, bring it on, because both Sarai and I are not the youngest anymore…’ But no, just silence! Not a word…Just a promise and a future place…that was it.

Some time passed by and the first obstacle appeared on the road. Famine in the land of Canaan!

What to do? Well, staying in Canaan could become an issue, so Abram and Sarai decided to go even further south to Egypt to find food. What is it with people going south to Egypt to find food? His grandson Jacob (actually his kids) also walked the same route to Egypt, looking for food…

Abram and Sarai found food, but they also ran into some major problems. As soon as they arrived in Egypt Abram got really strategic about his family. He looked at Sarai, not the youngest anymore, but still an attractive woman…They were married, but perhaps someone would get some ideas? What to do? He figured it out! After all, they shared one parent (not two). Sarai was actually his half-sister. That’s the solution! Abram would go with that…

You see? Abram’s faith was not very present in this decision. A half-lie. Or call it a half-truth…you decide. Aren’t we all tempted at times to tweak truth a bit? It’s easy for us to look with hindsight to Abram’s story and think that he’s such a dummy. How often we are faced with our ‘famine’ only to come up with a solution that is worse than the problem?

Anyhow, when you think something could go wrong, it usually…goes wrong. Today we call that also Murphy’s Law!

Of all people in Egypt the most important person in the land, the pharaoh, heard of the arrival of Abram and…Sarai and even though Sarai wasn’t the youngest anymore, she still was very, very pretty.

But God intervened! The house of pharaoh was struck with severe plagues. It didn’t just happen in the time of Moses. It already happened with Abram.

It’s understandable that pharaoh complained about Abram’s lie.

‘Why didn’t you say so, Abram?’ Pharaoh complained?

‘How could you do this to us?’ he continued…

I don’t know about you, but when you read the story of Abram, it doesn’t sound like a great hero of faith to me, does it? The interesting point is also that Abram didn’t obey in this not just once. In another occasion he used the same excuse of Sarai being his sister again (Genesis 20). As if the disasters in Egypt were not enough already?

Abram left Egypt for Canaan with Sarai and nephew Lot. As time passed by, they all prospered with life-stock and possessions, just as God promised them. They would indeed be blessed. The story continues with Lot and Abram parting ways. Disputes over land for their animals became an issue. Abram gave Lot the first choice, something very strange actually, because Abram was the uncle, the older person. Nevertheless, Lot got the first choice. And he made a poor decision. He chose the obvious part of land that looked beautiful, but it would become a huge problem later on in life. Lot chose the area of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Sometimes the most ‘obvious choice’ isn’t always the best one. Especially when human reasoning is your only reference point. Nephew Lot made a poor choice, just as his uncle made a poor choice in trying to save his life by telling a half-truth to the pharaoh.

Lot paid the price soon after when several kings went to war against Sodom and Gomorrah and they won. Many people, including Lot and his family, were taken captive. This news came to Abram and now, having prospered greatly, he already had a band of brothers surrounding him. Abram now took the road of courage instead of cowardice and came to the rescue of Lot and his family. He waged war against the conquerors and won. Here you see that Abram was making some progress.

Faith is still ‘work in progress’. That’s why Paul says in Romans 1:17 it is ‘from faith to faith’. When I look back in my faith journey, I am not the same person anymore. It’s not just the ‘what’ of faith or the content of what I believe in, that has matured so much over 25 years. Also, the ‘who’ of faith or the relationship with God – the person in whom you put your trust – that changed so much over time. It’s not that stumbling and falling wasn’t part of that. It certainly was.

What is so important to understand is that the starting point is knowing that you know, that you know (in other words, it goes beyond mere head knowledge) that God has forgiven you and that you are in right-standing with Him. The Bible calls it justification. The job is done. Faith builds on that foundation. I will come to that later still so just bear with me for now with this thought.