Just believe (4/4)

By drawing some conclusions from the amazing story of Abraham, I previously wrote that faith is relational. Believing in God without having a relationship with Him, means that you actually don’t really believe Him. Faith is relational, not just intellectual. Now, let’s move on to a second conclusion

My second point is this: justification is positional, but it needs to be ‘owned’ on a daily basis.

Again, this sounds weird, doesn’t it? God declares us righteous! It’s like a judge that puts down the hammer saying: ‘NOT GUILTY’. Our position with God is now right, simply because Jesus bore the punishment upon Himself.

But here’s the twist. By faith we also work out our salvation.

In another letter Paul says this. Philippians 2:12-13

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

When Adam and Eve sinned because they chose knowledge over relationship, they spiritually died (and eventually also physically). They had a choice and chose poorly. I will cover this more in Romans 5 next week. God wants to live with us and inside of us through His Spirit and through Jesus Christ that is possible again. When we believe and trust God, He immediately declares us right with Him. Our former sins, mistakes, whatever it is, are not held against us any longer. Yet, right standing is not only positional (I am OK with God) but also moral. When we continue to live and trust God, His grace comes by faith to transform us. It is as if that tree that was planted in the Garden of Eden is still in front of you every day of your life. God asks you the question every day: ‘What will you choose?’

That’s why Paul says that we work out our salvation. It’s not works! It’s allowing God’s grace to do what it needs to do in our lives! That is also the Gospel! Do you see now how a wrong idea of faith can lead into the wrong direction? If it is just an intellectual or head consent, it doesn’t involve necessarily trust. Trust is relational. It’s giving yourself, wholly, completely, without reservations.

That’s what Abraham did. He made mistakes along the way. Big mistakes sometimes. But God wasn’t looking at perfect performance as if it was all on Abraham’s works. It was based on his faith. Abraham grew in faith. He really matured and the ultimate act of obedience was to not withhold even his beloved son to God, fully convinced that God would either provide something else.

Abraham’s faith was in the promise that God would do what He really promised, no matter what his natural circumstances were. He didn’t have a bible like we have, but He knew God intimately!

Hebrews 11 is the hallmark of what faith is all about. The writer gives several examples of Old Testament faith heroes. What did he write about Abraham? Several things. Hebrews 11:19 says this: ‘…concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense’.

In simple English. Abraham received Isaac when his natural ability (and that of his wife) to procreate were already long gone. Since he received Isaac miraculously, he also believed that God could raise Isaac up if needed. As such, Abraham became the Father of faith.

Romans 4:17 says this:

‘I have made you (Abraham) a father of many nations in the presence of Him whom he believed – God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did…’

Abraham’s faith in God’s promise is a picture also of our faith in Christ when we trust in His grace that He really rose from the death. Only God can bring to life which is dead!

Owning your right-standing with God is NOT based on our good efforts. It’s based on allowing Him to shape us. It’s about submitting yourself to God, completely. And that is still a daily choice. When you woke up this morning, that tree – once planted in the Garden – was still there.

A famous rock singer of the rock band Meatloaf sang it like this: “What’s it gonna be boy…yes or no?” The song, not a Christian one, echoes a choice. We daily have a choice to really believe that we are right with God and live from that place, or not. What is it going to be?

And that brings me to my final point…

Justification by faith means that we can rest in His righteousness and live from that place.

Often, we believe that we are forgiven but act as if we still owe God something. You don’t owe God anything but your true worship. That’s it. Everything else flows from that place of rest.

Perhaps by now you all are wondering…

How can you work and at the same time rest? Working out your salvation and trusting God’s finished work in Jesus? Doesn’t that sound like a contradiction?

Simply put, rest does not mean ‘doing nothing’. Rather, it means that we look at ourselves as God sees us. Identity is key!! We need to know how God looks at as (He declared us righteous as if we never ate from the tree). And from that place we rest in the knowledge that if I allow Him, by faith, to transform me through grace, I will actually become the person God intended me to be in the first place.

Remember the story in the beginning? Mark Pearce received 123 million dollars on his banking account. Well guess what? God wants to deposit His righteousness on your banking account. All He wants for you is to receive that by faith and live from a place where you don’t need to work on yourself to be a better version of you. You can’t! God imputed Jesus’ righteousness into us. To impute means something like ‘putting it on our account’. This time it’s not 123 million dollars. It’s way more than that. It’s your eternal security and peace with God. You can’t earn it, so why don’t you rest in what has already been done for you?

The price has already been paid for. We minister – which is our Christian service –  from a place of being right with God. It compels us through grace by faith to become love. In our do-do-do and busy-busy culture that is so counter-cultural! Our gut-feeling says we need to do to become. Christ says: ‘I did it already, so you rest in Me’.

That’s why Christian parents can rest in the knowledge that God’s working in and through you to shape your child’s heart. It’s not all on you!

Christian leaders sometimes work so hard in ministry, because for some reason or another, they ‘feel they need to pay dues’ in the name of ministry, to be successful, recognized or perhaps even right with God. And sometimes in the process families are ‘sacrificed’ on the altar of ministry. How tragic! People overwork often just to feel better about themselves. Often, we overcommit to way too many appointments because we want to ‘feel useful’ and ‘with purpose’. In that busyness, do we really feel fulfilment and purpose, or does it drive out the voices of ‘uselessness’? I wonder sometimes…

That’s why you can rest in the midst of trials and difficulties, because you have a clean conscience. And if you stumble, you confess it and run to God (not away from Him) and declare His righteousness over you. God is still ok with you. He loves you! That’s a different place to live from than from guilt, shame and condemnation.

Jesus gave us a new record – His clean slate –  and took ours. When we believe that, He transforms us through grace (His gift) and by faith (our trust). Let me conclude with a story that illustrates our new position.

“During the Napoleonic Wars, men were conscripted into the French army by a lottery system. If your name was drawn, you had to go off to battle. But in the rare case that you could get someone else to take your place, you were exempt.

On one occasion the authorities came to a certain man and told him that his name had been drawn. But he refused to go, saying, “I was killed two years ago.” At first they questioned his sanity, but he insisted that this was in fact the case. He claimed that the records would show that he had been conscripted two years previously and that he had been killed in action. “How can that be?” they questioned. “You are alive now.” He explained that when his name came up, a close friend said to him, “You have a large family, but I’m not married and nobody is dependent on me. I’ll take your name and address and go in your place.” The records upheld the man’s claim. The case was referred to Napoleon himself, who decided that the country had no legal claim on that man. He was free because another man had died in his place.”

That’s why we can really have peace with God. We are really free. All God is asking now is to believe and trust Him. That is only possible when we commune with Him. Communion is about that. It involves intimacy. That’s why it’s so much more than just a ritual.

Right standing with God is His declaration over us: NOT GUILTY! At the same time, we continue walking in that identity on a daily basis. It’s called ‘working out our salvation’. Yet the working out is the faith we put in God’s working tool called grace that transforms our lives. That’s the Gospel. It transforms us…

Our faith journey ends here for now. Resting from a place of being right with God is the freest place on earth because it gives us peace and hope no matter what life throws at us. Isn’t that what this world is looking for? Peace and hope?

The Gospel is so relevant for us today in our every-day walk with Him and each other and I’ll unpack this more next week.