20th Sunday after Pentecost
October 22, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Hebrews 11:1–2, 8-12 (NIV84)
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
Dear friends in Christ,
The bank promises to keep your money safe with them and to return your money to you, maybe with interest, when you request it. The email you received promises to send you a million dollars if you send them your bank account information. Which one of these promises do you trust, the bank or the email?
If you trust the email, you are almost guaranteed to have the money in your bank account stolen. Don’t have faith in an email promising something for nothing. If you trust the bank, your money will likely remain in the bank until you withdraw it. Of course, that has not always been the case. Banks can fail and lose your money too, though it is very unlikely.
Today we are discussing the Reformation principle that we are saved by faith alone. The first thing we need to define is faith itself. Faith is trust in a promise. One can have faith that the bank will keep your money safe or faith that an anonymous email sender will give you a million dollars. A driver can have faith that the bridge over the river will not collapse. Someone addicted to gambling can have faith that tonight is the night they are going to cover all their losses. People can have faith in all kinds of promises.
The amount of faith someone has in one of these promises does not make the promise come true. The promise is either true or it is not. The maker of the promise is who really matters. So while deciding where to invest your savings might be important, how to get to heaven is much more important. To be saved, faith must be in the right promises. Therefore, saving faith only looks to God’s promises and saving faith acts on God’s promises.
Faith Trusts God’s Promises
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
Hebrews 11 is sometimes called the chapter on the heroes of faith. The author of Hebrews tells us about many believers of the past who had faith in God’s promises. Today, we look at just one of these believers, Abraham.
When Abraham was 75 years old and still named Abram, God made these promises to him: I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3).
God promises Abraham many descendants so that they will be a great nation. Later in Genesis 12, God promises the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. And God promises a blessing not only for Abraham and his descendants, but for all peoples of the earth. This blessing for all peoples would be Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham.
Abraham trusted God’s promises even though he could not see how these things could happen. He was a stranger living in a strange land. Eventually he was able to buy a small patch of land as a burial plot for his family but otherwise he was just a visitor to Canaan. How could this land become the possession of his family? To complicate things more, he did not have any children. His wife, Sarah was barren with little hope of ever having a child. How could he become a great nation? And how could one of his descendants be the One God promised long ago to Adam and Eve, the One who would crush the head of the serpent? Abraham and Sarah were getting old and had no children.
Abraham could not understand the promises of God or how God could possible keep these promises but he considered God to be faithful and trusted God’s promises. In Genesis 15, God credits sinful Abraham with righteousness through faith alone. Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham is saved by being sure of what he hoped for and certain of what he did not see, saved through faith alone.
Some might take exception to the word alone, that Abraham was saved by faith alone. Didn’t Abraham do some great things? He generously gave his nephew Lot the choice of grazing land. Lot choose to live among the wicked people of Sodom. Lot and his family are carried off as plunder in a war. Abraham rescues them. Later, Abraham prayed for Lot and his family to be spared from God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham in generous, kind, compassionate and brave. If we are going to start counting his good qualities we should probably mention the other events God tells us about Abraham.
Not once, but twice Abraham says that Sarah is his sister instead of his wife so that kings would not kill Abraham. Both times these kings began to court Sarah to add her to their harem of wives. God intervened before anything happened, no thanks to Abraham. Women, would you say Abraham was a good husband? When Abraham and Sarah did not have a son even after God promised they would, Abraham went outside of God’s plan for marriage and slept with his wife’s servant. Ishmael was born. Yes, Sarah gave him permission but it was sin and it caused all kinds of trouble in the family. Abraham could not be saved if any part of his salvation depended on what he did. He was a self centered, cowardly, adulterer who had moments of doubting God’s promises.
What would God say about your life if your life was part of the Bible? At least Abraham did not have to read about himself because Moses wrote several centuries after Abraham. What would be recorded about you? That time when you were 9 years old or your senior year? That car trip or that time at school? The incident at home or the one at work? There are shameful things that could be told about every one of us, things we never want recorded for anyone to see. If anyone is going to heaven, it is not because of what we have done, not one bit. It has to be by faith alone.
Abraham trusted that he would be in heaven with God. He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. He could be sure of the heaven he could not see because God promised it. He could be sure that God would forgive him because God promised a Savior to defeat the devil’s power. Satan’s greatest power are temptation and accusation. Jesus defeated his temptations and Satan cannot accuse us of sin since Jesus has paid for our sin. Abraham was saved through faith in the Savior to be born. We are saved by faith in Jesus who was born to live and die for our salvation.
What a blessing we have to live after God kept his promise to Abraham. Jesus is a blessing to all people of every nation. We are still looking forward in faith to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. But was can be sure we will be in heaven because Jesus removed our sins and through faith we too are credited with righteousness. Abraham did not know the details but we can read them over and over in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with the letters of the New Testament.
Our faith is not a blind faith, meaning that we have no evidence to base our faith upon. We have the testimony of the eyewitnesses to Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Humanly speaking the New Testament has more manuscript copies than any other ancient document. We have an abundance of physical evidence to compare so that we can be certain of what Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James and Jude wrote. And spiritually speaking, the Bible is God’s Word. It is therefore all correct and all to be trusted. In the words of Scripture God makes and fulfills his promise of a Savior. Those who trust in him will be saved.
Faith Acts on God’s Promises
Martin Luther became concerned with the sale of indulgences when the common people began using them as a get out of hell (or purgatory) free card. Some thought an indulgence from the pope allowed them to go out and sin all they wanted. It was leading to immorality. Interestingly, when the Lutherans began teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ, the same accusation was made against them. “Doesn’t free grace give people a license to sin more and more? If people only have to believe, they won’t do any good works and society will descend into chaos.” I would agree.
If we say that we are saved by faith alone and follow that up with the thought that I am going to do whatever I want in my life instead of listening to the Lord, then we are misapplying faith alone. When someone trusts in God’s promises, it changes our life. Faith acts on God’s promises.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
Abraham had specific instructions to go even though the destination was not immediately revealed. God promised to bless him with land, a family and a Savior. Abraham packed up and went. He acted in line with his trust in God’s promises. God has not told us to pack up and move to a new country but he does give us instructions for living as his children in this world. In thanks we want to obey him too.
If your long long relative came to you with a gift of a million dollars (real, not an email scam), and then asked you if you would like some advice on how to use such a gift, would you turn them down? “No, I can handle this kind of money on my own.” That would be foolish. Our God has promised us the treasure of eternal life in the presence of God forever. He has given us his Son, who gave his precious blood to redeem us. The Holy Spirit created faith in us so that we are connected with God’s promise of salvation in Christ and are therefore saved. The wise and proper response is to ask the Lord how best to use his great gift of faith in Christ.
Since Christ has given us eternal life, our priorities in life will reflect that eternal destination. The way we use our time and money will reflect our trust in God’s promises to us. The way we use God’s name will reflect our love and thanks and trust that Jesus does everything for our good. The way we respect authorities and the way we help the poor and needy reflect our trust that God promises to provide for our physical and spiritual needs. Our outlook on life, our attitude during problems is different because we trust that Christ has a place in heaven prepared for us. Nothing on this earth will change what God has promised. Faith trusts the promises of God and acts on those promises.
I want to leave you with one warning today. Don’t have faith in your faith or encourage someone else to have faith in faith. It is easy and somewhat common for someone who is struggling or suffering to hear that they just need to trust God more. Just believe. Have faith, someone will say. Often this will lead the person to look inside themselves for faith and that is not where faith comes from. Faith comes from the Holy Spirit and through the means of grace. Faith comes from hearing God’s promises. Faith comes from hearing what Jesus has done for us. Faith comes from receiving Christ’s body and blood for forgiveness and new life. We are saved by faith in Christ alone. True and eternal comfort throughout life does not come from the size of your faith but from the faithfulness of your Savior, Jesus Christ.
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