By Grace Alone through Faith Alone
2nd Sunday in Lent
By Grace Alone through Faith Alone
Text: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
I was 15 years old. It was the summer after my freshman year of high school. My parents told me, “You need to get a job.” I thought I might as well apply at Subway. It was two blocks from my house and I loved the food at this newer restaurant. At the time, competition was a little fierce for jobs though. I remember bringing in my application and the owner was conducting a number of formal interviews. I was one of a bunch of applicants. But I was hired.
I started at the very bottom of the fast food chain that year. Just another employee. But over time they realized it wasn’t such a bad deal to have a pastor’s son who goes to a Christian high school working for you. So they trained me to work on the cash register. Then to take deposits to the bank. Then to work by myself at times opening the store and closing the store, which meant I had keys to the building. Then I became an assistant manager. Then I ran the entire Subway booth at the Wisconsin State Fair. At one point when I was in college, the owner, who owned nine Subways and three Taco Bells, asked me to be his regional manager with a full salary and a company car. But I told him I was studying to be a pastor and couldn’t.
Finally after 10 years of work I had to quit to go off to my vicar year at the Seminary. By that point I was a lead manager, I worked any time I wanted, and I made some pretty decent money for a fast food employee.
A lot of you have very similar stories. You started at the bottom and worked your way to the top. You started doing grunt work or hard labor at first but worked your way up the ladder. Some of you were in the military and worked your way up the rankings through the years. Some of you had nothing for many years but worked and saved and wound up able to have a nice retirement.
There are plenty of stories like this in the world around us. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak worked on Apple computers in their garage. Mark Cuban started broadcasting college sports over the internet when he was in college, later sold the company, and now the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and serial entrepreneur is worth billions. Robert Herjavec immigrated from Yugoslavia at the age of eight with one suitcase. Now he’s worth over $100 million and is an investor with Mark Cuban on TV’s Shark Tank.
This is the way the world works. You have to put your nose to the grindstone. Buckle down. Go the extra mile. Burn the candle at both ends. Work your way up the ladder and you’ll get there eventually. Put in your time, be patient, do your work and sooner or later you will get what you deserve. From the work world to investments to politics and everything in between, this is the way humans think so this is the way the world works.
But there is one huge problem with this. That’s not the way God works—at least not the way humans think he does. Do a search sometime on Google or in your favorite Bible app for how often God says, “I am holy.” You might be surprised how often God makes that clear in Scripture. The most famous time is in Leviticus where God says, “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” If you want to earn God’s favor, then you need to be holy like God.
For some reason, we humans seem to think it is easier than that though. We seem to think it’s much easier to earn God’s favor, almost as if we are earning a promotion at work. Have you ever noticed the way most people talk about spiritual things? It’s very subtle, but it’s all over in our conversations.
If you ask most people in the United States where they will go when they die, what do you think they will say? Most people will definitely say, “Heaven.” Then ask them why they think they will go to heaven. Most will follow up by saying, “Because I’m a pretty good person.” They think because they haven’t been too bad they will win a spot in heaven.
We hear this especially at funerals. People say all kinds of things like, “Heaven got a good one.” “There was hardly a nicer person.” “She really deserves that eternal rest.” “Another angel went to heaven.” Those are really just different ways of saying, “This person earned and deserved heaven.”
I’ve had people say to me, “Pray for me pastor, because you have a closer connection to God,” as if because of my job God likes me more. I’ve heard people say, “That criminal should never go to heaven,” as if they would because they haven’t broken as many laws. And one of the most common beliefs I hear from Christians today is, “If only I trust in God and I walk in his paths, then definitely I will go to heaven.” Even that is a little heavy on the “me” emphasis. And yes even Lutherans join the arrogance party when we say things like, “Well I would never think like that. Thank God I know more about the Bible than other Christians.”
This is how human beings think. We think we can earn just about everything in life, from money to promotions to a few extra blessings from God to eternal life itself—we love to think it depends on “me.”
There’s a reason for this. My sinful nature, the sinful part of my being that I’m born with, is obsessed with “me.” It thinks I’m most important. It thinks I can achieve anything I put my mind to. My sinful nature even thinks it isn’t really that sinful.
But go back to what God says about himself in the Bible. Peter once quoted that famous verse from Leviticus and said this, “Be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” Just like God himself is holy, we need to be holy.
We must understand how impossible that is! No bad words. No anger. No jealousy. No greed. No lust. No sin. Not ever. I couldn’t even make it five minutes trying to be holy. I’m anything but holy. If this is a world where you get what you deserve and earn what you work for, then I must understand that my sin has earned nothing but God’s anger and punishment.
The world has struggled with this concept for ages. The Roman Christians were certainly included in that. So Paul wrote them the letter we know as Romans to clearly tell them that we cannot earn God’s favor or our own salvation.
In chapter four, Paul uses an illustration from the story of Abraham that we heard today. Here’s what he says, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about.” You heard what God told Abraham—that he would become a great nation with many descendants, that his name would be great, and that all people would be blessed through him. If Abraham worked hard and climbed up the ladder and earned those blessings, then he would certainly have something to boast about.
But Paul adds at the end of verse 2, “But not before God.” Even Abraham, a great man of faith, was sinful—so sinful that he earned and deserved none of those blessings. He had nothing to boast about before God. Instead, “What does Scripture say, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'” Abraham didn’t do anything. He simply believed God and trusted his promises, and God credited it to him as if he had done something righteous. This is what our gracious God does. He gives us blessings, he forgives us, he gives us heaven not because we have earned or deserved them, but only by his grace. We simply believe and trust those promises then.
Paul uses an illustration that we are familiar with in verse 4: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.” When I worked at Subway, it would have been insulting for the owner to pay me and then call it a gift. Or it would have been insulting for him to say I became a manager because he was such a nice guy. I earned that money. I worked my way up the ladder. He was obligated to pay me for my time and he was obligated to reward the time I had put in.
Paul’s point is that God doesn’t operate that way. Because we are sinful and not holy, the blessings we receive from God are not earned by our works. They are received by faith. Verse 5: “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
This is the incredible grace of God. Righteousness is not something you earn from God. Righteousness is something God gives to you. That’s why it’s called grace. Grace is God’s undeserved love. And that grace of God is given to you simply through faith. The work of Jesus Christ living and dying for you is credited to your account by faith, not by works. So we can say purely and simply that we are saved By Grace Alone through Faith Alone.
Thus, Paul concludes about Abraham in verse 13: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” The blessings that Abraham received were promises from God. The coming Savior through his family was a promise from God. That means Abraham was counted as righteous before God only because of his faith.
Just think if the opposite were true. Think if we did need to earn God’s grace. Look at the next two verses: “For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.”
If it were true that we needed to do works to earn God’s grace and become heirs to eternal life, then we would be wasting our time here. You would really need to find a different kind of church or a completely different religion because the faith and trust we talk about would have no value. Why have faith in God’s grace if you need to earn God’s grace?
But that is not the case Paul says. God does have laws. We do have transgressions and sins against those laws. That means we can’t earn God’s grace, and we would be lost without God’s grace.
So Paul concludes in verse 16: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law (the Jews) but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” Because we are not holy like God and because we have sinned, the promises God makes to us of forgiveness and eternal life must be by faith, not works. And because it is by faith alone, that means it is also by God’s grace alone. We today are considered to be children of Abraham because, like Abraham, we have faith in God’s promises of grace.
“As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” God called Abraham a great nation when he was not. God said Abraham would have many descendants when his wife couldn’t even have children. But Abraham believed God’s promises by faith. God calls us righteous even though we are sinners. God says we will go to heaven even though we deserve hell. But like Abraham, we believe God’s promises by faith.
It must have been mind-boggling to be Abraham. To have God come to you and tell you to pack up and leave everything, that you would become a great patriarch, and that your barren wife was going to have a child—what do you even say to that? Amazingly, Abraham didn’t say anything, he just believed that God was that gracious, and God gave it all to him by faith.
We could really say the same. It is mind-boggling to be a Christian. How could it be that all my sins are forgiven? Why would God forgive all my sins? Why would I go to heaven? What do I even say to that?
Amazingly, we don’t need to say or do anything. We just believe that God has given to us forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ because he is that gracious, and he gave it to us all by faith. We don’t deserve it. We don’t understand it. But we do rejoice in it. It’s what Paul and Christians and especially Lutherans have been celebrating for ages—the greatest news of all: We are saved By Grace Alone, through Faith Alone.
Christ the King Lutheran Church and School is a Christian church and Christian school / private school located in Palm Coast, FL.
Christ the King Church and School
5625 N. US HWY 1
Palm Coast, FL 32164
Posted on March 17, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged Abraham, Abram, Believe, By Faith Alone, By Grace Alone, Church, Credited, Faith, Grace, Luther, Lutheran, Righteousness, Romans, Romans 4, Sermons, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Trust, Work Righteousness, Works. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.