Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saved by faith - but what does that mean?

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 

"Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."
(Rom 4:1~3)

God told Abraham he was going to have a son.

This was hard for Abraham to believe.
In fact, he struggled with it for quite a while.

There were several reasons for Abraham's doubt:

  1. He was already an old man;
  2. His wife was well past child-bearing age;
  3. God had originally made the promise two and a half decades earlier, and nothing Abraham had seen in all the years since indicated the promise was about to be fulfilled.

Abraham was no dummy.
The promise was completely illogical, biologically impossible, and if God was going to do it, why in the world wasn't it done already!

But there came a point when somehow Abraham got beyond all that. There came a moment when he must have sighed and bowed his head and said: "Okay. I believe You."

And God replied: "That's all I ask."

Scripture tells us that at that moment, Abraham was justified. That is, whatever his "real" situation, Abraham had become completely righteous in God's eyes.

Paul uses this Old Testament account to explain what happens "behind the scenes" to every person who receives salvation in Christ. 

In my case, the story ran: "Tim believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."

But just what was it I believed?  
I personally never heard a word about a son (and two girls later, I still haven't...). It was this:
  • God, You can't possibly know and love me personally. But You do. It's illogical, but I accept it. 
  • Lord, You can't really consider me to be perfectly righteous and completely without sin. But You do. It's impossible, but I believe You.
  • Father, I confess I am weak, selfish, foolish, and sinful. You promise to make me like Your Son. I don't see it, but I trust You will do it in Your time.

This is all God asks of us.
The fool (this word is used here literally, not offensively) thinks he has to be good enough for God to save.
The Christian knows she will never be good enough. But that's okay, because God has promised to take away her sin and give her eternal life if she just asks Him to and believes that He does.

Some will say that makes no sense.
It makes no sense? Well, maybe not. But that's what God said. And that's all He requires.

In fact, if you somehow could make yourself "good enough" for God, Scripture tells us it wouldn't please Him one bit. 
I imagine the Almighty sighing and shaking his head and saying, "Yes, that's all very nice. But it's not what I asked for. I asked you to trust in Me. Now, why don't you go back and start at the beginning."

Anyone who's ever taken a test understands this. You can write the most witty, brilliant and philosophically-advanced answer in the history of test-taking. But if the answer is "3", you're not getting any points at all.

If you look around you'll find hundreds of Christian pamphlets with "salvation prayers" in the back. And every week thousands of pastors give altar calls, offering to lead those who come in a prayer to be saved.

The words and phrasing are all a little different. Some are long and complex. Some are surprisingly simple. But when you strip away all the emotion, fluff and grammar, you get the same thing: "Lord, I believe."

God speaks.
I believe.
God is fully pleased.