When Sunny and I were first married, we had a bill that came due that was beyond our ability to pay. I was fresh out of college, working as a youth minister for a church in east Tennessee and Sunny had just finished her student teaching and she was trying to find a full-time teaching job. So money was a little tight. But this bill came in and we simply couldn’t pay it. If you’ve ever been there before, you know the kind of insecure feeling that comes when you can’t pay your bills.
Luckily, we were able to lean on Sunny’s grandparents. They loaned us a little money and we were able to take care of the bill. And a few months later, we were able to pay them back.
That’s a pretty simple story. Nothing particularly extraordinary about it. But in so many ways, it helps us understand the cross of Christ. As we’ve said repeatedly throughout this series, we find ourselves deeply in debt because of our sin. The Bible says there is a wage associated with sin; the payout is death (Romans 6:23). We simply cannot pay off the debt we’ve incurred. But through the cross, God makes a transaction on our behalf. He credits something to our account, just as Sunny’s grandparents graciously covered our debt so many years ago.
But there is a significant difference in my story and the Gospel story. Whereas we eventually paid back Sunny’s grandparents for their generosity, there’s no paying back God for the cost of our salvation. No matter how hard we try, we can never pay back what we owe.
God knows this — and yet, He chooses to pay the price anyway.
This is our focus this week as we continue our series on the cross. For the past few months, we have been looking at what Jesus did for us on the cross. And now we pivot toward what happens when we trust in this work. The Scriptures have much to say about this.
There is a bold proclamation we find throughout the Bible: God justifies us by grace through faith.
Romans 3:28, For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. It is our faith in God that leads to right-standing before God, not our works according to the law. If you can work hard enough to pay something back, it’s not grace. A loan, yes; but not grace.
Ephesians 2:8, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. The grace of God is freely given, not earned.
But the real question is how? How does all of this work?
In Romans 4, Paul gives an explanation:
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 — but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.Romans 4:1-9
This is one of the most significant explanations of the gospel that you find in the New Testament. Paul began his letter to the Christians in Rome by stating: For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith,” (Romans 1:17, quoting Habakkuk 2:4). He says that the gospel is about God declaring us to be righteous not because of our works but because of our faith. And in Romans 4, Paul explains this concept more fully.
God called Abraham to walk by faith. Abraham is known as the father of faith because God called him to leave the land of his forefathers and to journey to an unknown land. And Abraham trusted God, trusted in the promises God made to him. But he set out not really knowing where he was going. And that’s what makes Abraham the “father of faith” for us. God calls each of us to follow His lead, to trust Him to guide us along the path. But many times, like Abraham, we don’t know exactly where that path might be leading us.
Can you imagine the day Abraham came home and told Sarah what God had been saying to him?
Abraham: “Honey, I think we need to move.”
Sarah: “Move? Move where?”
Abraham: “I don’t really know yet. God just told me we need to move.”
Sarah: “God told you we need to move?”
Abraham: “That’s right. A voice came to me and said He was God and He said we need to leave our families behind and that He would show us where to go.”
Sarah: “So … you’re hearing voices?”
Abraham: “Yes. Well, one voice.”
Sarah: “And this voice says we need to leave our families behind and move somewhere else, but He didn’t tell you where we need to go?”
Abraham: “That’s right.”
Sarah: “You’ll do anything to keep from being around my mother, won’t you?”
You know, Abraham and Sarah weren’t characters in some story. They were real people with real families living in a real place. So think about how that conversation went down. God places a call on Abraham’s life — a pretty radical call, if you ask me — and Abraham responds in faith. Abraham trusts God.
And that trust is demonstrated in action.
I’m afraid the word “faith” doesn’t carry the same weight for us today as it did in biblical times. We often equate “faith” with “belief.” And beliefs are understood as something internal; a set of principles to which I have mentally assented, something I’ve studied and determined to be true.
But biblical faith takes this a step further. Biblical faith certainly involves the element of belief as we understand it, but it also joins that belief with concrete action. That’s why the word trust is so important. Not only did Abraham believe God — internally, with his mind and with his heart — but that belief manifests itself in a radical act of trust when he actually starts following God. Abraham trusted God when he packed up all his earthly possessions and set out for who-knows-where. That’s an incredible act of trust — to trust God enough to obey Him.
Do you trust God enough to obey Him?