Summary: The foundation of having a relationship with God - is it based on doing, or based on believing?
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 DOING VS. BELIEVING
Have you ever bought something that needed to be put together, and it came with the wrong set of directions? Somehow, somewhere, someone put the wrong set of directions into that box. But you don’t know that. You open up the box – maybe it’s a piece of equipment, or a piece of furniture. You put all the parts onto the floor. And then you look at the directions.
Some of the parts don’t match. The picture isn’t exactly what it’s supposed to be. But you work hard at it. “It must be me,” you say to yourself. You work hard, and when you get done, it’s just not right. There are some leftover parts. You did the best you could, but the problem was, the box came with the wrong set of directions.
Did you know that people are born with the wrong set of directions? We are all born with a “How to please God” set of directions. “How to be on the same page as God.” “How to be right with God.” Each one of us is born with an idea of what it takes to have a relationship with God. That was our original design, our original purpose for existence – to have a relationship with God. You weren’t designed to ignore God, to work, eat, sleep, and that’s it. There’s an emptiness there, in that way of life. So where do you begin?
That set of directions you were born with sounds good, but isn’t accurate. Here’s basically how it goes:
Step 1) Acknowledge that there is a God. Do most people do that? Yes. It’s built into us.
Step 2) Realize that you are accountable to God, that someday you’ll have to account to God for all of your actions in some sort of an afterlife. Do most people believe that? To some degree, most people believe in some sort of an afterlife, and that eventually, you’ll have to answer to God for the way you’ve lived your life.
Step 3) Work hard at making God happy while you’re here. Do most people believe that? Sure. Working hard to be a good employee, good parent, good citizen, etc. Work hard, and make God happy.
Step 4) The harder you work at being good, the more happy God will be with you. Do most people believe that? Sure.
Those four steps are all programmed into us from the moment we are conceived. And you can see evidence of those directions everywhere. All the non-Christian religions follow those four steps. Do you have any friends or relatives who don’t believe in Christ yet? Isn’t that what they’re basically doing, working hard to be good? Even Christians buy into these ideas. If you were to stand outside a Christian church in LaPorte and ask them what they believe, many would say, “If I work hard at being good, God will bless me.” This is the program in our heads that we’re born with.
The thing is, it doesn’t work. You can work hard at being good, but if you’re honest with yourself, then you know that something is wrong: “I’m trying to be good, but I still don’t feel at peace with God. Am I good enough or not? I don’t know. I don’t feel content. I don’t feel complete or whole. Here I am, trying to be good, and I still feel empty.”
In Romans, the Apostle Paul tells you that there is a better way to be right with God. It goes against everything you’re born with. It goes against all your natural instincts. And it goes against everything you see everyone else doing. It’s God’s way, and the only way, that will take away your emptiness and give you peace and comfort and hope. What is it? Today, the Apostle Paul is going to tell us how this works.
Abraham is his example. Abraham lived thousands of years before Christ, and he was a pagan, probably, when the true God interrupted his life, as we saw in our Old Testament lesson for today. There he told Abraham: “Even though you’re old and retired, pack up everything and move to a far away place that I will show you. I promise you, Abraham, that you’ll become a great nation, and from you will come someone who will bless the world.” Of course, there, God is talking about Jesus. So Abraham believed God’s promises, packed up his whole life, and moved. And that was the beginning of a friendship that grew between Abraham and God.
And the foundation of that friendship wasn’t based on Abraham working hard to be good. Look at verse 2: “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God.” If it was all about Abraham, then Abraham had a lot to brag about. He did leave his comfortable life and go where God told him. But that friendship between God and Abraham wasn’t based on that. Here’s what it was all about: Verse 3: “What does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” When Abraham believed those awesome promises of God, then God did something for Abraham. He credited righteousness to Abraham’s account. Abraham didn’t deserve that. But God, in his grace, took pleasure in seeing Abraham’s faith, and gave righteousness to Abraham as a gift.