Summary: As Tillich said, to have faith in Jesus is to be "ultimately concerned" about Jesus.

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Romans 4:1-5


2392 words

1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

3 For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."

4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.

5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Harrington University has other names: the University of San Moritz, the University of Palmer’s Green, and the University of Devonshire. At Harrington, the campus is small; the class schedule is convenient (In fact, there are no classes at all), and a Ph.D. will only take you 27 days and a few thousand dollars to earn. No transcript from a previous institution is necessary. Instead, you get full credit for what Harrington calls “life experience.”

Harrington University is (or was, until it was shut down in 2003 by the authorities) a “diploma mill.” It was an online “university” selling bogus bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Rather than classrooms and a campus, Harrington University was the residence of an American living in Romania with mail drops in the United Kingdom, printing services in Jerusalem, and banking options in Cyprus. By 2002, some 70,000 Harrington-Palmer’s Green-Devonshire degrees had been “granted” to online applicants, earning the operator more than $100 million.

Using e-mail spam, online advertising and even print advertising in major US magazines, diploma mills like Harrington are a growing phenomenon in our wired world. As jobs become more scarce and competition for them more fierce, many people are turning to quick, albeit illegitimate, ways to pad their rèsumès without the cost or hassle of actually going to class.

A May 2004 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found 28 senior federal executives who claimed degrees from diploma mills, and 463 federal employees with bogus college degrees were hired or advanced in their jobs. Sham scholars with fake degrees have held jobs as sex-abuse counselors, college vice presidents, child psychologists, athletic coaches, engineers and even physicians. Counterfeit colleges and universities make it easier to pull off the rèsumè charade because they provide fake diplomas and transcripts that often seem legitimate.

With all this academic fakery going on, it is becoming harder for legitimate institutions to maintain their reputations, and it is also more dangerous for people in need of professional services.

Take the case of Marion Kolitwenzew, who found out her daughter was diabetic and took her to a specialist for treatment. He seemed like the real deal, with a wall full of diplomas and an office stocked with medical supplies. When Marion followed the “doctor’s” advice and took her daughter off insulin, the daughter quickly became violently ill and died. Later, the “doctor” was sentenced to 15 months in prison for manslaughter and practicing medicine without a license. His wall was adorned with counterfeit credentials.

How do so many people get away with this stuff? The answer is simple: No one seems to check them out, No one calls the references, No one asks for the paperwork. Thus, it can be fairly easy to fake who you are.

The church is not proof against this kind of fraud. A few years ago, right here in York, we had a minister in one of our local churches who did much the same. He had been in his denomination for several years and claimed to have a couple of degrees. No one actually investigated his resume until he became involved in some bitter strife in his church, and someone became angry enough to check up on him, and found that his degrees were fake.

By the way, I do not post diplomas on office walls, but if you want to go down to Erskine Theological Seminary and check on my degrees you are welcome to do so. But in church, the real problem is not fake diplomas, it is fake faith.

In Romans 4, Paul is using Abraham the Patriarch as a primary case in a study of God’s dealing with people. Abraham was a hard-driving businessman and a devoted man of God. If anyone had a rèsumè of solid credentials to “boast” about, says the Apostle Paul, it was Abraham. But it was not his righteous rèsumè that made Abraham a prime candidate for the job of Patriarch of the faith. “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God,” says Paul in verse 2.

In other words, even Abraham’s best work could not match the standard of holiness set by God. No human rèsumè is impressive enough. Earlier in Romans, Paul puts it more clearly: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Instead, it was faith itself that was Abraham’s one and only true rèsumè builder. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3).

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