Summary: In our passages we see that 1. Our Spiritual Journey starts with GRACE 2. Our Spiritual Journey continues through FAITH 3. Our Spiritual Journey continues in a WALK OF PROGRESSIVE HOLINESS

Scripture: Romans 4:1-5; 13-17; Genesis 12:1-4; John 3:1-17

Psalms 121 (Call to Worship)

Title: Grace, Faith and the Walk of Holiness

In our passages we see that 1. Our Spiritual Journey starts with GRACE 2. Our Spiritual Journey continues through FAITH 3. Our Spiritual Journey continues in a WALK OF PROGRESSIVE HOLINESS


Grace and peace from God our Father and from His Son Jesus Christ who came to take away the sin of the world.

As you can quickly surmise, all of our passages this morning center on what it means to have a corporate and personal relationship with the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY? From these passages we should be able to answer some of the following questions:

+ How does one begin a relationship or a covenant with the LORD?

+What is required to have an intimate and growing relationship with our LORD?

+What does having a relationship with LORD accomplish in our lives and how we then live out our lives here on earth?

These are just some of the questions that the Apostle Paul was doing his best to answer in his letter to the congregations in Rome. These are some of the questions that Nicodemus wanted Jesus to answer that night long ago when he came to talk to Jesus. They are good questions for us to look at this 2nd Sunday of Lent. These questions and their answers allow us to better understand the true nature of salvation and what is called genuine humanness and the life abundant and eternal. These questions and their answers remind us that justification, regeneration and sanctification all are gifts from our Heavenly Father and are not attained through personal achievement, self-disciple or through a series of good works.

This morning, let's delve into these passages (especially Romans 4:1-17) and see the riches the LORD wants to share with us.

I. Our spiritual journey begins with God's Grace

Mankind's rescue and salvation story starts back in the Garden of Eden immediately following the Fall but this morning our Old Testament passage takes us to the 12th chapter of Genesis where we the story of the life of Abraham begins.

The first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis is a compendium of stories about man's progressive slide towards wickedness that followed the Lord's wonderful gift of creation. Humanity seems to be on a freefall towards a state of compete degradation and disintegration. We start with the story of Adam and Eve's rebellion (Gen. 3), we go on to the story of Cain killing of Abel (Gen. 4), and then find ourselves in a world enslaved in sin ( 5-9) which leads of course to the divine judgment of the Great Flood. Given a fresh start we might expect the remaining two chapters to show us man's improvement but instead we see another series of declines that leads to the Lord confusing the languages so that man will not destroy himself and/or the world (10-11).

It is into all of this chaos, degradation and wickedness that our story begins to takes a pivotal turn in chapter 12. Beginning with our Old Testament passage (12:1-4) the Biblical story goes from dealing with all of man's brokenness to a story of sharing the Good News - the story of how God is going to bring about rescue, salvation and restoration. Starting in chapter 12 we see the story of man's salvation which we must be careful to point out - begins not with us but with our LORD. It is God's initiative that begins our story of salvation.

Without much fanfare and rather shockingly, the LORD calls a particular individual named Abram and his family to have faith in Him and obediently follow His leadership. Over the next 13 chapters (Genesis 12 - 25), our writer shares with how this Abram begins to take on a new identity and a new name as he transforms into of one of Israel's greatest patriarchs of faithfulness and obedience. Now, let's take a moment and look at this man a little closer:

+Abraham is from the line of Shem (Noah's oldest son). Shem is a man whom many Jewish scholars believed later went by the name Melchizedek.

+ Abraham family were natives of the city of Ur in the land of the Chaldeans. The ancient city of Ur was located very close to ancient Babylon which was a hot bed of false gods and idolatry.

+ Joshua 24:2-3 shares with us that Abraham's family worshipped these false gods. Like so many of their contemporaries they had joined the majority of humanity that were continuing man's downhill trek into human degradation, decay and wickedness. What is so amazing about all of this is that the great man of God, Noah is still alive during the time of Terah and Abraham. One might have thought that Noah's presence on the earth would have been enough to cause a majority of people to stay true to the LORD. Sadly, however that was not the case.

What is so key here is that God called Abraham even when he and his family were serving false gods. Chapter 11 tells us that Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans with his father Terah. However, Terah never made to the Promise Land. Instead, he decided to settle down in Haran another hot bed of idolatry. It was there they the family worshipped the sun, the moon and stars along with other false gods.

It is in the midst of all of this idolatry that God calls out to Abraham. Since we all know the story so well that little fact may not startle us but it really should. We all know that Noah was called by the LORD but his spiritual condition was far different than Abraham's. Genesis 6:9 refers to Noah as a man who was "... righteous and blameless in his generation." A man who the Bible tells us "walked with God". One could therefore understand the LORD calling Noah or someone like Abel or even an Enoch. All of them were individuals who had a reputation of loving the LORD their God with all their heart, mind and soul. Even though they were all plagued with the penalty and power of sin, all three of those men still had the reputation of possessing a righteous walk with the LORD.

But not so with Abraham. When God called out to Abraham He called him out of a life of sin. Abraham was not yet the great man of faith that the writer of Hebrews tells us. He was not following the LORD GOD AMIGHTY. His family had not been following the Lord. And yet, out of God's amazing grace Abraham is extended this call and given this amazing promise.

There is nothing surrounding Abraham's call that lets us know that he deserved a call. There was nothing that was in Abraham's life that testified that he had been reaching out to the LORD. When you read the promises that the LORD gave Abraham you realize that everything rests on the LORD. Nothing rests on Abraham. The covenant invitation and all the promises rest solely on the LORD.

This is the central message the Apostle Paul wants us to glean from Romans 4:1-17. The Apostle Paul wants us to clearly understand that our call/our invitation is one that is initiated directly by the LORD alone. It is not we who come to the LORD but it is the LORD who calls us out of darkness and out of a life of sin. It is the LORD who initiates a connection through the power and presence of His Holy Spirit. It is the Lord who rescues, saves and restores us into His image and for His glory and honor.

Again, this is the central message that Jesus is sharing with Nicodemus that evening that John writes about in chapter three of His Gospel. Nicodemus greatly misunderstands and thinks that Jesus is talking about some kind of experience in which a man is called to reenter his mother's womb and be reborn. He doesn't understand Jesus' message of grace and faith.

Jesus does his best to make it clear that it is not being reborn physically but being born from above spiritually. This is vital for us to understand. The New Birth is not being born again physically but being born from above through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Being born from above of the Holy Spirit is a gift of grace pure and simple.

From Abraham to Nicodemus to the Apostle Paul we are to understand this fundamental fact. We are all saved by grace. Our salvation is not dependent upon our pedigree, our heritage, how well we obey the Law or anything else. Abram's call came hundreds of years before the Mosaic law. Abraham knew nothing of the 10 commandments and the Code of Holiness. Abraham knew nothing of the covenant of circumcision when God invited him into a covenant relationship. Abraham was pure and simple a pagan who worship many false gods whom God reached out to rescue, redeem and restore.

What are we to make of all of this?

We are to understand this morning that Our Lord graciously justifies us all by grace through faith before we really understand/comprehend what grace and faith are all about. God brings us into His family, into a covenant with Him even when we are full of sin and are in a state of rebellion. None of us are justified, regenerated or even sanctified by anything we have ever done or for that matter could ever do. Our salvation, our New Birth is from above and it comes from the love and grace of God's loving heart.

II. Our Spiritual journey continues in Faith

We see therefore this morning that Our Lord is the one who takes the initiative. It is the Lord God Almighty that calls Abram and not Abraham calling out to the Lord. All Abraham has to do is respond in FAITH. All Abraham has to do is place his faith/his trust in the LORD.

Abraham is not called to go through some kind of hoops or advanced training. All Abraham has to do is to trust that God will take his ungodliness and transform it into right- ful- ness (righteousness) . All Abraham has to do is trust and believe in the LORD. All Abraham has to do is to have a settled conviction that the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY is CREATOR, SUSTAINER and SAVIOR.

At the very beginning, we notice that Abraham does not know a great deal about the LORD. He does not know everything about the LORD or what it means to follow Him. But Abraham knew one key truth - if he was going to have a relationship with the LORD it would be one based on the foundational stones of grace and faith. It would be a relationship initiated and sustained by God's grace and our faith in a loving and saving God.

God's grace opens the door to a relationship with Him. We enter into that relationship and stay in that relationship through faith. Faith is the key. We must have a settled conviction that our Lord will redeem us, renew us and restore us. We must have a settle conviction that the Lord will lead us into a positive and progressive relationship with Him, with ourselves, with others and with all of creation.

We also see that it will be our faith, our settled conviction in God that will be tested most by the Evil One. Let's remember what happened in the Garden of Eden when the serpent came to tempt Eve. He attacked her conviction/faith in God's Word and God's love for her and Adam. The Devil asked Eve if she could or should really put her complete faith in God to be true to His Word. The Devil asked Eve if she could really trust that God was looking after their best interests. In essence the Devil the Father of Lies was calling the Lord God Almighty a liar. Listen again to the words written in Genesis 3:4-5

"But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be open , and you will be like God, knowing good from evil."

The Devil/Serpent did not attack the truth of God's grace. He couldn't because all around her she could see God's grace. She could see it in all the life surrounding her. She experienced it in the harmony of the Garden and in the times she and Adam walked with God in the cool of the day. There was no way the Devil was going to be able to deceive Eve concerning God's grace.

The Devil attacked Eve on whether or not she could actually put all of her trust/faith/conviction in the LORD. The Devil knew he could not diminished God's grace but he could cause her to question her faith in God. He could begin to tear down her wall of conviction/trust/belief in the LORD and His Word. One of the primary reasons she and Adam fell was because they put more faith into the words of this serpent and into themselves than into the loving actions and words of the LORD.

This is exactly why we need to hear the words of such songs as Psalm 121 - "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth".

Psalm 121 was written specifically for the various groups of pilgrims who would be making their way to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the great spiritual festivals. On their way they would sing this song. It's words would remind them where they are to place their faith. This song and other like it would help them prepare to spend time in prayer, sacrifice, worship and celebration with the LORD God Almighty. As they neared the city they would begin to see the ridge of hills that surrounding Jerusalem. Amongst those hills would be Mt. Moriah. It was on this Mount that King Solomon would build God's Temple.

For the Jews, the Temple was the place where heaven and earth meet. It was in the Temple that God would share space with His people. It was here that His people came to receive all they needed by grace through faith alone. They believed that God would accept their offerings, their prayers and their worship. In return, the LORD would pour out His grace, forgiveness and favor upon all of them.

It is this same faith that we read later in the stories of Matthew concerning the time when Jesus walked along the sea shore and called his first disciples. Much like Abraham they are invited to follow Him, the son of the Living God out of grace. Like Abraham they do nothing to initiate the call. It is Jesus reaching out to them, calling them by grace and promising them a life abundant and eternal. It is Jesus calling them to place their conviction/their faith in Him and His mission. It is Jesus calling them to live by grace through faith. And it is out of this life of faith that we come to our final point this morning and it is this:

III. The Lord invites us to experience a Life of Progressive Holiness

Abraham's walk with the LORD started off with grace and continued through faith but that was not the end of it. He didn't just get invited to come in and membership with the LORD, he was invited to experience a walk of transformation; a life of progressive holiness. I use the term "progressive holiness" for a specific reason. Our walk with the LORD is one that that a mission and a goal. That mission and goal is for us to experience abundant life here and eternally. That mission and goal is for us to become the genuine human beings that God wants to rescue, redeem and restore into His Image. That mission and goal is for us to co-partner with the LORD to spread the Good News that God through King Jesus will rescue the whole world from sin, evil and death and lead it to a life of faithfulness and obedience.

We see Abraham's progressive holiness walk fleshed out in Genesis chapters 12 -25. Remember, Abraham begins in a world and life dominated by paganism and self-centeredness but that is not where His life ends. His before God life is similar to those lives around them that are slowly drifting towards disintegration, degradation and total decay. Sadly, this morning that is the life of everyone who chooses not to accept God's grace. Sin and evil will takes us farther down the road towards being less human and less connected to God, to ourselves, to others and to our world. Sin will distort our minds and darken our hearts.

All around us we see example after example of this. The more people fall into the addictions of sin the less genuinely human they become. They degrade and disintegrate into people who are consumed with power, pride and possessions. They even come to see themselves not as whole people made in the image of God but instead as mere body parts that can be manipulated and exploited for gain and position. Is this not true of what we see in the media today?

We are watching this unfold before our very eyes here in the United States. We are being tempted to focus solely on one of our special parts - our race, our age, our gender, our sexual preference, our financial status, our educational status, our body image etc... We are being tempted to see one another merely in physical terms and in many times even in sub-human terms.

Take for example, the ways we try to bring healing and wholeness into a person's life. So many times we attempt to do that through some type of body modification when the true issue is usually one of heart, mind and soul. We think that if we modify this body part or that body part suddenly we will find utopian happiness. True happiness is more than skin deep.

Take for example the way the way they have us running to this specialist or that specialist to fix this part or that part. So many times everyone forgets that they are treating a whole human being and not simply a collection of parts. So many times there is an overwhelming desire to fix some part but leave the whole person out. We are more than our parts.

Even our speech has been affected. We find ourselves talking about this particular aspect of a person's life or that part of their physical, emotional or social life without taking into consideration the whole person. This morning, we must remember that we are more than the sum of our parts and we are definitely more than our individual parts. We must remember that a person is more than merely their gender or their age? We must remember that a person is more than their body image or their financial portfolio.

When did we get to the point where the most important thing that we know about someone is their physical characteristics, their body size, their sexual orientation, their social position or their political views? When a society begins down the road of such disintegration of individuality it should not surprise us that we also are walking down the same road that leads to dehumanizing, depravity and debauchery? That is what sin tries to do to us. It tries its best to tear us apart corporately and individually. On the other hand God reaches out to bring us back together, to rescue us, to redeem us and to restore us into His image.

Abram faced similar issues in his day and for a long time made some very bad choices and mistakes. There is nothing holy or good about lying about your wife not being your wife so that you can save your own skin. There is nothing holy about then standing by while the house of Pharaoh begins to make preparations for her marriage to some member of the Egyptian house of royalty. There is nothing holy about attempting to go around God's perfect plan and fathering Ishmael and then later sending him and his mother off with only a little bread and some water into the wilderness. Genesis 21 tells us that it was only by the grace of God that Hagar and Ishmael lived. Those are only a few of the things that Abraham did that were not either holy or of good character. At times Abraham acted more like a progressive pagan than he did a man who was trying to walk the way of progressive holiness.

However, at other times we see the exact opposite. Abraham has these amazing encounters with the LORD fleshed out in chapters 12, 15 and 17. Encounters that very few human beings have ever experienced. Encounters that included hearing God's voice, being visited by heavenly angels, being blessed by the high priest Melchizedek (said to be Shem himself) and becoming a father at the ripe old age of 100. Abraham reaches such heights of holiness in the rescuing of Lot, his intercessory prayers for Sodom and Gomorrah and holding nothing back from God including his promised son Isaac. These are some of Abraham's highest and holiest moments.

So, what are we to make of all of this? How are we to pull together all the good things that Abraham did verses all the horrible and rotten things that he did? Thank the LORD, we don't have to. It's not our job. We don't have that high of a pay grade. All of that is up to our LORD. We have to remember we are called by grace to walk in faith along the path of our own progressive holiness. We must allow each person the free will to walk their own path. We can be mentors, encouragers and intercessors but we are not God. The Bible tells us that we are to be their brothers and sisters in faith. We are to help one another and we are to make sure that our own spiritual house is in order.

We are to read, meditate, contemplate, learn and obey and listen to the Word of the LORD and His Will. We are to see where our spiritual ancestors committed their mistakes and try our best not to repeat them. We are to see where our spiritual ancestors made their greatest advances and see how we can do likewise. We are to understand and always remember that when our God starts a human rescue and restoration project He does not abandon it. When God saves a soul it is with the goal of that soul experiencing life abundant and eternal.

When Adam and Eve sinned God did not destroy them. Yes, there were drastic consequences but even when they were put out of the Garden of Eden the LORD went with them. God did everything He could to redeem them, renew them and restore them. He walked with them all the years of their lives here on earth helping them be the people He made them to be.

When the earth was full of sin God did not abandon it. Instead, the LORD made it possible for mankind and all of creation to have a reset through Noah and the Ark. If God wanted to He could have given up on everything and let it be destroyed. Instead, God left a remnant. The LORD once again made it clear to humanity His mission to rescue, redeem and restore the world in establishing the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 9.

When Isaac, Jacob and all his children sinned the LORD did not abandon his covenant with Abraham or take back His promises. The Lord instead continued to teach, lead them and if necessary disciplined them and showed them how to live and enjoy a more abundant and fruitful life here on this earth and in the New Earth to come.

All of this is the story of the Old and New Testament. Aside from our LORD we don't find anyone who has a spotless record either physically, mentally or spiritually. We see David fall, Queen Esther doubt, Mother Mary getting confused and both the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul spiritually stumbling. However, in each case we watch as the LORD GOD comes down and continues to work with them ever so gently. The LORD pours out His grace, infills them with His Holy Spirit and leads them by faith towards a more abundant walk of progressive holiness.

The Apostle Paul's words in Philippians 3:12ff are so helpful here:

"It is not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I push on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own. I have not arrived out of my own strength or works. But one thing I do; I do my best to forget what lies behind and I do my best to strain forward to what lies before me. I press on towards the goal for the reward of the upward call of our LORD in Christ Jesus" (paraphrase mine from ESV)

Even when we get to the Book of Revelation and read the Spirit's words to the Seven Churches one of the things that we see is a pouring out of grace, an invitation to more faith and a way made possible for each church to continue their progressive walk of holiness. Now, of course, there is some strong medicine and a stern warning about turning back and never repenting. The Holy Spirit is very clear that if we turn back and we live a life of no repentance then we place ourselves outside of God's will and under God's strict judgment. He is clear to warn the Church of losing its light and its position in Christ.

But that never has to be the case. Our Lord invited Abraham by grace through faith to walk with Him in a progressive walk of holiness. In other words a walk in which Abraham would experience more and more what it means to be a genuine human being; a human being restored into the image of Our Lord. A human being doing all they can do to rescue humanity and the rest of creation.

It is this progressive walk of Holiness that we see Abraham traveling in chapters 12 - 25. It is a walk that involves a number of spiritual encounters and spiritual tests. It is a walk in which we witness Abraham spiritual, physical, emotional and social transformation. It is a walk that is life giving and full of God's kindness, gentleness, generosity and grace. It is a walk in which we see Abraham showing more and more the image of God in his life. It is the walk in which we are invited this morning to join, to continue on and to enjoy and celebrate.

As we close this morning let us rejoice in the reality that it is by Grace that God calls us. It is by faith that we respond to the LORD with a settled conviction. We are invited to say those words that Joshua of old said years ago - "As for me and my house we will serve the LORD".

We are invited to put away our idols, our false gods, our pride and our sinfulness and be redeemed by grace through faith alone. We are invited to a lifelong walk of progressive holiness. We are invited to obey and listen to God's Word. We are invited to be infilled with His Holy Spirit.

This morning as we close - Have you made a decision to follow Jesus?

Have you chosen today accept Jesus invitation by grace through faith to follow Him and experience life abundant and eternal?

Have you chosen to allow Jesus to redeem you and bring you new life from above? Have you allowed Jesus to take away your sin and shame and fill you with His Holy Spirit?

Have you started your walk of progressive holiness?

Are you still on the journey?

This morning as we close we pause in silence and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us, to lead us and to guide us. Our altars are here for you to come and talk to Your Lord. Our prayer partners are here to help and assist you in any way that they can. Let us be quiet before the LORD as He guides us and leads us this morning. Let us pray.