Summary: This message is from my expository series through Romans.
“The Anatomy of Faith”
November 30, 2008
What is faith?
• Bertrand Russell, in Why I am Not a Christian: “Faith is a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence.” Is it?
• H.L. Mencken: “Faith is a conviction which cannot be shaken by contrary evidence.” Is it?
• A former website called faithless.org defined faith as: “adherence to a collectively held religious Truth despite evidence to the contrary and without continuing efforts to seek out, understand and weigh evidence.” Is it?
• In Miracle on 34th Street, Santa says that “faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” Is it?
Philip Johnson, in Defeating Darwinism, wrote that evolutionists exploit the supposed contradiction between faith and reason, painting all Christians as backwoods, Bible-thumping rubes whose faith in silly superstition renders them impervious to the “higher truth of science”. And thus the question, “is faith contrary to reason?”
• We all place faith in certain things; it’s unavoidable.
o Builders of this building, the chair you’re sitting in.
o Airplanes – Rain Man – “Qantas never crash”. AirTran
o Have you ever lost faith in something? Evidence!
o Qantas crashed! 11/18, two jets on tarmac collided!
• Faith is buttressed by reason and evidence.
The kind of faith that is commended in Scripture is faith like Abraham’s: a reasoned faith that, given all the factors involved, makes more sense than non-faith! Let’s deconstruct the anatomy of Abraham’s faith (read Scripture/pray).
Paul uses chapter 4 as an illustration of chapter 3, as we saw last week: the examples of Abraham and David are introduced by Paul to buttress his claims. Salvation, the rich blessings of God, come by faith, and as Paul has demonstrated already, not by works, or by circumcision.
I. The Realization of Abraham’s Faith –
After arguing that justification does not come about by either good works or by circumcision, Paul here states that salvation does not come about by law-keeping either. Paul writes of “the promise” God had made to Abraham; we find that in Genesis 15:5, where God tells him that his posterity will be as numerous as the stars; in this sense, and in the sense that the reign of Christ the Messiah extends to the whole earth, Paul could use the terminology that Abraham’s offspring would be “heirs of the world”; after all, the meek followers of Christ will inherit the earth, Jesus promised. It was a promise unconditionally given, and simply accepted at face value by Abraham. Keeping the law did not play into this equation at all, just as following religious guidelines or trying to “play by the religious rules” today do not. Proofs Paul offers are from three sources: history, language, and theology.
The law was not given until 430 years after God had made the promise to Abraham. Abe was long-dead and gone before the law was introduced through Moses. Abraham, as a simple matter of history, was not an adherent of the law, and so either Abraham was justified in some other fashion, or he was not justified at all. Further, because of the antithesis between salvation by law-keeping and salvation by faith alone, faith would be meaningless if somehow Abraham had been saved by the law. A promise is not an unconditional promise in the event it requires law-keeping to ensure its fulfillment—but that’s exactly what God’s promise to Abraham was in Genesis 15: an unconditional covenant.
“Law” and “promise” belong to different categories. Galatians 3:18 says, “if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” Law-language demands obedience; it says, “you shall” or “you shall not”. Promise-language demands faith; it says, “I will—do you believe that?” What language did God use in Genesis 15? Promise-language, for He says, “I will!” Verse 15 develops this, placing together words like “law”, “wrath”, and “transgression”; these words belong together, for law turns sin into transgression, making sin the deliberate violation of God’s standard and incurring the just wrath of a holy God. All sin is sin, but a “transgression”, in this sense, is a more serious form of sin; Douglas Moo explains by likening this to a teenager staying out too late. If his kids stay out too late, they can expect some form of reprimand or punishment; if, however, he takes pains as a father to specify that “11:00 is curfew”, and that specific law is broken, the punishment will be more severe, because a transgression of the law has taken place. This is why Paul says that “the law brings wrath”. The Jews believed the law to be to them a source of life; in reality, the law condemned them.
But in verse 16, we see words that belong together as well: “faith”, “promise”, and “grace” all fit together. We make a linguistic mistake when we try to mix words from one category with words from another.