You can’t work for faith
Faith puts you to work
About a month ago we had our sweethearts dinner. There were about 50 people in attendance. And after we had a delicious meal cooked by Barb Mafara and Rob Mafara we did a few different activities together. And one of them was that we gave all of the men a piece of white paper, and a pencil and we asked them to draw their spouse. It wasn’t from memory, they were sitting directly across from this person. We asked them not to show their spouse the picture. We collected them all, displayed them, and then we asked the women to try and find themselves on the wall. I am going to be very candid about this. Most of these drawings were not good. And that isn’t me being a subjective art snob. I don’t know a lot about art. But It was very obvious to me, and it would have been very obvious to anyone that walked into that room and looked at a white board full of portraits drawn by men of the loves of their life, that these “artists” don’t spend a lot of their free time drawing portraits.
It’s not to say that the room didn’t have anyone with artistic ability. It just was very clear that there were not many reliable sketch artists in the room. I know this because someone took home a picture of someone else's wife.
My point is not to make people feel self conscious about their art skills, it’s just that art like many things in our life takes a commitment of time doing an activity in order to achieve a level of greatness. There are very few things that we are masters at instantly. If you were going into surgery and there was a 22 year old scrubbing up and he said, “Congrats, you are going to be my first surgery on a live person, you might reschedule that surgery for a few weeks down the road.” We know that through hard work often times we gain mastery of different things. The apprentice has to work hard for many years to become the master.
But that hard work can pay off very fulfilling ways. Becoming a master of our interests and our gifts often times brings us satisfaction, joy, meaning, and value.
This is natural knowledge. This is something that we can learn by observing the world around us. This is something that we see play out, as the prep cook works his way up to head chef, as the kid plunking out a few chords on the guitar in his bed room, turns into a star selling out arenas. As the hard working student who tears through books begins to write great works of literature one day. Or as someone working hard pulls themselves up by the bootstraps and turns themselves into a multi millionaire. Hard work pays off.
But that doesn’t work with our faith. Romans 4 tells us this cleary.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
Our lesson from Genesis reminded us of how great Abraham was. It tells us about how much time and effort he put into his relationship with God. It’s not as if he didn’t do hard work. He moved. That wasn’t easy. He wrestled with trusting in God’s promises for almost 25 years, as he got older every single day, and he and his wife got older and older every single day. Every day was a day farther away from the time when a person would naturally have a child with his wife. But God kept his promise.
But not a single one of those days. And not a single action that Abraham did in his life was enough to make him right with his God. Not one thing that paid for a single on of his sins, and the bible lists a few of them.
Abraham is in heaven. Abraham was saved because by the grace of God the Holy Spirit created faith in his heart to believe the promises that God made to him and the grace of God kept him in that faith until the day that he died. But it isn’t because he worked for it. It’s because the Holy Spirit worked in him.
This is something that is offensive to our sinful nature. God tells you, you can’t do it. We want to think that we can do anything. We want to think if I just dedicate myself enough. If I just focus enough. If I just spend enough time and learn enough eventually I can become a master of anything. If a 3 year old kid comes to you and says I want to be an astronaut when I grow up, you say! Great study hard and you can do whatever you set your mind to! You don’t say, you know we are always going to need good plumbers. That’s a pretty reliable profession. No, let them dream, let them work, who knows?
But if that 3 year old comes to you and says I think I can fly and is standing on top of your property wall. Because there is real danger that has immediate painful consequences and there is absolutely no chance that this is going to work out positively. You step in. You tell them they are wrong. They are not bird. They don’t have wings to fly. No amount of hard work, or training is going to work because of the way things are.
You can’t fly up to heaven. You won’t make it. And the consequences of you spending your entire life trying to do something that is not going to be possible for you, is much more dangerous than jumping off a little wall.
It’s just faith. We just trust that Jesus has died on the cross and has taken away all of our sins. We believe in the promise that God has made to us. We believe that the ability to believe is a gift that God has given to us as we listen to him in his Word which gave the Holy Spirit an avenue to change our hearts from unbelieving to believing. It’s all a gift that not a single one of us worked to receive.
verse 14 says this
14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless,
You know this promise. You believe this promise. Not because you mastered how to believe. Not because you have spent years in church. But because the love of God looked passed all of your sins and through his unending mercy saved you. In spite of all of your weaknesses. He looks past our weaknesses and uses his strength to save us.
We got a great example of this in our gospel lesson. Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman, who worshiped God in a different place rather than the temple. A woman who was living with her husband before marriage. But what did the Lord do for her. He looked past the things that would make her unworthy to talk to the all powerful God and instead, he shared with her love and compassion and God’s promises. Her work didn’t qualify her to have a conversation with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ chose her. He didn’t put up barriers. He created avenues to share the Gospel with her.
This is something that our society struggles with. We put up many barriers that might prevent someone from hearing about God’s promises. Be careful not to give the impression that unless someone lives us to your standards, they don’t meet the standards of who God wants to save. It’s easy to get sucked in to what other people are doing or saying and start talking about how someone with a different political affiliation is evil. Or an idiot for buying into to lies. How does mocking someone make them want to learn about Jesus from you?
We know that we can’t work for our salvation. We know that we are saved only by the grace and love of God. But the truth is that our faith puts us to work. It calls us like Abraham to act differently than those around us. It calls us to live a life that we aren’t worthy to live, but we find ourselves working for the God of the universe, that God of the Bible, to use his word to save this world from eternal destruction.
If keeping the law didn’t save us, why should it be the standard that we use to decide who we want the Lord to save. It is the gift of faith that saves you.
You might be a terrible artist who drew your wife as a stick person. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want you in heaven. You might be a perfect example of a Christian. That doesn’t mean you earned your salvation. You might be the worst person to ever live. That doesn’t mean that the promise of God doesn’t apply to you. It is only through God keeping promises to us that we are saved.
Thanks be to God that he at our bad egos, he looks at our faults, he looks at how much of a contrast there is between the life that you and I lead and the life that he demands we live, and still says to you. I promise that you will be in heaven because of the faith that I have given to you that Trusts in Jesus as your one and only Savior. God help us work to become masters at having that same attitude when we view the world around us. Amen.