Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Sola Fide: The Wedding Ring of Faith, Romans 4:13-25 by Jason Cook

Sola Fide: The Wedding Ring of Faith, Romans 4:13-25 by Jason Cook
18 Aug

Our scripture reading for this morning comes from Romans 4:13-25 Romans 4:13-25: For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith for if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void for the law brings wrath

And where there is no law there is no transgression That is why it depends on faith in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring not only did the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham who is the father of us all As it is written, I've made you the father of many nations in the presence of God in whom he believed he gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist In hope he believed against hope that he should become the father of many nations as he had been told, so shall your offspring be He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body which was as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old or when he considered the bareness of Sarah's womb

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised That is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness, but the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone but for ours also It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification This is the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God Before you preach in Chapel be sure to always sing "In Christ Alone" before you step into the pulpit

It's a bit like hearing the fight song of your Alma Mater, it's a bit like hearing a war cry just before you take the battlefield I believe after we sing that, my friends, I believe I'll preach To Dean George, to the distinguished faculty and staff of this luminous institution, I must begin by saying 'Thank you' Of course, I'm humbled and delighted that you would ask me to preach, but my thanks and my gratitude go far beyond that Thank you for downloading into me those tools essential for pastoring and preaching faithfully

I have and will continue to draw deeply from that well I do not come to you today friends with lofty speech or wisdom I have resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified, so that our faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but upon the power of God Two hours before Courtney and I were married I found myself retching into a small gray trash tub I was so sick that I almost asked one of my groomsmen to carry a bag in his pocket just in case we hit some turbulence during the ceremony

And the reason that I bring that up is I remember those last moments, because it was the last time I remember not wearing my wedding ring I remember my bare left hand remember looking upon it as I was in the throes and the pangs of earthly sorrow, as it were, and shortly after that a heavy dose of pepto-bismol and a pep talk from my brother I would walk out in front of my family and my friends, ugly cry as my wife came through the doors and marry the woman who made my dreams look like Flavor Flav To this day this ring reminds me of the vow of commitment that we shared with one another that day Forsaking all others, I choose you Sola Fide is the single greatest contribution of the Reformation to humankind

It is the crown jewel of the five solas It is the article upon which the church stands or falls Faith alone without works justifies, faith alone without works frees, faith alone without works saves, faith alone makes a Christian, and yet there is no other doctrine under such heavy attack by the enemy than this And those of us called to preach, we should preach this as if our lives depended on it for if we fail to preach this faithfully our souls and the souls of our people will be damned to hell In his letter to Pope Leo X Luther takes aim at the Pope and the larger church

Concerning the church in Rome, Luther writes "It is so bad that even the Anti Christ himself, should he come, could find nothing to add to it" The source of this abominable quagmire in my estimation was a fundamental error concerning the answer to this question: "How can a person be right with God?" It is the question that each human must answer, both the answer to the question and the identity of the god of which it asks must be arrived at, and my friends the height of human folly and utter ignorance of the Christian life and faith is that a man should seek to be right in his standing before God by his works and not faith And yet there are many in our churches who still seek comfort in this method, rather than proudly wearing the wedding ring issued by Christ himself, they choose to spend life staring in the bottom of a grey trash tub, trading the riches of life in Christ for the poverty of self absolution Paul here in our text spends considerable time answering this fundamental question for the Roman Church Indeed, up until this point he's made a strong case for Sola Fide, and we see that he takes a step further beginning in verse 13 showing that God's promise of sonship is achieved by faith alone

When God decrees his covenant with Abraham, he promised him six things: his presence, he promised him fame, protection, land, that his people would be a blessing, but greatest of all, he promised him and heir This promise, guaranteed through covenant would be effective for all of Abraham's offspring And how are we his offspring? By faith and faith alone That they, the offspring of Abraham would be heirs of the world but not the world as we know it, you see, this is a pretty starkly radical statement, that we, the sons of Abraham, would be heirs of the world There is an eschatological reality present here that is larger than Canaan, it's larger than Isaac, and it's larger than the presence of God that leads by pillar of cloud or smoke

This reality, being heir of the world, encompasses a redeemed earth, a justified people and the God who accomplished the work In the words of Peabo Bryson from that Disney classic Aladdin: "This is a whole new world" And what a scandalous thought to think, that we, those of us who Christ was once a stumbling block, we who would have killed our mother save for a lack of strength, we who were once outsiders to the covenants of promise, aliens and strangers without God and without hope that we might not only see this new world and inherit this new world but be co-regents And my friends this is a gift that we worked not to inherit, in fact, we are Mephibosheth living in the king's house on the merits of our father Heirs of the world are those through faith alone as Paul writes in Galatians 3:7-8

"Know then that it is those of faith who are sons of Abraham" This is how we inherit this world and those clinging to Christ in faith alone are legitimate sons of Abraham And yet the law is still somehow in play here, and it's useful as it provides the line for us to see how egregiously we overstep it On every football team, Dean George I don't know if you knew this, but on every football team there's a coach with one very specific job He's the 'Get back' guy, and any time the team encroaches upon the sideline, this thin white line that runs the length of the field, it is his job to tell them to get back

The problem is, this is a very difficult job because on football teams you tend to have perpetual line steppers My momma used to call me a perpetual line stepper because I would see the line and I would inevitably step over it And on this football team, on this field there's a line that you're not supposed to cross It's interesting that Paul uses the phrasing here in verse 15 "For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law, there is no transgression" It seems to be off-kilter, it seems to be wonky

I believe what Paul's getting at is there is a line that you do not cross, the law is the line And Paul uses the technical term 'transgression' intentionally here, because transgression is different from sin Transgression implies a willful violation of a revealed command So if there is no revealed command then there is no transgression Well, Paul wants to make clear to us that there is a revealed command in the law and we are all habitual line-steppers who must be rescued from the wrath of God for our violations, and what good news this is for those who are true heirs of Abraham

What a grand gospel to know the wrath of God awaits those who attempt to free themselves through the law, what good news it is to know that we may, and I like this, rest on grace for the justification of our souls Haha! Because this is exactly what Abraham had to do, he had to rest in the Word of God concerning his promises To put this another way, he rested in the waiting Let me make this plain When the Word of God came Abraham he said "Abraham you're going to have a son, I'm gonna give you a son," Abraham said essentially "Oh God you trippin,'" [laughter] "for I am beyond childbearing age and my wife, she is old

" At this time Abraham 75, Sarah's around 65, and when Isaac was born Abraham was near 100, Sarah was 90 I don't know if you can do the math, but that's 25 years of waiting, 25 years of standing on God's Word, 25 years of resting in grace for God to do the impossible For him to call those things that are not as though they were, 25 years! In our cushy, comfortable Western Christianity, if our prayers are not answered in the same way that we make our popcorn, we devolve into crying toddlers discontent and weary in the seeming silence of God Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years, how long are you willing to wait? We pray and we ask and we pray and we ask and we petition and then get frustrated when God doesn't answer us according to our own will, my friends, if they waited 25 years and rested while they were in the waiting then how long are you willing to wait? How long are you willing to stay on the promises of God even when it looks like he'll be late How long are you willing to rest in the grace of God? How long are you willing to rest in the waiting? My friends, here we see in Abraham the Kierkegaardian Knight of faith

Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling is his treatise concerning the activity of Abraham when God commanded him to slay his own son Kierkegaard describes the Knight of faith as the one who has an earthly desire, that is, the content of his life, and he takes this desire, unable to satisfy or fulfill it on his own, he ascends to the throne room of God and he petitions God and lays it at his feet This request, he lays it at his feet Here in Romans 4 it is the request: God, I desire a son And Abraham leaves this request there

He leaves it with God as he places his faith and trust in God the Almighty And then, he leaves And leaving is the hardest part You see, when the Knight of faith leaves his petition at the feet of God, when he returns back to his earthly reality, it is not a "It's in God's hands, now" mentality, mm-hmm no that's not what it is Because when he returns back to his present reality he lives with the expectation in the presence of God who gives life to the dead and who calls into existence those things that do not exist

You see, in this moment when he returns from the feet of God, he lives in the expectation that God will do as he has said Here is where we rest on grace Here, my friends, is the difficulty in resting while we're in the waiting because when we pray, we ascend to the heavens and we send our lofty petitions to God and we drop them there and yet we return to earth and live as if God has left us as orphans We functionally walk around as if God will not answer our prayers, as somehow we've got to make it happen on our own In concerning salvation this sentiment is precisely why the doctrine of justification by faith alone is so important, for we rest on the grace of God in Christ

I like this, we rest on the finished work of Jesus Christ, and it's here that we sing "Jesus Paid it All," because if we were singing or believing in some Pelagian's world system and Luther and Paul were both wrong, and salvation were possible on our own merit, then we must cease from singing that hymn immediately and we instead opt for "Jesus Paid Some of It" That he couldn't have paid it all, he paid some of it Sola Fide, then, is a resting on the grace of the finished work of Jesus Christ and here's where we find the fruit of Sola Fide Here, when we rest in the waiting, is the result of that timeless tenant of justification by faith alone What is it? It is hope

You see, I like this part It says that "Against hope, he hoped" What does that mean? I hope to make it plain to you, I feel my Help coming What it means is that even though he was impotent, even though Sarah's womb was a grave and even though he didn't know how a son would come he hoped In this moment we look at 25 years of waiting and have to ask "What was the food that sustained him for 25 years?" It was hope

And what is hope? As my friend Matthew Bauerman likes to say, "Hope is borrowing the joy of tomorrow today" Hope is living in a reality that has yet come to be Hope is trusting the Word of God beyond all circumstances My friend, hope is active This is why the Knight of faith, once he returns back to live in his present reality does not dawdle, he does not twiddle his fingers, no he or she lives actively in the hope of a God who can do the impossible

And what I like for Abraham is that during this time of waiting he did not weaken in faith, in fact, he grew stronger Now I like this, Abraham was a spiritual meathead as it were, and many of us would have developed spiritual dementia had we waited 25 years for God to answer a prayer, and yet Abraham continues to grow stronger, giving glory to God, fully believing that God would do what he promised Fully believing that God could animate a once dead womb and transform it into an incubator for life What hope this is! And this is why faith was counted as righteousness to him, because he believed the word of God concerning God's promises And by faith, he rested on grace

But our Father is a good Father and the Holy Spirit is one who is timeless and so he wrote these words not just for Abraham but he wrote them for us The infinite wisdom of God preserving the linchpin of salvation through the ages, Sola Fide It's not only the doctrine of justification by faith, but it's the doctrine of justification by faith that leads us to union with Christ, it leads us to a wedding Luther in "The Freedom of a Christian" asserts that faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride as United with her bridegroom, and that the believing soul can boast and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own Whatever the soul has, Christ claims it as his own

Christ is full of grace and life and freedom, the soul is full of sin, death, and damnation Let faith come in between these two Let faith interject itself between the sinful, dying man and the gracious, living Christ and what you have is what belongs to that man is now belonging to Christ His grace, his life now becomes ours This is the great exchange of the cross that Gomer, for all of her whoring would be able to go to a wedding and wear white again

That in this moment, though her sin would disqualify her from the merits of purity, Christ assumes upon himself her infidelity and transforms it into faithfulness If in justification, if in Sola Fide we are wed to Christ, our pledge of faith to Jesus renders our soul free Faith then is the wedding band Faith alone is the reminder that what's mine is also his You see, there are few things in my house there aren't mine, there are a few things in my house that I think are mine and they're not

I could have a towel hanging up one moment and I go back to take a shower the next day, that towel is gone I have frequently come home to find my wife wearing some of my favorite t-shirts, and worst of all, I make a bowl ice cream for myself and it's: "Are you gonna eat all of that?" [laughter] What I perceive to be my own is not all the way mine Faith alone, Sola Fide is the reminder that when you get married two becomes one What belongs to the bride belongs to the groom and vice versa When you are married you assume the flaws and the blemishes of your spouse upon yourself

Moreover when two become one you join your money into one bank account, or at least I hope you did, and being married to Jesus means that we've married up and when you join your money into the same bank account you assume the credit of your spouse They didn't tell you that in the fine print in marriage counseling did they? But if our groom is Jesus Christ, then he assumes our flaws and blemishes taking them upon himself as if they were his own, and if our groom is Jesus Christ and what's in his bank of righteousness now becomes our own I believe Luther called this the 'alien righteousness' of Jesus and if our groom is Jesus Christ, baby, then we assume his credit and it's perfect it's an 850 The point here: because the heir of Abraham is married to Jesus by faith, the enemy may call you by your sins but Jesus calls you beloved, hallelujah! Because I'm married to Jesus by faith, if I have sinned and Jesus has not I can rest in the grace that all is mine and mine is his, that Christ has taken my sin upon himself and returned unto me the joy of Liberty Oh my friends, yes, we believe in the death of Jesus Christ on a cross and we do well to do so but we must also believe in a robust resurrection, because it's there in the resurrection that on the third day as Jesus looks sin, hell, death, and the grave in the face and essentially says "Baby, you couldn't touch me if we were in a phone booth

I'm gonna step out this grave and go get my bride" And when he opens our eyes to see the beauty of the reality, that I can cease from trying to win God's favor based on my own character, when the promise of Abraham is realized in me, when I can rest on grace, when in the midst of turmoil I can borrow the joy of tomorrow today, when even in the waiting my faith grows, this is Sola Fide That we might be able to sing so confidently that there is no sin of hell, no scheme of man that can never pluck me from his hands, Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe That we might be able to proclaim that I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine When we consider Sola Fide, my friends, for those of us tasked with preaching the gospel, we must place it before our people and exhort them strongly to do away with the trash can, to do away with life spent living in filth and refuse, and instead come to Jesus, the Beloved, who all that is his is yours by faith

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

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