The sermon today was based on Romans 4. In this chapter, Paul is talking about Abraham, whose story is chronicled in the book of Genesis, starting in Genesis 11:27 with his birth, and ending in chapter 25 with his death. Abraham was not Jewish. He is actually considered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to be the father of their faith. He predates all of these religions, yet Paul argues that Abraham was saved by his faith in God.
This is an important thing to understand. I think we put a little too much emphasis on our religious "works." Especially those rituals and good deeds that we believe will get us into heaven. The truth is, though, that none of the things that we do can save us. Not going to church, or singing in the choir, or even being baptized. I am not saying that these are bad things to do. Of course they aren't! It is also good to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. But these things cannot save us. Salvation is a gift of God. We can do nothing to deserve it.
It's like a birthday present. We can't take credit for being born. Birthday gifts are given to us by people who want to acknowledge our existence, and honor the day that we came into this world. Salvation is given to us by God to acknowledge that we have come into his kingdom. Jesus called this being "born again," (John 3:1-21) which simply means that you have chosen to believe, or have faith, in God.
So where do the works come in? Surely we should not give up doing good because we have a free ride. No. But the works we do are a result of our salvation, not the cause of it. We cannot save ourselves. Our professed religion can't save us. Abraham had no religion. Only blind faith. But his faith led him to do what God was asking him to do, and it was counted to him as righteousness. The only way to salvation is to say yes to God, and then to be willing to obey him. Abraham had to do a very hard thing. He was asked to leave his family and his home, and to go to a land that God was going to show him. Abraham didn't even know where this place was! But he went. And God promised him that he would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:2).
Abraham is your father if you choose to follow God, wherever he decides to send you. As James says, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." (James 2:26). But true faith is followed by a growing in sanctification (see last week's post, "The Nature of God's Salvation" for an explanation of sanctification). We will continue to live in a more godly manner, or as Reverend Singleton put it, we will keep reaching to be more Christlike.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Trust in God. He created you to be his. He is waiting to welcome you with open arms. He sent his son to save a sick and dying world. The gift has been given. All you have to do is believe that it was given to you, and open it!
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)