What Would You Grab? March 4, 2012 Read: Romans 4:13-25
If you remember comedian George Carlin, you’re probably familiar with his infamous monologue concerning everyone’s “Stuff.” Here’s just a portion of it to get us started.
“So stuff is important. You gotta take care of your stuff. You gotta have a PLACE for your stuff. Everybody's gotta have a place for his stuff. That's what life is all about, tryin' to find a place for your stuff! That's all your house is. Your house is nothin' but a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.”
“So that's all your house is. It's just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down and see all the little piles of stuff. Everybody's got his own little pile of stuff. And they lock it up. That's right! When you leave your house you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and TAKE some of your stuff. 'Cause they always take the wrong stuff. They always take the GOOD stuff. They don't bother with that [junk] you're saving . . . “
If you awoke in the middle of the night to discover that your house were burning down, and every second put your life at risk, what would you grab -- not counting people or pets -- on your way out?
What would you say? Do you gather your most costly items: Jewelry, a laptop, antiques, bonds or cash from the safe? Do you grab what is most sentimental to you? Pictures of the children, grandma's quilt, your journals, a letter written from your father before he passed? Or do you focus on the most practical items? Passport, phone, backup hard drive, wallet, backing the car out of the carport?
There is actually a web community photo blog created by photographer Foster Huntington around this pressing question at http://theburninghouse.com. People lay out and snap an image of everything they would bring from their burning home, and then post it with a quick text description that others can comment on.
Items that people say they'd run out of the house with include phones, iPods, journals, old print pictures, childhood keepsakes and favorite clothing items (clothing items?).
Other surprising items include a box of multigrain cereal, a mounted deer hoof, and a bottle of gin "to drink while watching the house burn." The first thing came to my mind was to grab purse and car keys to make a quick escape.
The burning house question gives us an opportunity to respond, which reveals our deeply held values and personality quirks. And the text this week asks a similar question of us, but on the spiritual level. The question: If your life were coming to an end and not your house, what would you carry with you into eternity?
The Apostle Paul's answer is: "Not a blessed thing -- except the righteousness of Jesus Christ." Billy Graham used to pose the question: "If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and God were to say to you, 'Why should I let you into heaven?' what would you say?"
Most of those who are unchurched or nonbelievers will hem and haw, and at some point say something like, "Well, I'm not perfect, but I'm a good person." But how would most Christians answer these questions? How would you answer these questions?
More important to Paul, in Romans 4, is how the Roman Christians should answer. We're picking up midway through Paul's larger thesis on how humans can be in right standing before God up to this point. Paul has argued that all people Jew and Gentile alike are separated from God (see Romans 3:23). But now he also suggests that the grace and mercy of God has been extended to all, Jew and Gentile alike. In our day we could substitute black or white, rich or poor, resident or immigrant. The very righteousness of Christ is given to all who believe.
This change of heart and mind comes to us through faith alone. It gives us an acquittal that we're not guilty. And this astonishing verdict is the result of nothing we humans have done, but is the gift of God, freely given through Christ our Lord. And there you have the gospel in a nutshell.
Paul is also refuting theoretical objections from Jewish opposition at the time of his writing. Religious leaders were bent on claiming that their ancestry, or adherence to the Law of Moses, as worthy of notice. At the very least, being God’s original chosen people, they should qualify for special consideration.
After all, Father Abraham could certainly earn him favor with God.
- Obediently agreed to relocate his family geographically.
- Hoped in God to fulfill the promise regarding his offspring (v.18)
- Was stunningly faithful during his Isaac test.
- Buried his wife in Canaan before seeing the fulfillment of all God's promises.
- Became the father of many nations.
But here's the key -- despite these great works, "his faith 'was reckoned to him as righteousness'" (v. 22). And likewise for all of us after Abraham, our right standing with God "will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead" (v. 24).
If our life were coming to an end and not our house, what should we bring in our arms to present to God?
- Not good works or religious traditions
- Not the Christian legacy of our family
- Not which church we attend
- Not even correct doctrine or a lifetime of prayer and love of the Scriptures . . .
What can we bring? Simply, faith in Jesus Christ.
In view of his sola fide (faith alone) understanding of justification in Romans, 16th C. Reformer, Martin Luther stated that "faith grasps hold of Christ." Faith does not claim merit. It does not self-justify through good works. For Luther, this grasping of Christ was truly being grasped by him. He realized that no amount of confession, penitence, or good works would give him peace with God. Faith in Christ would, and did.
Like a strong arm extended over the cliff edge to one precariously clinging to his endangered life, we grasp at Christ who has grasped and pulled us out of our sin condition and into a new standing in himself.
Justification by faith is not an easy concept to understand or accept. We might be able to grasp the idea, but will we believe it and live our lives accordingly?
I would encourage you all to spend some time reading the book of Romans in several different versions and let the overall outline of the book bring order to your understanding of this difficult subject.
Righteousness imputed – Justification
Righteousness imparted – Sanctification
Righteousness practiced—Christian Living
Finally, how does our faith in God translate into practical Christian living?
Accepting God's Love
Right standing through faith in Christ alone implies that we can't do anything that will make God love us any more or less. Paul will take this idea up later in Romans 8. Recognizing the huge gap between what most of us believe about the love of God and live regarding it, Brennan Manning said,
"The most difficult part of mature faith is allowing yourself in your brokenness to be the object of the vast delight of the risen Jesus." Since we are justified by Christ, we must do the hard work of believing God loves us, allowing ourselves to feel loved by him, and then living as the beloved.
Living Beyond Performance
For many Christians, there is a subtle and unexamined equation to our faith: Spiritual Self-Worth = Performance + Others' Opinions. To feel good about our relationship with God, we need to pray more, sin less, love difficult people, and serve in hard ministries. The performance list goes on.
In The Search for Significance, author Robert McGee suggests an answer to this broken equation: the doctrine of justification by faith alone. If you think of yourself differently than God thinks of you, who is mistaken, you or God? Justification replaces our performance with Christ's performance, and gets us to view ourselves as God does.
Trusting Our Identity in Christ
Author Neil Anderson poses an interesting experiment. Ask a Christian who they are in relation to their faith, and they'll probably answer with denominational or doctrinal tags, or they'll speak about their gifts or roles in church service.
But is this who they are? What we do with our faith does not determine who we are. Who we are determines what we do, and what we think, and what we feel.
Paul argues elsewhere in Romans that Christians are new creations; an entirely new set of realities describes us as justified by Christ. We're sons and daughters of God. Christ is not ashamed to call us "brothers and sisters." We are the workmanship of God. We are saints, not sinners.
That which God says is true of us is true of us. It doesn't matter if we believe those truths. It doesn't matter how we feel about them. It doesn't matter how our past experiences condition our trust in them.
As we look at Paul's message of justification by faith, there's one glorious message that leaps off of the pages; "That which God requires, God provides." (Found especially in Romans 8)
If we want to emerge from the often-burning wreckage of false beliefs, we only need to carry one thing along with us. It's that which God already provides us through faith in Jesus Christ -- our unqualified approval as we stand and walk with God, for now and all eternity. Amen.