Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1996
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 3: Disruptive Truths of God’s Kingdom
Chapter 2: God’s Call to Abraham: The Disruptive Truth of Man’s Kingdom Rejected
Lesson 43 – Biblical Faith for Salvation
19 December 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
[Begins in middle of sentence ]… on what constitutes a normal personality, and you have tests to determine this. It used to be this stupid exam that companies gave their employees, called the Minnesota something, profile or whatever it was. Back about 20 years ago, you really had problems if you wanted to get hired by certain corporations who had some idiot in their personnel department crank out this personality profile exam that they were going to feed everybody. It turned out, fortunately, they pulled the stunt too many times and they finally got hold of a Christian who had some legal training. I forgot what the name of the corporation was, but they got called into a state supreme court over this one, because the Christian had enough of this stuff, because he found out on the exam that the way they scored it was, that if you said you relied on prayer on your job, you were abnormal, a dangerous type of person to hire for the job. You can’t have people praying in this company, what’s going to happen to us if somebody prays.
The point was that this set up the concept of a normal personality, and anything off to the sidelines of a bell-shaped curve was bad. So the fallacy is, and we covered this last year in the doctrine of the fall, everybody likes the bell-shaped curve and here’s your little average mean. Think about what that means; look at that bell-shaped curve for a moment. What is that a description of? A bunch of fallen, miserable sinners, so what’s the bell-shaped curve all about? What’s the norm? It’s a normal sinner. Well, that’s great, now we’ve defined our personality to be normal when we have it as part of a statistical justification for this test, we’ve gone out and tried it on 17,000 people, and we’ve got 17,000 sinful people responding in 17,000 sinful ways and we come up with that norm and we say that’s average. Then we make the false assertion that this bell-shaped curve which is an average, true, it’s an average, there’s nothing wrong with saying it’s an average, but now we go one further step and we say, from here its average, and then we define, arbitrarily define, this average to be the norm. Oh, now wait a minute. How do you go from an average to a norm? What is your justification for doing that? That’s a question you can ask in a psychology class some time. Suppose you go into a prison and interview 1,000 inmates and they’ve all stolen things. So what’s the average rip-off? And we define that to be normal. So anybody who hasn’t ripped off that much is a good person, and everybody who has ripped off more than the average is a bad person. See how stupid it is? But the Bible says that since the whole statistical sample is a sample of fallen people, then your average is a normal sinner.
Therefore, you can’t make the average the norm and the ideal. Here’s the counterpoint to psychological profile exams. In engineering and science we have a process known as calibration. I work with thermometers and censors, I measure light, I work with censors that measure humidity, and to do my work, I have to prove to my customer that the readings I’m getting are NIST based, i.e., they can go back to the National Institutes of Standards and Technology and see that it fits. So I have to calibrate my instruments. It doesn’t make any difference what the temperature says, the temperature is a number. What does that mean? Calibrate it? Here’s the question you can raise in psychology—how do we calibrate the personality test? Are we calibrating it by the average? Where’s the way you can calibrate a personality profile? Ethically? The four Gospels? The test is if you administer your exam to Jesus as recorded and revealed in the four Gospels, what does your test score Him? If the test doesn’t score Him as ideal, your test is wrong because He’s the calibration standard. That’s what we mean by righteousness and it’s that historic righteousness that is credited to our account in Heaven, not in our hearts, in Heaven.
I saw an interesting article by a missionary and I wanted to read a section of it because it’s such a good observation. It ties into what we’re going to do on faith because what we do on faith is related to justification because faith believes, believes in what God offers, believes in what God supplies in justification. Let me make a few points about justification before I get to this article because I want to get into the cross point for faith here. There are four points in justification. We said it rests on the whole idea of creation and fall, that it must be the first step in redemption because you have to get to plus one before God is going to have fellowship with you, before He can enter covenant with you. The third thing we said is that it requires an outside righteousness, not of man, but of God, directly given from Jesus. And fourth which was very, very important, justification should not be confused with regeneration or sanctification as the Roman Catholic Church does, and as Arminianism does. We said that there is a world of difference between Protestantism and Catholicism on this point.
On page 37 we talk about heart-centered justification vs. heaven-centered justification. Justification is a transaction; it doesn’t happen in the heart. Justification happens in heaven because in heaven Jesus is there, and it’s His righteous intercession that applies His righteousness to our account. We don’t feel that transaction, it’s done in Heaven, it’s what God sees, and what Luther and what Calvin saw. The Catholic Church got very angry at this, and later Protestants got angry at this because Puritanism and later Protestants thought back up here, said whoa, whoa, we can’t quite go along with Luther and Calvin here. We appreciate them, they started this thing called the Protestant Reformation, but we have to wait and hold things back, because you see the dangerous truth that Calvin and Luther taught was that faith is assurance of salvation. They didn’t distinguish.
Faith is assurance, and if you have no assurance of salvation, then you’re not saved; it was that simple. This was heresy to Rome. Rome said if you preach a gospel like that you’re going to give people a license to sin. And Luther and Calvin turned right around and said, no, if we preach a gospel like that, it’s a motive to godly living. Why? Because I’m thankful for what God has done. On the other hand, if I’m not sure of my salvation, how am I going to be thankful for what He has done? My motive is completely different, it’s to secure salvation, which is exactly what Rome has always done. Keep the people under the domain of the Church because we can’t trust people with truth, what would we do if people had truth? They might misuse it, of course the Church misuses it all the time, but that’s okay, we can do it, we just don’t want the peons to misuse it. See the arrogance. The Protestants cut through that and of course the Puritans kind of messed it up because then they started talking about various things which we’re going to get into tonight.
The last point we wanted to make on page 38. “Even Abraham’s justification was promissory. God credited what imperfect faith Abraham had for the perfect righteousness which he did not have. Otherwise, there would have been no basis for an everlasting covenant of redemption made with Him!” The security of the covenant of redemption is grounded on the fact that something must be ethically clean, plus one. So, “Only later in history do we learn of the source of the righteousness of God, an actual non-fictional, historically perfect obedience of the Second Adam.” Abraham didn’t know that, he just trusted the Lord in his point in history, that it was going to be supplied. That’s the difference between an Old Testament saint and a New Testament saint. The method of salvation did not change from the Old Testament to the New. They were both saved by faith. Justification occurred the same way. It’s just that the amount of knowledge, the quantity of information available from… but what about this righteousness? What about this suspension of the judgment of God toward me, how come He’s doing that? How can He be so gracious to me a sinner? The knowledge and background of that wasn’t completely clear until Jesus died on the cross, and then they said, oh, oh, that’s where that righteousness came from back in the Old Testament, it was all looking forward to Jesus.
Now we come to the third area and that’s faith. We want to talk about faith, biblical faith. Third paragraph under faith, see where I say, “By ‘faith’” look there for a moment. I always say don’t answer a question until you’ve analyzed the question. How many times last week did you beat your wife is the classic question. You can’t answer it without incriminating yourself. Don’t answer a loaded question; redefine the question, then you answer it. We get sucked into this; I get sucked into this all the time myself. I’m speaking out of the errors I’ve made. Notice what I’m doing in that third paragraph. Careful, watch what I’m saying. “By ‘faith’ I do not mean the generic term, ‘belief’, as it is used in every day speech. (I believe the answer is…’; ‘I believe he means what he says’…). Faith, like election and justification, must be understood inside the biblical world view. The following four points should help you think about biblical faith.”
The first point in this understanding of faith: Faith depends upon God doing the initiating. So here we have a person, and when they exercise biblical faith, they exercise it in response to the call of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. That faith is not exercised without prior work of God. That’s biblical faith. It can’t be done by an unregenerate natural man living in a circumstantial vacuum. It can only be done as it was done in Abraham’s case, God called to Him, the voice of God calling. That’s what calls forth the faith. So continuing in the notes, “biblical faith isn’t the same as everyday belief. … Everyday belief is exercised by all men, believer and unbeliever unlike. Biblical faith cannot be exercised by the spiritually dead, fallen mankind. After Adam’s fall, Adam hid from God.” Why did Adam hide from God? Think about that picture for a minute. It’s not heavy theology, it’s a picture. Adam hid from God. Why do you suppose he hid from God? He was a little afraid, wasn’t he? Why do you hide? You hide, you avoid situations because you don’t like. That’s the way we are. So Adam is not trusting God. He’s doing the last thing but trusting God; he’s fleeing from God, and that’s the natural state.
That’s the natural state of the sinner. He can believe the moon is going to come up in thirty days and cycle through, and he believes the sun is going to come up, but wait a minute, I’m not going to trust God, I can’t really trust Him because deep down in my heart I know He’s ticked off at me. I’ve offended Him, and if I have a sense that I’ve offended my Creator, I don’t really trust that He’s going to be all smiles when I walk into His presence. So how do I believe? Biblical faith can’t happen unless the initiation comes from God’s side. Who called to Adam? Was Adam saying, hey God, I’m right here, or was it God’s voice that spoke first to break the silence. Always remember the picture you see in the Garden of Eden. Who spoke first in Ur? Was Abraham calling out to the heavens, God, if you’re there, show yourself? Or was it that God worked in his life to bring him to an awareness of Himself. That’s the first thing. The biblical faith depends upon God calling.
The second point, on page 39, and this is where it gets a little hairy. Faith depends upon God’s illumination and inclination of the human heart. So it’s not just that He calls and makes a big noise. The second one is that there is an actual message that has content. Biblical faith is response to a message that must be understood in the deepest levels of our heart. A little child, 4½ who trusts in the Lord Jesus may look to us as a very naïve decision, but if we think that little 4½ year child is making some sort of…oh well, it’s just a little kid. Think about this. That little kid, at the time that they believe, is also doing something that is the greatest act they will ever do in all their life. Do you know what they’re doing at 4½? They’re learning a language without knowing another one before it and do you know that nobody knows how that happens. All the philosophers of the world cannot explain how a baby learns language. All we know is that if you take a baby and separate it from a human father and mother and leave it out with the animals, and if the animals can sustain the baby somehow, feral children, they don’t speak, they don’t learn language.
So whatever this phenomenon is about little kids learning language, they have to be around another human being who already knows language. It doesn’t come intuitively. This strange thing, when they begin to speak in language, they begin to also sense right and wrong. They begin intuitively to understand fear. For example, experiments done with a child as they’re learning language, and I’ll never forget this picture, it was in Time Magazine many years ago, it had a desk, the edge of a desk and it had this little crawling baby and they built this big strong piece of glass out from the edge of the desk and they did some experiments. The child, when it was just able to crawl, would crawl over the edge of the desk and out on the glass, probably because perception wise he couldn’t see through the glass to realize, ooohh, what’s down there? But as soon as the kid began to get a little more developed, without being told no-no, he walks up to the edge of the desk, looks over and stop. What made the baby do that? No experience of falling, no warning from the parents; very interesting experiment. It suggests that children come preprogrammed to learn language, about this world, about its dangers, about its good things and bad things. Language is learned in this kind of a matrix.
So when a little boy or girl at 4½ trusts in the Lord Jesus, they are understanding something if the gospel has been explained clearly. It is a profound act and yes, they can believe. Children can be led to the Lord because they are also learning language. Look how long it takes the average person, I’m not a language person but I’ve tried to learn 3 or 4 languages in my time, done a lousy job on all of them, but look how hard it is. Did you ever try to learn another language? It’s not easy to do. What do missionaries say? When the kids are out there in the tribe, bongo bongo somewhere, who learns the language faster, the kid or the parents? The kid does. Why is that? It’s because we’re slow; they’re fast. They haven’t got the wisdom, they haven’t made 8,000 mistakes in their lives so they don’t know how to do that very effectively, but they do know how to learn language and do it rapidly so don’t ever demean a gospel presentation clearly presented to a small child. They are ripe for it because they are learning about everything else.
We want to look at what God says in the content of the gospel. In Romans 5:5 there is a key passage. This is the content of the message that saves, “…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts,” how, through our speculations? No, “through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,  For while we were still helpless,” Verse 6 starts with an explanation, “For.” What is the love of God, “for while we were helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Verse 8, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s the content of the gospel, that’s what saves.
I mention this in the notes because of the Protestant–Catholic debate over this. If you look at that paragraph, it begins with “What does he say? What is the content of saving faith? The first Protestant reformers, Calvin and Luther, insisted through the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that saving faith,” watch this now, “saving faith was a trust in Gods promise of full acceptance.” That’s how the Monk Luther obtained his relief. “Fortified with the doctrine of election that guaranteed that justification was irrevocable, saving faith was taught,” and watch this one, “as synonymous with assurance.” Faith is assurance. I keep emphasizing this because something is going to happen here. Here’s what Calvin wrote just so you can see it because the later Calvinists departed from this. Puritanism departed from this. Not that Calvin is the word, but we just want to make a point, that this was taught by early reformers, not later reformers. “It is a firm and sure knowledge” note the two adjectives, “firm and sure knowledge of divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, revealed to our minds, and sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” That was the breath of fresh air.
This next quote didn’t actually come from Calvin; it came from a Calvinist historical scholar, summarizing Calvin’s thoughts. So my note is inaccurate, it’s not Calvin who wrote it, it’s a historical theologian that wrote this. “When we so examine ourselves, however, it is not to see whether our holiness, our works, or the fruit of the Spirit in our lives warrant assurance of salvation. Rather, it is to determine that such assurance rests on the proper foundation of God’s mercy in Christ.” That’s what we examine our hearts for. Am I trusting the right thing, the right object for my salvation? Stop doing a naval check to find out how many points I’ve got now, such a good person, obeyed the Lord so perfectly, He’s got to bless me now. It’s not that. It’s I know that I’m sinner in the eyes of a Holy Creator and I’ve offended Him, how do I walk into His presence. Where is my ticket? How do I get assurance in my heart that He’s even going to talk to me? By looking at Christ and the righteousness that Christ promoted.
“Both Romanism and later Protestantism reacted against this teaching. Wouldn’t such immediate assurance lead to loose living? By denying the possibility of personal assurance” and underline that, that’s the key, always the attack comes here, you have no right to assurance. “By denying the possibility of personal assurance of salvation, Rome kept her members under the discipline of the Church. Later Protestants, especially ‘Calvinists’ like the Puritans, tried to defend against Roman objections.” Roman Catholics said this leads to loose living, so the Puritans tried to argue against them, but they misfired here, “by insisting that one could not really be sure he had saving faith until at the end of his life he was still preserving in faith.” But think about that, it sounds very pious. What that does is now I’ve got a question of whether I’ve got faith in my faith. You see what a subtle shift has happened. The first reformer said what is the focus here? The righteousness that allows me acceptance before an offended Creator. Is it Christ? That was the question.
Now we’ve retreated over here to another question. Do I have faith, is my faith big enough? Where is the center of focus now? Here. Where was the center of focus originally? In heaven; a massive shift with only a few words. “Puritans produced long books on the ‘morphology of conversion’….” A guy who was doing his doctrinal dissertation was telling me about these, 400 or 500 pages long. The Puritans had some great stuff, don’t get me wrong, but here they really didn’t do too well. The fact they didn’t do too well is shown, if you ever read through these books, these ponderous self-examinations where every week we go through a fruit inspection, finding out did I do enough good works today to convince me, so I have faith in my faith, and it goes on and on and on like this. The cure for this is just to read one of these books.
On page 40, “In a strange way, then, later Protestantism came back to denial of the possibility,” underline this again,” the possibility of present assurance, just as Roman Catholicism has insisted all along!.. Saving faith was no longer seen as assurance.” So what happens here is that the first definition was that saving faith equals and is identical to assurance. It came to be that saving faith is sort of a question and assurance is over here. Now we’ve separated the two, that’s the issue. Let’s continue. “Through fear of antinomianism, a great truth was compromised. As a result, the biblical motive for Christian living was lost:” watch this one and underline this one, “gratitude for God’s grace toward me.” I want you to underline that because the next event that is coming up in Exodus is a neat illustration of this. Because everyone hears about the Old Testament law and oh, what a bogeyman God was in the Old Testament.
When you read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, pay careful attention to the first two verses. Exodus 20:1-2 has to do with this, the motive in sanctification has got to be gratitude for what God has already done for me. If it isn’t gratitude then I’m trying to secure something here. I am trying to be good enough in my Christian life to have faith in my faith, and it’s a totally different motive. “The original Protestant doctrine of faith was preserved only in small pockets of the Church here and there, most notably in the Lutheran various brethren groups. Today it is still under attack as ‘easy-believism’.”
Let me comment, because there’s a version of “easy-believism” out there that has to be dealt with, and that’s the idea that well, you can sit there and listen to the gospel and go out and raise hell, that kind of thing. Luther and Calvin would never have gone along with that. Give the boys a break, they weren’t stupid. Let’s try to reason through how you can have assurance and yet not have this quote, “open door” to a licentious life. Watch the next paragraph. We’ll get into this a little bit in the next point too, so watch how we go through this. “Is faith in God’s elective and justifying call really ‘easy-believism’? Does His illumination and inclination to work in my heart give me license to sin? Is this gospel message the cause of false professions? Not if,” and circle the “if”, “not if” I don’t want to be misquoted here, “not if it is understood properly within in the biblical framework! The object of belief, biblically, is my offended Creator and His gracious invitation to ‘take of the water of life freely’.”
Do you see why we spent all last year struggling through creation, the fall, the flood, for crying out loud, why are we taking a whole year to go through Genesis 1-9, give me a break, I’ve heard you go through Genesis 1, 2, 3, I can memorize it. Why are we doing that? Because you can’t get the gospel straight. Why we have “easy-believism” today, we do have it, but why we have it is because G-o-d is never understood. It’s looked at like as sort of a heavenly version of aspirin. Take Jesus into your heart, He gets rid of the pain, and then somebody actually trusts in the Lord and finds out they get clobbered the first thing because that’s lesson three and it can’t get to lesson four without going through a trial. Nobody told me about this. Jesus is supposed to be a pill here, what’s this, and then they peel out. What happened? Was that “easy-believism”, no; it was a misunderstanding of G-o-d and s-i-n. It was a misunderstanding of the message, not the message that caused the problem. See the difference?
Let me read you what a missionary has to say about this who works with New Tribes Mission. He’s involved in Mexico and he’s dealing with a problem in the Mexican church because New Tribes is a very good mission agency. They try to train believers to become missionaries so the missionaries can go home, radical idea, missionary putting themselves out of work. Of course, who is the most effective evangelist in the culture? People who are already living in the culture. So why do white Southern Baptist churches send white people to black Africa when the black people are in the South? One of the stupidest things I ever saw when I was in the Bible belt, sending white missionaries to black Africa. We send white people to the Orient. We’ve got Koreans and Chinese all over the place. Why not win a few of them to the Lord and send them back as missionaries. No, we’re going to send some white people back there. What do they see when they see a white person, a guy from the West. He preaches the gospel. Oh, that’s a western gospel. Never recognizes Oriental gospel. Africans don’t recognize it as an African gospel because it’s preached to them by white people. New Tribe tries to do this, but here’s what he’s found when he tries to do this. Here he is in Mexico, trying to extract himself from a Spanish culture as fast as he can. He’s doing it right because he wants to train that Mexican believer to be strong enough to lead fellow Mexicans to Christ. They know the language; they know the culture, no problem.
Here’s what he found out though when he tried to do it. “I’m involved a great deal here in the local church in Chiwawa. Some time ago, I asked a number of people in the little mission church we were attending to explain how they came to know the Lord. Without exception,” now this is a sad commentary, “the focus of their testimonies was on how they stopped drinking, how they stopped smoking, how they stopped dancing, and so forth. Not one mentioned the finished work of Christ.” What a testimony. What is that a testimony to? They could be Mormons and do that, right? You could go get therapy and do that. They sell patches now, you can stop smoking, don’t need Jesus. That’s not a testimony. Yes, it’s nice to say God changed your life, but in conjunction with what a therapy? Or is it really the outworking of the Lord in your life.
“I was shocked,” he says, “by their responses and since then, I have listened carefully to other persons testimonies, the pattern continues The element of the finished work of Christ is either completely missing or mixed in with what they have done or had quit doing to be saved. I was alarmed. Could it be that many people have never really understood the gospel; could it be that the foundation of grace, so vital to our growth as Christians, is weak or missing? As a result of these questions, I find myself in a difficult position when these people decide they want to be trained as missionaries. I fear that to prepare the missionaries, we have go back and relay the foundation of the gospel” and then he goes on to describe the problem.
My point in reading this is simply to point out what I’m saying with that big “if.” The problem with “easy-believism” isn’t the gospel of assurance. It’s the fact of the prelude to that gospel. We don’t know who God is, we don’t know what sin is, we can’t appreciate, therefore, the forgiveness we have in Christ. It’s cheap, that’s where the cheapness comes in. It’s cheap because we never realized our predicament before a holy Creator and then it does come off as cheap. But that’s not the problem. You don’t have to say, well, you’ve got to agonize and do this and do this and do this. The answer is you need to understand the gospel better. That’s the answer.
We come to point 3. After the message, after God calls, faith depends on a cleansed conscience. Turn to John 5:44. Here’s the answer to the possibility that assurance can be “easy-believism”. Look at this rather sobering statement Jesus makes. He’s talking to people who have rejected Him. He’s talking to people who, when faced with the issue of believing on Him as Messiah, would not, could not, or did not believe. They argued with Jesus and He came back with this very harsh statement. It’s really quite an alarming statement. He says, “How can you believe?” In other words, you can’t believe the way you are. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?”
In other words, in order to believe, the act of believing presupposes repentance. Repentance is built into the process of real belief. If I don’t repent, if I don’t in other words, have an in-depth change down in the subconscious areas, and this is why repentance has to be a divine work. Yes, we do it, but it can’t be worked up because we only are conscious up at the top of our hearts. What about all the glop down below? That’s got to be dealt with and somehow the Holy Spirit does that. But Jesus says you can’t believe if you don’t already visualize who God is correctly and look and seek and recognize the glory that can come from Him and Him alone. To do that, obviously, I have to have my conscience cleansed. How am I going to stare God in the face? What happened to Isaiah when he saw the glory of God? He felt so unclean. In the depths of my heart, how do I face Him to say Lord I trust you if He doesn’t already deal in the depths of my heart with the message of assurance and cleansing. So faith depends upon this cleansed conscience. That’s why we have to say that it’s a supernatural thing that happens. We don’t understand it.
Now we come to last point on page 41, that faith can only indirectly be observed, and we come to the Paul-James problem. So let me go through it quickly. Genesis 15 is not the same as Genesis 22. A number of years went on between these two chapters. James is talking about this, Paul is talking about this. So the first problem with people who see a conflict in the Bible is that they don’t study the context very carefully. One guy is talking about one act that happened in Abraham’s life, and the other guy is talking about another act that happened in Abraham’s life. Which one came first? Paul. Paul is talking about what started it. James is talking about what eventually happened as this man grew in faith. Turn to Romans 4:17, hold the place, and also turn to James 2.
I only cite this because as recently as last year we had a person here in the chapel who, in a college classroom the professor trotted this one out. Ha-ha, anybody so stupid as to think that the Bible is the Word of God, you can just read it in 5 minutes as find a conflict. Well, that’s the problem; the dear professor did take only 5 minutes and read it. That’s why he saw the conflict. Romans 4:17, “As it is written, the father of many nations I have made you, in the sight of Him who he believed, even God, who gives ....” The emphasis in verse 17 is before whom, man or God? God. Now James 2:18, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” What’s the issue there? Is it in the context of showing God, or is it in the context of showing man? Very simple, isn’t it. So much for James and Paul.
I’ll just summarize the last three, page 48. “biblical faith as the presupposition of submission to God’s total authority (Romans 1:5),” Romans 1:5 is a key reference because it says that faith is obedience. Faith implicitly assumes submission to the Creator, the obedience of faith Paul says. It’s the presupposition; remember we started this class a year ago with presuppositions. Faith starts, faith builds off of this presupposition that comes to us because God illuminates our heart to it. “…the presupposition of submission to God’s total authority will inevitably motivate behavior. Unfortunately, in the history of Christianity there have been those who have arbitrarily selected some specific ‘fruit’ as the infallible sign of saving faith.” I don’t know if you’ve been around the Church of Christ but in the south it’s a big thing, the Conservative Church of Christ. “The Church of Christ, for example, holds that water baptism under that Church’s authority is the indicator of saving faith.” Now they claim they don’t believe in salvation by works, but in effect, if you’ve never been baptized by them, in their Church, you’re not saved, period, because if you really had saving faith, then you would be baptized in their church. See the subtlety?
Now the problem is this, and you’ve got to be careful here. Everybody’s saving faith, if you have ten people with saving faith, those ten people are going to have different patterns of obedience and disobedience. You can’t arbitrarily say numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, all have to show the same fruit. That’s baloney. You didn’t show the same fruit when you first became a Christian and you know it, I know it and we’re just fooling ourselves to think that we all show the same fruit of obedience. You just have to look at two Christians to see it’s a different pattern. Two kids grow differently. So you have to watch it there. You can’t ram, cram and jam some litmus test to know whether saving faith is present or not, this is by external. Faith can only be indirectly observed by an external observer.
In Abraham’s life, for example, he demonstrated trust. If you haven’t read the Genesis narratives, this doesn’t flow too smoothly, but if you have, you know what I’m talking about. In Abraham’s life, he demonstrated trust in the land promise by leaving Ur, wandering throughout Palestine without ever actually owning any of it, commentary in Hebrews 11. Even when Sarah died, what did he have to do? He didn’t even have a place to bury his wife, had to buy it. What a guy. And he still trusted that the land would be his. Here’s his beloved wife who bore the miraculous child, and he can’t even get enough land for her grave. He had to buy it. God has not given him the land. But he goes on and he believes anyway.
So when you see these little acts of disobedience by Abraham, we can cool it. His trust in his seed promise is shown by having relations with his wife 25 years in spite of their infertility. Why didn’t they just give up, why did he go on? Why bother? Because the miraculous birth of Isaac wasn’t a virgin birth. Keep that in mind. When he finally did have a son and God asked him to sacrifice it, he had the coolness of mind to infer the doctrine of resuscitation or resurrection. Can you imagine that? Twenty-five years you wait for this miracle child, you get him, he gets to be a teenager, and then God calls you out to slit his throat. Take the same knife you just slit the animal’s throat with and slit his throat with it. I’d like to see his blood. Huh? Hello, what’s that? And he was so used to obeying that he reasoned; he didn’t come apart at the seams because he put it together. He says, okay, let’s think this one through. Can you imagine doing this? Thinking it through to the point where he recognized, wait a minute, Sarah and I waited years for him. He was miraculously born to a promise, and God is a God of election, and His promises do not fail. So if I slit his throat right now, and he dies, God will raise him from the dead because God has got to hold to His promise.
The momentous thing this man was doing here—I have never seen this ever depicted in a play or an art. It is one of the most famous scenes of all history, a man asked to make a supreme sacrifice of his only begotten son. By the way, the word “only begotten” that we use for Jesus, do you know where that phrase started? In the Old Testament with Isaac, “my only begotten son” Do you suppose that God called Jesus “only begotten son” because He wanted first to let Abraham go through this experience, have us read the experience, and vicariously understand what it must have been like for Abraham to go through this awful mess. And then when He says now you saw Abraham over there, Jesus is My only begotten son, you thought Abraham had a time, what about me, I’m your God. The analogy is valid between what Abraham had to go through and what I have to go through because of you people. So Abraham was a powerful, powerful vindication of faith.
But then we conclude, the last paragraph, “Yet his faith wasn’t perfect.” We all know that when we read the narratives. “He failed to believe the seed promise at least twice, along with his wife,” both were implicated. “Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit in the New Testament claims that Abraham was ‘fully persuaded’ and that Sarah ‘judged Him, [i.e. God] faithful who promised.’ Saving faith is not necessarily constant or consistent. Moreover, saving faith can become so weak that fruit is practically invisible as seen in the lives of Abraham’s great grandsons.” Read Genesis 38-49, those are the elect seed. Great group, huh? Murdering their brother, selling him off for silver pieces, oh, they really show saving faith. Can you imagine those guys, those 12 guys walking in and getting membership in the average evangelical church? What’s your testimony? Oh, I tried to kill my brother. So we’ve got to do some thinking about how God works in history and in our hearts. But the story of Abraham … [Message ends abruptly]