Dwight L. Moody said, “Take the promises of God. Let a man feed for a month on the promises of God, and he will not talk about how poor he is. You hear people say, ‘Oh, my leanness! How lean I am!’ It is not their leanness it is their laziness. If you would only read from Genesis to Revelation and see all the promises made by God to Abraham, to Issac, to Jacob, to the Jews and to the Gentiles, and to all His people everywhere – if you would spend a month feeding on the precious promises of God – you wouldn’t be going about complaining how poor you are. You would lift up your head and proclaim the riches of His Grace, because you couldn’t help doing it!”
According to D.L. Moody many of the ills that plague us and our world can be cured by spending more time acquainting ourselves with the promises of God and less time complaining about our problems and situations. By the way, how many promises do you think there are in the entire Bible? Take a guess. Would you say 66 (one in each book), may be 500, a 1000, or possibly 100,000? Actually, Psalm 139:17 & 18 say, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.” In actuality there are so many promises of God that they cannot be numbered or counted.
A couple of promises that resonate with me:
Hebrews 13:5 – “ Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you.”
Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:19 – “My God shall supply my needs according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus.”
Malachi 3:10 & 11 – “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit, says the LORD Almighty.
Luke 6:38 – Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
What about you, are there promises that resonate with you?
In our text, the Apostle Paul is writing to the members of the church at Rome. The Roman church was composed of both Jews and Gentiles. In this section of the letter, the apostle is addressing the issue of faith verses works. In the two verses for our consideration verses 16 & 17 the Apostle proceeds to spell out for his readers how faith makes things possible.
Paul identifies at least six things that faith makes possible. He says in these two verses that faith makes it possible:
a) To access the promises of God (vs. 16)
b) To have God’s grace applied to our lives (vs.16)
c) For the grace of God to be inclusive – both Jews & Gentiles (vs. 16)
d) For us to claim Abraham as our spiritual father (vs. 16)
e) For God to transform that which is dead and cause it to live again (vs.17)
f) For God to call into existence things that presently do not exist (vs.17)
Let us look at what Paul actually meant by these statements. Beginning in verse 16 Paul says, “The promise comes by faith.” When we examine the Scriptures we see that faith is the medium by which the promises of God are realized. In Genesis 15:6 the Bible says, “Abraham believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness.” The prevailing thought within Jewish circles was and is that the Mosaic Law set the standard for human conduct and established the basis for a right relationship with God. It stood to reason then, if a person kept the law, they were good enough in God’s sight. Paul counters this fallacious reasoning by pointing out that if this is true then faith is useless. Furthermore, the promises given to Abraham predated the law given to Moses. Let’s say that the promise was based on the law, why then did God acknowledge Abraham for his faith especially in light of the fact that the law had not yet been given at the time God made His promise to Abraham? Since the law had not yet been given God’s acknowledgment of Abraham could only be based on Abraham’s faith in God. To take it one step further, Abraham was able to realize God’s promise to him not because he proved himself good enough, but because he believed God would do what God said He would do.
Another point to consider here is that if God’s promise to Abraham was based on keeping the law then Abraham’s faith would have been of no consequence and the fulfillment of the promise would have been a matter of obligation on the part of Abraham. Enter grace. “So that it may be by grace.” Any promise that has to be earned is not a promise but an obligation. In most of the world, I do not know of a single employer that will pay an employee to stay home and do nothing. If an employee is working from home they must at some point produce evidence of the work they have been doing. In most businesses the expectation is that at the end of the workweek or cycle the worker will receive a check as payment for their work. The employer agrees to compensate the worker as long as the worker fulfills his or her obligation to show up on time, maintain acceptable levels of production and whatever other stipulations the employer places on the worker. The point is that in order to get the promised paycheck workers must fulfill their obligation to their employers. That is not how God’s grace works. In fact, grace is not something we can earn in the first place because it is freely given. If we have to work for God’s grace then it is not God’s grace we are working for, but rather we are working to fulfill an obligation. The truth is that no matter how good we try to be we will never be good enough to earn or merit God’s grace. The grace of God is free!
God understood that human beings are flawed and the law pointed that out more than anything. In fact, one of the purposes of the law was to reveal to us that we would never be good enough to please God. This applies to both Jews and Gentiles. This is why God’s grace and the subsequent promises that flow from God’s grace are inclusive. “And may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.” Let us not forget that the law was not given to the Gentiles, but it was given to the Jews. The promises that were given especially throughout the Old Testament were initially given to the Jews. In this context the promises of God were exclusive to those of the law, the Jews.
However, God’s promise to Abraham was intended to be inclusive, “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed. In the Jewish custom the father’s estate was passed on to the children. Therefore, we who believe in God are of the faith of Abraham. Since we share in Abraham’s faith, we can claim him as our spiritual father and we also have a share and a stake in God’s promises to Abraham.
Who was and/or is the God that Abraham believed in? According to the Apostle Paul, “The God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” The Apostle is referring to the things that God did in and throughout the life of Abraham and his wife Sarah. I do not want to get ahead of myself and will deal with this a little more in depth at another point. There are two themes here that are of import to us. The first is God’s power to transform and the second is God’s power to create. These two attributes of God are good news for believers because the let us know that no matter how far down the scale we have fallen or how bad off things are for us personally, there is always hope for those who believe in God. A review of Genesis 1 reveals a demonstration of these principles at work. The earth was shapeless and without form, essentially there was nothing there. Yet, God was able to transform nothing by the power of His words and create something. Another example of these principles is David. God took a shepherd boy and transformed him into a solider, a warrior, and ultimately created one of the greatest kings that ever lived.
The question that still remains to be answered is how does this apply to me? The central point I believe of these two verses can be summed up by saying, faith makes it possible for believers to share in the blessings of Abraham. I would further submit that these blessings are three-fold in nature, and we are only able to access them and/or realize them because faith makes it possible.
1) Faith makes it possible to know the mind and the will of God for our lives – There are many who claim that they do not know what God has in store for them or what it is that God desires from or of them. However, let us remember that Abraham did not go looking for God, but rather God went looking for Abraham. When God found Abraham God told him immediately what God wanted Abraham to do and subsequently led him to the place where God wanted Abraham to be. If we like Abraham will put our complete faith and trust in God to lead, guide and direct us, God will reveal to us what we need to do, where we are to go, and how we are to get there.
2) Faith makes it possible to experience the power and the presence of God consistently – Throughout Abraham’s walk with God he experienced many challenges, issues and obstacles. Some of these Abraham created himself and others were placed in his path, but from the moment Abraham put his faith in God, God was with him every step of the way. In fact, Abraham lived to be about 175 years old and it is safe to say that God did more for him in the last 100 years of his life than God did during the first 75 years of his life. With each challenge Abraham faced, God made a way out and when Abraham was in a situation that was beyond what he could do humanly, God stepped in and fought the battle for him. When we begin to believe that the power of God is greater than our own human power, it is at that point we will start to turn every situation and every circumstance of our lives over to God. As we turn and cede control of our lives over to God we will see that God will always be with us and that there is no situation that God will not empower us to handle, confront or be able to deal with. And in those situations that require more than what we have to offer, God will step in on our behalf.
3) Faith makes it possible to realize the promises of God – Whatever God did for Abraham God did not because Abraham deserved it, but because Abraham believed that God would do what God said He would do. Abraham took God at His word. All of the promises in Scripture have the same condition take God at His word. The question is can you and I believe totally and completely that whatever God says God will do for us that God will do it?
The truth is that for all of us taking God at God’s word means we have to take God out of the box that we have put God in. It means that we have to exercise our spiritual muscles in order to realize the divine possibilities of our faith. It means that we have to take the limits off of what we have long thought, felt, have been told, and come to believe about God. We must face the reality that a boxed in God is a limited God. As long as we keep God in the box we are limiting our own ability to experience the blessings and promises of God.
I encourage each of us to take God out of the box and watch and see if God will not blow your mind with the limitless possibilities of what God will do in each of our lives. When we take God out of the box we will notice that our faith will also grow in proportion to the size of our God. Then like Abraham we will begin to believe the ridiculous, the sublime, and the impossible – our national anthem will become – why not me & why not us, because faith makes thi