In our Sunday evening Bible study of Romans, we have found that the primary focus of Paul’s letter is to explain salvation. To be brief, Paul asserts that observing the law has never been capable of saving anyone because everyone has sinned but that salvation for sinners is accomplished only by God’s grace and is for all who are faithful to God.
The key for sinners, then, is faith. Salvation is not a matter of accomplishing a list of specific tasks to please God so that he will save you but to have faith that God alone saves sinners, to respond to God’s grace by faith. To explain how that works, Paul uses Abraham as the go-to example of saving faith. Paul tells us in Romans 4:3 that Abraham put his faith in God and God declared him righteous.
But how does that work for us? If Abraham is Paul’s go-to illustration of faith, how can we have faith like his? If we go back to when God first called him, we can see that Abraham’s faith was a faith that follows. Genesis 12:1 says, “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’” Verse 4 says that Abraham did what God said and followed when he was 75 years old. Abraham left his homeland and went to a new country, not knowing what he would find there. All he had to go on was God’s promise, and he followed.
What does that faith look like today? It’s not much different: follow where God calls us. Jesus calls from Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” While there’s not a lot of detail there, the broad strokes are pretty clear: having a faith that follows means giving up what you want, even if it kills you.
That’s what we see in Abraham’s life. What did Abraham want? He wanted a son. In Genesis 12, 15, and 17, God had promised Abraham a new homeland, a new family, and a blessing that would be for him, his descendants, and for all nations. But Abraham wanted a son, and when God did fulfill his promise to Abraham and Sarah, giving them their son Isaac, God told Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead”; he gave up what he wanted and trusted God to the point of death. Genesis 22:12 tells us God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac: “‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’”
Do you have a faith that follows? Does your faith in God lead you into the unknown trusting that God will be with you? That’s the kind of faith that leads us to respond to the Gospel so that we might say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). That’s the kind of faith that gives up the assumed security of a job with benefits to pursue full-time ministry (trust me; it’s scary). That’s the kind of faith that approaches cancer or surgery with confidence to praise God. That’s the kind of faith that prompts giving despite a cut in income or an increase in expenses. That’s the kind of faith that gives up the status quo to share the Gospel with a life-long friend who doesn’t know Jesus.
What is God calling you to give up to go where he wants you to go? Is it comfort in your relationships with friends? Is it comfort in your favorite pew on Sunday? Is it a few extra bucks in your bank account? Is it an extra hour on a Sunday morning to teach or serve? Is it discomfort in visiting folks who are unable to attend on Sundays? Is it a fear of change?
There’s no doubt about it; God is calling each of us to follow where we don’t necessarily want to go or are afraid to go. Jesus promises to be with us to the end. Do you have a faith that follows?