The Footsteps of Faith 信心的脚踪Sermon passage: (Romans 4:9-17) Spoken on: July 19, 2015
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Romans
罗 马 书 第 4 章 9 - 17 节
Sermon on Romans 4 : 9 - 17
Speaker: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Title: The Footsteps of Faith 信心的脚踪
I want to start the sermon today by sharing with you a pastoral 牧人problem. I suddenly realized this one day, as I was trying to get into Paul’s mind as he wrestled with the Jews. I realized that maybe, Paul’s issue with the Jews, and my issue as a pastor are not that different. We are actually dealing with the same problem. This problem has something to do with the pastoral vocation牧者的职分. What do you think is the 牧者pastor’s job? Pastoral care and concern? That’s something we do, but it is not an end in itself. Pastoral teaching? That’s true, but again it begs the question “why and what for?” The answer to that question hasn’t changed for the past two thousand years, so I’ll let Paul express it in his own words.
Romans 1: 5 Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. (NET)
5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. (NIV)
So this is the job of a pastor. You can call, you can bring, you can teach, or you can care and love. Whatever you do, the end product is about faith expressed in the form of obedience. If this sounds exciting to you, you can come see me after the service. This vocation can always use more manpower. But now that you understand this, perhaps you can also guess at the pastoral problem I have to share.
There is a sequence of grace – faith – obedience. The pastoral problem is that this sequence or order has to be exact, or else the nature of the objective would be all wrong. Any deviation in the sequence, you might get obedience, you might get faith, but you do not get the obedience of faith.
Let me now share the sequence and how it works: God’s will in this world is in the act of creation. And creation and perfection can be totally different. If there is such a thing as perfection, then there would not be any need for any further creation. But God’s will lies in creation. Make that happen. That is good. Transform that. That is good. But it doesn’t stop there. God wants relationship. God wants to do this creating with Man. This part, I think, gets a little tricky in terms of execution for God, but it is exciting for us humans. Because it is relationship that God wants, this creating process cannot be done with robots. Man as a being is also more than just minions. Humble servants maybe, but not just a minion. Or else, the dynamics of the relationship would be compromised.
The way this co-creative relationship would work is to begin with grace. The thing about creation is that it is always about shaping the future. We are not going into the future. We are co-creating it. If the future is fixed, or perfect, again, there is no creation. And so the relationship starts with promises. Divine promises. And all that is grace. These promises are built on the past creative acts of God. They are built on the power of the divine word. And all that is grace. The revelation and invitation to us is by the grace of God alone.
And since it is purely by grace, and since it is about co-creating the future, our only appropriate response is by faith. Notice that, within such a context, faith has a very specific definition. It is never just a set of beliefs, or just the act of believing alone. Faith is defined as “now that I know this, let’s do this”. It is only this kind of faith that can count as faith that leads to obedience. There are things you must know, and there are things that you must do, and anything short of that, this faith is not a form of response, and it has nothing to do with the co-creative will of God.
There’s just one more thing I need to explain in this sequence that is the most crucial point. This creative work that we do, must stem from grace, and it must proceed with faith, or else the work is as good as dead. This is the part that is most problematic for Man, and it is also the point where most of us falter. Work is a wonderful thing. We create and things get done. But how many of us also lose our identity in work? Eventually, the work itself also turns bad. What happened? This is a familiar storyline found in the biblical stories and repeated in the lives of many around us. What happened? The crux of the matter lies in forgetting that the work is not for the sake in itself. Otherwise, God should just create a perfect state or just get perfect workers. It is for relationship. And so it is always works, in the form of relying on him and doing it with him. When I say work, I also mean obedience. It cannot be just blindly follow the law and just do whatever you’re told, or worse to judge others for not following it in your own way. If you would only ponder over it, you might understand. There is no relationship in blind obedience. It is just more work done in the form of the “law being abided”. And very often, that is law followed wrongly because such strict and mechanical adherence is against the very spirit of the law. Only when it is work in the form of faith in God, obedience in the form of walking with God, then will you bear true spiritual fruits. And then you realize that all that was created, the work that was done was only by grace all along. You then realize that it was a fruitful and meaningful relationship.
As I explain this sequence from grace to faith to work, it might seem elementary to you. And indeed it is. It is not a secret recipe. But I must profess to you that this is the toughest part of the pastoral vocation. Maybe it is human nature. But we can never quite get people to stay pure in this faith. They always either wallow in grace or become self-righteous in their work. Maybe it is the human desire for forms, or the reluctance to fully trust in the Lord. We prefer the security of our work, even in forms of religious work. I wonder if that is the dilemma for Paul as well. On one hand, it is great that his Jewish compatriots are passionate about the law and they think that that’s the upmost form of obedience to God. On the other hand, this obedience is totally misguided when it becomes self-righteousness. They become further and further alienated from God when their obsession is on how to become the perfect Jew, instead of returning to God always to seek out his on-going creative work. When you think that your obedience is what guarantees your salvation, you don’t need faith. You are just being secure in works.
Paul attempted to resolve this confusion by returning to the story of Abraham. I will not rehash the story too much, because it has been done last week. But as we read the writings of Paul, note how he highlighted the importance of the grace – faith – work sequence.
(Read Romans 4:9-17)
Paul was not saying that Abraham’s obedience was not important or the circumcision didn’t matter. But Paul intentionally highlighted the sequence in Abraham’s story to highlight the moment it really mattered. And that’s the moment of faith. That’s the moment in which God and Abraham’s relationship was sealed. Even before the law began, before circumcision, that was the moment that counted. And even if Abraham had to go through all kinds of ups and downs to figure out God’s creative acts, as long as he always returned to his relationship and to act out in faith, he always remained righteous in God’s eyes.
We return to the pastoral problem at the very beginning. We have a calling to bring about the obedience that comes from faith. And it’s great to witness Christians on fire for Christ. They do great works and sometimes they persecute even harder than Paul on the road to Damascus. But sometimes you sense that something is not quite right, when the questions they ask sound similar to the question “What should I do to gain eternal life?” It’s a real temptation for all pastors. Since you just ask about the doing, I just tell you what else there is to do. Why not just let more works get done? Because even for pastors, it’s comforting to be in the security of works, and so just let the church continue with the do-and-do. But that’s not the pastoral calling. My job is to always force you back into faith. Only by faith is there a true relationship with God. Only by faith, then all works are created by grace. This is my struggle, and by faith, may God accomplish his will.