I tightened my cape and checked the sword at my side. Startled by a noise in the brush, I turned my head a bit too quickly, catching my helmet before it slid to the earth. Was that the enemy approaching? I sat breathless, poised for attack. Slowly, my dog, Cinder, emerged wriggling from head to toe with delight at the sight of his master. I laid aside my towel, stick, and salad bowl and was once again a boy with his dog.
Heroes. From Superman to Davy Crockett, we have all admired and imitated one at some point in our lives.
The nation of Israel had good reason to be proud of the brave men and women of their history. Scripture is replete with their exploits. However, much like Paul Bunyan, the legends grew to replace the truth, and soon people had forgotten the substance of their hero’s heroism. They began to idolize their memorials instead of following their examples.
Abraham was Israel’s icon of success. Called away from the home of his father, Abraham believed God’s promise in spite of human impossibility. Genesis chapter 15 and verses five and six say this act of faith was counted as righteousness. In other words, Abraham was declared good and right in God’s sight because he believed what God had said.
Fast forward fifteen years. Though Abraham had made some mistakes in his faith journey, he finally received his promised son, Isaac. At this point, God introduced the rite of circumcision. It was a sign that God had chosen Abraham and his descendants as His special people.
Fast forward 430 years. The family of Abraham had become a nation. In order to express God’s standard of righteousness, the Law was given to another of Israel’s heroes, Moses.
However, not even King David, one of the strongest leaders in Israel’s hall of fame, could keep it. After a string of hideous crimes, including adultery and murder, David was confronted by God’s prophet, Nathan. David offered no excuse, only confession and repentance. God forgave him and reinstated his standing.
Fast forward one thousand years. Israel is now under Roman rule and desperately trying to hold onto their own identity embodied in their heroes. Their Messiah has come and gone, but the great majority of them did not even recognize Him. They are clinging to the rite of circumcision and laboring to keep the Law, declaring these outward deeds equal to righteousness.
But, what does Genesis 15 and Romans 4 say made Abraham righteous? His circumcision? He was declared righteous fifteen years before he was circumcised. No, it was his faith, not his works.
What made David forgiven? His perfection? Not hardly! It was God’s grace, not his attempt at keeping the Law. See Psalm 51.
Romans four and verse 12 says if they truly wanted to be the children of Abraham and David, they needed to “walk in the steps of that faith.” What are these steps?
- Recognize our complete inability. “But to him that worketh not…” Romans 4:5
- Accept God’s promise. “…but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly….”
- Focus only on the promise. “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” Romans 4:20
- Receive supernatural life. “…before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” Romans 4:17
- Finally, produce fruit. “…to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” Romans 4:16
Perhaps, the nation of Israel is not so different from us after all. We don our religious garb and attempt to attain to the status of our favorite hero of faith. We imitate their works, but negate their power. Without it, we are no more than a toy soldier in a towel, a stick, and a salad bowl.
Faith begins where ability ends, continues where doubts draw back, and finishes when all else falls short. True heroes are made by grace through faith alone.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saves us…” Titus 3:5