Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is a family? If you were asked to define what constitutes a family how would you respond? It isn’t quite as easy as we may think. A family isn’t just a bunch of people living under one roof. By that definition any hotel or prison would be a family. Neither is a family a group of people who have the same last name. Lots of people have the same last name from all over the world and are total strangers. To complicate matters, a family doesn’t have a specific composition either. A family can include parents and children, a married couple without children, a single parent and children, among others. You don’t even have to be a blood relative to be family, for example some people are adopted. And so, if someone talks about family the natural question occurs: What kind of family is it?
What about God’s family? To be part of God’s family, you also have to part of Abraham’s family. “Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham, and I am one of them, and so are you.” We teach our children that song: that they are children of Abraham. Abraham was the beginning of the covenant family. Of all the people on earth, God singled out this one man – seventy-five years old, married, and childless. A wealthy man who shared his abundance with his nephew Lot. God promised Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless you, and him that curses you I will curse: and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). God made a three-fold promise to Abraham which was the foundation of the Old Testament. God promised him a people, a land, and promised Saviour. To be part of God’s family, you also have to part of Abraham’s family, and Christians now belong to that family. But the question that the Apostle Paul begins in our Epistle is, what kind of family is it? To answer the question of what kind of family it is, we’ll look at two questions. First, “How does one join the family?” Second, “Who belong to family?”
How Does One Join Abraham’s Family?
Paul asks if we are part of Abraham’s family “according to the flesh” (Rom. 4:1). Some believed that in order to be part of God’s family you had to be a Jew and keep the Law. Paul is asking if we earn our place in God’s family by emulating Abraham’s obedience, good works, and virtue? But, surely we are not guilty of works righteousness, right? Do not think that you are immune to what Paul is writing against. We too can think that our place is God’s family is determined by our behavior.
Yes, even Lutherans can be deceived into thinking that Christianity is all about works. We can think that it’s all about what we do, or at least what we should do. We can think that we’re good with God because we somewhat regularly attend services at church, we read our Portals of Prayer, sing in the choir, pray, give offerings, obey the commandments, live according to the Bible’s teachings, and generally try to be good, decent, and moral. Some even say Christian faith and life are simply a matter of “Do your best and God will forgive the rest.”
But that is the very opposite of what Christian faith is. Against this way of thinking Paul quotes Genesis, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). God’s promises came before Abraham did anything at all. Abraham didn’t say a prayer. He did not try to cut some kind of deal with God. God simply told Abraham how it would be and Abraham actually believed him. He trusted what the Lord had spoken to him. He believed the promise, as crazy and unlikely as it all sounded, that 75 year-old childless man would be the father of a great nation and in his family all people on earth would be blessed. Abraham took God at His word, and God counted that trust of Abraham as righteousness before Him. If it was based upon what Abraham did, then he would have earned it. But, we’re not talking about wages here. We are talking about grace. Abraham found grace with God (Gen. 18:3).
How do you join this family? Those who trust God’s promise of forgiveness are in the family. This is how you and I were adopted into God’s family. The only way we can be children of Abraham, is not on the basis of our works, but if God forgives us. Righteousness does not come from your commandment-keeping, portals of prayer reading our religious works, our piety, our anything. Righteousness comes from having your sins forgiven. That’s how you become a child of Abraham.
Who Belong to Abraham’s Family?
But, who belong to Abraham’s family? Some believed that in order to be part of God’s family you had to be a Jew. Salvation was limited to one family. Paul is asking, then, is the family, into which we’ve now been adopted the ethnic, physical family of Abraham? Family is important to many of you also.
Many of you have been raised in a Christian family and are surrounded by Christian relatives. Are you saved because you have Christian family or were raised in a Christian house or culture? Just because you were born into a Christian family, have parents or maybe even grandparents, a spouse, children, or relatives who are Christians does not make you automatically a part of God’s family. Your family, your ethnicity, your cultural heritage do not automatically guarantee you a place in God’s heavenly kingdom. There will be lots of people who are condemned to hell who had thoroughly Christian families. Having a Christian family is not enough to save you.
Who belong to God’s family? It is not those who attempt to earn their place into God’s family by their good works, nor is it those who think they’re automatically in because they were born into the right family. Anybody, of any race, family, gender, ethnic background, creed, history, anybody at all, can be a child of Abraham through faith in Jesus Messiah. We are brought into God’s family by grace alone, it’s a gift from Him to us, unearned and undeserved. This offer to become part of God’s family is not conditional upon being from a certain race or family. We stand by faith alone, that is, trust in what God declares by His Word, namely that through the promised Offspring of Abraham who is Jesus the Christ, the blessing has come to the world and specifically to you. And we stand justified before God on the basis of Jesus Christ alone, His life, His righteousness, His saving death and resurrection.
Abraham, says Paul, was justified by faith. God, the just judge, acquitted Abraham, and made him part of God’s family. That’s how you too can join God’s family, by simply trusting God’s promises to you. That is how you remain in God’s family: by trusting in him. This God is completely trust-worthy. He sent His only-begotten Son that whoever trusts in the promise of forgiveness, has what he believes, namely eternal life. Take God at His Word, when he says that he did not send His Son to condemn you, you did that well enough on your own. Instead, He sent His Son born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem fallen humanity, to save the world by His own dying and rising. Take God at His Word. It will be counted to you as righteousness. Trust the promise of forgiveness in Jesus. Enjoy being part of the family of Abraham.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.