Sermon: Part of Abraham’s Family

Text: Romans 4:1-8, 13-17
Second Sunday in Lent
Listen to the Sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is a family? How would you respond if you were asked to define what constitutes a family? 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 with the same last name. Many 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, and a single parent and children. You don’t even have to be a blood relative to be family. For example, some people are adopted.

What about God’s family? To be part of God’s family, you must also be 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 God’s family. God singled out this one man of all the people on earth – seventy-five years old, married, and childless. God promised Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). Then the Apostle Paul comes along and says that to be part of God’s family, you must also be part of Abraham’s family. Christians now belong to that family. This morning we’ll look at two questions. First, “How do we get into Abraham’s Family?” Second, “What are the blessings of being in Abraham’s Family?”

How do we get into Abraham’s Family?

First, how do we get into Abraham’s family? Some believed that to be part of God’s family, you had to be born a Jew. Salvation was limited to one family. Is God’s family only made up of the ethnic, physical descendants of Abraham? Others believed that to be part of Abraham’s family, you had to keep God’s Law. Salvation was limited to those who kept all the rules and were good boys and girls. Do we earn our place in God’s family by copying Abraham’s obedience, good works, and virtue?

Family is essential to many of you also. Many of you have been raised in a Christian family, surrounded by Christian relatives. Are you born into God’s family? Are you saved because you have a Christian family or were raised in a Christian home? Just because you were born into a Christian family and have parents or maybe even grandparents, a spouse, children, or Christian relatives does not make you automatically a part of God’s family. Your family, ethnicity, and cultural heritage do not automatically guarantee 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.

Additionally, even Lutherans can be deceived into thinking that Christianity is all about works. We can believe that being in God’s family depends on what we do, or at least what we should do. We can think that we’re part of the Family 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. But is that why you’re saved?

We return to the question: how do we get into Abraham’s family? It is not those who attempt to earn their place in God’s family through good works. Nor is it those who think they’re automatically in because they were born into the right family. What do our readings say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is the bottom-line in Christianity.

Paul says 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 trusted him. He believed the promise. It sounded crazy and unlikely that a 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 would have earned it if it were based on what he did. But we’re not talking about what you earn. God’s law makes demands we fail to keep, so we incur wrath. God makes undeserved promises, and when we trust him, we share the faith of Abraham and join his family. Paul says it happens to one who “does not work”! That means it comes by faith alone. We are talking about grace. Trust in the promises of God. We are brought into God’s family freely – it’s unearned and undeserved. In God’s grace he makes promises, which we receive by faith. This is the core of what you and I believe and confess as Christians. 

 What are the Blessings of Being in Abraham’s Family?

But what blessings are there for being in Abraham’s Family? After Paul said, “To the one who does not work,” he said, “but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly.” Some may find this utterly shocking. It should make us cry out, “How can this be? That’s not fair.” An ungodly person rejects God, which can be seen in a corresponding shameful lifestyle. That’s us. We’re ungodly. So here we are this morning as sinners who deserve to be sentenced hell. That is a God-imposed sentence of condemnation. How shall we escape? We need righteousness to be acceptable to God. But we don’t have it. What we have is sin. So, our sin needs to be forgiven, and we need righteousness. How? By trusting in the One who justifies the ungodly.

Paul says being in Abraham’s Family brings with it two blessings: forgiveness and righteousness. On the one hand, God will never count your sins against you. Sin is not being debited against you. God pardons and covers our sins instead. We are acquitted of our crimes, and our sins are forgiven.

On the other hand, faith is credited with righteousness. Righteousness is given as a free gift, altogether apart from our works. This righteousness is outside of you. It is Christ’s righteousness which is given to a sinner. It is credited from Christ to you. It is not righteousness that comes from within ourselves. Faith receives the righteousness Christ won for us because we are united to Jesus by faith.

These are the blessings of being in God’s family. Works do not obtain forgiveness, and works do not receive righteousness. Both are obtained by faith alone “apart from works.” Both are essential. You are forgiven and righteous. Your sin gets removed, and the righteousness of Christ is received. And you did not earn this. These blessings are yours simply by trusting God’s promises to you. This God is entirely trustworthy. God did not send His Son to condemn you. You did that well enough on your own. God can justify the ungodly because “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). God sent His Son to redeem you, to save the world by His bitter suffering and death. He sent His only-begotten Son so that whoever trusts in the promise of forgiveness has what he believes, namely eternal life. Christ died to pay your debt, and since your debt is paid, forgiveness is yours. Since Christ lived a perfect life, God credits Christ’s righteousness to you.

Through Christ, all believers are part of Abraham’s spiritual family. Being part of Abraham’s family is not only about individual salvation. God saves us and puts us into his family for a purpose. The Church is the family of God, it is our community. What does this family look like? It’s filled with sinners justified by grace. That means it should be filled with humble and grateful servants, dying to ego and self-exaltation, who make Christ their boast alone. This family is where God wants us to grow and flourish as we share in the Church’s worship and mission. Faith isn’t a private affair. It’s a family thing!

 You have two possible futures in front of you. One is to inherit eternal life. The other is to inherit wrath. Whether you inherit one or the other depends on being part of Abraham’s family. You are not part of Abraham’s family because you were born into the right family or because you kept all the rules. Only if you trust the promises of God are you part of Abraham’s family. Being in Abraham’s family gives you two blessings: forgiveness and righteousness. These blessings are provided because Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died in your place. So trust him. Do it right now. Stop trusting in yourself and start trusting the God who justifies the ungodly. Do you want to remain in God’s family? Continue to trust him all your life. Take God at His Word. Trust the promise of salvation in Jesus. Your sins will not be counted against you. It will be counted to you as righteousness.

And you will have the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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