Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
I'm not so sure. She didn't know who this man was by the well where she regularly came to get water. She usually tried to avoid the crowds because of her embarrassing past and she certainly wanted to avoid conversation. As she got closer, she noticed that he was a Jew- one of those - another reason to avoid talking. She couldn't turn around and go home now. That would be strange. So she pressed on. As she reached the well. Of course, he spoke first, asking for a drink. She wasn't sure if the kindness in his tone was real or demeaning. She was used to the passive aggressive conversation from the other women in town.
Wait. What did he say? How did he know her adulterous past? Thinking fast she used her normal change-the- subject defense tactic. She knew enough about religion because she has been trying to get rid of the guilt she so often buried deep inside. But how could she get right with God. She wanted to be certain. She must be sure about this. She didn't want to end up in Satan's dungeon. Of course the messiah told about in God's book would clear everything up. If only.....
The woman that we met at the well in the Gospel lesson scrambled for certainty as she conversed with Jesus. It is something we all want. We want to be sure that we are ok with God. I don't want to be duped. I want to know I am good with God.
Paul hadn't yet been to this church in Rome but in his travels around, he made some observations and saw common themes. One was certainty in heaven, not simply that heaven is real, but that each person is certain he/she is going to be there. In Rome was a clash between ethnicity and opinion. There was a clash between tradition and the new wave of church that Jesus introduced. Clash between how you became a part of Christianity and a part of the group. So in the clash, there grew uncertainty.
Paul knew that they needed a solid foundation so that they could be certain. The people boasted about their own actions. They say that they are connected to God through what they did. They say that they are connected because they are born from Abraham and in the right ethnic group that God chose. Because the people connected their certainty back to a guy named Abraham, it would be good to return back to how he was certain about his relationship with God.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefathers, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about-but not before God. The Jewish people who knew Abraham's story thought him to be an upstanding guy. He left everything and dedicated his
life to God. He trusted God to take care of him and his family. He was even willing to give up his son because God was first in his life. He was generous with his money. He did amazing things to show how good of a guy he was. But did he bank his certainty on how good of a person he was? No. Then how did he? What does Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Simply stated, Abraham believed. He was saved because of God. His salvation was not based on a system of reward. It wasn't because of Abraham's hard work. It was because of God's grace. His status or standing before God was credited to him. What does that credit mean?
Paul illustrates. Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. A worker agrees to work for $15/hr. After the two weeks, payday arrives. His employer gives him his paycheck saying "Here is some money. I am giving it as a gift out of the goodness of my heart and because I am so generous. The worker would object to this. "it is not a gift. I earned that. You owe me this money for my hard labor." Or he begins to wonder if the boss found out about how he has really been spending his time. "Who's been ratting on me?" There is a seed of uncertainty. "What is going to happen next week? Will I receive deductions? Will I still have a job at all?"
You think it is stressful before your superior for a review of your actions. How about God? Do you want him to review everything for you?
I hear often well-meaning Christians say to encourage another who is uncertain about their relationship with God. "You will be in heaven because you are such a good person." I know you are going to heaven because you are so nice." That doesn't comfort them. What they are longing for is grace. Those words direct a person's trust inside himself instead of Jesus. Then the certainty of heaven is not based in my Savior, instead it is in me and my ability to do good enough. Then uncertainty sets in "What is good enough? Who defines what is good enough?" God set the bar at perfection. You and I haven't done that.
You can fool people some of the time. But you can't fool God. If you think you can convince God that he should love you because you are so nice, he will call you out on the carpet. God demands purity through and through, 100% not one mark. One bad mark is still not perfect. I know what I have earned. Heaven's HR department has recorded everything I have done. I am in debt to God up past my eyeballs because of what I have done. Hell is real and it is what we have earned on our own. So you can and never will be good with God because of how good you are.
God wants to give you certainty in this way, the way he did with Abraham. However, to the man who does not work but trust God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. Credit is different than earning. You work for a paycheck and you get that money on payday. With credit, it is given without you having earned anything.
We need something from the outside to be given to us, the holiness of Jesus Christ. You want to be sure about your own status with God? It is given to you in Christ and it is free. All the debt you racked up against God, all of that is paid off by his blood. Now with debt paid off, there is still a need for some money, something to live on. You can't live on nothing. So on top of paying off the dept, God credits all the righteousness, perfection, holiness, goodness, and decency of Jesus to your account. making you the richest person ever.
You want to be sure about your standing with God? Look not to yourself, not to your own work, not to your own account or wallet or ability to do, but look to Jesus and you will be certain. It is true.
It was not through law (keeping the rules) that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law (keep the rules) are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, If you worked for it, there is no need for a promise, it is an expectation. because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. The law only confronts you with the real you. Certainty is in someone who has done it. God new our desire for certainty had to come from outside ourselves. So that is what he gives us in Jesus.
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring-not only to those who are of the law (Jews) but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham (Gentiles-non-Jews-who trusted in the promise as Abraham did). He is the father of us all. Everyone. You are all in. As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed-the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. You believe in the same promise that Abraham did, you are in. That is certainty.
All that woman as the well wanted was to know, to be sure, that she was loved by God. She knew she had messed up again and again. But because of Jesus, she was sure that heaven was hers. In her certainty, she ran back to town to bring as many to know Jesus as possible. This is what certainty does to you. If gives you a great sense of purpose and a boldness to share the same hope you have.
Your God is not like people today, some of who can have a fake care for you. They are not all genuine in their love for you. His is genuine and you can be certain about that. You can because of everything Jesus has done for you. It's yours. Be certain. You are redeemed.