Not Enough by Half
March 08, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Genesis 12:1-4a John 3:1-17 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
How many of you have ever supervised children who have been instructed to clean their room?
Usually, the way that this worked in our house, was that our children, particularly Noah and Jonah, would be told to go and clean their room. After some time had passed Patti or I would check on their progress and, most likely, there would be none. So, the next step was to repeat the instructions, sometimes with more specifics, and we would sit in their room and supervise for a short period to ensure that they were complying with our instructions. Later, we would once again check on their progress and… there probably wouldn’t be any. At some point, I would occasionally stop and ask them if they understood my instructions, and even asked them to repeat my instructions back to me. There was no misunderstanding. They could repeat my instructions almost word for word. They just never connected their knowledge to their actions. Or, put a different way, they couldn’t make the connection between what they knew and what they believed. They knew that their parents wanted their room to be clean, and they knew how to do that, but they didn’t believe for themselves that it was an important thing to do. That shortcoming, that limitation, often kept our boys from receiving a special treat that we had in the kitchen or some other reward that we had intended to give them for their success.
And this limitation that most of us have witnessed in our children, and in ourselves, illustrates a spiritual shortcoming that we witness in scripture. We begin in the book of Genesis where we find God giving instructions, and a promise, to Abram. (Genesis 12:1-4a)
12:1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
God begins his instruction with a command to “Go,” but continues by demanding that Abram trust him regarding his destination. Abram knows nothing about where he is going except that God promises to show him the way. In return for his trust, God also promises to bless him and turn his family into a great nation.
And Abram trusted God, and he went.
Abram heard God, Abram knew what God said, he believed and trusted that God would do as he promised, and he obeyed God and put his faith and trust into action. That is the process, and the model, that we are to follow. But, like Noah and Jonah, some people get stuck in the middle of this process as we see with some of the Pharisees in John 3:1-17.
3:1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, comes to Jesus, probably as a representative of several others in that group, though probably not all of them. And he says that they know that Jesus has been sent by God because only God could give someone the power to do the things that Jesus has been doing. But, despite knowing that Jesus has been sent by God, Jesus knows that they do not believe the things that he has been teaching. This is their disconnection. They know, but they do not believe. Information has penetrated their head, but not their heart; and Jesus is clear that knowing is not enough. Jesus came to open the door to heaven, but in order to receive eternal life, we must not only know, we must believe.
From Nicodemus’ visit, we understand that some of the Pharisees were struggling with the things they knew to be true. They knew that Jesus came from God because the evidence was overwhelming. But even when they were equipped with this knowledge, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe everything that Jesus was teaching because believing Jesus meant that they had to let go of something else and begin to act differently. Moving from knowing to believing, required that they change the way that they lived their lives and they weren’t willing to let go and make that change.
To be fair, the Pharisees weren’t the only ones that struggled with what Jesus was teaching. Many Jews believed that they were saved by the law of Moses, and that all they needed to do was to obey the law in order to be “good enough” for God. The Pharisees took this view to extremes, but many others held this same view to a lesser extent. And so, when Paul wrote to the church in Rome, many of whom were Jews, he tried to explain why simply obeying the law was not enough.
(Romans 4:1-5, 13-17)
4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 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 but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 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 into being things that were not.
Paul wants us to understand that it wasn’t the law of Moses that makes us “good enough” to be justified before God. Since the law of Moses was written a thousand years after the death of Abraham, it seems obvious that the law couldn’t have anything at all to do with Abraham’s justification or righteousness. Instead, Paul says, Abraham’s righteousness was a gift that was credited to him, by God, because he believed in God and put his whole faith and trust in God. The promise of God that was given to Abraham, came to him through God’s grace because of his faith and it was faith that made the difference.
Many Jews believed that they would inherit the gifts of God because of their DNA or because of their obedience to the law, as we saw in the lives of the Pharisees. But Paul, who was once a Pharisee himself, specifically argues against that mistaken idea. Paul says that it is not the law, or obedience to the law that brings the inheritance that was promised to Abraham. If grace came from the law, then grace would be earned like wages are earned. But we can’t earn our salvation. Instead, the inheritance of God, his gifts, rescue, forgiveness, and eternal life, are a gift of God’s grace that is unmerited, unearned, and comes to us only by putting our faith and trust in God as Abraham did.
Our children knew that we wanted their room to be clean, and they knew how to do that, but they didn’t believe for themselves that it was an important thing to do. The Pharisees knew that Jesus came from God but even when they were equipped with this knowledge, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe what Jesus was teaching because believing Jesus meant that they had to let go of something else and begin to act differently.
Human beings haven’t changed in two thousand years. Many of us still have the same problem that the Pharisees had in John’s story of Jesus. We’ve heard the story. We know the story. We can repeat the story. Some of us have even accepted that the evidence for the truth of the story is both compelling and overwhelming. But that’s not enough by half. We’re holding so tightly to the things that we find comfortable, that we just can’t seem to let go of our old things and grab hold of Jesus.
Knowing the story is not enough. If we want to grab hold the grace and forgiveness that is offered to us by God, then we must do as Abram did. We have to be “all in.” We must put our trust and faith in Jesus, go where he tells us to go, and do the things that he tells us to do.
Jonah and Noah’s stubbornness cost them the occasional bowl of ice cream, but our failure to trust Jesus will be far more expensive.
The message of Abram, Moses, Paul, and Jesus is that we must let go of our old life.
Put our whole trust in Jesus.
And finally, begin to really live.
Are you ready?
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