What Faith Isn’t

What Faith Isn’t

March 05, 2023*

(2nd Sunday of Lent)

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 12:1-4a                     John 3:1-17                Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Often when we are explaining what things are, and how they work, we pause from our explanations of what they are to spend some time explaining what they aren’t.  This was important when the Covid-19 vaccines began to come out because many people heard the word “vaccine” and their thoughts connected to the polio vaccines that we received as children.  Those vaccines essentially made us “immune” to polio… or so we thought.  But the fact is that those vaccines made us immune because all of us had them, and because each vaccine, and each disease, performs differently in the human body. And so, we had to take the time to explain what vaccines are, and what they are not so that our understanding could align with the reality that the Covid vaccine is a lot more like our annual flu shot than it is to our once or twice in a lifetime polio vaccination.

With that in mind, when I read our lectionary selections for today, it occurred to me that, for as often as we spend time in church explaining what faith is, sometimes it is useful for us to talk about what faith isn’t, and that’s exactly what we find in some of today’s scriptures.  We begin this morning in Genesis 12:1-4a, where we hear God call Abram to leave his home, his family, his people, and his nation, and go to a place that God won’t even name.

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.

“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.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

God calls Abram from his home in the nation of Ur, to leave everything that he knows and just… go.  It’s a bit like the call from American history to just “Go West.”  God does not name a destination but promises to bless Abram and his descendants.  That’s it.  Just a promise.  And with that promise, Abram believes, Abram trusts, and Abram goes.

And as we will shortly see, as gentiles, that story is at the root of our eventual adoption into God’s family.

But first, we move on to John 3:1-17, where we find Jesus meeting with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and a powerful member of the Sanhedrin.

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 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.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“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!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[plural, as in “y’all”] must be born again.’ 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.”

“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.

As a Pharisee, we know that Nicodemus was a devout man of faith who dedicated his life to doing what was right in the eyes of God.  But because he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, we also know that he was politically connected, respected, and well-known in the community.  Nicodemus says that he and the other leaders knew that Jesus must have been sent by God, because without God he would be unable to do the things that he had been doing.

Jesus explains to Nicodemus that the reason that he can do the things that he does, is because the he has received the Spirit of God and, more importantly, everyone who believes will receive the Spirit of God and will have eternal life.

And, once again, Jesus’ statement that “everyone” who believes may have eternal life, is of vital  importance to us as gentiles.

When Paul was called by God to minister to the Gentiles across the Roman world, there was debate as to whether this was even possible.  For Jews who had been raised on the teaching that they were loved by God because of the covenant that God had made with Abraham, it was difficult to understand how gentiles could be a part of God’s plan.  And so, Paul spent much of his time explaining how that could happen, and a part of that explanation included a definition of what faith in God is, as well as what faith in God isn’t.  We find one of those explanations in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, in Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 where he connects the dots from today’s scriptures saying…

4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 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 starts, as we did, with the story of Abraham.  When God called Abram, only one thing connected him to the promise of God.  There was, at that time, no covenant with God and Abraham had not yet done anything worth rewarding.  Remember that we said that with God’s promise, Abram believes, Abram trusts, and Abram goes.  The only thing that Abram had was faith.  But nonetheless, scripture records that God credited Abram with righteousness.  

That tells us something about what faith is not.  Faith is not connected to the works that we do for God or in God’s name.  Abraham was credited with righteousness before he could do anything.  And, if Abram received the promise of God through faith, and not through the Law of Moses, which obviously came much later, then God’s grace is not hereditary and is not inherited, such that it cannot be passed from one generation to another.  Paul argues that there is no such thing as inheriting the faith of your parents or your grandparents and that applied to Jews in the first century just as it does for Christians in the twenty-first century.  We do not, and cannot, claim that we are saved because we were born into a Christian family.

Abram received the promise of God because he had… faith.  He was, to borrow a more modern expression, saved by faith.  Jesus said that everyone who believes may have eternal life.  We are not saved by the things that we do, we are not saved by works.  We are not saved by anything that was done by our ancestors, by our grandparents, or by our parents.  Our salvation and rescue are not hereditary and cannot be inherited or passed down from one generation to another.

We are saved by our faith.  We are saved by faith… alone… by grace… alone.

Just as it was for Abraham, by faith, and because of our faith, we are adopted by God into his family and into his church.

And it is for that reason that Paul can say that by grace we are, even as gentiles, the children of Abraham.

And that is why Jesus said that everyone who believes may have eternal life.

May.  Not will.  May.  May have eternal life.  What about you?  Do you believe?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

The Mark of the Feast

The Mark of the Feast

May 09, 2021*

(Mothers’ Day)

 By Pastor John Partridge

John 15:9-17                          Acts 10:44-48                         1 John 5:1-6

With today being Mother’s Day, I thought that I would start by thinking about what it is that many of our Mother’s taught us.  But right up front, I want to recognize that not everyone has had a positive experience with their mothers.  Some of the people we know, and some of you who are reading this, experienced verbal, mental, or physical abuse and for that, or other reasons, you do not have a positive association with Mother’s Day.  Similarly, I want to recognize that Mother’s Day is a source of pain for some of you who wanted children, but either couldn’t have them, or lost them.  I get it.  We made friends with many people who shared these kinds of experiences and walked with us, and encouraged us, along our adoption journey.  But for all of you for whom Mothers’ Day is a day to be avoided, as well as for all of you who have fond and loving associations with this day, I hope that you will bear with me and not avoid today’s message because while a loving mother is a human ideal, it is just part of our human experience that God uses to point to something better.

When mothers do their jobs well, we remember them for teaching us how to dress ourselves, for our sense of fashion and style, for teaching us values, and although it takes a while for us to realize it, for demonstrating the value of sacrificing ourselves to meet the needs of others.  Our mothers taught us how to cook, how to clean, how to count, how to share, how to be nice, and a host of other things that we learned by demonstration, rote learning, osmosis, and sometimes mind-numbing repetition, but when motherhood is done well, one of the things we remember most… is love.

And that leads us to the first of today’s scriptures where, in John 15:9-17, Jesus explains why demonstrating love to others is important:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus says that God loved him, and because of God’s love for him, Jesus showed his love to us.  But just to be sure that we know what love is, Jesus offers us a block of instruction.  First, we are encouraged to stay inside of Jesus’ love and the requirement to do that, is to obey the commands of Jesus.  That seems straightforward, but to be sure that we understand, Jesus explains further saying that our obedience isn’t intended to make us slaves, but to bring us joy.  And the command that we are supposed to obey, is this: Love each other in the way that Jesus loved us.  Jesus says that he chose us and appointed us to go out into the world and bear fruit that will last for eternity.  And finally, Jesus repeats his definition and his instruction for clarity and for emphasis, “This is my command: Love each other.”

Out of all the commands of God, and all the teachings of scripture, that Jesus could have highlighted, and out of all the things to which our relationship with God might have been connected, Jesus doesn’t choose anything that we could judge to be oppressive, or onerous, or burdensome but instead summarizes all the commands of God necessary for our rescue as salvation as simply, “love each other.”

At some point, someone in our lives showed us what love looked like.  For many of us, it was our mothers, but even if it wasn’t, Jesus says that love is something that we learn from experience, and something that we pass on to others.  God loved him, so Jesus loved us, and now it’s our job to pass that love on to the people, and to the world, around us.

But as simple as that is, the disciples had a problem understanding what it meant to love the people around them.  The Jewish tradition, at that time, was that the promises of God, and virtually all of God’s instructions, were intended for the Jews, and for the Jews alone.  When God said to love your neighbor, the traditional understanding of many people was that God meant that you should love your Jewish neighbor, that while it was important to love the person that belonged to your church, or that belonged to your religion, it wasn’t necessary to love the people that didn’t go to church, or that belonged to a different religion.  But that wasn’t what Jesus taught, and although it took a while for it to sink in, the disciples began to understand what that meant.  In Acts 10:44-48, Peter is preaching to a group of people who are both Jewish and non-Jewish and as he does, something unexpected happens…

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tonguesand praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

When Peter is speaking, the Jewish believers witness the Holy Spirit of God as it enters into everyone, both Jew and Gentile, the insiders, and the outsiders, and they were astounded.  They were sure that the Gentiles didn’t count.  For their entire lives they had been taught by their church leaders that the rules and God’s promises only applied to them and not to the outsiders.  But their eyes told them something different.  It was clear that when God said everyone, God meant… everyone, and so Peter invites the Gentiles to be baptized.  This is an important point. Because that was a big deal.  While circumcision was the mark that said a man belonged to God’s people, the people of Israel, the Jews, baptism was the mark, the symbol, that signified that people belonged to Jesus, and to his church, and to the people that would become known as Christians.  Baptism was the mark of belonging, and the mark of being invited.  Rather than calling it the mark of the beast, it was the mark of the feast, because it revealed to the world that you belonged to Jesus.

And if that wasn’t clear enough, John amplifies and clarifies that message in his letter to the church in Asia in 1 John 5:1-6 where he says:

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth.

John says that everyone (there’s that word again) that believes that Jesus is the savior and rescuer of the world is a child of God and the way that we show our love for God is to carry out his commands and love his children.  But John wants to be even clearer.  He says that Jesus was born into the world both by water and by blood.  Both “by water” and “by blood” are metaphors.  Saying that Jesus came by water is a reference to Jesus being born as a human being to a human mother and that makes Jesus like us.  But John also reminds us that Jesus came into the world “by blood” which is saying that Jesus was born into the world through death.  While we generally think of death as how we leave this world, Jesus rose from the dead and lives for eternity, so John is saying that just as we are born to our mothers in this life, Jesus was born into a new life by passing through death.

But what does that mean, and what difference does it make?

What it means, is that when we are born to a mother, we are born into a family and born into this earthly life.  But when we meet Jesus and accept him as the savior and rescuer of the world, we are born into something bigger than our earthly family.

And it makes a difference because while the example of sacrificial love that good mothers demonstrate for their families is important, it is only part of the story.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus and accept him as the savior and rescuer of the world, we are born into a new, bigger, and more important family that will last forever.  As much as good mothers might model sacrificial love, Jesus is the better example of real and perfect love.

Everyone is invited to belong, the insiders, the outsiders, the imperfect, the screw-ups, the loving, the unloving, the church people, the people that have never set foot in a church, and everyone that ever needed a second chance.  Everyone means everyone.

We are all invited to belong, to receive the “Mark of the Feast” if you will, and to be baptized and demonstrate to the world that you belong to Jesus.

Jesus chose you and has given you the task of going out into the world and bearing eternal fruit.

And along the way Jesus commands us to do one thing…

Love each other.

Because everyone means… everyone.

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/GolLW9LrWsQ

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.