What We Can’t Fake
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Are you a good faker? If you play basketball, being able to fake someone out is a good thing. If you play football, faking out a defensive back may lead to a touchdown. If you’re an opossum, faking out a predator may save your life! But what if you’re not a basketball player, football player, or an opossum? Is it good to be a faker?
In May 2004, a study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that 28 senior federal executives and 463 employees in eight federal agencies were hired or got promotions with bogus college degrees. The degrees they claimed on their résumés were really from diploma mills – shady businesses that will sell you advanced academic degrees without doing any legitimate work. Faking is apparently alive and well beyond the world of basketball, football, and opossums. Did you know that the biggest sick day in the work year is the day after the Super Bowl? The IRS estimates that 17% of all taxpayers try to fake out the government when it comes time to file taxes. And if you think it’s just the big corporations who are doing the faking out, the IRS estimates 75% of the cheaters are individuals. In an age where information floods our lives, references aren’t always checked, facts aren’t always confirmed, and faking someone out is probably more common than we might think. Are you faking anyone out these days?
What about in our spiritual lives? Have you ever faked anything in your relationship with God or other Christians? Have you ever told someone you’re praying for them but haven’t? Have you ever fudged a little in your answer when someone asks, “How often do you read your Bible?” Have you ever flashed your church membership card in a conversation but there’s very little evidence to support your membership outside of that piece of paper? It would be nice to think that faking is absent from our spiritual lives but if we believe that, we’re probably just trying to fake ourselves out.
There is one relationship where faking doesn’t work – that is our relationship with God. You can’t fake faith. Let me say that again. You can’t fake faith. Despite the fact that many of us still try, we’re only kidding ourselves.
Our text today begins with a question. “What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?” What should we say about Abraham? I’ve never heard him called a faker…though he did pretend to be his wife’s brother once to save his own neck. Next to Moses, Abraham is mentioned more in the New Testament than any other Old Testament hero. Abraham had a solid résumé. Spiritually, he was considered a giant. All of Israel looked to Abraham as their ancestral father. In short, being a descendant of Abraham’s was a shining mark of identity.
Yet, verse 2 of our text today essentially says that Abraham’s best work, his impeccable credentials, and his legacy were well short of God’s standards for holiness. Paul puts forth Abraham as an example for us simply because of this: he didn’t try to fake his faith. His faith in God was genuine. His faith, and not anything else, was what brought about God’s favor.
There are two key words here in this passage that tell us Abraham’s story.
The first word comes through in a couple of ways in this passage. You’ll see it as “justified” or “righteousness” in our text. The variations come from the Greek word dik-ah-yo. Paul tells us in this passage that Abraham was declared righteous by God. Abraham was justified in his relationship with God. The relationship was made right, whole, and pure. In the eyes of God, it was as if he had never sinned.
Roy Gustafson tells the story of a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across the English Channel to mainland Europe to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the engine on the car. He contacted the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” When the Rolls-Royce people got the message … and here’s customer service for you…they put a mechanic on a plane and sent him directly to the car owner. The mechanic repaired the car, flew back to England, and left the man to resume his holiday. Now, the first question in many of our minds is, “What’s this little service call going to cost the guy?” So, when the car owner got back to England, he wrote a letter and asked how much he owed. He received a letter back from Rolls-Royce that said, “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.”
When we are justified by God, it’s as if there was never any record that we had ever sinned. Paul goes on extensively in this passage to say the wholeness and completeness in Abraham’s relationship with God, his righteousness, was because he believed. It was simply that: Abraham’s belief, his faith.
This brings up the second key word in this text: the Greek word, pistis, which means faith. Biblical faith begins in a person’s mind. One takes an idea, a belief, and internalizes it so that it becomes a part of our core makeup. But biblical faith never stays in one’s mind. It’s not simply an intellectual concept. Values and beliefs are always coupled with outward action. Abraham believed in God. But then he lived his life in a way that proved his beliefs were real. In short, Abraham didn’t fake his faith.
You have heard me talk before about focusing on the right end of one’s relationship with God. A right focus begins with what God has done for us. God justifies us when we believe in Jesus. We might able to fake a lot of things in this world, but if you don’t believe in what Jesus has done, God knows. The Lenten season is all about throwing ourselves at the mercy of God, and proclaiming our belief. If you’ve never done that, then it’s time you quit faking.
If you’ve been justified, then we should remember the Lenten season, and the Christian life, is marked by belief that yields outward action. God expects that our faith will produce good works.
The invitation today is mostly an invitation to confession. What are you faking that God needs to fix today? Let us throw ourselves at the mercy of God.