Hope in God’s Promises, Not in Our Obedience

The following is the manuscript for this recording. Therefore, what you will hear in the recording will be slightly different than what is written below.

“We do not grieve as those who have no hope.”

Can anyone recall a specific time and place where you have heard these words?

They are found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, and are directly referring to the loss of a loved one.

I can remember exactly the time and place when I heard these words, not for the first time, but a time that I will never forget.

It was March 5, 2005, spoken by the grieving mother at the graveside of her 19 year old and a 20 year old daughter and son, who were killed suddenly in a car accident. Jocelyn, who is Lynn’s aunt, through her sobbing, made a declaration of hope. It is the hope of all who believe the words written by the Apostle Paul so long ago: that death here on earth is not the end.

Paul goes on to say that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep… that the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord, and so we will always be with the Lord.

If you believe these words, and live as one who has hope, you are living in faith. Like Lynn’s aunt Jocelyn, you can face sorrow and grief not as those who have no hope, but as those who have an eternal hope.

This faith is based on a promise. It is not unlike the faith of Abraham, who trusted a promise made by God. The promise was this: 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 dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:2-3)

But tied to that promise was a command, which was that Abraham was to leave his country and his family and his father’s house, and go to a foreign land that he did not know.

Out of faith, Abraham went. He obeyed.

This morning, I want to examine the faith of Abraham in light of the passage I already mentioned from 1 Thessalonians and also Galatians 3. The main theme through this message is that our hope is based on God’s promise, not our obedience.

Galatians 3:23-26

“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons and daughters of God, through faith.”

Paul is concerned about those who were saying that, for both Jews and Gentiles, obedience to the law was still required in order to have any hope for salvation. With this passage, he is attempting to correct that teaching.

We live with a great deal of separation from that society. It is difficult for us to relate to the problem that Paul is dealing with. But we can relate more, believe it or not, with Abraham.

Earlier in Galatians 3, Paul refers to Abraham:

“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.’”? (3:5-6)

Remember with me the story of Abraham. He was living in a place called Ur. We know very little about him prior to God calling him to leave his home. Chances are, he lived among people who worshipped different gods and remember that this was before God had established his people, along with any sort of law or instructions for living, other than to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

In Genesis, we read about Adam and Eve, the fall, the descendants of Adam, Noah and the Ark, the flood and subsequent covenant between God and Noah, Noah’s descendants, the tower of babel, and then the call of Abraham.

The question I ask when I get to Genesis 12 is, on what basis did Abraham obey God? Did they have a relationship prior to this? What was that relationship like? There were to laws, no commands, no instructions. There was a world full of corruption, and in the midst of it, Abraham.

Abraham was 75 years old when he left his home. That’s an entire lifetime lived in one place, and then suddenly, Abraham is told to leave and start heading in a general direction. “I will show you the way,” Says the Lord.

And so he did. But why? In Genesis 15:6, it says that Abraham believed the Lord. That’s it! God made a promise, and Abraham believed it.

We can relate to this story because, like us, Abraham was born outside of the law given to Moses. He was called to believe a promise, and live according to the hope found in that promise.

Abraham lived from a promise, and toward the hope found in that promise.

And this was counted by God as righteousness. It was not his obedience to rules, or his lifestyle that was counted as righteousness. It was his trust in a promise made by God.

Let’s go back to Galatians 3. Paul is reminding the Galatians that God’s declaration of righteousness is not based on obedience to the law. It is based on our faith in God’s promise made through Jesus Christ.

And what is this promise?

Let’s look at Galatians 3:10-14:

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

The promise made by God through Christ is that we will receive the Spirit of God and the blessing of Abraham. Remember the promise made to 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 dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Through Christ we have been included in God’s nation, blessed by God and a blessing to all people on earth. We have also been given the Spirit of God, who is our helper, comforter and guide.

The promise of God has been given to us. The question is, how will you respond? Will you believe the promise or not?

If you will not believe the promise, the only hope is that you will live a life good enough to please God’s righteous standard. However, as we have read, this is a curse because it is impossible.

If you will believe the promise, here is how you will live. Not as one under the guardianship of the law, as though you were a young child under the discipline of a school teacher. No, you will live with the promise of God behind you and the hope of eternal life ahead of you.

You will live from victory toward eternity. Not burdened by anxiety about how you will score on the final exam. Not burdened by the need to outweigh the bad with the good. Not burdened by searching for meaning and purpose in life.

You will live with the confident hope that God’s promise is trustworthy and true.

Like Abraham, you will go where the Lord leads. Like Lynn’s aunt Jocelyn, you will say in the midst of your sorrow, “I grieve not as those who have no hope.”

If you were here last week, you may remember the challenge given by Pastor Rob. He asked us to think about this question: “What are you most afraid of losing? This will tell you where your treasures are.”

One of the fears many of us have is of death and not measuring up to God’s standard. We fear being not good enough. What does that say about what we treasure?

I’ll tell you what it says about what I treasure. It says that I have not believed God’s promise and that I treasure my own understanding of righteousness above God’s. When I live with fear that I have sinned too deeply to be forgiven, my treasure is works-righteousness.

Not only is this a lack of faith, but it also causes me to pass judgment on the behaviour of others. I become bitter, impatient, and hopeless.

The next thing that happens is that I start looking for purpose, identity and value in other things. My career, house, money, status, relationships, become my source of worth. If others think of me as successful, I must be successful.

But this is fragile and temporary. These measures of success will crumble under the weight of your dependance on them. They are not meant to give us worth. They are not meant to be our treasure.

The beauty of Rob’s question is this: the one thing that we should fear above all else is one thing that cannot be taken away from us. It is that God will not fulfill his promise to us.

This is the only thing we should be legitimately afraid of, but is also the only thing we can be absolutely confident we will never lose.

God’s promises have never and will never fail. This is why grieving mothers, at the graveside of their children, can say without a doubt that they will one day see their children again. A promise has been made by God that he will call his people back to him once again.

And so we live without fear. For that which can be taken away from us is of no eternal value. And that which is of eternal value to us can never be taken away.

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