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Below is the text, largely as preached at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York on 5/28/17. The lines with a strikethrough are there for organizational purposes but not spoken until later in the paragraph (see the italics).

On Mother’s Day a couple Sundays ago, the last mother of a redeemer we unpacked was Rahab. Who remembers who Rahab was? [Canaanite prostitute] Even the men of Jericho did not consider Rahab marrying material – she was just someone they used. And yet our Heavenly Father thought she would make an excellent wife and mother for a Jewish redeemer. In and of herself, she had been an unworthy ugly prostitute or sinner but by faith she did not perish with those who were disobedient after giving a friendly welcome to the spies. Likewise, in and of ourselves, our old self was and continues to be an unworthy ugly prostitute or sinner but by faith we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved on the Day of Judgment. This is the way it has always been – salvation from sin and death is irrevocably applied to a person by faith in the Lord. Abram, whom God would rename Abraham, was not a particularly righteous man. When Abram heard the call of God, his father’s household were worshipers of the moon god named Sin and Sin’s daughter Inanna as was common in Ur at the time. Their names suggest devotion to these idols. Take for instance Abram’s wife whom the true God would rename Sarah. At this point in the story she is still known as Sarai, which is the Akkadian version of the false god Sin’s wife. Thus God chose Abram and Sarai to bless the world not because they had been good religious people, but simply because God chose to do so. God applied salvation to Abram and Sarai not because of something that they did but through faith:

Genesis 15:1-6

Abram was not the only person commended or praised as righteous by faith. (Often I hear commended confused with condemned – they are opposites. To receive a commendation is to be celebrated or praised.) It was by faith that all of the people of old received their commendation. Hebrews tells us:

Hebrews 11:1-12:2

  1. You are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
    1. The people of old were saved by grace alone through faith alone. (Let’s take a closer look at two of those the author of Hebrews commended as righteous by faith–one a Jew and one a Gentile—as representatives of everyone with a saving faith. For our representative of the Jewish people with a saving faith, Jacob makes a good choice because Jacob would also be known as Israel.)
      1. Jacob was saved by grace alone through faith alone. God chose Jacob while he was still in his mother’s womb. Jacob was not chosen because he was a descendant of Abraham: God loved him and hated his twin brother Esau. Jacob was not chosen because of his position in the family: God chose Jacob instead of the twin brother born before him. Jacob was not chosen because of his own righteousness: as Paul points out in Romans 9:11, God chose Jacob instead of his brother before either had done anything good or bad. The only reason God chose Jacob and not his brother, Paul tells us there in Romans 9, is God’s gracious decision. The apostle quotes what God said to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Jacob was chosen by grace to inherit the promise—it was a free gift that he didn’t deserve—a gift that was applied to him by faith. By faith Jacob was seeking a better country—a heavenly one. Jacob was saved by grace alone through faith alone. (Let’s turn now to a Gentile with a saving faith. If we look at all the names in Hebrews 11 since Abraham, the only Gentile in the list with a saving faith is Rahab.)
      2. Rahab was saved by grace alone through faith alone. Rahab wasn’t a descendant of Abraham at all—she was a Canaanite. Later in Genesis 15 God promised Abram that after the sin of the Canaanites had reached a climax He would give the Promised Land to Abram’s descendants. One of those awful Canaanite sins was the practice of prostitution, which was often done as a part of worshiping their false gods. Then at the height of the Canaanites’ sin when the people of Israel came to bring God’s judgment on those awful Canaanites, the people of Israel meet Rahab the prostitute. She wasn’t saved because she had the right pedigree or because she had led a life of righteousness – she was a Canaanite prostitute. God chose to have mercy on Rahab and her father’s family though they didn’t deserve it. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient after welcoming the spies with peace. Indeed, Rahab was saved by faith because by faith she showed hospitality to the spies. It was an act of faith like all of the men on the list. As the author of Hebrews said earlier, “without faith it is impossible to please” God, “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” The reason such deeds were commendable was that they were done with faith. She was saved by grace alone through faith alone. (The point that I’m driving at here is this: The people of old were saved by grace alone through faith alone. God chose to have mercy on some people and not others. He chose to have mercy on Jacob and not Esau; He chose to have mercy on Rahab and her family and not the rest of the city of Jericho. Indeed, God gave Rahab the gift of faith through which she was saved because by faith she showed hospitality to the spies.)
    2. Salvation today is still by grace alone through faith alone. You know the song, “Father Abraham, had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham, I am one of them…” – whoa there, hold on a minute, do you have the genealogical documentation to prove that? I doubt it. Our Genesis text says, “Abram believed YHWH.” Abraham’s sons are those who believe in the Lord. We don’t deserve to be sons of Abraham, but by faith in Jesus we are. You may hear it said: “You want to be saved from the coming judgment? You just need to do one thing: believe.” In a sense that is true but faith isn’t a good work that you do in order to save yourself. I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions of modern American Christians. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has it right, saying, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace.” In other words, faith is a gift from God. It says, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel.” Faith comes with empty hands – offering nothing to God to merit salvation – but receiving Jesus Christ. Faith receives and rests upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Resting is the opposite of working – receiving and resting are not good works. Thus faith isn’t something that we do in order to save ourselves—God saves us through faith. For that matter repentance is also a saving grace and our worship together includes the ordinary means of God’s grace. So faith, repentance, the elements of worship like hearing the word, the sacraments and prayer – none of these are good works that we do. Instead, we are relying on God for grace like Abraham. This is what it means for us to be saved by grace alone through faith alone. (Indeed,…)
  2. It is by a faith like Abraham’s that you receive your commendation.
    1. It is faith like Abraham’s that God counts as righteousness. We read in Genesis that Abram believed the Lord and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness. We don’t read that Abram was a righteous man and therefore the Lord praised him as righteous. No, he was praised as righteous solely by faith in the Lord. Now stop and think for a moment about how remarkable Abram’s faith was. Abram was so old that he was as good as dead and Sarai, his wife, had a dead womb, but the Lord said that Abram’s very own son would be his heir and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. It was an unbelievable promise. Yet Abram believed God could resurrect his wife’s womb and all the rest. Abram believed the good news—the gospel—that the Lord had just told him. Abram believed this promise that was ultimately about his heir and savior Jesus Christ and all of us in Christ. It is no wonder then that the author of Hebrews says that Abraham believed God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham had that kind of faith. It was the kind of faith that could only come from God. And the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.
    2. And so it is with us. The gospel is an unbelievable promise – it sounds too good to be true – that we are counted as righteous by faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day. It is the kind of faith that can only come from God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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