It would be a trip to picture such a thing: a 99 year old geezer and his wife younger by a decade preparing for their first baby.
Not even in the history of movie-making – and taking into account the wacky comedies of Adam Sandler – would any producer have pitched an idea so strange as a 100-year old first time Dad. Maybe its something they should look into.
Paul references this account from Genesis in his 4th chapter of Romans, to illustrate how simple faith is.
Genesis 15: the word of God comes to Abram in a vision with a promise that God would be Abram’s shield and that his reward would be great, to which Abram replies that he doesn’t know what the use of a reward would be as he doesn’t have anyone to leave it to. Being as he had no children and a servant in his household would inherit everything.
God promised him a son and showed him a starry night on display, promising descendants too numerous to count, as dazzling as a vista of the Milky Way on full brag. Would you have believed it? Wrinkly, gap-toothed, with sore knees and knowing you’re close to a century?
‘Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.’ (15:6, NIV)
Can you put yourself in Abram’s position? Or Sarai’s? They probably hadn’t been intimate in 30 years and they had to set up a date…dust off some of the old moves, re-acquaint themselves with the birds and the bees and the peacocks and peahens.
I even have the soundtrack in my mind: Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s get it on’.
And, wham! Just like that Abram was made right with God. Simply by believing. And believing something so unlikely. This is what Paul circles around when he’s talking about righteousness.
When reading about righteousness in a Biblical context, the word just pops off the page now because of what Paul has been writing and what I’ve been reading of it. Paul points to the promise of God to Abram and Abram’s faith as resulting in righteousness, and specifically points out that Abram’s action of being circumcised (to comply with the Law) did not make him righteous at all but that it was faith.
In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul describes himself in the following terms when considering the flesh:
- Circumcised on the eighth day
- Of the people of Israel
- Of the tribe of Benjamin
- A Hebrew of Hebrews
- In regard to the law, a Pharisee
- As for zeal, persecuting the church
- As for righteousness based on the law, faultless…
The Jews in Paul’s day (and even now) saw the act of circumcision as doing something to be made righteousness, abiding by the Law. Paul is saying in Philippians that he has the pedigree; he’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the circumcision but that it actually doesn’t mean what he thought it used to mean.
You can almost imagine the subtext of Paul, the older Christian, talking to Saul, the younger Jew in the text: Yes, I was faultless as far as the law was concerned, but I still wasn’t in right-standing with God…it was all dung.
If I may make use of poetic license, it wasn’t a lone doggy doo in the corner of the backyard; it was a collected mound of offense straight from a farm. All those years of working to earn righteousness from God was about as useful as a load of dung. And Paul is breathing easier now that he is free of it.
A message that was doubtless infuriating to the Rabbis in Paul’s day – simply by believing God about Christ, everything is already done and the Believer gets to walk in a new reality where sin has lost its power. Paul writes that Abraham was the forerunner of the process that every Christian should follow, not to try to live with a sin management philosophy and limit the damage where possible, but walk in the nature of the Christian, as a new creation, in faith.
I realise it sounds simple.
But maybe it’s not meant to be complicated. After all, it won’t do to get into a street-fight with sin every other evening; sin has more experience at brawling than you or I ever will.
If you or I are a child of God, we entered this reality by simple belief and our way of entering this life is the way of living this life…the just will live by faith.
Walking in faith (after Abraham’s example) makes us a son or daughter of Abraham.
Like one of those countless stars on that ancient night that Abraham saw.