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Faith Is Not Wishful Thinking. It Is Defiance.

Faith Is Not Wishful Thinking. It Is Defiance.


What drives you?

It was a Saturday, and I flipped on the TV for an extraordinarily long time. Seemingly everything was exercise equipment, how to become real-estate rich with no money down, and steps to financial security. As much as we all make sport of this sort of thing, it attracts us. That’s because we are “wired” for law: tell me what to do, and I’ll get it done.

God’s law is inborn, in our conscience, part of our moral makeup. The law can direct us, but it cannot drive us—except to either despair or self-righteousness.

The church father Augustine defined sin as being curved in on ourselves. Only God’s promise can drive us out of ourselves and our own programs for acceptance before ourselves, other people, and God. While the Christian life according to Scripture is purpose-directed, it is promise-driven.

Together, Genesis 15 and Romans 4 bring home this point powerfully.

Wrestling with the Promise (Genesis 15)

Abram’s greatest problem is that he has no heir, no one to carry on the calling God has given him. His world, as he sees it, is bleak.

After these things, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Gen. 15:1)

Notice, in this opening address, it is sheer promise.

Yet still Abram wonders, “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezar of Damascus? . . . You have given me no son, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir” (vv. 2–3). Nevertheless, God counters again with the promise, offering the innumerable stars as a sign of the teeming offspring that will come from Abram’s loins.

Abram’s response is neither blind optimism nor positive thinking. He believes.

Faith does not create; it receives. The preaching of the promise created justifying faith, and this sign and seal confirmed and ratified it. Out of his confession of faith, Abram continued his pilgrimage—not on the basis of Sarai’s fertility or his physical vigor, but on the sole basis of the Word. Sarai’s infertile womb is the canvas on which God will paint a new creation. And they both get renamed. The promise gives them a new identity.

Fulfillment of the Promise (Romans 4:13–25)

In Romans 4, Paul brings Abraham to the witness stand as an example to us—not chiefly as someone whose holiness we can emulate, but primarily as someone for whom the promise worked even…



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