The joy of walking in the footsteps of faith

I'm regularly grateful for the people the Lord has blessed me with the privilege to know, particularly those that I have learned to look up to as examples of how to live. There are people that have come before me that have set a powerful example for me in areas like; marriage, parenting, personal finances, leadership, and ministry. I'm thankful to have had the privilege to observe them live their lives. Their actions backed up what they said, and I was blessed with visible roadmaps that have informed the way I make many life decisions.

Some of the greatest examples in my life have been the people that likewise showed me what it meant to be a man who walked by faith in Jesus Christ. I was blessed with examples in my family, in my home church, at Summer camp, in college, and through pastors and other leaders who mentored me or invested in my growth.

Life goes on, and then, before you know it, you discover that you've entered into a season where there are people who are actually looking up to you. There are people looking to you to set the example for what it looks like to be married, be a parent, manage finances, lead, and walk by faith.

So what does it look like to walk by faith and why is God so pleased with those who do? And how can we leave footsteps of faith that help set the course for those who come after us?

I. Trusting God for what we haven't yet seen

One of the most widely known and respected people to have ever walked the face of this earth was a man named Abraham. At present, there are billions of people on this earth who would list him as a major influence on their spiritual heritage, and I could certainly list myself as one such person.

Paul mentions Abraham's faith as something notable and foundational in Romans 4. But even before we examine the specifics of what Paul shared, I think it's useful to take a quick look at some of the highlights of Abraham's life.

Abraham lived somewhere around 2100 BC. When he was 75-years-old, the Lord called Abraham to leave the city of Ur where his family was from, and to go to a land that He would show him. God promised Abraham that He would give him a land of his own, make him into a great nation, and bless him. Even though Abraham grew up in context where he was surrounded by false religions and idolatry, he was willing to trust the true and living God, uproot his life, and begin moving in the direction of the unfamiliar while walking by faith.

During his life, Abraham had been blessed with great wealth. The Lord caused him to prosper, but Abraham didn't idolize what the Lord entrusted to him. Still, it saddened him that he didn't have a son of his own with his wife Sarah to bless with this inheritance. When Abraham was 100-years-old and Sarah was 90, the Lord promised them that they would have a child and they were to name him Isaac. Naturally speaking, it would sound comical to believe a 90-year-old woman might bear a child, but the Lord, the giver of life, caused Isaac to be miraculously born through Sarah. This miraculous birth foreshadowed the miraculous birth of Jesus through Mary - giving a visible glimpse of a greater birth that was to come.

Obviously, the birth of Isaac brought great joy to Abraham and Sarah. They loved him and they cherished him as good parents would be expected to. But the love we have for one another, or even for our children, should be a reflection of the love of God, not something that takes the place of God. So, in the midst of this great blessing, Scripture tells us that God tested the depth of Abraham's love and faith. The Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his son.

Isaac would have likely been a young man at the time of this sacrifice. He even carried the heavy wood on his back up the hill to the place of the sacrifice and certainly could have escaped his elderly father if he really wanted to. But just as Abraham trusted God, Isaac trusted Abraham and willingly cooperated with this test. In the end, when Isaac was bound and the sacrifice was about to take place, God told Abraham not to carry through with it. He provided a ram to take Isaac's place, but commended the fact that Abraham truly trusted Him.

Why was Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac? Hebrews 11:19 explains that Abraham believed God was going to miraculously raise Isaac from death. Isaac being Abraham's only son through Sarah, carrying the wood on his back up the hill, willingly laying his life down as a sacrifice with faith that God can raise the dead, all foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice and resurrection Jesus was one day going to accomplish on behalf of mankind.

Now there are certainly other highlights and even errors from Abraham's life that we can point out, but an observation of his life shows that he was a man of great faith. He trusted the Lord and was declared righteous in God's eyes because of his faith, not because of his efforts. Abraham trusted God for what he could not yet see, and we're invited to copy that example.

So what else should we observe from Abraham's life? I think we can also observe that walking in the footsteps of faith involves working for God's glory, not for His favor. What does that mean?

II. Working for God's glory, not His favor

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,    and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
— Romans 4:1-8, ESV

One of the greatest blessings my father gave me when I was growing up was the blessing of teaching me the importance of working hard. He showed me what it looked like, and he regularly invited (or forced) me to work with him in our family-run grocery store. I have the same name as my Dad and I was always mindful of the fact that, to the other employees, I was "the boss's kid." Everything I did in that store would, in one way or another, reflected upon my father. So I worked hard, not because I was trying to earn my father's love, but because my work ethic, or lack of thereof, could impact his ability to lead and manage his staff.

There's a similar dynamic at work in our relationship with God. It is a terrible mistake to believe that God's love can be earned through our efforts. That's a mindset that has been prevalent in humanity since Adam rebelled against God, and that's the mindset Paul was confronting in this chapter. Humanity has been wrestling with relational insecurity ever since we first went our own way and rejected walking with God, and that insecurity often makes us mistakenly believe a relationship with God, and the righteousness of God, can only be granted to us as a payment for our efforts to earn it.

Like he did in the previous chapter, Paul made it clear in this chapter that we have nothing to boast about before God. Our salvation has been grated to us as a gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not as a wage for service, and not through the works of our flesh. The good deeds we do should be for the goal of glorifying God, not trying to earn His divine favor.

And just as God did through Abraham, He can bring about long-term good through our lives as well as we continue to walk in the footsteps of faith. Look at the example Paul shares of the long-term good we can see God bring about as a legacy from Abraham's life.

III. Delighting in the long-term good God will foster through you

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
— Romans 4:9-12, ESV

In Genesis 15:6, we are told that Abraham believed God and was therefore counted as righteous in God's eyes. In Genesis 17:10, when Abraham was 99-years-old, God established the practice of circumcision with him and his offspring as a sign of the covenant God had made with him. During the era in which Paul was preaching the gospel, there were plenty of people that believed a person could not even be saved if they hadn't first been circumcised. This is similar to the mistaken thought in our day that a person cannot be saved unless they are first baptized. But Paul clarifies in Romans 4:10-11 that Abraham was declared righteous in God's eyes before, not after he was circumcised.

During that era, many of those who were trusting more in the act of circumcision, (or their ability to keep the requirements of the Old Testament Law), than they were trusting in the Lord Himself, would likewise brag about the fact that Abraham was their ancestral father. In doing so, they were effectively saying that they believed they were perfectly fine in God's eyes because of their blood relationship to Abraham. Since God clearly loved Abraham, and they were part of the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham to make his children as numerous as the stars in the sky, they reasoned that they were already righteous apart from faith.

But Paul challenged that thought by calling Abraham "the father of all who believe without being circumcised." The legacy and long-term good that came from Abraham's life was to set an example of what it means to trust God completely, even in the most confusing and stretching seasons. There is long-term good that has come from that legacy. Here we are, living more than 4,000 years after these events in Abraham's life took place, and we're still edified, challenged, and encouraged by the sincere faith in God that Abraham modeled for us. We're counted among those the Scripture refers to as those who, "walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had."

IV. Making footprints

So, as we ponder this example, please consider something for a quick second. Just as we walk in the footsteps of faith our predecessors made for us, so too are we making footprints that someone else is going to walk in. Those footprints are the most consequential and long-lasting aspect of our legacy. Do you believe this? Those footprints of faith have eternal ramifications.

In every season of your life, from your earliest days until today, you're being observed. If you're a child, you can be certain that your siblings and cousins are observing your life and watching what God is doing in you. If you're a young adult, it's a guarantee that your friends and peers are making justifications for their decisions based on what they see in you. If you're a parent, you're making footprints that will have a profound impact on the life and faith of your children. If you're a grandparent, there are now two generations of people walking in the footsteps of faith you make.

So what does it look like for us to walk in the footsteps of faith? How can we apply the concept that Abraham knew so well, to our circumstances? Let me suggest a few key ways we can apply this meaningful truth.

  1. Trust God in all circumstances, particularly the ones that make the least sense to you.

  2. Believe in Christ, and trust that His work on the cross was sufficient to reconcile you to God.

  3. Give your observers a daily glimpse of the fruit of the Spirit in your life.

  4. As a recipient of the unmerited love of God, be lavish and generous with that love, and share it with even the most undeserving of acquaintances.

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”
— Psalm 78:4, ESV

© John Stange, 2018