Updated: Jun 25
🪦 So I'm pretty sure my headstone is already engraved and waiting to be placed six feet above. Some people like to have everything planned out well ahead,.. you know, to have things in order, even for that inevitable day. I prefer organization to be sure, but I'm afraid I'm just not that motivated in this area.
No, in this case it is my father-in-law who has prepared for my terminal, human condition. It's all mapped out for me and for my wife, and our daughter as well. My body is to lie in an old, family cemetery out in the middle of the Kansas prarie. He bought up a bunch of plots years ago, back "when they were affordable." He called us one day a few years ago, out of the blue, asking, "What do you want on your tombstone?" Naturally I replied, "Pepperoni."
My wife graciously suggested that a Bible verse might be more in line with what Dad was looking for. Well it was really a no-brainer for me. It would have to be a phrase taken from my life verse.
Romans 4:18 (not to be confused with my "here is why I am in ministry" calling verse) became my life verse long ago. It fits my life in a particularly appropriate way: "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed." The apostle Paul goes on to link these words to a very specific promise given Abraham, and although that particular promise is relevant and in no way insignificant, I like to stop right here and meditate on the faith of Abraham in these seven words: "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed."
Abraham had no earthly reason to hope for even one descendent (which would be necessary to produce the later-many who would rival the stars in the sky and the sands of the seashore). It was not a hope supported by any evidence of any kind. In fact the physical evidence weighed in against hope. What was promised was foreshadowed by no perceptible likelihood in human terms—there were no developments at all for Abraham to pin his hopes on. All he had was God. Nothing else. God had said it would be so; He had given Abraham his Word.
It turns out that God counts to men righteousness when they take him at his Word, and some have even suggested that God is fully enamored by the man or woman who trusts Him to one day bring about the seeming impossible—things promised us, like the resurrection of the long dead for example, things we don't see every day, nor have we seen on any day in recent memory.
In Abraham's case the promise was “I have made you a father of many nations.” Let's take a moment to look at the physical evidence. The very next sentence tells us that "[Abraham] faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead." Yet God goes on to inform us that "He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised."
If you read all of chapter four (or better yet, this entire letter to the Romans), you will see how this contrast relates to average Joe's like you and me. Abraham was an average Joe until God made him something more of course. Abraham performed no miracles, although it could be said that routing foreign armies was no small task. This victory is not listed among the miracles of God, even though God surely worked on Abraham's behalf.
So what about our salvation? When it comes to our ability to make it to heaven through anything evidenced by our nature, we can and should quickly abandon all hope. Like Abraham, we are completely and utterly impotent to bring about the promise of God in regards to our salvation. The same goes for Abraham's wife, Sarah. If there is any partnership needed (let's say the law, for example) in order for me to achieve, in myself, any righteousness,.. that component stares back at me equally lost and without an answer. In fact, like Sarah, many of us who look for a way other than relying on God, find ourselves, as a result, looking to people who aren't and will never be free.
This is partially why God makes eternal life dependent on a promise. If we are to trust in our own righteousness (our abilities, our works), we are greatly (and when I say greatly I mean astronomically) deceived. The moral law produces death in regard to sin. It has only the power to condemn; it has no ability to save.
No amount of "good" counteracts my corruption. A corrupt judge turns a blind eye in order to allow the wealthy benefactor to get away with murder. On the other hand, just judges punish evil and hold men accountable, so that the guilty's full benefaction to society can never save him. For justice to be seen, murder and murders must be condemned. And yet no one but Christ, Himself, has ever been found perfect in regard to the keeping of the law.
Christ is Abraham's seed, God's Word, our good news, the promised Savior. When someone relies on a savior, it means they are not relying on themselves. They have faced the fact that they have no ability to save themselves. They are bankrupt, without leverage. There isn't a thing to be manipulated. Abraham had to face the fact and so do we. We are as good as dead when it concerns our own ability.
The faith that saves, Paul tells us, is actually a gift from God. It is not something we generate within ourselves. Faith is simply and humbly received. Ephesians 2:8-9 declares God's wisdom in this because in making faith a gift (as opposed to something we earn) all boasting is completely done away with. God doesn't (nor do you or I) want boastful, arrogant people in heaven. It would cease to be heaven. "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." When you and I acknowledge that no amount of performance or penance can make up for our wrong doing, we open the door to relying on God's promise alone, and His Word then becomes our hope and our Salvation.
I like things stated clearly and directly. I'm not an intuitive person in the least—never been good at reading between the lines. Thankfully John draws a picture painted plainly for Joe's like me:
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has born concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. [emphasis added]
—I John 5:10-13
Things are not looking good for society on the whole. We need to be people of promise for the sake of our families and communities. Even then, we must remember that it is against all hope that we possess our hope in Jesus. Keeping our eyes on Him means we no longer look to ourselves. We look to our Savior alone because only with Him are all things possible.
🌵 Doug is Navigator staff assigned to military ministry in the Desert Southwest. He lives with his wife Beth Ann in Tucson, Arizona.
For a simple and interactive way to share God-given faith, we recommend The Navigator's One-Verse Evangelism®. Be sure to download and read the PDF at: