'Grace, faith and works with Rahab – how we approach Jesus' by Sarah Dowdeswell - December 9th 2018

What difference could we make to the world if we see ourselves the way God sees us? This talk looks at one of Jesus' ancestors and their unusual path from belief to action.

0:00 Introduction

We are continuing our advent series looking at women in the family that Jesus was born into. Understanding this family is important because Jesus was both fully God and fully human, and family history colours our future as well as who we are now.

4:42 Who was Rahab?

Rahab's story is in the Old Testament book of Joshua, who took over from Moses in leading the Israelites and sent spies to the city of Jericho as part of a plan to conquer the land.

You can read the story here in Joshua chapter 2.

Rahab was a prostitute who sheltered Israelite spies and recognised God through what he did in freeing and establishing his people. She helped the Israelites in their mission and, in return, received a promise of protection from them.

Rahab's inclusion in Jesus' genealogy is subversive and significant. The way that Rahab approaches the God of the Israelites is how Jesus wants us to approach him today. Rahab is cited in Hebrews 11 as a hero of faith, and she got there through accepting grace, standing in faith, and doing works.

9:58 Accepting grace

Rahab had a troubled past. We don't know what happened to make her rely on prostitution for a living, but it was probably not an easy life. Yet God chose her to take care of his people on his mission.

From Rahab's life, we can see God's boundless grace, meaning that we can never earn God's love.

God sees us as he made us - in his image, and that never changes.

We can build our faith on the rock that there will always be grace. Even in our worst times, we can turn to God and he will see us exactly as when we were first born and blameless.

There was grace for Rahab. Her history had no bearing on her inclusion in God's family, and whatever we are carrying from our own families, God has grace for us too.

14:53 Standing in faith

“I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below." (Joshua 2:9-11, NIV)

Rahab accepted grace and then stood in faith. She believed that the Israelites had victory before it happened, declared that "the Lord your God is God" everywhere and stood against her own city in believing this.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." (Romans 5:1-2, NIV)

To approach God, there must be at least an inkling of faith that God is there to hear us. Rahab's faith is certain, with no question that the Israelites' God was real and active. She knew which side she needed to be on.

Going against her people's beliefs took real courage, strength and conviction, and this is the same for us. Admitting to have a faith and wanting to live differently can be hard in our society.

Living differently as a Christian is not just about going to church and not lying or stealing. It's being radically generous with the blessings God has given us, loving even the most unlovable people, and believing in things that are not humanly possible. Rahab had to stand for what she believed in, and this made a difference in history. She teaches us to be bold in our faith.

20:42 Doing works

Rahab did not just reflect on her encounter with Israelites but did something about it. Her actions paved the way for the Israelites to conquer Jericho.

But importantly, she is celebrated in Hebrews 11 as a hero of faith, not a hero of works. What she did came from accepting grace and having faith. These were her motivations to act, without knowing all the blessings that would eventually follow.

What motivates us to have an active faith? If it is a mis-held belief that God will love us more if we do good things, we have misunderstood grace. But if we are grateful enough for the grace we have received and rooted enough in the faith that we have, we cannot help but go and do something with these things and participate in the kingdom of God.

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:4-10, NIV)

We are not saved by our works. We are saved by grace, through faith, to do works such as love other people. We cannot approach God through works alone, but only because of the grace and faith that produce works.

Rahab’s life is a story of transformation, from a prostitute to one of the only women in the faith hall of fame, and she is there because she accepted the grace of God, she had faith in the God of the Israelites, and that compelled her to do what she did.

25:36 The challenge for us

We should reflect on grace, faith and works in our own lives. Where are we with each of them? Have we got them in the right order?

I want to pray for people this morning who feel like you have to earn God’s love through your works and who need to accept that grace that God extends to each of us.

Questions for group discussion

  1. What is grace and what does it mean for us today?

  2. Are we standing out in our faith? If so, how?

  3. What is our motivation to do ‘good works’?