Last month, veteran sportscaster Bob Costas was speaking before the Kentucky Derby and said it was an event in which “The only thing that matters is what comes next.” He was referring to the fact that it doesn’t matter what a horse has done in the past, just what it does during that specific race. The eventual winner, American Pharoah, had the odds in his favor but upsets have happened.
In the Christian life, though, the past does matter, along with the present and future. We look back to God’s acts of creation and redemption; we live out our lives, guided by the Holy Spirit, in the present; and we look forward to what God will do in the future. As we look back to what God has already done in our lives, some of us can point clearly to a definite moment when we were “saved.” I happen to be one of those. Others can recognize a gradual process of growing closer to God, a process that is still continuing. I know that my development as a Christian has a long way to go, no matter how long it’s been since I was “saved,” and with the Spirit’s help I’ll continue to grow.
We also draw on the faith of those who came before us, those we sometimes call “saints.” Some of them put their beliefs in writing. It comes to us in the form we call the Bible. Paul wrote that “Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” (1 Tim. 3:16-17 Common English Bible). Others, like parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, and more, have influenced us without writing anything at all.
Our ancestors shape and form us. Sometimes they influence us beyond what we might expect. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “. . . in the same way that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, those who believe are the children of Abraham. . . . Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:6b-7; 29 CEB). Paul compared the faith of the Galatians with Abraham’s and their relationship with Christ with one with Abraham.
Peter told the people, “‘You are the heirs of the prophets and the covenant that God made with your ancestors when he told Abraham, Through your descendants, all the families on earth will be blessed.’” (Acts 3:25 CEB). Today, that includes us. Through Christ, we are spiritual descendants of Abraham, whether we can claim a biological relationship with him or not. Paul wrote to the Romans
But beyond being children of Abraham, we’re also children of God. John wrote, “But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, . . . born from God.” (John 1:12; 13b CEB). We have the incomparable privilege of being children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ (Rom. 8:14-16). But being children of God comes with responsibilities. Jesus told the people, “‘Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s
“The promise to Abraham and to his descendants, that he would inherit the world, didn’t come through the Law but through the righteousness that comes from faith. . . . so that it will be on the basis of God’s grace. In that way, the promise is secure for all of Abraham’s descendants, not just for those who are related by Law but also for those who are related by the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us. As it is written: I have appointed you to be the father of many nations. So Abraham is our father in the eyes of God in whom he had faith, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence.” (Rom. 4:13; 16b-17 CEB.)