Genesis 15:1-6 “After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’ But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’ Then the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’ He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
We get a hint that this is an especially important chapter by its opening words. This is the first time that the phrase “the word of the Lord” appears in the Bible. In fact it is the only time it is found in the book of Genesis. What sort of word is this word of God? The word of the Lord is dynamic; it is not a static document to be dusted and glanced at and then laid aside. It lives and moves; it takes the initiative; it is sovereign, intruding into our lives, coming unannounced and unexpectedly to favoured men and women, to Augustine in a garden, to Bunyan as he heard three women in Bedford talking to one another, to young Spurgeon in Artillery Street Primitive Methodist Chapel in Chelmsford on a snowy Sabbath morning. We are told here that the Lord came inside Abram’s tent, into the centre of his home, into Abram’s space. We know that from verse five where we are told that then the Lord took him outside his tent.
We are also given a chronological reference to the word coming to Abram in the opening two words of the chapter; “After this . . .” In other words, after Abram and his 318 men had fought with Kedorlaomer and had actually defeated that battle-hardened warmonger. It was after Abram freed Lot and his people. It was after Abram refused to take a penny from the king of Sodom. It was after all that courage and trust in God had been shown that the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. How decisively and bravely Abram had acted and fought, so here is the royal reward – the medal giving ceremony – from our mighty Commander in Chief who reigns in heaven and on earth. The booty offered by the king of Sodom has been spurned, but God supplies a glorious compensation. There has been valiant military service; the captives have been freed and so the Lord of Heaven – who rewards even the giving of a cup of cold water – has not failed to notice and he comes to enrich his courageous servant Abram. Well done, good and faithful servant!
So the word of the Lord came to Abram, but it came “in a vision.” Again this is a very rare word and when one does come across it in the Bible then it invariably refers to a vision coming to a prophet. It was a revelation from heaven to earth via an officially appointed servant. So Abram is here identified as also being a plenipotentiary of God; he received a vision of the word of the Lord. One interesting question is how does the word of the Lord come in a vision? It is either a word you hear or a vision you see. How can you see the word of the Lord? I don’t think that question is a mystery. We have all let our eyes drift across a page of words, reading them, and yet not engaged with their message. But there have been other times when the truth has come mightily to us, leaping off the page, coming powerfully from the pulpit and we have seen it, we have grasped as never before what the words are saying. You’ve seen it! You have seen the light! You have seen the truth! You have seen the message that comes from God with all its implications. Eureka! You’d been hearing a hundred sermons a year for ten years and then in one sermon you saw the word of God and everything was changed. Or it was as if a new time came into your life when going to church became something to be anticipated. In sermon after sermon more and more light and understanding broke forth and you could see what the preacher had been speaking to you about all those previous years.
I have spoken to a biblical scholar whose name is Michael W. J. Phelan and in his own words he describes how he saw the word of God. “When I first began to read the Scriptures, it was in total isolation from any Jewish or Christian individual or organisation. I did not even know that the book I had purchased, entitled Good News For Modern Man, was a New Testament. As I read its pages, I was drawn more and more deeply into the heart of its teaching until I reached a definite point where an event of recognition occurred. Without the aid of any other human, immediately and comprehensively, I was granted the realisation that what I was reading was absolutely and eternally true. The impact this recognition made upon me was life-changing, and brought a feeling of joy combined with wonder and awe. For me, there could be no going back: from that moment on, I knew I was reading words that forever were true, and must be lived by, and, if need be, died for” (Michael W.J. Phelan, The Inspiration of the Pentateuch, ISBN 0-9547205-6-3, 2005, p.17).
So what we meet at the beginning of this chapter is this, that to the prophets of the Old Testament the word of God came in visions, and they knew with total certainty that what they’d heard and seen was from Jehovah, the Lord of hosts. They came away from the presence of God with this confidence and then they addressed the people with what they had received from God beginning with this refrain, “Thus saith the Lord.” We are told that Abram was numbered amongst these prophets, and yet we know that the greatest of the prophets was the coming Son of Abraham, Jes
us Christ. His Father, the God who spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, in these last days has spoken to us by his Son. The Word who was with God in the beginning, who was God and made everything, was finally made flesh and he dwelt amongst us. Men saw the Word in a unique way; they saw the one who is the Alpha and the Omega; they saw God’s glory. It was in the face of Jesus Christ. Abraham sees the word of the Lord.
So now we will advance. What actually did God say to Abram? What did the old patriarch see in this vision?
- THE ASSURING MESSAGE OF GOD TO ABRAM.
i] “Do not be afraid, Abram” (v.1). There are a number of layers to this divine exhortation not be afraid. Firstly, we can lock those words into the context of the recent battle and the possibility of Abram having to fight again with these four kings as they sought for revenge. All Abram’s advantage of surprise through his night attack as an unknown and unexpected foe would now have gone. Kedorlaomer would be smarting at his loss of face as much as his loss of booty. In his rage he would be organizing thoroughly his retaliation. Abram did not want to become a guerilla leader, constantly on the run from one army or another. What was going to happen to him? “Don’t be afraid!” said the Lord in whom he had put his trust. God can take care of us in times of war.
But there is more here to this exhortation not to be afraid than Abram’s fear of confronting retaliation and a prolonged military campaign. In fact I cannot see Abram too worried about the might of Kedorlaomer. The Lord of hosts was on Abram’s side. Abram was at that very moment enduring the voice of the living God, the Creator of this vast universe, sounding in his ears. He was seeing a vision of the word of God. How overwhelming, to be standing there in the manifest presence of God! How intimidating! Abram, a sinful man, discovering daily the deceptions of his own heart, had received a visit from the presence of that same living, caring God who’d called him to serve him back in Ur of the Chaldeans; this God is light in whom is no darkness at all – who would not fear his holy name? This is a blessed fear of God. How wonderful to fear the Lord. It is the beginning of wisdom. To lack it is to be committed to a life of folly. Fear God, I say. Fear the Lord!
It seems to me that the fear of the Lord always has three ingredients, firstly, a correct grasp of the character of God, infinite, high, holy, righteous, sin hating, just in committing rebel sinners into hell, merciful and gracious to those who trust in him; secondly, a pervasive sense of the nearness of that God, not a distant God, but the one in whom we live and move and have our being, in whose hands is our breath, his eyes upon us day by day, the personal author of every good and perfect things that is ours; thirdly, a constant awareness of our obligation to this God, to glorify him in all things, and love him constantly and growingly with all that we have. Nothing less is acceptable! That is the stuff of the fear of the Lord. That crushing fear erupted in Peter’s life while in the boat. He fell at the Lord’s feet as a vast shoal of fishes from the Sea of Galilee all swam into Peter’s net at Jesus’ behest until the net began to break with the weight of fish. Paul on the road to Damascus had the same fear; John on Patmos had it in the presence of this same Lord, becoming as a dead man. So, shouldn’t Abram, knowing his own heart, be filled with fear before the God who is a consuming fire and yet is calling Abram by his name? Aren’t there nights when you lie awake and hear your own heart beating and think of the death that lies before you and that this night might be the one that you will have to meet your glorious sinless Creator and give an account to him? Aren’t you afraid? Isn’t it a terrifying thought?
Yet the holy Lord casts a piteous eye on Abram saying, “Don’t be afraid, Abram.” Why should he not fear? Why shouldn’t we all fear God? Because through the seed of Abraham, the promised Messiah, a mighty redemption is going to be wrought and the worst of sinners who call upon the name of the Lord will be pardoned. Do not fear, all you who are true sons of Abraham. The living God loves and cares for Abram, and he loves all the seed of Abram who serve him, and he drives away their fears. He is constantly telling them they need not fear. He sends his servants to speak to the shepherds abiding in the fields around Bethlehem; their knees are knocking; their teeth are chattering; their mouths are dry and stopped; “Fear not,” he tells them. To Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and to Mary the women who will bear Jesus the Son of Abraham, God’s messenger announces “Do not be afraid.”
But think again of what Abram has just done. He has refused even a penny from the King of Sodom. He has rejected an alliance with the kings of the earth. He has spurned the support of all the men of influence in the world, and when Melchizedek appears he gives to this king of Salem a tenth of all he has. Abram is poorer at the end of chapter fourteen than when he started out to rescue Lot. He has forfeited earthly security and is clinging by faith to God’s promises. “Good. Do not be afraid,” God is saying. More than this; the Lord has told him that he will become a father; Sarai with bear a son, but she is over 65 and has been barren throughout their long marriage, and he is ten years older. This is just a pipe dream, the opium of Abram and Sarai, a faint hope, a fable to dull their sadness at having lived so long never having a child. I ask you, aren’t there times when the devil comes to torment us, whispering that we have thrown away the world for nothing and that our hopes of God yet blessing us are dreams? What possible future can we have? God meets with us and says, “Do not be afraid!” That is what our heavenly Father is saying.
How sweetly he comes to us, the God of Abram and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He does not change; his message to Abram is his message to every one of his children through faith in his Son: “Do not be afraid of dying and standing before me. The Lamb of God has taken away your sin. Venture on him, venture wholly, and you have nothing to fear. Where your sin abounds my grace much more abounds. Fear not, and keep believing his promises; I will never leave you; I will supply all your needs; I will work all things together for your good; when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will be with you. You are weak – a bruised reed – but I am strong. All alone you can do nothing, but through me you can conquer all your fears.” Those were his first words addressing Abram’s emotional condition. Then the Lord speaks again
ii] “I am your shield” he says to Abram. In two of the psalms the princes of the earth are spoken of as ‘shields’ because by their wisdom and fire-power they can protect their subjects. Here it is the Lord of hosts, the omnipotent Almighty one who is committing himself to be Abram’s shield. What is king Kerdorlaomer compared to the God who sits on the throne of the universe? Abram has declined the protection of the king of Sodom. He has tossed it away as something unthinkable – that a child of God needed to be kept by the leader of Sodom! Who then is going to care for Abram? God himself. He says it quite emphatically, “It is I who will be your shield,” or “I myself will be your shield.”
There are many images in the Bible that speak to us of the way God protects his
people from the devil and all his works, from the enticements of the world, and from the enemy within, that is, the power of remaining sin. He is like the best of shepherds who drives away the wild beasts – the bears and lions and thieves who’d take the weakest lamb from his flock. Another image is of the chariots and horsemen of the Lord encamped round about us. Between us and our enemies are all the armies of heaven. Again, God is like a mighty tower, a veritable nuclear bomb shelter, and the moment we run to him we are completely safe from the worst our enemies can do. He is the rock higher than ourselves and all our foes. We are untouchable when we are on this Rock of Gibralter. Again, there are walls of salvation built around the soul he delights to defend; what high impregnable walls – a ring of steel is round us.
Those are some of the biblical pictures of the Christian being protected by the might of God, but here the image that God himself takes as our Sovereign Protector is of a shield on the arm of a warrior, rapidly moving in any direction meeting any spear or arrow or dart. Whatever thunderbolts flash towards the Christian this shield intervenes. One night we are off guard; we are traveling alone in the twilight and the horrid enemy-assassin of our souls lies in ambush waiting for us. He never slumbers nor sleeps in his desire to destroy us. He is never weary; he never relents; he never abandons hope of our destruction though he has tried to slay us a thousand times and failed. He fires out of the darkness directly at us, but even then in that unexpected place Christ is our shield, and nothing whatsoever gets through. He fires his darts at us all through our lives. When we are little Christian children he hurts us; he fires at us in the brashness of our teenage years; he fires at us during manhood’s strength; he is merciless when he sees us in the tottering steps of old age; on our death beds he still seeks to tears us away from Christ. But nothing reaches us that can tear us from Christ. If we are behind this shield of Jesus then we are safe for eternity. Never underestimate your enemy; he is everywhere at all times. No place is off limits to him. He enters the college, the cottage, the changing rooms, the camp, the sanctuary, the prayer time, the sermon, the Lord’s Supper. He fires his arrows constantly. He draws his bow with relentless anger. He would destroy us but for the Lord our Shield. He would have destroyed Joseph in Potiphar’s house but the shield of the Lord there keeping Joseph inviolable. Aren’t you mighty glad that Jesus is your shield? When three men were cast into the burning fiery furnace they felt nothing of the flames because the Lord shielded them. The flame will not hurt thee, it’s only designed thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
Sinner, do you know that the arrows of God’s wrath are trained on you? They are revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Your God is justly offended that you ignore him. “We will not have Jesus reign over us,” you say. There is no hiding place from his holy anger for you in your disdain. Then where is your refuge? It is in God. God is your Judge, but God will become your Sovereign Protector. From the wrath of God flee for protection to the mercy of God. Hear the gospel, that God has sent his Son to receive the blows that would fall on you. They fall; they all fall; they all must fall. Truth and holiness require it, but they fall, they all must fall upon Christ! It pleased the Father to bruise him! Jesus bore it all. Deity condemns, and deity intervenes, and deity sustains. Jehovah awakens his sword against the man who is his fellow. So all the fury of a sin-hating God falls on his Son and so the believer may meet the wrath of God and live
The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son is our shield. It is the covering of impregnable security. Satan sees it and trembles. He cannot pierce this mail. The Lord our righteousness is our protection. God has imputed it to us. God has made Christ to be our shield and he’s made Christ to be our righteousness. How happy the people who know this. King David said, “Many there be which say of my soul, there is no help for him in God. But Thou, O Lord, art a shield to me.” Oh trust in the Lord who will be your help, your Saviour and your great shield. You who fear the Lord make sure day by day that he is your shield. Then the Lord says another word of comfort to Abram:
iii] “I am . . . your very great reward.” “What’s in it for me?” says the man of the world as we speak to him seriously of receiving the Lord as his God and Saviour. What’s in it for you? I tell you of the reward the Christian receives. “Pie in the sky?” he mocks. No. God himself is our very great reward. Here is a fan who longs for some communication from his hero, and he gets an autographed letter, or he gets a photograph. But the Christian doesn’t receive some sign or substitute for God . . . he gets God himself. “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” What a reward! Not virgins bringing drinks to refresh us, as in the banal Muslim vision of afterlife, but we have the Lord’s presence, his smile, his transforming grace, his guiding and leading us for evermore. What a reward! Uncountable millions are there, each one transformed into the image of the proper man, Jesus Christ, and that living glorious Lord in the midst of them. Little wonder God says he is our “very great reward.” In his presence is fulness of joy – nowhere else can it be found though you search from east to west the whole vast cosmos. For Abram this was pictured to him as a beautiful land, Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. Millions were there filling the land, serving and honouring the Lord, but that land was only a picture. It was a sign of somewhere far more wonderful, the glorious new heavens and earth with God in the midst.
- ABRAM’S TROUBLED RESPONSE.
“But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir’” (vv. 2&3). Poor Abram! Poor, poor Abram! The years are going by since God first promised him a son and a progeny. How can there ever be a land full of his seed, and heaven full of his descendants? “Impossible! I am childless,” he says in his tent to the Lord who has come and visited him. Eliezer is not his son or his offspring. He is not the one through whom the promise will be fulfilled. Eliezer of Damascus – in Syria – is merely the oldest male child to have been born in his household. Has it come to this, that one of his servants is going to inherit Abram’s wealth? Is that the most he can hope for? Even Eliezer’s name becomes a taunt to Abram, for his name means, “My God is a help”, but where is Abram’s help? Where is this offspring God promised him so long ago? “You have given me no children,” he plaintively says to the promise-making God. He puts the responsibility firmly on God’s shoulders.
There is no reason for us to think that Abram is sinning as he talks to God. He is not being disrespectful or rebellious. He is simply baffled by the way God is dealing with him. The Lord promises a son, but no son appears. Abram is wrestling with doubt. Abram is pleading with God to preach the gospel to him, to preach faith into his heart so that he may believe. “Lord, I believe,” he is crying, “help thou my unbelief.” Abram and Sarai cannot do what God alone can do. Abram cannot create a new
heavens and a new earth. Abram cannot fill it with his progeny, a vast assembly more than any man can number, like the stars in heaven uncountable. Abram would love to see that, but he cannot beget a single baby boy. Abram would love to set out on a long journey that would end in a multitude, all his seed like the sands on the seashore, but Abram and Sarai are failing at the first step. All around him children are being born. Lot has daughters, his servants are having babies and raising them to health, two, six, a dozen children in so many families in his household. They crawl at his feet. He hears them bawling for their mother’s breast in a nearby tent, and they seem to mock his impotence and Sarai’s barrenness. He cannot produce the Seed through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, the one who will be the ancestor of Christ, the one who will crush Satan’s head, and there is no other family in all the world through whom the Messiah can come except Abram’s. But Abram is helpless to produce him.
See how Abram humbles himself before God. See how he makes the problems spectacularly clear; “I remain childless . . . you have given me no children.” That is what Abram brings to God, his own great need. He renounces all confidence in his own ability to do this. God must do it. All he can bring to God is his helplessness. All he can do is plead the situation which is out of his control. “If it all hangs on me then I am lost,” he says. “Any eternal fruitfulness must come from you.”
This is what we are called to do, to speak to God about our deepest longings, to face up to them, to come to ourselves, like the Prodigal Son did in the distant country. He came to himself and determined to return to his father. You must come to yourself. You must see that if you are to live and be fruitful in your brief life then it is only by God’s power. He must work in your heart and life. He must change you. He must take away the stony heart and give you a new heart of flesh. He must make you a new creation. He must make you fruitful. Humble yourself before God, and beg God to work because he must save and he alone. None of this depends on you. It all depends on God. He must do what you cannot do.
Does God answer Abram? Of course he does. He answers all who go to him in their helplessness and need. “He that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” He hears the sinner’s cry. He tells Abram, “This man . . .” (God does not deign to mention the name of Eliezer of Damascus, Abram’s servant. The thought of his being the line of promise is beyond contempt) “ . . . This man will not be your heir.” Then God spells it out as unmistakably as only God can; “A son coming from your own body will be your heir” (v.4). God is acknowledging that Abram is indeed utterly helpless to perform this. Abram is faltering; Abram is perplexed, but God can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think. Then to confirm this God does something more. He takes Abram outside and the Lord pointed to the north, south, east and west of the entire heavens as they glistened with millions of beams of light, and then God spoke, “‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (v.5). This word came from the Creator of heaven and earth. It was a divine declaration. This was a covenant promise by the God who cannot lie. “Your seed, from your own body, will expand innumerably greatly.” Nothing could be more unambiguous. What God intended to do was spelled out to Abram with total clarity in word and symbol. He heard it from the lips of God, and then to confirm it God brought in the sign of the heavens. Henceforth every evening when he looked up at the night sky he would remember the voice of God speaking to him in this vision and assuring him that he would have a vast progeny, not another but Abram himself. They would come from his body.
It is significant, I believe, that God didn’t say, “Look around you at this vast land. Can you count the dust that covers this land?” Though that would be true God pointed Abram to the heavens because he was widening Abraham’s view of what his seed would be, not just of earthly descendants without number but heavenly descendants shining eternally like the stars. “This is going to be a spiritual progeny, Abram, not just a natural progeny. Look at the stars Abram. Look up!”
“There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.” (Joseph P. Webster, 1868)
God preaches the gospel of the coming Messiah to Abram, and we have to do the same. This rotten old world system of ours won’t always go on like this. He is coming and all his innumerable host of angels with him and he is going to make a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness will dwell, a universe filled with the ransomed people of God. It does not matter how long we live, or what we have or what we don’t have because none of those things can save us. How much are you trusting in those things? They cannot save you. Only a few things are necessary. Only one thing is necessary, to believe God when he says that all the fulness of the Godhead is found in Christ and all who believe are complete in him. All who believe in him are going to heaven and when they see Christ the heavenly son of Abraham they will be like Christ.
- ABRAM BELIEVED GOD AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Did Abram have any alternative than to believe in him? What monstrous wickedness to disbelieve God! When the Lord himself had made certain commitments to this man, could Abram then respond, ‘Well . . . it’s a matter of opinion’? Would Abram repeat the words of the serpent, “Did God really say that?” Is that how you reply to God speaking to you in his word? The Almighty Creator . . . and you . . . and you reckon that you are smarter, and wiser, and understand reality and eternity and the meaning of life better than . . . God does? A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ. For the Christian Jesus Christ can say nothing wrong. He believes him, that he is an honest man, a perfect man, a man who was also God in the flesh. The Christian believes every word Christ says, and he also believes in him, right into him. He entrusts himself as body and soul into the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. If this Saviour says, “Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” then he comes to him and he receives rest. If the Lord says, “I will come again and take you unto myself that where I am there you will be also” then he believes in him, simply because the Lord said it. So Abram heard the word of the Lord and he actually believed the Lord. He trusted in what the Lord said, thinking to himself, “Amazing grace! I am going to have a son and a great progeny, vast and innumerable, because God has said he will do this. What I cannot do God is able to do.” Against everything his wits and the men of the world told him could never happen concerning the advanced age of his wife and the utter impossibility of a woman of that age getting pregnant, God had said that it would happen. That decided it, and Abram believed it. Sarai could not do this; Abram could not do this; only God could do this, and all Abram could do was to trust the God who
does not lie. All Abram could say was, “Amen.” Let it be so.
Then we are told of something extraordinary. “The Lord . . . credited it to [Abram] as righteousness” (v.6). Man has needed more than anything else to be righteous, ever since our first parents defied God and fell into unrighteousness. Finally it has happened, and it is recorded here in the Bible for the first time. A believing sinner, Abram, has been credited with a spotless righteousness. Since Adam had forfeited our righteousness by taking the forbidden fruit all the world had been guilty before God, but now something extraordinary has occurred. Here is a man who believes in God and to him righteousness has been credited by God himself. How has that happened? What has Abram done to get it? Has he lived blamelessly? No. He has made a horrible mess of a visit to Egypt compromising himself and his wife. Abraham was not sinlessly righteous. We are not told by Moses that Abram did anything at all. He did not work for God and because of that he was justified. No. Nor does Moses write that henceforth Abram never sinned again and because of that he was justified. What did Moses write? He actually wrote, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Abram trusted in God, banking everything on God’s power and pity; Abram looked away from his helpless hopeless state to God’s mighty gracious promise, and that faith of Abram in the Lord was credited to him as righteousness. God spoke so emphatically and clearly to Abram that Abram had to believe his words, and God counted Abram’s trust in the good news God had told him as a righteousness, in other words, as a right standing with God. Abraham became right with God – acquitted, forgiven, accepted, justified – by faith alone in God’s promise alone, apart from works.
That is how we become righteous today. That is the only way. We entrust ourselves into the safe keeping of God. If you reject that way and you work for your justification, what you are doing is trying to get God to owe you something, and if you succeed in getting God to owe you something, then you can boast before men and God. “I did this; so God did that in return.” If Abraham had worked to obtain his justification, then he would not have been justified by God’s grace, he would have earned it as a wage. God would have owed it to him, and when he got it he’d have been able to say, “I deserved this.” But that is not what Abraham did.
What did Abram do? He simply believed what God had told him. He trusted the Lord and he was immediately justified. What we have here is the first portrait of the moment of justification. It has been portrayed again and again throughout the history of the people of God, celebrated in millions of sermons and made the theme of thousands of hymns. God makes us a promise of forgiveness and sonship and the certainty of getting to heaven, and we trust God and we are declared righteous.
Jesus thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress.
In distant worlds in these arrayed
With joy shall I lift up my head. (Zinzendorf).
This moment could happen for you today, because justification is not a progressive work, in other words, it is not some long process. Justification is a verdict delivered by God in a moment akin to, “Not guilty . . . acquitted . . . accepted . . . forgiven . . .” It happens to one has not done good works to earn his acceptance by God, rather justification comes by entrusting your life to God’s good news.
Does this righteousness come to those who have achieved some degree of godliness first? No, godliness is the fruit of justification, not the grounds of justification. Abraham was a sinning imperfect man. For seventy-five years of his life he had worshipped idols. He was to sin again and again, and yet he entrusted himself for time and eternity to the God who had made himself known to him, the God who made exceeding great and precious promises, and Abram was justified. It is the same today and ever shall be. The ungodly who trust in the Lord are declared righteous by God. It is an utterly shocking message to the natural man. It jars with all his judicial sentiments. Good judges should be men who justify the righteous, and who condemn the sinful. How can God justify the sinful who say their only hope is Jesus Christ? Because Christ, the one and only godly man, lived the life that we should live but have failed to do. He lived it as the God man and so his righteous obedience is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. He also died to make full and perfect atonement for the sins of the ungodly. So that through Jesus Christ, and for his sake, God justifies all who trust in him.
Abram’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Not his works or his love or the fruit of faith, but his trust in the speaking God – Abram’s faith alone in the Lord alone was credited as righteousness. So here we are today as sinners on the brink of hell. We are not in a mere self-imposed condition of alienation, but we are under under a God-imposed sentence of condemnation. How shall we escape a just punishment for our sins? How shall we get right with God, be forgiven, acquitted, counted as righteous in his presence rather than guilty and ungodly? Answer: by trusting in the One who justifies the ungodly. Christ the Son of Abraham, died to pay our debt. Christ the Son of Mary lived to provide our righteousness. Christ the Son of God has infinite merit, and he offers himself to be our total and complete answer to sin and shame. When we despair of ourselves and when we trust the God who justifies the ungodly, God reckons our sin as punished on the cross, and God reckons Christ’s righteousness as imputed to us. Do you want to be right with God? Do you want to have under you life a firm unshakable foundation for eternity? Do you want peace that passes all understanding? Trust in the compassionate, speaking Lord and his salvation, the one provided by the God and Father of Jesus Christ, the One who justifies the ungodly. Trust in him. Trust right into him. Entrust all you have to all he is.
3 May 2009 GEOFF THOMAS