Today we take off on a subject that encompasses a theological debate covering centuries. Its root comes from the famous phrase addressed to a man of faith, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness, (Gen 15:6). This quote reflects the doctrine of justification by faith alone – Solo Fide. It would be interesting to call your attention to this debatable point in the light of two stories from the life of Abraham. The first story (Gen 17:1-7) is what we’ve read today from the lectern, and another story we discussed a week ago, (Gen 22:1-18). Both of them can be used as an illustration providing a guideline for Christians who are conscious of their daily failings. But for the rest, the following discussion may sound unusual or legalistic, depending on personal preferences. However, “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” (1Ti 2:4).
As we follow the agenda for this discourse, we start with God’s promises to Abram, then work up to how he believed, then up to the meanings of a credit and credited righteousness. Then we’ll sum up our discussion with a practical grasp of what God expects in return for the perfect righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Our text says, when Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him with a blessed message. The Scripture doesn’t picture the form of God’s appearing, but no one who has ever seen a theophany could remain on their feet; so Abram, it says, fell on his face on hearing the sound of Eternity. ” I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,” (v.1). Then each word God spoke to Abram was imprinted on his memory and accepted by faith for the rest of his life. “… you shall be the father of a multitude nations;… your name be called Abraham;… I will make you exceedingly fruitful;… I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring… to be God to you and to your offspring… ,” (vv. 5-7).
Abraham believed these promises and walked by faith from the beginning at least within his heart. This statement is seen from (v.15) where God called the man of faith no more Abram but “Abraham” as he would already be the father of a multitude of nations. Next interesting detail is that for the first time God promised offspring to Abraham when he was around 86 years old. But now at age 99 Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. Please consider, the thirteen years of believing God’s promise, and yet not having. However, he passed this test when his wife Sarah brought him a son, one year after the second promise. The final and the greatest test of Abraham’s faith – “the sacrifice of Isaac” – was on its way when Abraham reached out his hand and took a knife to slaughter his son. It is enough, Now I know that you fear God, said the Angel. God didn’t test Abraham any more, and the man of faith was crowned by the righteousness of the One whose origin is from eternity, (Pro 88:23).
Now let’s understand the meaning of the famous phrase, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Here we find the three key words: to believe; to credit; and righteousness. The first verb “to believe,” in the Hiphil stem, as it is here, has the meaning “to be certain about, to be assured.” The next verb “to credit,” carries the idea “to impute,” “to make a judgment about,” “to reckon,” or “credit something to someone’s account.” And finally, a feminine noun “righteousness.” This word refers to a person who conducts, in one accord, ethical and moral standards prescribed by God. Now, the meaning of the entire sentence is this. Abraham was unconditionally certain of God who addressed him, who has never lied. Due to Abraham’s certainty about God, he was credited with the righteousness. God judged him to be morally and ethically perfect.
In the light of the NT revelation, we’ve known that when God promised Abram to multiply his seed as the stars of the heaven, (Gen 22:17) he had in mind the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ through whom this prophecy would be fulfilled, (Gal 3:16). Christ has gathered the great congregation out of all nations, the people who believe and trust him unconditionally. In the Lord they find the resting place and the realization of what they have believed. Yet, in our Gospel reading Jesus spoke plainly about his cross – the suffering of many things, (v. 31). He would go through trials so that his followers could be justified in him through their faith.
However, when Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, the image of the wounded and dying Savior was not in his mind, but rather the image of the triumphant Messiah. Yes, Jesus is the victorious One! Yet, bitten, humiliated, and crucified in our place. The good news for us is that it is possible to avoid hell and eternal condemnation by virtue of our faith in Christ Jesus because God counts our faith as Christ’s perfect righteousness, just like he did for Abraham. None of us deserve this righteousness by our good deeds but by faith alone, which is credited to us as righteousness. God tested not only Abraham’s faith, but Peter’s, Thomas’, and Paul’s as well as the faith of other disciples throughout the ages.
Just imagine, if Abraham had given up his faith, how would he become the father of a multitude of nations? Or Peter and Paul, if they would not take up their cross and follow Jesus, then how could they be the apostles of the Lord? In the course of their lives, their faith was tested and as far as we can tell, on the basis of the patristic tradition, they were crowned by the perfect righteousness of Christ, even though they were not perfect in some instances.
Alas, God tests our faith as well. The faith in Jesus who had suffered the cross for our sins and in the forgiveness of our daily shortcomings is what we are given to believe, but we also need to believe in Jesus’ teaching of righteousness, similar to how Abraham believed. The biblical account of Abraham’s life gives us the right to state about him as being a righteous man and not only by his faith but his deeds as well. If God in Christ says, deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me, then we need to believe this teaching and follow Abraham’s example of walking by faith. If the apostle tells us to keep ourselves from guilt of sexual immorality, or greed, or idolatry, or drunkenness, or swindles, then we need to believe him as well and follow his example of living in Christ Jesus. When we try to keep ourselves from the evil of this world, it indicates that we have the same faith that Abraham had; and God the Father counts our faith for perfect righteousness.
But what would happened to us if we would fail to pass a test? It is believable that some Christians may not pass the test of their faith many times, but they are still prospering. We think it is because they have not yet exhausted the priceless credit given in exchange for their faith. Yet, Christ continues to intercede for his people because He loves us. However, Christians should be aware of living in habitual sin. But, if it is so, they might wonder whether Christ has ceased to intercede for them? The parable of the Barren Fig tree may help to answer this question, (Luk 13:6-9). In short, when a man had not found a single fig in a fig tree for three years, he ordered it to be cut down. But a worker replied, “Sir, leave it alone this year too, until I dig around it and put fertilizer on it. Then if it bears fruit next year, very well, but if not, you can cut it down.”
In conclusion we call your attention to avoid a fruitless faith by all possible means so that we don’t arrive at the feast without clothing,(Mat 22:1-14).