Faith Counted for Righteousness
Pastor C. W. Powell
What did Abraham find, and why is it relevant today?
It is relevant for one major reason: You and I came naked into the world, but we did not come into a naked world. We were born into a world rich in religious culture, ideas, and customs. There is no way that we can ignore them. There are two major events in the religious history of the world that have exercised a dominating effect upon the world.
The first event was on Mt. Sinai. What happened at Sinai changed a group of people from a rag-tag group of slaves newly come out of Egypt into a nation that would bear witness of the unity of God for the rest of human history. Whatever you think about the sons of Abraham, you will have to admit that something dramatic happened at Sinai, and transformed this nation into a witness against the polytheism of the ancient world, and drew down wrath and hatred upon them. “I the Lord thy God am One” would be the message they would deliver to the world, and would continue to deliver. Included in that message was that God made moral demands upon the world, and unity of ethics and moral behavior that bound all the nations of the world to a single ethical standard. Israel condemned not only the idolatry of the ancient world but the moral relativism that debased and degraded that world.
There was a problem. The message that Israel delivered, though true, could not transform the world, because there is a great difference between being made aware of your shortcomings and having the power to overcome your shortcomings. This the world lacked, and so did the witnesses, for Israel never lived up to the moral demands that their professed monotheism made on them. In rejecting Christ, they rejected the full doctrine of the Triune God and found no sense of forgiveness and mercy, for without the Trinity there can be no reconciliation between mercy and truth.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
The second event was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ did for His followers what Sinai did for Israel, but in a far more powerful and wonderful sense. It transformed the followers of Jesus from a rag-tag group of fearful fishermen, tax-collectors, and others into a band of witnesses as to the transforming power of Jesus Christ. For the message of the church was the completion and fulfillment of the message of Israel: There is salvation from your sin. Our God has come to dwell with us. He has announced forgiveness of sins, redemption and mercy. Jesus Christ promised to His followers what the law could not do: a transformation of heart and mind; the creation by the Spirit of God of a new nature, conformable to the nature of Jesus Christ, a nature that would love God and keep His precepts.
The Importance of Abraham
This is why Abraham is important, for Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, is set forth by the Apostle Paul as an example of all those who would benefit from the coming of Christ into the world. In fact, Jesus Himself said that "Abraham rejoiced to see My day; he saw it and was glad." So if you want to benefit from the coming of Christ into the world, then you must do as Abraham did. This is the reason that he is called the father of the faithful.
So this brings us back to our question. Why is Abraham relevant? Because of this: the way that Abraham gained the favor of God is the same way that you and I obtain the favor of God. He received it by faith. Because of this, I want very simply to set forth two basic ideas today: How did Abraham gain favor with God, and what the benefits were that he received.
Our text says that he gained it by faith. He was pronounced blessed because of his faith. But be careful.
Don't Go Astray!
Now we must be careful here, for it is easy to go astray. Satan is a great deceiver and he will throw dust in our eyes to keep us from thinking clearly. In our great Reformed heritage there is a document known as the Canons of Dort. This document came into being as the result of a movement in the churches of the Netherlands in the early 17th century called the Remonstrance, which confused several important doctrines of the faith, and the Canons, or Lists of doctrines, were formulated by the faithful to counteract this confusion.
The Nature of Justification by Faith
Among other things, there was confusion about the nature of justification by faith. The confused party in the Netherlands thought that it meant that God accepted faith instead of righteousness. It went something like this: God from Sinai gave His law to Israel and demanded perfect obedience. But no one can keep the law. Because God is merciful, He provided another way for us to be saved: this salvation is by faith, for God accepts our faith instead of obedience.
In this, they were confused about the words of Paul here in Romans 4. They thought Paul was saying that God accepted faith instead of obedience, and that God blessed Abraham because Abraham offered God faith instead of obedience. Sadly, that wrong idea is still widely thought to be true.
But this idea does not really do justice to the truth of the Bible. For one thing, God cannot deny Himself: he cannot pretend that something is true when it is not true. He cannot pretend that a man is a good man when he is not a good man. He cannot pretend that a man has not sinned, when the man has sinned. If his very nature demands perfect obedience to all his commands, then he cannot accept a $5 bill for a million dollar debt; faith cannot be accepted instead of righteousness, unless it is understood in a very special way. Charles Hodge, the great Princeton theologian, pointed out that when it says that Abraham's faith was “counted” or “credited” for righteousness, the key word to understand is “faith.” Faith did not substitute for righteousness, but faith was able to access the righteousness which God accepts.
This would mean that “Faith” stands for the object of faith, Jesus Christ, and it is His righteousness which is acceptable to God.
The faith that saves is a special faith which unites us to Jesus Christ.
This is the meaning of Romans 5:1, 2. Faith brings access to the grace of God; it is the means whereby we access the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ, so that faith becomes the means whereby we are united to Christ, and God accepts HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS in place of our UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. Faith is never considered in the Bible as an end in itself, but as a means of accessing God, and entering into fellowship with Jesus Christ. This is the reason that faith saves, for without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek for Him, according to the writer of Hebrews.
This is what Abraham teaches us: for he teaches us the true nature of faith--that it is the means of laying hold on God and accessing the righteousness that is in Christ. Faith is not the treasure, but is the means of laying hold of the treasure. The treasure is Christ; and we are united to Him by faith. This Abraham did, for he believed the promises concerning Christ, and rejoiced in them.
This is the way of blessings, for if you believe in Christ and trust Him, then God does not count your sins against you, but your faith brings the righteousness of Christ to your account, and you are counted forgiven, innocent and good, as He was. You are hidden in Christ and belong to Christ, your sins being counted to Him, and His goodness being counted to you. This is the meaning of faith, and the heart of faith.
II. What then, were the benefits that Abraham received?
We will deal only with the spiritual benefits, which also apply to us, and rejoice our hearts. There were three major blessings that God promised Abraham that he received by faith. They are expressed in a figure, but they include the sum total of the Christian faith: These were the three commands that Abraham obeyed by faith:
First Benefit: A City with Foundations
Genesis 12:1: “Now the Lord had said unto Abraham, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee.”
Abraham left his home and his family by faith to seek a heavenly reward. Heb. 11 says “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
Think of it!! By faith, Abraham knew he was going to heaven, and this world was not his home. How sobering and exhilarating that is! Listen to the words of Christ in John 17: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine.”
How sobering! Jesus prayers are for those who are strangers and pilgrims in the world. Do you love the world? Does the love of the world keep you from Jesus Christ? Turn from the world, and embrace Jesus by faith that you might be saved.
Now, if Abraham had a certain hope of heaven and eternal life, then he must have had his sins forgiven. This is exactly the case. His sins were forgiven him by faith: this is the meaning of Romans 4:7, speaking of Abraham, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Now this was the first benefit of the faith of Abraham: his sins were forgiven.
This was the reason that Abraham was given the sign of circumcision. Romans 4:9. Circumcision was given to Abraham as a seal of the righteousness of faith, which he had yet being uncircumcised. In this way, Abraham is the father of all those who believe, not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles who walk in the faith that he had while he was yet uncircumcised..Romans 4:13 is an interesting verse: “For the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
Heir of the World
What does it mean to be “heir of the world”? In the first place, it does not mean to receive the world, for Abraham did not even receive the land of Canaan, let alone the world. It means to be the world's heir: to receive that for which the world and all in it were created: it means to receive the purpose for which the world was created and Adam was created. What was the purpose? to have fellowship with God and enjoy the blessedness of eternal life forever.
Abraham received this by faith, and his circumcision was the seal of his faith. The sacrament of bloody offerings had pointed to Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. Now the sign of circumcision pointed to the nature of the One who would be the Lamb of God: One who would be of the seed of Abraham but not according the flesh; not according to the works of man. He would be of the children of Abraham, but not after the natural order. Even Isaac couldn't really fit the bill, for his birth was miraculous, and of the promise, but he was still born of the natural seed of Abraham, from the revitalized body of Abraham. Isaac was only a figure and type of the True Seed of Abraham, who is Christ.
Circumcision indicated that the seed of man was contaminated and deserved to be cut off. The Savior would have to be One who was of the seed of Abraham, but not of the seed of Abraham. Only Jesus Christ could fit this: for He was not born of the seed of man, but He was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Promise that was given to Eve at the Garden of Eden, that the seed of the Woman would bruise the head of the Serpent. But from the body of the Virgin Mary He was truly descended from Abraham and was truly bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.
Paul writing in another place (Galatians 4:28): “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” The promise concerning Jesus Christ included all the elect, so His birth at Bethlehem certainly and surely guaranteed our new birth to newness of life. So we are in reality children of the promise, of which Isaac is a type and figure.
All those in Christ are children of Abraham in a way that fleshly Israel could never be. Abraham's faith included the promise of the Seed of Woman who would come to destroy the seed of the serpent; or his faith, was faith in Christ, with the hope of eternal life, to the extent that knowledge had been revealed to that time.
This is the meaning of Galatians 3:16, 17: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it would make the promise of none effect.”
Abraham and his seed had a promise from God, confirmed in Christ that had nothing to do with the law of Moses. It was this promise and Abraham's faith in this promise that was sealed by the sacrament of circumcision. The law had nothing to do with it and could not annul it. So there is one aspect of circumcision that has nothing to do with the law, but everything to do with grace, mercy, justification by faith in Jesus Christ, and the hope of eternal life.
Second Benefit: Removal of Fear
Gen. 15:1: “After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Abraham abandoned fear. Along with the love of the world is the fear of men. Many people do not follow Christ because they are afraid of something. They are afraid that they won't be successful; or that people will not like them; or--especially in the modern day—that they won't be relevant. How sad it is! How timid so many professing Christian are! The love of the world has taught them to be afraid.
Think of Abraham. His faith taught him to trust God for everything. Even when God said take your only son, the one whom you love, and go offer him as a sacrifice, Abraham did not stagger. He trusted that God would raise his son from the dead, if necessary, for God was faithful and would fulfill all His promises. Fear has torment, and faith brings us to love and trust Jesus Christ, which casts out fear. God was his shield and his exceeding great reward. Abraham's faith that God would send the promised redeemer assured him that God would raise Isaac from the dead if necessary. For faith knows that it is impossible for God to lie.
Third Benefit: Sanctification
Gen. 17:1: “When Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” Abraham walked before the Lord and was upright. Walking is an act of great balance and organization. A lot of things have to work right before you can walk. You have to have your act together before you can walk. Even a little fluid in your inner ear can cause havoc. Even a sore toe or a sore back. This is the great benefit of faith. Faith teaches us to walk before the Lord and to love and obey Him.
Some of you may have had trouble getting your act together; it would be highly unusual if even in a small congregation, all of you had your act together. But let me tell you the key: faith is the key. For you see, the just shall live by faith. It is by faith that you have fellowship with Jesus Christ, that you have access into the grace of God, that the Holy Spirit is given to you to transform and change you. For if you belong to Jesus Christ, then He has ordained, has predestined you, to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and faith is the means that He has chosen for you to access the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
These three things in principle make up the sum total of the Christian faith. If you have received these blessings by faith, then you are blessed indeed, your sins are forgiven you, and heaven is your home.
May God bless you. Trust Christ and lean only upon Him; rejoice always. Amen.
Pastor C. W. Powell
6050 Del Paz Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80918