Righteousness Through Belief

“And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.”
Romans 4:22-25 NLT

The story of Abraham in the Bible is remarkable. In a place called Ur of the Chaldeans, Abraham (then called Abram) married a lass called Sarai (later Sarah). But Abram’s Dad, Terah, wanted to go to the land of Canaan, and he took Abram and Lot, his grandson, with him. He got half way to a place called Haran and settled there, eventually dying at the age of 205. We can read the story in Genesis 11. But in Genesis 12:1, Abram heard the call of God. We read, “The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you””. The next few chapters in Genesis relate the story of Abram and how he became Abraham, the father of many nations. The Apostle Paul pointed out to his readers the reason this story was included in the Scriptures of the time was because it was put there for their benefit. And, of course as it turns out, for ours as well.

God made a promise to Abraham of descendants as numerous as the stars, when he was of an age that was too old for child bearing. Sarah was well into her 90’s, an age considered impossible when it came to having children. But through faith he believed God’s promise. And Paul points out to his readers that they too will be considered righteous if they believed ”in Him the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”. Paul’s explanation as to why was quite simple. Jesus was killed because of our sins, but through believing in Him, His resurrection made us righteous in God’s sight.

This word “belief” is critical. The dictionary definition I found today is spot on, in my opinion. “An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.” So although there is historical proof that Jesus was arrested and crucified, we have no proof that He allowed this to happen so that our sins are forgiven. We have no proof that because of His resurrection, we are now counted as righteous. So we have a “belief”.

But the “belief” Paul was referring to goes much deeper than the superficial meaning. Even the devil believes that Jesus existed. No, our belief in Jesus is life changing. We live in an age where people in society have largely rejected God and His ways. They may believe that a “god” of some sort exists, but that knowledge makes no difference to either the way they live in the now, or will live in the future, even beyond the grave. They may attend funerals and feel a twinge of regret or concern, but that soon wears off at the “wake”, the event scheduled to take place after a funeral service, and in an alcohol-fuelled family get together. 

We pilgrims believe with an intensity that is transforming in its impact. When we truly believe in all that God has done for us through Jesus, then we find ourselves transported to a new kingdom, the Kingdom of God. There, God rules and reigns, and we worship and praise Him, with thankful hearts. About our old lives living in the world, we read in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light”. God’s Kingdom is like that – full of light. 

So, because of our belief, we pilgrims are righteous in God’s sight. That’s what happened to Abraham, and it has happened to us as well. “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou, my God, should die for me“.

Dear Father God. We sing that old hymn today, assured of our righteousness through faith in Your Son Jesus. Such love! Amen.

Abraham’s Faith

“Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.””
Romans 4:1-3 NLT

This is obviously Paul, the Jew, speaking here. Like all Jews, he could trace back his ancestry all the way to Abraham. In Genesis 15:5, God spoke to Abram, we read, “Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”” A bit further on, as we read in Genesis 17:4-7, God said, “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! “I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were very proud of the lineage back to Abraham, and thought that because they were people of the covenant, following the Law, they were safe, with their future assured. But John the Baptist was having none of their religiosity – we read in Matthew 3:9-10, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the axe of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire”.

The Jewish nation was founded on faith. Abraham’s faith. And that was before the Law had even been given to the Israelites. There’s nothing God likes more than our faith in Him. In fact, He likes it so much that, through faith, we are made righteous before Him. We read in Genesis that Abraham “believed God”. And so it is with us pilgrims. We believe God and all that He has done for us. What we believe is summarised in the Anglican “Apostles’ Creed”. It’s worth including with the blog today. We believe it. And we have faith that through our belief we achieve righteousness before God, as Abraham did all those years ago. But just saying the Creed does not constitute faith. We really need to believe what it says, with all the implications behind it. The “head” knowledge needs to migrate to our “hearts”, where there can be an outpouring of our love and worship for our amazing God.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.