St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Righteous By Faith

Sermon on Genesis 15:1-6

Text: 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.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

What does the word “righteous” mean? There was a time when the word signified that something was very good or pleasing to you. “That was a righteous catch.” Usually, it has the idea of being on the right side of morality. If a sheriff is righteous, it means that he upholds the law fairly. The Bible has a different definition of righteous. The word righteous or righteousness means that you are in a correct, a right relationship with God. This is what is required for entrance into heaven. You have to be in a right relationship with God, that is to say, you have to be holy, without any sin. This morning, the term “righteousness” is used in connection with Abram, who was later called Abraham. As we study our text, we see how this righteousness is acquired. We see that we are RIGHTEOUS BY FAITH 1. In The Face Of Human Weakness 2. By The Grace Of Heavenly Power.

In the chapters preceding our text, we have two significant events in Abram’s life. He offered his nephew, Lot, the choice of the land. Due to the increasing numbers of their herds, it was not possible for them to stay together. Abram told Lot to pick where he would go. Lot chose the region around the lower Jordan River, where there would be a constant source of water, leaving Abram with the dryer part of the land. In the next chapter, Lot and his family, along with the other residents of the area, were captured by four kings, who had attacked the land. Abram took 318 of his servants to rescue Lot and the others. They were victorious, in spite of the fact that they were facing the armies of four kings. Abram refused any of the plunder, which would have been his by right, so that the heathen kings couldn’t say that they had made Abram rich.

It is on this background that the LORD appeared to Abram in a vision. He told Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Verse 1) These words are fitting in light of what had just happened. “I am your shield” would have reminded Abram that God had kept him safe in the face of the battle that he had won. “I am your very great reward.” Humanity would look at the actions of Abram as being foolish. After all, he let Lot choose the better part of the land. He could have added to his wealth by taking the plunder. Abram refused, choosing instead to trust that the Lord would bless him. The Lord came to Abram reminding him of all of the blessings that were his.

However, this brought a problem to the mind of Abram. The Lord had spoken to him four times previous to this. The Lord promised to give Abram great wealth. He would give Abram great honor in the land. He told him that, one day, the land that he was traveling through would be his. The problem was that, in each of these promises, they were attached to Abram’s descendants. One day, the land would be theirs. God had also told him that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. The promised Messiah would come from him to save the world. That was all fine and good, except for one thing. Abram had no children. When God first made the promise to Abram, he was 75 years old and his wife was 65. Ten years had passed and there still were no descendants.

Abram voiced his concern by saying, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? . . . You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Verses 2-3) What good was it for Abram to travel through the land, increasing his wealth, if there would be no biological child from whom these descendants would come. Abram’s only solution was that his servant, Eliezer, would be his heir. It was not uncommon, if there were no descendants, that the estate would be passed to the head servant. However, that was not what God had promised. God promised that he would have a son, that he would have descendants. Things didn’t seem to be working the way that they were supposed to. Abram prayed, no doubt, with an honest heart about the situation. However, he showed that his faith wasn’t as strong as it could have been as he questioned the Lord’s fulfillment of his promises.

While we might shake our heads at Abram’s weakness of faith in spite of all of God’s clear promises, can we say that we are any better? How many of God’s promises have we ever had problems with? God has promised to provide all that we need for this life. Do we ever question that when the bills pile up and we aren’t sure what we are going to do? God has promised that he will always be with us. Do we wonder about that when we fell all alone? What about when one problem after another piles up in our lives? Do we wonder if God has abandoned us? At times, this may be a weakness of faith. At other times, however, it is doubting that God will actually keep his promises to us. This doubting is a sin against the First Commandment. It is calling God a liar. We are saying to God that we really can’t trust him. By all rights, God could have condemned us so that we spent our eternity apart from him. Because of our human weakness, we are not righteous, at all.

It is with great wonder that we look at the way that the Lord dealt with Abram. Instead of condemning Abram for his weakness of faith, the Lord came to him and repeated the promise again. “Then the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.’” (Verse 4) He told Abram, ‘No, Eliezer will not be your heir. Instead, you will actually have a son that will come from your own body. He will be your heir.’ Then, the Lord gave Abram a visual so that he could get an idea of the fullness of the promise that the Lord had made to Abram. “He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” (Verse 5) If you are outside, away from the lights of town or your yard lights, and look up at the night sky, what do you see? Stars upon stars. The sky is full of them. How reassuring that sight and that night must have been for Abram! The Lord has promised and he will deliver. We would also note that the fulfillment of this promise didn’t happen right away. As a matter of fact, it would be another 15 years before Isaac was born. However, by the power of God, it all happened as God had said it would.

We thank God that he has also dealt with our many sins, including the doubts that have crept into our minds. Rather than dismissing us permanently, he, in his power and by his grace, did what was necessary so that we would be righteous in his sight. This means that he did fulfill the promise that he made to Abram. He sent the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, to pay the debt of sin that we owed to him. Jesus came to the earth to live the life that God demanded of us. In his great love, God has credited that perfect life to our account. What about those sins that we have committed? The Father placed all of those sins on the shoulders of his Son and punished him for them on the cross. He was punished in our place. All of our sins have been paid for. We know this to be true because Jesus rose from the grave. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has declared the world to be righteous.

How does this righteousness become our own? We find the answer in verse six, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Although God did not give Abram any spectacular signs, Abram believed. He trusted in the Lord’s promises. Because of that faith, the Lord saw him as righteous. We, also, want to note that the faith that Abram had was none of his doing. He didn’t choose to believe. Rather, the faith was created in his heart. This becomes evident as we study the word “believe.” In the Hebrew, the word has the idea of causing to be certain or sure. A good picture of this might be a parent’s arms providing firm support for the child, perhaps, as they are learning to walk. The child is sure, not by their own strength, but because they trust in the supporting arms of the parent. The words that the Lord spoke to Abram caused him to believe in the promises that were made to him.

In the same way, you and I cannot claim credit for the faith that we possess. It did not come about by our own decision. It did not happen because we just happened to be more favorably disposed to what God said. All of us are born dead in our sins. We could not make the first step toward God. So, God made the steps to us. The Holy Spirit, through the gospel that his proclaimed in his Word and the Sacrament of Baptism, created the faith that is in your heart. Through the hand of faith, we receive all of the benefits of what Christ has done for us. It is through faith that we are forgiven. It is through faith that, when God looks at us, he does not see the sins that we have committed. Rather, he sees holiness. He sees perfection. He sees righteousness. By God’s grace, we can insert our names into verse six and say, “_____ believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Again, we have been saved, not through any works of our own, but through the saving work of Jesus Christ. By faith, we receive all that he has done for us.

While we cannot create this faith on our own, there are many things that we can do to strengthen that faith. One way is through the regular reception of the Lord’s Supper. In that gracious meal, not only are our sins forgiven, but also our faith is strengthened. We can take the time every day to spend at least a few moments in God’s Word and devotions. In addition, we will soon again be ramping up our school year schedule. Confirmation Class has already begun. Sunday School begins next Sunday. Parents and grandparents, take time to ask what they learned. Not only does this show that you are interested in their spiritual growth, it also gives you an opportunity to review. There will be our various Bible classes, where we have opportunities to learn together the truths of God’s Word. God blesses us with a stronger faith as we take advantage of these opportunities. We are reminded again and again of God’s love for us. That, in turn, motivates us to live for him in love.

The words “righteous” and “righteousness” are used 493 times in the Bible. It is obvious that this is a very important term for us to know. We thank our God for teaching us this concept so clearly. First of all, we see that we have no righteousness on our own. By nature, we are lost and condemned in our weakness. However, Jesus, the Righteous One, came to the earth so that we might be declared “righteous.” Because of this righteousness, we have heaven to look forward to. We thank our God for our righteousness that is ours through the faith that he has created in our hearts. May the Lord keep us in this righteousness until we join all the other righteous ones praising him for all eternity. Amen.