04 Apr 2021

Justification By Faith [Genesis 15:1-6]


God laid down one of the great foundational statements of the gospel in an event some 4000 years ago. He said "And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. " (Gen 15:6 ESV). The great question of life is "How can I be right with God? " And Genesis 15:6 is the only plausible and only available answer in all of life. What does it mean then for me? How can I be right with God? What do I have to believe?


Sermon Transcript

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Well, this morning we are coming back to the book of Genesis. And if you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Genesis, chapter 15. And we are looking at this passage of Scripture that is very, very famous and popular.

This is Easter Sunday; this is Resurrection Sunday, and these past three days represent the most important three days of human history, some 2000 years ago, when the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again to save His people from their sins. This is the central message of the Bible. This is what we call the Gospel.

And because this is the central message of the Bible, you could see that the hints of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will be found throughout the Bible. It will be peppering different places of Scripture and today, we come to a passage that also speaks about that. So let's without much ado, come to the verses that you have already read but let me read this again because it's a short passage.

"After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be great or very great." But Abram said, "O Lord God, what will You give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, You have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir."

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you're able to number them." Then He said to him, "So shall their offspring be." And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness." [Gen 15:1-6]

[1] The Problem
First of all in this text, I'd like to present to you - the problem. There is an issue here; there is a difficulty here. And Abraham was stumped by this difficulty. And that's why God said to Abram, "Fear not." What is he fearful of? Well, he's fearful that he will have no descendant. He's fearful that he has no child. This is what he says, "I continue childless." [Gen 15:2]

You see, Abraham followed God's call some 10 years ago to leave the Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land. And God promised him then that He will make him a great nation, he will have many descendants. But 10 years later, the promise seems to be unfulfilled - there is no child! Sarah had not been pregnant, she did not even lay an egg. And so he was getting concerned and worried naturally, isn't it? Because they were both getting on in age. It's been 10 years! Nothing's happened!

So Abraham being troubled; being fearful, God came to him and said, "Do not fear." But Abraham still could not wrap his head around this problem, "I have no child!" So he now suggests a solution to God, he must have thought, God has forgotten about him. He must have thought that this is now way too late, or maybe it is impossible for God to now help my aging wife to have a child anymore.

So he proposed this solution, "I've an ... I've a servant in my house, his name is Eliezer. He comes from Damascus!" [Gen 15:2] "And he has a son, maybe this is Your will, God, maybe the heir to all that You have promised to me, will be via my servant's son." In those days, it is quite customary that your servant and all that he has can belong to you, including the son.

So Abraham is saying, "Let that be the case!" "You have given me no offspring; Sarah is not pregnant, so let this member of my household be my heir." [Gen 15:3] So this is Abraham's humanistic rationalization, "God, it's too late! It's too difficult! Let's do something simple! Let Eliezer's son be my heir and 'sua sua ke' [Hokkien dialect] Let your promise be fulfilled that way!"

[2] The Promise
Well, let's look then at the promise. God said, "This man, this son of Eliezer shall not be your heir, your very own son shall be your heir." [Gen 15:4] So God is now reaffirming His promise to Abraham, even after so long.

Well, a story is told of a couple who had marital issues. They went to the marriage counselor, and the wife was sobbing. And she said, "My husband never says, "I love you anymore."' To which the husband vehemently protested, I said, "I love you on wedding day and if I change my mind, I will tell you."

Now, that's not the way women works, isn't it? I mean you love to hear affirmation all the time from your husband. And you know God is not like the husband who doesn't care. God reaffirms His promise. You must remember this is God who took the initiative to come to Abraham. So God reaffirms, "No! It's not going to be via Eliezer's son, it's going to be by Sarah. It's going to be your own son with her."

"And so He brought Abraham outside and said, "Look towards heaven, and number the stars, if you're able to number them." [Gen 15:5] It's a romantic scene - brought him outside of the tent, looking at the stars of heaven. Now, if I were to ask you to look towards the stars in Singapore, you will see very little, very depressing. We have a lot of pollution here but back then, in the Middle East, before industrialization has come about, I'm sure you have the privilege to see many, many stars. It's said that you could see up to 8,000 stars on a given night in the Middle East.

Well, this is why we have this template, this PowerPoint slide with all the stars at the back, Abraham looking at the skies must be astounded! "I have nothing," But God is saying, "You have everything. Go number them, so shall your offspring be." [Gen 15:5] And so there is the promise of a multitude. "I will make of you a great nation, you have many, many descendants."

So God reaffirms the promise to Abraham and you say, "Well, that's obvious!" Whilst that's obvious, do you realize that this saying by God, "So shall your offspring be," has a deeper layer of meaning. There's another level of understanding that you need to grasp.

You say, "What is that?" Well, I want you to know that actually, if it is just about a multitude or a lot, a lot of people, then God should have said, "So shall your 'offsprings' be." But He didn't say that! Oh, you say, "God doesn't speak English well." Well, I will say that in the Hebrew, it's meant to be in the plural form. So, or it's written in the singular form when it should be in the plural form. "So shall your 'offsprings' be." But no, God was very specific! "So shall your 'offspring', [singular], be."

You say, "Why are you making such a big deal out of this?" Well, I'm ... I'm not the one who makes a big deal out of this, because it is the apostle Paul, God's servant, apostle, who makes a big deal out of this. He explains in Galatians, chapter 3:16, "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his 'offspring'. It does not say, "And to 'offsprings,' referring to many."

By the way, this is not my words, you can go open your Bible, it's exactly what your Bible says, it's God's Word. "It does not say and to 'offsprings', referring to many, but referring to one, and to your 'offspring'." Now, who is this 'one'? What is this promise revolving around? Well, this promise revolves around one most important person ever born into this world, and that is Jesus Christ.

So on this Resurrection Sunday, on this Easter weekend, we are brought back to a passage of the Bible that tells us about Jesus, because the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central message of the whole Bible. So God is here saying, "Abraham, I'm promising you a very special descendant." This Descendant we know today, to be the Lord Jesus Christ, is the very same descendant, God promised during the times of Adam and Eve.

You will recall in Genesis, chapter 3, right after man had fallen into sin. Right after that devastating event, God did not give up on humanity. God did not say, "You go and die, and there's nothing that's going to be done for you." But God promised a Savior, God promised during those days that there will be someone who can defeat Satan, who has duped this world into sin. God said, "I will give an 'offspring' from Eve, and this 'offspring' of Eve will crush the serpent's head, will absolutely destroy the evil one, the devil." [Gen 3:15]

So fast forward thousands of years later you recall, it's about 2000 years from Adam. God repeats that same promise but now narrows it, not just to any descendant of Eve, but narrows it down to Abraham and Sarah's offspring. "From your line, Abraham, there will come a special one. He will be the one who will crush the head of the serpent, defeat the devil, and He will be the one through whom all nations will be blessed."

So later on, we read in Genesis 22:17, God repeats His affirmation or repeats His promise, affirming what He has originally said, "I will surely bless you, Abraham, and I will surely multiply your offspring, as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore ..." Through Jesus Christ, through this special offspring, there'll be many who will be blessed. "And your offspring, Jesus, of course, Abraham wouldn't know if He's called Jesus but your offspring, shall possess the gate of His enemies."

He shall be victorious! He will be all conquering! "And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." [Gen 22:18] So when we come to Genesis, chapter 15 in verse 5, "So shall your 'offspring' be," we must understand that yes, God does promise a multitude, but it will be via this one 'offspring', via the Lord Jesus Christ.

So on this Resurrection Sunday, we are today reminded of the amazing work that Jesus has done. On this Resurrection Sunday, we are remembering that God promises His people salvation, and it has been accomplished! That Jesus died on the cross, but Jesus rose again from the dead, proving that He is victorious over sin; over death; over hell; over the devil. And we have a God who always keeps His Word. He's faithful; He's wise; He's loving; He's all powerful.

Well, did Abraham understand this? You say, "Wow, this is too 'chim'! [too profound in Hokkien dialect] He wouldn't have caught, "So shall your offspring be," like what you have explained or like what Apostle Paul would have understood." But we got to give more credit to Abraham, I think he understood it. I think he looked forward to the fulfilment of Genesis 3:15.

He looked forward to the coming of the Special One, because Jesus said this about Abraham himself, "Your father Abraham, rejoiced that he would see My day, he saw it and was glad." [John 8:56] Whose day? My day. And Jesus was the One who said it. So Abraham had great faith. He understood that God would send a Savior. He believed that in Genesis, chapter 15.

So this is a simple statement, but actually it's a very rich statement - "So shall your 'offspring' be." [Gen 15:5] "Well, through you Abraham, though you have nothing right now, though you're childless, I will give you a special descendant. And through Him, all nations will be blessed. Through Him, the curse of sin will be removed. Through Him, Satan will be defeated." Did Abraham understand this? I think he did! "Abraham rejoiced to see My day, he saw it and he was glad." [John 8:56]

Finally, you say, "Wah, pastor very early today!" Yah, good news! Alright, so finally I ... I breezed through the first few verses, so that we may come to a very important verse in this chapter.

[3] The Pronouncement
Finally, let's look at the pronouncement. What did God say? What did God conclude or what did God issue a statement about? He said in verse 6, we're just going to finish off with a looking at this verse 6, and the commentary given by Moses, is that, "Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness." [Gen 15:6]

This is a great saying! Again, actually a very simple saying, but a rich one nonetheless! Abraham believed the Lord, regarding what? Regarding the promise of the 'offspring'. "He believed that, and God counted him; credited to him as righteousness." Now, this simple statement is what we would call today, in theology, in doctrinal study - justification by faith. You say, "What's justification by faith?"

Well, there was a preacher; a pastor, who was speaking to a group of businessmen, he was given the opportunity to share about the Christian faith. So he was sharing to the group of prominent businessman, justification by faith. It happens that during that time, there was a reporter who was there as well, covering the event. But the next day when the preacher or the pastor opens up his newspapers to read the news, he was shocked that the reporter wrote down - Just a vacation by faith.

Okay, that's not what justification means! What does justification by faith mean? Well, let me give you a technical definition of this, and then we try to understand it, breaking it down.

Justification by faith is God's ... bear with me, I know it's technical, I know it's long, but bear with me, alright. I'm going very fast for you, you can go early one, don't worry, so just bear with me. ... God's righteous act of removing the condemnation, guilt, and penalty of sin by grace, while at the same time declaring the ungodly to be righteous, through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice.

Now, let me try to break this down. Justification means that whilst you are a sinner, God removes that condemnation; guilt; and penalty that is due your sin, but instead, declares you to be righteous. In other words, He removes your position or status of being unrighteous, and He gives you the position and status of being righteous. That's justification! You get that? "I'm guilty; I'm sinful, but justification says, "No, you are no more guilty; you're no more sinful; you're no more condemned."'

And it is by faith, it is not what you do to earn it. It is not what you can achieve. It is given to you when you believe. Now you say, "Where got so good one? It's so unfair - I am sinful, I should pay for it!" But you see someone paid for it, that someone is none other than the one we have been talking about this whole morning - the 'offspring'; the seed of Eve; the descendant; the 'offspring' of Abraham - the Lord Jesus Christ.

That's what Easter is about! The Lord Jesus Christ came to die on the cross and to rise again, to do what we can never do for ourselves, and that is to pay for our sins, to sacrifice Himself. And you know what, when God gives you this position of righteousness, He does it freely. It's all grace! It's undeserved! It's unmerited! But it's freely bestowed on those who believe in Jesus. And there is no unrighteousness with God to declare a sinner, righteous, because Jesus paid it all. Do you get that?

So when you bring all those elements together, you can understand this definition - it is God's righteous act. God is not unrighteous to declare a sinner, justified. He can do that, because sin has been paid for by His Son. So it is God's righteous act of removing. Wow, it is amazing! "I have a debt of sin, I have guilt in my life but God removes that condemnation, that guilt and penalty of sin, all by His grace. While at the same time declaring this ungodly man to be righteous." Yes! " Because I have faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice." This is justification by faith.

Now, this is such a difficult definition, I don't really think you need to memorize it, but I think you should memorize Genesis 15:6, "And he believed the Lord, and He counted to him in ... it to him as righteousness." [Gen 15:6] Isn't that a simpler definition or simpler description? Well, that's what happened!

Now, some of you who are sharp, would say, "Hey, but Jason I ... I ... I don't think this is the time that Abraham believed God only, because Abraham had already believed God earlier, isn't it?" I say, "You're absolutely right!" At least 10 years ago, Abraham had already believed God, because Hebrews 11 told us. So let me say this, wasn't Abraham already a believer? Yes he was, because Hebrews 11:8-9 tells us, "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out."

Now, he left Ur the Chaldees 10 years ago, and he left because he believed God. He had already believed! So wasn't Abraham already a believer before this? He was. He is. But you see, this is the first time in Scripture that we see faith and righteousness explicitly mentioned together. God is using this incident to now introduce to us, a very important doctrine of the whole Bible - justification by faith, which is that righteousness is given to those who believe God's promise about the Savior.

So this is a very important moment in biblical development. This is where God is laying down that first statement, that foundation of helping us from now on, understand that being right with God, that's what righteousness is by the way. Righteousness is being right with God. Righteousness is not earned. It's not what we can try to muster up, but righteousness is given by God, to those who believe God's promise about the Savior.

And really this is a great place to lay down this foundational doctrine. Why? You will recall that Abraham is no perfect man. We learn about the chapter earlier, he was a liar, right? He lied about his wife. So Abraham is not righteous because he was by nature a righteous man. He was not! He's a sinner, he has a sin nature like everyone else.

And God laid down this principle, before Abraham is going to be circumcised. Now, that's in chapter 17, that's about 14 years later. So Abraham is not righteous because he performed some religious rite, because he was circumcised but Abraham is righteous because he believed God's promise about the Savior. So the timing is immaculate, if I may say.

So, this becomes a very important foundation for the rest of the Bible, you can look at many passages, but I'll just highlight one. "For what does the Scripture say?" [Rom 4:3-5] So Paul, the apostle who is the author of Romans is trying to help people understand the Gospel. He's trying to help them understand, you are not saved because you keep the law or because you're circumcised. No, you're saved by grace through faith in God's Savior!

And he says, "I can prove it to you." How does he prove it to the people he's writing to? He says, "Let me prove it to you from Genesis." Genesis chapter 15, "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness." [Rom 4:3] That's what Scripture says - Genesis 15:6.

"And so, this is his conclusion to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." [Rom 4:4] See, from the story of Abraham, we now understand righteousness is bestowed; is given; it's ... it's wonderfully gifted to those who simply believe in God's promise about the Savior!

It's not about circumcision. It's not about being a good boy. Salvation is not - do, do, do, do, do. Salvation is - done. It is finished! Jesus paid it all! "And so the words, "It was counted to him," were not written for his sake alone." [Rom 4:23-25] In other words, this righteousness credited to Abraham is not just to Abraham. This principle is for all of us, "... for ours also, it will be counted to us who believe in Him, in God, who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." [Rom 4:25]

Wow! "Counted to us; credited to us!" I've said this many times in our church, when I became a pastor; a church worker, I left my medical practice, my ... my dad feared for my livelihood, so every month, it has been 15 years, every month my dad credits money to my bank account. I don't work for him, I don't do anything meaningful for him, but he credits that money to my account. And when he credits that money to my account, you know whose money it becomes? My money. It was credited to me - free.

And do you know something about salvation, about righteousness? It's credited to you who believe, even though you don't do anything. This is the amazing story of God's salvation plan! "Abraham, I'm going to give you a very special descendant, through Him all nations will be blessed." "This is a world that is hopelessly stuck in sin. It cannot save itself, but I'm going to give you salvation. I'm going to credit to this world righteousness, if they believe my promise about the Savior. They will be no more seen as guilty condemned, but there will be seen as righteous, a people right with me. Why? Because I'm going to pay for their sins, with the death of my Son."

This is justification by faith. So what an important statement this is. The next time you read Genesis, chapter 15, don't just skip through these verses. This is a glorious promise about the Messiah; about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is a tremendous encouragement that you and I can believe in Jesus and be right with God.

You see this question - How to be right with God? Is the question for all religion. Every religion is about being right with the deity; being right with the Supreme Being. And I would say, "Every religion would say, "Do this, do that. Do this, do that. Be good. Don't do this, don't do that."' But it's only in the Christian faith; it's only in the Scriptures; it's only in this Good News of Jesus Christ, that we realize, getting right with God is not what I can achieve, it's not what I do, but it's what I receive, and what has been done for me. And it is given to those who believe, just like Abraham.

Oh, I've said this story so many times, but I'll say it again, because when I was exploring the Christian faith, some 20 over years ago, I was wondering, "How can I be right with God? How can I get to heaven? Am I going to heaven?" And this is such an old-fashioned tract, but it is still circulating today. I saw this picture of a man looking into the dark skies and it was like me. I ... I could see myself here because I was exploring, I was saying, "I want to be saved but I'm not sure how."

"So, am I going to heaven? Find out inside." Well, it piqued my curiosity, I opened it up. So they had a few questions. What do you think is required to get to heaven?" the tract says.

- Obeying God's laws and commandments. There's a box beside, I ticked. Yah, gotta be a good guy, right, otherwise how can you be God's child? How can you be right with God? Got to do this!

- Doing any religious deeds like water baptism. I'm not so sure about that but tick lah, every Christian gets baptized, so tick lah!

- Number three, doing any good works, like helping mankind. Sure, you must be a good guy, otherwise how can you be God's child again!

- Doing any spiritual things like stop sinning. Yah, I think I need to stop sinning.

- Doing any good work and believing in Jesus Christ. Yup, I think I have to do that too.

So I ticked all the boxes and I said, "Yeah, I'm on the way to heaven, right?" But for the first time in my life, I think I failed the test miserably, got zero out of five. Because the tract goes on to show verse after verse, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." [Rom 3:28]

"Huh, you mean I'm justified, without having to obey the 10 commandments?" That's what Romans 3:28 says. You say, "What's the law for then?" Well, actually the law is not meant to save you. The law is just meant to show you that you are a hopeless sinner, who can never do right by yourself. So the law is meant actually to humble you, so that you can turn to the Savior; believe in Him, so that you may be justified through Him.

"Ah, I get it! I should have known that, but I didn't read my Bible." Not only in Romans 3:28, but Titus 3:5 says, "He saved us not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy." God doesn't save you based on your deeds, but according to His mercy, when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for you.

"For by grace ..." Grace is God's undeserved favor for us, doing for us what we cannot do. "... it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast." [Eph 2:8-9] How can I be right with God? My works? Nah! By faith, in Jesus’ finished work.

"For it is, for if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works otherwise grace is no longer grace." [Rom 11:6] And again, we come to this famous verse, Romans 4:5, based on Genesis 15, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."

So the way to have eternal life, this is all from the tract, by the way, I'm just reading to you. Okay ... the way to have eternal life is not found in what we do ourselves, but by having a perfect righteousness given to us. We receive this, when we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God's promised offspring and Savior, who took our sins on Himself and paid for them by His death on the cross.

And that's why this Easter weekend is the most important three days of human history, some 2000 years ago. Jesus paid it all! And now, men and women who are condemned; sinful; guilty, can be justified, given this righteousness.

Let me end with the last story. A teacher was speaking to the parent, and she said to him, "You know, for all my years of teaching, it's the first time I've ever seen this. You see, I was teaching a class on creative writing and your son did something I never saw before. I was telling them about this story of an ant and the grasshopper. The ant would work throughout the whole summer to gather food, but the grasshopper would play the whole summer and not bother with accumulation of food. Then winter came, and the grasshopper began to starve, so the grasshopper goes to the ant and begs the ant for food."

That's where I ended my story, and I told the students; the class to finish the story, the best way they know how. As usual, the scripts came back and most of the students would say that, "The ant would share the food with the grasshopper and they will live happily ever after as friends." But as always, there will also be a few students who would write that, "The ant said to the grasshopper, "You have played the whole summer, I don't have enough food for the both of us, I only have enough for myself," and he would not give the food to the grasshopper. And so the ant would live, but the grasshopper will die.

"But Sir, your son was very special." He asked me if I could draw or he asked me if he could draw his conclusion. I said, "Yes, you can, but you need to write it out as well." And this is what he did, I've never seen anyone do this, but this is what he ends his story with. "So the ant gave all of his food to the grasshopper; the grasshopper lived through the winter. But the ant died." "What did he draw?" "He drew this [an image of the cross], Sir. Your son understood the real meaning of sacrifice.

Well, Jesus laid down His life, to do what we can never do. And if you repent and believe in Jesus Christ today, God declares that you can be saved; and you can be justified. This is what Easter is all about. I pray everyone seated here, and everyone online, no matter how long have you been in church, no matter how many times you've read the Bible, let me ask you today, "Do you believe in God's promise of His Savior?" Righteousness is given to those who believe God and His promise of the Messiah; of the Savior. May God bless you. May Christ be born in your heart today. That's what's going to make Easter worth it all.

Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

The central message of the Bible is what we call the Good News of the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ dying and rising to save us from our sins, in order to reconcile a sinful man to the Holy God. In short, the Gospel is justification by faith. The Gospel is righteousness through the finished work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is God's amazing gift for a sinful, paralyzed humanity.

And the Bible says, "If you believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you can be saved." My friends, every religion tells you, "Work! Work! Work! Do! Do! Do! Strive! Strive! Strive! Achieve! Achieve! Achieve!" But the Gospel says, "Believe! Believe! Believe!" The Gospel declares, "It is finished! The debt of sin is fully paid for." The Gospel says, "Whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

This is the amazing work of Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. I'm calling you today as God's servant, be ye reconciled with God, humble yourself, acknowledge your sin and your sinfulness and your hopelessness. And like a beggar, ask God for mercy to save you, because Jesus has paid it all on the cross. Would you today humble yourself; repent of your sin; repent of your self-righteous efforts and then depend and believe in Jesus Christ.

Don't assume! Don't just say to yourself, "Because I've been in church for many, many years, I am saved." No, being in church doesn't save you! Believing in Jesus Christ is what saves you.

Do you see that there is no change in your life? Do you see that there is no passion for God? Do you see that there is no fruit of the Spirit? Then don't keep on presuming. If you today know that you're not saved, make sure of that today, by repenting and believing in Jesus Christ. I pray this will be a blessed Easter weekend for you, truly. May you come to know God, in a life changing way through Jesus His Son.

Father, we thank You today that it is in Christ alone that our salvation, and our hope is found. May all eyes behold Your Son, may all hearts look toward Him today. You said, "Verily, verily I say unto you, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God."' So dear God, by the work of Your Spirit, grant new birth as Your people repent and believe in Jesus. Do what we cannot do, please save souls today. We ask this joyfully; gratefully in Jesus' Name. Amen. God bless.

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