“And [God] brought [Abram] outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6).
Thanks to the Apostle Paul, we understand this to be the origin of justification by faith rather than by works of the Law. To quote briefly from Paul, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ …How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believed without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:2-3, 10-12).
Therefore, because justification by faith predates circumcision and, furthermore, the Law, justification by faith is superlative to the Law.
Yet besides considering what this means theologically, let’s ponder it experientially, because I believe we can deeply relate to Abram’s experience here. In the pastoral thought preceding this one, I wrote on God repeating His promise to Abram multiple times probably because He’s fully aware of how forgetful His human creatures are. I also noted that later on, Abram literally falls on his face in laughter when God tells him his wife will bear him a son in their old age. He laughed, but he still believed.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s stay where we are. Abram is still by the oaks of Mamre when God repeats His promise to Abram again. This is the third time God has repeated Himself, and it is here that it is written, “And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” (Third time’s a charm?)
God told Abram what He was going to do, and Abram simply believed. He knew not how it was going to happen; he simply knew it was going to happen, even though he laughs his butt off later. He believed God’s promise, and this faith justified Abraham in the Lord’s sight.
Is this not the same faith you and I share? Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Jesus was speaking of the cross when He spoke this. Then again, He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). And He also said, “Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12).
Jesus told us what He came to do in His life, death, and resurrection—that by believing Him and what He accomplished, we have eternal life. We know not how this faith gives us eternal life, but it happens, even though it may confound us and perhaps cause us to laugh at times (it certainly makes our enemies laugh at us). We believe Christ’s promise, and this faith justifies us in the Lord’s sight (Ephesians 2:8-9).
In the same way, Jesus has said He’s coming soon. Apart from descending upon clouds (Matthew 24:30; Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7), we know not how or when this is going to happen; we simply know it’s going to happen.
No doubt Abraham grew impatient and worrisome at times, despite his faith. Surely, according to the Scripture, Abraham had faith and therefore knew God would fulfil His promise; but as he grew old, it is no wonder he laughed when God revealed He would fulfil the promise He made to him in his old age. It is no wonder why, in his impatience, he foolishly listened to Sarai’s voice and had a son by his servant, Hagar—just as we, in our impatience, foolishly make absurd predictions of Jesus’ glorious return and try to take matters into our own impudent hands.
Yet, just as Abraham learnt, the promise comes about not by our own scheming and predictions but solely by God’s power and timing alone. Some of us might be in decrepit old age by the time our Lord returns as He promised; many of us will be decomposed in our graves with the rest of the saints who are asleep until our Lord’s return. Nevertheless, the Lord is coming by His power and timing alone to raise us from the dead and into everlasting life, no matter how decrepit or decomposed. The Lord promised to bring life from a dead womb, and He did. The Lord can certainly bring life from the grave, as is shown in Christ’s own resurrection, of which we are given a share (Romans 6:5).
Theology Terms Used
- Justification by Faith: Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience in His life, death, and resurrection, God declares sinners to be just or righteous for Christ’s sake. He credits our sins to Christ and credits Christ’s perfect righteousness to us.
Featured Image: The Second Coming Of Jesus Christ by Ron DiCianni.