“Abraham and Sola Fide” Genesis 15:6; 11-01-09
Genesis 15:6 “Abraham and Sola Fide”
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Bryan E. Walker
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 very great.” 2 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?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 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.” 5 And he brought him 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.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Introduction: It is our tradition at Redeemer Church to celebrate our doctrinal heritage by remembering the beginning of the Reformation on All Saints Day eve, Oct. 31, 1517, the day that a German Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg. Luther’s studies of the Scriptures, and his keen insights into the doctrinal, liturgical and ethical problems of the Catholic Church in his day led him to a point of breaking with Rome. The key doctrine which he found in Scripture that went against the teaching and practice of the Roman Church, was the doctrine of Sola Fide, salvation, justification, is through faith alone. While Luther recovered this doctrine, and thereby the Gospel, he did not invent it. The doctrine of Sola Fide was preached by Paul and even Moses. This is both a New Testament and Old Testament doctrine and we see it proclaimed in our primary text today, Gen. 15:6.
Luther said of this doctrine, justification by faith alone, this is “the article with and by which the church stands, without which it falls…The article of justification is the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines; it preserves and governs all church doctrine and raises up our conscience before God. Without this article the world is utter death and darkness. No error is so mean, so clumsy, and so outworn as not to be supremely pleasing to human reason and to seduce us if we are without the knowledge and the contemplation of this article.” (quoted by RC Sproul in Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, Baker books, 1997, pp.59-60).
This doctrine is the great dividing line between men and religions. Men will either have faith and trust in themselves, and what they can do, or men will have faith and trust in God. Religions will either teach how man can become a god, and save himself, or they will teach how God has saved man by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Make no mistake about it, this Gospel of grace and faith brings peace with God but division between men. Man in his natural condition of sin hates this doctrine for it exposes man’s sinfulness and reveals God’s holiness, it shows man to be unable and unwilling but God fully able and willing to save to the uttermost.
This doctrine of salvation through faith alone is on hard times in our day. We live in a Pelagian world that would make Pelagius blush. Our world, even churches and denominations, does not believe in original sin; beyond that they do not believe in the concept of sin, nor of a holy and righteous God. Just this past summer the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America stated, at their triennial convention in Los Angeles, that the idea of individual salvation was the great western heresy. Several years ago I was visiting family out of state and attended several meetings of a Methodist revival. Not once in those sermons did I hear sin mentioned, or repentance, or salvation by grace alone through faith alone. In the Southern Baptist Church I pastored for 15 yrs I well remember a widow, and she had been a Sunday School teacher for years, and rarely missed a service, who was confident that her deceased husband who had been a deacon and Sunday School teacher for decades, was in heaven because he was 1) a good man, 2) a good Mason and 3) a good Christian.
There is a need today for godly Christians to know, understand, live by, and be able to articulate this important doctrine of Sola Fide, justification through faith alone. There is so much bad teaching, heresy, and apostasy out there that even in the churches of our extended families there are countless people who think and hope that they are saved by something that they do. They need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This morning I want to explain this essential doctrine from Gen. 15:6 and some other texts so that we understand that our salvation rests in God’s grace alone, and that we receive it by faith alone.
- I. The Context of Abram’s Faith
- A. Verse 6 is referring to Abram but this is an editorial comment by Moses inserted here in the story. By this I mean that this place and time is not the point of Abram’s salvation. Abram has clearly demonstrated faith in God since 12:4 where he obeys God’s initial call. So 15:6 serves as kind of a summary statement of Abram’s faith at a critical point. Ch.15 is where God enters into a formal covenant with Abram and it occurs right after ch.14 where Abram had fought a battle and had an encouraging encounter with the mysterious Melchizedek, priest of God Most High and king of Salem.
- B. Abram has clearly demonstrated his faith already by heeding the call of God and going to the land God showed him. Sojourning there as an alien amongst the Canaanites, he built altars and called out to the Lord, leading his family in worship. He exhibited tremendous faith in God when the problem arose with Lot over the abundance of their flocks and herds by giving Lot the first choice of the land. He again trusts in God as he wages war to rescue his troubled nephew in ch. 14 and he publicly proclaims his faith before Melchizedek and the king of Sodom as he rejects the Sodomite’s offer of keeping the treasure from the battle because he has lifted his hand to the LORD, God Most High. He not only does the righteous thing, he explains why he does it in terms of faith in his God.
- C. Yet we know that Abram is not perfect, he too is a sinner. According to Joshua 24:14 we see that the forefathers were idolaters and this may mean that before Abram was called of God, while he was growing up in Ur under his father Terah, they could have been worshiping false gods. So when God calls Abram in 12:1-3 we see God’s sovereign and amazing grace in action. There is no text indicating that Abram was obedient or deserving before this call by God. Abram’s faith exists because of God’s grace.
- D. In ch. 15 Abram’s faith is stated in the context of childlessness. God has promised him descendants, yet he remains childless. For the world at that time, childlessness indicates being abandoned by the gods, hopeless. He has great material wealth but no lasting fruit. In the face of that fruitlessness, Abram believes God, he trusts that God will bring about a child that will eventually turn into a nation.
- II. And He Believed
- A. The word translated believed means to place your trust in someone with great confidence; to rely on someone for the future. The sense is that Abram trusts God with his future, believing that God will do what he promises. He is trusting God rather than himself. To believe is to stand firm in the one trusted, like a pillar holding up a part of a building, unmoving, unyielding.
- B. What is faith? Faith can be seen to have three elements. a) notitia- this is the basic content of saving faith. Saving faith is not empty or ignorant, it is not faith in nothing, it must have content. The context of Abram’s faith is the revelation of God to him, the faithfulness of God to him, and the opposing faith of the Canaanites around him. Abram did not believe in God in the face of apathetic neutrality or in a vacuum. The Canaanites had a belief system that was opposed to Abram’s. The Canaanite gods were opposed to Abram’s God, the LORD. In ch. 14 Abram knows God as God Most High and the Creator and Possessor of Heaven and Earth. Then, in ch.15 he knows him as his Shield. There is rich content in his faith.
- C. Our world today does not much care about the content of our faith. To the world, faith is ok, but it is faith in whatever you want to believe in for all of the world’s religions are equally true in their eyes. For this age, as long as you are sincere in what you believe that is sufficient. Simply believe in whatever god you want to believe in. I have encountered many, many people who, when it comes to worshiping God, do their own thing. Just this last week I linked up with an old childhood friend who used to be a Baptist, but he said he now does his own thing. Content is not essential to most of our generation. How do you share the gospel in those circumstances? You must confront them with the content of the gospel, with the God of the gospel, with the historical Jesus of Nazareth who was born of a virgin, lived a perfectly sinless life of obedience to God, died as our substitute on the cross and rose again on the third day. We confront willful ignorance, contentless faith, with the Word of God, the Gospel. Content matters! Without belief in the essentials of the Christian Faith, doctrines, there is no salvation. A Charismatic pastor told me once, “Bryan, the problem with Christianity is too much doctrine. We need less doctrine and more Jesus.” I was aghast. But content alone will not save. You can know the Scriptures and all the doctrines and still be lost and go to hell.
- D. What is this faith that Abram had? The second element to genuine faith is assensus– agreeing with, giving your assent to the truthfulness of the content of the faith. It is not merely knowing the content, understanding the doctrines, but agreeing with them as being true and important. Sadly, in some denominations today, there are statements of faith that list the core doctrines of the faith, but practically speaking they are diminished from the pulpit or even outright contradicted. Many accept the essentials but are unmoved and do not see the impact of their truthfulness in the world around them or in their own lives. It is entirely possible to agree that something is true and not care, not be changed by what is “believed”.
- E. Faith is not just agreeing with the content as being true and important it is fiducia- personally trusting in and relying on the one trusted. Here we see Abram as the great Old Testament example of faith, radical faith. He left all he had known to follow this God who had called him. He persevered in old age, as his beloved wife Sarah got older and still no child. But he had been promised a child by God, so he trusted. Faith is trusting and committing yourself wholeheartedly. Your mind, will and emotions are committed so that you follow and you persevere. A saving faith will love, will have affection for, its object- in this case Christ.
- F. Here is another place the world gets nervous about our faith. Genuine, saving faith will produce followers. Abram followed God and we will follow Jesus. This means our faith is not simply a private matter and our world desperately wants us to keep our faith private. In Chapter 14 Abram publicly rebuked the king of Sodom with his refusal to accept the war treasure and then he had the audacity to proclaim in public his faith in God. When you and I live out our faith in public, it makes the world uncomfortable. Good! Habakkuk 2:4 “but the righteous shall live by his faith” shows us that faith will be ongoing, it is a way of life that is demonstrable. We are considered righteous through faith in God and then it will be shown by how we live.
- G. In this text the word repentance is not used, but the idea is there. Implicit in the word for believe or trust, is the fact that Abram is trusting in God as his Shield and rewarder, his defender and provider, his benefactor, and not trusting in himself. Genuine saving faith is always accompanied by a cessation of trusting in self and a turning to trust in God alone. Again, the word for repent is not here, but it is used by Jesus in his first recorded sermon in Mark 1:15 where he says, “repent and believe the gospel.” To repent is to change ones mind and to head in another, opposite direction. Abram once was living in Ur along with all the other pagans, then he was called of God and he changed directions and followed God. The fishermen in Mark 1 leave their nets and immediately follow Jesus. Paul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christians until he is confronted by Jesus and he starts saying, “Yes Lord”.
- H. It is at this point that again, there is much confusion and disagreement within Christianity and in the world. Many are simply redefining sin in order to avoid repentance and thus prove their faith is false. I have a homosexual person I am close to who was raised in the church, accepted Christ as a child and was baptized, but has struggled with homosexuality since adolescence. Once he struggled with it as a sin and sought godly counsel and accountability. But in recent years he has a new position that God created him this way, therefore it is good and not sinful. He has left the Baptist church and joined the Metropolitan Community Church where homosexuality is celebrated, endorsed and viewed as good and godly. There is no repentance, yet he claims faith. He had a minister contact me in order to convince me that Scripture allowed for this view. The minister was not gay, he was in the Nazarene church. His position was that unless the gay person felt that homosexuality was a sin, then it wasn’t a sin for them. This last summer two denominations voted to declare that homosexuality is not a sin, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Folks, repentance is not in the program anymore! But genuine saving faith is a turning from self and sin to Christ. Faith without repentance is not saving faith. Redefining sin does not help.
- I. There are those in Christian churches and seminaries who would say that those of us who require there to be repentance and visible fruit are adding works to our faith. But the sequence of events here is interesting. God revealed himself to Abram, he called Abram to follow, and Abram followed. He had saving faith and it showed. He received revelation, he believed and he obeyed. We believe in salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, but not through a faith which remains alone. James 2:14-26
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
- J. The basic argument of James here is not that your works bring about justification or salvation, but that your works, justify or prove you are saved. Genuine faith will produce good works. There is a proper sequence there that is necessary. To say that saving faith may not be accompanied by good works is to deny the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and to make saving faith a man made thing. In Galatians 2:15-16 Paul tells us, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Works cannot save us, but faith will lead to works. Spurgeon writes about Gen. 15:6 “Always distinguish between the truth, that living faith always produces works; and the lie, that faith and works cooperate to justify the soul. We are made righteous only by an act of faith in the work of Jesus Christ. That faith, if true, always produces holiness of life, but our being righteous before God is not because of our holiness in life in any degree or respect, but simply because of our faith in the divine promise.” (Spurgeons Expository Encyclopedia, vol.1, p.12)
- K. Faith is ultimately a grace gift from God, it is not from ourselves. Lost man by definition is not neutral towards God, and has no faith and no desire to get faith. But when God’s amazing and powerful grace comes upon you through the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit, you are born again, as Jesus talks about in John 3. Being born is something that you do not choose, it just happens to you, which is why Jesus chose to use that as a metaphor. When you are born again you will have a new heart that will express itself in faith and repentance Godward. In Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” All of our salvation, including the faith part, is the gift of God and not a result of our works. Phil 1:29 also shows that even our faith has been granted by God, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe but also suffer for his sake.” Acts 13:48 also helps us understand that faith is not natural in fallen man, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
- III. And he believed the LORD
- A. Abram believed the LORD because it is the LORD who saves. The Lord called him, the LORD sustained him and protected him and the LORD will keep his word. In ch. 15 the LORD makes a covenant with Abram and promises him land and an heir. When we trust in Christ we are promised eternal life. The LORD delivers on his promises.
- B. How is it that the Lord saves? Why do we trust in Him alone? We believe that our salvation is in Christ alone, Solus Christus. Jesus is the Son of God, born of the virgin. He is 100% man and also 100% God, 2 natures in one person. Jesus perfectly kept and obeyed the Law of God, he never sinned or failed in any way. He always abstained from the wrong things and always did the right things. With the right motivations and attitudes. And he always did the right things at the right time. Jesus was the perfect man, fulfilling God’s law. Jesus then, died on the cross as a sinless, perfect sacrifice, as our substitute, in order to atone for our sins. Because it was a man who sinned, a man, a sinless man had to die. But that one man was also divine and his death atones for all who believe. Jesus’ death on the cross did not simply make salvation possible, he actually accomplished salvation for the elect. When God promised Abram a son, he did not just make a son a possibility, he accomplished it. Again, I quote from Spurgeon: “Faith cannot be its own righteousness, for it is of the very nature of faith to look out of self to Christ. If any man should say, ‘My faith is my righteousness’, then it is evident that he is confiding in his faith; but this is just the thing of all others which it would be unsafe to do, for we must look altogether away from ourselves to Christ alone, or we have no true faith at all. Faith must look to the atonement and work of Jesus, or else she is not the faith of Scripture. Therefore, to say that faith in and of itself becomes our righteousness, is, it seems to me, to tear out the very bowels of the gospel, and to deny the faith which has been once delivered to the saints.” (ibid. p.13).
- C. Many today believe in the LORD, plus. They believe that the Lord makes salvation possible. The Mormon understanding of salvation is that you do all that you can do, and Jesus (their definition of Jesus is all wrong too) does the rest. The Roman Catholicism that Luther faced had the several sacraments and indulgences and purgatory. As you worked God’s grace was given to you and his righteousness was infused into you.
- D. The world believes in a Santa Claus kind of god who winks at sin and helps you as you help yourself. The world believes in a god whose job it is to save you as long as your good outweighs your bad and you had good intentions. That is not the God of Abram. We must believe in the God who is.
- IV. And He counted it to him as Righteousess
- A. Here we see the concepts of imputation and justification. The word for counted or credited means to assign value. God assigned value to his faith, he counted it as righteousness. The problem with this in the Catholic’s eyes in Luther’s day was that they considered it a legal fiction that made God unjust. To consider somebody righteous when they were not would be wrong. But the idea of imputation was for God to look at us through the obedience and righteousness of Christ. We remain sinners in ourselves, but God has applied the righteousness of Christ to us legally. Abram was justified by his faith. John L. Dagg, the earliest writing Southern Baptist Theologian defines justification this way: “justification is the act of a judge acquitting one who is charged with a crime. It is the opposite of condemnation…Justification is a higher blessing of grace than pardon. The latter frees from the penalty due to sin, but it does not fully restore the lost favor of God. A pardoned criminal, and a just man who has committed no crime, stand on different ground….Such is the greatness of divine grace to the sinner who returns to God through Jesus Christ, that he is treated as if he had never sinned…” (Manual of Theology, Gano Books, p.265-266).
- B. It is not merely a legal declaration. Though we remain sinners we have new hearts that crave righteousness and we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who leads us into righteousness. Like Abram we have a promise of new land, for us that is heaven where we will be made perfect in Christ and cease sinning.
- C. In Gen. 15:6 righteousness is used as Abram was credited with treating others rightly, doing what was right. Righteousness in the Pentateuch is a human activity and is treating others the right way, doing what God commands and desires. That whole loving your neighbor as yourself thing.
- D. I have already spoken of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us. I want to stress that the righteousness we have is alien to us, it is Christ’s being applied to us. God looks at the person whose faith is in Christ and he sees, not their sinfulness, but the righteousness of his Son. Any righteousness of my own is a false righteousness and tainted with sin, not able to save me in the least. It is Christ’s righteousness or none.
- E. Our World has totally lost its way in regards to righteousness.
- V. The Application of this Doctrine
- A. Salvation- This morning I want you to search your heart in light of the Scriptures presented and see if you are in fact trusting only in Jesus for your salvation. Have you reached the point in your life of realizing that you are a helpless and hopeless sinner who cannot save yourself? Have you cried out to God for mercy and then believed in Christ alone as your Lord and Savior? Is your faith a following faith that actively trusts in the completed work of Christ for your daily life and your eternal destiny? Folks, there is nothing you or I can do to add to this salvation, we do not contribute anything to it, it either all comes from God’s amazing grace or it doesn’t come at all.
- B. Emotionally and Psychologically- as sinners this doctrine assaults our pride, it wounds us, humbles us. We like to think we are capable of saving ourselves, but the Bible says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” To trust in Christ alone is to acknowledge our own inability and unworthiness, we have failed, we cannot save ourselves. But when we do trust in Christ alone, God forgives us our sin, pardons us, cleanses us and adopts us into his family. The alienation we have grown accustomed to as lost sinners is replaced by belonging in Christ. Our self-centeredness is replaced with a Christ-centeredness that brings healing to our deepest hurts, and straightens out our confusion.
- C. As we see in the person of Melchizedek, in Gen. 14, there will be a joining of righteousness and peace as we trust in the God of Abraham. When we trust in our own righteousness, there is no peace, when we trust in Christ, his righteousness covers us and we experience peace with God. Let us pray.