Abram: introduced in chapter 12; will be given descendants; "and all people on earth will be blessed through you."
In chapter 15, Abram asks, "What can you give me if I'm childless?"
God responds with verse 4 and 5, "Look up at the sky and count the stars--if indeed you can count them." Then God said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
And then verse 6 is what this all hangs on: Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.
What's important to understand?
- This is before "The Covenant of the Law" was given. No Mt. Sinai, no stone tablets, no 10 Commandments, no book of Leviticus.
- This was before the Covenant of Circumcision.
Moses has been called to gather his people, the Israelites, out of Egypt where they have been made slaves. Moses and his brother Aaron had asked Pharaoh, King of the Egyptians, to let "Let his people go." But Pharaoh not only refused but also punished the Israelite slaves and increased the work quota.
Moses, in despair, says in verse 5:22, "Why, Lord have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all."
God responds, "I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites, "I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God."
What's important to understand?
- Again, before the Law, before Sinai, before the 10 commandments. God chose His people and delivered them.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
The Pharisees were "the people's party." They were popular, well loved, and were a grassroots separatist movement against the Roman Empire. They were known for following not only all the rules of the Torah (613 laws) but also all of the oral law. At first, this was seen as a wonderful thing by the people. But then eventually spiritual diligence turned into pride and a complete misunderstanding of God's will for them as a people and as a nation. (Deut. 4:5-8)
"A tax collector was the most despicable, often considered traitors to their people. To catch the impact of this parable to day one might think of these characters as the most active deacon or Sunday-school teacher versus a drug dealer, crooked politician," a Ponzi scheme business man.
This parable fails to shock us simply because we are used to hearing it. But be shocked. The man or woman you most despise, that you see so far from what you consider righteousness--they only need to ask forgiveness and they are forgiven.
Questions that Paul is answering:
- Is the God revealed in Jesus different than the God revealed in the Law (Old Testament)?
No! God has always redeemed people before they were "doing the right thing."
- How is one (given, made, declared) "righteous"? What are the grounds?
The grounds are that Jesus has been given as our sacrifice. In a beautiful exchange God has redeemed us; justified us; been sacrificed for us.
- How is one (given, made, declared) "righteous? What are the means?
But the question is, how do we enter into this redemption? Faith. Trust. Not by what we do, but by who we are in relationship with.
- How can God do this, and still be a "just" God?
God is both just and justifier. The God who is holy, who needs to punish sins, has accomplished both through Jesus.
- If there is someone in your life that you are judging based off of their actions, or lack of action, or good or bad deeds—stop it. You're not reflecting the love of the Father.
- If you are living in a cycle of constantly trying to impress God, or trying to do more, and achieve more, and prove yourself righteous; if you are living by a list of rules so long that you have no hope of ever getting the through the day and keeping them of all; if you are caught up in guilt and shame about who you are and what you've done and what you're doing; I have good news for you.
John 8:26, "If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed."
Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Romans 8:38, "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor thing present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
And all those things that you can't help but think, "Oh, but Anthony, what about that, what about this," THOSE ARE THE EXACT THINGS that we are talking about. You are free. You are free. You are free.
- What about James 2:24, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."
A couple of things in response. First of all the verse does NOT say, "A person is justified by works." It says, "YOU SEE THAT a person if justified by works." James is not talking about how a person is justified. He's talking about how you SEE that a person is justified.
- Does this mean I get to do whatever I want now? Yes. Ephesians 2:8-10 says this, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life."
In other words, when you put your faith in Jesus, a process begins in you called sanctification. You become a temple, a house, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit of God and He will begin to return you to the way He originally intended you to be. Your desires will change. Your eyes will be opened to the hurt and pain and hunger in the world, and that same Spirit of God will empower you to change your destructive habits and addictions and personality quirks and become an agent of change in this world.
Does that mean that you just sit around, waiting for sanctification to happen. By no means! The Apostle Paul said he trains as if he were running a marathon; he pushes on towards the goal. Does isn't so he can be "more saved," "more justified." It's because he is already justified that he also wants to become more like his God and his Savior.
So can you do whatever you want? Yes, you can. But I will warn you, what you want will change and fall in line with the beauty of the Kingdom of God. You men and women who are addicted to pornography, you will begin to seek and create beauty in new and God-given ways. You who are addicted to gossip, you will find a desire birthed in you to tell a Better News, a news about a God who wants to save the world. You who are hooked in an unhealthy way to entertainment, and television, and movies, you will discover that a narrative and a story larger than this universe can happen in your homes, schools, offices, and cities. You who are caught in the rat race of who's the better parent; who has the most successful, most involved, child; of complaining about how busy you are and yet wearing busyness like badge of pride, you will know that you are unconditionally loved and accepted and cherished by your Heavenly Father and will tirelessly work to let others know that they are too. You who are addicted to food, or drink, or drugs, or sex--you will discover that Jesus is the bread of life; He is the living water; He is the lover of your soul, the bridegroom who is even now preparing a life for you so much better and so much longer lasting than that brief moment of sinful orgasm, or irresponsible drunkenness, or drug-induced high, or gluttony that comforted you so much yesterday.
But the good news, the Gospel, the reason why we sing and preach and evangelize and do what we do each day is that you can spend your whole life disobeying and running away from God and know at the moment that say, "God, I'm sorry, I put my faith in You," you have been declared righteous. You have been justified. You are God's son, God's daughter, heirs to God's kingdom. And you need never live in fear, guilt, or shame ever again.