Abram: Righteous by Faith Alone!
Topic: Sunday Sermons Passage: Genesis 12:1–20
As we’ve seen thus far in the series, the grand narrative of Scripture finds its origins in the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis is where we first encounter covenants, promises, or agreements. Every time we see a rainbow in the sky we are reminded of a covenant God made with Noah; God will never again destroy the Earth through a worldwide flood.
Here in Genesis 12, we have the beginning of another covenant, an astonishing one in its reach. God is going to call a man named Abram, and God is going to make an astounding covenant that is part of the story of why you and I are even here today!
“As the covenants in the Bible unfolded, they built on one another. Because God was still committed to keeping his covenant with creation, he came to Abraham with a promise to bless all of the families of the earth through him (Genesis 12:3). In other words, God was going to keep that first covenant by keeping covenant with Abraham.” - Chris Bruno “The Whole Message in the Bible in 16 Words”
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3
Prayer…for many of us, we’ve heard this before; let’s pray for fresh illumination from the Holy Spirit.
Who Was Abram?
Abram, later Abraham, is one of the key figures of the Old Testament. Other than Moses, no other Old Testament character is mentioned more than Abraham. James refers to Abraham as “God’s friend.” Genesis 11:26-25:8 are essentially about God’s relationship and covenant with Abraham.
Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran. – Genesis 11:24-32
Genealogies in Scripture give us important information that often signal something in the development of the redemptive storyline of Scripture. That is the case here with Abram. We have his family tree.
Abram had two brothers; Nahor and Haran. Haran married and had a son named Lot. But Haran died at an early age, leaving Lot to be cared for by Abram.
They all lived together in the land of Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram would live there for the first 70 years of his life. Abram and his family lived among a people who worshipped false gods. Specifically, the moon god Sin was the prevalent deity worshipped in Ur.
At 70 years old, he is married but without any children. Sarai, his wife, was barren. It wasn’t that they were “waiting to have children”, or “we want to get settled first”; no, Sarai was physically unable to have children. And that carried a hopeless stigma at that time. We aren’t told why, but Abram’s father decided to move the family to Canaan, but they settled in the city of Haran along the way. They didn’t make it to Canaan…at least not yet!
So, that’s a little background on Abram. But the big idea at this point in Abram’s life is that, because of the unmerited kindness and mercy of God, Abram was chosen. We have no account of his early life and how he lived it. We are not told that God chose him because he was particularly good or noble. We only know that one day, God called him by name! It is the same with you, with me, with all who believe. Let’s re-read our passage with the background in view.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3
Ask yourself: Would you be willing to leave everything behind, everything familiar to you, and just go out without knowing the destination? Family units may not be as tightly knit, geographically speaking, as they used to be, but in Abram’s time, the family unit was everything! I live 1000 miles from my parents. Living 100 miles from your parents, or even 10 miles from your parents in Abram’s time was virtually unheard of. Abram grew up surrounded by the worship of a pantheon of gods, but YAHWEH was not one of them. Joshua 24:2 tells us that Abram himself was a worshipper of these gods. So, he isn’t only being asked to pick up and go to a yet unnamed destination; he’s being asked to do so by a God he’s never known or worshipped! But this God has just spoken seven blessings over Abram in just a few words:
• I will make of you a great nation
• I will bless you
• I will make your name great (contrast with Genesis 11 at Tower of Babel)
• You will be a blessing (to others)
• I will bless those who bless you
• I will curse those who dishonor you
• I will bless all the families of the Earth through you
Shane will expound on this covenant more next week, but this morning our focus is on Abram’s response. Three of the most powerful words in Scripture, in my opinion, are found in Genesis 12:4,
“So…Abram…went…!” As the LORD had told him, so Abram did!
God’s covenant with Abram is remarkable for so many reasons, but at this point in the narrative there is a crucial message that we regularly need reminder of.
Abram’s response to the promise of God was a response of faith. Abram’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.
Righteousness is by faith, not works. We are saved and credited as righteous by faith only in God’s covenant of grace.
The greatest accomplishment in Abram’s life was trusting God!
Let’s look more closely at Abram through three observations from Genesis 12 and other parts of Scripture’s narrative regarding Abram.
1. Abram believed God, and that was his righteousness!
“So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…” – Genesis 12:4
These are powerful words that are like forerunners of everyone who places their faith and trust for the forgiveness of their sins in Jesus Christ.
There is a sense in which these words are an assault on reality. Abram was childless because Sarai was barren. And the promise isn’t that Abraham will become a great dad, or have a large family; it’s that he will become a great nation! God would make his name great (contrast with 11:4 where the people building the tower of Babel declared, “Let’s make a great name for ourselves.”).
Abram went! Abram was asked to believe and go…in the dark. And he did!
Abram’s response is immediate and unquestioning. Hebrews 11 gives us a commentary on the significance of Abram’s response,
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.” – Hebrews 11:8-9
Listen to Paul’s account in Romans 4,
“What shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 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.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven; and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” – Romans 4:1-8
But the nature of faith is not that it is merely a one-time act or decision; it is a daily one, even a moment to moment one. Abram has demonstrated great faith in this covenant God has made with him. He sets out, and day by day he is walking by faith.
But as the narrative of Genesis unfolds, we see that Abram’s faith was not without its testing’s and trials, both providential and of his own making. had moments when he lost his sight, where his faith would stumble…
2. Abram obeyed and disobeyed; was steadfast and stumbled, was faithful and faithless, but God!
The immensity of Abram’s faith is inspiring…he doesn’t even possess the land; he only sees it and trusts a promise. Living in tents, he believed his offspring, of which he presently has none, would possess the land!
But Abram and his family encounter a famine (even if God grants us a theophany to point us forward in his will and plan for our life, that does not mean there are not trials and hardships along the way! James 1:2-4). Abram’s faith is tested. Faith is always tested. And Abram’s faith, in this moment of testing…lapses.
He heads to Egypt without asking God. He reasons from his vantage point, instead of seeking the LORD. Sarah is beautiful…and it wasn’t just Abram who thought so. Even at an older age, 65 years old, the Egyptians thought she was beautiful too. Remember, people were still living longer…Sara would live to 127, so she’s a mature woman, a modern day 35-40-year-old.
Abram asked of Sarah the unthinkable…tell them you are my sister. It was partly a true (she was his half-sister 11:27-30), but it was cunning, it was self-preserving, and in Abram’s mind it was his only option, but his decision completely disregarded the safety and honor of Sarah. If it is mind-boggling that he did this once, he did it twice!
Twice out of fear for his own life he lied and asked Sara to lie about their relationship. This was no “little white lie” even if partially true. He put Sara in the position of potentially being married off to other men.
Abram would later listen to Sara’s advice that he take Hagar and seek to have a child with her. They both realized they were getting older, and so again, they took matters into their own hands.
So, righteous Abram, trusting Abram, had moments when doubt led him to some serious sin and unbelief in the face of his circumstances. Abram started so magnificently but stumbled in shame because he did not look to God in the famine. We are not told that the famine was sent by God as a test of Abram’s faith, as we are told regarding his eventual response of obedience to sacrifice Isaac, but we know from Scripture that trials of various kinds will come and they will test our faith. Abram had moments where he failed miserably. Can you relate?
Mercifully, in spite of these sins, God still protected his promise to Abram. God intervened. God saved. God had mercy on Abram and Sara. Why would God protect and even bless Abram through his failings?
“…if we are faithless he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” – 2 Timothy 2:13
So, at this part of the narrative of Abram, what do we see regarding God’s covenant with Abram?
3. Righteous is a declaration regarding your faith, not your perfection!
I love biographies. Some of my favorites are about Spurgeon, Whitfield, Finney, Edwards. Rockefeller, Disney, Ford. Normally as you read through a biography you learn of great strengths and accomplishments, but you also read of failures, poor decisions, weakness. Listen to God’s biography of Abraham as we return to Hebrews 11…
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore…17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” – Hebrews 11:8-19
Friends, this is what it means to be in Christ! We know from Genesis that Abram, the father of our faith, absolutely had mountain top moments where his bedrock faith and trust in the promises of God was awe-inspiring. But we also know from Genesis of great sins and failures. But here, in Hebrews, the biography on Abram is his faith; his trust in God. In the full fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abram, he was in Christ even before he personally knew Christ! Old and New Testament saints are saved the same way…trust in the promise of God for the forgiveness of our sins.
There is no record in Romans or Hebrews of Abram’s failures and sins. Why? God’s covenant with Abram and all who believe; that’s why!
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25
“He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. – Psalm 103:10-12
This is why Hebrews account of Abram records what it does and what it does not! Amazing grace! Amazing covenant of grace!
God’s plan of redemption “unfolds” in Scripture; it doesn’t change. Abram was saved in the same way you or me or anyone can be saved; faith!
But Abram’s biography is ultimately a pointer to Jesus. Jesus did not stumble when trials came. His faith never wavered. He did not look to his own devices but only to God. Abram was a great man of faith, but Christ is the perfect man of faith. Abram is known for both his great faith and great failure. Jesus’ life was one of never wavering faith, now credited to you and me if we’ve placed our trust in Him.
“That act of faith so honors the glory of God's trustworthiness and power and mercy that God responds with the incomparable gift of justification: he declares Abraham to stand righteous before him. Not that Abraham will never sin again. He will. But he has now been forgiven for all his sins, past and future, in the sense that God will not bring him into condemnation for them.” – John Piper
Christians, will you agonize in torment as you wonder if your good works, your acts of love and mercy were greater than your every failure in thought, word and deed? Will you be saved by your works?
Your faith in Christ’s work and obedience on your behalf is why you are declared righteous…that faith is itself a gift from God, and it produces the desire and yearning to live for Him. But, like Abraham, like David, like Peter, like Paul, like every saint who has ever been declared righteous, you will have your “moments.” What is your hope in that moment? What is your foundation and surety? Your works or His work for you? More importantly than “what”, “Who” is your confidence? Christian, rest in His finished work.
If you are not a Christian, what is your hope beyond this life? You’re not here by accident today. What will you trust in? If you were asked, “Why should I allow you to enter, what would be your response?” Don’t look to yourself. You might be good as the world defines good, but you are not good before a holy God. You need a Savior. You need to place your faith in the work of another.