In the Old Testament, there are three major characters who stand head and shoulders above all others. And they don’t include King Saul, through whom that phrase was coined. I Samuel 9:2 says, that Saul was “a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.” No, the three most prominent men of the Old Testament were David, Moses and Abraham. We might pick others who excelled in various ways – like Daniel and Isaiah. But without doubt, the three I’ve mentioned are more prominent and probably the most important.. My personal favorite of the three is David. After all, our given names have the same number of letters. After David, many Jews felt that the most outstanding person in the scriptures was Moses. That man was the George Washington of their nation, leading Israel out of Egypt. And it was through him that God gave the law, which many of them believed made them good in the sight of God.
Despite the biographies of these two, the most important and exceptional man in Old Testament was Abraham. Not only is he revered by both Christians and Jews, but also by Islam. He consumes more ink throughout the Bible than any other person except Christ. That doesn’t mean that Abraham’s history occupies more chapters in the Old Testament than Moses. And it isn’t that Paul is mentioned less in the New Testament than Abraham. But between both testaments, Abraham is mentioned more than any another man. He is an excellent example of many significant personality traits. And through him we can study the grace of God in ways almost as spectacular as the conversion of Saul.
Abraham uplifts us and helps the Christian to set his eyes on the skies, awaiting the Saviour. We are told that he “looked for a city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He shows to us true faith, and he displays Christian victory. We can even learn from him when his victories turn into later defeats. Abraham rubbed elbows with kings and the magnificent Melchizedek.. He was a non-soldier who defeated one of the strongest armies in his world. Yet he was sincerely humble, generous, hospitable and unpretentious. In the New Testament his name becomes almost synonymous with Heaven. Jesus told us about “a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at (a rich man’s) gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (But) it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” We have more Biblical grounds for tying Abraham to Heaven than we do for Peter. Is Peter the door-keeper of that eternally glorious place?
But it is not the CHRISTIAN Abraham that I’d like us to picture this morning. It is not the saint of God, but the PRE-SAINT. We considered the conversion of Saul a few weeks ago, now let’s consider the conversion of Abram.
By the way before he became known by his well-known moniker “Abraham,” he was called “Abram.” The Hebrew name “Abram” means “exalted father,” and “Abraham” means “father of a multitude.” It’s sort of like the difference between “father” and “grandfather.” In Genesis 17:5, Jehovah told him, “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.” Abraham was not just the father of a nation, but in another way he became the father of all who believe the promise of God. But again, that was yet to come.
For the sake of our lesson, let’s pretend we know exactly when Abraham became a Child of God.
Paul was commenting on our text in Romans 4:1-5 in order to illustrate saving grace. Please return to Romans 4:1-5. “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Oh, how I wish that I could read this passage at the dinner table of every home Post Falls.
Verse 1 – What is it that Abraham learned? What is the most important lesson ever grasped by the human heart? Verse 2 – He learned that in order to enjoy a joyful relationship with Almighty God, it would have to be based on something outside of Abraham himself. If salvation and forgiveness of sin come through performing human works … If it comes by helping the sick, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked… Then that person could boast before men about his deeds – but not before God. Jehovah will allow no one to glory in themselves while in His holy presence. Verse 3 – Abram simply believed God and that trust was accredited to him as though it was holiness. The faith of Abram was counted –
ain “imputed” – to him as perfect righteousness. That is the meaning of the word “justification” – “imputed righteousness.” Or to use a somewhat simpler term – he was saved by trusting in God and His promises. The righteousness of Christ was given to Abram by the grace of Almighty God. Verse 4 – Work may bring rewards, out of a sense of debt – therefore it has nothing to do with grace. But salvation from sin come from nothing but grace. Verse 5 – Abraham learned that laying aside his efforts and works he could trust – believe – God. And that was imputed unto him as righteous.
Now what Old Testament passage did Paul quote in order to substantiate his message to the Romans? It was here in Genesis 15, verse 6. It may be open to some debate, but let’s assume that in Genesis 15 Abram became a Christian. There has only and ever been one way to be delivered from the condemnation of sin. “For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” We can say that Abraham was saved by grace through the faith of which he gave evidence in Genesis 15:6. Assuming this assumption is true, we can say that everything which preceded Genesis 15:6 also preceded his salvation. This may not be true, but our application, as you will see, is perfectly true to God’s Word. Abram may have become a saint of God in Genesis 12, but just for this morning let’s say that he was born again three chapters later.
Now, let’s go back and see some of the things in Abraham’s life before “he became a child of God.“
We are first introduced to that man in Genesis 12:1. There he was called by the One true and living God. “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him.”
In this scripture we are introduced to the subject of “the call of God.” Abram was called by God out of his own country to go into a land prepared for him by the Lord. It must be understood that there are several kinds of calls of the Bible. Some are irresistible and so deep in the heart that the person called always says, “Yes.” But other invitations or calls of God are general or universally given to wide numbers of people. For example, in Acts 17 Paul said that God “commandeth all men every where to repent.” The very existence of the Ten Commandments stand as a call of God to His own standards. Do all men obey the Ten Commandments or have all men repented before God? Obviously not. Furthermore, some of God’s invitations are to more important blessings while others are less significant.
But, generally speaking, obedience to any of the calls of God is always to the best. If Abram had determined to stay in his home town of Ur, his name would have been forgotten long ago. His initial obedience opened the door to every other blessing which God’s grace freely gave him. We can go farther, if the world in general listened and heeded all the calls of God this world would almost be another Garden of Eden. I believe that every person in America owes it to themselves and to their neighbors to obey the calls and commands of the Bible. Flee idolatry, put an end to abortion, stop theft; love neighbor as thyself… If God told us to leave our homes and to travel hundreds of miles we ought to do it.
But I need to point out that despite the benefits of that particular obedience it would do nothing for our soul. The obedience we might give to God today cannot undo our sins and the disobedience of yesterday. Abram left Chaldea apparently as a lost man, perhaps as a reformed idolater, but still as a sinner. His obedience in outward things did not change the condition of his heart. There are churches today filled with people who think that leaving their Ur makes them “Christians.” They think that by reading the Bible and listening to the call of God NOT to do some things makes them Christians. They believe that by reading the Bible and listening to the call of God to DO other things makes them saints. These are sometimes good and commendable things to do, but they do not make the sinner righteous. Only the miraculous grace of God can effect any real change in a sinful heart. Abram was not a Christian just because he obeyed God and began attending church in the promised land.
In Genesis 12:2-3; 12:7; 13:14-17 the Lord gave to Abram certain special promises. And I’m sure that the man delighted in those promises; he praised this God who had been previously unknown to him. And we, too, can and should praise the Lord for His promises – all of them. Those promises are like big, modern supermarkets; they touch everything from soup to nuts. Are you looking for promises about protection – we have them aplenty in Bible. Are you plagued about disease or death, there are promises in there about those. Heaven is promised: Yes, “In my father’s house are many mansions…” But some Biblical promises are given to specific people and do not apply to you and me. The promises Abram received were like that – to him only. How many grieving people have been blessed by the promises of Psalm 23? “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” Not single soul on this earth ever escapes the eye and presence of the Lord. But does this promise belong to anyone and everyone? And despite the beauty and power of this scripture, there is no saving grace in that promise. When the Lord said to Abram, “this land is my land, this land is your land” – that promise may have been made to a man who was still bound for hell.
But Abram built places of worship for the Lord in Genesis 12:7-8 and 13:18. There is a strong possibility that the altars built in were no different from those dedicated by others to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. Just because people gather in the name of “Jehovah” and call themselves His “witnesses” doesn’t mean they are worshiping the God of the Bible. Just because someone lights a candle in a church which is called “Christian” doesn’t make that person a Christian. Just because people warm a pew in a Baptist church doesn’t make them Christians. There is good reason to think that Abraham, despite his first altars, didn’t really know the Lord. But not only did he build altars, he was also a witness to this new God among Canaanites. Those people were not worshipers of the Lord, and yet his altars pointed finger toward Jehovah. Abram was doing a work for the glory of Christ, but he may not have even known Christ. Just because that man calls himself a “servant of God,” doesn’t really make him one. There have been hundreds if not thousands of preachers of evangelical truth who later came to realize that although they witnessed of it they had never partaken of it. There is a warning there for all of us. Your service for Christ means nothing without the reality of His grace.
The Lord even built a hedge around Abram and protected him. When he chose to lie about his marital status he got into trouble. There was no reason in the world why Abram wasn’t murdered and his wife wasn’t stolen. No reason at all except the grace and protection of the Lord. And when Abram led his band of 318 servants with a few of the neighbors against the king of Shinar… That powerful and victorious early Babylonian army should have made hamburger out of Abram. But it was he who was victorious by the protection and grace of the Lord. The prayers of many a wicked soul have been answered by God in the hospital waiting room. The Lord has His reasons for apparently granting some requests and denying others. But that doesn’t make that now healthy person any more a Christian than Hitler or Nero.
Abraham even displayed some very worthy Christlike characteristics. There was his willingness to obey Jehovah’s commands – He first left the city of Ur and then Haran. When the flocks of Lot grew so large that there was competition for grass and water, it was Abram who told Lot to take whatever pasturage that he chose. He was a peaceable man, hating any unnecessary fight. And after the battle against the invading four kings, Abram earned a huge quantity of the spoils, but he cared for none of those things; he wasn’t greedy in the slightest. All of these things were very commendable, but did nothing for his soul’s salvation. No, Abram was saved from his sin by simple faith in Jehovah.
It must be pointed out that Abram even made the ultimate sacrifice. Oh, I’m not referring to taking Isaac to the top of Moriah there to slaughter him as a sacrifice. That came later. I’m talking about that nasty subject of tithing. Even before Moses made tithing a Israelite statute Abram was tithing to God through Melchisedec. But his thanking and honoring God for His financial blessings didn’t redeem him either.
Abraham was saved from sin by believing and trusting the Lord. That is precisely the way that men and woman are redeemed today.
With chapter 15 I see a change in the life of Abraham.
And it appears that Paul saw it as well. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed away behold all things are become new.” But actually Abram had been living a reasonably moral life even before his justification. The change that I primarily see is in his relationship to the Lord. When Jehovah spoke to Abram earlier, it sounded like the military Captain speaking to the private. “Get up and get going to a land which I will reveal to you later.” “I am going to make you a great nation of people.” “I am going to give to your descendants all of this land on which you are standing.” We read things like, “The Lord said to Abram;” and “the Lord spoke to Abram.”
But then in chapter 15 there is a different relationship. The Lord began to speak to Abram as a friend, and called him by name for the first time. Along with the unconditional and cold promises of blessings to his children, now there are promises of a personal relationship. “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” As we read chapter 15 there is rapport between deity and the redeemed sinner. Abraham really prays; the two commune as Adam and the Lord must have done in Eden. It is here in this chapter that Abraham better displays his faith in the Lord. And later In chapter 17 the Lord even reveals His own precious name to the man. And there in verse 3 there is real worship, more than just an altar or church attendance.
This is what the people of our planet need; this is what you and I need. Everything I have said about Abram’s worship, tithing, obedience and so on are commendable. But our needs go beyond those these. We need personal promises and citizenship in Heaven from whence we have a desire for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. We need the ability to pray as a beloved child talks with his wonderful Father. Our world needs an answer to its problems, but more than that it needs a God of grace to meet us when our problems can’t be resolved and don’t dissolve in natural ways. We need the grace of Christ.
Forgetting those things which are behind in your life, what is your relationship to God through Christ today? Are you living in humble repentance before Him? Is your trust for eternity rooted in the Christ of Calvary, or in some mixture of religion and human works? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and though shalt be saved.”