A Lasting FaithErwin W. Lutzer | October 2, 2005
Selected highlights from this sermon
Every test that you and I face in the Christian life comes down to two questions: (1): is God trustworthy? And (2): can I trust God? Even Abraham struggled with these questions, but God told him to “fear not,” and promised that He would be Abraham’s protection, provision, and would give Abraham a glorious future.
And here we learn about the blood covenant that God made with Abraham, and the significance of God taking full responsibility for this unconditional covenant. Today, God says to us that if we trust Christ as our Savior, we enter into an agreement that depends entirely on Him and His faithfulness to take us all the way to the Promised Land.
Virtually every test that you and I encounter in the Christian life comes down to two questions. First of all, is God trustworthy? Can He be trusted? That is the first question. And the second question is can I trust Him? It’s always reduced to a matter of trust and whether or not God is trustworthy. You face a temptation and the temptation is to do your own thing. You ask yourself this question, “Is sin ever a good idea? Is it a better idea than God’s idea?” It comes down to a matter of trust. Everything comes down to that. Anxiety, the inability we have to control consequences and control events that we give over to God, can we trust Him? That is the question.
Abraham was told by God, “I’m going to give you the land and I’m going to give it to you forever and to your offspring. It will be yours.” The question now before us is can Abraham trust Him? Can Abraham live in such a way that he believes that God knows what He is doing and can be believed?
The fifteenth chapter of the book of Genesis, which is our text for today, is one of the most important chapters in all the Bible. Every Bible should be open to this great and wonderful chapter. What God does in Genesis 15 is He gives Abraham three promises, and we are going to look at those promises. Abraham in the fifteenth chapter really is having a dialogue with God and we get in on it and we get to listen in on what’s happening between Abraham and God.
The chapter opens in verse one, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision: ‘Fear not…’” First time that expression is used in the Bible. “‘Fear not, Abraham. I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’” Promise number one: I am your protection, I am your shield.
Why did God say that to Abraham at this juncture? Remember the context. “After these things,” it says. Abraham had just routed four kings in the east. They had gone off with a whole bunch of loot, which Abraham recaptured including Lot, as we noticed last time. He no doubt feared retaliation. There he was in his tent, the kings could gang up on him and they could come and they could overwhelm him very, very easily and kill him. Then what would happen to the promises of God and the seed?
So God says, “Abraham I am your shield. I will protect you and your reward shall be great. I know that you said ‘No’ to the king of Sodom. The king of Sodom wanted you to keep all of the goods that you recaptured and you said ‘No,’ lest the king of Sodom say that he made Abraham rich. And because of that I am going to bless you. You are going to be rewarded and everything is going to be okay Abraham.” God comes and says this lovely promise: “I am your shield, and your reward shall be great.”
Abraham is obsessed with the problem of the promise though. You see, God said that He was going to give it to Abraham’s seed. He’s getting older; Sarah his wife is already beyond the place of being able to bare children. And so Abraham is trying to figure out how God is going to do it. Have you ever tried to figure out how God’s going to do it? Whenever I’ve done that, nine out of ten times I’m wrong.
So Abraham says to God in verse two, “‘O Lord God, what will You give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’” He says, “You’ve not given me a child,” and in those days that was common. If you didn’t have any children the heirship would be passed to one of your favorite servants or someone who was in your house whom you highly regarded. And so he says, “Are you going to do it through Eliezer?”
And God comes to Abraham and says, “Abraham, no.” He says expressly, “Your very own son,” last part of verse five and verse six, “shall be your heir. This man shall not be your heir. Your very own son is going to be your heir.” And it leads Abraham to more puzzles about the will of God, which sometimes appears to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma. How is God going to do it?
So Abraham says, “Lord how is it going to happen?” And God says, “Abraham come out and look at the stars.” Previously God says, “As many particles of dust as there are on the earth, that’s the way your seed is going to be.” Not that there are going to be as many people as dust, “But you can’t number the dust,” God says, “And you can’t number your seed.”
And now God says, “Come out and look at the stars. Sometimes in the blackness of your experience when there is nothing you can look at, just look at the stars. Can you count them Abraham?” “No, I can’t count them.” “So shall your seed be.” God says, “I am your protection and I am also your provision. It will happen, Abraham.” The first promise is God says, “I am your protection.”
The second promise is a promise of righteousness. Verse six of chapter 15 is one of the most important verses of the Old Testament. It’s quoted three times in the New Testament. It says, “And Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness,”—the gift of righteousness, the promise of righteousness.
There are three words in that little verse that you must understand if you intend to get to heaven. Some of you intend to get to heaven. I hope that your intention will be realized, and it is going to be realized on the basis of whether or not you understand this verse.
The first word is the word “believed.” Abraham believed God. In the Hebrew the word actually is ‘aman, from which we get “Amen.” It was translated into Greek as “amen,” and that is the way that it appears in the New Testament. When Jesus said, “Verily, verily I say unto you,” the Greek says, “Amen, amen I say to you.” “Amen” means I embrace and I heartily accept what God has said. If Abraham were German he’d say, “Ya vol, ya vol.” That’s the idea; yes, I embrace it as mine. Abraham said amen to God and it was counted as righteousness.
Are you here today being willing to say “amen, amen” to God? That’s what it means to believe. Thank you, thank you. Three of you are saying, “Amen.” You know, it’s not fair that three people would say it. Let’s all say it together; let’s all say “Amen.” Let’s all say, “Amen, amen to God.” That’s what Abraham did.
Now the second word, “counted,” or reckoned. He wasn’t righteous; he was a sinner. In fact, his sins are clear on the pages of Scripture. But it was credited to him as righteousness. God says, “I’m crediting to your account something that you do not naturally have, and that is righteousness.”
In the New Testament, if we may jump there for a moment, it becomes very clear. Theologians call this imputation. It was imputed to him. The Bible says that Jesus was counted a sinner, He was reckoned to be a sinner. He wasn’t personally, but He was reckoned as a sinner. And what happened when Jesus died is that He got what He didn’t deserve, namely our sins were credited to Him. And we got what we don’t deserve, namely His righteousness is credited to us. That’s what imputation is.
When the Apostle Paul quotes this in the book of Romans, he quotes it because he wants to show that God’s way of salvation is always faith and not works. That’s the context in the book of Romans. And so God says today, “Abraham you don’t have any righteousness, not the kind that I need. But I am going to credit it to you as a free gift.”
You say, “Well how were people saved in the Old Testament times?” The answer is that God saved people like Abraham on credit. We all know what it’s like to buy something on credit, don’t we? We all have plastic in our pocket. And we go to some place and we say, “Yes, I want this article of furniture,” and we put it on credit and we begin to enjoy it. And then at the end of the month the statement comes and it has to be paid. Remember, it has to be paid!
God says, “Abraham I am going to save you on credit because I know that Jesus is coming. And in your seed is going to be the Redeemer who is going to be qualified to take away your sin. And already now I am giving you the privilege of enjoying Me and walking in righteousness, knowing that Christ is coming.” Nobody gets saved apart from the work of Jesus. You say, “Did Abraham actually believe in Jesus?” He saw Jesus’ coming with some clarity—not much but some. But, he believed what God revealed and it was credited to him as righteousness. The content of his faith was different than ours, but the end result was the same.
Third word: “righteousness.” What is righteousness? It is the kind of righteousness that only God himself accepts. And the only righteousness that God accepts is His own. That’s why we sing, “Clothed in His righteousness alone.” You understand that this has to be a free gift. God does not say, “Abraham now that you’ve done this, in order to get it you need a sacrifice. Go offer a sacrifice.” God doesn’t say, “Abraham in order to get it you have to give money.” God doesn’t say, “Abraham go off and be baptized.” No, it’s a free gift.
And the reason it has to be free is because this is a righteousness of which you and I have none. We can’t contribute to it, we can’t make it better, and we can’t subtract from it. It is the righteousness of God as Paul shows in the book of Romans. And that means God can save big sinners as well as lesser ones, because ultimately salvation has to be a free gift.
Of course it is better that you be a lesser sinner than a greater sinner, to be sure. But at the end of the day God says, “I can even save criminals if they stop trusting in themselves and trust in Jesus for their righteousness and the gift God has given.” This is the most precious gift God gave to Abraham. It is what he needed the most. And he believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, the second promise.
First promise is protection, the second is righteousness, and now the third promise is that of a glorious future. What an important passage this is. In order to understand what’s going on here in the rest of the chapter I need to tell you that in those days when you made a covenant with someone, it was to be a blood covenant, very solemn.
What you did is you took animals and you cut them in two. You killed them, you cut them in two and you laid them in half so that they were symmetrical. And then the two of you walked through in between these pieces. And what you were saying in effect is, “If I break my word I deserve the same fate as these animals.” It was the most solemn covenant that you could ever possibly make.
So God says, “Abraham take some animals. Take a heifer, take a goat, take a ram, and cut them in two and lay them out.” Abraham does it, and he finds he has to keep the birds of prey away to keep from eating the exposed meat. And then the Bible says, “That a deep sleep came upon Abraham,” verse twelve, “and behold a dreadful darkness befell him.”
And in his sleep God says to him, “‘Abraham, know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in the land that is not theirs,’” I’m in the middle of verse 13, “‘and will be servants there and they will be afflicted four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace, and you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.’”
God says, “Abraham, your seed is going to inherit the land. But that’s not going to happen for four hundred years. First of all, you have to have a child. And then there will be this family that will be created that will go in to Egypt for four hundred years. And then they are going to come back,” and of course we know that that happened under Moses and Joshua. And then they are going to enter into the land. Four hundred long years, but they will be back because God is God, and time is not a limitation to Him as it is to us.
So Abraham receives this revelation, and then most startling, this is what happens. It says in verse 17, “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates: the land of the Kenizites,’” and then all of these other Girgashites and Jebusites and megabytes, and all of the other folks that are in the land.
What’s with this flaming torch and this pot or this oven? That’s God passing through the pieces, as becomes very clear both in this text and in other passages of Scripture. The furnace perhaps represents the furnace of affliction that the Israelites are going to go through, and the torch represents the light that they will eventually be to the world. But both suffering and glory. God says, “I am walking in between the pieces.”
All right now, you’ve followed it this far now, haven’t you? Sixty-four-dollar question: where is Abraham in this whole thing? The answer is he’s asleep, he’s in another world, he’s somewhere else. He does not walk with God between the pieces, God walks between the pieces alone.
Because what God is saying is, “I’m making this covenant with you, Abraham, but guess what? This isn’t an agreement where you do your part and then I do my part. This is a covenant that I am making with you that I will accomplish, and it rests wholly one hundred percent on Me and it is not even dependent upon your faithfulness or your obedience,” though God will bring that about. “I am God and this is what I have decided to do and it will happen. And nothing, including the human will, will stand in My way.”
Wow. Welcome to what is called the unconditional covenant, no conditions. God says, “I’m making this agreement with Myself.” It’s what it says in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews says, “When God made a promise to Abraham because He could swear by none greater, He swore by Himself,” it says in the text. Since He has no one greater by whom to swear He swore by Himself saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham having patiently waited obtained the promise. God says, “This is My doing.”
You say, “Well does that mean that Abraham could be disobedient and so forth?” Well, theoretically. But God, when He makes a covenant like this, in effect is saying something else “I am going to work in Abraham’s heart to birth in him the faith. I am going to do the miracle that he and Sarah need to have a son, and I am going to work through the human will to accomplish My ends. But at the end of the day, this is Me swearing by Myself that this is going to happen.”
There is nothing more certain on planet earth than that Abraham’s seed will inherit the land that God gave. And one of the questions we have to ask is, had they already inherited it all or is there still a future for the nation Israel? For God says it’s going to happen, and if He says it’s going to happen, it is.
There are three very important life changing lessons that will help you. First of all, do you notice in this text that God doesn’t treat everybody alike? Did you know that God doesn’t treat everybody alike? Oh, you know people say, “I can’t accept a God who’s going to treat some people differently.”
Well, God didn’t give this revelation to Hammurabi, for example, one of the kings who gave us a great law that has been discovered who lived shortly after the time of Abraham. God didn’t give this revelation to Lot. God didn’t give this revelation to any other of Abraham’s kinfolk.
God says, “Abraham, I’m choosing you. And if you ask the question as to why, you’re probing into a mystery that I have chosen to not reveal simply because of my good pleasure.” God doesn’t treat everybody alike. He has to treat everyone justly, absolutely. But there are some who receive mercies that others do not receive. If you struggle with that let me simply suggest that you let God be God.
True story, two sisters grow up in the very same home. One grows up searching God, knowing that she has to be born again, going from church to church saying, “I know that if I’m not born again I’ll not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Somebody tell me how to be born again.” And she’s gloriously converted.
Her sister, whom I happen to know who is a relative of mine, is a hard-as-nails atheist. She wants nothing to do with God, the Bible, or anything else. Wow. To one He shows mercy. You say, “Well, what about this atheist? Couldn’t she believe?” Yes, if she desired to believe there is no question about it. But it is almost as if the desire to know Him has been taken from her. God worked in the other one.
You say, “Pastor Lutzer, by mentioning this point you have scared up more rabbits than you are able to shoot on a Sunday morning.” And so I have, but I want you to think about that. Not everybody is treated alike. Now if you find in your heart a desire to pursue God, pursue Him—seek Him, seek Christ. Because if you have that desire, it shows that God is working within you to bring about His purpose. Seek it with all of your heart!
Second, all of God’s children live with delayed promises. Here’s Abraham and God says, “I’m giving you the land, it is yours and your descendants’ forever.” Okay, God, start doing it. Well, you don’t even have a son yet, Abraham. In fact, the next sermon, which I hope you don’t miss, has to do with the birth of Ishmael and all of the consequences. We are going to look at the impact of this in the Muslim world, the Jewish world, and the Christian world. But, God says, “I am going to do all this for you.”
And now what does God say? It’s going to be 400 years before they actually come back and even begin the process of inheriting it. And some of us think they still haven’t finished the process. So God is saying, “This is the way it is. You are going to have to wait, Abraham.” The book of Hebrews says, “He died in faith without the promises fulfilled.”
You know that when Sarah dies he has to buy a plot of land to bury her. What’s this? Buying a plot of land? The land was given to him by God. God says, “Yeah it’s yours. But you know what? The promise is going to be delayed.” We live with delayed promises all the time.
Of course healing is in the atonement. Jesus died for us body, soul, and spirit. And there are some people who tell us, “You don’t have to delay anything. Oh no, no, it’s yours. Just name it and claim it!” No, our healing will be ours someday when we have resurrection bodies, when we won’t need glasses, when we won’t have the limitations of the flesh. Yeah it is coming, justice and all of the things.
Now can’t you imagine Abraham being in touch with a health and wealth preacher? “Abraham, it’s yours! Take it, God gave it to you. You claim it! What do you mean, you are paying for the land? You own it! You just bring all these enemies under your control in submission because it is all yours. Grab it now!”
Can I share something with you? I will. If God wills it in about a year, I would like to preach a series of messages entitled “Living with Delayed Promises.” I think that one of the greatest confusions that we have is that we have to live with delayed promises. You say, “Well, are there some promises that we can embrace right now?” The answer is yes: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” If you wait until some future time it may be too late. There are some promises that need to be embraced right now. But there are many promises that are delayed, but they are as certain as God’s Holy Word. But we die in faith.
Third and last, through faith you and I also enter into an unconditional covenant. It’s called the new covenant. “The new covenant in My blood.” Today we are going to have an opportunity to remember that new covenant when we have communion together, and that also is an unconditional covenant.
Once you come to saving faith in Christ, God says, “I am going to take responsibility for taking you all the way from earth to heaven and making sure that you arrive. “My sheep hear My voice and they know Me and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life. Neither shall any of them perish. My Father who gave them to Me is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of My hand. My Father is greater than I. No man is able to pluck them out of His hand.”
God says, “You trust Christ as Savior and I enter into an agreement that depends on Me and My faithfulness to take you all the way to the promised land.” You say, “Does that mean Christians can be disobedient?” Just as in the case of Abraham God says, “I am going to work in their hearts to bring about the faith that they need to be saved, and the obedience by which they represent Me here on earth. But at the end of the day it is all one-sided. It all comes from Me to them.”
Abraham did not make a promise that day. God made all the promises. That’s why when you hear me preach the Gospel at Moody Church, when I am asking those of you who have never believed on Christ to be saved, you’ll never hear me say, “Now make a promise to follow Jesus.” I may say that to believers but not to unbelievers.
What do you mean, make a promise to follow Jesus? The Gospel isn’t something that I promised. The Gospel means that I come absolutely helpless to receive a promise that God has given. That’s what the Gospel is.
D.L. Moody said that he heard a man stand up and say, “It took me 42 years to learn these three things.” Well you know if you can find someone that can tell you in two minutes something it took 42 years to learn, I think you ought to listen up, as the saying goes. And the man stood up and said three things. “First, I can do nothing to save myself.” Then the news even gets better. “Second, God doesn’t expect me to do anything to save myself because He knows I can’t. And thirdly, Jesus paid it all.” That’s the good news of the Gospel.
A week ago yesterday I was at a reception. I didn’t know the folks very well, but I was asked to be there and so I was. And there was a camera man there who was taking pictures of the bride and groom. He had a few moments so I put my hand on his shoulder and I said to him, “Tell me, how far have you come in your walk with God?” You know, just thought I would throw out a question.
He gave me an answer of sorts and then I explained the Gospel to him something like I have done to you. And he said, “Oh, very easy, huh, very easy!” So is it easy? “Well, if it’s so easy why don’t you believe on Jesus right here?” “No, I’m not willing to do that!” Well, it’s easy.
Is it easy? It’s easy, looked at from one standpoint, yes, but very hard from another standpoint. Because, when you come to Jesus you are saying, “I cannot save myself. My works are rubbish,” as we read this morning in the Scripture. “I am a sinner convicted of my sin. Apart from the mercy of God I am going to be forever damned,” and that’s what you are saying when you believe. So, yeah, yeah, yeah it is easy.
But, my is it hard on pride and human nature which stands in the way of receiving God’s free grace. Overcome that barrier by the power of the Spirit, I pray that you shall, that those of you who have never trusted Christ would believe even right now where you are seated in this sanctuary or listening by some other means.
Please join me as we pray. “Father we want to thank You today that when God swore and made a covenant, He swore on Himself. He said, ‘This is what I am going to do. My plans will not be frustrated by human nature with all of its sins, with all of its failings. I shall do as I please.’ What confidence that gives us in Your Holy Word and Your promises. And I pray now for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior. At this moment may they believe in Jesus and may they say, ‘Amen’ to Jesus and receive the gift of righteousness. Cause that to happen, Father, for our lives are frail and we can only do it if You work in our hearts.”
Before I close this prayer, whoever you are right now, would you say “Amen” to Jesus? “I pray Father that those who have been converted this morning may tell someone of their conversion, that indeed they have chosen to say ‘Amen’ to Jesus, not to make a promise but to receive the free gift that He offers. We pray in His blessed name, Amen.”