The Gospel Plain and Simple
salvation; gospel; eternal life; Christianity; belief; conversion; born again;
Yogi Berra addressed graduates at Montclair State University with these simple proverbs:
- First, never give up, because it ain’t over until it’s over.
- Second, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.
- Third, don’t always follow the crowd. Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
- Fourth, stay alert. You can observe a lot by just watching.
- Fifth and last, remember that whatever you do in your life, 90 percent of it is half mental.
It’s O.K., and even funny, when Yogi Berra talks like this . . . it’s tragic when a believer talks about the gospel in this way. With all our debates about how the world will end, how a person should be baptized, how the church should be governed, what worship should look like, and a host of other debates it is no wonder people are confused. That’s why our text this morning is so important. It proclaims Christianity in simple terms. In fact, if we can understand Genesis 15:6, we understand the gospel. This morning I want to show you the simple truth of the gospel so that you can evaluate your own spiritual state, and so you can explain it to others.
Let’s look at the text,
But Abram replied, “O Sovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since I don’t have a son, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no children, so one of my servants will have to be my heir.” Then the LORD said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own to inherit everything I am giving you.” Then the LORD brought Abram outside beneath the night sky and told him, “Look up into the heavens and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that—too many to count!” And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD declared him righteous because of his faith.
What a difficult circumstance Abraham was in. God had promised that He would make Abraham into a great nation. God led and Abraham followed. But now, he is an old man. His wife is well past child-bearing years. Abraham may still believe that God will keep His promise but he believes he will have to do so through his servant, Eliezer, who will be Abraham’s heir . . . . it appears.
God tells Abraham that he has it wrong. Abraham WILL have a son. It seems improbable. It appears impossible. But Abraham believes God and God declares him righteous.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE RIGHTEOUS?
Why is this significant? Well, we have to start by understanding what it means to be righteous. It’s not a word we use with great familiarity. We may say someone has “righteous indignation”. What that means is that they are angry for good reasons. They see wrongs that need to be righted. This wrong has provoked anger.
We also talk about people who are “self-righteous”. By that we mean that they think of themselves as good. They see themselves as people of exemplary character. They believe they have done nothing wrong. It is usually a derogatory statement which means that they are blind to their own faults.
Righteousness in the Bible means the state of living rightly before God. It is a stamp of approval on our lives. The Bible is clear . . . if we are not deemed righteous before God, we cannot see Him. Listen to how a righteous person is described in Pslam 15,
1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
2 Those who lead blameless lives
and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
3 Those who refuse to slander others
or harm their neighbors
or speak evil of their friends.
4 Those who despise persistent sinners,
and honor the faithful followers of the LORD
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
5 Those who do not charge interest on the money they lend,
and who refuse to accept bribes to testify against the innocent.
Such people will stand firm forever.
In Micah we read this description,
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
So, how do you measure up? You think you’re doing o.k.? Well how about this simple description of Jesus:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)
This is what it means to be “righteous”. It means to live flawlessly before God. God is perfect and approves only of those who are perfect. So, do you get the point? It’s a standard that is beyond us. In Romans 3:20 we read this devastating indictment, “no one is righteous, no not one.” That’s why this statement in Genesis 15 is so significant. How is it possible for Abraham to be declared righteous? And how does that help us?
In Romans 1:17 we read, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”” In other words, the gospel is about how we can be declared righteous like Abraham.
HOW RIGHTEOUSNESS IS POSSIBLE?
We are told that God “credited” or “declared” him righteous. In other words, God rendered his verdict: “Abraham is Righteous!” So, as a result of Abraham’s faith, God “credits” righteousness to Abraham. The apostle Paul takes a great deal of time in Romans 4 and in the book of Galatians to argue that Abraham did not “earn” this righteousness . . . it was given him.
But how is this possible? We are unrighteous. We are sinful. How can we ever become righteous? The Bible’s answer is this: only through Christ. We must get our righteousness from Him. In fact, I believe that is the same way Abraham got his righteousness. Abraham believed God . . . he trusted God to do for him what he could not do for himself. He may not have known that this would be made possible through Christ . . . but he knew only God could to it for him.
When I commit myself to Christ He gives His righteousness to me and takes my sin in return. He takes that sin to the cross and dies because of it. My sin is taken by Him. His righteousness is credited to me. We stand before God in the attire and character of Jesus Christ. That is the basis of our acceptance!
Another illustration is to use a business analogy. As a sinner I am like a businessman in debt. Bankruptcy and financial ruin is certain. It is just a matter of time. Jesus comes to my business pays my debts and gives me His riches as capital to make the changes that need to be made. This is what happens when we trust Christ. Our sin is paid for and His righteousness is credited to our account.
Two things you need to see. First, realize that this is something that is given to us, not something that can be earned. Please hear that. There is a large group of people who have put off coming to Christ because they do not “feel worthy”. They believe they have to “get their life together” or “make some changes” or “become more knowledgeable” before they can come to Christ. But the whole point is this: you cannot be good enough. You cannot reach high enough. You can never deserve grace. It is a gift. Change in our life comes as a result of our relationship with Christ . . . not as a prerequisite to that relationship.
Some might say, “Yes, but you don’t know how sinful I am.” You’re right. But God does. And the very fact that you see your sinfulness makes you closer to the Kingdom of God than many who have been in the church for years. There are many who figure they are doing great. They don’t need God’s grace . . . they feel they are doing o.k. on their own. They are “self-righteous”. They don’t see that they need help. You do. Now is the time to reach out to him.
Second, realize that once God has declared you righteous, you ARE righteous in His eyes. Many people have the mistaken notion that we are saved by grace but we stay saved by working really really hard. There are some who see this declaration of our righteousness as something temporary. It is kind of like a learner’s permit. God declares us righteous and now we have to “pass the test” and be righteous or we won’t go to Heaven.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I am not saying that we come to Christ and then can live however we want. That’s impossible. If we really believe God, we are given His Holy Spirit to live within us. The Holy Spirit is a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” There is no double jeopardy in heaven! Once you have been declared righteous . . . you will not be condemned again!
So, we come to the main issue: “how do we get this righteousness?” The key element in this whole transaction is our belief. Let me be very careful. We are not saved because of our belief . . . .we are saved because of what God has done in Christ for us. But the way we receive this gift is by our belief. This single verse, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” is the gospel in a nutshell. In this one verse we see the essence of what it means to be a Christian. But what does it mean, to “believe”.
What this does not mean
Notice first, that it doesn’t say that Abraham believed IN God. There are lots of people who believe in God. In fact, in James 2:19 we are told that the Demons believe! In fact, James says that the demons believe strongly enough that they know enough to tremble when they think of God.
Most people believe in God. The question is: who is this God they believe in? The nations around Israel worshipped many gods. They believed in God but not in the true and living God. We live in a society where belief in God is very popular. But the God most people believe in is an easy-going, grandfather like being who views the people of the world and says, “aren’t they cute.” He has rules but they change depending on the situation. The God of our society wants everyone to live happily ever after.
Do you see that this is a god of their own construction? It is a God that doesn’t even resemble the true and living God of Scripture. It is not enough to believe in A God . . . it must be the true God. I understand that is is a politically incorrect thing to say, but it is the testimony of Scripture. The first commandment says, “You shall have no other God before me.” In other words . . . there are no other Gods!
So, What it does mean to believe?
We’ve said it before, but it is well worth repeating: there are three dimensions to what we belief:
- Content – the first stage is believing facts and information. At this stage you believe the facts about God. You believe what He says about Himself. You believe that Jesus lived. You believe He did die on a cross. You believe He rose from the grave.
- Assent – this is believing that the facts are good, true and worth following. You not only believe the facts you agree that they are relevant for your life and valuable for your living. At this stage you believe that Jesus died for your sin. You believe that He is the way of salvation for anyone who would believe. You believe that He makes it possible for anyone to go to Heaven.
- Commitment – this is is the point where we are willing to commit ourselves to these truths. This is when we are willing to rely on these truths for our life and eternity.
Stage One: the man and woman meet and decide to go out. They are looking for information. They are trying to discover whether or not the person is who they appear to be. They are testing those first impressions. When they have dated enough they come to believe that this is a fine and worthy person. They might even believe this to be a person who would make a good mate. This would be the CONTENT level of faith.
Stage Two: You continue to date and enjoy the company of the other. Now a change takes place. You not only believe that this person would make a good mate, you believe that they would make a good mate for you. This would be the ASSENT stage.
Stage Three: The commitment stage takes place when you stand before a minister in a church setting and pledge before God and the witnesses that you will love and cherish this one “in richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, till death do we part.” And at that point the person of your dreams declares likewise to you. This is COMMITMENT faith.
When we read that Abraham believed God it is at this last stage where we see Abraham. He was making a commitment to God. He was anchoring His life and His hope to the Lord. Abraham knew that what God was saying was impossible according to the normal course of events. He knew that this would involve God doing something extra-ordinary in his life. Yet, he believed God’s promise. He not only agreed to the possibility that this could happen . . . (the assent stage) He built his hope and his life on this promise. (The commitment stage).
Most of you have heard the illustration many time about the tight-rope walker who was walking over Niagara Falls. He asked the crowd: “How many of you believe I can cross these falls while pushing a wheelbarrow with someone in it?” The crowd cheered wildly. They believed!
Then, the man asked, “Who is willing to get in the wheelbarrow and let me push them across?” Now, there was silence. The people believed but they were not commited. Jesus says, “how many believe I can save you from the penalty of your sin?” Many people cheer. Then He says, “how many are willing to believe me enough to put their life in my hands?:
What about you? What kind of belief do you have? Perhaps it is none at all. If so, I’m glad you’re investigating the claims of Christ . . .I hope we can help you discover the truth of the gospel. Perhaps your faith is superficial. You know the words but you have never made a commitment to Christ. If you have never done so, I urge you to declare your commitment to Jesus Christ right now. Perhaps you might use words similar to these,
- Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to your cross I cling; Naked, I come to you for dress, Helpless, look to you for grace; Stained, I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Savior, or I die!While I draw this fleeting breath, When my eyes shall close in death, When I soar to worlds unknown, See You on the judgment throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee. [Augustus M. Toplady]
It doesn’t matter what words you use. What matters is that you have the same attitude as this hymn writer. Friend are you willing to take that step and not only believe IN God . . . are you willing to BELIEVE GOD and the promises He has made regarding your salvation? Will you take your stand with Him today? If you will . . . He will declare you righteous . . . just like old Abraham.
I know many of you have made this commitment. To you I continue the marriage analaogy and ask you some questions:
- Have you taken this relationship for granted? Do you merely show up day after day and week after week without appreciating the great gift and joy you have been given? Is your relationship with the Savior dying from neglect? True, He will never leave you . . . . but has your relationship lost it’s “fire” because you have not given it a cherished place in your life?
- Have you stopped learning about the one who loves you with such a great love? Or are you so fascinated and enamored with Christ that you thrill to learn everything you can about Him?
- Do you delight to be in His presence or are you preoccupied with the pursuits of the world?
You have received a gift that is astounding in it’s greatness. You have been granted life when you deserved death. You have been set free when you deserved to be cast away. You have been forgiven when you deserved to be condemned. You have been declared innocent when you knew you were guilty. You have been made a child of the King. It is a gift that should be cherished. It is something you should think about every free moment of your life. It is a privilege we should never take lightly.
Yes this is an Old Testament text about a man who lived a long time ago. But it is also a text that points you to the truth that will transform your life . . . both now and for eternity.