Stop Trying… Start Believing! (Genesis 15:1-6)

Written by admin on May 05, 2019 in - No Comments
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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles once again to the book of Genesis. In our time together this morning we will return to Genesis 15:1-6, but we look most closely today at the foundational truth found in Genesis 15:6. If you do not have a Bible with you today, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I’ll be preaching from, I encourage you to make use of one of the pew Bibles where you can find this passage located on page 10.

Well, as has already been mentioned today, this morning’s service is our quarterly family worship service where we keep everyone together instead of dismissing our young people to children’s church. About a year ago, it occurred to us that if the purpose of children’s church is to help prepare our children to sit through an entire worship service—including each week’s poorly delivered sermon—that we ought to keep them with us from time to time so that they can see what we are preparing them for. It also occurred to us, that most of our children have no idea about what takes place during our monthly Lord’s Supper observance because they are never present during that part of the service. So, to address both of these things, we decided to start doing a family worship service once a quarter.

Now, for those of you who are in families with school-age children, I know that all of you are doing what we are currently doing in our home—you are counting down the days until school lets out for the summer. At this point, we only have a few more weeks to go, but summer break will be here before you know it and it will be time for some fun and relaxation. BUT… then, once again before you know it, it will be time to head back to school in early August. Yes, unfortunately, no matter how much we wish summer could go on forever, it always comes to an end, and it is time to go back to school.

Now, as bad as it may seem to you, kids, the truth is, we should all be very thankful for our schools and for our teachers. Without them, it would be much more difficult to learn all the things that we need to learn to get along in the world once we grow up. You can’t do much in the world without being able to read. You are going to need to be good at math to keep up with all that money you are going to make. And the place where we learn those skills, like it or not, is at school. So as bad as it may seem to spend so much time each year in school, it is really something we should all be thankful for. I know it’s hard, and I certainly wasn’t thankful for it when I was your age, but I am thankful for it now—and one day you will be too.

But, as much as we are thankful for school, the truth is, you can’t learn everything you need to learn in life while you are at school. That’s the reason we do things like play sports and take piano lessons. That’s the reason parents take their kids fishing and camping. That’s the reason we travel and go on vacations even—to learn things, and in ways, you cannot learn in school. And, it’s even part of the reason that your parents bring you to church. While our primary reason for coming to church each week is to worship God and thank him for all the good things he has done for us, we also come because church is a good place to learn about God and his plan for the world. And the way we do that is by studying the Bible. Yes, God has given us the Bible to teach us about him and about his plan to rescue us from the difficulties of this world that have come about because of sin.

And this morning, we are going to learn about one of the most significant things the Bible teaches us about God. And it’s really important that you pay careful attention today because while this is one of the most significant things you can ever learn about God, it is also something that many people get confused about and remain confused about. In fact, many adults remain confused about this for their whole lives. And this is one of those things we can’t be confused about. Because when we get confused about what we are going to talk about today, God’s plan for the world is no longer good news, but only a heavy burden that frustrates us and can even keep us out of God’s eternal kingdom—which is, ultimately, where we all want to be.

So, if you haven’t done so already, please turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis 15, and follow along as I read verses 1-6. And make sure to pay special attention when I get to verse 6 because that is where we will focus most of our time today. Kids, if you need some help finding Genesis 15, ask an adult for some assistance, and make sure that they too follow along as I read.

1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1–6 ESV)

So in this passage, God promises to do something impossible. He promises to give Abram and his wife Sarai, a son. Now, the reason this is impossible is because for years and years Abram and Sarai had been unable to have children, and they had now reached the age where they could never have children—they were simply too old.

And so, I want you to think about this. I want you to think about how hard it would have been for Abram to believe God when he made this promise. Again, what God was promising to do, was something that every person on the earth, Abram and Sarai included, knew was impossible—he was promising to give a son to a man and woman who were far too old to have children. Yes, friends, God’s promise was so outlandish that it was almost impossible to believe. And yet, Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abram believed God anyway. Yes, against all odds and everything he knew about the way the world worked, Abram believed God when he said that Abram and Sarai would have a son.

Now, the reason this is so significant and foundational to our faith as Christians is because of what happens next. Notice what the rest of the verse says. It says, Abram “believed the LORD, and he counted it to [Abram] as righteousness.”

Now that word “righteousness” is a pretty big word, isn’t it? So what does it mean? What does it mean to be righteous? Well, in the Bible righteousness often has to do with living in a godly way. Yes, righteousness is about God-approved behavior. And this is where we get confused. We get confused because we rightly understand that there is a way of living that God desires for his people. But the problem is that we begin to think that doing our best to live that way is what gains us God’s approval. Yes, we see in our Bibles things that we ought to do and things that we ought not to do, and we think if we do the things we are supposed to do and avoid the things that we should not do, God will grant us his approval and entrance into his eternal kingdom. But, what we fail to notice when we think that way, is everything else the Bible says about us NOT being able to live up to God’s standards for righteousness. And so what we end up doing is trying to do something more impossible than Abram and Sarai having a son in their old age. We end up trying to earn God’s approval through our behavior which the Bible says we can never, ever do.

Notice that Genesis 15:6 doesn’t say that God looked at all the good things Abram had done and all the bad things that Abram had avoided and then said to himself, “Yep, that Abram is a good guy. He has this righteousness stuff down pat, and because of that I approve of him.” No, it says that when God saw that Abram believed his impossible promise—which means Abram had faith in God—that God counted Abram as righteous because of his faith. It was not about Abram doing some things and not doing other things—the Bible tells us that we can never live perfectly enough to meet God’s standards for righteous behavior. This was all about Abram believing what God had promised and God saying, “I will count his belief as righteousness instead of his behavior because his behavior will never measure up to my standard.”

In Romans 4, the Apostle Paul talks about all this. In that chapter, he tells us that if Abram had been good enough to gain God’s approval that he would have something to brag about indeed—because no one else has ever been able to do that. No one has ever been able to live a perfect life and gain God’s approval as a result—not even Abram. But Paul goes on to remind us that Abram was not made right with God through his behavior, but that he was made right in God’s eyes through his faith and belief in God’s promise.

Now, don’t get me wrong, kids, it’s not that your behavior doesn’t matter. God cares a great deal about the way you behave. And the way you behave is evidence of your belief in God’s promises and in God’s approved way of living. But, your behavior will never make you right with God. The Bible is clear on this. The thing that makes you right with God is the same thing that made Abram right with God—it is belief in God’s promises. And the promise that God has made to us is that if we trust in the death of his son on the cross to pay the price we owe for our sins, and if we trust in Jesus’s resurrection from the dead to give us eternal life in God’s kingdom, that God will count our belief in those promises as righteousness—just as he did with Abram. Yes, we don’t become righteous in God’s eyes based on the things we do, we get declared righteous based on the things that Jesus has done.

Imagine this. Imagine if you had done really poorly for a whole nine weeks in your math class—you haven’t done hardly any of your homework, and the stuff you did turn in was mostly wrong. And on test day you just worked through it as quickly as you could without worrying too much about the result. Or, imagine even that you gave it your best. You tried as hard as you could and just couldn’t get any of the problems right and ended up making F’s on every test and missing every problem in your homework. And imagine if your teacher at the end of the nine weeks asked you to stay after class to talk about the grade you were going to get on your progress report. And imagine if she told you that the grade you had earned during the nine weeks was an F, but that if you could solve a single problem she was about to write on the board, she would give you an A. Well, you would probably get pretty excited about that. That would surely keep you out of a whole lot of trouble at home, wouldn’t it?

But then imagine that she writes out this problem on the board that is so difficult that you quickly realize there is no way you are going to be able to solve it. And so, you stand there for a few minutes before shaking your head and looking down at the ground knowing that you are going to get an F and get into all sorts of trouble. But, then your teacher takes the dry erase marker out of your hand and spends a few seconds solving the problem and looks at you and says, “Do you believe that is the right answer?” To which you say, “Yes.” And then imagine that she asks you why you believe it is the right answer, and you say, “Because you are a really good teacher and never get any of the problems wrong.” And imagine hearing her say, “For that, you get an A. I’ll count that as an A.”

That is sort of what happens when God counts our belief in his promises as righteousness. It is not that we earn it. It is not that it is true righteousness. It is that God counts it as righteousness.

Young people, if you can get this into your head, it will save you a great deal of heartache later on in life. If you can wrap your minds around this today, you will understand something that so many adults still struggle to understand about the Bible. The Bible is not full of rules to obey; it is full of promises to believe. And it is our belief in those promises that God approves of and accepts in the place of the perfect behavior that would otherwise be required to obtain his approval. Again, we don’t become righteous in God’s eyes based on the things we do; we get declared righteous based on the things that Jesus has done.

Later on, in the biblical story, God gives the people of Israel some laws and some rules. These were rules that told them how to relate to him, how to relate to one another, and how to function as a nation. There was a great deal in that law about their worship—including many details about making animal sacrifices to cleanse them from their sin so that they could properly worship God and come into his presence during those times of worship. And these were all helpful and good for the people of Israel. These rules and laws were intended to keep them in a good relationship with God and with one another.

But, unfortunately, many people came to believe that keeping these laws and sacrificing those animals is what made them right with God. Yes, those became the things that they did to become righteous. And they forgot all about believing God’s promises. And based on this misunderstanding, many people today still believe that the things we do—the rules we keep, the laws we obey—are what help us obtain God’s approval and secure us a place in his eternal kingdom.

But, as we have seen this morning, that is not what the Bible teaches—not even the Old Testament where these laws were given. As we have seen today, the thing that made Abram right with God, and obtained God’s approval, had nothing to do with anything Abram did, and everything to do with what he believed–or who he believed. And nothing has changed in that regard. Abram, who we now know as Abraham, is our father in the faith because just like him it is our faith that God looks at and approves of. It is our faith in Jesus and his death and his resurrection that God accepts in place of the perfect behavior he would otherwise require. And friends, this is extremely good news, because none of us can ever live in a way that measures up to God’s standard. The only person to ever do that was our Savior, Jesus Christ.

So what matters today, is not whether or not you are living perfectly. What matters today is whether or not you are trusting in the One who did live perfectly in your place. Yes, do you believe God’s promises about Jesus? That is all that matters today. And that is all that will matter for all of eternity. So stop trying and start believing. Stop trying to gain God’s approval by your behavior and start believing in God’s promise to save you through your belief in his Son. You are never too young to understand this; you are never too old to understand this. Stop trying and start believing.