What follows is a teaching I recently shared at a local church. It’s longish, so rather than hit you with it all at once, I thought I would break it into several easier to digest (and discuss) chunks.
If you are anything like me, you have tried to earn your salvation, a lot. We do “stuff” all the time to show how deserving we are to be called children of the King. We do religious stuff, good stuff, sometimes even very good stuff, but in the end, it’s just stuff. Strive though we might, as hard as we try, we come up short. But there is good news; we don’t have to do anything, as Paul said:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–10)
Now I am not saying to not do good works, far from it, but do good works for the right reason, passionate love for our God and a genuine desire to do His will, what is pleasing to Him. But let’s go back and take a closer look at that verse. We are saved how? Through faith in Jesus, faith given as a free gift by a loving God who sent His Son to pay a price we could not. So what is this gift called? Grace, in Greek, the word used is:
Charis: that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech. Good will, loving-kindness, favor. Of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.
The Old Testament word Chen caries a similar meaning, speaking of unmerited favor extended from a king to his subjects. In its verb form it also means to pardon or show mercy. But wait a minute, you say, the Old Testament was about the law, besides Jesus had not come yet. Yes, but then as Paul points out several times, Abraham’s faith was counted for him as righteousness. Let’s look and see where Paul got such a radical idea.
And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it? So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two… And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram …. (Genesis 15:6-10 …17-18a)
We not only learn here that Abraham’s faith made him righteous but we see God doing a very significant thing. He cuts covenant with Abraham. In that day, when two men made a covenant, they sealed the deal by arranging an offering as Abraham did and then passing through it together. In essence, they were saying “Your blood is my blood, and your enemies are my enemies, and may it be done so to me if I ever break this covenant.” Yet only God passed through between the animals, in His grace, he made only Himself party to a covenant He know we could never keep.
So we see that Abraham, like us, was made righteous through faith. But how?
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. (2 Timothy 1:8-11)
We were saved and called by Jesus from before time began. Likewise, Abraham and others who have gone before have been made righteous, not through works, but by their faith in the One Who Makes Righteous.