What faith does - Genesis 15:1-6

This is a sermon by Richard Tearle from the Riverside Church service on 27th July 2014.

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What faith does (Genesis 15:1-6)


Today were travelling with Abraham once again. But you will notice that we have missed a couple of chapters. We’re taking snapshots from the life of Abraham.

Today’s bible section falls nicely into 2 sections so we will be called to:

Firstly, HEAR GOD’S WORD (v.1-5)

And secondly, RECEIVE GOD’S GIFT (v.6)


So let’s dive in at verse 1:

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

Your very great reward.”

Now straight away we need to ask what’s been going on here. The verse says ‘After this’. We need to ask what? After what? What has just happened?

And the short answer is that Abram has had a bit a bust up with some local kings. Various kings’s formed 2 alliances and Abraham got caught up in the middle and with an SAS regiment of 318 men he kicked some of them into touch.

So that explains why today in verse 1 God says “Do not be afraid, Abram”.

Abram is scared. Abram is fearful.

Yes he’s won for now. But he’s got caught up in some complicated politics and there will be enemies waiting to catch him unawares. So Abram needs FOUNDATIONS FOR FEARLESSNESS. He needs someone to turn away his fears. And that’s what God gives him.

Notice the Lord tells Abram that he (the Lord) is his SHIELD and his very great REWARD.

The Lord is showing Abram that HE is to be his SECURITY (shield) and his SATISFACTION (reward). Abram is to find all his security, all his foundations and all of his satisfaction and treasure IN THE LORD.

Where are you looking for these things? Money? Marriage? Material stuff?

God offers ultimate security and satisfaction. But so often we try and find them elsewhere. Where have you been seeking security and satisfaction this weekend?

It’s like a child. A child gets on best and flourishes when the parent sorts out the shelter and food. They need that. Kids aren’t meant to have to sort that stuff out. [Now I know that’s not always the case – and the church needs to be a safe place for vulnerable kids]. But the point is kids flourish when basic levels of shelter and food are provided by parents.

You function best when you find all your SECURITY for the future and SATISFACTION of your desires IN THE LORD. Your parent. Your Father. He is your shield and your very great reward.

But that leads Abram to raise a CAUSE FOR CONCERN.

And that’s there in verse 2:

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

He’s heard what God has said and he is holding onto it. But he’s questioning. He can’t see how God is going to reward him.

Now remember last week God had promised that Abram would be the first of a great nation. And right now he’s not seeing that! He hasn’t even got a child. He’s an old man. His wife can’t have kids. And his estate will be passed onto an adopted servant. Abram just can’t see how God’s going to do this.

On the positive side: Abram is wrestling with what God has said. He’s not denying it. He’s hearing and holding onto God’s word but he just can’t see how it can work out. That’s genuine questioning based on God’s revealed promises.

On the negative side: Abram gives God his options. He’s saying “look it’s going to be like this Lord, or like this, ok?” Abram’s asking God a multiple choice question! He’s got certain answers in mind. He’s not prepared for God to do something outside the box. His view of God is too small. And how often is that the case with us too? How often do we try and give God his options and tell him the framework that he’s allowed to work in?!


The Lord responds to Abram, gently and patiently in verse 4:

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him “So shall your offspring be.”

God shows Abram with a fantastic evening sky that his promise will prevail. No Abram your servant will not be your heir. You are going to have a child – even now. And your offspring will be as uncountable as the stars in the sky.

Abram used to be a moon-worshipper. But now God uses the sky to teach him truth.

Clearly there was no light pollution in that part of the world! Abram would have been staring into a vast sky of uncountable stars. Years ago I was on a youth group weekend away and we were in rural parts. We went out to play a game in the dark and (bearing in mind we were all city kids) many were mesmerised by the stars that they could see.

God used the stars to illustrate to Abram the vastness and power of his promise.

But these days God doesn’t point you to the stars to see his promises [he does point you to them to see something of his glory] but he points you to the scriptures to see his precious promises. You have them all there.

That’s how we navigate through life. The bible is our North Star. The scriptures are our promise pictures. And of course there are many.

I would encourage you to look for them. Mark them. Read them. Remember them. But here are two big ones: one day judgement will come and all who are in Jesus will be saved.


But let’s spend the remainder of our time in verse 6 as we are called to RECEIVE GOD’S GIFT.

Let’s read it again:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

We will take that verse in its 2 parts.


He heard God’s word and he believed not just in God but he believed God and his word. He heard and believed.

“Believed” is another way of saying that he had “faith”. He trusted in God and his word and leaned or rested on him and his words. That’s what believing is. It’s more than the mind. It’s faith/trust.

And the pattern of the whole bible is that if people are going to believe they need to hear. They must hear God’s word. That doesn’t mean they WILL believe. But they can’t believe unless they HEAR. As it says in Romans 10: ‘faith comes by hearing’. That’s why we tell people about Jesus. We’ve done all sorts of fun things at this week’s Holiday Club. And we’ve done all sorts of ‘Christian’ things at Holiday Club – the leaders have planned and prayed together. We’ve song solid Christian kid’s songs with the children. BUT that would not be enough. We taught them about Jesus. We spoke God’s word. Up-front. In small groups. In conversations. Faith comes by hearing – hearing the word of God.

And what a joy it has been in this season of our church life. We’ve spoken. People have heard. And some have come to know him. Others are investigating more.

But let’s keep going with this! There’s danger that we Christian’s can become bored of simply speaking about Jesus and what he has done. It doesn’t seem very spectacular. It’s hard. It takes great courage. It takes preparation and prayer. We can become weary of speaking about him. But let’s not do that here. Riverside Church: keep speaking about Jesus.


Now this little phrase is like a small window which opens out onto one of the most gloriously beautiful landscapes in the whole bible.

God credited it to him as righteousness. God saw that Abram believed him and he credited Abram’s spiritual bank account with a righteousness that Abram did not have, had not earned and could never produce by himself. God gave Abram a righteousness that was not his own. A righteousness given as a gift and received by faith.

Let me explain.

You and me by nature are in total spiritual poverty. All people are born in spiritual poverty. Your neighbours. The kids in this school. The person sat next to you.

We’re not just in the spiritual overdraft or even in a bit of spiritual debt. We are spiritually bankrupt. We have no spiritual finances.

But the good thing is that God is totally rich in righteousness! Totally pure and holy and good and excellent. He’s rich in spiritual resources.

But actually that’s a problem for us! Because it means we can’t get anywhere near him. We don’t have even a 50 pence piece of righteousness. And in that state we cannot approach God. For heaven is the home of righteousness and God is the richly righteous host.

It’s like there’s a special event. But you can’t be a guest unless you have the right credentials. We don’t. None of us do.

But the wonderful news is that God the Father credits our account with the righteousness of his Son Jesus. He credits his people with the riches of Jesus perfect righteousness.

It’s like your bankrupt and then, in a flash, your account is re-opened and there are thousands upon thousands of pounds in there. It’s a gift.

Friends – if you are a Christian then God has credited your empty account with the perfect righteousness of Jesus AS IF IT WERE YOURS.

God the Father doesn’t count a Christian’s sins against them. But neither does he count your performances!

As the old prayer goes: ‘Do not weigh our merits but pardon our offenses’.

But God doesn’t just pardon your offenses he actively counts Jesus merits, Jesus performance, Jesus perfect righteousness AS IF IT WERE YOURS.

He credits you with the perfection and performance of your older brother the Lord Jesus.

God counted your sins against Christ on the cross and he accounts Christ’s righteousness to your spiritual account.

Now let me explain 2 things that this is NOT:

  • This is not a RIGHTEOUSNESS INFUSION! God takes the boiling water of your life, pours you into a mug and then dips in the teabag of righteousness and then slowly over time the tea of righteousness infuses into the water of your life! That’s not what is going on here. That’s a process. A slow one! Whereas here in the bible we are talking about something that happens in a flash. One minute you are unrighteous, unable to come near to our righteous God, the next moment and God has credited his Son’s righteousness to your account and you are free to draw near to him by faith. It’s more like chalk and cheese. Black and white. In a flash God credits your account with riches of righteousness that you do not have.
  • But also this is not about BREAKING EVEN. I’ve been involved in loads of community group events and some people are always anxious that the event ‘breaks even’. Fair enough. They want the income to cover the outgoings. Breaking even. Cover the costs. But that’s not what’s going on here either. It’s not that God in his kindness simply get’s you out of debt and then leaves you to work it out for yourself.
  • You know that’s a common misunderstanding which I’ve fallen into. God has forgiven me. So now I’m at zero. But I need to fill up my spiritual account by doing loads of ‘good Christian stuff’. Not so! God doesn’t just break us even - he fills our spiritual account. We aren’t just ‘breaking even’ were ‘in credit’.

    The Oak Road event last week didn’t just break even. It raised around £800 for charity. The charities didn’t have to do anything. They didn’t earn it. But £800 will be credited to their account.

    So the overall truth here is that your sins were counted against Christ on the cross and his perfection and performance is credited to your account.

    And there are 3 really practical areas in which this truth is spiritual dynamite for us:

  • Firstly, THE LIES OF THE DEVIL. You know. When he accuses you of sins you have committed. Perhaps of sins you haven’t committed. When he whispers in your ear words of accusation and condemnation. When he reminds you of that unrighteousness yesterday. When he calls to your mind your ongoing unrighteous attitudes and behaviour. That’s when you say YES! Yes I am unrighteous in my daily life. But NO! No devil! I cannot be condemned because though I am still unrighteous in my daily behaviour yet Jesus perfect righteousness has been credited to my account. I stand covered in his spotless record. You have nothing to say to me. Because God has credited to my account the perfection of Jesus. He will not count my sins against me. He counted them against Jesus on the cross and he will count Jesus righteousness as if it is mine.
  • Secondly, THE LEFTOVERS OF SIN. You have a righteous standing before God because he has given it to you. A full account. A status of righteousness. BUT the weeds of sin are still present. This side of heaven sin will still be present in your life. You still muck up. I do. But you have absolute security to fight sin because your spiritual account is full. You don’t have to fear what you might find.
  • I know many of us have been challenged by the HG’s on Respectable Sins. The Holy Spirit has undoubtedly used those times to convict us of hidden, subtle (so called) ‘respectable’ sins. That’s ok! It’s ok to see more of our sins – if we have had Jesus’ righteousness credited to our account! Were liberated to see and fight sin. These are just the leftovers of sin.

    And I know some of you see the leftovers of sin on the plate of your life and it freaks you out! You think blimey there’s more than “leftovers” here! And then you question your status with God, your security, you’re standing. In Christ your account is credited. You are in the clear. It’s just the leftovers of sin.

  • Finally, THE LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN. Put simply. You don’t need to create righteousness for yourself. You don’t need self-righteousness. You need Christ’s righteous riches in your account.
  • But there is a constant pull towards self-righteousness. Some of you (I include myself) try to create a SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS BY ACTIVITY. Constantly doing stuff. In the hope that God will accept you. But though activity and busyness and hard work are good things –creating a self-righteousness by them is not.

    But for some of us it’s SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS BY ASSOCIATION. I go along. I know church people. I have friends who are Christian’s. Surely that’s enough. It’s not. You need to have Jesus’ righteousness credited to your empty account. I’m not telling you to be good. To be nice. To be morally decent. I’m pleading with you to believe and trust in him.


    For some of you it’s the call (for the first time) to trust in Jesus righteousness rather than you own morality. Let me plead with you to reach out the hand of faith and receive the gift of Jesus perfect righteousness.

    But for many it’s the call to go back! Go back to this glorious truth. Rely on the righteousness of Jesus for your standing before your Father. Live in this truth. Soak it up.

    My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness

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