The movie “The Last Emperor” tells the fascinating story of a young child who was anointed as the last emperor of China. The young emperor lived a magical life of luxury with a thousand eunuch servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” his brother asked him. The young emperor replied, “When I do wrong, someone else is punished.” To demonstrate, he breaks a jar, and one of the servants is beaten. In Christian theology, Jesus reversed this ancient pattern. When his servants did wrong, the King was punished.
Sin cannot be denied or glossed over. Our sin demands that someone pay the penalty. As Philip Yancey writes, “Grace is free only because the giver Himself has borne the cost.” In the life of Abraham, we find the first detailed explanation of how God can exchange our sins for His righteousness. Genesis 15 demonstrates that salvation is a transaction based on grace, received through faith, and paid for by Jesus Christ.
1. The Events Prior to the Grace Transaction (Genesis 15:1-5)
What Abraham desired more than anything, including great riches, was a child. Why? Like any man or woman, Abraham longed to enjoy the benefits of parenthood. But I think Abraham’s longing for a child goes beyond our innate desire to have a legacy. Abraham’s ability to have a son was directly tied to the Lord’s promise to Abraham in chapter 12. God said to Abraham I am going to give you land, I am going to make you the father of a great nation, and through one of your descendants, the entire world will be blessed. This promise motivated Abraham to uproot his family and leave behind everything familiar to him. But the fulfillment of this promise depended upon Abraham having an heir, a descendant. He could not be the father of many unless, first of all, he was the father of at least one.
Decades had passed, much had happened since that promise in chapter 12, and Abraham was growing understandably impatient. And so he reminds the Lord in verse 2 that as it stands now, Abraham has no heir except a servant named Eliezer. And so, in verse 4, God clarifies and reaffirms his promise to Abraham. Then verse 5 says God took Abraham out and directed his eyes toward the heavens. In the Near East, the sky is extremely clear, and the sky that night was filled with stars. “Abraham, look up. Can you count the number of stars in the sky?” And, of course, he couldn’t. Then God said, “So shall your descendants be.” And then comes the single most important sentence in the story of Abraham’s life. It is, without a doubt, the most crucial sentence in the entire Old Testament.
2. The Grace Transaction (Genesis 15:6)
- The Meaning of This Verse (Genesis 15:6)
Genesis 15:6 says, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” This explains how Abraham was saved, how people in the Old Testament before Christ were saved, and how we are saved. To understand this verse there are two phrases we need to comprehend.
- “Believed God”
The context here suggests that Abraham believed what God had just said about fulfilling His promise. Abraham was banking his entire future on God’s assurance that he would fulfill his promise.
- “Reckoned it … as righteousness”
The word “reckoned” is an accounting term that means to put into someone’s account. If you gave me a check for $100 and I were to deposit it into the bank, the teller would perform an accounting transaction. She would take your $100 and would reckon it to my account. Your $100 becomes my $100.
The Bible says that when Abraham believed the promise of God about the coming Messiah, righteousness was added to his account. And that forever changed how God viewed Abraham. No longer was he viewed as a sinner, but he was declared not guilty. He was justified.
- The Application of This Verse
Philippians 3:9 says, “And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God based on faith.” And so, here is the bottom line question. What do you depend on to get you into heaven? Do you want God to judge you based on your goodness or the basis of Christ’s goodness?
Out of pride, do you want to say, “God, I think I’m good enough to be judged on my own merits,” or out of humility, do you want to say, “God, I can’t make it on my own. No good thing dwells within me. But I believe that when Christ died on the cross, He took on my sin so that I might put on his righteousness, and I’m trusting in Him for my entrance into Your heaven.”
That is the choice each of us must make. But it is a choice we make before we die. God doesn’t allow you to fill out your application for heaven after you die. You have to do it before you die.
3. The Confirmation of the Grace Transaction (Genesis 15:7-21)
In Abraham’s day, whenever two leaders made a covenant, an agreement, with one another, they would cut an animal into two parts along the backbone and place it in two rows, facing each other with a space in between them. Then the two parties making the agreement would walk together between the animal pieces, signifying that each party had to keep his part of the agreement. The covenant was particularly sacred because of the shed blood of the animals.
So God has made a covenant to Abraham—I will give you a land, a nation, and a blessing. Through your line, I will provide a Savior who will bring salvation to all who will believe.” And then, to confirm the agreement, God orders Abraham to take the animals and cut them into two, leaving a walkway between them. But then God does something most unusual. Instead of walking with Abraham between the pieces of the animals, God puts Abraham to sleep in verse 12. Then, look at verse 17.
God walks through the pieces of the animal. Why? To demonstrate to Abraham and all the generations that followed that this promise was eternal and unconditional. This covenant did not depend upon Abraham and his descendants keeping their end of the bargain. The fulfillment of this promise rested solely on the faithfulness of God.
Have you looked to Christ for your salvation? Have you, out of humility, admitted your sin and need for a Savior? It is not just one way to be saved. It is the only way to be saved.
“And Abraham believed in God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Full Passage: Genesis 15:2-21