9th Sunday after Pentecost - 8/7/2022
“Susie sure is a good girl!”… “Johnny is one of my favorite students. He is such a good boy.” … “My neighbor, Vera, is such an inspiring person. She is a good Christian!”
We’ve all heard these or similar characterizations of people many times. Perhaps we have even expressed them ourselves. I wonder, when we do so, are we overusing the word “good.” What really do we mean by it, especially when we describe a person as a good Christian? Is there such a thing as a bad Christian? More than likely when we speak in this way we are referring to a person’s character, morals, or deeds which we have judged in accordance to some standard of behavior, like Ten Commandments, as being good or bad.
But how helpful is it to describe people as good or even bad? According to The Holy Bible are there really even any good people? We read in Romans, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Ro. 3:10-12).
At the same time, when it comes to the word “good,” Jesus Himself has said, “There is only one Who is good” (Matt. 19:17) . That “One” of course is God. He alone is good! He is, in fact, the source of what is good.
Accordingly the preferred words utilized in Holy Scripture to describe us human beings are the words righteous and its counter point, unrighteous. And when it comes to defining who is righteous and who is unrighteous it comes down to what we hear in our Old Testament reading from Genesis, chapter 15. It reads: “And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”
The “he” referenced as believing in the LORD here is Abram, later called Abraham. It is made in reference to the third time the LORD spoke His promise to Abram, concerning how the LORD was going to bless him with a son (a seed) and with a land of promise for all those who would descend from this son.
Now, it is important to understand that this promise, or covenant, that the LORD was making with Abram was being made when Abram and his wife Sarah were already well advanced in years. Abram was about 80 years old and Sarah had been barren for all of their wedded life. Accordingly, such a promise seemed more than far-fetched to them, but perhaps even impossible.
Now, as it would happen, the LORD would reiterate this promise in one form or another 3 more times over the next 20 years before they would even begin to see it come into fruition. In fact, Sarah would finally give birth to a son when she was 90 years old and Abram was 100. And you and I often feel like God is slow to act in our lives!
As a result, the center of the story and, in fact, the real miracle of this whole account is not that the LORD God would finally keep His promise to Abram and Sarah in giving them a son. After all, God is always faithful. He cannot break a promise. He is also omnipotent. He can and often does the impossible.
But the real miracle is that even early on Abram believed the LORD. Center stage, then, is Abram’s faith. So the holy writer of Hebrews in his eleventh chapter clearly articulates. We read: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
So, dear friends in Christ, when it comes to what sort of person you and I are, just like Abram and Sarah, it is not about how good or bad we have been… It is not how hard we have worked to do everything right according to God’s commandments or how little we have done…. It is not even the measure or lack of measure of our moral stature, that make us righteous or unrighteous before God.
Such righteousness has only to do with whether you and I believe. This means that you and I are righteous before God based on the LORD’s gracious declaration that He reckons; that is, He counts the faith of that person who believes in Him and His promises to be righteousness. It is as simple as this: the one who is righteous before God is the one who believes!
The holy apostle of the LORD, Paul, states in his letter to the Christians at Rome, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (Rom. 4:2-5).
Theologians like to call this forensic righteousness. It’s a declared righteousness not an inherent or even an earned righteousness. In a court of law, even if you did commit the crime but you are officially declared “not guilty” by the Judge or the Jury, that’s what you are, not guilty, and you go free.
Accordingly, as joyful as we believers in God and His Word ought to be to be declared as righteous by God on account of His grace toward us, we ought also be just as equally thankful that our declaration as righteous is totally due to God’s grace and love for you and me in Jesus Christ. We all know and God knows, as we heard Paul declare earlier (Ro. 3:10), that not one of us in and of ourselves, whether in thoughts, words or deeds, is actually righteous. But thanks be to God “… (He) so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). In His grace toward us God has given us His Son to be punished in our place and in His same grace He has decreed that the faith of those who believe in Him and His Word of promise of the Holy Seed, Jesus, is righteousness. God in His grace has declared the believer in Jesus to be righteous and an heir of eternal life! No one can contravene His judgment.
All of us believers, the bad along with the good, can only say, “Praise be to our good and gracious LORD God! Amen!”