Melchizedek, the prophet/priest/king of Salem (later Jerusalem), represents the order of faith that transcends the Law. Moses makes it clear to the Israelites that the Law does not determine their faith or righteousness before God. Being the people of God was never about keeping a Law. It was always about God’s faithfulness. Abram is blessed by God, most high, not because of who he is but because God chose him and brought him out of Ur (Genesis 15:7). So it is that people had God prior to the Law, prior to the 10 commandments, and prior to any sort of organized religion or ritual under God. Since God does not change, this is still the basis by which we relate to God––by faith apart from the Law. The writers of the New Testament did not make up this concept. God did not suddenly change His ways. This is how things have always been. So, I want to talk with you about what it means to be righteous—that is, in right standing (moral and otherwise) before God.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:1-6).
God’s favor is obviously upon Abram. Abram is becoming aware of God’s goodness even though he had nothing to offer. After his negotiations with Melchizedek, God visits Abram in a vision. He tells Abram not to fear. God pledges Himself to Abram as a shield and tells him that his reward will be very great. Of course, if I was Abram, I would be wondering what I had done to merit any kind of reward. That’s the catch, Abram has done nothing to merit, or earn, any kind of reward from God. Yet, God promises a reward to Abram. That is the definition of grace, unmerited favor. That’s what we are talking about here, unmerited favor.
Abram questions God, wondering what kind of reward he can possibly receive since he does not have a biological heir. At this point, everything he has will be given to another family upon his passing from the earth. But, God decrees that Abram will have a biological heir. Not only will Abram have an heir, but his descendants will be uncountable like the stars. Notice that the text does not tell us that Abram will have as many descendants as there are stars. It tells us that they will bear a certain quality in common with the stars–they will be uncountable by people. 4-5,000 years later, Abram still has descendants being born in Israel, among the Israelites who have been scattered, and among the Muslim nations (descendants of Ishmael). God has kept His promise, even through Abram’s illegitimate son.
Now, we see an amazing statement. Abram believes God. Can the faith really be that simple? Abram was previously an idolater. He questioned God. God was gracious enough to answer Abram, promising great things even though Abram could not have possibly merited them. Abram simply believes God. What’s more, Abram’s belief is reckoned, or credited, to him as righteousness. We could very easily dig ourselves into a sand-trap, here, by going into the particulars of imputed righteousness versus endowed righteousness. Suffice it to say, I believe the text is getting at imputed righteousness, and I’ll be glad to talk with anyone interested about what that means versus endowed righteousness. Here, we receive an essential doctrine for both Jewish and Christian faiths. It is essential to our soteriology. What is necessary for us to be considered righteous before God? We receive an answer before the Law is even written. Moses writes this first on purpose. We simply need to believe God.
“Wait,” says the critic, “do not the demons also believe and shudder? Isn’t there more that must be required of us?” Let’s look at James 2:19 together:
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and tremble (James 2:19).
Please do not misread the text in an effort to add human requirements to salvation. James argues overall that sound faith leads us to do good works, not that good works bring about sound faith. Further, the verse appropriated by the critic tells us that the demons also believe God is one—they hold to a monotheistic viewpoint of God. This is a theological head knowledge. It is different from Abram’s simple belief in the promise of God—a relational belief. Let’s look at how the New Testament handles Abram’s’ belief:
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:3-5).
So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer (Galatians 3:5-9).
You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:22-24).
In order for Abram to believe God’s promise, what must first happen? The promise must first be made. The New Testament consistently puts salvation in that order. If you do religious work in this life, you will earn the wages of your own work. Sadly, no one can do enough to earn righteousness. That is why the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Since God is the one who justifies us, simple belief in His promise of salvation is the only necessary act on our part; It is an act we call repentance (or changing one’s mind from self to God). Even James, the letter about works, places faith prior to works and tells us that by works our faith is perfected. Before something can be perfected, it must already be present. So, we are also introduced to the doctrine of sanctification. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Sanctification is through works with our faith. The result is the fullness of justification for our lives.
God promised Abram that all nations would be blessed through him and his descendants. Abraham will have a son, Isaac, who has a son, Jacob, who becomes Israel. Israel will have sons who become the twelve tribes of Israel. Israel will go through much on the earth and ten tribes will be lost. The remaining tribes will be known as Jews. Jesus will be born a Jew and win salvation for His people among all nations on the earth, thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abram. God makes a promise in Jesus Christ, who is a prophet, priest, and king in the order of Melchizedek:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:14-18).
Jesus was lifted up on the cross as the perfect atonement for our sin. We can discuss the order of salvation all day, but look at Jesus’s words here. Whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. That’s it, belief—just like Abram. If we believe in the promise of the cross, something demons do not believe in, we will be credited the same righteousness that Abram was; we will have eternal life. There is nothing about a sinner’s prayer. There is nothing about walking an aisle. There is nothing about baptism. There is nothing about head or theological knowledge at all. Look at what the text says—Believe in the promise of Christ on Calvary. That’s it. God can certainly use a prayer or a pilgrimage to the alter. Baptism is an act of obedience that follows salvation. It is he who believes in Christ who is not judged. Did you catch that? Some people claim that you will still be judged by your works even though you are in Christ. Jesus teaches that those who believe in Him will not be judged, period. What a great promise from the good, good Father!
Do you believe in the promise of God in Jesus Christ? If you really believe in the promise, you have been reckoned righteousness just like Abram. You are what we have come to call “saved.” You have eternal life. Now, since faith without works is dead, walk in the faith. Gather with the church of Jesus Christ. Praise and give voluntarily like Abram did through Melchizedek. Be generous. Serve the Lord and your brothers and sisters in the faith. Be patient with people. Learn as much as you can. Consider others to be more important than yourself. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Don’t bear a pretend, hyper-spirituality. Instead, be humble. Be real. Love God, and love people. Work our the faith that has been so freely given through your belief.