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23. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness

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And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:4~6)

Genesis chapter 15, verse 6 says, And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. God saw that Abraham believed in Him and He called it “righteousness”. Faith is righteousness. In this sermon, I would like to answer the question, “Then how am I to believe that my faith becomes righteousness?” Spiritual life is not you going to heaven through your becoming good or righteous. Although you are filthy and evil, you become good if you accept the goodness of Jesus and make it your own. Then you become a good person. Although you are dirty, you are a justified, righteous person if you accept the righteousness of Jesus as your own. In this way, spiritual life is not you becoming righteous through living righteously, but becoming righteous through faith. Becoming righteous by faith does not mean becoming righteous through your doing righteous deeds. It is talking about receiving the righteousness Jesus has given you by faith. People who do not know what spiritual life is try to keep the law, do good deeds, and strain not to commit sins in order to become righteous. But that is absolutely impossible because man can never be good. It seems that man is good in some aspects, but deep inside, there is no good in man whatsoever. Thus, bringing forth good things outwardly, while inwardly, you are dirty by nature, is false goodness. It’s not true goodness. People have a heart of hatred in them while saying with their mouths, “How are you doing? I love you.” This is not love; it is lying. Scheming to do good deeds while you have an evil heart is deceit.

Faith Is Obtained When Going Beyond Your Thoughts

In the last sermon we spoke about Lot. God was unable to bless Abraham when Lot was with him. God blessed Abraham after Lot left. Then a war broke out in the peaceful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as soon as Lot moved there. And ultimately, we see that those cities meet a tragic fate of being destroyed with fire and sulfur. Lot represents the flesh which is the heart to believe in yourself. You receive the blessing of God when the heart to believe in yourself departs from you. On the other hand, when the heart to believe and exalt yourself enters you, you become cursed. If so, why does one become cursed when he believes in himself? The Bible tells us in detail about this. There are many stories in the Bible in which the works of God arise. One example was when Jesus went to a wedding in Cana of Galilee and the house was in need of wine. Jesus told the servants of that house to fill empty water pots with water. When the servants filled the water pots, He said, “Serve now to the governor of the feast.” The servants could not understand this. “We are supposed to serve wine to the governor of the feast. Surely it is water that we filled these water pots with.” “Jesus, we cannot serve this, can we? This is water, not wine.” This was their thought. Thus, serving it when it was evident that it was water filling the water pots was only possible for people who have had their thoughts thrown away. People who believe in their thoughts think, “This is water,” and are unable to serve it. One day Jesus met the man who had an infirmity for 38 years at the pool of Bethesda. This man had been ill for 38 years and was lying next to the pool with a body that could not move on its own and without family or relatives. Jesus asked him a question. “Wilt thou be made whole?” “Lord, there is no man to put me in to the water when it is troubled, and while I am coming, another steps in before me.” Right then Jesus said, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” Upon hearing this, how do you think the thoughts of this man’s heart reacted? “Please, Jesus, don’t make me laugh. Would I be crazy to be lying here when I could walk? Nice joke. It would be great if I could do that. But I cannot walk. My legs are withered like wooden logs. I’ve tried so many times to move. It is impossible!” Those were his own thoughts. People who believe in their own thoughts can never accept the Word of God by faith. The man with the infirmity for 38 years was able to rise, take up his bed, and walk because he denied his thoughts and accepted the words of Jesus by faith.

The Word of God Gives Rise to Faith

Such works occurred in Abraham’s life as well. Abraham was old and aged. He was 99 years old, and it seemed that there was no way he could have a son. But right then, God appeared to Abraham and said, “Your wife Sarah shall have a son.” Abraham laughed. “How can a person one hundred years old have a child? Sarah is ninety.” Then he said to God, “I would that Ishmael may live before you.” That was Abraham’s thought. God once again said, “No, your wife Sarah will surely have a son. You shall call him Isaac.” Abraham heard these words and said, “I have once again spoken from believing in my thoughts. What is impossible if God does it?” So he threw his thoughts away, saying, “Yes, God, I believe you will give me a son.” God then worked in Sarah. “Where is your wife Sarah?” “She is in the tent.” “At this appointed time, Sarah shall have a son.”

Sarah laughed when she heard this. “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” She expressed her own thoughts just as Abraham had. “I am old and it has ceased to be with me after the manner of women. How can I have a son? That’s nonsense!” But God rebuked her, and asked, “Sarah, why did you laugh?” Sarah panicked and said that she did not laugh. But when God said, “You did laugh,” Sarah’s thoughts to believe in herself crumbled, as it had done for Abraham. Then she accepted the Word of God. “That’s right. So what if I am old and it has ceased to be with me after the manner of women? If God gives me a son, then I shall have one. What can stop that?” In Romans, it says, Who against hope believed in hope… And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” (Romans 4:18-19) Abraham was not this way to begin with. He first believed in himself. But he gained faith in his heart as he calmly listened to the Word of God. “That’s right. It seems impossible in my eyes, but what is impossible if God does it?” and he accepted the Word. Hebrews chapter 11, verse 11 says, Through faith Sara herself received strength to conceive seed. Sarah had gained faith just like Abraham.

Your Thoughts or the Word of God: Which One Will You Choose?

People do not know about faith very well and think that going to church to attend services, praying, reading the Bible, giving offerings, and keeping the law and living honestly is what believing in God is. But those are just actions, not faith. People, when having to actually believe the Word of God, hold their own thoughts at the bottom of their hearts and say, “I will accept these words because I like them.” Or they say, “That makes no sense,” and refuse the Word. Many people today say that the Bible is not the Word of God. They say there are many parts of the Bible that lack validity. “How can you feed five thousand people with five barley loaves? How can a person walk on the sea? How can a virgin give birth?” Such words come from the lips of a person who trusts his own thoughts more than the Word of God. Someone who believes in his thoughts, knowledge, and experiences more than the Word of God can become an outward churchgoer, but cannot enter the true world of faith. When people hear something and they understand it and feel that it is valid, they believe it. They believe such things even if it is a beggar on the street or a con man saying it. But if they feel that something is not valid and they cannot understand it, they do not believe it regardless of who said it. That is not believing in the speaker but in yourself. True faith is wholly accepting the words of the person who is speaking them, not because it is understandable to you, but because it is from someone trustworthy. Thus, it is impossible to have the faith to believe in God with the heart to believe in yourself still in the background. The story of Abraham being blessed upon Lot’s departure is exactly about this. You must deny and throw all of your thoughts away. You must say, “It looks like this in my eyes, but what does God say?” “I’m the closest thing to being dead, but if God says that I will conceive a child, then I shall!” That is faith. Every person hesitates before entering into this boundary of faith. In other words, people do not deny themselves. Jesus said, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself . . . , (Matthew 16:24) which was telling us to deny ourselves. People who travel in the desert see mirages. Although a mirage may appear to be an oasis, the guide says that it is a mirage and tells the people not to go there. If there is no difference between what you see and what the guide sees when traveling through the desert, there is no need for a guide. You need a guide when there is a difference, and following the guide in those times of difference is believing in the guide. This is also true when walking the path of life which is like a desert. There is no problem when your thoughts do not differ from the thoughts of Jesus. But when they do differ, which one will you select? This is what faith is all about. If you select your thoughts, that is believing in yourself. But if you throw your thoughts away and follow the words of Jesus, that is believing in Jesus. God said to Abraham, “I am your exceeding great reward.” “What will you give me? You have given me no seed, and Eleazar whom I have gotten from Damascus shall be my heir.” “He will not be your heir. One from your body shall be your heir.” Then God led Abraham outside and had him look to the stars in the sky. “See if you can count the stars in the sky. So shall thy seed be.” Abraham believed in God who said this to him. “God will make my descendents like the stars in the sky!” Abraham had no son in his own eyes, and he thought that he should make Eleazar, whom he brought from Damascus, his heir. But he heard the Word of God, threw his thoughts away, and selected the Word of God.

Are You at Romans Chapter 3, Verse 23 or Verse 24?

This is also true with receiving the forgiveness of sin. Romans chapter 3, verse 23 says, For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, which is saying that all people have sinned. But verse 24 says, Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Surely it was we who sinned, but Jesus paid the price for our sin and made us clean. We have lied, hated, committed adultery, murdered, and committed many other terrible sins. It is not that we have not sinned, but Jesus received the punishment for all the sins we committed on the cross and redeemed us. In other words, He was punished for all of our past, present, and future sins, and He washed them all away and left nothing remaining. That is why He saw us and called us righteous. “You do not have sin! You are righteous! You are clean!” All of you probably have sinned. There is no difference between sins, but it seems that some sins you can kind of ignore while other sins bring much guilt to your conscience. “I committed such a terrible sin!” Such heavy sins continually accuse your conscience and then you feel extremely guilty. I know a person who works at the Red Cross Blood Bank, and he told me that by mistake, he once transfused type B blood to a patient who was blood type A. The patient was receiving the blood when all of a sudden he went into shock. They stopped the transfusion to see what was wrong, and saw that it was the wrong blood type. They immediately switched to the right blood and the patient did not die, but he suffered lots of damage. This man could not be freed from the guilt of his conscience that came about from this incident. “My mistake almost killed a patient, and I have caused this man’s health to fail!” He never told the patient that this had happened. But after this patient was released from the hospital, every month he would go to the grocery store and buy lots of groceries with his paycheck, and deliver them to this person’s home. He met with me one day, and spoke about this. He said how difficult it was for him to say that he is not a sinner when he had this guilt. If you raped a woman, causing her to be in pain and she became mentally ill, making her live a pitiful life and unable to marry, would you not feel tremendous guilt? “I’m a crazy bastard! I deserve to die! How dirty I am! I completely ruined that woman’s life!” There are many people who live in such guilt. The shapes of sin differ and people do not show it, but everyone has sin and feels, “I am a terrible person. I am so dirty,” and has guilt in their hearts. When I tell such people, “Jesus washed your sins away and you are righteous,” they say, “Jesus died for my sins and they are washed, but I am a sinner,” and follow their own thoughts. That is why people’s hearts do not become freed from sin, although they have the knowledge that Jesus forgave our sins on the cross. They are not freed from guilt and dwell in sin.

Believe the Word!

The Bible says, And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. Regardless of how it appears in your eyes, you must empty all of your thoughts before the Word of God. Although it was water that was filling the water pots, when Jesus says, “It is wine. Go serve it,” then you must say, “God’s words are more correct than my thoughts,” and serve it. This is faith. When Jesus said to the man with the infirmity for 38 years, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk,” saying, “I cannot walk, but I will be able to walk for you are telling me to walk,” is faith. Receiving the forgiveness of sin is also not through your thoughts being consistent with the thoughts of Jesus. In your thoughts, surely you are a sinner. In my thoughts, I too, have committed many sins that cause me grief and cause me to feel much guilt in my conscience. Surely we are dirty and evil human beings. But the Bible says that we are righteous through the grace of God and through the redemption in Jesus Christ. “I am an evil human worthy of being cursed, but God has called me righteous. Are my thoughts right? Or is the Word right? The Word must be right. Then I am righteous! I am clean!” In this manner, not believing your thoughts and believing the Word of God is true faith. Many people today do not know the Bible deeply, and they believe in their own thoughts. They think that they are sinners if they feel that they are sinners, and they think that they are honest if they feel they are honest. I threw those kinds of thoughts away a long time ago. Whatever the Bible says, that is what I decided to believe in. Loving folks, when God calls you righteous, regardless of your personal thoughts, say, “Yes, I believe it. Thank you,” and believe that you are righteous. Throwing away the many thoughts that arise in you and believing the Word of God is true faith. Abraham, the father of faith, also had many sins and blemishes, but he gained righteousness through having this faith.

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