Back in my North Carolinian days I once had a church ask me to come and preach on Genesis 13 and 14–the Abram and Lot story. I asked them if I could continue after 14 and preach on Genesis 15 but they declined my request.
“Why is preaching on Genesis 15 so important to you?” they asked. And I replied, “Because Abraham is saved in Genesis 15.” They disagreed. They argued that God had been working with Abraham long before Genesis 15. We went back and forth for a bit and in the end they still never let me preach on Genesis 15.
Today I want to lay out why I’m one-hundred percent biblically positive Abraham wasn’t saved until Genesis 15 and then explain its importance for proclaiming Christians today. As we talk about the Abrahamic Covenant I’m going to use the name, Abraham, throughout unless specifically quoting the text, even though God does not change Abram’s name to Abraham until Genesis 17.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” So Abram went forth as the had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12.1-7)
This sounds a lot like saved language. God made promises to Abraham. God promised to bless him (future tense). Abraham made an altar to the Lord and yet he was not saved at this time. Yes, he’s gone on a religious pilgrimage, but he isn’t saved.
In the Middle East they have a saying, “Words mean everything, and words mean nothing.” In other words, they say many things they don’t mean. You may go into a shop and ask the price of something and they will respond, “For you, it’s free.” Now, they don’t mean that but it’s considered a polite gesture and you’re still expected to pay for the item.
Likewise, if you come to our house for dinner and end up staying hours after I’ve fallen asleep to 2:30 in the morning and you finally stand up to leave, my wife, in all her southern hospitality, will say, “Don’t feel like you need to rush off.” This is just what southern ladies are expected to say, and you are not expected to take that request literally.
In the same way, when Abraham offers Lot the opportunity to choose which direction he wanted to go in Genesis 13 this was a customary formality of which Lot was never expected to take advantage. Abraham said to Lot. “You pick first,” and Lot said, “Thanks, I’ll take Sodom and Gomorrah.” At the time Sodom and Gomorrah were lush, fertile lands and Lot should have passed on them to Abraham.
So this was not Abraham’s best day. Lot left him with a rocky land that provided very little resources to take care of his family or water and food for his animals. God shows up again in Genesis 13.14-17 to remind Abraham of the promises of provision in land, lineage, and blessing to all nations.
In Genesis 14 Lot gets captured and Abraham goes in to save him. A valiant deed. Sounds like a righteous man, right?
Look what happens next,
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
He gave him a tenth of all. (Genesis 14.18-20)
This is almost a little Lord’s table before there was a Lord’s table to have. This is a sanctifying moment so to speak–it’s communion in a relative sense. After all this, how could you possibly say Abraham is not saved at this particular point? If we didn’t have Genesis 15, I would have no idea Abraham was not saved in these accounts.
Genesis 15 is the first recorded place we see Abraham answer back to God. He says in verse 2,
“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.”
At this time Abraham has fallen into an insecure moment. He’s been relatively obedient to all God has asked him to do and yet he still has no tangible confirmation of the promises made to him. God reassures him once again with a specific promise of a son that shall be given to him.
Following their interchange, look at what it says in verse 6,
And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.
Was this something necessary for God to do in order for Abraham to be righteous? Absolutely. So if this happened in Genesis 15.6 where God imputed His righteousness to Abraham then guess what? Before Genesis 15.6 God had not yet imputed His righteousness to Abraham. Prior to this point, Abraham had what we call self-righteousness.
Paul writes in Ephesians 2.3, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” Abraham was included in that “all” prior to receiving the righteousness of God.
Importance to Modern Day Christ Proclaimers
We could say that outwardly speaking, Abraham was a pretty “good” guy prior to Genesis 15. He went where God told him to and did the things God commanded of him. He gave up his right to choose land to his younger nephew Lot, and then came to heroic rescue when Lot was almost murdered. Afterward, Abraham had communion with a priest of God and was blessed.
All of the actions above would be considered good works, and yet he did not possess salvation until he received the righteousness of God. Paul confirms that Abraham didn’t do anything to deserve his salvation except for the grace of God in Romans 4.1-4:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 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 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…
If Abraham could not be saved prior to the imputed righteousness of God, neither can you. You must have this same transaction through the blood of Jesus Christ take place before you can be saved. It doesn’t matter what heroic feats you accomplish, the transaction is all that matters.
Matthew 7 contains the scariest verses in Scripture,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (v. 21-23)
Jesus is speaking of people who professed the name of the Lord–they believed themselves to be Christians–followers of Christ. But in their words it is evident they are reliant on their works for salvation. There is no mention of a transacted righteousness, only the deeds they accomplished.
Don’t be the person Christ talks about in these verses. If you have been relying on your own works for your standing as a “Christian,” you are not saved and Christ will order you to depart from His presence. If you’d like to know more about the transaction, you can check out our Gospel page here.
Dr. Greg Harris
Church: Teaching Pastor at Lake Hills Community Church
Education: B.A. Campbell University
M.A. NC Central University
M.Div Talbot Theological Seminary
Th.M Talbot Theological Seminary
Th.D Dallas Theological Seminary
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Author: The Cup and the Glory, The Darkness and the Glory, and The Stone and the Glory