I love semantics. As a writer, verbal sparring often leaves me gasping for breath, but, give me a paper and a pen (and a dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopaedia) and I’ll bury you in etymology.
Recently, I was sidetracked from an entire morning of Bible study by the tiny little word, “in”, and more accurately, its absence.
Genesis 15:6 says, “ And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
Principally, when we’re discussing imputed righteousness with other Christians or the tenants of the Christian faith with an unbeliever, we say, “You must believe in Jesus Christ.” That’s not entirely wrong, but I wonder if it doesn’t leave out an integral aspect of the Gospel.
In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard wonders if, “… we have a gospel for death and social activism but not for life.”
In His time on earth, Jesus didn’t just talk about eternal life, but abundant life and complete joy. (John 10:10, John 15:11) And which one of us hasn’t envied Abraham or Moses, even a little bit, for the face-to-face, by name, friendship they had with God? But, by and large, the modern Christian pins their hope on a futuristic heaven, even “pie in the sky” imagery that really doesn’t translate well into daily life. In fact, those behind the pulpit spend more time reminding their flock that, “The best is yet to come,” and “In this life you will have suffering,” and “The world is going to hell in a hand-basket,” imposing a “grin and bear it” attitude.
Now, lest we detour from Scripture, let me state my absolute conviction that that there is an after life, Christ has gone to prepare a place for us, in this life we will have suffering (but take heart, Christ has overcome the world) and one day, our Father will wipe every tear from our eyes, even as we see Him as He is.
But, on this side of the cross, shouldn’t our experience and awareness of the God who is our Father and Saviour be even more palpable than that of Moses and Abraham? Now that, as Jesus told us, He lives inside of each believer, shouldn’t we feel His friendship—at least as well as Abraham and Moses did? He has walked side-by-side with men since the Garden of Eden! I mean, this God, our God, has the dust of our streets on His feet!
A.W. Tozer said, “Jesus lived in an eating, drinking, sleeping body for 33 years and never once performed a non-sacred act.” (Pursuing God)
Jesus made this planet His home. God came down and dwelt among us in human flesh and He did not leave. Though the physical body of Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of God the Father, we delude ourselves if we think and act as if He does not dwell among us now with as much reality as He did in the New Testament.
So what does this have to do with the two-letter word I mentioned in the beginning of this article? Glance back with me to the story unfolding just before Genesis 15:6:
Abraham and God were having a conversation. Now, remember, Abraham was the very first Hebrew. He was from Chaldea and had no “leg up” on anyone else regarding an awareness of God or a relationship to Him. There was no Law, no sacrifices or system of merit that gave Abraham any favor with God. No, he was simply the man God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to speak to first. God told Abraham that He had decided to bless him and to make him a mighty nation—from his own, biological descendants. That seemed impossible; Abraham and his wife were already extremely old and Sarai was barren. But God led Abraham outside, pointed to the stars and said, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)
The very next line: “Abraham believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness.”
What did Abraham believe? To this point in human history, there was no prophecy of a Messiah. God did not let Abraham in on His plan of salvation and instruct him to believe in Jesus Christ. No, the Bible simply says, “Abraham believed God.”
Abraham believed that God would indeed give him a male heir, and that God would indeed make him a mighty nation, and that God would indeed be his shield and very great reward (Genesis 15:1)
In the New Testament, we learn the repercussion of Abraham believing God. James 2:23:
“ … and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God.”
To bring this closer to home think of your current, human relationships. Do you merely believe that your spouse exists? Do you simply believe “in” your neighbour, daughter, co-worker or best friend? Of course not! If that were the case, they might be no more real than Santa Claus whom many children believe “in” and learn later was only their imagination.
To establish relationship and friendship, there must be trust. When you believe someone, when you place stock in their word, you express confidence not only in their validity but in their character. If I merely believe “in” my husband, there’s not much to build a marriage upon. In fact, most people with access to the internet believe that Patrick Kelly exists.
But, when I believe him—the things he says and promises—I am investing in the relationship. I can believe “in” someone based on someone else’s word, but I can only believe someone by trusting them—in and of themselves.
And this is where we find the key to Abraham’s friendship with God—the frequently missing element in the modern Christian’s life. It’s almost easy, anymore, to believe in God, and particularly easy to believe in “a” god. That leads to difficulty in defining the Christian from other god-followers.
Many believe in “a” God, but only those who follow Jesus Christ believe in God Himself and can be called His friend.
By Abby Kelly
Abby is a Christian writer on all topics relating to the Christian faith. One of her passions is encouraging women dealing with body image and eating issues, as she found freedom from her eating disorder by the grace of Jesus Christ. Her blog, Predatory-Lies, has a strong following. Abby maintains a YouTube video series to complement her first book, “The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story”. Abby is the senior editor of the online component of My Daily Armor – a monthly Christian periodical designed to encourage Christians in their walk with God.