Recently, while preparing to preach on Romans 4 at Christ Church Mansfield, I came to this verse and had a new found sense of awe and wonder at the gospel:
“Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:3b (quoting Genesis 15:6)
This word, “counted” (or in the NIV, “credited”) is a financial term, used in accounting. It means to calculate, sum up, to “do the math” and see what’s there.
If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another. Just think about the way bank overdraft fees work. You over spent and under saved, and now you have a DEBIT or OVERDRAFT to your account. But in the event that you receive more money, your account receives SUFFICIENT funds status and is “in the black”, or “right” again. But if it’s the bank that gives it to you, it’s a CREDIT to your account.
To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.
But that doesn’t necessarily resonate with me. I’m not an accountant, and while I appreciate receiving into my bank account, there was another way of thinking about this that struck me as more significant.
Let me explain.
As a parent I have the wonderful privilege of receiving all kinds of “art” projects form my children. The one’s that are especially meaningful are the ones where my children try to depict our family, or me in particular.
Now if you were to come over and look at our refrigerator and all you see are a bunch of explosions of crayons, markers, and glitter glue, you would say, “Uh, that’s interesting.”
But to me, that fridge is the Kimball Art Museum and those are masterpieces of beauty!
You see a wreck; I see a work of art.
Why? Why hasn’t “family art projects” become an installation somewhere in the world?
Because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
To you, they’re a mess.
But to the father, they’re credited to the child as Masterpiece.
And this is a picture of the gospel.
If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another. To “credit” something is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.
Just like Abraham, we, in faith, receive from God the Father not merely forgiveness, but righteousness and justification — the state and process of being “good” and “in the right” again. Not because we are so special, but because He is.
It is because of His sheer act and work of grace that we are brought into the family of God.
Our mess becomes a Masterpiece in His eyes and His hands alone. This is the essence of grace, and like the man sang:
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. – Bono
Or before U2, there was this:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
– Psalm 51:7-12 (ESV)
“Grace” by U2 (unofficial video)