The God who defends willful sinners

5 min read

Genesis 12:1, now the Lord said to Abram. Who is this Abram? Let me tell you. He is the firstborn of Terah. The family is from Ur and they are idol worshippers. His family has family idols. They pay homage and offer sacrifices to these idols. Every family has one or more idols. The Lord, Yahweh, speaks to this idolater. We have to take a pit stop and address this.  

The Christian faith is notorious for showcasing instances where God spoke to and spoke with people of dubious character. Murderers, liars, adulterers, thieves, schemers, fearmongers, doubters and the like. A good Christian shouts, God is holy, God is righteous. God only deals with people who are righteous and holy as he is. I ask, then please explain how he spoke to Abram and idolater. He spoke to Cain after he had killed his brother and promised to protect him. The good Christian fumbles and look for the exit sign. God speaks to sinners. This is a shocking truth even to me who believes the gospel of grace. I know I’m a sinner. Fact. But that God speaks to me, that’s just not right. 

Bible stories and characters dispel my “that’s just not right”. In instance after instance, God speaks to sinners. He argues, convinces, persuades and sends sinners to do his bidding. If you follow the political and religious news cycle, you know that in America they liken Donald Trump to a biblical figure named Cyrus. Cyrus was a Persian king, an ungodly man who allowed Jews to go back and settle in their land. So yes, God used Cyrus to help the Jewish people. 

It will surprise you how most Christians don’t believe this truth. They read the Bible and see all these characters and assume these were good people. No, they weren’t. God speaks to sinners because sinners are all he has. There is none righteous, no not one. (Romans 3:10)

This Abram goes to Egypt because of a famine. He is scared. He knows the Egyptians will kill him to get his beautiful wife. He hatches a plan. Hey Sarai, please tell the king you are my sister. Which she does. His wife Sarai plays long. She is part of the program. In Egypt, the king buys his story and lavishes Abram with gifts—sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys and camels. Abram and Sarai, co-conspirators are having a good time.

Suddenly, God sends plagues to Pharaoh and his family. His family falls sick. He summons his magicians and they discover Abram and Sarai lied to him. The co-conspirators are summoned to the palace courts. Pharaoh is livid. He questions Abram. “What have you done to me?” he demands. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ and allow me to take her as my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and get out of here!” Genesis 12:18-19 (NLT) 

See what happened here? God defended two willful sinners. God defended two co-conspirators, two people who willfully engaged in sin. Again, this is shocking even to me. God should have held them accountable for their lying and rightfully so. God hates liars. Do not lie is on the list of the Big Ten. Why does he punish the Egyptians? Very unfair. Yes, very unfair, I concede.

Study Abram’s life before he got to Egypt to understand why God defended him and his wife, these two willful sinners. 

When Abram was in Shechem, God promised to give Shechem to his kids. Genesis 12:7. On hearing this promise, Abram built there an altar to the Lord. He then moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and set up his tent. And there he built an altar to the Lord and prayed.

The altar? What is this? The altar was a few stones put together. They laid wood and sticks on top. A fire was lit, and they laid a slaughtered animal on the altar and burnt it to ashes. Abram set up two of these. They offered these sacrifices to an immortal, in this case, God. The animal was considered innocent. When the fire burnt the animal, its innocence in the form of smoke would reach the immortal and the immortal would accept the sinful mortal. The person offering the sacrifice was stating his reliance on the innocent animal. I am a sinner, they would say, please accept the innocent animal on my behalf. Let there be an exchange of the animal’s innocence and my sin. 

This is the gospel of grace. 

In Bible typology this altar is the cross, the fire is God’s judgment against our sin and the slaughtered innocent animal is Jesus. Abram’s life was a life of the gospel of grace. He solely depended on Jesus’ righteousness on his behalf. 

Could this be why God defended this willful sinner? What else could be the reason? Was Abram a morally good person? Not as far as this incident in Egypt and later in Philistine. He was a liar. His wife, a liar too. Yet, God fights for and defends him and even blesses him in the act. Okay, not him, Pharaoh gave him stuff. 

If you are a moral person, you might say and rightfully so Abram should have returned the stuff he got. He was wrong to walk away with the stuff. The Bible authors give as the exact information we need—no more, no less. What we know from this story is God defended Abram and Sarai. God defended two willful sinners.

If Abram was under the blood of bulls and goats, how much more you? Like for real. Think about it. If you are a Christian, you are under the blood of God’s own son. His sacrifice on the cross for you. You depend, I hope, not on your own good works but on Jesus’ work on the cross for you. You also sin. You lie, cheat, steal, exaggerate, misrepresent, and do all manner of bad things. Why then do you think God will not defend you if he defended Abram and his wife? C’mon.

The obvious objection comes up. Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Romans 6:1 (NLT). Of course not, Paul thunders back. But when you sin, which you will, please expect to receive God’s wonderful grace, Paul softly answers. Actually, all sin is willful, he ends. 

If Abram lived a life of incongruence with God’s holiness and yet God fought for him, is it possible the same could happen to us? Us who solely rely on Jesus and his work on the cross for us? Us who believe the gospel of grace?

Could it be true? Abram and Sarai shout back, YES IT IS! Christian, if it’s true, which it is, go live your life with such joy and freedom. Go enjoy your life. Live a life of beauty and hope. Laugh. Sing. Love. Be free. God defends willful sinners. Counterintuitive? absolutely.

That’s what grace looks like.

Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash