I am not arguing, today at least, for future justification in the theological sense recounted by various proponents of the NPP. I am, however, arguing that justification in the Scriptures does have both eyes on the future. Anyone who has ever read Paul knows that Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). But what is it that Abraham believed? What was the promise upon which his faith hinged? If we are to take the argument of Paul (and Genesis) seriously we are left with a short list of possibilities. So short, in fact, that there is only one promise on it: “So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5).
Naturally, this raises another question, “Just how shall his descendants be?” Thankfully, the promise comes stocked with a picture: “Look toward the heavens and recount the stars, if you are able to recount them” (v. 5). Survey the heavens. See their number. See their narrative. This is the promise of God.
The plain sense of the text leads us to a rather obvious conclusion. There is a correspondence between the multiplicity of the stars in the heavens and Abraham’s seed. If we take this seriously we have to wonder whether those who insist most vociferously on justification by faith really believe what Abraham believed. Do they believe that the seed of Abraham will be easily tabulated on the last day? Or do they believe, as Abraham obviously did, that counting will be a useless gesture when his sons go marching in? If they don’t believe the latter how can they be said to share the faith of Abraham? Theirs is, quite literally, an unjustified belief. It is very ironic that many who defend justification by faith have trouble believing the very promise which justified their father Abraham—whose seed they are!
But the divine promise is more than a simple numbers game. The Hebrew verb saphar can mean “count” but more commonly refers to narrating, recounting, or recording. It carries with it the idea of telling a story. It forms the root of the word for “book” and for “scribe” Abraham is counting and recounting; numbering the stars and narrating the story which they tell. A story in which a child of promise will contain the hope of the world. A story in which his Seed is the one and the many. His promise is one of astronomical progress. He is supposed to reflect on the constellations and believe that his descendants will be like that—like Orion guarding the Pleiades from the Scorpion that pursues him. His Seed—the countless One—is the Savior of the heavens and the earth.
Abraham is justified by faith; a postmillennial faith, a faith predicated on eschatological victory.