Righteousness By Faith

Faith and hope of the kind Abraham had that was counted to him as righteousness isn’t real unless it changes us and our outlook on the world and becomes the driving force of our lives.

Abraham believed God, and God “reckoned” that faith to Abraham as righteousness.[1] When God told Abraham to look at the stars and said to Abraham that he would bear offspring and have descendants like the stars in the sky, Abraham believed God.  What does that really mean?

We get a bit of a clue by looking at the Hebrew word translated “believe”: āman. It means to confirm (support), as when putting confidence in something that is supported (trustworthy).[2] The Hebrew suggests that Abraham confirmed, affirmed, supported, or had confidence in what God was telling him.

But there is more to it than that. The word, āman, as used in this passage, is in the hiphil form. The hiphil form suggests an act of intentional interaction with a subject.

This suggests Abraham didn’t just stare at the stars, daydreaming. He consciously and intentionally engaged with God and what God was saying to him. He affirmatively confirmed, supported and put his confidence in what God was saying to him in some interactive way.

Faith/belief is a key concept and critical characteristic of the follower of Christ. Abraham is held up as the prime example of faith. Abraham is the father of faith.[3]

Paul says that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”[4] This active faith, trust and confidence in God that Abraham demonstrated is what God “counted to him as righteousness”.[5] Faith is interactive trust.

This same faith, Paul says, will also be counted to those of us as righteousness who “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”[6]

In one sense, Abraham didn’t do anything to earn God’s favor but believe God, and God attributed righteousness to him in return. Such a simple thing! On the other hand, Abraham’s faith was not just intellectual ascent; he lived his life in the light of that faith.

And that is what we must do to be counted as righteous in God’s sight today – to believe in the one God sent to us, Jesus Christ, who suffered, died and was buried for us, and who has risen from the dead establishing the promise of God to us that we will be risen to in newness of life. If we truly believe this is true, it will become the pivotal point, the centerpiece and the hope of our lives.

This seems so very simple that we are tempted to think we need to do more. We are tempted to think we must do more to be counted as righteous. It isn’t quite so simple as we suspect, but we have to keep our eyes on what is important.

Consider Abraham, who was old when his faith was counted to him as righteousness. His body was getting frail. He and Sarah were past the age when they could reasonably expect to bear children, yet they held onto God’s promise to give them descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Holding on to belief, holding on to hope and expectation, under circumstances was, perhaps, not so simple as it seems. Abraham needed to let go of the trust he had in his own knowledge and his own experience and take hold of faith in what God could do.

By doing this, and by affirming, confirming and embracing the hope of the promise he was given, Abraham entered into right relationship with God. It wasn’t anything Abraham did, per se, that made him right(eous); it was Abraham’s willingness to embrace God and God’s promise that brought Abraham into this right(eous) relationship with God.

Faith and hope of the kind Abraham had that was counted to him as righteousness isn’t real unless it changes us and our outlook on the world and becomes the driving force of our lives.

Sometimes the reality of that faith and hope is expressed in outward action. We have a tendency to confuse this outward action with the inward faith, and this is where we go wrong.

God gave Abraham the instruction to be circumcised as a sign of his faith, as a way to express that faith. Circumcision is not the thing that brought Abraham into relationship with God. Faith is what brought Abraham into relationship with God.

The Jews in Paul’s day, however, tended to look at circumcision as the test for whether one was right with God. That focus on the outward action, however, missed the point.

Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness while he was yet uncircumcised.[7] The promise to Abraham and his offspring doesn’t come through the law (being circumcised) but through “the righteousness of faith”.[8]

Faith is not just believing; faith involves trusting and entrusting oneself to God. Anyone can believe in God and not have faith. Faith understands that God desires a personal relationship with us. God does not desire to be like a contractor, employer, or master; He desires to be like a father to us.

The Jews came to view their relationship to God only in terms of the law. Instead of seeing the law as a medium for relationship with God or as an expression of that relationship, they viewed the law as an end in itself. In fact God said that even though the Jews followed the law and observed their festivals and their rituals, they were far from him in their hearts.[9]

God is not interested in our outward displays of piety. He desires us to draw near to Him in our hearts. We can do this through expressions of worship and ritual and law, but worship, ritual and law do not earn us any favor with God. They are simply a medium through which we can express our love for Him and relationship to him.

The real essence of that relationship with God is accessed only by faith, only by trusting Him and entrusting ourselves to Him. Faith, in its simplest form, is merely acknowledging God for who God is and acknowledging ourselves for who we are in relationship to Him. Faith is believing that God is loving toward us, that He desires what is good for us and will keep the promises He has made to us.

I recently had a discussion with a woman who said she wasn’t sure that she could believe in God because of difficulties that had happened in her life, including the deaths of close loved ones. The difficulty she had believing in God is a typical one, but it isn’t based on any doubt whether God exists. It is based on doubt whether God is loving toward us.

If you think about it though, God is God regardless of whether we trust him or not. Our distrust our efforts to take charge of our own lives do not change God if God exists.

The good news of the Scripture and the good news that Jesus introduced to the world is to affirm that God is loving and He desires a relationship with us. In spite of all the bad things that happen, God is still God, and He still loves us.

It may not seem like it sometimes from our perspective, but our perspective is finite. God’s perspective is infinite. He has expressed His love for us in the promises He gave Abraham and in the example of Jesus.

Jesus was God in the flesh, emptied of all of His glory.[10] Jesus was fully God[11], and he was fully man. In Jesus, God experienced all that we experience, and He submitted Himself to His own requirements which included dying on a cross. He did this to satisfy justice so that He could offer us grace. He satisfied the demands of justice so that He could extend grace to us who believe in Him, believe in Christ.

This is the promise God made dating all the way back to Abraham – that He would not count our sins against us; that He would count our faith in His promise to us as righteousness.[12] But, to all who trust not in the promise that comes by faith, and to all who choose to trust in their own ability to earn their way into a position of righteousness by our own efforts, this promise is of no use.

We can either have what we are able to earn, or we can have what God is willing to give us. [13] We can’t have both. The propositions are mutually exclusive.

We also have the choice to live for what this world can offer or to live for what God has promised. God offers us something far greater than the comfort, pleasure and security we can achieve in this life. He offers us something infinite, and not merely something finite.

What we lose in this world we cannot gain back in this world, but that loss points us to something greater. If we did not experience loss in this world, we might be strongly tempted to seek only what this finite world has to offer. Our faith prompts us to reject what the world has to offer and to embrace what God promises us.


[1] Genesis 15:6

[2] For analysis of the Scripture I use the Discovery Bible which contains a built in concordance and dictionary of the Hebrew and Greek words, identifies the emphasis and other nuances found in the original languages that are lost in the English translations and many other useful tools for understanding Scripture in its deepest and fullest meaning.

[3] Romans 4:16

[4] Romans 4:21

[5] Romans 4:22 (quoting Genesis 15:6)

[6] Romans 4:24-25

[7] Romans 4:9-11 (“faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”)

[8] Romans 4:13 (“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”)

[9] Isaiah 29:13 (“this people draw near with their mouth     and honor me with their lips,     while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men”); and Matthew 15:8 (where Jesus quotes Isaiah in reference to the religious leaders he was addressing).

[10] Philippians 2:6-8 (“though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”)

[11] Colossians 1:19; and 2:9)

[12] See Romans 5:1-11

[13] Romans 4:4-5 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness….”

2 thoughts on “Righteousness By Faith

  1. Concerning the woman who said she wasn’t sure that she could believe in God because of difficulties that had happened in her life, was your “God is still God, and He still loves us” response satisfying to her? Did it make her suddenly want to believe in God?


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