Whom Does God Consider Righteous?
It’s not about trying to be good, but trusting God.
And He took him (Abram) outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
– Genesis 15:5–6
Now Abraham and Sarah lived in Canaan for a long time, but they remained childless. Again, God spoke to him saying that his descendants would be like the stars of the heavens...too many to count. Abraham believed God, and God counted his faith as righteousness.
– The HOPE, Chapter 5
Observe & Consider
In the previous lesson, we saw how Abraham responded in faith to God’s calling and promise. God called Abraham to leave his home and journey to an unknown land and promised that He would make Abraham the father of a great nation. Today’s lesson looks at Abraham several years after that initial step of faith, and still Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were childless! Again God speaks to Abraham, promising that his descendants would be like the stars–too many to count (Genesis 15:5). Abraham had no evidence that he would have even one child, let alone a multitude of descendants. But Abraham believed God, and God reckoned (or counted) it (his faith) to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). This verse is one of the most important in the Bible, for it sums up the basis by which a person can be right with God, and have a relationship with God.
The word “righteousness”1 has to do with law, morality and justice. In Biblical terms, one who is righteous is without guilt. He is perfect or “right” in relation to the law. However, if you flipped the pages of your Bible to Romans 3:10, you would read that, “There is none righteous, not even one.” Abraham was infected with sin, just as every person since Adam (see Lesson 18). If we were to more closely examine Abraham’s life, we would see clearly that his life fell short of perfection.
Only God is perfect! He alone is holy and righteous! And because God is holy and righteous, He cannot tolerate or overlook sin. Sin violates the character of God and ultimately He must judge it. Simply put, sin drives a wedge between God (who is sinless) and man (who is sinful).
The word “reckon”2 (or “credited” or “counted” as some translations read) could be considered an accounting or a mathematical term. If God were to do an audit of Abraham’s righteousness based on Abraham’s own merit, he would be found lacking. But because he trusted God, Abraham was credited by God with a righteousness that was not his own.
To better understand the concept of being “reckoned righteous” consider the story of a judge who served during the great American depression.3 One night a man was brought into his courtroom. The desperate man had been caught stealing bread to feed his starving family. As the man explained his story, the judge felt sympathy for him, but the law left the judge no option. I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail. Then, moved by compassion, the judge reached in his own pocket and pulled out ten dollars to pay the fine.
The man who stole the bread could have rejected the kindness of the judge and gone to jail. But he didn’t. He depended on the judge to do something for him that he could not do for himself. And by so doing, the man was considered (or reckoned) “right” in relation to the law. Similarly, Abraham stood as a sinful (guilty) man before God (as do all men). But Abraham believed in God. Abraham trusted God to do for him what he could not do for himself. And by trusting, Abraham was reckoned right in relation to the Law.
Recall from our study of Adam and Eve in Lesson 20 that God promised to one day send a Deliverer who would conquer Satan, sin, and death forever. Abraham didn’t need to know how God would ultimately save him from the consequence of sin. But he did know that God was the only One who could save him from the consequence of sin.
Ask & Reflect
- The man who stole bread would have been a fool not to allow the judge to do for him what he could not do for himself. But many people try to do for themselves what only God can do for them, namely be right with Him on their own merit. Why is this? Why would someone even think they could be good enough on their own to be right with God?
- From the passages we have considered today, we can see that God not only wanted to bless Abraham, but that He also wanted to provide everything Abraham needed in order to walk in that blessing. What does this say to us about God?
Decide & Do
In the Bible book of Ephesians there is a verse that reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The “saving” this verse speaks of is a salvation from the consequence of sin. This salvation is a gift, not something we could ever hope to earn or merit. Like Abraham, we can trust God for the gift of salvation. Unlike Abraham, we can know how God accomplished it. If you have not already visited the Knowing God section at the end of this study, don’t delay in going there.
Ephesians 2:8-9 deals specifically with salvation from sin. But really, there are many things that only God can do for us, things we cannot do for ourselves. Read Psalm 127:1-2, then ask God to show you if there is something you are trying to do on your own, that in truth only He can do. Be like Abraham or the man before the judge– receive what God wants to give you.
1Definition of the Word “Righteous” from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/righteous). Retrieved October 10, 2006.
2Definition of the Word “Reckon” from Answers.com. (http://www.answers.com/topic/reckon ). Retrieved October 10, 2006.
3Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel. (© Multnomah, 1990, pp 91–2; online at SermonIllustrations.com). (http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/g/grace.htm). Retrieved November 10, 2006.