“He believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
This verse remains one of the most profound statements in all Scripture. It helps establish the crucial truth of biblical religion, that of justification by faith alone, and it does this long centuries before Paul wrote about it in Romans. All of which helps prove the point that from Eden onward, salvation always came the same way.
The immediate context of the verse helps us understand just how great Abram’s faith was, believing in God’s promise of a son despite all the physical evidence that would seem to make that promise impossible. It is the kind of faith that realizes its own utter helplessness, the kind of faith that demands a complete surrender of self, the kind of faith that requires a total submission to the Lord, the kind of faith that results in obedience. This was the faith of Abram, and it was counted to him “as righteousness.”
Why does the Bible say that it was “counted to” him or “credited to” him as righteousness? Was Abram himself “righteous” in the sense of God’s righteousness? What did he do, not long after God declared him righteous, that helps us understand why this righteousness was credited to him, as opposed to what he himself actually was?
However much Abram’s life was a life of faith and obedience, it was not a life of perfect faith and perfect obedience. At times he displayed weakness in both areas. (Does that sound like anyone you know?) All of which leads to the crucial point, and that is: the righteousness that saves us is a righteousness that is credited to us, a righteousness that is (to use a fancy theological term) imputed to us. This means that we are declared righteous in the sight of God, despite our faults; it means that the God of heaven views us as righteous even if we are not. This is what He did with Abram, and this is what He will do to all who come to Him in “the faith of Abraham” (Romans 4:16).