Abraham is a key figure in the Old Testament. He is counted as the father of Israel because of the great promise God made to him, and because their nation descended from him. And his example of faith is meaningful for us, even today.
As we read through the Biblical account, it seems to us that Abraham had a faith that far surpasses our own. When called, he left his home and family and journeyed to a land he knew nothing about. He trusted God’s promise, that he would become a great nation, even though his wife was barren. And after God miraculously gave them a child, he obeyed God’s command to offer him as a sacrifice to the Lord (although God stopped him before he actually killed his son).
However, even though these acts were a great demonstration of his faith, it’s equally clear that Abraham was a sinner. We see how he lied about his wife, allowing her to be taken by another man, to protect himself. We see how, before the birth of Isaac, he struggled with God’s promise. We see how he went along with Sarah, trying to fulfill God’s promise in their way, when she remained childless.
Yet, in spite of his shortcomings, the Lord counted Abraham as righteous. And why? It wasn’t because of anything he did. It was because of his faith.
In Genesis 15, we see that God came to him, and once again reassured him of his blessing. But he answered the Lord, in verse 2, saying: “O LORD GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And, in verse 3, he went on to say: “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
Abraham had left his home and family trusting God’s promise. And here he was, a long time after, without any children. God had yet to bless them with a son.
At this point, God spoke to him again. He assured Abraham that his very own son would be his heir. He then took him outside and had him look at the stars. He told Abram to number the stars, if he was able. God then said: “So shall your offspring be.”
It’s here that we see the statement I want to consider. We’re told that Abraham believed the Lord. And we’re told that the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.
He was counted righteous not because of anything he’d done. He was counted righteous because of his faith. He was saved, not by his obedience, but by the grace of God that he received through faith.
Paul talks about this in Romans 4. Starting in verse 1, he says: “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." 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…”
This is a great encouragement to us. When we look at ourselves in light of God’s Word, we see our sin. When we compare ourselves to the great men of faith in Scripture, or even those around us today, our shortcomings glare right back at us. And we tend to think that we don’t measure up in the eyes of God.
It’s true that we don’t measure up to God’s standards. Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But this isn’t what determines our standing before God. We aren’t declared righteous based on our good works.
Like Abraham, it’s by faith that God counts us righteous. Righteousness is not something we earn. It’s a gift, given to us by God, and received by faith.
So, even as we see our guilt, we can be comforted by the fact that, by faith, we are counted righteous in the eyes of God. As we trust in his promise, given to us in his Word, we’re reckoned as upright and blameless before him.