15 The word of the Lord came to Abram (Abraham) in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1, 3-6 ESV
Abram was in a difficult situation. He had been promised an impressive lineage by God, but he and his wife Sarai were aging and, at this point, had no offspring to show for it. God had blessed Abram and made him wealthy, but none of the promised descendants were yet on the horizon. And Abram and Sarai were getting a little impatient with God.
The Lord responded to Abram, “Trust me. Don’t fear, I will protect you and bring you descendants as numerous as the stars that I have created above you.” And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted his belief as righteousness.
What is “righteousness?” Some possible responses are 1) living a life pleasing to God, 2) honoring God’s commandments and 3) making morally correct choices in God’s eyes. In all cases, there is a standard of behavior set by God that He wants us to sincerely honor, both within our hearts and with our actions. The unfortunate situation is that, aside from Jesus, we humans do a poor job of this. That is why Jesus Christ had to come – to personally bear the consequences we deserve from continually falling short of God’s standard of goodness. But God offers us a life rope – by Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, burial and victorious resurrection, we believers are thoroughly cleansed and given the new clothing of God’s righteousness. God did for us what we absolutely could not do for ourselves. He continues to extend new mercies to us each day, forgiving us and healing us of our failures and shortcomings. He restores our fallen state to one of righteousness.
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17) to help define the types of behavior God seeks from us, and Jesus clarified these further in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In fact, Jesus tells us that even having the desire to do wrong causes us to fall short of righteousness.
Because our thoughts and actions are so easily entangled with sin, we cannot reasonably expect to earn our way into Heaven on our own credentials. But there is good news. Jesus lived a righteous life that met this godly standard. Because of the sacrificial price He paid on the cross, we are credited with all of the rich benefits and blessings of His righteousness when we open our heart to receive Him.
The Apostle Paul points to Abraham as a demonstration of how we are saved and made righteous with God through our faith in Christ.
4 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:1-3 ESV
Jesus also talks about the basis of eternal salvation in John 5:
24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24 ESV
The very act of believing God and receiving His son, Jesus Christ, is a life-giving act of righteousness.
From the smallest mustard seed of faith, new life is given and continues to grow. In Abraham’s case, his faith was the cornerstone of his righteousness. As we learn more about Abraham in the book of Genesis, we see that, like us, he was not perfect. He was a human being with plenty of shortcomings, but his faith pleased God, and God used his faith to credit Abraham with righteousness.
How can our faith please God today?
God told Abraham to “Fear not”. There is a difference between a rational concern about a serious situation and being consumed with fear, worry and anxiety about it. God wants us to live without crippling anxiety, and to approach Him in prayer about every fear-causing situation.
We all face situations that bring us to the point of fear. What is happening, or not happening, in your life right now that is a major concern for you? Have you have brought it before the Lord?
Is there an anger or a resentment associated with this situation? Fear may underly anger, and anger may manifest itself as a simmering or boiling resentment, a feeling of desperation or even a depression.
Have you been able to share about this difficult situation with a trusted friend of faith? When we safely share our burdens with faithful friends, they help to support us by listening, loving and joining us in prayer. This helps to relieve our burdens while we, like Abraham, wait for God’s promises to materialize. Some Christians are especially gifted in this type of support.