Today’s global news headlines will quickly be forgotten as we move on to other amusements, championships or political events. The highlight one day quickly becomes forgotten the next. We saw in our previous article that this was true in the ancient time of Abraham. The important achievements that held the attention of people living 4000 years ago are now forgotten. But a promise quietly spoken to an individual, though overlooked by the world back then, is growing and still unfolding before our eyes. The promise given to Abraham 4000 years ago has come true. Perhaps God does exist and is working in the world.
Several years have passed since the Promise recorded in Genesis 12 was spoken. In obedience Abraham had moved to Canaan (the Promised Land) in what is today Israel, but the birth of the promised son did not happen. So Abraham began to worry.
Then the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3)
Abraham was camping out in the Land waiting for the start of the ‘Great Nation’ that he had been promised. But nothing had happened and he was around 85 years old (ten years had passed since his move). He complained to God that He was not keeping His Promise. Their conversation continued:
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)
So God expanded His initial Promise by declaring that Abraham would get a son that would become a people as uncountable as the stars in the sky. And these people would be given the Promised Land – today called Israel.
Abraham’s Response: Everlasting Effect
How would Abraham respond to the expanded Promise? What follows is a sentence that the Bible itself treats as one of its most important sentences. It helps us to understand the Bible and it shows the heart of God. It says:
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
It is easier to understand if we replace the pronouns with names, it would read:
Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
It is such a small, simple sentence, but it is truly significant.
Because in this little sentence Abraham obtains ‘righteousness’. This is the one – and the only one – quality that we need to get right standing before God.
Reviewing our Problem: Corruption
From God’s point-of-view, though we were made in the image of God something happened that corrupted us. The Bible says:
The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)
Our corruption has resulted in our not doing what is good –causing emptiness and death. (If you doubt this, read the world news headlines and see what people have been doing the last 24 hours.) The result is that we are separated from a Righteous God because we lack righteousness.
Our corruption repels God in the same way that we would keep away from the body of a dead rat. We would not want to go near it. So the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible come true.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
Abraham and Righteousness
But here in the conversation between Abraham and God we find the declaration that Abraham had gained ‘righteousness’, the kind that God accepts – even though Abraham was not sinless. So, what did Abraham ‘do’ to get this righteousness? It simply says Abraham ‘believed’. That’s it?! We try to earn righteousness by doing so many things, but this man, Abraham, got it simply by ‘believing’.
But what does believing mean? And what does this have to do with your righteousness and mine? We take it up next.