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 15:6 is one of the most well-known Old Testament Bible verses. Paul uses it in Romans 4 to show that our salvation is not based on obedience to any law, but it is and has always been based on faith. This is a significant passage.
One problem with significant passages is that we often read them and immediately shorten our view. We look at the passage and we hear the Bible verse ringing out as it is quoted and used in the New Testament. OF course, we should think like this, but not without also seeing the verse in its present context.
Look at verse 6 with the preceding verse above. God spoke to Abram and told him that he was going to give him lots of children. Abram believed God. God, for his part, credited Abram with a legal record of righteousness, not for anything Abram did, but simply because Abram believed God.
Do you see how absurd this is? We have watched Abram’s life. Yes, he did some good things—rescuing his nephew and tithing to a priest of God. But Abram also was the faithless coward who told his wife to say she was his sister, regardless of what that might subject her to, in order to protect his own skin. Abram was not righteous, not by any account.
You have to see how ridiculous it is to call Abram righteous to see the significance of verse 6. Abram believed God’s promise of children—that’s it. He will believe more later, but for now, he is just trusting that God can and will do what God promised. Abram believes that he is going to have a gigantic family of descendants. And that belief is what God Takes from Abram and counts it to him as righteousness.
The truth is, salvation by God’s grace through faith does not make sense. We are used to a quid pro quo. We are used to doing something to earn something else. To hear that God will count us as righteous in his sight, not for our obedience, not for our sacrifices, not for our own goodness, but simply because of our belief in him seems crazy by any human measure. But, God’s measure is not human measure, is it?
The truth is, I am not a righteous person. Neither are you. All have sinned before God. All of us have been cowards like Abram in one form or another. All of us have hurt others, intentionally or unintentionally, for our own comfort. All of us have failed to live up to God’s perfection. And yet God offers us all a record of perfect righteousness. He says that if we will truly believe in Jesus, trusting Jesus in the sort of way that changes our lives, he will call us righteous. He will not call us righteous because of the changes we make, but simply because we trust in Jesus.
How strange. When we look at Genesis 15:6 in context, it seems absurd. When we look at salvation by grace through faith, it seems absurd. And yet, when we get to know the God of the Bible, we recognize that his ways are not ours. He does things in a Godlike way. We don’t think like him. We can’t figure out all the reasons why he does things the way he does. But he is clear. If we want to be forgiven and made right with him, it comes through believing him.