A Scandalous Righteousness

I recently read through Genesis 15, where God reassures Abram, who is currently childless, that he will have numerous descendants (which God had initially promised in Genesis 12:1-3). Abram’s response leads to something amazing: “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

Commenting on this verse, Martin Luther says, “Righteousness is nothing else than believing God when He makes a promise.” The anti-intuitive nature of this statement struck me forcefully. You see, I am unconsciously inclined to think that my striving hard to do well is the kind of righteousness that pleases God. When I obey a particular law, do a good deed, or reject a temptation, then I have earned at least a small degree of God’s favor. But that is not how it works.

God definitely blesses our faith-inspired efforts, but such efforts are…well, based on faith—that is, confidence in God’s promise to pardon and accept me through Christ’s atoning work. If I attempt to somehow make myself more acceptable to God through my own efforts, I am far removed from true righteousness.

In the book of Romans, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 to prove that if a person is rewarded for what he has done, he has basically received a payment—not a gift. In contrast, the Christian, just like Abraham, is one who “does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, [and] his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). The ungodly are considered righteous without doing any good works. How? By believing God when He makes a promise.

Paul’s next example of righteousness applies specifically to those who have not behaved righteously:
David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin” [Ps. 31:1-2] (Rom. 4:6-8).
So, what do you call a habitual liar and adulterer who hears the gospel and believes its promises? Righteous. What do you call a hardened sinner on his deathbed who believes in the promise of the gospel? Righteous. What can a Christian call himself when he is made more aware of his sin and feels even less holy than he did the day before? Righteous.

God never intended that I produce a righteousness of my own. He is both the author and finisher of my faith (Heb. 12:2), which means He is the author and finisher of my righteousness. May I continue to exercise true righteousness by doing nothing more than “believing God when He makes a promise.”

photo credit: thierry ehrmann via flickr, CC


Christina Jones said…
Wonderfully encouraging! God's been encouraging me in a similar direction as it relates to prayer. We approach God and receive good answers from Him not based on our merit but Christ's. I instinctively feel like I need to be a "good person" before I can ask God any "favors." But the gospel says that to receive anything at all, I have to believe that Jesus is all sufficient and that His promise to be my intercessor is true. God loves me BECAUSE He loves Christ. God answers the prayers of the righteous because, in fact, their righteousness comes from God. :-)