“And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”
When God revealed to Moses the account of His relationship to Abraham, He made the above assessment of Abraham’s disposition toward Himself, and of His own response. It is easy to forget that God is relating the story of Abraham, in part because Abraham is so remarkable in his trust of God. But it should impress us that God Himself portrays this man in such a favorable light. It seems clear that Abraham had some character flaws, or at the very least acted at times in some ways that were less than godly in our eyes. He repeatedly lied about Sarah’s identity as his wife out of fear for his own safety (Gen.12:10f; 20:1f) – a practice that appears to reflect a standing agreement that the two had (Gen.20:13). In Gen.16:1f, Sarah determines to take a hand in fulfilling God’s promise of an heir to Abraham by offering him her handmaid, Hagar, and Abraham complies with her scheme, fathering a child by a woman who was not his wife. He then gives Sarah leave to treat Hagar in any way that she saw fit, and she “dealt harshly with her” (Gen.16:6). And in Gen.15:8f, after God had promised for at least the third time that He would give Abraham the land of Canaan, the patriarch asks God for some kind of assurance or proof – “how shall I know that I will inherit it?.” These incidents seem to reveal a side of Abraham that we rarely notice – a side that is very much like many men who grapple with uncertainty, fear, and even dishonesty. My own suspicion (remembering that I tend toward cynicism) is that Abraham had his faults and flaws and failings and that they were much more numerous than those chronicled by God. But it is that possibility or even likelihood that makes God’s declaration in Gen.15:6 all the more impressive.
It is of note that God did not say in Gen.15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD when God promised to make his descendants like the stars of the sky. Instead, God says that Abraham “believed in the LORD.” There is a difference in accepting a promise and placing confidence in the person. Someone who is not trustworthy may at times keep his word, thus one might believe him. But to believe in someone is to place yourself under their influence, to accept their word, to act in a way that indicates complete and unwavering confidence in them. In God’s estimation, Abraham fully accepted the reliability and veracity of God. That didn’t necessarily make some things easy to accept, but accept them he did in spite of the difficulty. When God asked him to sacrifice the son of promise (Gen.22:1f), Abraham obeyed even though he did not understand why God made the request, nor how God would fulfill His promise when Isaac was to be killed. Heb.11:17-19 informs us as to Abraham’s own surmising. He accepted that God could raise Isaac from the dead and perhaps was convinced that God would do so. But God didn’t tell him His plans and Abraham’s thoughts did not accurately anticipate God’s intentions. Nonetheless, because Abraham trusted God, he obeyed and raised his hand to commit the unthinkable. God tells us in v.1 of that chapter that He put Abraham’s faith to the test. Just how much did he really trust God? And the answer is – implicitly. And because Abraham had that kind of confidence in God, God considered him righteous, justified, innocent, acceptable. Paul’s argument about our justification in Rom.3-5 is that our innocence is equally an issue of our trust in God, made possible through the forgiveness found in the sacrifice of Christ.
I suppose that this all sounds a bit like theological postulating. Men have discussed and debated the above concepts for centuries, constructing complicated and ornate systems of theology founded upon the simple declaration that Abraham “believed in the LORD and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” But it is the simplicity of it all that we need desperately to remember and appreciate. Abraham wasn’t a perfect man. Abraham messed up from time to time. Abraham had his questions, his doubts, and his misunderstandings/ignorance about God’s will and God’s ways. But what Abraham had was a complete trust in God, and that trust consistently prompted him to follow God, whether it meant leaving Ur and living in tents, or sending Ishmael away, or killing Isaac as a blood sacrifice. And because Abraham was so disposed toward God, God Himself said that He considered the man righteous.
We live in an age of doubt, sensuality, temporality, and arrogance. The Bible and the very existence of God are constantly subject to ridicule. Christians are confronted by immorality and disregard. Add to this climate the utter perversion of modern religion and the pervasion of corporate concepts regarding discipleship and the church and it is no wonder that people find Christianity so challenging. We often feel beset by temptation, overwhelmed by opposition, or bewildered by bad doctrine. But, in reality, God makes discipleship a pretty simple idea. He spent the better part of 1500 years laying the foundation for His own veracity and immutability. He recorded the history of Israel so that mankind might see the kind of Being that He is – just and merciful. He provided information concerning the Messiah that He planned to bring into the world in order to offer a suitable sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and then He sent His own Son to be that sacrifice. He provided great evidence to confirm the identity of Jesus as that promised Messiah, and then He sent messengers to tell the world what He had done. And what He has asked of anyone who wants to be saved from judgment is simply that they trust Him. That trust will prompt gratitude and discipleship and passion and obedience. It will not necessarily answer all of our questions, and it may not even alleviate all of our doubts and concerns. And history has borne out that such trust in Him likely will not make us sinless. Don’t misunderstand or make excuses -we are to try to live above sin; we are to be faithful followers of Jesus; we are to work on our character; we are to worship and serve Him in accordance with His Word. We are to respond as Abraham responded, following, obeying, even sacrificing. We are to strive for perfection, even as He is perfect. And though we may never achieve such, His promise is to save us anyway. Because we trust in Him. Just like Abraham did.