3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:3–6, NKJV).
God accounted Abraham’s faith to him for righteousness (v. 6). All who have the faith of Abraham are his seed and heirs (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:8-9, 29). The nature of Abraham’s faith has long been disputed. Was his faith “faith only?” No, for James said Abraham’s works (obedience) completed his faith (James 2:21-24). His obedient faith was accounted for righteousness, as is ours. Such faith does not earn or merit the blessing, for we are sinners saved by grace (Rom. 3:23-24; 4:1-5). The apostle Paul used Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4:22, where its context gives us valuable insight into the nature of Abraham’s faith (Rom. 4:18-22). Abraham believed “in hope,” trusting God’s promise of a son, even though he and Sarah were past the age of having children. Instead of doubting God’s word, Abraham “did not waver” but was “strengthened in faith,” assured God would fulfill His word. And He did. “Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age” (Gen. 21:2). Abraham’s unwavering, active, obedient faith was accounted for righteousness. Like Abraham, our trusting, obedient faith will be accounted to us for righteousness.
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:5–8, NKJV).
Justification is acquittal from sin’s guilt; to render innocent and free from sin’s penalty of eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Today’s passage explains justification is synonymous with forgiven by God. When forgiven, our sins are “covered,” removed from God’s sight (remembered no more, v. 7; Heb. 8:12; 10:17; washed away to exist no more, Acts 22:16). This forgiveness occurs by faith, not by the works of law (v. 6; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26; Rom. 5:1; Gal. 2:16). Note that the sinner’s faith is “accounted for righteousness” so that his sins are not imputed to him (v. 5, 8). Just as Abraham’s faith was imputed to him for righteousness, our faith is imputed to us for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). The “works” of Romans 4:7 are works of law, i.e., law-keeping. Righteousness by works (law-keeping) can only occur through sinlessness (which would remove the need for grace, Rom. 4:2, 4). But Abraham sinned and needed grace like us all (Rom. 3:23-24). Faith, not works, was reckoned to him for righteousness. (1) This passage does not say God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. The sinner’s faith is imputed for righteousness (Rom. 4:5). (2) This passage does not say obedient faith attempts to merit salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). Obedient faith (like Abraham had) is the faith that justifies the ungodly (James 2:17-24; Rom. 4:5). Trust and obey Jesus, and your faith will be accounted for righteousness. You will be forgiven (Mark 16:15-16).