To focus clearly on the faith which is reckoned for righteousness, the concept must be understood. What is meant by faith being “reckoned” for righteousness? The Greek word elogistha from logizomai in Romans 4:3 is translated “counted” for righteousness (KJV); “reckoned” to him as righteousness (RSV, NAS); “reckoned” to him for righteousness (ASV); “accepted” him as righteousness (TEV); “credited” to him as righteousness (NW); and “considered as justifying him” (JB). In Romans 4:3 the literal meaning of the Greek word is “to credit something to someone as something”1 or “to allot.”2 When one is reckoned as being righteous by faith, he is counted as a righteous person or accepted as a righteous person by God because of his faith. God allots righteousness to him or credits him as being righteous because of his faith.
Not just any faith or any level of confidence will permit God to regard a person as being righteous. Abraham believed and rendered numerous acts of obedience before he grew to the point at which God reckoned his faith for righteousness. Though he believed enough to leave Ur, to travel hundreds of miles to Haran, to leave Haran, to leave his extended family, and to wander in Canaan, in none of these instances did God reckon his faith for righteousness. Obviously, one can believe enough to achieve a significant level of obedient response to God and still not have the faith of righteousness.
A clear distinction must be made between being forgiven and being righteous before God. Abraham belonged to God before his faith grew to the point that it could be reckoned for righteousness. The discussion of the “faith reckoned for righteousness” is not a study to determine the moment of forgiveness. This study is not about a sinner’s appropriate response to God; it is about a Christian’s appropriate response to God. The question being asked is this: how does a Christian stand as a righteous person before God?
In Abraham, God was looking for a specific kind of relationship. When Abraham was able to establish that relationship with God, God could regard him as being a righteous person. Abraham could not achieve that relationship through deeds. He could bring that relationship into existence by having a particular kind of trust in God. The trust which God sought in Abraham is the highest level of trust people are capable of having. It is the trust which exists when a person will accept, cling to, and function on God’s promises simply because God has given His assurance. The greatest evidence that this trust exists is the person’s willingness to depend on God’s promises and assurance in the face of deep personal doubts. When the person directs his life and functions in his life by relying on God’s promises, he possesses this trust. This is the kind of faith which existed in Abraham when God reckoned him to be a righteous person.
This kind of faith cannot exist in a person’s life until he confronts circumstances which demand that he trust God and not himself. Until he is in a position wherein he can do nothing but depend on God, he cannot produce such faith. Abraham is the perfect illustration.
Carefully take note of the evolution of the faith of righteousness in Abraham’s life. At Ur it took a remarkable faith for Abraham to leave a pagan past, to listen to the voice of God whom he previously had not known, and to trust that voice enough to leave Ur. As remarkable as his trust was, he still followed Terah, still continued in the security of his family, and still believed it was physically possible for Sarah to conceive.
At Haran Abraham expressed greater faith in his willingness to leave his family, to leave his home, and to begin wandering in a strange region. Yet, Abraham still thought that it was in the realm of physical possibility for Sarah to conceive.
The further their age removed them from the physical probability of Sarah’s conception, the more significant the problem of doubt became. Aging demanded that they place increasing confidence in God’s power to keep His promise. As long as Abraham deemed it physically possible for Sarah to conceive, he could believe that God could keep His promise. As aging demanded that they place increasing confidence in God’s power and decreasing confidence in their physical ability, doubt became a significant problem. Abraham’s struggle with doubt reached a critical point when he requested that God accept Eliezer as his heir. It was his struggle with doubt on that occasion which brought the faith of righteousness into existence. When faced with the option of rejecting God’s covenant in doubt or depending on God’s promise because of His assurance, he trusted the promise. At that moment he placed his trust in God’s power to make conception possible, not in the physical ability to conceive. That trust was the faith which God reckoned for righteousness.
If Abraham was to continue in relationship with God through acceptance of the covenant, he had to make a decision. He had to decide if God through His power could cause Isaac to be born. Age produced the inevitable moment when Abraham had to depend completely on God’s power to keep His promise. Abraham had to grow in trust to the point that he knew Isaac would be born because God promised it, not because of Sarah and his physical capability. He had to grow to the position of placing no confidence in human capability and complete confidence in God. This is the heart and soul of the faith of righteousness. The faith of righteousness is founded in the ability of the person to trust God rather than himself.
Just as Abraham illustrates what the faith of righteousness is, he also clearly illustrates what it is not. It is not a faith which is characterized by perfect obedience. As obedient as Abraham was, he still made his mistakes. After having enough faith to leave Haran and wander in Canaan, Abraham did not trust God to preserve his life in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20). He believed that the Egyptians would kill him in order to marry Sarah, and he used deliberate deception to try to preserve his life. After having laughed at the thought of Sarah having a child, after saying in his heart that it was a physical impossibility, and after expressing renewed faith through circumcision, Abraham lied to King Abimelech of Gerar (Gen. 20). It is significant that after Abraham had the faith which God reckoned for righteousness, he failed to trust God in some matters. How could Abraham believe God’s promise that Sarah would bear him a child within the year, and then fear that Abimelech would kill him in order to take Sarah (Gen. 20:11)? Obviously, the faith which God reckons for righteousness is not based on perfect obedience.
The faith which God reckons for righteousness is not characterized by a perfect confidence which eliminates all doubt. God first reckoned Abraham’s faith for righteousness on the occasion when doubt moved Abraham to ask God to accept Eliezer as his heir (Gen. 15:1-6). Long after Abraham had developed the faith of righteousness, he experienced his most severe doubts—laughing at the idea of having a child and declaring in his heart that it was physically impossible (Gen. 17:17). The faith which God reckons for righteousness is not based on an unwavering confidence in God.
Abraham teaches the Christian some powerful lessons about the relationship between the faith of righteousness and obedience. (1) All of Abraham’s acts of obedience prior to God’s reckoning his faith for righteousness did not result in Abraham being righteous. Neither a single incident of obedience nor all collective acts of obedience resulted in God reckoning Abraham to be righteous. (2) The obedience rendered by the faith reckoned for righteousness was superior to any obedience rendered prior to that faith. The greatest of all of Abraham’s obedient acts was the offering of Isaac. That obedient act occurred after Abraham had the faith of righteousness and because he had the faith of righteousness.
The faith of righteousness does not set aside obedience nor negate the importance of obedience. It produces a superior form of obedience. When Abraham obeyed God in offering Isaac, he acted promptly; he made immediate provision to render complete obedience; he asked no questions of God; with forethought he eliminated possible obstacles to obedience; and he did precisely as God instructed him to do. The obedience Abraham rendered on that occasion cannot be improved. He was able to render that form of obedience because of his faith in God’s promises. The faith of righteousness allows one to trust completely in God’s promises and His power to keep those promises. Confidence in God’s promises frees one to obey God promptly and completely.
The lesson the Christian should derive from Abraham’s faith of righteousness is this: being righteous before God is not an achievement; it is a relationship. The Christian is not righteous before God because of that which he has accomplished through obedient deeds. He is righteous before God because of his relationship with God made possible by faith in God’s promises.
Examine Faith Graphs I and II carefully. For the sake of illustration, let faith be measured in “trust units.” Perfect faith would be 100 “trust units.” Absolute doubt (complete faithlessness) would be zero “trust units.” “Trust units” are measured vertically. The horizontal axis represents any point in time in an adult’s life.
Many Christians would define “acceptable faith,” a faith which could sustain a relationship with God, in this manner. To have a faith which God would tolerate, a person must have between 60 and 70 “trust units.” That is a marginal faith in which one is saved but also is in danger of falling from God. A stable faith would require from 71 to 80 “trust units.” This would be regarded as the typical faith of a sound Christian. An exceptional faith would be expressed in 81 to 90 “trust units.” This faith would exist only in the most godly people. An ideal faith would be expressed in 91 to 100 “trust units”; rarely would anyone have such faith.
In Faith Graph I, line A represents the typical Christian’s concept of proper faith. In this view, at any point in a Christian’s life his trust in God under all circumstances should be between 75 and 85 “trust units.” For his faith to rise higher than that is excellent. However, it should never fall below 75.
Line B on Faith Graph I likely represents the faith of any committed Christian. There are times of great confidence, and there are moments of grave doubt. Most moments are somewhere between great confidence and grave doubt.
Faith Graph II depicts Abraham’s faith from the time of Ur to the sacrifice of Isaac. After the moment that God reckoned Abraham’s faith for righteousness (Gen. 15:6), there were moments of great trust (Gen. 17:23, 22:10), and moments of grave doubt (Gen. 17:17, 20:2). Yet, from Genesis 15:6, Abraham had the faith which God reckoned for righteousness.
The Faith Graphs are a device to illustrate this truth: the faith of righteousness is not a static degree of trust; it is a type of trust. It is the type of trust which is regenerated in the face of doubt by the renewal of God’s promises. If this type of faith exists in a person’s life, his moments of severe doubt will occasion some of the greatest faith responses possible in human life. Faith does not destroy the ability to doubt, and doubt does not destroy the ability to trust. Times of doubt can produce great opportunity for trust to grow.
Righteous faith is not maintaining a constant level of 90 “trust units” or 75 “trust units” in God. The degree of one’s trust will vary from day to day, from crisis to crisis, and from trial to trial. Whatever the level of trust or doubt, the faith of righteousness is renewed and regenerated by the reaffirmation of God’s promises.
Following is one expression of great faith. A person confronts circumstances in which it seems impossible for God to keep His promises. The situation seems to defy help being extended from any source in any manner. There seems to be no possible solution for the problems being experienced. The person struggles with doubt as his immediate reality and the promises of God clash. Yet, the person carefully considers anew the promises of the God who declares Himself faithful. He places his confidence in God’s power to keep His promises. He functions and makes his decisions on the basis of trusting the promises. Such is great faith. It is the faith which God reckons for righteousness.
The question is not, “Do you ever have doubts?” The question is, “When you have doubts, do you still place your full confidence in the promises of God?”
1. What does the word “reckon” in Romans 4:3 mean? What are some other translations of the word?
2. Is the study of the faith of righteousness an attempt to determine the moment of forgiveness? Explain your answer.
3. Explain this statement: studying the faith of righteousness is determining how the Christian stands as a righteous person before God.
4. God was looking for a specific kind of relationship with Abraham. Describe that relationship and explain its importance.
5. The faith of righteousness cannot come into existence in a person’s life until he confronts . . . what?
6. Discuss the evolution of the faith of righteousness in Abraham’s life.
7. Use the life of Abraham to illustrate what the faith of righteousness is not.
8. Use Abraham to explain the relationship between the faith of righteousness and obedience.
9. What basic lesson should Christians derive from Abraham’s faith of righteousness?
10. What are the Faith Graphs designed to illustrate?
a. What does line A in Faith Graph I illustrate?
b. What does line B illustrate?
c. Discuss Faith Graph II.
Have the class suggest situations that commonly create doubt for a Christian. Discuss how a Christian can use the faith of righteousness when facing such doubts.
1Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., “logizomai,“ p. 477.
2 Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., “logizomai,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 9 Vols., trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 4:291.
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