What does it mean to believe?

Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.”

But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth.You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.”

Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. -Genesis 15:1-6

Smoky Mountain Creek | Smoky Mountain National Park | April 2021

R.C. Sproul writes about this passage in the Reformation Study Bible. In commenting on Genesis 15:6 he says

15:6 This verse provides the early core doctrine of justification by faith, not by works (Gal. 3:6–14). Abraham believed the promise of the birth of an heir from the dead (Rom. 4:17–21; Heb. 11:11, 12), and God counted Abraham to be righteous, to be meeting His covenant demand. Abraham’s justification by faith is a model of our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice for sin, and God’s crediting His righteousness to us by faith (Rom. 4:22–25).

believed. Abraham is father of all who believe (Rom. 4:11), and all who believe are children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7).

righteousness. See 6:9 and note; Heb. 11:6–12.

Len Sweet comments:

The Hebraic concept of “righteousness” is not so much a personal quality as it is a relational one. Abram conducted and acted out his life through obedience and trust. God accepted Abram’s actions as legitimate signs of trust and faith – as true righteousness. It is this active living faith that is “counted” by God.

I believe in the kind of righteousness of which Sweet speaks. I also believe Sproul’s connection between this passage and the Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews passages are right on. 

So, What does this mean for me? Today. In real life. Beyond the theological concept. 

But wait…the theological concept is fundamental to my WDTM question. True theology not only underpins good preaching and a proper understanding of faith, it frees us to live under Christ in his kingdom (Luther’s Small Catechism, 2nd article) without fear or under coercion. True theology frees us because it is the truth. And, as Jesus says, “The truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).

This means, to me, that there are three tenses to my faith. I have believed the promises of God based on what he has done in the past. God has revealed himself in Jesus. Jesus died for the sins of the world and then rose again from the dead. God has heard and answered prayers of the faithful throughout the ages. He has also done this for me. That’s the past tense of my faith upon which I live out my faith today.

I believe in God. I love God. I need God. I yearn for his blessings, his peace, his grace, his mercy, his righteousness, his justice. Today. I do none of this perfectly, but I believe in the present reality of God’s promises of forgiveness, and live in the grace he has shown me. 

I believe in the promises of the life of the world to come. I look forward to things I have yet to experience. I trust the promises that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard…” (1 Corinthians 2:9). I believe that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). 

The example of this is right before us now. Abram believed in God’s promises strongly enough to go when God called him to go to a land that he would show him (cf. Genesis 12). He believed enough to ask God how his promises were going to come true in that day since he had no child of his own. He also believed God’s promise that his descendants would outnumber the stars of the heavens in the years to come. 

That’s a righteousness that is a relationship of faith. It honors God and God honors the one who has such faith. It’s what I desire to live out each and every day.
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Further commentary on this passage by Len Sweet:

The kind of faith Abram represented to Israel is made clear by God’s response to it. Abram’s belief was not a passive, quiescent acceptance of his present state as an aging, childless man. “Believed” may best be understood here as an “active trust” or a “living trust.” This is the kind of faith Israel came to value and esteem above all, a faith entwined through every thicket of life. It is this all-pervasive faith that prompts God to “reckon” or perhaps more precisely “count” (the term is a cultic one related to official priestly duties) Abram’s attitude as “righteousness.”

The Hebraic concept of “righteousness” is not so much a personal quality as it is a relational one. Abram conducted and acted out his life through obedience and trust. God accepted Abram’s actions as legitimate signs of trust and faith – as true righteousness. It is this active living faith that is “counted” by God.

Abram can no longer doubt the word of God. Despite his age or infirmity, or momentary misfortunes, the vow of the Lord remains intact.

Age is not a deciding factor in the call of God. King Uzziah and King Josiah were only sixteen when they sought after God (2 Chronicles 26 and 34). In contrast, Anna was 84 when she was called into service (Luke 2:36-37). God first called Abram when he was 75 years old – yet Isaac was not born until Abram was 100. For a quarter of a century Abram remained steeped in his active, living faith, trusting in the fidelity of God to the established covenant.

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