One of the great blessings of reading through the Bible together this year is that in the course of the year we will come across all of the greatest verses in the Bible at one point or another. Our verse for today has to be considered one of those: Genesis 15:6, “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
This Old Testament verse is one of the most often quoted verses by the authors of the New Testament (Romans 4:3, 20-22, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23). And rightly so, because this verse teaches us some of the most important truths about salvation. If you want to be “saved”: if you want to know that your sins to be forgiven, that you are right with God, and have a home in heaven, you need to understand what this verse is teaching us about being “Reckoned Righteous.”
I. First let’s look at what “righteousness” means: What IS “righteousness”?
The word “righteousness” is a key word here. It says: “He (God) reckoned it to him (to Abraham) as righteousness.” The first thing we need to understand is, what does “righteousness” mean? We’ve heard people say things like: “He’s a righteous man,” or “She’s a righteous fox” — but what does “righteous” really mean in the Bible?
The Hebrew word we translate “righteousness” is “tzedek.” It originally meant to be “straight” — to conform to the standard of what is right.
If I want to draw a straight line on a piece of paper, I get a ruler, because I know if I draw a line on my own, it is not going to be “straight,” it is not going to be “right.” That is what this word “righteous” means: it means to be “straight,” to be “right.”
It means first of all to be “right” with God; it means you are going down “the straight and narrow”; doing what He tells you to do. It means that you are right with God. But the Bible makes it clear that it also applies to your relationships with other people: it means that you are “straight” with them: the Bible speaks of “righteous” people as those whose weights and measurements in business are accurate, so they aren’t cheating in business; they don’t show partiality, and they the right thing by taking care of widows, and the poor. So a “righteous” person is a person who is “straight”, or “right”, with both God and man.
Many of you know we have started a MasterLife class with our students on Sunday nights. The teaching of MasterLife is build around what is called “The Disciples Cross.” The cross has two bars: one vertical and one horizontal. The vertical bar represents our relationship with God, and the horizontal bar represents our relationship with other people. This cross is a good picture of “righteousness.” To be “righteous” means that you are “right” in BOTH of these bars of the cross: that you are doing what is right in your relationship towards God, and you are doing what is right in your relationship with other people as well. To be “righteous” means that you are “straight,” that you are in “right standing” with both God and people.
Understanding that, one of the first things we can see about Abraham, then, is that …
II. Abraham was NOT that righteous!
This is one of the things I have reminded of as we have been doing our Genesis daily Bible readings together. We might have this picture of Abraham as this “Patriarch;” as this “great man of faith” — but he really wasn’t “that great” when you look at his actual record. Think about some of the things we have read about him in the last couple of weeks:
— In Genesis 12, it says that Abram traveled down to Egypt because there was a famine in the Promised Land, and he told Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister, because he was afraid that Pharaoh would kill him and take Sarah as his wife. Abraham didn’t show much faith in God’s protection there, did he? And he basically lied to Pharaoh, which caused a lot of trouble and controversy. That wasn’t right with God OR man!
— Then it says here in Genesis 15 that Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. But he didn’t always exhibit such great faith. Just a couple of chapters later, in Genesis 17, God tells Abraham, who is now 99 years old, that his wife Sarah is going to have a son. And verse 17 says that Abraham “fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man 100 years old? And will Sarah, who is 99 years old, bear a child?’” Did you catch that? Abraham FELL ON HIS FACE AND LAUGHED at God’s word!! He didn’t have such great faith towards God there, did he?
(And Chapter 18 says that when the Lord later told Abraham that next year, Sarah would have a son, Sarah, listening from the tent, “laughed to herself.” So as I pointed out in one of my blog devotions this week, BOTH Abraham and Sarah LAUGHED at the word of God He had given them about having a son! They did NOT show faith in God — in fact they flat out laughed at His promise! That is NOT “righteousness”!)
— Then Genesis 20 tells us that some time later, when they were traveling to Gerar in the Negev desert area, Abraham fell back into his same old sin from years before, and told the king of Gerar that Sarah was his sister, not his wife, because he was again afraid that they would kill him and take Sarah as his wife. Abraham was neither “straight” with that king, nor trusting in God, was he?
And we could go on with a number of other things like that as well. But you get the point: Abraham had messed up a lot. He wasn’t in actuality really “that righteous.”
And if we’re honest, we know that’s true for us too. We aren’t really “that righteous.” And I’m not talking about the worse of us; I’m talking about what we would call the BEST of us, who go to church, and read our Bibles daily, and tithe, and give to special offerings, and serve in various ways in the church — if the truth be known, even the best of us are not “all that righteous.” We are NOT right with God; we are NOT “straight” with man. We have all failed both God and man in many ways, and we continue to do so — even the best of us!
I shared a quote from Augustine of Hippo Regis last Sunday. Augustine was a Christian leader, and writer, and theologian who lived in North Africa about 300 years after the time of Christ. If you asked historians and theologians to name 3-4 of the greatest Christians in world history, Augustine would be on every one of those lists. Many people call him “St. Augustine.” Al Mohler, president of our Southern Baptist Seminary, recently said if he could recommend just ONE book for people to read, it would be a book by Augustine, his Confessions. So as far as people go, Augustine would be considered “the best of the best.”
But Augustine himself knew that he was no “saint.” Writing about how some people were being critical of him, he said:
“What they now criticize in me, they know nothing of. O, there are many things in me which they could fasten on: it would thrill them to know about them! Much still happens in my thoughts — fighting against my evil promptings, a day-long tension; the Enemy almost continuously wishing to make me fall …”. (Augustine, Brown, p. 229) Basically Augustine was saying: “Hey, they are accusing me, but the truth is, I’ve got worse things going on in my mind than they even know! I am not that righteous!”
Charles Spurgeon said virtually the same thing 1500 years later: “If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that’s true, right? We are just like Abraham, and Augustine. We are NOT that righteous — not towards God, and not towards other people.
This is what Romans 3:10-12 makes so clear. Speaking about the sinfulness of all mankind it says: “As it is written, There is none righteous, not even one: There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
The bottom line, Romans says, is that NONE of us are “righteous.” NONE of us are totally “walking the straight and narrow;” NONE of us are doing everything right towards God and man. NONE of us will be saved because we are personally so good or so righteous. Just like Abraham, We aren’t really that righteous!
III. But God RECKONED him as righteous
So Abraham wasn’t really “that righteous” — certainly not righteous enough to please God and earn himself a place in heaven. But the Bible says something very important here: it says that God “reckoned” it to him as righteousness. Abraham was NOT “that righteous;” but when God saw his faith, He “reckoned” it to him as righteousness.
This word “reckoned” is a key here. “Reckon” is not a word a lot of people use that much today. You might hear an older person say: “Well I reckon …”. But the Hebrew word translated “reckon” here, “chasab” means “to think, to account, to consider, or credit.”
This same Hebrew word was actually used in one of our daily Bible readings a few days ago, and it helps us understand what this word “reckon” means. In Job 19:15 Job says: “Those who live in my house and my maids CONSIDER me a stranger. I am a foreigner in their sight.” Job said because of all his troubles and his illness (he was covered from head to toe in boils) his servants “consider” him a stranger. Now Job was NOT in actuality a stranger; but he said they ACT like he is one. They TREAT him like he is one, even though in “reality” he is NOT.
This is what this word “reckon” means: it means to “count” something as so; to ACT like it is so — even when it may not “really” be so.
THAT is what God did for Abraham: as we saw, Abraham was NOT righteous enough to please God and go to heaven. But God “reckoned” him as righteous; He COUNTED him so; He TREATED him so, because of his faith. He wasn’t really that righteous; so the only way he could be saved was for him to be “reckoned” as righteous, when he really wasn’t.
And that is the only way WE can be saved too. As we have seen, we are not that righteous either. If God “put a straight ruler” to our lives, and judged us by our own righteousness, it would show that we aren’t “straight” at all — we’re all crooked and fall short of the standard.
But just like Abraham, God can “reckon” us righteous — COUNT us as righteous, even when we aren’t, because of our faith in Jesus.
This is what the cross of Jesus is all about. The cross of Jesus isn’t just some ornament we hang around our neck, or something we sing sentimental songs about. On the cross, Jesus took all our UN-righteousness on Himself, so that if we would believe in Him, He would RECKON us as perfectly righteousness.
In Isaiah 53:4 the Bible uses this same Hebrew word for “reckoned” again. Prophesying about the death of Jesus on the cross, it says “we CONSIDERED Him stricken ….”. “Considered” is the same Hebrew word “reckoned.” We “reckoned”, “considered,” “counted” Jesus as STRICKEN by God — but then it goes on to say in :5, “But He was pierced through for OUR transgressions; He was crushed for OUR iniquities.” This verse is pointing to the “great exchange” that happened on the cross of Jesus: He took all our unrighteousness on Himself on the cross, and He GIVES to every one of us who believe on Him, HIS perfect righteousness!
This is what Romans 3 talks about. After saying “there is none righteous, not even one”, it goes on to say in :22 that “the righteousness of God” is given “through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” In other words, when you put your trust in Jesus as your Savior, God RECKONS you with the righteousness of Jesus. You AREN’T really that righteous; but He “reckons” you as righteous; He COUNTS you as righteous, with the perfect righteousness of Christ, which IS good enough to get you into heaven.
It is just like II Corinthians 5:21 says: “(God) made Him who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We are unrighteous — all of us. Jesus is perfectly righteous. On the cross, Jesus took our unrighteousness, and GIVES us His perfect righteousness.
Last Monday schools were out as Martin Luther King Day. Martin Luther King is famous for his “I Have A Dream” speech in which he said: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” That’s a good aspiration for us to work towards in this world; may God help us make it so.
But I also saw where R.C. Sproul Jr. wrote Monday on Twitter regarding our relationship with God: “I thank God that I am not judged by the content of my character, but by the content of His character.” (1-15-18)
See, that is exactly what happens when you are saved. God doesn’t judge you by your righteousness or the content of your character; instead God judges you by the righteousness and character of Jesus. Even though “you aren’t that righteous” — He “RECKONS” you as righteous as Jesus.
IV. And the Bible says this happens through FAITH.
How did Abraham get “reckoned” as righteous, even when he was not? The Bible says it was through FAITH. Genesis 15:6 says “he BELIEVED in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” It is important to note here that Abraham didn’t “DO” anything to make himself righteous before God:
— It wasn’t after he fought the battle with the kings and rescued Lot that God said Abraham was righteous;
— It wasn’t after he gave the tithe to Melchizekek that God said Abraham was righteous;
— It wasn’t after he was willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac on the altar that God said Abraham was righteous.
See, if God had said, “Abraham, you are righteous and you are going to heaven” after he did these things, then we would have had the principle and example that WE had to do all these religious good works too, to be saved. We’d have to hope that WE could fight a big battle, or that we could give enough tithes, or that we would be willing to sacrifice our greatest love, like Abraham did, for us to be saved.
But that’s not what God said. He didn’t say Abraham was righteous after he did these good works; He “reckoned” Abraham as righteous when he “BELIEVED” in Him: “He believed in the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” It was FAITH that caused Abraham to be reckoned as righteous. Abraham was not saved by his good works, but by faith in God.
Romans 4 is the best commentary on this (by the way, that’s a good principle for us as we read through the Bible and seek to know what it means; there is an old saying, “The best commentary on scripture, is scripture.” Look for what other places in the Bible have to tell you about the scripture you are seeking to understand.) So Paul is emphasizing in Romans 4 that we are not saved by our works, but by faith, and THREE TIMES in Romans 4, he quotes this verse from Genesis 15:6, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” THREE TIMES Paul quotes it, trying to drill it into our heads, that just like Abraham we are NOT saved by the good things we do, but by putting our faith in Jesus. And after using this verse 3 times in Romans 4, he wraps it up in Romans 5:1 saying, “Therefore, having been justified by FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” How are we justified before God? How do we have peace with God? He says it is by FAITH in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not made righteous by our good works, but by being “reckoned” as righteous the second we put our faith in Jesus.
We see examples of this all through scripture:
— When the thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, this day you shall be with Me in Paradise.” What righteous thing had that thief done to deserve that? NOTHING! He hadn’t given any money to the church; he hadn’t done any deeds or taught any classes; he didn’t even have the opportunity to be baptized. All he did was put his FAITH in Jesus — and he was now going to Paradise. He “BELIEVED in the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
— We read just the other day in our Bible reading in Matthew 9 where they brought the paralyzed man to Jesus, and He saw their faith, and Jesus says right off to him: “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Well, what good works had that man done? He couldn’t have done any; he was paralyzed! But “he BELIEVED in the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”!
— Then in Acts 10 when Peter is preaching to Cornelius and his friends who want to know how they can go to heaven, Peter shares Jesus with them, and he says in :43 “Through His name, everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” And :44 says that “WHILE HE WAS STILL SPEAKING THESE WORDS” the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening, and they were saved. What made them saved? What brought God’s Spirit into their lives? It wasn’t anything they “did;” they didn’t have time to do anything yet. They have never even set foot in a church; they hadn’t even been baptized. But they were saved and made righteous before God “while he was still speaking” the SECOND they believed — “they BELIEVED in the Lord, and it was immediately reckoned to them as righteousness”!
That thief was “reckoned” righteous before God the second he believed.
That paralyzed man was “reckoned” righteous before God the moment he believed.
Those Gentiles were “reckoned” righteous before God the moment they believed.
And YOU will be “reckoned” righteous before God the same way — not by anything “good” you do: not by going to church, not by being baptized, not even by “going down to the front” — you will be credited by God with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the moment you believe in your heart. That may be happening right now; this second. You aren’t really “that righteous;” but God will credit you/reckon you with the righteousness of Jesus, the moment you put your faith in Him.
Now someone may say: “Pastor, this isn’t right. Through this system of ‘reckoned righteousness’, people don’t really get what they deserve! There’s going to be a lot of people in heaven who don’t really deserve to be there!” YES, AND THANK GOD! That is the whole thing! Don’t you see: if only people who deserved it got into heaven, NONE of us would be there! We would all be lost — every single one of us! If you don’t comprehend that, then you don’t even know what Christianity is … Christianity is NOT “good people go to heaven.” Christianity is “bad people, who don’t deserve it, go to heaven — because they put their faith in Jesus.”
See, that’s why there is NO ROOM in real Christianity for a “holier than thou” attitude. Because if you are a Christian, that means you are admitting: “I was not righteous enough to be saved; I had to put my faith in Jesus, so I could be RECKONED as righteous, even when I wasn’t.” See, if you know that is how you were saved, then you aren’t going to “look down” on anybody — because you know you did not get what you “deserve;” and you aren’t going to be in a hurry for anyone else to get what they “deserve” either. As Christians, we don’t talk about what people “deserve”, when we ourselves have only been “reckoned” as righteous, when we know we really aren’t.
See, it’s like this: if you think you deserve to go to heaven, it just shows that you are NOT going there. NONE of us are righteous enough to go to heaven; but SOME of us who are not righteous enough to go to heaven WILL go there, because we put our faith in Jesus — and He “reckons” us as righteous, even when we aren’t. That is the whole gospel in nutshell:
— none of us deserve it
— but any of us can have it
— if we’ll put our faith in Jesus.
That’s it! The only question is: have you done it? Have you ever put your faith in Jesus, and been “Reckoned Righteous”?