In the past week, I’ve made it about halfway through Genesis, which is pretty fantastic. (This is the reading plan I’m using, in case you missed my earlier post.) I’m on track with the plan (and not feeling like a slave to it). I’m making lots of notes and considering not just the meaning of the text, but how it applies in the present moment. Also known as that thing you’re supposed to do when you’re reading the Bible.
So, the other day, one particular verse jumped right off the page—Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord and He credited to him as righteousness” (HCSB).
This is, of course, a lynchpin verse, one upon which Paul hangs his entire theology of salvation in Romans 4:3. Abram—later Abraham—is, of course, the one to whom God promises offspring too numerous to be counted. That through him and his offspring all the nations would be blessed. More broadly, he also plays an integral role in the theology and history of three major religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), not to mention numerous cults.
In other words, he’s kind of a big deal.
But in re-reading the story of Abraham in recent days, I’ve been reminded how much his story is a story of grace. That what’s really important about Genesis 15:6—though there is a lot—isn’t just that he believed the promise of God that he would have a son, but that he was a bad, bad dude who really needed God to credit him with righteousness, because he didn’t have any of his own.
Remember, when we’re first introduced to Abraham, he was a pagan—a Chaldean (Genesis 11:10-12:9). He obeyed God’s call to a land he did not know, but he also lied about his wife’s relationship to him twice, allowing Pharaoh (Genesis 12:10-20) and later Abimelech (Genesis 20) to take her as a concubine or bride. To which God responded by sending plagues on Pharaoh’s family, and threatening Abimelech with death in order to prevent them from sleeping with her. And why did Abraham do these things? Because he was looking to save his own skin (Genesis 12:13). He also went along with Sarah’s plan to get bring about God’s plan for a child on their own by sleeping with Hagar (Genesis 16)—thus committing adultery on top of not trusting God to follow through (in contrast to his earlier belief that God would do exactly as he’d said).
So, despite his belief at a crucial moment, he clearly was no paragon of virtue. He was someone surprisingly like us: a deeply flawed and sinful man, someone whose trust in God seemed to waiver on more than one occasion. Nevertheless, God did not abandon him. He did not remove the promises from him. He did not say to him, “I’m going to find myself someone else through whose family I’ll eventually bring my Son into the world.”
God had chosen Abraham and nothing was going to change that. Abraham’s episodes of unfaithfulness weren’t made up for by his faithfulness at other crucial moments, like when he was called to sacrifice Isaac, for example. He wasn’t a man who deserved to have God make a covenant with him—which is exactly the point. By his own merit, Abraham was a man unworthy of the grace God had shown him—unworthy of the honor God placed upon him.
Kind of like you and me, huh?
Reading about Abraham—warts and all—is, in a strange way, incredibly comforting. Like him, I am a man unworthy of the grace God has shown me. I’m not someone who, on my own, deserves to be a part of God’s family. I’m not someone who has righteousness on my own. I need it credited to me, just as much as Abraham did. Abraham, because of all his faults, reminds me just how great grace really is—and makes it seem that much greater. Because if God was faithful to fulfill his promises to Abraham, I can be sure God will fulfill all his promises given to me in Christ.