Faith counted for righteousness
In Romans 4, Abraham is cited concerning righteousness by faith, as well as the memorable phrase of Genesis 15:6: "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness". How could it be otherwise, if it is the example of righteousness par excellence!
But then-and this is very interesting-this phrase is cited again three times in the same chapter to contextualize it with various aspects that are very clear.
The first, reinforces the idea that righteousness is received by he who believes, not by he who works. This is found in verse 5, which says: "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness". It is crucial to emphasize this idea, for it might seem out of reason to him that hears it for the first time.
The idea of being rewarded is deeply rooted in the human heart, that without out even thinking about it, we attribute it to God as well. If we do not do something, we do not deserve to receive; therefore, he who does not work does not receive. But here we have a different logic that scares man, for it break its mental scheme of rewards.
The second aspect shows us the condition Abraham was in when he received justification by faith: he was uncircumcised (v. 10). Circumcision came later, as a sign of the righteousness that he had received when he was uncircumcised. The hate that Israelites have toward the uncircumcised is proverbial; but they forget that their farthest and honorable ancestor was uncircumcised, and that circumcision came after he believed.
Circumcision, Paul tells us, has no spiritual value if it is not preceded by faith. Someone can be uncircumcised, but declared righteous by his/her faith. This is also applicable to us; when, being already children of God, we often despise sinners, like if we had never been sinner ourselves.
The third aspect shows us that righteousness requires of patience and hope to be able to see its fruit. After Abraham believed God's promise, he had to wait 15 years before having the promised child in his arms. Meanwhile, "he believed in hope against hope", Paul tells us, due to the circumstances that each time became more discouraging (v.18). He was becoming older and without the proper strength to conceive. How was he to have a heir?
Many Christians fail because we demand immediate fruits of faith. And if we do not obtain them, we become discouraged to the point that we start doubting the own Word of God. Nevertheless, faith is like a natural conception. One has to wait the necessary time-life's time, God's time-so that the fruits will finally appear.
Abraham was declared righteous in the same act of believing God; yet, the fruits of that justification took a while to appear. The word of the promise was fulfilled, but in the right time. It is by faith and patience that promises are inherited, the author of Hebrews will tell us (6:12). And this is what the third aspect tells us regarding righteousness by Abraham's faith.
This waiting period is longer than we would like, because we are impatient by nature. But God's ways are higher than ours, and he makes us wait. In that waiting period, beneficial, spiritual effects are being produced in the believer's heart. But it is already decreed that the fruit is coming!