“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”Romans 4:3
Whom does God forgive? Who can be assured that they are going to be welcomed into heaven? Romans 4:5 says, “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” First of all, God forgives those who admit that they are ungodly and need God’s forgiveness. Second, God forgives those who realize they are incapable of earning their salvation. Finally, and this is key: God forgives those who trust in Christ to save them.
In Romans 4, Paul was explaining to a mainly Jewish audience that salvation is God’s gift, not a result of works. To illustrate his point, he used Abraham as Exhibit A of that truth. To the Jews, Abraham was kind of like George Washington is to Americans. Abraham was the father of the Jewish people. He was the most revered character in Jewish history.
The Jews thought if any person could be in heaven because of his good works, it was Abraham. Just think about what he did. God told him to leave everything familiar and go to a country that He would show him, and Abraham obeyed. When Abraham got into a dispute with his nephew Lot over who could have the best land, Abraham gave the best land to Lot. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, he was willing to do that. Surely Abraham was someone who could inherit heaven based on his works, wasn’t he? No, Paul said. Romans 4:3 says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Paul was referring to Genesis 15:6. Before Abraham had done anything good, God said to him, “Look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. . . . So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5). Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” God took Abraham’s faith, and in the great accounting room of heaven, Abraham’s faith was exchanged for God’s righteousness. At that moment, Abraham was declared “not guilty.” He was in a right standing with God.
Paul used that same word “believe” to describe how we are in a right relationship with God. The word “believe” does not just mean intellectual assent to a set of facts. It means “to trust in, to cling to, to put your full hope in.” It is the kind of faith that motivates you to do something. Abraham believed what God said so much that he uprooted his family and left everything familiar to go to a land that God would show him without knowing where he was going. And it is the same thing with us. To believe in Jesus Christ for your salvation does not mean just to believe intellectual facts about Jesus; it means to cling to the truth that Jesus came and died on the cross to forgive us of our sins. It means to trust in that and that alone for our salvation.