Why the Gospel of Believing and Behaving Is Not the Gospel

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June 6, 2018

Genesis 15:5-8

5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”


Abram had questions. We all do. To walk with God in a life of prayer, which means to walk by faith, is not the way of certainty. Neither is faith the way of uncertainty. Faith operates from another from another framework altogether—the framework of confident movement. It is why the way is found by walking, not sitting. We tend to crave measurable certainty before making a decision to act. In the realm of faith, the only way to gain certainty is to act first. Certainty becomes the fruit of exercised confidence. Our native mentality says, “I will believe it when I see it.” The mentality of faith says the opposite, “I will see it when I believe it.”

Let’s be clear about something. This is not “believism,” or faith in faith, as some have supposed. This is why faith is not about praying harder or longer or somehow more effectively. The way of faith revealed in Scripture puts all the emphasis not on the subject or even the verbiage of faith but on faith’s object. It’s why Jesus would later say faith as small as a mustard seed will do—because it’s not the size of one’s faith that matters but the nature of one’s God. This is why biblical faith can be so laced with uncertainty and doubt. Walking with God in a life of prayer is all about the progressive exchanging of confidence in oneself for confidence in one’s God. Biblical faith is the movement from self-reliance to reliance on God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We have lived through a period of history wherein faith was assumed to be belief in the right things about God or intellectual assent to a set of propositional truths. It’s not that the propositional truths are not true, it is that biblical faith is of another order entirely. Biblical faith is not primarily an exercise of believing “truths” about God. Faith is decisive risk-taking movement and confident reliance on the God who is himself the Way and the Truth and the Life.

That was the setup for today’s most momentous text. In yesterday’s text we see Abram asking many questions of this God with whom he has been walking. He wants to know how on earth he will be the Father of a great nation since he remains childless. He wants to know how his estate will remain in his family given he has no heir. He wants to know how he will gain possession of the land that has been promised to him. It is in the midst of this seeming doubt and uncertainty that we get the following word, which unveils for us perhaps the most core principle in all of Scripture:

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

With all his questions, doubts and uncertainties, when push came to shove, Abram kept walking with God. He looked past the promises to the promise-maker himself and he kept making decisive risk-taking movements. God has a name for such behavior. He calls it righteousness. What? I thought righteousness meant following the rules, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s and all that. Righteousness does not come from following the rules but trusting the Ruler. Righteousness comes from following the Righteous One. Righteousness comes by faith.

We’ve been taught that the path to righteousness is believing and behaving. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with believing and behaving. It’s just not the path to righteousness. The path to righteousness is risk-taking trust in Jesus. Let’s give him the last word today. It makes sense that he would say, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:30)


Lord Jesus, you are right here, right now. I love your promises, but I love you more. Following you is life and way and truth. Your righteousness is better than life. Your Kingdom is better than the best. Free me from all that holds me back that I might seek you with all I am. Right here, Jesus. Right now Jesus. Amen.


1. How did we come to understand righteousness primarily as believing and behaving? What went wrong?
2. Have you struggled with a propositional faith rather than a real risk-taking faith? How did you break free?
3. What role has doubt and uncertainty played in your walk with God?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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