17 Feb 2019

A Different Way to Understand Salvation Through Faith

Religious 31 Comments

One of the trickiest aspects of Protestantism is the notion of “salvation through faith alone,” as opposed to works. This is obviously a huge area of theological controversy, with many nuances in each denomination’s position. (This Wikipedia article gives an idea of the issues involved.)

For our purposes here, the reason this doctrine seems so perverse from a worldly perspective is that a serial killer who repents on his death bed “goes to heaven,” while a law-abiding, friendly guy who simply can’t believe thousand-year-old stories about a guy walking on water “goes to hell.”

One of the classic verses to support the Protestant position comes from Romans 4:

1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes ina him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…

Someone in my Sunday school class pointed out an interesting aspect of this (famous) example of Abraham. The point at which the Bible actually says, “And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness,” doesn’t actually occur until Genesis 15:6. And if you click the link and look at the context, you’ll see that earlier in that conversation, Abram (sic) actually didn’t understand how he was going to enjoy the blessings God had been promising him for some time, because Abram had no direct heir. It was only then (in Genesis 15: 4-5) that God spelled it out exactly for him, that Abram would have his own son as heir–even though Abram and his wife were very old at this point.

(To be sure, from the beginning God was promising Abram that he would be the father of a great nation, but it’s not until Genesis 15 that Abram directly brings up the issue of him being so old and still lacking an heir.)

Now if I understood him correctly, what the guy in my Sunday school class was getting at, is that Abram started obeying God (imperfectly) from Genesis 12. And this was some pretty serious stuff; God told a 75-year-old man to pack up all his stuff and move to a different country!

So we see a nice contrast between faith and works: Abram did a pretty brave thing and obeyed God’s difficult command, but that wasn’t what made him righteous. (And it’s a good thing too, because Abram obviously committed sins along the way.) It was only when Abram believed the promises of God that he was saved.

Now that I’ve laid out the context, here’s my thought: If you’re thinking of heaven as a magical place where angels are strumming harps, and you get in by accepting Jesus regardless of your sins, whereas hell is a furnace where you burn forever if you fail to love God, then yes it’s difficult for a non-believer to make sense of that system.

However, what if it’s more like this: God has promised paradise to those who trust in Him. To the extent that you believe Him, you are saved…right now. You have heaven on Earth, to the extent that you believe everything the Bible says about God’s character and what He has in store for His children.

If instead, you are cynical and doubt that there’s really a “higher power” or “something that makes sense of it all,” then the nature of man and what we do to each other–all the pointless cruelty and suffering–is a living hell. People can try to deal with it by drinking, drugs, or writing existential tracts, but it takes a loving Creator to fill the void.

31 Responses to “A Different Way to Understand Salvation Through Faith”

  1. Dan says:

    What’s difficult for agnostics like me is that, at least in my mind, I feel like I’d fully accept the story if I was standing in front of God after I die. Maybe it’s true that if I can’t accept it now that I won’t be able to accept it then, but it’s hard to believe in my current state. And it makes no sense why He would condemn me to hell for not accepting Him as my savior while I live, if I’d accept Him after death. So the only thing that makes any kind of sense is that I’d be so overcome with guilt for not accepting Him now that I’d not be able to accept him after death. Yet, I don’t see why a person that accepts it one second before they die would be able to deal with the guilt, but I wouldn’t be able to one second after I die and stand before God.

    • Andrew in MD says:

      Imagine, for a second, that you did believe in God. Somehow you’ve come across evidence that fully convinces you that the Christian Bible is true. This isn’t something where you get to ask God questions and have Him answer you directly. And whatever this evidence is, you aren’t able to use it to convince other agnostics. When you try to explain it to non-believers, they doubt you or tell you you are mistaken. Nonetheless, it has you fully convinced.

      Now you may be wondering if it is even possible for a piece of evidence to have this effect on you within the parameters I’ve described but, for the purposes of this thought experiment, try to move past that line of defense and just imagine that it is possible and that it has happened.

      After you’ve come to believe in God, would you profess undying gratitude to Him? Would you love Him and thank Him for all of your blessings and for the life He has given you? Would you devote your entire life to Him, to the extent you are able? Would you maintain your faith in the face of criticism and mockery?

      Or would you question Him? Would you maintain all of your doubts and judgments of God, only now fully believing Him to be real? Would you ultimately come to doubt the evidence that first convinced you and allow yourself to fall back into agnosticism?

      If you can’t bring yourself to believe in God in all of your life, why do you assume you would be able to do so quickly and fully in death? How will you know that your vision of God is real and not just the hallucinations of a dying body? How does a wandering soul shake off a lifetime of skepticism and doubt in an instant? Would a vision of God moments after your death instantly convince you that Christianity is wholly true and not that you’re having a comforting hallucination as your synapses fire their last?

      Will you be surprised if a moment of doubt precedes a descent into hell?

      • Dan says:

        Presumably, God knows me pretty well, so my guess is that He knows what I’d need to hear or see to believe, and since he’s not limited he can do that. It makes even less sense to me that God wouldn’t be able to convince me of His existence after I die and stand before Him. I can accept the possibility that I’d not accept Him as my savior for whatever reason, although that seems highly unlikely in my mind, but it is completely implausible to me why God wouldn’t be able to convince me I’m not hallucinating after I die.

        • Andrew in MD says:

          I appreciate your engagement on this. I understand how your position seems reasonable from an agnostic perspective.

          When I first read your response, I thought that you had ignored my thought experiment but now I think that you’ve answered it indirectly. My reading of you suggests that you would continue to doubt God if given convincing evidence that Christianity is true because you’re proposing that God might work with you to convert you to His side after you’re dead, when it’s pretty clear from the Bible that that is not how final judgement works.

          To be clear here, I was not trying to say that you could not change your mind even if you were given an unlimited amount of time and evidence in the afterlife. I’m saying that you wouldn’t be able to change your mind while standing in line at the pearly gates, even if that were how it actually works.

          I don’t believe that those who deny God ever enter into His presence. Your time on earth is the time for which you will be judged. If you are one of God’s chosen faithful, then you will ascend to heaven and enter God’s kingdom upon death. If you deny His salvation, then your afterlife will be subject to the rule of the prince of this world.

          Here are a couple of imperfect analogies: Would you be surprised if you never arrived at a gathering whose invitation you declined? If you expressed ingratitude towards your earthly father and denigrated his life’s work, would you be surprised if he left you out of his will?

          Remember that it is not God who tortures you in hell. It is Satan, the ruler of this world, who you implicitly choose when you deny God’s invitation.

          • Dan says:

            But I don’t deny His invitation. I explicitly accept it. Now you can say God won’t let me in because I’m not 100% convinced the Christian story is true, but you can’t tell me that I don’t accept the invitation. I’m down. Let me in.

            • Andrew in MD says:

              Sorry. “No shoes. No shirt. No service.” Declining the terms on which the invitation is offered is the same as declining the invitation.

              • Rory says:

                See my comment below but I think this is where it becomes understandable that the non-believer (or evidently the non-Christian) is confused if not outright put off by the idea that the Heavenly Father functions on the same policies as the McDonald’s down by Route 93

    • Matt M says:

      I basically agree with this.

      I don’t feel as if I’ve somehow “chosen” to be a skeptic. I’ve tried to be religiously faithful and have never been able to truly believe. I feel as if whatever created me, God or otherwise, made me this way.

      Not to get too political here, but this is somewhat similar to the “born this way” ideology promoted by some more progressive elements of Christianity – that we must love individuals who regularly sin because God created them that way, and God loves them and He knows what he’s doing here.

      God made some people murderers and some people gay and some people skeptics. Why would he heavily punish only the latter?

      • Andrew in MD says:

        Not some, all. God gave all of us the capacity for violence and hedonism and doubt. You may feel that you have not made a choice in doubting God. I can tell you that I have made the choice to embrace Him. A lack of agency is not a virtue.

        As Rush said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

  2. steve says:

    As I see it, if we take seriously the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves, and strive to do the best we can to obey this command, then we are loving God with all our hearts and minds, even if we can’t truly understand how and why God works. That’s how we can fulfill God’s law. That way, I believe, God will accept us as we are. I can’t understand God, but I can understand love our neighbor as ourselves.

  3. Khodge says:

    I can’t say that I follow your argument nor that it strikes me as consistent with what I have read elsewhere on saved by faith alone. If you are saved by faith, in the usual description, the decades of “saved life” and imperfections are a non-issue. You are saved by faith. Period.

    My overall impression, though, is that, except for the very serious believers, most Christians actually are closer to a “saved by works” theology. Your first sentence suggests as much. It would also explain why Christians are hurt by accusations of hypocrisy if, at a minimum, all they need say is that we are saved by faith alone.

  4. Andrew in MD says:

    I think that a common human failure is our belief that we can isolate factors of a system and handle them independently from the whole. If you are prone to wondering whether we are saved by works or by faith, then I must ask how you propose that we separate them? Can you imagine of a man who has strong faith but does not perform good works in service of that faith? I cannot. For me, an absence of good works is evidence of weak faith.

    But what about when the “serial killer who repents on his death bed ‘goes to heaven?'” Does anyone think that is a simple thing? Will a man that has dedicated his life to evil really be able to switch over to the good in his final days? Will he fully come to terms with the enormous evil in which he has engaged and sincerely ask Jesus Christ to forgive his sins? Is this not a herculean task, too great for most men? Could a black-hearted killer really expunge his soul of evil without reveling or wallowing in it too long? It isn’t enough for him to say the words; he must truly believe them.

    We rational people tend to overestimate our control over ourselves. Many non-believers seem to think that sin and faith are switches that they could flip off or on if the desire struck them. As a believer, I can tell you that it isn’t that simple. Holding a strong faith, refraining from sin, purging evil notions from your soul; these are difficult things that take work and practice. If you’ve ever struggled with sticking to a diet or exercise regiment, breaking an addiction, or ending a bad habit, then you have a glimpse of the difficulty that we have in controlling ourselves. Discipline is not easy. And strong faith takes discipline.

    • Khodge says:


      How many other disciplines go out of their way to speak in absolutes? Bob does when working out libertarian issues but that seems more to direct the conversation than to establish absolutes.

    • Harold says:

      “It isn’t enough for him to say the words; he must truly believe them.”
      This I agree with. In the hypothetical case that God exists as described here, it would be impossible to suddenly switch from not believing to believing as a matter of convenience. We are so used to people lying to us convincingly but God of course could not be fooled.

      However, given the complexity of human nature and self deception, I am not sure it is impossible to believe genuinely and still do bad things. Whilst a genuine acceptance of Christ is very likely to lead you to good behavior it is far from universal.

      Saint Augustine played it rather well, having a youth filled with hedonism and a later life of piety. “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” He might have been knocked down by a cart at 25.

      • Andrew in MD says:

        It is true that believers sin too. You would expect a true believer to avoid sin with all of his might but, as you say, the complexity of human nature frequently prevents us from doing what we believe to be right.

        It is funny that you say that about Saint Augustine. I had a weak faith when I was younger. Now I look back on my more hedonistic moments with regret, not pride or nostalgia. I always wish that I had seen the light sooner, not later.

    • Rory says:

      Andrew, I sincerely appreciate your points so forgive me for saying, but this seems to me to be a red herring ultimately. Regardless of whether or not it’s a simple thing to truly repent, I think the problem is still as big operating on “just” the other half. That is to say perhaps it is more of a spiritual challenge to repent than the secular world gives credit for, but there’s *no* people outside of Christianity that could be reasonably recognized as moral that are – for lack of a better term – collateral damage in this framework? No Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc. that practice sufficiently good lifestyles except they do so through the vector of another god? And they are met with *eternal* suffering and punishment? I may be misunderstanding but that seems outlandishly excessive for a hypothetical someone who from my perspective is making a good-faith effort and is mere degrees off from the “right answer”.

      I’m sure we could again conflate morality with Christianity (and I’m not trying to be flippant in saying this – I “get” the perspective that you’re not truly living a moral life if not done explicitly through Jesus Christ insofar as I respectfully disagree), but surely you can understand how this seems legitimately problematic from an agnostic/atheistic perspective, and doesn’t originate out of pure malice at that.

      To tie into your comments to Dan above, you say final judgement does not work by God convincing you to join him. But why not? I echo Dan in saying that I imagine after our deaths God would would have no trouble in convincing us of his perspective in an instant. I doubt you deny this, but instead you appear to say that that’s just not how it works – everyone is given the pamphlet and if they still have questions, well they can ask them from hell. Again please understand I’m not trying to be combative in saying this feels a lot like I’m giving God the benefit of the doubt in not ushering his children along in the afterlife equivalent of the DMV, and not only am I wrong, but even in thinking so I’m securing my own damnation.

      Incidentally this is why I am interested in the idea of universalism within Christianity.

      • Andrew in MD says:

        No need for forgiveness. I see that you are genuine. Believe me when I say that I understand why agnostics and atheists find it impossible to appreciate what I’m saying. I’ve always believed in God, but I was once much closer to agnosticism than I am today. It took a major shift in perspective for me to fully grasp what I now believe to be the truth and what I am trying to convey here.

        First, Heaven isn’t a reward for “sufficiently good” people. Heaven is God’s kingdom and only men who have never sinned would be permitted. But Satan is the ruler of this world and he made it impossible for men to live on earth without committing sin. Sinners are subject to Satan’s rule in the afterlife because, by their sins, they choose Satan. Christ came to earth and gave us an escape from our eternal damnation. He absolved us of our sins and gave us a path to Heaven, an alternative choice.

        You don’t believe this. I get that. You think that if it is true, then it is monstrously unfair. I get that too. But what you find fair and what’s true barely overlap, regardless of the Bible. I’ve come to believe that the Bible is literally true. Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can convince you.

        A couple quick responses to some of your points:

        “No shirt. No shoes. No service.” isn’t literally in the Bible. I was just expanding on the invitation analogy. It doesn’t really matter if you’re “put off” by the conditions of your salvation. What matters is the truth.

        You (and a lot of agnostics/atheists) are very concerned that non-Christians aren’t allowed into Christian Heaven. But why should they be? They know what we know and they choose not to believe it. Jews, Muslims, and atheists specifically deny Christ as a matter of faith. I think this confusion stems from the common misunderstanding of Heaven as a reward for “sufficiently good” people. But only those who have never sinned would be allowed in Heaven if not for divine intervention.

        You ask why God doesn’t coax us over to His side in the afterlife instead of judging us by how we lived. I have to admit that I don’t have all of the answers. Somehow, it seems that Satan has tremendous power over this world. Satan was even able to try to tempt Christ. It seems to me that God is unable to wrest souls from Satan’s grip unless we choose Him. Of course that doesn’t make sense to the agnostics and atheists who imagine God is an omnipotent superhero who can do whatever he wants but it makes sense to me. Maybe it’s part of a deal that He made with Satan at the beginning of time. Maybe if God were to intervene on behalf of souls that have implicitly declared themselves for Satan it would necessarily precipitate the end times. I can’t say with certainty why final judgment works this way, but I do honestly believe that it does. And I don’t believe that this discussion has any influence over the rules of the process.

        P.S.: Please don’t take “God is unable” out of context and take it on a cliched atheistic rant. I’ve heard it before. It’s exhausting. Yes, God could do anything. But our universe is fragile. And I think that God (at least recently) errs on the side of not crushing the flower.

        • Dan says:

          “You don’t believe this. I get that. You think that if it is true, then it is monstrously unfair. I get that too. But what you find fair and what’s true barely overlap, regardless of the Bible. I’ve come to believe that the Bible is literally true. Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can convince you.”

          Personally, fair or unfair isn’t a concern of mine. If I’m never able to fully accept the Christian story in my life, and that dooms me to an eternity in hell, then so be it. I’m not deluded enough to think that an omnipotent being needs me to tell Him how to run things.

          My point is simply that when other people try to explain the reasons I’m going to spend an eternity in hell, it makes very little sense to me. Murphy’s position that you’d be so overcome with guilt that you’d not be able to accept God is at least coherent, but still largely unconvincing considering that if I had accepted Jesus 1 second before I had died then I’d be good, but 1 second later I’m no longer capable of making that choice.

          So I’m fine with accepting that if I don’t accept Jesus before I die that I’ll be doomed. I can deal with that, because I’m not sure what’s going to get me to become a true believer from a person who appreciates Christianity and thinks it could very well be 100% true, but doesn’t KNOW that it’s true. I just don’t understand why it’d be the case that I can be saved one second and not be saved the next. I fully accept that God could explain it to me, but I’ve yet to hear an explanation from anyone else that makes much sense, from my perspective.

          Hopefully, everyone who thinks I’m doomed is wrong. Hopefully, when I die, if the Christians are right about God, that I still get a chance to accept His invitation even if I’m later with the RSVP than I was told I needed to be. Regardless, I do find it weird how many Christians seem to hope that people are doomed. There are a lot of them that seem to relish the idea that people are going to suffer while they bask in the glory. I think a lot of them would be disappointed to find out that you could still be saved after you die. Not all, certainly. Some Christians seem genuinely concerned for my future, but most seem to relish the idea that I’m doomed. That I’ll never understand because I’m not even a believer and I hope everyone, including those that I thought were evil bastards in this life, get to spend eternity in peace.

          • Harold says:

            ” If I’m never able to fully accept the Christian story in my life, and that dooms me to an eternity in hell, then so be it. ”

            Dan,. have you ever been tried accepting the truth of Muhammad in your life, and perhaps if you don’t succeed you will be doomed to hell. Why do you think the Christian story, rather than the Muslim or Hindu one, is the story you have wrestled with?

            Keshav, a person obviously capable of complex reasoning, accepts the Hindu version with apparently great conviction. Why should this be the case in world created by the Christian God?

            • Dan says:

              Various reasons. Mainly having to do with Jesus being flawless and the resurrection. Also things like the disciples all becoming martyrs. I’ve yet to hear of any person whether in fictional stories or other religions that compare with Jesus in totality.

              As for Keshav, I don’t know why he believes what he says. Some of his views are clearly contradictory, like his positions on pacifism, but he holds to them strongly.

          • Andrew in MD says:

            I find Murphy’s idea that hell comes from our personal guilt for the harm we’ve done in life to be intriguing but, ultimately, I don’t buy it. It sort of assumes that every person is like us idealistic introverts commenting on this blog. But I believe that some people are so sociopathic that they would feel no guilt no matter how much harm they were shown to have caused. And I believe that those people are tortured in hell.

            I don’t believe that faith in Christ is something that can be achieved within the span of a second. If you became faithful one second before you died, then you were probably well on your way for some time before that. So what you’re really worried about is that at the moment you die you’ll fall just below the threshold of “faithful enough” to get into heaven. But this is a silly thing for a Christian to worry over. None of us are certain that we are faithful enough.

            I agree with you that people who call themselves Christians and yet revel at the idea of non-Christians burning in hell are awful. That any soul is damned to hell is a tragedy and why it’s important for Christians to share the good news with those who will hear it. A Christian who thinks otherwise puts his own soul at risk.

        • Harold says:

          “he made it impossible for men to live on earth without committing sin. Sinners are subject to Satan’s rule in the afterlife because, by their sins, they choose Satan.”

          if it is impossible to avoid it does not sound like a choice.

          ” Of course that doesn’t make sense to the agnostics and atheists who imagine God is an omnipotent superhero …”

          it is not right to lay this in the atheists and agnostics- we are told God is Omnipotent by Christians. You recognised this in your final paragraph but it does not really get you off the hook of blaming atheists. Also “God (at least recently) errs on the side of not crushing the flower.” God cannot err in any way – he is perfect. You may find it exhausting because the concepts are irreconcilable, so you have to keep backing up to move forward.

          • Andrew in MD says:

            In practical terms, never committing a sin is not a choice we can make. Jesus is the only man who never sinned. We can avoid sin to our best ability, but no one will manage to avoid it entirely.

            I don’t believe the concepts are irreconcilable in all of the universe. But the concepts will never be fully reconciled within the minds of men. We cannot fully comprehend the nature of God, so we are forced to speak in metaphor and metaphors are imperfect. No one should be surprised when he finds holes in a metaphor. This is one reason Christians must have faith.

            There are many paradoxes here. You say God is perfect; but many of his creations are imperfect. How does that work? I have a theory but that’s a tangent that I won’t go into here.

            I don’t mean to blame atheists for anything. It is not their fault that they have questions. I do too. But that particular line of argument has been hashed over for millennia. It eats up so many words and, at end, no one’s mind is changed as a result. I don’t care to get into it in this comments section. That’s why I say it’s exhausting.

            • Harold says:

              “I don’t care to get into it in this comments section. That’s why I say it’s exhausting”

              Fair enough. We are indeed not the first to discuss this!

        • Rory says:

          Andrew thanks for the reply but this is exactly where I get stuck. I think you’re generally correct in saying that the “fairness” of a proposition doesn’t indicate its truth. However we’re talking about the ultimate source of goodness, reason, and justice itself though, whose presence/absence to my understanding *creates* the heaven/hell paradigm – in this instance shouldn’t the fairness inherent in God give us insight into the truth of the matter? I am open to the idea that I cannot grasp the reasoning from my current perspective, but to say that fairness itself would not operate as such in the afterlife … I just cannot grasp it. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that that influences my beliefs now, but the answer just seems to be well if you have misgivings that this is the way things are that’s you’re problem. I agree! And if this is what keeps me out of heaven I promise you I wish/will wish somehow I could get rid of them.

          Maybe to convey this better: imagine you instead get sucked into discussing religion with a devout Jew. You mention how God’s grace is evident in sending his son to die on the cross for all humanity’s sins, and that’s very meaningful for you. Now anyone who accepts Jesus is saved and that’s awesome! The Jewish man replies “well that’s nice, but what you find comforting and what you find true rarely overlaps, regardless of religion. Jesus just isn’t who you think he is, sorry to say. God doesn’t work like that.”

          • Andrew in MD says:

            I don’t believe that fairness exists as a general concept. It is a subjective thing and each person has his own idea of what is fair. The man who doesn’t get his way can always find some reason that he was treated unfairly. I don’t think many faithful Christians believe that God treats men unfairly. We have a different understanding of our situation here on earth and what God has offered us.

            I think that most agnostics who wish that they had faith or who say they are open to it but cannot achieve it are approaching the issue backwards. They are looking for the arguments that will eliminate all of their doubts first and then they will begin to build their faith. I can’t imagine anyone ever making it to faith that way. You must start with what you believe to be true and build from there. You must have faith in something before you can find satisfying answers for your doubts. You can start small. Read the New Testament. Watch The Case for Christ. Once you’ve identified something supernatural within Christianity that you can latch on to, build from there. That is how it worked for me anyway.

            Neither I nor the devout Jew would be able to convince the other. But I don’t believe in Christianity because I find it comforting. Many aspects of Christian belief are terrifying. I may be wrong in my beliefs but I have faith in Christ.

  5. Clayton A Soultz says:

    Thanks, Bob. Coming from a holiness tradition, I definitely agree that, as Christ taught, the Kingdom of God is here among us, even now, and that salvation/sanctification is a CURRENT event, not merely a question of afterlife. But your closing comments could be construed as disbelief in the afterlife at all. I’m curious, despite their current manifestations, do you still believe in an eschatological heaven and hell?

  6. Jeffrey S. says:

    Catholic reader here. Just thought I’d leave this for further reflection:

    “14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

    • Ethan says:

      This is an order of operations error. Faith saves you, the evidence that you have been saved is the fruit that your internal change bears.

      It does not imply being good saves you. Biblically speaking

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Jeffrey S., try reading the Wikipedia article I linked. It gives the standard Protestant reactions to James, but I agree that sola fide people shouldn’t be too flippant with those passages.

  7. Brian says:


    I strongly believe you are on the right track here. I offer two points of consideration.

    1. “Salvation” in scripture, as in any writing, has context. It is “saved” from or to something specific. It’s a major theological error to equate “saved” as precisely synonymous with “going to heaven.”
    2. Look at the chapter in its entirety, specifically v.22 and immediate context. There is another, very distinct time where it is said that righteousness was “imputed” (accounted) to him on the basis of his faith. Almost identical language to v.3, but chronologically nowhere near the same event. So the idea that Abraham becomes or is made righteous at a particular moment based on some first act of faith is not supported by this text.

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