Genesis 15:6 (ESV) … “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
In the middle of this chapter occurs what is perhaps the most important verse in the entire Bible: Genesis 15:6. In it, the doctrine of justification by faith is set forth for the first time. This is the first verse in the Bible explicitly to speak of (1) “faith,” (2) “righteousness,” and (3) “justification.” We know that faith existed before Abram; for Abel, Enoch, Noah (Heb. 11:4–5, 7), and the other godly patriarchs were saved by it. It was through faith on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ that God justified these Old Testament figures, as Paul says clearly in Romans 3:21–26. But up to this point in Genesis, we have not had this truth taught explicitly. Here the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, and hence the theme of the entire Bible, is set before us.
Martin Luther, whose rediscovery of the truths about justification in the sixteenth century launched the Reformation, considered this the doctrine by which the church stands or falls: “When the article of justification has fallen, everything has fallen.… This is the chief article from which all other doctrines have flowed.… It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.” It is “the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines.”
John Calvin—who followed Luther in the early development of the Reformation and whose Institutes became the systematic theology of the Reformation—said the same. He called it “the main hinge on which religion turns.”
Thomas Watson observed, “Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable.”
These statements are not hyperboles. They are simple truth because justification by faith is God’s answer to the most basic of all religious questions, namely, how can a man or woman become right with God? We are not right with him in ourselves; this is what the doctrine of sin means. Sin means that we are in rebellion against God, and if we are against God, we cannot be right with God. We are transgressors. Moreover, we are all transgressors, as Paul says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The doctrine of justification by faith is the most important of all Christian doctrines because it tells how one who is in rebellion against God may become right with him. It says that we may be justified, not by our own works-righteousness, but solely by the work of Christ received by faith.