How can one be righteous before God unless he repents of his sins? The patriarchs did not repent, yet God declared them righteous and made promises to them.
Everyone I talk to says that you must be born again in order to be made right with God. And when you follow up with details, they say that you must repent of your sins and make Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior.
I am not contradicting these instructions. However there are certain cases when righteous people did not follow this formula to achieve their righteousness. I call this ‘Righteousness without repentance’.
You must be born again
So here is their argument or formula to be made righteous before God.
- All have sinned and are thereby unrighteous
- All must repent of their sins to access forgiveness
- All must believe and trust in Jesus Christ who is the sacrifice that pays for their forgiveness.
Romans 3:23-26 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
23 Since all have sinned and are falling short of the honor and glory which God bestows and receives.
24 All are justified and made upright and in right standing with God, freely and gratuitously by His grace (His unmerited favor and mercy), through the redemption which is provided in Christ Jesus,
25 Whom God put forward before the eyes of all as a mercy seat and propitiation by His blood the cleansing and life-giving sacrifice of atonement and reconciliation, to be received through faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over and ignored former sins without punishment.
26 It was to demonstrate and prove at the present time (in the now season) that He Himself is righteous and that He justifies and accepts as righteous him who has true faith in Jesus.
When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus
John 3:3-6 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
3 Jesus answered him, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.
4 Nicodemus said to Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter his mother’s womb again and be born?
5 Jesus answered, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, unless a man is born of water and even the Spirit, he cannot ever enter the kingdom of God.
6 What is born of from the flesh is flesh of the physical is physical; and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Jesus often spoke of repentance.
Matthew 4:17 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, crying out, Repent (change your mind for the better, heartily amend your ways, with abhorrence of your past sins), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Putting these three passages together gives the formula to be born again by repenting of your sins. This has been a very effective initiation into the kingdom of God for those who have lived their lives as they pleased and ignored God for many years.
Age of innocence
Some adults who grew up in Godly families have never repented of their sins to become born again. And yet they know and love God and Jesus Christ and are obedient to the law of God.
There is a period in childhood called ‘the age of innocence’ in which children are obedient to their parents. If they are trained in the ways of the Lord, they may come to know God personally and find that later they do not need to repent of their sins.
This age of innocence is assumed in Isaiah 7:16.
Isaiah 7:16 King James Version (KJV)
16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
When the prophet Samuel was a child, God himself came to him and spoke with him 1 Samuel 3:1-20.
1 Samuel 3:1-20 King James Version (KJV)
3 And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.
2 And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;
3 And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep;4 That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
5 And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.
6 And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.
8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.
9 Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
Abraham believed God
We don’t know anything about Abraham’s childhood. As far as archeology can determine, Abraham did not have a written language. So we must assume that our ancient texts before Moses derive from oral tradition, that Abraham told his story to his children and grandchildren and great grand children. Did he have godly parents? Did God come to him when he was a child and help him? The text is silent on this. All we know is that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
6 And he Abram believed in (trusted in, relied on, remained steadfast to) the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness (right standing with God).
Abraham was neither a Christian nor a Jew
- Abraham did not have a religious or civil wedding.
- Abraham did not obey the ten commandments. (He never heard of them)
- Abraham did not repent of his sins. He was unaware of his sin because he did not live under law.
- Abraham was not born again. He simply believed God.
- Abraham was unpatriotic in all the lands where he dwelt. He never swore fielty to any king except God Most High.
- Abraham could not read or write. His culture did not have a written language at that time.
- Abraham did not attend religious meetings or worship services.
- Abraham did not observe the Jewish religious festivals and temple worship. They were instituted 450 years later.
- Abraham would be excommunicated from Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches today (for heresy and disobedience).
- Abraham would be excluded from protestant congregations because he would neither attend services nor listen to the teachings. He simply had a relationship with God–and that was sufficient.
- Abraham never tried to proselytize anyone. As the owner of the promise of God, he was all of the Godly of his generation and the promise was to him and his descendants.
So the only requirement for Abraham to be righteous before God was to believe Him.