At the beginning of Genesis 6 there seems to be a contradiction. Verse 5 says, "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." Yet verse 9 says, "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God." So which is it? Were all people wicked, or was Noah the one exception?
Since the Bible tells we are all born into sin (see Psalm 51:5), we know that Noah was no different from anyone else. He also was a sinner. So how can the Bible call him righteous?
Noah's righteousness stems from his faith in God built on a covenant relationship ("he walked with God").
In Hebrews 11:7, God gives us greater insight into Noah's righteousness. "By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith." Therefore, as one commentator points out, Noah's righteousness was based on his faith.
This begs the question then what exactly is the relationship between righteousness and faith? Is actual righteousness expected of those who choose to follow Jesus, or is imputed righteousness which comes by faith all that is expected?
In order to help answer this question, we can turn to James 2. (Read James 2:1-26)
Faith and actions are set side by side in this passage. It begins with an admonition, "Don't show favoritism" accompanied by, "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom". These admonitions emphasize the importance of what we do. So what about faith?
In verses 14-26, James discusses the relationship between faith and deeds. "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." No one wants "dead faith", so what exactly is required by God?
It is important to recognize that "faith" is always the main issue here. For example, when James quotes the hypothetical person who says, "You have faith I have deeds." He does not answer this person as we might expect. We would expect him to say, "Show me your deeds without faith, and I will show you my faith by what I do." But that is not how he responds. He actually says, "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." So the main issue is still faith. Just as faith without deeds is dead, even more deeds without faith is bankrupt.
So how does this relate to Noah and his righteousness? In order to answer that question, we need to look at the examples James gives at the end of the chapter. Both Abraham and Rahab are considered righteous because they act on their faith. Their faith is in God, so they choose to trust God, and act in a way that demonstrates that they trust God. This is faith in action.
God desires relationship with His people, a relationship based on faith. Jesus is our righteousness, so God tells us to place true faith in Jesus so that we might be saved. When we do what God says, we are acting on faith and He credits the act of faith as righteousness. But that is not all.
You see when we place true faith in Jesus, something else happens too. God gives us the Holy Spirit who works in us what is pleasing to Him so that our faith leads us to pursue God's ways or as Jesus commands, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness ..." (Matthew 6:33)
This is a really big topic. There are no easy answers here. I am interested in hearing what you think. Do you have questions, comments, can you offer other scriptures for us to consider? Please let's discuss.