Some modern evangelicals, however, part company with the Reformation tradition of sola fide and interpret Abram’s faith in the active sense as faithfulness or conformity to the covenant. Don Garlington, for examples, writes, “The point of Genesis 15:6, as taken up by Romans 4, is that Abraham was regarded as a righteous, that is, covenant keeping, person when he continued to place his trust in God’s promise of a seed.” Garlington then defines Abraham’s faith as “fidelity to God” and equates his divinely reckoned “righteousness” as “conformity to the covenant relationship,” that is, “faithful obedience.” “Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper,” 49, 52.
It’s mistake, however, to paint Abram’s faith in too rosy a hue. The exercise of faith does not preclude lingering pockets of unbelief (Matt 28:17; Mark 9:24). Hence, after Abram rejects the tempting offer of material enrichment from Sodom’s king, God appears to him in a vision and declares, “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (15:1). The admonition against “fear” does not refer primarily to the dread induced by a vision of deity but to circumstances in Abram’s life that were giving rise to anxiety. Abram identifies these circumstances as the lack of an heir (15:2–3) and an inheritance (15:8). God addresses the patriarch’s fears by reiterating the promises of an offspring (15:4–5) and inheritance (15:7). While Abram responds in faith to this promise (15:6), his faith seems to demand more than a bare word. The appeal “Oh, Lord God, how am I to know I shall possess it?” (15:8) suggests that Abram’s faith needed greater assurance. Accordingly, God condescends to his weakness and places himself under a self-maledictory oath (15:9–21; Heb. 6:13–18). Thus, the accent of chapter 15 falls on God’s faithfulness rather than on Abram’s faith. This observation is critical to a proper interpretation of Genesis 15:6. According to a traditional Protestant reading of the text, Abram’s faith is passive or receptive in character and the focus is on Yahweh’s faithfulness.
For a further rebuttal and critique of Garlington’s interpretation, see John Piper, “A Response to Don Garlington on Imputation,” Reformation & Revival 2:4 (2003): 121–29; and Samuel Waldron, Faith, Obedience, and Justification: Current Departures from Sola Fide (Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2006), 185–223.