The God who promised to send the Seed of the Woman to crush the Serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) gave Noah the faith to believe this promise. God was the ultimate basis of Noah’s righteousness. The way in which the Seed of the Woman would crush the Serpent’s head, destroying Satan’s power through sin over God’s chosen, had not yet been revealed. Noah did not know how God’s promised Seed would save him from sin, he just believed that he would. As we study through the Old Testament, we’ll learn that God reveals his plan to save sinners progressively, a little bit at a time.
Our lives are like that. We set goals, but we don’t know everything we’ll need to do yet, or what will happen to us before we reach our goal, but these details become clear to us day by day. This is the way it works with the history of God’s work of redemption from sin. First we learn the big picture: God had announced his plan to send Someone to defeat the great enemy of our souls; then, bit by bit, who this Someone is, and how he’s going to defeat this enemy slowly became clear to people like Adam, Seth, Enoch and Noah one detail at a time. A few of these details are revealed to us in the righteous life of Noah.
By his grace, God promised to deliver Noah from the flood of judgment which he and the entire world deserved (Genesis 6:18), and Noah believed God’s promise, so one of the factors of Noah’s righteous life was faith. This faith in God’s promise was the basis for Noah’s righteous life, but it was not his faith that saved him, it was the gracious, promise-keeping God who chose to save him that was the ultimate basis of his righteousness and his salvation. Noah was a righteous man because God made Noah a righteous man.
The other factor that adds up to righteousness for Noah was his obedience to God’s commands. God gave Noah very specific instructions to build an ark (Genesis 6:14-16), what size to build it, what to build it with, how to build it and how many of the various beasts, birds and bugs to gather into the ark (Genesis 6:19-20). The testimony of Moses was that Noah obeyed all that God commanded him to do (Genesis 6:22). Yet this obedience by itself did not earn for Noah his status as a righteous man. Remember he was righteous by God’s grace through the faith granted to him by God (see Ephesians 2:8-9) with which he believed the God of the promise of salvation from sin, Satan and the flood. Noah’s faith was the root of Noah’s obedience. Noah’s obedience was the fruit of Noah’s faith. Therefore Noah’s faith evidenced by his obedience was what Moses was talking about when he wrote that Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 6:9).
God saves us the same way. All of us were born with Adam’s guilt legally imputed to us (Romans 5:12-14) by virtue of the fact that Adam represented us in the covenant with God which he violated when he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3; cf. Hosea 6:7). In addition to this, we were born, having inherited a corrupt human nature that wants nothing but sin (Romans 3:10-18), unable to do anything (Romans 8:7) that will please him (Hebrews 11:6) and save ourselves. As things stand, we deserve death and an eternity of suffering the wrath of God.
But out of the mass of condemned humanity, a remnant finds favor with God (Genesis 6:8; cf. Romans 11:5-7). Because of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection for sinners, God looks on this remnant with grace and gives them the faith (Acts 13:48; 18:27) to trust the work of Christ that is preached to everybody (Mark 16:15). We then rely on his grace to give us the obedience with which we show our thanks and love for the work of Christ on the cross (John 14:15). So we learn how God saved us in the Bible, and we also learn how to respond to this good news in grateful love by learning the commands of God—because true faith works by love (Galatians 5:6). That’s how we can be remembered as a righteous man or a righteous woman after our story has been told, just like Noah, by a God-given faith in Christ that obeys God’s commands.