Abraham’s Faith, and Ours

The preacher was sincere and well-intentioned. He was passionate in his presentation. He fervently appealed to his congregation to fully surrender themselves to God, to renounce the world and its attractions, and to be willing to pay the price and count the cost of what it means to follow Jesus.

As I listened, I could not help but wonder whether he was calling the congregation to salvation or to discipleship. He seemed to blend the two themes together in a mishmash of duty, good works, obedience and faithfulness to Christ. It almost seemed he believed in salvation by works.

I sat there wondering: “If my obedience to Christ and good works are essential to salvation, how could I ever be sure that I am saved? How could I know if I had done enough? What good works could ever help me achieve eternal life? How could I know if I am as fully surrendered to the Lord as the preacher wants me to be?”

Then I remembered Abraham. He was the great patriarch of the Hebrew nation, He was, by any standard, an example of good works and faithfulness to God. He left his home in Chaldea in response to God’s call.  He worshipped God among the idol-worshipping Canaanites. He submitted to the rite of circumcision as a sign of his covenant faithfulness to God. He was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command.

But Abraham was not justified by his good works. In his letter to the Romans, Paul used the ancient story of Abraham as an illustration of the fact that people are justified by faith alone. He quoted Genesis 15:6 to emphasize that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

“Credited” is a word taken from the business world. It is a financial term which could be used to refer to wages that are earned, or to a gift that is applied to an account freely, without a cost. Paul used the word to teach that justification before God is a gift of grace, not an earned wage. This leaves no room for boasting (v. 2).

Thus, Abraham is a pattern of faith for all of us. He believed God. That is what faith is. In the Greek language of the New Testament, the words translated “faith” and “belief” are the same word. They both mean the same thing: to take people at their word, to have confidence in the reliability of a person, an idea or a thing, to trust, to accept as true. Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith in God and his trustworthy word.

This means that everyone who, like Abraham, believes the promise of the gospel, is pronounced righteous because of the death of Christ and his resurrection. We are told in some of Paul’s other writings that Jesus was made sin for us “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus has “become for us . . . our righteousness” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Those who believe the gospel are said to be given “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9).

Abraham was declared righteous by faith alone. His faith was in the power and character of God, not in his own works. In the same way,  we who trust in Jesus for salvation are saved by faith, not our attempts at doing good. I am aware every day that my assurance of salvation cannot be based upon the fervency of my faith, or on the depth of my surrender, or on the extent of my obedience. All of these are faulty, and weak.

I am encouraged by what I read in Romans 4. “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Salvation is either a reward for works or a gift through grace; it cannot be both. Abraham’s life is a testimony to us that people are justified by faith, not by works.

Good works and faithfulness to God are evidence of our faith to other people (James 2:14-26). The preacher’s exhortations to self-denial and faithfulness were appropriate if they were a call to obedient discipleship. The Bible teaches that there will be rewards for believers who serve Christ in this life. But if the call to obedient service is mistaken as a condition for receiving salvation, the result is confusion.

Romans 4 and the story of Abraham are in the Bible for me, and for you. We are to trust the same God who was faithful to keep his promise to Abraham. “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:23-25).

Warren Wiersbe summarized the message of Romans 4 very well. Justification is by faith, not works. It is by grace, not law. And justification is by resurrection power, not human effort.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Abraham’s God

Connie and I have been reading and discussing the saga of Abraham in the book of Genesis. We have been impressed by the man’s faith in the Living God. Responding to God’s call, he left his homeland and family and migrated to a new land which the Lord promised to give to him and his descendants.

One of the striking features of the story is his awareness of a personal God who spoke to him, guided him, corrected him when he was wrong, who blessed him materially, and who made an eternal covenant with him. We are told that Abraham believed in the Lord and the Lord “credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). He will do the same for us (Romans 4:23-24).

God revealed himself to Abraham as a living person. He has names by which he reveals himself. These names teach us about his nature and his purposes for Abraham and for us.

In Genesis 12 Abraham built altars of worship, “calling on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8, 13:4). In the new land, among people who did not know the Lord, Abraham demonstrated his faith in Yahweh, who would later explain the meaning of this name as “I am who I am,” the eternally self-existent God, the one who is the only God (Exodus 3:15).

After a successful military rescue mission to save his nephew, Abraham worshipped the Lord as God Most High and Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:19, 22). By these names and titles, Abraham testified that he was devoted to the supreme God who provided for all of his needs.

God identified himself to Abraham as God Almighty in Genesis 17:1. He intended to fulfill his promise to Abraham in spite of appearances to the contrary. Despite a long delay God Almighty would give Abraham a son through whom he would fulfill his covenant promise to bless all nations of the earth. The stress is on God’s power in the face of human helplessness.

Abraham’s prayer of intercession for the city of Sodom has much to teach us about approaching God. It was respectful and humble. Yet at the same time it was bold in expressing his desires. Abraham’s prayer in Genesis 18:25 was based on an understanding of God’s character, God’s authority and God’s willingness: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham did not get what he asked for, but he trusted God to always do the right thing, even in judgment.

The name Eternal God is used in Genesis only in 21:33. Abraham invoked this name in worship, remembering that the God who made his unconditional covenant would keep his promises to him and to his descendants after him forever (Genesis 17:8-9).

Abraham’s God was, and is, the God of heaven (Genesis 24:7). He is also the God of earth. I think Abraham’s faith in this God is a beautiful and compelling example to us. He shows us that the transcendent God of heaven is not a remote abstraction beyond the stars, but he is also the God of earth who takes an active and personal interest in his people here.

As Connie and I have been reminded of Abraham’s faith, I have been praying for a greater faith in this living, personal God. Romans 4:20-22 says of Abraham: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner