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Faith and Works--The Life of Abraham Much is made of the fact that the Bible teaches that

salvation is by grace through faith and not of works (Eph. 2:8-9) and rightly so. If the Bible teaches anything it is that no man can keep the law of God perfectly whether it be the new covenant or the old covenant, the law of Christ or the Law of Moses, and thus merit salvation. Our own hearts convict us of sin even after having obeyed the gospel for we do wrong and our heart pricks us, our conscience is troubled, and we know we have failed and come up short. I know of no one who really believes a man is saved by works, perfect law keeping, although I have been accused of believing that and have been written up for that on the Internet. If you emphasize the need for obedience it is thought you are a salvation by works man. Not only is that a stretch but it is also judgmental and unkind. I would like to take a look in this article at the life of Abraham, the example Paul uses in Rom. 4:3, 22 and Gal. 3:6, of one who "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Rom. 4:3 NKJV) Abraham lived before God had given a formal written law to mankind. This does not mean that God gave man a pass so that man could live anyway he wanted. Adam and Eve tried that and it didn't work. Neither did it work in the days of Noah with the flood nor did it work in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah all before the Law of Moses was given. It is safe to say man had no formal written law in the time of Abraham but it is not safe to say God had no standard at all by which men were to live. How that standard was communicated to men no one can say exactly but if it was not communicated or inherently understood how could God be just in condemning men in the cases I have mentioned? What would have been just in destroying the people in Noah's day had they not had a way of knowing they were transgressing? [I might add we do know Noah preached to them for Peter describes Noah has having been "a preacher of righteousness." (2 Peter 2:5 NKJV)] The same would hold true in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah? The deeds of the people living there were described as lawless thus there was a law they lived under and were violating (see 2 Peter 2:8). If Lot who was described as a "righteous man" (2 Peter 2:8 NKJV) could know how to live justly does it not follow that the inhabitants of those two cities likewise were enabled to know if they chose to know? My point is early man had a God given standard to live by from the beginning. Call it law if you will. The question is only how that standard or law was communicated. It is certain in Rom. 4 Paul is talking about Abraham being justified by faith rather than by works (call it obedience if you will or call it law) when he believed the promise of God that he would have an heir, a son from his own body, and his descendants would be more than Abraham could count, as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:4-6). Read Genesis 15:4-6. God had already at an earlier date, at the time Abraham was instructed by God to leave Ur of the Chaldeans (Acts 7:2-4, Gen. 12:1-3 NKJV), promised that he would make of Abraham "a great nation" (Gen. 12:2 NKJV) and "in you all the families of the

earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:3 NKJV) Abraham was about 75 years old when he left Haran (Gen. 12:4) for Canaan. God did not immediately fulfill his promise of a son to Abraham as Sarah, Abraham's wife, was barren and unable to bear children (Gen. 11:30). She urged Abraham to go take her maid Hagar as a wife so that he might beget children by her (Gen. 16:1-3). This Abraham did after he had been in the land 10 years (Gen. 16:3) meaning he was around 85 years old at the time. When Ishmael, Abraham's son by Hagar, was born Abraham was 86 years old (Gen. 16:16). Thus while we do not know exactly when God made the promise to Abraham of a son (an heir) from his own body and a vast multitude of descendants too numerous to number (Gen. 15:4-6) evidently there had already been a period of time elapse between the time of the promise and when Ishmael was born. In fact, it was implied that Abraham would have descendants when the Lord first spoke to him while still in his native land some 10 years earlier for it would be hard to make of Abraham a great nation if he was to have no descendants (Gen. 12:1-3). God then appears to Abraham when Abraham is 99 (Gen. 17:1), some 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, and promises him a son through Sarah, the son of promise, but the problem is Sarah is 90 years old (Gen. 17:17) and past the age for childbearing (Heb. 11:11). If you read Rom. 4 carefully you realize that Rom. 4:3 is a reference back to Gen. 15:4-6, an earlier time in Abraham's life by a lot of years. That was the time when it was originally said of Abraham that "he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." (Gen. 15:6 NKJV) It was also the only time in the Old Testament it was said of him. Many years have now passed since that event and its promise of an heir, a son, and it seems to have been assumed by Abraham that because of his and Sarah's advanced age that Ishmael must have been the heir God originally promised (Gen. 17:1518). Now God appears to him and says that is not so. The son, the heir, is to come through Sarah, not Hagar. Paul in Rom. 4:19-21, speaking of this event in Gen. 17:1, God's appearance, says of Abraham "not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform." (NKJV) Rom. 4:3 is separated from Rom. 4:19-21 by many years of time and yet both refer to Abraham as being a man whose faith was accounted to him for righteousness. In Gen. 17 he was a man who believed God could give him a son and would despite his age and the age of Sarah. If you ask how do I know Rom. 4:3 is separated from Rom. 4:19-21 by many years of time it is because Paul says in Rom. 4:3 "What does the scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'" (Rom. 4:3 NKJV) Gen. 15:6 is the only such scripture in the Old Testament saying that. We only know that years later in Gen. 17 his faith was still accounted for righteousness because Paul tells us that it was, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Rom. 4:19-22.

Now many people read Rom. 4:3 and Rom. 4:22 along with Gal. 3:6, all teaching and showing how Abraham's faith was accounted for righteousness, and come to the conclusion that man is saved by God's grace through faith alone. Based on the context in which one finds those passages I think they are right. After all what work did Abraham do to obtain a son, an heir? It was all out of his hands except for believing God. I guess if one was so inclined he could say Abraham had normal marital relations and call that a work but I don't think any of us buy that. Sarah is nearly 90 years old and has never had a child. Sarah is too old for childbearing. Abraham, the Bible says, "was as good as dead." (Heb. 11:12 NKJV) Will God intervene? Abraham's belief is that he will. Abraham's faith in God, in God's word and that God was as good as his word, was accounted for righteousness and it was, in this case, not an obedient faith for there was no command to obey, it was pure faith. I thus conclude man is clearly saved by grace through faith and not by any works. I believe that is exactly what Paul teaches in both Romans and Galatians. Now, having said that I ask a question—is it true that Abraham's faith was a disobedient faith? We have been talking about his faith in a context where he had no command to obey so his faith was certainly not a disobedient faith. There was no command to disobey but can a man be saved by a disobedient faith? The truth is Abraham's faith was obedient from the beginning and before the promise of a son by Sarah was given. "Now the Lord had said to Abram: 'Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you.'" (Gen. 12:1 NKJV) Did he do that? "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise." (Heb. 11:8-9 NKJV) In the book of Nehemiah chapter 9 verse 8 Abraham is described as a man with a faithful heart. He believed God when God spoke and if in speaking God gave him a command he willing complied with it based on his faith in God. When God tells us to do a thing if we have faith in him we will try and do what God has requested of us, we will be obedient. But sometimes God just asks us to believe a thing with no corresponding commandment attached to the thing to be believed. When that is the case there is nothing else for man to do but believe. Heb. 11:6 gives us an example. It says that "he who comes to God must believe that He is." (NKJV) What are you going to obey there? There is nothing to obey but there is something to believe without which you cannot be saved. "Without faith it is impossible to please him." (Heb. 11:6 NKJV) I do grant there is a sense in which faith itself is commanded. "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'" (Mark 1:14-15 NKJV) "And this is his commandment: that we should believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ." (1 John 3:23 NKJV) Belief is a matter of a man's will. God has given enough evidence so that a man can believe if, and it is a big if, he wills to believe. Faith is the starting point for all obedience. A man obeys because a

man believes. Faith, absent any other command to obey, is accounted to a man for righteousness and saves the man. The Bible teaches both faith and obedience thus we have James talking about Abraham from a different perspective than Paul. James says even the demons believe (James 2:19) but no one believes demons are saved. They do not subject themselves to God. James also says, "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:17 NKJV) He then uses the example of Abraham saying, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God." (James 2:21-23 NKJV) But what do we have here? Paul says Abraham's faith was accounted to him for righteousness before he was ever commanded by God to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Is James saying no he was not, Paul was wrong? If both men wrote by inspiration it cannot be that they contradict one another so what is the solution? I believe one thing must be taken into consideration if one is to solve what seems to be a contradiction between the two men. The Bible does not teach once saved always saved. Abraham was at one time a saved man whose faith was accounted for righteousness prior to the birth of Isaac just as Paul said but time does not stand still and often men change in their beliefs and actions. Isaac was not a mere toddler when he and his father went to the land of Moriah where the sacrifice was to be made. He was old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:6). Time has passed. Is Abraham still a man of faith? He will be put to the test. What if Abraham fails the test? God has promised him a son through Sarah who God says is to be called Isaac and it is with Isaac that God's covenant is to be established and through his line of descendants that God's promises to Abraham are to be fulfilled. (Gen. 17:18-21) How can God fulfill his promises if Abraham puts Isaac to death as a burnt offering? The Bible answers. "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'in Isaac your seed shall be called,' concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." (Heb. 11:17-19 NKJV) Abraham by faith obeyed and when he did once again his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. (James 2:23 NKJV) But what if he had failed to obey because he did not believe God's promise (Gen. 17:18-21)? Would his lack of faith have been accounted to him for righteousness? I think we know the answer. Hebrews 3:18-19 equates faith and obedience teaching that obedience comes as a result of faith and disobedience as a result of a lack of faith. The writer there is talking about the children of Israel who came up out of Egypt to the very gate, figuratively speaking, of the Promised Land and the writer says this, "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." (Heb. 3:18-19 NKJV)

The bottom line is that man is saved by faith through grace but it is an obedient faith, one that is willing to obey, not a rebellious faith. Does this faith require perfect law keeping? If so who can be saved? If so we are still under a system of law keeping just as the Jews were under the Law of Moses but we know that is not true (read Gal.2 & 3). Jesus is our Savior, not a system of law. We are to strive to live faithfully in all of God's commandments but Jesus came to earth to save us from ourselves. Ultimately, we depend on the grace of God for our salvation.