Every person who truly believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is interested in having what we might term “saving faith.” The Bible could not be any clearer than it is on our need for such faith. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians, “By grace you have been saved through faith.” (Eph. 2:8 NKJV) To the Christians at Rome he speaks of them “having been justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1 NKJV) and then there is perhaps the best known passage in all of scripture, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV)
The only question then to be resolved is the nature of the faith that saves. We know its object (Christ) but need to know the characteristics of saving faith. In Rom. 4 Paul says Abraham “is the father of us all” with the reference to all who believe. (Rom. 4:16) He says in Galatians, “only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7 NKJV) And, then finally, “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” (Gal. 3:9 NKJV) If we can learn the nature of Abraham’s faith and then copy it in our own lives we too can and will be blessed.
In Romans 4:3 Paul talks about Abraham’s faith quoting a scripture found in Gen. 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (NKJV) The context in Gen. 15 is God’s promise to Abraham that “one who will come from your own body shall be your heir” (Gen. 15:4 NKJV) and that his descendants would be as the stars of heaven, impossible to count them for their number (Gen. 15:5). Abraham believed that and it was “accounted to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6 NKJV)
It is easy here to be led astray by carelessness as a student of the Bible and come to the false conclusion that up to that point in time Abraham was a lost sinner and this is the first time God accounted to him his faith for righteousness. This was not a conversion experience for Abraham.
The truth is Abraham believed God, walked with God, and was in obedience to God long before this event. Stephen in Acts 7 said, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.'” (Acts 7:2-3 NKJV)
Note that God had chosen Abraham for he could have just as well have appeared to anyone of hundreds or thousands of other men but he chose Abraham telling him, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:2-3 NKJV)
Note that God actually “appeared” to Abraham at that early stage of his historical record. He was 75 when he departed Haran for Canaan (Gen. 12:4). When he arrived in Canaan the Lord appeared to him again, promised to give the land to Abraham’s descendants, and Abraham built an altar to the Lord there (Gen. 12:7). From there he moved to Bethel where it is said, “he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” (Gen. 12:8 NKJV)
Thereafter Abraham went to Egypt for a time then returned to Canaan to the place of his first altar to the Lord and it is said at that time that “Abram called on the name of the Lord.” (Gen 13:4 NKJV) After Lot had separated from Abraham the Lord God again spoke to Abraham and said, “All the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.” (Gen. 13:15 NKJV)
We next read of Abraham building another altar after having moved to Hebron (Gen. 13:18) and then read of Lot’s captivity and rescue by Abraham and later of his meeting with Melchizedek king of Salem (“priest of God Most High” – Gen. 14:18).
Finally, we come to chapter 15 where “the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” (Gen. 15:1 NKJV) Note that this is stated in Gen. 15:1 and is before Gen. 15:6. This will be the vision where God tells Abraham that he shall have a son from his own body who will be his heir, that his descendants will be as the stars in multitude being impossible to count (Gen. 15:4-5), and where it is said, “And he believed in the Lord, and he accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6 NKJV)
What has been the point in following through all of this chronologically? It is to point out that Abraham had long been a man of faith and had been so for years before it was ever said in Gen. 15:6 that Abraham’s faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Abraham had been walking with God by faith and God had been communing with him talking with him and making promises to him for years. I want to emphasize that and then ask a question. Do you believe, based on your reading of Gen. 12, 13, and 14 and the first verse of Gen. 15 that Abraham was a lost sinner condemned in God’s eyes before Gen. 15:6?
As the writer of the book of Hebrews said it was “by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would afterward receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a foreign country.” (Heb. 11:8-9 NKJV) By the time Isaac was born Abraham was 100 years old (Gen. 21:5). He had left Haran at the age of 75.
When God said to him, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15:1 NKJV) that was before it was said of Abraham that God counted his faith for righteousness.
The point Paul was making was not that this was a conversion event for Abraham in Gen. 15:6 but rather that Abraham was saved as all men are by faith that God counts for righteousness. That is true for a man at any and all points of time in a man’s life if he is a saved man. It was just as true of Abel, Enoch, and Noah (men before Abraham’s time) as it was for Abraham even though scripture never specifically says that any of these men’s faith was counted for righteousness. All three of these men are listed along with Abraham in what we often call the Bible’s hall of fame for faith chapter – Hebrews 11.
Does this mean that the promise of a son and Abraham’s faith in that promise was of no particular importance? Not at all! Quite the contrary!
Abraham’s faith was so strong that he believed God was able to do what appeared to man to be impossible. The original promise to Abraham of a son (in Gen. 15) was made quite a number of years before Isaac, the son of promise, was born. In the time between the promise and the birth of Isaac Ishmael had been born and was at least 13 years old by the time of Isaac’s birth. Read Gen. 17.
God appeared to Abraham when he was 100 years old and again promised him a son (Gen. 17:15-21) and then appeared to him again only this time Sarah was within hearing distance and overheard the promise of a son also (Gen. 18). She was 90. (Gen. 17:17)
By man’s way of measuring the possible it was an impossibility for Abraham to have a son but believe he did as did Sarah. “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude–innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.” (NKJV) Rom. 4:19 tells us Abraham “did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” (Heb. 11:11-12 NKJV)
A second instance of this man’s faith in the impossible, believing only because God had spoken, is found in Heb. 11:17-19.
“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.” (NKJV)
God had spoken, God cannot lie, and thus Abraham’s faith in God was so strong he was even willing to obey this command to offer up his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:2) while still maintaining faith in God’s promise. The promise was that in Isaac your seed shall be called meaning God would have to resurrect Isaac from the dead if he was going to be sacrificed as a burnt offering. Abraham’s faith in God keeping his promise was so strong he was going to sacrifice Isaac in full faith God would resurrect him from the dead.
So what have we learned about this great man of faith that would be applicable to us today? One lesson is that which we have just talked about – we ought to believe whatever God has said no matter what, no matter how incomprehensible or unreasonable to us the command or declaration he makes may be.
Faith requires obedience when a command is given. A failure of faith always leads to a failure to obey which is the reason the children of Israel never entered the Promised Land. “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) Had Abraham not obeyed God would we be talking about his faith? To ask is to answer.
What really matters for a man of faith is not what we think about what God has said but what he has said. We can get to reasoning with the word of God to the point where we can convince ourselves that God did not really mean what he said in a commandment or in a statement. Abraham just believed and obeyed no matter what.
A second lesson we learn is that faith comes by hearing God’s word. What Abraham believed was what he heard, what he was told by God. He did not come to conclusions by way of human reasoning. Men have faith today in all kinds of things not found in God’s word and have convinced themselves it is of God. What Abraham believed was what he heard. What we are to believe today is what we read in the word of God – the New Testament. That is how God talks to us today. That is how we hear him today.
Personal opinion is passed off for faith in the time in which we live. The “it seems to me” or the “I can see no wrong in it” has replaced the book, chapter, and verse word of God in our lives and worship. Again, this is not the faith of Abraham. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17 NKJV) If there is no book, chapter, and verse for a practice it is opinion, not faith.
A last lesson I take from a study of Abraham’s faith is that it was a perpetual faith. It was not here today and gone tomorrow but was a continual walk with God throughout his life. Sinless he was not for he was a man but he did believe God.
Many believe in God to save them but they don’t believe God, don’t believe parts of his word, don’t believe some of the things he has said they should or should not do. Is that faith like Abraham’s? When a person is like that can it honestly be said they “believe in God?”
Faith in the case of Abraham, and another good example being the children of Israel as they came out of Egypt, was never a matter of does God exist. He made himself known to the extent it was not even a matter of faith as it related to “does God exist.” It was impossible to not believe that. That was so readily apparent that it was factual. Faith came down to trust and obedience. In the final analysis is that not always the case? Is that not the true measure of faith?
James says, “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 2:23 NKJV) James referred back to the same passage Paul did in Rom. 4:3 – the passage being Gen. 15:6. Paul used the passage in reference to a time prior to Isaac’s birth while James used it in reference to a time some think to have been around 30 years later – at the time Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Whatever the exact time there is no doubt there were many years in between the two points of reference.
Well, when was Abraham’s faith accounted to him for righteousness? Who was/is right – Paul or James? Since they both wrote by inspiration it is obvious both were right. At any point in time in a man’s life when he is believing and obeying what God has required of him he is a saved by faith man whose faith is accounted for righteousness. However, when more is required more must be believed and obeyed.
Abraham was a saved man before he was required to sacrifice Isaac but what if he had failed to believe God and obey God when the command to offer Isaac was given? A man can lose his salvation. Our faith must always be strong enough to lead us to obedience to what we know God has commanded.