Before marrying or entering a relationship, we have ways of letting others know we are available and interested. Online dating services are one such common method—but one that’s a little risky. The old tried and true ways of letting others know we are interested in them are still effective too. Through grace, God made himself available to us, but we must also make ourselves available to him for the relationship to be successful. Abraham did this.
We Are Justified by Faith (v. 17-19)
As previously mentioned, Abraham was not justified by circumcision or by obedience to the law given to Moses. He lived long before the law was spoken, and Paul has already discounted the notion that justification comes through circumcision or any other ritual—even obedience to God’s law.
God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:2-4) and that the entire world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). God fulfilled this promise because Jews and Gentiles have and continue to be blessed through Abraham. The promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus who was from the line of Abraham but who came to die for all manner of people, not just the Jewish nation. We receive the blessing when we accept Christ by faith. Abraham was blessed simply because he believed God.
Paul describes Abraham’s God. He was a God with the ability to bring the dead back to life. Abraham would experience this personally when God instructed him to sacrifice his promised son on an altar (Genesis 22:2). Though God stopped him at the last moment and provided a ram in his stead, Abraham had the faith to carry out the requested action even if it involved not understanding how God would fulfill his promise to bring many descendants through a dead child. The writer of Hebrews provides a commentary by stating Abraham had faith strong enough to believe that even if God allowed him to go through with the sacrifice he would bring his son back to life (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Abraham’s God was also all powerful. His strength could overcome circumstances that appeared illogical, such as sacrificing the son of promise. This God could bring things into existence that previously didn’t exist. This factor of Abraham’s belief coincides with the creation account where we are told God created the heavens and earth ex nihilio—out of nothing, rather than out of pre-existing matter. God created the original matter and then formed the heavens and earth from it. He is a miracle working God.
Abraham’s faith in God was born before the promised son was. It was exhibited when he believed God could give him and his wife a son even though he was advanced in age and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. At 100 years of age, Abraham’s body was as good as dead. The word refers to Abraham’s reproductive organs which were dead or beyond ever being able to enable his wife to produce a child. They had ceased to function. It was humanly impossible for him to father a child. Both he and Sarah were “sexually” dead.
This incident reminds us of the importance of faith’s source. It can be in nothing except Christ. If it is placed in traditions, rituals, spiritual heritage, obedience to a set of laws, or anything else at the expense of Christ, we are missing the entire message of God’s Word. In fact, God’s promises are promises only he can fulfill. If we have the power to manipulate and bring about the end result, then God is unnecessary and we are just as powerful as he is.
Abraham’s God could make something out of nothing, revitalize a womb that normally would not bear a child, bring a promised son back to life, make him the father of many nations through a resurrected child, and bring a future descendant (Jesus) back to life. Abraham’s faith was not an irrational leap into the dark. Rather, he chose to let faith in God override his normal emotional response and past experiences and lead him to confidence in God.
The Result of Justification is that We are Declared Righteous (vv. 22-25)
Paul claims Abraham didn’t waiver in his faith. Under the circumstances he faced and that God brought him through, this is an impressive conclusion. Now we might counter Paul’s claim by considering two instances where Abraham’s faith appeared to falter. Both involved him telling a foreign ruler that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife (Genesis 12 and 20). He knew the custom of the period and that she could be taken from him, so this was a plan he formulated and Sarah agreed to. Was this not a wavering of his faith wherein he failed to trust God’s protection?
Paul’s reference is to Abraham not wavering or staggering in his faith where the son of promise was concerned. Like David who committed adultery with another man’s wife but was still considered a man after God’s own heart, Abraham certainly had moments when his faith faltered and when he failed. But like David, the pattern of his life was obedience and trust in God.
All of us have those moments when our faith appears to waiver. We have trouble claiming a promise from God or difficulty trusting him when our circumstances appear unbearable. Like Abraham, we need to be thoroughly convinced God will be true to his word and his promises.
At the same time, there are certain guidelines we must adhere to when claiming biblical promises. We must avoid claiming promises that are specific to a certain situation or person in Scripture and not general in nature. The promise of a son in old age was specific to Abraham and Sarah and cannot be claimed by anyone else who may want a child in old age. We must also consider whether our intent is for God to meet a need or desire. God promises to meet needs but does not obligate himself to meet desires which are often selfish in nature. Needs are what must be met to preserve physical life and enable us to carry out God’s request of us. Further, we must determine if there is something we must do for the promise to be fulfilled. Abraham had to leave his homeland for God to fulfill the promise. Some of God’s promises are conditional (Proverbs 3:5-6) while others are unconditional (Hebrews 13:5).
James warns against being double minded people who waiver between belief and unbelief (1:6-8). Opinion, allegiance, and decision making are areas we must be careful not to waiver in. If we have misgivings about a particular opinion, all we must do is consult God’s Word. Allowing God to totally control our life helps with the allegiance part, and trusting God while leaving the results to him equips us with good decision-making skills.
Our faith will always grow stronger when we learn to trust God through any and all circumstances, no matter the difficulty level. As we watch him honor his word, it gives us experience which will guide us through future trials. We build up experiences in faith as we do in life. We can then look back and observe how God delivered us in the past, and this will give us courage and faith he will do so in the present and future.
As Abraham moved to the Promised Land, he found himself in a society where many gods were worshipped and could even be manipulated by the worshippers, but this was not the case with his God. Abraham elected to trust a God he couldn’t control. Just as he chose to trust unequivocally in God’s promises, there are some things we should be just as confident in: God’s forgiveness of our sins, a prepared eternity, life with significance, meaningful service, met needs, and protection.
God’s grace along with Abraham’s faith resulted in justification. Abraham believed God and God credited his account with righteousness. This was because of his faith. What happened to him is identical to what happens to us when we trust God in faith. He declares us righteous. Even though we are not actually so, we are viewed as such because we have believed by faith that salvation comes through Jesus Christ. Paul ties our faith in what Christ did on the cross with belief in the resurrection. He deals at depth with the correlation between the two in his epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
In arguing with some who did not believe in the resurrection from the dead, Paul proposes the logical results of such disbelief. If there is no resurrection, Christ did not rise, preaching that he did is useless and so is our trust in him, the apostles have lied, our faith is useless, and we are still under condemnation for our sins. Further, all who have died in Christ have perished, and we are the most miserable people if we only have hope in this world.
The resurrection proved the efficacy of Jesus’ death and was God’s stamp of approval on his Son’s work. It also verified that payment for our sins was accepted and adequate. It was also a testimony that we will be victorious over death.
Abraham’s faith can be ours if we are willing to experience God the same way he did. His example is witness to the great exchange that takes place when we trust in Christ. God takes the righteousness of his Son and applies it to our account. Everyone likes a bargain, and this is the greatest bargain that could be offered to anyone and it is offered on the basis of grace.