Soon after the flood, when mankind began once again to populate the earth, an example of how justification could be obtained by faith was given that will continue to inspire hope until the end of time. For every accountable soul becomes stained with sin, and without justification the sinner has no hope.
Abraham did not seek to earn his justification as a payment due for works performed, “For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). If he could have done so, and had earned his justification apart from faith, he would have had grounds for boasting (Rom. 4:2), but God would have received no praise for mercy and love; for the justification would then have been reckoned as a payment justly due.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace (Rom. 4:16).
That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:7-9).
Faith thus excludes boasting (Rom. 3:27), and the apostle refutes the Jewish contention that men are justified apart from faith by keeping the law.
But now the “salvation by faith only” advocate has blundered to the other extreme, and set forth the equally false doctrine that men are justified by faith alone, before works of obedience; thus seeking to exclude works from faith, just as the Judaizer sought to eliminate faith from works. They mistakenly classify one who works by faith, with the worker of Rom. 4:4, who worked apart from faith, and the case of Abraham does not help their cause at all.
All along his journey toward justification, faith was counted or imputed unto Abraham for righteousness. But was his a faith alone, or a faith with works of obedience? “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11:8). Thus at the very beginning of his journey, faith combined with obedience to start him toward the land of promise. For many years he walked in humble obedience, being fully persuaded, that what God had promised, he was able also to perform. “And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:22). Finally, in perhaps the greatest trial of his faith, he was commanded to offer Isaac, his son, of whom it had been said, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Gen. 21:12). And having finally attained unto the justification, let us consider the kind of faith he had, which at different times was said to have been counted or imputed unto him for righteousness:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness (Jas. 2:21-23).
Just as his faith was united with obedience at the beginning of his journey, so also is it here at his justification. Yet in both places it was “by faith.” “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac” (Heb. 11:17). Therefore, the same kind of faith which had been counted or imputed unto him for righteousness, brought him at last to justification, and the Scripture was fulfilled or completed, which saith, “Abraham believed God.”
The candid reader will thus observe that both faith and works are necessary to effect justification in the sight of God. Works without faith would give man grounds for boasting while eliminating God’s mercy and love, and faith without works would actually eliminate faith; “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas. 2:26). It is indeed a sorry spectacle to see a man who preaches that kind of faith masquerading as a champion of justification by faith. No, a live faith on the part of man unites together with God’s mercy, grace, and love, to effect the justification of the soul of man.
It was also at this time that Abraham received the promise confirmed by the oath, that in his seed, Christ, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:15-18; Gal. 3:16). “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:18).
For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil (Heb. 6:13-19).
We therefore today, have the assurance of God’s promise, backed by His oath, that in Christ all shall be blessed. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:14).
By a living and active faith we repent of our sins, and confess before men that Jesus is the Christ. Then, though human wisdom may not understand why God willed it, our faith constrains us to obey the Master’s word: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). For the servant is not greater than the Lord, and it is fitting that we be made perfect by obedience as was Christ. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9). “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). Thus we attain unto the justification by a faith which has wrought with works of obedience to bring us into Christ.
Kind reader, accept God’s word, confirmed by His oath, and be justified by the faith which works through obedience to bring you by baptism into Christ where the blessing is promised. Do not be deceived by the teachings of those who have filled the world with the false hope of justification by faith alone. “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (Jas. 2:20). For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ…And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:26-27, 29).