I want to tell you a true story. It's ancient history now but it's a beautiful story of God's love for all mankind. God looked down, saw a mess and knew something had to be done to reconcile us to Him saving us from what would be a terrible end otherwise.
It all starts with a man called Abraham. Years after the events of the original story James wrote this:
"Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar? See how faith is wrought with his works and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which said "Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him for righteousness and he was called the Friend of God." James 2:21-23
The key here is "the scripture was fulfilled." Normally we know that prophecy is something that is uttered either orally or written down, and after some period of time, later seen.
Here we're talking about scripture that was given to Abraham. James is saying what was spoken to Abraham was later fulfilled. "Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him for righteousness."
In Genesis 12:1-3 where it all began, we can read about the call of Abraham. He was told to get out of Ur of the Chaldees which we know is the old name for Iraq. Hebrews 11:8 tells us that when he was called, he obeyed even though he had no idea where he was going. It was by faith he did this.
This was no easy feat. In Joshua 24 we read that Abraham's father's background was idolatry. Abraham was born a Gentile and declared a Jew. The Jewish nation would be born from this man. He was called out of idolatry. Nothing about his circumstances can explain why he did what he did. Faith is able to accomplish what circumstances cannot do. It was not easy to walk away from your clan, your gods, and your way of life. Something was unusual here.
He was 75 years old when he responded to the call of God. He was a senior citizen. Later in Chapter 15 of Genesis which is the most important chapter in the life of Abraham we can see he's a few years older. We're not sure how much but it's under 10 years because the chronological marker in 16 tells us it was 10 years after his initial call. In this very important chapter we read this:
"And He (God) brought him forth abroad and said, Look now toward heaven and tell the stars, if you are able to number them and he said to him, So shall your seed be. And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord and he counted it to him for righteousness." 15:5,6.
This is exactly what James wrote about. Many believe that Abraham did something to earn this but all he did was believe the promise that the Lord had given him. Simple belief made him right with God. It's so simple yet all the religions of the world have told us for centuries we must earn our way into God's good graces. Not true.
Abraham was justified by faith. Paul later made it quite clear that Abraham's salvation was made on this night. He is justified in Chapter 15 not in Chapter 12 when he left Ur. We know Abraham left Ur by faith but there are different types of faith. Abraham, in Chapter 12, is exercising legitimate, genuine faith when he left Ur. But it is not soul saving faith. God said to him "follow me and I will show you a land." He believed it and trusted it would happen but in Chapter 15 it says he believed in the Lord and "was counted to him for righteousness."
In 1 John 5:13, John wrote something similar to the Christians when he penned this:
"These things have I writeen to you that believe on the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God."
Simple belief. Soul saving belief. How complicated the religions of the world make things.
It's one thing to say I believe in Jesus and quite another to believe in his death, burial and resurrection and understand how it means for our salvation. Saving faith is when one goes to the Savior at the cross and knows he died for them. God communicates truth to us when we respond. As we respond to truth, he gives us more light. God called Abraham by faith. Abraham responded. He reached out in faith to God of the promise. He did not give a performance to earn his salvation.
Many years passed by and Abraham, not having the benefit of scriptures like we do thought he needed to help God out a bit so he and his wife came up with an idea. They brought in their handmaiden and she conceived a child. Of course this was not the child of promise. This was their idea not God's. We see here that Abraham was 86 years old (Gen 16:16). It wouldn't be until another 11 years later that God gave the covenant of circumcision (Chap 17) and even later that the child of promise to be born.
Later in the book of Romans, Paul said there was a very clear reason why God did it this way. The only thing that declared his justification was his faith. Paul asks in Romans 4 "what does circumsion have to do with Abraham's salvation?" Nothing. It's simply a symbol or token of his faith already possessed.
Now Abraham's guilt over his handmaiden Hagar immediately comes to the surface. He is so excited about the promise he thinks about his son Ishmael, desiring a plan for him too.
God is specific. Sarah will have a son. His name is to be Isaac. God's covenant will be established with Isaac.
Then comes one of the most beloved chapters in the book of Genesis. Chapter 22. This is when Abraham would offer Isaac up to God as a sacrifice. Keep in mind the culture back then. We don't know how old Isaac is, but we can listen to the dialogue between the two and understand he's at least a boy if not a young man.
They woke up early in the morning to make this trip up the mountain. We see no questioning; no challenge to God's request of Abraham for this to be done. Abraham once again responded clearly in faith. The writer in Hebrews tells us Abraham's thought process giving us more info. He lifted the knife but in his mind he knew God would raise his son back to life, because before they went up the mountain, Abraham said "we will be back."
This is the faith process. Same thing we have to go thru when we exercise faith today. Abraham clearly understood what God said in Genesis 17. He heard and believed God would do what he said about how numerous his seed would be through Isaac. Abraham faced a dilemma of faith. A paradox was before him. He must have questioned himself by thinking "how do I reconcile killing my son, the son of promise, and the promises of God that were to come from Isaac?" His seed would be multiplied thru Isaac and how could this be if he were dead?
He came to the conclusion "I can't reconcile this but God can." As he looked up, knife in hand, he saw a ram caught in a thicket. This ram never entered his mind. In his mind he saw, according to the writer of Hebrews, Isaac dying in sacrifice, then his beloved son would be raised from the dead. God in his mercy withheld Isaac being sacrificed yet later God did not withold his only beloved Son dying for us. God provided a substitute for Abraham in the meantime. It was like God was saying, "no Abraham, not your son, but mine. I will do it.
Circumstances are God's problem. My responsibiilty is to do what God tells me to do. How many times do we look at our own circumstances and don't do what God would have us to do?
It's all about FAITH. This is the reason Abraham is our spiritual father. He was a great example to all of us, not just the Jews.
Simple faith. Same faith. Soul saving faith.