By Wayne S. Walker
One of the greatest heroes of all the Bible is Abraham. While he made his share of mistakes, the general trend of his life was that of faithfulness to God and, as a result, he is referred to as the friend of God. In this article, we shall notice a statement made about Abraham in Genesis 15:1-6. This particular event follows a number of things that might have given Abraham occasion to be apprehensive. He had been called to leave the comfort of his homeland to sojourn in a strange country. Because of a famine, he had to dwell for a short time in Egypt where he incurred the wrath of Pharaoh. There was strife between his servants and those of his nephew Lot, so they decided to separate. Afterwards, Lot and his family were taken captive in a battle and it was necessary for Abraham to gather an army, overcome the captors, and rescue Lot.
Verse I tells us, “After these things 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.”‘ God went on to promise Abraham that he would have a child and that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars of heaven. Then it is said of Abraham, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (v. 6). Abraham believed in the Lord. He was a man of faith. In fact, we often refer to him as the father of the faithful. Based upon this account, let us examine the faith of Abraham.
I. What is faith? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11: 1). This is not so much a definition of what faith is so much as it is a description of what faith does. The term translated “faith” is defined in Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon as, “Conviction of the truth of anything, belief . . . in the N.T. of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and conjoined with it. . . . When it relates to God, [faith] is the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ. . . . In reference to Christ, it denotes a strong and welcome conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God.” The verb form is “used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i.e. a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah – the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ.”
The best way to identify what faith is would be to examine its manifestations in the life of Abraham. God had told Abraham, “Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” Abraham believed God so strongly that he “departed as the LORD had spoken to him” (Gen. 12:1-4). The Lord said to Abraham, “. . . Every male child among you shall be circumcised.” Abraham’s faith was firm enough that he “. . . took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him” (Gen. 17:9-26). When Jehovah commanded Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Abraham did exactly as he was ordered so that God could say, “For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen. 22:1-2). That was faith!
Notice what the New Testament says about Abraham and his faith. Abraham was justified by faith (Rom. 4:1-3, 1922). The basic meaning of “justify” is “to render righteous or such as he ought to be” (Thayer’s Greek-English). But was Abraham justified by faith only? No, he was also justified by works (Jas. 2:20-24). But is this not a contradiction? How could this possibly be so? “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” (Heb. 11:8). Abraham was justified by faith when he obeyed God’s word and did the work that God commanded him to do.
II. This brings us to our second point, which is, how do we express our faith? Remember that Abraham obeyed. We must also obey the will of God. “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:8-9). Just as it was necessary for Jesus to obey the plan of God so that we might be saved, it is also necessary for us to obey the plan of God so that we might be saved. The only people who are said to receive eternal salvation are those who obey Christ. What about those who do not obey? “. . When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:7-8; emphasis mine, WSW). Obedience is the only way to salvation by faith.
Once we have obeyed and become God’s children, we continue to express our faith by faithfulness in service. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt. 25:21; emphasis mine, WSW). It is interesting to note that the word rendered “faith” can also be translated “faithfulness,” depending upon the context (Gal. 5:22, cf. KJV and ASV). Jesus told the struggling church at Smyrna, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
Another means by which we must express our faith in God is by purity of life. We are not to be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). J.B. Phillips explains the command not to be conformed as, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold” (The New Testament in Modern English). To be transformed means to be changed, hence, to be different. How is this accomplished? “For the grace of God t hat brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:11-14). Let us keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27).
III. Our last point is, what are the results of our faith? Just as Abraham was justified by faith, we too can be justified by faith. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). To be justified by faith is equivalent to being saved by faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). We are not saved by grace only, but by grace through faith. Grace is descriptive of all that God has done for us to make salvation possible. Faith is descriptive of all that man must do in response to God’s grace to receive the salvation offered. And as we have seen in the example of Abraham, this kind of faith definitely includes obedience.
Another result of faith is that it provides for us a source of guidance in this life. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Does this refer simply to a blind leap in the dark? No. What is the source of our faith? “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Thus, the source of guidance provided by faith is God’s word. David said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Psa. 119:105). Therefore, to walk by faith means to walk in the truth of the Scriptures (3 Jn. 4). This is how the children of faithful Abraham are to live (Gal. 3:6-9).
A final result of faith is eternal salvation. The apostle Peter describes this salvation as “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,” and then goes on to tell his readers that because of what Jesus had done for them and because of their own faith in him they will be “receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:39). The world “end” in that passage carries with it the idea of “the final issue or result of a state or process” (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). The blessed promise of Jesus himself is found in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes [has faith, WSW] in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Abraham could look forward to this hope by faith (Heb. 11:13-16).
As we close this article, consider the following question. Do you have faith in God like Abraham did? “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). If you do have faith, what kind of faith is it? Is it a dead, passive faith? Or is it a living, active, obedient faith? “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Examine your life and remember the warning of Hebrews 10:38. “Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draw back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 10, pp. 304-305
May 19, 1988