ABRAHAM’S EXAMPLE OF FAITH.
Jesus confounded his generation when he said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:57). Abraham has become the father of those that believe that God grants grace to those that put their faith in Jesus. God justifies and accepts man for his faith and not for his work. Man’s work is too sinful to matter in his redemption. God’s grace alone can regard man fit for redemption, secured by the work of Christ. That is what Paul and all his followers believed and still do. But what did Abraham really believe? Abraham believed that God would give him a piece of Land that shall become a permanent home for his offspring at a time when he had none. It was not about saving his soul, but about an earthly heritage. It was his faith in that promise that motivated Abraham to take his cattle and sheep to Canaan and inspect the territory. In other word, he was testing God whether such a place existed. It was that promise of God that kept him believing and even seeing some fulfillment when he fathered Isaac. It was faith against hope and that is the kind Paul asked of his followers. Abraham did not sit still and let God do all the work neither should Christians expect grace to do it for them. Like Abraham, we too must believe that God, because of grace, will do what Jesus, His Son, promised. It is also correct that Abraham’s faith grew by obeying God and so will our faith. We too must venture out into the world and remain faithful to Christ. There was a transformation after Abraham believed and separated from a polytheistic idolatrous society (Genesis 31:19). Christians too must separate from “Belial’s world.” (II Corinthians 6:14-18). Before we were in Christ, our works gained us nothing, but in Christ works are expected (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The controversy between grace and works is hinged on Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous will live by his faith.” It also means, “being faithful.” The statement was made in contrast to drunkards that did wrong things. The issue was not whether a person believes in God, but whether a person does what is right that justifies his/her actions. This is how James understood Abraham’s faith. He obeyed God, even if it meant to give up his son Isaac (James 2:14-26). Faith for Abraham meant to go where God sent him. He was not perfect in obeying God. He did many things on his own, but he always came back to realize that God had a special mission for him (Genesis 12-25). Abraham’s faith was fervent and explosive. He did not sit on a promise and waited for it to happen. Abraham fathered eight sons. He bought a place with a burial ground and gave his offspring a place they could belong. Faith without works was out of the question for Abraham and for James.
Evangelicals base their understanding of “justification by faith” on Paul (Ro. 4; Eph.2: 1-10). However, it is Martin Luther’s understanding that is being copied. When Paul talks of works, he has in mind rituals, observances and sacrifices that supposedly gained merits with God. These works had replaced the requirement for justice and mercy or God’s Commandments. Luther confronted a religious system that sold indulgencies for salvation. People had to earn these indulgencies without having to change their lives. For both, Paul and Luther, the religious leaders stood in the way of the people getting to God. Christ had removed that obstacle. Individual faith could now reach God in Christ directly. Man no longer had to obey the priests or require their sanctions to gain favors with God. The issue was, “How can man reach God without works?” This was prescribed by the religious authorities. In Christ, none are required. Neither Paul nor Luther could resolve this problem. Man has continued to allow others and things to get in between him and God. Even after God, to please man, had provided a mediator, man still hangs on to others and things rather than to faith.
I do not find that Paul or Luther denied the need for good deeds. The reason is that good deeds are the evidence that Christ Jesus has impacted our lives. Both men were Pietists or holy individuals. Paul was a Pharisee and Luther was a Monk. Luther walked in the footprints of Paul who believed that he had to work or labor at his salvation with fear and trembling (Philippins 2:12). “For we all will stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:10). This includes the followers of Christ (II Corinthians 2:5). Everyone will be judged by what he/she has done (Romans 2:6). Grace will not cover us, if we continue in sin (Romans 6:1-2). Being in Christ means that we stop sinning (Romans 6:12). And when we advertently or inadvertently stumble, we make things right before the sun goes down (Ephesians 4:25-28).
Paul followed the Law, Luther followed Paul, but whom did Abraham follow? He followed his faith in a promise that would take affect in the distant future (Romans 4). Abraham trusted God for a son when it had become impossible for his wife to give him one. He also believed that God would give his offspring a land they will call their own while he was a nomad. A similar faith is demanded of the followers of Christ that have become sojourners in the world. Like Abraham, Christians too must leave behind and example their offspring can follow and build on. What kind of an example are we setting?