Abraham's Tests and Spiritual Maturity; James 2:22
The question is raised, 2:21: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" We scratch our heads and say, well doesn't Paul argue that we are justified by faith alone? Galatians 2:16. We have seen that the clue to this is found in verse 24: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." Here is a prime example of why it is important to get into the original languages and understand the grammar and syntax correctly. The English translation is really pathetic. The word translated "alone" is the Greek word MONON [monon], an adverb. An adverb always modifies a verb. The noun is MONOS [monoj], and if it was an adjectival form it would have an even different ending. But here we have "alone" modifying the word "faith," and faith is a noun. The problem is that it is seen at first glance here in the English as talking about one kind of justification, a justification that includes not only faith but also works. But when you realize that the "alone" is a mistranslation and that there is an understood but unstated verb in the last clause it should read, "You see that a man is justified by works and not justified only by faith." That indicates that there are two justifications in the Scripture. Paul substantiates that in Romans 4:1, 2 in the way that he refers to Abraham's justification. That justification doesn't have any effect on your relationship with God but it does say something to other people. Then there is a quote from Genesis 15:6, Abraham had believed God and it was, at the time of his original faith alone in the gospel, imputed to him as righteousness. So even Paul recognizes the possibility of two justifications, one which is by faith alone in Christ alone and which is toward God and enters us into the Christian life and saves us from eternity in the lake of fire. But there is a second category of justification, a vindication or validation which validates our doctrine before man. It is part of the spiritual life and part of the spiritual growth. That is the thrust of James 2:21.
Genesis 22 is near the end of Abraham's life. In the next chapter Sarah will go to be with the Lord and after that Isaac is married, then we are told about the death of Abraham. So we are not told about too many more events in Abraham's life, this is the apex in his life here. Genesis 22:1 NASB "Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'" The key word there is "test." This is going to be a test for Abraham, and we have already seen in the context of James that the theme of James is testing in the believer's life and that the purpose for testing is to give the opportunity to take the doctrine that we have learned and then apply it.
The tests of Abraham
1) Tests are related to God's special revelation to us. With Abraham he had revelation, specifically the Abrahamic covenant given in Genesis 12:1-3. God's tests, especially as they are revealed in these chapters of Genesis from 12 to 24, are almost all related to the provisions in the Abrahamic covenant. The tests are designed to teach Abraham about who God is, that God is faithful to His promises and will fulfil them.
2) The tests come in two categories, tests of adversity and tests of prosperity.
3) These tests represent the outside pressure of circumstances that are designed to put us in a situation that calls for us to make a decision by either applying the doctrine that we have learned or to operate on the power of the flesh, the sin nature.
4) Abraham's doctrinal provision derived from revelation recorded in the scrolls that had been handed down from Adam through Noah, and down to Abraham. Those scrolls are not extant today. The information needed from these was included in the Pentateuch.
5) As doctrine is revealed faith is tested.
6) As we learn doctrine God then takes us through various situations and experiences to give us the opportunity to utilize those doctrines. What this means is that doctrine is supposed to man more to you than your family, your loved ones, your friends, than the comfort and the security of familiar surroundings.
7) The next test that Abraham goes through after leaving Ur is the test of God's logistical provision. There is a famine in the land. He is going through some adversity, he doesn't think there will be enough resources to keep body and soul together, so rather than staying in the land where God told him to be, and following divine viewpoint where God's Word is more real to him than his experiences, his economic condition and the meteorological situation, he goes to Egypt. So he fails the test for provision.
8) The next test is the separation from Lot. God is calling out a people for his name, and that is why there had to be a separation from Lot, so that there wouldn't be these negative volition influences on what Abraham was doing in calling out this new people of God that would be the nation Israel.
9) The protection and possessions test. It relates to the provision in the Abrahamic covenant where God said, "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you." Here the five kings in the Chedorlaomer alliance attacked into Canaan. God is going to show that these people He is calling out are going to be a blessing to those around them. So Abraham attacks the alliance, defeats them in battle, and recaptures all the booty, frees the slaves and the prisoners that were captured. So Abraham passes that test.
10) Then he goes into the first of three production tests. God promised him a descendant, a seed—fertility, production. God has promised him a child and in production test #1 he fails it because he is trying to circumvent the promise of God to give him an heir through his own seed and he is going to adopt Eleazar. God intervenes and reiterates His promise to Abraham. Then we see production test #2—Hagar and Ishmael. Unfortunately this is what many Christians do. They use the culturally accepted modus operandi, whatever that may be, rather than trusting God exclusively. Ultimately it will never work, you cannot mix divine viewpoint with human viewpoint.
11) There is the test of the promise given again in chapter 17, the reiteration of the promise that God will give Abraham a child. Abraham trusts God, goes through the rite of circumcision which is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, he passes the test.
12) There is another situation developing. God is going to judge the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns, and so Abraham is again going to have to face the protection test. So Abraham asks the Lord questions. Every time the Lord says that if there is a remnant, there is blessing by association from that remnant. He works his way down to ten. Lot is in town and we are going to see how Abraham here, because he puts his focus on others, is going to be a blessing by association and Lot and his daughters are going to survive.
13) Abraham gest the prosperity test. He goes down to live in the Negev and down there he is not too far from a Philistine king named Abimilech. This is the second time but this time there was no adversity. The first time there was the famine, so he escaped down to Egypt and lied about his wife. This time there is no famine, he is in prosperity. But he still operates on the same human viewpoint, solve-my-problems methodology, and he lies about Sarah.
14) Then we come to chapter 22 which is the test after the birth of Isaac, the test of the offering of Isaac.
That is just an overview of how testing works in Abraham's life. It just wasn't one test and there were many more than those mentioned. That is the way it is in our lives. We have these tests, and they are little tests sometimes but they have major results. The test is, how are you going to organize your schedule so that doctrine is the priority of your life so that when these various tests of faith come you can apply doctrine. That is the way that growth takes place.
James 2:22 NASB "You see that faith [doctrine] was working with his works [application], and as a result of the works [application], faith [doctrine] was perfected [brought to completion]." It is not doctrine without application, it is doctrine with application. It is brought to completion when there is application.