Abraham's Tests of Faith; Cause or Result of Justification
Romans 4:13–25, Genesis 15:6, Psalm 32:1–2
Romans Lesson #041
November 20, 2011
Romans 4 is the chapter where Paul gives two examples from the Old Testament that support what he has been saying since the middle of chapter two. Man cannot justify himself; it is impossible. He cannot do it by being moral or by being obedient to the Law. Within Judaism at this time, the focus was on circumcision as the indicator of one’s spirituality. If you are Jewish and circumcised, you were in. Yet Paul argues against that in chapter three, showing that that is not enough. He explains it in terms of the doctrine in chapter three, and then in chapter four, he gives two illustrations. We have looked at both the illustration of Abraham and of David.
Paul quotes from Genesis 15:4-6 and says in Romans 4:2-3 “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted [reckoned] to him for righteousness.’ ” In Genesis 15:4, the blessing that God has promised to Abraham (promise of descendants more numerable than the stars in the sky) would not come through Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, but through Abraham himself. “This one shall not be your heir, but one will come from your own body shall be your heir. Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ ”
This is a promise but not the promise that Abraham exercises faith on in verse six. “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” It should actually be translated “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it, righteousness, to him.” The key word is the word for believe, amen, which means to trust in God, complete reliance on God, bringing in nuances of stability and certainty. Almost every time this word is used, someone is responding to something that someone else, usually God, is saying, as opposed to the other primary word for faith, batach, which is usually used to describe when someone is trusting God. Amen is used when someone is responding to a promise or statement by God and believing Him at that point.
Genesis 15:7 is a paragraph break. “Then He said to him, ‘I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.’ ” What we see here is that time in which Abraham was justified was really this time when he was still in Ur of the Chaldees. I pointed out that the grammar of Genesis 15:6 shifts to a perfect tense verb from the standard narrative flow of imperfect tenses. The statement that “he believed in the Lord” is completely out of sync with flow of the story, so it should be understood as a parenthesis. What the narrator Moses is doing is stepping in to remind the reader that Abraham had already believed in the Lord, and it was at that time that righteousness was imputed to him. The next verse refers to that time which is in Ur of the Chaldees.
What I want to look at tonight is another question. Are Abraham’s tests of faith the cause or the result of justification? The doctrine of justification by faith alone is a doctrine that was lost or obscured for much of the history of Christianity. By the end of the 3rd or 4th century at the latest, the doctrine of justification by faith alone began to be obscured by the introduction of sacramentalism within what later became known as Roman Catholic theology. The idea that by doing things, by participating in these various sacraments, Christians gained grace from God. That did not become really established in a doctrinal sense until well into the Middle Ages. The idea of the doctrine that we are justified by simply believing God and nothing else – do not have to reform our life, become moral, become spiritual in order to be justified by God – has always been under attack.
Grace is never understood. Human beings just do not want to believe that God is going to give them something for free. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church taught that justification was not something that happened once in a moment of time when a person trusted in Jesus as Savior, but it was something that happened over a long period of the individual’s life. You never knew really knew if you were justified because you did not know if you had received enough grace. You receive grace by participating in the Mass and various other sacraments. Each time you did, you got a little more grace. It is doled out to you a little bit at a time and was a process. You only knew if somebody was justified and on the right path by looking at their works, at how moral or good or religious they were. We often hear how that even gets into the vocabulary of people who are grace oriented because you often catch yourself looking at someone and saying, “I just do not how they could be saved.” Why? Because they do not live like they are saved, we think how could that person be saved. But we do not know. That person could have trusted Christ by hearing the gospel as a child in a Good News Club or Vacation Bible School or Sunday School. With some people there is a pretty good likelihood that they never did hear the gospel or understand it, but you cannot know for sure.
I have personal acquaintances and friends who clearly understood the gospel and were saved when they were teenagers, but when they went to college, they got confused and gave up on Christianity altogether. Today you would not know by what they say, believe, teach or how they live, that they ever had a clue what Christianity was all about.
This idea that we are justified totally apart from works was recovered during the Protestant Reformation. The first person to recover that was a theologian by the name of Martin Luther. In his Commentary on Galatians, Luther wrote, “It is necessary that we should have imputation of righteousness which we obtain through Christ….by faith.” That is the benchmark of the Protestant Reformation. Luther clearly came to understand that. He did not really have it totally focused on October 31, 1517 when he nailed the 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. But as he continued to study the Word, it not only became focused for him, but he had a protégé by the name of Philip Melanchthon. He was the brilliant mind who systematized Luther’s theology and helped him understand the true grace of the gospel and of justification by faith alone.
Luther went on to say that “[the] doctrine of justification is this, that we are pronounced righteous and are saved solely by faith in Christ, and without works.” Remember this is exactly what I have been teaching – justification is that we are declared righteous by the Supreme Court of heaven. It has nothing to do with anything that we do; it has nothing to do with our character or sincerity. It has only to do with the fact that we possess the righteousness of Christ. At the instant of faith alone in Christ alone, God the Father imputes or credits to each of us the righteousness of Christ, so that when God the Father looks at us, He sees not our sin because that is covered, as it were, by the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. Underneath it we are still the dirty rotten lousy sinner that we always were. We are declared righteous—it is a judicial declaration.
Luther understood it and so did John Calvin. Calvin later on was pressured, as others were, during the Reformation by the response of the Roman Catholic Church and the Counter-Reformation: “If you are saved by grace, there is no reason for you to be moral. What is to restrain all the peasants from being immoral and rebellious? You have to have some emphasis on works.” They brought in this idea that while you are saved by faith alone, the faith that saves is never alone. By that they meant if you have true, genuine saving faith, then it will not be alone—it will necessarily produce good works. They would distort the statement by Jesus in Matthew 7:20 “Therefore by their fruits, you will know them.” and say, “If the works are not there, it was not the right kind of faith.” So you have to have the right kind of faith.
I have gone over the details where the Bible never qualifies the word faith. It never says you have to have genuine faith, true faith, real faith, sincere faith, or any other kind of faith. It is only faith in Christ, only believe in Jesus. It does not say sincerely believe, truly believe, strongly believe, consistently believe. It is just believe, and that is all that is necessary.
It was not long before even among the reformers the doctrine of justification by faith got muddled. I am going to give you three examples from different confessions of faith. That is what they called doctrinal statements back then. The first comes from the next century, the middle of the 17th century, from the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the standard doctrinal statement for Presbyterian churches. If you are Presbyterian - not modern, neo-orthodox, quasi-liberal - and trying to be biblical, your standard is the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) which states, “Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth … by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ.” This is a test. Is that right or wrong? It is Christ’s righteousness that is imputed, not His obedience, not His satisfaction – that is propitiation, which is Godward. Christ satisfied the righteousness of God on the cross. It is not His righteousness that is imputed to us. Why? 1 John 2:2 “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world [unbelievers].” Westminster Confession of Faith was written by Presbyterians in England who believed in limited atonement – Christ died only for the elect. The “obedience and satisfaction” propitiation is restricted only to the elect. This is wrong. It is Christ’s righteousness that is imputed, not His obedience or satisfaction.
Then we have the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) from the German reform, Calvinistic area in the western part of Germany which states, “Yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ … if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.” Outside of the word satisfaction, it is not bad. It is “without any merit of my own, out of mere grace …” That is right. “God Imputes to me the perfect…righteousness and holiness of Christ.” Holiness is usually thought of as a combination of His justice and His righteousness. “… if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.” It is on the basis of faith alone. So that is not bad.
Then there is The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. This is the ultimate Lutheran confession of faith. It had two parts, and the longest part was the Solid Declaration (1577). “The word justify here means to declare righteous and free from sins, and to absolve one from eternal punishment for the sake of Christ’s righteousness which is imputed by God to faith.” Still a little fuzzy. Justify does not mean that we are free from sin; we are still a sinner. The language has changed since then. They might have meant something a little different, but they get the idea right – to declare righteous. That is the key. Not free from sin – that is forgiveness. Forgiveness has to do with the removal of sin, and justification is based on imputation which is the addition of positive righteousness. Forgiveness is not part of justification. It is important, but justification has to do with receiving the positive righteousness that is the basis for the declaration of our justification.
Now the doctrine of justification is still under attack. The recent twist on this attack has come from a well-known, well-educated, erudite, articulate Anglican bishop by the name of N.T. Wright. There are people in this congregation who have friends and relatives who go to some doctrinal churches where the pastors have been seduced by the error and heresy of N.T. Wright. We have to be prepared to understand what it is that he is teaching. He is a preterist, which means that he believes that all the prophecy in the New Testament, except for Revelation 20–22, was fulfilled in AD 70 when Jesus returned in the clouds of judgment. So we are in the millennium. I’m in the ghetto of the millennium, I guess. It obliterates the distinction between Israel and the church, and, of course, rejects dispensationalism.
He also has an obscure view of justification which obliterates the legal, forensic doctrine from Luther and substitutes works in its place. In one of his articles he wrote in a symposium called Justification in Perspective, he said, “[Justification is] on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit – that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works,’ in Paul’s redefined sense.” He plays this fast and loose game – the old shell game of “where is the pea?” The guy has it in his back pocket. He redefines a lot of terms. When Paul says we are not justified by the works of the Law, he is talking about the entirety of the Mosaic Law and trying to gain God’s approval by being obedient to the Law. Whereas N.T. Wright and those influenced by him (called the New Perspectives on Paul) believe when Paul said “works of the Law,” he really meant the ritual of the Law, not the whole Law, not the morality of the Law. So Jews can be saved by being moral.
He continues, “And….it occurs in the present, as an anticipation of that future verdict.” The verdict of justification does not come until after our life is long gone. “Justification is not ‘how someone becomes a Christian.’ It is God’s declaration about the person who has just become a Christian.” You become a Christian by works. Sounds awfully Roman Catholic. He has taken lordship salvation to the next step. Guess who is doing the most work to refute this guy? The lordship salvation people. But he has turned the gospel upside down, and so people are dreadfully confused about the gospel.
In Romans 4:10, Paul said, in reference to the imputation of Abraham’s righteousness, “How then was it accounted [imputed]? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised?” When did this occur in Abraham’s life? The Jewish contention is that if you are circumcised according to the Law, then you are in. That is the key. But what about Abraham - was he circumcised or uncircumcised when he was justified? He makes it clear that it was not while he was circumcised but while he was uncircumcised. Paul then goes on to say in verse 11, he received the sign of circumcision which was not the sign of the Mosaic Law but was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Every covenant has a sign. The Noahic Covenant has the sign of the rainbow; the Abrahamic Covenant has the sign of circumcision; the Mosaic Covenant has the sign of the Sabbath. Paul says, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe [Jews and Gentiles; not believe and are circumcised, not believe and follow the Law], though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also.”
Everyone has the opportunity to receive this gift of imputation of righteousness. In verse 12, “And the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision [Jews], but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”
I want to review this for you because this is important. Here Paul talks about the steps of faith which Abraham had while still uncircumcised. The steps of faith indicates a process, but there is a point where those steps begin. The action of Genesis 15:6 references the first action when Abraham believed God, and at that time, it was accounted or imputed to him as righteousness. As a result of that, Abraham is regenerated and then begins to grow through various tests of faith. This is what James is referring to in James 1:2-4 that we are to count it all joy when we encounter various tests because we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance, and endurance will have its maturing result.
We need to understand what this concept of steps of faith refers to with Abraham. Genesis 12 is the very beginning of the story of Abraham. This is so important to understand and to think our way through Abraham’s life. When I taught through Genesis several years ago, I identified 14 tests that Abraham went through. Not long ago, I was reading a Jewish commentary (an anthology of various Jewish rabbinical writings and studies on Genesis), and rabbis came up with 10 tests. I think there were 14 because they are all related to specific commandments related to promises that God had for Abraham. The issue for him was whether he was going to trust and obey God or not.
Genesis 15:6 establishes the fact that at that event in the past (that perfect tense verb that refers to an event that has been completed in the past with ongoing results) sometime before he left his native Ur of the Chaldees, he believed God, and God in a moment in time imputed to him righteousness and declared him justified. Because he is already justified and is a growing, maturing believer, God then began to test Abraham in some special ways.
The first test we know of occurs in Genesis 12:1. God says to Abraham, “Get out of your country. Leave everything behind.” Is Abraham going to be able to trust God and leave everything behind – all his family, his relatives, everything that is familiar – and get out of his comfort zone and take off to where God is going to lead him, not knowing where that is going to be? God gives with this command a promise. He will take him to a land that He will show him (1st part of the promise), will make him a great nation and bless him (2nd part is descendants). The key word that Moses uses all the way through Genesis is “seed.” The seed of the woman will crush the seed of the serpent. All the genealogies trace the seed line, and it ends with Jesus, as we will see.
The 1st test is “get out, leave, go, depart.” Then he gives him the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant – the promise of the land, the promise of the descendants or seed, and the promise of blessing. They all become developed later on in additional covenants – the Land Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant. What is important here is to focus on these first two – the land and the seed promise. The blessing promise plays a big part of this too, but the primary foundation is God says, “I am giving you this land, and I am giving you seed from your own loins. Are you really going to believe me?” Abraham is already saved, already justified. This has to do with his spiritual growth.
So the question I asked initially is, is justification the cause or the result of these tests of faith? It is the cause. First we are justified, and then God begins to work in our life to mature us and to test us.
So the first test for Abraham was to get out. And then there is a reiteration of the promise in Gen. 12:7. The Lord appeared to Abram again. This time Abram has left home, gone up to Haran in N. Syria for a little while, and finally made it to the Promised Land. As he is on a recon mission checking everything out, he comes to Shechem, which is in about the middle of the land and now in the area of Samaria just north of Jerusalem about 50 miles. He builds an altar to God, and God makes a promise to him and says, “To your descendants, your seed, I will give this land.”
But with the promise comes a test, and the test is the famine test which comes in Genesis 12:10. There is a famine in the land, the land that God promised to give to Abraham. The test now is a test of sustenance. Are we really going to trust God when the going gets bad? Are we going to trust God when our experience tells us that we really need to go somewhere else to find the basic things to sustain life, especially food and water. Abram fails this test; the first test he partially passed. He took his father and Lot with him (he was to leave everybody). They have to stop off awhile in Haran before his father dies, and then he finally comes into the land. All these tests are pass or fail—you do not get graded A, B, C, D or F. He gets a P-. He passes mostly but not fully.
On this famine test he fails miserably. Instead of trusting God to sustain him in the land, he goes down to Egypt. Then he goes into a little Operation Deception where he tells the pharaoh that Sarah is really his sister, and he does not mind if he takes her into his harem. The problem here is that this puts her into a position that if she is bedded by the pharaoh, then it threatens the seed from Abraham’s loins. It is always a test related to the seed promise.
In Genesis 13 we have a 3rd test. The 3rd test is a test of personal conflict—a people test. There is a test of grace orientation. Now Abram is back in the land and is with Lot, and God is blessing them. Lot’s herdsmen and Abraham’s herdsmen are fighting because there does not seem to be enough room for both of them in the land. So it is a test as to how Abraham is going to handle this in relationship to Lot. Is he going to be gracious to Lot or is he going to be selfish? He is going to trust God that God has promised him the land, so he can be generous with Lot. He says, “Lot, you take your pick first, and I will take what is left over.” He puts it in the Lord’s hands that God is going to fulfill the promise, and it is not up to him to manipulate the circumstances. He passes the test, and God restates the promise in Gen. 13:15 “For all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.” So he passes the 3rd test.
We have the 4th test which is a test of trusting God for protection and to fulfill his responsibilities as the kings of the East come in and attack. We have the kings of Shiner, Ellasar, and Elam; and Tidal king of nations. They just pillage their way through the Middle East. The come to Sodom and Gomorrah and capture a lot of slaves and plunder, and then they head north. Abraham gets all of his servants (about 150) and goes after this army. He has to trust God that He will give him the victory. He does have victory and rescues Lot and recovers a lot of the plunder. He relies upon God for protection and passes the test.
Then comes the 5th test. It has to do with how is he going to handle this prosperity? Now that he has won, is he just going to sit back with all the great booty that he has? He had become much wealthier and had all these people and could have a lot of slaves. But instead of focusing on himself, he focuses on God and shows grace and gratitude—gracious towards those he has rescued and does not keep all the booty for himself but gives 10% to the Lord as an offering of gratitude through Melchizedek, who is the king-priest of Salem. He passes the 5th test—the prosperity or victory test.
He has passed 3-½ and blown 1-½ tests. In Genesis 15 we get the 6th test, which comes as a result of command in verse 1 “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” Reward, remember, has to do with inheritance, so he is talking not about salvation which is a free gift but a reward for service. There is a difference between those two. Genesis 15:1 is the context of the promise in Genesis 15:6. Abraham says, “Are you going to do this through Eliezer, my servant?” And God says, “No, I am going to do it through your own loins. He will be a descendant from your own body.” The 6th test is “do not be afraid,” and Abraham is going to trust God. He has already trusted God in the past, the basis for justification, and he will continue to trust God. God is going to grant him a covenant.
In Genesis 15:8, Abraham says, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” Notice I said at the beginning, God says, “I am your great reward.” The terminology shifts in verse 7 where the Lord says, “… to give you this land to inherit it.” Once again we are back to the land promise. The other promises had to do with protecting the seed, and now it is the land. They go back and forth between these two major parts of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham says, “…. how shall I know that I will inherit it?” And God does not say, “You stupid idiot, you asked a question. Sit down and shut up and listen to Bible class.” It does not say that. He gives him an answer.
God makes a covenant with him—a one-sided contract, a unilateral covenant. So the animals are laid out, which is a standard procedure for this kind of serious covenant. They are sacrificed, split in half. God tells Abram that He is going to bless him, but his descendants are going to be out of the land for awhile, the land God promised them. He will bring them back eventually, and when they come back, God will bless them. While He goes through the covenant ceremony, He has Abraham fall asleep. Normally the two covenant partners walk through together. If you have ever bought a house, you go to the mortgage company, and they give you a stack of contracts where you have to sign your name 347 times.
In that day, the two covenant partners walk between the halves of the sacrifices. That is equal to a signature. But God caused Abraham to fall asleep, and God walked through it because it is unilateral. God is going to guarantee the covenant. It is not conditioned upon Abraham; it is conditioned solely on God.
In Genesis 15:18 “On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land …’ ” Land, land, land – all the way through here, and seed, seed, seed. Whenever you see the word descendants in the NJKV (I do not know what the NASB says), it is “seed” in the original.
Genesis 16 gives us the next test which is the 7th test, and it is the power of God test. Can God really bring life where there is death. Abraham is an old man, and it is still not time to have the son. He is about 86 years old at this time, and he is infertile. So is Sarah; she is too old. The issue is not just are they going to be able to procreate but are they going to be fertile and have children. Is God more powerful? The point I am making is when we have a problem, do we really believe that God is more powerful than our human solutions. No matter what the human solution may be. We have great technology, we have great wealth, and we have great material gain. We have many different skills today that we have honed with great sophistication. But do we really believe that God, and God alone, is enough?
That is the issue with Abraham. Is God going to be able to do all that He needs to do to change and renew Abraham and Sarah’s sexual organs. I heard an ob-gyn talk about everything that God needed to do so that Sarah would be able to have a baby again. He had to change the uterus and do all kinds of things. It is amazing all the different things that had to be renovated in both of them just so they could have a child again. So God has made this promise, but they get impatient with God. (I know none of you get impatient with God.) So Sarah comes up with Plan B which is Hagar. We are still suffering from the consequences of Plan B because she did get pregnant and had a son named Ishmael. Abraham obviously failed that test.
The 8th test comes in Genesis 17. “God, you want me to cut off what!?” It is the test of circumcision. For somebody who is 99 years of age, this would be a test. “Lord, I am sort of attached to all my body parts. I do not care how useful they are or not.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant.” And so God reiterates all of the promises again and reminds Abraham of the covenant. He gives Abraham and Sarah new names. He restates the promises of numerous descendants and the land. Then comes this test. Are you really going to trust me and have a little self surgery here? Ladies, talk to your husbands about that. It is a test.
Some people think trusting God is folding your hands and just waiting on God passively. This is a great example that trusting God not only means to believe what God says is true, but it entails doing something. What it entails doing may not be what we want to do. It may not be something that is going to make us feel better. It may not be something that will make us happier. It may be something that is painful, difficult, and goes against our whole nature. But we are going to trust God and do what God says to do. There is a passive side to faith which is trusting God alone and an active side which is we are going to do what God says to do because God is faithful. That is what is happening in all these tests. Abraham is learning that God made a promise, and the more impossible it seems that that promise can be fulfilled, the more Abraham has to learn about trusting God. He realizes that God really can do what He says He will do, and he can trust him no matter what his experience tells him. When you are 99 years old, I would assume your experience tells you, you are not going to have any babies.
In Genesis 17:24 we are told that Abram is 99 years old. It has been 13 years since the Ishmael-Hagar disaster. Now they have a 13-year old to deal with in the house. In Genesis 18 we get two tests. The 9th test is a test of grace and humility. Three visitors show up: one of them is God, and the other two are angels. One is the Angel of the Lord, probably the Lord Jesus Christ, 2nd person of the Trinity. It is a test of Abraham’s graciousness to these visitors. It is also a test of his belief because God tells him in verse 10 “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Sarah laughs when she overhears what God has said. She just does not believe it. She knows that there is no way that body is going to have a baby at all. She chuckles, so that is why they get the name Isaac, meaning laughter, for the son.
Then we have the 10th test. Is Abraham just going to fold his hands and trust God when he finds out what God is getting ready to do (as we say in Texas, fixin’ to do)? Is Abraham just going to say, “Well, it is God’s will.” Or is he going to be gracious and show love and concern for Lot and intercede with the Lord for Lot. This is a phenomenal passage that you do not hear a whole lot of discussion about. As Abraham learns that God is going to bring judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain and just completely wipe them out and destroy everybody, he approaches the Lord and intercedes on their behalf. He begins to set up a case for what he is going to do. The Lord informs him, and Abraham begins to negotiate in verse 23. This is like prayer, sort of asking God questions. “Lord, are you going to destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were 50 righteous – would you still spare it?” Then he works down from 50, down to 20, down to 10. He is just seeing where is the line of demarcation here.
As he is doing this, he makes a very important point at the end of verse 25 “… Shall not the Judge of all the earth be right?” He recognizes God is just, and what God is going to do is going to be the right thing. He may not understand all the data that goes into God’s decision or what God is doing. We look at a situation like this from human viewpoint. God goes in and completely annihilates all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain; and modern man looks at this and says, “This is a horrible God.” But this is a just God who is operating on the basis of His justice. That is not incompatible with His love because God’s love operates not only for the criminal but also for the victim. The human race would be victimized if Sodom and Gomorrah would continue to be allowed to survive and to spread their perversion, so God’s love for the human race means that He has got to annihilate the Sodomites.
Abraham understands that this is justice. Because God is just and righteous, He will do the right thing at the right time. We may not always understand all the things that go into that, but we can always rely on the fact that God is just and is faithful. That is what Abraham is learning.
The 10th test is to test Abraham’s concern for his enemies, which would be Lot. The 11th test comes in Genesis 20. This is the test again of protection of the seed. Abraham again is faced with a problem with water. He goes to seek a little protection from Abimelech, the king of the Philistines. Again he gets into the same kind of situation he was in down in Egypt. He says, “This woman is really my sister.” Once again, the seed now is being threatened because if Abimelech were to actually take Sarah in as his wife, then that would threaten the seed promise of God. Abraham fails this test, and God intervenes. All this shows to Abraham that God really can do what He promised to do. Abraham is finally learning that God can actually fulfill His promises.
In Genesis 21, Sarah conceives and gives birth to Isaac. Then there is another test. Abraham, like a good daddy, wants to keep all the children in the house, but Sarah and God both understand that Hagar and Ishmael have to go. God tells Abraham in verse 12 that he needs to let them go because the seed promise goes through Isaac, not Ishmael. Abraham obeys God and out go Hagar and Ishmael. This is the 12th test.
The 13th test is another people test that is a conflict between Abraham’s servants and Abimelech over water rights and wells. He deals with Abimelech in grace. Remember part of what he was supposed to do was to be a blessing to all. So he is going to be a blessing to Abimelech. He passes this test.
His final test comes in Genesis 22 when God tells him to take his only son—the seed, the one he waited for for so long—to Mt. Moriah and to sacrifice him. Abraham believes God can bring him back to life. We do not know how he learned that, other than God brought Abraham’s sexual reproduction ability back to life and Sarah’s sexual reproduction ability back. God can bring life where there is death. Abraham does not bat an eye, and he packs his bags. He gets Isaac and the mule and off they head to Mt. Moriah, which is believed to be where the Temple Mount is in Jerusalem now. There he sets up everything to sacrifice Isaac. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that he concluded “… God was able to raise him up, even from the dead…” He is not going to commit murder because he is obeying God, and God is not going to destroy the life of Isaac. He fully understands that and passes this test with flying colors. God stopped him at the last second.
Genesis 22:12 “And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’ ” In this passage, fearing God often comes very close to being a synonym for trusting God. It adds an element of respect and awe that is part of it, but also a major part of the meaning of fearing God is trusting Him. Verse 13 “Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.” It is a substitutionary sacrifice.
This is the picture of what happens with Jesus Christ at the Cross. He dies like that ram on our behalf so that His righteousness can be given to us. He takes upon Himself our sin and pays the penalty for Adam’s original sin and for all personal sins, so that with the penalty paid, His righteousness is free to be imputed to anyone who believes in Jesus Christ.
Romans 4:12 “And the father of circumcision [Abraham] to those who not only are of the circumcision [Jews], but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”
I want to close by looking at a parallel passage in Galatians. Galatians was written before Romans and was the “Romans” in Paul’s early thought. In Galatians 3:13, Paul starts off talking about the redemption, the objective payment of the price at the cross. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us [substitutionary aspect] (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’) that [for the purpose; He died on the cross on or near Mt. Moriah there in Jerusalem] the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” What did God promise Abraham? That through him all nations would be blessed.
Galatians 3:15 “Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.” In any covenant, once it is signed, you do not come along later and say, “Well, I really want that interest rate to be a point lower.” You have to come up with a whole new contract. You cannot just change it because you want to. That is what Paul is saying here: no one annuls or adds to it.
Verse 16-17 “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made; He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, …” [Inspiration extends down to singulars and plurals.] The Law is 430 years after Abraham is justified. His justification did not have anything to do with his circumcision, which was at least 15 years later after the statement was made in Genesis. 15:6 and at least 30 years later in terms in the actual difference between the time he was initially justified and the time he was circumcised. Here Paul says it was 430 years from Abraham to the giving of the Law. So Abraham is not justified by either circumcision or by the Law; therefore, it has to be on some other basis. It is faith.
He says in verse 17-18 “…the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”
This sets us up for what Paul says in Romans 4:13 “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”