As believers, it is important to know about the man called Abraham. He is actually the first covenant believer in the Bible per se. This is why he is called the father of our faith. It is also important to know that the covenant he had with our God was separate from the covenant of Law that came through Moses to Israel 430 years after Abraham. Some people think that Abraham and Moses were just Old Testament people and aren’t really significant today. But we as New Covenant believers are actually said to be blessed with the blessings of Abraham. So I want to look at the life of Abraham and the direct correlation it has to a life of faith in Christ.
Abraham’s Faith or God’s Grace?
I’ve heard people talk about how great Abraham’s faith was and if only we had the faith of Abraham, then this and that would happen. But when the Bible makes mention of how Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, it is not making a point of how Abraham had such great faith but rather that he did not have to earn his righteousness. The main catalyst in this story is not Abraham and his faith but God and His goodness and election. He called Abraham, appeared to him, made a covenant with him and a promise to him. It is pointing out that all Abraham had to do was accept what God was doing. Believing God is simply how we have relationship with Him; if we were ignorant or unbelieving of what God was doing, it would be one-sided and not a relationship. Here is how Romans 4 in the Message Bible puts it:
So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” (vs.1-3)
That famous promise God gave Abraham—that he and his children would possess the earth—was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed. (vs.13)
We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. (vs.17)
So the whole Abraham believing God and having imputed righteousness thing is used by Paul as a contrast to life under the law which says, “blessed if you do, cursed if you don’t”. He makes the point that the blessings made to Abraham were based on a promise and not contingent on his obedience to a code of law.
When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners… Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless…..So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. (Rom 4:4-5,13-14,16 NLT).
But I have heard people point to Abraham’s obedience as the cause of the blessings in His life. Yes, he did step out in obedience and was commended for that, but he clearly was not 100% obedient like the religious might imagine him to be. For example, if you go through his life, you will see that he lied about Sarah being his wife to king Abimelech (see Gen 20). What happened? The king, rather than Abraham, almost got in trouble for taking her to be one of his wives! God basically said, “hey, you’re taking a righteous man’s wife you know.” The king obviously replies, “God, how was I supposed to know. I was lied to. Give a guy a break here.” By the way, this is actually not the only instance of something like this happening (see Gen. 12).
Well, that was a half lie because Sarah was his half sister one might say. But what about Ishmael? Abraham obviously was trying to do God’s job for Him there. This was a serious mistake. In our law oriented minds, we might think that God would cancel the blessing of Isaac because of Ishmael (because I did bad, I don’t get the good). But the miracle of Isaac was based on a promise from God, not Abraham’s performance. Am I saying that it is okay to disobey God? Obviously not. As in the example of Ishmael, there are bad consequences to sin. But the troubles that would come through Ishmael were not evidences of God’s judgment on righteous Abraham. Its like if I were to step off of a cliff, the hand of God would not suddenly appear and push me down to my death, the natural consequence would do the job. God is the One who works to restore us and redeem our mistakes.
OK, So What Does This Have To Do With Us Already?
So we have seen how Abraham lived under a covenant where he was righteous and blessed based on God’s promise rather than his works. So let us now see where we come into the picture? When God first called Abraham, He told him that through him all peoples on the Earth would be blessed through him (see Gen. 12:3).God later told Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the Earth will be blessed (see Gen.22:18). This was spoken to him right after obeyed God when He was told to sacrifice Isaac. I wonder if old Abe thought that God was referring to only Isaac here. I think Abraham was getting a glimpse into the grand plan of salvation.
The significance of the sacrifice of Isaac, or the lack of I should say, is that God was pointing to the sacrifice that the “seed” would have to go through. Now it doesn’t say it in Genesis, but Hebrews tells us that Abraham went up the mountain of sacrifice with Isaac in full confidence that God was able to raise the dead. He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type (Heb. 11:19). Before you get scared and think God will call you to sacrifice your child, realize that the point is our sacrifice, even the best, could never be sufficient for the putting away of sin. Only the uppercase Seed could have done this.
My point is, the covenant that God made with Abraham was always about the Person and work of Christ. In fact, He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev.13:8). We see that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:25-26 NLT).
So Abraham’s descendants right up until the Law was given were blessed “in Abraham”. But the law was not based on this faith we read in Galatians 3. You can read the chapter; it basically says it was given to expose sin and reveal our need for a Savior until the faith would arrive. And now, we are living in the righteousness and blessing brought through the Seed. Therefore it was also credited to him (Abraham) as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Rom. 4:23-25).
Here we see the full manifestation of the blessings of Abraham through Jesus’ vicarious death and resurrection on our behalf. He was delivered over because of our transgressions, meaning, He bore the curse of our sin in His body. But He was raised for our justification because when He rose from the dead, our sin was left in the grave never to return! His mission conceived in the realm of eternity was completed in the Earth. And now we can boldly say we have been born again to a living hope through His resurrection (1 Pet. 1:3).We have as much reason to lose hope as Jesus has of dying again!
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:8-11).
So the whole point of this discourse in Romans is that we, just like Abraham, are made right with God by entering into what God has done rather than trying to save ourselves. This new way of life, this faith, is the total opposite of a life lived trying to obtain righteousness through our own obedience. The “faith of Abraham” is shown in those who have received Christ as their Savior and Substitute. This is not a striving thing. It is a response to the God who invites us to relationship.