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Abraham and the Grace that Works

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Abraham and the Grace that Works

Bible genealogies may be boring to read for some, but they are important. They provide the link between the first man Adam, and the last Adam, Jesus the Messiah.

God preserved Noah and his family from being wiped out in the great flood; of Noah’s three sons, Japheth, Ham and Shem, Shem’s linage was chosen to be the family line that would produce the Messiah. Shem’s linage is singled out and detailed in Genesis 11. Shem’s descendant, Abraham, was designated by God to be the Father of Israel, and is first mentioned in verse 26 of that chapter.

Chapter 12 begins his story and we are going to focus on his relationship with God and how it relates to the Messiah and the Christian faith.

Abraham had settled with his family in Haran (Genesis 11:31). When Abraham was 75 years old, God spoke to him and told him to leave everything he had known and go to a land God would show him. Let’s read verses one through four of Genesis chapter 12.

Gen 12:1 Now the LORD had said to Abram, “You get out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you:
Gen 12:2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing:
Gen 12:3 And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Gen 12:4 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

It’s important to understand that Abraham had a very close relationship with God that enabled him to be led directly by God’s voice, His Spirit. In this, Abraham is an example of the Christian who has believed the Gospel, and received the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead. This enables a sincere believer to be led by the Holy Spirit like Abraham. Abraham’s faith is a foreshadow of the faith of believers in the Messiah Jesus.

Under the Old Covenant, only a select few were permitted to experience the Holy Spirit like Abraham, David and the prophets. In the New Covenant, all who receive Jesus as their Messiah and believe the gospel are given this privilege.

Abraham believed God when he was told to leave his home and all that was familiar to him. Because Abraham’s faith was genuine, he obeyed God, which was his first step in an historic journey that would result in many blessings.

Abraham was childless, yet God told him that he would have a child in his old age with his equally old wife Sarah, a medical impossibility. Yet we read in Genesis 15, verse 6: –

“And he believed in the LORD, and He counted it to him for righteousness.”

Abraham’s faith is used as an example of the Christian faith in the New Testament. Let’s read what the Apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 4, verses 1 through 8.

Rom 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found?
Rom 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.
Rom 4:3 For what says the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.
Rom 4:4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
Rom 4:5 But to him that does not work, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Rom 4:6 Even as David also described the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputes righteousness without works,
Rom 4:7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Rom 4:8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

The Apostle Paul has recognized that God justified Abraham by Abraham’s faith apart from any works. Likewise, Christians are justified by faith in Jesus’ atonement. Justification is by God’s grace alone and cannot be obtained through any self-effort. It is a gift, as Jesus said in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Our salvation is a gift based on faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins, and it is not something that can be earned because as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:23, - For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Paul is merely reiterating a principle of scripture that he quotes in the previous verse 10, which is taken from Psalm 14, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one.” That is, no one can be righteous enough to justify themselves before a holy God, it must be by faith alone.

Here we can return to Genesis chapter three. After the Adam and Eve sinned they tried to cover themselves with leaves, or their own efforts. God made them coats of skins from the first death recorded in Genesis. They had to be covered by a sacrifice made by God Himself, which is the foreshadow of God’s plan of redemption. Our sins can only be covered by an act of God, which was Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Let’s read Galatians three, verses 5 through 14.

Gal 3:5 He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Gal 3:6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
Gal 3:7 you know therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
Gal 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel to Abraham, saying, In you shall all nations be blessed.
Gal 3:9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
Gal 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
Gal 3:11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
Gal 3:12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that does them shall live in them.
Gal 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree:
Gal 3:14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

In other words, we can’t point to our own efforts to justify ourselves before God. That’s like covering ourselves in fig leaves. We can only be justified by faith in God’s plan of redemption that He instigated in Eden.
    Here are three other examples from scripture to illustrate this principle.

Matthew’s gospel describes an encounter with Jesus and a rich young man in chapter 19 verses 16 through 22.
The young man came up to Jesus and asked, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
    “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus answered as the God-Man assessed the situation. “There is none good except God alone.”
    In other words, how “good” do you think you can be?
    Undaunted, the young man kept staring at Him earnestly, so Jesus continued. “You know the commandments…”
    “I have kept all of them all my life,” the young man answered.
    Then Jesus said, “One thing you lack, sell all you have, give it to the poor, then come and follow Me.”
    Suddenly disqualified, the rich young man turned away leaving the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” shattered in his wake. He was putting his stuff before God. He was actually an idolater and didn’t know it.
    Jesus sighed as He watched the young man wander sadly back to his possessions. Then the Lord turned and walked determinedly toward the Cross in the distance to purchase an entrance into heaven for all those who could never be “good” enough. “For with God all things are possible.” - Mark 10:23

In Luke’s gospel chapter 18 verses 9-14, Jesus gives us a parable about two people praying to God. One is a Pharisee, an accomplished religious leader who is comparing himself to the sinner who is also praying. The Pharisee says, “God, I thank You, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."
    And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
    Jesus says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”

The Apostle Peter reiterates, in I Peter 5:5 – “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”

And finally we are given this example at Jesus’ crucifixion In Luke’s Gospel chapter 23, verses 39-43. Jesus was crucified between two criminals.

Luke 23: 39 And one of the criminals which were hanged railed on Him, saying, “If you are the Messiah, save yourself and us.”
    Luke 23:40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, “You do not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation?
    Luke 23:41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man has done nothing wrong.”
    Luke 23:42 And he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”
    Luke 23:43 And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise.”

All that repentant man had to do to inherit eternal life was to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. He was accepted even though he did not have the time or opportunity to do any work for God.

However we can see from the examples in Abraham’s life, that his faith produced obedience to do what God’s Spirit was telling him to do. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his miracle child, Isaac, the promised son of his old age, Abraham was willing and was about to plunge a knife into his son when an angel intervened at the last moment, sparing the boy. God provided a ram for the sacrifice in Isaac’s place. This account is recorded in Genesis 22.
   The Apostle James recognized this relationship between a genuine faith and obedience. He writes about it in chapter 2, verses 17 through 24 in his epistle. Let’s read it for ourselves.

Jas 2:17 Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.
Jas 2:18 Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Jas 2:19 You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
Jas 2:20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Jas 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Jas 2:22 You see how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Jas 2:24 You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Let’s look at verse 22 again. – You see how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect – or I would say perfected or complete. The natural produce or fruit of a genuine living faith will produce obedience, just like it did for Abraham. But works by itself without faith in God’s plan of redemption cannot justify anyone. Obedience is the evidence that a faith is genuine or sincere. We really cannot have one without the other, they operate hand in hand.

Here we have to look at Jesus’ words in John 15. He is the vine, God is the husbandman who operates by His Holy Spirit through His Son through us. It is the sap of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives that produces the fruit or holy character that is pleasing to God. Let’s read John 15, verses 1-6.

Joh 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Joh 15:2 Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Joh 15:3 Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you.
Joh 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me.
Joh 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
Joh 15:6 If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

It is obvious here that we can do nothing without Jesus. “For without Me you can do nothing.” In other words, no work that we do apart from faith in Jesus will justify us. It is the work that is produced naturally though our union with God through Jesus that justifies us, or is the evidence of our faith in the atonement as the Apostle James understood. “Faith without works is a dead faith.” A dead faith is a faith that is not abiding in the vine of Christ, His
Let’s take a look at the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 2 through 10.

Eph 2:2 Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience:
Eph 2:3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Eph 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Eph 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved;)
Eph 2:6 And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
Eph 2:7 That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Eph 2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

It is God who does His work through us. And the works that He produces through us are the works that He accepts to be rewarded.

Every believer needs to understand that when we die we all must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul says in Romans 14:10 - But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

After the death of the body and the soul is released, when Jesus returns, every believer must stand before Jesus at His judgment seat to receive a reward for the things that were done in his body, good and bad. A true believer is not condemned because of his saving faith in Jesus’ atonement for his sins, but he will be chastened and/or rewarded for his works: his response to the gospel.

This is something that we must keep in mind during our daily walk with the Lord. We repent of our sins when we receive Jesus, and whenever the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we need to acknowledge those things and repent of them as well. This repentance is not for salvation which we have already received and is a done deal; this repentance is for our rewards, and spiritual growth, and maturity into the image of Jesus’ character, which is the goal of the Christian life.
Let’s read in I Corinthians chapter three, verses 11-15 to see what the Apostle Paul has to say about what happens at Jesus’ judgment seat.

1Co 3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1Co 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
1Co 3:13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
1Co 3:14 If any man's work abides which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
1Co 3:15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The foundation is the gospel, Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. He alone is the foreordained Messiah who can save us. How we live in response to the gospel will be rewarded or burned at the judgment. All true believers want to let God have His way in their lives and are willing to let Him change them into the people He wants them to be. The Holy Spirit, which is Jesus’ and the Father’s Spirit, helps us to walk in the good works that He has ordained for us. Those good works are illustrated for us in the law He gave to Moses which is exemplified and illustrated for us in Jesus’ example.

We read God’s word so that we can learn about the things He likes and doesn’t like, so we can choose to do the things that please Him. When we sin deliberately after knowledge, we can open the door to demonic attacks, which God will use to drive us back into His will for our lives. We can look at His word as a bunch of laws to follow, or we can see it as a book of wisdom that is designed to be a guide for our health and spiritual welfare.

It’s also important to understand that many of the ordinances recorded in the Old Testament were for the Jews specifically at that time to keep them separate from the pagan practices of the cultures around them. But the moral law always remains which is made very clear by Jesus and His Apostles.

Abraham was also given the law orally before it was written down by Moses 430 years later. God says to Abraham in Genesis 18 verse 19, - “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken of him.”

Obedience produces blessings. As we keep God’s word and allow ourselves to be led by His Spirit, He keeps His promises to bless us, and there is no greater blessing to a soul that is seeking God, than to be blessed by His presence in our daily lives and have that relationship with God that Abraham experienced.

Abraham was called the friend of God. What a wonderful thing it is to be the close personal friend of the great God who created the universe and everything it contains.   
Faith in God’s plan of redemption in Jesus enables us to have that relationship. Because of Abraham’s faith and obedience, God fulfilled His promise to him and Abraham indeed became the father of many nations.

So we’ve learned from Romans 3:28, that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” And that a genuine faith will result in obedience to God’s word, which is an evidence of his faith. That is the sense in which we are justified by works.

I want to conclude by reading the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to us in Romans Chapter six.

Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
Rom 6:2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer in it?
Rom 6:3 Don’t you know, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Rom 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Rom 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Rom 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin.
Rom 6:7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Rom 6:8 Now if we are dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
Rom 6:9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him.
Rom 6:10 For in that he died, he died to sin once: but in that he lives, he lives to God.
Rom 6:11 Likewise you also reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rom 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Rom 6:13 Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin: but yield yourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
Rom 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.
Rom 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
Rom 6:16 Don’t you know, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
Rom 6:17 But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
Rom 6:18 Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
Rom 6:19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity to iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness to holiness.
Rom 6:20 For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness.
Rom 6:21 What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
Rom 6:22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life.
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I want to go back a little bit to James’ statement, even “the devils believe and they tremble.” What makes the difference between a believing devil and a believing Christian? They both believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He rose from the dead and is the Messiah.   
    The difference is your relationship with God and your walk with God and your love for God. Devils can’t worship God, they can’t follow God, they can’t repent of their sin, but you can. You can make the difference between a believing devil and a true, repentant believing Christian.

Copyright 2022 by H.D. Shively

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