Abraham is a man whose character looms large in the history of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Abraham plays an important part in each of these religions. He is seen as a holy prophet in Islam. Judaism considered him the ‘father’ of their religion. In Christianity, it is through Abraham’s lineage that the Savior of the world comes (Matthew 1; Luke 3). Let us look at a brief history of this man and how his life is an example for us in our walk with Jesus.
God created man in His image in order that man might represent Him here on earth. By Abraham’s time, humanity had turned completely away from God, been destroyed by a flood (except for eight people), and were once again turning away from God, as evidenced by the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). God began implementing this part of His plan of salvation by calling Abram, as he was known then, to leave his hometown of Ur and travel to a new land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1-3; Acts 7:2-4).
Abraham’s name was originally “Abram”, which means ‘the father is exalted’. His name was changed to “Abraham”, which means ‘father of a multitude’, when God initiated His covenant with him (Genesis 17). God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many people. However, Abraham was 99 years old and his childless wife was 90 (Genesis 11:30; 17:1-4, 17). They were apparently past the normal age for having children; therefore, it would clearly be a miracle of God were they to have any. Nevertheless, Abraham trusted God and believed God could accomplish what He had promised.
God had promised that Abraham would have children (Genesis 15:5; 22:17). When this did not take place as quickly as Abraham thought it should, he became impatient with God and took matters into his own control. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was still childless, so she told Abraham to sleep with her handmaid, so that they might get a child from the union. A son was born from this union; his name was Ishmael.
However, this was not God’s plan; God’s promise was for the offspring of Abraham and Sarah’s union (Genesis 15:3-4). Isaac was the name of the son that came from the union of Abraham and Sarah; it would be through Isaac that the nations would be blessed.
God tests Abraham
Abraham and Sarah were very happy with their new son, Isaac; however, God had a test for Abraham. God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2 ESV). This would have been a tremendous shock to any parent; to be blessed by a long-awaited child, only to have God tell you to sacrifice that child.
Nevertheless, the Bible does not say that Abraham hesitated for a moment. In fact, there are certain passages that indicate Abraham’s strong faith that God would not take his son at all (Genesis 22:5, 8). Abraham believed God would raise Isaac back to life if the sacrifice actually did take place (Hebrews 11:19). Whether for God’s sake, Abraham’s sake, Isaac’s sake, or for our sake as an example, Abraham took his son up to a mountain, lay him down, and prepared to kill him in obedience to God’s command. However, God intervened by stopping Abraham from killing his son and by providing a sacrifice in the form of a ram caught in the nearby brush. Abraham’s faith had been tested, and proved, by his obedience to God.
The Promise fulfilled in Jesus
It would not be out of line to see the act of God, in supplying a ram in place of Isaac, as a picture of God sending Jesus as a substitute sacrifice for you and me. We are sinners and destined for eternal death. God Himself provided payment for our sins, so that we can be forgiven and enjoy eternal life if we will repent and follow Him.
God had promised Abraham, “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 ESV; cf. Genesis 12:3b, 18:18; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8). How could one man’s children be responsible for the entire earth being blessed? The answer lies in the fact that one of Abraham’s descendents would be the Savior of the world. Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise. The apostle Paul explains this clearly, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring”. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV). God’s plan was at work the entire time; moving toward the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Faith lessons from the life of Abraham
The life of Abraham is often used by the writers of the Scripture as an example of how we should live as believers. Let us look at the biblical ideas of being saved by faith, not works, and the equally biblical idea of doing works as a natural result of the gratitude we experience from being forgiven. These are important concepts to understand if one wants to have a balanced walk with Jesus.
(1) We are saved by faith, not by works
The Bible tells us that Abraham did not work his way into God’s good favor, but, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness…And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:3, 5 ESV cf. Galatians 3:6). The book of Hebrews contains many examples of people who lived by faith; verses 8-12 and 17-19 give us details about Abraham’s faith. Take some time to read it closely.
The Bible is crystal clear that no one can do enough to become righteous in God’s eyes, “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace” (Romans 4:16 ESV cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). Forgiveness (salvation, eternal life) is a gift from God; He initiated it and He brought it about by His own will and power. We do nothing to gain salvation other than accept His gracious offer by faith in Jesus Christ.
(2) Our works reveal the genuineness of our faith
James says that we may not be saved if claim to be Christians, but do not live it out, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22 ESV cf. Romans 2:13; Matthew 7:21; Matthew 7:24-27; John 13:17). Ephesians 2:10, right after saying that grace is a gift that one cannot get by works, tells us that, “…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV). We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to do good works.
Abraham is presented as an example of how our faith should result in our doing good things (James 2:20-24). An inward faith that does not result in an outward change of behavior may not be a genuine faith at all, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17 ESV). The life of Abraham included both faith in God and works motivated by that faith. Our Christian walk should have both those elements also.
Much more could be written about Abraham, but space does not permit it here. Abraham was not a perfect man; however, the overall direction of his life was towards God. We will not always walk perfectly in our Christian life either, but we should remember that, just as God was with Abraham even when he struggled, God loves us and will gladly forgive us if we fail.
The New Testament presents Abraham as a model of faithful life; a life that believes the truths of God and lives out those truths in day-to-day living. This is the kind of faith we should seek to duplicate; and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able.
Take a look at this similar article about another man in the Bible:
Resource – The Holy Bible, English Standard Version “Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved