How Abraham Proved His Faith By Works

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

How were Abraham and the other Old Testament saints saved? Saved, even before the cross?

The Faith of Abraham

It is obvious that the author or authors of Hebrews and James employed Genesis 22 in very similar manners. For example, it says that in Genesis 22 and Hebrews 11:6, 8-12 that Abraham believed God and God credited that as righteousness, so how did Abram display his belief in God? Remember, Abram (called so, at first) was called away from his home, his family, his job security (I would think); everything familiar to him and called to a place that was unfamiliar, unknown, and which he knew nothing about. He was called by God whom he had never seen, never known, or perhaps never even heard of. Can we put ourselves in his shoes for a moment? What would we do? How would we respond? Would we believe God like Abram did and to leave everything we knew (Gen 12:1-4)?

Abram No More

After God’s covenantal promise, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham due to the significance and the future result of this promise (father of nations), despite the fact that it would not be fulfilled for four hundred years. The author of Hebrews wrote chapter 11 as a sort of “Hall of Faith” that is a showcase for all who believe. One such aspect of Hebrews 11 are verses 17-19 which show Abraham’s faith by his believing and obeying God, even at great personal cost. That was tangible or physical evidence of his faith. That’s why God credited Abraham’s faith or belief as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3).

Time to Think

Abraham had 3 whole days to think about sacrificing his only son, meaning the only son of promise he had (Isaac); the seed though which the entire nation of Israel would come, but now, Abraham is told by God to sacrifice this one son; the only son that links the promised nation of Israel to the future. Amazingly, there is no evidence Scriptural evidence that Abraham hesitated or questioned God. In fact, the Scriptures say that Abraham got up early that morning and left (Gen 22:3). In other words, he didn’t ponder it or think about it or delay doing it. He immediately obeyed, first thing in the morning! Wonder if he even slept that night.  Think about that! Abraham’s son was to be a “burnt offering” for God, as incredible as that sounds. But Abraham obeyed God and God stayed Abraham’s hand at the lost moment. The author of Hebrews is saying that this is the kind of faith that shows a person has genuine, saving faith. To obey God, even when it doesn’t make sense, shows you really believe God! This is why Abraham’s faith was credited to Him as righteousness.

Raised from the Dead

Abraham (1657), Guercino, Pinacoteca di Brera.

Some would argue that Abraham knew that, if need be, God could raise Isaac from the dead and God’s promised seed would indeed become a nation; a people of God. Abraham perhaps understood that God would have to raise him from the dead in order to fulfill the promise made to Abraham and Abraham believed that God could! This is the faith that saved Abraham well before Calvary. Scripture teaches we are saved by faith…faith in God, which is a gift of God (Eph 2:8-9). It’s not that we have faith in our own faith or faith in our works. As far as James is concerned, Abraham’s faith was justified or validated by his actions. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was considered works in the sense that the sacrifices were bloody, they took effort, they were very gruesome and all pictured the ugliness and seriousness of sin. God established long ago that blood must be spilled in order to atone for sin. James must have known what Abraham had to go through; 3 days journey, gathering wood, kindling a fire, building an altar, binding Isaac, and so on. All of these took works. All of these works showed that he believed God. To believe God we must obey God. This proved that Abraham’s faith was not dead but alive.

Saved for Works

It is Abraham’s faithfulness that reminds me of what I’ve often heard; we are not saved by works but saved to do works (Eph 2:10)…a faith that saves is a faith that works. If there is no works, then can a person really say that their faith is legitimate? Our own faith should be producing fruit; the work or fruit of the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-5). The same kind of works James wrote about (James 2:14-26). Our lives should produce godly works as a natural by-product of our faith. Righteousness was displayed by Abraham’s listening to and obeying God’s voice and following through with the sacrifice, and even though his faith was severely tested. And so, his faith was found sufficient in God’s eyes to credit him with the same righteousness that Jesus Christ has.

Tangible Faith

Hebrews Chapter Eleven is almost like a serious of “tests” that the various heroes and heroines of the faith went through. Of course, one was when Abraham offered up Isaac. His obedience was seen as evidence of his faith in God. He believed God over what his natural, human mind told him. He knew the physical limitations of life, yet Abraham knew that God was the Author of Life and could raise him up and still keep the promise (Acts 3:15). Abraham obviously believed God, believing He was fully truthful, trustworthy, and sufficient in all His power to do anything that He wanted to do to ensure that Isaac was still going to be a part of the promise to Abraham.

Living Out Faith

When you read the Book of Hebrews and Genesis Chapter twenty-two, you see something that is prescriptive of faith or as a doctrinal statement of faith for all who believe today. Hebrews eleven is similar to doctrinal statements of what true faith is. These statements of faith are the same as those to which Abraham lived out. These chapters have great bearing on theological doctrines. One of them is about trusting God to keep His promises, even when our eyes lie to us. We know God cannot lie, so when God makes a promise, it must necessarily come to pass. This is true because God has the authority and power to bring about His promises. We cannot do the same thing in keeping our promises. We know from the story of Jacob’s family that their subsequent exodus from Egypt and their taking the Promised Land was eventually fulfilled, even though at the time of the 7 year’s famine, it didn’t look possible as Jacob’s whole family faced starvation.

Faith and Works

James interprets Genesis 15:6 and Genesis 22 a bit different than the author of Hebrews does. James employs Abraham’s obedience as evidence of his faith. His works proved his faith was genuine. James is saying that there should be physical evidence displayed such as Abram’s leaving his own family, trade, home, and later by taking a journey to a place he may have never been. When God told Abraham to do something, he obeyed, and that obedience caused him to do what things were required by God. He did what he was told and these things were works that backed up the fact that Abraham believed God, meaning his faith was legitimate. His faith was not dead as James says can happen. His was a saving but working faith. If Abraham’s faith was not real, then the works he needed to do would never have been done and he would also have shown that he did not believe God. Abraham’s works didn’t save him; they should he was saved by believing God. Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

Our Faith

If Abraham has taught us anything, it is that when we profess faith in Christ, we will serve Christ in works (Matt 25:35-36). We should display our trust in God by believing his promises. When we believe His promises, we reveal we do believe God and His Word. Our acts of our faith are displayed by the works we do for Christ (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). If we simply say we have faith with no works, can that faith save us? James would say “No” (James 2:22, 24). The focal point for James was Abraham’s obedient response in what he did; the 3 days journey and so on. His own personal effort in obeying God showed that He believed God. Abraham’s faith in action revealed his belief in God and His promises.


The experience of Abraham offering up his own son is similar to that of God the Father giving up His only Son, but in this case, He would give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) and would be sacrificed. Abraham knew that the sacrifices pointed to the need of the shedding of blood, thus atoning for sin. This was a shadow of the coming once-for-all atonement by Christ at Calvary, but the difference is Abraham’s own willingness to give his own son to be a sacrifice in order to be obedient to God. This willingness and his belief that God could raise him from the dead and ensure that this promise through his seed would be fulfilled, was such a great act of faith and that it was imputed to Abraham as righteousness. His faith produced acts which displayed his faith was legitimate. Of course, thousands of years later, God the Father did raise His own Son from the dead, but He is God. God can do that.

Here is some related reading for you: Story of Abraham From the Bible: Life and Lessons

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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