(Romans 4:2) nor James (James 2:21) were talking about Abraham
being saved from his past sins when they spoke of his being
justified. We have heard it discussed in such a way as to
make it sound as if Abraham received forgiveness of his
sins by offering Isaac on the altar! The impression may
be left that up to that time Abraham was out of fellowship
with God -- as an alien sinner -- and when he
offered his son he was justified -- forgiven, as a
man is forgiven at the point of baptism! This is an erroneous
concept. It is similar to using Noah's case to try to prove
that Noah would have gone to hell if he had died before
the flood. After all, the Bible plainly says that he "prepared
an ark to the saving of his house" (Hebrews 11:7).
Doesn't Peter plainly tell us "Noah was saved by water,
the like figure whereunto baptism saves us" (1 Peter
3:21)? Certainly so, but Noah was not saved from his sins
by the ark, nor by the flood, but his physical salvation
is a type or figure of our salvation from sins at the point
We can properly
use him as an excellent illustration of the necessity of
an OBEDIENT faith. "Thus did Noah, according to all
that God commanded him, so did he" (Genesis 6:22).
We may properly conclude that if he had not used gopher
wood, or had substituted his will for God's will, he would
have been displeasing to God. We may NOT properly conclude
that Noah was out of fellowship with God before the ark
was built, and the building of the ark, or entering it,
or the flood somehow washed his sin away and justified him
in the same sense the alien sinner is justified from his
past sins at baptism. The point is that each step along
the way, Abraham was justified by faith. Note carefully:
When all God required Abraham to do was TRUST, then Abraham
stood in the right relationship with God (was justified)
when he obeyed THAT command and trusted. When God required
Abraham to ACT on his faith, his faith could not be reckoned
unto him for righteousness until he acted.
15:6 we find, "And he believed in Jehovah; and he reckoned
it to him for righteousness." This does not prove that
Abraham was lost until this time, nor does the fact that
James 2:23 says, "the scripture was fulfilled which
saith, And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned unto
him for righteousness" mean that God for some reason
held Abraham's sins against him until he offered his son,
but reckoned him righteous from then on!
The truth of the matter is that at every point where God
commanded and Abraham had enough faith to obey, he stood
justified -- counted to be righteous -- in the
right relationship with God.
There is no
difference in the policy stated by the Lord in Exodus 23:7,
"I will NOT justify the wicked" and in Romans
4:5 where he "justifies the ungodly." He never
did, and does not now justify the ungodly in the practice
of their ungodliness. The adulterer, liar and murderer have
to quit their wickedness. They are still ungodly until they
are forgiven by grace, through their faith in Jesus, as
they demonstrate that faith in obedience.
The fact that Genesis 15:6 says, "He believed God and
he counted it to him for righteousness," in no wise
suggests that he had not believed God before, nor that he
was not in every previous or subsequent case "justified"
when he thus trusted in God. If we conceive of "justification"
as a ONCE-FOR-ALL judicial act in which God takes away our
past sins, then we become confused. But if we understand
that when God said in Genesis 12:1, "Get thee out"
and he in faith obeyed, he was justified (Hebrews 11:8).
When God said in Genesis 15:1-5 that he would have a son,
and Abraham believed Him, he was justified (Romans 4:3).
When he said in Genesis 27:2, "Take now thy son --
and offer him for a burnt offering--" and he had enough
faith to obey, he was justified (James 1:21). At ANY and
every point in his life, he was justified by his faith.
Note carefully: When asked to accept a statement, no matter
how difficult to believe, he trusted God, he stood approved
of God (justified) at that point. When asked to obey a command,
and he in faith obeyed that command, he stood approved of
God at that point.
The same principle
applies to us. We must understand that "justification"
does not always refer to an alien sinner getting his sins
removed. When Jesus said in Matthew 12:37, "by thy
word thou shalt be justified," he did not mean that
if somehow the alien sinner says the right words, he will
be saved (justified) from his past sins!
Just as in
Abraham's case, if God says, "Repent and be baptized
for the remission of your sins" (Acts 2:38) and a man
replies, "I do not intend to do that. I will get remission
by praying," he will NOT be justified or get remission
of his sins. On the other hand when Simon heard Peter say,
"Repent and pray--" (Acts 8:22) if he had said,
"No, I must be baptized again," he would not have
When God asks
me to believe that the same Jesus who was crucified and
resurrected will come back for His saints, I stand in the
right relationship with God (justified) when I trust in
His word. When he asks me to partake of the Lord's Supper
on the first day of the week as a demonstration of my faith
in that, I do NOT stand in the right relationship with God
(justified) if I refuse to do it. The fact that I was justified
from my sins when I accepted His grace in obedient faith
by being baptized for the remission of sins does not mean
I stay justified in ANY disobedient act.
There is no
comfort in God's word for the man who ASSUMES he can be
justified at any point without DOING what God says to do.
If God says, "Trust and wait," then one must do
that. If God says, "Trust and ACT," then one must
do that. It has always been so.