It seems to us an odd thing that God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. However, as we have seen, God accomplished some great things with this. He gave a perfect picture of God’s sacrifice of Jesus for our sins (Hebrews 10: 10-14). He also put Abraham through a trial that resulted in his justification. Today, we’ll study Abraham’s temptation and his justification.
God put Abraham through a very difficult trial when he commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. He already had the faith to believe God’s promise of a seed that would be multiplied as the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:6). And this faith resulted in his imputed righteousness (Rom. 4: 3, 6).
However, whenever a man has faith that results in righteousness, God will test and try that faith to add spiritual blessings and rewards to that righteousness that are not available without the trials. The trial will strengthen the man’s faith and God may reward him in eternity for “passing the test.”
Here are some temptations (trials) and some results from passing those trials:
According to James 2:21-24, after Abraham came through this trial, he was justified. Justification means being declared righteous at a judgment or being proven to be just. In this trial, God proved that Abraham was just, because he trusted God to either raise Isaac from the dead or substitute a lamb for him. Now this presents a problem because Abraham’s justification required works (God required him to do something) and we have been taught that our justification is by faith without works.
Look carefully at Rom. 4: 2-7 and compare it diligently to James 2: 21-24. What you are looking at is an apparent contradiction in the Bible. For in the one place justification is without works, and in the other place justification is by faith and works. The question is, “How do you reconcile the contradiction?”
Here’s how to reconcile the problem. In the Old Testament, Abraham was counted righteous when he believed God, James 2:23. But he was not justified until he offered Isaac. Likewise, Rahab was justified when she hid the spies, James 2:25. She had both faith (Hebrews 11:31) and works (James 2:23).
Faith and works were a requirement in the Old Testament for righteousness and justification. Likewise, faith and works will be required in the tribulation. That’s why James 2:20-26 was written (notice in James 1:1, that James’ epistle was written to the 12 tribes scattered abroad – in other words to Jews, not to Christians in a church).
In the church age, a person is given righteousness and is justified the moment he puts his faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary. Here are the references:
Rom. 10: 9-10 Righteousness by faith
Rom. 5:1, 9 Justification by faith
Notice that a man cannot be justified by works in the church age. Here are the references:
Galatians 2:16 Justified by … faith … not by the works of the law.
Rom. 4: 2-7 To him that worketh not … his faith is counted for righteousness.
So, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ accomplished something for us in the church age that is not available to people in any other age – a completed righteousness and justification by simple faith in Jesus Christ.