What was so special about the faith of Abraham? In what ways did Abraham demonstrate his faith, and what lessons can we learn from the father of the faithful?
Abraham: a man of faith
The apostle Paul wrote about Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:3: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (emphasis added throughout).
Paul was quoting from Genesis 15:6. What example of Abraham’s faith was Paul referring to?
A profound example of the faith of Abraham
The answer is in Genesis 15:4-6: “And behold, the word of the LORD came to him [Abraham], saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”
This extraordinary, unwavering belief that Abraham had in God’s power and promises was what Paul recounted.
“Who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (Romans 4:18-21).
Paul noted that Abraham’s belief was unhampered by the fact that he was almost a hundred years old; he was not weak in faith. He was strong in faith.
What is faith? Faith is a deep conviction that God’s words are true and that God will perform all that He promises. Abraham simply believed that God would do what He said.
Nothing is too hard for God. Nothing is impossible for God. That is an example for all of us today, that our faith should be strong in God.
An earlier example of Abraham’s faith
“Now the LORD had said to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great. …’ So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:1-2, 4).
Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, tells us what was so extraordinary about this departure: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
Abraham departed, and he trusted and believed God that He would guide him and his family into uncharted territory. There was no questioning and no wavering! He showed his faith by departing. This was a profound act of faith.
(For more insight on maintaining faith in uncertain times, read our blog post “What Does ‘Walk by Faith, Not by Sight’ Mean?”)
The faith of Abraham continued
After Abraham came into the land of Canaan, he continued to be a stranger and a pilgrim in that foreign land. But he believed God, who had promised that one day he and his descendants would inherit that land.
We, too, live our lives as strangers and pilgrims on this earth, waiting with patience and faith for the Kingdom of God to be established on the earth, ruling from Jerusalem.Genesis 13:14-17 records that promise to Abraham: “And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and width, for I give it to you.’”
Looking for a city whose builder and maker is God
In addition to appreciating the promised blessing of land for his descendants, Abraham grew in his faith toward God and personally anticipated a spiritual reward.
Hebrews 11:9-10 records this process: “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Abraham (along with other people of faith) anticipated a permanent city and country to come: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. … But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
We, too, live our lives as strangers and pilgrims on this earth, waiting with patience and faith for the Kingdom of God to be established on the earth, ruling from Jerusalem. We, too, are sojourners, desiring a better heavenly country—a country that is coming in the future.
How did Abraham prove his faith in God?
Abraham’s faith was tested again, in the most challenging way. Hebrews 11:17 relates the supreme test of Abraham’s faith: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”
Abraham must have believed that God had a very good reason for asking him to sacrifice Isaac, and that somehow Isaac would have to be raised from the dead to fulfill the promises God had made concerning him.
Abraham’s willingness to give up his son was a type of God the Father’s willingness to give His only begotten Son (Christ) as a sacrifice. We who are of the faith of Abraham must also believe that God can resurrect the dead.
Lessons from the faith of Abraham
Since Abraham’s faith is so often mentioned in the Bible, there are many lessons we can learn.
First of all, Abraham was justified by faith. God has ordained that all should be justified by faith. That means we are declared blameless in His sight by the blood of the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ and by faith in God.
The father of faith
In explaining the significance of the righteousness of faith, Paul also acknowledged Abraham’s role as the father of the faithful.
“For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also” (Romans 4:9-11).
So, whether one is Jewish or not, those who have the righteousness of faith, righteousness imputed to them by God, they are the children of our father Abraham (verse 12). All must have faith walking in Abraham’s steps.
“Preached the gospel to Abraham”
We must remember that the promises of God given to Abraham are realized through faith. Abraham and his seed, his true descendants who have faith, will inherit the promises of God given to Abraham.
As Romans 4:13 says: “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
The promises given to Abraham are part of the gospel message—the good news. Abraham heard and believed in the gospel.
Galatians 3:8 says: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” (The scripture being quoted is a combination of a promise in Genesis 12:3 and 22:18.)
This is a good example for us who hear the gospel today. Not all obey. “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:16-17).
There is a difference between trusting in our own “works” and trusting in God in order to be justified and saved.In Abraham’s Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. We are blessed through the righteous Seed of Abraham, who is Jesus Christ.
Abraham’s faith and works
There is a difference between trusting in our own “works” and trusting in God in order to be justified and saved. And there is a difference between relying on the law, as the Jews did, and doing good works that demonstrate obedience and living faith.
Abraham is our object lesson in this regard.
James explained: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled, which says, ‘Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then, that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:20-24).
Our faith is perfected as we do good works.
We should do good works in faith, as our father Abraham did. As John 8:39 says: “If you were Abraham’s children you would do the works of Abraham.”
Abraham did many works that demonstrated his strong faith in God. Jesus Christ told the Jewish leaders of His day, “But now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this” (verse 40).
Abraham believed the truth from the mouths of God’s messengers and from the mouth of the Lord.
The faith of Abraham is living faith
We need to do what our father Abraham did. We need to believe that God can do the impossible and that nothing is too hard for God. We need to believe in God’s power and promises, without wavering. We need to believe and be willingly obedient to God, to come out of this world and depart from sin.
We also need to trust God’s guidance and direction in leading us into uncharted territory. As we journey through life as pilgrims and strangers in the world, we need to look in faith to the coming Kingdom of God and the New Jerusalem. Our faith in the future inheritance of the world to come should motivate us to live by faith.
Finally, through Abraham’s example, we see that we must demonstrate our faith by being obedient to God and doing good works that demonstrate our faith. Our faith is perfected by doing good works.
Having faith and doing good works is a living faith. “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
Abraham certainly showed us all his faith by his works. Are you going to follow Abraham’s example? This is the most important step you can take.
May God help you make these critical changes in your life so you can inherit the same reward as Abraham when Jesus returns and establishes the Kingdom of God here on earth!