Robert Jeffress - What Did Abraham Do? - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul makes it crystal clear there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. But that doesn't mean our relationship with God is hopelessly broken. Gratefully, God has graciously provided a way for everyone to be saved, regardless of our past sins. And today we're going to look at the life of Abraham as an example of how you and I received the gift of salvation. My message is titled: What Did Abraham Do? On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Abraham's faith that God would do what he had promised to do was built on God's character. Specifically, Abraham trusted, number one, in God's power. He believed in the God who gives life to the dead. That may be a reference to Abraham's belief that even if he offered Isaac as a sacrifice, God would bring him back to life again, the writer of Hebrews said. The God who calls into being that which does not exist. Remember when God took Abraham out and said, "Look at the stars and see if you can number them. So shall your descendants be". Abraham believed that if God could do all of that, he should have no problem fulfilling his promise to me. He believed in God's power. He believed in God's faithfulness. He believed in the God who wouldn't lie. Numbers 23:19 says that, "God is not a man, that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken and shall he not make good"?
Thirdly, Abraham's faith was based on God's word. What is it that made Abraham so sure God would make him the father of many people? It wasn't because there was any outside evidence. In fact, all outside evidence was to the contrary. Abraham was 100 years old, almost, his wife was 90 years old. There was no reason to believe God could do this. So why did he believe it? Look at verse 18, "In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, 'so shall your descendants be'". The reason Abraham believed he would be the father of many people is because God had said it. And to Abraham, that was enough. If God said it, Abraham believed it. And ladies and gentlemen, that is what faith is.
I want you to stay with me on this because there's so much a misunderstanding in the Christian world about this today. Faith is not a hope or a wish that God will do what you want him to do. You listen to a lot of Christian radio and TV today, that's what faith is. Faith, faith, it means kind of just conjuring up this positive mental image, oh I believe God's going to do this, I believe, I believe, I believe, I believe. You kind of worked yourself up into a little hysteria. And if you think about it long enough, and say it often enough, God will do what you want him to do. Folks that is not faith, that is presumption. Faith is not some hope or wish that maybe God will do what you want him to do. Faith, according to Hebrews 11, is the assurance that God will do what he has said he will do. It's a faith in what God has already said.
Notice also that this faith that he had was assured by God's trustworthiness. Look at verses 20 to 21, "Yet with respect to the promises of God, Abraham did not waiver in unbelief, but he grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform". Abraham's faith was assured by God's trustworthiness. I'm going to have to be honest with you. This week as I was preparing this message, I struggled with these verses because they seem to be so untrue. Abraham never wavering, huh, Abraham always being assured, what Old Testament are you reading, Paul? You go back to Abraham's story, he wavered a lot in his faith. I mean, think about when he made that detour down to Egypt because he couldn't trust God to take care of his livestock and his family. Or think about the time when he tried to pass off his wife Sarah as his sister to save his own skin.
Aren't you glad God doesn't judge us on the basis of a single mistake, or a series of mistakes, a bad day, or a bad year that we have? Instead God takes the long view. And when God looked at the long view of Abraham, yeah, he had some hiccups in his journey of faith, no doubt about it, but he grew stronger, and stronger, and stronger in his belief that God could do what he had promised to do. One other note about verse 21, will you notice that it says, "Abraham was fully assured that what he had promised, he was able to perform". Grace and assurance go hand in hand together, just like works and doubt go hand in hand together. You know, somebody who's trying to work his way to heaven will always be in doubt about his relationship with God. I mean, if salvation, righteousness is based on our efforts, let's say it's based on works, how do you know whenever you've done enough works to get into heaven? If it's based on religious ritual, how do you know which rituals to do? Is that the ritual of the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Jews? I mean, how do you know whose rituals to follow? If it's based on law, which law is it that I'm supposed to obey?
That's why a person who's tries to be right with God through his own efforts is always going to be in doubt about where he stands with God. On the other hand, when you go under the grace plan, you realize it's all of grace and none of me, it gives you the assurance that God will do what he's promised to do. In my years as a pastor, I've come to the conclusion that perhaps the greatest single barometer of whether a person is really saved or not is the amount of assurance he has. If he's always doubting his relationship with God, that's a pretty good indicator that he's trying to do it under the works plan. But if he is fully assured, like Abraham was, that person understands grace.
Number five, Abraham's faith was obedient to God's commands. Look at verse 22, "Therefore also it was reckoned, accounted to him as righteousness". Now pastor, are you saying that good works are not important in a Christian's life? Oh no, I'm not saying that at all. In fact, I'm saying good works are essential in your relationship with God. But good works are essential not to secure your salvation, but to verify your salvation. That's what the Bible teaches. We're not saved by our works, but we are saved for our works, and where there are no works, there's probably no faith either. You see that in Abraham's life. I want to show this to you by showing you the single greatest contradiction in the Bible.
Have you ever heard people say, "Well, I don't know how to take all those contradictions in the Bible". And you say, "Oh there aren't any contradictions the Bible". I'm going to show you one, or at least one that appears to be a contradiction in the Bible. Look at Romans 3:28 for a second, talking about Abraham, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law". And then he launches into this discussion of Abraham. "Abraham was a man who was justified by faith, apart from the works of the law". Now hold your place there and turn over to the New Testament book of James, James 2. Remember, James wrote his letter to say that good works are important. Authentic faith will always produce good works. James says faith without works is a dead non-existent faith. Show me a Christian who says I have faith, but has no works, and I'll tell you, that person's faith is useless to get him into heaven. And interestingly, to make his point, James also uses the story of Abraham.
Look at James 2, beginning with verse 21, "Was not Abraham our father justified, made right with God, by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected, and the scripture was fulfilled, which says, 'and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God". And then James's conclusion in verse 24, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone". What in the world is going on here? Are Paul and James reading from the same Bible? Paul says in Romans 3:28, "A man is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law". James says, "A man is justified by works, and not by faith alone".
Now I want you to stay with me on this. This is more than a theological discussion. A right understanding of this determines whether you're going to heaven or hell when you die. You better be sure you're under the right plan. So which is it? Is it the Paul plan of faith in God's grace, or is it the James plan of faith and works? But I want to show you it's no contradiction at all. Fact is, James, or Paul, when he talks about justification, he uses that word to refer to God's act of declaring us righteous by our faith in his grace. To Paul, justification was God's act by which he declares a sinner righteous because of the grace of God. But when James uses the word justified, he doesn't use it to mean to make righteous. He uses it to mean to be seen as righteous.
Now let me show you why I say that. Verse 21, "Was not," James 2, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar"? Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 15 when he believed in the promises of God, that's what Paul refers to. But James is talking about an event that happened 30 years after Abraham was declared righteous in the sight of God, and that is when he obeyed God by offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Verse 22, "You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, 'and Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'".
They're saying the same thing. Abraham was declared righteous when he believed in the promises of God, but his faith was authenticated 30 years later when that faith was fulfilled, and he obeyed God and offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Paul and James are saying the same thing. We are saved, certainly, by faith in God's grace. But if we have saving faith, there will always be an obedience to God that follows after that. And that's what happened with Abraham. That's why he says, "The scripture was fulfilled," 30 years later, which said 30 years earlier, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness". Faith without works is a dead, non-existent faith.
Martin Luther many years later would describe the relationship between faith and works this way. He said, "Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone". Where there is genuine faith, there will be genuine works of obedience in a Christian's life. What does this passage mean to us? He makes it very clear, Paul does, that this whole story is not just about Abraham, it has application for us as well. So let me give you, in closing, two quick applications here for us. First of all, for the non-Christian, this passage reminds us that the unrighteous are justified through faith. Look at verses 24 to 25. "It wasn't written for Abraham's sake, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned as those who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He, Jesus, who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification".
Jesus was delivered to the cross to die for our sins. When he died on the cross, he took the punishment, the wrath of God we deserved. And he was raised up three days later for our justification, that is, had he remained in that grave, it would've meant he died for his own sins. But the fact that God raised him from the dead meant that God accepted his sacrifice for your sins and my sins. The unrighteous are made righteous, they are justified, through faith. But there's an application secondly for those of us who are already Christians, and that is the righteous are to live by faith. We're saved through faith, we're also to live by faith.
In Colossians 2:6, Paul said, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus, so walk in him". We trusted in Christ to save us. We are to trust in Christ to sustain us throughout the rest of our life. Have you ever thought about this? How foolish it is to say, "Now, God, I am trusting in a Savior whom I've never seen to take me to a heaven I've never experienced in the hereafter. I'm trusting you for that, but I can't trust you in the here and now to handle this problem I'm facing at work, or in my marriage, or with my finances". Does that make any sense? To say we're banking our entire eternal destiny on the power of God, but not to trust him right now. What I want you to see about Abraham is his faith was not just a one-time event that secured his place in heaven. It became a way of life for Abraham.
As Abraham grew in his faith, he grew to trust in God's plan that God had a plan that was better than his plan. He began to learn how to trust in God's timing, that just because God didn't answer every prayer when Abraham wanted it answered doesn't mean he wasn't listening. It means God had a different timetable than Abraham's. Have you learned those lessons? Are you learning more and more that the same God you're trusting in to save you when you die is a God you can trust in right now?
Chuck Swindoll tells the true story of Robert Dick Wilson, a professor at Princeton university seminary. After he retired, doctor Dick Wilson, he had a habit of going back into chapel services whenever he heard that one of his former students was going to preach in chapel. And he would always sit at the back of the chapel to listen to his students. But he would listen to a former student only one time. Why? He explained it this way, "When my boys come back, I come to hear them once. I come to see if they are big Godders or little Godders, and then I know what their ministry will be. Some men have a little God, and they're always in trouble with him. He can't do any miracles. He can't take care of the inspiration and the transmission of scripture. He doesn't intervene on the behalf of his people. He's a little God. And because they have a little God, I called them little Godders. But then there are those few who have a great God. He speaks and it's done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show himself strong on behalf of them who fear him.
Now, for those like this, I called them big Godders. And oh how he blesses their ministry". What about you? Are you a little Godder or are you a big Godder? Chuck says the best way to measure the size of your God is by the length of your worry list. If you have a long list of things you're worrying about, you're a little Godder. But if your worry list is small or non-existent, it's because you're a big Godder. Abraham was a big Godder. He trusted in God, not only for the hereafter, but for the here and now. And as he grew in faith, he realized he could entrust his life to the God who is able. Have you learned that truth?