Abraham Justified by Faith
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:1-8 ESV
What are some of the ways in which people are trusting to get into heaven? The history of the world is filled with ways in which humanity of the past (and the present) have been secure in their understanding of the path to heaven. Here are just a few that are ongoing and current in our culture:
1. For the “immoral” and their supporters – universalism – the idea that there really is no place for eternal torment. A God of Love understands the dysfunctionalism of the world we are in – the injustice of racism, poverty, and social class causes widespread calamity and therefore causes people to do things they would not normally do, since all are born “good” in an otherwise unjust world. The God of Love would never condemn such creatures, even the most evil of us (see Hitler and Stalin) to eternal damnation.
2. For the “moral” and their followers – “all good people go to heaven.” If I could name one popular icon that demonstrates this theological position, that would be the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. “George Bailey” a marginally “spiritual” man (if that much could be said) is indeed “moral” in that he makes choices, often at the risk of his own happiness, to do others good. He is rewarded by having “friends” in his hour of need. Moral people rely, not necessarily on their spirituality (that is, going to church, having a “spiritual” life) but in doing good, doing the “right” thing most of the time. Indeed the god of the movie looked down favorably on George Bailey, remembering the moral choices he had made to be an alternative for the poor renters of Bedford Falls in contradiction to Mr. Potter the Banker. The moral believe that God (if there is one) will reward the doer of good in paying back some cosmic karma back to the one who is moral – otherwise heaven bound!
3. The religious believe that having faith – any faith – will make one worthy of God’s blessings, including heaven. Religious works are considered “moral” in that the end result is to please God or the gods. In fact, there are some who claim that having faith in anything is deemed worthy of the One God who goes by many names (Allah, Krishna, Jehovah, Buddah, etc.). Yet this is merely a misunderstanding of what faith is. Faith is the rope that a climber throws down the mountainside to scale it. He selects what the rope is tied to with great care, for that anchor will have to hold his weight and not slide as he goes up and down the mountainside. Not anything will do – only what is “true” will protect that climber in his journey. Faith is only as good as what it is anchored to. “Truth” is what makes “faith” matter, not what is “false.” All the religious are doing anyway is “believing” in something and working around that belief, hoping that what they do in their belief will be good enough. There are some who literally believe that they are a god themselves, so their act of religious works (meditation, denial, or right belief) will connect them with the “god within” leading to cosmic consciousness and transcendence (see my article at SBCImpact! for an example of this belief system).
Abraham was a moral man – a man who helped strangers, and was generous with his riches. But that is not what made him “righteous”. Abraham worshiped and did those things which would be deemed as “religious rituals” – but those acts themselves did not grant to Abraham right standing before God. Going to church, reading the Bible, doing moral acts for many people are a way to obtain life. But they are not. Look at Paul’s affirmation of Abraham in the above scripture: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s faith was not placed upon what he did or believe – it was placed upon that which was “True” – God. Abraham did not count on his morality or religious acts to make him more acceptable to God, anymore than a true believer in Christ counts on church attendance or Scripture reading to put him in right standing before God. Abraham believed and trusted God, and believed that He was able to keep His promises to Abraham. Abraham had faith in God.
Abraham was moral, and performed acts of worship as a sign of obedience and a way of life, not to obtain life. The faithful follower of Christ obeys God as a way of life with his attendance within the Body of Christ, his faithful digesting of the Scriptures for spiritual food and nourishment, and his willingness to forsake and give all for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom. The way to heaven is only one way – through faith in Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, The Risen Lord.