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James 2:21: Was Not Abraham Our Father Justified By Works

James 2:21
[21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (ESV)

What would you be willing to sacrifice to prove that your faith in God was genuine? Perhaps you would be willing to make a large monetary donation to your local church. Maybe you would be willing to travel to a foreign country for a missions work. How about sacrificing your first born to the Lord? That sounds severe, doesn't it?

There is an account in the Old Testament where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord. This is one of the most difficult sections of Scripture to read. We know that God was very much against child sacrifice. In fact, the judgment of God was against all the Canaanite nations who practiced child sacrifice to their false gods. Let's look briefly at the account in Genesis:

Genesis 22:1–2
[1] After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” [2] He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (ESV)

This was a test. God had in mind from the beginning that there would be a lamb provided in place of Isaac. Yet, Abraham did not know that. We find in this story that Abraham responded obediently and began the journey with his son. I have no question that Abraham would have sacrificed his son if that is what God wanted. So great was his love and devotion to the Lord.

This fact of Abraham's genuine faith helps us to explain this passage today in James 2:21. The works that Abraham offered did not save Abraham or make him righteous. Rather, as the text in Genesis 22 tells us the work of obedience that Abraham offered in being willing to sacrifice his son proved that he passed the test that God gave him. So, how was Abraham made righteous? By works?

Genesis 15:6
[6] And he (Abraham)  believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (ESV)

You are declared righteous by believing the Lord. That is saving faith. The genuineness of that faith can surely be tested. Will you pass the test?


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