Was Abraham Justified By Faith Or Works?

Q. I am studying James in a small group study. I understand and believe that we are saved by faith alone by the grace of God. I also understand that James is telling us that true belief and faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross will produce good works. I agree. This is my question: James 2:21 says, “was not… Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?

I would say no, he was considered righteous by God because he trusted in God and the fact that he offered his son was proof (or evidence) of that faith, but was not what saved him. James in seeking to prove that faith produces works makes it confusing to me when he puts the cart before the horse in his wording, and perhaps partly why you get questions over and again about our works being able to save. Can you clear this up for me, as I believe the Bible is God breathed and alive. Thanking you continually for your work and God for enabling you.

A. The two verses that seem to be in conflict are Romans 4:3 where Paul said that Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness and James 2:21 which says that Abraham was considered righteous for what he did.

These two seemingly contradictory passages are reconciled by Hebrews 11:17-19. There we read, By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

Abraham’s faith was so strong that he agreed to put Isaac to death, even though he knew that God’s promises to him were supposed to come true through Isaac. He believed God that could raise the dead, and that He would raise Isaac if that’s what it took to keep his word.

It was his faith that prompted him to obey and that faith was made obvious by his actions. There is no conflict between the two statements. James was writing to believers and his point was that true faith will always result in action. A friend of mine used to say, “If what you say you believe doesn’t result in action then it’s doubtful that you really believe it.”

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