James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
As stated previously in other studies, some have wondered if James and Paul were in opposition to each other. Here we see that James says that Abraham was justified by works, whereas Paul says that Abraham was justified by his faith, apart from works. (see Romans 4:1-3) Were these two men of God contradicting each other? Not at all.
When James speaks of Abraham’s works, he is not referring to some good deed Abraham did in order to earn favor with God. He is not saying that Abraham became a righteous man because he perfectly obeyed God. Nor is he saying that Abraham did something that caused God to forgive him for all his sins. Abraham’s sins are under the blood of Christ, just like every other child of God. Whereas through the eyes of faith we look back thousands of years to what Jesus accomplished on the cross; through the eyes of faith Abraham and others looked ahead thousands of years to what Christ would accomplish on the cross. Regardless of which side of the cross we are on, we are all saved by faith alone – in Christ alone.
That Abraham’s salvation came through faith is verified other places in scripture. We read from the book of Genesis – “And he (Abraham) believed the LORD, and he (God) counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) Abraham’s justification before God came long before he was called upon to offer up his son Isaac. Why then did James say what he said? “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?”
First let’s take a moment and refresh our thinking about the incident to which James is referring. We read from the book of Genesis that the Lord commanded Abraham to take his son Isaac and to offer him up as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah. (see Genesis 22) The Bible says that God did this to test Abraham. What was God testing? God was testing the validity of his faith. God wanted to know whether or not Abraham’s faith was real. God wanted to know if Abraham really believe that He would bless him with a mighty nation through his son Isaac, even as God had promised. God wanted to know if Abraham’s faith was so real that he would be willing to put to death the means by which God’s promise would come. Did Abraham really believe that God would bless him, even if Isaac was put to death?
Hebrews 11:17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him… 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. NLT
James says that Abraham’s faith was – ‘completed by his works…’ (see James 2:22) The validity of Abraham’s faith was confirmed by his willingness to obey God and put to death the son through whom the promise would come. Abraham was willing to do so because his faith in God was real. Therefore James tells us that the validity of someone’s faith is confirmed, not by what they say, but by what they do. Faith that talks the talk must also walk the walk if it is real.