Assurance for Abraham
“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you…” (Gen. 22:16–17).
- Genesis 22:15–19
Having passed his test with flying colors, Abraham receives one final visit from God. In today’s passage, the angel of the Lord reiterates the promise of salvation to Abraham: he will have many offspring that will conquer Canaan, and bless all peoples (Gen. 22:18). These benefits come because the patriarch did not withhold Isaac (v. 16). This is perplexing as it seems to make Abraham’s redemption dependent on works. But how can this be if salvation is by grace?
Salvation by grace alone does not mean that good works are absent. An absence of good works indicates an absence of faith, and the absence of faith is the absence of salvation (James 2:14–26). The kingdom is not ours if we are totally void of good works (1 Cor. 6:9–10). These works cannot justify us; we will stand on Judgment Day only if Christ’s merit clothes us by faith alone. As John Calvin writes in his Institutes, the saints of God have no single work that if “judged in itself deserves not shame as its just reward” (3.14.9). But justification is not the end of salvation. God justifies us so that He can make us holy (Eph. 2:8–10).
Faith and good works may be distinguished but never separated (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, p. 191). Sanctification always follows justification. Over time we work with the Spirit to mortify sin and bolster our faith (Phil. 2:12–13). Calvin reminds us the Lord “bends, shapes, forms, and directs” our wills “to the rule of his righteousness” (Institutes, 2.5.14). God inclines the will of His people to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him (Mic. 6:8). Calvin also states: “Those whom the Lord has destined by his mercy for the inheritance of eternal life he leads into possession of it, according to his ordinary dispensation, by means of good works” (Institutes, 3.14.21). All those justified will, by faith and works, persevere to the end and gain eternal life (Matt. 10:22b).
The Lord actually rewards us for these works even though they are not possible without His grace (Phil. 2:12–13). When God blesses Abraham on account of the sacrifice of Isaac, He is rewarding him for the perseverance He has given to the patriarch in the first place.
Christians do good works. And in His marvelous grace, our Father “looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 16.6). If you are concerned to love your neighbor and obey the Lord’s commandments, then you can be confident that your work will not go unnoticed but will be rewarded in the new heavens and earth.
Passages for Further Study
- Ps. 125
- Prov. 11:18; 22:4
- Matt. 10:40–42
- 1 Thess. 5:15
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