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When Was Abraham “Saved?”

December 31, 2012

Commenter Nick asks several important questions regarding the faith of Abraham in his comment on when Abraham was justified. He writes:

“You had said: “This obedient act (Gen. 22) occurred many years after Abraham’s gospel justification (Gen. 15).”

Seeing that Abraham was a believer long before Genesis 15, starting as early as Genesis 12 (see Hebrews 11:8 and Galatians 3:8), how do you know the Genesis 15 event was not simply a “shown to be righteous” event as well? It seems like it would be Pelagianism to suggest Abraham was not saved until Genesis 15.”

In Genesis 12, the LORD tells Abram to “go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you…and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Abram, in obedience, proceeded to the land of Canaan. He trusted God. Was Abram justified (credited with righteousness) in Genesis 12 based on his response of faith? Several issues need to be addressed.

The first issue relates to the content of faith. In Genesis 15, Abram believed God’s promise of a child that would be miraculously born, and through whom the promise would be fulfilled. This promise of a future child was initially made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, and would come through the line of Seth, her third-born son. All the Old Testament saints believed in the promise of the one who would remove the curse that resulted from the fall. The promise of Isaac to Abram, via his barren wife Sarai, foreshadowed the coming Messiah, Jesus. It is by faith in Jesus alone that one is justified. The OT saints looked forward to Jesus. We NT saints look backward.

Another issue raised by Nick: Since Abram trusted God by leaving for Canaan, was he not saved then? I think this question touches on what is known as the ordo salutis, or “order of salvation.” Protestants believe that justification is by faith alone. But how does this work out? I believe that salvation is a gift of God from first to last. Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But some may say, “but don’t we have to receive the gift of faith? Doesn’t our wise choice present some merit on our part?” This touches on the question of free will, and the resulting question raised by Nick about Pelagianism.

Getting back to the ordo salutis, some teach that it is the Word that regenerates the soul, resulting in justification. Thus, we are called to share the “good news” of the gospel. Those who believe are justified. But who will believe? Don’t some reject the word? How then can it be the gospel/word that is the initial cause? I believe that before the Word can do its work, there must be a gift given that is passively received, so that there is a positive response to the message. This is the gift of life imparted directly by the Holy Spirit – the soul is quickened. I highly recommend a chapter from A. W. Pink that discusses quickening. Here is a link to this discussion.

Getting back to Abram, he obeyed God in Genesis 12. Perhaps Abram was already quickened (but not yet justified) and began hungering for spiritual things at this point. Like many of us, his spiritual journey included many rabbit trails. For example, he did not obey God fully when he brought Lot along with him to Canaan. He was told to leave his relatives. Also, he sojourned to Egypt, and deceived Pharaoh about his wife being his sister.

The point I want to make is this: salvation is indeed a process, that begins with quickening, proceeds to justification, and sanctification, and finally glorification. So, Abram trusted God back in Genesis 12, and perhaps he was even justified back then. He may have been trusting in the promised seed. But Genesis 15 clearly shows that our justification is the result of a specific kind of faith, saving faith in Messiah. It is not as important to nail down “when” Abram was justified. What is very important is the ground of his justification: faith in the coming promised One. Abram believed, and as a result was “reckoned” righteous. I am an accountant by trade, and “reckoned” is “accounted.” We Protestants believe that the righteousness of Jesus is credited to us, at the time of belief in the gospel. And that works of obedience are the fruit of our justification.

Nick, I hope this helps to clarify the Protestant understanding of justification. We believe that there is an unbreakable chain of salvation. All who are quickened will be glorified. And no one is able to receive the gift of salvation unless they are made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit’s quickening (Jn. 3:8).

Thanks again for your comment.

 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cathy permalink
    December 31, 2012 5:49 pm

    How can A RC Obtain Salvation?
    You have to made “Alive / Quickened” by the Holy Spirit and this happens at Regeneration/ Rebirth/Born again, where you are Baptized in the Spirit! The Man-made Rules of the RCC for Baptism, which has transcended throughout Christiandom…DOES NOT Make you a Son of God and you DO NOT receive the Righteousness of God credited to you!
    John 3 states: You must be Born Again to enter the Kingdom of God…do you think all the RC infants that have been “Sprinkled with water” are worthy of this for the remainder of their life to enter(along with their 7 Sacraments?) This is false unbiblical teaching, that can lead you straight to He–!
    Apologist will say their Sacraments are in the Bible…wow! Man Made
    This Church fulfills Daniel 7 Prophecy, she is the Little Horn power!
    Mother Church says “you cannot have Salvation without her!”
    That should warn you right there…
    When was Abraham Saved? He was Saved by Faith, as soon as he believed in God!….and his Fruit was his willingness to Believe (the obedience to sacrifice his son for God on Mt. Moriah ! Every Justified person, continues being sanctified, until the end of life on earth..Then On To Eternal Life with God, in our resurrected bodies…no pain or sorrow,…true Paradise in Heaven!

  2. January 10, 2013 8:48 pm

    Thank you for your post, I didn’t realize you had made a response until now.

    It seems the evidence points to Genesis 15:6 as being a moment of vindication, since I see no reason why Abraham’s faith, building altars, being blessed by Melchizedek, etc, all before Genesis 15:6 would be taken as Abraham ‘quickening’. These things took years and God was intimately engaged with Abraham. Galatians 3:8 even says Abraham heard the Gospel in Genesis 12.

    As for the issue of “reckoning,” when Abraham’s faith was said to be reckoned as having the quality of righteousness (cf Psalm 106:30-31), Romans 4:18-22 explains why this is so. It says because Abraham’s hope along with a robust faith, holding on for nearly 25 years until he was 100 years old (Rom 4:19 + Gen 17:17) before the promised son was born.

    So I agree with you that the Gospel promise was based upon Abraham’s long trackrecord of faithful obedience, as Genesis 26:3-5 plainly says, but I would not start this out at Genesis 15.

  3. Cathy permalink
    January 10, 2013 10:20 pm

    God is glorified when we BElIEVE on him!

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