“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” (James 2:21–23, AV)
Frank Sinatra used to sing a song titled “Love and Marriage. The first lines were, “Love and marriage, love and marriage. They go together like a horse and carriage. This I tell you brother. You can’t have one without the other.” There are certain things that just must go together. These are unique partnerships or connections. His point in the song, is that if you are going to have a true marriage, there must be love.
Certain things partner with one another. Just as marriage partners with love so does faith with works. There is a unique relationship between the two. Faith is primary, and from that primary comes the secondary which is also essential and that is works. To make his point he gives two examples. The first one is of Abraham and Isaac.
First, we need to understand Abraham’s situation. He and Sarah, his wife, were well beyond child bearing years. God promised Abraham to make him a mighty nation and through a descendant of his all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God told Abraham that the covenant promise would continue through his son Isaac (Gen 17:19). But later, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:1, ff.). Abraham in obedience takes Isaac to the place of sacrifice and is about to kill his son, the son of promise, when the Lord stops him. James stated that this was a work that Abraham did by faith.
So, how was this a work of faith? It goes back to the promise of God regarding Isaac.
“And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” (Genesis 17:19, AV)
God indicated that Isaac would be the one through whom the covenant promise to Abraham would be carried on. Now, Abraham had to make a choice. He would either believe God’s promise regarding a future for Isaac or he would not. Obedience meant he would have to sacrifice Isaac. But this could hardly make sense unless he believed that God would keep his promise regarding Isaac having children.
The writer of Hebrews surmises things correctly.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.” (Hebrews 11:17–19, AV)
The point was that Abraham believed, that God would somehow ensure Isaac’s fulfillment of the promise even though it seemed impossible. Abraham must have believed that somehow God would raise up Isaac even if he were dead to marry and have children of his own.
Abraham’s action, this work, was clearly taken on the basis of faith alone. It was not based upon human rationale or reasoning. Abraham believed God and the Scripture declares, “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.”