Abraham was justified before Jesus’ incarnation. Is faith in Christ necessary for justification?

Derek Thomas & 2 others
2 Min Read

THOMAS: The righteousness that Abraham had was by faith. It is the same justifying righteousness that we have in the New Testament. In Romans 4, Paul went to Abraham and David as an illustration of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from the works of the law, which involves imputed righteousness. It is not that Abraham was reckoned to be righteous in the sight of God in any different manner than you or I.

NICHOLS: When you look at Romans 4 and what Paul’s doing in Romans, there was a content that Abraham was putting his faith in—God and His promise. You see that as the pattern prior to Christ with the anticipation that this is fulfilled in Christ. Now that Christ has come and we are on this side of the cross, that content is Christ. Dr. Reeves brought out in his message (“Hope, Riches, and Power”) that the content is faith in the Lord Jesus. However, it is not faith that saves but the object of faith that saves. Chronologically prior to Christ, there is an anticipation of looking forward to Christ, and now, after the cross, it is Christ. His work is the content of that saving faith. As Dr. Reeves pointed out in his message, faith in the Lord Jesus is the litmus test so we can know that we are Christians.

REEVES: If I heard the question right, I think it is asking, “Does faith need to be supplemented with works?” The Scripture reference I pick up on there is James 2, which often troubles people. We read, “You see a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). That sounds troubling, but you read his argument, and it very clearly answers this question. Looking at Genesis 22, James wrote, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’” (James 2:21–23). If you look at the chapters he’s referring to, particularly Genesis 15:6 (“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”), Abraham was justified by faith alone.

What happened seven chapters later in Genesis 22 was that Abraham proved the validity of his faith—it worked out in his actions. So, you see that faith was active along with his works and was completed by his works. The Scripture was fulfilled, and in that sense, his faith was vindicated and justified through his works. Abraham was counted righteous because of his faith alone, which is the answer to this question. The faith that justifies will work itself out in the kind of obedience you see seven chapters later in Genesis 22.

This is a transcript of Derek Thomas’, Stephen Nichols’, and Michael Reeves’ answers given during our Blessed in Christ: Detroit 2021 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.