THE EXAMPLE OF ABRAHAM’S JUSTIFICATION
In verses 21 through 25, two examples are given. Both are very meaningful. They show us what justification by faith really is. Verse 21 says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?" James 2 mentions the case of Abraham. Galatians 3 and Romans 4 also mention the case of Abraham. Paul says that man is justified by faith, not by works, and he uses the case of Abraham as proof. Both Romans 4 and Galatians 3 prove that man is justified by faith rather than by works. James also mentions the case of Abraham, but he uses it to prove that man is justified not only by faith, but by works as well. If he had used other persons, we might not understand this matter. But in mentioning the case of Abraham, we can surely understand what justification by faith really is.
In using the case of Abraham, Paul refers to Genesis 15, whereas James refers to Genesis 22. In Genesis 15 God promised Abraham that his seed would be like the stars in heaven. In Galatians 3, Paul puts strong emphasis on God’s promise to Abraham. In the book of Galatians, Paul repeatedly talks about the promise. The word promise is used very frequently in the book of Galatians. Paul uplifts the promise in Galatians.
Do you know what a promise is? In the whole world, there is only one way for man to receive a promise, and that is by faith. There is no other way for a man to receive a promise. There is only this one condition. If God says that we must do something and we do it, it is work. But God did not tell Abraham that He would give him something if Abraham did this or that. Rather, God said that He would give him descendants. How did Abraham receive the promise? There was no other way but by faith. Suppose a brother tells his son that if he memorizes a list of vocabulary words tonight, he will receive five pieces of candy tomorrow. If the son is to receive the five pieces of candy, he has to memorize the words. This is work. But if the brother simply promises his son five pieces of candy, what does his son have to do? Will he say, "I have to do this or that before I can get the candy"? The child does not have to do anything. All he has to do is believe that his father will do it for him. In Genesis 15 God did not give Abraham one single thing to do. It is as if God said, "I will do it for you. I will give you descendants." Abraham believed in God, and that was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). Going back to the example of the brother’s son, the child may say, "Will my father really give me five pieces of candy? It does not seem like such a good thing could ever happen." If he thinks this way, he does not have faith. Everyone who wants to understand the book of Galatians must realize that a promise is without condition and without work. One does not have to do anything. The Father has done everything. Thank the Lord that everything that God promises He will accomplish. As long as God is trustworthy, everything is fine. Even if one tries to do a work, it will not avail.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 10, by Watchman Nee)