By Pauline Daniel
If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. – Rom 4:2-5
What Abraham believed was God’s promise that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. We don’t know how old Abraham was when he received this promise, but he had already been childless for many years and had given up hope of having children. He expected one of his slaves would inherit his estate (Gen 15:3). So God’s promise to him was not an easy one to believe, but he did and it was counted to him as righteousness.
However, Abraham’s faith in God didn’t keep him from making mistakes. Time passed and he remained childless. So Abraham and Sarah came up with the plan of having a child through Hagar. Ishmael was born and Abraham thought this was the heir he had been waiting for. But 13 years later God appeared to him and said that was not true. The heir would be Sarah’s own child. Sarah was now past the age of bearing children, so Abraham asks God to prosper Ishmael instead (Gen 17:18). But God says that his covenant would be with Isaac only.
Seen from a human perspective, the possibility of Sarah bearing children at that age was zero. But Rom 4:19-20 says that this didn’t cause Abraham to doubt God’s ability to deliver. He believed God and let go of the plans he had made for Ishmael to be his heir despite his attachment to his firstborn (Gen 21:11-14). He had to send Ishmael away, not keep him as a backup in case something went wrong with Isaac.
Thus we see that walking by faith doesn’t mean that we will never make mistakes - we all make mistakes and that is why we can never be justified by our works. What it does mean is that when we realise our mistakes, we turn from them and go back to doing things God’s way, no matter how difficult God’s way may seem. As Rom 4:22 says, it was because Abraham believed God in a seemingly impossible situation that his faith was counted as righteousness.
How attached are we to the plans we have made for our lives? Like Abraham, we all make plans to achieve the things that we want – it may be a job, a possession, or even a ministry. How do we react when our plans don’t work out? Do we get upset that God doesn’t rubber stamp our plans (especially if we have invested time and money in those plans)? Or are we willing to let go of those plans and abide by God’s plans?
Faith is demonstrated in letting go of our plans and submitting to God’s plans. That is the kind of faith that gets credited as righteousness.