There are some Christians, especially those in the Catholic Church, that espouse the theory that Abraham was actually justified by God three different times. They do this to try and support their false doctrine that our justification in regard to our salvation is a life long process as opposed to a one time declaration by God the moment we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our savior.
Let me be clear before we proceed. Those Christians like the Catholic Church that teach justification is a process are actually teaching that we are justified by works and not by faith alone in Christ as the Scriptures tell us.
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
Romans 3:28 (KJV)
Below are the supposed three different justifications for Abraham that they claim happened to try and prove that justification was a life long process for Abraham and not just a one time event that took place when he first placed his faith and trust in God.
First time Abraham justified(and I would argue the only time he was justified before God in regard to his salvation):
Genesis 12:2-4 – God tells Abraham he will make of him a great nation. Abraham believes God and leaves his nation for the land God will give him.
Second time Abraham supposedly justified:
Genesis 15:1-6 – Abraham asks God how he will accomplish what he has promised thinking it would be through his steward and God tells him the heir will come from his own loins. Those who believe in justification as a process will point to verse 6 which says “And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” to claim this is a second justification of Abraham.
Third time Abraham supposedly justified:
James refers to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac in James 2:21-24 and again references the fact that Abraham believed and it was imputed to him for righteousness. Advocates of justification as a process will point to this as evidence that Abraham was justified by God yet a third time because of his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac .
Was Abraham justified multiple times or was his faith EVIDENCED by his works on multiple occasions?
I will argue that these passages of Scripture cited as evidence of multiple justifications of Abraham do support that claim. But instead they support the Biblical teaching that true faith is evidenced by works.
“1 After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
Genesis 15:1-6 (KJV)
Genesis 15:6 does not speak of some “second justification of Abraham” as some would have us to believe. But rather it points back to his initial faith in God back in Genesis chapter 12 when God called Abraham out of his homeland and promised to make of him a great nation. His faith because it was genuine continued even when he did not know how God would bring about his promise.
Now we will look at the supposed “third time” Abraham was justified:
“21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 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.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
James 2:21-24 (KJV)
The key verse in this passage from James chapter two is verse 23. It was Abraham’s continuing faith and not his works that were imputed to him for righteousness. His works were an EVIDENCE of his real continuing faith but they by no means provided any grounds for his justification before God, but only before men. It was also not another justification by God for his salvation but rather the reference to his belief goes back to his original belief when God told him he would make of him a great nation.
Romans chapter four talks of Abraham’s unwavering faith in God and how if we have this same faith in Christ and his atonement for us on the cross we may receive the same imputed righteousness that Abraham did :
“20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
Romans 4:20-24 (KJV)
Abraham was not justified before God because of his works – he was justified because of his faith in God! This is shown in Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3-5, Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23. Never do the Scriptures state that Abraham’s works were counted to him as righteousness but only his belief. His works were evidence of his faith and justified him before men but never before God.
“2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
The only way anyone can read works into justification or make justification into a process is to read James chapter 2 and then dismiss Romans chapter 4 and the rest of the New Testament which speaks of a justification and righteousness apart from works.
Abraham demonstrated his continued and unwavering faith in God on these multiple occasions. But it was his faith, not his works that were evidence of his faith, that justified him before God. God imputed to Abraham a righteousness not his own based on his faith the same way he imputes a righteousness to us as Christians that is not our own based on our faith and trust in Christ.