The Salvation of Abraham
Rom 4:1 tells us that Abrahams testimony of salvation is recorded in Scripture. Gen 15:1-6 gives us that testimony, repeated not only in Rom 4:1-5 but also Rom 4:16-25; and Gal 3:6-8. Rom 4:16-19 is not teaching about life after salvation, such as Abraham in Gen 17, as some imply, but salvation itself. The entire 4th chapter of Romans is about justification. Salvation has never changed. It’s always been exactly the same throughout all ages. If we believe like Abraham did, (which is the same as David did: Rom 4:6-8), we can also be converted like Abraham was (Rom 4:1-5, 16-25). Verses 16-19, expounding the details of Abraham’s justification, are connected directly to vv 22-25, all describing justification, as all of Rom 4 is.
Romans 4 starts with Abraham’s testimony of conversion (vv. 1-5), then David’s (vv. 6-8), followed by expounding the indifference between Jew or Gentile when it comes to salvation and that salvation is by faith alone without the works of the law (vv. 9-17), then finishing the chapter with further detailing of Abraham’s testimony of conversion (vv 16-22) with the call to salvation available to all (vv 23-25). This is very explicit.
When God brought Abram out of the pagan city of Ur of the Chaldees, where he originally lived (Gen 11:28; 15:7; Neh 9:7), he was an unsaved idol worshipper. Ur was a gigantic seaport city situated at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and stood at the southern end of a vast area known by such names as Chaldea, land of the Chaldeans, Babylonia, Sumar, Shinar, but especially Mesopotamia, referred to as the "Fertile Crescent.” Hundreds of years before Abraham's birth, in Mesopotamia the tyrant Nimrod had built his first kingdom with that infamous city and tower in defiance of the living God (Gen 10:8-10; 11:1-9). The city of Ur was also renowned for child sacrifice by fire (“Ur” means fire). Sir Leonard Woolsey’s archeological work in excavating Ur revealed the amazing advances of that region, but also its ungodliness and paganism. After Abram’s brother Haran died (Gen 11:28) and for reasons unrecorded in Scripture, Abram's father Terah gathered some of his family, left Ur and traveled to Haran (Gen 11:31). At this time they were all dedicated pagans, believing in the gods and goddesses of Ur. Into this Satanic darkness Jehovah began to reveal Himself to the son of Terah, a 9th generation descendent from Shem, who would’ve been searching after God and His truth (Jer 29:13; Is 55:6-7). So when we read of Abram in Gen 11–14 going to Haran, Canaan and Egypt, we are reading of an unsaved man.
When "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia" (Ac 7:1), God spoke to him the following instructions, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee" (Gen 12:1), Abraham was a heathen but he believed the words that God spoke. Upon the death of his father Terah (Gen 11:32), at age 75, Abraham was freed from filial duties, so he gathered his wife, nephew Lot, a vast company of servants (Gen 14:14), and departed Haran ("Charran" in Ac 7:2). Heb 11:8 declares that he obeyed God, and went out “By faith . . . not knowing, whither he went.” It’s very important to understand that at this point Abraham was not exercising saving faith in his newly found God. Abraham was not saved until Gen 15.
When God tells Abram in Gen 12:1-3 what He’ll do with him, the blessings that will come through him, the covenant He will make with him, this was declared to an unsaved man and remained unfulfilled until Gen 15:7-21, upon Abram’s salvation (Gen 15:1-6), the Lord at that time reminding him of His promise (Gen 15:7). Though Abram had some kind of zeal for God and responded to the light God gave him, he was lost throughout Gen 11 to 14. He doesn’t get saved till Gen 15:6, and his name is changed thereafter by God to Abraham (Gen 17:5, meaning “father of a multitude”) on the occasion of his circumcision when he was 99 yrs old (Gen 17:1-5), a seal and sign of his conversion.
We further know Abraham’s salvation was in Gen 15:6 because of the words written in that passage and then also because of further revelation in Gal 3:6-8; Rom 4:1-5, 16-25.
“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. 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? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 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. 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. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
Rom 4:1-5, 18-22,
“What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. . . . Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.”
“Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.”
These passages exegete Abram’s salvation, and how he came to be the father of all who believe (Rom 4:16-25; Gal 3:9-29). Without the NT passages, we would still clearly know that Abraham was saved in Gen 15:6. The covenant blessings that God had promised Abram, both spiritual and physical were actually fulfilled by Abraham’s salvation, which was based upon faith in the promised seed Whom would bring the blessing to the nations, through faith. In Romans and Galatians Paul selected Abraham as the supreme model and benchmark of how all people must be saved and made righteous (Rom 4:1-5, 16-25; Gal 3:1-9), and James does likewise in Jam 2:22-23.
How did this all come about?
Abram became the father of our faith (Gal 3:7-9, 29), being converted when “he believed in the LORD; and [the Lord] counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6; cf. Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6). Paul wrote that God Himself “preached the gospel” (Gal 3:8) of salvation to Abraham (Gal 3:6) and that upon believing he was made or accounted righteous (Gal 3:6-8)— thus saved (Rom 4:1-5, 20-25). In Jn 8:56, Jesus said Abraham had “rejoiced to see [His] day: and he saw it, and was glad.” That “day” was when Jesus Christ “the word of the LORD” (vv. 1, 4) came to Abraham (first in a vision—v. 1, and then physically—v. 4) and preached His gospel to Him (v 5; Gal 3:8).
Only Jesus Christ is called “the word of the LORD” (Gen 15:1, 4; cf. 1 Sam 3:21; 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; 22:31; 24:11; 1 Ki 6:11; Jn 1:1-2, 14; Rev 19:13; etc). This leaves no doubt as to who “the word of the LORD” was. It was when the Seed preached His gospel to Abram for the fifth time (in order: Gen 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-15; 15:1, 4-5) that Abram was converted (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-5; Gal 3:6). Jesus said Abraham rejoiced in that day, and so do all, exceedingly, that are genuinely converted. The stumbling stone that Abraham had to overcome to be converted, an issue of unbelief (Rom 4:20), was having a child through his loins while at the ripe age of at least 90.
After God had preached this to Abram on at least four previous occasion, he finally believed that seeds and the Seed, both singular and plural, would be birthed through him, which is the essence of the gospel of Christ (Gen 15:4-5). If there was a seed (and yes there would be: Gen 3:15; 15:4-5; Gal 3:16; Heb 2:16-17; 11:18) then that seed would bring deliverance from sin, as promised by God immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:15). "For verily he [Jesus Christ] took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." (Heb 2:16-17).
So, “[Abraham] staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.” (Rom 4:20-21). “And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.” (Rom 4:22). Abraham “believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen 15:6). His faith was “accounted to him for righteousness.” (Gal 3:6; Rom 4:3; Jam 2:23). Abraham was not justified by works (Rom 4:1-2) but by faith in the Messiah, the Seed, alone (Rom 4:3). “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed;” (Rom 4:16a).
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Rom 4:4-5). “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Rom 4:23-25). In other words, if you repentantly believe like Abraham did, you can be justified and imputed with Gods righteousness just like Abraham was.
In the same chapter we read of David acquiring the same salvation, testified by him in Psalm 32:1-5 and quoted here in Rom 4: “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (vv 6-8). The “gospel of Christ” indeed “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom 1:16), and that results in receiving the complete forgiveness of all sins and iniquities for ever, and the righteousness of God imputed, Gods blessings, and never having sin on your account again. These things are immediate, ongoing and eternal. They can never be lost!
The greatest exchange that can ever be known or ever has been known by man takes place at that very moment of conversion. Christ takes our sin upon Himself and we receive His righteousness! (2 Cor 5:21). And salvation has never changed, it’s always been precisely the same (Rom 1:17; Hab 2:4). Paul further declares that every saved person is counted as one of Abraham’s seed or children (Rom 4:16-18; Gal. 3:29). “And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:29).
How about the fact that Abram built alters to the Lord in Gen 12, 13 and 14? That doesn’t confirm that he was saved. There are many examples of lost people building alters to the Lord, such as Balaam (Num 23) for instance. Neither was Abraham “backslidden” in Egypt (Gen 13) unless of course you mean “backslidden” according to what the Bible says it means, which is lost people. Abraham was lost, so yes he was backslidden. Backsliding means apostasy, referring to lost people that profess to believe. No place in scripture are backsliders saved. Abraham wasn’t saved in Gen 12 or 13, which then confounds those who preach Keswick heresy of “carnal Christianity,” that Abraham's going back to his altar at Bethel pictures a believer returning to God after a backslidden life in Egypt. It’s all pure fabrication made our of sheer cloth.
How about the promises made to Abram in Gen 12:1-3? The covenant wasn’t fulfilled until his conversion 15 years later, Gen 15:7-21, as noted already. This is no different than the many blessings and promises recorded in Scripture — both personal and available to all but not fulfilled until the new birth. Teaching that Abraham or anyone else has ever been saved by any type of work, is a false gospel (Gal 1:6-9). There is no testimony of salvation prior to Gen 15, and then in Gen 15 we have a very clear testimony of conversion which is reiterated as such in multiple places in the NT. That settles that. Facts and truth matters. Gods Word is truth. It is plain and perspicuous (Pr 8:8-9; 22:20-21). It is never okay to wilfully twist the scriptures. We must be diligent and careful in our interpretation and rightly divide the Word of truth, lest we be ashamed (2 Tim 2:15) and charged as false teachers (2 Pet 1:21–2:3; 3:16-17).