The Bible tells us that Jesus came to save sinners and not the righteous who have no need of repentance. The Bible is very clear, either you are right with God by faith like Abraham, or you are relying on self-righteousness. While I understand what is meant when a person talks about practical righteousness and agree we should always do the next right thing, the Bible never uses the term practical righteousness. Instead, it clearly states in an abundance of scriptures that when one believes they are born again, made righteous by God and saved. The righteousness it speaks of is God’s own righteousness imputed to the believer. Yet some believers today insist that practical or visible righteousness is a must in a believer’s life in addition or they are not saved, not a true believer.
Therefore, I wanted to take a look at the practical righteousness of Abraham, the father of righteousness who was declared righteous by God roughly 40 years before he offered Isaac as a sacrifice – timeline here.
And he (Abraham) believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Gen 15:6 ESV
1) First off, what was it that Abraham believed that led God to credit him with His righteousness?
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own sonshall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Gen 15:4-5 ESV
Note that there was no requirement from God other than the fact that Abraham believed God. What could Abraham do to make this promise come true? Nothing it would seem.
2) In Genesis 16:3-4, after over a decade of waiting, Abraham’s faith that led God to credit him with righteousness wavers as he takes Hagar in an attempt to fulfill God’s promise himself, and she conceives a child.
We do not read of any rebuke by God for this doubt and action by Abraham.
3) In Genesis 17:1 we read: When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,
If God is talking about practical righteousness here, be blameless, let’s see if Abraham obeyed. Or, could God be saying that because you have faith and believe me, you are righteous and blameless in my eyes because of My righteousness I have credited you?
4) In Genesis 17:16 we read that God promises Abraham a son by his wife Sarah: I will bless her, and moreover, I will giveyou a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
In verse 17:17 we see Abrahams faith falter again: Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?
In verse 18:12 we read that Sarah’s faith falters too as she laughs at God’s statement that she will bear a child. Then she lies to God and says she did not laugh when God asks her about it:
So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.” Gen 18:12 -15 ESV
We read of no rebuke of punishment to Abraham or Sarah even though God told Abraham he would walk blameless before God in Gen 17:1. This is one indication that Abraham being blameless before God was due to God’s righteousness credited to him by faith, not practical righteousness.
5) In Gen18:19 we read: For I have chosenhim, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.
Let’s continue to follow Abraham and see if he ever failed to do righteousness and justice and if so, what God did about it.
6) In Gen 19:8, righteous Lot, as Peter calls him in 2 Peter 2:7-8, offers his two daughters to the men of Sodom to do with as they please. No rebuke from God and Lot ends up being saved by God from the destruction of Sodom. (Imagine a righteous man living in Sodom with all those sinners. Those who are inclined to doubt the salvation of others, might doubt Lot for living in Sodom.)
7) In Gen 20:2 we read that Abraham lies, calling his wife his sister to protect himself and allows her to be taken by Abimelech as a concubine: And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. Gen 20:11 ESV
No rebuke by God to Abraham, only a rebuke to Abimelech in a dream.
This was the second time that Abraham had done almost the exact same thing, lying about and giving his wife to a King as a concubine to protect his own life and gain possessions. If we are honest, it almost sounds like Abraham was a con man. Not a great example of practical righteousness.
When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. Gen 12:11-16 ESV
Just like the instance with Abimelech, God did not rebuke Abraham for this action and later in Gen 15:6 credited Abraham with righteousness for believing God. God did rebuke Pharaoh even though Abraham had lied to him.
8) Like father like son, in Gen 26:6-7 we read: So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance.
9) Like grandfather like grandson. We also learn that Issac's son Jacob (The father of Israel), steals his brother Esau’s birthright:
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. Gen 26:29-34 ESV
10) Then in Gen 27, Jacob plans with his mother and blatantly deceives his father into blessing him instead of Esau.
Fast forward to the New Testament
In Abrahams life, we just read where his faith wavered, and we saw him, and Sarah doubt and laugh at God’s promise of a child. We also saw some good sized sins too, adultery with Hagar, offering his wife to two kings as a concubine, lies and more. So is this the report we see in the New Testament? No, all we see is a very good report of their unwavering faith.
Abraham never wavered in believing God's promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. Rom 4:20 NIV
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Heb 11:8-12 ESV
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, Heb 11:17 ESV
Why only the good and not the bad?
then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Heb 11:17 ESV
Faith Without Works is Dead
Let’s look at James and see if the works James is talking about has anything to do with practical righteousness.
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”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:21-26 ESV
The two examples given in James of living faith have nothing to do with the practical righteousness some insist must be evident for salvation. Abraham offered to slay his son Isaac unto God and Rahab the prostitute lied to protect the Jewish spies. If practical righteousness was required for salvation, it seems like James would have given examples of those who kept the law in addition to believing. He certainly would not have used Rahab, the prostitute as an example.
Salvation by Faith Through Grace Alone
Now I understand what people mean by practical righteousness, and I agree we should not sin. But to state it is required to be born again is a whole different topic and one that does not align with scripture. Stating that practical righteousness is required to be saved, is really Satans attempt to disguise self-righteousness as a requirement for salvation, something Paul railed against in Galatians. When one doubts the salvation of others who state they believe the gospel and trust Jesus, we are simply projecting our lack of belief in God’s word onto them. God is very clear about how one is born again and thus saved. The only one that wants us to doubt is Satan. If we foster doubt in others, it means we doubt the simplicity of the gospel ourselves. It means we doubt God’s word and we are assisting the enemy in his mission to spread doubt.
How to be born again is not confusing or complicated to understand:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16.
God said what He meant and means what He said. Stop doubting and believe you are born again.
More New Covenant Studies
If You Believe You Have Been Saved
Only Way to be Righteous
Jesus Did Not Die to See If We Can Qualify
Leave the Burden on God
A Christians Sins are NOT Counted Against Them
Sins Are NOT Counted Under Grace
What is the One Unforgivable Sin?
Questioning Another’s Salvation, Creates Doubt, Does Satan’s Work
Many more New Covenant Bible Studies HERE.