By Mike Conn
“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” (Romans 4:1-5).
Abraham “believed God” and had “righteousness” credited to his account. His obedience to the leading of the Spirit of God was a relatively new thing. No one in his immediate family had expressed faith in the Lord, so his faith stands out as a great monument, though it seems small. In attempts to save his life he stumbled by failing to acknowledge that Sarah was his wife. He got ahead of the plan and produce by Hagar a child that was a source of extreme embarrassment and regret. Yet, Abraham is commended as a man of faith.
The fact is Abraham grew in his faith and was fully obedient to God in the things that really mattered. Using Pauline terminology, he “fulfilled the righteousness of the law” (Romans 2:26; 8:4) before the law was in existence. He did this by simply being obedient to the leading of the Spirit. He lived by the rules that God had written on the “fleshly tables” of his heart (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Romans 2:15).
This happened hundreds of years before the law of Moses came into existence. Abraham did not fall into the trap of boastful pride and a salvation by works mindset. Thus, Abraham is made the shining example of an Old Testament character who lived a life of faith by being led by the Spirit similar to the way New Testament Christians are led. He “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
It should be acknowledged that prior to Abraham, no one had actually ventured very far into the realm of faith in God. Abraham is similar to Chuck Yager, the man who was first to break the sound barrier. Jet airplanes had been made for years that were capable of breaking the sound barrier, but pilots were fearful that the plane would fall apart if they ventured too close to the sound barrier. So it is with faith, Abraham seemed to be the first to comprehend the inner workings of the grace of God in the human heart. He was one of the first to comprehend that God can be trusted and that He will work within our human nature to produce things that are pleasing to Him.
David Also Understood Grace
Paul listed David among those in the Old Testament who understood the inner workings of grace and how it influenced people in the area of righteousness.
“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” (Romans 4:6-8).
David’s understanding of the heartbeat of God can be seen in many instances in his life. One such instance is given in I Samuel 30. In that incident he was disqualified from being a part of the Philistine army who were about to engage the Israelite army. Consequently, he unexpectedly arrived at his home in Ziklag a little early. Upon his arrival he discovered the charred remains of the city. Their wives and children had been taken captive by a group of Amalekites.
This scene left David and his men in great distress and grief. They wept until there was no more power to weep (I Samuel 30:4). Eventually their grief turned to anger, and that anger was turned toward David. However, David “encouraged himself’ in the Lord (I Samuel 30:6). He inquired of the Lord about what to do and the Lord indicated that if he pursued the enemy he would “without fail recover all.”
These six-hundred grief stricken and weary men began a pursuit that was to be a test of endurance. It appears that they came to a creek or river that would take considerable strength to cross. This crossing was too much for two-hundred of his men. Therefore David allowed them to leave off the pursuit and simply guard the “stuff,” or the excess baggage, while he and the other four-hundred men continued.
David and his men found an abandoned slave of one of the Amalekites. This slave took them to the camp of the enemy. David and his men recovered all that they had lost and slew all but four-hundred of the enemy who fled on camels.
“And David smote them from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day: and there escaped not a man of them, save four hundred young men, which rode upon camels, and fled. And David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away: and David rescued his two wives. And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor any thing that they had taken to them: David recovered all” (I Samuel 30:17-19).
At their return, David and his men were filled with euphoria and joy over the great military victory that they had won. However, this experience seemed to have inflated the ego of some of David’s men to the point that they were a little lifted up with pride. In their pride they felt that they had won the victory over the Amelakites on their own. Maybe they had forgotten that God was the One that gave them the victory. Thus they felt that they were better than the two-hundred men that were unable to cross the brook Besor.. The “sons of Belial” requested that the two-hundred men be disqualified from further military service and be sent home.
At this point, the magnificent leadership of David shines through. He spoke vehemently against this idea and rebuked them for their selfish proposal. His disagreement with the “men of Belial” was based on the fact that they had not gained the victory, but that God had given them the victory over the Amalekites. He saw that the “men of Belial” were claiming something that was not theirs and he condemned them in the strongest manner.
Their failure to acknowledge the fact that God was at work among them brought about egotism and pride. He not only rejected their advice but he established a law that whoever abode by the stuff was just as victorious as those who went to battle. He saw that God had given them the victory over their enemies and to put a difference between those who fought and those who were given lesser positions was to deny the miraculous working of God.
“Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart. Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the Lord hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand. For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike. And it was so from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel unto this day” (I Samuel 30:22-25).
Men Of Belial
The term “men of Belial” is an interesting term that indicates unenlightened men who take credit for what God has done. These men were unable to comprehend the power of the grace of God in the affairs of men and a at result caused trouble and dissension.
Paul advised New Testament believers to stay away from the “men of Belial” and stated that fellowship will them is detrimental. He indicated that fellowship with them is similar to a piano that is out of tune. He said, “And what concord hath Christ with Belial?” (II Corinthians 6:15). The answer is none!
The word “concord” is a musical term. It comes from the word “chord,” which is a combination of notes that harmonize. The beauty of music is a result of notes that blend into a sound that is pleasant to the ear. So it is with unity in the kingdom of God. The “sons of Belial” are unable to harmonize with the biblical doctrine of grace, because it strips them of their prideful ambitions. People who understand the grace of God are prevented from glorying “in his presence” (I Corinthians 1:29).
Abraham and David understood the inner workings of the Spirit of God that produced an outward change in human affairs. They were led by the Spirit and enjoyed a spiritual process that imputed righteousness to their account. This seems to be an essential ingredient in the life
of each New Testament believer, and it is the only way a man can be just with God.
YIELDING IS NOT A WORK
Woe be to the ignorant and unlearned who fail to see that God’s grace is working in them and that our only claim on those good works is that we “yield,” to that grace. And our yielding is not a “work.”
“I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (Romans 6:19).
Those who enter the realm of heaven will have comprehended grace for they will cast their crowns at Jesus’ feet and confess that their rewards were the result of God’s power to save (Revelation 4:10).
False Doctrine Creates Corruption
Many reformers rebelled against the Catholic Church because they saw corruption. Others in the same era rebelled against the Catholic Church because they saw false doctrine. The ones that saw the false doctrine were the ones who understood the reason for the corruption, but the ones that only saw the corruption may have been slow to get the connection.
This is significant for our day as well. It can be argued that if corruption can be found in a movement, then it is evident that a biblical concept, principle or doctrine is being overlooked. To this the prophet Hosea seems to agree: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”
Without God we human beings are not fully equipped with the diligence to prevent bias and ignorance from obscuring our spiritual eyesight, causing us to go astray from Biblical example. Sheep do not usually go astray intentionally, but they slowly nibble themselves away from the shepherd.
We are in gross error when we think that God’s work is dependent on us. God is constantly at work. Several places in Scripture bear this out.
“Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth” (Psalm 46:8).
“And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing” (Psalm 64:9).
“I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings” (Psalm 77:12).
“It is time for thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void thy law” (Psalm 119:126).
“His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever” (Psalm 111:3).
“Of old halt thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands” (Psalm 102:25).
“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands” (Psalm 143:5).
“Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13)
“Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it” (Ecclesiastes 8:17).
“Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?” (Isaiah 43:13).
“Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me” (Isaiah 45:11).
“But now, 0 Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
“Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you” (Habakkuk 1:5).
“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
“But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17).
Moses’ Fleshly Work
Moses got a little ahead of God when he rationalized that it was time to deliver God’s people from Egyptian bondage in Exodus 2:11-15. He was absolutely right about God’s will to deliver the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage and him being the leader of this deliverance, but was a little off in his timing. In his natural mind he rationalized that if he would deliver a fellow Israelite from an Egyptian then he would look like a deliverer and things might take off from there. However, this kind of thinking and his action were independent of the will of God and it made him a murder and a fugitive for forty years. His getting ahead of God and being guilty of “working” cost him much time and energy. His response to this situation landed him in a very unfortunate part of the world, the backside of the desert. He went from an Egyptian prince to the shepherd of someone else’s sheep.
This led him to take Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, for his wife. This woman was not an Israelite and she did not understand the ways of the Israel’s God, therefore she appears to be more of a liability than an asset to him. When God was finally ready to use Moses to deliver the children of Israel, He appeared to Moses in a burning bush. Moses first attempt at being a deliverer caused him so much mental anguish and frustration that he refused to go. It is not too hard to see these complications and others that were caused by human ingenuity.
Abraham’s Fleshly Work
Like Moses, Abraham was a little off in his timing. He had been promised a son to inherit his estate, and his descendants would be a source of blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3; 17:16). Abraham was unable to produce an heir through Sarah so he took Hagar as a surrogate mother and produced Ishmael. Abraham’s act of trying to help God with the problem of his sterility became a big blunder. He produced an heir to his estate that would bring great trouble on himself and his descendants. All succeeding generations would suffer from this act. This child was not of the Spirit and seemed to be a little more hyper and difficult to manage than the average child. He “mocked” his little brother Isaac when Isaac was just eight days old. The aroused the ire of Isaac’s mother, Sarah, who demanded that Ishmael and his mother Hagar be disinherited from the family. She said, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son (Genesis 21:10). The animosity that was generated by this decision caused great hatred and bitterness for all Israelite This child and his mother caused untold misery for Abraham and Sarah.
Perhaps this happened so that New Testament Christians would realize the peril of similar “works.” The business of trying to “help” God is very dangerous.
Jacob’s Fleshly Work
Esau was a “profane” man and did not seem to care about spiritual things. Rebecca and Jacob surmised that it was the will of God for the younger brother, Jacob, to be the inheritor of the “blessing of Abraham” instead of his older brother Esau. Therefore, with his mother’s help, Jacob decided to help the Lord. When it came time to receive the blessing he feigned being Esau and lied to Isaac concerning his identity (Genesis 27:18-29). He reaped a similar deception through his own children when they showed him Joseph’s bloody coat and led him to believe that Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:33).
He struggled with a conniving mind and a works mentality all his life. Even after his wrestling match with the angel and his name change to Israel, he still lived like Jacob. His only act of faith noted in the Book of Hebrews was that lie blessed the two sons of Joseph (Hebrews 11:21) near the end of his life. No wonder he told Pharaoh, “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been” (Genesis 47:9). This describes the life that is lived without a faith-based understanding.
David’s Fleshly Work
David believed that it would be pleasing to God to hung the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. However, he acted independently of God’s Word and failed to get full instruction on the proper procedure. Therefore, this endeavor turned into a “work.” He attempted to do a right thing in a wrong way when he did not follow the prescribed method and have the priests carry it on their boulders. Instead he placed it on a cart for the oxen to pull he Philistines did (I Samuel 6:8-14).
This brought about the anger of Jehovah who smote Hizzah and killed him (II Samuel 6:6-7). Worse yet, David almost lost faith in Jehovah because of this incident. He was “displeased” with what Jehovah had done, and at this point in his life he could have been destroyed, but he repented and found what the problem was. David’s mistake was that he acted independently of God’s leading and assumed that God would bless his efforts.
The Pharisees in the Gospels attempted to help the people of God in their understanding of the commandments of Old Testament law. They added interpretations and ideas about how to obey the commands, which proved very burdensome and unnecessary. Jesus continually denounced them and their burdensome and unnecessary works.
“He answered and said unto them, Well bath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” Mark 7:6-9
This deadly concept of working independently of God seemed to be what Paul was against. It contributes to a host of vices and evils that make men unproductive. Below is a list of things that we practice that have their roots in salvation by works.
- Gossip, slander and criticism and otherwise judging people by their works
- Competition, or emulation that has the idea that whoever has the greatest work is the greatest
- Politics, buddy systems, and office seeking, with the idea that whoever has an office is greater than others
- Fleshly ambition
- Desire for recognition
- Taking advantage of the weak, or failing to help, those who have fallen
- Greater concern about outward holiness than inward holiness
- Partiality and respect of persons
- Love that is conditional
- Judging a man on the basis of his outward gifts instead of his inward fruit and Christlikeness
Jesus’ Greatest Challenge
It is quite obvious that all twelve of the disciples of the Lord were Jewish men. Their theological understanding of God was molded by a background that was rooted in Judaism. They had been taught that the law of Moses was the path to righteousness. Though they did not live according to the law as strictly as the Pharisees, they were aware of its importance. They were burdened with the baggage that comes with a religion based in works. The law of Moses produced a religion that was works based. They were far removed from the true understanding of God.
The law of Moses promoted a mindset that led to much misunderstanding about God. This misunderstanding prevented most from enjoying a personal relationship with H Him. To the Jewish mind, God was unapproachable; He was never understood in terms of love. The God of the Old Testament had not revealed Himself in His truest form to His people, therefore they were not able to grasp the correct perspectives.
“But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, bath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone” (Romans 9:32).
Paul said that anyone who trusts in works is not a Christian (Romans 8:9), and anyone that preaches a gospel that includes salvation by works is promoting a false gospel (Galatians 1:8), and people who obey it are “false brethren” (Galatians 2:4).
Thus, Jesus’ greatest challenge was to get the disciples to understand the need to let the Spirit produce in them the works that pleased God and to rely on the leading of the Spirit instead of human effort and trusting in the law of Moses to make them righteous. Jesus instructed His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The “will” of God done on the earth is fulfilled when believers are led by the Spirit. The church that Jesus built is the only earthly entity that can claim to be doing the will of God in the earth and fulfill this prayer. This concept of being led by the Spirit was to replace the vain attempts at keeping the law of Moses (Galatians 5:18). And when the believer is truly “led by the Spirit” he will be able to fulfill the righteousness of the law and at the same time have abounding joy, for in that realm there is no “condemnation.”
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
Jesus gave an interesting parable that indicated that he was attempting to open the eyes of the disciples to the concept. This parable is called the Parable of the Talents is found in Matthew 25 and Luke 19. This parable deals with the success of two servants who were given money to buy and sell and get gain as opposed to the third servant who was unprofitable. The essence of his failure seemed be revealed in the wrong perception that he had of his master. He said,
“Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed” (Matthew 25:24).
This seems to be saying that when a person has the wrong perception of God it destroys his productiveness. If we are legalistic we will not be able to love Him as we should, and we will tend to feel that they are never good enough.
The message of this parable seems to be in line with the “condemnation” that Paul said we are free from. The unprofitable servant’s perception that Jesus was a “hard man” is an indication that the “other Jesus” that Paul referred to in II Corinthians 11:4 was the Jesus of the legalistic gospel that Paul cursed in Galatians 1:8.
Jesus was not a hard man. He freely forgave harlots, bore long with egotistical disciples and prayed for those who crucified Him. His love and grace can be easily seen in His restoration of Peter near the Sea of Galilee in John 21. After Peter miserably failed Him, Jesus could have had the attitude of “I told you so,” or “Do you think that you can listen to me now?” But instead He only wanted to know if Peter “loved him.” He let Peter know that his failures were not an important factor, for all that really mattered was whether Peter still loved Him or not. This does not reveal a “hard master.” Yet the “other gospel” produced “another Jesus” that seemed to promote works-based salvation, which in turn brought guilt and condemnation.
Our perception of the character and nature of God has a lot to do with our productivity. If we serve Him in the joy of His love and acceptance then we will be productive, but if we serve Him out of duty and fear then we will not find success. The first two servants in the parable who perceived their master correctly were able to be productive mid to receive a reward, but the third one was unproductive because he was wrong in his perception of his waster. His misconception of his master produced unhealthy fear which in turn led to unnecessary guilt and condemnation. This paralyzed him to the point that he was to believe in himself. Therefore he became an unprofitable servant,” and was cast into “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30).
Spiritual darkness seems to happen when a religious person becomes disoriented and cannot see what is right and wrong. He or she is sincere but is never able to comprehend the joy of a godly life.
The disciples never seemed to grasp the message of freedom from the works-based salvation of Judaism. They seemed to think that the mission of Jesus was only to complete Judaism, and that after the Day of Pentecost Judaism was finally perfected. Though they made allowance for the Gentiles to be a part of their movement (Acts 15), most Jewish Christians never accepted the Gentile Christians as equals.
However, the Apostle Paul had another view—that Christianity and Judaism are distinct from one another and that all Christians (whether Jew or Gentile) have Christian liberty and should live free from the law of Moses. Righteousness is not a result of keeping the law of Moses, but it is a result of following the Spirit.
The above article, “Abraham and David,” is written by Mike Conn. The article was excerpted from the fifteenth chapter of Conn’s book New Testament Treasures in Job.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.