Was Abraham Saved by Faith Alone? Are the Protestants Right?

by Steve Ray on August 25, 2019

Today (Monday) I will be on the radio with Gary Michuta at 1 PM at https://virginmostpowerfulradio.org/. Hope you can listen in.

Our topic will be Abraham, Father of Faith & Works. I am looking forward to this live show. In honor of this event today I am posting this article on Abraham, a critique I made of a book falsely claiming Abraham was saved by “faith alone.”

Was Abraham saved by Faith Alone? By Steve Ray

imgres-1You say, “Of course Abraham was saved by faith alone! Doesn’t the Bible make that perfectly clear, especially in Paul’s letters? And didn’t Luther’s German translation inform the masses that the words “faith” and “alone” belonged together like bread and butter? Abraham was saved by faith alone!”

Well, maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t, but the Bible certainly throws some question on this well-known Protestant cliché. Let’s find out how and when Abraham was really “saved.” Fundamentalist Protestants like to tell us that we are saved at “one-point-in-time when we “simply believe.” In other words mental assent to the simple gospel gives us a free passage to heaven.

imagesSince Abraham is used in the New Testament as the quintessential example of justification by faith, let’s see if we can pin-point the moment when Abraham believed? Can we locate the exact moment he was “saved”? Since this was such a momentous occasion in the history of mankind, and in the drama of salvation history, it should be clearly shown when Abraham actually believed and was reckoned as righteous. From unbelief to belief, from no faith to saving faith.

Protestants (e.g., John Ankerberg in Protestants and Catholics, Do They Now Agree? [Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publ., 1995) like to say the word “justify” as used by James really means “vindicate,” and that “vindicate” has nothing to do with salvation, but has to do with the proving of the believer’s faith—Abraham’s faith. You really should have addressed the major weakness of this perspective: it is not the faith that is being justified by works—it is the man.

images-1How can we justify this? If our theory holds true shouldn’t we read, “Was not Abraham our father’s faith justified (vindicated) by works?” making it clear that it is his faith, and not his person. Instead we read, unfortunately, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” This observation does not set well with our interpretation.

In your book you say that it is always the faith that is proven by works, whereas the Apostle James seems to say it is the person. We should try to figure out how James could have worded this passage more carefully so Catholics don’t get the wrong idea and misunderstand the gospel. You also say in your book (p. 37) that “Paul is writing about a person being justified before God, while James is writing about a man being justified before men. Men cannot see another person’s heart as God can.”

imgresSomehow we have to more careful in this theory, or else we end up scratching a few verses out of the story of Abraham in Genesis. Was it men who were testing Abraham’s faith? The book of Genesis says, no. It was God who was testing Abraham in Genesis 22, not men. You write that James is referring to justification before men (p. 37), because God can already see the heart. I noticed in reading James & Peter, by Harry Ironside, that he agrees with you on this point.

But the problem seems to be that it was God who was testing Abraham in Genesis, because Moses wrote, “Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham . . . ” (Gen. 22:1) Notice it was not men who were finding out what was in Abraham’s heart— whether he had true faith—it was God.

For the whole article, click here.  To learn more or purchase our documentary on Abraham filmed in Iraq, Turkey and Israel, click here

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Govern March 29, 2017 at 10:53 PM

The guy could not have worked much harder! The amazing trust in God was his faith, but his actions were his following in works.

Joe Smith September 21, 2017 at 7:41 PM

Thanks Steve for this article. I’ve always had a hard time with discussions about faith alone and Abraham. Your article has given me new insight to this topic. Thanks again.

David Parham May 5, 2018 at 9:20 AM


Greetings – thank you for your paper, referenced in the above URL. There are grammar errors, please correct those – it will help readers lend you credibility. The subject of faith, works, and justification are worthy of discussion and I appreciate your covering them in your article. Your comment about some people believing that faith justification occurs at the point of “mental assent” is likely not what they mean. The doctrine of “once saved always saved” provides an out in the event someone behaves radically at some point, or at the end of their lives. Then, they say, that person was “never really saved.” Or, even those who believe one can lose their salvation tend to believe that, in light of James’ comment about demons believing yet they shudder, obviously simple mental ascent is not sufficient. By the way, the Seventh Day Adventists might say that when a person “surrenders” then their faith has saved them.

My background is the Church of Christ, where baptism and being a disciple before you can be a Christian, are paramount issues. Some believe they are similar to the Catholic Church who join works as part of salvation. I also listen to Matt Slick on Truth Radio here in Raleigh, NC. He is very analytical and thorough in his stances for and against various doctrines. I do not agree with everything he says, though. I am sure we are not saved by works, but by faith alone. Yet what that means is the crux of the whole matter. The Church of Christ essentially maintains that [a]repent, and [b]be baptized in order for our sins to be forgiven. Membership and retention are high there; but those of us who left now see there is a spiritual reality occurring in the heart at the time of realization and surrender to Jesus Christ. It is harder to prove biblically with clear verses, and after 34 years having left them, it is still hard to defend my faith that people are saved before they get baptized. Anyway, this began to be a 5 sentence note and I am opening up now with little hope of stopping short of writing a book. Thank you again for your article. Here are a couple of things I noticed in your paper:

did you mean to use a question mark, or double quotes around this, ” believed?”? if you mean to use the ? then i get it, it works.

“Maybe in you next printing” <== your.

I certainly do not mean to be a grammar prick. Noticing grammar errors, as well as I'm sure on occasion making ones of my own, is natural for me and so I hope it's helpful to you.

Thanks again, Ray for your article – well done!

Peter Aiello September 13, 2019 at 11:32 PM

Works follow faith; but you can't be saved without faith in Christ.


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