By René A. López
When God justified Abraham (Gen 15:6), did he believe that he was eternally secure as a result of believing God? If so, was that belief in the security of his eternal destiny necessary for God to justify Him? Paul answers both of these questions in Rom 4:21-22.
Abraham Was Assured and His Assurance
Was Necessary for His Justification
Paul defines Abraham’s faith as being fully convinced (plērophoreō). The expression fully convinced is not the best translation. It wrongly implies the possibility of varying degrees of assurance (99%, 90%, 80%, etc…) in believing the initial promise. Scripture knows of only two options when it comes to believing God’s promise of supplying a Savior that will come through Abraham: either one is or is not convinced of the truth that the Savior, Jesus Christ, gives eternal life to those who believe in Him (cf. John 6:47).
The term plērophoreō basically means to be assured, or to be certain (BDAG, 827). The entire context refers to faith in the promise of God. Paul, now, clarifies Abraham’s faith as fundamentally being assured or convinced of God’s declared or promised seed.
Some argue that Abraham came to faith and was justified as early as Genesis 12 (cf. 12:1-3ff.). Others suggest that Abraham did not believe the specific promise of the seed until Gen 15:6. Perhaps Abraham believed and was justified earlier, but it isn’t until Gen 15:6 that a definitive statement in Scripture appears that points this out. Hence Paul continues to repeat Gen 15:6 throughout Romans 4.
Regardless of when Abraham came to faith, something less than certainty does not adequately explain Abraham’s faith in God’s promise. Abraham’s certainty of his eternal security is part of the objective offer entailed in God’s promise. Abraham needed to believe in the certainty of his own eternal destiny if he were to receive that very promise.
Hebrews 11 also serves as a divine commentary and insight into what Abraham believed. Hebrews 11:13 states, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (see also Heb 11:1).
Being certain or having assurance of God’s eternal promise that cannot be lost is not an added condition. It is part of the offer that must be understood to believe the offer. For not being assured of the eternality of God’s promise misunderstands the very offer at the point one is asked to believe it. For one cannot believe in Jesus for eternal life while at the same time have doubts about the offer. To believe and to doubt are contradictory, not complementary, concepts.
At the time of Abraham and the OT patriarchs, this offer of a coming Savior included the promise of a land, a people, and an earthly kingdom. The only way that Abraham and the patriarchs could obtain the promise would be for them to be resurrected and to return to the land and the kingdom forever. Abraham and OT saints understood the eternal ramifications and certainty of these promises (as Hebrews 11 clearly shows), but this is not so today where more than a 2,000 year gap exists between us and the Biblical culture where this concept originated.
Unbelievers today are not thinking of a promise of a land and a people. They are often thinking about present salvation from discouragement, societal and environmental problems, and so forth. Thus, it is up to the evangelist to clarify the certainty entailed in the offer of justification or eternal life.
We take great care to make sure a listener understands that the sole condition for justification is faith in Christ by mentioning all the things that are not required (like attending church, obeying God’s commandments, baptism, turning from sins, and so on). Should we not also take care to make sure the listener knows that justification is irrevocable? Should we not strive to make sure that the listener need not do any works in order to stay justified? If a listener does not understand that justification is eternal, then he will not grasp that its sole condition is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He will fear the loss of his right standing with God should he fall away by committing some big sin. This is not to say that a believer cannot lose his assurance later due to sin or wrong teaching. He can, but if so, he still remains eternally secure. However, if the recipient has never known and believed that God offers irrevocable eternal life by simple faith in Christ, he has never met the condition to obtain justification or eternal life according to Scripture.
According to Rom 4:21 Abraham was certain that God would provide a Savior who would resurrect him and bring him back to the land to enjoy what God promised forever (Gen 12:3; 22:18; John 8:56; Gal 3:16; Heb 11:17-19). Abraham needed to be convinced of the once-and-for-all eternal accomplishment by God for God to justify him. If Abraham had been convinced that a Savior was coming, but not that his faith in the coming Savior guaranteed his access to the coming kingdom, he would not have been justified. Romans 4:21-22 shows that Abraham thought carefully about what God had promised and understood that his eternal destiny was secure as a result of believing God’s promise about the coming Savior.