This is a dry, meaty, theological article intended for those of you who are deeper studiers of the Word of Elohim and want to understand how the deep things of YHVH relate to one another. The Word of Elohim does not contradict itself. Only the twisted and contorted humanistic philosophies of men turn the Bible into a confusing jumble of incongruent concepts. Make no mistake, the fault for this is not with Elohim, but rests squarely with carnal men and the false teachers among them. In this article, we show how both the Old and New Testaments are totally congruent on the subject of salvation, works, righteousness and faith as demonstrated by the life of Abraham and the writings of Paul. Please enjoy. — Natan
What is faith and how does it relate to salvation and the good works of Torah-obedience? Is a person saved by faith and grace alone, or by a combination of faith, grace and good works? Moreover, what is the nature of faith, how does it grow therefore deepening one’s spiritual relationship with YHVH Elohim? We will primarily study the example of Abraham, the father of the faithful and then see how Paul, the apostle, relates this to the basic salvation model of salvation by faith through grace leading to good works as stated in Ephesians 2:8–10. We also learn about the dynamic nature of faith as it relates to one’s relationship with the Creator.
First, let us define the word faith. The Epistle to the Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” What does this mean? Faith is a biblical Hebraic concept and is rooted in the rich, concrete, and practical nature of the Hebrew language.
In Hebrew, the basic word for faith is emun from the root verb aman. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (or TWOT) says this of aman: “At the heart of the meaning of the root is the idea of certainty. And this is borne out by the NT definition of faith found in Heb 11:1.” The TWOT goes on to state that the basic root idea of aman is “firmness or certainty.” In the qal form (the simple or plain form) of the Hebrew verb, aman expresses the concept of “support” and is used in the sense of the strong arms of the parent supporting the helpless infant. The idea is also seen in 2 Kings 18:16 where it refers to pillars of support. In the hiphel (causative) form of the verb, aman basically means “to cause to be certain, sure” or “to be certain about.” This verb form is used in Genesis 15:6 where we read that “[Abraham] believed in[ Heb. aman] YHVH; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
The ArtScroll Bereishis/Genesis Commentary in its notes on Genesis 15:6 states of aman “It suggests total submission in the sense that one places his total confidence and seeks all his guidance and attitudes in God. In the same vein, when one responds amen to a blessing, he avows that he will be guided by the thought expressed in the blessing.”
The Jewish Torah scholar, Samson R. Hirsch in his commentary on Genesis 15:6 states, “Aman is not belief, by which word one robs this central idea of Jewish consciousness of its real conception. Belief is an act of the mind, is often only an opinion, is always only believing something to be true by reason of judgment and the assurance of somebody else. In making religion into a belief, and then making the cardinal point of religion believing in the truth of these quite untenable to the intelligence, religion has been banned from everyday life and made into a catechism of words of belief will be demanded as a passport for entry into the next world.” He goes on to say that to believe in the words of another is never expressed in the Hebrew word aman/believe in; it is not a mere submitting our theoretical mind to the insight of another, but rather is placing the full confidence, setting our whole theoretical and practical hold, or guidance, our strength and firmness on Elohim. Hirsch stresses the practical nature of aman. When Scripture says that Abraham believed in Elohim, Hirsch states that he had given himself over completely and unconditionally to the direct guidance of Elohim, who had raised him above the sphere of conditions on earth, where things are bound by the cause-and-effect laws of nature, to look at a concrete existence directly proceeding from the will of Elohim. This faith caused Abraham to believe YHVH’s promises which for them to come to pass would require supernatural intervention.
So what was the nature and dynamics of Abraham’s faith, so that Moses included Genesis 15:6 in the Torah, and David seems to reference it in the Psalms 32:1–2, and Paul uses it as the basis for his entire theology regarding a believer’s faith in Yeshua and salvation (see Romans chapter four)? The answer to this question is grounded in the living and dynamic faith Abraham had in YHVH. This is something worth studying, for it gives us insights into how to mature spiritually and to grow in one’s own faith walk and relationship with YHVH.
Abraham’s walk of faith is first mentioned in Genesis 12:1 where YHVH tells Abraham to leave his home in pagan Babylonia and to trek across the desert to a distant land that Elohim would show him. At the same time, YHVH gives him the hope of physical blessings (verses 2 and 3). Abraham takes that first step of faith and leaves Babylon for this remote country (verse 4). The dynamic we see here is that Abraham took the first step of faith to obey YHVH, and after the first step of faith was taken, YHVH revealed to him which land he would give him (verse 7). This was a giant step of faith for Abraham to take. He was an old man living in perhaps the most cosmopolitan city of the time. He was well-known, and a mighty prince such that his reputation even extended hundreds of miles from Babylonia all the way to Canaan (Gen 23:6). Additionally, he was a brilliant military leader and strategist as evidenced by his defeat of the five Babylonian king and their armies (Gen 14) with his own private army of 318 men. Abraham was willing to leave much behind in Babylon—his reputation, his family, and any material possessions that were not transportable and follow YHVH. Abraham’s walk of faith confirms James statement later that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17). If Abraham had not left Babylon for Canaan (a difficult journey on foot of hundreds of miles), he would not have become the biblical giant of faith that we know.
Abraham’s literal journey because of his faith in Elohim’s promises teaches us that faith is not just mental assent or theoretical in nature, but is active and backed up by action as indicated by the Hebrew word aman, which describes the faith of Abraham (Gen 16:5).
Next we pick up Abraham’s faith journey in Genesis chapter 15. Here YHVH again reveals himself to Abraham and this time the focus of YHVH’s blessing on Abraham is not physical, but spiritual in nature, for YHVH states in verse 1 that he will be Abraham’s spiritual shield and great reward.
Little-by-little, Abraham is learning to walk with and to trust in YHVH. This is a process that has nothing to do with merely a theoretical belief system, but has everything to do with action. Biblical faith is a walk, not a thought! A thought can occur without subsequent action, while a walk requires not only thought, but action as well.
As YHVH is beginning to reveal his plan for Abraham’s life, and as Abraham is beginning to understand his destiny, he soon realizes that few if any of YHVH’s promises can occur without an heir, for these promises are larger than Abraham himself and involve his offspring as well. So while walking in perfect faith, trusting in YHVH to lead him every step of the way, Abraham asks the simple question in Genesis 15:2–3: YHVH, how are these promises to be fulfilled seeing I have no son? Will my servant Eliezer be my adopted son? YHVH then reveals a little more of his plan for Abraham in answering no to the Abraham’s question—Eliezer will not be his heir. YHVH then shows Abraham the stars of heaven and states that a son from Abraham will be born and his son’s offspring will be as numerous as the stars of heaven (verse 5). In this, YHVH brought Abraham up to the next level of his faith by revealing some more of his life plan for Abraham. By now, Abraham is hooked and is determined to follow YHVH unconditionally all the way, no matter what, whereupon we read in verse six we read, “And he believed [Heb. aman] YHVH, and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
So far, we have learned the following about the dynamics of faith:
- YHVH calls a person and promises to bless them if they will obey him.
- That person may or may not respond.
- If they respond, YHVH will keep his word and bless them.
- But initially, YHVH does not reveal to that person his entire plan for their life, nor does he reveal to them every step they must take to fulfill his ultimate destiny for them. He gives them the steps they need to them little-by-little for several reasons. First, most humans cannot handle too much revelation at once when it comes to spiritual things. Humans are naturally prideful, and knowing the good plans our Creator has for us might go to our heads and disqualify us for his use. Furthermore, humans are skeptical and faithless by nature. Trust must be learned and faith has to built. YHVH is patient, for he knows that ever since Adam and Eve walked away from YHVH, listened to the serpent and believed his lies about Elohim, man’s tendency toward doubt and unbelief in YHVH has to be reformed. Trust was broken at Eden, and it must now be regained. YHVH is patient in attempting to rebuild slowly a faith-based relationship with each human that he calls. Some will respond favorably and trust him all the way, some will not respond at all, and some will only go so far and then cease trusting in him defaulting to their pre-faith condition of skepticism and self trust. Second, YHVH doesn’t reveal his entire plan at one time to us since if we knew everything YHVH was going to do in our lives might either become overwhelmed and “freak out”, or we might try “help” Elohim speed up his plans for our lives by manipulate things to happen as did Rebekah did in trying to obtain the birthright blessing for Jacob. Human interference in YHVH’s plans can lead to disastrous consequences as occurred between Jacob and Esau laying the ground work in part for the present day Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Now, let us return to discussing Abraham’s faith walk. Little-by-little, YHVH was leading Abraham who was required to take little steps of faith, slowly building his trust and confidence level in YHVH. Like a muscle building through regular exercise, Abraham’s faith was getting stronger with stretching and usage, so that YHVH could place heavier demands on his “faith-muscle.”
So when Abraham asked YHVH to show him a sign to prove that his promises were valid (Gen 15:8), this was not evidence of lack of faith on Abraham’s part. Rather, YHVH had stretched Abraham’s faith to a new level, and Abraham needed assurance at that higher level that YHVH’s promises were good.
This request had nothing to do with Abraham’s basic faith that brought him justification in the eyes of YHVH in verse six. As Keil and Delizsch state in their commentary on this chapter, when Abraham asked, “Whereby shall I know that I shall take possession of it [the land]?” this “was not an expression of doubt, but of desire for the confirmation or sealing of a promise, which transcended human thought and conception. To gratify this desire, God commanded him to make preparation for the conclusion of a covenant.”
This request of Abraham and YHVH’s willingness to grant it shows the dynamic nature of faith between man and his Creator. YHVH is sensitive to our needs. This teaches us that sometimes we need a token or down-payment as a proof or confirmation that the promises of YHVH are for real. Paul states that YHVH gives believers his Spirit as a downpayment similar to earnest money as proof that his future promises to us are good (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5). This shows us that YHVH is willing to work with us no matter our level our faith as long as our heart is willing, we love him and are totally submitted to fulfilling his will for our lives,. He is willing to give us signs, confirmations, tokens of his love and commitment to us along the way to strengthen our faith, to solidify our relationship to him, the result of which is greater faith and love for him and a stronger relational bond between him and us.
By now, YHVH seems absolutely certain of Abraham’s faith and is willing to implement a formal agreement or covenant with Abraham to “put in writing,” if you will, the understanding between them. This YHVH does in the second half of Genesis 15. There, Abraham falls into a deep sleep, has a vision of what will happen to his descendants, and YHVH formulates a covenant (Gen 15:18–21). This was a physical covenant that involved the descendants of Abraham—the nation of Israel resulting in the whole world being blessed through the nation of Israel through the Jewish Messiah.
Now Genesis 15:6 comes before Genesis 15:18 when the actual Abrahamic Covenant was ratified. As we have already noted, verse 6 is the biblical model showing how to be considered righteous in the eyes of YHVH. Being righteous is the opposite of being wicked. Righteousness is equated with being in right relationship with YHVH and therefore having salvation. Paul affirms this in Romans 4. Being wicked is not being in a right relationship with Elohim, not trusting in him, walking contrary to him, and not allowing him to work out his will in one’s life.
Did Abraham have to preform works in order to be considered righteous? In Romans chapter four, Paul says no, but it is clear that there were certain things Abraham had to do in order to be considered righteous. He had to respond to YHVH’s call. He had to leave Babylonia and head to some distant land (a symbol of the believer’s ultimate reward, which is the kingdom of Elohim), which was later revealed to be Canaan.
Torah-obedience was not an issue in Abraham’s initial faith in YHVH, and YHVH declaring him to be righteous. Paul is clear on this point in Romans four. Moreover, we find no evidence in the earliest accounts of Abraham’s life in Genesis that he was keeping the laws of the Torah in order to be considered righteous, and this and supports Paul’s assertion that a person’s inital salvation comes through faith and grace, not works (Eph 2:8–9). Nowhere do the Scriptures record that Abraham’s salvation was based on Torah-obedience. Did Abraham have obedience to and faith in YHVH when he was told to leave Babylon and to trust his Maker where to go and what to do? Absolutely yes. But it had nothing to do with the laws of Torah. As already noted, and to emphasize this fact again, Paul picks up on this truth and uses it as the basis for his doctrine of salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8–9).
Interestingly, in Ephesians 2:8, Paul mentions grace and faith, but there is no mention of grace in Genesis 15:6—only faith. Why did Paul mention grace? Could he have had in his mind Noah, the only other person mentioned prior to Abraham, who obviously had faith in YHVH and was miraculously delivered from death, which was the wages of sin? Torah records that Noah found grace in the eyes of YHVH (Gen 6:8). It is possible that between the examples of Noah and Abraham, Paul sees a salvation model, thus he connects YHVH’s grace for Noah with the faith of Abraham to support his soteriological doctrine of salvation by grace through faith as found in Ephesians 2:8–9.
Now there is another point we want to consider from the life of Abraham as pertaining to the dynamics of faith. Genesis 15:6 records that “He [Abraham] believed in YHVH, he counted it to him for righteousness.” Who is the antecedent to the second “he” in that verse: Abraham or YHVH? The Hebrew grammar is unclear on this. Paul takes it to mean YHVH counted it to Abraham for righteousness. But it could just as easily mean that Abraham counted it to YHVH for righteousness. The Jewish sages are divided on this issue. Rashi prefers the traditional understanding, while Ramban says that the subject of the verse is Abraham who “considered it an act of righteousness on the part of God the he would promise him a child unconditionally (in God’s righteousness) and without regard to Abraham’s merit [works], and the possibility that he might sin” (The ArtScroll Bereishis/Genesis Commentary on Gen 15:6). Whichever way one wants to read this verse, it still does not change the basic idea that Paul is trying to teach in Romans chapter four that man is counted righteous apart from the works of the law. The point we want to note here is that perhaps the Torah is deliberately vague as to who the subject of this passage is to make an important point. The fact that it can read either way proves that faith is a mutual relationship based on trust between two people. This shows us the tender and relational nature of faith between YHVH and the men who trust in him. Through the walk of faith, men learn of YHVH’s righteousness, while YHVH discovers the righteousness of man who obediently trust him. The righteousness of man is nothing more than the outgrowth of YHVHs grace-work in one’s life, but YHVH is still continually testing and growing that faith, so that he can use that person in an ever increasing greater capacity, all the while building a deeper and more trusting relationship between him and the person.
The confirmation of the Covenant Between the Pieces was, as Keil and Delitzsch point out in their commentary on Genesis 15, “was designed to establish a purely spiritual relation of a living fellowship between God and Abraham, of the deep inward meaning of which, nothing but a spiritual intuition and experience could give to Abram an effective and permanent hold.”
Now we come to several difficult passages pertaining to faith and salvation. Was Abraham saved (considered righteous) solely on the basis of his faith in YHVH as Genesis 15:6 states and Paul later takes it to mean, or was the covenant YHVH formulated with Abraham based on the works of his obedience to Torah as Genesis 18:19; 22:1,16–17 and 26:5 seem to indicate?
To answer this question, let us first note that the Mosaic Covenant was ratified when the Israelites proclaimed “I do” to YHVH’s terms and conditions three times (see Exod 19 and 24), whereas the Abrahamic Covenant was ratified while Abraham was asleep (Gen 15:12 and 18). He did nothing, nor said anything, for he was sound asleep. Furthermore, YHVH made promises to Abraham solely on the basis of his faith, not on Torah obedience and it was counted to him for righteousness sake (Gen 15:6). Paul confirms this understanding of a faith alone based covenant in Romans 4:2ff stating that Abraham was justified by faith, not by the works of the law. Paul states that even David understood this principle (Rom 4:6). Paul reiterates this in Galatians 3:11. These understandings seem to be at odds with Genesis 18:19; 22:1, 16–17 and 26:5, which clearly state that YHVH blessed Abraham because or as a result of his obedience to Torah. Does Scripture contradict itself here? Some believers will choose to emphasize the passages that speak of salvation by grace through faith, while others emphasize those which seem to indicate that the blessings of YHVH—and by implication—imputed righteousness is a result of Torah obedience. Therefore we earn our salvation by our good works—something Paul teaches strongly against.
Perhaps this dilemma can be solved in a unique way, so that Scripture does not contradict itself. Scripture makes sense if we understand the dynamics of faith toward Elohim. The Bible reveals that when YHVH first calls a person, such as Abraham, to him no works of Torah are necessary to receive his mercy and grace and to enter into a relationship with him. All one has to do, like Abraham, is simply believe and commit oneself to surrender to and obey YHVH no matter the cost. At this stage, one does not even know enough about the Torah to know what it is, or how to walk it out. The person simply hears the call of YHVH to a better life and answers that call to follow YHVH, as did Abraham. At this point, YHVH is simply looking for individuals with a willing heart to serve him. (This idea seems to correlate with the verdict of the apostles council in the Acts 15 Jerusalem with regard to new Gentile converts coming into the early church—something Paul fought hard for).
From there, because their hearts are right, because they love him, and they have the heart inclination to follow him, YHVH can begin slowly to work to mature the new follower spiritually. He can begin to build their faith and trust in him little-by-little.
As the relationship grows and the faith of the infant believer grows, YHVH can give them more revelation about himself including a deeper understanding of Torah—YHVH’s instructions in righteousness. For example, YHVH granted his mercy and grace to Abraham initially, but for Abraham to go deeper with YHVH and for YHVH to reveal or unfold his will and destiny for Abraham progressively, Abraham had to begin walking in Torah to greater level—a prerequisite to knowing YHVH at the deeper level (1 John 2:3–6). Abraham was considered righteous or “saved” on the basis of faith alone and not on the basis of the works of the Torah, but YHVH wanted to build Abraham up and to prepare him for the greater destiny or spiritual assignment YHVH had for him. To come to this new level, Abraham had to learn to walk at a higher level of obedience and faith to YHVH and the Torah. As Abraham began to do this, YHVH began to make greater promises to him as he unfolded his plans to Abraham for his life. So when Genesis 18:19; 22:1, 16–17 and 26:5 states that YHVH blessed Abraham because he kept the Torah, Scripture is not saying that YHVH imputed righteousness to Abraham (something that occurred at his initial salvation) because of Torah-obedience, but that Abraham had matriculated to the next level in his spiritual education or faith walk. Abraham had passed YHVH’s tests and now that he had graduated to the next level, he could begin receiving a greater reward because of his obedience to YHVH’s instructions in righteousness. This would correlate well with Yeshua’s statement in Matthew 5:19 one’s level of Torah-obedience determines whether one will be the least or the greatest in YHVH’s kingdom.
From this study of faith, righteousness and salvation based on the life of Abraham (and Noah) and Paul’s writings in his epistles to the Romans and Ephesians, we have demonstrated how faith, righteousness and Torah-obedience correlate with each other to mature a person in their relationship with Elohim. Initially, YHVH requires faith, which leads to righteousness then leads to the good works of Torah obedience,which leads to higher rewards in YHVH’s eternal kingdom. This is exactly what Paul states in Ephesians 2:8–10 and Yeshua states in Matthew 5:19 and Revelation 22:12–14,
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of Elohim, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which Elohim prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8–10, emphasis added)
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:19)
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. (Rev 22:12–14