It was the last few moments of Bible School. Our lessons had been about God’s perfect creation, the fall of man into sin, God’s promise to Abraham through the birth of Isaac that all of his descendants will be blessed, and now, we had just talked about Abraham’s offering of Isaac.
The correlation between the offering of Isaac and God’s offering of Jesus are very clear. I was able to share with the children of God’s provision of a substitute for us, just as He had provided the ram in place of Isaac. We chose all of these stories out of The Jesus Storybook Bible because they each provided an essential building block for presenting the gospel to the children of Grayling.
I was preparing to wrap up the lesson on the offering of Isaac. I looked into the children’s faces, and something clicked. These children had been in enough camps and evangelistic meetings to know what to expect. Typically, a lesson like this will draw to a close, “with every head bowed and every eye closed. Who wants to accept Jesus into your heart?” Without getting into the theology of that kind of an invitation, James 2:19-23 uses the offering of Isaac as a warning.
19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
Throughout the day, and even in the presentation of the gospel illustrated in the offering of Isaac, the children had been particularly rambunctious. It was a rainy day, and we were not able to go outside for an activity to work off some of their energy. But as I began to give the warning of James 2:19-23, a hush fell over the entire room. The warning was that it is possible to say you believe in God, just like the devil does, but not be born again. The Bible tells us that it is those who follow the faith of Abraham that are considered the seed and heirs of the promise (Rom. 4:16, Gal. 3:29). But what does that faith look like? James tells us that in his act of offering Isaac, Abraham “fulfilled” his faith. Contrast that with the devilish faith of James 2:19. Confessing a belief in God, and even in His Son is not necessarily a saving faith. Saving faith is a faith that demonstrates a true change in the heart. It is a faith that says, “I will do whatever God asks of me in order to follow after Him.” This was Christ’s point to the rich young ruler. Selling all you have and giving to the poor was not a requirement for salvation, but his unwillingness demonstrated the true condition of his heart. If you read the stories of the Bible like Abraham offering up Isaac or the rich young ruler, and say to yourself, “I could never do that,” then maybe it’s time for self-examination.
The gospel in American evangelicalism has been in a downgrade since the mid-1800s. It started with despising the role of sovereign grace in the new birth and ascribed man’s “free will” as the ultimate determination of man’s eternal condition. Once man’s will was the required change in the transaction, the evangelist’s goal was to change the will toward “accepting Christ” instead of relying on the transforming power of the gospel. In order to help people “accept Christ,” we made it as easy as possible: “say this prayer, give Jesus a try, etc.” I have seen this over and over: someone prayed a prayer when he was five years old, has lived like the devil his whole life, and when he dies as a consequence of a sinful lifestyle, someone says, “I’m so glad he prayed the prayer.”
The consequences of this devilish faith will continue until we, as gospel preachers (evangelicals), recognize what true faith looks like. Whether preaching in front of a group of people or talking to someone along the way, we must commit to calling people to follow Christ with the faith of Abraham and not to calling people to pray a prayer consistent with the faith of the devil.