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Filling the glass

James calls Abraham in to establish his case that faith has two legs --- it is behavioral in addition to being intellectual/emotional (see Hopping on one leg).  There were several reasons why Abraham made an excellent witness; his prominence among any Jewish community, his place in Scripture (especially in regard to the issue of justification by faith), and also because he was probably being used by proponents of superficial faith to prove their case.  By including him in this section, James is telling them, ‘Not only can you not make your argument from Abraham --- he actually proves my point.' 

This is important because at first glance, it doesn’t seem that way.  When God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the nighttime sky (Genesis 15), Abraham believed Him (v. 6).  Paul gives commentary in Romans 4 how “against all hope, Abraham in hope believed,” (v. 18), how at one hundred years of age, “his body was as good as dead,” and Sarah’s womb was as well (v. 19).  Nonetheless, Abraham believed God.  While there was obviously nothing superficial about his faith, it’s not hard to hear the advocates of a one-legged faith (then and now), wearing out this text to prove their position and see others nodding their heads in agreement.  That’s right, Abraham didn’t “do” anything --- he simply trusted God.

James doesn’t dispute any of this (why would he?).  Instead, he points to the episode of Abraham offering Isaac at Moriah (Genesis 22) and states, ”his faith was made complete by what he did,” (v. 22).  Then he lowers the boom with, “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend,” (v. 23). 

This is in effect, an inspired commentary on Scripture.  James is saying that in some sense the events of Genesis 22 fulfilled the statement of Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.  But how?  And how does this relate to the issue of what constitutes saving faith? 

The word translated fulfilled is used throughout the gospels and Acts in connection with the realization of events predicted in Scripture. It means to fill or complete --- to fill full, and thus the word, fulfill.  When Micah declared the Christ would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah (5:2), it was true for the world to believe the moment he wrote/spoke it even though it hadn’t been realized historically.  Unless conditional (Jeremiah 18:1-10), all predictive prophecy possesses this sense of inevitability (Matthew 26:54, Luke 24:44).  Once it is given, all that remains is for it to be realized in space and time. 
Prediction and fulfillment bear much the same relationship as a glass and whatever fills it.  The glass is made to be filled --- anyone can see that from its design.  When it is filled, there is a completeness, a harmony between the ideal (what it was made for) and real (what it is). 
In the same way, the Scripture’s declaration in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed God was the glass.  What transpired years later at Moriah filled the glass.  The Scripture’s acknowledgement of Abraham’s completeness of faith years before was borne out in space and time by his actions at Moriah.  James’ point in all of this is that it is wrong to assume that Abraham’s faith at the time of Genesis 15 was a limited only to the intellect/emotions.   What were limited were his circumstances.  God didn’t require him to do anything other than believe His promises (which in itself was pretty spectacular).  Had God commanded him to sacrifice his son, James’ point is --- the faith to do so was there!  The faith for the actions of Genesis 22 was there in Genesis 15. (Remeber that James point is about the Scripture being fulfilled --- not Abraham's faith).  Thus, when the opportunity came, Abraham obeyed and the truth stated in 15:6 (that Abraham (fully) believed God), was manifested at Moriah.  Faith can be full and complete even though the opportunity to express itself may not exist. 
May our faith be made complete by what we do! 
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