Abraham vs. Paul

Abraham offering Isaac

Abraham offering Isaac

Paul in prison

Paul in prison

Q. Abraham was righteous just because of his faith in God. Why didn’t it apply to Paul who said “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel”? Abraham did not go around convincing his neighbors to believe in his God. He also married his half-sister.

A. Actually justification by faith did apply to both Abraham and Paul. Saul’s conversion is recorded in Acts 9:3-19. His testimony before a Jerusalem crowd is given in Acts 22:3-16, and before king Agrippa in Acts 26:9-19. Note the following:

Before Conversion – Saul persecuted Christians and put them in prison. If justification depended on good works, he had none. In fact, he was an enemy of the Cross.
Acts 9:1-2 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
• Acts 22:4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison,
• Acts 26:11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.

During Conversion – Saul did nothing either. He was struck blind and had to be told what to do. He also received his commission from the Lord and through Ananias, appointing him to be God’s servant and a witness to all people.
Acts 9:4-6 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
• Acts 22:14-15 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.
• Acts 26:14-16 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me.

After Conversion – Saul did exactly as he was called to do, preaching that Jesus is the Son of God, and that people should repent and turn to God.
Acts 9:20, 22 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. … Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
• Acts 26:20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

So Paul was justified by his faith in Jesus. He preached in obedience to the Lord’s call, demonstrating his repentance by his deeds. Preaching the gospel was his grateful response to God’s grace, not the cause of his being justified. He was called to be an apostle (Rom 1:1, 1 Co 1:1) and set apart for the gospel. In particular, he was the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 11:13; Ga 2:8). Abraham did not go around convincing his neighbors because that’s not his call. God called him to be the father of the nation of Israel, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through his descendant Jesus Christ. Each has his role appointed by God. Abraham marrying his half-sister was not wrong. The Mosaic law came much later. His lying about it was, and he was rebuked by Abimelek for his lie (Gen 20:9).

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