Is It Up to Me or to God?

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”


This past Sunday we considered Abraham’s test- one that he passed with flying colors. The Lord, we are told in Genesis 22:1, tested Abraham by telling him to offer the son of promise, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham proved his loyalty to God by being willing to offer the son whose birth was a fulfillment of God’s covenant promise. God instead provided a substitute through the ram in the thicket which gives us a clear picture of the gospel and the work of Jesus as our substitute (John 1:29).

We then read how God re-affirmed His covenant promises to Abraham in response to Abraham’s faithfulness. Specifically we are told “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you.” Here’s the question that this poses: is God blessing Abraham because Abraham obeyed? Does this challenge our understanding of salvation by grace? Did Abraham actually earn the covenant blessings through his personal obedience?

First, let’s recall what has been written earlier in Genesis. In Genesis 12, 15, and 17 God repeatedly affirms His covenant with Abraham. He chooses to bless Abraham solely based on His own mercy and favor. Abraham did nothing to distinguish himself. God simply set His love on Abraham and entered into a covenant with him- a pagan nomad from the land of Ur.

Second, note that it is only God’s grace that ever enables anyone, including Abraham, to respond to God with faithfulness. Left to ourselves, we will pursue our own ends, our own purposes. Romans 3:10-11 tells us “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Our ability to seek God, to repent before Him, and to believe His promises is all of His mercy and grace.

Third, let’s further note that God indeed blesses obedience. We are seeing that here. God gives Abraham the grace to believe, the grace to respond in obedience, and THEN God blesses Abraham. Yes, God’s covenants come with conditions. Yet, God graciously provides what He demands.

This is kind of like asking, who is responsible for my sanctification, me or God? The answer is, “yes.” In other words, God calls us to pursue Him, to forsake sin and live righteously while at the same time realizing that it is He who gives us both desire and ability to do so. Philippians 2:12-13 puts it well:  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  Put forth maximum effort we are told but realize the desire and ability to do so come from God! It’s ALL of His grace.

Abraham was promised blessing for his faithfulness. God granted him the heart and will for such faithfulness. May God graciously continue to preserve us so that like Abraham we will persevere.