Paul, in his letters to churches, is concerned to ensure that they understand that the love and grace of God cannot be earned; they are unconditional. No matter who we are or what we have done, it is as we put our trust in God and enter the wonder of a personal relationship with Jesus, knowing the life-giving joy of his presence in our hearts, that we discover for ourselves what salvation is. As the letter to the Ephesians says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). So we cannot earn salvation; it is not deserved. It is the gift of God’s love that blooms in our lives as we put our trust in him.
But James balances up that teaching by pointing out that once a person has
found faith in God, the evidence of faith will be clearly apparent in that person’s life. If we really have entered into a personal relationship with the living God, the transformation will surely be seen in our choices and actions.
Abraham, man of faith and great intercessor, put his trust in God so completely that he left behind everything he knew to travel into the uncharted territory of the desert – because that was what God called him to do. Perhaps he was called God’s friend because the hallmark of friendship is trust.
Our Bible passage refers to Abraham’s willingness to offer his own child in
sacrifice if that was what God asked (the story is in Genesis 22). If you imagine the ancient nomadic Hebrews hearing tales of their people’s faith around the evening campfires, you can see that this story has great power. Sacrificing children was part of the old Canaanite religion; when crops failed or disaster threatened it would have been easy to slip back into old ways. In this exciting story the whole future of the people of Israel is jeopardized as Isaac is bound and laid on the altar. God’s provision of a ram instead of a child must have made an indelible impression on their understanding. For Christians, the only son carrying the wood on his back to the place of sacrifice has other overtones. The story of Christ who was the Lamb of God as well as God’s only Son develops further our insight into the mystery of sacrifice – the acknowledgment that at a very deep place we are all one. Jesus took upon himself the lostness and suffering of all humanity.
Lord God, as far above us as the stars, as close as our heartbeats and our breath, make yourself real to us. Draw near to us; make your home in our hearts. Just as Abraham, travelling out into the unknown vastness of the desert, walked so closely with you that people said you and he were friends, so may we also enter the mystery of that relationship, and find your living reality in the intimate chamber of our hearts. For we ask it in Jesus’ holy name; Amen.