James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
No doubt about it, Abraham was justified by works WHEN he offered his son on the altar.
OK. But Abraham's justification could not possibly have been by his own works:
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law,...
And, more specifically,
Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Now this presents a problem doesn't it? The Bible says that Abraham was justified by works WHEN he offered Isaac on the altar; and it's not possible for his own works to have justified him. Then by what works, or, by whose works was he justified?
Of course it must have been Jesus' works that justified Abraham.
Yes, but unfortunately (according to some), Jesus would not go to the cross and perform His atoning work until 33 AD, roughly 2000 years after Abraham offered up Isaac.
This is quite a difficult problem. How could Abraham have been justified by works so long before Jesus went to the cross?
Oh, I got it, since God was fully committed to sending His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross, it was as good as done. Therefore Abraham was justified, in principle, by the works Christ would accomplish 2000 years in the future.
Except that solution brings another problem: in the same chapter that tells us Abraham was justified WHEN he offered Isaac on the alter, we're told that faith without works is dead. And that if one see a person naked and hungry and simply says to them, be warmed and filled, without actually providing works to clothe them or feed them, then the words used in this kind gesture are meaningless.
The Bible will not allow for works to be performed in principle. They must be performed in actuality to be of any true value.
That brings us back to our original dilemma. How could Abraham have been justified by works WHEN he offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Let's search the Bible and see if God uses the word 'works' anywhere else that might help us. Oh, now here's a promising verse:
Hebrews 4:3b ...although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
We find a statement telling us about finished works. But whose works were finished at the foundation of the world? A more thorough search reveals that it was Christ's work as the Lamb of God:
Revelation 13:8b ...the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Well, this information is exactly the information needed in order for us to solve the problem of Abraham's justification by works some 2000 years before Christ went to the cross in 33 AD.
It was possible for Abraham to be justified by works 2000 years before the cross because the work that justified him took place at the foundation of the world. And since the work was finished at the foundation of the world, it (the work/faith of Christ) was available to him at that point in time. Even better, the finished work of Christ was available to all God’s people from the very beginning of time, thus fully explaining how Abel, and Noah, and, yes, Abraham, could become justified in God’s sight.
Problem solved. No more dilemma. Now we have beautiful harmony with all Biblical statements.