Abraham

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Genesis 12:1-9

Whenever a New Testament writer wanted to make a point about true faith, he said, “Look at Abraham.”

If you wanted to identify the most important and influential figure in the Bible after Jesus, you might think of Moses, the leader whom God used to establish the people of Israel, or the apostle Paul who played the same role for Christianity, but in the end I think I would have to choose Abraham. Here are two passages from scripture that describe the essential features of Abraham’s life and faith. The first is from one of the truly pivotal chapters of the Bible, Genesis 12:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram left, as the Lord had told him.

(vv. 1-3, niv)

And then there is this New Testament comment on the Old Testament story of Abraham from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

(Heb. 11: 8-10)

THE FRIEND OF GOD

Out of all the things that the Bible has to say about Abraham, the most remarkable is a comment in the book of Isaiah where God calls Abraham “my friend” (41:8). Now that is a truly astonishing thing to say! The infinite God of heaven and earth calls a mortal man his friend; not his servant, not his follower, not his worshiper, not his creature, but his friend. Did you ever imagine God could have a friend? You and I need friends. We need friends for company, to share our lives with, to give us advice or encouragement or warning, to rejoice with us when we rejoice, and to weep with us when we weep. But does God need a friend? Surely not in the same way that we do, yet he is still pleased to call Abraham exactly that. In fact, Abraham’s name is more closely connected with God than any other name in the Bible except for that of Jesus himself. One of the most common ways the Bible distinguishes the true God from all false gods is to identify him as “the God of Abraham.” What does it take to become the friend of God? From Abraham we learn that what it takes more than anything else is faith.

LESSONS OF FAITH

Abraham’s example teaches us several important things about faith. First, faith requires us to choose. Abraham’s relationship with God began when God called him to go out of his own country to another one that God would show him. The call came with both a command to obey and a set of promises to believe. It was a call, in other words, first to leave and then to receive. Faith demands a decision from us about whether the Word of God comes first in our life, before any other value or love. That’s not always an appealing prospect. We’d rather not have to make such a decision. But God’s call always presents us with a choice. In order to receive what he has to give us, we must be willing to give up the things to which we cling, and the choice isn’t always an easy one. To choose for God means to choose against the world. When God told Abraham to leave his land and clan, his kindred and his father’s house, he was calling him to forsake all natural ties, everything that was familiar and important to him. Humanly speaking, it seemed impossible. Ur of the Chaldees, where Abraham was living, was the cradle of ancient civilization. Abraham’s home was rich and fertile, not just physically but culturally. It was the birthplace of art and music and science, and all the treasures of the ancient world flowed through this city. Abraham did not become an immigrant out of a desire for freedom or economic advancement. It wasn’t merely a spirit of adventure or restlessness that made him give up everything to become a stranger in a foreign land. It was faith, faith that preferred God to anything in the world.

Second, faith is responsive. It’s true that faith requires us to choose for God above all other good, but that does not mean that we control the process. When it comes to faith, God always has the initiative. He makes the first move. Faith doesn’t mean deciding to believe in God on our terms, at our convenience. It means believing and responding to God when he calls. God chooses us before we can ever choose him. God’s decision for us underlies our decision for him. That’s why hearing or reading the Word of God – as you’re doing right now – is such a serious matter. It’s not a “take-it-or-leave-it” proposition as though it’s entirely up to you whether or not you’ll accept God and believe in his Word. Faith is never a matter of believing when you feel like it. It is responding to God in ready and willing trust, as and when he calls you.

Third, faith is obedient. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive . . . obeyed and went” (Heb. 11:8). Faith is more than just hearing and believing God’s word. Faith is also acting upon it. Abraham did what God required. In response to God’s command and promises, the Bible says simply that “Abraham [went out] as the Lord had told him” (Gen. 12:4). He immediately arose to do and to be all that God had asked him to do and promised him to be. Faith is so much more than mere intellectual assent to a set of doctrines or ideas. It’s more even than an attitude of trust in God or in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith is really only faith when it begins to obey the commands of God. “Faith that does not change your behavior,” remarked the great preacher C. H. Spurgeon, “will never change your destiny.”

Fourth, faith perseveres; that is, it continues in a life of belief and obedience to God from beginning to end. Abraham, you see, didn’t just go out to the land where God called him; he spent the rest of his life there as a sojourner, a stranger, a pilgrim. “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents” all his days. You realize that even though Abraham obediently followed God’s call, he never did receive everything God promised him, at least not in this life. He didn’t settle down in the promised land that was to be his inheritance forever. He passed through it as a stranger, a sojourner. He lived there for the rest of his life like an exile in a foreign country. And the only piece of the promised land Abraham ever owned was his family’s burial plot. When he bought it to bury Sarah his wife, he confessed, “I am a stranger and sojourner among you” (Gen. 23:4). Abraham’s life, you see, was one long exercise in the discipline of faith. It was a powerful illustration of the truth that just as faith must be obedient, so it must also be enduring. Biblical faith involves more than making an enthusiastic beginning with God. It means persevering, sticking to it, obeying God and living by his word day in and day out, year in and year out. Faith isn’t just hearing God’s call and setting out with high hopes for the promised land. It’s all those months and years and decades living in a pilgrim’s tent. There’s no real trick to the life of faith, no shortcut to spiritual maturity. The only secret is this: Faith is listening to God’s Word. It is pursuing God’s character. It is obeying God’s commands, in the little things as well as the big things, every day for a lifetime.

The final quality of faith we see in Abraham is that it is expectant. Faith is always looking forward. The reason Abraham was a lifelong sojourner in the promised land is because he was looking forward to “the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.” God’s purposes for Abraham involved more than just this life and this world. The reason the Lord never allowed Abraham to settle down permanently in Canaan was because he was preparing a better and more lasting city for him, even as he was preparing Abraham to inherit it. What Abraham really set out to find was the city of God; and the homeland he most wanted was his father’s house in heaven. What motivated Abraham, what enabled him to give up everything and change the direction of his whole life with only a promise to go by, was his desire for God and nothing less than God. The power behind all true faith is love for God. Faith isn’t a cold intellectual exercise or a joyless obedience to a set of rules. No. Faith is desiring God with all your heart. “Love to God is the main thing in saving faith” (Jonathan Edwards).

THE FATHER OF BELIEVERS

It was the Scottish theologian James Denney who commented that whenever a New Testament writer wished to make a point about faith, he said “Look at Abraham.” The apostle Paul was especially fond of doing that. His favorite verse of scripture was Genesis 15:6. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Paul quoted that verse in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Romans to emphasize the truth that our justification, that is, our acceptance by God, is not by works but by faith alone. Being righteous in God’s eyes is not something we earn, because it can’t be. The righteousness we need in order to be saved can only be had on credit (“credit,” from the Latin credo, to believe). God credits righteousness to those who trust in him just as Abraham did.

Abraham is the spiritual father of all who believe in Christ. Just as God’s promise to give Abraham a country as a permanent dwelling place pointed beyond the earthly land of Canaan to the reality of heaven, so the Bible teaches that the promise of children for Abraham had a more than physical fulfillment. What God was really talking about was not Abraham’s literal descendants but his spiritual children, those, in other words, who shared Abraham’s faith. God promised that through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed, and that promise has come true in Jesus Christ. Abraham is the spiritual father of everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus (see Rom. 4:11ff.).

What this really means for you is that you too, whoever you are, whatever your background or race or culture or identity, can become one of Abraham’s descendants. You can, in fact, become a friend of God just as he was, and you can share in the very same promises. You can be blessed by God and become a blessing to the nations. You can have a home in heaven that is forever sure. You can become part of the family of faith that knows Jesus Christ and belongs to God in him. God is calling you to all of this at this very moment. How will you respond?