Teaching series from Genesis

Lessons From Abraham's Faith

Genesis 12-21

Teaching t07307

Introduction

This morning, we want to survey the life of Abraham to learn what it teaches us about faith. Because of the large amount of material involved, we will use Heb. 11:8-16 as our base text, also looking at the relevant passages in Genesis and other biblical books.

The author of Hebrews uses two critical issues in Abraham's life to help us understand biblical faith: the Promised Land and the promised son . . . 

The Land

Read Heb. 11:8. If you've been with us over the last few weeks, you know about this. Abram was from Ur of the Chaldeans (Babylon), and when God called him, he was living in Haran (MAP). God simply called him to go west to a land he would show him (12:1). The author of Hebrews distills what 12:4,5 say (read). This provides us with our first insight into biblical faith.

Imagine getting into a time machine, going back to 2166 BC, and stepping out onto Abraham's veranda in Haran. You're sitting there, sipping a cold one with Abraham, and he starts telling you about God's promise to give him a land to the west. You ask him if he believes that promise, and he says "Of course." Eventually, you would probably say, "If you believe God's promise, what are you doing here? Why aren't you packing? Why haven't you left?"

What would be the proof that Abraham believed God? Wouldn't we be safe in saying that if he didn’t leave, he didn't have faith? This is exactly what the author of Hebrews is emphasizing in Heb. 11:8 ("By faith Abraham . . . obeyed by going . . . ").

So the first insight into biblical faith that we learn is that it is active rather than passive. It involves a willingness to act on God's truth. Like James says in Jas. 2, if there is no action on God's command, there is no evidence for others or for yourself that you believe God's promise. This is only mental assent, which even the demons have, and which God rejects as necessary but insufficient for faith.

Yet there is another aspect of faith present with Abraham--one just as important as his willingness to act. Read Heb. 11:9,10. God promised to give him the land, yet when Abraham got to Canaan, he found that others already lived there and owned it.

What Abraham did not do at this point is just as instructive as what he did do by going to the land. He did not try to buy up real estate, even though he was very rich (13:2). Neither did he try to conquer the land, even though he has military ability as we saw last week in Gen. 14. Instead, he just hung around, living in a tent, taking tour after tour of the Promised Land throughout his life. He was propertyless his whole life. When Sarah died eventually, he had to buy a burial plot for her (chapter 23) even though God had promised him the whole land.

Why was he so passive about taking the land? Because the same God who had said "Go to the land" had also said "I will give you the land."

So here is another aspect of biblical faith. It involves not only the willingness to act according to God's truth, but also depending on God to perform his will for you instead of taking matters into your own hands.

Repeat both aspects of faith. This may sound paradoxical at first glance, but it isn't. Because God has decided to accomplish his will through human beings who freely choose to cooperate with him, he always calls on us to do something (action). But because God is the One who is ultimately supplying the power and resources to do what will glorify him, we will always need to depend on him because his will is humanly impossible. Let's apply this to the way you come to God.

As you sit here today, you may be unsure whether you actually belong to God's family, whether you have actually established a relationship with Christ. You may think, "I already believe that Jesus came and is the Son of God. I've believed that ever since I was little. I come from a family that believed that. Therefore, I must belong to Christ." Or you may be responsive, but aversive to making a decision. ("God will overwhelm me" or "I'll just wake up and it will have happened.")

But God calls on you for more. He calls on you for specific action. It doesn't have to be an action that other people see (ALTAR CALLS), but it is nevertheless a real action between you and him. He calls on you to choose to personally receive Christ (Jn. 1:12; Rev. 3:20), and until you take this action, you do not belong to his family and Christ is not in your life.

On the other hand, becoming a Christian isn’t all action. God is calling you to actively receive Christ, but he is also calling on you to depend on him to do something for you that you could never do yourself. When it comes to being accepted by God, you cannot do anything yourself to make yourself acceptable to him (VOWS; RITUALS; GOOD DEEDS)--you have to depend totally on him to make you acceptable. He calls on you to throw away all confidence in your works for him and depend totally on Christ's work for you (Gal. 2:16). He also calls on you to depend on him when he says that the changes he will bring into your life will be good (Rom. 10:11). This attitude of dependence is just as important as the action.

Now let's look at another example from Abraham's and Sarah's life that illustrates biblical faith . . . 

A Son

Read Heb. 11:11,12. The most important part of God's promise to Abraham was that through his descendants God would bless all the people-groups of the world. This refers primarily to God's gift of the Bible through the Jewish people, and his gift of a Savior, Jesus Christ. But these blessings depended on God granting Abraham and Sarah a son who would be his heir (Gen. 12:2; 15:4; 17:19). Yet there was a major obstacle to the fulfillment of this promise--Sarah was 65 and had always been barren, and Abraham was 75 and no longer exactly a stud. What would it look like for Abraham and Sarah to exercise faith in this situation?

Obviously, it involved a certain kind of action. God never said (like he did to Mary) that he would bring about a conception without sexual intercourse. Neither did he say that they would conceive the first time they had sex after he made this promise. So the action side of their faith involved having sex and continuing to have sex until they had a son (from 75/65 to 99/89)! To have stopped having sex would be to stop having faith.

I like to think about what it would have been like as a member of Abraham's household during these years. You're sitting around on a Saturday evening over dinner when you see Abraham and Sarah heading off to their tent. "Hey Abe! What are you two doing tonight?" "You know what we're doing." "Why?" "Because God promised he would give us a son." (INCREDULOUS LAUGHTER)

After 14 years of this without a son, God gave Abraham a couple more actions through which to express his faith. You can read about them in Gen. 17.

He called on him to change his name from Abram ("exalted father") to Abraham ("father of a multitude of nations"). "Hey Abe, has God been telling you to do anything else lately?" "Yes, as a matter of fact he has." "What's that?" "He's asked me to change my name." "Oh yeah--to what? 'Childless but happy?'" "No, 'Father of a multitude of nations.'"

"And he's asked me to do something else to demonstrate my faith in his promise." "Oh yeah? What's that?" "He's asked me to get circumcised . . .  (INCREDULOUS LAUGHTER) . . . and to have you circumcised, too!"

And yet their faith involved more than just action, didn't it? It also involved radical dependence on God to perform his will through and for them--because they knew they couldn't pull this off by themselves.

They had no human power to conceive a child, and God had rejected their attempt to fulfill his will by their own ingenuity and power (HAGAR & ISHMAEL - see Gen. 17:20,21).

In Rom. 4:19-21, Paul says that Abraham thought long and hard (katanoew) about the utter human impossibility of them pulling this off by themselves (vs 19). But he continued to look at the situation in light of God's power, and decided (rationally) that "what God had promised, he was also able to perform."

NOTE: This statement does not mean that Abraham and Sarah never had any doubts about this (read Gen. 17:17; 18:12-14). It means, rather, that in spite of their contrary thoughts and feelings which they expressed to God, they never decided to reject God's veracity. I don't know about you, but this is very comforting to me . . . 

So we see the same working definition of faith. Now let's apply this, not to how we become Christians, but to how we grow spiritually. Because the Bible says that both justification and sanctification are by faith. In area after area of your life, God has concrete, deep-seated, radical changes he wants to make. In his own perfect timing, he goes to work on these areas, and he wants your cooperation. What does this look like?

He'll call on you to take specific action. If you think that God will change you apart from your active cooperation, you will learn by painful experience that this is not true. Through the personal work of his Spirit, he will call on you to take specific steps of faith toward what his Word commands.

He'll call on you to regularly participate in the means of growth (NAME). This will seem strange at times, because it is not related directly to the changes you want to see in your life. But this is the way you make yourself available to the changing power of God.

He will call on you to forsake the idols in your life. This will be terrifying because even though they don't satisfy (NAME SOME), they offer some security. But he'll call on you to let them go and trust that he will fill the void in another, better way.

He will call on you to step out to serve him and love people (NAME SOME WAYS). This will push you out of your comfort zone into areas you feel inadequate to handle. But this is how God forges deeper faith and builds character into your life.

In my own life, such steps have included: laying aside drugs, telling my parents the truth about my lying and drug use, admitting my biblical ignorance and attending teachings and asking questions, sharing my faith with my non-Christian friends and family members, opening up to Christian friends about my loneliness and moving in with other Christian brothers, giving up my writing idol and pursuing a college major that had no economic potential, being willing to teach the Bible and lead others when I felt inadequate, breaking up and passing up romantic relationships because of various reasons, moving to a different city for two years to attend an unaccredited seminary, confronting people who are intimidating to me, praying for work and turning down job offers instead of panicking when I had no money, choosing to give significant amounts of money to God's work, etc. In each case, the steps were doable, but scary.

Like Abraham, change will not happen overnight. Like Abraham, there will be times when you wonder if change will ever occur. Like Abraham, you may attempt to change by your own power and ingenuity, and like Abraham these attempts will be rejected and fail. Like Abraham, you will find yourself more and more deeply convinced of your own ability to accomplish God's will, and that God will have to empower you and come through if his will is going to be accomplished. In other words, you will have to depend on God's wisdom and power rather than on your own. What does this look like?

It will involve regularly praying for God's resources. Not in some formalistic way, but personally calling out to him because you know unless he comes through you cannot change or fulfill his will.

It will involve patiently persevering in spite of no immediate change. You will have to wrestle with contradictory thoughts and feelings, say choose instead to keep to your course, trusting that God know what he is doing and will bear the fruit at the proper time.

It involves actively doing God's will, but relaxing in the confidence that God will have his way. God grants us his peace that we are on the right course, and that he is going to come through. This is what the author of Hebrews elsewhere calls entering into God's rest.

Like Abraham, over time you will see God gradually change your life and accomplish his purpose through you more and more (LANDMARKS; FEEDBACK). This brings increasing confidence that God is good and faithful, but the challenge continues for your whole life.

Conclusion

One important aspect of biblical faith that we have not looked at this morning is the evidential aspect. Next week, we will temporarily discontinue our series on Genesis and begin a three week mini-series entitled "Evidence in the Balance." This series will explore the two most important lines of evidence for Christianity, beginning with the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. This is a great opportunity to expose your non-Christian friends . . . 

Copyright 1998 Gary DeLashmutt