Abraham: Cultivating a Life of Faith
Introduction: Our need to be in charge of ourselves, others, and situations often makes our relationship with Christ life's biggest power struggle. We are reluctant to relinquish our control and allow Him to run our lives. We may believe in Him and be active in the church, but trusting Him as Lord of everything in life can be fearful and difficult.
Even though we pray about our challenges and problems, all too often what we really want is strength to accomplish what we've already decided is best for ourselves and others. Meanwhile we press on with our own priorities and plans. We remain the script writer, casting director, choreographer, and producer of the drama of our own lives, in which we are the star performer.
Romans 4.16 indicates that Abraham is the father of us all; that is, he is the prototype of what you and I would become. The Seed of Abraham would become the Source of blessing to all the nations of the earth. Those of faith are sons of Abraham (Gal 3.7); “so then, those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Gal 3.9). Abraham is an example of the outworking of faith in the lives of those who trust in Christ for salvation.
Understanding Abraham’s life is foundational for you and me. That’s why his story begins in Genesis 12. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11.8). “He waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11.10). The great culmination of our own pilgrimage is that of Abraham’s: salvation secure in that heavenly city.
Psalm 37.3 admonishes us to “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” Abraham fed on the faithfulness of the Lord. God abundantly blessed him for it. The whole of our Christian walk is seen in Abraham’s development in faithfulness. Abraham’s story must be our own. Trust! Do good! Dwell in the land! Feed on His faithfulness!
By examining Abraham’s life carefully, each of us will be able to share in the triumphs of Abraham’s life and avoid the tragedies (and when we cannot avoid tragedy - know what to do when we dig our own hole). Our productive Spirit-filled lives as men of God in our community ought to pose quite a contradiction to the lives of the men of the world. What do the men of the world look like?
They use people. While interested in them, they are motivated by what’s in it for them. While they maintain friendships, they do so to advance themselves. Worldly men have friends in as far as they are willing subjects in their own little kingdom. Likewise when it comes to family. If you were to ask worldly men if this were the case, they would deny it. But their attitudes and actions betray him.
Men of the world are self-sufficient and self-centered. They yearn to be that masters of their own fate and not even God will stop them. Worldly men buy into the lie of Satan: You can be like God.
Most men of the world will realize that they are not sufficient in themselves, and that the world does not revolve around them. However, given an opportunity, they will ascend their thrones and rule.
What does a man of God look like? We need go no further than to the life of Abraham…
The barrenness of Sarai (Gen 11.30) sets the stage. The power of a man of God is based upon a sense of personal weakness. Worldly men are self-confident; godly men recognize their need for dependence. The fact that Abraham had a barren wife in the culture in which he lived indicates a great need. His sense of dependence and faith becomes the figure for all men.
Abram’s entire family knew that God had revealed Himself to Abraham. All of them had the responsibility to respond. Terah, Abram’s father, responded with apparent obedience at first (11.31). Halfway to Canaan, however, Terah chose to return to idolatry (1 Thes 1.9 cf. Josh 24.2). Abram settled in Haran with his father; but when Terah died, God mercifully renewed His promise with Abram. This is where Genesis 12.1 begins.
Abram obeyed this second call in Genesis 12 and went to Canaan. He began to travel through that land and at Shechem he built an altar to the Lord. He began to cultivate faith, “to trust in the Lord, do good, and dwell in the land.”
The Decision to Cultivate Faith Is Tested
Instead of a land filled with milk and honey, Abram found famine (12.10). He knew what God had revealed to him at Haran, but he rationalized that his first calling was to his family. The famine reveals doubt in Abram. Out of the will of God and moving toward Egypt, Abram enlists his wife in the deception of Egyptians (12.11-13).
Abram had determined to lie even before getting to Canaan (cp. 20.11-13). The Lord allowed Abram’s blunder into Egypt in order to reveal the spirit of deceptiveness in him. God will not tolerate sin in the lives of his children.
Abram lied and Pharaoh took Sarai for a wife. He must not have thought about this possibility. Abram doesn’t pray, but God graciously works on his behalf (12.17). Abram would receive a stern rebuke from a heathen king in the form of some pointed questions (12.18b-19). These are questions Abram should have asked himself. Pharaoh, disgusted with Abram, ejects him from Egypt.
It’s Not All About You!
Do you realize that God’s commission in Gen 1.26-27 will ultimately be fulfilled? Of course, Abram and others who follow must understand that God is sovereign. Abram will learn this as a nomad in the Promised Land.
Thurman Wisdom wrote, “To the extent that man, through the Redeemer, submits to God as absolute Sovereign, to that extent he develops in the image of God, preparing to fulfill his destiny of reigning with Him” [Thurman Wisdom, A Royal Destiny: The Reign of Man in God’s Kingdom, (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2006), 176].
Wisdom indicates throughout his work that the story of Scripture is the story of two kingdoms - God’s and Satan’s. Not a duality …simply a winnowing process allowed by God. We now the final score as it were. What we must understand is that our lives fit into the grand scheme of things. History is truly His story and not our own stories. It’s all about Him. This is forcefully illustrated in Abram’s exchange with Lot in Genesis 13-14.
Lot chose his lot in life (13.10-11)! Why would Abram help him when he ran into trouble with the four kings of Genesis 14? Abram had familial responsibilities to Lot. He was a faithful man. He couldn’t stand by when his nephew was in trouble.
Abram and 318 of his servants trained in warfare pursued the enemy for 150 miles. He divided his small army into companies and attacked from different directions at night. The enemy panicked and fled to the north. Abram pursued the enemy for another 70 miles to insure victory. He rescued Lot, the goods, the women and all the people. And then came the real test for Abram (see Gen 14.18ff.).
The king of Sodom traveled 50 miles to be a part of the ceremony when Abram returned. He was the first to meet Abram. At about the same time, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, came with physical refreshments and spiritual blessing (14.19b-20 cf. Heb 7.1-4).
The two kings of Sodom and Salem presented Abram with two choices. Note carefully 14.21b and the King of Sodom’s acknowledgement of Abram’s right to the spoils of battle. All that money. All that power. But Abram wanted the spiritual wealth and security found in a city built and founded by God (Heb 11.10). Melchizedek’s revelation of God was far more appealing to faithful Abram.
Abram rejects the king of Sodom (14.22-23) for the king of Salem (see Heb 7.1-7). Abram called God by the same name that Melchizedek used (El Elyon, God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth). Melchizedek had deepened Abram’s understanding of the true God. The King of Salem possessed eternal riches while the King of Sodom temporal treasure.
In his pilgrimage, Abram responded by faith and was rewarded with an enlarged perception of God. This is the way it is for godly men.
Abram Believed God (Gen 15.6 quoted in Rom 4.3)
Gen 15.6 contains the first instance of the word believe in the Scriptures. His faith is enlarged by the encounter with Melchizedek, he believes God when it comes to an heir, and now he seeks assurance when it comes to the Lord’s promise of the land (15.8). The Lord responds with a covenant ceremony that is quite unusual for us.
After slaying specified animals and dividing them in half, Abram laid the pieces opposite each other. Ordinarily, both parties making the covenant would pass between the divided animals. This signified the acceptance of the covenant sealed by blood. In Gen 15, God passed between the pieces alone. The covenant was unconditional - its fulfillment did not depend upon Abram or upon his descendants. All that was left was for Abram to believe it.
Frustration and Fulfillment
Life is filled with frustration. God allows frustration to form in our lives in order fulfill real needs in His time. The incident with Hagar in Genesis 16 is an example of this.
Sarai searched “for a human solution to a divinely imposed problem” (Wisdom, 189). She certainly had a rationale for why she was giving her handmaid to her husband. “It must be the will of God to bring the heir through Hagar,” Sarai reasoned (see 16.2). After all, God had restrained Sarai from bearing children. There must be another way to realize this expectation.
While Abram believed God, he gave into the emotional trauma of his wife. After all, he couldn’t be insensitive to her needs. But his so-called sensitivity would reap terrible results for his wife, family, and descendants (witness the trouble in the Middle East to this day).
Meanwhile, Hagar viewed her pregnancy as the favor of God upon her and the curse of God upon Sarai. Sarai despised Hagar for this. Sarai calls for Abram to correct the insolence of Hagar. The wrong Sarai speaks of in 16.5 is the wrong done to her by Hagar. It is a wrong that she views as being violent and cruel.
Abram responds by evading the discipline of Hagar. Sarai, angry and frustrated, is beside herself. Abram responds by allowing Sarai to vent her frustration on Hagar (see 16.6).
“I am the Almighty God…” (See Gen 17.1b-2). Abram was getting older and hopes were diminishing. That’s why this particular name for God is at the outset of Chapter 17. God is Almighty. He can overrule the bleakest of situations.
God told Abram to walk before Him, to be His servant. He should be perfect in the sense of being complete, whole, or sound. Genesis 15 happened almost 15 years before this time. Abram needed confirmation - he had done something that he thought had circumvented the covenant. God put an end to that thinking.
And while Abram learned a new name for God; God gave new names to both he and his wife. He also gave the sign of circumcision. Abram (‘Exalted Father’) is now Abraham (‘Father of Many Nations’) and Sarai (‘Like a Princess’) is now Sarah (‘Princess’). Where sin abounds, grace much more so in an enlarged perception of who God is!
This time it’s Abimelech. But the same rationalization from Abraham and the same gracious response from God (20.2) are integral to Abraham’s story. It’s pretty amazing that Abraham was more blinded by his sanctimonious rationalization than the unbelieving Abimelech was by his unregenerate heart. Often, unbelievers see sin more clearly than Christians who allow their self-interests to cloud their minds (see 1 Cor 5.1).
Even through this tragedy, Abraham was still a prophet of God. God used him as an instrument of healing and restoration for Abimelech.
God Keeps His Promise
“…the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.” (Genesis 21:1-2)
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56)
The fulfillment in Isaac becomes a prototype of the promised Messiah. Jesus in John 8 was surely alluding to Isaac’s birth. Abraham was filled with great joy, but there was something greater. In Isaac, God would multiply Abraham’s seed until the Promised Seed would come.
"…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’” (Hebrews 6:12-14)
Abraham is seen as inheriting the promises through faith and patience; it will be thus with you and me as well.
The One of a Kind Son
“Take now your son, your only son” (Gen 22.2)
“You have not withheld your son, your only son” (Gen 22.12, 16)
Genesis 22 continues Abraham’s cultivation of faith. He had to know that God’s Word is reliable. He had to trust God to do what God promised He would do.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)
“And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform." (Romans 4:19-21, NKJV)
Abraham’s only begotten son becomes the prototype of the Father’s only begotten Son. Abraham’s one-of-a-kind son is the shadow of the Father’s One-of-a-Kind Son.
“…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:18)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)
"In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." (1 John 4:9)
The supreme act of consecration for Abraham took place on Moriah. Abraham now saw the Lord as the One Who Provides (YHWH-Jireh) - not just for the daily needs but for the needs of the soul.
Shortly after this experience, Sarah dies (23.1-20). For the first time in his life, Abraham will own property in the Promised Land - a small plot to bury his wife and co-heir. This is the somber beginning of an eternal promise. It’s amazing what happens when a kernel falls to the ground and dies!
Abraham then sends Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac (24). Eliezer’s journey to Haran is “a beautiful illustration of the harmony between man and God when they walk together” (Wisdom, 251). “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established” (Prov 16.3).
Note the specificity of Eliezer’s prayer in 24.12-14. He asks God for a woman who has a self-sacrificing spirit of kindness in the way he frames the request. He will find this in Rebekah.
Note what he does when God answers his prayer in Gen 24.26-27 - “I being in the way, the Lord led me…”
Abraham’s life-story as the father of us all (Rom 4.16) is the prototypical story of each believing man here. It is the story of our own pilgrimage toward a royal city.
Abraham died in faith, looking toward a heavenly city. How will your story conclude? How will you prepare those who follow?
The man of pseudo-faith will fight for his verbal creed but refuse flatly to allow himself to get in a predicament where his future must depend upon that creed being true. He always provides himself with secondary ways of escape; so that he will have a way out if the roof caves in. What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they know that they must do at that last day. A.W. Tozer