Three Things Every Christian Should Know
By Stephanie Ismer
The SeriesAbraham's Faith
How Sanctification Works
Who Leads the Church
Four millennia ago in the land of Mesopotamia, there lived a man named Abram, who was a descendant of Shem, one of the three sons of Noah to survive the worldwide flood (Genesis 11:10-32). Abram lived long before Moses, before the Israelites were a nation. The Mosaic Law did not exist. In fact, after the flood, the only semblance of a law was the instruction from God to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 8:16) and a warning that any man or beast who killed another would be himself killed (Genesis 9:6). Noah also would have passed down the story of the Ark, and the way God saved them from destruction.
One day, Abram heard God calling him. God told him to leave his home and family and go to "a land that I will show you," and God told Abram that He was going to make his descendants a great nation, saying, "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-3). So, Abram followed God, and God protected Abram on his journey. But Abram still did not have any children, and the heir of his possessions was a relative, a man named Eliezer (Genesis 15:1-6). But God promised Abram that his own son would be his heir, and that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Then Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).
God made a covenant with Abram. In that time, a covenant between two parties was made when certain animals were cut in two, and the pieces arranged on either side of a central path. The two people involved in the covenant would then walk between the pieces, as a symbol of their intention to fulfill their part of the agreement. In a strange variation of this practice, God had Abram arrange the pieces of the animals, and then God put Abram to sleep and God passed between the pieces alone (Genesis 15:7-18), creating a unilateral covenant in which God Himself was the only one responsible to do anything. He would give Abram the land of Canaan (which God would help Abram's descendants conquer) for all time. God also promised to make Abram the father of a multitude of nations, from which kings would come, and to establish a covenant with Abram's descendants. At that time, he changed Abram's name to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8).
Understanding Abraham's story is crucial to understanding our own faith. Abraham is the ultimate model of a believer's faith. Not because he always did the right thing, but because he believed God. Paul points out that "if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'" (Romans 4:2-3).
Again, Paul uses Abraham's faith to remind the Galatian church that our salvation is based on faith — not works:
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham "believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness"? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." Galatians 3:5-7All the nations were blessed through Abraham because of Christ. Jesus Christ was a descendant of Abraham, and those who have faith "are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith" (Galatians 3:8).
Abraham's faith was an active faith — it was not just something in his mind. In fact, Abraham believed so completely that God would do as He promised, that he was willing to obey God when God instructed him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. This command made no sense to Abraham. Isaac was a miraculous child, because Abraham's wife was barren, and they were both in old age when Isaac was born. God had promised to given Abraham an heir from his own body, and Isaac was his only son. But again, Abraham believed God, and obeyed, and at the last moment, God stopped his hand. It was a test of faith (James 2:21-23).
We can learn a lot about faith from Abraham's life. Not only from the incident with Isaac, but from the unilateral covenant. Abraham was a trusting recipient of God's benefits. He was dependent on God for everything, and trusted not his own works but God's power and promise. When Jesus' disciples came to him, asking who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus showed them a little child, and said "whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:1-4). Abraham's attitude toward God was trusting, like a child.
So many times we think that pleasing God has to do with the way we act, the way we speak, or the way we dress. We think it has to do with following the law, or following rules, or our social conduct. But Abraham had no law to follow, no church to go to, and no Bible to read. All he had was God's promise, and the knowledge in his heart that God could be trusted to do exactly what He said he would do. As we go about our lives today, reading the Bible and seeing the things God has promised to us, our primary responsibility is to trust God, like Abraham did, to do what He promises. Faith is primary. Our works and behavior and the way we treat others should proceed from that trust in God, for "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
Part 2: How Sanctification Works
Image Credit: Lawrence OP; "Abraham's Faith"; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | God-Father
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