Abraham’s Faith, Heb. 11:8-19
Theme: Abraham faced three crises: the crisis of his call, the crisis of his confidence, and the crisis of his conviction. Each believer as he follows the will of God for his life will experience a crises of belief along the way, when we realize that we cannot go the way of God and the way of the world at the same time. We can be prepared to deal with these crises of belief if we understand our calling, embrace the promises of God through faith, and keep our eyes on the goal of our lives, which is honoring God.
Type: pastoral – let me encourage you that in the face of trials keep on the path of God. He still loves you and will reward you. His love is the most important thing in all the world to a believer. It was the desire of Jesus that we should know His love and His glory – they are bound up in one another.
1. The New Testament states that the personal histories in the Bible serve as examples for us. We can take the story of Abraham and learn truths about the way God relates to us and how we are to respond to Him. These things were written “so that through the patience (endurance) and comfort (encouragement) of the Scriptures you might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Since these traits – endurance and comfort – are attributes of God (Rom. 15:5) when we study the life of someone like Abraham we see through his life the reflection of God in his life and the result of his relationship with God.
2. It is my intent today to encourage you through the Word about what God wants to do in you and through you. As we study Abraham’s life we see an example of what our lives are to be, how we walk with God. This message deals with the very basic truths about our following Christ but it also deals with the issues surrounding trials and tests. Because of that it will speak to some people today right where they are, but since all of us must deal with this matter, if it doesn’t seem to speak to your present condition, just hold on to these basic truths because the time will come when it will.
3. Abraham’s life is described by our author in three movements: his obedient response to the call of God to leave his home and go the land that God would show him; his abiding assurance of God’s future blessing for the world through him even though he would not live to see it; and his response to his testing by God.
4. We could sum these up in three crises: the crisis of his call, the crisis of his confidence, and the crisis of his conviction. Each believer as he follows the will of God for his life will experience a crises of belief along the way, when we realize that we cannot go the way of God and the way of the world at the same time. We can be prepared to deal with these crises of belief if we understand our calling, embrace the promises of God through faith, and keep our eyes on the goal of our lives, which is honoring God.
The calling he pursued, 11:8-12
Like Abraham, God calls us to follow Him even though we have little to guide us except the knowledge of His will. He calls us to be part of His eternal family, to know Him, to serve Him, and to enjoy Him forever. He calls us while we live on this earth to live according to this higher calling in our relationships, in our choices, in our dealings, in our pursuits.
1. Like you and I, Abraham lived in the world where people are obsessed with pursing selfish plans and selfish dreams. He lived in the impressive city of Ur of the Chaldees. All around the world people are flocking to urban centers to make their living, as one businessman told me, “The city is where it is happening.” By that he meant that the real wealth of the world was in the city. This is even more so when you are connected, well known, and smart. Abraham was all of these.
2. Abraham was different, however, and we as believers are called to be different. He went out because God called him to do something different – his life had a purpose. God had issued a call to Abram and Abram had nothing but the promise of God to rest upon. He obeyed and went. He depicted the obedience of a Christian to follow the Lord as He leads. God did not tell Abraham exactly where he was going, and God does not disclose to us today all the places we will go because we are Christians. But there is a reason why God does not tell us what is up ahead on the road of life. We would let go of His hand. God’s intention by placing us in a position where we don’t know where we are being led is so that we will learn to trust in Him.
3. In our church today we have many new expatriates. You have recently moved to Singapore and maybe just a few months ago you were not even sure where it was located. Now you live here. There are two ways you can react to this situation. You can begrudgingly clock your time, hoping every moment that you will get sent back to your family and friends. This will result, however, in unhappiness and misery, choking your own personal growth. Or, you can react with faith. For the believer in Christ every thing of life fits into God’s will, He is Sovereign over everything and nothing happens that does not somehow fit into His plan. You can embrace this truth and say, “Lord, I don’t know all the reasons you have brought me here, but I am going to trust that it is for my good.” This attitude will change your entire life around.
4. Abraham dwelt in tents – a picture of the temporary nature of life – it is not that he did not enjoy the typical blessings of life. He was, in fact, a very wealthy man. However, his possessions did not possess him. He was in the world but not of the world. All throughout Abraham’s life the Bible gives us examples of his integrity, honesty, and generosity toward others. We could say that his was a life of holy separation. We cannot go with God without ceasing to go with the world.
a. In dealing with his nephew Lot, he said, “If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left” (Gen 13:9). Lot, on the other hand, saw the riches of the land of Zoar and took the best land, but it was a devastating decision. Whenever the sole determining factor in our choice is our personal wealth, regardless of the impact on others, we will be following in the steps of Lot.
b. When dealing with this mysterious Old Testament character, the priest Melchizedek, the King of Salem, Abraham gave him a tenth of all that he had (Gen. 14:20).
c. His integrity was demonstrated in that after he had rescued Lot from ransom and kidnapping, he refused to receive anything from the King of Sodom (Gen 14:22-24).
d. His prayer life was also an expression of his unselfishness and his generosity in spirit. He petitioned God for his nephew Lot’s life (Gen 18:16-33).
e. The final picture of Abraham’s unselfishness was the burial of his wife, Sarah. The Hittite kings offered to give him land to serve as her burial ground, but he would not hear of it. He insisted that he must, as a matter of personal honor, purchase the land for the burial of his wife (Gen. 23:16).
5. He waited for the city of God – he did not expect to find satisfaction in this life. The calling we receive is to know God intimately and personally. We can do this also when we purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, as the Bible says, 2 Cor 7:1.
6. He and Sarah blessed others through obedience and that is a good summary of the intent of the Christian’s life – to be used of God to do good for others. Following the calling of God always results in being God’s instrument to bless others.
a. By faith Sarah conceived and Isaac was born
b. By faith they acted throughout their life in the belief that as they followed the will of God some others would be blessed. They did not count their lives dear unto themselves, but gave their lives for the good of others.
c. Paul displayed this spirit when he said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24, NIV). The NKJV says is stronger. When warned of the hardships that awaited him, Paul said: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
7. God leads us to live for Him and
a. Enjoy His presence, Gen 13:14, notice that God spoke to Abraham after Lot left.
b. Grow in our relationhip with Him, Mark 10:28-30
c. Grow in our usefulness, John 15:2
d. To grow in our love for Him
8. Our calling is a fact. Our reaction to it can either be one of bitter resignation or joyful acceptance. Which will it be for you?
The confidence he possessed, 11:13-16
Like Abraham, we have the privilege of living in the assurance of God’s blessings, when we take Him at His word. Assurance does many things for us: it removes our insecurity from us; it increases our confidence and happiness in life; since it is ultimately based in God and not ourselves, it gives us hope when we fail (and fail we shall); and it teaches us to forgive ourselves and to be patient with ourselves.
1. They died without receiving the promises. They did experience some blessings of God, but the goal of their lives was to be instruments of God to bless future generations. The author’s point is to point us toward the future as well. Even we do not yet live in the total victory of God – it still lies in the future.
2. They embraced the future promises, however, through faith. Did they live in the victory of the Lord? The answer: yes, they did. How did they experience this victory? The answer: they experienced it through faith. They accepted what God said and that was sufficient.
3. Some Christians think along the lines that if they had enough faith then their problems would go away. That is not entirely incorrect. Many problems do go away when we trust in God, when we take Him at His word. Problems of doubt, problems of guilt, problems of direction in life, problems in our attitude, when we are continually complaining about the problems of life that becomes a problem in and of itself. Faith in God helps many of these problems go away. Having a confident, positive attitude toward God results in a positive attitude toward the future. We re-interpret all of life’s challenges and possess the eternal hope of God. Glasses that were half-empty come to be half-full when we walk by faith.
4. They saw themselves as pilgrims here – however, we still live in a fallen world and all the faith in the world will not change that fact. The best evidence that we have faith is not that we are wealthy or even physically healthy, but that we are living confidently in the victory of God through Jesus Christ, even though the total victory lies in the future.
5. They desired a homeland, like everyone else but the homeland they desired was heaven.
a. Abraham said that he was an “alien and stranger” when he had lost Sarah in Hebron.
b. Success is not measured by what we have
c. Success is measured by what we gain by losing, by pruning, John 15:2
6. Their faith in God shall be vindicated by Him one day. When will God vindicate us? Will He do it during our lifetime? Not really. We might have some happier moments than we would otherwise if we follow Him, but we will still have sorrows and heartbreaks in this life. But heaven will be a complete vindication for those of us who have trusted in God in the here and now. This means that we will need faith all the way through our lives – all the way through till the end.
The conviction he proved, 11:17-19
Like Abraham, we will experience testing along the way and this testing will continue all the way to the end. Do you realize that you will be tested all the way through your life? Does it ever get easy or, at least, easier? Only if we become accustomed to denying ourselves and living for God. If our principles are in actuality self-serving, that is, if we are serving God only for what we can get out of it, then surely our obedience is mere pragmatism and nothing else. In the time of testing we will reveal the lack of character.
As a pastor, I am most familiar with church matters and things that pastors experience and quite a number of books have been written in recent years, practical books that can help someone know how to grow a church. These books are not all bad – many of them are great. If a man commits himself to learning, surrenders his time and energies to the Lord, becomes humble and sits at the feet of those who know more than he does about the subjects, he can be God’s instrument to grow a church. However, there will inevitably come a temptation for the individual to enjoy the peripheral or collateral blessings more than the ultimate goal of glorifying God.
We are always looking for shortcuts to happiness. And just as Satan lusted in his heart for the glory due God alone, so the temptation will come and the pastor will be tempted to think that the real reward for his service are these things, such as popularity, influence, comfortable living, any other thing that could be used to feed the impure desires of the human soul. And at the height of his success will come a testing to see whether he is really holding in his heart the conviction that to God belongs all glory and honor, whether he is really dying to self and living to God, whether he is really convicted that God built the church and that God could build it again, whether he is really convicted that God is good and kind and faithful and that in the end faithful, unselfish service to Him will reap the best kind of benefits in the life of the believer.
But doesn’t this same thing happen to a Christian in whatever field of endeavor the Lord leads him? To the Christian businessman, he builds his career and business based on integrity and Christian ethics and at the height of his success will come the testing of God. As Rudyard Kipling said, he will “risk it all in one game of pitch and toss”, but the important thing is to understand what it is that he is risking. Is his life about money or about integrity? Is he more jealous over his earnings than God’s reputation he carries as a believer?
To the physician who as a young man carefully built his practice and guarded his reputation with careful research and concentration on people’s sicknesses, at the height of his career he will be tested to see if he will cut corners and hide his mistakes. To the civil servant who entered his career with a determination to help his nation, at the height of his career will come testing to see if he will be part of the solution or part of the problem. This is the way it is all along the line.
Abraham had passed one test after another throughout his life, but these were just preparations for other tests. It is important that we understand the difference between a test that comes from God and a temptation that comes from Satan. God does not tempt us with evil, that is, He does not drag us away by accentuating our evil desires and entice us to do the wrong thing (James 1:13-15). Satan will place an evil thought into our hearts in the midst of a trial but God will not – though He will often place us in situations where we will be tested. He will also not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure but will with the temptation provide a way out, so we can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13). But don’t begrudge the tests of God because that is where we learn perseverance, wisdom, and maturity (James. 1:2-4).
1. Abraham was tested to offer up the dearest thing on earth to him – his son Isaac. He was commanded to go to Mount Moriah, or the mount where about 1,000 years later Solomon erected the first temple and where the Dome of the Rock, built in 691 AD, stands today.
2. Abraham’s testing can only be understood in light of a man who had walked with God in deep and intimate fellowship. Many peoples in those days practiced child sacrifice, but this was anathema to God and to anyone who walked with God. It is unthinkable that Abraham could have entertained such an idea on his own since he had indeed had a deep walk with God. But God spoke to him in such clear tones that he knew this was what he was being led to do – to sacrifice his son. Were the man’s integrity less we would classify him as a schizophrenic, someone who hears voices telling him to do insane things. But there are some things we can make out of this.
a. Abraham was tested to see if he loved his son more than God.
b. Abraham was tested to offer that thing that seemed to symbolize his entire life of obedience – Isaac, the child of promise.
c. Abraham was tested to see if he would put God ahead of the blessings of obedience to God, if he would put God ahead of the usefulness of his life of obedience. In his life he had been called to do something different from Enoch and Noah, but then he was tested to see if he would be willing to make a mid-course correction.
3. Abraham trusted that God could do what God wanted to do.
4. We can call this, the way of the cross, walking in obedience to the plan of God even when we are not sure where it is going. We will all be tested this way. Why does God test us?
a. To prove the genuineness of our faith
b. To increase the measure of our faith, Rom 4:20
c. To increase the quality of our faith, 1 Pet 1:7, Mal 3:3
d. To make us more fruitful, John 15:2
e. To share as a testimony with others, Phil. 1:12
5. Peter experienced such a testing on the night of Christ’s arrest. Jesus had told him that very week that His life would be like a kernel of wheat that falls to the ground and though the seed dies, ceases to exist as a seed, it produces many seeds. But in His dying Christ would be glorified. Peter, however, failed the test and reacted in the two ways that we are prone to react when we are tested – anger and fear. In anger he took a sword and struck at one of the arresting party. In fear he later denied that he even knew Christ. But then after the resurrection, Christ lovingly confronted Peter with his failure. “Do you truly love me more than these?” Jesus’ words are as unspecific in Greek as they are in English and scholars have debated whether Jesus meant, “Does your love for me surpass your love for them?” or “Does your love for me surpass their love for me?” But never mind the difference; both would have been appropriate. I, however, believe that Jesus meant the first: Peter, do you love me more than you love the fellowship of the disciples? Do you love me more than you love the peripheral blessings of following me? As to Abraham, Do you love me more than you love your son Isaac? In the words of Thomas a Kempis, the mature believer “values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.”
Closing: So here we are in February 2002 and we also are facing these three crises: the crisis of our calling, the crisis of our confidence, and the crisis of our conviction, and we will be tested on how we will respond to these three crises.
Illustration: Baker James Cauthen’s experience in following God’s plan during the years leading up to WWII. Evacuated first from China to the Philippines, which in those days seemed like the safest place on earth, and then returning against the advice of everyone to China. But they were able to live and minister there all through the war years. You are always safest when you are in the hands of God, following His will. Even if hardship or persecution or even death comes, then it is meaningful and purposeful.
Studies from Hebrews 11