The Faith of Abraham

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God is looking for a few good men (and a few good women!). God is looking for the righteous to dwell with Him forever. The holy will be granted passage into his glorious kingdom and bestowed with everlasting life.

But, God cannot allow the impure to dwell with Him, the unholy cannot stand before Him, and there is only one man who has lived a perfect and holy life, who can rightfully dwell with God, and that was the Lord Jesus Christ. No one else in the history of the world has lived a perfect holy life, nor will there ever be in the future.

However, there have been a few good men and women in the past who have impressed God with aspects of their lives who give us much to look up to for guidance.

Before the days of Abraham, there were few who had gained God’s approval. Enoch was one of them. He was described as “walking with God”, before he was taken away. This wasn’t just a casual walking alongside God in the park, or a seaside stroll, but rather a continual hand-in-hand relationship that deserved a special mention.

Then we have Noah, who at a time when the world population was probably in excess of 1 billion, was one of the few who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8). All mankind, except Noah and his family, was destroyed because Noah was a righteous man who had faith in God and the rest of the world was wicked.

It wasn’t until 300 or 400 years after the flood that the next truly remarkable character comes along. Abraham stands out above everyone else in the Old Testament, and aside from Jesus, and perhaps Moses, is arguably the most important man in the whole of scripture.

He was so significant that God sought him out to give him some very special promises. God said to Abraham:

Gen 12:2-3

(2) And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God promised that he was going to make Abraham the father of a great nation and that his name would become great. He would receive the special protection of the Lord and that anyone who was to be blessed by God would be blessed through Abraham.

Why did God choose Abraham to be this great ambassador and to receive these great blessings?

God had looked upon the whole earth and he saw one attribute in Abraham that he saw in greater quantities than in anyone else. That was the attribute of faith. God places enormous value on faith.

Rom 4:9-13

(9) Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. (10) How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. (11) He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, (12) and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (13) For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

God calls for his children to live by faith and there was no one in the Old Testament who demonstrated that faith as ably as Abraham. God wants a living faith, one that changes how we live. A faith that is untested is worthless, and just like the talent hidden in the earth, unless it’s put to work it won’t yield any gains.

There are many ways in which our faith is tested. We will know ourselves when our faith is put under scrutiny.

Let me give you a visual example of faith. Here is a quick physics lesson! I’m sure you are all familiar with the idea of a pendulum. A pendulum is a weight that is suspended from a line and allowed to swing freely under the influence of gravity. You’ll find them in grandfather clocks. Due to period of time it takes to complete one cycle remaining the same regardless of how high it swings, depending only on the length of the line, they make very effective timekeepers.

Now, if you are familiar with the law of conservation of energy, (that’s the one that tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed), you will understand that a pendulum can never return to a point higher than where it was released (unless you give it a push of course and add energy). In fact because of friction with the air it will fall short of it’s original point, getting lower each time, because it will have lost energy, and eventually come to rest at the bottom.

I could demonstrate that is true by taking a piece of string with a small weight on the end and letting it go and showing that it won’t return to a position higher than the starting point.

If I then asked you whether you believe whether that law was true I’m sure you would all say that you do, it’s common sense really. You have complete faith that the pendulum will not return to higher than where it started.

Now imagine there is a giant pendulum hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the room. There is a strong piece of wire holding a 100kg wrecking ball which can swing freely across the room. I’d like to invite you now to imagine you are standing on top of a table with your back against the wall, and this heavy pendulum is brought up and held virtually touching the tip of your nose. If you believe that the law of conservation of energy is true, then as giant mass is released, you will more than happily watch it travel across the room, and return to short of the release point. You know that the law is true so there is absolutely no danger to your nose.

If you were in that position would you still believe that the law was true? Common sense tells you that it’s absolutely true and safe, so after a slight pause to consider, I’m sure you’d still have faith to step up and prove it.

As you watch the 100kg of concrete make its way rapidly away from your nose you’d probably be feeling okay, but as it reaches the far end of its swing and pauses for a moment you are perhaps starting to feel a little apprehensive. Of course it’s true, you tell yourself, it’s obvious it won’t hit you, but maybe there is a little bit of doubt creeping into your mind.

It gains momentum as it speeds back towards your face this is where your faith is really tested. Do you watch the brain-busting mass swing back to within an inch of your nose or do you dive off the table in self-preservation? Now do you have the faith you thought you had? Where did that doubt come from? How many of us would at least flinch?

The perceived enormity of the situation will obviously have a bearing on how far our faith is tested. If you put 1kg weight on the pendulum instead of a 100kg weight then I’m sure we’d all feel much more confident, but the reality is the danger is exactly the same. There is none. In each case we are perfectly safe from harm.

It’s easy to say that our faith will withstand the test, but it’s a much different thing to actually prove it.

That’s what Genesis 22 is all about.

Gen 22:1-2

(1) After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” (2) He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

God tested Abraham’s faith to the limit. Although others such as Jephthah sacrificed his daughter and the King of Moab sacrificed his son, only Abraham was asked to make the sacrifice by God, and what a request it was from God.

Like anything of value, we expect it to be tested to show that it is true and faith. The more important something is, the more rigorous we expect the testing to be. Think of the cars we drive, the pharmaceutical drugs we take, being put through many tests before they are proven to be safe. When a ship is built, it’s only when it’s put to sea that it’s put to the test, while it sits in the dry dock it can only claim seaworthiness. It’s the testing that proves worth.

With Abraham we have one of the most important men of the Bible, he was chosen by God and given many special promises. He was selected for his faith, and he was to be a role model for faith so it was important that faith was tested rigorously.

He was given a choice to make. Who did he love more? God, or his son?

That’s the same question that Jesus has said that we will have to consider at times during our life.

Mat 10:37-39

(37) Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (38) And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (39) Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Do we love God or our families more? Do we love God or our possessions more? At some point we will have to decide what’s important to us and it’s natural to try and compromise our relationship with God so we can try and keep both, twisting and bending our beliefs to accommodate everything else of value to us.

Abraham had total faith in God’s plan. He knew that God had promised that he would be the father of a great nation through Isaac and he had faith that God’s promise was true, so even if he sacrificed his son he had faith that God would bring him back from the dead.

Heb 11:17-19

(17) By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, (18) of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (19) He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Abraham knew the law of God. Like with the pendulum unable to return to higher than its start point, Abraham knew that God could not lie. He had complete faith in the word of God. He knew that if God’s word was true then Isaac’s life was never in danger, but when it came to test that faith he stepped up and showed its value.

Gen 22:3

(3) So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

There was no hesitation, no questioning of why God had asked him to sacrifice his son of promise, and arose early the next morning and got on with the task in hand. Surely if we were asked to do the same we would want to put off the journey, we would have found other things to do, at least until later in the day. That shows how strong his faith was.

Now compare that to Matthew 14, and the incident where Jesus walks on water. Here we have several more examples of faith, or lack of faith.

Jesus walked on the water, not just a few steps from the boat, but he had walked all the way from the shore. This was an act of faith, and Jesus in the same way as Abraham had complete faith and trust in God, never for a second doubting the power of God to keep him from sinking.

Peter had the faith to walk on the water too, at least until he took his eyes off Jesus and looked around and saw the perceived danger that he was in and he began to doubt. Maybe if it hadn’t been dark he would have had enough faith, maybe if it had been calm he wouldn’t have taken his eyes off Jesus.

At least he had the faith to get out of the boat though, and we perhaps never give him enough credit for that. The other eleven stayed put in the relative safety of the boat while Peter put his faith to the test. At least he got out of the boat.

Compared to the eleven Peter had more faith, but he tends to come off looking worse as he found his faith wasn’t strong enough and had to call out to Jesus to save him, though of course there is an important lesson for us there too.

Remember, it’s only when our faith is put to the test do we find out its value. Sometimes we may show more or less faith than those around us, but remember our faith should be compared with that of Jesus and not the faith of other people around us. If we compare ourselves to Jesus there is always room for improvement, but if we have the faith to step out of the comfort of the boat into the storm, as long as we have our eyes on Jesus, our faith will hold fast.

Faith is possibly the most important element of being a Christian. For without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever draws near to God must believe he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. It is through faith that we are saved, not through works or through the law, but having the faith to trust in the saving name of Christ, knowing, like Abraham, that the promises God has made are absolutely true.

Gal 3:23-27

(23) Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. (24) So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, (26) for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Throughout the Bible we see examples of people being saved by their faith, for example the sinful woman who came and anointed Jesus’ feet was told that her faith had saved her, and to go in peace. The people who touched the garments of Jesus believing they would be healed at the end of Matthew 14 came in faith. Noah was saved because of the faith he had to build the ark. Rahab was saved by faith because she welcomed the spies.

For us, our faith in Jesus is what will save us, but that faith will be, and must be tested, as it serves to prove it, to sharpen it, and to strengthen it.

1Pe 1:3-7

(3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, (5) who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (6) In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, (7) so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

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