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Archive for Faith

Faith Like Abraham’s

More pondering from the Ponderosa! We are given forever life – justified before God – by faith alone in Christ alone.  Where did we ever get this idea? We must go back to the very first time this amazing truth surfaced. It came through one that has been called the father of the faithful – that would be Abraham. Abram was 75 years old when God called him from a pagan lifestyle in a pagan land to go to another pagan land – Canaan. God promised to bless him, give him a great name, and make from him a great nation. He also promised to treat kindly those who treated Abram kindly and to treat with contempt those who treated him with contempt (Gen. 12:1-3). 

 

Abraham answered God’s call and launched out. His trust was solely in the word of God. I think the part of the promise that resonated in his mind was that God would make of him a great nation. A nation of people had to begin with at least one son. Abram was married to a barren wife (Gen. 11:30) and God was allowing him to grow older. The little hope that he held for having a son was beginning to vanish quickly. He became overwhelmed with worry. He reminded God that He had given him no son and his only heir was a trusted servant named Eliezer (as if God needed the information). God reminded Abram emphatically that his servant would not be his heir, but his heir would come from his own loins (his seed).

 

God set Abraham’s mind at ease with an astronomy lesson. He took Abraham outside his tent and told him to look up and count the stars if he could. Obviously, he could not! God said, “So shall your seed be” (Gen. 15:1-5). Now comes the very firm faith foundation upon which our salvation rests. “And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord (YHWH) and He (YHWH) accounted it to him (Abraham) for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Remember that YHWH (I Am) in the Old Testament is the Ego Eimi (I Am) in the New Testament. Abram was actually believing in Jesus Christ long before God became a man to die for sin. Amazing!

 

Note the little preposition “in.” It does not say that Abram believed YHWH, as though he just believed what YHWH said. He had already done that when he left his home in Ur. It says that he believed in the LORD. “Believed” is the Hebrew word amen! It means to lean upon or to rest one’s weight upon. Abram released his total spiritual weight upon the LORD. YHWH became the object of Abram’s faith. The LORD received his spiritual weight of trust and declared Abram to be right before Him. The word “righteousness” in the Hebrew is tsedekah (pronounced se-de-kah). God did not make Abram right – that is, He did not make Abram sinless; He pronounced Abram sinless before Him. It was a judicial declaration. Abram was still a great sinner.

 

Now, ponder this! It was not the quality of Abram’s faith that declared him right before God – it was the quality of theobject of Abram’s faith. It was not the strength of Abram’s faith that justified him before God – it was the strength of the object of Abram’s faith. Could the object (the one believed in) bear the weight of the one trusting in Him and did He have the spiritual clout to declare Abraham right?  Did God have the power to justify him by his faith alone? Certainly! It would be like crossing a river bridge. The amount of faith is not the issue in crossing the bridge. At issue is the strength of the bridge. If the person crossing the bridge has great faith in a very old, weak, rickety bridge, that person will likely get wet. But if the person has a small faith in a very strong bridge, that person will surely stay dry. The strong bridge will sustain the faith – whether the faith is weak or strong. When God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and died on the cross of Calvary and rose from the dead, He provided a very strong bridge to sustain the weakest of faith.  God will justify (declare right) all who believe in Christ.  Abram’s faith righteousness became the pattern for being justified before God for all of human history.

 

In the New Testament the parallel word to the Old Testament, tsedekah (righteousness) is dikaiosune (pronounced dik-ai-o-soo-nay). It is from this New Testament word that we get the word “justify,” or to declare right.  “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ” (Rom. 3:24). When Paul wanted to prove to the Galatians that justification was by faith alone and not by their works, he went back to this very truth. He said just as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness, so it would be with them (Gal. 3:6).  Paul used the same illustration with the Romans (Rom. 4:3), and James used it with his congregation (James 2:23). It is always good to go back and remind ourselves once again of the very truth proving that we are justified before God by faith alone.

 

God’s Promise to Abraham

Let’s ponder on some heavy thoughts today. God said to Abraham, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it” (Genesis 15:7).  It is as though God was saying, “Listen carefully, Abraham. I’m not going back on this.” Abraham responded, O Lord God, how (literally, on what basis) may I know (yada, may I have the intimate knowledge) that I will possess it (the land)?” 

God responded, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” One animal would have been sufficient. Abraham must have thought, “This is big.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. These clean animals produced a blood-splattered path through which the two covenant makers were to walk – hand in hand. When the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away (Gen. 15:9-11). Birds speak of a satanic attack. They represent the obstacles that Abram’s future family would face and the evil attempts to keep the fulfillment of the promise from happening: the slavery in Egypt, the evil influence of the pagan gods from Babylon, and the opposition from the various Arab groups. At the end of the day, these “vultures” will not prevent this covenant from being carried out.

As the sun was going down, the time when the two covenant makers were to join hands, God gave Abram a divine anesthetic. Abram fell into a deep sleep. Radam is the Hebrew word for natural sleep, but here the word used is tardema. It is the word used for a supernatural sleep. It is the same word used in Genesis 2:21 when the Lord put Adam to sleep and took one of his ribs. God completely took Adam out of the picture. He did the same with Abraham, removing any possibility of him being involved in the covenant-making process. It was as though Abraham had a nightmare. He saw a glimpse of future events, and he was terrified because his descendants were in for some rough times. God, speaking of his physical death, told Abram that he was going to go to his family in peace at a good old age.

Abraham never had to worry about two things: the perpetuation of his seed or his reception of the land. To confirm the covenant, God alone walked between the sacrifices. The smoking fire pot and the flaming torch were symbols of His presence (Genesis 15:17). How could Abram (and everyone who reads these words) absolutely know that the Jews would inherit the land? Because God alone walked through the sacrifice. How conclusive is that?

On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants, I have given this land.” The boundaries of the land are from the Nile River on the west to the great Euphrates River on the east (Genesis 15:18). This includes the Red Sea and all of the surrounding country. Someone said that the Red Sea is to become a Jewish lake. The eastern Sudan region includes Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Palestine. That is a chunk of land.

The Jews have occupied most of it but never all of it. They will not actually inhabit this land in its entirety until the kingdom reign of Jesus Christ. When the Son of David– the King – returns, He will hold in His hands the title deed (Revelation 5:1). This real estate was occupied during Abraham’s day by other nomadic groups: the Kenites (a tribe of nomads living south of the Dead Sea), the Kenezzites (who occupied the land of Judah), the Kadmonites (who lived east of the Jordan, Transjordania), the Hittites (who dwelt in eastern Turkey), the Perizzites (Canaanite giants of the northern kingdom), the Rephaim (the giants east of the Jordan), the Amorites (who occupied Iraq through Syria and all the land in between), the Canaanites (those who lived in Judah), the Girgashites, (not sure of location) and the Jebusites. The Jebusites occupied the old city of Salem (Jerusalem), the city on the hill, and it was most likely the home of Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God.  

Abraham was familiar with those people. God has scattered the Jews all over the world (beginning in 70 A.D.). Amazingly, in 1948 they became a tiny nation again.  Israel today is in open rebellion against the living God. Has God broken or pulled away from His promise to Abraham? Not at all. Someday God’s people will occupy this land. Someday it will be the center of a kingdom occupied by the physical and spiritual children of Abraham for a thousand years. Stay safe and stay tuned!

 

Abraham’s Fear; God’s Faithfulness

The word that clearly defines Christ’s identity and the value of His work on the cross is the word grace. Grace is the good news that God in the person of Jesus Christ became our once-and-forever sin substitute on the cross of Calvary. How is it possible for sinful people today to receive the benefits of God’s grace? It is possible because of faith (Eph. 2:8–9). 

To fully understand this, we must go back to Abraham, God’s champion of faith. God gave Abraham a command. “Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Every part of the promise to follow – a great nation, a great name, a blessing to all nations, and the response to how others would treat Abraham – was attached to this land (Genesis 12:1–3). It all is to happen when Abraham possessed the land (Jer. 23:5-8).

For Abraham to be the father of a great nation, he must have at least one son. Abraham had gone to the land, but God waited on the son part. And waited! And waited! He allowed Abraham to grow older and older, and Sarai, his wife, was barren from the jump (Gen. 11:30). God was teaching this couple that they were to trust totally in Him to do what He had said He would do.

Abraham grew very anxious and cried out to God, reminding Him of His promise. Abraham was old, and his only heir was his servant Eliezer of Damascus, who had been born in his household (Gen. 15:2–3). Abraham’s faith had understandably grown shaky, and maybe he reasoned that God would consider substituting Eliezer as an alternate heir. Abraham’s frustration came out. God reminded Abraham that He was going to give him a son that would come from his own body – his now old body (Genesis 15:4).

God took Abraham outside his tent and gave him a “can’t miss” astronomy illustration. He asked Abraham to count the stars if he could. God said, “So shall your descendants be” (Gen. 15:5). Multitudes of people were going to come from Abraham’s extended family. It was as though God said, “If I can create and control the billions of galaxies in the universe, do you suppose I can give you a son – even in your old age – Abraham?” Here is the absolute key to being justified before God. “Then he [Abraham] believed in the Lord” (Genesis 15:6a).

Moses, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave insight into the invisible thoughts of Abraham. There was silence, but there was not silence inside Abraham’s mind. Abraham made an invisible, personal choice. He believed in the Lord. The Hebrew word believe means “to trust” – literally to release one’s entire weight upon. Abraham leaned totally upon the Lord.

How did God respond to Abraham’s faith? “He [God] accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6b). God accepted Abrahams faith and declared him to be righteous before Him. That is justification! God declared Abraham to be forever right before Him because of Abraham’s faith and his faith alone. Abraham did not do anything, he just believed.

Notice the object of Abraham’s faith. He placed his faith in the Lord. The name LORD is all caps. It is speaking of the great I Am, who is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that the Yahweh of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New (Ex. 3:13-15; Jn. 8:56-58). In reality, Abraham had placed his personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is the key that opens to us the benefits of the finished cross work of Jesus Christ.

When Paul gave the gospel to the Galatians and the Romans, he referred back to this very incident to make his case that justification before God is by faith alone (Gal. 3:6; Rom. 4:3). Note carefully God’s words and Abraham’s words following Abraham’s personal faith in Yahweh – the Lord Jesus Christ. Every word matters. “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he (Abraham) said, “Lord God, how shall I knowthat I will inherit it?” (Gen. 15:7-8). The “it” cannot refer to the covenant – the agreement. It had not been given yet. The “it” refers directly to the land. Abraham’s concern “how shall I know” is about to be dealt with by God’s giving of a blood covenant.

This blood covenant – the animal sacrifices, the heifer, the goat, the dove, and the pigeon – looked forward to the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Nothing happens without the shedding of blood. Remember that God gave Abraham a divine anesthetic, taking him out of picture. Abraham was to have no part in the guarantee of the fulfillment of the covenant. God alone walked between the slain sacrifices. God Himself forever sealed the deal.

Father of the Faithful

Abraham was destined to become the father of the faithful. His life began millennia ago with God’s sovereign call. During Noah’s day, the Flood destroyed the earth and a sin-infected, genetically corrupt civilization. God’s plan to bring His promised Seed into the world started over with Noah and his family. Because of the depravity of humankind from the indwelling sin of Adam, this new race of people quickly began to spiral downward and will once again be judged by God – not with water but with fire (2 Pet. 3:6-10).

It seems as though God’s incredible promise that the “seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent” will never happen. God used Noah to give us a small glimpse of hope. Noah said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant” (Gen. 9:26). The Bible emphasizes that Shem’s God is the “Lord.” The word Lord (all caps) speaks of Yahweh, the self-existent great “I am,” of the Old Testament (Ex. 3:13-15), who is none other than Kurios, the Lord Jesus Christ of the New Testament (Jn. 8:56-59; Jn. 10:30).  

Noah was predicting that his son, Shem, would be connected to the promise-keeping God, just like Adam’s son Seth had been. Shem became God’s candle in the dark on this side of the Flood. The Genesis writer is saying that Shem would worship the living God and not the polytheism around him. It would be through his line that Messiah, the promised Seed of the woman, would come. Shem’s line led to a man named Terah, a pagan moon worshiper.

Terah lived seventy years and became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran (Gen. 11:10–32). Out of the three, God chose Abram to continue the line to the Messiah.  God also chose Abram to teach us to live by faith, not by sight.  Abram means “exalted father” or “father of the high place.” That name fit him well. He was likely – like his dad – a leader of pagan worship.  God’s call began with the unimpressive words “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Abram, at seventy-five years of age, gathered all his belongings, took his family, and launched out into the unknown. Talk about faith. God’s plan from the jump was to teach Abraham that no matter what this world affords, he was to trust totally in Him, the Giver of the gifts. As long as we have the Giver, we have the gifts.  

The promise of a “land that I will show you” is extremely important, even in this day.  God’s promise of a special piece of real estate has been severely underestimated by many godly Bible teachers and true believers. It has been over four thousand years since God called this moon-worshiping pagan from Chaldea to go to another desert place, the land of Canaan, yet this land is still in the picture. In fact, it seems to pop up everywhere all the time. The conflict surrounding this land is played out on the stage of world history and the noise from our media today.

God’s promise to Abram was “I will bless you.” The word “bless” (beracah) means “I will do good toward you.” Abram would have a special relationship with the living God. He would enjoy great wealth and peace and happiness, even though he lived in a lowly tent his entire life. This would not be very impressive unless one realized that Abraham lived 175 years. Oh!

Abraham’s tent became a very important object lesson. A tent is a temporary dwelling place. God taught Abram every day, with every entrance and exit from that tent, that his life on this earth was fleeting; this world was not to be his permanent home. He was, as the song says, “just a passin’ through.” Abraham waited for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). Abraham was not to grow fond of this world’s stuff (1 Jn.2:15-17). Like my father in the Lord, Nap Clark, so often said, “Love people and use stuff, not the other way around.” People are permanent, stuff is temporary.

Also, a tent was not a good fortress against things that could hurt him: the weather, critters of every kind, viruses, and enemies everywhere. They could easily break through the walls and take or destroy everything that he had. He had to depend solely upon God for protection – or not.  

Finally, a tent was intended to instill great humility. There is not much to brag about while living in a tent. It would be difficult even to hang the pictures. God used the tent in order that Abraham’s life would glorify (shed light upon) Him. A correct knowledge of God and a personal relationship with Him make us exceedingly wealthy and happy (and safe) no matter what our physical circumstances might be. And by the way, did I mention that we all live in a tent – it’s our physical body (2 Cor. 5:1).  This world is not our home, either.  Stay safe and stay tuned.

 

We Are to Live by Faith

We are to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Abraham left his home in Chaldea to follow the living God by faith. He received his inheritance in Canaan by faith. He lived in a tent his entire life. Not much protection against rain, robbers, or critters – for 175 years.  How would you like to be living in a tent while sheltering in place? He knew his home was not here. Abraham trusted in the promise of God and not what he could see.

Noah also trusted in the unseen when he heard God’s Word and went to work. We know he did because he built an ark. He believed that the rain was coming though he had never seen it. His faith moved him to work. Board by board, for 120 years he proclaimed his work of faith. He was ridiculed and mocked, yet he worked on – by faith. God says that it is impossible to please Him without faith (Hebrews 11:6). You might be thinking, If God would only give me some visible proof, then I would follow Christ. But faith does not need visible proof. Faith does not need sight or touch. God has given us His Word – it is enough. By faith, we are to work to understand what He has said, and then do it – by faith.

Hebrews highlighted several Old Testament saints, giving credibility to their living faith. Each one was given few details, but they put their trust and hope in the teaching that God gave them. That defines the substance of faith. Though many lived and died without seeing the reality behind their faith, they trusted God’s Word, nonetheless. Note the recorded work of faith of these saints. By faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. By faith, Enoch was taken away. By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. By faith, Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons. By faith, Joseph gave instructions about his bones. By faith, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter but esteemed the reproaches of Christ greater than the riches of Egypt. By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down. 

Then the long list of those who lived solely for the gospel; Gideon and Barak, Sampson and Jephthah, David and Samuel, and all the prophets. They subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, and turned to flight the armies of aliens. They were imprisoned, tortured, and martyred. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins. They were said to be those of whom this world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:32–38).

The Scripture never gives any details about the saving faith of most of these people, but we know that the root was there because we read of its fruit. All of these testimonies had one common link. Catch this glimpse! Their faith all worked together to get Jesus Christ to Calvary and to the empty tomb. God’s the Genius! Abel pictured Him. Enoch pictured Him. Noah and the ark pictured Him. Abraham’s offering of Isaac pictured Him. Jacob’s ladder pictured Him. Joseph pictured Him. In a remarkable way they all had Jesus Christ as the object of their faith. Amazing! 

Every person listed in Hebrews 11 had a part to play in God’s big grace picture. What about you and me? The list concludes with a challenge. Since we have this long list of examples, let them motivate us to lay aside every hindering burden or any sin that would trip us up and let us run with patience the race set before us keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus(Hebrews 12:1–2). But wait!  

Did I mention that this list is still being written? Our faith work is obviously not to get Christ to Calvary and the empty tomb but to make His gospel known to the world and to prepare for His coming. We are still to bear fruit pleasing to Him. The work will be done more effectively when we lay aside everything that holds us back and the sin that traps us and run with patience the race that is before us. We are to stay on course by fixing our eyes on the prize – Jesus Christ. Amazing! Stay safe and stay tuned.

 


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