In continuing our studies on Abraham’s journey of faith, today we looked at the three Rs of faith: no, not reading, writing and ‘rithmetic (it has always struck me as amusingly ironic that the three Rs didn’t actually begin with R!), but faith received, faith rationalised and faith realised.
Faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9). When we start out on this journey of faith, we do so because we have heard the word of God and it has created faith within us, so that we are responding to something that God has already done. Paul tells the Romans: “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Rom 10:17) Jesus told His disciples that “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (John 15:16) As Matt Redman says in ‘King of Wonders’, ‘You reveal and we respond.’
Abraham receives ongoing revelations of God which deepen his faith. The original calling in Genesis 12:1-3 is supplemented by further revelations in Genesis 15 and Genesis 17. When we receive these visions and deepening revelations of who God is and what He wants to do in our lives, we are changed. ‘Abram’ – exalted father – became ‘Abraham’ – father of many nations.
Abraham didn’t always get it right, however. We looked at three occasions when he rationalised his faith: Genesis 12:10-20, when he lied about Sarai to the leaders,Genesis 16, when he listened to his wife’s advice about how to get a son, and Genesis 20, when he again lied about his relationship to Sarai to Abimelek.
Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to faith. Abraham lied to the leaders about his relationship with Sarah because he feared for his own life – despite God’s promises! Abraham tried to work things out in his own strength, using his own strategies. These may well have seemed logical and sensible and even rational to him. But they were not God’s strategies.
When Abraham listened to Sarah’s suggestion to have a son through her servant, Hagar, he was again following cultural precedents and the voice of ‘sensible logic’ rather than living by faith. God had a plan for Abraham and Sarah that did not need their intervention to make the promise come true. He was perfectly capable of doing the impossible and of bringing life from their barren bodies. But they looked at things from the natural, visible point of view and did not look with the eyes of faith, and so all they could see were impossibilities. That’s why they chose to act as they did. However they rationalised their actions, however much they blamed the culture around them, at the end of the day, what they did was sinful, because it failed to put God into the equation of their lives. They were trying to work out something spiritual with natural means and it just doesn’t work. Promises that have their origin in God will have their fulfilment in God as well – the God who does thing in an upside-down way as far as we are concerned (1 Cor 1: 27-29).
In Genesis 21, we see faith realised. We see the fulfilment of the promise. We see the son of promise born to Abraham, just as God said. ‘The Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.’ ‘Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.’ Faith, when it has been received and after it’s been rationalised, is realised.
“When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do…Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously sceptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.” (Rom 4:18-25, The Message)
Hebrews 10:35-39 urges us to hold on to God’s promises with perseverance and tenacity. If we persevere and do the will of God, we will receive what He has promised.