If there is one thing to be learned from the life of this patriarch Abraham, it is that faith in God requires more than simple obedience; it requires complete surrender. God sometimes asks us to let go of the one thing we hold most dear. In Abraham's case it was his son, Isaac. But as Abraham loosens his grip on his own possessions and tightens his grip on God's promises, he will teach us all a lesson about the type of faith that pleases God.
Like Father Like Son
After observing the American culture for several years, one author wrote these rather piercing, convicting words; “I [am confused as to why] so many people live so badly. . .there is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture; we have celebrities but not saints. . .neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets headlines; if on the other hand we look around for what it means to be a mature whole blessed person, we don't find much; they aren't easy to pick out. No journalist [will ever] interview them, no talk show [will ever] feature them; they’re not admired, they’re not looked up to, they do not set trends; there isn’t any cash value in them; at the end of the year when magazines are compiling the lists for the ten best dressed celebrities; the ten most beautiful women; the ten most eligible men; at years end, no one ever compiles a list of the ten best lived lives; no Oscars are given for integrity; [the truth is], our society is devoid of models; the pedestals are empty.”
Eugene Petersen, Run With The Horses
If you look around on your campus, among the faculty, throughout the corporate hallway, in the stands at a game, at the shop or in the local grocery store – it’s true, just as this author said – “you will find little to admire and even less to imitate.”
What a challenge that is to every one of us who represent Jesus Christ in the world.
Is there anything about our actions and our words that’s worth admiring?! Anything worth imitating?
Jesus Christ commanded His disciples, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven..” (Matthew 5:16)
Paul Gilbert put it this way in his famous little poem:
You are writing a gospel,
A chapter every day,
By the deeds that you do,
By the words that you say;
Men read what you write,
Whether faithless or true,
Say – what is the gospel, according to you?!
Robert J. Morgan, Stories, Illustrations & Quotes (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN), 2000, p. 275
An anonymous poet put the same idea a little differently when he wrote, I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.
I’d rather one would walk with me than merely show the way;
The eye’s a better pupil and much sharper than the ear,
Fine counsel might confuse me, but example’s always clear,
The lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
Ibid, p. 274
We’ve been observing Abraham now through several studies in Romans chapter 4. And for the first time, we are specifically told that what has been written about Father Abraham has been written for us to imitate.
And what I want to do as we conclude our study in this chapter and on this man’s life is to give you some lessons. These are lessons learned by having watched Abraham through the video lens of scripture.
7 lessons, in fact, that are not only to be learned, but imitated . . . believed.
1) The first lesson is this: Salvation doesn’t depend on who you are, it depends on who you know.
To put it in the clearest terms possible, we are not only to be like Abraham, we are to believe like Abraham.
We are to follow Abraham’s example in the most important issue of all – the issue of personal salvation.
And we have clearly been taught by the Apostle Paul – salvation is not based on who you are but in who you know – Jesus Christ.
Notice in Romans 4:22. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was reckoned to him, 24. but for our sake also to whom it will be reckoned/credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25. He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
Salvation is not based on who you are but on who you know; furthermore, salvation does not depend upon what you do, but upon what Christ has done for you.
Look back again at verse 5 of this same chapter, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.”
Pastor Gary Tolbert told the story about a little boy who had come with his parents to see the sights and monuments of Washington, D.C. When they arrived at the Washington Monument, the boy was speechless – staring up at the obelisk that stretched into the heavens. Then he noticed a guard standing by it. The little boy walked up to the guard and said, “I want to buy it.” He motioned toward the Washington Monument. The guard said, “Excuse me?” The boy said a little louder, “I want to buy that!” The guard bent down and asked, “Well, just how much money do you have?” The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out 25 cents. The guard said, “I’m sorry son, that's not enough.” The boy replied, “I thought you’d say that,” and he reached into his other pocket and pulled out 9 more cents and held all 34 cents up to the guard. The guard looked down at the boy and then squatted down and said to the disappointed negotiator, “Listen son, you need to understand some things; first of all, you don’t have enough money to buy this thing - 34 cents or 34 million would not be enough to buy the Washington Monument; secondly, you need to know that the Washington Monument is not for sale. But you also need to know that if you are an American citizen, the Washington Monument already belongs to you; it’s already yours.”
You know what you can learn from Father Abraham? Justification, forgiveness, eternal life with God in heaven cannot be purchased. In fact, none of us would ever have enough money to buy things as priceless as those. You also need to know those things aren’t for sale anyway. But the good news is this; when you place your faith in the cross-work of Jesus Christ, all those things belong to you. They’re yours.
So, the first lesson, and arguably the most important lesson from Romans chapter 4 and the life of Abraham is this, salvation doesn’t depend on who you are, it depends on who you know.
Lesson #2 “You can believe God’s promises even if they seem to good to be true.”
Heading through the Arabian desert, away from Ur, he must have scratched his head thinking, “What in the world is God up to?”
The point was, and still is today, God happens to know what He is up to!
Lesson #3 “You should obey God’s commands even without a good explanation.”
“Abraham,” God said in Genesis 12, “I’m going to make you a father of nations. Did he comprehend that promise? No.
“Abraham, all the world will be blessed by your seed.” Did he fully comprehend all of that? No.
“Abraham, I want you to take your son Isaac and sacrifice him to me on the altar.” Did he understand the implications? Could he have used a little more information . . . some sort of explanation?
But he obeyed.
Maybe the reason there aren’t more Christians imitating Abraham in faith and obedience is because too many of them are waiting for more information . . . a better explanation.
Some are waiting for guarantees.
Others are waiting for better conditions.
The church of Jesus Christ is filled with mediocre Christians who will not surrender their lives to God until He explains what He plans to do with them.
That was Peter’s problem at the end of John’s Gospel account. The Apostle Peter was walking with the resurrected Lord. He saw John following at a distance and he asked the Lord, “Lord, what about this man?” “Lord, what are you going to do with John?” And the Lord answered and said to Peter, “What is that to you?” In other words, “That’s none of your business!” Then he added the command to Peter, “You follow me.”
Not only does God not give an explanation concerning the lives of others – He doesn’t fully explain His plans regarding your life either. He just says, “You . . . follow me!”
Lesson #4 “People of great faith aren’t perfect.”
I’m so glad to have learned that I’m not told to imitate perfection.
Even the great Apostle Paul, whom we would say without hesitation was a model of faith and faithfulness, once wrote these encouraging words, “"Not that I have arrived or have already become perfect, but I press on. . ." (Phil. 3:12)
I press on!
Like Paul you admit – I haven’t arrived and I’m not perfect, but I’m pressing on!”
Being a man or woman of faith requires on the job training. And you don’t learn obedience safely tucked inside some classroom or auditorium.
I can remember being concerned about our first born sons (twin boys) learning developmentally to walk and talk at the right time. While they are, today, athletic 16 year olds . . . in fact, they won second place in the state tournament, defeating one team in the tournament that hadn’t been defeated in 3 years . . . just thought I’d throw that in.
There was a time when we weren’t sure how much balance and coordination they had. One of our boys never even crawled – he just sort of pulled himself along with one arm like some wounded soldier on the beach at Normandy.
Well, like most young parents, my wife and I wondered if they were progressing on time. By the time we had our 4th child, we had completely changed. We didn’t care if she was on schedule with walking or not – in fact we didn’t really want her to learn. It was so much easier when she stayed in one place.
But isn’t that the typical progression of parents. Your first child’s pacifier falls on the floor and you boil it in water; with the second child - you rinse it off; with your last child, you wipe it on their shirt and plug it back in! By now you’ve seen them eat enough dirt and sand for fun – and they survived.
All four of our children learned to walk the same way yours did. They learned how to walk by failing . . . over and over again. And no child ever said to himself, “I’m gonna try three more times and that’s it.” Never.
I want you to know that learning to walk physically, is a lot easier than walking spiritually. Why do you think the Apostle Paul urged the believers to “walk in the Spirit, and not according to the flesh.”
And what believer ever learned to walk in the Spirit by saying, “I’m gonna give it three more tries, and that’s it!” Never.
People of great faith are not perfect . . . in fact, they have learned how to walk by faith by failing.
They are the ones who’ve been are taught by their gracious and patient Lord, that failure in the Christian life is never fatal.
Lesson #5; Here’s another lesson to be learned by watching God work in Abraham’s life . . . stepping out in faith will probably mean the start of real problems.
While submitting to the sovereignty of God is the only life where true fulfillment is found . . . at the same time, you step out in faith and wham! Be prepared for challenges like never before.
The Christian life is often a paradox . . . valleys of low depth and mountain peaks of exhilarating joy – sometimes separated by just a few minutes.
Consider the account of Jesus Christ, being baptized by John the Baptist in Matthew chapter 3; the Spirit descending upon Jesus Christ like a dove – the Father’s voice from heaven speaks – “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately after that incredible description of the triune God in unity together, Jesus is led into the wilderness where he is tested by Satan.
We have the idea that if God the Father were to say to us, “I really love you and am proud of you,” that the last thing to happen would be a follow up time of personal attack by Satan.
We think that when the Father says, “I love you and am proud of what you’re doing,” that means life is going to get easier . . . better . . . happier . . . richer even.
NO! It may just mean that you’re ready for a real battle.
Abraham obeyed God and left his home. He followed the command of God and wham! There was a famine in the land!
What you learn from watching Abraham is that initial obedience to God is the starting point – not the final destination.
We have the misconception that deciding to live for Christ is all that matters. “Lord, I surrender to you. I want to be like Christ.” Great, that takes care of my spiritual maturity.
The truth is, once you’re on it, you discover that the path of faith is not level. It is certainly not a descending hill upon which you can coast. That’s not faith – that’s fantasy!
Most often, it is an ascending trail, designed by God to develop the muscle and ligament of faith in the believer’s character.
So you need to be ready . . . deciding to live for God may invite nothing less than tremendous battles.
I have been reading through the letters of Paul, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in his New Testament paraphrase entitled, “The Message.”
This past week I read the letters written by Paul to Timothy and Titus – two young pastors in the early church.
In 2 Timothy chapter 3 he paraphrases the verse so vividly that I couldn’t forget it: it read, “Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there’s no getting around it!”
That jarred me when I first read it! And it’s a very accurate paraphrase to the original text in 2 Timothy 3:12. “Anyone who wants to live for Christ is in for a lot of trouble.”
You won’t find that verse on posters with eagles flying over snow capped mountain tops. That verse is probably not hanging in anybodies kitchen or carved into wood and put on somebody’s desk.
But isn’t that a great verse. Isn’t that the kind of verse that will encourage all of you who stand up and say, “I belong to Jesus Christ.”
Like Abraham, you live all out for God . . . and know, that may be the start of some real problems!
Lesson #6 - Here’s another lesson from the biography of Abraham; the life of faithfulness is not one decision, but many.
Fred Kradic wrote this insightful parable on the Christian life: he wrote, “To give our life for Christ appears glorious. Though to pour ourselves out for others, to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom, ‘I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory.’ The problem is, we think that giving our all to the Lord is like taking a 10,000 dollar bill and laying it on the altar and saying, ‘Okay, Lord, here’s my all. Take it all and use it.’ But the Lord hands us the 10,000 dollar bill back and He says, ‘I want you to go to the bank and I want you to exchange it for quarters.’ And [therein lies the faithfulness of the Christian life]. As you walk with God, you put out 25 cents here and 25 cents there; sharing the gospel; forgiving an enemy; giving food to someone hungry; pulling weeds; painting the house of a widow; parking cars on Sunday” – I added those words; and these – greeting newcomers, listening to teenagers, putting out chairs, teaching children stories and songs, rocking little ones in the nursery, making phone calls for ministries, stuffing inserts into Communiques, manning the lights during the services . . . and on and on. Usually giving our life to Christ is not a glorious thing. It’s not done in amazing, glorious acts, it’s done 25 cents at a time.
The life of faithfulness is not summed up by one heroic act, but by many simple, ordinary, even mundane acts of obedience and character and faith.
Lesson #7 The last thing I have observed from the life of Father Abraham is this; Being remembered as a person of faith, obedience and courage will require moments of faith, obedience and courage.
How many would like to be listed in the hall of faith – Hebrews 11!
Listen to what the writer of Hebrews said, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)
That’s how you become known as Abraham was known. Willing to risk, willing to change, willing to serve, willing to follow after God.
Don’t forget, according to his biography in the Book of Genesis, Abraham was asked to leave:
1. His society
2. His stability
3. and his security.
He left it all. How could he do that? By sheer faith in the promise of God’s word, that God would provide. You have that same promise by the way.
And may I remind you that you’ve actually done something similar to Abraham, many times over. You’ve exercised faith in someone’s word before.
When you bought that automobile from that salesman, you exercised faith in his word that the car you’d just bought would last. When you bought that home, you exhibited faith and courage, based on the sheer promise of another person that there weren’t any surprises waiting in the attic or the basement.
For you guys who are married . . . you proposed . . . you told her that you loved her and on the basis of your word, she said yes. And she’s lived to regret it! No, not you. Think about it. You asked her to marry you and then you told her you would take care of her for the rest of her life – and she believed you! Sheer faith in your word. And she altered her entire life around your promise. Everything would change.
That’s what courageous Abraham did – he altered his entire life around the promise of God.
You want to be known as a person of faith and obedience and courage? You want to imitate Abraham. Do you want people to say, “You remind me of your Father in the faith – Abraham?
Do you want it to be, like Father, like son . . . or daughter?
If you want to be a person of faith and obedience and courage, you have to exhibit faith and obedience and courage!
He went out, not knowing where he was going. He just knew that God was leading! And that was enough for him!
Sam Kamaleson, who is the vice president of a mission organization, told the story of a seventy year old lady who came to faith in Christ. She didn’t know any better, so one day she approached her pastor and said, “I believe God has called me into some sort of ministry. What should I do?” He said, “Maybe you ought to go home and pray about it.” That’s classic advice – when you don’t have an answer, say something spiritual.
She did. She went home and began to pray. It seemed that God was impressing her heart to do one particular thing. She went down to the drugstore, she bought a batch of 3 by 5 cards and wrote on those cards theses words: “Are you homesick? Come to my home for tea at 4:00.” She lived in Melbourne. Then she took that stack of 3 by 5 cards and went all around the University of Melbourne putting them on poster boards, placing them in places where people would see them, at the cafeteria, leaving them everywhere. Are you homesick? Come to my home at 4:00 for tea. So she prepared tea at 4:00. Days went by, nobody came, but she continued to prepare tea. Finally on the fifteenth day an Indonesian student showed up at her door homesick and was as eager to talk as she was to listen. So she served him tea and listened. He got back to campus and told all his friends, “Hey, you won’t believe it. I met a lady that’s just like my grandmother.” Soon many were coming to her home. God gave that lady a ministry for ten years.
When she died, there were no less than 70 pallbearers, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, international students who had come to her home and found Jesus Christ. She’d served them tea and shared the Gospel. Here’s a lady who had heard and obeyed the call of God.
She lived like Abraham . . . imitating his faith . . . replicating his obedience . . . sharing his passion for the One, Paul wrote about at the end of chapter 4, who was delivered up so that we could be forgiven of our transgressions, and was raised from the dead so that we could be saved.
Sons and daughters, not just of Abraham, but of God, through our faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
He is Lord, He is Lord, He is risen from the dead and He is Lord,
Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.