Introduction to Abraham: the Man of Faith

Genesis is a big book. It contains fifty chapters, which would take a significant amount of time to work straight through. Fortunately, Genesis is composed of two major parts. The first part is found in chapters 1-11. This is called the primeval history, and it covers four gigantic, earth-shaping events: Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the tower of Babel. Each of those events made the world into what it is today; therefore, those first eleven chapters are massively epic in scope. The second part of Genesis (chapters 12-50) takes a decidedly different focus. Instead of focusing upon large-scale events, beginning in chapter 12, Genesis narrows in on the life of one man, Abraham, and his family. Though the overall themes of blessings and curses continue, the latter portion of Genesis hones in on the family of Abraham and God’s blessings to them. However, even as we focus specifically upon the life of Abraham in chapters 12-24, we will notice another important theme coming into play in Abraham’s life: faith.

What Is Faith?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[1] The book of Hebrews’ definition of faith rings out to us today (two thousand years after it was written) proclaiming that faith is an assurance and conviction. Faith is trust or confidence being placed in what is not seen by the naked eye. Because we serve an unseen God, faith plays a crucial role in our relationship with God. In fact, Hebrews informs us “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”[2] This makes sense. In order to please God, we must first believe that He exists, and believing in the existence of God requires faith. By believing in His existence, we are placing our conviction on things not seen. Therefore, belief in God is predicated upon faith.

However, the importance of faith does not stop at belief in God’s existence. In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul states that God has revealed Himself to everyone by at least two means. First, God reveals Himself through His creation.[3] By observing the creation around us (including ourselves), we understand that creation necessitates a creator. Therefore, we know that God is Creator and powerful enough to form all that exists. Second, God reveals Himself through innate morality.[4] God gave the internal moral compass, known as our conscience, to us. He did this so that we would know that God is Lawgiver. He has rules and commands, and He demands obedience to them. We know this because we inherently feel guilt whenever we violate our conscience. Thus, because God reveals Himself as Creator and Lawgiver, we are able to look upon our lives with realization that we have violated the Creator’s laws.

Offending the omnipotent Creator leaves us in quite a bind. We deserve the full wrath of God, and because God is eternal, our wrongdoings cause Him eternal offense. Our punishment, therefore, must be eternal as well. There is also no means by which we can bribe God. If we are guilty of even the smallest of sins, it is because God demands perfection from our lives. Sin irrevocably breaks innocence. A perfect life is no longer attainable with even one sin present. How then are we to pay the penalty of our sin? We cannot strive harder for a perfect life. Living the rest of our lives without sin is simply doing what we were meant to do in the first place. We cannot offer to God as extra something that He already demanded as minimum. The only solution is to spend an eternity in punishment for breaking the Creator’s law. What hope is there for us then?

Saved Through Faith

Fortunately, faith is the assurance of things hoped for. We hoped that God would provide an alternative route, a means of absorbing the punishment for our sins so that we do not have to do so for eternity. God did this in Christ. Jesus was born of a virgin, deity incarnate, fully God and fully human. By living a sinless life, He lived the life we were supposed to live. Though without sin, He died upon a cross, dying the death we were supposed to die. When God lived a sinless life as a man and died an undeserved death, He did so in our place. He died that death for us. Because Jesus was of eternal value, His physical death paid the eternal price of our sin. Therefore, after paying for our sins, Christ offers to us forgiveness for our sins. This is called grace. We do not deserve to be forgiven or for Christ to pay our debt, but He did. The Apostle Paul emphatically declares of us: “by grace you have been saved through faith.”[5] Notice the apostle’s wording. We have been saved by grace, by the undeserved gift of Christ’s substitution, and we have been saved through faith. We are saved through faith because by faith, we place our complete confidence in the work of Christ. Only through the lens of faith do we realize that salvation “is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[6] It requires great faith to trust in the merit of another to be applied on our behalf. We are saved by grace through faith. Grace is the means, and faith is the mode.

The Significance of Abraham

Faith, therefore, is at the very center of our… well, our faith. Of all the men in the Bible, there is none that exemplifies faith quite like Abraham. Galatians even goes so far as to call Abraham “the man of faith”, which gives us our series subtitle by the way.[7] Indeed, Abraham is incredibly significant in the Bible. He was the first Hebrew, the father of Israel. Because of this, many Israelites would claim to be God’s chosen people by their blood relation to Abraham; however, Paul emphasizes that those who have faith in God are the sons of Abraham. In fact, with so much of the Bible presuming an understanding of Abraham’s story, it is crucial that we know the significance of this forerunner of Christ.

Because of the stated importance of Abraham, one can easily create a mental image of him as being a sort of superhuman follower of God. However, we will notice as we study Abraham’s story that he was not always faithful. In his story, we read moments of Abraham’s wavering faith. Thus, we quickly realize that Abraham’s faithfulness is not nearly so important as God’s faithfulness toward him. Through every high and low, God never gives up on Abraham, and Abraham responses by walking in faith with God.

It is my prayer that as we study the story of Abraham we would be challenged to grow in our faith. May we be children of Abraham who trust God to walk wherever He leads us. May we be willing to wait upon the promised blessings of the LORD, knowing that His wisdom never fails. May we be will to sacrifice all that would stand between us and our greatest treasure, Jesus Christ.

[1] Hebrews 11:1

[2] Hebrews 11:6

[3] Romans 1:19-20

[4] Romans 2:12-16

[5] Ephesians 2:8

[6] Ephesians 2:8-9

[7] Galatians 3:9

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