4 Things Abraham Taught Me

This week, we will finish our almost four month long study of the life of Abraham in Genesis. Before completely jumping into the next sermon series, I thought it might be beneficial for me to reflect upon some lessons that the LORD taught me through studying Abraham’s life.

1. Abraham’s physical life represents our spiritual life.

Stepping out on a limb, I assume that God will not call most of us to journey off toward an unknown destination. I also doubt that many of us will find ourselves leading men into a war between nine kings in order to rescue our kin. The chances, as well, are rather slim that God will ever cause any of us to give birth at age 90 or 100. Further, God is not likely to demand that we plunge a knife into our child to display obedience.

But God led Abraham through each one.

Most of our lives will simply not be the dramatic epic that Abraham’s life was. We will probably live quiet, unassuming lives, while faithfully doing the work of the gospel in the field that God has placed us. On paper, it seems that we are far from being like Abraham, the great man of faith.

While this thought appears to be well grounded, it undermines the entire premise of following Christ. Though Abraham physically left behind his family and security to follow the LORD, every follower of Christ is called to do the same. Jesus tells His disciples that “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.”[1] The call to follow Christ upon a believer is a call to kill within us any selfish ambition. It is a call to follow Jesus, wherever He may lead, at whatever cost.

And though God may not demand that we physically sacrifice things that we might treasure above Him, we are certainly commanded to do so spiritually. Internally, we are constantly at war with our heart’s inclination toward idolatry, fighting to keep every good gift of God from becoming our god.

Abraham’s journey is indeed the physical embodiment of each believer’s spiritual journey.

2. Following God is far from easy.

Following Jesus is full of rest and comfort. Jesus promised His followers, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[2] There is great truth to be found in those words. Jesus gives us true rest from trying to earn God’s favor and love.

The life of Abraham also teaches us, however, that following God is not easy. The patriarch’s life was full of trials and challenges. In addition to following blindly in the direction that God told him to walk, Abraham also waited patiently for 25 years to receive the son that God promised to him. Abraham watched as Sarah and himself become much too old to have children, but he still had faith that God would do as He said. Not to mention that when he finally received his son, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice him as an offering to the LORD. Abraham faced great difficulties throughout his life of following the LORD.

And so it will be with us.

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”[3]

“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”[4]

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”[5]

The verdict is clear: life following Christ is not a life of ease. Yet we must also note the great blessing and favor that God showed to Abraham (a blessing that was not merely financial). God was faithfully with Abraham through every single trial that the man of faith faced. We too hold onto that promise in life.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”[6]

3. Faith without works is dead.

Abraham has two great titles given to him by New Testament writers: the man of faith[7] and a friend of God.[8] Both of these titles seem rather fitting given the experiences that Abraham encountered. Thus, as the Bible’s example of the epitome of a faithful follower of the LORD, what comes into our minds when considering Abraham’s faith? Obviously, we think of Abraham’s blind walk of faith, his patient 25-year wait for Isaac, or his willingness to sacrifice his son. In short, we think of Abraham’s actions, his works.

It is no accident that James uses Abraham as an example to support his claim that faith without works is dead. At first, we might think that James 2:24 stands in direct contradiction of Ephesians 2:8-9. However, we know that they cannot be contradictory because Paul uses Abraham as an example of salvation by faith alone in Romans 4:1-12. Abraham exemplifies what both Paul and James argue, and James’ statement is particularly potent.

The essence of the statement that faith without works is dead is that faith will reveal itself through works. Though our works (that is, all of our good deeds) do not save us, we cannot truly have faith in God without showing that faith via works. Abraham proved to be a man of faith because of his obedience. By his willingness to trust God fully, even if it meant sacrificing Isaac, Abraham revealed the great faith that he had in God. Thus, Abraham is one of the Bible’s greatest examples of the relationship between faith and works.

4. God is always faithful.

I believe that this is the greatest lesson to be learned from studying Abraham’s life. Clearly, we have seen how Abraham displayed great faith in God through his willingness to obey God’s commands, no matter how difficult. For all of Abraham’s victories and successes, his life was not without failures either.

Consider Abraham’s sins.

Within the same chapter that Abraham shows great faith by following God without being told a destination, Abraham fled to Egypt to escape a famine. While in Egypt, Abraham made Sarah claim to be his sister, so that Pharaoh would not kill him in order to take Sarah as his wife. Out of fear for his own skin, Abraham was willing to sell his wife into the hands of another man. Obviously, this is quite frowned upon.

In chapter 16, we find that Sarah becomes impatient with the LORD’s promise to give her and Abraham a son. She, therefore, suggests that Abraham sleep with her servant, Hagar, so that Sarah can have a child through her servant. This went about as well as one might expect. Sarah immediately became jealous of Hagar, and she expressed that jealously by abusing her servant. Abraham is notably quiet throughout this event, passively leading his entire household into sin.

Then in chapter 20, we read of Abraham’s encounter with Abimelech. Since Abimelech was a king, Abraham feared the same as he did with Pharaoh: that Abimelech would kill Abraham in order to take Sarah as his wife. Thus, Abraham proceeded to repeat his sin from back in Egypt.

Though he was the man of faith, Abraham was far from perfect. He was a flawed and sinful man. In fact, if God did not first come to Abraham in chapter 12, Abraham would have likely continued to follow after the gods of his family.[9] Whatever faith Abraham displayed is by far eclipsed by God’s faithfulness toward Abraham, which is good news because if God is not faithful, then placing our faith in Him does us no good. Fortunately, God was faithful to Abraham, through obedience and through sin. We can, likewise, have confidence that the God of Abraham will also be faithful to us.

[1] Matthew 10:37

[2] Matthew 11:28-30

[3] Philippians 1:29

[4] Mark 13:13

[5] 1 Peter 4:12-13

[6] John 16:33

[7] Galatians 3:9

[8] James 2:23

[9] Joshua 24:2-3

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