Text: Gen 15:1-21
Some while ago, the BBC ran a series called ‘Reputations’, in which famous figures were shown to be perhaps not quite as perfect as they are sometimes made out to be – Bertrand Russell, Dr Benjamin Spock, John Wayne, Martin Luther King.
Hero-worship is always perilous, because sooner or later your hero will let you down. Abraham had many positive qualities, and these command our respect and admiration. But he could also be downright deceitful, as when he attempted to pass Sarah off as his sister. Actually, it comes as a great relief to discover that the message of the Bible is not, ‘Be like Abraham, courageous in battle, strong in faith, mighty in prayer, incorruptible in character, and God will accept you.’ No, Abraham is a model and example for us, but of rather a different kind. I want to speak about Abraham’s trust in God, and to ask, Can we, and do we, trust God in the same way today?
Two texts – Gen 15:6 & Rom 4:3.
The key to understanding the story of Abraham is to realise that his life was lived in the light of an amazing promise God had given him. It was a fourfold promise: that he and his descendants would be given a land; that his descendants would become a great nation; that he and his descendants would enjoy a special covenant relationship with God; and that through him and his descendants all nations would be blessed.
Problem: Abraham didn’t have any descendants. Nor did there seem any prospect of any. Sarah was infertile, and both of them were already drawing their old age pension.
In this chapter, God appears to Abram in a vision. “Do not be afraid. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abram’s response, v2,3, ‘Yes, but…’ In those days, if a man had no son to leave everything to, his servant would become his heir. Abram sees that this is going to happen in his case. But he’s not happy about it.
The promise renewed, v4, illustrated, v5, (another ‘Yes, but…’) confirmed by a covenant, v8ff.
But it is v6 which catches and grips our attention.
(a) Note the OBJECT of his belief. He trusted in the promises of God – God had spoken, and Abram believed. But he also trusted in the God of the promises. A living, powerful, intimate encounter with God. In NT terms, we might say that Christian faith is always built on the word and the Spirit.
(b) Ponder the OBSTACLES to his belief. He believed (a) despite all the reasons he could have come up with for not believing, esp. the fact that he and Sarah were an elderly childless couple, (Sarah didn’t belong in the Ante-natal Clinic, but in the Geriatric Department); (b) despite the long delay there would be in the fulfilment of the promise (Isaac was born 25 years after the promise had originally been given); (c) despite the prospect of trouble, as well as of joy in the fulfilment of the promise, vv13-16 (Abraham and his descendants might well have sung, ‘Through many dangers, toils, and snares we have already come. ‘Tis grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.’).
No wonder Abraham’s belief sometimes seemed to hang almost by a thread. But the key thing is not the strength of his belief, but the object of it. Once he had placed his hand in the Lord’s hand, the strength of that relationship did not depend on his own grip, which was feeble, but God’s grip, which is almighty.
(c) Mark the OUTCOME of his belief. And ‘God credited it to him as righteousness’ God is being presented here in his character as Law-giver and Judge. A verdict is to be passed on Abram. What will be the outcome? Will God get out his heavenly ledger, run his finger down the list of good deeds and say, “Good, but not good enough?” Will God take an inventory of all of Abram’s misdeeds and say, “Sorry, you’ve broken my laws here, here and here. You’re guilty” No – God accepted Abram, and accepted him not because he had done so many good things, or so few bad things; God accepted Abram on the basis of simple trust. In God’s eyes, Abram’s trust more than made up for all those things he had done which he ought not to have done, and all those things which he had left undone which he ought to have done.
How about ourselves? How may we be accepted by God? This is a question of staggering importance. To be accepted by other people (reputation) is one thing. To be accepted by ourselves (self-esteem) is another thing. But to be accepted by God, and to know it, is the most wonderful thing in the world. Will God accept us on the same basis that he accepted Abram? When it says, ‘Abram believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’, do the same simple terms apply to us as well? We can look up the answer in the back of the book! Glance at Romans 4.
Abram’s acceptance by God is reasserted, v3
We must all go to God in the same way that Abraham did, v5
Because we follow the same path of faith as Abraham, he is called ‘the father of all who believe’, v11. See also 23f.
Scripture signposts but one way to God. The message of the Bible is essentially one. To be sure, the NT explains and develops and fulfils the OT. But it never contradicts it. Certainly, the NT informs us that the ground of our faith is the finished work of Christ on the cross, but even that was predicted in the OT. The OT is the bud; the NT in full flower. The path of faith that Abram trod we must tread also. We who believe in God though Christ are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. And we are heirs of the same promise that he was given.
A little later in Romans Paul will make clear what it means for us to inherit what God has promised. Rom 8:16f, ‘The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.’ What is this inheritance that has God promised to those who trust him? All things! Rom 8:32, ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ We enter fully into that inheritance in the hereafter; and are given all things needful in the here and now. Believe it. Don’t be too discouraged by obstacles and setbacks and disappointments. Trust in God. Believe in the promise of God, and in the God of the promise. Just like Abraham did.