Called Out: Doctrine of Separation; Gen. 12:1
There is a major shift taking place in Genesis 12:1 because of what had happened earlier in Genesis 11. We can't separate Genesis 12:1-3 from the context of the deterioration and decline into cosmic thinking as exemplified in the tower of Babel incident. Because the entire human race had degenerated in these ten generations since the flood God is now going to intervene in history in a different way from the way He did at the flood.
God appears to Abraham, and in this passage we have what is called the call of Abraham. The response to this call is not salvific, not related to salvation. When Abraham responds that is not the basis for being saved. He is already saved, has already been justified, we have the same kind of construction in Genesis 15:6—"Abraham had believed God and it was already accounted to him for righteousness." That is referring back to his salvation at some unknown time prior to this call to get out of his co0untry. Because he was already saved this is seen as an award, a contingent blessing distributed to Abraham in time. And the pattern for the Abrahamic covenant was based on a type of contract or covenant called a royal grant treaty. A royal grant treaty was where some kind of real estate or property was given by a sovereign or king to an obedient and loyal servant. It is given unconditionally as a result of something they have already done. The indication is that Abram has been faithful to God living in the midst of this paganism in Ur of the Chaldees, and God for His own reasons and His own purposes decides to grant this gift to Abram. He is now going to work in a unique way in history by limiting Himself to working through one individual and his descendants.
The context of this mandate is the context of the paganism of the tower of Babel. In order to accomplish His purposes God has to call out Abram from the midst of this culture, because He knows that if Abram stays where he is God can't accomplish through Abram what He wants to through Abram. So He gives him a command which emphasizes separation. He is to remove himself from the influence of the country he is in, even from his close family and relatives, and from the house of his father. The interesting thing is that Abram responds to this just as we respond to God's commands most of the time—with partial obedience—because we just don't have the maturity often to fully trust God. So we see this response on Abram's part which is in stages. He leaves his country and he goes to Haran, but he takes his father with him and he takes his nephew Lot with him. What we will see in the next few chapters is that God has to work with Abram where he is to finally cause this separation. It happens because his father dies, and then Abram and Lot goes down to Canaan. In the next chapter it is going to be obvious that there is a conflict of interest between Lot and his servants and Abram and his, and it becomes necessary to separate. It is going to take God about ten years of working with Abram to get him to finally separate himself from these negative influences so that he can be in a position where he is exclusively trusting God. He is operating on faith but he is not being completely obedient. We are the same way. Growth comes incrementally, we don't just jump into full-fledged spiritual obedience. But that is where the grace of God comes in. As long as we are alive God still has a plan for our life and God always supplies the resources.
What is going on here in God's plan for the human race is that He is faced with a rebellious human race. Everyone is in rebellion against Him and about the only one, or one of the few, who is obedient to Him is Abram. So God is going to choose to work through Abram in order to bless the rest of humanity. He is going to choose out Abram and his descendants to function as a counter culture, a sort of fifth column within the kingdom that Satan is establishing on the earth. Through cosmic thinking Satan has hoisted his pseudo religions and idolatrous systems and they are dominating the thinking of man.
The core of cosmic thinking is human arrogance. Two things are operational as a result of human arrogance. There is the operation in the area of man's autonomy. We are declaring our independence from God, that we don't need God, we can manage just fine, thank you very much. On the other hand, there is an antagonism, a hostility, an enmity toward God. But what operates cyclically is arrogance: self-reliance which is at the very core of autonomy, self-reliance as opposed top dependence upon God, the faith-rest drill. This is why it is so hard for people to exercise the faith-rest drill. It calls upon us to completely rely upon God to supply all of our needs, to trust in Him and rest and relax. But at the very core is self-reliance, that I am gong to provide stability, tranquility and contentment for myself and if I don't do it nobody else will, including God. This is where things start: this element in our thinking of self-reliance, autonomy. That leads to the second arrogance skill which is self-absorption. We focus on our self; it is self, self, self; our own well-being is at the heart of everything. The more we are absorbed with ourselves the more we become self-indulgent. We give in to the lust patterns of the sin nature. Then the next is self-deception. Now we are living divorced from reality. We can't understand the ways things are, why things are going the way they are, because we have created an entire construct to explain life that is not based on Bible doctrine or spiritual dynamics. So we are operating in our own little bubble of self-deception, and at the core of self-deception we have substituted our own lusts and desires for God and are worshipping ourselves and are into self-deification—worshipping the creature rather than the creator.
This is the environment in which Abram is operating. It is no different from the environment in which we are operating, it is only exaggerated to a much higher extent. So God says that if He is going to accomplish in human history what He wants to He has to get Abram out. This leads to a very important doctrine that is found throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, the doctrine of separation. God has called us to be separate.
The doctrine of separation
1) Separation begins with a mental attitude that results in removing from removing from our lives elements and people that are either distractions, or may become distractions, in our own spiritual advance.
2) Separation, then, begins in the believer's personal life as he learns and applies doctrine in the direction of his own sin nature. The Bible says that separation starts in relation to the sin nature. Romans 6:11, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Remember that death is Scripture doesn't mean cessation of existence, it means separation from. Cf. Romans 8:13, "For if ye live after the flesh [sin nature], ye shall die." That is not talking about spiritual death, it is talking about carnal death. It is talking about the fact that if you are a believer and operating in carnality then all of the blessings of the abundant Christian life are not yours. Even though you have eternal life you might as well be dead, and you are living in carnal death. "…but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." We are to put to death the deeds of the body. That is a calling for separation in the believer's life from sin.
3) Separation involves separation from human viewpoint thinking. It is not just the sin nature that is influencing the life but also all that human viewpoint garbage that is floating around in the soul. All of the ideas we have grown up with need to be excised by the scalpel of the Word of God. We need to have that stuff flushed out of our system. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 12:1, 2, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy [set apart], acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world [cosmic thinking]: but be ye transformed by the renewing [renovation] of your mind [PHRONEW/phronew: thought systems], that ye may prove [DOKIMAZO/dokimazw] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." dokimazo indicates a demonstration of something, "that you may demonstrate." This is what happens as we advance spiritually and we renovate our thinking and apply doctrine the Holy Spirit is changing us from the inside out, He is producing the fruit of the Spirit, the character of Christ in our life, and it demonstrates that the will of God is good and acceptable and perfect. We become a living, walking testimony of the grace of God in the angelic conflict. So this calls for separation from human viewpoint thinking. So the first two categories of separation has to do with what is going on between the believer's ears. They don't have to do with what is going on necessarily in the world around him. Although if the world around the believer is producing temptations where he easily succumbs to sin, then that means he has to make some choices about where he goes, who he associates with, or the things he does, recognizing that if he is in an environment that easily leads him to sin then he needs to change his environment.
4) We are commanded to separate from certain kinds of carnal believers: backslidden, reversionistic believers. This is because there are certain types of carnality that are contagious.
5) We are to separate from believers who reject sound doctrine. If there is anything that can destroy our own spiritual life it is when we associate with people who don't hold to sound doctrine. They say, "Well you know, there are a lot of different views in evangelicalism. There are folks who believe this and there are folks who believe that, but we can all just get along and we don't have to draw these doctrinal distinctions." There is an embedded blasphemy there, and that is the idea that God doesn't communicate clearly enough for us to take strong positions on doctrine. Wishy-washy people don't really think God communicated things clearly, so you can think it means this and I can think it means that, and somebody else thinks it means something else, so we can all just put our arms together and emote on our common experience that Jesus loves us. Then we'll all go home and be happy that we went to church this morning! This is not the biblical view. 2 Thessalonians 3:6, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." This isn't tradition for tradition's sake, this is the apostolic doctrine contained in the Scripture. This is a mandate. Then in verses 14 & 15, "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." The goal is restoration, not exclusion; but if there is no response then there is no option other than to go separate ways.
6) We are to separate from believers who make their own internal lust patterns the motivation for their life. Romans 16:17, 18, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark [note] them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly [lust patterns]; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."
7) Separation from the immoral social scene where one's norms and standards are gradually eroded through peer pressure. 1 Peter 4:4, "Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you." Proverbs 1:10-19, "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: we shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: for their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof." 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good habits." The idea there is good positive habits of the spiritual life.
8) We need to separate from unbelievers to avoid having our doctrine compromised. 2 Corinthians 6:14, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" This involves some types of business partnerships, not necessarily all. It involves marriage, dating, intimate social life. We are to separate from unbelievers where their influence can affect our own doctrine.
9) We need to separate from believers who are enmeshed in religious modes of operation and apostasy. Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Timothy 3:5.
It was important for Abram to be separate from the culture of Ur of the Chaldees, from the paganism, the cosmic thinking, so that he could advance spiritually. This is why God called him to go out. And the response was by faith, Hebrews 11:8, "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." When God calls us we may not always know where the Lord is taking us in our spiritual life and in our Christian service, but we are to recognize that we are living our lives in terms of an eternal destiny and that we have to be prepared for that destiny; and this means that there has to be a separation in this life.