Walking by Faith; Gen 12:1; Acts 7:2; Heb 11:8
What we have been emphasizing as we go through Genesis is that the events are not simply historical events. They are not just nice stories, biographies, and not just to help us understand certain individuals, but they have to do with teaching specific doctrines and upholding certain doctrines historically. Here the shift in Abraham is going to be on faith, justification, and God's provision of the savior historically. What we see here is how faith is strengthened in Abraham. In Genesis chapter 12 Abram hears a command from God but he is incomplete or partial in his obedience. We will see from Hebrews 11 that Abram is not an immature baby believer at this point. There are certain things that he understands about the plan and purpose of God. When he obeys God by leaving Ur he is obeying because he understands that there is a city built without hands. In other words, he is at a point where he is perceiving that he is making present time decisions based on his future destiny. So we call that a personal sense of eternal destiny. He is reaching spiritual adolescence. But in chapter 12 he is partial in his obedience, and when we look at the outworking of God in his life we see the removal of his father through death, and that is when he moves on, but he still takes Lot with him. Then Lot is removed. So God works with us where we are. That is a crucial principle of grace. God doesn't meet us where we ought to be, He meets us where we are. When God starts dealing with Abraham his faith is partial, and we see God dealing with Abraham through various tests, various situations; there is increased relationship with God, Abraham becomes known as the friend of God, and then when we come to Genesis chapter 22 we see the apex of Abraham's spiritual growth when God appears to Abraham and tells him to sacrifice his only son, the one who was the promised seed. Abraham is immediately on his way and takes Isaac with him up to the mountain with no hesitancy whatsoever. See what has happened to Abraham's faith? He has gone from incomplete, partial obedience, taking halting steps, to where he has this tremendous example of trusting God in Genesis 22 and he demonstrates that he has reached spiritual maturity. That is the progress we all go through.
So as a result of teaching about faith we are going to focus on two elements actually in Abraham. One is faith in relation to justification because he becomes the standard example in the New Testament for justification by faith alone. Then faith in terms of the faith-rest drill as it applies to sanctification—experiential sanctification, our spiritual growth and spiritual advance.
With regard to the doctrine of separation we have to be careful of a distorted concept of separation. Separation ultimately has to do with separation from sin. We have to learn to separate from sin in our own life. Romans 7ff talks about putting to death the deeds of the flesh. This also involves separation from the world. That doesn't mean leaving the world, isolating in monastic churches, etc. Separation from the world means to quit thinking like a pagan, to think biblically; not just from the content of our thought but the structure of our thought. Separation is from the sin nature first of all, and from the world, and as we do that it is going to have some effect perhaps on family, friends, and social life. What begins to occur to us, despite the fact that we may truly enjoy friendship of some people who aren't believers, we realize that they can become a distraction in our own lives. As we grow up we realize that there are some friends that we have had since we were kids who get in the way of our Christian life. Separating in Scripture has to do with separating from those people, circumstances, and cultural things that are a distraction to one's Christian life: spiritual growth and occupation with Christ. Hebrews 12:1, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." The Christian life is a race and sometimes family and friends, favorite hobbies, are nothing more than distractions to the spiritual life.
Acts 7:2, "And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran." The word "appear" is the Greek verb HORAO [o(raw] in an aorist passive indicative. The aorist refers to a past event in terms of its entirety without reference to its beginning, its progress or its ending. The passive looks odd because, you say, How do you passively appear? But Arndt and Gingrich lexicon notes that the passive voice of HORAO has an active sense of becoming visible or appearing to someone. This is the idea: that God is always present to us but in this sense He manifests Himself. So this is an Old Testament theophany—the word comes from a combination of THEOS [qeoj], God, and PHONEO [fonew], to appear. Here this means an appearance of God, but it is not God the Father, it is God the Son. God the Father never appeared to anyone; only God the Son—John 1:18. "...when he was in Mesopotamia," not in Haran, which is up in Syria. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Abraham before he left. This tells us that the threefold command there to leave Ur with the threefold promise of land, seed, and blessing came when he was still back in Ur. The verb there when it says, "the Lord [had] said" in Acts is a tense in the Hebrew of Genesis 12:1 which should be translated with a completed sense. The result is Acts 7:4, "Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell." So why does Abram move? He moves because God spoke to him. God gave him a specific body of revelation; God gave him content. He is not just moving out because he "felt the Spirit was moving him."
Acts 7:5, "And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child." The concept of inheritance comes out of the Old Testament and this is one of the first places to understand it. It is the Greek word KLERONOMIA [klhronomia]. When we think of the word "inherit" we think of receiving something from someone who has died. We receive certain possessions, and this is really the core idea in inheritance: the idea of possession, of ownership, of having something that is one's own. So Stephen emphasizes the principle that God gave Abraham historically no inheritance. He had no possession in the land. God promised him the land, that the land would be his; but he lived out his life without ever owning land. The only piece of land that he owned was the burial ground for his wife Sarah, and then for himself. But there was the promise that God was going to give it to him.
What was it that that enabled Abraham to pack his bags and to move out of his comfort zone in Ur of the Chaldees? That is given to us in Hebrews 11:8. This is the key dynamic. Hebrews 11 is often understood as the hall of faith chapter on the Old Testament, and there is a lot of truth to that. It is an emphasis on Old Testament heroes who trusted God and had doctrine in their souls. It starts of with the familiar "By faith" which is simply the dative case of the noun pistis [pistij]. Here we are making a distinction between the noun and the verb. The verb will emphasize more than anything the act of trusting or relying on something; the emphasis is on action, whereas the noun indicates frequently not simply the act but the object, the reality. Faith isn't simply an act of trusting, it is trusting in something. The concept of faith for Abraham is not just the act of trusting but it is what he is trusting in. It is the doctrine in his soul, the revelation that God gave him. So we read in Hebrews 11:8, "By faith [by doctrine, the content and focus of faith, the object of 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." The very verb "obeyed" emphasizes the fact that there was something to obey. It is the aorist active indicative of HUPAKOUO [u(pokouw] and it means he obeyed, submitted to God. It means to trust God and do what God says to do. Has Abraham received an inheritance yet? No. This is one of the arguments Jesus used for resurrection when speaking to the Pharisees.
Abraham knew that God had spoken to him but he did not know where he was going. The only way we know that God is speaking to us is to open our Bible and read what the Bible says. Our decisions are based on revelation. God doesn't speak to us face to face as He did with Abraham or Moses, but through the Word of God and knowledge of the principles of the Word of God.
Hebrews 11:9, "By faith [by trust in the doctrine he had received] he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise." He knew the land would be his but it wasn't his yet. He wasn't to live today as if he were already the king or ruling royal authority in the Millennial kingdom. Why is that important? Because that is what the charismatics are doing with "name it, claim it" stuff! That is why at the very core of their whole concept is this idea that we are in a present form of the kingdom. But if we are not in a present form of the kingdom and are in the church age, and if we are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ we are like Abraham. This is going to be the inheritance, but it is not now. So we don't act as though we own it now. It won't be ours until we return in the Millennial kingdom. Abraham had to live his life in light of eternity, the same as we do. We live today in the light of eternity with our focus on where God is taking us in preparation. Abraham recognized that he was in a temporary circumstance.
Hebrews 11:10, "For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." This city wasn't there; this city was the new Jerusalem and it was not present during his life time. This city is not coming until the future, until the Millennial kingdom.
How did Abraham know about this city? It is not in the text. What does that tell us? It tells us that there was some sort of 9overstating it a little bit) Noahic or Adamic Bible—not necessarily a canon of Scripture, but just using the term generally, but there was some body of revelation that was known to Abraham, to Noah, to Enoch who walked with God before the flood, that isn't present for us today. We don't know some of the things that they knew but obviously Abraham knew some things that aren't included in the Pentateuch. Moses doesn't reveal to us the basis for Abraham's knowledge about God and the specific things that Abraham knew about the plan and purposes of God. We also get hints from the book of Jude which quotes the apocryphal book about Enoch that apparently Enoch knew some things related to prophecy and eschatology that aren't given to us in Genesis. New Testament passages give us hints that these guys really had a body of revelatory knowledge that isn't available to us today, and it was on that basis that they lived their spiritual lives. Abraham knew that there was a future and he knew what that future was, he is not just stumbling around. He has an understanding of dispensations and he has an understanding of eschatology.
The basic issue is the walk by faith. This is an example of walking by faith. Abraham doesn't know where God is taking him but he knows that to fulfill his responsibilities as a believer in the Old Testament he has to leave Ur and go forward, and that God is going to provide for him along the way. There is nothing that Abraham is going to encounter that God didn't know in eternity past and make provision for. God knew that Abraham would run into a famine. What did Abraham do? He said in effect, "I'm not going to trust you, Lord, I'm going down to Egypt." Time and again we see Abraham learn lessons the hard way, just as we do. But we know that when we are obeying Him, God is always going to make provision. No matter what happens in our life God is always going to provide what we need for our spiritual sustenance and growth. The basic mechanic for walking in the Christian life is that we walk by faith.
The basic meaning of the word "faith." There are a couple of different words that are used in the New Testament related to faith and are based on the same root. The first is the noun PISTIS [pistij] and is used as an attribute, a description or an adjective, and indicates reliability and trustworthiness, that which is dependable and has integrity. For example, Titus 2:10, "Not pilfering, but showing all good faith; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." There faith is used in the sense of reliability, dependability and integrity. As believers we should show all integrity. It comes from faith, from our knowledge of doctrine and application of doctrine. Another passage that is used this way is 2 Thessalonians 1:4, "So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith …" It is talking about the results of their trust in doctrine which produces dependability and integrity. A second way in which it is used is the idea of the action. It means faith, confidence, trust, that we recognize and accept Bible doctrine. So in the active sense it has the sense of trust or reliance upon something. Then we can break that sense down into three sub-categories.
The first is in the arena of saving faith. The faith that is operational at the instant of salvation is a faith or a trust that has as its object the cross, the work of Christ. It is used in the sense in Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." That is trust in the cross. The second way in which it is used is post-salvation faith-rest drill, the basic mechanic of how the believer grows and matures. Here the object is not the cross, it is still trust, but the object is now the revelation of God—Bible doctrine. We are going to trust the promises of God, the principles given in the revelation of God. This is the basis for the faith-rest drill. The first stage is mixing faith with promises, the second stage is that we draw from those promises various rationales or reasons for trusting God, and third, we draw from those rationales doctrinal conclusions and apply them to the situation. All of this has to do with that active sense of trusting God in our post-salvation Christian life and growth. Then we have a sort of passive meaning to faith. It is not the act of believing but it is focusing on what is believed, the content or the object of faith. In other words, the doctrines we believe. It is used this way in Galatians 1:23, referring to Paul himself: "But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith [the doctrine, the body of belief] which once he destroyed." This is the sense that we have in Hebrews 11. It is not just the act of faith, it is what is believed, the doctrine, the body of doctrine. So we could say that these mean's faith was the body of doctrine they believed. Faith resulted in action. By the doctrine Abraham believed, he obeyed...by the doctrine he believed he dwelt in the land of promise. It is the belief in that doctrine; it is trusting that doctrine.
The object of faith at salvation is the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The object of faith for the spiritual life is the promises and principles of Scripture and Bible doctrine. That is the function of growing up. Faith, then, focuses on the body of doctrine, revealed content. This is what happened with Abraham and is how he was able to go forward and advanced in his spiritual life, because God gives him specific content, specific directions, and he trusts in that even when he can't see where it is going. Do we make mistakes? Sometimes, but God's grace is always there. If we are still alive God still has a plan for us.