Facing Adversity, Consequences of Stress. Genesis 12:10
The thing to remember when we look at the life of Abraham is that God is making a radical shift in history. Up to this point He has worked through Gentiles. It is only with the call of Abraham that God is distinguishing a specific ethnic group through whom He is going to restrict His work for the next 2000 years. And it is going to be through the descendants of Abraham that God is going to bless all the nations. So He is setting up, as it were, a counter cultural movement through Abraham. As has been highlighted there are certain things that are emphasized in the New Testament with relationship to Abraham, and it is important to understand this. It is so important to understand that as we get into the New Testament there are all kinds of doctrines that can get clearly abstract and it is difficult to bring these things down to communicate, so we have to find Old Testament examples to teach these basic doctrines. And the New Testament is very clear on this. We go to Abraham for justification by faith—Romans 4; we go to Abraham for justification in terms of spiritual maturity—James 2:21-22; we go to Abraham as an example of how to get from salvation to spiritual maturity in that walk by means of faith—application of doctrine, trusting in the Lord, active sense, what to believe—in Hebrews chapter eleven. We also get a picture of Abraham as a picture of God's elected choices in history—Romans 9-11 makes this implicit. One thing not included in that list that we will see again and again in the life of Abraham is the aspect of missions. The Abrahamic covenant becomes the foundation for what we later understand to be world missions. It is through Abraham that God is going to bless all nations. So whenever we start thinking in terms of a missionary the foundation for world missions starts right here in Genesis 12:1-3. That passage gives us the basic outline and foundation for the Abrahamic covenant—land, seed and blessing. This is crucial for understanding everything that happens in not only the rest of Genesis but also the rest of the Old Testament.
Every episode in Abraham's life relates to some sort of test, and test #1 was whether or not he would obey God in getting out of the land. He had a partial obedience in this test. He was to get out of Ur and leave everyone behind but he didn't do that. He went with his father and his nephew Lot and they only got half way to the land. Even when he left Haran he still had Lot with him, and God is going to have to deal with that. That is how God works in our lives. We don't always obey Him perfectly and it takes time, that is the whole process of the spiritual life. God doesn't deal with every issue, every problem, every issue of sin or human viewpoint in our life all at the same time. You may learn a principle in Bible class and it may take you years before you actually get the whole thing squared away in your life. That is the process of spiritual growth. We see that with Abraham. It is partial obedience but he is moving in the right direction. He makes mistakes, like we do; he operates on the sin nature, and he doesn't want to step out completely in faith. So he takes Lot with him and we see later that God has to come along and sort of surgically remove Lot as an influence in Abraham's life. We have seen that Abraham goes through a geographical process as he goes through the land. He goes to Shechem and from Shechem to Bethel where he constructs an altar, and from there he moves down to the Negev. These sites become crucial in the future history of the nation. Again and again we see these same sites brought out. Basically what Abraham is doing is staking his claim and he is recognizing what God has given him in the covenant positionally. But it is not his experientially. The main idea of application is that God has given us as believers everything that we need positionally. He has given us all the assets that we need spiritually. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing—Ephesians 1:3. But the reality is that it takes us the rest of our lives, and even then some, before we come to understand how that works its way out experientially.
Romans 6 is the foundation of the spiritual life. Romans 1-5 deal with what the believer has in salvation, but when we get to chapters 6-8 the subject is no longer justification the issue is no longer justification, it is now sanctification. Sanctification is just a theological term for the process of spiritual growth. We talk about two different kinds of sanctification—positional sanctification and experiential sanctification. Positional sanctification relates to everything that we have in Christ, those absolute realities that were given to us at the instant of salvation. They are non-experiential. The only way that we can understand them is through a study of God's Word when we begin to realize the vast amount of blessing and provision that God bestowed upon us at the instant that we were saved. We are indeed new creatures in Christ with a vast array of spiritual assets.
Foundationally for the Christian life Paul says that we have to understand that at the instant of salvation we became dead to sin. We still have a sin nature. No matter how sweet and wonderful somebody who is an unbeliever is they are just a sinner and that is the only thing they can produce. But once we are saved we are freed from that dominion, that tyranny of the sin nature. This is what Romans 6 is talking about and Paul begins to focus on this in verse 6: "Knowing this [because you know this], that our old man [sin nature] is crucified with him, that [in order that] the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." He is assuming that his readers understand this principle. When something is crucified it is gone, it is no longer operational. In a real sense our sin nature is nailed to the cross and it is dead, but it is dead positionally. What does death mean? When it talks about being crucified with Him the concept of death has to do with separation, not ceasing existence. It is separated from that positional of power or tyranny. Death in the Bible always refers to separation, not cessation of existence. So at the point of salvation there is a separation from the sin nature in terms of its power over us. So Paul says, "Because we know this, that our sin nature was crucified with Him, in order that"—and even though this is an aorist tense it has the idea of something that will take place in the future—"our body of sin [sin nature] might be done away with [in the process of sanctification, losing its influence]." That is the idea, that eventually it will be a removal of the sin nature. That doesn't happen until phase three when we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord. We are going to have a problem with our sin nature all of our lives. This is something that so many Christians just can't quite accept. They just can't understand that after 20 years of being a Christian they still have a problem with lust or with lying or with mental attitude sins, or whatever it may be. Then they start questioning whether or not they were ever saved. The reality is that our sin nature, and whatever the proclivities of our sin nature are, is still going to be there 20 years from now. The reality of this passage is that we don't have to follow the leading of that sin nature. This is what Romans 6 is all about and it is based upon, first of all, knowing something—because we know some doctrine; "so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." Prior to salvation we are slaves to sin; afterwards we either enslave ourselves back to sin whenever we let the sin nature control, or we get back in fellowship and make ourselves slaves to righteousness.
The second point to be made in this verse relates to the concept of sin. Sin is the Greek word HAMARTIA [a(martia] which in this passage is a singular, and when it is in the singular it frequently has the idea of the sin nature, not individual personal sins but that capacity to sin. Here it has the idea of that which departs from the standard, misses the mark, and hence it means to sin, to violate the character of God. From here we look at the last phrase, "slave to sin," which is the verb DOULEO [doulew] meaning to be a slave or a servant. It indicates a lack of volition. Before we were saved there was no volition to stop sinning. We just couldn't do it, and that is what Paul discovers in Romans 7. After salvation we do make a decision not to go back under the sin nature, but once we are out of fellowship it is just like we were in that enslavement all over again. We do whatever the sin nature has us do until we make that one and only decision to stop it which is to confess our sin. Then we are back in fellowship and become a slave to righteousness. This is why sometimes Christians seem to be hypocritical. We have this struggle between two natures. Though we are walking by means of the Holy Spirit we can be very different from the kind of person that we are when we start letting that sin nature lead us around all the time. That is where we see the struggle in the Christian life. The only thing that resolves that is to start operating on Bible doctrine and letting thought control our lives.
We have looked at the Abrahamic covenant in terms of positional truth. In the Old Testament the Abrahamic covenant in the history of Israel speaks of their position before God, what they had as an absolute. For the believer in the church age, we are in Christ. That is our positional truth. They have three things in common. The Abrahamic covenant is unconditional; our position in Christ is unconditional. We didn't get "in Christ" on our own—because of our own effort, our own personality, or because of anything that we did. It was all on the basis of God's unconditional promise and His unconditional love. The second thing about both the Abrahamic covenant and being in Christ is that these can't be lost; they are ours permanently, they can't be reversed. The Jews can't lose the promise that God made to Abraham. No matter how disobedient the Jews had been God will eventually fulfill that promise. Third, it is the basis for blessing. The basis for blessing in the Old Testament is the Abrahamic covenant; the basis for blessing in our lives as believers is our position in Christ.
Romans 6:7, "For he that is dead is freed from sin." Here Paul gives a principle. The verb "is freed" is the perfect passive indicative of DIKAIOO [dikaiow], the verb for justification. In the perfect tense this always emphasizes completed action, and the emphasis here is on the fact that it is an intensive perfect which puts the emphasis on the completedness of the action, not necessarily on the present results of the action. So it should be translated: "That he who has died has been justified." It is not "freed." DIKAOO means to be justified; justified means to be declared righteous. So the issue here is focusing on what happened at that instant of salvation, that when we put our faith in Christ alone, at that instant we were declared righteous and just. Everything in the spiritual life, then, flows from that. But the spiritual life is distinct from justification; it flows from it but they are not the same. The reason we emphasize this is because that was the basic error that entered into theological history and shaped Roman Catholic theology. If justification and sanctification are cotemporaneous then we only know that we are justified by means of our sanctification. So the only way we can know that we are saved is if we are living the so-called Christian life and if we are not living the Christian life than maybe we are not saved. This is the same problem that there is today in so-called Lordship salvation. They don't distinguish between justification and sanctification. A person can be justified and be living as if they are not justified because they still have a sin nature.
What Paul is pointing out in Romans six is the fact that we have a positional reality, and that is that we have been justified and at that same moment in time we died to sin. It is a real death to sin, not hypothetical, but the sin nature still operates. We have three stages or phases of salvation: 1) We are freed from the penalty of sin; 2) We are saved from the power of sin; 3) We are saved from the presence of sin. We are talking about phase two, being saved from the power of sin. The power is broken positionally at the cross, we are no longer under the tyranny of the sin nature. Before we were saved the only thing we could do was operate on the sin nature: either human good or sin. But after we are saved we have a real choice, it is a volitional issue. We have to think about that. That is why Paul says in v. 6 "Because we know [something]" and then he comes back again in v.9, "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more." Once again it is knowledge, it is knowledge, it is knowledge. In v. 8 Paul says, "Now if we died with Christ [and we did], we believe that we shall also live with him." Verse 10, "For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God." There's the analogy. Christ's death was once for all. Therefore when we trust Christ as our savior there is a permanent break with the dominion of sin, that tyranny is broken.
In verse 11 Paul gets to the real issue. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." In verses 1-9 he is talking about the positional reality. Now he says, "You don't realize this in your life, you don't feel like you are freed from sin? Then you have to reckon yourselves dead to sin." What in the world does that mean? This is an imperative. The imperative mood is Greek is not emphasizing reality, it is emphasizing choice. So the emphasis on any kind of imperative is directed immediately to our volition. What is important to notice in looking at an imperative is what the tense is. Here it is a present tense, and in Greek a present tense means this is supposed to be standard operating procedure. This is the general habit pattern that should characterize our life day in and day out. The verb here in the Greek is LOGIZOMAI [logizomai] which has an active meaning even though it has a passive or middle form, so that means it is directed to the believer's volition and he has a choice to make as to whether or not he is going to fulfill this mandate. This word is talking about thinking, about putting together a series of premises and coming to a conclusion. It is talking about thought. "Reckon" is a mandate to think about all of the issues that we are facing at any point in time and come to a specific conclusion that is related to what Jesus Christ did on the cross. It doesn't matter how much outside pressure I may feel or experience in order to do something. It doesn't matter how much internal pressure I am feeling in the sense of being tempted. What the Word of God is saying here is, Stop and think. Stop and think in terms of what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross and what happened to you at the instant of salvation. This is why it is so important to go over positional truth again and again and again. Paul says, "Likewise come to the logical, rational conclusion that you are indeed dead to sin." In other words, you have to think about it. The Christian life is a life of thinking. We have to know something; we have to know doctrine; we have to understand all of the dynamics that took place on the cross; we have to understand all of the dynamics that happened to you at the instant of our salvation. Then when we hit various problems, issues, adversities in our lives the first thing to do is stop and think. If we would just stop and think two or three times a day, what a difference that would make in our application of doctrine! As soon as we stop and think about something it means that we have to be able to evaluate what is going on. As soon as we use the word "evaluate" it implies some sort of norm or standard, some sort of overall grid through which we are able to interpret the details of our lives. That means we have to have either our biblical grid or we are going to have a human viewpoint grid. Those are the only two options. How are we going to get that biblical grid? Are we going to put our Bible under our pillow at night and pray that somehow it leaks in? No, we have to virtually reprogram our thinking because we spend a vast amount of our life being inadvertently programmed by the human viewpoint, worldly, cosmic system around us.
For Abraham, what he had to do was think in terms of that Abrahamic covenant. For us we have to think in terms of something that seems a little more complex, and that is, what we have in Jesus Christ, all that we have as part of our position in Him. In terms of the Abrahamic covenant Abraham had seven realities that are outlined in that covenant. We get them from just breaking down the basics phrases of those first three verse. 1) God said He would make him a great nation. 2) God said He would bless him. 3) I will make you name great. 4) You will be a blessing. These first three all start with God and what God was going to do. So ultimately in terms of Abraham's position in the covenant he had to start with God. So whenever we are going to think in terms of dealing with these reactions in life, situations in life, we have to think in terms of God. That is why we have to understand the essence of God first and foremost. Always start with God, not the situation, the experience, not with feelings. This was the basic test in that first command when God said to get out of Ur and to leave his family behind. It was a test of whether Abraham was willing to trust Him, a test of whether Abraham would utilize the faith-rest drill with reference to the essence of God. 5) "I will also bless those who bless you." Once again God is making a specific promise. 6) "Him who curses you I will curse." Again, it comes right back to the person and character of God. 7) "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed." That is the basis for missions. So Abraham is being told that he has to go to a specific piece of real estate. This is where we are going to have our relationship, Abraham. How Abraham is in the land is comparable to our relationship, abiding in Christ. When Abraham is obedient and he is in the land, that is the place of blessing; when he is disobedient and is out of the land, that is a place of cursing, a place of divine discipline. When we are obedient and in fellowship, walking by ,means of the Holy Spirit, abiding in Christ, we are in fellowship. And that is a place of blessing. When we sin we are out of fellowship and in the place of divine discipline.
In Genesis chapter twelve Abraham has finally headed out and is moving through the land. The interesting thing is how this works itself out in other passages. For example, Joshua 24:3. God is speaking to Joshua: "And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the river, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac." So God reminds the people of how He took Abraham through the land. This was a recognition of all that God had given him in the covenant unconditionally. It wasn't his experientially but it was his positionally. This was his reality, comparable to our reality of being dead from sin even though it is not real in our experience yet. As Abraham walked through the land he is learning what God has already given him. There is a similar passage in Genesis 41:46, "And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt." This was typical. He is taking control; he is realizing what his dominion is.
Genesis 12:10, "And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land." Immediately we have a problem. Abraham is now in the place that God has commanded him to go to. Verse 7 gives a specific promise: "Unto thy seed will I give this land." So there is a test now. He gets into the land, the place where God wants him, and now there are problems. The first thing that we have to deal with here is to understand how to deal with adversity. We get a picture of it here. But first we need to review two basic definitions. First, adversity is the inevitable outside daily pressures of life that attack and seek to penetrate the soul. But stress is optional, it depends on our volition. Stress is the optional inside pressure of the soul caused by reaction to the external pressures of adversity. As soon as we react with the sin nature to some adversity we are immediately out of fellowship and it causes problems in the soul. What we need to be as believers is experts at using the problem-solving devices. Abraham is in a situation that is a major adversity.
The first thing we need to do when we hit adversity is to think, but what most of us do is react. The first thing is volition, we always make a choice. We may not be volitionally conscious of the choice that we are making, we may just instantly react—in anger, frustration, whatever it may be. At some point we were making a choice and we learned how to respond to those kinds of circumstances. Sometimes people respond very differently to circumstances. Some get mad and angry; another person seems to get very calm. What they have done over the period of their life is that for various reasons they chose various approaches to problems. There is a decision that certain problems are best handled in certain ways. These strategies are chosen. The options are either to trust the Lord and operate on the faith-rest drill and use the problem-solving devices—divine viewpoint; or we don't use the faith-rest drill, we deny any promises and provision of God, we try to solve the problem on our own, and there are a multitude of human viewpoint strategies that we can adopt. This is exactly what happens with Abraham in Genesis 12. There is a famine in the land and rather than staying where God put him and trusting in the Lord Abraham finally decides that the best way to take care of everybody is to go down to Egypt and to live there. So he is going to take the human viewpoint solution. And what happens here is he leaves the land which was what God gave him, which means that he is no longer going to think in terms of his positional reality. Secondly, when he gets down into the land he lies about Sarah, she almost gets taken into be the wife of the Pharaoh, and he puts the seed at risk. Third, he brings divine discipline on the house of Pharaoh and so he is failing to be a blessing for all nations, and he is going to be a source of judgment for those around him. This is what happens in our life. Every time we choose that path of trying to solve the problems on our own we forget our positional reality in Christ, we put our future growth as believers at risk, and we fail to be the blessing God designed us to be to those around us.