Stressbusters Reviewed, Gen 12:10-17
In Genesis 12 we see the first two tests in Abraham's life, and these are comparable to tests that we go through in life as believers. We see as Abraham goes through one test after another—some he passes and some he fails—that each one of these tests are related ultimately to God's basic promise and provision in his life, which is the Abrahamic covenant. So we have to go back continuously to that covenant and the threefold promise of land, seed, and blessing. There is a difference for us, and the difference is that God has given us a tremendous number of assets which we learn when we study the New Testament. So it is not just that our lives are related to those three things, and Abraham's wasn't just related to those three things, but that was the focal point for what the Lord was doing in his life. For us it has to do with the unique spiritual life of the church age and all of the spiritual assets that God gave us at the instant of salvation. And we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit, and God is working in our lives to create in us the character of Jesus Christ, and all of this is part of a much broader environment which is that of the angelic conflict and what God is doing in history and in the church. We tend to get focused on our own individual lives and our own problems and circumstances and forget the big picture, and we have to have that overall bird's eye view of what God is doing in each of our lives. And it is not about time but it is about eternity, the future, our preparation for the future. In that sense this is what is going on with Abraham. God is preparing him for his future destiny and he doesn't realize it in his lifetime. He is promised the land and he doesn't realize it and Hebrews 11:8ff tells us that Abraham left his home because he was looking forward to that city that was built by God. He was looking to the future. His present time life was determined by future plans, and that is what faith is. As we look at Abraham we have to realize that Abraham's life has a biblical interpretation. There are so many things that happened in Abraham's life and the Bible covers it from Genesis chapters 12-25.
One of the interesting questions is, how does the Holy Spirit deal with the life of Abraham. One of the foundational issues when doing Bible study is not just to go to the text and ask what that means to me personally but how does God interpret these events? When we go into the New Testament Abraham is used as an example of justification by faith. For example, in Romans chapter four we have a reminder of Genesis 15:6 where we are told that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. So this is a picture of justification and imputation. Then we come to Hebrews 11:8 and Abraham is used as an example of walking by faith. Walking faith isn't walking by means of the act of trusting but it is walking by means of what you believe. This comes from 2 Corinthians 5:7, that we walk by faith and not by sight. When we are walking by sight we are walking on the basis of what the sight is looking at, the object of the sight, the object of our empirical observations. That is what we are depending on. When we talk about walking by faith it is not the faith that is the means, it is the object of the faith. So when we walk by faith that is emphasizing the fact that we walk on the basis of the doctrine that is in our own souls. Abraham is a picture of not only justification by faith but also walking by faith. He is also a picture of election, especially in Romans 11:3-5 talking about the election by grace, that God has chosen Israel by election. This is a picture of the believer's election in Christ. Then we have Abraham as a picture of mature sanctification. This is given in James 2:21-24, and again that passage sites the Genesis 15:6 passage. So this ties it together. What is the importance of Abraham's life? Abraham shows what happens at salvation. He is a concrete picture of imputation and justification. Those are abstract concepts, it is difficult for us to get a hold of them. Then we see that he is called out. God elects him and chooses him, and he is going to get certain blessings, so it is a picture of the fact that God has an elected plan for Abraham. Then, as Abraham matures, he is a picture of the Christian life—walking by means of faith. Then he reaches maturity and again he is a picture of Christian maturity and how to get there. All of this is tied up in Abraham. For this reason Abraham resonates with us as we read through and we see him in all his flesh and blood in all his failures and successes.
The second test was when the Lord tells Abraham "Unto your descendants I will give this land." Abraham understands the promise and there is an initial obedience to that promise. He marches through the land and starting in Shechem he builds an altar. In essence he is claiming the land in the name of Yahweh. What is being pictured here is positional truth, what we have in Christ. The land is his positionally but it is not his experientially. He never owned land, and when Sarah dies he has to go and buy a piece of land to bury her. An understanding of positional truth is outlined in Romans 6:6, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed [aorist subjunctive expressing the potential, a purpose of our positional truth], that henceforth we should not serve sin." Positional truth is a judicial reality, it is not something we experience. You don't learn about it because you have some sort of emotion, some warm fuzzy. The problem today is that people going through adversity, instead of looking to the Word of God or how to handle the Word of God they are looking for people who will support them in their pity party. They are so self-absorbed that they can't see and they don't see, and they refuse to see the impact that doctrine can have in their life. The trouble is that churches are now enabling them, because what the churches are doing is picking up these worship patterns, praise and worship choruses in contemporary worship, and these are songs on your "subjective experience with Jesus." All this does is promote self-absorption. It doesn't promote a recognition of the fact that we are sinners, we are living in the cosmic system, and that God has given everything to us and provided everything for us in His logistical grace which is Bible doctrine. And the way to handle life which is always going to have adversity and be very difficult at times is on the basis of the Word of God, not on the basis of turning inward or finding somebody who will come along and put their arm around you and say it's all going to be okay. The issue with Abraham in his second test was whether he was going to trust God or move into panic palace and try to solve the problem on our own. This is what most of us do. What we do when the test comes is hang around for a little while and get some ideas from somebody else, and then rather than trusting God and applying the Scripture we bail out way too early, we get caught up in fear and anxiety, we let mental attitude sins start dominating.
In Abraham's case God is in control of the weather, and God who controls the weather allows this famine to take place in the land to test Abraham to see if he is going to trust God to supply his resources or not, because God is a God who is going to supply through logistical grace that which we need to stay alive to achieve His purposes, not to stay alive to achieve our purposes. Sometimes with logistical grace people don't hear what logistical grace is all about. Logistical grace is not God providing everything we need to achieve our goals, logistical grace is God providing everything you need to achieve His goals. They may not be the same, and God is going to give us enough to do what He wants us to do in His plan for our lives.
There are all kinds of varieties of adversity. We will look at three, starting with what is probably closest to most of us, and that is relationships. We start off in the area of relationships with people. This can involve the most intimate relationships that we have which can relate to family, marriage, if single it can relate to having a social life because man is created in a way that he wants to have relationship with other people, so there is the need to deal with the problem of being alone, the test of loneliness and not letting that motivate and dictate decisions. Then we have business relationships, the people we work with, and often we are around people we work with and go to school with more than our own family. That can be at times a tremendous source of testing, especially if you are a believer and the people around you on a day to day basis are not believers and they operate on a world view that is completely different from your own. Then we can have financial testing, and that can come from either historical trends and what happens nationally or it can be the result of personal decisions. Then we can have weather related disasters—hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, floods, etc. There can be health related disasters. There are all kinds of adversities that we face. As a Christian we can know that this adversity is not meaningless. God is in control whatever the challenge that we face, whatever the rejection may be, whatever the difficulty or obstacle may be; and that test is in our life for a particular reason, either as discipline or to motivate us in our spiritual growth or to accelerate our spiritual growth. We have to understand that there is a contrast between the divine viewpoint approach as stress busting versus the human viewpoint approach of just merely coping with life's problems. What is going on in the believer's life is that you have to handle the evil that you encounter in your life on a daily basis—sometimes minor; sometimes major. Any time we face adversity it is the result of living in a fallen world, a fallen environment.
Ultimately, how we handle evil in our life is part of the overall problem that men have struggled with for centuries. How can evil exist? This is often a challenge we'll get from an unbeliever. How can a loving God allow such evil things in the world? He makes it sound as if there is this tremendous discontinuity in the life of the believer, that there is this tremendous conflict. But there is no conflict whatsoever because the unbeliever has no reason to handle evil, he can't even talk about evil because on the basis of the assumptions of the unbeliever everything is just the product of evolution and is normal. The only basic solution that the unbeliever has is to deny the reality of evil. He has to numb his mind and act as if it really isn't there. Sometimes they do this through religious manipulation and various forms of mysticism. The second option for the unbeliever is just some sort of leap into the absurd. They just live with this tension and life is just absurd and so everything is just meaningless. The third option is to just try to escape or anaesthetize the pain, and they do all this through all kinds of methods—drugs, sex, music, relationships, alcohol, pornography, entertainment, work. Some people are successful not just because they are good workers but because they can't face life. So they just work themselves into coping with life by pouring themselves into work. This produces various neuroses and psychoses.
The believer can't do that, he has to have basic problem-solving skills that come from the mandates of Scripture. The first is confession, because in confession what we are doing is coming to God and in essence in our souls we are admitting that we sin and so it is a return to humility—I am a sinner and need God's grace. There is a recognition that we got God's grace at the cross when Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins. So the issue is not my sins, the issue is my ongoing relationship with Christ. At the instant of confession we are filled with the Spirit, but the filling of the Spirit is a passive term. Ephesians 5:18 is a passive imperative, we receive the action of the Spirit. So how do we turn this into an active problem-solving device, into a stress busting skill? We walk by means of the Spirit. We walk by means of faith and we trust the Lord. We have looked at the fact that the faith-rest drill has three basic elements to it. The first is that we mix our faith with the Word of God. This means that we need to have the Word of God in our souls. We need to be memorizing Scripture. From that we draw doctrinal conclusions derived from the direct statements of God's Word. Then we have certain doctrinal rationales. For example, if God is for us who can be against us? As part of that, as a result of operating on the faith-rest drill, is the production of a relaxed mental attitude. The relaxed mental attitude is the consequence of trusting God. So we can relax in a situation and not give in to fear, worry, anxiety, etc. These are also coping skills. Most of the sins are coping skills: trying to cope with life's problems by going out and getting drunk, coping with loneliness by being promiscuous, coping with economic problems by worrying and being anxious. Rather than using a spiritual skill and a problem-solving device what most people do is bail out into some type of mental attitude sin which leads to an overt sin, and ultimately it is going to be the result of operating on the arrogance skills—self-absorption, leading to self-indulgence, leading to self-deception, leading to self-justification. At this point they don't even know that we are deceived. This leads to self-deification so that all they can talk about is their own god, which is themselves.
These five arrogance skills are in contrast to the believer who mixing faith with the Word of God, drawing doctrinal conclusions and using doctrinal rationales, has a relaxed mental attitude. As a result of that relaxed mental attitude he is then able to move into the next coping skill, which is grace orientation. When we are not relaxed we can't be grace oriented. We are too up tight. Grace orientation involves humility. If we haven't confessed our sins we are still operating on arrogance. So once we have confessed our sins and we have to recognize it is not us, it is God, and we have to rely upon God to take care of our sins, then we can once again operate on the basis of grace and move beyond that to the fifth basic problem-solving device, which is doctrinal orientation where we align our thinking with the Word of God. And that can't happen by showing up at Bible class just once or twice a week.
James 2:21-26, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
That is the last paragraph in a section of James' epistle that began back in 1:21. It has the same theme: application, that is, that if there is no application of doctrine then knowledge of doctrine does us no good spiritually. The issue is not just hearing but applying it. Applying it isn't just Christian service in this passage, it is taking the Word and applying it in relationship to all of the adversity that comes into life.