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Tag Archives: Faith

Is Anything Too Hard For The Lord?

“Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 18:14)

As we come to chapter 18 in our study of the Book of Genesis, we see the most dramatic of all of God’s appearances to Abraham. Here, the Lord and two angels visit him in the form of human beings. This visitation immediately brings to our minds the reminder given by the writer to the Hebrews who said that we do well in showing hospitality to strangers: for some have “entertained angels unaware” (Heb. 13:2). Surely had the Lord not revealed His identity to Abraham here, this would have been such an occasion. Nevertheless, we can be certain that Abraham was in need of no such reminder and was in the practice of displaying this kind of hospitality to all who passed his way.

There are a great deal of things that may be observed during this encounter and many lessons that we can learn from it. However, highlighted in my Bible are two simple, rhetorical questions that I feel are among the highest points of spiritual truth that we glean from this chapter. These two questions are the hinges upon which the great revelations of God’s character in Genesis 18 swing. The first of these is:

Is anything too difficult for the Lord? (v.14)

As God re-confirms His promise to Abraham of a son born by Sarah, Sarah herself overhears His words and laughs at the notion of conceiving a child in her old age. Shall Abraham and I really bear a child at our age?, she thinks within herself. The Lord responds by asking why she has laughed and then asks the question: Is anything too hard for the Lord? It is to this end that it seems that God has waited so long to bless them with a child. He could have caused Sarah to conceive many, many years before, but He has chosen this time to do so. Why?

I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)

Wherein can man behold so vividly the strength and glory of God than when He performs “the impossible?” At what time do we trust so greatly in God’s power than when we have come to realize the insufficiency of our own? God withheld Sarah’s conception of Isaac until the point when there was absolutely no other way that he could be born apart from God’s miraculous intervention. What pure faith is revealed within us when we reach the conclusion that if something is to be done, then God alone must do it. This was the point of faith that God had been bringing Abraham and Sarah to all along. Hebrews 11:11 tells us that Sarah did, in fact, believe that God was able to perform that which He promised, but it seems that just the thought of it gave her a brief pause when first she heard Him utter it.

Sarah’s reaction of laughter, her brief moment of incredulity, is born not of her distrust in God, but in her distrust of herself. She is not really intending to express skepticism in what God can do, but in what she is capable of. After I am old, she thinks, shall I have the pleasure of motherhood? Is this not so often the point of our own contention of faith? We take our eyes off of what God can do and look only at what we cannot do. We tell the Lord that our faith is firmly rooted in Him, yet we have no faith in ourselves. But we fail to see that this is precisely the realization that God intends for us to have! It is in our weaknesses and inabilities that the glorious strength and abilities of God are shown in such remarkable contrast (2 Corinthians 12:10). It is only when things become impossible for us that we learn to say: Is anything too hard for the Lord?

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published January 15, 2010]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

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Faith Must Precede Sacrament

“And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.” (Genesis 17:25)

Genesis 17 closes with Abraham and the men of his household obeying God’s instructions by carrying out the rite of circumcision. Abraham believed all that God has told him (Romans 4:18-22) and responded in faith to God’s directions. But what of the others who partook of this ceremony that day? Were they, too, moved by faith in God’s promise — or were they merely acquiescing to Abraham’s wishes, since he was the master of the house? What of the young man Ishmael, Abraham’s son? He, too, possessed a very personal portion in the promises that God handed down to his father (Genesis 17:20); was he moved by faith in God to obey of his own volition the directives of God Almighty?

We brush upon a phenomenon at the closing of Genesis 17 that we have but to look around us in our own day to see is still being practiced. The unrepentant and the unconverted go through the same motions that the genuine children of God do. Ours is not to search the hearts of others and determine their hidden motives, that prerogative belongs to our Lord alone. But we do well to realize that chaff grows also among the fields of wheat and that they often perform the very same observances. Ishmael was circumcised right alongside his godly father, both in obedience to God’s commandment, yet Ishmael’s later words and actions (e.g., Genesis 21:9) would betray that he did not have the underlying faith that Abraham had.

There are two great lessons that we can learn from the circumcision of Ishmael. First, although God gives certain signs and sacraments that identify a person with God, not all who partake in that sacrament are truly servants of God. We will find throughout the Bible men who were of the circumcision that were clearly not genuine children of God. Second, we see that the sacrament itself does nothing to produce faith or righteousness in those who perform it. Abraham and the men of his household gained nothing that they did not already have once they had carried out their circumcision. Nobody’s faith was boosted by this, nobody’s eyes were suddenly opened, neither was anybody made acceptable or presentable to God by going through this. The merit in what they did was valid only when they moved in voluntary obedience to the Lord and enacted this as an outward token of an inward conversion. The rite itself could produce no inward conversion at all.

And what of our own signs and tokens that identify a person as a child of God? Does Baptism, taking of the Lord’s Supper, or even belonging to a local church body affect any change in a person? In and of themselves, no they do not. A person does not become a child of God by doing these things, a person does these things because they are a child of God. Our sacraments are of a great value to the authentic believer and serve as an outward identification that we are a member of the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as circumcision served to identify people as members of the nation of Israel. But they do not produce faith in us, nor do they endear us to God when our hearts are far from Him. Ishmael went through the motions that said that he was a genuine member of God’s covenant, yet he was not. Apparently, he did not truly believe God and circumcision did not change that. If the faith does not exist before the sacrament is carried out, it will not be created by carrying it out, for faith comes not but by hearing and believing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Faith must precede sacrament for the sacrament to be of any value.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published January 12, 2010]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

What’s In A Name?

No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”  (Genesis 17:5)

Nowadays, people tend to give their children names because either they have a family member who bears that name or else simply because they like the sound of the name. In the culture of the Bible, we do see that the practice was sometimes made of naming children after family members (e.g., Luke 1:59-61), but more often it seems that children were given a name that would be descriptive of them, or would reflect the circumstances surrounding their birth (e.g., Genesis 25:25-26). In other words, names meant something. You could actually learn something about a person just by knowing their name.

We see at times in Scripture where God will change the name of an individual to show what He has done in that person’s life. Jacob (literally, he supplants or heel-catcher) is named by his parents because he is born holding onto his twin brother’s heel. Later, God will call him Israel (literally, God prevails) because he spent a night wrestling with God (unsuccessfully, we might add). As God confirms and clarifies His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, He will give new names both to Abraham (heretofore called Abram) and to Sarah (Sarai before now). Why does God do so?

Abraham (Father of a multitude) is called so because God will bring from him a multitude of descendants. Sarah (Princess or Queen) is identified as such because these descendants will come through her. There is something very striking in this instance of God renaming them, however, and that is their situation at the time that God does it. Lest we forget the context, may we imagine for a moment a 99-year-old man whose only child is a young man born to him by a bond-servant, telling those around him that his name is now Father of a multitude. Not only so, but this man declares that his 90-year-old wife who is without a child of her own is now to be known as Queen, for she will be the mother of this great multitude. What was the reaction from those in his household? What did Hagar and Ishmael think of this? We can only imagine the sneering and ridicule that went on behind the backs of Sarah and Abraham because every time their names were spoken, it was a sharp reminder of the ledge of faith that they had stepped out onto.

“(As it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.”  (Romans 4:17)

But we learn in this encounter between God and Abraham that, from God’s perspective, all things are past tense. God tells Abraham that He will make him a father of nations, but from where God is standing, it’s a “done deal.” Abraham would not appear to have earned his name until long after he is dead and gone, but God renames him at this time because what the Lord has said shall most surely come to pass. Abraham and Sarah exhibited their faith by bearing these new names even when it must have appeared to others that such titles were nothing more than an ironic joke. They may have tried to bring about the promise of children through their own efforts before, but now they would simply believe that God was able to bring it to pass in His own time and in His own way. God Almighty had declared that they were the parents of a multitude of descendants, and that was all that mattered.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published January 8, 2010]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Waiting For God’s Timing

“So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”  (Genesis 16:2)

When we think of the testing of Abraham’s faith, the first thing we tend to think of is his offering up of Isaac (Genesis 22). We are captivated by the account of how Abraham was moved by faith to obey God completely, even obeying the seemingly unreasonable command of God to sacrifice his own son; the son that he had waited for so long. While Abraham proved his faith to be mighty in that instance, we have here in Chapter 16 an instance where Abraham’s faith was tested and the results were not as admirable.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:3 KJV)

While Abraham’s obedience to God’s command to offer up Isaac is a truly astounding demonstration of a faith that is wholly and completely invested in God, we know from our own experiences that it is not the immediate and direct commandment of God to act that gives so much trouble as the commandment to be still and wait for His timing. Admittedly, there are surely few of us whose own faith has matured to such a level that we would have followed in Abraham’s footsteps and offered up the life of our own child as he did, but we certainly can relate to the zeal and passion that is felt when we are responding to the Lord’s clear direction. When God issues the command to Go, our devotion to Him and our trust in His Word can cause us to give reckless abandon to all else, even our own safety and well-being, and esteem even our very lives as not so precious as what we have in Him.

But what of the times when our Lord tells us not to Go, but to Wait? It is during these periods that the true fortitude of our faith is most clearly revealed. When we have the promise of God, it is usually our desire to see it come to fruition as soon as possible. As the days turn into weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years, our tendency is to reconsider what God has told us and wonder whether or not we have missed something in what He told us. Was there something else we were supposed to do?  Is there some way that we can help things along? Time has passed now since Abraham was shown the stars of the sky and the dust of the Earth — being promised by God that his own seed should one day be equal to these in multitude. The fire that burned from the lamp and the smoke that billowed from the pot as the Lord ratified His covenant with Abraham back in Chapter 15 are gone, and all that Abraham sees as he ponders the promise given to him is the age of his own body and the barrenness of Sarah’s, now well beyond the normal age of child-bearing.

As is so often the case, Abraham’s temptation to circumvent the agony of waiting patiently for God to fulfill His promise in His own way comes from a most unlikely source. Sarah herself proposes that Abraham should take her handmaiden, Hagar, to wife — that she might bear for her mistress the child that Sarah could not. While such a practice was customary in the culture of the time, this was in no way the manner in which God intended His promise to be made good. God never meant for Abraham to “take matters into his own hands”, God’s purpose all along was to bring about the son of promise (Isaac) through Abraham’s wife, Sarah.

When we fail to wait patiently for the Lord’s timing in our lives, calamity almost certainly follows. Abraham’s union with Hagar is no exception. Hagar learns that she has conceived a child by Abraham and becomes haughty toward her mistress, Sarah. She feels disdain toward Sarah because she has done what Sarah could not. She did not maintain a submissive attitude toward Sarah but became untoward in her relationship with her. It is likely that she now believed that her own child would stand to inherit the wealth of Abraham and that this would no doubt endear herself more intimately to Abraham than even his own wife. Sarah regrets the decision that she has made in bringing Hagar to her husband and now wishes nothing more than to be rid of this embarrassment altogether. What a warning to be heeded by all who use others in order to accomplish their own ends! Regardless of what authority a person may hold over another, that person is never without feelings, desires, and plans of their own. People can never be treated as mindless automatons at the disposal of another, being used however they please. Sarah’s wish was to simply employ her handmaid as a sort of passionless surrogate to bear for her a child that she could call her own son. Yet when we disregard the feelings and emotions of others and seek to use them only to fulfill our own purposes, repercussions are bound to come back on us.

The lesson for Sarah, Abraham, and indeed for all of us from this unfortunate episode is that we are compelled to do all things in God’s timing and in God’s way. As we considered before, the actual deed that Abraham did was not in and of itself appalling within the context of the culture of the day. Sarah’s suggestion was not invalid by man’s estimation; even Abraham apparently found it quite reasonable. But in carrying it out he exhibited his own impatience rather than his trust for the living God.

How often are we guilty of committing similar offenses?  Rather than waiting for the Spirit of God to bring His promises to pass in our own lives, we try to “help things along.” In doing so, we make compromises that most assuredly bring us nothing but disaster later on. This is by no means an excuse to sit by idly when God has commanded us to move forward, but if we are doing all that God has instructed us to do, if we have followed the path that He has laid out for us, we are wise to not stray from it. When God tells us to Go, we must do so unhesitatingly. When He tells us to Wait, we must do so patiently.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published January 4, 2010]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

 

Abraham Believed God

“And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

It is without any hyperbole that I say that the Fifteenth Chapter of Genesis is arguably the most pertinent chapter for the Christian in the Book of Genesis, possibly in the entire Old Testament. And the key verse to this key chapter is Verse 6, “And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” There is no other single verse in all of the Old Testament that so aptly illustrates God’s unchanging method for Salvation. Paul will directly quote this verse in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 4:3), and in his epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:6). James will also quote it in his epistle (James 2:23). To say that this chapter of Genesis inaugurates a turning point in the relationship of Abraham to our Lord is a gross understatement, for it is what God does for him at this point that lays the foundation for everything else.

What we have in this chapter is nothing short of the attainment of Salvation by Abraham as his “belief” is counted as righteousness. God imputes righteousness to him on the basis of his faith. The very heart of Christian Theology, this is the summary statement of how God’s Grace works in the life of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. God attributes vicariously the righteousness that belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ alone, to those who put their faith in Him. Neither in the Old Testament nor the New is Salvation secured by any other means. This has always been God’s method.

“And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof,” (Jeremiah 34:18)

The slaughter of the animals and the dividing of their carcasses recorded in Genesis 15:9-10 might seem peculiar to us, but what Abraham was actually doing was following the custom of the day for entering into a covenant or contract. As we see in Jeremiah 34:18, the way that a contract was ratified in those days was for the two parties to come together, slaughter a calf or a goat, divide the carcass in half, and then the two would walk between the parts. The vow was made that, “If I should break the terms of this covenant, then may I be cut asunder as this animal is.”  When God gives instructions to Abraham in verse 9 to prepare these animals, He is announcing His intent to enter into a covenant with him.

But something very strange happens to Abraham as he is waiting for the Lord to show up for the ceremony. A deep sleep falls upon him and a horror of great darkness (v.12). This is not a sleep that comes from being weary or a slumber that overtakes him as his wait becomes too long. This is the same type of unconscious state that the Lord put upon Adam when He took his rib to make Eve (Genesis 2:21). While he is asleep, God tells Abraham of the captivity that will come upon his descendants and their slavery in the land of Egypt. As soon as the sun sets, a smoking Furnace and a burning Lamp pass between the carcasses of the animals (15:17).

This entering into covenant between God and Abraham is still part of the illustration of Abraham’s Salvation that began in Verse 6. It is also an illustration of our own Salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. As Abraham becomes paralyzed in the grips of a deep sleep, seeing the captivity of his sons and daughters in the land of Egypt; so, too, were we held paralyzed in the captivity of sin, until God delivered us from its clutches. Just as Abraham does not pass between the carcasses himself: announcing his end of the agreement, neither do we have anything to offer in our own Salvation Covenant with God. He did not pass through because he was not making any promise to God, this was an entirely one-sided transaction. God alone was making the promise to save Abraham, Abraham had nothing to offer on his part. Only God confirmed the Covenant, passing between the carcasses; His presence symbolized by the Furnace and the Lamp.

Abraham’s part in his own Salvation amounted to nothing more, nor anything less, than believing God. Abraham lay helpless as God secured for him the Salvation that he himself could not. God’s call to us is to put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for Salvation. Our part in the process of our own Salvation is the same as Abraham’s was, to believe God (John 6:29). He has not called us to walk between the carcasses, nor can we. He has not instructed us to promise anything to Him. We are to believe God, place our faith in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His righteousness will be imputed to us also.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published December 15, 2009]

**All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

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