Abraham’s Faith

Genesis is more than the book of beginnings – it’s the book of new beginnings. Sometimes called the “Seed Plot of the Bible,” we completely miss its point if we don’t see that it says more about the New Creation than it does about the old.

The main truths of the New Creation in Christ are illustrated in Genesis in a series of engaging biographies. The Holy Spirit wastes no time in giving the Promise of New Creation in Christ – the fall of the first man, Adam, giving perfect occasion to introduce the second man, the last Adam, who, as the Seed of the Woman, would crush the serpent’s head.

The narrative of Noah establishes the principle of the Power of the New Creation – that God brings life out of death – while Isaac, living after the experience of Mount Moriah as one whose all had been placed upon the altar (Rom 12:1), exemplifies the Price of the New Creation.

The story of Jacob illustrates God’s work to deal with Problems in the New Creation. Reminding us that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Heb 12:6), the tender hand of God broke the arrogance of self-determining Jacob, transforming him into God-dependent Israel, who finished his days worshipping while leaning on his staff.

The climactic biography, Joseph’s near-flawless account, illustrates the Pinnacle of the New Creation – one in whom the Spirit of God is! Often presented as typical of Christ Himself, perhaps Joseph more accurately illustrates a spirit-filled life, of which Christ was the perfect example.

This leaves Abraham, the Bible’s prime example of the pervasive principle of Pilgrimage and the New Creation – the all-important truth that those who are in Christ are ultimately not at home in this world.

The Patriarch of Faith

Abraham is the father of all who believe (Rom 4:11; Gal 3:7-8). Although the Jews, as Abraham’s physical descendants, held him as exclusively their national father, Paul explains that we are to understand his patriarchy in a spiritual sense. While God has not abandoned the physical seed of Abraham, every believer in Christ is a partaker of the spiritual DNA of Abraham and an inheritor of the blessings which flow on the basis of faith-righteousness and not works. How exquisitely divine was the revelation that God’s plan was always to bless all humanity, and how intricately precise was the unfolding of the truth that this blessing would ultimately flow to Abraham’s spiritual seed by faith through One who was, in reality, his physical seed by birth.

The Peace of Faith

Three New Testament passages (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Jas 2:23) reiterate the statement in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham’s faith was imputed to him as righteousness. While the emphasis is different in each, it is sufficient for now to note that Abraham was justified before God because he trusted in Him.

The biblical concept of justification is not merely negatively the removal of guilt, but positively the attribution of righteousness to an otherwise guilty person (Rom 4:5). The KJV translation, “it was counted … as righteousness,” suggests the financial origins of the word and implies the application of a credit balance to a table of accounts. Upon believing, Abraham’s account was positively credited by God with righteousness. Similarly, upon believing, every child of faith is positively attributed with righteousness, not just in the sight of God, but by the righteous reckoning of the offended God Himself.

Drawing upon David’s experience in Psalm 32, Paul describes the blessedness of the person in conscious enjoyment of such a standing before God. Although in classical Greek makarios (blessed) described the state of freedom from daily cares and anxieties, in the New Testament it is used to describe not merely freedom from the burden of guilt but the fortunes of the bountiful grace to those in Christ. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:1-2 ESV).

The Progress of Faith

Although the historical account of Abraham’s life in the Old Testament does not gloss over the instances when he faltered, it is both encouraging and instructive to observe his gracious spiritual appraisal by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Hebrews 11, the great “Hall of Fame” of faith, depicts his entire life as a journey of faith. From the moment he responded to God’s call to leave home and kindred in Ur of the Chaldees, he was constantly moving – not just forward, but upward – towards the heavenly city of promise, designed and built by God.

While Abraham’s faith reached forward and upward, it also rooted downward. First, when called to forsake familiar surroundings for an unknown land, Abraham obeyed. Then, seeing how God had blessed his obedience with material prosperity, even preserving him from his own folly, on receiving the promise of a son in old age, Abraham believed. Discounting obvious natural obstacles – the “deadness” of his own and his wife’s bodies – their physical weakness was more than compensated by his strength of faith. Finally, on being asked of God to slay the one in whom all his aspirations centred, Abraham laid all upon the altar, reckoning that the God who had given him a son from the deadness of Sarah’s womb could raise him again from the deadness of the tomb. His story demonstrates the central importance of the believer’s walk of faith – of personal experience with God.

The Proving and Power of Faith

God does not allow His people to be tested to the breaking point (1Co 10:13). “So that the tested genuineness of your faith … may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1Pe 1:7 ESV). As He does not test them to determine their faithfulness (Jas 1:13) but to demonstrate it for His glory, so it is significant that the real test of Abraham’s faith came in the later years of his pilgrimage. While some dear saints are called upon to endure trials relatively early in life, most of us are still ill-equipped to bear such burdens in our youth.

With what confidence the aged pilgrim climbed Moriah’s hill, his understanding of the ways of God now honed by experience and sharper than his sheathed blade, his faith burning brighter than the smouldering firebox in his hand. “I and the lad will go yonder … and come again” (Gen 22:5), he told the servants. When quizzed about the sacrificial lamb, he said, “God will see” (v8). God had previously seen and preserved his unborn son, Ishmael (Gen 16:13), so He would see again and provide for his son Isaac.

We will “go yonder … and worship,” he said. How his confidence in God blossomed into the peaceable fruit of righteousness! How the genuineness of his faith, tried in the furnace, yielded the pure gold of obedient dependence upon God! And with what wonder and joy did he see his expectation miraculously fulfilled as, figuratively speaking, he received Isaac again from the dead (Heb 11:19).

Abraham headlines in the Hall of Fame, where faith is the invincible, albeit invisible, power of those who performed great exploits for God. Faith enables us to understand the perplexities of the past, apprehend the promises of the future, and contend with the problems of the present. By faith the people of God are enabled to submit to adversity and subdue their enemies; they are able to worship acceptably and work for God effectively, to live righteously and overcome miraculously.

This is what Peter meant when he spoke about the preserving power of faith. Those elect through sanctification of the Spirit, saved through sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ (1Pe 1:2), are being secured by the strength of God through faith, waiting for the future inheritance which He has secured in heaven for them.

The Prospect of Faith

This brings us finally to the ultimate prospect of Abraham’s faith. His onward and upward sojourn of faith was energised by the conviction that he and his children would inherit and populate a city, precisely conceived, permanently consolidated and perfectly constructed by the God with whom he, the “Friend of God,” walked daily (Heb 11:10; Jas 2:23).  Such divinely-begotten confidence is both unshakeable and unstoppable.

Abraham and his fellow faithful are ever present, encircling us as a cloud, at times witnessing encouragement to go on faithfully, at times witnessing reproof for giving up so easily. They all died, not having received the promises but having seen them afar off; they embraced them, moving always on and up towards the goal. Though they died in faith, they were largely ignorant of the massive spiritual benefits the faithful would inherit through Christ. How much more ought we, to whom God has revealed such blessings in His Word, not only live as those who are not at home in this wilderness, but, like Abraham, as those going home by His great grace and power.