Abraham, Paul & God. A look at faith. A process, not an instant happening.


All of us do some pretty unbelieving things, both before and after we accept Jesus.  God knows that we are weak and will need His strength.  With the strength of God – we can walk with Him, albeit not right away and not perfectly.
Because Jesus died for our sins, if we accept Him as our savior – God will call us His friend – and will consider us righteous.

I wrote the original version of this back on October 18, 2009.  Five years later, I did an update – October 26, 2014 – the updates are in text like this, so you can tell what’s new.  

Really?  I don’t have to be perfect first?

 Yes – Really!  Let’s look at Abraham – someone that Jesus talked about several times – someone who is the “father” of three religions: Judaism, Christianity (both through Isaac), and Islam (through Ishmael).  If you don’t already know Abraham’s history – prepare to be shocked.  And be prepared to have hope for each and every one of us, after you see what Abraham did – not before God called him, but even after God called him!

Let’s start with a passage from Romans 4 to start this journey into the past.

Ro 4:18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

This is Paul, talking about when God told Abraham that he (Abram, at that time) would be the father of many nations – in spite of the fact the Abram was about 100 years old and his wife (Sarai) was 90. He is saying that because of Abraham’s unwavering belief and since he was fully persuaded that God would follow through on His promise – God considered Abraham righteous. Really? Abraham “did not waver” and was “fully persuaded”?

Verses like this make us feel like we need to be perfect in order for God to like is, let alone actually use us to accomplish something.  I used to feel that way.  But let’s back up a bit more – 

When God first called Abraham, his name was actually Abram.  God changed it later.  So let’s look in on Abram and his wife, Sarai, while they were on the journey that God had for them.  They were in Egypt when the events below took place, from Genesis 12:10-21 –

Abram in Egypt

Ge 12:10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” 

Ge 12:14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.

Ge 12:17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Yes – he really did that.  And lived to tell about it.  I’m not sure too many wives would be so willing to go through with what she did.  Hopefully not too many husbands would ask either.  Really amazing for someone known for their great faith.  What about the faith that maybe God would take care of them  on this journey – since God was the one who sent them this way?

Surely this is just a one time thing.  He must learn his lesson and get “right” after this – don’t you think?  Now, in between the previous event and the one we’re about to look at – quite a few things happened.  Here’s brief summary:

  • God made a covenant with Abram – telling him that the number of his offspring would be more than the stars in the heavens.
  • Abram believed God.
  • Sarai didn’t have that same level of faith – so she convinced Abram to sleep with her servant Hagar. 
  • Abram did it – even though he believed God.
  • Ishmael is conceived – Hagar is kicked out – God promises to make a great nation from Ishmael – Hagar returns on orders from God – Ishmael is born.

Here’s what happened with Hagar and Ishmael, as we see in Genesis 16 –

Ge 16:1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

This is unwavering and fully persuaded? It was an accepted practice at that time, so it’s not like he did anything wrong by the customs of the day. But – it hardly seems like Abram had full faith in God. It was more like Abram had full faith the he, Abram, could make God’s promise could come true – but not in the way God had promised. Remember – God said the offspring would come with Sarai, not with Hagar. Oops.

So – the man who believed God – and talked to God – believed Sarai, did what she said, and didn’t even think about asking God if this was the right thing to do.  And look at what comes next:

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

6 “Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

So even though Abram did what Sarai wanted by sleeping with Hagar – and he still thought he was fulfilling God’s promise for Him at this point – he still allowed Sarai to drive Hagar away – with the unborn child! That sounds pretty wavering to me. Here he was, taking matters into his own hands to have the child that he didn’t really believe his wife could bear – and then turning around and driving that very same child away with it’s mother.

But – even after all that, God didn’t turn away from Abram, as we can see in Genesis 17:3-8 –

Ge 17:3 Abram fell face down, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Even after what Abram and Sarai did,

God reaffirms His agreement with Abram.

Abram will now be called Abraham – as we know him today

Sarai will now be called Sarah – as we know her today.

Abraham’s descendants, by way of Sarah – are today’s Jews and Christians

Abraham’s descendants, by way of Hagar – are the original Muslims – but that will have to be a whole different entry.

 So – this is the part where it says “and they all lived happily ever after, right?  Think again.

 Then this happens in Genesis 20:1-17 –

Abraham and Abimelech

Ge 20:1 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. 

Ge 20:3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”
Ge 20:4 Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”
Ge 20:6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.”
Ge 20:8 Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.” 10 And Abimelech asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”
Ge 20:11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” ’ ”
Ge 20:14 Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”
Ge 20:16 To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”
Ge 20:17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, 18 for the LORD had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

 Looks like nothing’s changed.  Even after the renewed promises from God – even after the “rebirth” of having their names changed.  BTW – this name change isn’t a little thing.  When God changes a name – it’s a really big thing.  For these two, it’s like the Old Testament equivalent of today’s baptism.  They’re “changed” people.  But obviously they’re not perfect people.  In fact – in this one sense – they haven’t changed at all.  But then – God doesn’t expect us to be perfect.  No, there was only one who was perfect – Jesus.  The rest of us – we try – we fail – we try again, because we have faith – and that’s what God wants.  Let’s continue to see what the great prophet Isaiah has to say about Abraham, as he delivers God’s word –

 Isa 41:8 “But you, O Israel, my servant,Jacob, whom I have chosen,you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth,from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’;I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 So do not fear, for I am with you;do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

This is God – calling Abraham “His friend”! This is also God telling His chosen people not to be afraid – that He will strengthen them – that He will uphold them. He knows they are afraid. He knows they are weak and need support and strength.

What does this have to do with us, as Christians? Plenty. Remember – this is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Earlier, in the Book of Acts, Paul talks about his mission from God:

Acts 26:22 But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

“Christ would proclaim light to His own people and to the Gentiles.” His own people would be the Jews – God’s chosen people that Isaiah talked about – Abraham’s offspring by Sarah. But notice – to them – and to the Gentiles. That would be the rest of us – including us as Christians and Muslims.

To take this back to the beginning and close the loop:

Abram did some pretty unbelieving things after God told him that he and Sarai would have so many children.

God knew that Abram was weak and would need His strength.

With the strength of God – Abraham did it “right”, albeit the second time and not perfectly.

God called Abraham His friend – and considers him righteous.

What Paul is saying:

All of us do some pretty unbelieving things, both before and after we accept Jesus.

God knows that we are weak and will need His strength.

With the strength of God – we can walk with Him, albeit not right away and not perfectly.

Because Jesus died for our sins, if we accept Him as our savior – God will call us His friend – and will consider us righteous.

In God’s eye – that’s exactly what Abraham was – righteous. He only sees the good. We can have that same thing. But there’s only one way – only one religion that promises this. All others will tell you that either things are absolutely hopeless or that life has no point / no value – or that you have to take care of yourself / save yourself by doing great things on your own. The first has no hope. The latter has it backwards:

Acts 26:20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

Turn to God first – then the deeds will prove it. Not do the deeds and God will accept you. This is so easy – and yet so hard. Once we get past the ego problems related to accepting Jesus as necessary for our salvation – everything else will follow from that. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. As always – not my words quoted above – but the Word from God’s Book. He told us these things that we might not be afraid. Satan will try to convince us otherwise – but it’s really that simple. God sent His Son to pay for our sins – He will give us the strength that He knows we need – we must accept that Jesus is our Savior – we will then accept God’s strength and support – and He will call us His friend and see only the good in us. What a promise. What a God!

Christianity is the only religion that teaches God grace – His offering of His Son to pay the price for what we’ve done.  Every other religion – at best – tells us we have to balance out the bad things we did with even more good things.  And all though life – we never know if we’ve succeeded in doing more good than bad.  Talk about being nervous.  I would be.  Either that or have the feeling that there’s no point – the amount of bad is too much and could never be overcome.  But when we find out the price is paid – and it’s offered to us – what a difference.  And when you look at people like Abraham (or any other “hero” from the Bible) you see they’re no different from us.  Look at what Abram / Abraham did.  Moses killed someone.  Paul – who wrote a large portion of the New Testament used to persecute and kill Christians!  Are you worse than that?  Not likely.  But God still used them.  And He can use us.  The obvious conclusion then – He certainly loves all of us, no matter what we did – or will do.  We need only look at Moses, Abraham and Paul to see the truth in that statement.

For those of us who are Christians – when we talk to other people – we need to be certain that we stay with God’s message.  He warned us about that.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God.

For those looking for God – who want that saving grace – know that this is His message – and that sometimes we don’t get it right, but it’s still His message and His promise – to us, and to you if you’d like.

 

For the grace of God hath appeared bringing salvation to all men.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

 

Someone’s at your door.

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