Abraham is the Bible’s most prominent example of a person who lived by faith in God. He is honored in Hebrews chapter 11, the faith Hall of Fame. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Abraham believed God when he did not know where (vv. 8-10), when he did not know how (vv. 11-12), and when he did not know why (vv. 13-16). It was faith in God’s Word that made him leave his home, live as a pilgrim, and follow wherever God led.”
The New Testament says that those who have faith in Jesus are spiritual descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9; Romans 4:16; Hebrews 2:16). This means that we may inherit the promises made to Abraham if we live by faith, as he did. Hebrews 11 uses the story of Abraham to teach us what it means to live by faith.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went” (Hebrews 11:8). When he said “yes” to God’s call, Abraham was saying “no” to all that was familiar. In fact, his home city, Ur, was a center for idol worship (Joshua 24:2). So he was saying “no” to the worship of false gods and responding with a “yes” to the only true and living God.
For Christians, obedience means saying “no” to anything that is in opposition to the will of God and saying “yes” to what we know God wants us to do. The will of God is revealed in the Word of God. The Bible tells us what to believe and how to live. Like Abraham, we are called to respond to God’s will with obedience.
“By faith he made his home in the promised land, like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents” (Hebrews 11:9). Canaan, the new land to which God sent him, was inhabited by people who lived in cities. By contrast, Abraham lived as a nomadic herdsman, moving through the land and living in tents. In several different places he built altars for the worship of God. In this he was publicly identified with the true God.
Augustine, over 1600 years ago, lived in the decadent Roman empire. He taught that there is a distinction between the “city of God” and the “city of man.” Followers of Jesus hold dual citizenship and every day we weigh whether loyalty to one conflicts with loyalty to the other. Like Abraham we are to keep our eyes of faith on the eternal “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10, 16).
Abraham’s faith was put to the test on several occasions. In Genesis 12-16 we see him dealing with one challenging situation after another: famine, conflict over grazing lands, the kidnapping and rescue of his nephew Lot, Sarah’s temporary unbelief, and the matter of Hagar and Ishmael.
His greatest test of faith is mentioned in Hebrews 11:17-19. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.” Genesis 22 tells the surprising story of how God directed Abraham to sacrifice his son. God was asking Abraham to give up the most precious thing in his life, Isaac the son of promise. He must have been bewildered by this command. It seemed ridiculous to offer up his son when God had promised that it was to be through Isaac that Abraham’s chosen descendants would be numbered.
How did he respond to this test? “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19). In fact he considered that God would have to raise Isaac from death if he was to keep his promise. God had promised descendants to Abraham and that those descendants would come through Isaac. He maintained his faith in the word and power of God. In the desperate moment when the terrible sacrifice was to be offered, God delivered Isaac from death by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. Abraham passed this supreme test of faith.
When God interrupts our lives with uncomfortable circumstances or new directions, we should not panic. Instead the example of Abraham shows us the way to pass the test. We must pause and take time to reason it out, and consider what God has promised to do. Then respond with faith in his promises.
Pastor Randy Faulkner