“Faith Relies on the Word of God”
(Genesis 12:1-8 – Lent 2 – March 8, 2020)
Genesis 12:1-8 – Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.
Dear beloved of God in Christ Jesus,
“All right, it’s time to pack up. You’re moving to a far away place. Say goodbye to your country and the people you’ve known here. I have plans for you. You’ll go to a land halfway around the world as you know it. There, I’ll show you a place you can call ‘home.’ Are you ready?” Think of the magnitude of such a move in Abram’s mind, as he heard the Lord’s command. Yet, he was ready to pick up and go wherever the Lord led. Why? Because he trusted the Word of God. The Lord’s promises gave him the faith to act.
This is true for us, too. We share the faith of Abram. God may not have called us to move halfway around the world to a strange land; but He has called us to a land beyond this world – the Promised Land of heaven. In Abram’s life and ours: “Faith Relies on the Word of God”: 1) Faith believes the Word, 2) Faith acts on the Word, and 3) Faith spreads the Word.
1) Faith believes the Word
First, faith believes the Word. What was the Word that Abram heard? We read in verses 1-3: “Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
If someone told us to pack up and move to a far away land we might say, “Who do you think you are?” But Abram knew this was no ordinary “someone.” It was the Lord God speaking, whose powerful Word had brought all creation into being; who had made man and breathed life into him; and who, after Adam and Eve fell into sin, had promised to send the Savior as the Seed of the woman, one born to crush Satan’s head and save fallen mankind. Abram knew it was no ordinary “someone” giving a command; it was the Lord almighty, who works wonders for His people. And here, in connection to His command, the Lord promised great blessings.
Let us begin with the last part of the Lord’s promise, since all other blessings are in light of this part. The Lord said: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In Genesis 22:18 the Lord says specifically: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” In Galatians 3:16, God’s Word defines who that seed is when it says: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.” So the Lord was asking Abram to believe that he would become the ancestor of that Seed of the woman God had promised to Adam and Eve long before. From Abraham would come that Savior who would crush Satan’s head and bring salvation to fallen mankind. So people from every nation on earth would be blessed through Abram and his Seed, who is Christ. As we understand this promise, the rest of the Lord’s promises fall into place.
The Lord tells Abram: “I will make you a great nation.” This was an amazing promise, since Abram and Sarai had never been able to have children; and they were past childbearing years. Yet the Lord would give them a son, Isaac; and through Isaac, He would increase Abram’s descendants until they became the great nation of Israel! The Lord says: “I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.” To this day, Abram’s name remains great. Through the nation coming from him, we have received our greatest blessing, our Savior Jesus.
The Lord continues: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you.” Abram would proclaim the Lord’s promise of the Savior, and everyone who believed would be blessed. Through faith in the Savior, they would receive the blessings of God’s forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But all who rejected the Lord’s promises and dishonored Abram’s witness to the Savior would be cursed. As Jesus one day would say: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18).
So faith believes the Word of God – above all, His promise about our Savior. God’s Spirit works through His powerful Gospel to create saving faith in us unto eternal life (Romans 1:16). Then, faith believes God’s Word in every promise concerning His daily care for us, until He takes us to His Promised Land of heaven. For faith knows that if God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for our salvation, He will make good on every promise (Romans 8:32)!
2) Faith acts on the Word
Therefore secondly, faith acts on the Word of God. Faith gives us confidence to do His will, even if the results are not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1, 8-13). We see this as our text continues in verses 4-5: “So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.”
Abram believed the Lord to be good on His Word, so he acted. Think of how difficult it must have been to leave behind all that he had known for 75 years. A person might find a sense of identity and security in being surrounded by family and friends and a familiar place. Yet, Abram left all this behind to go to a land he had not seen, a land God promised to give to his descendants, a land still fully occupied by foreigners! Abram acted on the Lord’s Word, because He believed God was giving him an identity and security that no one else could replace.
We might say, “How can I ever have faith like Abram? I often fail to act on God’s promises. I often fail to cast all my cares on Him and trust Him to provide. Instead, I often trust the people and things and pleasures of this world, more than God, to give a sense of identity and security. Instead of following the Lord’s holy paths, in my lack of faith I have turned to my own ways.” You see, if we put too much emphasis on what Abram did, and we try to compare ourselves to such a great man of faith, or anyone who seems so much holier, we will be tempted to despair, and to think: “I should have a stronger faith to act on God’s Word, if I ever expect to be saved.”
But we are not to think about what Abram did, or we must do, to know that we are saved. God leads us rather to focus on what He has done for us, to save us by His grace. Both Abram and we are sinners. But in mercy, God sent His Son to take away all our sins. Just like Abram, God gives us salvation as His free gift – not by our works – but simply through faith in Christ. Romans 4:2-3 makes this clear when it says: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'” The righteousness God counted to Abraham by faith is counted to us the same way. Romans 4:23-25 says of that righteousness: “It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”
Therefore, our salvation does not depend on the strength of our faith or what we have done. It depends on the strength of our Savior and what He has done for us. Even a weak faith is a saving faith, as it clings to Jesus who is strong to save us from sin. God’s gift of forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life in Christ is credited in full to us, even when we are weak in faith.
When Abram heard God’s Word of grace and blessing through his Seed, the coming Savior, that Word gave him strength and joy to act as he did. Hebrews 11:8-10 says: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
So it is with us. God’s Word changes our lives. By His Gospel, He has called us out of following the ways of Satan and the world (Ephesians 2:2). He has given us a new life in Christ, and a desire to walk in His ways (Titus 2:11-14). With Abram, we live in view of the Promised Land of heaven – looking forward to the city that has eternal foundations that God has made for us. This promise gives us strength and joy to walk like Abram in the way our Savior leads. Faith acts on God’s Word.
3) Faith spreads the Word
Finally, faith spreads the Word. Abram spread the Word wherever the Lord led him. We see this as we read on in verses 5-7: “So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.”
As Abram arrived in the Promised Land, the Lord repeated His promise. And once again, His Word worked a response of faith. Abram gave a powerful witness. He built an altar at Shechem, a major crossroads city in the heart of Canaan. The altar Abram built to the Lord showed that he was not ashamed of the Gospel of the Savior; for He knew it is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
Abram’s response of faith continued, as it says in verse 8: “And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.” To call on the name of the Lord is to worship Him. Abram used the Lord’s name, not only prayer, but also in preaching. So here, centuries before Abram’s descendants occupied this land as Israel, and long before the Savior came through that nation, Abram is touring the Promised Land with eyes of faith. He is praying, proclaiming God’s Word, setting up altars as a witness to the Lord, the one true God and Savior. His faith led him to spread the Word – not only to the Canaanites who lived there, but also to his family, his servants, and all whom he brought along on the journey.
So it is with us. When the world sees us regularly coming before the Lord’s altar, to hear His Word and call on His name; when they see in our homes the faith that clings to His Word of promise in Christ and calls on His saving name; they see how important He is to us. Thus in Abram’s footsteps, in the same spirit of faith: “we also believe and speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13). Faith wants to spread the Word, God’s Good News of salvation in Christ for all people.
Dear fellow believers: one day Jesus would tell Abram’s descendents: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). We too have seen Jesus’ day and we are glad! For God has given us the faith of Abram that believes His Word, faith that acts on His Word, and faith that wants to spread His Word of salvation in Jesus. If just anyone had told us to leave everything behind and go to a land he would show us, we might say, “Who are you?” But it is our Savior who calls us to follow Him. So we say: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). For with Abram, we are looking forward to His Promised Land of heaven!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.