There are many misconceptions about faith these days. Some think of it as a commodity, saying ‘I wish I had your faith.’ Others think of it simply as the means of salvation to deliver us from hell. Much of the evangelistic preaching in recent years has been directed in that way. ‘Believe and on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved’ they say, then a decision is made and it is as if there were no further implications for an ongoing life of obedience. Many are under the impression that their exercise of faith frees them from the law; ‘Once saved, always saved’ after all. Such faith is superficial.
Is this the faith that is so highly extolled in Hebrews 11? In that eulogy on faith, Abraham is given the chief place. He is more fully portrayed that anyone else in the gallery as the father of the faithful. Reference is made to him some ninety times in the New Testament. He is the pattern that we are to follow.
There are three things in particular in his life that demonstrate the nature of true faith–
True Faith Changes our Entire Perspective
In God’s Dealings with Abraham, we have the beginning of the redemptive activity that will lead to the unfolding of the covenant of grace. We see three things:
The Divine Initiative– Abraham is a shining example of the divine initiative. At the time of his call he was living in the Ur of The Chaldees, ‘worshiping other gods’ (Joshua 24:2), and in pagan darkness. He had no thought of the true God.
Suddenly, as we are told in Acts 7:2, by the martyr Stephen, ‘the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesapotamia’. He is described as ‘the God of glory’ because his glory is his self-manifestation. What kind of reaction this must have produced in Abraham’s mind! It was like the revelation that Isaiah had in the temple, a sovereign revelation and call, and he was given grace to respond to it. So it is for everyone that is ‘born of the Spirit’.
Absolute Obedience– ‘By faith Abraham, when he was called… obeyed’ (Hebrews 11:8). It was an efficacious call. He had not fulfilled the purpose of his creation– to glorify God. He had rather dethroned the living God and set up idols of his own imagination. God’s call was to bring Abraham back to allegiance to himself and there must be an immediate and unqualified response. He had to come out from among the pagan worshipers and make God his own God and his inheritance. The Word of God became everything to him and he did nothing that was not by the command of God. As Thomas Manton observes: ‘Faith is the life of our lives, the soul that animates the whole body of obedience’.
Separation to God– Abraham’s entire perspective changed. He was formerly living for the riches and honours of this life, but he began to live life in terms of his final destiny. He was set free from the desire to make this world his home because God promised him an inheritance. This inheritance was a ‘better country’ and ‘a city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God’. It is the fatherland or the homeland where God dwells. He has prepared it for people and he is their ultimate inheritance. The whole plan is beautifully portrayed in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, where we see Christian fleeing from the City of Destruction and journeying on to the Celestial City. – to be continued
– John J. Murray