Biblical Faith, Part 4

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All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:13, 14 NIV)

“These people,” the people mentioned thus far in Hebrews’ list of the heroes of the faith, were all commended by God as living their lives in faith, and eventually they all – all without exception – died in the faith. They lived and died continually exercising faith without having received what had been promised them by God. Every single one of them. That’s quite a statement to make, considering what we know about these men. Consider –

Noah. He was certainly a man of faith. For 120 years he built a big boat, big enough to house only his family, plus many, many animals, with only a word from the Lord to go on. He had no weather forecasts or anything else; just a word from God. In the face of mockery, he kept on. Yet of this man of God we read this –

When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. (Genesis 9:21 NIV)

When his sons saw him in such a state, they covered their eyes out of respect then covered him. Another son who witnessed the spectacle was cursed by Noah.

Abraham. Sure Abraham listened to his word from God, just like Noah did, and left Ur. But that’s not the whole story, is it? Here’s what God told him to do –

Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1 NIV)

Here’s what actually happened.

He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Genesis 12:5 NIV)

So this man of faith wasn’t quite perfect. Then there’s this to contend with –

“Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

That’s right. This man of faith, when faced with a famine, chose to go down to Egypt but he was so afraid for his life that he got his wife to lie for him. It gets even better. A few years on, we read this –

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, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1, 2 NIV)

So this “man of faith” had one serious character flaw: he was a liar. And not a very good one, at that.

Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau.

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Genesis 20:27, 28 NIV)

It’s bad form for a father to favor one son above the other, but Isaac was a real piece of work. He didn’t prefer Esau because Esau was more righteous than his brother. It was because of the food! Isaac was driven by his stomach. He was a man who was motivated by himself; his likes or dislikes, and his comfort.

He was also a liar who was willing to trade his wife for safety. Sound familiar?

Jacob. Here was a man who was bold enough to wrestle with God in order to get a blessing from him. There have been many sermons about how this is a positive thing, still, would you have the nerve to do that? But then there’s what the prophet Micah wrote concerning this esteemed man of faith –

All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the people of Israel. What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem? (Micah 1:5 NIV)

Jacob was a deceitful schemer and that fatal flaw was passed on to the kingdom that bore his name. And he was a man of divided loyalties. While he didn’t use his wife for leverage, the fact is he took four wives, which led to a lifetime of problems which actually outlived Jacob.

These were the men whom God commended as living in faith and dying in faith. It’s difficult to understand the mind of God most times. To lump the likes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in with Enoch seems unreasonable. And yet, in God’s view, these imperfect patriarchs were as faithful as Enoch, the man who pleased God so much, God transposed him from earth to heaven.

What do we glean from this? God puts a premium on our attitude of faith but understands we are sinners. A moral or ethical lapse doesn’t automatically disqualify us from being people of faith.

…though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again… (Proverbs 24:16 NIV)

This might be one of the greatest verses in the Bible and one every believer should memorize. While there is no excuse for sin, and the Bible makes no provision for slipping into sin and remaining in it, it does teach that “you can’t keep a good man down.” In other words, the righteous will always get up.

We all have a problem

Like the patriarchs, we all have exactly the same problem: The sin nature. We are all prone to fall. Amazingly, at the youthful age of 22, Robert Robinson wrote these words many of us sing in church:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love…

While our sin nature has been dealt with by Jesus Christ through His work on the Cross, there is never a moment in our earthly lives when we are completely free from its influence. We may be “dead to sin,” but sin is very much alive to us, and it is always trying to lure us back into its clutches.

Our sin nature always wants that which the Holy Spirits does not want for us. And our sin nature isn’t subject to God and it will never be. That’s why God gave us a new nature: To counteract the downward pull of our sin nature. The good news is that God has made provision for our new nature to win. Our sinful nature wins only when we let it.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37 NIV)

There will never be a time on earth when the believer won’t be pestered by his sin nature. But you don’t have to give into it. You never have to yield to temptation. Ever. Granted, you’ll always be a sinner saved by grace, but as far as temptation goes, you have it within you to conquer it every time.

A New Testament example

Peter is a good example of this. Peter, the man whose confession was the foundation the Church was to be built upon, was always falling down.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:29, 30 NIV)

Talk about having faith! Peter actually got out of a boat during a storm and, doing what Jesus told him to do, stepped out in faith and walked on the water! He did something crazy; something nobody else had ever done before or since. But Peter did. That is, he did until he stopped walking by faith and started to look around. The storm made Peter sink.

Later on, this disciple of Jesus’ Peter denied Jesus three times. Not once, mind you, in blind panic, but three times. The last time was in a courtyard surround by other people. Peter could have sided with Jesus this time but he chose to side with the society he was with. He went out, and by himself he wept bitterly. He knew he had failed his Lord. And Jesus knew that he knew. Just as Yahweh never gave up on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Lord never gave up on Peter.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” (Mark 16:7 NIV)

Peter was given one more chance. Peter’s spiritual growth wasn’t instantaneous. It was slow going. But in spite of his falling down, Peter’s heart was right, and he kept getting up. We like Peter because most of us are so much like him. We love Jesus. We think we’re fiercely loyal to Him. We have faith in Him and His Word. But the cold, hard truth is we do the same things Peter did, only fortunately for us nobody is keeping a record of our failings for generations to read about.

Peter got up and preached some powerful sermons when the Church was born and won many converts for the Lord. Thanks to Peter, the Gospel broke into the Gentile world. Peter laid the foundation for the ministry of the apostle Paul – all because he got up.

God chooses to use people, not angels, to do His work. And as we journey through this life, falling down then getting up only to fall down again, God sees what we will become, not what we are. That’s why men of questionable reputations Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all listed among the heroes of the faith.

Abraham’s token blessing

Looking back at Hebrews 11:13, notice this –

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised… (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

Yet, that’s not the whole story, either. Back a few chapters we read this –

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. (Hebrews 6:13 – 15 NIV)

Abraham never received the big promise – the promise of a land and of nationhood. He died a nomad. But God in His sovereignty gave Abraham the tiniest glimpse of that big promise in the form of a son, Isaac. Against all the odds, Abraham and Sarah had a son, and the seed of nationhood had been sown. God saw Abraham, not as a nomad living in tents on the fringes of civilization, but as the father of many nations, and God let him experience a small part of that. Isaac was to Abraham as Mount Pisgah was to Moses.

God sees you as you are in Christ, not as you are today. He sees you in Christ, already in the heavenlies.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:6 NIV)

You don’t see yourself in the heavenly realms yet. You see yourself as you are now; struggling to get through this life, one day at a time. You can’t see yourself as you’ll become because you can’t see the future because it hasn’t happened yet. But God sees the future – He lives in it – and in the future you are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms!

And that’s why these men, with all their faults and failings, were commended for their faith. That’s why they are heroes of the faith. God saw what they would become, not what they were.

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3 NIV)

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