Faith. The elusive attribute that we have, we long for, we trust in, and we turn away from over and over again. There is a chapter in the Bible commonly called, “The Faith Chapter”: Hebrews 11. Most people who have been around the church can quote, or will at least recognize verse 1.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
In our memories we skip over the next two verses and then we hear the list of the patriarchs who are forever recorded as people who exemplified great faith. They are our example. The first three verses go like this:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
– Heb 11.2-3
The men of old, the patriarchs, the forefathers of the faith gained approval before God by their faith. And it is by faith that we understand God’s sovereign power. Do you believe that God is sovereign? Do you believe that He has creative and ruling authority over every aspect of creation? If not, reconsider your faith. Because the Faith Chapter says that is [one of] the ends of faith.
Abel, Enoch and Noah all received one verse of mention in this chapter. But Abraham, “Father Abraham” as many know him, received the bulk of the attention.
“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
Oh to have the faith of Abraham. God chose him, out of all the people in the world, to start an entire ethnicity. And not just any people group, the people of God! Abraham (still Abram at the time) had done nothing to merit God’s favor, but God chose him and went to him and said,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
– Gen 12.1-3
And Abram got up and went. He obeyed with great faith and complete adherence. Right? Well, that’s not what Stephen said:
“Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES,AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.’ Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living.”
– Acts 7.2-4
Genesis records the account of the initial move like this:
“Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there.”
– Gen 11.31
In the genealogy, because of Abram’s disobedience, the credit is given to his father Terah for the first leg of the move. God told Abram to leave his country and his family, and Abram packed up his father and his nephew. We learn later that bringing his nephew, Lot, included his entire family. It was a massive caravan traversing the countryside! After Terah died, we understand that God visited Abram in Haran and told him yet again to leave his people, and Abram packed up Lot and Lot’s family. Now, some might argue that there are familial responsibilities at play here, that the nephew might play a significant role if the brother had died in receiving inheritance, etc. But God had not yet given his Law, so it would have been cultural responsibilities alone at this point, and we understand clearly that God’s intention was to create a lineage through Abram and Sarai, not through any other line. Lot was not to be the child of the promise. We ultimately see that Lot created trouble for Abram and they parted ways, and ultimately Lot’s fortune was lost in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah where he settled.
So, in summary, God’s command was: Leave your country, leave your family and go to Canaan. Abram left his country, took his family, and made it as far as Haran. One out of three is pretty good, is it not? Stephen said that God had to move him out of Haran to Canaan (Acts 7.4).
And yet, this slow, imperfect act of faith is marked in our examples of faith as one of the greatest. We also remember that God promised Abram a lineage from Sarai, and he slept with the servant to have a baby when God was slow to give Isaac.
The Faith Chapter goes on to give many more examples of faith, many of which demand careful observation. But the point in observing this example of Abram today is simple: God is patient towards us, even when our faith and obedience is imperfect.
Faith is a gift from God, it is not of ourselves:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
– Eph 2.8-9
And God gives us faith in measures that He deems appropriate. Not everyone has the same amount or type of faith.
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
– Rom 12.3
And God regularly asks us to do things, both small and large. Sometimes we disobey. Sometimes we start obeying and get sidetracked. And sometimes we obey well. Even Abram, the first father of the people of God, failed in his walk of faith and obedience. But he is still earmarked as an example for us. Why? Because he did obey. Imperfectly, and with bumps along the road, but he got there. Are you in the process of getting there? God is gracious towards you, and will enable you to do whatever it is to which He has called you.
“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
– Phil 2.13