Pastor Craig Carter
“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. And I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord…” So begins a popular kids’ song that, at best, seems nonsensical and, at worst, can drive a person crazy as it can go on forever.
But, on closer examination, we discover that according to the Bible this song is absolutely correct. The Old Testament character, Abraham, was the biological father of Isaac and patriarch of the nation of Israel. And according to the Apostle Paul, he is also the spiritual father of all who choose to live by faith in the Lord.
“Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith…Abraham is the father of all who believe.” (Romans 4:11,16 NLT)
“Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” (Galatians 4:7 NIV)
I can’t speak for anyone else, but according to those definitions, I am Abraham’s son and he is my spiritual father, and I hope and pray you can say the same thing.
Few people in Scripture receive as much attention as Abraham. Fourteen chapters in Genesis are devoted to him. We meet him at the ripe old age of 75 in Genesis 12 and his story ends 100 years later in chapter 25.
But that’s not the end of Abraham as far as the Bible is concerned. He is mentioned in the Old and New Testaments more than 300 times and his life and witness is summarized by the writer of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews in what is commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith” (which recounts the stories of spiritual giants who have gone before us). There, Abraham is portrayed as a pillar of faith and one whose life we should emulate if we too want to live by faith and not by sight as the Bible commands.
So what can we learn about Abraham? Well for starters we need to know that Abraham was initially referred to as Abram, which means “exalted father.” God changed his name to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude, or father of many nations.” Since that is who he is to us, I’ll primarily refer to him as Abraham.
Let’s get started and see what we find in this portrait of faith…
Genesis 12-14: When Abraham was called, he obeyed.
It was by faith Abraham obeyed God’s call to go to another place God promised to give him. He left his own country, not knowing where he was to go. (Hebrews 11:8 NCV)
Here’s how Abram is introduced in our family album, the Book of Genesis: The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1 NCV)
No maps, no GPS, no directions required. He didn’t need any of that because he wasn’t given his destination. And incredibly, Abraham obeyed.
“So Abram left Haran as the Lord had told him…At this time Abram was 75 years old.” (Genesis 12:4 NCV)
He was probably ready to retire and the enjoy the fruits of a good, honorable life. But God had bigger plans in mind. And those plans took Abraham from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from security to insecurity, from a comfortable lifestyle to an uncomfortable environment. But he was willing to obey because Abraham was a man of faith.
It’s worth noting that God’s first demand on Abraham’s faith was obedience, because obedience always verifies faith. If you really trust someone, you’ll obey what they say. Obedience proves that our faith is authentic and more than mere “lip service.” Abraham was willing to put “feet” to his faith and he went.
It’s also worth pointing out that God called Abram to live a life separate from the one he previously lived. The definition of being “holy” literally means being “set apart.” God calls and even commands us to be holy or set apart from our familiar ways, past relationships, and former lifestyle to a new life in Him. Once you and I follow Christ, things are never the same. But to experience that new, abundant life we have to obey God’s call on our lives.
That leads to an all-important question: How do we recognize God’s call? How do we recognize any call we might receive? The answer, of course: through familiarity. The more familiar we are with the Lord, the more likely we’ll recognize His voice when He speaks.
God’s voice sometimes comes through gentle nudges, but more oftentimes it comes through His Word. And once God speaks and we know it’s Him, we are then left with a choice: Obey or not obey?
If you and I are going to learn from our spiritual father’s faith, we need to obey when He calls – in little things, in big things, in all things.
How is God calling you? What is the Lord calling you to do or not do? Will you trust and obey?
Genesis 15-21: When Abraham was promised, he trusted. (Genesis 15-21)
It was by faith that he lived like a foreigner in the country God promised to give him. He lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who had received that same promise from God. Abraham was waiting for the city that has real foundations—the city planned and built by God. He was too old to have children, and Sarah could not have children. It was by faith that Abraham was made able to become a father, because he trusted God to do what he had promised. This man was so old he was almost dead, but from him came as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. Like the sand on the seashore, they could not be counted. (Hebrews 11:9-12 NCV)
When Abraham and his wife arrived in Canaan, they did not find the “Promised Land.” Instead of a big ranch house to settle into, they lived in tents. Instead of enjoying an abundance of produce, they endured a famine. Instead of having it made like they did in Haran, they had to eke out an existence.
But still Abraham trusted because God had made Him this promise: “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others…And all the people on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-4 NCV)
Not only did God promise to make Abram a great nation, He made this absurd prediction: Then the Lord spoke his word to Abram: “…You will have a son of your own who will inherit what you have.” Then God led Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky. There are so many stars you cannot count them. Your descendants also will be too many to count.” (Genesis 15:4-5 NCV)
Even though “he was almost dead” (i.e. an old man), Abraham trusted God to do what He promised … and sure enough, it happened. Abraham had his first son, Ishmael, at age 86 and his second, Isaac, at age 100. And through them, God’s promise was fulfilled and Abraham’s descendants became as numerous as the stars and sand – including you and me.
So was Abraham perfect? Not even close. Though all of the New Testament references to Abraham present him in a very positive light, Abraham had his ups and downs. Throughout his story in Genesis we learn that Abraham trusted God … but not completely. In fact, several times Abraham took matters into his own hands, such as when he lied to Pharaoh, when he slept with Hagar, and when he lied to Abimelech.
But as we know, God uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect will. Abraham didn’t get everything right, but he got at least one thing right, he trusted in the right God.
Look at his response to God’s promises: “Abram believed [God]. And the Lord accepted Abram’s faith, and that faith made him right with God.” (Genesis 15:6 NCV)
So even when Abraham’s trust in God wasn’t perfect, God’s promises remained. That’s because, “The Lord made a covenant with Abram…” (Gen 15:18 NLT)
While Abraham’s lack of trust was a threat to the promise, it didn’t negate it. You see, his trust was in a God who is a Perfect Promise Keeper.
I said earlier that in order to obey God we’ve got to hear and recognize His call. Likewise, to trust God’s promises we have to know God’s promises. The Bible contains 7,000 promises according to one count. How many of them do we know? Let’s read, meditate upon, and memorize God’s promises in His Word. Is there a promise you need to claim, stand upon, and trust today?
Genesis 22: When Abraham was tested, he believed.
It was by faith that Abraham, when God tested him, offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice. God made the promises to Abraham, but Abraham was ready to offer his own son as a sacrifice. God had said, “The descendants I promised you will be from Isaac. Abraham believed that God could raise the dead, and really, it was as if Abraham got Isaac back from death. (Heb. 11:17-19 NCV)
I don’t know if you know this part of the story, but in case you don’t … Not long after God delivered on His promise to give Abraham a son through Sarah, his wife, the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved child.
God tested Abraham’s faith and said to him, “…Take your only son, Isaac, the son you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Kill him there and offer him as a whole burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took Isaac and two servants with him. (Genesis 22:1-3a NCV)
Without any argument whatsoever, Abraham obeyed and trusted the Lord. He even went so far as to build an altar, bind Isaac and lay him on it, and then raise a knife over his son to offer him as a sacrifice to God.
But the Lord intervened, stopped Abraham, and provided a sheep to be offered. Abraham definitely passed the “test.” He proved His faith to the extent he even believed God “could raise the dead.”
Abraham’s belief in God wasn’t mere head knowledge, it was a heart condition. At the core of his being, Abraham surrendered everything to the Lord. It was a total commitment where our spiritual father said, “All in!”
The “testing” of Abraham is commonly misunderstood so we have a misconception about what real surrender is all about. This story isn’t about God wanting to take who or what we love away from us. It’s a story about God being trustworthy with our most precious commodities. All that we have and all that we love belongs to Him first.
Can you relate to Abraham on this? I sure can. My son Zac suffered a traumatic brain injury five years ago. Through that experience I learned to trust God to provide healing. My wife, Lee and I had to offer him up to the Lord. And we witnessed first-hand his superior ability, not just to heal, but to save, deliver, sustain, guide, and direct his life.
Like Abraham did on Mount Moriah, I declare that God is Jehovah Jireh: “The Lord will provide…” (Genesis 22:14a NRSV)
So when we are tempted to worry about our children or loved ones, when we try to play god in other people’s lives, or when we tend to hold on to folks too tightly, we need to remember that God gave them to us in the first place and He loves them more than we ever could or will. The same holds true of our possessions, our careers, our reputations. All of life is a test: Are we going to believe God or trust in what we see and can do?
Abraham is the father of all who have faith and we who believe are his children. He gives us a portrait of faith and defines faith for us: Real faith in God happens when we obey, trust, and believe. Abraham also shows us what is most important when it comes to faith. He didn’t necessarily have great faith, he had faith in a great God.
Though we can certainly learn a lot from Abraham, His portrait isn’t really the one we need to focus on in our family album. Instead of looking to our spiritual father we need to fix our gaze on our Heavenly Father. In Abraham’s story we see a picture of God who is constantly calling out to us, who always keeps His promises, and who is absolutely trustworthy (even and especially in times of trial and testing).
Abraham and Isaac’s trip up Mount Moriah foreshadows another trip up a mountain. It’s when God took His only Son, Jesus, up Mount Calvary, but He was not spared. Genesis 22 gives us a glimpse into what the cross cost our Heavenly Father. But, as a result, all the nations on earth are now blessed with forgiveness and eternal life.
“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. And I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just [obey, trust, believe, and] praise the Lord…”