Outside of the day I accepted Christ and the day I said “I do” to my wife, the two most significant and precious days of my life have been the births of my two kids. Watching those helpless babies emerge and holding them in your arms is a truly incredible feeling. I got to watch my wife, who had just endured intense pain in labor, break out in a beautiful and exhausted smile as she got to hold our child. On those days, my joy in the Lord and gratefulness for His love and blessings came easily. I could rejoice in Him as my guide and stay.
But there are other days. Sitting with my wife, both of us weeping while going through two miscarriages. Trying to explain to our five year old why people who profess to be Christians can be mean and nasty. Watching young people walk away from the faith. Having a dear friend see cancer progress steadily. All of these, and many others put us in a place where Satan begins to whisper, “can you REALLY trust God?” “Maybe you need to take matters into your own hands- surely you can do better than this!”
Here’s a thought I want to flesh out from Genesis chapter 15, as Abram deals with this very tough question. Your level of trust in the promises of God will largely determine the depth of your walk with Him. Abram gets to learn some very valuable lessons in God’s classroom.
First, God promises to bless His people in supernatural and enduring ways (Genesis 15:1-5). You need to understand that God has made promises to His people. Now, His promises to Church age Christians are often not as specific as His promises to Abram. But His interaction with Abram gives us great insight into the heart of a promise-keeping God.
- He promises to protect and provide for His people (1). Abram has made some waves in the land by rescuing Lot. There are tribal leaders who are going to notice him as a potential threat who previously didn’t pay any attention to him. There’s got to be some apprehension on Abram’s part now. I remember the first time I actually asserted myself in a church leadership meeting. I was 30 years old, fresh into my first senior pastoral position, and had come into a church situation where there were some challenges. There were no angry words exchanged during that meeting, but I came away fearful. Was this the place for me? Was this going to work out? I had just moved my family halfway across the country and I wasn’t sure that we were compatible with this church situation. During that time, I drew great strength from some of the godly members of the church, but also from the promise that God gives Abram in this text. Three things give great reassurance: first, “don’t fear.” Don’t look at the circumstances. Don’t get your gaze on the people, situations, and stresses. Focus on Me. Look at My strength. When our gaze is locked in on Him, fear has no place. He is in control, and He is good. Second, He tells Abram “I will protect you.” He calls Himself Abram’s shield. What a cool picture! God protects His people. If bad things happen, it’s because God allowed them, and He allowed them for a reason. Nothing happens that is outside His control. Third, He promises reward. He promises provision. Abram doesn’t need the wealth of pagan kings. God can reward temporally and eternally in ways that we can’t even fathom (Eph. 3:20).
- His promises don’t always work on our timetable (2-3). All of the protection and provision in the world didn’t mean a lot to Abram unless one specific promise was realized. God had promised Abram a son. But so far, no kids. And the biological time clock was ticking for both he and Sarai. Abram’s greatest fear at this point is that God won’t fulfill this promise. We must understand that God’s timetables don’t line up nicely with ours. He is going to keep every promise He makes- but not always in the way or the time that we think would work the best. This requires a great deal of faith and trust on our part.
- His promises will be fulfilled (4-5). Notice in verses 4-5 that God does not say, “Abram, your faith is failing, so let me keep my promise so your confidence in me will be renewed.” No, God doesn’t do that. He knows the limits of Abram’s faith, and He knows what it will take to grow and nurture that faith. Instead, God does two things to reinforce Abram’s faith. First, he makes His promise clear- Abram’s heir will be a natural born son. Second, he assures Abram of the abundance of His promise. Not only will Abram have a son, but he will have descendents greater than the number of the stars in the sky. This is a visual image that I am sure Abram would go back to frequently as he continually reminded Himself of the promise of God.
Second, God credits faith in His promises with righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Abram believes God. He considers the word of God something reliable and he leans completely on it. Because of his faith, he is credited with righteousness, or right standing before God. This is a pivotal verse in the life of Abram and is repeated three times in the New Testament (Romans 4:3; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23).
Third, God guarantees His promises through a covenant (Genesis 15:7-21). God doesn’t leave His people hanging. He has left specific guarantees of His promises to His people. Abram got to see this in a very special way.
- This serves to reassure us in times of doubt (7-11). In verse seven, God tells Abram about what He has already done in Abram’s life. Because of His past actions, Abram can trust Him with His future promises. God then instructs Abram to set up a covenant cutting ceremony in which He is going to give Abram tangible and visible proof of His intent to keep His promises. This is going to serve as a powerful reminder during times when Abram will be tempted to doubt.
- This serves to reassure us in times of suffering and death (12-16). God tells Abram some of the future. Abram’s descendents will go through a great ordeal. There is some gloom in the future. But punishment will come for those who oppose God’s people, and God will deliver in an awesome way. We are reminded that the Christian life is not designed to be easy. Trials, troubles, and suffering come. Such is the nature of living in a sin-cursed world. But God is there, and He will keep His promises to His people.
- This serves to reassure us because the Lord has sworn by Himself that He will fulfill His promises (17-21). This is the craziest and most significant portion of this text. God passes through the pieces of the animals. In other words, He was taking on the full responsibility of the covenant Himself. This was an unconditional, unilateral covenant. God did not leave Himself any loopholes or escape clauses. Let’s put it in simple terms. If God doesn’t keep His promises, He will cease to be God/die. Impossible, right? Exactly.
Four thoughts you and I can rest in from this account:
- Faith in God’s word and promises brings righteousness (namely, God’s promise of redemption through the blood of Christ).
- God has made promises to His people, especially regarding an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15).
- The path from here to experiencing the full blessing of God’s promises is layered with suffering and death- it is NOT meant to be easy
- While walking this path, we can know that His word is sure and it CAN be trusted (Heb. 7:20-25; Rom. 8:31-39).