Abraham’s Faith Crisis!

-Caution: God At Work!

If you follow Jesus by faith & trust Him for your eternal salvation, than “sanctification” is the work God is presently doing in your life. We all want to be “SANCTIFIED”; but, rarely do we enjoy the process God uses to get us there. On a number of levels, Abraham presents us with a picture of a sanctified life. In Genesis ch. 11, v.30 it reads:  “…Sarah was unable to conceive; she did not have a child...” So, Abraham loved a woman that could not conceive a child! That presented Abraham with a crisis of faith because God had promised to make of Abraham a great nation, through his offspring, with Sarah!

-God Uses Life’s Hardships!

After reading the entire account, we come away with this—God uses the hardships in our life to sanctify us! This crisis of faith would provide God the perfect opportunity to stretch Abraham’s faith & trust in Him; and, it’s in the stretching, of our faith, that we grow! Jesus taught His disciples:  “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” John 16:33. Jesus already overcame all the suffering that this world had to dish out! And, He conquered it! Notice, “…you will have suffering in this world,” Jesus said, “in part, so we find peace in Him!”

-Let Go Of Your Stuff!

God uses pain, trouble & suffering to loosen our grip on the stuff in this world! That’s part of our sanctification—part of the spiritual growth process! We only grab hold of our future “GLORIFICATION” as we let go of this life! Let go of your dreams & aspirations! Let go of your attempts to control your circumstances & your environment! And, give it all over to Jesus! That’s NOT what the world tells you! The world tells you to live out your dreams! To do whatever you want! To go after it with gusto & determination! Jesus says, “If you hold onto your life you’ll lose it! But, if you lose your life for my sake & the Gospel you will find it” Matthew 10:39.  We grow, in our sanctification, as we desire to live out God’s “dreams” & “plans” for our life; and, relinquish our own! The sanctified life grabs hold of Paul’s words:  “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” Romans 8:28.  He doesn’t promise to make all things good! He promises to work them together for our good—for our sanctification!

-Trusting A God Who’s Not In A Hurry!

Abraham is a picture of the sanctified life because he trusted a God who does not hurry! God wasn’t in a hurry to fulfill His promise to Abraham about moving to Canaan land. He wasn’t in a hurry to follow through on His promise of a son, to Abraham, through Sarah. Abraham waited 25 years for Isaac—the son of promise! In His perfect time, God came through! Because God is never in a hurry, we can become impatient with Him & try to provide our own fulfillment to His promises. Abraham tried to make Ishmael acceptable to God—the product of his liaison with Sarah’s handmaid; but, God refused him. Abraham would learn to trust in a God who was never in a hurry! Ask God to make you willing to wait on Him!

 

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Abraham Believed God!

-In The Midst Of A Faith Crisis!

When God makes an entrance into Abraham’s life, He calls him to leave his home & go to a new land where He promised to make him into a great nation. That presented a problem, because, Sarah—his wife—had been unable to conceive (see Genesis 12). The rest of Abraham’s “story” is just one crisis of belief after another—but, this is what God uses to grow him spiritually! Abraham presents us with a Biblical picture of a sanctified life; and, how God achieves it. This is how God works in the life of everyone who comes to Him by faith!

-Justified By Faith!

The scripture tells us that Abraham was “justified” by his faith.  “Abraham believed God,” His story, in Genesis, says, “and, God CREDITED it to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Genesis 15:6).  And, the rest of his life presents a study, in SANCTIFICATION, as he is progressively set free from the power of sin. Isn’t that the hardest part of the Christian life? Growing in our “sanctification”? I mean JUSTIFICATION is really quite painless. It’s just applying the truth of the Gospel and accepting God’s pardon for sin, right? And, GLORIFICATION? I mean, yea, you have to DIE to get it! But, the actual process of BEING GLORIFIED, like Jesus, sounds awesome! But, SANCTIFICATION? That can be quite painful as God turns up the heat, on our lives, in order to bring our sins to the surface where they can be dealt with by His Spirit!

-A Picture Of A Sanctified Life!

So, let’s talk about how Abraham is a picture of the sanctified life.  Genesis ch. 12 begins with these words: “The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” But, Abraham never saw that promise, of God, fulfilled in his lifetime! The writer of Hebrews says: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise” (Heb.11:8,9). That phrase, “…he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise…” reminds us that this world is not ours to claim! We’re “aliens” here (1 Peter 2:11).

-Where Do You Claim Citizenship?

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi—“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).  Like Abraham, we need to confess that we’re “…foreigners and temporary residents on earth” (Heb. 11:13). We can’t hold onto this life too tightly if we hope to grow spiritually! Jesus told us to let go of this life; and, to die to self every day as we wait for the promise of our GLORIFICATION—to be completed in the “Land of Promise.”  It’s interesting that Abraham purchased some of the land—God promised him—for his burial (Gen. 25). It was his act of faith that he believed God would come through on His promise! Let us follow his great example!

What Does Spiritual Growth Look Like?

-It’s Not Hobby Gardening!

My parents were not “hobby” gardeners! A lot of gardening today tends to be more “recreational” than essential to life, doesn’t it? That was not the way it was for me growing up! It really was “life or death” for us! If we didn’t grow our food, we wouldn’t have had anything to eat. We had 2 huge gardens & it seemed like we grew every kind of vegetable known to man. My mom canned everything; and, by the end of the harvest season the cellar was stacked full of canned food. But, let me tell you the most vivid memory I have, about my parents garden, growing up—it was the daily battle we waged against undesirable and troublesome plant life that grew profusely where it was not wanted…WEEDS! According to the dictionary, weeds are:  “a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.”

-Kill Those Weeds!

Every summer my dad preached the same sermon to us—”We have to kill the weeds; or, the weeds will kill our crops.” So, every morning—early, before it got too hot—my sisters & I made our way to the garden, with garden hoe in hand, to kill the weeds before they killed our crops! The parallels to our spiritual life are obvious, aren’t’ they? Our sins are like weeds in the gardens of our lives; and, just like weeds harm & injure the desired garden crops we’re growing, so, the remaining sin, in us, will stunt our spiritual growth & development! Sin, like weeds, have to be rooted out of our lives and killed!

-We’ve Got To Kill Sin!

The old Puritan, John Owen, warned that, “We’ve got to be killing sin; or, sin will be killing us.” That is what Biblical, spiritual growth is all about! Paul taught the Church of Rome: “If you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” Romans 8:13.  And, that’s what we call “SANCTIFICATION.” It should resonate with you that SANCTIFICATION = SPIRITUAL GROWTH! Just adding more Bible knowledge is NOT sanctification or spiritual growth if we’re still entertaining sin in our lives! The goal of our salvation is NOT HEAVEN! The goal of our salvation is JESUS! By faith, in Him, we are remade in His image!

-Here’s What Life Is All About!

It’s absolutely imperative that you understand what this life is all about! It’s NOT ultimately about your family, your job, or your retirement! It’s NOT about you or the “American Dream”!  It’s about your SANCTIFICATION! That’s why you’re still here! If you’re a genuine believer in Jesus Christ, a follower & disciple of His—then you were JUSTIFIED when you humbled yourself & accepted His payment, for your sin, on the cross! At the moment you believed, God JUSTIFIED you! He pardoned you; and, set you free from the penalty of your sin; which, is death! And, one day you will be GLORIFIED! You’ll be given a new GLORIFIED body like Jesus; and, you’ll be set free from the very presence of sin! Hallelujah!

 

How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?

-Measuring Physical Growth Is Easy!

Measuring “physical” growth is relatively easy, isn’t it? And, we begin measuring physical growth from birth, don’t’ we? How long is the baby, in terms of inches; and, how much does baby weigh? Right? That’s always one of the first questions asked! And, the measuring continues as baby grows into a toddler; and, then elementary age. Many homes have a measuring wall; or, a doorway, with all kinds of little pencil marks & words alongside it with a child’s name & age representing how tall they were at that specific age. Do you have such a place? Measuring physical growth is also a pretty exact science too, isn’t it? This is your “HEIGHT”; this, is your “WEIGHT”! This is your “inseam”, your “waist”; and, your “neck size.”

-Measuring Spiritual Growth!

But, measuring “SPIRITUAL” growth isn’t as easy, is it? It’s our tendency to measure others “SPIRITUALLY”  by how much they know about the Bible, doctrine, and, theology. So, if someone’s level of Bible knowledge is how we judge their level of spirituality, than it follows that we think of “SPIRITUAL GROWTH” as adding more “KNOWLEDGE”—more Bible reading; more Bible studies; and, more Church activities! And, yet, it’s curious that the Apostle Paul taught the Church of Corinth that, “…knowledge puffs up…” (1 Cor. 8:1); or, it INFLATES us with PRIDE! Who hasn’t met the arrogant “know-it-all” that keeps reminding you how much they know about the Bible? They beam proudly when others brag about their Bible knowledge. Paul is saying that—in their case—knowledge isn’t a measure of how spiritual they are; but, how CARNAL & FLESHLY they are! Knowledge is their IDOL!

-Bible Knowledge & Spirituality!

Now, please understand that I’m not ragging on anyone who has a growing knowledge of God’s Word! On the contrary, Scripture demands that we read it; memorize it; and, meditate on it! In fact, it’s impossible to grow spiritually apart from a steady diet of God’s Word. I’m simply saying that Bible knowledge is NOT an accurate measuring tool for spirituality! So, if it’s not more Bible knowledge; than, what is it that grows us spiritually? I like to say that spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; & less like you! How does that happen?

-It’s Not By Osmosis!

How do we become more like Jesus? Well, it doesn’t happen by some process of osmosis! Rather, it happens by our “SANCTIFICATION” Scripture says! At the moment of our salvation—when we exercise faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross—God “JUSTIFIES” us! That means He pardons us from sin’s penalty—death! And, from that point forward, we are destined for “GLORIFICATION”—that day when we’ll finally be set free from the very presence of sin; and, we’ll be “like Jesus.” And, “SANCTIFICATION” is everything that God is doing in your life, in that time in between, our SANCTIFICATION & our GLORIFICATION! If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been set FREE from the “power” of sin! Your spirit long’s to be rid of sin; while, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after it! It’s in that tension where God works in us!

That Tension Between Our Flesh & Spirit!

-Do You Feel It?

If you’re a genuine “born again” follower of Jesus Christ it’s a tension you live with every day! Your spirit longs to be rid of sin; and, you know, from Scripture & intuitively, that you’ve been set free from the “power” of sin! It doesn’t rule over you as it once did! You’ve experienced victory over many sins that once controlled you! At the same time, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after sin.  Sometimes that tension between doing what your flesh demands & what your spirit wants is such a burden that the weight, of it, overcomes you and you slip back, temporarily, into an old sin!

-That’s Not What I Want To Do!

The Apostle Paul nailed it when he confessed: “When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?” Romans 7:21-24. It’s in that tension—in the battle between our spirit & our flesh—that God progressively sanctifies, or, changes us. An “unchanged” believer is a contradiction in terms! If you’re not changed; and, being changed you’re not saved! You’re not a genuine believer; or, follower of Jesus. Jesus, Himself, said there will always be “fruit” to evidence genuine faith (Matthew 13).

-Putting Self Back On The Cross!

If our faith is real, God is moving us toward the completion of our faith! He’s moving us toward the Day of Glorification, when we become like Jesus permanently! Until that day, God will continue to transform us into the image of Christ by overcoming our remaining sin in the same way that Jesus overcome sin—on a CROSS! Jesus said we must die to self— “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me’” Luke 9:23. We have to continually put “SELF” back on the cross! EVERY DAY, Jesus said; or, it will rise up & wrestle back control from us.  And, THAT is how we grow spiritually! We ARE sanctified; and, we’re becoming MORE sanctified! We’re experiencing more & more freedom from the power of sin as we DENY & CRUCIFY self!

-Put The Flesh To Death!

The Apostle Paul followed up his dilemma, expressed in Romans 7, with these words from the very next chapter: “For if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live “ Romans 8:13. The old King James Version said we must “…MORTIFY the deeds of the body…” A huge part of God’s sanctification work, in us, is to strengthen us in our efforts to “MORTIFY” or “put to death” the works of our flesh. The old Puritan, John Owen, made famous this quote about killing sin: “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  I like to say that spiritual growth is ultimately becoming more like JESUS; and, less like YOU! Do you look more like Jesus today than yesterday?

What Makes You Happy?

-The Things You Delight In!

Your happiness is contingent on the things you delight in! That’s what the writer of Psalm 1 tells us. In v.1 he says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked…”; and, he follows that with v.2, “Instead (or, in contrast to the BAD ADVICE of the wicked in v.1) his delight is in the Lord’s instruction.” Don’t let the wicked, the sinner, or the scoffer (from v.1) influence the way you think; or, you’ll begin to “delight” in their ways & you’ll lose your happiness! It begins by looking “at” and listening “to” all the stuff the world produces—until you think about it so much you begin to delight in it! Beware, the text says, you’ll find no happiness there!

-What To Do & Not To Do!

So, the genuinely “HAPPY” person does NOT do something; and, DOES do something—the “HAPPY” person does NOT take advice from the wicked; and, DOES delight, instead, in Godly instruction; or, the “Law of the Lord”! The Apostle Paul warned the Church of Rome in this way:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1,2). That word “conformed”, that he uses, carries the idea of being pressed into a mold— “Don’t let the world ‘press you into it’s mold’ with it’s wicked advice and counsel.” Delight, instead, in God’s instruction so that you’re thinking is transformed or sanctified!

-Put Advice To The Test!

Test the advice, you receive, by comparing it under the lens of God’s Word; so, you can discern what God says about it. You absolutely will not find happiness in the words or the way of the ungodly. Their advice will lead you away from God’s Word; and, away from happiness! True happiness comes to those who delight; or, find PLEASURE in the Word of God & the ways of God! Let me quote John Piper on this psalm:  “Now the point of the psalm is to say that when you experience the Word of God like that – as so delightful and so satisfying that it captures your mind and heart day and night and weans you away from the counsel and path and seat of the world -when you experience the Word like that, you are blessed. You are happy.

-Meditate On That!

Find your delight in the Word of God; and, then meditate on it! That’s what the writer adds in v.2— “…his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he MEDITATES on it day and night!” Your happiness is contingent on your delight “in” and your meditation “on” the instruction found in God’s Word! That has to be accepted by faith; because, the world’s “advice” says happiness comes by pleasing yourself in whatever physical gratification trips your trigger! In the original language, of the Old Testament Hebrew, that word “meditate” means to speak or to mutter. So, the writer is saying that meditating on God’s Word means that you speak to yourself; or, you mutter the Words of God to yourself all day— “day and night” he says! I grew up on a farm where cows would chew their cud over & over—so, meditate or mull on God’s Word again & again!

 

Christianity’s Image Problem!

-It Seemed Boring!

It seemed to me that Christianity had an image problem, back in the 70’s, when I came to faith as a Junior High Boy. Here’s what I mean—if you decided to trust Jesus, as your Savior, you’d get heaven when your life ended HERE; but, the rest of your life HERE would be boring and blasé. But, for me, the “tradeoff” certainly seemed worth it; so, I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I’ll take the 80 years of blasé; but, eternity in heaven vs. 80 years of fun & happiness; but, eternity in hell at the end! But, that didn’t “sell” real well with my friends! I had a difficult time convincing them that the tradeoff was worth it.

-Enduring The Christian Life!

I think many believers still suffer with some sever misconceptions about the “Christian life”, don’t you? It’s been my observation that many believers just ENDURE the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & happiness they think the world enjoys. In their hearts, they’re earthly hedonists! Like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to this erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because…. Well, we get heaven at the END!

-The Most Happiness Possible!

But, there’s a great text of Scripture that debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is a boring life. In fact, what this Psalm says is quite the opposite. The writer sets the record straight—we don’t just ENDURE the Christian life, putting in our time here, until we get to heaven & hangout with Jesus for ever and ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His Word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible! This is a message that the Church desperately needs! You need this message! I need this message! Happiness & prosperity, in this life & the next, only follows the God-centered life. Here’s how I’d summarize the Psalmist’s big idea—We overcome the pleasures of the world by taking greater pleasure in the Word of God! A significant part of your spiritual growth involves the things in which you find pleasure & happiness! Don’t be surprised that God is concerned with your happiness!

-Here’s A Happy Man!

Listen to what He says: “1How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalm 1) For some believers, it’s a debate over “JOY” & “HAPPINESS”! JOY is a fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with! Not HAPPINESS! But, read that text again—it makes me HAPPY!