Isaac - Child Of The Promise
Series: Deeper Life Camp 2010
Last night we looked at the life of Abraham. In that study we did two things. We took a macro view of Abraham and his life and the meaning of his life. We saw that it was at the time of Abraham that God first set in motion his plan to win back this Rebel Planet. He chose one man Abraham and called him to faith, awoke him from his spiritual slumber, set him free from the matrix of Satan’s power and from the grip of this false world and into reality, true reality. We saw how this was only the beginning, that Abraham’s call to faith was the beginning of God’s plan to set the whole world free, to free every one of us from the power of Satan and from sins matrix of delusion and slavery.
But we also took a micro view as we looked at that faith of Abraham and the specific instances of encounter between Abraham and God. As we did, what we found was that Abraham’s faith was something that matured and grew over time as a result of his various encounters with God and of his faith response to God in the context of the promises of God. What we did was that we really looked at what is the basis of faith. And from Abraham’s life what we find is that the basis of faith is the promises of God. God promises things to us, and we receive them, embrace them, cling to those promises. There is no two way bargaining here, but neither are we completely passive either. God initiates, God promises, God acts. We respond, we accept, we yield to the work of God and to the promises of God.
So that was last night - the basis of faith: the promises of God. This evening we are going to be looking at the challenge to faith. We’re going to do that by continuing to follow the life of Abraham as it merges into the life and story of Isaac, the second of the three patriarchs of the faith.
Abraham’s faith experience with God reached a climax in Genesis 15 as God once again promises, among other things, many descendents through Abraham and that he would be a blessing to the nations. Abraham believes God and the Scriptures say that because of this belief in the promises, that God reckoned it to Abraham as righteousness. But in the next chapter, Genesis 16, we’re going to see a challenge to that faith and a subtle shifting of that faith from God and his ability and his intention to fulfill what he has promised and shifting that focus onto human means for fulfilling the promise. As we look at this challenge to Abrahams faith, and the trouble and anguish the faltering of his faith ultimately caused him, we’re going to I think see some parallels in our lives and the challenge to our own faith and to our living of the joyful, victorious Christian life. We’re going to see how easy it is for our own faith to falter and became distorted or diluted and confused a bit as it became for Abraham and we’re going to see how this can rob us of real transformation power and supernatural joy and peace in the living of the Christian life.
But first let’s pray…. (pray about the losing of the wonder of our faith when it was new)
Faith has many enemies. Consider a few of faiths enemies. Our culture can be an enemy of faith. Scripture calls culture “the world”. 1 John 2:15-18 describes a bit of the conflict between our faith, and the “world” or culture around us.
1 John 2:15-17: 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. NIV
So culture, or “the world”, can be a real enemy of this faith relationship with God and all that results from that faith. Also, people can be an enemy to our faith. We may have relatives or friends or people we work with who are critical of our faith, either directly or indirectly. In other countries and cultures this antagonism to our faith can be more obvious and blatant. I remember in college going to Thailand on a short term mission trip and sharing my faith with Thai students on Ram University, the biggest university in the world, 100,000 students. And I remember sitting down and talking with one reflective Thai student, Som, after having given my testimony to a group of students and sharing the gospel with them. I’ll never forget the angst in Som’s eyes and real dilemma he faced. He said, I want eternal life, but I love my mom and dad. Som told me that if he became a Christian, his Buddhist family would disown him. Som had a heart wrenching choice to make. For us, the challenge to our faith from family and friends may be more subtle, but still very painful. There may be the sneers from friends or family, the rolling of the eyes, the knowledge you’re talked of behind your back. In some ways this kind of challenge is more dangerous to our faith, because it’s so subtle and kind of wears down our witness over time, and dulls us to being that shining light we’re called to be as followers of Jesus.
A third enemy to our faith is the devil. Peter in 1 Peter 5:8,9 says this: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.” And Paul tells us in Eph 6:11-13 to: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Satan is out to destroy our faith. Last night we spoke of how the basis of our faith is the promises of God. Satan’s strategy is to get us to question God’s Word and to question the promises of God. It’s always been his strategy. That’s how he got Adam and Eve to fall in the first place – with the temptation – “Did God really say…” And that’s how he attacked Jesus with his temptations those 40 days he spent in the desert. Three times he came at Jesus with an attack against the promises of God to Jesus. Each time Jesus countered by quoting the Scriptures, clinging to the Word of God, clinging to the promises of God.
So faith has many enemies. The culture, other people and the devil. But the greatest enemy to faith, I believe, is neither of these three very real enemies. The greatest enemy to our faith, is us. We are our worst enemy when it comes to abiding in that secure faith in the promises of God. There exists within us this thing the Bible calls the flesh which is continually at war within us trying to take our focus off of God and off of his promises and onto ourselves, on to our own self-sufficiency.
Before we became a Christian, all we had was this thing called the flesh. But the moment we turn to God in repentance and faith, God comes to us and saves us, save us from our sin, save us from the self-directed life. He adopts us as His children, gives us His promises, and gives us His Holy Spirit to live in us, and creates within us, a new self, a new man, a new woman. We are a “new creation” the Scripture says. And yet, the Bible also states that, even after becoming this “new man” or “new creation”, we still have within us this thing it calls the “old man”, the old self, the flesh. In Romans 7 Paul shares his own struggle and the conflict even he this great Apostle of the faith experienced – he testifies to this conflict between the Spirit of God within him which has given life and new desires to the new man in him, and the flesh, his old sinful, self-absorbed self, which still battles for control. I wonder, does anyone else here besides me still feel that conflict inside them?
So know this: there still is in you, in me this thing called the flesh, and the flesh is completely contrary to faith and is adamantly opposed to grace. Faith focuses on God, our flesh focuses on self. Faith focuses on the internal, our flesh on the external. That can play out in our flesh gravitating toward sinful physical pleasure for example, but it can just as easily play out by our flesh compelling us to place confidence in external things like religion and other external measurements of our “spirituality” rather than on the reality of what God has already said is true about us and what He has already done for us. In other words, the deeds of the flesh, what the flesh produces, ironically can look very different but they all have the same essential nature, comes from the same flesh. The deeds of the flesh can be, what we would call living a sinful lifestyle. But the deeds of the flesh can also be a life that externally looks really good on the outside. You can be a member of a church and never get drunk, never cheat on your taxes, work in the soup kitchen, and have a daily quiet time every day, and it’s possible for all these things to in reality be, deeds of the flesh, works of the flesh, mere lifeless things. Because the Bible says, that whatever is not from faith, is sin – even what we would consider good deeds.
Our flesh compels us to abandon or question the promises of God, to abandon real, authentic trust in God, and to place more and more trust in itself. Our flesh compels us to strive rather than to receive. To work for salvation, rather than to rest in it. To be driven, rather than to be one who is called. And when we allow this to happen, to allow the flesh to take control in our lives, it robs us of our joy, and we end up retreating from the promises of God. We are weakened in our faith – we backslide. It may be backsliding into sins of the past, that is also a very real danger for us. But I think the far more deadly danger, because it is far more subtle and far more common, is that we slide back into a subtle dependence on self, rather than on the promises of God. And it just robs us of our joy. It robs us of the wonder of our faith when everything was brand new.
We are going to look at two examples of this happening in the Scriptures and then relate it to us. First we’re going to look at how this happened to Abraham. Then we’re going to look at how this happened to the church of the Galatians.
First let’s look again at Abraham. Last night we ended with God’s fifth encounter with Abram. And we noted that it was probably the most important encounter. In this fifth encounter the Lord comes to Abram and says to him, I am your shield, your very great reward. And he challenges Abram to count the stars in the sky, if he can, and promises to him again, so shall your descendents be. You will have a son. And your descendents will have possession of all this land I’m promising you. Abram, who is still childless and who is now an older man, asks the Lord ‘how can I be certain of this?’ God has promised Abram a son and descendents and a land for those descendents and that all nations, all peoples on planet earth would be blessed through Abram, through his descendent, that ultimately the Messiah would come through Abram’s line, the rescuer of humanity – not all of this was completely understood yet by Abram, but it’s what God was promising him. And Abram says, how can I be certain of this? God says, I’ll show you.
Gen 15:9-18: 9 So the Lord said to him, "Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon." 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram… and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates —
God in this passage has Abram do something that seems very strange to us. He has him take five animals, a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a pigeon. And Abram brings these to God and then cuts them in two and lays the halves on the ground facing each other so that in between the halves, the blood of these animals flow and form a kind of puddle of blood. Seems like a very strange thing to us. But not for Abram. He knew exactly what God was instructing him to do.
You see in the world of Abram, if you wanted to bind a contract or form some kind of agreement, like a treaty between countries after a war, there was no detailed legally binding contract written down for you to read and sign on the dotted line. Rather, what the two parties forming a contract or covenant would do would be to do exactly what God has Abram do here. They would cut these animals in half and let the blood run in the middle. Then the greater of the two parties, would first walk in between the animal halves, bare feet, stomping through the bloody trial. They would do this to convey the message that if I don’t hold up my side of the bargain, then let it be done to me what has been done to these animals. Then the lesser party signing the contract would walk through as well, conveying the same thing – may what’s been done to these animals be done to me if I don’t fulfill my part of this agreement.
It was a very common practice in the desert communities of the Middle East and in fact, this blood path rite, is still practiced today in isolated parts of Egypt for arranging marriages. In these marriage contract ceremonies, the bride’s father in these cases, provides the animal and cuts it in half as Abram does in Genesis 15. The greater party, the groom’s father in these wedding rituals, walks through first, actually stomping barefoot through the blood, promising that his son will be an honorable husband. And if he’s not, he expects to be treated just like the animal. The young woman’s father then performs the same motions, promising that his daughter is a virgin and will make a proper wife. And if she doesn’t, if that part of the covenant is broken, “you may do this to me”---and he stomps through the blood.
In some Bedouin cultures today, if a man turns out to be a lousy husband, if he’s abusive or dishonest or lazy, they don’t find him dead. They find his father, at the bottom of a pit with his throat slit and footprints in his blood.
So getting back to Genesis 15, it’s no wonder that in Gen 15:12 a “thick and dreadful darkness” comes over Abram. Abram has found himself in the middle of a blood path ceremony with Almighty God. As the sun sets, Abram is looking at all this blood, possibly still unsure as to what his terms are going to be in the covenant, and he’s terrified. In Genesis 17 God is going to reaffirm the covenant and call on Abram to “walk before me and be blameless” (17:1). If that is Abram’s responsibility in the agreement at this stage, it is evident why he is frightened. A horror of great darkness falls on him the text says.
And that’s when the Lord takes all the responsibilities and the burden for fulfilling the covenant on himself.
As Abram looks on in a petrified trance of terror, God appears in the darkness as a smoking firepot. Smoke in the Bible always represents the presence of the Lord. And through this smoking firepot, God as the greater party in the agreement walks through the blood path first. In doing so He communicates to Abram his assurance that he can trust the word of the Lord and the promises of the Lord. God is saying to Abram, if I don’t do everything I’ve told you I’m going to do, may it be done to me what has been done to these animals.
But then the Lord does something that maybe Abram wasn’t expecting. At the point in the ceremony in which the lesser party, Abram, would step into the blood and vow to be treated like the chopped up animals if he were to violate the terms, God intervenes. The Lord again steps in.
A blazing torch appears---a flaming torch, a lamp of fire---and it also represents God. Fire also in Scripture always represents God. And it’s as if God is saying, if you Abram don’t fulfill your part, as will be stated in Genesis 17, of being blameless, if you break the covenant in an way, God is saying, may this be done to Me! And it’s at that point that God sentences himself, his Son, to die.
There was no doubt that Abram and his descendents were going to sin. And so God stood in for him. God walked the path of blood in Abram’s place. The promise from the Lord, in addition to the son, the descendents, and the land, is that God is going to pay for his people’s sins. God pays the price whether he or Abram or his descendents violates the covenant. Either way, it’s on God.
The message to Abraham and to us his descendents is this: God’s perfect promises are free gifts to his people. God is the one who initiates relationship with us and provides what is needed to maintain it. And we bring nothing to the table. As one commentator I read on this passage stated: “it was God who made promises to Abram, not Abram who made promises to God. The covenant of grace came from the generous heart of God.” God’s promise to Abram was unconditional. It was not dependent on Abram at all. All Abram had to do was accept it. All he had to do was believe the promise. And he did believe the promise, the text says. And in doing so, God reckoned it to Abram as righteousness.
That’s Genesis 15. But next comes Genesis 16. I don’t know how much time passed between Genesis 15 and 16, but in Genesis 16 we find that faith of Abram in the promise of God for son, begin the falter a bit. Abram and Sara, impatient for a son, end up taking matters into their own hands, and trying to help God out a bit, to help God fulfill his promise – and the result, as it always is, is heartache and trouble. Sara is an old woman now, passed the age for bearing children. So she gives her slave Hagar to Abram for Abram to father a child through her. Abram agrees to this and the result is indeed the birth of a son. Ishmael is born to Hagar and Abram. But it’s a child of the flesh, not a child of the promise, not of faith. 13 years pass and when Abram is 99 and Sara is 86 God appears to Abram again, in Genesis 17. He reaffirms the promise of descendents and land and he changes Abram’s name to Abraham (meaning a father of many nations) and he renames Sarai’s name to Sarah, meaning princess. But Abraham laughs because they are both so old and Abraham presents his 13 year old son Ishmael, born through their slave Hagar, and says, Lord, why not let Ishmael be my heir? The answer is an emphatic, NO. God says, “No! Your wife Sarah will give you a son and you will name him Isaac. I will make an everlasting promise to him and his descendents.”
That promise of a son would be fulfilled in Genesis 21. A son is born to Abraham and Sarah and they name him Isaac. But as this child of the promise grows up, what should have been a joyful upbringing, is marred by tension as there exists in this Abram community, this slave Hagar and her son Ishmael. Ishmael abuses Isaac, Sarah sees it, demands that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Abraham was in agony over this – Ishmael was his son too. But God says to him to do as Sarah says – send the boy away. But he also says to not worry about him – that He, God, would take care of Ishmael and bless him because he too is a son of Abraham.
Abraham’s faith had become misaligned a bit in this account. But I take comfort from the fact that this backsliding of Abraham, did not disqualify him from what God had already promised him. In fact, the book of Romans says that Abraham did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith. Apparently, even in this circumstance with Hagar and Ishmael, Abram still was trusting God. There was still this faith relationship with God. But it had become misguided, misaligned, and distorted a bit, and the result was heart ache.
I think that for many Christians there is a very similar and subtle shift of their faith away from the promises of God and onto some kind of mixture of faith in God and faith in their own reason or effort. Like Abraham, we believe in God for the promise, but it seems too great a thing that God would do it all on His own without our assisting in some way. We still feel like we have to add something to it.
For those of us solidly grounded in a more Protestant heritage, we know enough from the Bible and theologically to say emphatically that we don’t work for our salvation in any way – that we are indeed saved by grace alone through faith alone. But many of us Protestant Christians still fall into the same error in practice. We sometimes get this notion that yes, I’ve been saved by grace alone, that God has saved me and that I could not help in that process of saving me, that I’m saved by Jesus death and resurrection alone, that Jesus paid for it all, paid the debt that we could not pay. But Jesus having done that and we having received the free gift of salvation, many of us fall into the trap of feeling that though Christ has paid for it all on my behalf, that I must now for the rest of my life slowly “pay him back” by being really, really grateful. It’s kind of like we’re on the installment plan. Jesus fronts the money for us, but now we have to pay it all back by living a godly life. And we begin to see the living of the Christian life, the work of sanctification, the work of being more and more transformed into the image of Christ, as being a work of our paying God back for what he has already paid in full on our behalf. It’s a subtle but very deadly error. It’s an error that can very easily rob us of the joy of the Christian life, because the work of sanctification, is also a work of complete grace on God’s part for us.
What we end up doing is we incorrectly begin to see that, for example, the fruit of the Spirit, the producing of love and joy and peace in our lives, is something that we must now produce because Jesus has bought us with a price, he gave his life for us, we now belong to him and we owe it to him to live a godly life. And of course its very difficult to quantify things like love and joy and peace, and so we come up with other measurements of our “gratefulness to God”, we begin to measure ourselves based on external things, things like having consistent quiet times or devotions, serving a soup kitchen, teaching Sunday School, etc., all good things, but they can easily become measurements of our own spiritual self-worth. We fall into the same trap of trying to by our own reason or effort or good ideas, help God along a bit in his work of transformation of our lives into godly lives through the process of sanctification. We begin to see justification as the work of God, but sanctification as the work of us with God’s help of course.
But the Scriptures do not separate the two. Justification and sanctification are two sides of the same coin. And both have been purchased by the blood of Jesus and both are given to us, established in us, by grace through faith alone. A tree cannot make fruit happen. You cannot, by your own effort, make any fruit grow on yourself as a branch. You cannot produce love, or joy or peace. Doing so will have the opposite effect. You will be robbed of joy, enveloped in anxiety over whether you’re doing enough, focused on self, working not from faith, but from the flesh.
This is what happened to the Galatians. In a moment we’re going to turn to Galatians 3 and 4 and see how this happened to them. But before we go there, let me give us some background. Galatians is a fiery letter. Paul is a passionate guy, but in this letter he’s just over the top. Something has touched a cord in Paul and he’s been set off by something. To really grasp what it is that has set him off we have to remind ourselves of where Paul has come from. I want to remind us of Paul’s testimony.
Paul gives us his testimony in Philippians 3. In that chapter he says that he was one who used to put all his confidence in the flesh. And by flesh here, he meant the externals of religious performance and other spiritual pedigrees externally important to the Jewish community of which he was a part. Paul, among other things, was a Pharisee. He was one who believed he was righteous because he conformed his life, as much as or more than anyone else he knew, to the external law of God. It was the railing against which he leaned to hold himself up and he thought he was secure, leaning into these accomplishments of the flesh. Until one day, the railing collapsed and he fell, as he was knocked off his horse on the road to Damascas, where he was going with authority to arrest Christians and put them in jail. But Jesus appears to him on that road and says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Try to put yourself in Paul’s shoes at this point and imagine what must have been going through his mind. Everything in his life, everything he’d lived for, all his accomplishments, all his sacrifices, everything he was putting his hope in, was for nothing, meaningless. Thinking he had been on God’s side, he found out he was fighting God the whole time. And he spent three days not eating or speaking, probably just processing, and I think repenting. And then three days later he’s prayed for, and the heavens open up for him, and he’s filled with the Holy Spirit. And what happened for Paul at that point, as it does for us, is that God took this external Law that Paul was trying to be conformed to, but that was really crushing him because we all fall short of it, and God took this law and wrote it on Paul’s heart through the Holy Spirit such that the Law is now in him, transforming him from the inside out. Paul was set free that day!
And such a transformation of joy and freedom took place for Paul, that he literally, began turning the world upside down and ended up being one of the most influential individuals in history. When I was in seminary I read a book about Paul. It was called, “Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free”. That’s what Paul was. And with the joy of that freedom from the weight of having to measure up and the security and joy of life in the Spirit, of the law written on the heart transforming from the inside out rather than as some external weight squashing him into conformity, he takes that Great News and begins to plant churches all over the known world. And some of those churches he planted were in a Roman province called Galatia. And the people who became Christians there experienced the same joy he did. They were set free from sin and from the externals of religious performance and into a life of joyful heart obedience in the power of the Spirit.
Paul goes on from there and plants more churches and then hears that a certain sect of Judiazers have come to the Galatians, in his absence, and were stirring up trouble in those Galatian churches compelling them to be circumcised. Their message to the Galatians was that yes it’s really great that you’ve received Jesus the Messiah as your Savior and Lord, but now if you want to be spiritually complete you also must be circumcised as the law of Moses says. Paul is beside himself in rage when he finds out, because they have completely distorted the message of the gospel and the real purpose of the law. And so he writes this fiery letter to the Galatians. Let’s start in chapter 3:
3 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Let me stop there. That verse 3 is a verse that I have to continually come back to again and again. I don’t know, it may be my life verse. “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Whenever I find myself in a time of deep anxiety, or spiritual dryness, or find things like Bible reading and prayer as an act of drudgery, 9 times out of 10 it’s because I have fallen into this trap of verse 3: having begun by the Spirit, I’m now trying to live the Christian life by the flesh. Paul continues:
4 Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Then he goes on in the rest of the chapter to explain how the Law cannot make anyone righteous or give life, that it was given 430 years after Abraham had already been declared righteous by faith. And then he explains that the real purpose of the external Law is to reveal our sin, and to drive us to Christ. He calls the Law our “tutor” to lead us or drive us to Christ. The greek word for “tutor” is “paidogogos”. In the Ancient world, the child of a wealthy man would be assigned a paidogogos which was just a servant whose whole job was just to keep the kid in line. Even though the child would one day grow up and come into his inheritance, which would include owning the very slave, the very “paidogogos” that now essentially ruled over him. That’s what Paul calls the Law for us. It’s our “paidogogos” and it’s job was essentially, to prepare humanity for the coming of Jesus.
Gal 4:1-8 4 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, " Abba! Father!" 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
The great secret of living the joyful, victorious Christian life, is seeing yourself now not as a slave, but as a son. Embracing that truth, letting it seep more and more into your heart and into your entire being and mindset, will transform how you look at life and in particular how you view this thing called “sanctification” that we’re talking about this week – this going deeper in the Christian life. Know this – that God looks at you as a Father. There’s nothing you can do to make God, as your Father, love you more or less. If you’re a parent, relate this to yourself. As I think of my kids, there is nothing they can do to make me love them more or less than I already do right now. Do I want them to do what’s right? Of course. Would that please me? Yes. Why? Because I love them and it’s what’s best for them. The entire call to sanctification is a call from a Father who deeply loves you and wants your greatest good as your Father. The reality of the gospel is this: he has saved us not just from something (sin and death and hell), but to something (to a life of joyful obedience to a God who is for us and not against us and who wants our greatest good). But we have a choice. To walk the Christian life as a son or daughter, or to strive through the Christian life with a slave mentality. Paul continues:
Gal 4:21-31 21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh (Ishmael) persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit (Isaac), so it is now also. 30 But what does the Scripture say?
"CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON,
FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN."
31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
As we close, let me ask you: have you been living like an Ishmael or an Isaac? One of them must go. Which will it be? The child of the flesh, or the child of the promise? Let me put it another way. Do you have the identity of an Ishmael in your mind or of an Isaac? How would like to live the remainder of your life? As a slave or as a son or daughter? Both the slave and the son or daughter “do things”. They do. But the reason for their doing what they do, are opposite. One works to please his master out of fear. The other works to please his father out of love. One, the slave, works to earn his wages. The other the son or daughter, already owns all things, because he is the heir and the inheritance is his. There’s nothing to work for, because it’s already all his. And yet, because he is part of the family, he works, his character matches the character of the family. He carries on the good family name, because it’s his family – it’s his family name! There’s nothing to achieve. It’s achieved.
If you feel yourself in that place at times of being an Ishmael, a child of the flesh, one who is striving rather than resting in the promises of God, then a proper response is actually, repentance. We can repent from habitual sin in our lives or in our past. But we can also repent of reliance upon good works. Hebrews 6 mentions our “repentance from dead works” as foundational to the Christian life. Some of us may need to do that – repent from what we’ve thought were good deeds, but that have really been done in the flesh, to appease God, to get him to bless us in some way.
Abraham repented of his dead works, of his fleshly work. He learned his lesson of Genesis 16, of trying to fulfill the promise himself through the clever idea of Ishmael. In Genesis 22 we find the end of the story, the final test and victory of Abraham’s faith. God calls on Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac, the child of the promise. And Abraham obeyed. God stopped him at just the last moment from killing Isaac, but Abraham would have gone through with it. Did Abraham think God had changed his mind? No, Abrahams faith had matured beyond that. He now knew that God was going to fulfill his promise and that it WOULD be through Isaac that the Promise would come. In Romans 4 is says Abraham believed that God could even raise the dead and so did not waver in his belief. It appears that this is what Abraham thought that God would do. Raise Isaac from the dead after he had sacrificed him on the altar. But as the knife was about to come down on his son, God stopped him and said, “now I know you trust me.” All of Abraham’s faith was in God. He believed the promise.
Shall we pray…
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