Don’t Fear… Believe! (Genesis 15:1-6)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles once again, back to the book of Genesis. In our time together this morning we will continue studying the life of Abraham, the father or our faith, by looking closely at the next story in his life which is contained Genesis 15:1-6. If you do not have a Bible with you today, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I’ll be preaching from, I encourage you to make use of one of the pew Bibles where you can find this passage located on page 10.

Now, at some point during our lives—potentially at many points during our lives—we will all find ourselves concerned or afraid about what the future holds. Yes, fear of the unknown is something that we all deal with to some degree. And, while it seems that fear and anxiety about the future and about the unknown has reached epidemic levels in our modern society—which is so very hectic and chaotic—this problem is not new to us as human beings. No, ever since our expulsion from the garden of Eden, we have had to deal with fear of the unknown. It is a universal human dilemma.

So, the question before us this morning is: What should we do when we find ourselves afraid and concerned about the future? Yes, what should we do when we are anxious about how things are going to work out for us? And, how should we respond when our fears are related to the fact that it doesn’t seem like God is keeping his promises to us? These are the sorts of questions that I hope to answer with today’s sermon. I hope to address these very real, practical, everyday issues that so many of us face on a regular basis.

But, at the same time, our passage for today goes beyond questions about fear and anxiety in this life. Because in addition to containing a very practical, everyday message about living the Christian life in the here and now, this passage also contains a very significant and foundational piece of theological truth that reaches out beyond the here and now. Yes, these verses also delve into one of the most important questions that anyone could ever ask. And that question is: “How can I be made right with God?”

Unfortunately, many of us have this incorrect notion that the only way to obtain God’s approval in this life is to do a really good job keeping a long list of rules. Yes, unfortunately, many people believe that “rule keeping” is what the Christian faith is all about. So, I am thankful that what we are going to see in this passage, is that “rule keeping” is never, ever what has made anyone right with God. Yes, friends, before we are done with this passage next Sunday, we are going to dive headlong into the gospel, and we are going to see what the Bible tells us (beginning in the Old Testament) about how we can gain God’s approval and be certain that we have received the salvation he grants to those who have obtained this approval.

So again, if you have ever found yourself concerned about what the future holds for you in this life, if you have ever found yourself concerned about what is around the corner and how things are going to work out for you in this world, the passage we are going to study this morning is for you. Or if you have ever found yourself wondering about God, and about what he desires from you and about how you can obtain his approval and be right in his sight, this passage is also for you. And, you might just be surprised at what we are going to find.

So, if you haven’t already, please turn with me in your Bibles and follow along as I read from Genesis 15:1-6.

1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1–6 ESV)

So again, I want to accomplish two things with this passage. First, I want to help us see from a biblical perspective how we ought to respond to the uncertainties of life that produce fear and anxiety within our hearts. That’s what we will look at this morning. But next, we are going to come back to this passage because there is a truth contained within the sixth verse, that is so foundational to our faith, that it warrants its own sermon. Yes, my goal for next week will be for us all walk away from this sanctuary with a very clear understanding about what the Bible has to say about how we can be made right with God—or how we can obtain his approval. So make sure to be present with us next week. There are very few messages that will be more important to you than the one we are going to hear next Sunday.

Fear Not

But today, let’s begin in this passage by looking at the practical the help it contains about dealing with the fear and anxiety we all face from time to time during our lives. Notice with me in verse 1, how God begins his address to Abram with the words, “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid.” Apparently some amount of time has passed since the events we read about in Genesis 14 where Abram rescued his nephew Lot and then encountered the mysterious figure named Melchizedek. And apparently Abram is now struggling with fear. And we know this because that’s the first thing God says to him in his vision. Verse 1 says, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision” and the word of the LORD to Abram was, “Fear not.”

Now, this passage doesn’t tell us explicitly what Abram was afraid of or worried about, but his response to God’s words of encouragement might give us some insight into what was going on. Notice that when Abram begins to talk in verses 2 and 3, he immediately begins by talking about the fact that while God has assured him that one day he will have many offspring, he continues to remain childless. In verse 2 he says, “I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.” And in verse 3, he says, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” So, it seems that Abram’s fear is related to the fact that he doesn’t yet have any offspring.

But, why would the lack of a child cause Abram to worry and be so anxious? Why would this cause him to fear in such a way that God would come to him in a vision? Well, listen to what the commentator Gordon Wenham says about this; he says,

Childlessness was viewed as an unmitigated disaster in the ancient world. Without children there was no one to carry on your family line or preserve the family inheritance, no one to look after you in old age, no one to carry out the [funeral ceremony] and secure your soul’s rest in the life to come. The tragedy of Abram’s situation was compounded by the fact that God had implicitly promised him children (12:2, 7; 13:16).1

So, even though God had promised to bless Abram with a child and with many more offspring to follow, Abram was beginning to be afraid that God was not going to keep this promise and that he would remain childless—which meant all sorts of problems for him. He is so concerned about it, in fact, that he has already made contingency plans. Yes, in verses 2 and 3 we learn that Abram has already decided that one of his servants will be the heir of his household.

So that is the situation here. Abram is worried and concerned about how things are going to work out for him with regard to God’s promise of children. And, he is probably also concerned that if God is not going to keep this particular promise, that he might not keep all the other promises as well. Childlessness was seen in Abram’s day as a sign of divine displeasure2 and maybe Abram was worried that God was now against him or upset with him in some way. Regardless, the simple truth was, if Abram didn’t have a child, he would never become a nation of people who would be blessed by God. He had come all this way based on God’s promises to him, but the most important promise was hanging in the balance and Abram was afraid—much like we find ourselves afraid for the future in our own lives.

So again, what should we do when we find ourselves concerned and afraid? What do we do when the future is uncertain and our hearts are filled with fear about it? Well, there are four things I see in these verses that we ought to do when we are anxious about our lives. And I want to spend some time looking at them in the remainder of our time together this morning.

Remember that God is For Us

The first thing we must do when fear wells up in our hearts is to remember that God is for us. Notice what God says to Abram in verse 1 after telling him not to be afraid. What does he say? He says, “Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” In other words, “I am on your side, Abram. And I am planning a great future for you. And I promise to protect you.”

Friends, no matter what this world throws at us, and no matter how serious things become, we can know that because of Jesus, and our faith in him, God is always on our side. He is always working for us. He is always protecting us as our shield. And he is always guarding the heavenly reward that awaits us. That’s right, no matter how fearful things become in this life, God is on our side and no situation or circumstance or person can change that once we have entered into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

And so, the next time you find yourself worried about the future or concerned about the unknown, listen to God’s words to Abram as if they were his words to you: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” That is the first thing you ought to do whenever you find yourself overcome with fear.

Admit Our Concerns

But, the second thing we ought to do when we become anxious about our lives is that we ought to admit our concerns to God. Friends, one of the greatest privileges we have as believers in Christ is the privilege to approach the throne of our heavenly Father without the need for a priest or any other human mediator. Jesus is our mediator. He has torn the veil in two that was separating us from God. And now, we can approach him boldly and without fear, and that is the second thing we ought to do whenever we find ourselves concerned and worried about the future. We ought to listen to the Apostle Paul when he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7 ESV).

Notice that Abram does this exact thing in verses 2 and 3. He basically says, “Ok, God, I hear you. I hear you telling me not to be afraid. I hear you promising me all these blessings. But, none of these blessings are going to matter if I remain childless. God, you have promised to give me offspring, but you have given me none. And I am at the point where I am afraid and beginning to doubt, and am making my own plans for the future—a future without a biological heir.”

So again, Abram confesses his fears to God. He admits that he is beginning to doubt what God has said. And listen, God wasn’t surprised by this. Abram didn’t catch him off guard here. And, do you know what? Neither will you. Whenever you find yourself feeling like God is no longer acting or working for you, tell him. Admit that to him. That is the second thing you need to do when you find yourself concerned about your future, and are at the point of being overcome with fear.

Listen to God’s Word

But, you mustn’t stop there. Abram didn’t and neither can you. No, the third thing you must do whenever your find yourself overwhelmed with uncertainty and fear, is you must listen to God’s Word. Notice what happened in verses 4 and 5. After admitting his concerns to God, Abram also listens once again to God’s word. Let me read verses 4 and 5 once more,

4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4–5 ESV)

Friends, whenever we are afraid, the wisest thing we can do, is open God’s Word and listen to his promises. There is no other place where we can hear from God. In fact, if you are sitting around and expecting a vision like the one Abram had, don’t get disappointed when it doesn’t come. While that was how God often revealed himself people like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is not normally how he speaks to us today. Yes, the Old Testament prophets saw visions, yes the Apostles Peter and Paul and other New Testament figures encountered God in this way as well, but now we have his Spirit dwelling within us, and now we have his complete written Word. And that, my friends, is how God speaks to us today. He speaks to us by his Spirit, through his Word.

And, please understand that this method of divine communication we enjoy is no less authoritative or no less special than hearing from God through visions like the one Abram had in this passage. It is every bit the Word of God and no different in quality than something that appears to be more supernatural. And we should not, therefore, take God’s written Word for granted and we should not neglect it. And this is particularly true when we have hearts that are filled with fear. It is in those moments, where we are in the greatest need of hearing from God. And it is in those moments where we ought to be most grateful that we don’t have to wait on a vision or a dream to hear from God, because we know that to hear from God all we have to do is open our Bibles. Friends, unlike Abram, we can hear from God whenever we want. What an amazing blessing! It is something Abram would be very jealous of, in fact.

So, that is the the third thing you must do whenever you find yourself overcome with fear. You must listen to God’s Word, and the place where you hear God’s Word is within the pages of Scripture. That’s right, whenever fear creeps in, open your Bibles and hear his glorious promises to you and watch as the Holy Spirit replaces your life-draining fear with life-giving hope.

Believe God’s Word

But, for that to happen, there is something else you must do. Yes, in addition to listening to God’s Word whenever your heart is filled with fear, the fourth thing you must do is believe God’s Word when you read it. Yes, that is probably our biggest struggle, and it is most definitely the root of all our fear. If we truly and resolutely believed all of God’s promises to us, we could face all our fears with courage and hope. But, so many times we are like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV).

Friends, there are many great promises to you in God’s Word, and just like Abram, sometimes we need to hear and believe those promises again. Notice that God didn’t make any new promises to Abram in verses 4 and 5, but he only reiterated promises that he had already made—promises that Abram had already believed. In these verses God told Abram that his servant would not be his heir, and reminded him of his previous promise by saying, “your very own son shall be your heir” (v. 4). And then, he took Abram outside and told him to look up into the night sky. And he said, “Do you see all those stars Abram? Well, that is how many offspring you will have! You will have as many offspring as there are stars in the night sky!”

And, according to verse 6, Abram believed him. Even though he was advanced in years, and even though his wife was advanced in years as well, and even though it was taking longer than they wanted, Abram trusted God and believed what God had promised. And, as we are going to discuss more next week, God counted Abram’s belief as righteousness.

Conclusion

Friend, I am not sure what you are afraid of today. I am not sure what concerns you have right now about the future. I am not sure what is troubling your heart. But I do know that most of us will go through times where we are anxious and worried about the future and in desperate need of some peace and assurance. And if you are in that sort of situation right now, I want to encourage you to pay attention to these very practical things you can do to alleviate your fear. If you haven’t written these down, why don’t you do so right now? First, remember that God is for you. He is your shield, he will protect you, and he has promised you a great heavenly reward. And no matter what this world does to you, nothing can take that away—because God is for you.

Second, don’t be afraid to admit your concerns to God. Yes, just admit that you are afraid. Admit that you are having trouble believing what he has promised. Bow before him in prayer and tell him the cares of your heart. He knows what we are made of. He is not surprised that we struggle with fear. So tell him. Listen to the Apostle Peter when he tells you to cast “all your anxieties on [God], because he cares for you.” That is the second thing you ought to do.

And, then, after admitting your fears, listen to God’s Word. That’s the third thing to do whenever you are afraid—listen to God’s Word. Pay attention to it. Open your Bibles and listen to what God says to you through his Word by His Spirit. Listen as he reminds you of the many great promises—the many great hope-filled promises—that he has made to you.

And finally, believe him—believe God’s Word. That’s the fourth thing you need to do when you are afraid. Believe God’s promises to you. And begin living your life like you believe them. And before you know it, my friends, the perfect love of Jesus will cast out all your fears (1 John 4:18).

Again, I don’t know what you are afraid of today. But I do know the solution. The solution to all our fears, is a firm and resolute trust in God’s Word that propels out into the world with confidence and boldness as we face down all our difficulties with hope. The Bible doesn’t promise that the Christian life is trouble-free and without struggle. But it does promise that God will be with us every step of the way as our shield and our protector. And it does promise that one day, Jesus is going to return, and on that day there will be no more fear for God’s people.

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  1. Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1 of Word Biblical Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 334. ↩︎
  2. R.C. Sproul, eds. The Reformation Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Orlando: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), paragraph 904. ↩︎