How Am I To Know? – Part 2 (Genesis 15:7-21)Written by admin on May 26, 2019 in - No Comments
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I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles this morning back to the passage we studied last Sunday—Genesis 15:7-21. In today’s sermon, we will continue to explore these verses, which provide some guidance for us when we find ourselves struggling to believe God’s promises to us. If you do not have a Bible with you this morning, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, I encourage you to make use of one of the pew Bibles where you can find this passage located on pages 10 and 11.
After following the story of Abram over the past few months, we have recently arrived at a very important chapter in the Bible—Genesis 15. This chapter is particularly important because of what it teaches us about how we are made right with God. You see, most people seem to be hard-wired from birth to believe that the way we gain God’s approval is by trying really, really hard to be a good person. Yes, what most of us instinctively believe is that if we do more good in this life than we do bad, God will be pleased and everything will work out okay for us in the end. But, what Genesis 15:6 teaches is a bit different than that. Yes, what Genesis 15:6 shows us is that God counts our faith as righteousness because we have no true righteousness of our own. Yes, we might live what we deem to be a pretty good life when compared to other people, but the problem is that the standard for righteousness God is concerned with is not based on other people. The standard of righteousness God is concerned with is based on his own righteousness. And this is why Isaiah 64:6 teaches us that apart from saving faith, all our righteous acts are no better than filthy and polluted garments in God’s sight. And this is why Martin Luther said that “the most damnable and pernicious heresy that has ever plagued the mind of man is that somehow he can make himself good enough to deserve to live forever with an all-holy God.” So again, this is why Genesis 15 is a very important chapter in our Bibles. It is important because it corrects our default notion that we are somehow saved by our good works. Yes, it corrects that dangerous and false belief with the most foundational truth of the Christian faith, which is that we are not saved by works, but we are saved by our faith—our faith in God’s promises and specifically those promises about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But, the problem is that even when we know what God has promised, we sometimes struggle to believe his promises. In fact, that is exactly what is going on in this chapter. The first six verses of this chapter deal with Abram’s struggle to believe God’s promise that he would bring forth a great nation of people from Abram and his wife, Sarai. Yes, Abram was beginning to wonder how and if God would truly keep his promise for offspring. He was beginning to wonder about these things because God had not yet given Abram a single child, and Abram and Sarai were now getting old.
And then, in the verses we began studying last week, verses 7-21, we also see how Abram is beginning to struggling with the other major promise that God made to him—the promise of a piece of land for his many offspring to dwell—a piece of land we now refer to as the Promised Land. In fact, what we saw in verse 8 from this passage is that after God reiterated his promise of a dwelling place for Abram and his people, that Abram asked him very straightforwardly, “How am I to know that I shall possess it?” (Genesis 15:8 ESV). In other words, “How can I be certain that what you are saying will really come to pass?”
And since Abram wasn’t the last person in the world to ever struggle with God’s promises, and there are most assuredly some of us in this room who are struggling with them at this very moment, I want to continue what I began last week. Yes, I want to continue to use this passage to help you and encourage you by showing you what it teaches us about how to overcome the doubts we sometimes have about God’s promises to us.
So, if you haven’t done so already, I urge you to turn with me in your Bibles once again to Genesis 15 and follow along as I read from verses 7-21.
7 And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:7–21 ESV)
As we saw last Sunday, this passage shows us that there are three things we must do if we want to overcome the doubts we sometimes have about God’s promises to us. We covered the first two in detail last Sunday, and we will cover the third today. But before we dive off into new material, let me quickly review what we covered last week. Based on your comments to me after the sermon, the things God showed us last Sunday proved really helpful to many of you, and so I think it is worth reiterating them.
Continue To Live Obediently (vv. 8-11)
And the first thing we saw from this passage last Sunday, is that we must continue to live obediently even when our faith is a bit shaky in one or two areas. We saw this in verses 10 and 11. Let’s read them again. After being asked by God to gather five animals, we are told beginning in verse 10 that
10 [Abram] brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. (Genesis 15:10–11 ESV)
Okay, so Abram is struggling a bit with God’s promise to give him and his offspring a land to call home. But these verses show us that in spite of his current uncertainty, Abram remained obedient to God and complied with God’s request to bring him these five animals. We talked a bit last week about what Abram was doing with these animals when he split them in two, and we’ll talk more about it today. But for now, I only want to remind you of how Abram remained obedient to God even while his faith was a bit shaky. And I don’t only want to remind you of that; I want to encourage you to do the same. You have believed God’s promise about Jesus, you have placed your faith in him, and you cannot stop faithfully following him each time you find yourself struggling with some sort of unbelief. That will never help you work through the doubts you are struggling with. Instead, you must commit to remaining obedient in the midst of your unbelief, trusting that God will help you with that unbelief if you remain faithful to him. Yes, that is the first thing we learned from this passage last Sunday.
Keep Listening to God’s Word (vv. 12-16)
The second thing we learned from this passage last week is that whenever we find ourselves doubting one of God’s promises, or struggling to understand how it is going to work out the way the Bible says, we must keep listening to God’s Word. Unfortunately, as I pointed out last week, one of the first things we abandon when our faith gets a little weak is reading and studying and prayerfully meditating on God’s Word. Yes, oftentimes, we get frustrated with the way things are going in our life, and we start to blame God. We begin to think things like, “I have been obedient to him, I have believed him, and I just cannot understand why things are going so badly for me. Why all these struggles at work? Why all these issues in my family? Where is God at in all this? Is it even worth it to follow him if things are going to be so tough and uncertain?”
And the next thing you know, we start avoiding God altogether. We let our Bibles collect dust. We get so frustrated that he is not answering our prayers on our timeline that we stop praying as well. But these are the last things that we need to let happen whenever we are doubting or discouraged. Yes, the last thing we need to do when we are doubting God’s Word is to stop listening to God’s Word. And that is why, when Abram started having this crisis of faith, part of God’s response was to give him more of his Word. That’s what he did in verses 12-16. God gave him more of his Word, which is exactly what we need when we are struggling to believe. Because, as I said last week, it is in God’s Word that we are reminded that many of God’s promises to us are not promises that are going to be kept in the here and now, but promises that will only be kept once Jesus returns and abolishes all evil and wickedness from the face of the earth. And it is in God’s Word that we learn to place our hope in those promises and keep fighting the fight of faith in the here and now, even while we sometimes struggle to believe.
So, if you are having doubts about God’s promises to you this morning, don’t walk away from him and try to figure things out on your own. Open up his Word and prayerfully listen to what he has to say to you. That is what Christians who are struggling with unbelief ought to do, and that is the second thing we learned from this passage last week.
Remember that God’s Promises Rest On Him Not Us (vv. 7, 17-21)
But, the third and final thing (and the most important thing) this passage teaches us to do whenever we find ourselves struggling to believe God’s promises is to remind ourselves that God’s promises rest on him, not on us. This is true from beginning to end. Let me show you how. Look back with me at Genesis 15:7 and notice what God says about who was the initiator of this relationship between himself and Abram. He says, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” Friends, when God called out to Abram in Genesis 12, it was not Abram who was seeking God, it was God who sought out Abram and brought him out of his paganism to become the father of our faith. And he reminds Abram of this here.
Yes, God’s promises to Abram began with God, and they will end with God. Again, it was God who first called out to Abram, not Abram who first called out to God. And the same is true for us. None of us would be sitting here as followers of Jesus this morning had God not called us out of our unbelief into belief. This is what Jesus meant in John 15:16, when he said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” It’s not that Abram didn’t have a decision to make—whether or not he would leave his home for an unknown place God would show him. And, it’s not that we didn’t have a decision to make—to leave our old way of life for a new way of life in Christ. But in both instances, the first decision was God’s decision. He was and is the initiator of our faith. And when he reminds Abram of this by saying, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess,” he also becomes the guarantor of Abram’s faith—and he is the guarantor of ours as well. That is why the Apostle Paul can say, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). He can say this because he knows that what God has started in us is something that he is going to complete.
Friends, there is nothing that is going to get in the way of God’s plans for us—not even our brief lapses in belief and our shaky faith. God brought Abram out of his former life in Ur, and he has brought each of us out of our formers lives of sin. And he has brought us out not to abandon us halfway there, but to give us an inheritance to possess. And nothing, my friends, is going to thwart God’s purposes here. As Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” God brought Abram out of Ur, and he brought him out for a reason—he brought him out to give him all that he had promised. And the same is true for us. When God called us out of darkness and into light, he had a purpose for us, and part of that purpose was to give us all that he has promised. And his promises do not rest on us, but they rest on the fact that he is the LORD who has brought us out from a life of sin that was only leading to death, into a life of faith that will go on forevermore. So, you can take this to the bank: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” There are no caveats there. Once God begins a good work in you, the completion of that work is guaranteed. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to change God’s plans.
But, even though we know this, we often forget it. We forget it and begin to look at our lives, our shaky faith, and our less than stellar track record when it comes to following Jesus, and we begin to doubt and lack assurance that God’s promises are promises that will be true for us in the end. Yes, even though we know as Christians that our salvation and our future inheritance are not based on anything we have done or will ever do but only on what Jesus Christ has already done, it is so easy for us to look at ourselves and base our standing with God on the way we have or have not been living. But I want to tell you this morning, brothers and sisters, that whenever you begin to think like that, you are making God’s promises dependent upon you in some way. You are making them dependent somehow on what you are doing instead of them being wholly dependent upon what God has done in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there is nothing that will rattle your assurance in this life more than that, because, the truth is, we are pretty lousy at living in the way we ought to live as Christians. We make a pretty big mess of things a good bit of the time. And if our right standing with God were based on how we are currently doing at living the Christian life, none of us would have any assurance about anything. So let me encourage you once again, to look not to yourself for assurance but to Jesus Christ and the cross. “For” as the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:20, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV). That was true for Abram, and it remains true for us as well.
But, to make sure Abram understood this with absolute certainty, God graciously made a covenant with Abram that guaranteed everything God had promised. If you were here last week, you will remember that this is why God told Abram in verse 9 to go and gather those five animals. And you will remember that this is why Abram split them in half and laid them out the way that he did. He did that because this was how people often entered into covenants in the ancient world. In that part of the world at this particular period of time, when two people were entering into a covenant with one another, they would sometimes take and divide animals into halves and lay the halves side by side with a walking path between them. And as part of the ratification of the covenant, the two individuals would walk down the path they created through the middle of the dead animals. This was probably done as a way of saying something like, “If I do not uphold my end of the covenant, may I become like these dead animals.”
And so, God was taking something Abram was familiar with and would understand—this ancient covenant ritual—and he was using it to give Abram assurance about the promises he had made to him. That’s right; God had no need for this sort of ritual. His word alone was good enough. But, for the sake of Abram and his shaky faith, he had Abram gather these animals and arrange their pieces according to this covenant-making ritual. And, according to verses 17 and 18, “When the sun had gone down and it was dark,” God appeared as “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch,” and he “passed between these pieces” and made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land.” And the most amazing part about this whole scene, friends, is that it was God alone who passed through those animal pieces. It was God alone who made a covenant with Abram—which means that the fulfillment of God’s promises were not dependent upon anything that Abram would or would not do. God, and God alone, was making promises here. And so, this was what we would call, a unilateral covenant. There was only one person pledging to do anything. And there was only one person responsible for doing what he had pledged. And that one person was not Abram, but God.
Friends, God initiated this relationship with Abram, and now he has signed his name on the proverbial dotted line, guaranteeing that he would keep his promises no matter what. And did you know, that God has done the same with us? Yes, as people who have become part of God’s covenant family through faith in Jesus Christ, we too have become the beneficiaries of a New Covenant that has been made with Jesus’s blood—a New Covenant where God has pledged to keep all his promises to us. And, in the meantime, the Bible tells us that he has graciously given us the Holy Spirit as the downpayment on these promises we will one day possess in all their fullness (Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5).
And the best news of all, friends, is that just like with Abram, God’s promises do not rest on us, but they rest on God and on God alone. He will give us what he has promised. The Holy Spirit dwelling within us is our guarantee. And while we should commit ourselves to living holy lives that are worthy of the name to which we have been called, we can rest in the truth that all God’s promises to us have already been secured and guaranteed through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we saw in our study of first Peter, God has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people (1 Peter 2:9–10 ESV). This was true for Abram. And now, thanks to Jesus, it is true for us.
One of the most common things I deal with as a pastor is with people who continuously struggle to have assurance that they are truly saved. And one of the main reasons this is such a big struggle for so many Christian people is that they always fall back into believing that God’s promises are somehow dependent upon them. They simply cannot rest in the fact that all they have to do is believe that they are a great sinner, in need of a great Savior.
So friend, if you are caught up in the rat race of trying to earn favor with God by your good deeds, I want you to know that you will never find the assurance you are looking for. You will never find it because you can never live up to God’s standard of perfect righteousness—you will always fall short. But I also want you to know that you don’t have to. You don’t have to because Jesus has done it for you. That’s right, he came and lived the perfect life that you could never live, and he came and died the death that you, not he, deserved to die. He did this for you; he did this for me. And all we have to do is believe, and then, as Genesis 15:6 tells us, God will accept our belief in his promises in place of the perfect righteousness that is absent from our lives. Brothers and sisters, that is the gospel. It is right here in Genesis 15, and it is the unifying thread that runs throughout the whole of Scripture. All of God’s promises find their “Yes” in Jesus Christ. So what, friend, are you believing this morning about Jesus? Not what are you doing or what aren’t you doing, but what are you believing about Jesus today?