As a church, we’ve been going through a series called “Gospel Renewal”. Our conviction is that unless the gospel changes our hearts, we will never be able to produce true and lasting fruit –be it in prayer, humility, repentance – all our efforts will render meaningless unless it’s fueled by the love of God.
This week’s theme is “Gospel Dependence” or “Gospel trust”! What does it mean to depend on God? Can we trust God apart from the gospel? These are some of the questions we will look to answer as we look at Genesis 15.
The background of this story is that God has called a man called Abram out of his land, his extended family and commanded him to go to a place called Canaan and promised him that many nations would come through him, and all the families of the earth would be blessed through him and this place called Canaan would become an inheritance for him and his descendants! Wow.
That’s such a wonderful promise. However, there is one problem – he & his wife are well aged in years and they don’t have any children. Can this promise be fulfilled? Let’s read in Genesis 15. (read here)
Trust No one! That’s one recurring theme I’ve noticed people say a lot in this city. People find it hard to trust others.
Be it with the rickshaw driver, or vegetable vendor or anyone who provides some kind of service to you, or even the people who work with you – people don’t trust each other quickly and they always feel like that everyone’s out to cheat them.
Somehow I feel that this issue of trust also flows into our relationship with God. Often we ask “How can I trust God in my struggles, my pain and my circumstances? How do I know He is really concerned? How do I know that His plans are for my good?”
Even though we know these are easier topics to talk about on Sunday…deep down we know how we struggle to depend on God during the week. So what encouragement is offered to us from this passage?
I think it tells us of two things:
1.Gospel dependence is always rooted in God’s Word (v5-6)
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.
This passage starts off with God telling Abram that God is His shield and that His reward will be very great! This time Abram responds by telling God – sort of like complaining “God what will you give me, for I continue to be childless”.
What we need to understand is that in the ancient world barrenness was considered to be a curse or a punishment from God. On top of that, there was the shame in society that families felt from others when they were barren.
You can imagine the emotional pressure that Abram felt at that point. And we can see at least 3 barriers that Abram had to overcome in order to depend on God:
- Physical barrier: Both he and Sarah were well advanced in their age. Probably around 80 at this point of time. We know how it’s physically impossible to give birth at such an old age.
- Rational barrier: Because they didn’t have any children, the only logical heir he could have is his servant Eliezer – probably a faithful servant in his household. In Abram’s mind he probably was thinking – if God wants to fulfill that promise of bringing out nations, it will now need to happen through Eliezer.
- Time barrier: Already enough and more time has passed. He was growing impatient probably saying “how long, Lord”? “God, please answer now….I’ve waited for a long time”.
If Abram considered all of these barriers, it would’ve made it really difficult for him to trust and depend on God. But what does God do? God tells him that Eliezer won’t be the heir…his own offspring would the heir.
God brings him outside and shows him the stars in the sky and asks them if he’s able to count them. And God says that many descendants will come from him. And then in v6 it says “Abram believed the Lord”. What? That’s it? God said this and Abram believed? How?
Because it was not an ordinary person’s word but God’s Word! It wasn’t just someone’s optimistic encouragement but God’s Word.
- He had to trust in the truthfulness of God’s Word – God who never lies (Titus 1:2)
- He had to trust in the ability of God to do what He said –
He believed God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Rom 4:17)
20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:20-22)
God’s Word is synonymous with His character. God’s Word is a means of grace given to us so that we can trust God. (Faith comes by hearing, hearing the word of God [Rom 10:17])
In all this what I’m trying to say is that the word of God is so very essential for us to depend on God. You cannot depend on God apart from God’s Word. Why? Because God’s Word reveals God’s truthfulness and His ability to do what He has promised.
Sometimes when we are struggling with habitual sin, or when we’ve been praying to God for a specific issue – it could be physical healing or godly spouse or a job and haven’t received an answer yet – because I know my own heart I know others can have the same tendency – we tend to go into a shell and stay away from God’s Word.
We want to stay away from reading the Bible. We want to stay away from the church. We want to stay away from the preaching of God’s Word. We just want our space.
And even though all our feelings tell us that’s what we need to do, I just want to encourage you all and remind you that what you need the most is God’s Word. You need to know that God is truthful and that He doesn’t lie.
You need to know that God is more powerful than the circumstance or the sin that you’re going through.
- Gospel Dependence is held by God’s faithfulness (v18-21)
It’s not enough to know that God’s Word is true and that He is able to do what He said, but also to know that He is faithful no matter what.
Right after Abram believes the Lord’s Word, God tells him that the land of Canaan will be given to Abram to possess. Abram asks God “how can he know that he’ll possess it”?
God tells him to get some animals and cut them in half and some birds. Abram did that and then fell into a deep sleep where he sees a vision. In that vision, God tells him that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign country for 400 years and after that God will bring them back to this Promise Land.
And God sends down fire and that passes between the animal pieces symbolizing His covenant with Abram.
What’s important to know is God is absolutely serious about keeping His commitment. God didn’t say – “okay, it’s going to take 400 years…Abram won’t be alive until then so it doesn’t matter”.
Neither did God think “the Israelites in 400 years are going to be extremely rebellious and sinful, they don’t deserve my commitment”. In fact, this was an unconditional covenant with Abram.
God made this covenant and He did it by passing through the pieces which meant that if God didn’t keep His commitment, then what happened to the cut animals will happen to Him! Wow! Our faith is held by God’s faithfulness.
God’s faithfulness was perfectly displayed on the cross. The willingness of our loving Savior Jesus to take on the punishment for our sins and absorb the wrath of God on our behalf – and go through with it is mind-blowing!
Because that was the only way we could have a relationship with God. He didn’t bail on us and neither did He leave us to die. He came after us even if it costed Him His life. Our faith is held by God’s faithfulness.
When we waver in our dependence on God when we fail in our personal holiness – what’s our hope? Is it to do better next time? Is it to manufacture new faith?
No! It’s God’s faithfulness toward us. I’m not saying that God’s faithfulness should be used as an excuse for sin. But I’m saying if you’ve truly understood God’s faithfulness, that will cause you to turn away from sin and turn towards God.
I remember brother Saju once shared a story with me about a pastor of a church. This pastor had a wayward daughter and even though he was a pastor of the church for many years, he thought it was proper for him to step down from his role for some time and focus on his family.
Every night his daughter would come back late after parties, and this pastor would wait up for her – look at her and say that he loves her. Every night. Finally one day this daughter repented and came to know the Lord.
And in her testimony, she said that it was actually the faithfulness of her father despite all the things she did wrong that helped her understand the gospel and come to know Christ.
When I fail in my faith, I need to know that God’s faithfulness holds me. I need to know 1 John 1:9 – if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness. I need to know that God’s faithfulness will come through for me.
Lastly, I just want to mention one thing before we close – if today a prosperity preacher would preach this passage, he would say that God’s faithfulness means giving me everything that I want.
If you don’t have everything you want in health and wealth – then you probably don’t have enough faith yet. We know that’s not the teaching of Scripture but how are we to respond to God biblically on issues that we’ve been praying for a long period of time?
Yes, we persistently pray about this and come back to God again and again. We tell God how what we’re asking isn’t coming from selfish motives to spend on ourselves. But then we also surrender the answer and trust that if God by withholding this answer from us it bring Him more glory, then we want to submit to His will.
Because our lives are about Him and His glory and not ours. God can use our strength and our weakness. God can use our plenty and our lack. And that’s also gospel dependence – trusting God to do what is best for His glory!