The seventeenth-century Puritan preacher, Thomas Fuller, said that all mankind was divided into three classes:
- The Intenders (a course of action)
- The Endeavors (an attempt to achieve a goal)
- The Performers
Terah may have been an intender, but he never made it into the land of promise. Lot was an endeavor up to a point, but he failed miserably because he could not walk by faith. Abraham and Sarah were the performers because they trusted God to perform what He promised (Rom. 4:18-21). They committed their lives and futures to God, obeyed what He commanded, and received all that God planned for them.
So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan.
Genesis 12:4-5 (NLT)
Faith Brings Us Out
It may have been a son’s love for his aged father that made Abraham delay (Luke 9:59-62), but the day finally came when he and Sarah had to leave Haran and go to the land God chose for them. Faith and a double mind never go together (James 1:6-8), and you cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).
Faith demands commitment.
I sometimes get the impression that commitment is a vanishing commodity in today’s world. Many people don’t want to be committed to their jobs, their marriage vows, or to one another. “I’m going to do my thing my way!” is the essence of today’s philosophy, and this attitude has invaded the church. Many believers will not commit themselves to ministering in one church but move from church to church when pastors and music programs change. “Temporary” is a key word today: temporary Sunday school teachers and youth sponsors, temporary choir members, temporary church members, and even temporary pastors.
“It is a day of fading declarations,” said Vance Havner. “Church covenants are found in the backs of hymn books, but they have faded in the lives of most of our members—if they ever meant anything. Declarations of personal dedication grow dim, and need to be renewed. It is a day of faded declarations!”
Where would we be today if Abraham and Sarah had not committed themselves to obey the Lord by faith?
Where would we be if previous generations of Christians had not given themselves fully to the Lord?
We who come along later must not take for granted the things that previous generations paid a great price to attain. May the next generation look back at us and say, “They were faithful!”
Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the LORD, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the LORD, and he worshiped the LORD.
Genesis 12:6-8 (NLT)
Faith Brings Us In
God brings us out that He might bring us in (Deut. 6:23). We know nothing about their long journey from Haran to Canaan, because it was the destination that was important. Centuries later, God would give that land to Abraham’s descendants; but when Abraham and Sarah arrived, they were “strangers and pilgrims” in the midst of a pagan society (Heb. 11:13).
In spite of what the folk songs say, entering Canaan is not a picture of dying and going to heaven. It is a picture of the believer claiming his or her inheritance by faith. God has appointed a “Canaan” for each of His children (Eph. 2:10), and it is obtained only by faith. Claiming your inheritance involves tests and temptations, challenges and battles, but God is able to see you through (Phil. 1:6).
Obedience leads to new assurance and new promises from God (Gen. 12:7; John 7:17). What comfort it must have brought when Abraham and Sarah had this fresh revelation of God as they arrived in a strange and dangerous land. When you walk by faith, you know that God is with you and you don’t need to be afraid (Heb. 13:5-6; Acts 18:9-10; 2 Tim. 4:17). God will work out His purposes and accomplish in and through you all that is in His heart.
Most of us are not commanded to pull up stakes and go to a strange country, but the challenges to our faith are just as real. Sometimes there are serious problems in the home, on the job, or in the church; and we wonder why God has permitted these things to happen. If you are to claim your spiritual inheritance in Christ, you must display faith in God’s Word and obedience to God’s will.
Wherever Abraham went in the land of Canaan, he was marked by his tent and his altar (Gen. 12:7-8; 13:3-4,18). The tent marked him as a “stranger and pilgrim” who did not belong to this world (Heb. 11:9-16; 1 Peter 2:11), and the altar marked him as a citizen of heaven who worshiped the true and living God. He gave witness to all that he was separated from this world (the tent) and devoted to the Lord (the altar). Whenever Abraham abandoned his tent and his altar, he got into trouble.
Abraham pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. Bible names sometimes have significant meanings, though we must not press them too far. Bethel means “the house of God” (28:19), and Ai means, “ruin.” Figuratively speaking, Abraham and Sarah were walking in the light, from east to west, from the city of ruin to the house of God! This world system is in ruins, but true believers have turned their backs on this world and have set their faces toward God’s heavenly home. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Prov. 4:18).
Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.
Genesis 12:9 (NLT)
Faith Brings Us On
The life of faith must never stand still, for if your feet are going, your faith is growing. Note the verbs used to describe Abraham’s life: he departed (12:4), headed for (12:5), traveled through (12:6), traveled (12:8) and continued traveling (12:9). God kept Abraham moving so that he would meet new challenges and be forced to trust God for new “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Comfortable Christianity is opposite the life of faith, for “pilgrims and strangers” must face new circumstances if they are to gain new insights about themselves and their Lord. “Let us press on to maturity” is the challenge.
How did Abraham know where to go and what to do?
He “called upon the name of the Lord”. He prayed to the Lord, and the Lord helped him. Abraham’s pagan neighbors saw that he had an altar but no idols. He had no “sacred places” but built his altar to God wherever he pitched his tent. You could trace Abraham’s steps by the altars he left behind. He was not ashamed to worship God openly while his heathen neighbors watched him.
“Faith is not believing in spite of evidence; it is obeying in spite of consequence.”
“By faith Abraham…obeyed” (Heb. 11:8). Faith without obedience is dead (James 2:14-26), and action without faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). God has wedded faith and obedience like the two sides of a coin; they go together.
This does not mean that faith plus works save sinners, because Scripture declares that sinners are saved by faith alone (John 3:16-18; Eph. 2:8-9). A lady told Dr. H.A. Ironside, longtime pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church, that she expected to get to heaven by faith plus her good works. “It’s like rowing a boat,” she explained. “It takes two oars to row a boat; otherwise you go around in a circle.” Dr. Ironside replied, “That’s a good illustration except for one thing: I’m not going to heaven in a rowboat!”
The faith that saves is the faith that proves itself in good works (Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 2:14; 3:8, 14). Abraham was saved by faith (Heb. 11:8; Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-5), but his faith was made evident by his obedience (James 2:21-24).
Abraham is now in the place of God’s appointment, doing what God told him to do. But this is not the end—it is the beginning! Even in the place of obedience you will face tests and trials, for that is how faith grows. But the same Lord who brought you out, brought you in, and brought you on in your pilgrim journey will also bring you through if you follow Him by faith.