ABRAHAM: The Father of our Faith

The apostle Paul said “that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7), but what was so special about Abraham and his faith? What kind of faith did Abraham have? How did that faith react in suffering? How did that faith react in failure? How did that faith react in prosperity? How did that faith react in doubting? The only way to know the answer is to look at the life of Abraham, see how his faith reacted to the circumstances of life, and then decide how best to place that kind of faith in our own lives. (“Abraham”)

Abram, as Abraham was called when he is first introduced to us in the Bible, was born and raised in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. (Gen. 11:26-32) Ur was “the capital city of the Sumerians, one of the oldest civilisations [sic] in Mesopotamia.” (Keller, p. 20) Archaeologists have also uncovered many useful pieces of information about the metropolis of Ur of the time of Abram. For example, Ur was a very pagan city containing at least five major temples in its sacred precinct, the largest of which was dedicated to the moon-god. (Keller, pp. 13-14, cf. Josh. 24: 2, 14-15) Despite the greatness of the city, the Bible says that Abram’s father took his family and left Ur to go to Canaan, but stopped at the city of Haran. (Gen. 11:31)

Why did the family choose to leave the city of Ur? Were they looking for a better life? Perhaps they were looking to become rich. The Bible does not leave us guessing. God later tells Abram, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans . . . .”(Gen. 15:7, NASB) God had moved the family to go to Canaan, but they stopped and settled in Haran. God had a plan for Abram, but Abram’s family became and obstacle to the plan by remaining outside of Canaan. So the first challenge to Abram’s faith in God would be whether he would stay with his family in relative safety and security or whether he would follow God into unknown places.

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;’” (Gen. 12:1, NASB) God has set the stage for this first test by telling Abram to leave everything. When one wants to follow God, all earthly entanglements have to be shed. “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him . . . .”(Gen. 12:4, NASB) Abram’s faith is seen in his action: he “went forth” as he had been told. “His obedience and trust in the God who has called him are exemplary.” (LaSor, p. 49) All faith requires obedient action. “Abraham’s faith is perhaps best seen in his ready obedience whenever called by God.” (Wiseman, “Abraham”) “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8; cf. Jas. 1:26)

When Abram reaches this new land which God promised to him, he builds an altar and calls on the name of the LORD. (Gen. 12:5-9) Throughout the Bible there are examples of people calling on the name of the LORD. (e.g., Gen. 4:26, Joel 2:32; Acts 22:16, Rom. 10:13) When someone calls on the name of the LORD, they are either establishing, maintaining, or restoring a relationship with God. Specifically, such a call “denotes the claiming of God’s protection”. (NBD, “Call”, p. 159) Abram has trusted in the Lord and has acted on that faith; now he claims of God the protection God had promised. Abram and God are in a relationship with mutual requirements.

Does faith mean that Abram never again sinned (disobeyed God)? No. Problems soon arise in Abram’s new relationship with God. There is a famine in the land to which God had sent Abram. (Gen. 12:10) Abram’s lack of faith is seen in that instead of calling on God and relying on His protection, Abram decides to leave the promised land and find a new place in Egypt. When Abram arrives in Egypt his faith weakens farther for instead of relying on God’s promise to bless him, Abram lies and has Sarai lie about their relationship. (Gen. 12:11-16) “Abraham . . . [is] to be condemned for [his] complicity in lying, no matter how noble a motive [he] may have had, or how much truth the lie contained.” (Kaiser, p. 120) Eventually it is the pagan Pharaoh that rebukes Abram on behalf of God. (Gen. 12:17-20)

Does that mean Abram is not a good model for faith? Certainly not. Consider how Abram reacted to the rebuke. He leaves Egypt and returns to where he was supposed to be in Canaan. (Gen. 13: 1) When Abram got back to where he had earlier built an altar, “Abram called on the name of the LORD.” (Gen. 13:4) He restored his relationship with God and placed himself again under God’s protection. The faith of which Abraham is our father, is a faith that turns back to God in sincere repentance after times of wandering apart from God.

Since Abraham’s faith did not mean he was sinless, someone might think instead that his faith meant that he had absolutely no doubts in God’s promises. A little farther along in his life, Abram still has no child and he asks God how He will keep His promise. (Gen. 15:2-3) God responds by yet again promising Abram many descendants from his own body. (Gen. 15:4-5) “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6, NASB) Notice yet again that since God “reckoned” Abram’s faith as righteousness, it shows that Abram was not righteous (sinless) on his own (cf. Rom. 4:1-5). But does it mean that Abram no longer had any doubts about God’s promise? No, look at what the passage says immediately after God promises the land again to Abram, “He said ‘O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?’” (Gen. 15:8, NASB) Abram still has doubts and needs assurance in spite of the fact that he believes God. He knows that God can keep His promise, but he also knows that he is not a perfect follower (as seen already in the Egypt incident). Can Abram be sure the promise will be fulfilled even if he should again sin. So God patiently makes a covenant with Abram in a form that Abram could understand: a Chaldean covenant (Rodgers, p. 26) And God made this covenant unilateral meaning that “the responsibility for its fulfillment would rest totally on God.” (Rodgers, p.26; cf. Kaiser, pp. 129-130) From here on Abram accepts God’s promise without doubt, God will fulfill it because He must. In like manner our faith like Abraham’s must accept, in spite of any lingering doubts, that God will fulfill His promises.

However, having faith in His promises did not keep Abram from trying to help along the fulfillment of the promise. Sarai gives her servant Hagar to Abram as a concubine in order to have a son through her. (Kaiser, p. 121) Although a son was born through Hagar, God makes it clear to Abraham (for God changed his name) that He does not need anyone’s help to keep His promises. (Gen. 17:17-22) Again Abraham had done the wrong thing. He did not turn away from God as he had earlier by going to Egypt, rather he had tried to help God keep His promise. (Kaiser, p.121) Sometimes we might try to figure out how to help God keep his promises, but God does not need our help. God told Abraham to let Him worry about keeping His own promises. And with faith Abraham was able to stop trying to anticipate how God wanted the promise fulfilled.

Yet sometimes it seems there is no earthly way possible for God to keep His promises. Does fear that promises may not be kept excuse us from having faith in God? Consider that after Abraham had the promised child, Isaac, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Was that a reasonable demand? Did faith require obedience to demands man might consider unreasonable? Did faith require obedience to a command which might negate a promise of God? Here was God testing Abraham “to know his heart and to see if he would obey and fear the Lord who gave him the son he loved so dearly.” (Kaiser, p. 124) In chapter 22 of Genesis, we finally see the culmination of the faith of which Abraham is the father. “Abraham can meet the test in only one way – total and complete faith in the God who promised him Isaac and fulfilled the promise when it was beyond human means. Abraham meets the test.” (LaSor, p.49) He did what God asked. No more failures, no more doubts, no more trying to anticipate God. Abraham simply obeyed. “His faith rested in a belief in God’s ability, if need be, to raise his son from the dead (Gen 22:12, 18; Heb. 11:19).” (Wiseman, “Abraham”)

Abraham finally learned the lesson of faith. “In hope against hope he believed . . . being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” (Rom. 4:18, 23) Abraham’s faith is one we are called to emulate. “As a true believer, he struggled successfully with doubt, found comfort and strength in prayer, and met life’s greatest challenges by acting on the conviction that God’s Word is trustworthy, to be believed, and to be obeyed.” (“Abraham”) He is an example to us, not that we should imitate his weaknesses, but rather that despite our own weaknesses we might believe that God is able to perform what He has promised to us. As Abraham’s faith began with believing things he had not seen (the land, a son), our faith is also called to begin with believing what we have not seen, “as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”. (Rom. 4:24)

By Glenn E. Hamilton

“Abraham.” The Revell Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1990.

Kaiser, Walter, Jr., et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

Keller, Werner. The Bible as History. Revised ed. New York: Bantam, 1980.

LaSor, William, et al. Old Testament Survey. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Rodgers, Thomas. The Panorama of the Old Testament. Newburgh: Trinity, 1988.

Wiseman, D. J. “Abraham.” New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Ed. I. Howard Marshall, et al. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

 

Book Review: From Fear to Faith by Matthew Allen

“The goal of our study has been to help New Testament Christians move toward a new paradigm that is characterized by a confidence in God and an increased assurance of His promise of salvation” (p. 59. Emphasis mine).

A paradigm is a pattern.  Webster particularly defines a paradigm as “a pattern, example, or model.”  So I wonder, what’s wrong with the pattern laid out for us by Christ?  Why do we need a new pattern to follow?  Is Matthew Allen implying that the pattern laid out in God’s word does not adequately produce confidence?  The Apostle Paul said, Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).

So what is this new pattern?  Sadly, this book outlines a “grace based” philosophy that isn’t new at all.  Rather, it is a perversion of the gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).  Wittingly or unwittingly Brother Allen has fallen into a doctrine as old as the King James Version when John Calvin wrestled with this same question.  Does God require perfect obedience to obtain the remission of sins?

From the opening chapter of this book, perfect obedience is marginalized.  Grace is emphasized as an unconditional favor post-baptism.  Repentance is trivialized.  God’s mercy is limitless.  Continual cleansing is advocated.  The culminating effect of such writings makes one think we are fine being sinful; after all, we “cannot meet all of God’s standards” (p. 55).

Perfect obedience is marginalized.  To the author, perfection is not attainable.  “All Christians need to move away from the idea that human perfection is attainable.  It simply is not” (p. 9).  He writes in the first chapter, “We need to get away from the unspoken teaching that says we have to be absolutely perfect all the time in order to get to heaven” (p. 6).  Never mind the fact that the scriptures do not talk about absolute perfection.  The author makes that point clear by sighting passages such as Romans 3:23.   However, scriptures do say, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).  Human perfection is attainable from time to time in righteousness while God is consistently perfect.  In Matthew 19:21, Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  If perfection was not possible why did Jesus tell the Rich Young Ruler he could have been perfect?  Other passages teach the same concept that perfection is obtainable (Jn. 17:23; Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:28; Col. 4:12; 1 Thess. 3:10; Heb. 11:40; 12:23; Jas. 1:4; 2:22; 3:2; 1 Pet. 5:10).  Jesus even sights the church in Sardis for not having perfect works (Rev. 3:2).

Brother Allen needs to consider that if perfect obedience is not attainable, then perfect love is not attainable.  In order to love Christ, we must obey him (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:3).  Yet, we all fall short of our obedience to our Savior as the author abundantly emphasizes.  If we cannot obey Christ it means we don’t love Him!

Further, the Apostle John says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18).  If we can’t attain obedience, we have not been made perfect in love because love requires obedience.  If we can’t attain perfect love through obedience then we have something to fear.  If we don’t love Him because we don’t obey Him, we don’t have the assurance of salvation!  Obviously, the author’s understanding of obedience is seriously flawed.

The author goes on to state, “We must not expect Christians to come out of the baptistery water and be capable of perfection” (p. 6).  I would beg to differ! Simon the Sorcerer was a new convert (Acts 8:13) but notice the rebuke he got from Peter (Acts 8:20-23).  That was anything but mild.  Peter did not coddle Simon in his sin.  Perhaps the author sees this as “shooting our own” (p. 7).  Yet, it serves as an example that we must confront sin rather than tolerate it.  People should not be encouraged in their sins (Rom. 6:1-2).

Further, it seems the author is blaming the church for the sins of the weak or ignorant.  “Our weakest and most vulnerable Christians fall away too soon because some congregations have created such a sterile environment that they feel completely uncomfortable and intimidated by others sitting in the pew” (p. 6).  If I understand this argument, Brother Allen is upset that Christians have the gall to live righteously in their “environment” because it makes others feel bad about their sins.  Again, we find an attitude toward the acceptance of sins.  Does a sterile environment in the pew actually cause people to fall away?  James says sin occurs when people are drawn away by their desires (Jas. 1:13-16).  Remember, it is in obedience to God’s instructions that we worship Him in that sterile environment (1 Cor. 14:40).  Surely, God is not tempting the weak to feel uncomfortable by setting them next to a godly individual during worship.

The chapter on “New Perspectives on Obedience” gives me pause.  The author sarcastically ridicules the obedient as keeping a check-list that has to be fulfilled as though they are void of love for God.  He creates a dichotomy between “having to obey rather than wanting to obey” (p. 45).  Does it matter whether a person obeys from a sense of obligation (2 Cor. 9:5), fear (Eccl. 12:13), or love (Jn. 14:15)?  As parents, does it matter to us how our child obeys when he is about to run out in front of traffic?  Works from love don’t merit our salvation any more than works from fear.  If we do what we are supposed to do we are still unprofitable servants (Lk. 17:10).

Repentance is trivialized.  Repentance is “to change one’s mind or purpose” concerning sin (Vines).  It is the resolution not to sin again!  Yet, Brother Allen believes repentance is impossible and sets a person up for failure. “We can resolve to never sin again.  If we do this, we set ourselves up for failure.  This is impossible.  See 1 John 1:8” (p. 10).   A few lines later he reiterates, “Since resolving to never sin and not facing our sin are ways leading to defeat we must learn from our sin” (p. 10).  This is extremely troubling for me to accept.  God says that repentance is required for the forgiveness of sin and Brother Allen says it leads to defeat and failure.  Is this part of the new paradigm (Acts 5:29)?  Why would God tell us to do something that would lead to our defeat in the fight against sin?  Obviously, the author has made a tremendous blunder in his rationale.  If that is not the case, his sheep skin is wearing thin (Matt. 7:15).

Mercy is limitless. The author generalizes to the point of fallacy on the subject of mercy.  “God has never begrudged any gift to mankind. God’s mercy is without limit. No one is beyond His saving power” (p. 21).  Yet, God told Moses that His mercy was conditional.  “For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.   So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16).  God “repays man according to his work, and makes man to find a reward according to his way. Surely God will never do wickedly, nor will the Almighty pervert justice” (Job 34:11-12).  Mercy is obtained at baptism (1 Pet. 2:9-10).  Yet, mercy can be lost through disobedience (Heb. 10:26-31).

Grace is unconditional post-baptism.  The underlining problem with this whole book is Brother Allen’s misunderstanding of grace.  He recognizes the free gift of our Lord’s grace but he fails to see how it is accepted on our part.  He would have us believe there is nothing we can do after baptism but passively accept His free gift.  He fails to recognize that anytime we obey God’s commands we are working the works of God unto salvation (Jn. 6:28-29).  Obedience is part of our faith in Christ.

Obedience is required because God commands it (Jn. 14:15, 21; 1 Cor. 7:19; 1 Jn. 2:3-4; 3:22, 24; 5:2-3; 2 Jn. 1:6; Rev. 14:12; 22:14).  Grace is based on human performance.  Grace teaches us to conduct ourselves in certain godly ways.  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14; emphasis mine).  To say, “Grace is not based on human performance” (p. 26) is to mislead people into thinking there is nothing they must do for salvation.  We are saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8).  Grace is God’s part in our salvation while faith is our active part which is demonstrated by our obedience (Jas. 2: 17-26).

For a proper explanation concerning grace I would highly recommend an article written by James R. Cope entitled, “Salvation by Grace.”  The article can be found at:  http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/SalvationByGrace.html.  Brother Cope’s article explains just how we accept our salvation by grace through faith.

Continual cleansing is advocated.  The chapter on “Justified in Christ” is a soft peddling of the continual cleansing concept.  He states in that chapter, “God promises to cleanse us of all sin.  Our salvation is not dependent upon our perfection – but on God’s cleansing!” (p. 32).  Again, we find the author contradicting scriptures on the subject of perfection while affirming the work of God in our salvation to the neglect of any involvement of the sinner.  A few sentences later he states, “God wants to forgive people who want forgiveness.  He forgives people who realize they need forgiveness.  He forgives people who feel truly unworthy of forgiveness” (p. 32).  One will notice he never says God forgives those who repent or ask for forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4).  The reason for that oversight is because the author seems to believe forgiveness is complete at baptism.  After Brother Allen sights passages that teach salvation occurs at baptism he writes, “We will be saved, wholly, completely and forevermore!” (p. 7).  To the author it seems asking for forgiveness is not necessary after baptism.

Conclusion.  This book review should not be taken as documenting every possible error.  There are many more questionable statements throughout this book.  The five points above represent the most glaring contradictions to God’s word in Brother Allen’s book.

From Fear to Faith by Matthew Allen and published by Spiritbuilding Publishing is the worst Bible class book I have ever had to endure.  Brother Allen’s influence has caused one congregation that studied this material to divide within a few months.  Instead of building one another up in the assurance of salvation, this book helped tear apart a once loving congregation.  False doctrine has that affect (Acts 20:29-30).

 By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net