From The Second Half of the Cross
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went.” (Heb. 11:8)
When God in the Old Testament spoke to Abraham, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Gen. 12:1), from that moment forward Abraham was no longer in complete control of his life. Here begins the mysterious blend of God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free-will choice, combined within the dynamics of an individually tailored, God-composed life-script that requires subordination of our ways to God’s higher plans for our lives, entirely unique to the Bible.
In choosing to obey God, some of Abraham’s self-in-charge nature was left behind as he headed off toward Canaan. Abraham’s own plans, schemes, and ideas for his life were displaced by God’s plan that was much larger and grander than anything Abraham could have imagined. With each step toward Canaan and away from Haran, Abraham left behind the other life he would have lived had he not met God, and walked toward the new life being offered to Abraham by God. For this it is said of Abraham that “he believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6).
At the time of his departure from Haran, Abraham was a wealthy man, and had the means to support a large family. We can imagine that when Abraham excitedly told his wife Sarah about God’s promise that their descendants would be in number as the stars of the night sky, as they traveled together toward Canaan they both began to think with future expectations about the joys of a family life with lots of children. Abraham could see himself teaching his sons to ride horses, hunt wild animals, tend their herds of sheep, and to worship the one true God who had spoken to him in Haran.
Sarah thought about the joys of raising young children, seeing them grow up into fine adults, and providing her husband with male heirs to continue his name. The information that God left out of this promise was the long wait in years before Isaac their only son would be born.
Here lies one of the stumbling blocks that the human race generally has with the cross of Christ. Matthew 16:24-25 reads: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
If we offer up our self-made plans to be crucified on the cross of Jesus Christ, will God’s plan for our lives be better than the plan we would choose for ourselves? Will God’s plan have more meaning and purpose in relation to our individual gifts and talents, than the life we otherwise would create?
If we give our all to God, including our goals and dreams, will God take our lives and come up with something that is better than what we would come up with ourselves? Will we be able to look back on our lives and be glad that we chose God’s way instead of our own? Will the benefits of following God outweigh the costs of giving up control?
This is one of the fundamental issues in allowing God to take over the course and direction of our lives. This is a basic, narrow-gate question that confronts every Spirit-led Christian along their individual journey of faith following Jesus (Mt. 7:13-14).
Can Abraham become the father of faith, and achieve his highest and best life as recorded in the Bible, without walking in God’s uniquely imaginative plan for him? Is there some compromised, less difficult, middle-ground course of life that would combine Abraham’s will-and-way with God’s plan that might still produce the same result?
Can’t Abraham and Sarah go to Canaan and have Isaac right away, along with a lot of other children, without the years of waiting and believing that God will perform His promise? Can’t Abraham skip the whole part about sacrificing his 13-year old son Isaac on Mount Moriah as a burnt offering to God, and do something else for God like going on a spiritual pilgrimage or sitting alone on top of a rock in meditation for a month or two?
Through the benefit of four thousand years of hindsight, each one of us can make a judgment as to whether Abraham made the right choice in believing and following God. I believe that if Abraham could go back and do it all over again, that he would not change a thing, even the major mistakes he made involving Lot, Hagar, and Ishmael. I think Abraham would stand in awe and amazement at what God has accomplished and is currently accomplishing in our world, using the simple ingredients of cooperation, trust, and faith.
I think that both Abraham and Sarah, despite their major lapse of faith regarding Hagar, would say that their one great personal sacrifice in waiting for Isaac, though difficult at the time, in hindsight was miniscule in comparison to the enormous good that was accomplished through the creation of the nation of Israel and the future Christian church.
Several important lessons can be drawn from the life of Abraham. First, the plan for Abraham’s life shows in hindsight that God knew what He was doing. We know from history that if Abraham had independently decided to help God out by putting down permanent roots in Canaan for the large family he and Sarah expected, that after a few generations his descendants might have been overrun and carried off by several large foreign armies that passed through this region during the next 430 years. If that had been the case, the children of Abraham would never have been able to grow into the sizable nation that existed in Egypt at the time of Moses.
The scripture says that Abraham dwelt in tents. Abraham did not start digging foundations for a permanent village or small city upon reaching Canaan (Heb. 11:9-10). It was actually Abraham’s grandson Jacob who had the large family of twelve sons and a daughter, yet this occurred just before the widespread famine that caused the family of Jacob to seek refuge in Egypt. Through these narrowly defined chain of events God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be in number as the stars of the night sky, did indeed come true (Heb. 11:12).
Second, it is said of Abraham that “he believed God, and this was accounted to him for righteousness.” In the story of Abraham’s life, there is no mention of any set of rules, or system of regulations, or a philosophy of life that God gives to Abraham to achieve this righteousness through a program of works or self-effort. There are only two major elements in this account—God’s promise and Abraham’s faith.
The fulfillment of God’s plan through Abraham’s trust and faith in God, even with some major human missteps along the way, is accounted as righteousness. The Ten Commandments, the covenant laws, the temple services, and the observance of festival days, which come along 430 years later at the time of Moses, are not involved. Faith in God alone is the key to Abraham’s story.
Third, the unique and imaginative life of Abraham can only happen within the context of a relationship with the true living God. The story of the life of Abraham is a two-man play, and the character billed as “God” must show up. In fact, God is both the playwright and the actor opposite Abraham. Only the Creator God can compose this story and bring it to completion. The story of Abraham is a God-composed life-script. Any other naturalistic or humanistic explanation for the totally unconventional life events of Abraham falls flat.
A journey of faith according to a God-composed life-script written exclusively for each one of us excludes merit on our part. By its very nature a journey of faith sets us on a path not of our own composition, and through faith in God’s intelligence and character leads us to circumstances and places we could not imagine on our own.
This is the uniquely innovative element of the Bible that validates and authenticates this God as the true God…a distinct and separate Person composing brilliantly devised life-script callings for people that are at the pinnacle of creative imagination, artistic beauty, and purposeful meaning at the height of intellect and moral character. A journey of faith following a spiritual Coach who is our divine Creator, writing and managing life-plans that match our innate capacities and personalities perfectly, is beyond human contrivance.
It is the second half of the cross that opens up the possibility for God to perform these living masterpieces of creativity. When Abraham journeys towards Canaan, the canvas of his life is now clear and open for God to paint a beautiful portrait of a life of faith.
When Abraham sets out toward Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:3), the nearly completed portrait reveals a man whose faith and trust in God has been matured through years of character-building experience. This final God-initiated test of faith demonstrates Abraham’s total trust in God. Unconditional trust is the hallmark of a rock-solid friendship.
This test of Abraham on Mount Moriah not only defines the trust-based relationship between a man and God, at the start of redemptive history, but also previews the actual sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus Christ on the cross two thousand years later. This wonderful story of Abraham in the Bible demonstrates the creative imagination of God in the life of someone who surrendered all in faith, according to the principles of the second half of the cross.