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THE NEW PROMISE
THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT III (YOUR ROLE) // CHAPTER 17
Let’s go back to who we started with: Abraham and his family. As we know, his family was in many ways deeply flawed. We’ll never know the reason why God chose Abraham and his family. But one thing that they show us about God is that he doesn’t wait for perfect people to make his plan happen. God is often simply looking for people who want to be part of the plan.
God promised that Abraham would have a son, and that his family would become a nation and that they would bless the world. But there was a problem. Abraham was old. Really old. It is believed he was around seventy-five when God made these promises to him. It wasn’t until twenty-five years later that his son Isaac would be born. Twenty-five years is a long time. It’s even longer when you’re seventy-five.
Even though God made Abraham some promises, Abraham was human, like us. He didn’t know how things were going to work out. What do we do when we don’t know how things are going to work out? We worry. We focus on what we can’t control. Abraham didn’t just worry, he tried to make the promise happen on his own. He had a son named Ishmael with one of his servants, Hagar, which led to all kinds of problems for his family.
Abraham had a decision to make. He had to decide whether he was going to believe in the covenant that God had made. To believe that God would hold up his end of the covenant. Genesis 15 tells about his decision.
“And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” // Genesis 15:6
To state it another way, Abraham was considered good and virtuous because he believed God’s promise. He was righteous—in right standing with God—just because he believed. Would you say that you are righteous? Most of us would say no. We associate righteousness with good, virtuous, or even perfect behavior. What does it mean that Abraham was counted as righteous? That’s an important question. Families have been divided and wars have been fought over that question.
As we read the story of Abraham’s family in the Old Testament, the answer to that question becomes clear for them. As we open the New Testament, that answer can become clear for us.
In the Old Testament, Abraham was given the same rights and privileges with God as a person who was perfect. These were given to him because of his faith, not because Abraham was a good man. He was human and broken just like us. But because he chose to believe and act on that belief, he was chosen.
Two thousand years later, the apostle Paul made a connection between Abraham’s act of faith and those seeking a right standing with God in the New Testament church.
And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. // Romans 4:22–24
Paul is saying that we are given the same choice that Abraham had. A choice to have faith in God’s plan and promise. If we make that choice, we are given the same gift. This gift is directly connected to the promise God gave to Abraham thousands of years ago.
This gives us a lot of hoops to jump through. Jesus, God, righteousness, and faith? The idea of God granting righteousness because of faith is not how it is supposed to work. Think about your relationships with people. To be righteous means to be in right standing, in other words, to have a good relationship. Good relationships with human beings don’t happen because of faith. In a human context, right relationships require right behavior. It’s not enough for our friends and family that we have faith in them, we must treat them right. Otherwise, we risk damaging those relationships. If you want to have a good relationship with your friends, spouse or coworkers, it requires a certain kind of behavior. Even the strongest relationships are not unconditional. I’m married, and if I continually cheat on my wife, she may forgive me, but that doesn’t mean that we are in a “right relationship.” Why? Because my behavior is not right. If I want to have right relationships with people around me, I must behave right.
God did not choose Abraham because he was the best human on the planet. God didn’t make a promise to Abraham because Abraham did all the right things. Abraham believed in God. Because Abraham believed in God and his promise, Abraham was God’s friend. He was unconditionally accepted. Nothing else mattered. Not his behavior, lifestyle or personality. That kind of unconditional acceptance does not exist in human relationships.
God tells us that the way for us to be his friend is to believe in him and his promise. Faith is not just the foundation of a good relationship with God, it is the only thing God asks out of us. It’s the only thing that God asked out of Abraham. That doesn’t mean we have to have faith in everything God says right now. We just have to have faith in one thing he says. Look at Abraham: in Genesis 12, God invites him to step beyond what he knows into the unknown and the uncomfortable. To get started, we just need to be willing to take a step out from what we know into something that may feel unknown or foreign to us. That’s the beginning of faith. That’s where God starts with us: with our willingness to step from what we know into the unknown.
What is faith?
Now we should answer this question: What is faith? If faith is what enabled Abraham, and the same thing can enable us, we ought to know what faith looks like and acts like.
Faith is not a religious concept. It is a human concept. It is arguably one of the most powerful tools that we have. A simple definition of faith is the ability to believe something and act on that belief. Faith has initiated everything from life-saving medical developments to genocide. Faith fuels good and evil every day in every segment of the population. Everything that has been done, for good or bad, was done because someone believed that it could and should be done. Every problem that has been solved was solved because someone believed and acted based on their belief.
Faith is our action based on our belief.
Belief is a part of faith, but faith is more than just belief. Belief can fuel our imagination and anticipation. It enables us to picture a future for ourselves and the people around us. But faith is the thing that causes us to act as if that future is going to happen. That’s what Abraham was counted as righteous for.
Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses]. // Hebrews 11:1 AMP
The amplified version gives us a simple picture. Faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses. Faith is our ability to act as if what God says is true and that it’s going to happen. It’s the title deed. Faith is our ability to control what we can and entrust everything we can’t to God. Imagine getting a deed to a piece of property that you’ve never seen. You don’t have to see the land to own it, but you must trust that the land is there before you see it. Hebrews 11 reminds us of the story of Abraham:
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. // Hebrews 11:8
That doesn’t mean faith is blind. We can’t live in the future. We can only live in the present. Faith is behaving in the present as if the future you see is going to happen. Faith is making a bet, taking a risk based on what you believe can happen. Faith is trusting that potential can become possible. Faith requires us to make a conscious decision to act as if a “maybe” is going to become a “yes.” The Old Testament asks Abraham and his family, “Can you believe in something beyond yourself?” The New Testament asks all of us to believe that the logos—the divine word, principles, plans and promises of God—has been at work in humanity since the beginning.
Trusting in words and plans
The first recorded act of God is creation. God’s method of creation was speaking. In Genesis 1, God “speaks” ten times to create the world. In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abraham before he does anything else. The Hebrew word used here is amar (אָמַר) that means to say, speak, intend, command and promise. The word amar is used repeatedly by God to introduce his plan to people. When we speak, what do we speak? Words. The Greek word for word is logos. When we amar, logos comes out of our mouth. Most of the time, we see our speech (amar) as just words (logos). But what if we spoke as if what we said created the world we live in? That’s how God speaks.
In the Old Testament, we see how the spoken words of God are filled with his plans. The logos is communicated through speech. This speech is not mere words. These are the words. The speech (amar) is also the promise that the plan (logos) is going to come to pass. They are both the plan of God and the promise that the plan is going to happen.
You are created in God’s image, so be careful about what you say—your amar. The words God says create the future. The words we say do the same. Death and life are in the power of amar. God’s amar became the logos. What he said became the plan. What you say about your life right now creates the future of your life. What do you say about yourself? Your job? Your spouse? Your kids?
“So the Word [λόγος] became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” // John 1:14
The logos became evident in the life of a person. The person of Jesus. Much more than his teachings or his miracles, his life represents a culmination of thousands of years of planning and orchestration on God’s part. God started in Genesis by speaking his plan to the family of Abraham through amar. The Stoics introduced the word to the rest of us as logos. Then Jesus tied everything together. Jesus is the plan (logos) and the spoken promises attached to it (amar).
Paul echoes this in Colossians:
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. // Colossians 1:15–17
Jesus is the honeycomb of Tertullian. He is the plan, promise and commands of God that became a person. He is the logos and the amar. His life itself is the plan we are meant to follow. The Stoics believed that virtue was defined by the logos. The life of Jesus shows us what it means to live a virtuous life. Virtue isn’t self-defined. Nor is it defined by an unknowable entity. Virtue is defined by God himself in Scripture and displayed in the way Jesus lived.
God is asking us to trust and follow his plan, and that plan is a person. Trust and belief are different. We start the journey by believing, believing that God has a plan, believing that he wants to use us. But we must arrive at the point where we trust in him and live life the way Jesus did. Faith and virtue.
If we read the book of Acts, chapter 17, it gives us even more context. It tells us that the apostle Paul spent time debating and getting to know Stoic philosophers in Athens (as well as Epicureans). He tried to teach them that the conclusion of their search was not the unknown logos, but Jesus himself. The purpose of their searching and seeking through philosophy was ultimately for them to find God.
The same was true for the Jews. The plan, promise, intention and spoken word of God became a person.
His [God’s] purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” // Acts 17:27–28
Some of what you know and have heard about Jesus can be hard to believe, and therefore hard to trust. God is not asking for blind faith. Christians don’t believe in the miracles of Jesus and the plan of God just because the “Bible says so.” They believe because Matthew, Mark, John, Peter and James were eyewitnesses that said so. They saw it happen.
Luke, a first-century doctor, claimed to have thoroughly investigated the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus and concluded that Jesus was much more than just a moral man. He spent the second half of his life traveling through the Roman Empire telling that story. We believe because Paul believed. Paul, who was a persecutor and tormentor of Christians, came to believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Jewish law, the logos itself, the Son of God and that he physically rose from the dead. Christians believe because those who came after these men also came to believe and trust. From Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp. To Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian, Ambrose, and Augustine. Thomas Aquinas, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Søren Kierkegaard all the way through the Great Awakenings in America and today.
Thousands, maybe millions of people from all walks of life have paid a high price—many have been martyred—because of their faith in Jesus. This is not blind faith; this is not being caught up in feelings. This is reason, belief and trust.
Being part of the promise requires faith. Specifically, faith in a person, Jesus. Not just belief, but the ability and courage to act based on that belief.