doubts

A Father's Trust

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"It ain't over till it's over!" This statement attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra has proven true in many sporting events. The most recent Super Bowl comeback by the NE Patriots and the 1980 USA Olympic team's "Miracle on Ice" confirm it.

But great comebacks may not happen as often as we'd like to see. For all the great turnaround stories in life, many other people experience enduring disappointments.

I've lost interest in book and movies, even baseball games (and I love baseball) only to realize later that I gave up too early. A lot of people approach the Bible and all its stories the same way.

God's story of redemption is filled with many unexpected twists and turns, and His story isn't over till it ends—within each of our lives and throughout history.

The back story

A significant development in God's redemptive story begins with a man who is promised a son. This son would make him become the father of many generations. Abraham (also Abram), the father of Israel, would wait 25 years for this promised son.

But there's much more to the story that begins in Genesis 12. As with many intriguing stories, it has sub-plots, twists, deceit, a leading lady, villains, and battles, and much more, including a surprising climax.

This surprising climax gives us insight into how God would bring redemption for all of humanity and it's not at all what you'd expect. In fact, it's one of those surprising and gut-wrenching twists in the story.

An unexpected ask

Isaac, the promised son, was Abraham's treasured son, born to him at the ripe old age of 100 (Genesis 21:1-7). He had another son with another woman (Genesis 16 and Gen 21:9-21), but that's another story within Abraham's story.

When Isaac was at least a teenager or perhaps a young man, God asked Abraham to do something so shocking to us that many get stuck on it and miss the intent and purpose of the story. Here's the shocking ask of God—

Later God tested Abraham and called to him, “Abraham!” “Yes, here I am!” he answered. 
God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.” (Gen 22:1-2 GW)

It's important to read the whole story (Gen 22:1-14) in its whole context. The whole context includes a promise that follows the unfolding of this story with the shocking ask of God. But I'll get to that later.

Trust or blind obedience?

An important piece of context is the time and culture of Abraham. The sacrifice of children to the god Molech was common in those days and in that region of the world. Abraham was well aware of this. This was long before Moses and the Law that forbade such practices.

But there's something deeper in all of this. God made a personal covenant with Abraham regarding this promised son connected to the promised land. By this time, God reminded Abraham four times about this promise (Gen 12:1-3; 13:14-16; 15:4-6; 17:4-8).

Perhaps Abraham was puzzled by God's request but he trusted God implicitly. This was not blind obedience.  We gain insight to this as Abraham and Isaac go to the mountain as instructed by God—

Then Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and gave it to his son Isaac. Abraham carried the burning coals and the knife. The two of them went on together. 
Isaac spoke up and said, “Father?” “Yes, Son?” Abraham answered. Isaac asked, “We have the burning coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 
Abraham answered, “God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, Son.” The two of them went on together. (Gen 22:6-8 GW)

God will provide

Abraham's answer to Isaac remains a mystery as they proceed to the mountain for the sacrifice. Abraham built an altar out of rocks, laid the wood on it, tied up Isaac, and put him on the wood.

As Abraham grabbed the knife to slay his promised son, he's stopped by an angel of the Lord and more insight is given—

But the Messenger of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes?” he answered. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you did not refuse to give me your son, your only son.” (Gen 22:11-12 GW)

The big picture and the greater story

If you're still hung up on why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, I understand. But take a step back to see the bigger picture. Seeing the big picture reveals the greater story.

It was never God's intention for Abraham to kill Isaac. It was a test (Gen 22:1). It was an act of trust by Abraham (Heb 11:17-19). It was an illustration of when God would reverse the course of history through His own Son.

This story is a prophetic illustration of God's plan of redemption, as shared about in an earlier post. Redemption is about restoration, not just settling humanity's account with God because of sin. The illustration is seen in view of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Some important parts of the bigger picture

  • the mountain in the land of Moriah (Gen 22:2) represents Golgotha where Christ was crucified (Matt 27:33)
  • Abraham saw the place on the third day of travel (Gen 22:4) just as Jesus looked beyond the shame of the cross to His resurrection on the third day (Matt 16:21; Heb 12:2)
  • the men were told to stay behind (Gen 22:5) just as Jesus did with His disciples as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36)
  • the wood that Isaac carried (Gen 22:6) is a picture of Jesus carrying His cross (John 19:16-17)
  • Abraham's statement that God would provide a lamb (Gen 22:8) is echoed centuries later by John the Baptizer when he see Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

But why...?

I realize it's hard to look past the shocking request of Abraham by God. This requires faith. Not an abstract belief but genuine personal trust in God (Heb 11:6).

We all have questions, even doubts when it comes to faith and trusting God. This is the nature of faith. It requires us to see beyond the obvious or at least, what others see or might believe.

The simple lesson for life application is to ask ourselves if we're willing to trust God with everything and everyone in our life. But there's more to it than that.

Not many of us are asked to sacrifice a son but God does ask us to trust Him. Not just hold a belief of trust but to trust Him day in and day out with our life.

This only develops as we know God in a deeper more personally intimate way and that depth of relationship requires time and a willingness to trust God. That's real faith, the kind Abraham had.

How much of your life are you willing to trust God with?

An Unimaginable Gift

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"I can't believe I won!" As the winners shriek with surprise and jump up and down with joy, some of us watch it all with skepticism, while others may wonder, "Why can't this happen to me?"

I'm talking about those ads showing sweepstakes winners, and even those more sedate, even secretive lucky lottery winners.

This scenario is somewhat representative of a spiritual truth often met with skepticism or qualifications.

Hard to accept

One of the more puzzling paradoxes within the Christian faith is the response of people to the grace of God—God's unearned kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and approval.

Many people have a hard time accepting the truth of Sola Gratiaby grace alone—because it seems "too good to be true." Granted, some people get it right away and are thrilled beyond belief. Others however, accept it, but later doubt their own worthiness to fully embrace it.

Then there are those who claim to believe in God's grace, but have a plethora of reasons why others don't qualify for this unimaginable gift of acceptance and favor. These same responses to God's grace are seen throughout the gospels and epistles in the New Testament.

Seen it all before

The Pharisees, and later those called the Judaizers, play the role of the spoil sport and point out how grace goes too far. They challenged Jesus during His ministry on earth, especially when He healed people on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11).

Those in the margins of society—the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and such—were delighted with God's gracious acceptance and favor they saw in Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).

The early church leaders also struggled with how far God's grace extended and who qualified to receive it. But in a sovereign way God revealed how far His grace reaches, when He poured out His Spirit on a Roman centurion and his household (Acts 10:45; 11:18; 15:6-11).

Then, the redemptive message of God's grace (the gospel) began to spread through non-Jewish (Gentile) people, as it did in Antioch (Acts 11:19-24).

The great shocker of all was the supernatural conversion of a radicalized rabbi (Acts 9:1-16). The radical rabbi Saul became the apostle Paul, who explained the theology of God's grace in Galatians, Romans, Colossians, and the book of Hebrews.

Though Paul vehemently stood against the truth of God's grace, he became the great teacher of the Gentiles, who explained the grace of God better than anyone since Jesus.

Why we struggle with grace

I'm thankful for my first pastor, Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, back in the early 70's. I didn't have preconceived notions or teaching about grace, so I accepted what I read in God's Word and how it was confirmed by Pastor Chuck's teaching.

I don't remember if he said this exactly, but his attitude was that he'd rather err on the side of grace than legalism or judgment.

Over the years, I've watched people struggle with the simple but powerful truth of God's grace. We all do, even though we believe in it. There's a myriad of reasons why, but here's some that come to mind.

  • It seems to good to be true— human skepticism, even to the point of cynicism fueled by the world around us, is the biggest reason. It all started back in the garden when the first humans believed a lie rather than trust their Creator (Gen 3:1-7).
  • Looking for exceptions to the rule— this reason extends from the "too good to be true" attitude, but is characterized with "what ifs" and other limitations imagined or passed on by others, who contrive various scenarios where God's grace can't be applied.
  • Beyond the reach of God's grace— this is rooted in shame and the closed loop of unresolved guilt. Surely, we reason, there's some limit to God's grace, either because we've benefited from it so often or done something deemed so terrible.
  • Who qualifies to receive it— this includes various religious and moral hurdles church leaders and people contrive, similar to objections brought up to Jesus and the early church leaders (see earlier section).
  • You've gone too far— limits are put on how many times a person has appealed to God for His grace because of repeated failures. Also, the dreaded "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" (Mark 3:28-30), which gets interpreted various ways according to a person's situation.

Here's what I've learned through the truth of Scripture in my own life of faith—

God's grace is greater than our failures, fears, doubts, and expectations of others.

Tying it all together

How do the first three foundational Solas work together?

  1. Grace and faith—Sola Gratia and Sola Fide– One of the clearest expressions of how grace and faith fit together is in Ephesians 2:8-9—For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
    • This should free a person from a performance-oriented Christian life, since personal effort (good works) is of no value for gaining favor with God.
    • Grace is the great equalizer when it comes to faith, and humility is the true evidence of experiencing God's grace.
  2. Faith and Scripture—Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura— Paul reminds believers that faith comes from hearing the truth of God's Word (Rom 10:17).
    • Genuine Christian faith needs to be grounded in the truth of the Scripture through the work and witness of God's Spirit (Gal 3:2-6).
  3. Grace and Scripture—Sola Gratia and Sola Scriptura— our understanding of God's grace needs to be grounded in the truth of God's Word, not human reason (dogmatic beliefs) or emotion (shame or guilt).
    • This is spelled out in many places, especially in the epistle of Romans— Romans 5:8-10; 12, 15, 18-21.

Don't complicate the simplicity of God's grace, and don't despise its simplicity. The depth of God's truth isn't complicated, it's simple.

When you begin to doubt the truth of Sola Gratia, I encourage you to read through the epistle of Galatians, especially chapters 3–5, also chapters 5–8 of Romans.

What exceptions or exclusions have you seen people make about God's grace?

How has God's grace overwhelmed your failures, fear, and unmet expectations?


This is the 5th in a series of posts to consider the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation. Here are the previous posts—

 

Why Do You Believe That?

God Won't Fit In a Box, Nor Will I

Sola Scriptura—A Simple View

Gateway to God's Heart

 

Understanding terms—

Many of the theological terms used by Christians become like a foreign language to nonbelievers. Believers need to understand these terms well enough to put them in their own words, or as I call it IYOW (In Your Own Words).

I've tried to give some simple clarification of terms in these posts, but I encourage you to make your own effort at understanding these terms so you can explain them IYOW to others.

If there's a specific theological term that proves hard to grasp, let me know. I'll at least point you in the right direction for an answer, if I can't help you with my own explanation.