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On our way to NC last week, I heard a message from Skip Heitzig that really spoke to my heart. It captured the essence of what I have been going through lately and from what people have been sharing with me, you’re going through the same things so I decided you needed to hear it too. When Kari and I got married, we recited vows to one another. We promised to love one another for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, until death do we part.
As I’ve performed numerous wedding ceremonies, I’ve asked couples to say the same type of vows. When I’ve said, please repeat after me, I wonder how many people only hear better, richer, in health. Those are the good things about marriage. There’s not a concern in the world; their future’s so bright they need to wear sunglasses. There’s little to no thought about the worse, the poor, the sickness. We say these vows because we don’t know what the future holds. Then life happens that cause strain on the relationship. Perhaps it’s issues with finances, perhaps it’s problems with relatives; maybe children come on the scene earlier than planned. The vows mean no matter what happens, we’re together. I’ll trust in you and you can trust in me. The result of these stresses is that the lifespan of marriage has gotten shorter – the commitment has gotten shallower, now about about 8 years in America. Faith in God can be like that. It can be a shallow commitment, short lived, a passing love. As long as everything is going good and right and in your favor, God is great, but as soon as life happens the shallowness of faith is revealed and the question becomes, “God where are you?” and that’s not true faith. Maybe you’re thinking of someone like this. Maybe you’re like this.
How do you know your faith is any good? You test it. How do you know if your knowledge is good? You test it. How do you know your car is safe? Test it. How do you know a medication is safe? You test it. Is faith any different? No. If your faith is real, it will stand up to any test. True faith will get stronger even in the middle of testing. That’s why God allows it to be tested – to show us where we are, He already knows. Best selling Christian author Ann Kiemel describes faith as, “Jumping out of an airplane at 30,000 feet without a parachute knowing that God will catch you. If He doesn’t, you splatter.” She adds, “But how do you know unless you jump?” Therein lies the difficulty for a lot of us. We want to know, but we don’t want to jump. We all recognize that trials are coming. Someone (I don’t know who) once said, “You’ve just gone through a trial, you’re getting ready for a trial, or you’re in a trial.” Maybe your mind is drawn to that great verse where James tells us to, “Consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials.” (Ja. 1:2) That’s the reality, but to have joy? Look how James finishes the passage, “Knowing that the testing or your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I really want you to read Gen. 22:1-19. It is vital to understanding faith.
This was a real test. We know it was a test because the text says, “God tested Abraham.” Test comes from the Hebrew word that means to prove the value or worth of something by putting it through adversity and hardship. If you’re using the KJV, you’ll see the word is translated tempt. There is a big difference between tempt and test. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Satan tempts; God tests. Satan tempts you to bring out the worst in you. God tests you to bring out the best. Satan tempts you to make you fall. God tests you so that you will stand firm. So how do you know if you are being tempted or tested because it’s not always easy? It really doesn’t matter because your character is what should shine through. Think about Joseph. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers then sold into slavery to the Midianites who then sold him to Potiphar. In Potiphar’s house he was falsely accused of rape. We don’t see Joseph wringing his hands asking is this from God or from Satan? It doesn’t matter. We see that as the whole affair played out Joseph concludes, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20) This is God at His best working things out. The 8:28 principle, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)
For Abraham this was a test. Verse 1 tells us it was a test from God. For all of our sophistication in modern society, for all of our theological wisdom, we find it difficult to believe that God is a testing God. We like to think of God as that all loving, all caring God that is there to make us happy, to make us feel good about ourselves and testing does not fit that pattern. In fact, entire doctrines have been built around this idea. Strong men and women of faith don’t experience pain or suffering; heartaches or hardships. I just don’t see that when I study God’s Word. This was not a quiz; this was a big time test for Abraham. The essential truth in this is that if you want biblical faith – growing faith – it needs to be tested. Everyone here would love to be giants of the faith, but the only way for your faith to grow and get stronger is to test it; to put it through the fire of adversity and affliction. It won’t grow by going to the latest faith conference, by reading the latest bestselling book or the most popular blog sites, or by taking a class, but by experiencing – first hand – hardships and difficulties. At the very least, Gen. 22 teaches us that in the midst of trials, in the midst of suffering and pain, faith is enough to get you through it. Notice the first phrase in v. 1, “It came about after these things.” Even the beginning inductive Bible study student will ask himself, what things? There was a period of time between Chapter 21 and 22. The test did not come about right after Isaac was born. 21:8 mentions Isaac being weaned. 21:34 tells us that Abraham sojourned or hung out in the land of the Philistines for many days. So how old was Isaac in Chapter 22? Opinions vary from one Bible scholar to the next. Most agree that he was a teenager, maybe 14. They were your typical Jewish family. I’m sure they went on picnics, played games, worked together. I wonder if Isaac ever wondered why his parents were so much older than his friend’s. Did he ever ask why they were so old? It would bring up a great story to share. So God lays out the test in v. 2. This was really tough. God knew how special Isaac was to Abraham and Sarah. The future rests on Isaac. The nation of Israel rests on Isaac. The promise rests on Isaac.
So Abraham is faced with a dilemma. God’s promises depend on Isaac being alive; God’s command involves Isaac’s death. Does God contradict Himself? Please do not misunderstand the point of the test. The issue here is not human sacrifice. The issue is the love of God vs. the love of a son. The issue raises the question, are you willing to give up something you love for God? Are you willing to give up what is most precious to you for God if He requires it? Jesus said in Matt. 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” We all have our Isaac; that area of our life that is most precious to us; the area that we hold on to telling God everything is Yours, except that. What happens when God comes to you in that very area because he wants to strengthen you? Maybe it’s where you live. Maybe it’s your occupation. Maybe it’s a relationship. Whatever it might be, are you willing to grow stronger in your faith? Faith that is not tested is not faith at all.
Abraham’s faith was tested. Until you’re willing to fully and completely trust God in all things, you will not be the person God wants you to be. Next week we’ll see exactly what happened in the exciting conclusion to Abraham’s test. This coming week I encourage you to pray for the Isaacs of your life. Are you willing to do what God requires of you?