With a focus this week in Genesis 15, we will once again allow Unfolding Grace to set the broader scene of chapters 15-18:
“These chapters highlight a pattern in the Bible’s story: God is a God of promise, and His people are men and women of faith. God speaks His word of promise, His people trust Him, and He counts it to them as righteousness. God accepts people not on the basis of their moral goodness but on the basis of His mercy and grace.”
Wednesday, January 27th
Larger Portion of Scripture - Genesis 15 - 18
Focused Passage for Reflection - Genesis 15
Reflecting on the Text:
What does it mean to believe? It is an important question related to Genesis 15, with important implications related to our lives. So maybe to help us think through what it means to believe, I can take us to a less important illustration.
A few years ago, my father-in-law decided to host a “believer’s lunch.” This lunch had nothing to do with the church. It was the day before the Iron Bowl, and he said he would take everyone out to eat ribs, but there was a catch. To go, you had to believe that Auburn would beat Alabama the following day.
Now that particular year, none of us believed that would happen. But all of us wanted ribs, so we clarified the question. We asked if “believing” could simply mean that we believed it could happen. Was it enough for us to simply believe that an Auburn victory was somewhere in the realm of possibility…as unlikely as it might have seemed that particular year? My father-in-law relented and we enjoyed our ribs at the first “believer’s lunch.”
It may sound silly but think about Abram and his belief. He was looking at far longer odds than an Auburn win over Alabama. So what did it mean for Abram to believe? After all, his belief recorded in verse 6 is put forward in the New Testament as the model for saving belief.
We immediately go to the content of the promise in verse 5 where the Lord promises Abram his offspring would be more numerous than the stars of heaven. That’s an important part of Abram’s belief, but I don’t think that is all. Earlier in the passage, the Lord told Abram, “Fear not…I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Those words most certainly were included in the content of the promise, especially given the declaration the Lord made over Abram in response to his belief.
So Abram believed in the content of the promise…not merely its possibility but its eventual outcome. Yet maybe, more importantly, he believed in the promise-maker. He believed the Lord. And the Lord counted the belief to Abram as righteousness. This counting is a crediting. It is an accounting term, where righteousness was put into Abram’s account.
Later, in the New Testament, Paul (inspired by the Spirit of God) looks back on this account as the basis for the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He references this verse in Romans 4:1-12 where he speaks to Abram’s saving faith, but then in Romans 4:22-25, he applies the same truth to us. There, Paul speaks to both the content of promise and the promise-maker: “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
These verses in Genesis and Romans are so important as they speak to what it means to believe, and to the One in whom we are to believe. And as important as this belief is, the passage continues to give us hope in moments of faltering belief by placing the outcome solely in the hands of the Lord.
Thankfully, this passage on belief includes verse 8. Abram, who has just been commended for his belief, seems to question God. How will I know? (I say thankfully because so often I want to ask the same question!) But the Lord doesn’t rebuff him. He answers, showing us that there are questions born out of faith rather than out of accusation.
The Lord takes the question and then gives more details in verses 12-16. Again, a pointer to belief in the content. But then the Lord does something really radical. He seals this promise to Abram through a covenant ceremony, the details of which may seem odd to us but were abundantly clear to Abram. The Lord Himself passed through the divided animal parts, in essence saying that if He didn't fulfill the promise to Abram, He would take on the same curse that had fallen upon the dead and divided animals. In doing so, the Lord emphatically pointed to belief in the promise-maker.
So what does it mean to believe? It means much more than simply saying something is possible, all to manipulate the situation and get the goodies. It means we believe the promise and the promise-maker…and as a result, we get Him.
Questions for personal reflection:
In what ways are you tempted to try and hedge your bet when it comes to belief?
How does verse 8 encourage you in moments of struggle?
Read this passage again with a thought emphasis on the Lord as promise-maker instead of with a thought-emphasis on Abram as a promise-believer. How does that focus impact your belief?