Calvary Road Baptist Church

“ABRAHAM’S FAITHS”

Genesis 15.6; Hebrews 11.8-9, 17

 

Have you ever wondered why so many who are not Christians have so little regard for Christians? Have you ever wondered why few so-called Christians actually seem to be saved people while most so-called Christians would never be taken for Christians by anyone observing their speech or conduct, why few who say they are believers seem to be converted and many who say they are believers seem not to be converted? For us to profit from this message we must have the humility to recognize that none of us knows everything about the gospel and about being saved. Would you not agree? There are issues and truths in God’s Word that each of us has not yet comprehended. Are you willing to accept that possibility? Good.

Turn to the book of Acts, chapter 8. I want to start you off with a consideration of the experiences of a man named Simon, Simon Magus, who came under the preaching of the gospel when a deacon from Jerusalem named Philip was mightily used of God in the great revival that took place in Samaria. Simon’s story begins in Acts 8.4:

 

4      Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

5      Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

6      And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

7      For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.

8      And there was great joy in that city.

9      But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

10    To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

11    And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

12    But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

13    Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

 

Simon Magus, according to verses 12 and 13, heard the gospel preached and then he “believed also.” That is, Simon Magus exercised faith. Having believed, he was then baptized and he continued with Philip. So far, so good. However, another Simon then arrived on the scene of the revival. The second Simon was Simon Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. He and the Apostle John came to Samaria to exercise their apostolic authority, since it was by their hands that God was well pleased to give the Holy Spirit during that transitional period of time, verses 14-17:

 

14    Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

15    Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

16    (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

17    Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

 

Again, so far, so good. Now read with me from Acts 8.18:

 

18    And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

19    Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

20    But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

21    Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

22    Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

23    For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

 

Though he had believed, and though he had been baptized, and though he had continued with Philip, the conduct of Simon Magus in response to the astonishing supernatural ministry of Simon Peter convinced the apostle that this man was not truly converted.[1] It was because he was not converted that Peter commanded him to “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” He never talked that way to a Christian.

We have here a Biblical example that fully explains the experiences of a number of people you and I both know, and perhaps may even explain your own experience, as it once did my own. This man heard the gospel and believed, having believed, his life was changed. However, he was not converted. Peter’s use of the phrase “if perhaps” establishes that Simon Magus’ forgiveness is not certain, but is utterly dependent upon his repentance. Rienecker declares that Peter’s statement is best understood as meaning, “in the hope that perhaps.”[2] Commenting on the same phrase, A. T. Robertson writes, “This idiom, though with the future indicative and so a condition of the first class (determined as fulfilled), yet minimizes the chance of forgiveness as in Mr 11:13. Peter may have thought that his sin was close to the unpardonable sin (Mt 12:31), but he does not close the door of hope.”[3] Thus, it becomes obvious that Simon Magus was a lost man despite the fact that he had believed! So, you can be a believer and be unsaved. Hey, not only can you be as lost as a goose and firmly believe that you are saved, but you can be dogmatically positive you are saved and all the while be unconverted. Stay with me, now.

Lest you doubt what I am saying, consider the Corinthian fornicator in First Corinthians chapter 5. Let us give the young man the benefit of the doubt. Let us not accuse him of lying and deceitfulness in professing that he knows Christ, and being baptized, and becoming a member of the Corinthian church, all the while knowing in his mind he was lost. Let us presume that he was sincere, but his behavior exposed him as one who had been sincerely wrong about the state of his soul. As well, you can be sure that a church started by the Apostle Paul was most certainly not like most churches today, but that they made a real effort to discern between the righteous and the wicked, to ascertain who was truly converted and who was not, so they could know who they were authorized to baptize and who they were not authorized to baptize. However, the fact that he committed a sin more heinous than any sin committed by unsaved Gentiles, the fact that he committed sexual sin with his father’s wife, and the fact that Paul shows by his use of the aorist passive subjunctive in chapter 5 and verse 5 that this young man is not converted (because he sincerely hopes the young man will yet be saved), conclusively establishes that we have yet another example of a so-called believer who is not converted. You can be a believer and still be lost!

Do you doubt what I say? Then why did the Apostle Paul raise the possibility of someone having believed in vain in First Corinthians 15.2? It is possible to believe all the doctrines, to accept all the assertions, and to fully buy into the tenets of Christianity . . . without being a Christian! As well, do not think that the only examples of so-called believers who were not converted are those who committed sins that are so obviously extreme as trying to purchase the Holy Spirit or some form of incest that was foreign even to pagans. There are many more shall we say benign examples of believers who were not converted in the Bible.

Before we examine some other texts, please keep in mind that the word “disciple” in the gospels does not refer to the twelve apostles only. A disciple is a follower and pupil of the Master, and the Lord Jesus Christ had many more than the twelve disciples throughout His earthly ministry that we know as apostles.[4] Anyone who followed the Lord Jesus from place to place, and who publicly and openly sided with Him would properly be labeled a disciple. With that in mind, turn to John 2.11:

 

“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

 

Thus, in response to His miracle of turning water into wine, His disciples believed on Him. In John 2.11 we read that Jesus Christ’s disciples believed on Him. However, notice what these same disciples did some months later when the Lord taught some hard lessons, according to John 6.60-67:

 

60    Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?

61    When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?

62    What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?

63    It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

64    But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.

65    And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

66    From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

67    Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

 

There you have it. They believed, but they believed not. Virtually every one of the Lord’s disciples, men who had been with Him a long time, men who had believed on Him from the beginning, went back and walked no more with Him. What do you think is indicated by their lack of perseverance? Though they had believed in one sense, they had not believed in another sense. All the while they were lost.

Folks, this is where the parable of the sower becomes so important to understand. In Matthew 13.18-22, listen to the Savior’s explanation of those believers who were not genuinely converted:

 

18    Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.

19    When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

20    But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

21    Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

22    He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

 

The seed, of course, is the Word of God. Once again, in addition to the example of Simon Magus, in addition to the example of the Corinthian fornicator, and in addition to the very disciples of our Lord who had believed in one sense (yet who had not believed in another sense), we see in this parable that it is possible to be termed a “believer,” to seem to respond positively to the gospel and yet not be converted in the sense of having your sins forgiven and receiving the gift of eternal life so as to make you a persevering child of God.

Pardon me for saying so, but is this not the type of experience some of you here today are dealing with? The fact is, you have believed the gospel. Yet there is so much that is terribly wrong with your life, so much that simply defies any other explanation than the conclusion that you are not converted. Such was the case with me just before my 14th birthday, when I responded to an invitation and was then immersed. Understand that I am not talking about flagrant sins here. You need not be a womanizer or an alley cat. However, you may be experiencing a serious crisis of conscience. This might suggest to me that your experience parallels that of Simon Magus, parallels that of the young man in Corinth, or parallels that of those disciples of Jesus Christ. That your life is so accurately described by this parable our Lord taught powerfully suggests, perhaps even convinces you, that you are yet another example of a believer who is not converted. Do not be discouraged. Rather, be encouraged by the fact that your life’s experiences are clearly reflected in God’s Word. Be encouraged, also, by the Savior’s words: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” John 6.37.

 

SERMON:

 

We now take a turn. After the Lord Jesus Christ, the most important person ever to walk the earth, insofar as God’s great plan of redemption is concerned, was father Abraham. Nine times in God’s Word we find the words “father Abraham.” Why is Abraham termed “father”? For two reasons: First, because Abraham was the original Jew, the man who was the first and primary patriarch of the nation of Israel. Second, and this is most important for us today, Abraham is the prototype of the child of God, the example for all to follow of how a relationship with God is established and maintained.

We are told in Habakkuk 2.4 that “the just shall live by his faith.” And in Romans 1.17, Galatians 3.11, and Hebrews 10.38 we find Paul paraphrasing that verse when he writes

 

“The just shall live by faith.”

 

Who would challenge my assertion that there are few statements in God’s Word that are as important as “The just shall live by faith”? I hesitate to claim that there are any phrases more important, since no other phrase so perfectly describes the basis of any and all relationships men have with God as that one. After all, without faith it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11.6. Without faith it is impossible to be saved from your sins, “For by grace are ye saved through faith,” Ephesians 2.8. Without faith it’s impossible to be justified, “Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God,” Romans 5.1. In short, apart from faith in Christ there is nothing for the sinner with which to acquire or possess what is eternal, what comes from God, what is made possible by the Lord Jesus Christ. That said, remember that we have already seen that it is possible to have faith and not be saved, to have faith and not be converted, to have faith and not have your sins forgiven. Never mind how that is possible, for now. The fact that you need to concern yourself with is that it is possible, and that such a possibility goes such a long way toward explaining your life or the lives of a considerable number of your loved ones.

This message is so important for you. I plead with you to give me your undivided attention. Ushers, no one is to be allowed into the auditorium except in a real emergency. And, please, do your best not to leave for any reason until I conclude the message in prayer. Find in your Bible two passages, Genesis 15 in the Old Testament and Hebrews 11 in the New Testament. I will make reference to other passages, but once we read four verses I will ask you to sit down, close your Bible, and look up at me. Genesis 15 and Hebrews 11. Have you found them? Good. Stand now to read God’s Word. I will read the verses according to the sequence in which they actually occurred in Abraham’s life. Here on the platform I will start out to your extreme left; representing the beginning of Abraham’s life, moving across the platform as Abraham grows progressively older, reading the appropriate verses. When I have done that you can be seated and I will review for you the four faiths of Abraham that will go so far in making the way of faith so much plainer for you to understand.

Are you ready? Way over here, Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees. But here, when God spoke to him and he responded with faith, he was 75 years old. Hebrews 11.8: “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 whither he went.”[5] The next record of Abraham’s faith occurred when he was about 85 years old, and is mentioned by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 4 and Galatians chapter 3. However, we will read from the original reference to his faith, in Genesis 15.6: “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”[6] Some 25 to 30 years later, after Isaac was born, comes the third record of Abraham’s faith. Mentioned in Genesis 22 and James 2, we will read what the writer to the Hebrews says about that same episode, in Hebrews 11.17: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac.”[7] Finally, so you can all sit down and so I can preach, we’ll read the fourth reference to Abraham’s faith, in Hebrews 11.8: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.” This, of course, closes out Abraham’s life. You may be seated. Please close your Bible.

Four episodes of Abraham’s faith are referred to in God’s Word. These four faiths comprise the main considerations of my sermon, and should comprise the main considerations of your interest, since Abraham’s life, in part or in whole, reflect your life in so many ways.

 

We Begin With ABRAHAM’S FIRST EPISODE OF FAITH

 

Abraham’s first episode of faith comes about in classic fashion. We know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, Romans 10.17. We also know that God’s Spirit gives faith, Second Corinthians 4.13 and Ephesians 2.8. And so, we know that Abraham’s faith came to him from God when God spoke to him.[8] He heard, and by faith obeyed God when he left Ur of the Chaldees and journeyed to the Promised Land, having no idea what awaited him.

It is a surprise to most people that although Abraham had faith he remained unconverted. It shocks many people when they come to realize that if Abraham had died with this faith, during this period of time in his life, he would have died not justified in the sight of God. “But he did exactly what God told him to do,” you might say. “Faith pleases God, Hebrews 11.6 says,” you might remind me. And I would agree with everything you’ve said. However, the Bible is very clear on this point. Though Abraham had faith, though by faith he obeyed God, though by faith he responded to God’s Word, he was still an unjustified man.

How are we to explain this? Is God’s Word untrue? Are the promises of God not to be believed? My friends, God’s Word is true. The promises of God are reliable beyond dispute. But what we have here with Abraham, at this stage of his life, is not saving faith. It truly is faith, but perhaps it is appropriately called seeking faith. This is the faith that is exhibited by the lost person who comes to church because he knows God wants him to. This is the faith that is exhibited by the lost person who seeks the LORD. And this is the faith that we find when the sinner obeys Christ’s command to strive to enter in, Luke 13.23-24:

 

23    Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,

24    Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

 

Maybe you were not saved when you formerly exhibited faith. Perhaps you were not carefully guided to Christ. Or maybe God hasn’t given you saving faith yet. But He has given you seeking faith, as evidenced by the fact that you are here and you are listening. My advice to you is to keep striving, don’t go back to your Ur of the Chaldees. Continue exercising this first kind of faith that Abraham had, not saving faith but seeking faith.

 

We Continue With ABRAHAM’S SECOND EPISODE OF FAITH

 

This second episode of faith was Abraham’s saving faith, occurring approximately ten years after his seeking faith commenced. This was the faith that resulted in his justification, the faith that’s mentioned in Romans 4 and Galatians 3, the faith that Paul talks about when he talks about being saved, the kind of faith by which and with which a sinner lays hold of Christ. This faith resulted in Abraham being justified in the sight of God. It is the faith that was counted for righteousness by God, the kind of faith that you come to Christ with, that you really do believe in Jesus Christ with to the saving of your soul. It is this faith that results in the believer being sealed with the indwelling Spirit of God, that is accompanied by regeneration and a new heart. This is the faith that corresponds to being a new creature in Christ and having a new eternal destiny. This is the faith, when you come to Christ, when you believe in Him, that results in your sins being forgiven, washed clean in the blood of Christ, God forever forgetting your sins and remembering them no more.[9] This is the faith that results in you being adopted into the family of God, becoming God’s child by means of the new birth.

However, sadly, this is not the faith exercised so far by you. Am I right? How do I know? You are not a new creature in Christ. There is no joy unspeakable in you, and full of glory. There is no appreciable evidence of the indwelling Spirit of God in you. And there seems to be no growth in grace and in the knowledge of God over time. It could be that you think you’re saved. Or it could be that you know you’re lost and you are completely discouraged by the fact that you thought you had faith and still you’re not converted. Be encouraged, my friend, by the fact that you are just like Abraham between his 75th and 85th birthdays. You are still in that phase of life where you need to strive to enter in. Still, the promise of the Savior remains: “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” John 6.37. If you come to Him, when you come to Him, He will receive you and He will save you.

“But pastor, I just know I am saved.” No, you don’t. You presume you are saved. “Pastor, there is evidence in my life that I am a Christian.” Be careful, my friend. One of the most frequent clues that can be observed in the life of a still unconverted sinner is the kind of stubborn insistence that is based upon an unscriptural assurance of salvation. It is rooted in pride. Lost people know nothing of spiritual realities, and babes in Christ know almost nothing. So, unless you are a seasoned and mature Christian, you simply cannot be as all-fired certain about such things as you claim to be. That is where the gospel ministry comes in. Stay with me now, as we move on to the next example of Abraham’s faith.

 

We Advance To ABRAHAM’S THIRD EPISODE OF FAITH

 

This was Abraham’s great demonstration of a living faith that James made reference to in James 2.21-23, as an illustration showing that faith without works is dead. This was when Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, his son, his only son, on Mount Moriah in obedience to God’s command. When a genuinely converted person lives long enough God will test his faith, will strengthen his faith, will prove him with tests and crisis situations. Sometimes those tests are severe, such as this one. And if a person really is converted, such crisis events can display faith in a remarkable way. As well, it is when your faith is exhibited in a crisis situation, such as when Abraham was directed to sacrifice Isaac, that your faith becomes so evident to others that you are justified in the sight of men. That is, men will see such evidence of your genuine faith in Christ that they will conclude that you are a real Christian.

Has such genuine evidence of faith as yet been seen in your life? Maybe you have not come unstuck in times of crisis, but lots of people hang tight when trouble comes or tragedy strikes. What I am talking about is some striking evidence of real faith in God. And that you’ve not shown anyone yet, have you? Why not? Could it be that you are not converted?

 

We Conclude With ABRAHAM’S FOURTH EPISODE OF FAITH

 

Abraham exhibited seeking faith over a period of time. His saving faith, when his faith was counted for righteousness, was a single event in time. That’s when he was justified in the sight of God. As well, when he was justified in the sight of men, when he exhibited visible evidence of faith for one and all to see (shall we call it stupendous faith?), that was intense faith shown over a rather short period of time. A couple of days at most. But this final testimony to Abraham’s faith spanned three or four decades by my reckoning. I call it staying faith.

Hebrews tells us that this faith was seen when Abraham lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob, Hebrews 11.9. If the first faith (leaving Ur of the Chaldees and coming to the Promised Land) was seeking faith, and the second faith (when he was counted for righteousness) was saving faith, and the third faith (willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah) was stupendous faith, then this last faith, this enduring faith, could be called persevering faith. I prefer to call it staying faith.

This is the “he that endureth to the end shall be saved” kind of faith. I don’t like the “once saved always saved” terminology, since it is so frequently used by the unsaved for a false sense of security. The Bible teaches eternal security, but it teaches that those are only eternally secure who show their faith in Christ by their long term perseverance in the faith, their sustaining faith, their staying faith.

So the woman who is “saved” and baptized, and attends church and participates for ten years, but who spends the last twenty years of her life with no visible evidence of faith, is missing this staying faith. If you look at her life closely, you will see that there has never been any striking evidence of faith, either, no stupendous faith. If her testimony of how she was “saved” had ever been carefully scrutinized it might have been discovered early on that she never did have saving faith. Seeking faith, perhaps, for a while. Maybe even a decision that was mistaken for conversion, and church membership. But no real faith in Christ. No Mount Moriah type episodes. And no life of faith over the long haul to the very end. In short, she was never saved. Not really. How do I know? Because real faith works. It works in crisis situations, like Abraham’s striking faith when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, and it works over the long haul with staying faith, again like Abraham, the Friend of God, the father of the faithful.

 

So you see, friend, the Word of God is not at all discredited by the experience of someone who “tried that Christianity stuff and it didn’t work.” Neither is Christianity falsified by the person who supposedly had faith, but nothing turned out right. Perhaps you have become despondent over your experiences, thinking you were saved and then concluding that you were never saved. Perhaps you are thinking about giving up, or you’ve already given up. What a terrible mistake that would be. As we have seen in today’s message, there is nothing surprising or unusual about a sinner who has faith to come out of Ur of the Chaldees and yet is still unsaved. You came to church and perhaps even made a profession of faith, yet you are still unsaved. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. You’ve exhibited a certain amount of seeking faith, but you’ve not yet laid hold of Christ with saving faith.

So, what do you do? First, admit to yourself that you are not really converted. After that, continue to seek. Continue to strive. Continue to plead with God for mercy. Stay with the seeking faith until God graciously grants you saving faith in the risen Savior. Remember, you have the promise of Christ that if you will, indeed, eventually, actually, come to Him, He will not cast you out. He will receive you. That’s a promise. And that promise is all the reason reasonable men need to keep seeking the Lord while He may be found. Hey, why not come to Christ now?



[1] See footnote for Acts 8.13 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1648 and Darrell L. Bock, Acts - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pages 334-335.

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 279.

[3] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol III, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1930), page 108.

[4] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 609-610.

[5] Genesis 12.4; Edward Reese, The Reese Chronological Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1977), page 55.

[6] Reese, page 58.

[7] Ibid., pages 67-68.

[8] Acts 7.2-3

[9] Hebrews 8.12; 10.17


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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org