“Faithful” is our theme for 2021, and in this space over the next six issues, we’ll look at six Bible characters whose faithfulness in their own unique context speaks to us in ours. Our goal here is to challenge and encourage the Church of God to embody faithfulness, in our own time, after the examples of the mothers and fathers of faith who have gone before us.
When we think about the faithful of Scripture, our minds turn almost immediately to Abraham. Of all the Bible heroes of faith, he stands out as the most paradigmatic for Christians. We call him the “father of the faith,” and for good reason. Abraham is mentioned seventy times in the New Testament, starting with its very first verse. And his faith is his most mentioned characteristic.
Matthew wanted us to know from the start of his Gospel that Jesus was the seed of Abraham (1:1). This claim indicated that Jesus belonged to Israel and was the long-awaited climax of her story and of God’s promises that began with Abraham. This Jesus, who would “save His people from their sins” and was “God with us” (vv. 21, 23), was also for Matthew the perfection of the faith Abraham had prefigured.
Even before Messiah came, Israel knew Abraham as the model of faithfulness. The prophet who most clearly foretold His coming (Isaiah 53, 61), pointed Israel back to their foundations in Abraham as well:
“Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek the Lord . . . Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you” (Isaiah 51:1, 2).
Jesus looked to Abraham in His teachings. And every New Testament writer, except Jude, wrote of him — of these, none more than the apostle Paul. He saw in the coming of Christ that God’s ancient promise to Abram — to bless all nations — had been fulfilled. For Paul, a faith like Abraham’s and faith in Messiah were essential to this life of blessing in Christ through the Spirit (Galatians 3:8-14).
Here is the bedrock of covenant faith with God: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Romans 4:3). This believing faith is a living faith. It’s why Paul wrote to “walk in the steps of that faith” that Abraham had; those “of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Romans 4:12; Galatians 3:9, KJV). These steps of faithful Abraham teach us that justifying faith and sanctifying faithfulness are two sides of the same coin.
The active faith of faithful Abraham is summarized in and pivotal to the message of the great Faith Chapter. At the heart of Hebrews 11 are three references to the steps of the faithful father, covering the beginning, middle, and end of his walk with God.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going (v. 8).
Abraham’s first step of faith was taken when God called him from his family and country: “Get out! Go!” Genesis 12 describes this beginning and God’s five “I will” promises to bless Abraham, his children, and all nations through him (vv. 1-3). We call him faithful Abraham because in believing, he departed without hesitation, building altars of worship to God as he journeyed (vv. 4-9).
By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents (Hebrews 11:9).
Perhaps the middle steps of faith are the most treacherous. It was a relatively quick trip to Canaan, but the long wait of camping as strangers in the land tested Abraham most. There were trials, temptations, and distractions while he waited. God had to take him out of his tent to look up at the stars and remind him: I will give you the family I promised (Genesis 15, 18). We call him faithful Abraham because he believed and never gave up.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son (Hebrews 11:17).
When we think about faithful Abraham, we probably think first of his last great test. Having received his promised son in old age, he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. In this final step of faith, his end was much like his beginning. Abraham acted without hesitation, knowing that God’s call transcends even the loyalties and identities we put highest (Genesis 22:1-5). We call him faithful Abraham because even in this most extreme test, he said yes to God. In doing so, he demonstrated not only his faithfulness but also God’s faithfulness. God would give His only begotten Son for the world.
For those who would be found faithful, we look with Isaiah to Abraham’s example. For those who would follow Christ in living faith, like Paul, we step out with father Abraham leading the way.
Each of us has a beginning, middle, and end in our journey. Like Abraham, we have flaws and failures, but that’s not what made him the father of the faith. It’s not what defines or directs us, either. We’re faithful like Abraham when we trust Jesus Christ despite our limitations, when we lay every loyalty and love on God’s altar for His purpose, when we say yes each day to His call and command, when in every trial and temptation, we look up to the stars and remember God was faithful first!