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First Steps of Faith

The Christian life is often described as ‘walking with God’ and I think a three-legged race is a good illustration of what that can look like. Walking with God can be a thrilling journey when we keep in step with Him – following His lead. But when we get out of sync with God and try to do things our own way, very quickly can we find ourselves flat on our face. 

I think it’s a fairly common experience among Christians – especially new Christians – that in our attempts to daily walk with God, we struggle to stay in sync with Him and often we find ourselves tripped up and discouraged in the fact that we mess up so often.

But the fact is that no one just jumps in and walks perfectly in sync with God for the rest of their lives – it’s a learned process. It takes time to learn to walk with God.

Sometimes we read those incredible stories in the Bible of these heroes of the faith like Paul or Elisha or Daniel and they just seem like they’ve got it all together. But I guarantee you, there was a lot of practice and a lot of failures as they learned to walk with God.

I think Abraham is a great example of someone who had to learn to walk with God. I don’t know how much you know about Abraham, but aside from Jesus, he’s probably the most central figure of the Bible. He was the father of the nation of Israel – the father of Christianity really. It was through Him and his family-line that Jesus our Saviour born. And He wasn’t just a physical ancestor of Christianity – the Bible often points to him as our spiritual ancestor as well –  the first of those who were saved by faith.

But even heroes of the faith (like Abraham) had to learn to walk with God. Abraham had his ups and downs. He stumbled just like we do. But over time, and through a wide variety of experiences, Abraham learned to walk with God – to stay in step with Him. And as a result, Abraham had an incredible journey with God, and his life has left a lasting legacy even for us today several thousand years later. 

That kind of journey and that kind of legacy is possible for us too, as we learn to walk with God. So over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at Abraham’s life – watching as he learned to walk with God, because I think there is so much that we can learn from him and apply to our own journey with God. I’m calling this new series “Learning to Walk” and I trust that we will do exactly that as we study the life of Abraham – that we will learn to walk in step and in close communion with our God, just like Abraham did. So let’s jump right into it!

Now as I mentioned earlier, Abraham is one of the most significant characters in the entire Bible. In fact his story is the first biography in the Bible. Up to this point, the Bible has been telling us about certain events – events like creation and the flood and building the tower of Babel – but when the Bible introduces Abraham, its not to tell us about a particular event – it’s to introduce us to a particular person and his family. And to help us understand why, let me backup and give you a brief overview of what’s happened in the Bible timeline before Abraham. You probably already know this – but let me just summarize.

The Bible opens with the story of Creation in Genesis 1 & 2 – the basic idea is that God created an amazing and fantastic world and as part of that amazing creation, God created man. Man was the pinnacle of God’s creation – created in God’s image and he was given free will. Man could choose. He could choose to trust and obey God, or he could choose to ignore God and do things his own way. 

Well, Genesis 3 tells us how man chose to reject God and in doing so, brought sin and it’s terrible effects into the world. The next few chapters record how man’s sinfulness spread pain and death and sorrow throughout the world to the extend that by the beginning of chapter 6 of Genesis, it tells us that…

 “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” Genesis 6:5

Things had gotten really bad, so God decided to hit the reset button so to speak and wipe mankind off the face of the earth by sending a world-wide flood. Of course, God spared one man named Noah and his family. God instructed them to build a giant boat to survive the flood and it was that family who would then begin to repopulate the earth after the flood.

However, this purging didn’t solve the problem of sin. It quickly becomes clear as we read in the chapters following the flood, that mankind was still just as sinful as ever and if God was going to undo the damage of sin, it would require something more than a flood. But of course, this was God’s plan all along, and so, to that end, we are introduced to Abraham and his family – the family through whom God would bless every family on earth by means of Jesus Christ. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Let’s start by meeting Abraham’s family. We are first introduced to Abraham’s father – Terah in Genesis chapter 11. If you want to read along, we’re going to start in Genesis 11 – verse 26.

“After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.” Genesis 11:26

Now I’m just going to interject for a moment – you’ve probably noticed right off the bat that Abraham is not “Abraham” – his name at this point is Abram. That name change is significant and will actually come a little later on. But for now, he is Abram – not Abraham. Continuing in verse 27:

27 This is the account of Terah’s family. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 But Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, the land of his birth, while his father, Terah, was still living. 29 Meanwhile, Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. (Milcah and her sister Iscah were daughters of Nahor’s brother Haran.) 30 But Sarai was unable to become pregnant and had no children. Genesis 11:27-30

Now I’ll pause here again just to make sure we’ve got all that straight. There’s a lot of names in that passage, so let me just review. Terah has three sons – Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran dies relatively young and leaves behind three kids (at least three are named here anyway) He had a boy named Lot, and two girls named Milcah and Iscah. 

Nahor, who would be these kids’ uncle, (Haran’s brother) marries one of the Haran’s daughters (Milcah) – And of course that seems very weird to us (to marry your niece), but back then marrying a close relative was common and even seen as being more right and proper than marrying outside the family. So Nahor marries one of his brother’s daughters and some scholars believe that Abram married the other. They think that Iscah and Sarai were actually the same person. Now we don’t know that for sure – some say yes it was, some say no it wasn’t. Either way, that’s not too important to our story, But what is important is that Sarai was unable to become pregnant and thus had no children. That’s going to be a huge part of Abram’s story as we go along.

So now that we’ve been introduced to all the characters, the Bible has one more tid-bit of information for us before we get into Abram’s story. verse 31

31 One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans. He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. 32 Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran. Genesis 11:31-32

Now this part about Terah taking his family and heading for the land of Canaan raises a few questions for me. First of all, why did Terah decide to pack up his family and head for Canaan in the first place?  We don’t hear about a famine or the threat of war or anything like that – so what would cause a man to pack up his family and head for Canaan which was about 1000 miles away? And the second question that comes to mind is “Why did they stop in Haran?”

And just for some added clarity, this place Haran is likely named that by Terah in memory of his son Haran who had died earlier. So now you have one more thing to try to keep straight – the person Haran and the place Haran. 

But to get back to the question: Why stop in Haran? If the original goal was Canaan –  why stop 400 miles short? Did Terah get sick? Did he get tired? Did he just decided that Haran was a pretty nice place – why not stop here?

Well, the Bible doesn’t answer all those questions, but I think it does answer some. If you jump way ahead in your Bibles to the book of Acts, we get a bit of a history lesson as Stephen recounts this exact story. He says in Acts 7:2…

“Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. 3 God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ 4 So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live.” Acts 7:2-4

So apparently, this move wasn’t all Terah’s idea. God had personal appeared to his son, Abram,  and told Abram to leave his land and his people and go to the land that God would show him (that land, of course, being Canaan, as we will eventually find out.) And actually, Genesis chapter 12 gives us a few more details about God’s conversation with Abram. Flip back to Genesis now – chapter 12 verse 1.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3

Now this is a pretty incredible promise. We’re going to revisit the significance of this promise a little later, but for now, just try to grasp how far out there this promise was. God promised Abram that He would be a great nation, that he would be famous, and that all families on earth would be blessed through him. This is such a huge promise that its pretty amazing that Abram believed God. And even more amazing yet is that Terah believed his son, Abram. 

Can you imagine Abram telling his father Terah about this God who appeared to him and told him to pack up and move to Canaan so that he could become a great nation? Just consider how incredulous this was.

First of all, Sarai was unable to get pregnant, remember? They could haven’t any babies! So how in the world would Abram’s family become a great nation? Second of all, we have no indication that Terah had any reason to believe in this God that appeared to his son. From what we read in Joshua, it seems that Terah didn’t know or worship the one true God – he worshipped other gods. In Joshua 24:2 we read:

2 Joshua said to the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River, and they worshiped other gods.” Joshua 24:2

Terah didn’t worship the God who appeared to his son. So why would he believe the incredible promises that this God had made to his son, Abram?

Well, unfortunately for our curiosity, the Bible doesn’t tell us why, but it simply tell us this: 

31 One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans. He was headed for the land of Canaan… Genesis 11:31

It would seem that for whatever reason, Terah believed the God that appeared to his son, Abram, and he believed that that God would keep his promises. For a guy who knew nothing about God and who had previously been worshipping other gods – that’s pretty impressive.

And I think this willingness by Terah to begin the journey to Canaan with his son really sets the stage for the rest of Abram’s story. These were the first steps for probably both of them as they learned to walk with God.

This God whom they had previously not known had given them a command and a promise. And for whatever reason, they believed that promise – and they (quite literally) stepped out in faith and began this journey. I don’t think they had any idea how God was going to come through on His promises – especially with Sarai not able to have children, but yet they believed that God would come through – and so they acted on that belief.

And that’s really the basis for our walk with God too. It’s not all that different. We too, have been given a command and a promise – several of them, actually. The Bible is full of commands and promises. And our walk with God begins and continues as we believe his promises and then act on those beliefs.

That’s what faith is. It’s not just saying that we believe something – it’s actually doing something because of what we believe. It’s taking those steps of faith.

Let me give you an example.  Look at Romans 10:9 – this is a common passage that you’re probably familiar with. It says:

 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

So in this verse, we find both elements – a command and a promise. The promise is salvation – we will be saved. As John 3:16 puts is, we will not perish, but have eternal life. And the command is to acknowledge Jesus as your risen Lord and Saviour.

But acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Saviour isn’t just something that happens in our head. We can’t just say we believe that and then continue living life however we wish. If we truly believe that Jesus is our risen Lord and Saviour – that He’s the Son of God and that God raised Him from the dead and that He is now Lord over all – if we believe that, then we’re going to live very differently. We’re going do what he says. We’re going to live with eternity in mind.

We’re going to love our enemies. We’re going to share the Gospel. We’re going to take care of the needy and the hurting. We’re going to be honest with each other. We’re going to be generous. We’re going to do what’s right. That’s all part of the package. Those are all steps of faith. That’s what we do because we believe that God loves us and wants the best for us. That’s what we do because we believe that we will one day stand before our Lord and give an account of our lives.

Faith isn’t just a head thing or even a heart thing. It has to be acted upon. There has to be steps of faith – or it’s not really faith at all.

James chapter 2 gives us a good explanation of all this. In James 2, verse 14 it says…

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? [We’ll get to that part of the story in a few weeks.] 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” James 2:14-23

I love that verse 22 – “his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.” When Terah and Abram began that journey towards Canaan – their actions made their faith complete. They took their first steps of faith.

And everyone of us here has the opportunity to do the same. No matter where we are in our journey with God, there is another step of faith just in front of us. Because without those steps – without action – our faith is dead.

And of course, that next step is going to look very different for all of us. In a couple weeks we’re going to be out at Camp and there’s a group of folks who are planning to be baptized. That’s a step of faith – they’re doing that because they believe the promises of God and have chosen to obey his commands.

Of course, not all steps of faith aren’t all big life-changing events like going to another land or getting baptized or becoming a missionary. In fact, most steps of faith are tiny little steps like…

  • faithfully showing up at church each Sunday morning
  • Scheduling time to spend with God in His Word each day
  • being gracious with your husband when he does some bone-headed thing.
  • being gracious with your wife when she’s ready to lose it with the kids.

All those little things we do in obedience to God are steps of faith. Whenever we act in a certain way because we believe what God has said in his Word – that’s a step of faith.

We began today without our illustration of the three-legged race and we said that it takes time to learn to walk with God. Well, it’s those little steps of faith that will help us learn to walk with God on a consistent, continual basis.

As we get to know God more and more, and as we discover just how trustworthy and good He really is, taking those steps of faith becomes easier and easier. Even those big steps aren’t so hard anymore, because God’s proven his faithfulness time and time again in all those little steps.

So I would just encourage you this morning, where-ever you are in your journey with God – to take the next step.

  • And maybe your next step is starting a habit of reading your Bible each day
  • Maybe your next step is asking someone for forgiveness for something you’d said or done
  • Maybe your next step is giving up some time for someone who needs your help or friendship
  • Maybe your next step is speaking the truth in love to someone who doesn’t want to hear it
  • Maybe your next step is committing to financially supporting some missionaries or the church on a regular basis
  • Maybe your next step is asking for some help to break a sinful habit
  • Or maybe your next step is actually your first step and you want talk to someone today about putting your trust in Jesus for the very first time

Whatever that next step is for you, I’d sure encourage you to take that step of faith. Put some action to what you say you believe.

And next week, we’re going to continue to look at Abraham’s story. Although he started off pretty good, there are some bumps in the road ahead as his actions get out of sync with his faith. Of course, God’s still faithful through it all, but we’ll talk about that next week.

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