The Prototype Believer

Most of us remember long boring road-trips during our childhood. Before the day of portable DVD players, iPods, and Nintendo 3DS’s there wasn’t much to do apart from read or count cars.

Not being much of a reader then, car-counting was my thing. One of the games my twin brother and I used to play was to see who could spot the most models of our own car on the road. It always amazed me how many there were when you started looking.

But there was a time when there was only one. Before the assembly line started rolling out thousands of Ford Cortinas, there was one, the prototype that all the others were modeled upon.

That’s how Abraham is set before us in the Bible; he’s a prototype of all other believers. Although there were believers before Abraham (e.g. Abel, Enoch, Noah, etc.), God presents him as the prototype believer, the one that all subsequent believers are to model themselves on (Rom. 4; Gal. 3).

So, what was exemplary about Abraham’s faith? I’d like to highlight two key features from the last few verses of Romans 4:

His faith diminished obstacles and difficulties.
God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Aged 99, he was still not a father. Indeed, Romans 4 tells us that the child-producing part of his body was already dead, as was his 91-year-old wife’s womb. These were huge obstacles in the way of fulfilling this promise.

But Abraham “did not consider” this double deadness (Rom. 4:19). That does not mean that he ignored the difficulties or that he denied reality. That’s not faith; that’s stupidity. Rather, “did not consider,” means that although he saw and understood the difficulties very clearly, he did not let what he saw and understood determine what he believed.

Faith does not ignore difficulties but rather shrinks them. Faith is like a filter, or a lens, which changes the way we view the world. It reduces the size of difficulties and magnifies the size of God’s promises.

His faith depended on God’s promise.
Paul also tells us that Abraham did not waver or stagger at the promise of God through unbelief (Rom. 4:20). But what promise did Abraham believe? Well, Abraham is given the same promise three times, each time with a slightly different wording: “ I will make you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2); “Count the stars if you are able to number them…so shall your descendants be” (Gen. 15:5); “You shall be a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:4).  It’s the latter wording of the promise that’s referred to twice in Romans 4:17-18.

But that doesn’t sound like the Gospel, does it?!

So how can Abraham be a prototype of saving faith if he believed something different to us? If Abraham just believed a promise that he was going to be a daddy with lots of grandchildren, that seems very different to believing the good news that Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins, doesn’t it.

Well, the good news is that Abraham did believe the Gospel, the same Gospel as we do. And we have no less a theologian than the Apostle Paul to confirm this: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed” (Gal. 3:8).

That certainly preserves Abraham’s prototypical and exemplary position for us. He and we believe the same Gospel.

But the question still remains: “How?” How did Abraham believe the Gospel? Where is the Gospel in that promise: “In you all the nations shall be blessed” or any other version of it?

The answer lies in remembering a prior promise. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that he would send a descendent of Eve to crush the devil’s head. Subsequent believers kept hoping that their child would be that appointed one who would bless the dying world with new life (Gen 4:25; 5:29).

So, when Abraham received the promise that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed, that he would be the father of many nations, he put the two promises together and believed that one of his descendants, perhaps even his first child, would be the one who would crush the devil, and bring life-giving, life-multiplying blessing to the world.

In summary, though the vocabulary was different, in essence Abraham’s faith was the same as ours, that is, Messiah-centered.

There was a difference in clarity (he saw in the shadows, whereas we see in the light) and in direction (he looked forward, whereas we look back), but the core, the essence, the focus was the same. His faith wrapped itself around the promised Satan-crushing, world-blessing, life-giving Seed, just as ours does. And the result is also the same – He believed in the Lord and it was credited to him for righteousness.

Great stuff! That’s that sorted then, isn’t it?

Or is it? Paul says Abraham “staggered not, “did not waver,” at the promise of God?

Eh, what about Hagar? And did he not lie about his wife being his sister – twice? Sounds like he’s staggering and wavering all over the place. How can Paul commend Abraham’s unstaggering and unwavering faith as a prototype for ours?

We’ll answer that question tomorrow.

Check out

The Spiritual Gift of Discouragement
James Faris helps us to lose this gift and develop its opposite.

Don’t Tase me bro’
Simply asking questions is not application. It’s more like being Tased.

When is indecision loveless and sinful?
John Piper challenges procrastinators everywhere with this lesson drawn from Bonhoeffer’s life.

The Quest for Comfort
Guy Waters reviews the latest children’s book from Bill Boekestein.

Meet the bloggers
John Brand, Principal of the Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh, interviewed me about blogging.

Contraception? Where’s the vision?

Looks like contraception could be President Obama’s ticket to re-election.

Despite handing the Republicans an open goal with his despotic attempt to coerce religious institutions to pay for their employees’ birth control and abortions, the Republicans have contrived not only to miss the goal but also to shoot into their own net by getting mired in a debate about the rights and wrongs of contraception, instead of keeping that debate focused on freedom of religion and of conscience. And while scoring own goals, for good measure let’s throw the whole game away by questioning Obama’s theology, and even whether Obama is a Christian or a Muslim.

Rick Santorum has been the worst offender among the candidates. It’s just so foolish for a Presidential candidate to not only allow himself to get drawn so deeply into the contraception issue, but to deliberately keep it alive, and then to launch out on Obama’s “phony theology,” followed by unconvincing attempts to say he was only talking about his “green theology.” And to top it all off, Franklin Graham disgraces himself with his horribly unconvincing, defensive ramblings about the genuineness of Obama’s Christianity, climaxing with the “Son of Islam” nonsense – on breakfast TV!

This is not just miles “off message,” it’s inter-planetary. And it’s so small-minded in the face of such huge societal and economic problems. At this rate, President Obama can start writing his inaugural address.

Where, O where is the grand vision? And where is the candidate who can cast the vision with attractive, compelling, and persuasive words – without getting distracted by every gnat that buzzes in his ears.

That vision must have two simple parts – The Economy and Society. And it’s got to be ruthlessly focused, rousingly big, and relentlessly positive.

When the Republicans talk about the economy, all people actually hear is: “Cuts, cuts, cuts.” That’s so small, so expected, and so negative. It’s designed to appeal to the 50+1% who like to think that the cuts are going to fall on the other 49% or perhaps on the next generation.

Where is the Republican who can honestly and courageously articulate the benefits of proportionate shared sacrifice for huge long-term gain? Where is the Republican who can reach out to the poor (both “deserving” and “undeserving”), the “entitlement generation,” the takers, and persuade them that there’s a much better way for them and their families? Is there no one who can connect with them, motivate them, and unite them with the rest of society? Is no one even going to try?

And, of course, the economic problems cannot be solved without addressing societal problems, especially that of family breakdown.

But when the Republicans speak about society, all people hear is “Wrong, wrong, wrong.” Gay marriage? Wrong! Abortion? Wrong! Single motherhood? Wrong!

These things are wrong, but angry condemning never helped anyone. We need a Republican who can paint a much bigger and much more positive vision of a renewed and revitalized society built on the basic building block of the family and respect for precious life. Holier-than-thou tones and denunciatory attitudes won’t cut it.

Again, is there no Republican who can compassionately reach out to the tens of millions of broken homes and broken lives with care, concern, and constructive efforts to at least slow down the rate of failing families and murdered babies. Is there no one who can inspire a new generation of young people to live lives of purity, commitment, and loyalty. Sounding like a whiny Pharisee won’t cut it here either.

The present range of candidates look terribly small, undisciplined, blinkered, and short-sighted. Maybe one of them could still grow into the desperately needed, big-vision leader who will be ruthlessly yet positively focused on the economy and society. But the time is very short.

And the opposition is very great. There’s a huge political class with an intense personal interest in growing the numbers of the dependent poor in order to maintain their own demoralizing and divisive power.

Check out

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Theology and Exegesis
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Randy Alcorn speaks of Jim Elliot’s unknown brother

Pornography and your Church Webinar

My friends at Covenant Eyes have a webinar next week called Pornography and Your Church: Changing the Culture of Your Church to Change Lives.

The purpose of this webinar is to give pastors and lay church leaders practical ideas about how they can create a “culture of accountability” to combat the prevalent but hidden sin of pornography.

  • How do you help men to be more open about their habitual sins?
  • How do you help parents to proactively guard their homes?
  • How do you protect those on your staff from Internet temptations?

During this webinar you will hear from church leaders who have witnessed great changes among the men, women, and families in their churches.

You will also be given 5 practical steps you can take to walk your church through a similar process.

Register today! Space is limited. Join us on February 29, 2012, at 3pm.

Why am I here?

Imagine you’re at a shooting range and there are lots of targets with prizes underneath. If you hit that one, you win a rubber duck. If you hit that one, you win a stuffed teddy. If you hit that one, you get a goldfish. And so on. But right in the middle is the biggest target and it has a prize of a million dollars. But no one is shooting at it. People are walking away delighted with their rubber duck and their cute teddy but the biggest target with the biggest prize goes unclaimed!

That’s mad, you say. That would never happen. Or at least, “If I was there, it would never happen!”

But you know, that’s what’s happening all over the world every day. And it’s very possibly happening in your little world too.

God sets himself forth as the biggest prize we could possibly enjoy in this life. But the vast majority of people are shooting for rubber ducks and cute furry teddies: boyfriends, girlfriends, FB, computer games, sports, jobs, money, pleasure, cars, houses, etc. Lots and lots of rubber ducks and furry teddies. But the huge million dollar prize, God, goes unclaimed. In fact few are even aiming at Him

That’s not a recent problem. 350 years ago a number of pastors got together and wrote a brief  Q&A about God. And their first question was: “What is the chief end of man?” What should be our number one target? What should we aim at above anything and everything else?

They answered: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

To put it in a more popular way: Our number one target in life is God, and He’s also our greatest prize and enjoyment. That’s why you and I are on this planet for these few short years.

We’re here to end in God. Whatever else we aim at in life, let’s make sure we aim towards God above all.

We’re here to exalt God, to worship God, to praise God, to lift Him up in our thoughts, in our affections, in our words and in our actions.

We’re here to enjoy God. Enjoy God? You may think that these two words do not belong in the same sentence. Enjoy God? Well the main reason for that is that He’s not your chief end, your greatest aim in life. As long as God is second, you won’t enjoy anything in life, and you’ll actually blame God for that.

End in God, exalt God, and enjoy God. And you’ll not only live a more worthwhile life on earth. When it’s time to leave, you’ll leave with much more than a rubber duck!

This is the second film in the series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, filmed and edited by my son Angus. The introduction to the series can be viewed here:
Introduction: A Summary not a Substitute