ďDivine Grace And Human ResponsibilityĒ† Genesis 17:1-14††††††† May 31, 2009
SI:† This chapter is the most important in the story of Abraham.
The Lord speaks to Abraham and in a detailed and precise way he spells out
†† his covenant relationship with Abraham.† .
Within this chapter, are a number matters of tremendous importance for our
†† understanding of the Bible and our faith.
There is no way we can cover them all in one sermon, so weíre going to spend
†† a few Sundays covering this chapter.†
†† Start with verses 1-14.
INTRO:† Does the Bible contradict itself?†
The Bible says in some places that a woman should focus on her inner beauty,
†† that her dress should be modest and simple,
†† and that she should not wear gold, pearls, expensive clothes, or fancy hairdos.
And in other places it celebrates the physical beauty of women, and makes
†† positive comments about the attractiveness of certain women, and the
†† adornment of the female body with jewelry, perfume, and fine clothes.†
The Bible teaches the complete equality of men and women, especially in Christ.
†† In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.
And the Bible also emphasizes the distinction of genders, limitation of church
†† office to men, and the submission of women to men in the church and home.
The Bible tells us to pray for our enemies, to bless and not to curse.
†† And the Bible gives us inspired prayers and songs that curse Godís enemies.
The Bible teaches the absolute eternal security of the elect
†† in the unchanging love of God.
And the Bible also repeatedly warns believers not to fall away
†† and forfeit their salvation.
The Bible says we are justified by the righteousness of Christ received faith alone.
†† And the Bible says that our lives will be judged in the last day by our works.
The Bible says that God is One and it also stresses the triple personality of God.
There are many places where the Bible presents
†† what appear to be contradictory teachings.†
The question is:† Are these real contradictions? †
†† Are any teachings of the Bible really in conflict with each other?
†† No, they arenít.† The Bible is completely unified.
But even though we know the Bible is unified and know it doesnít contradict itself,
†† it does present teachings that are in tension with each other,
†† and it is oftentimes very hard to harmonize these teachings.
And the temptation is to pick one teaching and throw out the other.
Jehovahís Witnesses and Unitarians say you canít really believe in the Oneness
†† of God and be true to Scripture if you also believe in the Trinity.
†† So theyíve picked one teaching and tossed the other.
Roman Catholic Church says that if you believe that you are justified
† †by the righteousness of Christ, then that undermines the Bibleís teaching
†† that you will be judged according to your works.† Either one or the other.
So the Catholic Church has rejected justification by faith in order
† †to affirm judgment according to works.
In more and more evangelical churches, the Bibleís teaching on the equality of men
†† and women is used to set aside the Bibleís teachings on distinctive gender roles.
Those are just a few examples.
So what is the right way to approach Bible when teachings appear to contradict?
†† You have to believe both.† You have to embrace both at the same time.†
†† Even if you canít see clearly how they can be harmonized with each other.
This is the way Scripture often reveals to us truth about God, salvation, and the
†† Christian life.† It puts teachings side by side, in tension, and then challenges
†† us to believe them both, ponder them, and work them out in our lives by faith.†
Now, what does that have to do with our passage?†
†† Genesis 17 presents two profound biblical teachings in tensionó
†† Divine grace and human responsibility.†
First, this passage emphasizes in the strongest possible way
†† the sovereign grace of God.† Who takes the initiative and brings Abraham
†† into the covenant?† God does.† He gives Abraham unconditional promises
†† of salvation and blessing to him and his descendants.
And then, in this very same passage, God places the strongest possible emphasis
†† on the responsibility of Abraham and his descendants
†† to meet the conditions of the covenant and prove faithful from their side.
God promises to bless them no matter what,
†† and then he demands that his people obey or else.†
How do you deal with this tension?
The answer is not to downplay or throw out eitheróbut to believe both.
†† Doing so will give you incredible strength and maturity in Christian life.
Letís look at this passage and subject under three points.
†† 1.† What this passage teaches us about divine grace
†† 2.† What it teaches us about human responsibility
†† 3.† The strength that comes to the Christian life by believing both
Credit:† Sermon by Dr. Robert Rayburn on this passage
MP#1† What this passage teaches us about divine grace.
A person who doesnít know much about the rest of the Bible might say:
†† I donít see any tension in this passage.
Itís just saying:† God will be faithful to us if we are faithful to him.
†† God will do his part if we do our part.
But that does not begin to do justice to what God says to Abraham,
†† or to what the rest of the Bible says about Godís covenant with Abraham.
The point driven home over and over is that Godís promises are unconditional.
†† He will keep his promises to Abraham and his descendants no matter what.
Look again at the emphasis in verses 2-8.
†† I am God almighty.
†† I will confirm my covenant between me and you.
†† I will greatly increase your numbers.
†† I have made you the father of many nations.
†† I will make you very fruitful.
†† I will make nations of you.
†† I will establish my covenant as everlasting covenant between me and descendants.†
†† I will give you the land as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants.
†† I will be their God.
Is there any doubt what the Lord was communicating to Abraham?
†† There is absolutely no way that you can read this and think that God was
†† saying:† Abraham, Iíll do my part if you do your part.
Think of how this played out in biblical history.
Abraham did not walk blamelessly before Godóbut God kept his promise.
†† He brought Israel into the Promised Land even though as a people
†† they had failed him in every way.
And for centuries, even when Israel continued to rebel, and even when God
†† had to send them off into captivity to break them of their idolatry,
†† he did not cast them off.
This is pressed home in the New Testament.
Paul in Romans:† God never once failed to be true to his promise to Abraham.
†† Many individual Jews did not believe, and they rejected and crucified the
†† Messiah and were cast off from the people of God.
But even so, as Paul pointed out, the covenant with Abraham concerned
†† not all his physical descendants but his spiritual descendants.
And God by his grace has always seen to it that there are spiritual
†† descendants of Abraham.† Here we are, 4,000 years later, walking by faith.
And furthermore, there is not a single spiritual descendant of Abraham,
†† not a single one of us who would say we have walked before God blamelessly.†
Every single man or woman who has come to faith in Christ and believed and lived
†† and died in covenant with God has done so because God called us,
†† and kept us, even when we failedójust like Abraham.
There is no way you can say that Genesis 17 is simply a bargain between ,
†† God and manóIíll do my part, Iíll save you and bless you, if you do your part.
Itís a magnificent proclamation of Godís sovereign, unconditional grace.
†† He chooses us, he calls us, he saves us, he keeps us because he has promised.
†† Listen to these great verses that drive this home.
†† ďFor he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.† In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.Ē
†† ďMy sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.† I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.† My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.Ē
†† ďBeing confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Ē
†† ďYou are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.Ē
†† ďI will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.Ē
The Bible never hesitates to remind you, that you would never have believed apart
†† from the grace of God and his work in you.† It was not by your own effort,
†† or your own decision, or the exercise of your will.†
It was and continues to be all of God.†
And that brings us to . . .
MP#2† What this passage teaches us about human responsibility
God says to Abraham:† ďWalk before me and be blameless.Ē
†† ďAs for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you
† †for the generations to come.Ē
Just across the page, in chapter 18, God puts Abraham and his descendants
†† under a lasting obligation to instruct and direct their children in the way
†† of the Lord and to do what is right and just.
Then he gives Abraham circumcision as the sign of the covenant.
†† Circumcision signifies obedience to all of Godís laws.
And then the Lord says that if anyone is uncircumcised,
†† then he has broken the covenant and will be cut off from Godís people.
†† These are real responsibilities, real demands of God.
If a child is born into a Christian family, if he is a covenant child,
†† born into the covenant community, God requires two things.
He requires his parents to instruct him and direct him in the way of the Lord.
†† And God requires that covenant child to live up to the demands of the covenant.
If a person makes a profession of faith, as a young person or adult,
†† and enters the covenant community, is baptized and joins the church,
† †God expects him to live up to the demands of the covenant.
There are obligations that God lays down for men and women
†† who would be in his covenant and stay in his covenantó
†† faith, repentance, and obedience.
Just as Godís grace is elaborated throughout Scripture, in the same way
†† this theme of real human responsibility to keep the covenant is as well.
The Bible addresses people as responsible and free
†† and under obligation to respond to Godís call.
Listen to these verses, let them hit you.
†† ďChoose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.Ē
†† By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. †Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
†† See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.† But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sinís deceitfulness.† We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
†† ďIf anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.† For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
†† To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.Ē
†† He who stands firm to the end will be saved.
These are real conditions.
†† The lack of these things has caused many people to be cast out of the covenant. †There are many people who started out in the covenant but did not hold firmly
†† to the Word that was preached to them and so they believed in vain.†
There are many who allowed themselves to be hardened by sinís deceitfulness,
†† and who refused to deny themselves and take up their cross
†† and who failed to stand firm to the end, and what happened to them?
†† They were cut off.
The Bible never hesitates to remind you, that God holds you responsible
†† for faithfulness to his covenant.† You must walk before God and be blameless.
That means a life of faith, repentance, and obedience.
Does this sound like a contradiction?† On the one hand Genesis 17 says Godís
†† covenant with you is unconditional.† Itís all his grace.†
†† He brings you in. He keeps you in.† Nothing you do can mess that up.
On the other hand, Genesis 17 says that the covenant is conditional.
†† You are held responsible by God for keeping the covenant.†
†† If you do not live a life of faith and obedience, you will be cut off.†
That brings us to our third point:
MP#3 †The strength that comes to the Christian life by believing both
You must believe both in divine grace and human responsibility.
†† You must hold to both and embrace both as true.
†† And you must live your life according to both.
Because the Bible teaches both.†
The Bible teaches that people everywhere are responsible, free persons
†† who have an obligation to respond to Godís call and believe.
And once they have believed, must continue in a life of faith and obedience.
And the Bible also teaches that those who do believe would never have believed
†† were it not for the grace of Godóchoosing them, working in them,
†† calling them to faith, and keeping them safe to the end.†
This is not a contradiction, itís a mystery.†
†† And no matter how you try to explain these teachings and harmonize them,
†† there will always be a tension between them.†
You must never let the tension between Godís sovereign grace
†† and your absolute responsibility to be relaxed in your heart and mind.
†† Believing both gives you particular strength for living the Christian life.
Let me show you how this works in one area of life and from that,
†† how it applies to the whole Christian life.†
Parenting.† Christian parenting.† You want your children to walk with
†† the Lord and to be with you in heaven, donít you?† Of course you do.
†† Thatís huge, isnít it?† The eternal destiny of your childóheaven or hell.
The strength to parent as a Christian comes from believing in Godís grace
†† and human responsibility at the same time, and never letting to of either one.†
First, you have to absolutely and completely trust Godís sovereign grace.
†† You have to believe God when he says:†
†† ďI will be your God and the God of your children.Ē†
You have to say to yourself:† My child in not a pagan.† Heís a covenant child.
†† Heís a little lamb of God.† God has chosen him for salvation.
And God has already shown his sovereign grace
†† to my child by having him born in a believing family.
You have to entrust your childís salvation to Jesus.†
†† Just like the parents who brought their children to Jesus and put them in his arms.† And Jesus took those children, not because they had chosen him or made a decision
†† to believe, he took them in fulfillment of Godís promise to Abraham.
And he blessed them and said the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.†
Believing in Godís grace delivers you from worry and from prideó
†† because it means your childís salvation doesnít depend on what you do or what
†† your child does but on what God does.
And then, at the same time, you have to believe with equal conviction
†† that your childís eternal destiny depends on your faithfulness to the covenant,
†† and your childís response to God.
It is your responsibility to raise your children in the faith.
†† You are the channel God has prepared for their spiritual blessing.
†† So you canít take this lightly, you are responsible for your childís soul.
Believing this delivers you from complacency.
Dutch theologian named Wilhelmus a Brakel.† His parents strong Calvinists.
†† Believed absolutely in the sovereign grace of God.†
†† Totally trusted God for the salvation of their children.
But they also believed in the responsibility they had before God.
†† And the responsibility their son had to believe and live and obedient life.
Brakel remembers that his mother prayed incessantly that he would walk with God,
†† and he remembers her frequently saying to him:
†† ďO, what you will have to answer for, if you do not fear God!Ē
So when you worry about your children, or when you get proud of where
†† they seem to be spiritually, grab on to the sovereign grace of God.
My childís salvation is in the hands of the God.† He alone will save them.
†† And anything good I see in them is evidence of his grace alone.
And when you get lazy and complacent about your children,
†† and think they are going to be fine if you donít pray with them and for them, and
†† read the Bible to them, and take them to church, and talk to them about Christó
Then you need to grab on to the Bibleís teaching about human responsibility,
†† and how the covenant can be broken, and people cut off.
You might go back and forth between these poles a dozen times during one
†† heart-to-heart talk with your teenager.
But thatís what it means to live by faith.†
†† To take the grand mysteries of the Christian faith, teachings in tension,
†† and believe both and apply to your heart as you need them.†
Know and believe with all your heart that you are in covenant with God because
†† he has chosen you and called you and brought you into a saving relationship
†† with him, and that he keeps you safe and close to him.
And desire with all your heart to keep the obligations of that covenant,
†† and never break that covenant so that you will never be cast off because of
†† faithlessness and disobedience.
Spare no effort to live in faithfulness to Godís covenant.
†† And depend entirely on Godís grace for that faithfulness you strive for.
All day, every day work, obey, and strive to be faithful to God,
†† and at the same time pray that he will make you faithful.†