“Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” So sayeth the apostle Paul. Land for your offspring. A great name. A great nation. A great blessing. The protection of God. Abram believed those promises and acted like he believed them. He left Ur; even when he got to the promised land, he kept moving and camping out, trusting God the whole time.
But then things were complicated by a famine. Leaving the promised land in the rear view mirror, they headed to Egypt, still believing that they would return (see Gen. 12:10’s note about the “sojourn”). Struck by the beauty of his wife, he began to fear for his life – what would they do to Abram in order to get to Sarai? And so he hatched a plan of half-truths and self-protection: “Tell them you’re my sister.”
It worked – almost too well. Not only wasn’t Abram killed, his pockets and stalls were filled with the riches of none less than Pharaoh himself. And only by the hand of God himself was Sarai saved from a life in Pharaoh’s harem.
What just happened??! I’m glad you asked, because if we pay attention, we’ll see a mirror for the American church to peer into.
First, Abram believed the promises but not the Promise Maker. Scripture indicates that Abram believed those promises and even put his wife in danger, in part, because he believed those promises. His internal monologue may have gone something like this: “I believe I am going to be a great nation. I believe God is with me and will bless me greatly. But I’m heading into danger. Since God’s promises must be true, I’ll probably need to cross some ethical boundaries just to help out a little.” It’s one thing to believe the promises; it’s another thing to trust the Promise Maker’s ability to keep those promises regardless of what your eyes are seeing around you. Believing promises but not the Promise Maker will often result in helping God out just a little bit by crossing some lines just a little bit. (Ask Saul why he sacrificed without Samuel…)
Second, Abram was scared of the wrong thing. Truth is, there was some real logic in Abram’s plan. Apparently Sarai was incredibly attractive – so much so that Pharaoh’s lackeys didn’t even have the courage to steal her for themselves, realizing she was so beautiful she must be reserved for the big man himself! Abram wasn’t crazy to think that he could be in some real trouble if he didn’t hide his wedding ring. But God’s intervention, plaguing Pharaoh’s house and warning him to keep his hands off Sarai, clues us in to the fact that Abram was scared of the wrong thing. He should have been scared of being outside God’s will; he should have been scared of sin. Ultimately, his life wasn’t in danger at all, because God had made a promise and has no ability to not keep his own promises and all the power in the world to keep those promises. (Ask Moses’ momma whether God can keep people alive when they’re in danger…)
Here comes the mirror, then: I believe the American church is having an Egyptian moment right now.
We have the mighty promises of God: Jesus will build his church. The gates of hell don’t stand a chance. The Spirit will bless the means of grace to save an uncountable number of people. Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full.
But we also face a time of testing: a country turning against God, against the truths of God’s Word, as fast as she possibly can. We used to be on the inside and we woke up one day on the outside. Stick to the truth of God’s Word and you may lose your job. And it’s not illogical to believe that worse is coming.
And so we hold to the promises but don’t trust the Promise Maker. Believing that God intends to bless us, we offer him our help by crossing lines that should never be crossed. In order to see the church grow like Jesus promised, we compromise every doctrine that offends. We spend precious resources pursuing the holy grail of backsides in pews rather than simple faithfulness.
And so we forget to fear the right thing. We fear the shrinking of the church, so we do everything we can to make it more palatable. We fear ostracization by our society, so we try to be as cool as possible. We fear the direction our country is heading, so we throw previous convictions and principles to the wind and prepare to vote for truly despicable people. We fear the latest iteration of the sexual revolution (and giving any possible hint of approval), so we forget to befriend and love all types of broken people.
I, for one, am glad for this test. Right now, American Christians have the opportunity to trust God and seek faithfulness. We have the opportunity to believe the promises and the Promise Maker, without knowing how exactly He’s going to work His plan out in the end. We have the opportunity to be afraid of only one thing: our own sin. We have the chance to be concerned for our country and neighbors without falling into despair. And we will, Lord willing, rejoice to see what Abram saw: God’s good and gracious purposes will prevail – regardless of what the world around us does and regardless of how foolish and faithless we sometimes are!
Passing this test is simple: trust God. Trust God to keep His own promises. Trust God to protect His own people. Trust God to fulfill His own perfect plan.