We’re going to look at the four tests of a real believer and at the life of Abraham.
He is an example of the four ways that God tests our faith.
Abraham, in his lifetime, went through four major tests and, although your circumstances will vary, I guarantee you that you will go through these four tests at some point in your lives.
You need to be prepared for them.
When I was in school, after many years of secondary and tertiary education, I learned that it’s wise to prepare for tests.
God doesn’t play games with you.
When God has tests for your faith, He tells you up front.
We do know what He’s going to test you in and therefore we can prepare for it.
But the one thing we don’t know is the timing.
God doesn’t tell us the timing.
God specializing in pop quizzes.
If I were to ask you, “Are you a believer?” most of us would say, “Yes, I think I’m a believer.”
If I were to say, “How do you know?” you’d say, “I believe in God.”
James 2:19 says ‘You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that. And they tremble!’
That doesn’t mean he’s going to make it to heaven.
A believer is more than just intellectual assent.
“I believe in Jesus. I believe in God.”
There’s a lot more to being a believer than that.
George Gallup says that 96% of all Americans say, “I’m a believer” and yet it has absolutely no influence on their lifestyle.
James says “Faith without works is dead.”
That means if my actions do not correspond to what I believe, my faith is worthless.
So what does it mean to be a true believer?
How do you know if you’re a real believer?
Go through the four tests that Abraham did.
1. A Major Change
“By faith, Abraham when he was called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going.”
Most of you know this story of Abraham.
God asked Abraham to make a major change in his life, pack up everything and move.
The only thing is, God didn’t tell him where he was moving to.
God just said he was going to be moving.
I can imagine Abraham had a lot of questions. “Where am I going?”
The Lord said,
“I’ll let you know.”
“How long will it take?”
“I’ll let you know.”
“How do I know when I’ve gotten there?”
“I’ll let you know.”
Would you move on that basis?
A major change.
It was especially difficult for Abraham for several reasons.
In Genesis it tells us that Abraham, when he moved, was 75 years old.
And he was saying, “God I’m ready to retire.”
And God said,
“No, you’re ready to aspire.”
“I’m ready for social security.”
“You’re ready for social insecurity.”
“I’m ready to hang it up!”
“It’s time for you to take it down and get going again.”
“God, I’m ready to take it easy and relax on Easy Street.”
“You’re going to have the biggest adventure of your life.”
He was old.
Not only that, he was wealthy.
Abraham lived in a city called Ur.
Archaeologists tell us that Ur was a beautiful metropolitan city of that time.
It was where all the wealth of the world was centered.
It was a beautiful capital.
And Abraham was a fat cat in Ur.
He had it made.
He had sheep.
He had cattle.
He had at least fifty servants.
And then God asked him to move!
On top of that, God had not told him where.
But the Bible says,
v. 8 “Abraham moved immediately even though he didn’t know where he was going.”
He left immediately without excuse.
The first test of a real believer is:
A real believer will follow God’s leading without knowing where.
Let’s apply this in your life.
We all get asked in life to move with God.
Where should I work?
Where should I live?
Where should I retire?
Where should I try to find a job?
Where should I go to school?
That’s the “Where?” question.
Some of you are saying, “God, show me!” and God’s saying, “You get moving first and I will direct you.”
Rick Warren says,
‘If your faith hasn’t led you to take any risks it’s not faith.’
2. A Delayed Promise
“By faith, Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country and he lived in tents as did Isaac and Jacob who were heirs with him of the same promise.”
Promise is an important word in the vocabulary of a true believer.
God wants us to base our lives on promises, not on explanations but on expectations.
He wants us to base our lives on promises.
God promised Abraham, “If you move, I will give you the land of Israel.”
The problem is, after he got there, there was a delay in the transfer of ownership.
Abraham lived 100 more years and he never did receive it at that point.
Notice it says he lived in tents.
You talk about temporary living, how would you like to live in a tent for over 100 years?
He had not settled down.
He was constantly on the move.
How long did he have to wait?
It says “so did Isaac and Jacob”.
That’s two more generations.
Abraham had to wait three generations to get the promise fulfilled.
That’s a long time to wait.
Abraham probably started every prayer with “When, Lord?”
The first test is Where?
The second test is When?
When am I going to get it?
When are You going to answer?
When are You going to fulfill Your promise?
When are You going to meet my needs?
It is always more difficult to handle the kind of tests when there’s no end in sight.
It seems to go on and on. It doesn’t get any better.
The marriage problem doesn’t get any better.
The job situation doesn’t get any better.
It seems there’s no end in sight.
That’s a continual test.
A delayed promise.
You know it’s coming but you don’t know when.
And the lesson is:
A real believer will wait for God’s timing even though he doesn’t know when.
A real believer will wait for God’s timing because it’s perfect, even without knowing when?
God always puts real believers through a test of waiting.
How long can you wait?
Test #1, a major change.
Can you follow God’s direction without knowing where.
Test #2, a delayed promise.
Can you trust in His timing and wait for His timing without knowing When?
3. An Impossible Problem
If you are really a believer, in your lifetime God will put you up against an impossible problem.
“By faith, Abraham, even though he was past age, and Sarah herself was barren, was enabled to become a father because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man and he as good as dead came his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.”
God had promised Abraham that one day he would be the father of a great nation, the nation of Israel.
But the problem was, at age 99, Abraham still didn’t have any kids.
Would you get worried?
Ninety-nine years old is getting pretty old!
Even worse than that, Sarah was at an age where she was not able to conceive children.
It was a double impossible situation.
In Genesis 18 we see how God sent a couple of messengers to talk to Abraham and his wife and to tell them that what He had promised would be fulfilled and that this impossible situation was going to be turned into a miracle.
“The messengers came and said, `Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked Abraham. `There in the tent,’ he said. Then the Lord said, `I will surely return to you about this time next year and Sarah your wife will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years and Sarah was past the age of child bearing so Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, `After I’m worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ Then the Lord said to Abraham, `Why did Sarah laugh and say “Will I really have a child now that I’m old?” Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah was afraid so she lied and said, `I didn’t laugh,’ but he said, `Yes, you did laugh.'”
We know that Sarah did not believe that she would have a baby.
The fact of the story is it was an impossible situation. Abraham laughed. Sarah laughed.
But God had the last laugh.
So Isaac was born. And they called him laughter! That is what Isaac means.
They said, “This kid’s a joke. It’s impossible!”
God had the last laugh.
Some of you, you are worried sick because you don’t know how God’s going to do it in your life.
You are in the third test an impossible situation.
It scares you to death and you’re discouraged because you don’t know “How?”
You’re asking not “Where?”
And you’re not asking “When?”
But you’re asking the third test in life to see if you’re a real believer — How?
Lord, how am I going to make ends meet this month?
Lord, how am I ever going to get out of debt?
Lord, how are we ever going to be able to afford a home?
Lord, how can I handle all of this pressure?
Lord, how can I ever find time for Bible study and ministry?
How in the world are you going to get through to change my husband’s attitude?
How are you ever going to bring my wife back home?
How are you ever going to get through to that kid of mine?
The How? questions of life.
It’s the third test of your faith.
Are you really a believer?
A real believer will expect a miracle without knowing how.
All things promised by God, you can rest assured, they will happen, always, in God’s time and in God’s way.
All along the way the Lord gives occasional little conformations.
How’s God going to do it?
I don’t know.
I don’t know what the future holds but I do know who holds the future.
The tests of life:
A major change. Where?
A delayed promise. When?
An impossible problem. How?
Then one more test.
It is the ultimate test.
It was the ultimate test in Abraham’s life and I guarantee it, it will be the ultimate test in your life to see if you’re really a believer.
4. A Senseless Tragedy
The ultimate test.
The test that causes us to ask Why?
There’s a lot that goes on in our world that just doesn’t make sense.
I don’t know why God allows all of the evil in the world.
I do know part of it is because He has allowed us a choice and when we make choices that go the wrong way, He will not force His will on us.
Sometimes people make the wrong choices and God has to let things happen because He’s allowed us the freedom of choice.
If I choose to drink a bottle of arsenic and commit suicide, God will not stop me.
He will not force His will on mine.
But what about those senseless tragedies that don’t make sense?
“By faith, Abraham, when God tested him he offered Isaac as the sacrifice. He who had received the promise was about to sacrifice his one and only son. Even though God had said to him, `It’s through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned’. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead and figurative speaking he did receive Isaac back from the dead.”
You know this story.
It’s probably the story that more people question in the Bible than any other story.
God asked Abraham, after Isaac the promised child, the miracle baby, after he was grown – maybe 12, 14 years old – God came to Abraham one day and said, “Abraham, I want you to sacrifice your own son.”
Could you do that?
This was without precedent.
It had never been done before.
Abraham had no idea that God wouldn’t let him go through with it.
Abraham didn’t know that.
He didn’t have the Bible to teach him about what God’s nature was really like.
Isaac represented every single thing that God had given to Abraham.
Our response to that is shock.
How could God make a request like this?
How could God ask a father to sacrifice his own son?
It sounds like cannibalism or pagan worship.
How could God do this?
Abraham had no idea that God would not let it eventually happen.
What was Abraham’s confidence?
It says in v. 19 “He reasoned [he calculated, he thought it over in his mind] and Abraham decided this basic truth of life. God has a right to make any demand he so wishes upon my life, whether I understand it or not.
God is God.
He made me.
I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for God.
Therefore, everything I have, have had, or will have I owe to God.
So any demand He makes on my life I don’t have any right to disobey Him.
On top of that, Abraham figured if God could give a miracle son at age 100, He can raise him from the dead.
He expected a resurrection.
And that was his confidence.
What’s the lesson?
The lesson is:
A real believer will trust God’s purpose without knowing why.
There are a lot of contradictions in life that we just can’t figure out, we can’t get all the answers to.
This is the most difficult test to pass in our Christian walk; the “Why?” test.
Why did I get fired from my job?
Why did God allow my spouse to have an affair?
Why did I have a miscarriage?
Why are these things happening to me?
Why did my child die?
There’s nothing wrong with asking those kinds of questions.
There’s nothing wrong with asking “How?” or “Why?” or “When?” or “Where?”
Abraham asked those.
Every great person in the Bible asked them.
There’s nothing wrong with asking God the questions.
But how do we respond when the answers do not come immediately?
How do you handle the how’s, why’s, when’s, where’s, of life when God is silent?
God did not give any explanation to Abraham on any of these four tests.
He just said, “Follow me. Trust me. I will provide.”
God didn’t give any explanation to Abraham.
But Abraham trusted God without having any explanation.
Our problem why we don’t live by faith is because we demand an explanation for everything.
We want an explanation for everything.
If God explained everything, there would be no living by faith.
Faith goes beyond the realm of explanations.
If you know, if you have figured out in your life, all of the how’s, and all of the why’s, and all of the when’s, and all of the where’s, you’re not living by faith.
It’s that simple.
You’re not living by faith.
God works in the realm beyond explanations.
The test is, “Do you trust Me?
Do you believe Me?
Do you expect the best?
Do you believe in my love even though you don’t know all of the when’s and the where’s and the how’s and the why’s in life?”
Which of these tests are you facing right now?
Some of you are considering a major change.
You’re in that Where? test. “Lord, where?
Where do you want me to go to school?
Where do you want me to work?
Where do you want me to retire?
Where do you want me to live?
Where do you want me to serve in the church?
God says, “Get moving.
Let go of what you already know is not My will and I will show you.”
Some of you are in the When? question.
You have been struggling for so long and you want to say, “God, when are You going to answer?
When are You going to give me the help?
When are You going to meet my need?
When are You going to fulfill the promise?
You’re waiting for a delayed promise.
Some of you are in this third one. You’re facing an impossible problem.
For you the question is How? “I don’t know how it’s going to happen, Lord.
You’re going to have to do it.
There’s no way I can do it on my own.
How am I going to get out of debt?
How am I going to make that sale?
How am I going to get that job?
How am I going to pass that test?
How, Lord?” God says, “I’ll show you. Trust Me.”
Some of you are in this fourth test.
The ultimate one.
You’ve been grieving over a senseless tragedy.
There’s a lot of things that just don’t make sense and they break your heart.
You don’t know what to do with them.
It’s ok to ask Why? but the question is What do you do when you don’t get the answer right away?
Do you trust God’s purpose even when you don’t know why?
How do you rate yourself as a believer?
Are you a believer?
Sure you believe in God.
Will you follow God’s leading when you don’t know where?
Will you wait for God’s timing when you don’t know when?
Will you expect a miracle when you don’t know how?
Will you trust God’s purpose when you don’t know why?
Some of you say you’ve flunked.
You’re not doing so good as a believer.
Then let’s do something about it.
One of my favorite verses is in Mark 9:24.
A man came to Jesus who was desperately ill.
“Do you want to be healed?”
The man said yes.
“Do you believe?”
The man’s answer was classic.
He said, “Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”
That’s all you need to begin the life of faith.
“Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”
Do you know what God did on the basis of that?
Jesus healed him.
He said, that’s good enough.
If that’s good enough to be healed, it’s good enough to live through life.
You say, “Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.
Lord, I don’t know where.
But I’m going to believe you.
Help me with my doubts.
Lord, I don’t know how.
But I’m going to believe.
Help me with my worries.
Lord, I don’t know where or when.
But help me with my fears.
Lord I don’t know why.
But I’m going to trust Your love.
That’s where it starts.