In my last post, Full Obedience: Part 1, I promised to give you one of the best examples of this principle in action. Hebrews 11, as many know, is referred to as the faith hall of fame. This chapter commends the faith of everyone from Moses to Rahab. The deeds listed in this chapter cause one to ask, what did that really look like? A large chunk of verses (11-20) of this prolific chapter focus in on Abraham. Abraham is oft referred to as the Father of Faith and for good reason. In verses 11-18, the story of how he offered up his only son Isaac as a sacrifice, measures as one of the greatest acts of faith in the bible. In Hebrews, we get to see it from a faith perspective. Apart from the amazing courage it took to obey God’s voice in this radical request, it gives us some insight into what Abraham was thinking. Abraham had fully resolved to sacrifice his only son Isaac. It’s easy for us to gloss over this as we read this account in Genesis 22 and Hebrews 11. We take a deep breath; thank God we will never have to do this, and conveniently move on. But can you imagine the faith it took for Abraham to fully process this request and resolve in his heart to carry it out? Most of us would either think God is crazy or we are crazy. Zoloft of Lithium may be considered the logical next step.
Not only was this Abraham’s only son, this was the promised son! The one he waited 25 years to get! Now God is asking him to sacrifice him on an altar? What in the world was going on? When God asks us to give up that which is most precious to us, it’s always a test. In fact, that’s what it says inHebrews 11:17, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.” A friend of mine calls this “401 Faith.” In other words, this is high level, mature faith in action. 401 level faith will always require us to give back to God what is most important to us. At different points in our lives, that may mean different things. What is it for you?
- Your preferred lifestyle?
- Your car?
- Your children or the child you waited for and tried so many times to have?
- Your dream for your children?
- Your education or career?
- Your own dream for your life?
- The church you pastor?
- Your ministry?
- Your success?
- Your business?
- Your spouse?
We all have something that fits into this category. In case we have forgotten, even though I stated these things as “yours,” they all belong to the Lord and we are simply stewards or managers (see Psalm 24:1). You can be rest assured if you are a serious follower of Jesus, God will test you by asking you to lay down or give back to Him that which is most valuable to you. One of mine was (and in some ways still is) my dream of what life in ministry would look like. It has gone so differently than what I envisioned, taken so much longer, been so much harder. Not that I thought it would be easy, I knew better than that. But somehow I thought it would go more according to plan; my plan. Finally, I had to resign myself to His plan. God has purified my motives and I’ve had to redefine what success in ministry means because my definition was skewed. Although I may not have said it, my definition of success was numbers. But what happens when the numbers don’t happen or aren’t happening at the rate you deem successful? For that matter, are numbers the best or only measure of success? A lot of people have a lot of different measures for success, which one is right? Here is how I have redefined success: Success is being fully obedient to the will of the Lord, regardless of what the outcome looks like.
For all intensive purposes, the cross looked like a failure.Israelwas expecting a conquering king to come riding in on a horse and lead them to freedom from Roman rule. Instead they got a Savior that freed them from a much darker ruler: sin. Was Jesus ministry measured by how big the crowds were that followed Him? He didn’t seem to measure it that way. In fact, at every turn He was saying something that turned large numbers of people away. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in the underlying principle that if something is healthy it will grow. At the same time, who determines the rate of growth: you or the Lord? Let God’s word be the judge, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6).
If success is being fully obedient to the will of the Lord, regardless of what that looks like, how do you measure success? Ask yourself this question: Have you obeyed, in full, everything you knew and know to be the will of God? It will require action, but first and foremost, it requires belief and faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (James 2:23). How do we know that he believed God? Because he obeyed what God had said,”Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to theland ofMoriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).
In the end, Abraham came to this conclusion: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Hebrews 11:19). Isaac lived, but Abraham had already, by faith, given him over to death, so whether he actually died or not, any outcome where Isaac was alive was receiving him back from death. Now that is full obedience. I don’t know if Abraham had a battle with God or not, but I know this: at some point he came to the resolution that he was going to be obedient to God and Isaac was going to die, but he also fully believed that Isaac would be raised from the dead.
In the same way, Jesus the Son of God went to the cross by faith, knowing full well that He would be raised from the dead. You may be tempted to say, that was easy! Jesus was the Son of God! Not so. He still experienced every temptation that is common to man (seeHebrews 4:15). He experienced the temptation NOT to be fully obedient and yet He chose God’s path, by faith, for the joy set before Him.
How do you measure success? Are you being fully obedient to God’s will?