Abraham’s Test of Faith

“Faith claims God’s promises and brings forth fruit in obedience. … Genuine faith has its foundation in the promises and provisions of the Scriptures. …

“It is not enough to believe about Christ; we must believe in Him. The only faith that will benefit us is that which embraces Him as a personal Saviour; which appropriates His merits to ourselves. Many hold faith as an opinion. But saving faith is a transaction, by which those who receive Christ join themselves in covenant relation with God. Genuine faith is life. A living faith means an increase of vigor, a confiding trust, by which the soul becomes a conquering power.” Gospel Workers, 260, 261

The subject of faith is one of great importance. Let’s begin our study by looking at 14 points about faith:

  1. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God].” Hebrews 11:6, first part
  2. Only those who have faith in God are actually part of the true church, but church membership does not give you faith (Luke 16:19–31). “The closing scenes of this earth’s history are portrayed in the closing of the rich man’s history. The rich man claimed to be a son of Abraham, but he was separated from Abraham by an impassable gulf—a character wrongly developed. Abraham served God, following His word in faith and obedience. But, the rich man was unmindful of God and of the needs of suffering humanity. The great gulf fixed between him and Abraham was the gulf of disobedience. There are many today who are following the same course. Though church members, they are unconverted. They may take part in the church service, they may chant the psalm, ‘As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God’ (Psalm 42:1); but they testify to a falsehood. They are no more righteous in God’s sight than is the veriest sinner.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 269, 270

Mrs. White is describing church members who are not converted; they are members of the professed church, but not of the true church. The Bible and Spirit of Prophecy make a very sharp distinction between the true church and the professed church. “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His.’ ” 2 Timothy 2:19, first part. Members of the true church and the professed church all make a profession, but not everyone making a profession is a part of His true church. Mrs. White uses the terminology “the professed church” hundreds of times in her writings, making a distinction between it and the true church.

So how can you know whether you are a professed or true member of God’s church? “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” Galatians 3:7. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Verse 26. “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Verse 29

  1. Everyone who has faith in God will be saved. Period. No exceptions. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” John 6:47
  2. Jesus predicted that in the last days of earth’s history there would be a great lack of faith, a time of prevailing unbelief. “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8, last part
  3. Lack of faith is one of the main problems of the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14–22).
  4. Some have more than others, but every person has a measure of faith. “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3, last part

Researchers have given polygraph tests to some who say they do not believe in God. The results? They failed the test. There are many stories of an atheist or agnostic who, when confronted with a terrible situation, cried out, “Lord, help me!” And the Lord did. God has given every man some faith on which to build greater faith.

  1. The time of Noah was a time of little faith and big unbelief. They did not believe what Noah said, until the rain came. In the last days, just before Jesus comes again, He said it would be just as it was then (Matthew 24:37–39).
  2. If you desire your faith to grow, you must exercise it. Everyone has some faith, but would you like to have more? “How to exercise faith should be made very plain. To every promise of God there are conditions. If we are willing to do His will, all His strength is ours. …

“It [faith] grows as exercised in appropriating the word of God. In order to strengthen faith, we must often bring it in contact with the word.” Education, 253, 254. That statement is worth a lot of study. God says to us, “If you will do this, I will do that.” We do our part, He does His; that is when miracles begin happening in our lives.

  1. For faith to become strong, it must be tested. This is true with any endeavor be it spiritual, mental, or physical. If you want to become physically strong, you must exercise and use your muscles. In school, students are tested to determine what they have learned. To become spiritually strong, you must be tested, and, as children of God, we should expect to be tested.

“Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’ But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” John 6:5, 6. If Jesus already knew what He was going to do, why did He ask the question? To test Philip. Sadly, he failed the test. It is important to be tested so that we can grow spiritually in Christ.

  1. If you desire to have strong faith, you must regularly study your Bible. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17. Mrs. White says we should study our Bible every morning and evening. Some people say they don’t have time to study their Bible more than once a day. Do you have time to eat more than once a day? Yes, because it is necessary if you’re going to be healthy. For your spiritual health, it is necessary to make the time to immerse your mind in the word of God at least twice a day; and that is the minimum. Think of Daniel. Temptations, trials, and struggles in Babylon led him to study the word three times a day. It was so important to him that he did not stop even when he knew it would mean being thrown into the lions’ den.
  2. Faith always obeys the word of God. No obedience, no faith.
  3. “Every failure on the part of the children of God is due to their lack of faith.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 657. Why do we fail? Lack of faith. Do you realize that if you have enough faith, you never have to fail in your Christian experience?
  4. “Through faith in Christ, every deficiency of character may be supplied, every defilement cleansed, every fault corrected, every excellence developed.” Education, 257. If you have faith in Christ, everything you need for the perfecting of your character will be supplied, and every defilement will be removed.
  5. “Faith is trusting God—believing that He loves us and knows best what is for our good. …

“… Faith receives from God the life that alone can produce true growth and efficiency.” Ibid., 253

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8. Faith is best understood when looked at from the standpoint of human experience. Abraham, one of the great men of faith in the Bible, had faith so great that he is called the father of the faithful and the friend of God. There were three big tests of faith in Abraham’s life. Each bigger than the one before it, each requiring greater faith.

When Abraham was around 70 years of age, still a relatively young man in those days, God gave him his first test of faith by directing him to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees—today the southern part of Iraq—and go to a place that He would reveal to Him. Ur of the Chaldees was a highly civilized city with many “modern” things—running water, street lights at night, paved roads, and masonry buildings. Abraham had lived there all his life with his father and mother and other relatives. Now, God says to him, “Leave your family and all you know, and I will show you where to go.”

Abraham stepped out in faith, gathered his family and herds of cattle and sheep, and headed out to follow God’s instructions. Everyone wanted to know where he was going, but he couldn’t tell them because he didn’t know. The only explanation he could give was that the Lord wanted him to go. They thought he was crazy; it’s possible that Abraham felt a little crazy. Abraham loved his family, but he left them, knowing he would likely never see them again, and he did it because he had faith in God’s direction.

“It was no light test that was thus brought upon Abraham, no small sacrifice that was required of him. There were strong ties to bind him to his country, his kindred, and his home. But he did not hesitate to obey the call. He had no question to ask concerning the land of promise—whether the soil was fertile and the climate healthful; whether the country offered agreeable surroundings and would afford opportunities for amassing wealth. God had spoken, and His servant must obey; the happiest place on earth for him was the place where God would have him to be.

“Many are still tested as was Abraham. They do not hear the voice of God speaking directly from the heavens, but He calls them by the teachings of His word and the events of His providence. … Who is ready at the call of Providence to renounce cherished plans and familiar associations? Who will accept new duties and enter untried fields, doing God’s work with firm and willing heart?” Patriarchs and Prophets, 126, 127

Hard as Abraham’s first test was, the next was still harder. The first recorded promise that God had given Abraham is found in Genesis 12:2, first part, 3, last part. Leave your home, family, all you know, and “I will make you a great nation. … And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

“Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!’ And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:3–6

A child. The Lord told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child and from this child his descendants would be as innumerable as the stars and the sand on the seashore. Abraham was about 85, past the age for begetting children, but the Bible says he believed God. We can always believe that what God says He will do, will be done. But one of the biggest problems for us in developing faith is that when God promises something, we expect to see it happen right now, and God doesn’t always tell us when what He says will happen. Often faith and patience go hand in hand, and that was the case for this particular test.

The time came when Sarah, about 75 years old, passed her childbearing years, and still the promised child had not been born. So she did what was customary in those days. She encouraged Abraham to take a secondary wife, her servant girl Hagar, to bear the child for her. This practice was so common in those days that archeologists have found that a provision was often included in marriage covenants allowing a husband to take a secondary wife in order to preserve the family name—an acceptable practice to them, but not to God.

Abraham followed Sarah’s counsel and Hagar had a son they named Ishmael, which means God will hear. The Bible says that God came down and Abraham told Him about Ishmael and that now he had an heir. But the Lord told Abraham that Ishmael was not the child of promise. He reminded him that the child would be born of Abraham’s wife, not a surrogate, and certainly not a child conceived by fornication.

Both Abraham and Sarah were beyond the age of conceiving children. In fact, it seemed so ridiculous that they would have a child at their ages that Sarah laughed in her heart. The Lord asked her why she laughed. Was there anything too hard for the Lord to do? They soon realized the answer to that question when they did have a son. They named him Isaac, which means laughter.

Abraham had failed his second test of faith. He did not believe that God could fulfill His promise of a child in His time and His way. So, he attempted himself to solve what appeared to be an insurmountable problem for God. Because of this failure, Abraham was given a third and unimaginable test of faith.

“Abraham was directed of God to go up to Mount Moriah, and there offer up his son as a burnt offering. There the Lord tested Abraham by a most fearful trial. In taking Hagar for his wife, he showed distrust in the promises of God. If he had patiently waited for the promise to be fulfilled in God’s own time and manner, and had not sought to make a providence himself, he would not have been subjected to this the closest test that was ever required of man.” The Signs of the Times, April 1, 1875

Isaac was about 20 years of age when God sent Abraham to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Can you imagine the confusion in Abraham’s mind? Though, as any man, Abraham had made mistakes, and at times lacked faith in God, he believed God to be merciful and loving. How could He ask this of him?

“Then He [the Lord] said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ ” Genesis 22:2

Abraham went to Isaac and explained that the Lord wanted them to go to a distant mountain to offer a sacrifice. Before dawn, they and their servants, set out for the land of Moriah. Mrs. White says that the first day was the longest day of Abraham’s life.

Usually when they traveled together, Abraham and Isaac would talk, but it seemed to Isaac on this journey that his father didn’t feel like talking. They walked all day, and when night came, Isaac and the servants went to bed and slept. But Abraham couldn’t sleep; instead he prayed all night. Tormented by the devil, he suggested to Abraham that God couldn’t actually mean for him to kill Isaac; He’d be breaking His own law. But Abraham knew what God had told him to do, and he knew that God could decide anything that He chose. And as a man of faith, he would obey. Remember, faith always obeys the word of God. Abraham asked the Lord to help him to be obedient, if possible, without having to sacrifice Isaac, but there was no answer.

The next morning they got up, ate breakfast, and went on their way again. The second longest day of Abraham’s life began.

By evening, he had not slept for 36 hours. Exhausted, as the others slept, again he pleaded with the Lord to send an angel to explain why He was asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. God had spoken to him many times in answer to his prayer, but again there was no answer.

On the third day, God gave Abraham a sign. He saw a bright, glorious cloud over Mount Moriah. The time had come. He had to obey God. When he saw the sign, he told the servants to remain behind, that he and Isaac would go on alone. Abraham could not bear for anyone but God to witness what was about to happen. He continued to plead with the Lord to take his own life rather than the life of Isaac, but the Lord said that Isaac must be the one.

As they made their way up the mountain, Isaac pointed out that they had wood and fire, but that there was no animal for a sacrifice. Abraham could only answer that Jehovah would provide the lamb. The Hebrew word Jehovah-jireh means, God will provide. At the top of the mountain, they built an altar together. Unable to put it off any longer, Abraham with quivering lip and shaking voice, told Isaac that God had instructed that he was to be the burnt offering. Imagine the fear Isaac must have felt! He was a strong young man and he could have escaped, but Isaac was also a man of faith. He would not violate a command of God.

After helping Abraham place the wood on the altar, Isaac allowed himself to be bound upon the altar. Abraham expressed to him how much he loved him; that his obedience to God in no way indicated a lessening of that love. Father embraced son and they shed what they believed would be the last tears they would shed together in this world.

Mrs. White tells us that Abraham believed that God could restore Isaac’s life. This took genuine faith because God had not yet resurrected a human being and would not do so until He raised Moses, hundreds of years later.

Abraham took the knife, lifted it up, and as he brought the knife down, his hand was suddenly stopped. A voice was heard from heaven. “But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’ ” Genesis 22:11, 12

“Then Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.” Verse 13

“ ‘By Myself I have sworn,’ says the Lord, ‘because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.  In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’ ” Verses 16–18. Faith always obeys.

“God estimated Abraham’s obedience and unswerving faith, and gave him the name of ‘Father of the faithful.’ The example of Abraham is recorded in sacred history for the benefit of his believing children.” The Signs of the Times, April 1, 1875. Why was this done?

“This great act of faith teaches the lesson of implicit confidence in God, perfect obedience to His requirements, and a complete surrender to the divine will.” Ibid.

Everything that you and I have belongs to the Lord—time, money, talents, ourselves. He has lent these things to us to prove us. God recorded this story in the Bible to give us an example of perfect faith and obedience, so that we might understand and better comprehend how real was the great self-denial and infinite sacrifice made by our Father in heaven when He gave His Son to this world. Unlike Isaac, there was no one to stay the hand when Jesus went to His trial. No one to say, “Enough!” The angels were not permitted to interfere. Jesus Christ was insulted, mocked, and derided. He was given up to die a shameful, violent, torturous death—our death.

Abraham knew that God’s promises were infallible and that it was better to obey God, no matter what, than to disobey. If God had come to Abraham and told him to give up all he owned—gold, flocks, herds, silver, land—that would have been easy for him. If God had asked him to surrender his own life for His sake, Abraham would have given it. Mrs. White says that if God had asked him for any of those things, he would have gladly turned it over, including his own life. But God’s test was harder than surrendering his own life.

I hear people say, “I wish I could obey the Lord and pay my tithe and keep the Sabbath, but I don’t have the money and I don’t have the time” and they think they are going to live with Abraham someday? “The deepest poverty, with God’s blessing, is better than houses and lands, and any amount of earthly treasure, without it.” Ibid. It is God’s blessing that places a value on everything that we possess. Without it, we can have the whole world, but we will be poor. Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Mark 8:36

Friend, you are better off obeying God, no matter what your problems might be, than being disobedient and enjoying the blessings of this world for a time. The Psalmist said, “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him.” Ecclesiastes 8:12

“Those who profess to be looking for the soon coming of our Saviour, should have Abrahamic faith, a faith that is valued because it has cost them something, a faith that works by love, and purifies the soul. The example of Abraham is left on record for us upon whom the ends of the world have come. We must believe that God is in earnest with us, and that He is not to be trifled with. He means what He says, and He requires of us implicit faith and willing obedience.” The Signs of the Times, April 1, 1875

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: historic@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.