Faith Accompanied by Testimonies
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Gen 17:1-8)
Each of us has faith. What kind of faith do we have? Most of us probably started off our faith life with the faith that God loved us before we believed anything else. It’s likely that we began our faith life by believing that God loved us before we came to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. However, if we were to remain at that level of faith, we will not be able to withstand if doubts begin to rise. When we first came to believe that God loves us, God moved our emotions so that we understood that love and even shed tears. Yet emotions could change at any time and you may even feel conflicting emotions. That’s when you will start doubting the very fundamentals of faith, questioning if God is even living. For this reason, we must not stop there but continue to learn. We need to learn more about God and what He has done.
Even for myself, when I was a new comer and first came to have faith in Jesus, there were times when doubts arose inside of me. But there was something that helped me to not backslide, which was the experience of having a demon cast out of me. At the church camp where I came to believe in Jesus and received the Holy Spirit, the overseer was laying hands on the people. Though I was a new comer, I took the courage go to the front to have him lay his hands on me. Just as I was thinking, ‘How come everyone else is all falling backwards, but nothing is happening to me?’ I fell backwards. My body was convulsing and shaking; it was amazing. The demon left me. Although I had doubts and for a time, I felt as though the faith I had was completely gone, what retained me in those times was the fact the demon was driven out of me. Because of that experience I was able to recover my faith without drifting further in doubts. In this way, we need to know more and have a better understanding, so that when we get to a certain point, our faith won’t be shaken. Otherwise, although one may have had a fervent faith life with the belief that God loves him, if he falls into temptation or has a quarrel with somebody at church, he may start to think that he was deceived. And if that happens, it’s very hard to recover. If he had known about the historical and impartial truths of what God had done, he would not have regressed. But he is deterred and unable to advance further.
The Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke were written by Luke and at the beginning of those books we can see that he is writing to Theophilus. And he said that he is writing in order that Theophilus may know the certainty of those things which he was instructed. That is, Theophilus had some knowledge and faith, but Luke was writing an account after much research in order for Theophilus to confirm how certain he should be about those beliefs. After Theophilus read the account, which only reports the objective truths that had been researched, although his emotions may go up and down, his faith will not be shaken because he has confirmed these factual truths and has certainty. His faith can be grounded firmly so that he can continue forward unshaken.
As we examine all that had happened to Abraham, we are not just stopping at the belief that God loves us, but rather carefully studying what God has done from the beginning – its origin – and how it is relevant to us. If we don’t go through this process, then when doubts arise that we even start to question, “Where is God? Is He really living? Does He love me?” it can really get out of control. That is why we are going through this and examining from the very beginning with Abraham to see where this love came from and why it has come to me in the present day.
It is not a matter of emotions but a historical fact because this was not made up but Abraham really was a man who lived in those times. And his descendants are still here even to this day. According to God’s promise, his descendants are powerful all over the world. We are witnessing these actual facts. Hence by examining what relationship they have with the promise God made, we are able to believe in the certainty of God’s promises. And that is how we come to have faith. The faith which comes from the mere notion that God loves me will soon fade when blown. There are many people who start off their faith life that way only to end up deserting the church in Korea. If you evangelize in the streets, you will hardly meet a person who’s never been to church. Everyone has been at least once in their life. But it is all because they don’t know the Bible and therefore do not know what God has done. That is why we need to know what God did and carefully examine the promise He made to Abraham.
God gave Abraham many promises and then appeared to him when he was 99 years old. This was 24 years after God first appeared to him at 75 years of age and told him to leave his country. When Abraham was 99 and unable to do anything himself, God summed up His promise to him which is summarized in verse 8 of chapter 17. He promises saying “to you and your descendants”. So we can see that God promises descendants. After that He says, “the land you are in, all the land of Canaan I give as an everlasting possession” and thus promises a land. And thirdly, God said, “I will be their God”. These are the three which God promised Abraham.
The covenant which God made with Abraham is generally called in theology the Abrahamic Covenant. It is just one covenant which God made with Abraham. Yet there are specific elements to that covenant that he was given, which are promises. Promises are slightly different than a covenant. There were a number of promises of which three are written there. “I will give you descendants; I will give them a land; and those descendants will be my people in that land and I will be their God.” But all three of these promises are hard to believe from this man’s perspective. First of all, God said He will give him descendants and yet Abraham didn’t have a son though he was 99 years old. Moreover, God even changed his name to Abraham, meaning you will be a father of many nations. He was no longer a great patriarch but now the father of many nations, though he didn’t even have a son. It sounds nonsensical that he could be a father of many nations. And yet God promised what seems impossible to man and gave that promise when Abraham was 99 years old, when everything was impossible for him. After that God promised to give him the land, but is that even possible? The land was not Abraham’s just because he was living there. In that land there was already a great number of people living and Abraham wouldn’t be able to possess the land just with his family only. He would have to have many descendants that could take over the land and make it theirs. So he would need to have children in order to take possession of that land. In that sense, it was again impossible according to man.
Finally, after God said He would give him descendants and the land, God promised that He would be their God. But how would He become their God when there is no land and no people? Thus, even this was impossible. All of the promises were impossible according to man’s reasoning and science. Although these promises appear to be impossible to man, they should still be ascertainable so long as God wasn’t playing a joke on Abraham. But if we carefully examine these promises, they are impossible to ascertain. For example, with the promise that his descendants would become as numerous as the stars and as the sand, in order to confirm with one’s eyes whether or not the promise has come true, it would require some hundreds or even thousands of years. Could you in one day have so many children that they are as numerous as the stars? For his child to grow and become a great nation, it would take at least hundreds to thousands of years. So how would Abraham possibly live until that time? There was not the slightest chance for Abraham to confirm these with his own eyes.
Then again, God said his descendants would take possession of the land but Abraham didn’t even have a child yet. So then how could he be sure that his descendants would conquer and live in that land? Again, it was impossible to check. And lastly the promise that God would be their God was also impossible for him to know. It was literally a bad check. Promises that couldn’t be trusted, were unbelievable and impossible to verify were given to Abraham. He wasn’t given any grounds or proof at that time. All he could do was believe. However, God changed his name to Abraham. From that day on, he no longer called himself Abram but Abraham and introduced himself to others as “Abraham”. The meaning may not be clear to us straight away but when he says, “I’m Abraham” it would mean, “I am a father of many nations”. In the story of Dances with Wolves where a man was given the name “Dances with Wolves” by native Americans. When we hear the name, it immediately gives us an idea of the nature of that person. Similarly, when Abraham says, “My name is the father of many nations”, people would assume he has many children and may ask, “Do you have about 25 sons?” “No I don’t”. “How many sons do you have?” “I have none”. Then people would laugh at him. Nevertheless, he continues to call himself Abraham. So others would have started to call him “Abraham, father of many nations” from that time on. In this way Abraham acknowledged his name first. He acknowledged his identity – who he was. At that time, there was no way for him to verify those promises nor believe them. Yet Abraham believed. And as a testimony, God gave the circumcision which became a sign of covenant.
Likewise, when all things are impossible for me, this is what we have to do – acknowledge. When there are no proofs, first acknowledge. When God sees that, He will give us a testimony, a sign. It is not that we believe when God gives us a sign; He first gives us His word, which we then believe. When we do, a sign will follow. And then the reality. That is the order. Which comes first? The word. The word comes first. After that, I have to believe. When I believe, what follows? A testimony. Because I believed, there is a testimony before the reality comes. And since I have the testimony, I can believe undoubtedly. I can persevere. After that, the reality comes. That is the order. Thus, we must be able to believe just for the reason that it is God’s word. That doesn’t mean that our faith is an illusion. Why? Because a sign will follow. If I have received the sign (testimony), then I should be able to believe in what I will do in the times ahead on the basis of that testimony. This is our faith. Just as Elijah said, “Rain is coming!” when a cloud appeared in the sky, we must be able to look at the sign and see greater things from it. Through the resurrection of Jesus, what are we made sure of? Our own resurrection. By seeing how the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, we have the sure faith that we will later enter the kingdom of heaven. When we cast out demons, we are not rejoicing at the fact that the demon left us. Why are we joyful? It is a sign that my name is written in the kingdom of heaven. That is why we rejoice. Thus, we have a sign. Whenever we see that sign, it is not only the sign we see; our faith is about being able to look at what is happening in the kingdom of heaven through that sign. Though we speak in tongues, we do not rejoice only for the fact that we can speak in tongues. Rather, we rejoice because we received the Holy Spirit and we have become a member of God’s kingdom. Hence our faith is accompanied by testimonies. Until now the reality has not been revealed yet. But it will be soon. When God gives us a testimony, we must be able to see the reality of it. That is faith. It is written, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That’s what faith is about. Faith means being able to see the reality through the testimony even though the reality has not yet come.
Lord help me to have such definitive faith. We cannot see the spiritual and everlasting things of heaven, but through faith we can see them by examining what is happening historically on the earth. That is why we need to check and confirm the Scriptures and the impartial historical events which have already taken place. Let us pray that we can have the faith which is pleasing to our God.
God our Father, help us to grow from simply having an abstract belief of “God loves us” to having a mature faith, so that by checking and ascertaining the evident truths, we may obtain undeniable testimonies in our faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center