The Promise of the Spirit
We have taken our title and meditation from Galatians 3:14 which reads, "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the spirit through faith."
The word of God tells us that if we are Christ’s then we are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. (Gal.3:29) But it is only as the Apostle Paul opens up to us the scriptures that we begin to realize the immense implications behind the original promise. Much more than a mighty deliverance is brought to our attention. The promised Seed is to be more than just the one who will bruise the Serpent’s head. It is to be even more than the head of a heavenly family, blessing all nations. The Seed is to be all this, but far more than this: it is to be a divine family, a new creation brought forth only by divine power without intervention of human hands. It is entirely the product of faith and the divine will.
We need hardly say that the head of this new creation is our Lord. What we must constantly remember is that we must be conformed to him in all things for, as the Apostle Paul also reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:49, "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."
But how does this change take place? How do we become heirs and joint‑heirs with our Lord? Paul’s words in Gal.3:27 point the way: "For as many...as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (v.29 ASV) "And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise."
But what does it mean to be baptized into Christ? Paul again tells us, in Romans 6:3 (ASV), "All we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death." And for what reason? That we may walk in a new way. For he continues, (v.4) "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
But again, we ask, what does this mean in the practical outworking of our Christian life? In what way does this make us heirs? The words of our Lord to the Pharisees in John 8:39 answers these questions: "If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham." The answer points them to their complete lack of faith but points us to Abraham as the father of the faithful. It draws our attention directly to the record of his life in the book of Genesis, just as Paul has also done in Galatians. Let us therefore turn to Gen.11:31 where the record of Abram’s walk of faith begins.
Abram’s Walk of Faith
We are all aware that we, like Abraham, have been called to leave our old associations with this present world and seek that city whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:10) As we follow the life of the patriarch, we will not only note those parallels confirming our calling, but others showing us to the level of our attainment, and others pointing toward the full attainment of faith in Christ. For if being Christ’s means we are Abraham’s, surely, we must be doing the works of Abraham.
Even as we commence to think along these lines, we see the connection between the call to leave this old world and baptism, for this baptism is into Christ’s death. This old order of things is the flesh in all its manifestation. The only way to deal with it and live in the spirit, as did our Lord, the antitypical Isaac, is for us to trust the Lord to remove the flesh by his cross.
As we follow the journey of Abraham through the promised land, we will see the flesh in many of its ways. We will see how God’s dealings with Abraham removed its influence from his life until he was totally and completely at rest in God, trusting Him for all things.
So the call came to Abram [not Abraham for he had not learned anything of that spiritual walk]. We, too, as he did, respond to the moving of the spirit, knowing that no man comes to Christ except the heavenly Father draws him. (John 6:44) We leave our family and friends while still only understanding things with the natural mind. We have only the old family name, Adam. But Abram did not come out alone. He was accompanied by his father and his nephew, Lot. Perhaps he thought they would be a help to him. Perhaps the family ties were too strong.
Yet God understands our frame—and Abram’s. Patiently He waited for Abram to learn the lesson. After a long journey they come to Haran. Instead of going on to Canaan, they stopped. Why? The word of the Lord does not tell us. It simply says they came to Haran and dwelt there. (Gen.11:31)
What were they doing in Haran when the object of their journey was just over the horizon? We cannot say for sure, but verse 32 tells us that Terah, Abram’s father, was 205 years old. Perhaps the long journey had been too much for him, or he may have been in declining health and had to stop. Abram might have had to care for him. What we know is that Abram made no further progress until, "Terah died." It was only then that God spoke to Abram. Gen.12:1 reads, "Get thee…from thy father’s house." Taking his father had only delayed him.
Likewise when we begin our walk with Christ, we cannot help but bring much of the old Adam with us. It is quite natural. This earthen vessel is all that we have. Its instincts, good and bad, are an indivisible part of its being. The faults we would gladly leave behind if we could, and the heavenly Father makes full allowance for this. But what needs His special attention are those better characteristics, those abilities which, as we lay them down on the altar of sacrifice, we feel will be useful to us in our service to the Lord. We do not actually realize immediately that to lay them down means to let go of them.
So, God waits as he did with Abram. Nothing could be done until Terah died. No further progress could be made. Not until we begin to let go of our lives and let God begin to use our abilities by His spirit can it be said that the new life has started. Then God can say "Get thee… unto a land that I will show thee." (Gen.12:1).
"So Abram went, as the LORD had spoken" (v.4 RV) to the plain of Moreh. Here the Lord appeared to him and there he built an altar. Up to this time the Lord had only spoken to Abram, but now he appears to him. For the first time, we have an altar mentioned. This should also have been our experience. Perhaps we can remember the time that as we began to let go of the things of this world, our vision of the spiritual realities and the face of the Lord became clearer to us, that we were entering more deeply into the spirit of consecration.
"And Lot went with him." Such a seemingly casual remark here in v.4 implies that the natural mind is not eliminated that easily. As we follow the travels of the patriarch, we will begin to see how deeply ingrained, is the old nature and how subtle its effects.
V.10: "There was a famine in the land: and Abram [travelling south] went down into Egypt." We can sympathize with and understand his actions, for the famine was "grievous." The Lord had told Abram to go to a land "that I will show thee," but that land was not Egypt.
It is very easy to say in retrospect that a famine is nothing to God, that all Abram had to do was look to the Lord and his promise just given. But the test was very real and it needed faith. We ourselves know that stressful situations demand attention. It is far from easy to look to the Lord for His guidance rather than to make a hasty decision. Or whilst quite properly planning for a secure future, to leave the Lord out of the arrangements, only later to see the Lord’s way was best, that we compromised our best spiritual interests.
So it was for Abram. After the decision to go down to Egypt for help, even before he had entered the land, he had to compromise the truth. Gen.12:11‑13 "It came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife…say, I pray thee, that thou art my sister." This was the truth, yes, but only half the truth. It was a deception. Yet God was patient with Abram knowing the earthen vessel He was working with. So He sent a plague on Pharaoh until Abram was obliged to leave Egypt.
Happy are we if, as the Apostle Paul admonishes us, "we...judge ourselves, [that] we should not be judged." (1 Cor.11:31,32). However, if not, God seems yet to be faithful to judge us for "we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." Happy still if having made some compromise, we find under the influence of the spirit that we cannot live a half‑truth and with Abram, return to the house of God and to consecrated ground.
Gen.13:1‑4 "Abram went up…to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning…unto the place of the altar...and there Abram called on the name of the LORD." He was back in communion with his Creator after learning a valuable lesson. How wonderful it is that the Father can bring out important spiritual blessings for us from even our worst mistakes.
V.5: "and Lot also…went with Abram." Abram had still not realized the importance of that first word from the Lord, "get thee from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house." God now, with that infinite patience and loving grace does what Abram had not been able to do: He removes Lot from Abram.
The next incident demonstrates the wonderful working of the spirit to overrule that which opposes us to the objective God intended. V.7 (ASV): "And there was a strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle." Truly the "flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh." (Gal.5:17) But now Abram was prepared to deal with the situation. He knew now that compromise was fatal. More than this, he now understood the importance of resting in God, in the condition to which He had brought him. It mattered not to Abram how much or how little land was under his control. He rested in the promise. God’s word on the matter was sufficient. So, Lot could choose. If Lot went to the left, Abram would go to the right.
Without constraint they parted, as we read in v.9: "Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself…from me." Separation! This was the very thing that God had purposed from the beginning. Under the almost invisible working of the divine hand, everything was happening so naturally. Yet as soon as Abram had learned to respond to the Lord’s leading, he finds himself doing the Lord’s will exactly, without effort of any kind.
Separation is the very thing we seek. After the separation from Lot, the word of the Lord comes even more fully confirming the promise. (see vv.14‑18). What spiritual import there is in the words. "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward...to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever…Arise, walk through the land in the length…and in the breadth of it."
We too are at Bethel, the true house of God. We should also lift up our eyes to these heavenly things and walk through the heavenly Canaan that we "may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ."—Eph.3:18,19.
Thus, Abram moved his tent and came to dwell in the plain of Mamre. (Gen.13:18) The name Mamre in the Hebrew means strength or vigour. It was here also that Abram again raised an altar to the Lord. Likewise the increasing awareness that the spirit brings to us of the love of Christ can only increase the spirit of our consecration to him.
Is our faith growing firmer and more vigorous? Are we walking in our inheritance as the apostle admonished us in Col.2:6,7: "as ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him…and stablished in the faith?" Every step should mark a new stage in our consecration just as every altar that Abram raised to the Lord marked his progress in the land.
When we have reached this stage, we should be ready to enter into a victorious life in Christ, having put on the whole armour of God. (Eph.6:10‑17) Thus also we find with the patriarch in Gen.14:1‑16. Lot, now embroiled in the politics of Sodom, is taken captive in a war with the kings of that area. Abram is obliged to help him.
Although we may know what it is to be separated from natural thinking, we are by no means free from it. Otherwise, as the apostle said, "then must ye needs go out of the world." (1 Cor.5:10) Satan cannot touch the "new man" that is being developed in us. He can only attack us through the flesh. But armed with the whole armour of God wielding the shield of faith, we can quench all his fiery darts, overcoming the powers of darkness.
Therefore we see Abram with a mere handful of men subduing five kings. Returning from victory he is met by two people: the king of Sodom and the king of Salem. The contrast between them could not be more striking and in the different way in which Abram responds to them. Both offer gifts to Abram, one a blessing with bread and wine, the other all the spoils of the city. To the one Melchizedek, he receives the blessing and gift and deferentially offers a tithe of all the spoil. To the other, he turns away without a second thought saying, "I will not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet, and...will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich." (v.23) Nothing could better demonstrate Abram’s complete rest in the Lord for everything and his complete disregard for anything the flesh might offer.
So too with the believer who has finally come to realize the foolishness of trusting the flesh for anything in his service to the Lord. Only by letting Him use our abilities do we truly recognize Him as Lord. It is not in the old nature to produce the new man.
Abram, not lacking confidence in his God and having been assured of the land, still has difficulty in seeing how God can make it possible. The only one who seems likely to inherit is Eliezer, his steward. The Lord replies: "Behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, this shall not be thine heir, but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir." (Gen.15:4) Then, taking him out under the starry heavens, God promises that his descendants will be just as numerous.
But Abram asks for a sign. Likewise, with us, even when we have "exceeding great and precious promises:" (2 Pet.1:4) we still need to be brought to understand the meaning of Eph.3:20 that He "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think." Even when we believe, we discover that there is still a further level of faith to be reached. Abram believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. (Gen.15:6). Still, he requested some further confirmation.
How glad we are that we have such a patient heavenly Father who will bear with us also. God responded to Abram’s request just as he does to every earnest plea sent up, not in unbelief, but with the desire that our faith may be strengthened. He prepares to make a covenant with Abram which will yet again seal the promise.
Next time: The Making of a Covenant