Study #5 “When Faith is Weak” Hebrews 11:11-12
by Bob Burridge ©2020
There have been some great giants in faith: Abraham, Moses, King David, the Apostle Peter, and many more. No one could argue about their place in the faith hall-of-fame. But they have something else in common, they all had serious lapses of faith!
Do true believers sometimes fail to trust all of God’s promises? Absolutely! There’s no moral perfection this side of glory. The important thing is that we know what to do when our faith fails, and when we find ourselves struggling with God’s promises and principles. In the Bible, God not only tells us what to do, he also gives us examples as models for our lives.
Hebrews 11 lists a husband and wife team among the heroes of faith: Abraham & Sarah. There were times when both Abraham and Sarah faltered in their faith. Their struggle became clear concerning the promised birth of their son Isaac.
11. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.
12. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
Abraham and Sarah are good examples of how God’s promises and principles deserve our trust, love, and confident obedience, and of how we can overcome our lapses and get right with God.
After he left the comforts and benefits of the city of Ur, and came into the promised land …
Abram became uncertain about
how God would fulfill his word.
God had made great promises to Abram. His descendants would be like the stars in number, and he would become a blessing to all the other nations! But Abram didn’t have any children yet. And he was over 75 years old. His only legal heir was not a son. It was Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:4). This was hardly the kind of great nation of heirs God promised.
After some time passed by, God made it clear that Abram would soon have a son, and he would receive the land of Canaan as an inheritance.
Abram wanted some assurance. In Genesis 15:8 he asked, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
God did something that seems strange to us. He told him to get a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pigeon. Then Abram obediently cut them in half and laid the halves in two rows. As the sun came down God reaffirmed his promises, even predicting the 400 years of slavery in Egypt and the Exodus! Then in the form of a smoking oven flaming like a torch God passed between the animal pieces!
This hardly sounds like a good formula for overcoming doubts. But Abram seemed to not think it strange at all! Now we have learned why.
In those ancient times this was what was done to seal formal treaties. When a nation was considered an enemy to a king, he would come with his powerful army. As enemies of the king the people deserved death, but a wise king would offer them a Covenant. In a ceremony, the king and the conquered people paraded through the severed bodies of animals.
– The people promised to honor the king as faithful subjects.
– The king promised to protect them as his own people.
– The dead animals illustrated the death that would come to either party if the covenant was broken.
But this time only God moved between the severed bodies. God not only promised to be doubting Abram’s Lord and protector, he was also showing that he would take the punishment of Abram and his descendants on himself!
The animal sacrifice ceremony also foreshadowed Christ’s death for all his people. As a fallen sinful race we haven’t honored God as our Creator and King and we deserve death, eternal death.
Way back in Eden God promised Adam that a descendant of his would deal with satan and sin. Jesus came as that promised Messiah to die in place of his people taking the punishment they deserved. What God said and did showed Abram that he had no reason to doubt. Even his rebellion would be taken care of.
As time passed Sarah and Abram became impatient and concerned. Their doubts about God’s promise increased. They were getting older and still had no children. Sarah was past the age when women could get pregnant.
How was God going to bless Abram with a mighty nation of heirs? They came up with a plan to produce a physical heir. Genesis 16 shows that their plan violated the creation principle of marriage and it’s vows. Sarai gave her maid, Hagar, to Abram to bear him a child. When Abram was 86 years old Ishmael was conceived by Hagar. But it was a rebellious human solution. It came from a of lack of trust in God. God’s blessings are never secured by sin.
When Hagar became pregnant, Sarah was filled with jealous anger. Hagar was forced to leave for a time.
When we abandon God’s ways, we pay the price. We show the symptoms of our rebellion by our feelings of jealousy, anger, hatred, pride, depression, fear, and guilt. It’s because something isn’t being handled according to God’s principles. These are often signs that something needs to change, or be repented of before God.
Abram and Sarai struggled with this for 14 years, then the time came for God’s plan to be carried out. Genesis 17 tells us that Abram was now about 99 years old, and Sarah about 90. By then it was even harder to have a child by human standards.
God repeated his promise to multiply Abram’s descendants. God established Circumcision as a sign of his covenant. He told him that his wife was going to have a son, Isaac.
This is when God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram (Avram) meant: Father (אב “av”) who is Elevated (רם “ram”): “High Father”. He would now be called Abraham (Avraham): Father (אב “av”) of Many (רהם “raham”). Up to this time his wife’s name was Sarai. It would now be Sarah (Genesis 17:15). Sarai (שָרַי “sa-rai”) meant “princessly one”. Her new name will be Sarah: (שָרֶה “sa-rah”) “princess”.
Abraham laughed when he heard God’s promise (Genesis 17:17). His laughter may have been a laugh of relief and joy, not of disrespect or unbelief. He fell on his face before the Lord. A common sign of worship. After all this time and with all his foolish scheming, God would simply cause to happen what with men was impossible. Abraham obeyed. He, and the males of his small nation, were marked out by the Sacrament of Circumcision.
Then as God spoke again to Abraham, Sarah listened from inside the tent. She heard the promise that she would have a child! (Genesis 18) She laughed at the thought. But this laugh, was clearly a lack of respect for God’s promise. God reaffirmed his promise, “Is anything to hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14) Sarah foolishly denied her laugh and her lapse of trust. But God knows all things. He said, “No, but you DID laugh.” (Genesis 18:15) It’s foolish not to confess (admit) our sins. God knows our hearts. Nothing can be hidden from Him.
So – What should we believers do if we
should suspect we have a faltering faith?
First we need to admit it! Humble confession is the first step toward restoration. On this side of glory we’re not yet perfect. If we simply accept or excuse our sin, we lack the evidence that we’ve been transformed by God’s grace. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess (honestly admit) our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This promise is based on the fact that Jesus Christ died in place of his people. This is what God illustrated to Abraham when he passed through the animal carcasses.
To correct the problem we need to
do what God prescribes
that strengthens us spiritually.
We call these remedies “the Means of Grace“. They are our source of strength. Good Christian counselors include them in their advice about ways for us to deal with our spiritual weaknesses. These are God-given activities by which God’s children grow in Christ.
God gives us these basic remedies for our regular spiritual nourishment: The lives of Abraham and Sarah are a good example for us to learn from.
1. We need to know, love, and obey God’s Word. Abraham and Sarah found their encouragement by being reminded that God had assured them of his blessing. When they struggled with the promises, God repeated them! The power of God’s word when confirmed to us by the Holy Spirit comforts and assures the heart. We need to be reminded regularly of what God has said. And, God can’t lie or fail! His word takes us to the solid rock to stand on: God’s unfailing promises.
2. We need to pray to God. Abraham and Sarah found encouraging fellowship by talking to God. When hope seems lost and the promises seem impossible, we should come humbly to the Lord to talk with him about it in prayer. We open our hearts to him and call on him for strength.
3. We need to make proper use of the Sacraments. Outward rituals don’t save us, or make us holy. But the Sacraments are commanded by God for a purpose. When we take them properly and in faith, they become an exercise to strengthen our trust.
Before the coming of Messiah the sacraments were: sacrifices, circumcision, feasts, fasts, and rituals. When Abraham needed encouragement, he took part in the sacrifices of the covenant ceremony, and he obeyed in circumcision.
After the coming of Messiah there are only two sacraments: Our baptism and partaking of the Lord’s Supper strengthen us. The water, bread, and wine don’t help us magically, but by them we show our trust in God’s attached promises. Those promises are what build us up.
4. We need the encouragement of the family of God, Biblical Mutual and Church Discipline. God made us to need one another. Humans were not created to stand alone. Abraham and Sarah should have been there to help one another. When they faltered in this they failed. Many times God’s people were warned by Prophets, Apostles, Elders, and friends. Today, our family, church, and Christian friends need to be there for us.
These are the healthy things we need to develop as daily habits. When neglected we will lack the peace and comfort attached to them by God’s promise.
– if we skip meals – we get weak
– if we skip exercise – we get flabby
– if we skip study in school – our grades go down
– if we skip the use of the means of grace – we will lack great blessing.
But isn’t this too simplistic? Some scoff and say, “I have a serious problem. How can prayer, reading the Bible, Christian fellowship, and the Sacraments help with my real problems?” Unwilling to deal with their frustrations God’s way, they want something harder, more difficult, more impressive, more scientific.
I call this the Naaman syndrome. Nathan had Leprosy (2 Kings 5). Instead of being willing to dip in the Jordan river as he was told, Naaman expected the prophet Elisha to do something more. He became angry. With the encouragement of his friends, he did the simple thing. God healed him of the disease of leprosy!
Both Abraham and Sarah overcame their lapses by these simple Means of Grace. They were brought back on track by …
1. being reminded of God’s Word in his promises.
2. by talking with with God.
3. by accepting in true faith the Sacraments God ordained. (sacrifices, circumcision)
4. by finally coming together in obedient fellowship, accepting encouragement and correction.
The result was this …
God’s promise was carried out. Genesis 21
Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac [even though Abraham was 100 years old]. Their faith was strengthened. Their doubt was overcome.
When faith is weak, when believers lapse into doubt and sin, they need to turn repentantly to the promises of God, and learn more from God’s word about the everlasting arms that hold them. It’s the bumps on the road that show how valuable the shocks on our vehicle are.
Sarah is commended in Scripture
as an example of faith.
Hebrews 11:11, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”
By turning to trust God’s promise, she conceived beyond her years. She considered God faithful who gave his promise.
Abraham and Sarah were not perfect believers, they struggled too. Yet they found strength in God’s word, through talking with God, by respecting God’s sacraments, and by helping one another.
This is the advice God gives us. Like Abram, we need to heed the promises of God. Like Naaman, we might want something more impressive. But we need to listen to the encouragement from others that we should obey God’s advice. Like Sarah, we might laugh at how impossible it all sounds. But then have our hearts changed by God’s grace. Like them all – the remedy lies in trusting, loving, and obeying what God has said.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Hebrews 11 index: “Faith and What Flows From It“