Over the past few weeks, we’ve been walking through the book of Genesis together and we’ve discovered our purpose for being created: namely that God created people in His image. He gave them the purpose of multiplying (filling the earth with His image and worship to Him) and of cultivating the earth in His name. We have learned that people did not accomplish this purpose and even marred the image of God about them. In spite of this, God has saved a people for Himself. We have discovered together that God does not depend on people to accomplish His purpose, but gracefully and mercifully gives people a place to serve in His kingdom.
In Genesis, chapter 15, God came to Abraham and issued him a promise. The promise was that Abraham would be made into a great nation and that the whole world would be blessed through that nation. This is only a promise that we can understand as we consider the purpose that God has given people from the start. If God does not depend on people to accomplish His purpose, then what promise is there that we can take hold of? What does God promise His people regarding the purpose that He has given and that He will bring to fruition? If God is sovereign in His purpose, is He also sovereign in His promise? What does it mean for us if God’s promises do not depend on us?
Genesis 26:18-25 HCSB
So Isaac left there, camped in the Valley of Gerar, and lived there. Isaac reopened the water wells that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and that the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died. He gave them the same names his father had given them. Then Isaac’s slaves dug in the valley and found a well of spring water there. But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Quarrel because they quarreled with him. Then they dug another well and quarreled over that one also, so he named it Hostility. He moved from there and dug another, and they did not quarrel over it. He named it Open Spaces and said, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”
From there he went up to Beer-sheba, and the Lord appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of My servant Abraham.”
So he built an altar there, called on the name of Yahweh, and pitched his tent there. Isaac’s slaves also dug a well there.
Promise and purpose
In this part of the story, we witness God coming to Isaac and reissuing the purpose that He made to Isaac’s father, Abraham. There are a couple of similarities that I want to point out in the story, here, and when God first gave His promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. In Genesis 15, Abraham was concerned with what God would give him instead of how he might serve God (v. 3). In our text for today, Isaac is also more concerned with receiving what God would give concerning land on which he might prosper. In Genesis 15, God’s concern was fulfilling his own purpose (the multiplication of His image) through Abraham. In the text above, God’s concern is fulfilling His own purpose through Abraham’s son, Isaac. It is also true that neither Abraham nor Isaac got to see God’s promise fulfilled in their lifetime.
Considering these similarities, we might consider the substance of God’s promise to both Abraham and Abraham’s son, Isaac. We might notice immediately that God’s promise did not profit Abraham or Isaac materially, nor did it accomplish the will of either Abraham or Isaac. Abraham was concerned with receiving and Isaac’s concern was prosperity. God’s promise dealt specifically with the purpose that He had given from the first chapter in Genesis onward. God’s promise was that He would fulfill His own purpose through His people who had received that purpose.
In this, I discover something about the nature of God’s promises. His promises come from His own character, are in line with His own will, accomplish own His purposes, and are made for His own glory. When we look at the promises in Scripture, we often tend to read them selfishly. We might read something like, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you,” and think to ourselves, “Yes! Nothing can stop me. I can accomplish my dreams and Christ will give me the strength to accomplish those dreams!” When we go back and actually look at the literary context of Philippians 4:13, we recognize that Paul wrote specifically about Christ providing endurance and contentment through any circumstance. God does not promise that we can change our circumstance, but that we can endure current circumstances for the purpose of the work of the Gospel and to the glory of the God who gives us strength! In the same way, Abraham wanted to know what God would give him. Isaac wanted to peacefully prosper. Yet, God comes and states that He will multiply their descendants and bless the whole world through them. We might look together at God’s promise of eternal life: Romans 10:9 states that if we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, we will be saved. The promise of eternal life comes from God’s character, it re-establishes God’s design in spite of human sin, it revives the image of God that God created people to be, it restores the human ability to accomplish the purpose that God created for people. God’s promise of eternal life is entirely God-centered. Because it is God-centered, we actually get to benefit from that promise on a meaningful level and in a way that does not depend on us.
God’s promises to us are always based on His purpose, not specifically our wants. This is good because our wants often lead us to act in contradiction to the purpose that God has designed for us. When we act in contradiction to our very purpose, we end up unsatisfied. I am so glad that God’s promises are always based on His purpose.
Promise and evangelism
We currently live in a time when God has fulfilled His promise to both Abraham and Isaac. The land of Canaan was given to the Israelites for God’s purpose or filling the earth with His own image. The Christ was born so that all nations would be blessed by God’s work of restoration (where He restores His own image about His people). We, now, get to have the image of God restored in us by God because God fulfilled the promise He made to both Abraham and Isaac! The amazing news is this: God is still blessing all nations through His promise that He fulfilled. God is in the business of restoring His image within, upon and about sinful people like you and me. God’s promise to Abraham and Isaac is still being carried out with those who would genuinely believe in Jesus Christ.
If it is God’s people who are given the purpose, from the foundation of the world, to multiply God’s image; then God is carrying out His promise through the evangelistic efforts of His people. Previously, we learned that God will accomplish His purpose with or without us. It is so amazing, though, that we actually receive the opportunity to accomplish the purpose that humanity was given by God at the foundation of the world. God is so good, but this is not the fullness of God’s goodness or God’s grace. God’s promise is that the whole world will be blessed through the descendants of Abraham and Isaac, namely through Christ. If God promises this and has given the purpose of multiplying His image to His people (people who have received the blessing of Christ in full), then God’s sanctifying work in our lives draws us into deeper and more widespread evangelism. A growing yearning in our hearts and in our minds to reach people with Christ’s Gospel is the result of a deepening relationship we have with Christ. The closer we are with Christ, the more we will care about and participate in evangelism (intentionally sharing the good news about Christ).
This being realized, we might examine our own hearts. How important is evangelism to us? Is it important enough that we would practice it daily? How long has it been since you shared the good news about Jesus with someone else and invited them to come to Christ? I am not talking about inviting someone to church. I am talking about genuinely inviting someone who does not know Christ to come to Christ. A study done in 2012 stated that 61% of church-goers (in protestant churches) hadn’t shared Christ with anyone within the previous six months of the survey date. This is probably a conservative number and speaks to the spiritual health of the church today. If God, by His sanctifying work in our lives, draws us to evangelism, this means that most people in the organizational church are simply not open to Christ’s sanctifying work and not willing to actually follow Jesus.
Remember that it is God’s promise that He will accomplish His purpose in and through the lives of His people. While it is not necessarily the case that everyone who shares the Gospel is part of God’s kingdom, it is necessarily the case that those whom God has brought into His kingdom will be drawn to share the Gospel. This, then, is a good test as we consider our own relationship with God. Are we drawn to participate in evangelism (the multiplying of God’s image in our own day by inviting people to be restored by Christ)? If we are not, then our own relationship with Christ and participation in Christ is lacking. We should test our own relationship with Christ.
In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus taught that weeds would grow up with the wheat and would not be separated until the harvest. Even Jesus stated that His kingdom, while in the context of this world, would have within its walls people who do not actually care to follow Christ.
Promise and calling
The calling, here, dear brothers and sisters is not for us to, in our own power, go forth and try to practice more evangelism. There are many those who choose to motivate people to go and share the Gospel by citing the number of unreached people in the world. If God promises to accomplish His purpose in and through His people, then our goal and our prize can only be Christ. If our goal can only be Christ, then there is only one way that we can pursue the calling of evangelism: that is specifically to pursue Christ.
Is this in line with the Great Commission given in Matthew 28? In Matthew 28:18, Jesus states specifically that it is only because all authority belongs to Him that His people might have a part in both evangelism and discipleship. It is Christ who draws us to His own work and it is Christ who performs that work in and through His people. He is the one with authority.
If you find that you do not spend time with our Lord each day, in prayer and in Scripture, you might question whether or not you’ve actually surrendered to Christ. If you need a guide to read Scripture, we provide that at Eastside in our family worship packets. I would encourage us all in this manner, though: Let us seek first the kingdom of God. As God sanctifies us, we will be drawn to practice evangelism as individuals and as a church. If we are not drawn to practice evangelism, it is evidence that we may not follow Christ. The calling on our lives is simple surrender. Through sanctification, we are drawn to accomplish the purpose that God has given from the foundation of the world. God promises to accomplish His own purpose.