Abraham: Sojourning Faith
More verses in Hebrews 11 are spent on Abraham than on any other hero of faith. Abraham has been called “The Father of Faith.” It’s not that he was the first man to have faith or live by faith, but perhaps no one individual demonstrated a life of real faith more vividly and in more circumstances than Abraham. All of those we’ve looked at so far and those that come after Abraham had one defining moment in life or one chief attribute that characterized them as Heroes of Faith. Just to recap: Real faith was demonstrated by Abel in the way that He worshipped God – coming to God on God’s terms. Enoch’s faith was lived out through a life of daily devotion to God – he walked with God. Noah demonstrated real faith by the obedient actions of his life in response to the Word of God – he built an ark. But Abraham’s life of faith cannot be summed up on one instance or in one act of faith. Abraham’s life was characterized by reoccurring faith. In fact, the writer of Hebrews spends most of verses 8-19 showing how real faith made a difference in the life of Abraham over and over again. The first demonstration of real faith by Abraham is found in verses 8-10. He left his earthly home behind believing that a heavenly home awaited him. We are told that by faith Abraham obeyed and went; Abraham wandered in the land; and Abraham looked forward to the city of God.
So notice in verse eight, real faith leaves this world behind. By faith Abraham obeyed the call of God. The first step to following God is to obey His call. We’re told in Genesis 12:1 that God said to Abraham, “Get thee out of thy country.” Abraham came from a well-to-do family in the Chaldean city of Ur. His family was well known and respected; no doubt he lived in a fine home; we know he had herds of livestock and many servants. If Abraham were alive today, he would be financially set. His business would be booming; in fact he might be featured in Forbes magazine. Abraham was living a good life and was prepared to settle back and enjoy all that God had blessed him with. And in the middle of Abraham living his life, God called to him.
God calls to every person. Abraham was rich in this world’s goods when God called to him, but God calls people from every walk of life. God calls to the down-and-out as well as to the wealthy and everyone in between. When God looks at a person he doesn’t see their bank account or their stock portfolio. He sees men, women, boys and girls, and He’s calling every one. God’s call of salvation is to every person of every race, in every social class, and from every walk of life. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you aren’t; God’s not concerned with who your parents are, what part of the country you’re from; or how well-known you might be. In God’s eyes every person is the same: a lost person – a person that apart from faith in His Son Jesus will die and go to hell. And God’s not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Jesus came to this earth for just one purpose: to seek and to save that which was lost. God is calling to every person, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” God called Abraham just as He call to every person. By faith Abraham obeyed God’s call and was counted righteous and every person must still obey God’s call to be saved.
Not only does God call a person to follow Him, but God demands that we leave some things behind. By faith Abraham left the old behind. God called Abraham to leave his land and his family. The city of Ur was an ancient city; very likely one of the first cities built after the Flood. In Abraham’s day it was perhaps 300 years old or more. But not only was it an ancient city, but it was the center of much religion. If you were to travel to the ruins of Ur, there exists still today a well-preserved temple to the ancient Chaldean gods. Abraham’s city represented his false beliefs. His family stood for the way he was raised. And God called Abraham to leave it all behind. Abraham could bring nothing of his former religion or lifestyle with him if he was to come to God by faith.
God is still calling you in the same way today. If you wish to come to Jesus, you must leave behind your past beliefs. Even the irreligious and the atheist must leave behind their self-sufficiency and their faithlessness when they come to God. The Bible calls sinners to repentance. Repentance means to change your mind. It means to do a 180; to turn from what you once believed would get you to heaven and leave it behind. We can’t come to God bringing with us any of our works or good deeds. These must be left behind when we come to God. You may have grown up in a certain religion; your whole family for many generations may be of some other faith, but God calls you to leave it all behind when you come to Him. Real faith requires that we leave the old behind. Many people worry about what they will have to leave behind if they come and be saved when instead they should worry about their eternal soul that will be lost if they don’t. You may lose some friends, but you’ll gain Jesus, a Friend that “sticketh closer than a brother.” You might lose some family, but you’ll become God’s child and He’ll be your Father. We shouldn’t let anything hold us back or keep us from coming to God.
By faith Abraham obey God’s call and was willing to leave everything behind to come to God. Notice also that By faith Abraham went towards the unknown. Abraham wasn’t even told where following God would take him. He demonstrated another act of faith. We’re told that by faith Abraham followed God “not knowing whither he went.” Abraham didn’t know where He was going, but He was convinced that God would take him to a better place than the one he was leaving behind. He knew that God was loving and that God had his best interest in mind and so even though God didn’t reveal his full plan to him, he stepped out by faith.
When we choose to follow God we don’t know where all He may lead us. But we do know that if we reject God’s call our final destination will be Hell. We also know that choosing to follow God changes our eternal home from Hell to God’s Heaven. But the journey in between salvation and Heaven is mostly unknown. God hasn’t revealed to us what places He’ll take us to when we follow Him, but we can, like Abraham, know for sure that it will be a better place than the one we left behind. God has good things planned for us; He has blessings reserved for His children. No matter what you leave behind to come to God, what you gain will be so much better. In this life you’ll gain access by prayer to His divine help in life’s struggles. Salvation grants a peace this world can’t have or even understand. You’ll receive joy unspeakable and full of glory. He’ll lead you in green pastures and beside the still waters. You may have some uncertainties and doubts about coming to God, but the Christian life is the best life in all the world. And rejecting Christ will send you to Hell. Abraham followed God by faith and God led him to the land of Canaan. In it Abraham found blessings and the good things that come from following God by faith.
Abraham’s teaches us that salvation comes by obeying God’s call by faith. But it also teaches us in verse nine that real faith has no earthly attachments. God didn’t call you out of the world so that you can go back to it after you’re saved. Once you accept Christ as Savior, God expects us to live differently from the world. Abraham refused to settle in Canaan – he sojourned. The word sojourned means “to reside as a foreigner.” It means to take a break. It has the idea of a guest who stops over for a little while. Abraham never saw Canaan as his place of permanent residence. Canaan was just a “rest stop” on the way to the heavenly city God had promised. After Abraham arrived in Canaan we’re told in Genesis 12 that the proceeded to pass through the land. We read that he journeyed to the east and then to the south. Abraham never let the world tie him down.
This is starkly different from his nephew Lot that came with him. Genesis 13 says Lot “lifted up his eyes and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere…Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan.” Lot saw the things of the world and allowed himself to be drawn. He became enamored with the world. And if you know anything about the story of Lot, it is a sad story of loss and of sin, and of heartache. Far too many Christians are comfortable in the world. They’ve looked at the world’s goods and found them attractive and chosen them over following God. Oh they might not be caught up in sinful pursuits like Lot, but so many Christians have just settled down to enjoy this world and have long ago left the walk of faith behind. They may not be caught up even in bad things, but a bass boat, a tree stand, season tickets to a sporting event, kids and grandkids or some other thing of this world has taken them away from following God and pursuing His kingdom. I have nothing against any of those things except when they threaten to interfere with my walk with God and my faithfulness to His call. The life of faith sees this world as a rest stop on the way to heaven.
Not only did Abraham refuse to settle in Canaan but Abraham chose to dwell in a tabernacle instead of a house. A tabernacle is a tent. It’s a temporary structure. A tent is a sign of someone who is transient. In the Middle East, there are Bedouins who live in tents and are nomadic, moving from place to place. Nomads have no place on this earth they call home. Abraham chose a nomadic life to remind him that this world was not his home. We sing the hymn, “This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through.” This was Abraham’s perspective on life. Abraham refused to build himself a house because he knew this life is just temporary. God had prepared for him a better place, not of this world, and he refused to settle down, and build a house knowing he wouldn’t be here for long.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all go sell our homes, buy a tent, and move to the desert. Remember that the Old Testament stories were given to teach spiritual truths to us today. The spiritual truth from the sojourning life of Abraham is that the life of faith has no earthly attachments. Yet so many Christians are caught up trying to build a kingdom on earth when we are called to a heavenly kingdom. Most Christians are more worried about pursuing the American Dream than they are pursuing the kingdom of God. Many Christians are more concerned about financing their lifestyles and their retirements than financing the Lord’s work. Many Christians are so overworked striving for “the good life” that they have no time left for the house of God. Too many Christian parents are more worried about getting their kids to a ball game or a recital than getting them into church. We are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and yet many Christians are seeking themselves first and squeezing God in where they can. We must never forget that our citizenship is not this world but in heaven. Abraham’s faith teaches us to choose the life of a pilgrim in this world rather than the life of resident. His faith even passed on to his son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob who also chose the sojourning life. As we saw last week with Noah: Real faith is passed on.
Abraham’s faith speaks one final thing to us about following God by faith. It’s one thing that motivates us to follow God in the first place. It’s what urges us to the life of a sojourner in this world and keeps us from loving this world. And verse ten teaches us that real faith looks forward to Heaven. Abraham looked for the City of God. Evidently, Abraham had some knowledge of the heavenly Jerusalem spoken of by the Apostle John in Revelation 21. John gives a magnificent description of the city: he calls it the “holy city, coming down from God out of heaven.” It will be a city where God himself shall dwell with men and be their God. In the holy city “God shall wipe away all tears and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” John says the heavenly city will have “the glory of God: and her light is like unto a stone most precious, clear as crystal.” In fact there is “no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it for the glory of God and the Lamb is the light thereof and there shall be no night there.” It will have “a wall great and high, and twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels.” The Apostle says “the city is pure gold, like unto clear glass and the street of the city is pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” John goes on to describe God’s city sitting on twelve foundations each of a different precious stone. He says it’s a sinless city “and the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it.” John also describes the river of life and the tree of life; of the majestic throne room of God. And I doubt John told us half of what he saw.
By faith Abraham believed in the coming city of God and it made him a pilgrim on earth. I don’t know to what extent God revealed to Abraham the holy city described in Revelation 21, but I doubt it was in such great detail. In fact Abraham very likely knew nothing more than what we read here in Hebrews 11:10. But it was good enough for Abraham to know that it was a city whose builder and maker is God. And knowing something of the wonders of God, he was convinced it would be a breathtaking, perfect place. What kind of city would God build? Our God who formed the earth out of nothing; who made the stars and the planets and all the majesty of our universe, surely would build a city equally majestic if not more so. And from what we read of in Revelation 21, the city of God truly is a grand and glorious city. By faith Abraham looked for a city – the city of God.
Faith in the coming city of God made Abraham a sojourner. The coming city of God kept Abraham’s eyes off the world. Why didn’t Abraham build a home? Because God’s heavenly home outshined any earthly home he could build. There is plenty in this world to draw us and attract our attention. But when we keep heaven’s wonders in the forefront of our minds, the earth’s goods lose their luster. The hymn says it so well, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Abraham’s faith not only made him sojourn to Canaan but it kept him a sojourner there. Oh a time or two Abraham’s faith faltered, but then God reminded him of the promise of that city and he returned to the life of pilgrim.
I wonder if we don’t get so caught up in this life that we think too little on eternal life. We’re so busy upgrading our life here that we forget everlasting life awaits in heaven. In fact this happened to Jacob’s 12 sons. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all dwelt in tents, but Jacob’s 12 sons built homes and settled. When hardship came their faith faltered, they left the land of Canaan given to Abraham by God and settled in Egypt. In the Bible, Egypt is often a representation of the world whereas Canaan represents the abundant blessed life in God. Yet in Egypt they stayed, settled down, and built new lives instead of sojourning in Canaan. For some 400 years the descendants of Abraham lived in Egypt hardly thinking of that heavenly city. Difficulty and the draw of Egypt caused their faith to falter.
The same is often true of many Christians. We read of heaven in God’s Word or a preacher describes the wonders of heaven in a sermon and perhaps we desire it for a moment. We remember we’re pilgrims on a journey to the city of God for a while. But then time passes; we’re still here on planet earth; heaven seems so far away, and we settle down to build a life in the world. Maybe some difficulty in our journey causes us to turn aside and seek the world instead of pressing towards the prize of heaven. We soon forget that our citizenship is in heaven and not on this earth. Jacob’s sons faltered in their faith and they never left Egypt. Yes, Abraham’s faith faltered a time or two but he always returned to Canaan and the life of a sojourner.
Christian, perhaps you’ve forgotten that you are a pilgrim in this world and have instead settled down. Perhaps you’ve forgotten the glory and the wonders of heaven because this world has captured your attention. Let the faith of Abraham turn your gaze again heavenward. Jesus said that when we seek the kingdom of God first, all the things we need in this life will be added to us. So rather than treating a hobby or your career as the goal of life, instead remember that these are just temporary things in light of eternity. Paul said that we’re to set our affections on things above not on things below. I have a song on a CD called, “The Pilgrim Song” which says, “We are on a pilgrim’s journey and we never walk alone. Up ahead just beyond the horizon we will settle when we get home.” Don’t settle here. Sojourn until you reach heaven.
Do you have a sojourning faith? Faith that keeps your eyes heavenward and shakes off all earthly attachments? If someone looked at your life would they mistake you for a citizen of earth rather than a citizen of heaven? If an honest inventory of your life shows you to be consumed with the earthly instead of the heavenly, then why not make that right today?
I wonder if there’s someone here today who’s never taken the first step of faith - answering God’s call of salvation. God calls everyone to Himself; to follow Him as He leads us to Heaven. Why not start your journey heavenward today; and get off the broad way that leads to hell. God is calling you leave your sin; leave your self-righteousness; leave your past religion and come by faith in Jesus. Won’t you be saved today?