The Promise and the Firepot
assurance, salvation, Abraham
This last week our country witnessed a horrifying event. Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado was the scene for the senseless and brutal killing of fifteen students and two adults. It was an event that shocked and saddened us.
But in the wake of this tragedy there is the story of Cassey Bernall, a 17 year old junior at Columbine High. Cassey was confronted by one of the gunmen and asked if she “loved the Lord?” When she replied “Yes, I do,” he asked her, “Why?” Her response was, “You can take away my life, but you can’t take away my God!” The gunman then killed her. It was a barbaric act. But Cassey faced that moment with confidence and faith. She was so confident of her eternal destiny that the threats of this world had no power over her. She believed Genesis 15:1 when God said “Fear not, I am your shield and very great reward.”
Cassey Bernall would tell you that God was faithful. He did stand with her. He gave her courage and strength to stand for Him. He gave her peace in the midst of chaos. And now He has given her eternal life.
Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of confidence? We would like to be that sure of our eternal destiny. But we aren’t the only ones who want this . . . Abraham did too.
We had just read in verse six, that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” He took God at His Word. He believed God’s promise. We would say that he was “born again”. And based on His faith in the promise which would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ, God considered Abraham to be right with Him. God saw Christ dying for Abraham thousands of years before the actual event.
So it seems almost abrupt to discover the next verses,
But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
What’s this? The father of the faithful now doubting? This one who is noted for his belief now is asking God for further evidence? I think the key word here is “know”. He wants to have that deep and settled peace in his heart. He not only wants to believe it . . . he wants to know it. Abraham is looking for assurance. He is looking for the same thing that we are looking for when we say, “I want to KNOW that I’m going to Heaven.” He wants the kind of assurance Cassey Bernall had.
WHY WE LACK ASSURANCE
Before we can talk about assurance it would be helpful to understand why we find it so illusive. I can think of three reasons.
We are not believers
Some lack assurance because they have not come to Christ as Savior . . . at least not in the sense of making a commitment to Him. The issue of assurance is raised by Abraham or addressed by God until Abraham had first been declared righteous by God. We cannot be sure of Heaven until we have been reborn in Christ. We cannot be sure of Heaven until we have sought the Savior’s forgiveness. We cannot be sure of Heaven until we first are delivered from Hell.
It is silly to look to be sure of Heaven until we have confessed our sin and placed our confidence in Christ alone for our salvation. We may not have assurance of salvation because we are not “saved” yet. First things first.
The second reason we struggle with assurance is our fickle faithfulness. Here’s what I mean. We know the truth but we have trouble applying it in our life. We know what we believe and yet we see that we don’t seem to believe it in our living.
- We know that God has promised life beyond the grave but the thought of dying scares us
- We know that God is in control, but we still have trouble sleeping because of worry
- We know that we have been forgiven more than anything anyone could do to us, but we still resist forgiving others.
- We know that God’s way is the wise way, the best way, the most enjoyable way . . . but we still see ourselves choosing to go against God’s way.
- We know the greatest privilege in life is to be able to have a personal conversation with the Lord of the Universe, but sometimes we fall asleep while we pray.
We are uncertain because we act so uncertain. We wonder how anyone could really be a believer if they act like we do so much of the time. Mind you, Satan is always there to whisper in our ear, “See, you can’t be a Christian.” This is why I am so encouraged by Romans 7. Paul describes my experience and yours.
The law is good, then. The trouble is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master. I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. . .
It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. [Romans 7:14-24]
So, this inconsistency is not to be desired, but it is the common experience. We like the person Jesus met cry out, “Lord, I believe, Help my unbelief!”
The third reason we lack assurance is theological. The prevailing theology today seems to teach: “we are saved by grace and sustained by our own efforts.” In other words, we are taught that if we have enough faith we will be saved. If we stop believing we are no longer saved. The result is that the focus of salvation is on us and not God. Whether or not we are going to Heaven depends on how good our faith is. That is not the true gospel.
The problem is this: how do we know we are believing “enough”? How big IS a mustard seed? What happens if in the aging process I begin to lose my mental capacity and forget God’s promises . . . do I lose my salvation? What if I begin to lose my inhibitions and begin to do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing formerly . . . do I lose my salvation? What happens if I die during a time of weakness and failure . . . do I lose my salvation? Do you see the problem? If salvation hinges on my performance and my performance is inconsistent at best, assurance is impossible.
THE WAY TO ASSURANCE
Understand that God wants us to be Confident
Notice what God does NOT say in response to Abraham He does not say, “Abraham, I am so disappointed in you. I thought you had faith and now I see you don’t.” He does not say, “Hey, take a leap of faith into the darkness. You gotta just believe!” There is no scolding . . . there are no clichés. What we see is God taking steps to give Abraham exactly what he asks for.
You see, God wants us to be sure of our status with Him. He wants us to have peace. Paul tells us to “make our calling and election SURE.”
The Apostle John tells us,
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13)
The Bible wants us to have assurance of our salvation. Why?
- He wants us to live with gratitude rather than fear
- He wants us to spend our time getting to know Him rather than trying to “find Him”
- He wants us to trust in His grace rather than in our efforts
- He wants us to keep looking forward rather than over our shoulder
- He wants us to serve with confidence rather than be shackled by uncertainty
- He wants us to repent and get up when we fall rather than get depressed and give up
- He wants us to enjoy the journey rather than simply endure it
Remember God’s Promises
The second thing we need to do is to listen to what God says. God spells things out for Abraham.
13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Listen to what Jesus tells us;
those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do what I want. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them to eternal life at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life—that I should raise them at the last day.” (Jn. 6:36-40)
Paul said, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” ( Phil 1:6)
There are many other references that tell us that nothing will separate us from His love (Romans 8:38). We are told that the Holy Spirit is given us as a deposit which guarantees our inheritance. (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14;) We are told that those who believe in Him will haveeternal life. (John 3:16).
God may not tell us the details of our family tree but He does tell us where He is taking us. We should listen.
Remember that your future depends on Him
Finally, and most importantly, we need to trust God. Listen to these words that sound strange in your ear,
9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham.
In those days this was an ancient ceremony that was used to make a covenant or a contract. The two parties would agree to terms and they would seal the contract with a ceremony. The two parties would walk between these cut up animals. What they signified by doing so was this: “May it be to me as it has happened to these animals, if I do not fulfill my oath to you.” In other words this was a great object lesson. The point was simple: your oath was taken seriously. If you did not keep your oath you should be cut in half!
Abraham falls asleep and has a vision or a dream. He sees a smoking firepot with a blazing torch. This is known as a “Theophany” which means it was a “visual manifestation of God.” This image of God as fire is not unusual.
- He appeared to Moses in a burning bush
- He led the children of Israel by a pillar of fire
- The mountain of Sinai was covered with smoke while Moses met with God
- God is called Light Inexpressible
- Hebrews said our God is a consuming fire
The firepot (God) passes between the animals but Abraham doesn’t! God makes an UNCONDITIONAL promise to Abraham. He tells Abraham that he is going to fulfill His promise . . . no matter what comes. God in essence, swears by His own deity.
Does God want Abraham to be confident? You bet He does.
Our assurance is found in remembering that we are forgiven not because of what we have done but because of what God has done for us in Christ. Our salvation is not based in our efforts . . . it is anchored in His promises.
- When are feelings of inadequacy speak louder than the promise of His grace we need to remember the smoking firepot. Our destiny is not based on our feelings but His grace.
- When we face dangers and feel the fear well up inside us, we need to remember the smoking firepot and the promise that He would be our shield and our very great reward.
- When we aren’t sure about Heaven we need to remember that smoking firepot and God’s declaration that Abraham (and we) are declared righteous because we trust Him, not because we are good.
- When we have failed we need to remember the smoking firepot that passed alone through those animals . . . our hope is not anchored to our performance but His promise.
Our assurance then comes from BELIEVING GOD! He said He would give eternal life to all who turn to Him. So . . . do you believe Him or don’t you?
I stand before you today and declare that I know I am going to Heaven. It’s a statement that is not anchored in any thought that I deserve Heaven or am better than anyone else. I know I don’t deserve God’s grace and I see more of my sin than I do your sins or anyone else. My confidence is anchored in the fact that God loved me enough to send Christ to die in my place. He told me that if I will place my hope of eternity on Christ, He will give me His Holy Spirit and will lead me the rest of the way home. . . . I believe Him. I hope you will too.
In fact, if I begin to waver in my faith, if I get sick and you have opportunity to come visit me, bring Genesis 15:17 with you. Remind me of the smoking firepot that passed between the cut up animals. This will remind me that my hope is not anchored in my ability to remain faithful, or my memory, or my anything. My eternal destiny is anchored in HIS promise. The promise of the one who does not lie.
The events in Littleton Colorado this week should make us all think. You see, we can debate gun control, the need for metal detectors in the school and the disregard for life that is feed by abortion, the “mercy killings” of Dr. Kervorkian, and constant news footage of graphic violence. We can spend endless hours trying to identify people who are at risk. In fact, we SHOULD debate these things. However, these debates hide the real issue.
The real issue is this: life is temporary. It could end at any time for any one of us. It may not be as a result of a madman with a gun. It may be a sudden heart attack, a car accident, an aneurysm that gives way, a farm accident, or the effects of the power of nature. The real question the events in Colorado last week should raise is this: Are we ready for eternity? Do you know where you are headed? Are you sure of your eternal destiny. Cassey Bernall was sure of her faith. May God grant that we all might all live . . .and die with that same assurance.