This morning, during my quiet time, I saw a connection between Genesis 22, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and God’s words to Israel in Psalm 50. Most of what follows comes from handwritten notes in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.
22:1: “God tested Abraham”: After all that Abraham has been through, what more—one might wonder—does God need to learn? Hadn’t Abraham done everything he needed to do to ensure that God’s plan of salvation through Christ was set in motion? Hadn’t he accomplished his mission? One warning for me here is that God’s testing of us will not necessarily cease, even after we’ve reached what we believe is a sufficient level of Christian maturity. As if!
Besides, this test demonstrates that there’s something that God wants far more than any service we render to him: he wants us! He wants our love. He wants to possess us entirely. “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills… If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine” (Psalm 50:9-10, 12).
In other words, if God can’t have our hearts—our wholehearted devotion, our love (as expressed in the psalm through the thanksgiving offering)—God doesn’t want anything else!
This test proves it. It’s as if God were saying, “I know you’ve served and sacrificed for 25-plus years to serve me, but I want your love more than I want your service! Because if I don’t have you, Abraham—if I don’t have your love, your whole heart—I don’t want anything that you can do for me. I want you more than I want my mission. In fact, I’m willing to set my mission aside—even at the risk of jettisoning it altogether—in order to have you.”
As in Psalm 50, if God can’t have Abraham’s heart, he doesn’t want anything Abraham can do for him.
As astonishing as it is to say, God values his relationship with Abraham more than he values the most important task that Abraham, or any person in history up to this point, has ever accomplished for him. Does Abraham value God in the same way? That’s what this test will determine.
But I know what you’re thinking: “Sure, God may value his relationship with Abraham like that, but who am I in relation to him? I’m a nobody compared to him!”
But that’s where you’re wrong! First, the gospel proves that your value isn’t determined by anything that you do. (Even Abraham, as Paul labors to point out in his two most theologically rich letters, was justified by faith, not by works.) And the doctrine of imputation says that you’re infinitely valuable to God! If you’re in Christ, you’re a beloved “son” of God; you’re highly favored by God. You stand before God perfectly righteous—not through your own efforts, but through Christ’s; he has made you righteous with his righteousness.
When you read about saints in the Old Testament like Abraham, and the favor that God showed them, resist the temptation to think that they possess or enjoy something you don’t have! If anything, on this side of the cross and resurrection, you have infinitely more! Tell yourself something like this: “If this is true for Abraham, then it’s at least as true for me! Because I have Jesus!”
By all means, we must decrease in relation to Christ, and Christ must increase (John 3:30), but we never cease to loom large in God’s love, God’s esteem, God’s affection. Do I dare believe that God loves me this much?
If so, then the ways I poor-mouth myself, denigrate myself, put myself down are completely incompatible with God’s view of me!
Another implication for me (and us Christians): In my haste to “get things done,” I must never forget why I do them in the first place: to love God! Before I do anything else, I must foster my love for God.
Also, Brent, God wants you to love him more than he wants you to succeed as a pastor.
Let me repeat that: God wants you to love him more than he wants you to succeed as a pastor.
Do you believe that? Because nothing you accomplish for him is more important than that.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1. I’m not being sexist. All Christian believers, male or female, are “sons” of God, because sonship in that first-century world (unlike “daughtership”) implies full inheritance from our heavenly Father. Being called a “son of God” should bother women as much as men are bothered to be counted among the “bride” of Christ!