Written by Filimao Chambo – Africa Regional Director, Church of the Nazarene, Johannesburg, South Africa
Genesis 17:1“When Abram was ninety – nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless’.”
I have come to appreciate the significance of the book of Genesis for the Church today.
Genesis narrates to us how God created the heavens and earth. Here we read the story of the creation of humanity, the beginning of the human history, including success stories and seatbacks. It is in Genesis that we begin to learn about God’s grace, the entry of sin into His creation, and its effects. More important yet is the initial revelation or unfolding of God’s plan for the salvation of man from sin and from the power of sin.
In Genesis 3 we learn with sadness that Adam and Eve failed to follow God’s commands. When Adam and Eve yielded to Satan’s cunning and destructive plan they immediately were filled with so much shame they could not face God. The guilt in their lives led them to seek to find a hiding place from God’s presence. Prior to sin they had enjoyed a wonderful relationship with each other and with God. It is clear here that Adam and Eve realized that they erred. I think they also realized that something needed to be fixed if their relationship with God was to continue to be as sweet as it had been in the past. But of course they do not know how to nor can they really fix it.
Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, “all (humanity) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Paul says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Humanity is unable to and incapable of untangling herself from sin and its dominion. “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them” (Psalms 49:7).
Only God can save! God’s plans for salvation as recorded in Genesis and throughout the Bible testify that the healing of the whole person ortransformation is made possible by God’s act of grace towards humanity. Genesis 3:15 gives the first record of God’s plan for our salvation. A number of Bible scholars see in this record the promise of the Messiah; the seed of a woman who would destroy the power of Satan in his resurrection. Paul says, “…’Death is swallowed up in victory’. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57, NKJV).
With this background in mind we now turn to Genesis 17 to learn through the story of the life of Abraham (Abram) how God revealed and began to implement his plan for the salvation of humanity from sin and its power.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, cfor I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.’” 1
As a Church we are God’s people who are on a journey with the Lord our God. In our walk with Him, he calls us to be blameless. But what does it mean to walk with God and be blameless? Is it possible to live a faithful and blameless life in this world? What should we do or not do to acquire a blameless life?
1. Unmerited Favor
It seems reasonable to assume that what Abram (Abraham) saw was some visible manifestation of the divine presence.
It had been 24 years since Abram heard and obeyed the call to leave his homeland to follow and trust God to take him to a land he did not know. In Genesis 12:4, “Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran” and now he was ninety-nine years old when the Lord appeared to him in Genesis 17.
In these 24 years Abram had quite a journey as he set to follow the Lord. When“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you’” in Genesis 12:1 “by faith Abram obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” Hebrews 11:8.
The first time we learn that God spoke with Abram was when he called him to follow Him and promised to bless him and to make him a channel of God’s blessings to all peoples (Genesis 12:2-3). When Abram obeyed, “the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring (or seed) I will give this land’” Genesis 12:7.
In Chapter 15, God reaffirms that he will fulfill his promise to give possession of the Promised Land. God also said to Abram, “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them’. Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (V. 5). Abram believed God and this was credited to him as righteousness.
Prior to these special manifestations of divine presence in Abram’s life we do not find any record in God’s Word of God appearing to him. Nor do we read of anything special that Abram did in order to deserve God’s call and favor in his life. He was an ordinary man who received God’s grace. The call, promises, and covenant experienced by Abram demonstrate to us that God’s grace is not something we earn or deserve. It is an underserved gift that God gives to humanity. Abram received God’s grace freely and this same grace is available to us today.
It is significant enough that when God appeared and spoke with Abram, he believed God. He believed that the One who commanded him to leave his homeland was God and trusted him with his life to follow wherever he lead.
God reveals himself in our lives in many ways. In a way similar to the time of his appearance to Abram he offers himself to enter into a relationship with us (grace). Those who, like Abram, by faith receive God’s gift enter into a personal relationship with the living God. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is by faith that we are made God’s people.
2. Knowing God and Faith
The Lord identifies Himself as El-Shaddai (God Almighty or God the mighty one). With this God reassures Abram he is God who has all the power, God who nourishes, supplies, provides and satisfies. He is God all sufficient. He is God who provides in abundance and he is powerful and faithful to do what he promises and to accomplish his plans and purposes.
It was important for Abram to know that he was in the presence of the only One and powerful God; the creator and giver of life. God promises that Abram will greatly increase in numbers (Genesis 17:2b) and will possess the land (17:8). But even more important, he offers himself to enter into a relationship with Abram and his descendants as written in Genesis 17:7, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of yourdescendants after you.”
God offers himself to bring humanity into a right relationship with himself. He is the object of the promise, thus it seems necessary for Abram and subsequently his descendants to have the correct picture of who God is.
It is interesting to realize that Abram’s knowledge of who God is was limited. He did not have the Bible, not even the Ten Commandments. But he believed and trusted God with his life and his future. He had faith that this Yahweh was not like other gods he may have been exposed to in his surroundings. He believed Yahweh to be a benevolent God who wanted to bless him.
I think that what is significant here is the fact that even when his understanding and knowledge of God was limited, he had faith that Yahweh was a God worthy to be followed. Dennis F. Kinlaw put it this way, “Now, the greatness of Abraham’s faith is that in a vacuum like that, in an intellectual and religious wilderness like that, he came to believe that behind everything he could see there was Someone, and that that Someone wanted to talk to him. In fact, he felt that that One wanted to know him and wanted him to know the One who was there, whose name he did not know. And somehow or other he felt that that One wanted to bless him, that His motivation toward him was good.”
Unlike Abraham we have the Bible. The Bible is filled with a huge amount of expressions of God’s characteristics. The knowledge of Biblical truths will result in people who, by faith, acknowledge and accept God’s invitation to enter into a personal relationship with Him.
Like Paul I pray that we will hunger to know God and his power. Joining with him in prayer, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heats through faith. And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”( Ephesians 3:16-19).
The knowledge of God results in a lifetime of trusting and believing in him and his promises. God offered himself to humanity so that we may know him in his fullness. All of Him is available to those who by faith accept the gift of himself.
3. Invite to Righteousness: Walk before God and be Blameless!
God’s desire for his people (individual and collective) is to literally walk in front of God without sin. The word walk here can also signify to adhere to God, to die, to be visible, to come walk and flow with. The emphasis is on God’s call to his people to walk with him, to adhere to him, to die to self-sin and flow with him in righteousness. It is an invitation to permanently dwell in his presence and of him dwelling in his people. This is holiness.
Holiness is a gift to humanity from God. He offers himself to us to make us faithful and blameless. Holiness defines who God is. “Holiness is not simply one positive God-quality among many; it defines all of God’s attributes or characteristics… It is the essence of who He is. From His Holiness flow all of God’s other attributes, such as truth, love, mercy, grace and righteousness…God is truth (John 14:6). Truth flows from God’s holiness, so we can rely on what He says to be correct. He never lies, misrepresents, or misleads us… He always tells the truth” (Frank Moore2).
The invite to Righteousness is an invite to adhere to godliness (see Romans12:1-2). God’s people are called to be faithful in his presence (Psalm 89:15). It is important to remain in his presence because it is through him and in him that one is empowered to live in righteousness. Those who walk in the counsel of the wicked fail to lead a righteous life because they are saturated with wickedness, hence the righteous are warned to not adhere to the counsel of the wicked (Psalm 1:1). Thus, it can be concluded that those who walk in righteousness:
a) Do not walk or heed the counsel/advise of the wicked. Do not imitate detestable ways of the society (see Psalms 1:1; Romans 12:1).
b) Shun evil and do what is right in obedience to God and his Word. “You must be blameless before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).
c) Delight and meditate in the Truth day and night (God’s Word) (Psalm 1:2). God’s Word is the power, “…the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). “Then you will know the truth (The Gospel), and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). (See also Romans 6:22.)
d) Are totally dependent on God and desire to know and follow his will in all areas of their lives. Total devotion to God! “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayers of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29).
The Lord calls his followers to practice holiness. He calls his church to walk before him faithfully and to be blameless in all areas of life. “Blessed are thosewhose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD” (Psalm 119:1). Blessed are those “…whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart” (Psalm 15:2). God invites us to walk in righteousness, integrity and above reproach. He is all-powerful and able to give us, you and me, a new life. If we come to him by faith to be purified he is faithful and able to do it.
God offers himself and his covenant to us to bring us into full relationship with him. This is unmerited favor for we do not deserve such grace. It is by faith that we accept God in our lives. We put our trust and confidence in Him. That is, we enter into a personal relationship with God Almighty. As we walk with Him we learn more about him and yield our lives to Him. We learn to trust Him with all of our life and every detail of our lives. We submit ourselves to His sovereignty and He empowers and enables us to live a holy life – a victorious life each day of our lives.God is offering. Will you receive the gift?
1The New International Version. 2011 (Ge 17:1–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Note: All scripture passages taken from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.
2 Moore, Frank. 2001. Breaking Free From Sin’s Grip. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Page. 28