“And the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham — a second time from heaven. And he said, ‘In myself I swear, utters Yahweh; because of this thing that you have done in not sparing your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed on account of your obeying my voice.”
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed; he did not say, ‘and to the seeds,’ as if it were to many, but to one. ‘And to your seed,’ which is Christ.”
The promise of God’s blessing does not go out to all of Abraham’s children, but through Isaac and his line. But when we get to the New Testament, a greater depth to God’s plan and design is unfolded in a way that helps us to see the plan and work of God. For in the ultimate sense, it is not through one’s biology that one inherits the promise of God, but through the great “Seed” or “Offspring” of Abraham, that is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seed that was always in view here and the promise finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Through faith in him, not through our biological lineage, we are made part of the inheritance of God.
Indeed, such was always the case, for it has always been through faith that men have been saved. Abraham believed (had faith in) God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3). And Paul continues that the promised does not come through the Law or works of the Law, but through the Righteousness of Faith (Romans 4:13). Why is this? It is because if we were able to earn salvation on our own merit, not only would the idea of God sending a Savior become nonsensical, but then there would also be no room for grace (Romans 4:16).
But if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, for grace would no longer be grace.
And thus, when God makes this promise to Abraham, he intentionally uses the singular of “seed” or “offspring” to make it clear that the inheritance is being guaranteed by one very special and distinct offspring of Abraham, Jesus the Christ. And in Christ, though faith, a multitude of believers from all of the nations have been brought in. How will the seed become a blessing to all of the nations? Surely, there is no greater blessing that comes than from hearing and believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even here, in the promise given to Abraham, is the anticipation of the worldwide evangelistic campaign of believers seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.
And what about the gates of their enemies? That sounds pretty militaristic, particularly for a nation that has spent most of its history under the dominion of other nations. Again, we find language that anticipates the church and the consummation of all things. For what is it that Jesus tells Peter when he establishes the church?
And now I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
Notice the language of the Gates of Hell? As Christians, who is our enemy? All too often we get stuck in the mindset that there is no spiritual reality. Yet, what is it that the Apostle Paul teaches us regarding our true enemies?
“Put on the whole armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil because we are not engaged against blood and flesh but against rulers and against powers and against the cosmic powers over this darkness and against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.”
Indeed, the gates of the enemy promised to Abraham are the gates of the strongholds of our enemy the devil. And like the Israelites were to put the cities of the pagan Canaanites to the sword, devoting them to destruction, we too are given the call to devote the spiritual strongholds in this world to destruction as well, for God will give us the gate of our enemies (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
Yet with promises like this, how is it that Christians live such a timid life? It seems that we have abandoned the weapons of our warfare. We have abandoned discipline and discipleship and we have abandoned prayer. Sure, we may pray over our meals or for a friend who is having a hard time, but do we really pray with the expectation that God will act in this world? We may do our Bible studies, but do we really study the Bible as if we really believe that it is profitable for us in every area and venture of our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? We read about putting on the whole armor of God, guarding our mind with the helmet of salvation and our hearts with righteous activity, but do we really seek to live that out? When we have a headache, what is our first action? Take an aspirin or pray? Not that there is anything wrong with taking an aspirin, God has blessed us with many medications and remedies for our aches and pains, but what do we do first? Do we live and act as if there are spiritual realities around us? If we do not, we are engaged in warfare with the wrong enemy … and we wonder why we are not prevailing!
A strange thing sometimes happens when people have been held captive for a period of several days or longer. In certain instances, the captive begins to associate with his or her captors, and in some cases, not only resists rescue, but serves to help their captors in their criminal activities. This is typically called “Stockholm Syndrome,” named after an event that took place in 1973 in Stockholm, Sweden where four captives were taken and held in a botched bank robbery. Six days later, the hostages both resisted rescue and even refused to testify against their captors. The 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Not only did Hearst’s sympathies run with her captors, but she would aid them in robbing banks. There have been some who have suggested that this syndrome helps to explain a variety of cases where captives become sympathetic to their captors, participation in cults, and even the loyalty that some people feel toward the use of PC computers☺.
It is granted that in kidnapping cases, statistics have found that this particular syndrome is a minority case, but I believe that if we apply the principle more broadly, we will find how remarkably common an experience it happens to be. How often, we stay in a situation that is bad, but has become comfortable. How often do people stay in bad jobs where an employer constantly berates them simply because they have become used to the setting and are made to feel that they would be a failure in any other setting. Women often stay in abusive marriages for the same reasons—their self identity becomes dependent upon the identity of their abuser and thus to abandon the abuser is to abandon themselves. Even children experience this in relationships. How often kids stay “friends” with people who treat them very badly because they feel so insecure outside of even that bad relationship. Teenage girls stick with “boyfriends” who treat them badly for the same reason—their self-identity has become so interwoven with their boyfriend that they cannot see themselves without him—no matter how better off they might be. The emotional and spiritual bondage begins to provide a wall of safety, within which people find comfortable.
It seems that this principle, as we take it broadly, can also apply to habitual sins in people’s lives. Their sins, though grievous, have become comfortable and being without those sins, while perhaps desirous at times, is fearful. Certainly, recidivism rates that are calculated by sociologists and criminologists would concur with this assessment. In Hebrews 12:1, the author refers to sins that are eujperi/statoß (euperistatos), which refers to things that ensnare, constrict, or otherwise bind themselves to you. Yet, the author of Hebrews does not simply allow us to look at those sins and leave them alone—you must put them off, lay them to the side, get rid of them! Why? The writer goes on to say that because Jesus has endured the cross to redeem us from the power of sin and death, we must live lives that reflect that redemption. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that in Christ we are a new creation—in other words the new order should reflect the death of the old order in our lives.
Every time a Christian chooses to engage in serious habitual sin, that sends a message to those who are watching that the Gospel is not true. Certainly Christians will sin and will stumble into error and certainly we will not be perfect until we are with Christ in heaven. Yet a falter or stumble is not quite the same as habitual sin. In fact, the Apostle John would suggest that the presence of habitual sin may be a sign that the person is not a genuine believer (1 John 3:4-6). These are hard words for some, but for others, they should be words of assurance and empowerment. For in Christ we have been made a new creation—He delivers us from our sin—we are free! Habitual sin for the believer is a willful choice to turn back to the things from which we have earlier been delivered. It is a choice to go back to the slavers and away from the freedom that our Great Liberator—our divine Goel—who has come to take us to freedom. In some senses, we might refer to it as a spiritual form of Stockholm Syndrome, but Biblically we would say this falls under the heading of spiritual warfare. Whenever we are tempted with a major habitual sin, we are given a choice, will we trust the promises of Christ or will we slink back into the dark self-identification with sin that so long has kept us in chains.