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Discipleship Project

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Lesson #1

Lesson #3

Lesson #5

Lesson #7

Lesson #9

Lesson #8

Lesson #2

Lesson #4

Lesson #6

Lesson 8

Here in Lesson 8, I want to introduce you to the critical link between sanctification and community - that community is the sine-qua-non of sanctification; it's the venue in which it takes place. (Press this link to take you back to the basic stipulations we laid out in Lesson 1.) Simply put, Paul makes it plain throughout his epistles, but especially in Romans, Epehsians, and Colossians, that sanctification cannot occur with believers who are isolated - believers who are not built up with other believers into a corporate whole. He spells it out in detail beginning in Romans Twelve; but he introduces it in Romans Four with a metaphor drawn from the story of Abraham. Read this lesson through carefully - and, then, think carefully how this truth will affect your life.

 

The Story of Abraham is

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The story of Abraham is used as a metaphor for salvation throughout the New Testament - including Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews - but most pointedly in Romans Chapter Four and in Hebrews Chapters Three and Four. And that tells us its use as such was no doubt well established in the minds of the First Century Christians.

The story begins with God’s call to Abraham, a single individual, (#1 on map) and moves toward its climax in the Book of Joshua - with Israel crossing the Jordan River and conquering the Land of Canaan (#7). The author of Hebrews makes the Land of Canaan symbolize the “rest” God has promised believers - meaning their complete and final victory over the power of sin.

All three phases of salvation - justification, sanctification, and glorification - are depicted in the metaphor. Abraham, a single individual, responds in faith to God’s call to leave Ur and go to Canaan - which God promises will become his eternal possession. But though he eventually reaches Canaan, possession does not immediately pass to him (#3). Instead, God promises Abraham a son by Sarah - and tells him that it’s through this son and his offspring that possession will eventually be achieved. Abraham, despite his old age and Sarah’s “dead womb,” (Rom. 4:19) believes God - and that belief, we’re told in Genesis 15:6, justifies him - meaning God absolves him of his sins and declares him righteous.

Twenty five long years pass between God’s promise of a son and his eventual birth. That son, whom Abraham names Isaac, eventually fathers Jacob - who, in his turn, fathers the Twelve Patriarchs. Still, possession of the land does not pass to “Abraham” - leaving the story of salvation far short of completion. It’s not until “Abraham” - subsumed now in Jacob and his twelve sons - is “incubated” in Egypt for 430 years (#4), becoming thereby a whole people, that God is ready to consummate it. To do that, he sends Moses to bring “Abraham” out of Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai (#5) - where “he” is incorporated into a nation - the Nation of Israel. Only now can Canaan be conquered and the story of salvation brought to completion (#7).

The “Abraham metaphor” teaches the

  1. First, single individuals called by God to respond in faith to his offer of mercy. What we have here is justification, the topic Paul takes up in Chapters One through Three.
  2. Second, it teaches us that though salvation begins with single individuals, it can only be consummated in and through a whole people - meaning only when believers are integrated into an organic whole, a redeeming community (See Calvin on the Ropes, Vol. I, pages 20-25) can they overcome the power of sin. What we have here is sanctification, the topic Paul takes up in Chapters Five through Eight, and its sine-qua-non, the church, the topic Paul takes up in Chapters Twelve through Sixteen.
  3. Finally, we have actual possession of the land - the “rest” the Book of Hebrews tells us corresponds to glorification

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And if that’s so, then its use here is fortuitous:

  • It serves as a bridge between the two topics, justification on the one hand and sanctification on the other - but only for those attuned to premodern thought.
  • It serves also to remind us that sanctification - again, the topic Paul is about to take up beginning with Chapter Five - should never be undertaken by lone believers, but only by a whole people: that when attempted by lone believers, it’s a disheartening and, in the end, almost hopeless venture. It’s an insight Paul elaborates on in Romans 9-11 concerning Israel and in Romans 12-16 concerning the church.

American Christians, in whose minds and hearts individualism is so deeply entrenched have never quite grasped this truth (See Calvin on the Ropes, Vol. I, pages 20-25; 34) ; and its neglect underlies, at least in part, the inability of so many of them to overcome the power of sin in their lives. They resist being built up together into any kind of an organic whole that seems to them to put in jeopardy their independence.