What Is Faith?

Studies in the Life of Abraham

Genesis 12:1-9

Jerry A Collins

The word ‘faith’ means ‘to believe, have confidence in, trust and rely upon’. We cannot live without faith. For instance, it takes faith to drive our car on the right side of the road safely because we ‘believe, rely on, trust in’ the other driver to stay on his side of the road. It takes faith to use our prescription from the pharmacist because we ‘believe, rely upon and trust in’ the doctors diagnosis. Faith is an absolutely essential aspect of our lives.

While we all exercise faith in our lives, it is the object of our faith that makes our faith significant. Our faith in the other driver may or may not be a worthy object of my faith. My faith in my doctor and his/her ability to diagnosis my need may be a worthier object of my trust even though they can still make mistakes. But my faith in God, His word and that of Christ is the most reliable object of my faith. The Bible teaches us that God is absolutely trustworthy in all he says and does Proverbs 16:20 ‘Whosoever trusts in the Lord, happy is He.’ Abraham receives a word from the Lord and we learn from His response to this word, what the essence of faith is. This passage provides a paradigm of faith.


This begins the program so desperately needed in chapters 1-11. The purpose of these first 11 chapters is to show that the blessing God promises to Abraham is needed because without it mankind will not survive under the judgment of God as evidenced in the garden, the flood and the tower of Babel. Mankind needs God to act with a promise that binds Him to bless mankind and God does this through His promise to Abraham and Abraham’s faith in Gods word.

(1) God's promises to us require faith 1

Abraham was simply instructed to leave. He was to specifically leave his land, his relatives and his fathers household but was told nothing of the land that God would show him. And all of this calling required faith in the Lord. This was the first of two commands given to him by the Lord. The point is that the object of Abraham’s faith must be in the Lord and His word of command and promise to him. He has nothing else he can rely upon but this.

We, too, have been given promises from God. First and foremost they are spiritual and include forgiveness of our sin, salvation in Christ and life everlasting. But they also include promises of answered prayer, guidance of the HS, provision of needs, joyful living, and many others during our pilgrimage in this world. These promises too, require ‘belief, reliance, and trust’ in the Lord and His Word. A lack of fulfillment of these promises in our lives means we lack faith. What is the evidence of our faith? How do we know when we have faith in the Lord?

(2) Obedience to God’s Word will bring fulfillment of His promises 2-3

The evidence of Abraham’s faith was his obedience to the Word of the Lord. If he had not believed he would not have obeyed and the promises of God would not have been fulfilled. These verses display what will happen when Abraham obeys the Word of the Lord. The two commands ‘to go’ and ‘to be a blessing’ are each followed by three promises from God. In other words, "You go out and when you do I will do three things for you and I will do these three things in order that you might be a blessing and when you are a blessing I will do these three things as well." God promises him a new land and people as well as a blessing. The land is later called Israel and the people are the Jews. The blessing appears to be a spiritual one where Abraham’s faith and obedience to God and His Word will be responsible for opening the favor and goodness of the Lord to the families of the earth. These blessings then could never be dissociated from the relationship with the Lord through faith and obedience. So those who supported and endorsed Abraham in his faith in the Lord would actually find enrichment. Anyone who disrespects and treats Abraham and his faith in the Lord lightly will be removed from the place of favor. Consequently, no one would find divine blessing apart from the blessings given through Abraham and his posterity. All the families of the earth will bless themselves depending upon how they treat Abraham and his seed.

Galatians 3:7-9,14 and 29 teach that we, as believing gentiles, have become recipients of the spiritual blessing of Abraham through faith in Christ. Our destination is a new territory called heaven and a new people called the family of God and a new blessing called eternal life. So we participate in the blessing of Abe by faith in Christ. There is still a literal future for the chosen people of God, the Jews, that will be realized in the Millennium where Christ will rule on earth for a thousand years in fulfillment of the literal promise of a land and a people from Abraham. God requires obedience to His Word in order for His promises to be fulfilled.


Abraham is middle age, prosperous, settled and completely pagan. The word of the Lord comes to him and he responds by faith and left everything to follow Gods plan.

(1) Faith obeys God 4-5

Abraham’s response illustrates that the essence of faith is obedience. We learn that he ‘goes out’ which responds to the call of verse one ‘get out’. He ‘went’ 4, ‘set out’ 5, ‘continued’ 9 all pointing to Abraham’s obedience to the call of God. Lets note a few qualifications about Abraham’s pilgrimage. First, he went as an act of obedience to the Word of the Lord not as a natural migration vs. 4. This was his conversion from a pagan to a believer which is confirmed for us in Genesis 15:6 where his faith is accounted to him as righteousness. Here was the moment of a life-changing act of faith in his life that converts him into a Jehovah believer. Second, we learn something about his age; that he is seventy-five. This advanced age of both Abraham and his wife Sarai, coupled with her barrenness we learned about in 11:30 provides tensions in the Abraham stories to follow. Third, he took his possessions and people with him verse 5. We learn that these were people he had acquired during his stopover in Haran 11:31. It does not refer to purchasing slaves nor does it refer to their children, since Sarai is barren. It probably refers to proselytes, implying that already in Haran, Abraham is sharing his faith in the Lord and gathering followers of Jehovah.

(2) Our Faith Encounters Opposition 6

We learn in verse 6 that Abraham makes it as far as Shechem and the tree of Moreh, which is most likely a place of instruction where the Canaanite priests taught. So he finds himself in alien territory where pagan ideas were handed down. His presence in the land will bring tension to the community because it is the Canaanites who are living in the land. Throughout Genesis these people are antagonists and we already know that they have a curse over them from God Genesis 9:25-27. So we see that the land promised to Abram is already inhabited by others and they are pagan and will not be receptive to the God of Abram. The situation in Canaan reveals that the reception of the promise to Abrams posterity will not be without difficulty.

Obeying God may produce more difficulty for us. Obeying God may bring more danger and threat into our lives. Obeying God may not be the most secure and safe thing to do. We cannot let circumstances dictate our obedience. If circumstances were the measure of obedience to God then none of the great men of faith would be remembered today including Noah, Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, David or Paul to name a few.


God confirms His promise to Abraham by appearing to him to reward his faith. Previously he only had a word from God now he witnessed an appearance with the word. This heavenly visitation is enough to sustain him in this land. We too find confirmation in the sure word of God, the scriptures, and the advent of Christ who appeared in human flesh for us. The resurrection confirms the promises God has made to us who share in this new faith Romans 1:2-4. As Abram continues his journey he responds by building altars of worship to the Lord. These became a means of proclaiming to the pagans there of his God and the word he had received from him. While the Lord had promised to make Abram famous, Abram responded by proclaiming the name of His God, making the Lord famous in the pagan land. We can see how different this man of faith was. Because of his obedience to both commands, he could anticipate all the promises, even though their fulfillment seemed often delayed in the years to come.

(1) Faith believes the word of the Lord. Today that word is in the Bible and is the only worthy object there is.

(2) Faith is demonstrated by obedience. I cannot reveal my faith without my works.

(3) Faith may jeopardize my security, safety and comfort.