Which Comes First?
Have you ever been involved in an adamant debate with someone during a decision making process about what should come first? Sure you have! We all have. A similar debate has raged on over the years. It’s not the chicken or egg dilemma (although that has surely spanned generations!); it’s the faith or works debate. Often it isn’t a verbal debate, but rather an unconscious battle line distinguished by the way people live. The fruit or behaviour of a person’s life reveals what side of the battle they are warring for.
In Genesis 17:1, the LORD appears to Abram and says, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.” (NIV)
Other translations word it: “obey me and always do right”(CEV), “obey me and live as you should.”(TLB)
At first glance it sounds like a win for the works side. But we’ve been examining the life of Abraham for 2 weeks now. Let’s dig a little deeper. Can the context of this verse help us to draw proper application? Sure it can 🙂 Context is always an important factor in hermeneutics (interpretation).
We are studying the Bible through the lens of Covenant and Kingdom on Sunday mornings. I read this passage paraphrased by someone who kept in mind the continuity of the one story unfolding in the Scriptures: “Live before me, live in my shadow, live in connection with me as I intended for Adam and Eve, live with [my hand filling the handprint impression left on you at creation]. Never move from the outstretched presence of my hand on your life.”
The HCSB translation says,”Live in My presence and be blameless”. In other words, allow your identity to be reflected in your behaviour. This wasn’t the first time God appeared to Abram, so this is a continuing relationship. Abram had entered into a covenant relationship with the LORD, and in that he understood that he was giving up his old life and receiving a new identity that was tied to his Covenant partner.
This reminds me of, and is consistent with, the apostle Paul’s exhortation in the New Testament to “live as children of light” (Ephesians 4 and 5). Paul always frames behaviour in the context of our new identity as well.
You can’t put behaviour before identity. You can try, but it will be contrived. You can’t prove to God that you’re his child by doing good things. You do good things because you are his child. You do good things because they reflect the identity of the one who is your Father. As we live in that relationship with a Heavenly Father, we begin to do things as if it were the very hands of the Father doing them. We walk the way he walks. We talk the way he talks. May the fruit of your life declare to those around you whom you belong to.