From the beginning of time, God had a big picture plan. This plan was to reflect his nature, character, and glory through his creative handiwork. The pinnacle of that handiwork was mankind. He foreshadowed this plan through a continuing series of interwoven and ever-expanding types, shadows, stories, promises, covenants, and prophetic revelations.
Unfortunately, there were three episodes which occurred in the early pages of Genesis which exacted a heavy toll on Yahweh’s creation. Namely, the fall in the garden (G), the flood of Noah (F) and the rebellion at the Tower of Babel (TB). As a result of these events humanity was left in a condition of:
- broken fellowship with God (G)
- Satan became the God of this world (G)
- we became his subjects (G)
- Loss of innocence and the introduction of guilt and shame (G)
- Wickedness (F)
- Violence (F)
- Sexual perversion (F)
- Pride / arrogance (TB)
- False worship (TB)
- Communal rebellion against God (TB)
This is the backdrop to the call of Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, the great ancient Mesopotamian city from antiquity.
See, God’s desire has always been to fellowship with and relate to his creation but due to our failure and the adversaries deception, that vision had been delayed. The original garden vision must be restored, but how? This is where we pick up the story-line in our study of Abraham. God reached down and chose a man and his family line to begin undoing the results of the tragic events mentioned above. It is this “restoration of all things” that the balance of scripture, both Old and New Testaments describe and invite us to partake of.
For many years, I have often wondered if we as the church are living the reality of what God designed for his body. Every time my thoughts go down that path I’ve reached the same conclusion; there must be more, but what are we missing? Is there something else that needs to be done, another spiritual discipline to add? How do we get to that place of peace, rest and the abundant life promised to his children? He has written the story from beginning to end and called us to read and understand his story. However, even more than understanding the story, we are called to participate!
In his writings, the apostle Paul made references to a mystery which had been in the heart of God from the beginning. When we see the big picture of this mystery, it becomes easy to recognize in all of Paul’s writings and will re-frame the way we read the gospel narrative, allowing us to more fully rest in God’s care for us.
Listen to Paul’s words as he describes this mystery:
God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit, he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets.
No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it.
I Corinthians 2:7
I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Regarding God’s great mystery it’s beneficial to review these verses as well:
The mystery we seek to unravel in this book focuses on Abraham and the covenant God made with him and his descendants. As believers, we are invited into the blessing, freedom and rest it provides. I believe this message also has the power to usher in one of the greatest revivals the world has seen, but now I am getting ahead of myself.
In my study of the scriptures, I make some assumptions which I want to share as it may help you understand the conclusions and perspectives which follow. My worldview is shaped by the basic tenets of the Christian faith and doctrines that have been accepted by mainstream Christendom for centuries. In addition to generally accepted Christian doctrine, I have come to understand the following points in my knowledge of God and his word, and these concepts have helped direct my writing in putting together this study.
- God is the same God in both the Old and New Testaments; he did not change to become the loving, compassionate Messiah at the incarnation – “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” Malachi 3:6
- Regarding “big picture” theology, I find great value in the rich teachings of dispensationalism, covenant theology, historical and futuristic interpretations of scripture. I do not find these perspectives to be in conflict with each other, rather when properly understood, they are complementary. Otherwise stated, I long ago realized that God was bigger than the small theological box I tried to keep him in.
- I believe the scriptures make generous use of types and shadows. People, events, and emblems under the old covenant system often foreshadow their future fulfillment which may occur decades, centuries, or even millennia in the future.
- I accept the idea or principle of “first mention”. God often introduces something in the Torah (5 books of Moses) and then uses the balance of scripture to more fully reveal and build on that initial principle or idea.
- The books of Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians form the foundation of New Testament theology. The rest of the New Testament focuses on the Gospels, books of church life and Christian experience, and finally a focus on the last days. All these areas are vital, but these three books seem to build the framework for New Testament theological understanding. As the theological foundation, the story and experiences of Abraham play a pivotal role in all three of these books. Without an understanding of Abraham’s life, his experiences with Yahweh and the larger Genesis story, our understanding of the gospel and plan of God will be limited.
- In understanding God’s plan I find value in understanding the people, history, motivations, context, original language, etc. in which the author is writing. This understanding provides a fuller revelation in our study of God’s word. Modern day topical messages struggle with highlighting the nuanced meaning evident in this kind of deeper study.
- Lastly, Peter certainly had it correct by saying that Paul’s letters contain some things which are difficult to understand. Personally, I find Paul’s letters easier to comprehend by breaking them into three broad categories, namely; theology, personal experience, and cultural relevance.
- Most of Paul’s letters (Galatians, Romans, Hebrews, and parts of Ephesians and Philippians) are theological in nature.
- In the second half of Acts and sections in Philippians, we find a description of Paul’s personal experiences as an outgrowth of his encounter with Christ.
- Lastly, Paul uses books like I and II Corinthians and Philemon to bring cultural relevance to the theology discussed elsewhere.
The above three areas are broad generalizations of Paul’s writings which may help in our comprehension of his teaching. It is not intended to minimize the significance of any of his books. They are all inspired by God and the Lord confirms Paul’s letters by including it in his word.
For example, when reading one of Paul’s books, we may wish to ask ourselves:
What is the major theme(s) of this book?
What was Paul’s motivation for writing?
How did the original audience understand the message?
After understanding this first layer, we may begin to find connection points back to the Old Testament, which should then lead us to spiritual implications and personal application.
OK, time for a disclaimer.
The journey we are beginning may significantly re-orient our understanding of Christianity and provide a different framework to understand what changed between the Old and New Testaments. But my real hope is to lay a foundation in our lives which allows us to move from a religious, duty-bound Christ follower to a responder of his benevolent grace which is freely bestowed on us without precondition. In short, I hope we come away with a paradigm shift as we consider the life and ministry of Christ Jesus and experience a fuller, richer experience responding to the lover of our souls. Lastly, some chapters are deeper than others and will require thoughtful meditation. Please don’t be in a hurry, I have included a lot of scripture, Take the needed time for meditation and allow the Spirit of God to complete his work.
Before we dive into the content, I would like to share a bit of my own journey and how I’ve come to embrace the story of Abraham. As I write this in 2018, I’ve been a believer nearly forty years and have been actively involved in Bible Study and church life during this time. But it wasn’t until the last five or six years that God began to open my eyes to the deeper significance of Abraham’s life.
It was in 1979 that I responded to the Lord’s call after pushing him away for several years. Since that time, I have read through the scriptures countless times and enjoyed fellowship with believers from many different persuasions. Much of my early experience was rooted in the spiritual disciplines, self-effort and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Although I still maintain most of those disciplines, my motivation has changed. I now understand that God does not respond to me based upon how well I perform in adherence to those disciplines and I thank God for that. And I’ve come to see that God chose Paul and used his Jewish heritage and extensive rabbinical training to explain an incredible mystery which had been in the heart of God from the beginning.
In recent years a job loss led me to a different part of the country. For nearly five years we had trouble finding a fellowship of believers. During this time, it was a dry spiritual climate in our home. In addition, there were family issues and job struggles and my own personal struggles. There were periods where we honestly did not know if we were going to make it. All I could do was hang on to the Lord. For some reason which I still do not fully understand, I developed an interest in the patriarchs Noah and then Abraham. Abraham led me to a deeper study of Galatians, appreciating it’s nuances and complexities. It became apparent that except for a few verses. I really did not understand this book. Normally, I would study for my own growth and edification, but in this case, the Lord seemed to say it was time to share. So in the spirit of sharing, I have included discussion questions at the end of each chapter which you may wish to use in a small group setting. I also have discussion notes available for those interested in using this in a group study environment – drop me an email if interested.
Let’s get started. I hope and pray you are blessed as much in reading and meditating on these words as I have been in capturing this message. May we all continue to mature in the truth we are about to uncover.
Meditation and discussion
Can you think of some “types and shadows” in the Old Testament? If so, how do they enrich your understanding considering their New Testament fulfillment?
How do you study the Bible? Is there a study method which you have found useful?
Has the Lord ever challenged your theological understanding?
Why is Paul continually referring to a mystery?