1. Return to God: Part One (Genesis 13:1-4)
See the Marriage Series Description for more information on this lesson.
How do we recover from sin?
How do we come back from sin once we’ve refused to trust God, once we’ve taken off on our own, once we’ve exposed our family to the danger and pain that sin brings, once we’ve revealed our true character and been caught in an effort to deceive or misguide others?
Suppose you decided to go for the gold, and determined that you had to deceive to do this. Suppose you saw a tremendous opportunity to make a ton of money. The opening was there, all it required was for you to be clever and take advantage of the situation. You were committed to Christ, i.e., you believed in Him and are counting on Him for eternal life. Your faith was known and evident to your wife, and both of you were seeking to obey Him and walk by faith in Him. Then came a hard time when your security was threatened, when it looked as if all you had built up was going to be used up because of these difficult moments. The market for your previous opportunity dried up, virtually without warning. It was going well, but orders seemed to slow down, at first almost imperceptibly, and then in a big rush.
You stood on the edge of a total wipe out; your assets were melting away faster than anyone could have possibly imagined and you had to do something or all would have been lost. You had always given God the credit for your success. “I’ve been blessed” was your way of saying, ‘God has done it all for me.’” But now He didn’t seem to be doing anything to help you.
Then you had an idea.
It wasn’t that a door was opened for you; it wasn’t that you felt a leading of any kind; it wasn’t that you had really spent a huge amount of time seeking God. Of course you prayed, as you had always prayed. But you didn’t set aside some time to seek Him out, to be in the Word, to fast and pray. You had never done that before; you had never needed to do that before.
You had worked, worked hard, prayed for help in a simple sort of way, read the Bible at times, usually with the help of some devotional booklet that made more sense to you than the Bible, and went after it, using your cleverness and business smarts to make it, and make it you did. So now you sit down and look for some opportunity in the midst of this terrible biblical famine.
Up until now you had always attempted to follow God and to obey Him in all that you did. But now He wasn’t delivering, and you faced the loss of everything in the time of the greatest need in your life.Then came this opportunity. Well, it wasn’t exactly an opportunity; it was more like an idea that could be turned into an opportunity with some cleverness on your part. It was something you could do from your home even.
All you had to do was to reach out and create a new dimension to your network, a dimension of the greatest and most powerful people you could ever reach, but you could do it. You had the ability to relate to such people because you were already relating to a few of them in your current situation. But this idea would take you to the very top, in touch with the most powerful people in your world. There was just one problem: to do this you would have to deceive these people by claiming something about your credentials was true that wasn’t and you would have to involve your wife in this deception because she was essential to the accomplishing of your plan. She has great social skills, makes a tremendous impression, and is worth ten times her weight in gold to this business idea you have.
So you do it, and you prosper. You come out better than you have in any other business deal. But then Mr. Big, the Biggest of the Big, figures out your scheme and discovers your deception. He confronts you publicly, kicks you out of the deal, and forces you to leave the business. You are certainly done in his circles.
Now you stand unmasked, rebuked for your deception, shamed as a man and a husband, and forced out of this business you had dreamed up. Now you stand rebuked for your deception by a man who has no commitment to Christ whatsoever.
Now you must put the pieces together again. Oh, you did fine. Your wealth is stable and secure. Your wealth is greater than ever. You are richer than you ever could possibly have been. Even in your deception you are forced to admit God has blessed you. But you have sinned and are a moral failure.
How do you return? How do you come back to God? What do you do when you are forced to return from sin?
This is exactly the question we come to this morning in Abraham’s life.
This is exactly where Abraham is as we come upon him today. He has been rebuked by Pharaoh for his deception, together with Sarah, which has made him rich and delivered him from famine in the place where God had put him and where he committed before God to stay. He has been driven from Pharaoh’s presence and kicked out of Egypt.
And now he must recover from his sin. This leads us to principle #3 in our study of Marriage God’s way. We have seen principles one and two:
Obey God at Home No Matter How Tough It Gets
Trust God for Career and Financial Success.
Now we see principle #3.
Learn from Your Sins.
And in this we see three R’s, three words beginning with R that help us understand how we can learn from our sins.
The first word is RETURN.
The second word is REALIZE.
And the third word is REFUSE.
We begin with our first word, RETURN.
Return to God (Genesis 15:1-4)
A. Abraham Returned to God (Genesis 15:1-4)
1. Abraham left Egypt and went into the Negev, i.e., the wilderness in the southern part of the land God had promised him, the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:1-2).
a. He brought all that belonged to him along with his nephew, Lot who was like a son to him (Genesis 15:1).
b. He also brought all he had gained in Egypt which was so great that the writer notes that he was very rich in live-stock, silver, and gold (Genesis 15:2).
2. But Abraham doesn’t settle in the Negev where he had lived before he went to Egypt (Genesis 15:3).
a. Instead he goes further north, some distance north of what will some day be Jerusalem, near to a place that Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, will call Bethel.
Where is this journey taking him? Why does he seem to head straight for Bethel?
b. He doesn’t just go anywhere; he’s headed for a particular place in his journey, a place pinpointed with specific accuracy as being between Bethel and Ai.
c. There is one key phrase that tells us all” “. . . where his tent had been at the beginning.”
The beginning of what we ask.
The beginning of his walk with God in the promised land.
The spot between Bethel and Ai is the last place where we saw Abraham before he journeyed to the Negev and then to Egypt, the spot where Abraham was last in touch with God.
3. It was there that he honored God and made his commitment to God public.
a. It was in that specific spot that Abraham built and altar and called on the name of the Lord (Genesis 12:8)
b. This wasn’t the first time Abraham had built an altar.
c. He first built and altar a few miles to the north of this spot in Shechem (Genesis 12:6-7)
d. But he had done something different at Bethel, he had called upon the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)
e. This means he had publicly proclaimed his commitment to the Lord in the presence of those who lived in the land around him, the Canaanites mentioned in (Genesis 12:6)
f. This means he had declared himself to be a follower of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth, that he had publicly declared his total faith and trust in this God.
g. Then he had moved on and gone into Egypt with his clever plan to save and increase his assets.
4. Now he’s back, back to the place where he had proclaimed his commitment to the Lord and he does this same thing again (Genesis 13:4).
a. Perhaps he confessed his failure.
b. Perhaps he told others of God’s faithfulness to him despite his unfaithfulness.
Whatever he did, he recommitted himself to God.
5. When he built his altars, Abraham took a public stand for God in the presence of those who dwelt in the land.
a. He worshipped God, exalting Him and extolling His character, His faithfulness, and His loyalty; He declared the greatness of God.
b. He gave thanksto God for safety, blessing, and even protection now that he had sinned.
Even his sin did not nullify God’s faithfulness to him. We, too, can say this, but we don’t have the same guarantees as Abraham. God has not promised to bless us in the same way He promised to bless Abraham, and we may end up broken and shamed because of our sin.
c. He expressed his submission to God after his own acts of independence and self reliance.
He had been anything but submissive to God when he hit his hard times in the Negev. He had taken off on his own to solve his own problems.
d. He declared his dedicationto God as the exclusive object of his dependence and trust.
He is saying that he never again will act as he did by going to Egypt. He will trust God alone for his financial security and career success.
e. He made an assertion of the rule of God, an assertion that there is only one true God, no matter how many other gods might be worshipped in this land.
What did Abraham do to recover from sin?
He returned to the last place where he had been in touch with God and recommitted his life to Him.
When we take over our careers and decide we can do it on our own and leave God behind, we must RETURN TO GOD.
This is exactly what we must do when we wander away from God and our trust in Him.
B. When We Take Control of Our Careers and Our Financial Success and Fail, We Must Return to God.
1. Now there are many ways to fail.
a. We don’t have to deceive to fail.
b. We can be scrupulously honest (many unbelievers are) and still be in charge of our careers.
c. We can see the fruit of our independence in different ways than Abraham did.
d. It may not be that the rich and powerful rebuke us.
e. To the contrary, they may welcome us into their clubs and circles and societies.
f. It may be in our families that we see the fruit of our independence and ambition.
g. It may be in our bodies that we feel the pain of our drivenness and control.
h. There are many ways to fail when it comes to our trust in God.
2. However we find out about it, there is a decision we must make.
We Must Decide to Return to God
How do we return to God?
A. Go Back to Where You Were Last with Him.
1. Return to the place of commitment when you were depending on Him, to the place where you said you would follow Him no matter what.
2. This may take you many years back in your life, back to your teenage years before you had any real idea of what the commitment you were making would mean to you.
3. This may take you back to when you first married and you and your mate committed yourselves to live only God’s way.
4. This may take you back to a previous career struggle when you realized the futility of your own efforts.
5. Take a block of time, a week-end or a week or two weeks, and think back across you life.
Go back physically.
Go back to the very place where you made your commitment, even as Abraham did. Go to the place where you built your spiritual altar, to the camp or the conference center or the church or the home or wherever it was. Go back to the sights and sounds and smells and feelings and even some of the people who surrounded you at that time. If you cannot go back physically, go back mentally or go back electronically over the telephone or the tape recorder or the computer to visit the very place where you first made your commitment.
Go back emotionally.
Consider what it has meant for you to be in control of your life. Think through the grace of God in giving you the gifts and abilities and education and opportunities and experience to get where you are. Think through what He has done and what you have done with what He has done. Remember and repent and confess.
Go back biblically.
Go back to the passages that meant so much to you at that time and review their meaning for you. Read them in the light of where you are now and what you now know they must mean in your life. Reaffirm their new meaning in you life.
Go back spiritually.
Spend time in prayer confessing, acknowledging your independence and God’s faithfulness, and giving yourself to Him once again.
Do what Abraham did: go back to your spot between Bethel and Ai.
B. Think Through What It Means to Trust Him.
1. Look at your life as you now know it.
Look at your opportunities.
Look at your family.
Look at your possessions.
Look at your successes.
Look at your failures.
Look at what brought you to this point in life.
Look at it all with the mature understanding and judgment that you now have.
2. Think through what you are now doing.
Make this decision with the full knowledge of what it means for you.
Don’t make it with the naive enthusiasm of youth.
Make it with the full understanding of adulthood.
Now make a full commitment to God with a full understanding of what the altar between Bethel and Ai means in your life, even as Abraham did.
C. Make a Public Statement of Your Commitment.
1. Hold a public event in your home in which you invite in those who have a right to be there and declare that you are going to trust God no matter what.
2. You may not know all that this means, but you are going to rely on Him for your security and well-being, no matter what.
3. Be humble about this.
Acknowledge your fear that you will fail God again.
Invite those who know the Lord to pray for you and to support you.
Establish an accountability group to stand with you and join you in this same kind of public commitment.
4. Do what Abraham did and proclaim the name of the Lord.
Do what Abraham did and take a public stand by building an altar to God.
You cannot build a literal altar, of course, but you can build an altar in your heart that expresses your worship and thanksgiving and submission and dedication and the assertion that God alone will be the master of your career and financial security.
How do we recover from sin?
First, we must RETURN,
We Must Decide to Return to God
and Reaffirm Our Commitment to Him.