Everything we do in life needs some confidence that it might work out well. And God has not left us in the dark about this. From the beginning, he has surrounded us with promises.
For example, a Psalm tell us that ‘the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity’ (Psalm 37:11). Jesus reflects this in his Sermon on the mount, saying that the meek are blessed because they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
Really? The world looks like it belongs to those who take it by storm. So how can this promise, and many others, settle our hearts to trust in God and in Jesus whom he has sent?
From the beginning, humanity decided it wouldn’t trust God. And ever since then, that’s been our problem. We’d rather be the ones who are trustworthy. God must painstakingly demonstrate that he is the only one who can guarantee our future (Isaiah 48:3-8). And this is what he does.
The numerous promises made by prophets, or by Jesus and his apostles belong in a structure of promises—covenants of promise (Ephesians 2:12). If we know what these are, it helps us understand all the others.
The first of these is a promise made to Abraham. His whole story is in Genesis (chapters 12—25), but here is how Paul describes him coming to trust in God’s word (Romans 4:13-23).
First, God tells Abraham that he will inherit the world (v. 13).
This means he will have a family, his own country and become a nation. That’s just a start. He will become the father of nations (v. 17). God will bless him so he can be a blessing in the whole earth (Genesis 12:1-3).
Abraham’s family has come through a time when people gathered together to secure their own future—by building a massive tower—at Babel (Genesis 11). It all comes to nothing because God confuses their languages.
God is showing Abraham, and us, a better way. Paul says God’s promise is for all of us who don’t trust in ourselves but in his goodness (v. 16). (What he’s doing in this letter is comparing Abraham with people who are trying to justify themselves by being good law-keepers.)
Paul says we are added to Abraham’s family and share the family inheritance. Abraham will ‘inherit the world’ (v. 13), and so shall we.
This might sound a long way from what we are interested in, but think about the promise Jesus makes to us all: the meek will inherit the earth. We all need to know that God will provide for us and give us our place in life. Our future is important—and it matters to him.
The disciples of Jesus give us an interesting example of this (Matthew 19:27-30).
We may be thinking of inheritance as property or wealth, but God is thinking of us being a blessing in it—not being concerned with ourselves but with those we can serve. This is the way Jesus Christ will inherit the earth, and it’s the same for us.
We don’t have to make ourselves significant, important, rich and powerful. God is promising, not just to keep the world functioning (the promise to Noah) but to make us significant in his kingdom (Matthew 25:34)—to bless us and make us a blessing.
Second, here’s how God evokes trust.
Simply, God speaks to Abraham (Genesis 12:1). We don’t know what this looks like but it gets Abraham going. The God of glory has come to him (Acts 7:2).
It’s the same now. When we hear the gospel preached, God’s word comes to us. The God of glory has appeared in the person of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6) and his glory has been revealed in what he has done. We have more to go on than Abraham did.
Faith comes by hearing this word of Christ (Romans 10:17). We don’t know how this happens, but it’s how God brings us to trust him.
Abraham doesn’t sit easily with this. He doesn’t have a son, let alone a family or a nation. And this continues for some time. What God is promising is impossible. It’s not easy trusting what we can’t see.
Our natural habit is to want immediate gratification. But trusting God involves waiting. We need to stop pumping up our own importance and see that God is ‘waiting to be gracious’ to us (Isaiah 30:18). There’s no other way to know that God is good.
God persists with Abraham. And, he grows strong in faith (vv. 18-19).
Third, two miracles now happen.
Abraham confesses that God is good and true and reliable (v. 20). This is a reversal of all that went wrong in Eden. Abraham doesn’t need to make himself great. He’s found that God is the one with all the glory—he’s good, and he’s trustworthy.
This is what happens to every Christian. We can see that the one who made the world knows how to look after it. We know he is being kind to his creatures and that he’s making a world community that reflects his kindness. We know God has the power to do what he promises (v. 21).
The second miracle is that God calls a sinner righteous (v. 22-25). We’d sought to be the ones who were right and good—and made a thorough mess of it. Now, when we stop seeking to create our own righteousness, God gives it to us.
We have more to go on than Abraham ever did. We’ve seen the God of glory in the face of Christ because he gave up his Son to death for our sins.
We’ve also seen him being raised from the dead, not just to prove that he was in the right all along, but to reckon this justification to all of us who trust him. Being called ‘right’ by God changes everything.
We can now hear God’s promises clearly. We will inherit the earth. We will inherit the world over which God reigns—his kingdom (Matthew 25:34). We will have eternal life (Matthew 19:29). And if this is the way we are living, we will have his promise that he can look after all our needs and take us through our troubles as well (Matthew 6:31-34). Life is good!