What's God to Do? Become Personal

Posted 2/25/2018

Scripture: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

During Lent we are looking at covenants God made in the Old Testament. We are tracing God’s relationship with humanity in this way. As we looked at the covenant story of Noah last week we saw how God promised that grace, not judgment, would be the last word. In this promise we see the beginnings of the gospel — the good news of God’s grace given to us.

Yet the covenant with Noah is, in truth, “vague.” Yes, God promises grace. Yet how is God’s grace shown? Where will/do we see God’s grace? As we continue to trace the covenants God has made over the remaining weeks of Lent we will see how God “fills out” this first promise — the promise of grace.

This week we once again come into a story that started long before the passage we are reading. When Abraham was 75 years old (some 24 years ago), God has told him to move to a land God would show him. And Abraham did. Throughout the following 24 years God continued to guide Abraham and speak to him. In this relationship we see something beginning as God chooses Abraham. We see God’s grace starting to “become personal” as God develops a unique relationship with Abraham. 

Our passage for today harks back to the fact that from the beginning of this relationship God promised Abraham descendants. Yet throughout all these years Abraham and Sarah remained childless. Now, in this passage as God renews the promise of a son, God does something more. God makes a covenant “to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” In other words, God not only chooses to be in a relationship with Abraham, he chooses to be in a relationship with all Abraham’s family — forever.

Prior to this covenant, God has been gracious to humanity. As Jesus would note in Matthew 5:45, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Christians sometimes call this goodness of God extended to all creation “general providence,” because it is the care and provision — the grace — God extends to all creation and all humanity.

Prior to this covenant we are also told about certain people who had a close relationship with God — a relationship that is described as “walking with God” or “calling upon God.” These individuals are oriented to God in a way that the world around them is not. 

In this covenant with Abraham, however, God chooses to relate in a very specific way with certain people — Abraham and his descendants. And that specific way is a very personal way. God promises to relate to them as their God. This is sometimes called “special providence”. 

In this kind of providence we see God choosing a people with whom he will have a special relationship. In the earlier descriptions of those who were oriented to God in a way that the world around them wasn’t it is implied that they are the ones who choose to worship God. Here, however, it is not Abraham who chooses God, but God who chooses Abraham. It is not Abraham who chooses God to be his God; but God who chooses to be Abraham’s God. The relationship is one God, not Abraham, establishes.

Furthermore, unlike these earlier descriptions of individuals who are oriented toward God, God establishes this relationship not just with Abraham, but also with ALL his descendants. Here we see the real wonder of God’s choosing to be personal: God’s choice is not based on what those He chooses do. As we continue through the Old Testament we discover that while some of Abraham’s descendants were faithful to God, many were not. What counts in this relationship, above everything else, is simply that God has chosen them.

Prior to this story, God has been in a relationship with individuals who have chosen to “walk with God.” Here however, God chooses not just an individual — Abraham — but a people — Israel — and promises to be in the unique relationship of being their God. Of claiming them as His own — no matter what they do or don’t do. 

As Christians we see this covenant worked out in our own lives. As Paul says, all who are in Christ are “children of Abraham.” God has chosen to be in a personal relationship with us. A personal relationship that is uniquely defined by our relationship to Jesus Christ, but also by our relationship with one another. To be a Christian is to enter into a family — God’s family. It is to become part of God’s people. 

The good news of God’s grace is that God chooses to become personal. Yet in that choice to become personal, God places us in relationship with others. God becomes not just my God, but our God. Starting with Abraham and extending to all his descendants, including you and I, God promises to be our God and promises that we will be his people.