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When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”Genesis 17:1-7
Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
“This distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the very unique contributions of us Lutherans. I mean it, no one else has it so clearly expressed as we do.” My seminary professor instilled that on us early in our studies. Another professor, when speaking of C.F.W. Walther’s Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel said, “I think he knew his students pretty well. I took that as a word of grace. The book convicted me deeply. I wasn’t sure I could ever be faithful enough to preach or serve as a pastor. He told us, in effect, that no one is qualified by himself. The pursuit of that proper distinction is a lifelong effort.
It’s simple, really. The Law always condemns. It gives no quarter. It kills. It shows us our sins. Abram must realize this on some level. For when he encounters God almighty, he falls on his face. Some would say this is showing respect for a superior. But Abraham does not do this before Pharaoh. This is deep humility, and must be on some level an admission of his deficency.
But God has good news. This is the gospel: God loves us first and unconditionally. He showed that love by sending Jesus who is in no way deficient. And through faith in Jesus we are declared to be righteous. He is our sufficiency.
But what of this command here: Abraham is to walk in obedience with God. This is not merely an exercise in humility for Abraham. This is how he lives out his identity under God’s grace and within the covenant God is making.
Covenant and Kingdom helps us express our relationship with God. In a sense you could say that Law/Gospel is the center of God’s covenant with us. Living that out is in the realm of God’s rule and reign (kingdom).
Abraham is to live in such a way that he will represent God and express God’s reign and rule for all to see. How will he do that? That is what will continue to unfold in this saga of faith.
Whatever else we may learn here, we must recognize that God has a claim on us because of his love. He calls us to a life of faithful obedience. The more we learn about God’s character, the better we will be able to express that in our daily lives.