Frankly, this has less to do with humility than it does with lack of faith. It may, actually, have its root in unbelief in who God is and what God provides. But this error is so common that it has become accepted and even seen as respectable!

A second error of those of us who are already redeemed is a naiveté about sin. The seriousness of one's tragically fallen condition simply underestimated. When we commit this error as followers of Christ, we actually rely on our own hustle and human effort to live as God's people for long enough and in large enough numbers that we can ignore or demean others' dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit as "unreformed" or "mystical." Such a Christian experience is lived by a kind of teeth-gritting effort for as long as we can keep it up, until eventually we collapse in on ourselves. Functioning for days, weeks, months, or years as if we could possibly accomplish the calling that God has given us without his glorious intrusive grace, we busy ourselves with spiritual activity until the powerless exhaustion from overwork crushes us, our mates, and our families or colleagues. Moral and personal chaos often ensues.

The question looms before us again: how does God advance his kingdom with people as broken as we are, who serve him day in and day out? How does he advance his glorious work through sinners like us, redeemed yet so obviously flawed?

The answer is found in Genesis 17:1-14. There the gap is clearly portrayed, and God's provision for advancing his kingdom is even more gloriously declared. Moses places these two issues in stark contrast.

The Gap Portrayed

To see the gap portrayed, note that Genesis 16 closes with the "father of Israel," "the father of the faithful," Abraham himself, committing an illegitimate act built upon illegitimate thinking because of the acceptance of illegitimate cultural norms that have given rise to an illegitimate relationship that produces an illegitimate son. And all of this is to actually attempt to "do" God's will in accord with God's covenant. One might expect Genesis 17 to begin with God saying, "Are you kidding? Who do you think you are? You're fired! You betrayed me."

Instead, the calling of God on Abraham is freshly declared in Genesis 17. It is stunning because it seems that Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, intentionally presented God's call to contrast with chapter 16. As one chapter ends with such sad and sinful circumstances, the next begins with a glorious calling. The thirteen year gap between chapters 16 and 17 certainly did not cause God to forget that Abraham had sought to accomplish the will of God by basically sleeping with the kitchen help, if I may be blunt. Still, God commands him and entrusts him with the responsibility of covenant headship for the people of God. How can this be? How can a holy God use such a twisted servant and call him to such a high and holy task? The answer is found in four things that God provides to advance his kingdom despite the disservice of Abraham. 

  1. God provides peerless power to advance his cause.
  2. God provides peerless transformation to perfect his servants.
  3. God gives the always-transforming servant a universal and eternal purpose
  4. God provides a gospel-centered sign to keep the cross and the King vivid in our hearts and minds.

Genesis 17 is arguably the hinge pin of all ministry, for it is quoted ten times in the book of Hebrews, eight times in the book of Galatians, eight times in the book of Romans, and it is a main focus in Peter's sermon at Pentecost. Stephen even brings it up just prior to being stoned to death. Since it is a theological and missiological hinge pin upon which much of redemptive history turns, it should not be surprising that its application is not only for that one moment of time when Abraham walked the earth. It timelessly applies to the advance of God's kingdom itself in and through the lives of all followers of the living God for all time.