By Benjamin H. Liles
My wife, Tanya, and I were having a good discussion about being self-sacrificing. To me it's an interesting topic. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, "Love must be sincere. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9, Berean Study). So, you may be wondering (I'm guesssing), "What do you mean by 'when God calls out' when you speak about being self-sacrificing?
Let me get you there. God calls out to Abram, "Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you...He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there" (Genesis 12:1-5, New King James).
In this sense, God is calling to Abram in this simple test of faith to be willing to obey Him and His voice, and allowing that faith to be active. It's why I truly believe it's the basis for James writing, "My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:19-20, 22, 25, Holman Christian Standard).
So, in this sense of when God calls out, He's calling us out from what we know, or even think we believe is true. He called Abram out of the land of Ur of the Chaldeans (see Genesis 11:31). Likewise, James is letting us know that the deeds we ought to have extend from our faith. God is calling us to move in faith to show His love to a generation struggling to find their way in Him.
It's a test of faith, as well, to heed God's voice in being self-sacrificing. "Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. 'Abraham!' God called....Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you" (Genesis 22:1-2, New Living Translation). He's seeing how far Abraham will go, without questioning Him, in simple faith and obedience to give up the promise God gave to him.
I know the passage here is a fore-shadowing of what God intends through His Son, Jesus Christ, but God is telling Abraham, basically, "Give up your heart; give up this one promise for me, and I will bless you all the more." In fact, when we look a bit further down in this chapter of Genesis we see God rewarding Abraham according to his faith: "Don’t lay a hand on the boy! Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son. Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”)" (Genesis 22:12-14a).
When we look at how God calls us, in the faith we have towards Him, He will always take us deeper in Him. Yes, it seems as though things get more difficult and challenging. At the same time, it's a bit of His refining fire: seeing if we are up to the test to be more like Him (see Romans 8:28-30). If you notice the words and phrases within the passage of Romans here we see this pattern: "those who are called according to his purpose; conformed to the image of his Son; those he called he justified, and those he justified, he glorified."
God's purpose, when He calls us out to a new place, to go deeper with Him, and to show the light He's given us -- it's a testament as to who He is. "For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life" (Ephesians 2:10). It is also this reason we are called to stand against "the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).
And we are now to that point, the assertion i made earlier on; we are called to "Detest what is evil; cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9). Ultimately, God desires to be made known, first and foremost in our personal lives. How can we effectively witness and disciple others if we don't have or even cultivate a close and personal relationship to Him? If we truly "hate what is evil" we are more than willing to be humble, asking Him to deal with our sinful hearts.
More than anything it is a call not simply to faith and obedience, not only to grow in the likeness of Christ (which is still very much of great importance), but in God transforming our hearts, our lives, and our behaviors and attitudes towards Him and to do "what is good." We don't wrestle with people over what appears to be the molehills of life, but we are to stand against those powers--the spiritual, unseen forces of darkness the enemy uses and devises--to thwart the plans of God who calls us to a life in Jesus Christ. As long as we listen to His voice and obey Him, by faith, can we obtain the promise that God even gave to Abraham: life in Jesus Christ.
I pray this touches your heart, that it blesses and truly encourages you to hold fast to your faith. We will be hated and persecuted as this world hated Christ before it ever hated us. Even then we are to sing hymns and praises to God for the salvation we find in Jesus. He gave us salvation when we didn't deserve it, as God hates sin. But He did so in order we may share in His righteousness and have eternal life. I pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.