This sermon is based on Genesis 14:1-24. Click here to read the text.
Christians can often be heard to say that we are called to be “in the world but not it.” By that we generally mean that we are to be engaging in common ways with the culture around us, but that we are to remain faithful in mind, heart, soul, and material living to Christ. This is what James Davison Hunter calls “faithful presence” in his book, To Change the World. In Genesis 13, Abram and Lot separated, with Abram remaining in Canaan and Lot heading to the Jordan Valley in the direction of Sodom. We had the impression from the narrative that Abram was walking by faith in the Lord and that Lot was walking by sight, seeking to seize for himself the pleasures of this life with spiritual consequence to himself. Lot was moving in a direction that seemed to be of the world, not just in it.
We see this in Genesis 14:12-13. V. 12 says of Lot that he was “dwelling in Sodom.” The Hebrew word translated as “dwelling” indicates a dwelling of permanence. In reference to God, the word is never used of His presence on earth. Rather God “dwells” in heaven and on Zion (where “heaven meets earth”). In contrast, V. 13 speaks of Abram as “living by the oaks of Mamre.” “Living” in the Hebrew OT describes God’s abiding presence with Israel in the tabernacle. God is in the world but not of it. So too those who are in Christ. Our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await our Savior (Philippians 3:20). We are to be a faithful presence in the here and now for Christ and His glory. Abram lived by the oaks of Mamre. He even had made covenant with them, likely of an economic and political sort. But, Abram did not identify with them ideologically, morally, or spiritually. His identity remained firmly fixed in his covenant with the LORD. So too are we, as Christians, to live in the world with our identity firmly fixed in Christ.
Lot was so closely identified with Sodom that he was gathered up by Chedorlaomer and was being carried off to Mesopotamia as a prisoner. Abram heard of this and gathered a force of some 318 men from his own tents (and likely additional troops from Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner as v. 24 seems to imply) to deliver Lot along with the other prisoners of war and the possessions of Sodom. Abram was blessed with victory and through him Lot and others were blessed with liberty. God provided Lot with Abram as his deliverer but He has provided us with an even greater Deliverer in the person of Jesus Christ. Lot was delivered from captivity but he returned to the bondage of the wickedness and evil in Sodom. In Christ we have been freed from the bondage of sin and death. Where we were once powerless against sin but in Jesus we have been empowered to put sin to death in our mortal bodies. We were once under the power of death. Now our great hope in the face of danger, illness, etc. that lead to death is the resurrection of Christ Jesus, which is for all who are in Him.
Abram was approached by two kings after his victory – Melchizadek, king of Salem, and the king of Sodom. Melchizadek brought bread and wine to the meeting. More than that he brought a blessing for Abram in the name of God Almighty, the Possessor of heaven and earth. Melchizadek foreshadowed Christ in his offices as king and priest. He was king of righteousness and king of peace (Hebrews 7:1ff). Abram recognized Melchizadek’s high status as God’s representative and he gave to him a tithe (either of the spoils of his conquest or of his own possessions) as an act of worship unto the LORD. By contrast, Abram refused the king of Sodom’s offer for Abram to keep the goods he redeemed in his victory over Chedorlaomer’s forces. Abram had a right to at least a portion of those spoils but lest he be wrongly identified as being with Sodom, Abram returned his portion of the goods and people to Sodom. His loyalty was undivided. He was wholly the LORD’s and belonged to no other.
Discuss and Pray – Genesis 14
- What does it mean to be “in the world but not of it”? Consider this as question for your mind, heart, and soul.
- What does Worship look like for someone in the world but of Christ? Discipleship? Servanthood? Evangelism?
- What alliances can we make with “the world” or those who are of the world, and which alliances are unfit for us as Christians wholly devoted to the Lord?
- How can you foster a growing citizenship in heaven, even as you live in the world?
- If you are interested in further reading on this subject, some helpful books are “To Change the World”, by James Davison Hunter; “Culture Making”, by Andy Crouch; and “Creation Regained”, by Albert M. Wolters.