Tree of Life Church, London

Casting Out Ishmael

 Casting Out Ishmael

In 2003, God spoke to me and told me it was time to “cast out Ishmael”.  Did you know Abraham loved Ishmael?  Ishmael was Abraham’s son – he loved him, he played with him, he taught him how to dress, how to eat, how to walk and talk.  But there came a time when Abraham had to cast out Ishmael.

That would not have been easy, but obedience is sometimes difficult.  Ishmael was born because Abraham was trying to do things his way.   Ishmael represents man’s plan; birthed out of our ideas, birthed because we wanted to do things our way and did not trust God.

Isaac was the miracle child.  He was birthed by the Holy Spirit of God in accordance with God’s Word, God’s Promise and God’s Plan.  In the book of Genesis, we see that Ishmael was being mean to Isaac.  If we have areas of our life which we started out of our flesh, our self-will and our desire to do things our way, they will always choke and frustrate the parts of our life that are based on God’s promises and God’s power.

Essentially if we get rid of Ishmael, Isaac can grow up properly.  If we get rid of our plans, then – and only then – God’s will can be completed in our life.

We need to (I need to!) stop wasting time, effort, talent and money on good works that are not from God’s throne. 

Did you know that there were two trees in the Garden of Eden?  One was the Tree of Life; the other was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would have brought you knowledge of good.  There was some good in it, but God wanted you Adam not to eat of it.  So it is in our lives, there are many sources of good, but God doesn’t want us to take part in all of them.  We have to only obey God.

Think about it – if you live in a large city there are probably several good Word preaching churches in that city.  You cannot go to all of them.  Only one of them is your Isaac church, the church of promise for you.  If you stay in a church that is a good church, but God wants you elsewhere, you are living below God’s best.  I have preached good sermons before, but in retrospect they were not the message God had for the time.  The good is the enemy of the best.  Until we get rid of the good works God did not commission, we cannot walk fully in His perfect will for our life.

Let me tell you this: Ishmael was blessed.  10 of the richest men in the world today are from the line of Ishmael.  God will always bless what you produce if you are His child and are operating in faith.  But God wants more than to bless what you are doing – He wants to inhabit what you are doing and fill it with His glory and His presence.   Ishmael may have brought blessing to the earth, but Isaac brought the greater blessing because Jesus Christ came forth from the line of Isaac.

God’s desire is for you to follow His plans – that is where the best of the best for your life is.  It is time to cast out Ishmael, and let the promises of God in your life grow.  Stop doing good things that God never told you to do and spend time finding out exactly what He told you to do.  God doesn’t just want to bless the world through you; He wants to bring Jesus into the world through you.

As an individual, as a family, as a church, as a community, make some judgements. If there is no fruit in something, prune it.  If it is not bringing Jesus into the world, change it.

We need to live an Isaac life – a life of promise, a life of glory, not just a life of blessing.  We need to live so that our ways are God’s ways.

Hold on, you might say.   Doesn’t the Bible teach us that God’s ways are not our ways?  It does – if you read it out of context!  If you read Isaiah 55.8-9 in context, it says that God’s ways are not our ways, but they come down to us like rain.  Without prayer, without asking the Lord, without spending time with Him, your ways will not be His ways.  But if you spend time with the Lord, like gentle rain, His ways will come to your mind and your spirit, and you can live a life of God’s ways.

Here is a deep theological truth: the Old Testament happened before Jesus died on the cross and rose again.  We live in the New Testament times.  So why do many Christians still live as if Jesus did not rise from the dead?

If you read the book of Galatians, Paul’s theme is that we are not under the Old Testament any more, but under the far superior New Testament.  Yet many Christians still live under law.  Read Gal. 4.21-5.1 and see what Paul is saying:

Tell me, you who want to live under the law, do you know what the law actually says?  The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife.  The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. The first woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai where people received the law that enslaved them.  And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery to the law.  But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother. As Isaiah said,  “Rejoice, O childless woman, you who have never given birth!  Break into a joyful shout, you who have never been in labor!   For the desolate woman now has more children than the woman who lives with her husband!”  And you, dear brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, just like Isaac. But you are now being persecuted by those who want you to keep the law, just as Ishmael, the child born by human effort, persecuted Isaac, the child born by the power of the Spirit.  But what do the Scriptures say about that? “Get rid of the slave and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not share the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”  So, dear brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman; we are children of the free woman.  So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

If we don’t deal with the idea that we can please God by obeying the law (which is called legalism), this idea will always attack our faith life.  Part of casting out Ishmael is dealing with any thoughts or doctrines that state that we can please God by obeying the law.  We can only please God by having faith.  The Bible says that no one can be right with God by obeying the law.  Yet 2000 years after, we still teach that we have to do certain things to be right with God.  Come on, let’s cast out Ishmael and start living the faith life.  We live by relationship with Jesus, not relationship with a set of rules. 

Christianity is different from every religion in the world because Christians can talk to God.  They can converse with the living God.  They can approach Him without fear of rebuke or fear of inferiority – they can come to Him with boldness.  They can live with God and enjoy life with God.

If you want an unknowable, unpredictable, non-relating God, then join Ishmael and go and become a Muslim.  Otherwise let’s cast out Ishmael, cast out legalism and let’s have a God we can relate to – let’s not dishonour the work of Jesus in making us righteous by acting unrighteous and failing to live by faith in the Word.

Enoch saw the second coming of Christ.  If you read Jude, Enoch is prophesying about Jesus’ return.  Jesus had not even come the first time yet.  That is a man of vision.  The Bible says “he walked with God”.  This was a man who lived before the cross, before the resurrection, before the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  You live in a post-cross, post-resurrection, post-Pentecost age and you should act like it.  The Holy Spirit lives in you and you can walk with God better than Enoch ever did.

When Moses was taking the Israelites out of Egypt, Pharaoh offered him four compromises: stay in Egypt and worship God, don’t go too far to worship God, go without women and children, and worship without sacrifice.   I tell you as you cast out everything that is from the world’s ideas, every good idea that is not a God idea; you will be tempted to compromise.

You will be tempted to worship God without ever leaving the world, without ever stopping any of your worldly actions.  You will be tempted to not go too far, and just be a lukewarm Sunday Christian.  You will be tempted to go without ever dealing with your family and building it on godly principles.  And you will be tempted to worship God as long as it costs you nothing.

I tell you this: don’t compromise, pay the price.  The reward is greater than the cost.

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