Father Abraham

The question of Jew-Gentile relationships in Scripture is deeper than ethnic divides. The question is more fundamentally a question of God’s faithfulness. The Jews know that God has certainly called them out to be his special people. He marked them off with the sign of circumcision as children of Abraham. To be a child of Abraham is to be the heir of the Abrahamic covenant. To be the heir of the Abrahamic covenant was to be nothing less than God’s children and heirs of the world. To be in union with Abraham is to be God’s family. If anyone had assurance that they were children of Abraham, the Jews knew that they were. It was clear. Right there in Genesis 17 God marked off Abraham and his children with circumcision.

Where does this leave the Gentiles in relationship to Abraham? Can they be a part of the family of Abraham–the family of God–without being circumcised? Some of the Jews were saying, “No.” Others might have been saying, “Well, they can be worshipers of YHWH, but we Jews have a special place in God’s family that will always be above the Gentiles because we are children of Abraham.” It’s clear, isn’t it? Right there in Holy Scripture God marked off his people with the sign of circumcision. Jews are the ones who are circumcised. Therefore, Jews are heirs of the Abrahamic covenant with all of its attendant blessings. Right?

Not so fast. There was something that happened with Abraham and the covenant before God gave him the sign of circumcision. God established his covenant with Abraham some twenty-plus years before he gave the sign of that covenant. Paul argues in Romans 4 that this is integral to understanding who are the members of Abraham’s family. Abraham was justified–sins forgiven, declared righteous, and, thus, declared to be God’s true son–by faith while he was uncircumcisedGod made his fundamental covenant commitment to Abraham while (we might say) he was a Gentile. The sign of the covenant, circumcision, came later to seal the relationship that had already been established. Circumcision and the circumcised became servants within the Abrahamic family of believers. The circumcised would be the ones through whom God would accomplish a special mission of death and resurrection that would serve the entire Abrahamic family. But the Abrahamic family has always been made up of Gentiles as well as Jews. In fact, the Abrahamic covenant was to the Gentile first and then to the Jews. Abraham is the father of all those who share his faith, Jew and Gentile; a faith in God’s promised seed: Jesus Christ. Those who walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham are members of Abraham’s family; justified, trues sons of God.

God’s fundamental commitment to Abraham and his family didn’t change. He was faithful. He didn’t scrap his commitment and move on to something else. Some things did change along the way, but those changes did not alter his first commitment. Those changes served his fundamental commitment.

God’s character is at stake here. If God has forsaken his commitments to either Jew or Gentile, then God is not faithful. That can never be! God is faithful. He doesn’t renege on his commitments. When he tells you in baptism, “You are mine,” he means it. When he gives himself to you in the Lord’s Supper, he is committing himself to you. God doesn’t make empty promises. God’s fundamental commitment to you does not change.

This is not to say that his commitment to you is only to blessing. Some people hear these words and say, “Well, then. I’m good. I’ve been baptized, and I participate in the Lord’s Supper.” Make no mistake about it: God always gives himself in these signs and seals of his covenant. But his covenant also has blessing and curse as promises; blessing for those who respond in faith and curse to those who respond in unbelief. The covenant is real and doesn’t change. But God’s commitment to blessing those in the covenant with life is to those who walk in the footsteps of the faith of our father, Abraham.

God’s word to you in baptism and the Lord’s Supper is never empty. For you who walk in the faith of Abraham, clinging to God’s promise revealed in Christ Jesus, submitting to him as Lord, you have the assurance that all of the Abrahamic blessings are yours. God is your God. He is for you, and his commitment to you will not change.