Abraham is one of the most famous fathers mentioned in the Bible. According to my best calculations, Abraham or Abram as he is first called is mentioned 287 times in the Bible, including about 73 times in the New Testament alone. He is all over the place. Typically when talking about him we might turn to the book of Genesis which chronicles his life, his early calling from God and the way he followed God toward the promised land. Or we might check out the book of Hebrews where he is talked about in several verses in chapter 11, which is considered the faith hall of fame. But I want to look instead at a letter from Paul to the church in Galatia where Paul mentions Abraham a few times as he talks about faith.
Apparently the Galatian church had run into a problem. Some Jewish teachers had infiltrated the church with some bad theology. They were encouraging the people that in order to be Christians, they not only had to accept Christ as Savior, but also had to conform to the Mosaic law. It is like they were combining salvation by Grace with salvation by works. But in Galatians 3 Paul is challenging them to not go back to trying to be justified by the law after having been justified by faith.
Paul actually calls them foolish. He is not saying that they were mentally challenged or that their IQ was not high enough. That would actually be a different Greek word. The word he chooses to use suggests that they had the capacity to understand, but were choosing to act in a way that didn’t make sense. They were being irrational. He even asked who bewitched them. As if they must have been hypnotized or someone cast a spell on them for them to believe something so confounding.
Paul was fighting a battle in the early days of Christianity. The church was struggling to define their theology of salvation. When the Gospel was being spread solely among the Jews it was a different kind of battle. They were already in the tradition of following the Mosaic law and they recognized that the law could not save them, but that Christ could. So they responded to the Gospel. But then when the Gospel started to be taken to the Gentiles and they began to believe, some of the Jews were taken aback by the way that the Gentiles lived. The Jews wanted the Gentiles to change their behaviors in order to be saved.
So what is so bad about that? Is it wrong to expect that when someone becomes a Christian that they should be living differently? The problem is that the church in Galatia was in danger of moving in the direction of a doctrine that combined grace and works. But if we can work hard enough to earn salvation, then it is no longer grace. Grace is receiving something that we didn’t or couldn’t earn.
We need to recognize the importance of sound doctrine. As Christians we do not all need to go to seminary or become theologians, but we all need to know what we believe. There are plenty of theological points that we can ponder and debate, but there are some, like our doctrine on salvation, that form the foundation of what we believe. We need to protect those foundational points because others might seek to tear them down by adding or taking away from what we believe. For the church in Galatia it was legalism, for us it might be universalism. We need to hold on to the Gospel and not waiver from sound doctrine.
Paul is setting the Galatians straight and he uses Abraham as an example. Take a look at verses 6-9: “6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:6-9)
Notice that the verse says counted to him as righteousness. That word doesn’t mean earned, but more like credited. Paul is saying that Abraham wasn’t declared righteous because of circumcision or following the law. Abraham didn’t even have the Mosaic law yet. That law wouldn’t come for hundreds of years. Abraham was declared righteous because of faith, not because of what he did or didn’t do.
And the same is true of us. Look at how Paul says that those of faith are sons of Abraham. Have you ever thought of yourself as a son or daughter of Abraham? When I was growing up I sang the song, “Father Abraham” at camp. I knew the song, but nobody ever explained it to me. It didn’t make any sense. As far as I know I am not even part Jewish, so how am I a son of Abraham?
Notice that in verse 8 Paul uses the phrase, “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.” This is a very important verse for the Biblical Foundation of the Gospel. I teach on this verse in day three of my Biblical Evangelism class at Crown College. This verse references a passage that is a well-known point in Abraham’s life. It is referencing Genesis 12:1-3 where God calls Abram to follow him and gives him some promises.
One of the promises that God makes is that he will bless all the families of the earth through Abram. So from early on God set aside Abraham and his descendants to use them to declare himself to the world. And in Galatians 3:8 Paul refers to that and calls it the Gospel. Down through the ages one of Abraham’s descendants would be the messiah, Jesus. And through him salvation would be offered to the whole world.
So often we treat the Old Testament and New Testament as if they are not part of the same story. But God has one story throughout Scripture. This passage shows us that even way back in Genesis 12 God had a plan for saving all of mankind through the work of Christ, a descendant of Abraham.
And as Paul points out in Galatians 3:9, if we have faith in Christ and are followers of his, then we have this connection with Abraham. He is our father too. He is the father of all those who would one day, eventually believe in Christ. That is how we are sons and daughters of Abraham.
And as sons of Abraham, we too should carry on that role of being a blessing to all nations. We are God’s people and he wants to use us to declare himself to this world.
And like Abraham, we are declared righteous because of our faith not because of what we do. Abraham is an amazing example of obedience. But he was declared righteous because of his faith and the same is true of us.
That is why Christianity stands out so much from all of the other religions in the world. Everyone else is expected to earn their salvation, but we are expected to receive our salvation by grace recognizing that we could never earn it.
So let’s stop trying so hard to earn it. I know so many Christians who are worn out and tired and who feel like failures. I want to remind us today, that we don’t earn a thing. Christ is our Savior. He is the one who did the work, and he is the one who is still at work transforming our lives. We can stop striving so hard to be good Christians. We can stop judging ourselves so harshly and comparing ourselves with those around us. We are saved by Grace that is received through faith, not by works. Christ is our Savior!