“Children of Abraham
“Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Paul’s purpose in this chapter is to demonstrate that the believer’s standing before God is completely upon the merits of Christ, and not upon anything done by himself. Salvation in all its fullness is obtained by faith, and not by legal works. The judicial act of justification took place when Christ was delivered up to death upon the cursed tree because of our offences imputed to him and raised again because of our justification accomplished by him (Rom. 4:25). Our justification is the result of justice being satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ. It is a work of grace accomplished totally outside our experience.
Yet, the Scriptures speak of God’s elect being justified by faith (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 3:24). How can this be? The answer is very simple. ― We receive justification by faith. We were justified in the court of heaven upon the merits of Christ as considered in him, so that God looks upon us with the same complacency as if we had never sinned. It is only because this is true that God can deal with sinners in mercy. If his justice were not already fully satisfied, he could not allow any sinner to live. We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son long before we believed. When he gave us faith in Christ, we received that reconciliation and justification by faith (2 Cor. 5:19; Rom. 5:9-11). We come to experience justification in the court of conscience by faith. That is when the Holy Spirit speaks peace to our hearts, and declares us to be free from condemnation by applying the blood of Christ to our hearts. Thus our carnal mind, which is naturally at enmity with God, is reconciled to God. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that we are justified by faith.
Paul has shown that this doctrine of justification by grace alone is exactly what all our Lord’s apostles taught. This is the doctrine of Christ. He has declared that if righteousness could be had in any other way, or by any other means, then Christ died in vain. In the opening verses of this chapter Paul shows that every saved sinner’s experience verifies this truth of the gospel.
Now, he appeals to biblical history to prove that believers are not justified by the law; and that we do not live by the law, but by faith in Christ. He points us to Abraham, the friend of God. It is likely that Paul selected this reference to Abraham in order to show that at the very beginning of Israel’s history it was clearly evident that God had chosen this nation in order that it might be a blessing to all nations through its “Seed,” the Lord Jesus Christ, and to show that from the beginning this blessing of grace had been received by faith alone and not by works.
In the passage before us Paul identifies who the children of Abraham are. He shows that all of God’s elect in every age are truly the children of Abraham. They are the true Israelites. Abraham is the father of the faithful. He is called “the father of all them that believe” (Rom. 4:11), because he is the first person of whom the Book of God declares he “believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6 Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6).
The true Israel of God are not the natural descendants of Abraham, but the spiritual descendants of Abraham He was the father of the nation from whom Christ sprang, who is the Author of our faith; and all of God’s children are children of faith. As the Holy Spirit puts it in Philippians 3:3, “we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”
The Word of God shows this to us with unmistakable clarity. The natural, physical seed of Abraham, Jews, or Israelites, after the flesh, are not the people of God by right of their physical birth. It is true that God made definite promises to the physical seed of Abraham, but these were all fulfilled (Josh. 21:43-45; 23:14-15), and they were given upon condition of obedience. Israel, after the flesh, has denied Christ and was judged by God for having done so (Matt. 22:1-14; 23:37-38). Paul clearly asserts that Israel after the flesh is not the true Israel (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:4-7). God has cut off the natural seed in order to bring in the greater spiritual seed (Rom. 11:22, 25-36). “The Israel of God” is that holy nation and royal priesthood of saved sinners who live by the rule of the gospel (Gal. 6:14-16), “who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” Paul holds Abraham before us as “the father of all them that believe”, because we see in Abraham certain marks, certain characteristics by which all God’s elect are identified in this world.
Those who opposed Paul’s preaching of free-grace and insisted so strenuously that the works of the law must be added to faith in Christ vehemently claimed that they were Abraham’s true descendants, that they were God’s true children (Acts 15:5; Gal. 2:3; 5:2-3; 6:12, 13, 15; Matt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8; John 8:33, 39, 40, 53). Therefore, Paul turns to the declaration of Abraham’s righteousness and makes two statements concerning it, which destroy all carnal hope, both for the Jews and for Gentiles who hope for righteousness upon the basis of their works.
First, Paul asserts that Abraham was justified by faith, apart from any works of his own. ― “ Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (v. 6). 1. Abraham’s justification preceded his circumcision by many years (Gen. 15:6; 16:16; 17:24; Rom. 4:9-12). He believed God. The Object of his faith was God, especially the Son of God, who is the Word of God (Gen. 15:1, 6). He was Abraham’s Shield (Eph. 6:16) and his Reward (1 Cor. 1:30). Abraham trusted Christ. It was Christ, the Object of Abraham’s faith that was imputed unto him for righteousness, not his act of faith (Compare Rom. 4:22-25; John 8:56). His faith was the channel through which he received the blessing of justification, the righteousness of Christ.
Then, the Apostle declares, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (v. 7). All who, like Abraham, believe God are justified by faith; and they are the children of Abraham. Physical lineage from Abraham guaranteed no spiritual blessing to Jews (Matt. 3:9). And being the physical descendants of godly (believing) parents secures no spiritual blessing to any today (John 1:11-13). All spiritual blessings (all the blessings of grace, salvation, and eternal life) are in Christ and come to sinners by grace alone. All who are of faith (all who trust Christ) have right to all the promises, which God made to Abraham.
The Holy Spirit tells us plainly that the gospel was preached to Abraham (vv. 8-9). ― “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” For some strange reason, many are terribly uncomfortable with that fact. They are uncomfortable with it because they do not know the gospel. They vainly imagine that God saved people in a different way and by a different gospel in the Old Testament than he does today. But that is not the case.
It was never God’s purpose to limit his church and kingdom to the physical nation of Israel, but to use them as a means of saving his elect among the Gentiles (Matt. 8:11-12). This he determined before the world began, and, therefore, before Abraham was called to life and faith in Christ by the gospel, by the revelation of Christ in the gospel. Yes, Abraham saw Christ, knew Christ, and trusted Christ, just as believers do today.
I do not mean to suggest that Abraham had the full revelation of Christ that is given with the completion of Holy Scripture. But I do mean to assert that Abraham believed on the Son of God as he is revealed in the gospel. Our Savior himself declared, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). God promised Abraham that the Seed would be from his loins, who would be the Messiah, in and by whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham believed in Christ, his Messiah-Redeemer. God promised him that the Messianic blessings were to be worldwide (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 John 2:2), that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in and by him
In verse 9 Paul was inspired of God to draw a very logical and necessary conclusion. All who believe God, upon the hearing of the Gospel, are the sons of Abraham; hence, they are blessed with him. What Paul is here teaching is the important truth that the church of both the Old Testament dispensation and the New is one. All believers are one in Christ. All of God’s people were chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:4). All enjoy being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. All are redeemed by Christ (Isa. 53; Matt. 1:21; John 3:16). All are his sheep, have one Shepherd, and belong to one fold (Ezek. 37:22; John 10:16; Eph. 2:14-15). The names of all the elect are recorded in one Book of Life (Rev. 13:8). All the elect are predestined to the same glory (Rom. 8:29-30). All partake of the glories of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12-14; Matt. 8:11-12). And all will be perfected together (Heb. 11:40).
We read in verses 10-12 ― “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.”
We understand the impossibility of law righteousness. Every believer does. We know that the law demands perfection we cannot perform, righteousness we cannot produce, and satisfaction we cannot give. Knowing that fact, all who are just before God, all who have been justified by his grace and have received that justification by faith in Christ, live by faith, just like Abraham did (Heb. 11:1-3). They obey God because they believe him. Read the life of Abraham, and learn what it is to live by faith.
· By faith Abraham left his own country to seek another (Gen. 11:28-32).
· By faith Abraham left his family (Gen. 12:1; Heb. 11:8).
· By faith Abraham separated himself from Lot (Gen. 13:1-13).
· By faith Abraham received a son (Gen. 17).
· By faith Abraham sacrificed his son (Gen. 22).
· By faith Abraham received his son back from the dead (Gen. 22).
· By faith Abraham sojourned through this earth seeking the city of God, not receiving one parcel of land for himself (Gen. 13:14-18; Heb. 11:10).
· By faith Abraham died (Heb. 11:13).
If we seek to live by the law, Paul declares that we do not live by faith (v. 12). To embrace the law as a principle of life is to abandon faith, abandon grace, and abandon Christ (Gal. 5:1-4).
Redeemed sinners are free from the curse and condemnation of the law. We cannot and shall not be cursed by the law. ― “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (v. 13). What a blessed, clear statement this is of particular, effectual redemption! Christ’s object in redeeming us, as it is here declared, was that we might receive the blessing of Abraham, the Spirit of God, and all the gifts of grace and salvation in him by faith in Christ. ― “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (vv. 13-14).