The Example of Abraham
1Well then, what can we say about our ancestor Abraham? 2If he became acceptable to God because of what he did, then he would have something to brag about. But he would never be able to brag about it to God. 3 The Scriptures say, “God accepted Abraham because Abraham had faith in him.”
4Money paid to workers isn't a gift. It is something they earn by working. 5But you cannot make God accept you because of something you do. God accepts sinners only because they have faith in him. 6In the Scriptures David talks about the blessings that come to people who are acceptable to God, even though they don't do anything to deserve these blessings. David says,
7-8 “What a blessing
when God forgives our sins
and our evil deeds.
What a blessing
when the Lord erases our sins
from his book.”
9Are these blessings meant for circumcised people or for those who are not circumcised? Well, the Scriptures say that God accepted Abraham because Abraham had faith in him. 10But when did this happen? Was it before or after Abraham was circumcised? Of course, it was before.
11 Abraham let himself be circumcised to show he had been accepted because of his faith even before he was circumcised. This makes Abraham the father of all who are acceptable to God because of their faith, even though they are not circumcised. 12This also makes Abraham the father of everyone who is circumcised and has faith in God, as Abraham did before he was circumcised.
The Jews traced their ancestry back to Abraham, a man who first came to Israel from Ur of the Chaldees (in present day Iraq) to settle in the Promised Land. They put a lot of stock in the fact that they were God’s chosen people, They were circumcised as a mark of this. When the Christian gospel came to people outside the Jewish faith, this raised a burning issue for the Jews. They argued that Gentiles needed to become Jews first and be circumcised before they could claim to be God’s people.
In this passage Paul tackles this issue head on by looking at what the Scriptures actually say about Abraham, acceptance with God, and circumcision.
The story of Abraham begins at Genesis 11:26, where he is called “Abram.” For many years he was childless, until God appeared to him and promised him a son, and descendants as numerous as the stars. Abram believed God, in spite of the sheer improbability of a man of 75 becoming a father. It was his trust in God that made it all possible (v 9, compare Genesis 15:6).
Notice two things.
One is that all this happened before Abraham was circumcised. So he wasn’t accepted because he was circumcised. Abraham is the father of all who have faith, Gentiles and Jews alike.
The other is that God changed his name to Abraham (“Father of many nations”). Nations, plural. (Genesis 17:5). Right from the beginning God chose Abraham to be the forefather of both Jews and Gentiles.
It was not the case that Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to be acceptable to God. It was the other way round: Jews needed to adopt the Christians’ basis of salvation. God accepts us not because of anything we do, but because we believe in Jesus Christ. David’s words in verses 7 and 8 are for all of us.
Lord Jesus Christ, these words speak to my very identity. Thank you that you accept me simply because I trust you and put my faith in you. Thank you that there is nothing I have to do to make me acceptable to you. Amen.