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The Seed of Abraham
By David A. DePra
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Gen. 22:18)
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He says not, "And to seeds" -- as of many -- but as of one, "And to thy seed," which is Christ. (Gal. 3:16)
Abraham and FAITH are always mentioned in the same sentence, and well they should be. Abraham stands as the OT type of believer. The covenant which God made with him holds much teaching which helps us in our NT understanding of Godís plan and purpose.
Abraham, then Abram, first comes onto the scene in Genesis 11 without much fanfare. Abramís father Terah leaves Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land of Canaan. They ended up at Haran. The most notable thing said about Abram at this point is that his wife, Sarai, is barren. (Gen. 11:30)
We must remember that in those days if you were a woman who was barren, it was a personal disgrace. But more than that, everything owned by the husband stood in jeopardy, for if there were no son, there would no one of your family to inherit all of the fatherís property. This was a culture based on inheritance.
It was at this point that God called Abram. He said,
"Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shall be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curse thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3)
Abram was being called out of his "fatherís house," that is, called out of his own inheritance. He was being told to step out in faith in God Ė for God was promising him a NEW inheritance. Hebrews comments on this calling of Abram:
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Heb. 11:8-10)
Note that ALL of this happened before "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." It happened long before that. This was before there was a covenant, and before Abraham was circumcised.
What we are seeing here is that God begins with a person by calling them OUT. Sure. If you are going to come to Christ, God must draw you to that decision. There is a process involved here, which entails some faith. Abraham obeyed, by faith. He was already seeking God.
Abram obeyed God and left for Canaan. Abram was seventy-five years old when he finally did come to Canaan. The next years would include the failure in going down to Egypt, the separation from Lot, the rescue of Lot from the kings, and Abramís experience with Melchizedek. There was much Abraham needed to experience before he could stand before God and believe Him in a way that could be "reckoned to him as righteousness."
God appeared to Abram for the fourth recorded time in Genesis 15. One again God promises Abram a son, and to make of him a great nation. It is during this visitation that the Bible says,"And he (Abram) believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." (Gen. 15:6)
What does this mean? Well, it means that Abraham believed that God was faithful, and because he believed it, God counted Abramís faith AS righteousness. Donít misunderstand. Abram did not have any righteousness of his own. Rather, Abram had only faith in GODíS righteousness. Thus, God said, "Your faith in MY righteousness makes it possible for Me to impute to you MY righteousness."
It is really vital that we see exactly what is going on here, because it is precisely what happens today when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Abrahamís faith did not make him righteous. Neither was Abrahamís faith righteous. No. There is NO MERIT here Ė no righteousness on the part of Abraham. Abraham simply put his faith in Godís righteousness Ė Godís faithfulness. This accrued to Abraham the very righteousness of God in which he had put his faith.
This is such a basic Truth Ė so simple, yet so profound. God does not expect us to be righteous enough to please Him. But once we put our faith in Christ, He puts His righteousness in us. We are as righteous as the One in whom we have put our faith Ė because we actually have his righteousness.
Faith is not MERIT. It never was and never will be. Not the faith of the Bible. In the Bible, there is never any thought of faith which includes, "giving God permission to save me." Or, a faith which is "my contribution to my own salvation." No. Faith is never any of those things.
People may think that faith is merit. People may think that faith is our contribution to our own salvation. They may create doctrines from this assumption, and even argue against these suggestions as a straw man. But the faith of the Bible never carries with it the slightest notion of merit being due to the one having faith.
The Bible teaches that real faith comes from the recognition that I have no merit, and have no righteousness. Indeed, thatís WHY Iím placing my faith in Christ. I need HIS righteousness. Thus, rather than my faith being merit, it is the outcome of my seeing that I have no merit, and must rely upon the merit and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Here is another way of saying the same thing: My faith is NOT righteous. No. My faith is in the Righteous One. The OBJECT of my faith is why God is able to reckon to me His righteousness Ė not my faith itself.
You will notice that when Abram believed God, that it does not say, "Abramís faith entitled him to a son." No. It simply says that God reckoned to him a righteousness because of his faith. In short, Abramís faith made it possible for him to receive a son, because he believed the God who promised him the impossible. And that is much different.
"Abram believed God." His faith in God was reckoned to him as righteousness Ė not because his faith was righteous Ė but because his faith was in Godís righteousness!
The First, or Old Covenant
It was upon this occasion, in Genesis 15, that God actually begins to establish His covenant with Abram. You will not find God so much as mentioning the notion of a covenant to Abram until AFTER "Abram believed God." The Old Covenant was the outcome of faith. Faith was not the outcome of the Old Covenant.
In the NT Paul points out that this is important because it shows that in order to become a spiritual child of Abraham, you need only believe. There is no Covenant that causes you to believe or not believe. Neither are there any works. No, by faith you become Abrahamís seed through the new birth, and heirs according to promise. Again, it is faith, and then covenant. Faith, and then works. Not the other way around.
Within the 15th chapter of Genesis we find what today we would consider some strange things being performed. But all of them were part of a "covenant ritual" of that day. When it was over, the Bible records,
In that same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "Unto thy seed have I given this land." (Genesis 15:18)
Now, what WAS that covenant? The Old Covenant was, first, Godís promise to Abraham -- of a son. Through that son, God said,"I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shall be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curse thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3) That son would eventually be Isaac. Godís promise to Abram of a son, however, included much more than just Isaac, or even the great nation he was to become. It was, as we shall see, the promise of a Savior.
God also promised Abram the land of Canaan. He said, "Unto thy seed I have given this land." God promised Abram the land which would be Israel, and into which Moses would eventually lead the children of Israel, out of Egypt, 430 years later.
Hagar and Ishmael
Abram had waited 13 years and still no son. And he wasnít getting any younger. He was now about 88 years old. Thus, as human nature goes, Sarai suggested that what God "really meant" was that Abram was to have a son, not through her, but through a maid servant. In those days, it was not all that unusual to try to perpetuate your family inheritance by such means. Abram therefore had no big problem believing that perhaps this was what God really intended.
You will notice that God did not come down from heaven and intervene, saying, "Abram, you are misunderstanding Me. I really did mean that Sarai will have your son. So donít take matters into your own hands."
No. God let Abram do this Ė not because He willed that Abraham have such a lapse Ė but because He knew that Abram had an "Ishmael" in his system, and it had to get out. God knows that sometimes the only way we will really rest in faith is after we have exhausted our own efforts. There is a certain PURGING in this of our motives from which we benefit.
Abram believed God. But he did not necessarily understand God. God allowed Abram to take matters into his own hands so that it could be proven that the efforts of man could not bring to pass Godís will. It would be nice if we would just believe. But God knows that we usually have to be shown this Truth in living color Ė through our failures and mistakes.
In Ishmaelís birth, we see Abram trying to bring to pass Godí s will through his own efforts. The problem here was not that Abram doubted Godís integrity or faithfulness. No. Rather, Abram doubted his own interpretation of Godís Word to him. Indeed, we never see the faith of Abraham questioned in the New Testament:
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickens the dead, and calls those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. (Romans 4:16-22)
Yet Abram did make a mistake. He had tried to do for himself what only God could do. God could not bless that. In fact, God intended to wait thirteen more years, and make it seem all the MORE impossible that His promise could come to pass.
Note what is happening here: God deliberately lets things get to the point where things are beyond impossible. He lets us exhaust our own efforts, and brings them to naught. Then He says, "Now, no one will doubt that this was impossible by the flesh. All will see that it was only possible through my grace."
Eleven years after Ishmaelís birth, when Abram was 99 years old, God made a fifth appearance to him. This time God changed Abramís name to "Abraham." This name change, as it so often does, denotes a change in Abraham himself. He was now ready to actually become "the father of many nations."
God made a COVENANT once "Abraham believed." Then God continued to solidify the covenant He had made with Abram. This visit included something new: Circumcision. God said:
This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every manchild in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant. (Gen. 17:10-14)
Circumcision was to be the SIGN of the Old Covenant. However, we must note, as does Paul in the New Testament, that circumcision occurred AFTER the original promise God made to Abram, and after Abram believed it, and after his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. Not before. Thus, circumcision was not a sign that a person merited Godís promise Ė or a sign that he would LATER believe. No. Rather, it was a sign that the person already embraced Godís promise by faith. In other words, faith results in the covenant. The covenant does not result in faith.
This correct order, that faith results in participation in the New Covenant, through the new birth, is the whole point Paul makes to both the Romans and Galatians. He points out that Godís covenant with Abraham was a type of the New Covenant, and a teaching about it.
Comes this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith, when he was yet uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. (Rom. 4:9-12)
What does Paul say that circumcision was to Abram? "A seal of the righteousness of the faith" Ė the faith which he had while he was yet uncircumcised. Paul wants to show that righteousness is not the product of works Ė but that works are the product of righteousness by faith. As just as importantly, Paul wants to show that covenant with God is the result of faith in Christ. Faith is not the result of some covenant working itself out.
We must be clear about this. Circumcision Ė and the Old Covenant which it stood for Ė was the outcome of, indeed, the seal of the FAITH which Abraham had already put in God. FAITH came FIRST. Then came circumcision and Godís Covenant with Abraham.
So we have this order of events thus far. God calls Abram out. He gives him promises. Abram believes. God makes a covenant, and makes circumcision the sign. Abraham offers Isaac and receives him back as a type of resurrection. And finally, Abram inherits what God promised. Sounds exactly like Christianity, doesnít it? God draws us to Christ by showing His promise of salvation. We believe. Then, based on faith, we enter into the New Covenant, which is based on better promises than the Old. Our circumcision is the cutting off of the flesh. We inherit the promises through the resurrection.
The Righteousness by Faith
God reckoned to Abraham righteousness BEFORE Abraham was circumcised, and before the Covenant was sealed. Not after. The point is, by faith we enter into the Covenant. The Covenant doesnít "enter us" into faith. But practically speaking, this shows that nothing of the flesh Ė i.e., circumcision -- can make us righteous. Nothing. Only if we put our faith in Christ, will our lives then bear the SIGN of that faith: The righteousness of God.
Here we see fundamental Christianity. Faith results in a "foreign righteousness." It is a righteousness which is NOT OF US, but which is given to us. It is really CHRIST IN US. He is our righteousness. Faith results in His righteousness in us, which, in turn, will produce righteous works. That manifested righteousness can be said to be a "sign" that our "flesh" is "cut-off," and that we are "in Christ."
Just as circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant between God and Abraham -- the sign that "Abraham believed God" Ė so Paul tells us that there is "a circumcision" which is the sign of the NEW Covenant:
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:3)
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: (Col. 2:10-11)
Circumcision, spiritually, is the "cutting off" of the sin nature itself through Jesus Christ. The flesh is "cut off," and we are set free from the old realm. But not just that. All of it is UNTO a new birth -- into a New Covenant. All of this isnít the New Covenant, anymore than physical circumcision was the Old Covenant. These things, as was physical circumcision, are evidences, tokens, or a "sign" that we are IN Christ.
This is the message of Galatians and of Romans: You and I are spiritual Jews, or "real" children of Abraham, ONLY by faith in Jesus Christ. We are righteous only if we place our faith in the Righteous One. Our works cannot make us righteous. They are the product of HIS righteousness in and through us.
Faith has RESULTS Ė all of which are pictured by the Old Covenant. First, our faith results in spiritual circumcision. Our old man dies Ė is cut-off. Our faith likewise results in our reception of the blessings of the New Covenant. We are planted in the resurrection of Christ, and thus, born anew as a child of Abraham, as heirs according to eternal promise.
Concurrent with this is the fact that we, as was Abraham, have reckoned to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You and I are righteous ONLY if we place our faith in the Righteous One. Then God is able to reckon to us HIS righteousness. That goes with the "package" of being born again a child of Abraham.
Spiritual Jews by Faith
Why is this important? Well, God wanted to show that it was FAITH that mattered, and not anything of works. God needed to make it clear that FAITH is what mattered, and not whether you were a chosen Jew.
The Jews were Godís elect people under the Old Covenant. Thus, a misunderstanding was possible: That people would think that being chosen by God -- that being chosen to be under the Covenant Ė would be the same as faith, or would result in faith. God is telling us NO. He is giving us a direct lesson here to the effect that Abraham had faith BEFORE he was circumcised. Thus, FAITH results in a person being under the Covenant -- not the other way around.
The teaching of the New Testament is that salvation is open to ALL Ė to both Jew and Gentile. But only those who BELIEVE and come under the Blood, and who become spiritually circumcised, come under the Covenant. The teaching is never that you are somehow under the Covenant, and that this results in you believing and being saved.
Neither Circumcision nor Uncircumcision
Circumcision was THE SIGN of the Old Covenant Ė THE SIGN that Abraham had believed God. It was THE SIGN that Abraham had been promised by God "a seed," and "a land."
Spiritual circumcision, under the New Covenant is also THE SIGN that I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ. Spiritual circumcision is freedom from sin, and, as was the case with Abraham, the fact that I am given the righteousness of God which comes by that faith.
But Paul had to make it clear that, in Christ, there is no significance attached to physical circumcision:
For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love. (Gal. 5:5-6)
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. (Gal. 6:14-15)
If you were a Jew of Paulís day, these would be "fightin words." Of course. Circumcision, as we say, was THE SIGN of the Old Covenant. Thus, once Paul says circumcision means nothing, he is saying that the Old Covenant means nothing. He is saying that, in Christ, being a Jew, a child of Abraham, means nothing.
This IS exactly what Paul meant by his words. He wrote to the Romans:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Romans 2:28-29)
Paulís point is that FAITH is what matters, and not being a Jew. FAITH in God is what matters, and not faith in myself, or in my works. Those who have placed their faith in Christ are spiritual Jews. There is no confidence to be had in the flesh, or in anything about us. Our boast is in the Lord.
Now, all of this is leading us up to the Truth about "Abrahamís seed." Abraham would go on to birth Isaac, and pass the great test which God put him through, with regard to offering Isaac on an altar. At the conclusion of that ordeal, God said,
By myself have I sworn, says the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:16-18)
Now, Paul clarifies that last sentence in his letter to the Galatians. He writes:
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He says not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (Gal. 3:16)
In other words, when God said to Abraham, "And in thy seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed," God was talking about Jesus Christ Ė not Isaac. Isaac would be the son of Abraham, but in Isaac would be Jesus Christ. HE was THE ONE SEED of Abraham, in and through Whom all of the nations of the world would be blessed.
Once we see that Christ is THE SEED, the NT teaching on this becomes clear. The teaching of the New Testament is that if you have your faith in Jesus Christ, you ARE a child of Abraham. You are a child of Abraham because, by faith, you are "in Christ" Ė who is THE SEED, or child, of Abraham.
Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of AbrahamÖ..And if you be Christís, then are you Abrahamís seed, and heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:7, 29)
Where do works enter in? Our works are the result of faith Ė not a substitute for it. And never the means by which we might be saved, stay saved, or keep in Godís grace. We are saved, "by grace, through faith, and unto good works." Works cannot birth children of promise. But children of promise do many works.
Abrahamís seed had an inheritance promised to Him. At the top of the list is eternal life. Jesus, that seed, won it all for us. When we put our faith in him, we become, not only "Abrahamís seed," but heirs, according to the promise God made to Abraham.There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:28-29)
Do you want to be Abrahamís seed? Then put your faith in Jesus Christ. Your faith isnít righteousness. But because your faith is in the One who IS righteousness, God will reckon to you His righteousness, and you will be a heir with Christ pertaining to the things of God. *
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