Do Abraham’s Children Matter?

Last week the world of social media brought yet another fascinating insight into the thought process of Christian thinking. While much of Christian social media is an embarrassment with respect to the subjects that are argued over and the manner with which most interact with other professing believers, although maddening, there are at times thought-provoking conversations. One that particularly caught my attention was the sharing of an image of Gaza that had been destroyed, at least partially, presumably by Israeli forces. The account that shared the image offered the following commentary:

“There’s still too many buildings standing. Israel should completely level the place, expel all who don’t credibly support Israel, then rebuild.”

To be sure, wading into the discussion on the current war in Israel is polarizing, primarily because it is designed to be that way. We are presented with only two options: Support Israel (and thereby democracy and the U.S.) or you are by default supporting Hamas (and are thereby a liberal who supports BLM). But this is a false dichotomy and there is almost always a third option. Taking the position of a possible third option in the discussion, I offered the following comment back to this account:

Genuine question, what about both the Israeli and Palestinian Christians, are they not caught in the middle? As believers, shouldn’t they be the ones garnering our full support?

@E415min

My reason and motivation for the question was to simply point out that in these areas that are torn by war, whether they be the Middle East, Ukraine/Russia, Africa, etc. there are believers who are caught in the middle and become casualties of these wars, costing them their homes, businesses, and often even their lives. As fellow believers, even being halfway around the world, our hearts should be knit together in love for those with whom we will share eternity. They are truly the only light in a dark situation. Rarely, if ever, do we have the details and information necessary to fully understand both sides of a situation. To be sure, terrorism should be repudiated. At the same time, we cannot be ignorant to the fact that the world and her leaders are making strong and serious attempts to reset things geopolitically, particularly in Western civilization. That said, the response that I received was somewhat shocking, indeed troubling.

No.

In war, that is irrelevant.

Justice demands that Israel do whatever necessary to effectively defend itself.

Justice also demands that ALL causalities are blamed on Hamas.

If you want to support the innocent bystanders, demand that Hamas surrender unconditionally.

This response was reposted by a couple of his followers, so clearly his is not an isolated view. But let’s think about this for a second. Does a country have a right to defend itself against external attacks? Of course, that is not the discussion. Because support for Israel among evangelicals is largely derived from Genesis 12:3, as we have recently discussed (The Verse on Which Support for Modern Israel Hinges), some complexities arise for the believer. All things being equal, surely we can support a country defending itself while at the same time mourning the losses of our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, if we blindly support any nation over and against the Kingdom of Christ in which our fellow brothers and sisters dwell, to the point of discarding them as a causality of war, we are indeed taking a pitiful position. Let’s lay aside the generic right of a nation to defend itself briefly and take up the current subject of Israel. We’ll likewise assume that everyone should, “credibly support Israel” as mentioned above. Finally, let’s also hold together the notion that this unquestioned support is derived from an understanding of Genesis 12:3, as mentioned, as well as a continuation of the Abrahamic Covenant with modern Israel.

These caveats noted, and as should be obvious are very real positions held by the majority of evangelicals today, let’s look at a verse from Galatians 3

And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3:29

In the wider context of Paul’s letter to the believers in the region of Galatia, location to a variety of churches that he evangelized and visited in Acts 14, he is dealing primarily with the Judaizing error that had been creeping into a number of churches, including the one at Jerusalem (Acts 15). The Judaizing error primarily required Gentiles to embrace certain aspects of the Mosaic Law which the Judaizers deemed essential to salvation. This included, among other ceremonial aspects of the law, circumcision. The reason for this additional requirement was that these Judaizers believed that the promises of God in the Abrahamic Covenant were exclusive to those of Jewish decent, therefore requiring those outside Jewish ancestry to add to their faith in Christ with their works of essentially Jewish conversion in the form of taking the covenant sign upon themselves. This was the basis for convening the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, as well as Paul’s letter to Galatians, along with other mentions of this error in additional letters.

After a rather stern introduction expressing his displeasure that they had fallen for another gospel, as though there is another, Paul then rehearses his own experiences addressing Judaizers, which included a confrontation with Peter who had become inconsistent in working out his own understanding of how the gospel broke down the dividing wall of hostility. He then states clearly, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” Galatians 2:16. With that single statement, Paul discounts any and all efforts to earn salvation by keeping the law. Instead, as in his letter to the Romans, he sets forth clearly that justification, i.e., being made right with God, is on the basis of faith alone, NOT by works of the law, in this case circumcision.

In chapter 3, he holds up the father of Israel, Abraham, as an example that justification by faith alone was always the way to be justified, even for the progenitor to whom the covenant of circumcision was given. To prove this (as he also does in Romans 4), the apostle makes reference to the Genesis passages where God had called Abraham and declared him righteous, first from Genesis 15:6, cited in Galatians 3:6 then Genesis 12:3, cited in Galatians 3:8, and finally a reference to the offspring of Abraham which is pulled from a number of Genesis passages as we saw in the post referenced above, but notably Genesis 12:7, cited in Galatians 3:16.

As each reference from Genesis is made, Paul offers commentary, now through the lens of the New Covenant in Christ. To Genesis 15:6 he writes, “know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” This would’ve been and still should be a shocking statement. Is there any doubt why Paul was reviled by his kinsman according to the flesh, run out of synagogues, stoned and left to die? By holding up Abraham as the example of justification by faith and then asserting that all those who share faith like Abraham are indeed Abraham’s offspring, he destroys any notion of Jewish exclusivity to the Gospel of Christ and the accompanying message of salvation that it brings. This message of course did not originate with Paul, naturally, as his letters are nothing less than the divinely inspired Word of God. Rather we find similar words from our Lord and his forerunner John the Baptist.

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

John the Baptist, Matthew 3:9

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works that Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father-even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Jesus, John 8:39-44

So, when Paul makes the assertions that he does in his commentary on Abraham in Genesis, he is simply reiterating what our Lord taught. In his second reference to Genesis, he replies similarly, “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9). Finally, in the third reference, this in regard to offspring as we have previously noted, he writes, “‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16), denoting that Abraham’s true seed is our Lord. From here, Paul expounds more clearly his intent to explain how the promises of Christ made to Abraham were not annulled by the law, which builds on circumcision and is more fully revealed in the Mosaic Covenant. After explaining that the law was a necessary tutor until the time of Christ, he again makes a shocking assertion.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:28-29

In summarizing all that we have seen God’s Word say concerning Abraham’s children, the priority must be given to those of faith. Does Abraham have a physical seed? Yes, as affirmed by Jesus in the passage we cited earlier from John 8 (John 8:37), but there is a duality as also seen in this passage and cited above. Claiming physical descent from Abraham is useless as it relates to the Gospel. Indeed, apart from faith one would have more family resemblance to the devil than Abraham, that was Jesus’ point in John 8:44.

What then can we conclude about the interaction from social media cited above?

Considering the context of the war in Gaza and the statement that was made, the conclusion is that not only were the comments wrong, but they were entirely unscriptural. As believers, we understand that this world is not our home. We understand that Jesus prophesied that there would be wars and rumors of wars. But we must not allow ourselves to be caught up in the politics of the hour, much of which we know nothing about, to the detriment of our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a priority for our attention, prayers, even affections that should be extended foremost to fellow believers. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) We may hold out hope, as Paul does in Romans 9-11 that God will yet save a number of those from Jewish decent, but we must realize that those Christians who are of Palestinian descent are the offspring of Abraham because of their faith in Christ. They stand alongside all others, whether Christians of Jewish descent, or Russian, or African, or American or elsewhere forming an international brotherhood, a family of Christ. That is the clear teaching of Scripture and the truth with which we must reckon.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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