Abraham is one of the central figures in the book of Genesis. He was the patriarch from whom all Israel traced its decent (Ps. 105:6; Isa. 41:8). When the Lord called Abraham to leave his native land in Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan, He promised to make him a great nation and to make him a blessing to all the people on the earth (Gen. 12:1–3). Later the Lord reiterated His promise, declaring that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven. Because Abraham believed God’s promise, his faith was credited as righteousness (Gen. 15:4–6).
Because of this exercise of faith, Abraham should also be regarded as one of the forefathers of the church. In Romans 4:10, the apostle Paul points out that Abraham was declared righteous through faith prior to being circumcised. In Abraham’s case, circumcision served as the sign and seal of a righteousness that he already possessed as a gift from God. In this way Abraham became “the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them” (Rom. 4:11). He is also “the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4:12).
In other words, Abraham’s example demonstrates that righteousness cannot be earned as a result of human effort. It is something that God credits to our account when we believe His promise. This righteousness comes to us through Jesus Christ, who is the promised descendant (literally, “seed”) through whom all the nations of the earth can be blessed (cf. Gal. 3:16). Those who place their faith in Christ are credited as righteous just as Abraham was. The priority of faith is important because it guarantees that this blessing of righteousness is the result of grace and not of any human effort (Rom. 4:16). Because righteousness is a matter of grace, those who have the same kind of faith as Abraham can be certain that their sins have been forgiven (1 John 2:12).
No religious ritual can substitute for faith in Jesus Christ. The point Paul makes about circumcision also holds true for baptism. Baptism is a divinely appointed sign, but if we are depending upon anything apart from Christ for eternal life, this “faith means nothing and the promise is worthless” (Rom. 4:14).
FOR FURTHER STUDY
To learn more about Abraham, read Created to Be God’s Friend: Lessons from the Life of Abraham by Henry Blackaby (Thomas Nelson).
By John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies
John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of Folly, Grace & Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching (Zondervan), A Stranger in the House of God (Zondervan) and served as general editor of The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.