Are Believing Gentiles
Consider the following teaching from Romans chapter 4:
Paul once again refers to Genesis 15:6, the key passage which shows that Abraham was justified by faith. Based upon this passage Paul then asks an important question in verse 10: When Abraham was justified (in Genesis 15:6) was he a Jew or a Gentile? Was he circumcised or uncircumcised? Which came first, his salvation or his circumcision? The answer is very obvious. Abraham was saved (Genesis 15) long before he was circumcised (Genesis 17:24). In fact, after Abraham was saved his son Ishmael was born (Genesis 16:11) and this boy was thirteen years old when Abraham was circumcised (Genesis 17:25). Thus, Abraham first was justified and then more than 13 years later he was circumcised. As Stifler has said in his commentary on Romans: "Paul has turned the Jews boast upside down. It is not the Gentile who must come to the Jews circumcision for salvation; it is the Jew who must come to a Gentile faith, such faith as Abraham had long before he was circumcised."
Circumcision is said to be two things: 1) A SIGN -- signs are meant to point to something, and in this case circumcision pointed to the faith which Abraham had and to the righteousness which was credited to him; 2) A SEAL -- seals were used in the ancient world to show that a document was genuine (if you received a letter from the king and it had the kings seal on it, you would know that it was the genuine document, and not a counterfeit letter). Abrahams circumcision pointed to the genuineness and reality of his faith. Abraham was not justified because he had been circumcised; he was circumcised because he had been justified. The same is true today with water baptism. A man is not saved because he has been water baptized; he is water baptized because he has been saved. It is not the rite that makes a person right in Gods sight. First you must be right in Gods sight (by faith) and then the rite becomes right! See our document Does Water Baptism Save?
Abraham is the father of ALL WHO BELIEVE (Rom. 4:11). He is the father of the faithful. Every true believer can say, "Abraham is my father and I am his child." Every believing Gentile can say this (Romans 4:11) and every believing Jew can say this (Romans 4:12). Unbelieving Jews can claim physical descent, but when it comes to faith they do not bear the family resemblance (see Matthew 3:7-10 and John 8:33,37,38,39-44). Children should resemble their parents, and unbelievers have no spiritual resemblance to Abraham who was a believer.
The other passages which teach that Abraham is the spiritual father of believers are Romans 4:16 and Galatians 3:7,8,9,14,26-29 (those who belong to Christ by faith are Abrahams seed) and compare Luke 19:9. The account in Luke 16:19-31 is very interesting in light of what we have just learned. Who is the "Father" (Luke 16:24) that is seen in paradise? In fact, the very name of that place is called "Abrahams bosom" (v.22). That is the place where the faithful go and Abraham is the father of the faithful. The tragedy is that the rich man never knew Abraham as his spiritual father (v.24). He was rich but not rich in faith (compare James 2:5).
Physically, Abraham was not only the father of the Jews (those who came from Isaac and Jacob) but also he was the father of those who came from Ishmael (the Arabs) and those who came from Esau (the Edomites). Spiritually Abraham is the father of all who believe whether Jew or Gentile. Perhaps Genesis 22:17 is a reference both to Abrahams earthly or physical seed ("sand") and to his heavenly or spiritual seed ("stars"). Or, it could just be two different ways to say the same thing---that Abraham's descendants would be innumerable.
Are you following in the "faith-steps" of Abraham (Romans 4:12)? Do you carry
the family resemblance? Do you take God at His Word? Are you a believer in the same God
that Abraham trusted?
Abraham, the Father of All Who Believe (Romans 4)
Abraham is the father of all who believe (verses 11,16). He is the perfect person to fill this role because he was both a Gentile and a Jew. He put his faith in the Lord (Gen. 15:6) long before he was circumcised (v.10), and Gentiles need to believe God as he did. He was the father of the Jewish people (along with Isaac and Jacob) and the sign of circumcision began with him. The Jewish people need to believe God as he did and imitate father Abraham's faith. So Abraham is the father of all who believe, both Gentiles and Jews.
"[Paul] is not teaching that Gentiles become 'spiritual Jews.' Rather, those who follow the pattern of Abraham and exercise faith are the true children of Abraham. By calling all believers the sons of Abraham, he does not call all believers 'spiritual Jews.' Jewishness is not determined by Abraham alone, but by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is interesting that Gentile believers are never referred to as 'the sons of Jacob,' only as the sons of Abraham. So by calling Gentile believers the sons of Abraham, Paul does not mean they are spiritual Jews, but rather they follow Abraham's pattern in that they go on the basis of faith, not on the basis of works. Those who are the sons of Abraham are not spiritual Jews, but simply followers of Abraham's pattern, because that is what the phrase 'sons of' generally means in Hebrew; that is, 'a follower of.' Spiritual Jews are Jews who happen to believe and exercise faith. Gentiles who believe and exercise faith are spiritual Gentiles and are the spiritual seed of Abraham, but that does not make them spiritual Jews" [Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Faith Alone--The Condition of Our Salvation--An Exposition of the Book of Galatians and Other Relevant Topics].
Believing Jews are actually imitating Abraham's great act of faith performed when he was a Gentile (Genesis 15:6).
Remember the context. The key word in the chapter is "faith" ("believe"). Abrahams children are "all them that believe" (v.11). We need to bear the family resemblance! We need to follow in Abrahams faithful steps (v.12). We need to believe like he believed! We need to take God at His Word like Abraham did (v.3).
Heir = possessor
The promise mentioned in verse 13 is not found anywhere in the Old Testament in these exact words. Nowhere in the O.T. does God say, "Abraham, you will be heir of the world." There is no such verse. This is Pauls way of describing the blessings and the riches which would belong to Abraham and to his seed.
Notice that this promise is not to Abraham alone, but to all his seed also (see verse 13 and verse 16--"to all the seed"). Thus the promise is to Abraham and to all his spiritual, children ("all them that believe"--v.11). The promise is that Abraham and all believers will be heirs of the world and will possess the earth!
See Matthew 5:5--"the meek shall inherit the earth" ("meek" does not mean weak; it refers to a person who is broken and submissive to the will of God). See Matthew 25:34--when Christ returns to earth certain ones will inherit the kingdom. They will possess it and enjoy it! Certain others will be excluded (see verse 41).
See Luke 13:27-29. Some are in the kingdom (included) and others are out (excluded). Abraham and other believers are included! They shall possess the world and enjoy the kingdom. Those who are not Abrahams seed (unbelievers) will not be heirs (they will be excluded from the kingdom).
Abrahams true Seed is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:16). It is Jesus Christ (Gods Messiah, Gods anointed King--Psalm 2:1-2) who will possess the earth according to Psalm 2:8 (compare also verse 12). The earth belongs to Him. It is His Kingdom! Abraham and all His spiritual seed (believers) will share in the blessings of this kingdom.
Thus the expression "heir of the world" essentially means "to be part of Christs kingdom." According to Romans 4:13, how does a person become part of the kingdom? How does a person become heir of the world? Not through the law but through faith! If it were through the law, then this would involve the following: works, seeking to meet Gods requirements as given in the law, trying to earn Gods favor by obeying Gods law, trying to earn Gods blessings, trying to make yourself worthy, looking to get a reward as payment for work done, striving, achieving, etc. Faith operates on another principle entirely: God gives and I receive. Im not worthy of any of it but God gives me what I do not deserve (thats grace!).
For the sake of argument Paul assumes something to be true which is not true. There are great contrasts here: law in contrast to grace; works in contrast to faith; a system of merit in contrast to Gods free gift and unmerited favor; fulfilling Gods Law in contrast to believing Gods promise. The law requires perfect obedience; salvation requires Gods mercy and grace. The way of the law is based upon mans best efforts which are never enough; the way of faith is based on Christs finished work on the cross (Jn.19:30) which is totally sufficient. Gods holy law utterly condemns the best man; Gods amazing grace freely justifies the worst man. By the law the sinner is condemned and under Gods wrath; by grace the sinner is saved and under Gods wing. Law and grace are always opposing principles (see Romans 11:6).
If they who are of the law be heirs, then it is not my believing that counts but its my doing that counts! I must earn my way into the kingdom by my works and by my obedience to the law. Of course, the legal way of salvation is totally impossible (see Luke 10:25-28--"this do and thou shalt live!", but no sinner could ever do these things!). Thus the promise would be made of none effect! No one would be an heir and no one would make the kingdom! All unrighteous lawbreakers would be excluded (compare 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Eph. 5:5).
The law produces only wrath. The law can only produce a curse, not a blessing (Gal. 3:10). Why? Because of my condition as a sinner. A sinner cannot keep Gods holy law and thus I am a lawbreaker. Gods wrath must fall on me! Lawbreakers deserve death! Law-keepers deserve life, but how many of us have really kept Gods holy law and kept it perfectly all the days of our life?
The law does not bring righteousness or blessing or an inheritance but it only brings Gods wrath. If man could keep Gods holy and perfect law, then the law would bring life and blessing (Luke 10:28). The law works wrath because of sinful mans transgression of the law. Where there is law there is transgression, and where there is transgression there must be Gods wrath. The law worketh wrath, condemnation and death (compare 2 Cor.3:7,9). How foolish are those who want to put themselves under the awesome demands of Gods holy law. Paul says that such people do not even keep the law themselves (Gal. 6:13). Peter agrees with Paul (Acts 15:9-11). The Lord Jesus said, "None of you keepeth the law" (John 7:19).
The first part of this verse may be paraphrased as follows: "Therefore since law cannot realize anything but wrath, it (the promised heritage) is by faith in order that it might be by grace (Gods free gift to believing sinners)."
Justification by the works of the law depends on man and must fail because man is a sinner. Justification by grace depends only on God and on the finished work of Christ. It cannot fail because God cannot fail!
"Sure"--Its a sure thing! The promise is SURE to every believer whether Jew or Gentile! Blessed security! Every believer should be able to say, "Im sure that the promised inheritance is mine! Im sure that I am an heir!" (see the discussion under Romans 4:13).
Abraham is the father of all who believe (4:11), whether Jew or Gentile (4:11, 4:16)! He is the "father of many nations" (4:17). He is the spiritual father of those who believe out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation (cf. Rev.5:9).
If the promise were by the law then it would be limited to the Jews because it was to them that the law was given (see Romans 9:4). But the promise was by grace so that all believers (whether Jews or Gentiles) could possess and enjoy the promise.
The Middletown Bible Church
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