(d) Our Father Abraham
After using the example of David to teach the antiquity of this doctrine of Justification by Faith Paul returns to Abraham. Paul, as is his frequent practice, anticipates the objection of the Jewish people to this doctrine. In v9 he introduces the pride that the Jews had concerning their circumcision. With a few brief words he explains that their faith in circumcision was misplaced, he gives the true meaning of that ancient ritual and he crowns the passage by teaching that Abraham is the Father of all who believe incorporating Jews and Gentiles.
1: Father Abraham’s Faith Before Circumcision
Paul has already demonstrated that Abraham was Justified by Faith in Genesis 15:6. His circumcision is not described, however, until Genesis 17, a full 14 years later. Therefore it is apparent that Abraham’s faith existed apart from that ritual in which the Jews placed so much emphasis. The application is obvious and straightforward, a person is justified not because of their Jewishness, Protestantism, religiosity, adhering to the sacraments, external morality or prayerfulness. Salvation is by faith alone. Therefore if Abraham exercised saving faith prior to his circumcision he is the father of all who believe. He is the father of the justified people not merely of the Jewish people.
2: Father Abraham’s Sign and Seal of Faith
It was important that Paul, at this stage in his exposition, displayed his respect for circumcision. If circumcision did not save the ancient Jew, what then is its value? Circumcision was a sign. While the ritual did not in itself confer grace it pointed to the grace enjoyed by Abraham. A sign pointing the way to the name of a place is not the place it signifies. Nevertheless that sign remains very helpful to the lost traveller. Circumcision therefore became a sign to Abraham and to the Jewish people of the covenant that God had made with them.
In this New Testament age the twin sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs of God’s eternal covenant of grace. Baptism is an outward symbol of the work of the spirit in our souls which unites us to Christ in his death and resurrection. The Lord’s Supper is a sign of Christ’s death whereby we remember his sufferings for us. Both sacraments symbolise God’s ownership of us as we profess our faith.
Circumcision was also a seal. If a document is sealed with the stamp or hallmark of an organisation it carries greater authority. Circumcision was God’s way of impressing the importance of his covenant with Abraham. It was designed to give the Jewish people greater assurance, a tangible reminder of what they enjoyed spiritually.
In like manner Baptism and The Lord’s Supper are seals in that God has given them to us for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.
3: Father’s Abraham’s Steps of Faith
In v12 Paul interestingly talks about the Christian walking in the “steps of that faith of our Father Abraham”. Spiritually Abraham is our ancestor and his faith is presented to us as a model, an example. To walk in the steps of Abraham’s faith is to tread in his footsteps. It is to remain close to his example at all times. Abraham was a pilgrim He never settled, constantly searching for that city whose builder and maker was God. A pilgrim is one who has left home. Christ wants nothing be more precious to us than himself, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:26. A pilgrim is willing to carry the cross and to be a true disciple, Mark 8:34. Abraham’s faith was essentially one of obedience. His obedience however upon the promises which Jehovah had given him. When God called this man he made 7 promises Genesis 12:1-3,7.