They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. (John 8:39)
It’s amazing to think that, right from the beginning, God made provision for both Jew and Gentile through Abraham. When we look up at the millions of stars in the night sky, we catch a small glimpse of the multitude of people – from every nation and race – included in the family of the children of God and can only give thanks for His limitless grace. Through Christ, the father of the Jewish nation is now the father of all nations. We are grafted in, not as ‘steps’ or ‘halves’ but as heirs in Christ. Christians are very quick to claim the ‘blessings of Abraham’ as our right, but our verse today challenges us to also remember our responsibility – to live as he did before the Lord. It’s worth looking at and learning from even some of the things that defined the patriarch.
Abraham set himself apart.
This was both a literal and a spiritual separation. At God’s command, and with no clue as to what the future might hold, Abraham chose to leave his family and head off into the unknown. From a purely physical point of view, this was a bold and courageous decision. There was safety in numbers. A settlement provided protection, but it also provided encouragement, support, and assistance, things we often take for granted. On its own, separating himself in this way demands a measure of respect. But what really defined Abraham was his choice to set himself apart to and for God.
From the moment of his calling, Abraham displayed a single-minded focus on and pursuit of God. This isn’t to say that he was ‘blameless’ or never made mistakes. The little matter of passing Sarah off as his sister is only one example of what happened when this righteous man looked away from God and relied on himself. The other example is, of course, when he listened to Sarah rather than God. The result was the hatred between the sons of Isaac and Ishmael, which continues to this day. But despite his errors – which essentially prove that Abraham was as weak as you or I – he remained committed to living a life set apart for God. While God blessed him abundantly along the way, this could not have been an easy choice, either to make or to live with.
Abraham and a life of worship.
Hand in hand with living a life set apart is the fact that Abraham lived a life of worship. We often forget that his were the days without the law, without a temple or even the wilderness tabernacle. There were no defined ‘rituals’ or ‘processes’ to provide guidance. Worship was individual and from the heart. It was a one-on-one interaction between Abraham and God and, in many ways, defined the relationship between God and His people in the ages to come. From the simple act obedience to God’s command to ‘go’ to the absolute faith in his obedience in sacrificing Isaac, Abraham lived a life of unwavering worship. What stands out in this life of worship is that it was characterised by a deep humility.
To understand this, we need only look at his visit to Melchizedek, the king-priest of Salem – which later became Jerusalem under the rule of David, through which Christ descended as a priest and king in the order of Melchizedek. At this point in his life, Abraham was an important man. He had flocks and herds, along with significant wealth. He’d just defeated the combined armies of the three kings and rescued Lot, and could justifiably have been a little arrogant and puffed up by the obvious hand of God’s blessing and favour. Yet his response is humility. He recognised the ancient priesthood of Melchizedek – not the man or any man-made religious structure, but the anointing of God. Even when debating with God over the future of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham never lost this deep-rooted humility.
Abraham’s absolute obedience.
There were, of course, moments where Abraham slipped, fell, or made mistakes. He was, like all of his ‘spiritual children’ very human, with all its frailty and weakness. If, as today’s verse clearly states, we should do the works of Abraham – live like him – it doesn’t mean we will never err. God looks at the heart and our heart’s choices. Underpinning the life of this remarkable man was a deep and simple desire to be obedient. He heard God’s voice and responded. When he was disobedient, he was quick to repent and to act to change that. He had a heart after God, and because of that, was a man after God’s heart.
He wasn’t some ‘miracle man’ with whom we can never hope to keep up. His mistakes, compared to some of ours, were world-altering if we consider Isaac and Ishmael. But in his heart, he desired to live the will of God in his life. We often forget that obedience isn’t limited to simply never being disobedient. We’re human, first and foremost, and will never achieve the level of perfection required to never disobey God. What we need to learn from Abraham is that part of being obedient is to recognise our error and to repent, to turn away from it. A teachable heart is an obedient heart, and Abraham’s heart is both an encouraging and challenging teacher.
The faith of Abraham.
This is often quoted as an example of ‘real faith’ – the kind that moves mountains, changes lives, and invites the blessings of God. Everything in Abraham was underpinned by a deep, unshakeable, abiding, and absolute faith that God was who He said He was and would do what He said He would. In this respect, Abraham’s faith was simple and almost childlike. Again, we should remember that he didn’t have the Bible to remind him of all God had done. It was a kind of raw, learn-as-you-go faith we may find difficult to comprehend. This is the faith that believes without seeing. It takes God at His word and acts accordingly. The command to sacrifice Isaac is our perfect example – which of us would have the faith and courage to lay both our child and future promise of God in him on the altar?
Abraham did have moments when his doubts and fears overcame his faith, but these were temporary. His was the kind of faith that learned from his mistakes, as the sacrifice of Isaac proves. Abraham’s faith emerged from a life lived with God. In a sense, his life was a kind of ‘Bible’ much as it is part of our Bible. Through his own life, He learned of the faithfulness, the power, the glory, and the holiness of God. Obviously, obedience, worship, and being set apart all work together with faith. We cannot ever separate them. But what stands out in Abraham’s life was that all these things forged a faith in God based on an intimate relationship with Him. Abraham’s faith was covenant faith, and the children of God still see the outworking of that thousands of years later.
Abraham was honest with God.
This may seem insignificant when we look at all the other characteristics of this great man’s life, yet honesty is, in many ways, the foundation of them all. The Bible tells us that Abraham walked before God. The impetus behind these words is that it was before God – openly and honestly. He held nothing back, presumed nothing, and pretended nothing. He came as he was in faith, and allowed God to work in him though obedience and worship. Throughout, he remained humble and surrendered to the sovereign will of God. If we desire to ‘do the works’ of Abraham – the evidence that we are his heirs in Christ – honesty is the place to start. We cannot simply claim the blessings unless we are willing to do as Jesus did. We must walk honestly before our heavenly Father.
Abraham is merely an example. God chose him as the way to unify all peoples through Christ. The so-called ‘blessings of Abraham’ are not important. What is important is that we learn the humility and honesty that defined this man’s life. Our eyes should be on the rightful heir, the Son of God, our perfect example and the manifestation of a life surrendered to the Father’s will.
Father God, we thank You today for Your grace and wisdom, and the perfect plan to bring all men into Your heavenly family. Help us to forget the ‘blessings of Abraham’ and to learn from the man. Teach us, through the perfect example of Christ, to live as Abraham did, in humility and honesty before You. Forgive us for the times where we have looked to the advantages rather than the responsibilities, and draw us to walk before You in faith and surrender.