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PaulReflecting on the idea of the ‘Abrahamic faiths’ drove me back to Paul and his Epistle to the Romans, not least to Chapter4. The central, and at the time (and since) controversial point which Paul makes here is a shattering one, and must have been so to a Jew of his upbringing and education. As a Jew he is well aware of something we often forget, namely that God has a covenant with His people; the question with which Paul deals here is one we all wrestle with – ‘who are God’s people?’ To that the Jews had a simple answer – they were. It was with them that the Covenant had been made, they were suffering for having been unfaithful, but they knew the Messiah would come and put all things right; until then, as Saul the Rabbi would have told them, a strict observance of the Law was necessary to show that they were indeed to be reckoned righteous – that is justified by their keeping of the Law in the eyes of God. But now Paul’s eyes were opened.

Abraham himself had been reckoned righteous, but not because of his observance of Torah – indeed there was no Torah. No, Abraham’s righteousness was the result of his believing in God, and circumcision was simply the sign or the seal of this righteousness. The Gentiles are in like condition to Father Abraham. They do not have the Law, but they trust God. Genesis does not tell us that Abraham kept the Law and therefore God found him righteous; righteousness came through faith. They, and we, start where Abraham started, and we are part of his covenant because like him we believe. This is the larger sense of what he has to say on the subject in Galatians.

Abraham is the father of the circumcised and the uncircumcised; Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus are thereby made righteous. There is a clear statement made here about those of the circumcised who do not believe in Jesus; they are not made righteous in God’s eyes by the observance of Torah. Circumcision availeth naught, the one sign which matters is the sign of Jesus. The Law, by itself, points up sin, and by it all are condemned, for all are sinners. God’s promise is to be delivered to all His people – regardless of race or gender. But the point is plain – God’s people are defined by belief in the saving Grace of Christ Jesus. Just as Abraham’s faith began God’s covenant meant to begin the process of putting creation to rights, so does our faith make us a part of that covenant family.

Abraham believed that God could give life where there was none, and Christians believe that God raised Christ from the dead to give us new life where there was none. Jesus died for our sins, and His rising is the sign we are justified – made righteous, not by our acts, but by His faithfulness in obedience to His Father. The Resurrection declared Him the Son of God. Isaiah 53 tells us (verse 11) that the Messiah will bear our iniquities and make many righteous, and Paul is telling us that this prophesy had been fulfilled in Christ.

If we share Abraham’s faith in God’s promises, fulfilled through the Son, then we are part of Abraham’s covenantal family. If not, not.