Abraham Wasn’t a Jew — at First

Title: Abraham wasn’t a Jew, at first.

Text: Romans 4:1-25

Time: September 3rd, 2006

We’re coming up on the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year in September. Then, at the beginning of October, Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. Speaking of Jews, did you know the father of the Jews, Abraham, didn’t start out as a Jew, wasn’t saved as a Jew, but was saved by God before there was any Jewish law or circumcision or temple or any other of the things the Jews are associated with? Abraham was just a man when God saved him. God declared Abraham righteous before he was ever a Jew, before he was ever circumcised, before he obeyed the Jewish law. Abraham was justified or made right in God’s eyes by one and only one thing – His faith. Abraham believed God and his faith was considered by God as righteousness. Now most people don’t know that. If you ask someone if they’ve ever heard of Abraham, they’ve probably say, “Yea, the great founder of the Jewish faith,” but they won’t know that Abraham received his salvation before he became a Jew, before he lived in obedience to the law, before he was circumcised, or before he performed any of the Jewish religious rituals. Abraham was just an ordinary guy, but with extraordinary faith, when he got right with God. That’s a surprise because we would think that only after Abraham became a good Jew would God accept him as righteous. But no, it was before he became a good Jew. Now why is this important? We’ve been going through the Book of Romans for the last few months and we come to the fourth chapter that deals entirely with Abraham’s faith. The Apostle Paul has been trying to explain over the last three chapters that there is only one way to become acceptable in the eyes of God – by faith. Paul proves that all people, Jews and Gentiles, you, me, are all guilty of sin before the eyes of God. We all deserve judgment and condemnation for our sins. Paul also shows that there is nothing anyone can do to change this situation because trying to obey all the laws of God can’t save us since nobody can perfectly obey them anyway. So since there is nothing left for us to do to save ourselves, we must believe or trust in Christ Jesus to save us. By faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, we are forgiven and made righteous before God. What most people don’t know, what most Jews don’t even know, is that Abraham, the father of the Jews, was saved by faith and not by his works. Abraham was saved, before he became a Jew, before he did anything good or religious; Abraham was saved by simple faith. Paul points out this little known historical fact because he wants everyone to know that this faith that Abraham had is the Christian salvation message: salvation by faith. Three things stand out in Romans 4 (read).

First, Abraham was saved as a Gentile by faith. Romans 4:1-8, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are they who transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.’” What makes a Jew a Jew? That was a hot topic over in Israel a few years ago, and continues to be debated even today in modern Israel now. But look at Abraham, the father of the Jews. The one thing that made him righteous before God was his faith, and that was before he had become a Jew. By any accounting, Abraham wasn’t a Jew at the time God saved his soul. He wasn’t circumcised, an important Jewish distinction. He hadn’t obeyed God’s laws yet, because they hadn’t been given to Moses yet. But although Abraham didn’t have anything that would later distinguish him as a Jew, he had one thing that made him righteous before God: faith. It was the most important thing Abraham could have, since being considered righteous in the eyes of God is the greatest thing a man can have. It ushers a man into the presence of God, forgiveness of sins, and a blessed life forever with God. What could be greater than that? And Abraham had this before he ever was a Jew. The same kind of thing applies today in respect to Christianity. People confuse what makes a person a Christian. They think joining a Christian church, getting baptized, reading the Bible, praying, acting like a Christian, etc. makes you a Christian, but it doesn’t. Now there are things that a Christian should and will do, but this comes after a person is saved; these things don’t make a person a Christian. So in the same way, today, we might say a person needs to get saved before they can become a Christian. Unless a person is made righteous or justified in the eyes of God by faith, all the other stuff associated with the Christian life or church doesn’t mean a thing. So we are not saved by being a Christian, we become a Christian by being saved.

Second, Abraham was not saved as a Jew by works. Romans 4:9-15, “Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised or before? It was not after, but before. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.” The Jew made and still makes a big deal about circumcision. In the past, the Jews saw circumcision as a symbol of the covenant between God and Abraham. But what had happened over the years is that the Jews forgot what the symbol had originally meant. They began to see that circumcision itself was the thing that saved. They saw circumcision as representing the whole Jewish way of life, from that first moment of Jewish-ness, circumcision, to the Bar Mitzvah, to obeying the Jewish laws, the temple sacrifices, etc. But come to find out, as Paul – who was a Jewish Pharisee and who was highly educated and dedicated to the Jewish faith – the very founder of Judaism, Abraham, was saved by faith and not by any of the Jewish works he performed during his life. That would come as a great shock for any Jew, but there it is for any Jew to see, right in the account of Abraham found in any Jewish Bible. I remember talking to an Orthodox Jew around 20 years ago in Oak Park, Michigan. I tried to start a conversation with this student who was taking the same world religion course I was taking at Siena Heights College. I tried to limit our references only to the Old Testament and talk about the Messiah. The problem was he didn’t want to dialogue on the subject, he didn’t want to examine verses from his own scriptures, and he didn’t want to talk about the Messiah. One of the problems with the average modern-day Jew is that they don’t know their own Bibles, but another problem is, like this young man I tried to talk to, they won’t examine their own Bibles to see if Christianity might be true. They are so culturally conditioned to reject all Christian explanations that they won’t even take the time to consider anything other than what their rabbi or parents have taught them. If they would, they’d find that Paul is right: Abraham was saved by faith before he was a Jew.

Third, everyone who is saved is saved the same way: by faith, not by works. Romans 4:16-25, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Now why is Paul making such a big point about Abraham being saved by faith before becoming a Jew? Simply to help us understand that everyone can be saved the same way Abraham was: by faith. It isn’t necessary to become a Jew, since it wasn’t Jewish-ness that saved the first Jew Abraham. It isn’t the Jewish law that saves, because Abraham didn’t yet have that, but even if he did, it couldn’t have saved him, anyway, he was already saved by his faith. Circumcision didn’t save Abraham, since salvation was by faith, not by any religious ritual. So the only essential thing necessary for salvation before God was faith; it’s still the same today. God saves a person, whoever he is, by faith, or that person isn’t saved, period. A Jew is saved by faith, and so is a non-Jew. No Jew is saved by good works or obedience to law, and neither is a non-Jew. There is one and only one way to be righteous in the eyes of God, there is only one way of salvation, and that is by faith. Now Abraham had faith in God; he didn’t know about Jesus as we do today. Today, we are saved by faith in God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is God come to earth, lived a perfectly holy life, died in our place for sins on the cross, was buried and rose to life again. By placing our absolute faith in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation we are made righteous in the eyes of God. Have you trusted Jesus for your salvation before God? Or are you still thinking that maybe you’ll be saved by your own self-righteous life? It’s impossible. Abraham wasn’t saved by works, what makes you think you can be? Nobody can. Faith is our only option. Why not repent of your sins and trust in your only Savior Jesus Christ for salvation?

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