“Do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
“Jesus said to [Zacchaeus], ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’ ” (Luke 19:9,10).
Abraham’s Physical Children
“Like father, like son.” Children often resemble their parents— not only in appearance, but also in attitudes and actions. God declares that Abraham is our spiritual parent. In one vital way, all Christians are like him.
God had promised to Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation. . . . All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. . . . To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:2,3,7).
For a long time, Abraham struggled with God’s promise. Humanly speaking, he was too old to have children. He said to the Lord, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir” (15:3). God handled Abraham’s doubts like this: “[The LORD] took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’ ” (15:5). That was enough for Abraham. We are told, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (15:6). Later, God told Abraham, “My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you” (17:21).
Through faith Abraham became the father of the promised nation. Abraham’s children through his son Isaac inherited the land of Canaan. And they became the ancestors of the Savior—all in accord with God’s promise.
Abraham’s Spiritual Children
Jesus descended from Abraham in a physical way (Matthew 1:1). In a sense, all Jewish people were children of Abraham. Paul once addressed his fellow Jews with that designation (Acts 13:26).
But physical lineage was not enough to become a true child of Abraham. John the Baptist insisted to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
Jesus makes the same distinction. In one of his parables, he tells how believing Lazarus was carried on angels’ wings to Abraham’s side (Luke 16:22); but in the same parable, Jesus denies the unbelieving rich man’s petitions from hell—even though the rich man could address Abraham as “Father Abraham” (16:24). In another altercation, some Jewish people claimed, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus replied: “If you were Abraham’s children, . . . then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things” (John 8:39,40).
The apostle Paul, a Jewish-born missionary to non-Jewish people, emphatically differentiated physical descent from Abraham with spiritual descent from him (although the two may overlap).
Paul explains this most clearly in Galatians 3:6-9: “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
Jesus used this kind of language too. He recognized both the crippled woman whom he had healed (Luke 13:16) and Zacchaeus whom he had forgiven (19:9) as children of Abraham, not only because of their physical descent from him, but especially because they had come to Jesus in faith for healing of body and soul.
So then, we believing Christians are the genuine children of honored Abraham, and he is our actual father in Christ.
Not only has the Holy Spirit blessed us with faith in Jesus, as he did for Abraham, but we must also put into practice our confidence in Christ, as Abraham did. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). We make our pilgrimage to heavenly glory with that same faith. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. . . . Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (11:17,19). Our confident faith in our own resurrection parallels that of our father Abraham.
By following in faith the footsteps of our father Abraham, we are led into the gracious, waiting arms of our true and heavenly Father.