“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’ And God said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.’ Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!’ Then God said: ‘No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.’ Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.”
Who Was Abraham and How Did God Work towards Abraham?
Today I am going to talk about Abraham, namely the father of faith; I want to look into the issue about who he was and how God worked towards him. God appeared before Abraham quite often after he left his hometown, namely, Ur of the Chaldeans. The first time God appeared to Abraham was when he reached a place between Ai and Bethel. When God gave His Word to Abraham, he then called on the name of the Lord, built an altar, and gave a sacrifice offering to God.
In Genesis chapter 14, God helped Abraham during a war, and in chapter 15, God appeared to Abraham again in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1). But Abraham said to God, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2). What Abraham was really saying here was, “Lord God, You have given me no offspring. So, I have no other choice but to make Eliezer my heir!” The Lord then replied, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now towards the heavens, and count the stars if you are able to number them. So shall your descendants be.” And Abraham believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
Then Abraham asked, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” So God said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him (Genesis 15:8-9). What did God finally say when He saw Abraham’s genuine faith? He gave Abraham a promise of blessing and that his descendants would be slaves in Egypt for four hundred years but afterwards they will come out in a great number with many possessions and form a great nation.
Abraham was a spiritual man. We can tell this from what he said, “If you go to the right, I will go to the left” when his nephew Lot and he had a strife over their possessions. Abraham believed that God was his God and believed in all His Words because He trusted in Him fully. He lived with this genuine faith in God, and with this faith he obeyed everything God told him to do. God then said to this faithful Abraham, “I am your shield and your exceedingly great reward.” When Abraham heard this, he said, “Lord God, what are you trying to give me? I have nothing to hope for. Even if you give me anything, my heir is not my real son. So it is all useless.” Then God replied, “He is not going to be your heir, but your own son will be. Look at the stars in the sky. I will give you as many offspring as these stars.”
In Genesis 16, we see that this Abraham, even though he believed in God’s promise, slept with Sarah’s maidservant and had a son called Ishmael. Abraham was 75 years of age when he left Ur of the Chaldeans and Ishmael was born to him at the age of 86. He waited 11 years to have a child since leaving. Nevertheless, God promised him that the one who would come from his own body will be his heir and that his offspring would be as many as the stars in the sky, but 11 years later a child was born to him when he was 86. Of course, he could not avoid the complications after he had Ishmael. Serious conflicts resulted between His wife Sarah and her maidservant Hagar who gave birth to Ishmael, and in the end they had to let Hagar go.
When Abraham turned 99 years of age, God appeared to him again. And He gave him this same promise:
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God’” (Genesis 17:1-8).
Dear fellow believers, what does this Word of promise mean? The Lord God who had appeared earlier in Genesis 15, appeared again to Abraham in Genesis 17 and assured him that He would be keeping that promise. This time however, He gave Abraham a more detailed promise that He would be God to Abraham’s descendants. God then said, “Every male child among you shall be circumcised and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:10-11). God said any male child who is 8 days old should be circumcised no matter whether that child is born in an Israelite’s house or not, that is, any boy child who is born in a house of any foreigner bought with money. He warned that those who were not circumcised would be cut off from His people, for they would have broken the covenant.
This is correct. God who had promised to give a son to Abraham in Genesis 15, reassured him again in Genesis 17 that He would not only give him offspring as many as stars in the sky, but also He would be God to his descendants. Besides, God gave Abraham a specific Word of blessing that he would be the father of many nations, kings would come from his descendants, and God would make nations from Abraham’s offspring.
If this be so, how does the Word of God come true in the end? It is through circumcision. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7). What does this mean? It means circumcision is the proof of God’s covenant with Abraham. It also means whoever believes in the covenant must be circumcised without fail. God is telling us here that He would not be God to those who refused to be circumcised, for circumcision was actual proof of God’s promise. Without circumcision God’s promise would not come true. But if they were circumcised by faith, then only would God be their God just as He was to Abraham.
God told Abraham in Genesis 17:15 that He would give a son to his wife Sarah and that his name would be Isaac. God assured him by a promise that He would give Abraham a child through his wife Sarah. He said, “My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year” (Genesis 17:21). This is what God had promised him.
The Covenant with Abraham Was Centered on Circumcision
From Genesis 17 onwards we see God’s promise how He would be the God to Abraham and his descendants based on circumcision. God did not become the God of anyone for any other reason. Likewise, just as the Lord became God for those who believed in the gospel of the water and the Spirit in this age of the New Testament; in the time of the Old Testament, God became the God of only those who were circumcised. God of the Old Testament era also became the God of Abraham as well as the God of Isaac and of Jacob and of all their descendants, which was all based on the covenant of circumcision He had made with those people of faith. God commanded Abraham and his descendants to be circumcised without fail, promising them if they do this then He will be their God. God kept His promise and became the God of Israel, that is, to the descendants of Abraham who were circumcised by faith. And to this day, God still remains to be the God to us, we who have been circumcised in our hearts. In this way, God made the covenant of salvation through circumcision. I believe He has become the God to you and to me, we who have received our salvation through the gospel of the water and the Spirit.
The significance of circumcision is recorded in many places throughout the Bible. For example, here in Romans 9:6-8 we read this.
“But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” Since God promised He would save the Israelites through the covenant of circumcision and that He would be the God to those who had been circumcised, He said not all descendants from Jacob were His, and not all of Abraham’s seeds belonged to Him. What does this mean? This means that not all of the biological descendants of Abraham could become the real children of God, but only those who keep the commandment of circumcision as set by God could become His children.
Spiritually, Who Are the Real Child of Abraham?
Abraham received the promise from God at the age of 75, and he had a son by his wife’s maidservant at the age of 86. But this child could never become his legitimate son, because God previously told Abraham that he would have a son with Sarah, but he in impatience had a son intentionally with Sarah’s maidservant. But despite this, God kept His promise and allowed him to have a son, who was called Isaac. At that time, he was a hundred years old, and he had a real son God had promised him 14 years after he had the first son. That is how he had two sons, the first son, Ishmael and the second son, Isaac.
Here is one important thing to remember. Spiritually speaking, Ishmael was not Abraham’s son. In a biological sense however he was, but in a spiritual sense he was not the real child of Abraham. God had previously told him that He would give him a son with Sarah, his lawful wife. Even though Abraham had a son with Hagar, this was not recognized by God to be his son according to the promise He made to him.
What is God telling us through this? Only those who have received the remission of sins by believing in the Word of God become the true children of God. In other words, those who are born of God’s Word of promise are His genuine spiritual children. It is written, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.” Therefore, the true children of God are those who have been born again by believing in the Word of God just as it is.
This circumcision still applies to us in this present day. Think about it. There are a great number of people who believe in Jesus, but most of them have never received the remission of sins because they do not believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. And as a result, they cannot become the true children of God? This promise that God would save those who believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit was also mentioned in the Old Testament era. God told Abraham these very same things. He said, “Only if you become circumcised will I surely become your God. If you obey, then only will I be God to your descendants. People who do not obey will not be My people. Only those who are circumcised are My people.” Therefore, whoever receives the remission of sins by believing in God’s promise becomes a child of God regardless of the age he or she lives in now.
“In Isaac your seed shall be called,” means children born of human flesh cannot become God’s children automatically. Those people born to parents who have received the remission of sins by them believing that Jesus bore all the sins of the world cannot become God’s children automatically unless they themselves believe in that Word of promise for themselves. This is why Abraham’s physical descendants had to be circumcised by faith. Abraham’s descendants appeared to be God’s children, but they could not become God’s people in a spiritual sense without the sign of their genuine faith, which was circumcision. Even after approximately 4000 years since then, this circumcision still applies to you and me.
Romans 9:11-13 says, “(For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’” This Scripture passage tells us clearly whom God adopts to be His children in this generation. God adopts those who are honest before God and understand their shortcomings and sinfulness, acknowledge God’s Word from their hearts, and believes in the fact that they have been properly saved through the gospel of the water and the Spirit.
Whom Did God Choose?
God said, “The older shall serve the younger when they were still in their mother’s womb.” Some people in their ignorance misinterpret this verse, saying, “As you see here, God has His favorites even when they were still in the womb. It is not through being convicted by God, but through His arbitrally random selections that people become His children.” Some people might have these askew thoughts, but the truth is the truth. Such a notion is often called “the doctrine of unconditional election.” Unconditional election is a Calvinistic teaching, which teaches that before God created the world, He chose to save some people randomly according to His own purposes apart from any conditions related to those unfortunate persons.
Of course, it is important to know whom God chose. When Jacob and Esau were in Rebecca’s womb, God already knew how they would turn out in the future. So He said, “The older shall serve the younger.” Put differently, the Omniscient God knew beforehand that Esau would be a fleshly man while Jacob would be a spiritual man. In such a context, God said, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Jacob was the one God loved and called. But what was Jacob like? Of course, while Esau was incredulous, egotistical and rebellious against God, Jacob was not without shortcomings either. Even though he trusted fully in God’s Word and desired His blessings, He was nevertheless cunning and full of shortcomings. So what did God say? God said that He did not come to call the perfect nor the righteous but to call sinners. He said He would call sinners and make them righteous. The Lord also said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). Likewise, God does not choose those who are wholesome. God calls those who have sin-sick hearts, these are the ones who can receive the remission of sins and become truly born-again by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit.
Who then out of the many people in this world can become God’s children? Who out of the two sons, Ishmael and Isaac was the true child of God? God gave Abraham His Word, and enabled Abraham to become the father of a great nation by giving him Isaac when he could not possibly become a father in a physical sense. 24 years after God made His first promise, He allowed Abraham to have a son. And he became the father of a nation. Therefore, the true children of God are the Isaac’s, who are born of God’s Word of promise. Therefore, we who believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit are born of God’s Word of promise.
God Called People like Jacob
On this earth, there are many people who claim to be Christians. If so, do all of them become God’s children? No, they don’t. As you know, God sent Jesus Christ to this earth and accomplished the gospel of the water and the Spirit, which enables us to be truly born again. He took away all our sins once and for all through His baptism, and saved us wholly by carrying these sins to the Cross where He was crucified in our place. The Lord then clarified this truth that only those who have been born again by believing in this heavenly gospel of the water and the Spirit can become the true children of God. In this way only will God call people His children. He calls people like Jacob. He invites those whose lives are full of shortcomings and weaknesses, and who honestly acknowledges His Word, and He cleanses their sins away completely with the water and the blood, and only then adopts them as His children. God still chooses those who are sinners and who acknowledge His Holy Word. It is God’s will to call such insufficient and sin-stricken people and to make them into the righteous in order to adopt them as His children. He is doing this even at this very moment, since it has always been the obvious and unchanging purpose of God.
Unfortunately, people do not understand His purpose very well. Many Israelites in the Old Testament era did not become God’s people because they were only circumcised in a physical sense but not spiritually. It is the same today. To become the true children of God, you must believe in God from your heart by faith, not just with empty words or feelings. Do not ever forget this. To gain sonship from God is to have faith in His covenant that He has cleansed us by His baptism and His blood on the Cross.
Our merciful God took pity on us, and came down to this earth to bear all our sins through the baptism, and then carried our sins and died on the Cross to save us all. God promised that He would come to this earth in human flesh. 700 years after He promised this through the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus Christ arrived on earth and fulfilled this promise. And when he reached 30 years of age, He was baptized to bear all these sins upon Himself, and shed His blood on the Cross, just as scapegoats were used to take away people’s sins in the Old Testament era. In such a way, He took all our sins, died for us, and rose again from the dead to become our Savior. I am certain that only those who believe in this complete work of the Lord are truly circumcised spiritually and have become the children of God.
Therefore, we need to understand the righteousness of God more deeply. Only then will we be able to distinguish between carnal Christians and spiritual Christians. Such faith comes from the heart. Let us become people of such faith. Let us become spiritually circumcised; let us begin to fully understand the righteousness of God; and let us have the knowledge that enables us to discern whether one is a true Christian or not. Then let us become known to God as the true Christians.