I am writing this article chiefly as a complement to other articles you will find on Path of Obedience. While this article is a complete thought, it really gains significance when understood within the context of the bigger picture of salvation, justification, righteousness, and adoption. So my goal going into this article is as follows:
- Correct a few misunderstandings about the Torah of our Father.
- Compare and contrast children of flesh vs. children of promise.
One might be curious as to why being a child of Abraham is even important? Well, being a true child of Abraham is arguably one of the most important distinctions one could possess. For it was through Abraham that the promise of God came by sending His Son, the Seed of Abraham, the Messiah Yeshua. Yeshua is the Seed of the promise of God’s blessing to Abraham in Genesis 12. If you are Messiah’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring (Galatians 3:29). Additionally, God was, is, and will always be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We must follow in the footsteps of our father Abraham in regards to faith and obedience.
Nevertheless, muddy waters still exist in the area of this topic. While many profess to be the children of Abraham, do their lives bear the same fruit as Abraham? Let’s dive right into Scripture to see what God tells us through His counsel.
Romans 9: Who Exactly are Abraham’s Children?
Paul starts in Romans 9:1-5 detailing the great desire he has to see Israel saved. He then emphasizes how ethnic Israelites have possessions from God that form an astonishing list: these possessions include the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Torah, the worship, the patriarchs, and the promises of God! The sad reality is that although their ancestry is full of these possessions from God, as a whole, ethnic Israel still rejects their Messiah who is from their bloodline.
From this line of thinking Paul continues on into verse 6. Let’s pick up reading there:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
To begin, Paul just lets everyone know up front that even though Israel had everything they needed pointing them to faith, their failure to believe is not God’s fault! Then he begins his discourse on who the true children of Abraham are. To make this as simple as possible, I am going to repost that same passage, but this time in brackets [ ] I will include interpretations for certain words to help in understanding.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are [the physical bloodline] descended from [ethnic] Israel belong to [the true] Israel [of God], 7 and not all are [spiritual] children of Abraham because they are his [physical descendants or] offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your [true] offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise [which is through faith] are counted as offspring.
* Brackets indicate author’s additions.
Hopefully, as you re-read the above passage, the bracketed words helped you gain insight into the message Paul is teaching. Notice that sometimes Scripture uses the same word, but with two entirely different implications. This stresses the importance of using all of God’s counsel to frame our understanding of every idea, including the concept of Abraham’s offspring. Here are a couple of specific points I want you to note from this passage:
- There are two “types” of offspring of Abraham.
- Ethnic offspring birthed by bloodline: Israelites and Jews.
- Spiritual offspring that are born of faith as a promise to Abraham from God.
- There are two “types” of Israel.
- Ethnic Israel, which is by bloodline.
- The true Israel of God, which is composed of the spiritual offspring of Abraham.
- There is a distinction between the children of flesh and the children of promise.
Understanding Justification: Are Jews Saved because of Ethnicity?
Another nuance of the phrase “offspring of Abraham” is what it meant symbolically to some people. Symbolically, this phrase implied that you were justified and righteous in the sight of God. John and Yeshua are two examples of men who encountered this mentality. John the Immerser, early in Matthew’s account, predicts that the religious leaders would fall back on their lineage as justification before God instead of repenting of their wickedness.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Another instance of this mentality shows up when Yeshua teaches Jews who had believed in Him. Even some of those who believed in Yeshua had a tendency to fall back into believing that their justification from God was on account of their fleshly lineage. You can see this not-so-subtle implication in how the Jews responded to Yeshua’s invitation for them to become free.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
If you keep reading from that passage, Yeshua tells the Jews, “I know you are Abraham’s offspring…but you are not His children!” (John 8:37-41) Do you see the discrepancy that even the Messiah makes? It goes hand-in-hand with what we read earlier from the Apostle Paul. (Romans 9:6-7) Not all who are ethnically descendants of Abraham are counted as children of Abraham, who populate the true Israel of God.
The scriptures give us pictures demonstrating the difference between the children of the flesh and the children of promise. Let’s turn our attention there.
Who are the Children of the Flesh?
When I read the phrase “children of flesh” in the Romans 9:8, I interpret that as anyone attempting to be justified (accepted) by their works. Sometimes the difficulty in studying the Word is that a passage may have an understood meaning that the literal text doesn’t convey. We can gather this meaning by looking at other scriptures discussing the same topic. Let me give you an example.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, when I read the highlighted verse, I see an understood meaning that isn’t textually verified here. Verse 4 carries with it the connotation that if you depend upon your works to be justified before God, you cannot receive the free gift of salvation. Why? Because you are relying upon your works to earn your salvation. Therefore, salvation becomes your due, or in other words, your paycheck for a lifetime of working hard to earn right standing before God. Let’s look to Galatians as evidence of these implications existing in the text.
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
This passage is straightforward. You cannot earn justification before God by your own works in the flesh. It is impossible. Nevertheless, this passage is written as a factual statement but still leaves us without the “heart of the matter”. Later in Galatians Paul addresses just that.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The connotation of Romans 4:4 I mentioned earlier gets explained here perfectly. Like may other issues in your relationship with God and His commands, everything comes down to motives. These verses indicate that whoever relies upon their works of the law for justification is under a curse. That is very true. But like I said, this is a motive issue. One person may do a work of the law out of their love for God, while another does the same exact thing out of self-righteousness. The latter person is relying upon their works to be seen as justified in the eye of God. Both people produce the same outward action, yet have two polar opposite motivations. Thus, one receives a blessing, the other a curse. Paul revisits this motive later on in the book of Galatians.
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Read the verse carefully. It is not those who obey God’s Torah who are cut off from Messiah, but those who would be justified by their obedience to Torah. Like I mentioned earlier, we must interpret Scripture through the lens of other Scriptures, lest we be guilty of not handling God’s Word well. If you still hold that people who do the law are cut off from the Messiah, then here is a brief list of those who are cut off: John, Peter, Paul, David, Abraham, Daniel, Ezra, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and many, many more. The difference between this group and those Paul was writing to in Galatia, is that none of these men relied upon the Torah for their justification. They knew that acceptance only came through the Messiah!
So let’s revisit these few points concerning what entails being “children of the flesh”. The following list should help us summarize our findings:
- Children of the flesh are anyone who depend upon their own works to earn a right-standing before God the Father. This right-standing is called justification.
- These people rely upon their works, therefore:
- They are under a curse and have fallen from grace, therefore:
- They are bound to live in the flesh as slaves to sin, therefore:
- They cannot please God. (Romans 8:8)
As we looked at how Scripture illustrates who children of the flesh are, I hope it became clear that anyone can potentially fall into this category. The religious and non-religious, Jews and Gentiles, zealots and indifferent all can find themselves relying upon their works to try and earn approval and acceptance from God. This is an important note, because some teach and believe that only the ultra-Orthodox are guilty of this. In reality, even one who outwardly appears humble and dependent on God’s grace may inwardly rely upon their own works to feel pleasing or justified in the sight of the Father. So let us search our hearts and see if we have trusted in the works of our own flesh and not solely in the blood of our Messiah.
Understanding Children of the Promise
Paul states that the children of the promise are the true offspring of Abraham. I believe we need to start at the beginning to see the differences between children of flesh and the children of promise. Let’s review the account of Abraham and Isaac.
Long story short, Yahweh told Abraham to leave his land and go where He would show him (Gen. 12:1-4). God tells Abraham he will have offspring, and through the offspring the world will be blessed. Abraham believes God and is justified because of his faith (Gen 15:1-6). Abraham tries to make the promise of a son come about through relations with his wife’s servant. Ishmael is born (Gen 16:1-4, 11-12). God further reveals His great promises to Abram inside of their covenant and changes his name to Abraham as a confirmation (Gen. 17:1-8). Circumcision is then given as a physical sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14). God again promises Sarai a son and changes her name to Sarah (Gen. 17:15-19). God reveals His purpose in choosing Abraham (Gen. 18:17-19). Isaac is born and circumcised (Gen. 21:1-4). God tells Abraham years later to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham, intent upon obeying, raises the knife. God says, “Stop, now I know you fear me.” Yahweh provides a substitutionary ram (Gen 22:1-14). Because Abraham obeyed, Yahweh now adds an oath on top of His existing promise that Abraham will be extremely blessed (Gen. 22:15-18). After Abraham dies, God continues the promise of the seed through Isaac (Gen. 26:1-14). God then reminds Isaac of Abraham’s faithfulness and obedience (Gen 26:5).
(If you want to read the full account of God’s promises to Abraham, and the subsequent events, you can find these encounters recorded in Genesis 12 through 22.)
Ishmael – Children of the Flesh
In this biblical narrative, Ishmael is an example of the “children of the flesh”. Abraham received a promise from God, but he relied upon his own understanding and works to bring about the promise of God. Ishmael’s birth was not an act of trusting God to fulfill His promise, i.e., faith. Paul says in Galatians 4:22-25 that the son (Ishmael) of the slave (Hagar) was born of the flesh. The children of the flesh are children of slavery: they are enslaved to the law of sin and death.
Isaac – Children of Promise
Isaac, the precursor of children of promise, was born solely on account of the miracle-working power of God. In fact, Isaac’s birth was a literal act of God bringing life from death. Let’s read the book of Hebrews’ account of Isaac’s birth.
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
I want you to notice the obvious: the importance of faith in this passage. Simply put, faith is the act of trusting God’s Word and promises. Sarah trusted that if God said she would have a son and name him Isaac, then He would be faithful to His promise. Even despite her physical womb being dead and the impossibility of conception, she counted God as faithful. Abraham is no different. Their trust in the absolute faithfulness of their God was the only thing they had to offer. And in God’s eyes, that alone is reason to accept someone. There is only one thing that can move our Father to action, and that is faith.
Speaking of Abraham’s faith, the scriptures declare:
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
So because of Abraham and Sarah’s faith, Isaac is born quite literally as a child of God’s promise. Nothing in the flesh could produce the child that God promised to come through Sarah. Just like him, true children of promise will be born only through faith. Nothing we can do in and of ourselves can cause us to be born again as children of God. Only through receiving the work of the Messiah can one be justified and reborn as a child of promise. Scripture declares that through faith we are children of Abraham, like Isaac. What is even better is that through faith in the Messiah Yeshua we are born again as children of God and heirs according to the promise made to Abraham! Hallelujah!
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Walk as Children of Abraham
In this article, we have answered the question, “Who are the children of Abraham?” This question is extremely important because it is through Abraham that the promises of God come to the children of Abraham. Since we have explored the answer to that question, I want to conclude this article by looking at the question of “If we are Abraham’s children, how then should we walk?” I find it to be a general rule that people may preach on being a child of Abraham, but rarely have I heard it taught how someone should live as a child of Abraham. If Abraham was justified because of his faith, as both our example and forefather, then shouldn’t we investigate the type of lifestyle Abraham lived?
First, let’s look at something very beautiful Yahweh says about Abraham. This occurs right before Yahweh reveals to Abraham His plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Read Yahweh’s thoughts as He considered whether or not to disclose His plan to Abraham.
The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
Yahweh reveals to us His purpose in choosing Abraham. He desires Abraham’s children to learn how to keep the way of Yahweh by doing righteousness and justice through Abraham’s example. This is amazing! Not only does God want us to walk like Abraham, He goes even further by saying that as Abraham’s children, we should walk in his footsteps, then Yahweh can bring about what He promised Abraham. Wow! As children of Abraham, you and I have a crucial role to play in bringing the promises of God into reality.
“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.” – Yeshua Yeshua declares the same truth when encountering the children of the flesh who were boasting in their ethnic ties to Abraham. The Messiah makes it clear that what really matters is whose works we follow: whether Abraham’s or the devil’s.
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did. [speaking of the devil]”
Clearly, what matters is not if you profess Abraham as your father, but rather if you prove Abraham is your father by walking in his footsteps. So this begs the question, “What are the works of Abraham?” After Abraham’s death, God promised that the seed would carry on in Isaac, so our Father appears to Isaac and tells him how Abraham walked.
And the Lord appeared to him [Isaac] and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
Have you ever been taught this? For over 15 years I had never once heard that our father Abraham walked in obedience to God’s voice, commands, laws, statutes, and charges. I definitely was without understanding that the true children of promise will always walk as their father Abraham walked. We need to search our lives and hearts and see if there is rebellion towards our Father’s Torah. Like Yeshua, the one we profess to trust, said that if we are Abraham’s children then we will do Abraham’s works! May our Father grant us repentance where our hearts have been hardened to His precious words.
Concluding Thoughts on Faith and Works as Abraham’s Children
By this point, we have examined quite a bit in regards to the identity of the true children of Abraham. No doubt that some reading will wrestle with the last section.
Nevertheless, brothers and sisters in the Messiah, how we live our lives matters. Don’t listen to the traditions of men teaching that Yahweh’s commands have been done away with for the believer. Because Yahweh, Yeshua, Abraham, Paul, and James all seem to preach contrary to that. So as we conclude I would like to offer you James’ words regarding the life that Abraham lived. May the truths found in this article offer you hope, grace, and encouragement as you seek to walk as children of Abraham, and thus as children of God through the Messiah Yeshua.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.