Over 56 percent of the world’s population consider Abraham to be one of the father’s of their religion. This includes Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Who was this person and why was he so important?
Abraham lived about 4,000-years ago. The Old Testament is the major source of information about him. He was born in what is now Iraq and obeying God, traveled through what is now Syria, into what is now Israel, on to Egypt, and then back to Israel. While his saga, as recorded in the book of Genesis, is a fascinating look into the world that then existed, his primary significance comes from his relationship with God. A key part of that relationship was the covenant that God made with Abraham that He would make him into a great nation, and that through him all people on earth would be blessed. The promise comes to fruition as the Lord gives Abraham land and then an heir. The sign of God’s covenant was to be circumcision. Israel traces its history back through the Old Testament all the way to Abraham.
For Christians, Abraham’s role is perhaps equally significant, though with a different interpretation. The question for most religions is, “How do I become righteous (justified) before God, or put another way, how can I have salvation?” Virtually all religions in the world prescribe a number of activities which must be done in order to please God or the gods. The Apostle Paul was a learned Old Testament scholar. In his letters, particularly in his letter to the church at Rome, he makes a key distinction between the religion of Israel in his time and that of Abraham. In refuting the four commonly held understandings among his former associates in Israel, Paul says that they have it all wrong. Abraham was found righteous before God because he believed God. His righteousness came not from anything he did, but from putting his trust in God. Abraham’s behavior was hardly a model, since he worshiped other gods, prostituted his wife and had a child with his wife’s servant. When God told him that despite his and his wife’s advanced age, they would have a child, and the resulting offspring would be as numerous as the stars, he “believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”
The good news of Abraham, from a Christian perspective, is that salvation is found through faith in Christ. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your “good” behavior, or the rituals in which you have participated. It is faith in Christ which matters. Faith, of course, is more than intellectual assent—it means loving God and loving your neighbor. Different Christian groups will define faith slightly differently, but the key point is that salvation is a gift from God and not something we accomplish or are born into.