Who are the true people of God?
Privilege. It’s a loaded word in our times, shrouded with overtones of social and ethnic implications. But this issue didn’t begin in 21st century America; we see it back in the 1st century as well, right in the midst of Jesus’ ministry.
In John 7, Jesus confronts some people who are following him, and not just following him around — John writes that these people “believed in [Jesus]” in verse 31. But as we’ve seen throughout the book of John so far, there are large groups of people who have false belief. They are following Jesus for what they think he can do for them, not for who Jesus is.
In this chapter, Jesus tells these people how they can be set free: they must “abide in [his] word” (v. 31-32). But their response reveals privilege in their hearts: “We are the offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’” (v. 33)?
So the people heard what Jesus said but almost scoffed at his claim, “How could we, the fine people of the Abrahamic lineage and Jewish heritage possibly be enslaved to anyone?” Their ethnic pride actually kept them from being able to hear the words of Christ.
Jesus goes to confront them again, and they respond with the same refrain, “Abraham is our father” (v. 39). Then, Jesus gets really personal and reveals something about the true nature of Abraham’s children. He responded, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, 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. You are doing what your father did” (vv. 39-41).
If you believe in Jesus, then we are a part of the same family. That should season how we talk to one another. How we pray for one another. How we feel about one another.
So Jesus is telling them something that doesn’t really make sense: he says that they are not actually descended from Abraham, even though they could pull out their lineage and prove it. He then says that they have another father, and he defines who their true father is in verse 44, “You are of your father the devil.” Things just got real.
Jesus is setting up a truth that is unpacked multiple times in the rest of the New Testament, particularly by Paul: that the children of Abraham (and therefore the children of God) are not made children by being born, but by being born again.
Paul says this most clearly and simply in his letter to the church in Galatia: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham”
(Galatians 3:7). Paul also says this in Romans 4, “That is why [salvation] depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring — not only to the adherents of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).
So Jesus and Paul both turn these traditional worldviews upside down. Many of the Jewish people looked down their noses at people of other ethnicities and races. Their pride clouded their ability to see the heart of the very gospel that God was bringing to the world and that he even promised Abraham in Genesis! This wasn’t new; it had always been there from the beginning. God promised Abraham back in the first book of the bible: “I have made you the father of many nations” (Romans 4:17, quoting Genesis 17:5).
God’s mission has always been to create a global family that consists of varying tribes, tongues, ethnicities, cultures, and races. It is in this beautiful mosaic of humanity that his church is built, and we get a taste of it in Revelation:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)
The implications of this are almost limitless, but one in particular for our church is simply this: if we believe in Jesus, then we are a part of the same family. That should season how we talk to one another. How we pray for one another. How we feel about one another. There are no classes within this family.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring” (Galatians 3:28-29).
God has a global and diverse church. He is creating a beautiful mosaic of people that are becoming brothers and sisters. There is no room for privilege. So no matter your earthly heritage, if you are a Christian then you are a part of a much bigger lineage, tracing back all the way to Genesis.
Welcome to your family. The children of Abraham. The Church.
This story, written by Pastor Caleb Brasher of Grace Clermont, originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Grace Magazine. Download the issue here.