Abraham is the only man in human history credited with founding three distinct religions. Jews, Muslims and Christians all claim Abraham as their founder and refer to him as a “spiritual father.” But since these religions worship different gods, believe in different doctrines, and essentially practice different beliefs, Abraham can’t be the founder of all three.
So, which religion has the right claim to the faith of Abraham?
A closer look—and comparison to Scripture—reveals stark contrasts in these three religious systems. For instance, Islam considers themselves descendants of Abraham through his first son, Ishmael, whom Abraham fathered with his servant, Hagar. They believe that Abraham offered Ishmael on the altar instead of Isaac, unaware perhaps of the biblical clarity regarding the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22). Still, Islam maintains an exclusive connection to Abraham and the five daily prayers of Islam all reference Abraham as their spiritual leader.
Jews are related to Abraham through his son Isaac; they consider Abraham the patriarch of their Jewish faith. Abraham first settled in the land God promised to the nation of Israel. In fact, the name Israel began when God changed Abraham’s grandson’s name from Jacob to Israel.
Finally, in the New Testament, Christians are taught that they are the true sons of Abraham. Jesus taught that anyone who placed their faith in Him essentially joined the spiritual lineage of Abraham (Luke 19:9). While not all Christians trace a genetic origin to Abraham, we can trace our spiritual origin to the gospel Abraham believed. The apostle Paul told the church in Rome that Abraham is “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:11).
As we dig a little deeper into the relationship of these three religions and their relationship with Abraham, additional distinctions surface. For instance, one of the major tenants of Islam is surrender to their god, Allah. Salvation is earned through this surrender. In fact, the word Islam means “submission.” They believe that since Abraham surrendered to God throughout the Old Testament, he was practicing an Islamic faith. But this clearly distorts the record of Scripture and salvation by faith alone.
Paul wrote in Galatians 3, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 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.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:7-9).
This passage makes clear that Abraham did not surrender to God to be saved; he surrendered to God because he was saved. According to Galatians 3, Abraham had heard the gospel of a coming Messiah, and by believing that gospel, Abraham was redeemed and became in a special way, the predecessor of all who believe the gospel of our Lord.
Notice again: “those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Are the Jews automatically and spiritually the sons of Abraham? The Muslims? The Gentiles? The Americans? No! The true children of Abraham do not share a common nationality; we share a common Savior.
Abraham was not surrendering to God in obedience in the hope of his good deeds leading to salvation, as Islam teaches. Instead, Abraham was surrendered to God as the fruit of his faith and trust in God— faith in the coming Messiah. Thus, Abraham was saved just like you and me—by faith, apart from his good deeds.
Abraham responded to the call of God with faith—saving faith, doctrinal faith, and daily faith. He trusted in God to be his salvation, he defended the faith in a promised land surrounded by unbelief, and he grew in his faith over the course of his lifetime.
And in everything, Abraham gave all the glory to God. He thanked God in advance for the promise of the coming Messiah God told him would descend from his family tree.
And that Messiah did come. Scripture will trace Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Abraham, through characters like Ruth and David along the way.
Thus, Abraham is a spiritual father who pioneered the path of faith: trusting in the promise of God— now complete—that a Messiah would come to save all who believe in Him, by faith alone.