Before Abraham Was, I Am

Open Your Bible

John 8:31-59, Exodus 3:1-15, Isaiah 45:22-25, Philippians 2:9-11

My sister and I hopped onto the genetic-testing train last year. For Christmas, we gave our parents test kits and joined over twelve million customers in search of our ancestry. We are a people fascinated by our origins, hungry for the past to shed light on our present.

Family heritage held deep, sacred meaning for ancient Jewish people as well. While the modern identity question is, “Who am I?”, the defining question of ancient Israel was, “Whose am I?” Just read the detailed genealogies in the Old Testament. From Abraham to Ruth to David—origins, birthrights, and family connections formed identity and destiny.

So, it’s no wonder that Jesus’s listeners confidently held out their status as Abraham’s descendants and flashed it as their badge of honor and worth. Yet this over-dependence on heritage was dangerous. It offered a false sense of security, a misguided sense of racial superiority, and spiritual blindness.

One of Jesus’s disciples, John, records how many Jews were in denial of their need for rescue. They would not accept Jesus’s controversial teaching, which told them that even they, God’s chosen people, were spiritually lost and in desperate need of a Savior. When told that the truth would set them free, they bristled and held up their heritage as proof of their right standing with God. They told Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants… and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33).

Jesus does more than poke holes in their heritage badges. He blasts the shaky ground they are standing on and reveals the true, firm foundation that provides the only way of salvation. Ancestry does not determine identity and destiny. But there is something—Someone—who does. And so Jesus answers them: “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am” (v.58).

Boom! His Jewish challengers are no doubt shocked by His outrageous claims. How could this man say these things? Jesus is equating Himself with Yahweh, leaving no room for misunderstanding. This man from Nazareth has the audacity to echo the words of God, who spoke to Moses through a burning bush and revealed His own name, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). They know exactly what Jesus is claiming—that He, not a bloodline from Abraham, is the way of salvation and true freedom.

We, too, should be stunned, jolted by Jesus’s words. They are scandalous. But our family tree and our connections don’t define us. What we do, where we come from, who we associate with—none of these things can make us right with God. This is personal, and this is cosmic. We need a rescue from outside of ourselves, what theologian Martin Luther called an “alien righteousness.”

“For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).

We do have a sure identity, which means we also have a sure destiny. The risen Christ defines us as beloved children of God, and we are destined to have a place around His table, dwelling with Him forever. He is our firm foundation. He is our righteousness. He sets us free.

Patti Sauls lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband Scott and daughters, Abby and Ellie, where they serve alongside the people of Christ Presbyterian Church. Prior to living in Nashville, the Sauls planted churches in Kansas City and Saint Louis and served at New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. A trained speech therapist, Patti also enjoys serving behind the scenes, hiking with friends, and reading good books.

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64 thoughts on "Before Abraham Was, I Am"

  1. Ashley Lewis says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Keep praying for your friend.

  2. Abby Wilson says:

    I was struck by how the Jewish people who were supposed to recognize Jesus, missed him. They didn’t see Him right in front of them! I don’t want to miss His presence or His teaching or leading.

  3. Kelsey Jones says:

    As a Christian who grew up getting drug to church it’s so important to remember that it’s not about where or how we grew up. Although I do recognize the importance now that I’m a mom, it’s so much more than your family but recognizing who He is in you. I want to raise my kids knowing that they are loved not because they are simply my children but Gods children as well. This is a great reminder of the value of our TRUE lineage in Him.

  4. Ashley White says:

    This was so good and as always, a great reminder to keep my priorities on track with Christ Jesus.

  5. Chelsea Adkins says:

    This study is so well written! That’s because it really allows Gods full and whole word and Jesus stand out in glory. I’m grateful for Patti’s faithfulness in writing this and her amazing efforts to bring such great truth into my life today. I’m grateful to God, and his precious word, and that he allows me to understand scripture by his Spirit and abundant grace!!!

  6. Ashley Searle says:

    I love that this study is going through and reminding us exactly who Christ is and who we are in Him. I have heard God trying to reach me lately through Scripture, music, family and friends. I have a one year old (my heart!), and I still have half of my baby weight. I hate not feeling like “me.” I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression most of my life, and I’ve struggled to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise on multiple occasions. Sisters, please pray for me. Pray that I can focus on Who Christ is and who I am in Him rather than who or what I wish I was.

    1. AnneLyn P says:

      Praying for you Ashley.

    2. Bethany Anne Robinson says:

      Ashley, postpartum body image is a challenging battle! How humble of you to seek the encouragement of your sisters in Christ! Remember that YOU are His. That is who you are, and the other details fall in line behind that defining truth. That truth then shapes everything else: because you are His, you can celebrate and care for the body He has given you; you can rejoice in His design to carry, birth, and nurture a child; you are free from any demands to be a certain way…I pray you are encouraged by the truth of being made in His image and being sustained by His grace. This podcast was a great encouragement to me. I hope it’s a helpful resource to you as well!

    3. Suzie McRae says:

      Saying prayer for u rn Ashley.

    4. Jessica Watt says:

      Postpartum season is hard Mama. Don’t ever let any voices about your identity be louder than the voice and words of God. You are you, created for God to glorify God. Love yourself by taking care of yourself; spiritually and physically. You are His and you are beautiful and blessed!

  7. Lisa says:

    I was struck this morning by the thought of identity. My husband’s family was very caught up in genealogy for a time and had been able to trace their roots way back to Charlemagne. I was adopted as an infant and had no idea where my roots were. Like Patti, I jumped at the chance to do the DNA testing, and while it was interesting (got a sense of “where”) I have no more information than I did before about the “who”. Today, I know that trying to find my identity outside of Christ is folly. “Ancestry does not determine identity and destiny” “our family tree and our connections don’t define us”. Thank God!!! My identity is wrapped up in I AM, my identity is daughter of THE KING.

    1. Suzie McRae says:


      1. Kathy NewellAllison says:

        Love love this

    2. Diane Burns says:

      Very well said and so true.

    3. Lina Adjogble says:

      AMEN!! Love this ❤

    4. Lois Cox says:

      He says in psalms that when my mother and father forsake me thou oh Lord will take me up! Also He places the solitary in families then in Isaiah He says that even if a mother should forsake her nursing child He will never forsake us! What a love and wonderful promise, even for those of us who know our parents. These scriptures have brought me much consolation throughout my long walk with Him! Blessings on you dear sister! You are so loved!

  8. Audrey Flores says:

    My grandma is concerned that I am no longer part of her faith. And my whole has put up walls so I feel unable to talk to them about the why or my relationship with Jesus. Some say it’s a cult. But I love that DESPITE that Jesus is with me and my foundation. He said, “I AM” because he simply is everything. While I’m still learning to full trust I am running towards Him because He is love and light.

    1. AnneLyn P says:

      Praying for you, Audrey. That isn’t easy but God is love and promises to never leave you or forsake you.