Before Abraham Was, I Am
Open Your Bible
John 8:31-59, Exodus 3:1-15, Isaiah 45:22-25, Philippians 2:9-11
BY Guest Writer
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.
64 thoughts on "Before Abraham Was, I Am"
Our Heavenly Lord makes no mistakes
So spreading us out and making us so different inside and out, that was no mistake. Abraham was a man of great quality and love for God. He was loyal, trusting and rightous. King David had many flawed qualities but great love for the Lord was it pure and true. He had committed terrible sin but his truth, love and full heartedly begging the Lord to forgive his for his sinful deed, he was redeemed. They are examples of men of different qualities that are meant for us to either follow his way of living or be inspired by his lesson of redemption and know we too can find redemption for ourselves. We can all be saved in our own way by truth and love though the heavenly father. BYW I just learned Jesus Christ is not actually the name of our savior that died for our sins. He was born Yeshua ben Yosef. Translates to Joshua son of Joseph. (we did not use J until the 1500s) Jesus comes from Yeshua translating to Hebrew, translating to Greek…changing of ua to us for an adverb to Christ. Which was a title bestowed on him after dead. Debates on exact translation the annointed one, the savior, son of God, the messiah… Goes to show you a person can study the Bible their whole life and still get it somethings wrong but his message is simply truth and love is worth saving. A person with these qualities can come from anywhere and the Bible is a guide to show us that it can be done.
Prior to reading this – I was just thinking and getting anxious about teenage years down the road… wondering what the relationship between my husband and children would look like when things got difficult.. my husband experienced a very harsh relationship with his mom during his own teenage years. His family has also experienced several divorces. This scripture gives me a point of prayer – that we are not of the lineage of his family but of Christ’s. I will remember that before my husbands family .. Christ was.
I was interested by Amanda’s comments because, like her mother, I am adopted. Throughout my teenage years and particularly when I was growing our family, I wondered a lot about my heritage, my identity; it is the old nature versus nurture debate, all those ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ questions which can never really be answered unless, perhaps one starts searching and, even then, having opened Pandora’s box, so to speak – would all those questions be answered to one’s satisfaction?
Ultimately we find our identity in Christ, as a child of God, a woman of the Word.
Just recently, one of our daughters wanted to satisfy her curiosity and have one of these genetic tests, she kindly referred to me first before going ahead. My answer? Do it, if you feel you want to, but I have no interest in the results, I’m happy with who I am. It’s taken nearly 60 years but I have discovered that the answers lie at the cross and not on a birth certificate.
My mother is adopted and we’re always searching for more information about our ancestry and history on that side of the family, but we’ll never know the full truth until we get the paperwork in the mail because her adoption records are sealed. This used to upset me because I always wanted to know that side and wanted my mom to meet her mom. But my mom never really stressed about it, and I think that’s because she understands God has a plan for her and if this is the plan of never knowing, she accepts it. I think we both know now that we have delved deeper into our faith that we are both children of God and we trust in him more than anything else
In our lifegroup last night, we discussed how we cannot fully comprehend the Lord. We will never be able to understand Him, BUT I have hope in that I am HIS. I have a hard time believing that I’m a child of God, but this encouraged me to remember that I am HIS.
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