I received the following question:

I was recently involved in a conversation about Spiritual Israel and obviously my thoughts being that we are not.  He brought up Galatians 3 where it says something like all who believe are Abraham’s offspring.  I don’t buy this for a second because I know I’m not.  The only similarity to Abraham that I have is that we both worship the same God.  What is a rebuttal to this verse?

Galatians 3:5-9 reads,

5.  Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?–

6.  just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

7.  Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.

8.  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”

9.  So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

Verse 7 is the verse that many use to try to promote the un-Scriptural idea of “spiritual Israel.”  That is because it states, “Those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”  They claim that, since they have faith, that means they are “sons of Abraham.”  Since they cannot claim to be literal Jews or blood sons of Abraham, they then claim to be “spiritual” sons or Israelites.  But is that really what the passage is saying?

Suppose I should claim that only those who love their country to the extent that they would give everything up for it are worthy of being called “Americans.”  In the course of my argument, I declared, “All who love their country to the extent of giving up their lives for it if need be are true Americans.”  Now, someone living in Great Britain received a copy of my statement.  This person is a real patriot, and knows he would give up his life for his country if need be.  Therefore, he decides that, according to me, he must be a true American!  When another person argues with him that he cannot be a true American since he is not an American citizen but rather is British, he replies, “Well, Nathan must mean that I’m a ‘spiritual’ American!”  Would this be a correct interpretation of what I’d said?  Of course not!  The fact is that I was making my argument, not to people from Britain, but to my fellow Americans.  I meant that anyone who lives in the United States and meets the criteria I was promoting is a true American.  Although I did not state that condition, it should be clear to all who heard me that that is what I meant.  The man in Britain who read my statement must realize that he is not my intended audience.

In the same way, I believe that Paul (and the Holy Spirit through him) is talking to a specific people in Galatia.  He is talking to his fellow Israelites who are living there.  The majority of believers in Galatia, as in many places at that time, were Israelites, and this letter is addressed to them.  Thus, they could qualify as true “sons of Abraham” if they showed faith.  Yet Paul did not mean that Gentiles could qualify as “sons of Abraham” if they showed faith any more than I would mean that people from countries in Europe could qualify as “true Americans” if they showed patriotism!  This passage does not prove that Gentile believers are “spiritual Israel.”  Rather, it proves that the believers Paul was writing to in Galatia were literal Israelites.

Now Paul in this passage goes on to talk about Gentiles who have faith in verses 8-9.  It says, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’  So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”  Does this prove that it is Gentiles who are sons of Abraham in verse 7?  Not at all!  Paul is only using this to further illustrate his point.  The Gentiles, like the Jews, are blessed when they show faith.  Thus, they are blessed “with Abraham.”  If the Gentiles can be blessed by showing faith like Abraham did, how much more will those who are descended from Abraham be blessed when their faith shows them to be true sons of their father Abraham?  After all, it was Abraham who received all the promises from God, and those who identify themselves as his sons by faith become part of those promises.

If people understood the meaning of the word “spiritual,” they would not be able to make such inappropriate statements regarding our standing before God.  I have heard Mr. Sellers quote a clever man who called the word “spiritual” a “mother Hubbard” word, named after a dress of many decades ago that was famous for hiding everything and revealing nothing.  That is what the word “spiritual” does.  It is used in such a variety of meaningless ways that we really get no information from it other than a vague feeling of something good and mysterious. When I look at the way people use it in declaring that God’s kingdom is a “spiritual kingdom,” heaven is a “spiritual place,” and we are “spiritual Israel,” I cannot help but think that they are using it as if it means “not real” as opposed to “real,” or else “let’s pretend” instead of “reality,” for this seems to be what they are saying.  I agree that we are “not real” Israel, but we are not pretend Israel either…we are not Israel period.

The word “spiritual” in the Bible either suggests something for which the spiritual aspect is dominant, or else indicates something created directly by the power of God rather than by the usual, natural means of things coming about.  As such, Israel as God will make it in the future when He raises up the believing Israelites, restores their temple and priesthood, rebuilds Jerusalem, brings back the Davidic kingship, and so forth, will be in truth “spiritual Israel,” for none of these things will come about by natural means or the efforts of men, but rather by the miraculous intervention of God.  Yet every person who in that day will be associated with that “spiritual Israel” will be a true, blood Israelite as well.  We, as Gentile believers living in the dispensation of grace, will have no part in “spiritual Israel” as God will make it in the future.  That is the Biblical truth about “spiritual Israel.”