A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #10 Abraham: Father of the Faithful Romans 4:9-12

08 Jul

(Romans 4:9-12 NIV) “Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. {10} Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! {11} And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. {12} And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

That Abraham and David (and therefore all Old Testament saints) were justified by faith apart from works was a bitter pill to swallow for the Jews. But Paul is not willing to stop here, for there is much more to be learned from the faith of Abraham. At least the Jews could console themselves in the fact that Abraham was a Jew, and not a Gentile. If Abraham was saved as a Jew, then could the Jews not insist that every man must be saved as a Jew (cf. Acts 15:1f.)? Paul strikes this hope down by showing that Abraham was declared righteous while yet a Gentile.

At first glance we might be inclined to think that verses 9-12 are intended to prove that Abraham was saved by faith and not by works; specifically, not by the rite of circumcision. Although this is true, it is not the main point Paul is striving to prove. The point which Paul is driving at is the universality of justification by faith and that it is not for the Jews only, but for Gentiles.

Was Abraham saved as a Jew or as a Gentile? Was Abraham declared righteous as one who was circumcised or as uncircumcised? Abraham, in Genesis 15:6, was declared righteous on the basis of faith fourteen years before he was circumcised (compare Genesis 15:6 with 17:24). Technically, then, Abraham was saved as a Gentile, and not as a Jew, for he did not enter Judaism by circumcision, nor did he have the Law to keep. What a blow to the Jew who maintained that one could not be saved without becoming a Jew by circumcision and keeping the Law (Acts 15:1)!

What, then, is the value of circumcision? If entrance into Judaism through circumcision does not in any way contribute to one’s justification, what good is it? Circumcision is not the source of one’s salvation, but the sign of it. It is a symbolic testimony to what has happened inwardly in the man who has been justified by faith.

The mere presence of an inspection sticker on your car does not make that car road-worthy, but it does represent in a visible fashion its road-worthiness. On the other hand, putting an inspection sticker on a car with bald tires, a faulty muffler, and no brakes will be of little help in hazardous driving conditions. Circumcision was a seal which attested to the faith of Abraham. It signified that he was righteous in the eyes of God.

The outcome of all of this is that Abraham is the ‘father’ of all who are justified by faith. He is the father of those who are justified by faith and have not been initiated into Judaism and of all believers who are also Jews. Being a Jew or a Gentile has no bearing on one’s justification, nor does the keeping of the Old Testament Laws and rituals. The only determining factor is one’s faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

To understand this passage we must understand the importance that the Jew attached to circumcision. To the Jew a man who was not circumcised was quite literally not a Jew, no matter what his parentage was. The Jewish circumcision prayer runs: “Blessed is he who sanctified his beloved from the womb, and put his ordinance upon his flesh, and sealed his offspring with the sign of the holy covenant.”

The rabbinic ordinance lays it down: “Ye shall not eat of the Passover unless the seal of Abraham be in your flesh.” If a Gentile accepted the Jewish faith, he could not enter fully into it without three things-baptism, sacrifice and circumcision.

The Jewish objector, whom Paul is answering all the time, is still fighting a rear-guard action. “Suppose I admit,” he says, “all that you say about Abraham and about the fact that it was his complete trust that gained him an entry into a right relationship with God, you will still have to agree that he was circumcised.” Paul has an unanswerable argument.

The story of Abraham’s call, and of God’s blessing on him, is in Genesis 15:6; the story of Abraham’s circumcision is in Genesis 17:10ff. He was not, in fact, circumcised until fourteen years after he had answered God’s call and entered into the unique relationship with God. Circumcision was not the gateway to his right relationship with God; it was only the sign and the seal that he had already entered into it. His being accounted righteous had nothing to do with circumcision and everything to do with his act of faith.

From this unanswerable fact Paul makes two great deductions.

(i) Abraham is not the father of those who have been circumcised; he is the father of those who make the same act of faith in God as he made. He is the father of every man in every age who takes God at his word as he did. This means that the real Jew is the man who trusts God as Abraham did, no matter what his race is. All the great promises of God are made not to the Jewish nation, but to the man who is Abraham’s descendant because he trusts God as he did. Jew has ceased to be a word which describes a nationality and has come to describe a way of life and a reaction to God. The descendants of Abraham are not the members of any particular nation, but those in every nation who belong to the family of God.

(ii) The converse is also true. A man may be a Jew of pure lineage and may be circumcised; and yet in the real sense may be no descendant of Abraham. He has no right to call Abraham his father or to claim the promises of God, unless he makes that venture of faith that Abraham made.

In one short paragraph Paul has shattered all Jewish thought. The Jew always believed that just because he was a Jew he automatically enjoyed the privilege of God’s blessings and immunity from his punishment. The proof that he was a Jew was circumcision. So literally did some of the Rabbis take this that they actually said that, if a Jew was so bad that he had to be condemned by God, there was an angel whose task it was to make him uncircumcised again before he entered into punishment.

Paul has laid down the great principle that the way to God is not through membership of any nation, not through any ordinance which makes a mark upon a man’s body; but by the faith which takes God at his word and makes everything dependent, not on man’s achievement, but solely upon God’s grace.

As we have seen, the Jews gloried in circumcision and the Law. If a Jew was to become righteous before God, he would have to be circumcised and obey the Law. Paul had already made it clear in Romans 2:12-29 that there must be an inward obedience to the Law, and a “circumcision of the heart.” Mere external observances can never save the lost sinner.

But Abraham was declared righteous when he was in the state of uncircumcision. From the Jewish point of view, Abraham was a Gentile. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised (Gen. 17:23-27). This was more than fourteen years after the events in Genesis 15. The conclusion is obvious: circumcision had nothing to do with his justification.

Then why was circumcision given? It was a sign and a seal (Rom. 4:11). As a sign, it was evidence that he belonged to God and believed His promise. As a seal, it was a reminder to him that God had given the promise and would keep it. Believers today are sealed by the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13-14). They have also experienced a spiritual circumcision in the heart (Col. 2:10-12), not just a minor physical operation, but the putting off of the old nature through the death and resurrection of Christ. Circumcision did not add to Abraham’s salvation; it merely attested to it.

Most people are religious in the sense that they keep some religious ordinances, rituals, and rules. This is both good and bad: good in the sense that rituals cause a person to think about some higher being, and bad in the sense that rituals are usually thought to be the way a person becomes acceptable to God. The present passage is as clear as can be: ritual is the wrong way for a man to seek acceptance and justification with God.

  1. Who receives the blessing of forgiveness (v.9)?
  2. Abraham was counted righteous when he believed (v.9).
  3. Abraham was counted righteous before circumcision, that is, before the ritual (v.10).
  4. Abraham received circumcision as a sign or symbol only (v.11).
  5. Abraham was chosen by God for a twofold purpose (v.11-12).

Who receives the blessing of forgiveness? The word “blessedness” or “blessing” refers back to the blessed man just discussed (Romans 4:6-8). The blessed man is the man who is justified by faith…

  • who is counted righteous without works.
  • whose sins are forgiven and covered.
  • whose sins are not counted against him.

Such a man is greatly blessed, blessed beyond imagination. But note a critical question. Is the blessing of forgiveness intended…

  • for the circumcised only, or for the uncircumcised also?
  • for the Jew only, or for the non-Jew (Gentile) also?
  • for the religious only, or for the non-religious also?
  • for the saved only, or for the unsaved also?
  • for the church member only, or for the unchurched also?
  • for the interested only, or for the disinterested also?
  • Is the blessing of forgiveness—of being justified by faith alone—for only a few people or for all people everywhere? Abraham’s experience illustrates the truth for us.

Abraham was counted righteous when he believed. His faith was “reckoned” for righteousness. The word “reckoned” (elogisthe) means to credit, to count, to deposit, to put to one’s account, to impute. Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness or credited as righteousness.

Abraham was counted righteous before the ritual, that is, before circumcision. This is a crucial point and it is clearly seen. Abraham made his decision to follow God at least fourteen years before he was circumcised. The story of Abraham believing the promises of God is a dramatic picture (cp. Genesis 15:1-6, esp. Genesis 15:5-6). Scripture clearly says, “He believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

But the story of his circumcision is two chapters and fourteen years later (Genesis 17:9f). He was counted righteous long before he underwent any ritual. His righteousness—his being accepted by God—did not depend upon a ritual; it depended upon his faith and his faith alone. God accepted Abraham and counted him righteous because he believed God and His promises.

Abraham received circumcision as a sign or symbol only. Circumcision was not the road into God’s presence; it was not what made Abraham acceptable to God. Circumcision did not confer righteousness on him; it only confirmed that he was righteous. Circumcision did not convey righteousness on him; it only bore testimony that he was righteous.

Note that circumcision was both a sign and a seal. Circumcision was…

  • a sign of celebration: it was a picture of the joy that the believer experienced in being counted righteous by God.
  • a sign of witness: the believer was testifying that he now believed and trusted God.
  • a sign of a changed life and a separated life: the believer was proclaiming that he was going to live for God, to live a righteous and pure life that was wholly separated to God.
  • people.
  • a sign pointing toward Christ’s baptism.
  • Circumcision was a seal in that it stamped God’s justification upon Abraham’s mind. Abraham had believed God, and God had counted his faith as righteousness. Circumcision was given as a seal or a stamp upon his body to remind him that God had counted him righteous through belief.

Abraham was chosen by God for a twofold purpose. Before looking at the purposes, note that Abraham is said to have a unique relationship to the world. He is seen not as a mere private individual, but as a public man, a representative man of the human race, a pivotal figure in human history. He is seen as the “father” of all who believe God, as the head of the household of faith.

God chose Abraham for two specific purposes.

  1. Abraham was chosen that he might be the “father” of all believers regardless of ritual and ordinance. Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of faith to all—all the ungodly and heathen of the world—who repent and believe Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior. No matter how uncircumcised, irreligious, immoral and unclean a person is, he has a father in the faith, a father to follow.
  1. Abraham was chosen that he might be the “father” of the circumcised, of the religious who “follow in the steps of Abraham’s faith.” The religionist cannot earn, merit, or work his way into God’s presence and righteousness. He can only trust God for the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

The fact that Abraham was justified by grace and not Law proves that salvation is for all men. Abraham is the father of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7, 29). Instead of the Jew complaining because Abraham was not saved by Law, he ought to rejoice that God’s salvation is available to all men, and that Abraham has a spiritual family (all true believers) as well as a physical family (the nation of Israel). Paul saw this as a fulfillment of Genesis 17:5: “I have made thee a father of many nations.”

1 Comment

Posted by on July 8, 2021 in Romans


One response to “A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #10 Abraham: Father of the Faithful Romans 4:9-12

  1. rickey1858

    July 10, 2021 at 9:50 am

    Enjoyed reading this.



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