Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Romans 4:9-12

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. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 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. 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.

V9-10 — The blessing of God for all kinds of men. Paul again is dealing with those folks coming from Jewish heritage that thought things were different regarding God’s favor toward Jews and Gentiles. He returns to the point he made in chapter 2, that salvation, that justification, that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, that the non-imputation of one’s sins to their account, all of these glorious truths, are for the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised, for the Gentile and the Jew. And Paul proves this again from the Old Testament. He asks his audience a question: When was Abraham justified: before or after his circumcision? Since Abraham was justified some 14 years (29 years by Jewish counting) before he was circumcised, it was not his circumcision that accounted for his righteousness. Abraham was declared righteous while he was a Gentile! Paul’s point is to emphasize that justification is for all who believe, for all who have faith. Nothing that we do, whether ceremonial or moral, contributes to that justification, because the ground or basis of that justification is not something in us, and it’s not something that we do, and it’s not even our faith; it’s grounded in what Christ did. And therefore, circumcision or other outward rituals contribute nothing to that justification. Salvation is based on nothing in the person. There’s nothing in a person that conditioned God to save them. Our faith did not cause God to save us. We have faith, because He saved us! We need to know that assuring truth of His justification by grace through faith. It’s absolutely essential for assurance of salvation.

V11-12 — Circumcision as a sign of faith. There are many churches that teach that a person must be baptized with water in order to be saved. Paul’s words here negate that assertion. Acts 15:1-2 “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.” First, note that the Jews had learned that to refuse circumcision was to reject the covenant community and refuse the promises that God had made. Genesis 17:14 “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” In other words, “he who refuses to be cut is cut off.” Now here in Romans, Paul is saying circumcision doesn’t matter for salvation. Elsewhere Paul recommends Gentile converts to Christianity not to be circumcised, and that those who would force them to be circumcised are, in fact, themselves rejecting the covenant. And the Jewish Christians and Jewish hearers of Paul’s words as he first says them were likely scratching their heads in confusion, disbelief, or flat out anger with his apparent contradiction of the Scriptures. Can you hear them saying, “Hold on Paul! You’re saying, ‘In the Old Testament, to refuse the sign of circumcision is to refuse God and His promises. In the New Testament, to demand that Gentiles be circumcised is to refuse God and His covenant promises. How does that mesh?”

Paul says that circumcision is a sign and a seal. It is an outward sign of an inward reality. It’s a seal, which doesn’t bring about the inward reality, but confirms it. As a sign, circumcision was to remind Abraham of God’s love for him, and as a seal, circumcision was to confirm to Abraham that God had credited him as a righteous man based not on his deeds. That was important, as Abraham continued sinning after he was declared righteous. Is the same true for us regarding baptism? What is the connection between baptism and circumcision? This is a very deep theological topic that to this day causes division and disunity, and we’re not going to break the surface of it here, but I am curious to know what you think. If baptism is the same as circumcision, then why not baptize infants, just as covenant children were circumcised? Is baptism part of the “obedience of faith” that Paul desires to bring about in his ministry? When is a person saved? Most of us would say, “The moment we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior.” Others might say, “The moment we confess Christ as Savior.” Would any of you say, “The moment we rise from the waters of baptism”?

An act like baptism, or any other act of obedience to God, does not give us right standing with God. But the acts of obedience are signs and seals that our faith is real and that Christ is our perfect righteousness. When our lives begin conforming to the revealed will of God, this is a sign of faith. Our lifestyles even become signs and seals that our faith is real and that we have the righteousness of God revealed in Christ.

Justification by faith—getting right with God, being acquitted in His court, having our sins forgiven, having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and our sins imputed to Him, (not becoming righteous, but being counted as righteous while we are still sinners), and all this by faith alone—that is what the first 7 or 8 chapters of Romans are mostly about. For Paul, it was the heart of the gospel message. The book of Romans is the most systematic and extensive of Paul’s efforts to put his message in writing. And it is all structured around the great truth of justification by faith.

So we see from Romans 4, so far, that Paul returns to the Old Testament to make four key points regarding justification by faith. First, it excludes boasting before God in our right standing with Him. The eliminated boasting should enhance our joy, as there is nothing we must contribute. Remember, “Blessed is the man…” What joy it is that our sins are not credited to our account on God’s ledger! Second, it includes the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us apart from works, regardless of what we do. Again, what a joyfully amazing thing to consider that we have the righteousness of Christ credited to our account! Third, Paul makes clear that works or acts of obedience, like circumcision or baptism, have their proper and essential place in the believer’s life as signs and seals, but not as the grounds of justification. First is justification, then sanctification. Fourth and finally, the truth of justification by faith opens the way to all people groups to be included in the covenant family, which was thought to be only for Jews. And this family of believers, having Abraham as their father (Galatians 3:7), will one day inherit the Kingdom!

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