With Dale Ratzlaff
We continue our study in Romans 4:9-12.
Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised (Rom. 4:9-12).
In order to understand these verses we must see them as an expansion of what Paul wrote in Romans 3:28-31.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Rom. 3:28-3).
In the above statement Paul shows that Jews and gentiles are both justified by faith. In Romans 4:9-12 he shows how the Old Testament law proves this. This section is very important to understand the promises made to the Jewish people. Before the cross they were His special, chosen people. Paul now shows that things have changed. When the gentiles believe in Christ they are included in the promise made to Abraham. Because Abraham was counted righteous by faith alone before he was circumcised shows that those—including gentiles—who have the “faith of Abraham” can trace their spiritual linage back to him. This concept was very difficult for the Jews in New Testament times, and even after, to accept. To realize that they did not have a unique claim on God’s favor undermined their spiritual self-image.
Before Christ the Jews had a unique heritage. They could trace their lineage back to “Father Abraham”. The phrase “Father Abraham” gave them self-worth, like being a “child of the king”. Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born, 99 when he was circumcised and 100 when Isaac was born. However, Abraham was counted righteous many years before even Ishmael was born.
…and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. (Rom 4:11-12).
The above section changes the relationship to God, not only for the gentiles, but for the Jews. Paul shows that the Jews cannot trust the outward sign that they are children of their “father Abraham”. Rather, he carefully says “who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.” It is faith with no outward sign that counts. God in His providential timing does things in history that can only be fully understood long after the events transpired. Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, builds the theology of the new covenant gospel—salvation by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone—from the history of God’s dealings with Abraham from the Old Testament law of which Genesis is part. Circumcision—or any ritual for that matter—is no longer the dividing wall between God’s people and the rest of mankind. Now it is the faith that Abraham had before any ritual was assigned. Now, the gospel is ready to go to the entire world where no cultural ritual can usurp God’s grace and no man-made requirement can undermine the simple Gospel.
There are several points of application that spring from this section.
- The blessings of God are received irrespective of our rituals. Not that rituals have no value because they often do. However, they are not a way to win God’s favor. For example, baptism is a ritual showing that we have made a public commitment to follow Christ by faith in His life, death and resurrection. There are some, however, who put baptism by immersion as a necessary component of saving faith. As circumcision was a “seal” of the righteousness Abraham had before he was circumcised so baptism is a ritual demonstrating the faith a person has before baptism.
- Those of us, who come from strong sabbatarian backgrounds, be it Sunday sacredness or Saturday sacredness, can also find many points of application here. Requiring specific activities that must be done on the Sabbath or not be done on a sacred day moves one, often unconsciously, to trust Sabbath/Sunday behavior as a means of acceptance before God. Again, there is nothing wrong with observing a given day dedicated to the Lord. But we must ask “Why are we doing this?” Is it in obedience to law? If so what law? Are we sure it applies to Christians? Is it New Testament truth or is it a carryover from Old Testament rituals, similar to circumcision, which were given to Israel to make them separate from the other nations prior to the cross and have no, or at best, limited value today?
- In our exercise route Carolyn and I often walk by what many of the neighbors call “The Skirt Church”. Now there is nothing wrong with women wearing long skirts, but in this day and age to require all women and all girls to wear long skirts to all church functions begs for a reason. In the same church it appears many of the men wear beards. Not a problem, but we must ask why?
- Rituals are often given moral quality. They may be good and useful in themselves, but we must always ask “Why am I doing this?” making sure we have not moved our faith from Christ to some activity or ritual.
Father, thank you that you have made it possible for people from all nations to be saved, regardless of their culture, when they place their faith in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Keep me from falling back into legalism trusting my behavior for right standing with you. Yet, may I live such a godly life that others who see my behavior may be drawn to your great mercy.
In Jesus name