“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” —Romans 4:16-17
From our last doctrinal thought in Romans, having seen a New Testament perspective of circumcision from the Old Testament Scriptures (understanding that it was a type, shadow, and similitude of the new covenant that would be made by Christ through the shedding of blood in His own body), we can look at Romans 4:9-17 while keeping that perspective in mind.
“Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness” (Romans 4:9). Did the blessedness of God’s reckoned righteousness and forgiveness of sins come to just the Jews; or is it unto Jews and Gentiles without partiality? This question is posed by Paul as if her were saying, “I know what you’re thinking: since Abraham was reckoned righteous through faith (Romans 4:3), some of you Jews might think that this blessed salvation is only for the Jews. But wait…”
“How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision” (Romans 4:10). Abraham was counted righteous by God (Genesis 15:6) many years before he was circumcised. God imputed righteousness by faith before Ishmael was born (Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old, Genesis 16:16). Circumcision did not come along until Abraham was 99 years old (Genesis 17:1).
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also” (Romans 4:11). The ancient Syriac and Alexandrian manuscripts read, “And he received the sign circumcision,” meaning that Abraham received the commandment to circumcise by the hand of God. Now, here is where we receive a little better insight into that two-fold meaning that comes with this covenant: first, circumcision was not by grace, but given as a special covenant sign to Abraham and his descendents that distinguished them as a people. This separated them from the other nations (later the Law of Moses would further separate them as a distinct people unto God); and, secondly, because circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s righteousness through faith, the seal was that it was a certainty that God DID count Abraham righteous… yet, interestingly, it is the Law of Moses that would clarify what this seal meant as a promise:
“And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” —Deuteronomy 30:6
(Ephesians 1:12-13 also gives us insights into this, because the sign and seal of believers is the inward work of the Holy Spirit. There has been no one in history who has ever been saved apart from grace through faith in God’s promise to save.)
“And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised” (Romans 4:12). Therefore, imputed righteousness through faith alone would ultimately come to those who were not circumcised because it came to Abraham while he was still an uncircumcised Gentile.
“For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13). Even the promise to Abraham concerning the inheritance of his descendents to inhabit the land (Genesis 17:4-6) came as a result of imputed righteousness by faith, and not because Abraham kept the Law: because the Law didn’t come until 430 years after Abraham received the covenant of circumcision, according to Galatians 3:16-17,
“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.”
“For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect” (Romans 4:14). If righteousness came by keeping the law, then what good would it be for God to make a promise; or what good would it be for men to believe? No good at all. Faith believes and trusts upon what God has said, and specifically, what God has promised.
“Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). Every human being since Adam is so very far from perfectly fulfilling the Law of Moses that nothing but the wrath of God would come forth to sinful man, and deservedly so. If the Law is not known, there would be no transgression against it. Now, that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be sin: yes, that still exists; but the transgression against the Law can only be manifested if there is a Law to transgress.
“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16). It must be by God’s grace through faith that the promises of God are established; and that is not only to the Jew, who until Christ was under the Law, but also to the Gentiles by faith, which fulfills God’s promise to Abraham in making him the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4).
“(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Romans 4:17). Paul quotes the last part of Genesis 17:5. Though God pronounces this promise to Abraham while Abraham was alive, the spoken promise carries with it an eternal decree, as God said, “I have made thee a father of many nations,” using the past tense, before ever a child sprang forth from father Abraham’s loins; for its ultimate fulfillment is found by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, since we realize the eternal truth that Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain, “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20).
Saving faith needs nothing added to it. A saved soul is justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ; that is, saving faith trusts implicitly in who Christ is, viz., the eternal Son of God, and what He has done, viz., shed His blood, suffered God’s wrath, and died upon Calvary’s tree. There is nothing we can add to it, and since Christ’s death and resurrection, the truth of His atoning death is sufficient and powerful to save.
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Read the previous article in this series, “Faith Alone, Part 1” (Romans 4:1-8).