Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE SIGN OF THE COVENANT”

Romans 4.9-12 

Picture the setting in Rome, about 1950 years ago. Over on one side of the open space where all of the pastors and deacons of the Churches in and around the city of Rome are standing is a woman who says her name is Phebe. At this gathering of spiritual leaders and followers to meet with a messenger sent by the well-known Apostle Paul, the men are still somewhat shocked and amazed that such a great man of God would entrust his important communiqué to a woman.

She does seem to be a competent and gracious woman. There are the telltale signs of great wisdom and burning conviction in her eyes. And as the pastor who volunteered to read Paul’s letter proceeds, she nods her head with assent, almost as if she knows what Paul’s letter says before it’s read. Several times she has smiled openly at things Paul has written. At other times she has glanced around to see what the men’s reactions would be. Ah, this woman is just waiting to see how these men who occupy places of spiritual leadership are reacting to what they hear read to them.

Could it be? There have been many rumors about this Apostle Paul. He seems to highly esteem women and always finds places for them to serve in his ministry. It’s even been claimed that Paul thinks that women are better at certain kinds of ministry than men are. Could it be that this is one of those special Christian women Paul is rumored to rely so much on? Oh, she’s doing it again. She’s looking around to see how the men are going to receive what they’re about to hear. It’s pretty obvious why Paul wrote this letter to the Romans. He wants to go to Spain, and the Churches in Rome are the ones best able to help him get there. But some of the things Paul has written in this letter have jolted the hearers. And I’m sure that Phebe has taken note of their reactions. Because it’s the things Paul says about Abraham that cause the biggest reactions from the Roman Christians.

You see, Paul is trying to convince the Romans that simple faith in Jesus Christ is God’s means of blessing the Gentiles. They don’t need to believe in the Lord Jesus and then submit to circumcision, and then try to keep the Law of Moses. The apostle uses Abraham as an example to illustrate what he is saying. From Genesis 15.6 we know that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. And here in Romans chapter 4, we see that Abraham’s spiritual experience led to his discovery of a number of spiritual truths.

The first thing Abraham discovered was that justification, when his faith was counted to him for righteousness, excluded all human deeds to earn merit before God. Abraham did not do anything to become right in the sight of God. Of course, in Romans 4.6-8 Paul briefly refers to David’s discovery that one does not do anything to remain right in the sight of God. In our text for today, we take note of the second thing Abraham discovered. And I can just imagine Phebe standing off to the side of all those men, knowing what Paul had written, and eagerly anticipating their reaction to report back to Paul.

Romans 4.9-12. I invite you to stand and read along silently with me that portion of God’s Word together: 

9  Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

11 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:

12 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. 

Here is the second thing Abraham discovered as a result of being justified by faith. He discovered that justification, in addition to excluding all work, also excludes all ceremonial religion. This is a message I would love for our Roman Catholic friends, our Coptic friends, our Orthodox friends, or any other such branch of the Christian faith to hear. To put it another way, you do not get right with God by observing religious ceremonies. Circumcision, the cutting away of the foreskin, was the very first religious ceremony ever given by God to His chosen man, Abraham. How does Abraham’s circumcision show us that justification excludes ceremonial religion? 

First, THE TIME OF ABRAHAM’S CIRCUMCISION SHOWS THIS 

9  Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 

Prepare yourself to witness a classic case of spiritual contortion. How many of you have heard, and even claimed as your conviction, the following statement? “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Or the more correct, “God said it. That settles it. I believe it.” Two thousand years before you or I ever uttered those words the Jewish people had been voicing that same conviction for almost two millennia. But follow Paul’s analysis of Jewish beliefs to see whether they were, in fact, allowing Scripture to be their authority for faith and practice.

First, we consider the assumption. In Romans 4.6-8 Paul refers to and then quotes David’s 32nd Psalm, in which the psalmist declares the blessedness of the man who has been justified. The assumption the Jewish people had always made in connection with that statement was that it applied and spoke only of the Jewish people, and had no reference to the Gentiles, whatsoever.[1] We see that, apparently, Christians, probably Jewish Christians, held to the same notion: 

“Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also?” 

Beloved, we need to be extremely careful with our assumptions. Amen?

Next, we consider the authority. Do we not all claim that the Bible is authoritative? And we hopefully want the Bible to be authoritative. But a person only assents to the authority of God’s Word when his or her beliefs and practices correspond to the dictates of Scripture. If you do not believe what the Bible teaches it is not authoritative in practice in your life. If you do not obey the Bible, it is not authoritative in practice in your life, regardless of what you proclaim to be true. Notice how Paul appeals to the authority of Scripture. And try and catch his subtle dig that distinguishes between what some who claimed the Bible was authoritative in their life said and what they did in practice: 

“For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.” 

Why did Paul write the words “For we say...” and then quote Genesis 15.6? Because there was a difference between what the Bible said and what some of those referred to by Paul believed. Is the Bible your authority? That is a question that should be asked by everyone. Your life will show whether it is or is not.

Finally, we consider the acknowledgment. Hey, Jewish person. Hey, you person who claims that the Bible is your final authority for faith and practice. Do you believe the Bible? Especially those of you who are involved in liturgical religions, those of you who are committed to the observance of sacraments, and those of you who practice the rite of circumcision for religious reasons. If you claim the Bible is your final authority, your absolute rule of faith, then answer this question. “How was it reckoned? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?” When Abraham’s faith was reckoned unto him for righteousness, was it before he was circumcised or after he was circumcised? 

“Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” 

It must be acknowledged that Abraham was justified, according to Jewish chronology, 29 years before he was circumcised in obedience to God according to the rabbis.[2] Therefore, if the Bible is your rule of faith, the determiner of your belief system, then you must acknowledge that, at least in Abraham’s case, justification had absolutely nothing to do with ceremony, even a ceremonial observance that was given to him by God.

In case you are one of those people who claims you attend a Baptist Church because you want to go to a Church that doesn’t stand on ceremony, think again. Baptists tend to be just as devoted to ceremonies as Lutherans, Catholics, Coptics, and Orthodox churches, just not in the auditorium. Baptist ceremony tends to be focused on praying the sinner’s prayer, repeating words spoken by an altar worker or so-called soul winner, or some such thing as that as a ceremonial means of becoming a Christian. Yet such ceremony is simply not found anywhere in the New Testament, where salvation is by faith in Christ and not anything like a sinner’s prayer, Acts 16.31.

“So what?” you might ask. “That was just Abraham. His was a peculiar situation.” Was it? “Pastor, how do I know that circumcision, or more generally religious ceremonies of some kind, won’t stand me in good stead before God?” Point two. 

Second, THE TESTIMONY OF ABRAHAM’S CIRCUMCISION SHOWS US THIS 

What is the significance of Abraham’s circumcision, coming as it did, almost three decades after he was justified by faith?

As to the designation of circumcision. In the first half of Romans 4.11, the Apostle Paul uses two words to designate the rite of circumcision. And these two designations show us a great deal about what circumcision should be understood to be, not what it was understood to be by many confused Jewish people and Christians. First, Paul indicates that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision.” Understand that a “sign” is something that signifies another reality. It is something outward that makes a statement about something that is inward. It is something concrete which makes a statement about something which is abstract. It is something which can be seen which speaks about that which cannot be seen. It is not that reality. It only refers to that reality. Second, Paul indicates that circumcision is “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.” A “seal” is something which authenticates or confirms. Circumcision, then, did not justify Abraham but authenticated the truth that he was already justified. It showed that he had the “righteousness of faith...being yet uncircumcised.” So, we know that Abraham’s circumcision didn’t do anything. Instead, Abraham’s circumcision showed that something had been done.

As to the description of circumcision. Let’s read the last half of Romans 4.11 again: 

“That he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also.” 

Abraham’s circumcision came after he believed to show that he is the father of all who believe, even those who believe but who are never circumcised:[3] 

“that righteousness might be imputed unto them also.” 

Now let’s read Romans 4.12: 

“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.” 

Abraham’s circumcision came after he believed to show that he is the father, not only of those who are circumcised, but also to show that he is the father of those who follow the example he set in believing God, which occurred before he was circumcised. Thus, to describe Abraham as the father of both the uncircumcised who believe and the circumcised who believe is to say that what happened to Abraham wasn’t peculiar to Abraham. It is God’s plan of salvation for everyone. That means, not only did circumcision have nothing to do with Abraham’s salvation, circumcision has nothing to do with anyone’s salvation. 

Circumcision is not an issue of great controversy in the 21st century, as it was in the first century. But the controversy over circumcision is a specific issue that is seen in much broader and more general terms in our day. The general issue has to do with ceremonial religion. Circumcision was a religious observance that was given by God to Abraham and his physical descendants. It was given by God, not to do anything, but to show something.

Abraham was given the ceremonial rite of circumcision to show that he was justified by faith in the sight of God and that he was the father of those who believed, both circumcised and uncircumcised. The Jewish people were given the rite of circumcision, not to show anything about themselves, but to show something about their father, Abraham. The application of the truths dealt with in our text today has to do with whether or not a ceremonial observance, whether it be a sacrament, whether it be a religious practice, whether it be a ritual of the Church, can in any way bring about the salvation of a sinner.

The point that Paul made in Romans 4.9-12 was that the religious observance that was given to Abraham directly by God did not save Abraham. With that in mind we must ask ourselves if a religious observance given directly to Abraham from the mouth of God did not save him, how can anyone claim that any other religious observance, especially one that did not come directly from the mouth of God, can save him? The answer, my friend, is that no religious observance of any kind, whether it comes from God, like circumcision, or not, can save a man from his sins. As with Abraham, so with us all. To get right with God you must have faith. Abraham believed. You need to believe in Jesus Christ, as well.

Is Abraham your father in the faith, my friend? Have you followed his example of faith? Real faith? Genuine faith? Saving faith? Or have you somehow and in some way depended upon some religious observance, whether it be circumcision, or tithing, or baptism, or Church membership, or Church attendance, or teaching Sunday School, or children’s Church, or believing the Ten Commandments, to bring about your salvation? If your relationship with God was not established solely by means of faith, you are lost and in need of the salvation that comes only to those who come to Jesus Christ by faith. I challenge you to come to Christ right this moment for salvation full and free.

__________

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), page 224.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle To The Romans - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), page 268.

[3] Ibid., page 100.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org