The Sign Of Circumcision 
Faith Of The Recipients
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 18c of 83 

“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. &c” (Romans 4:9-17) 

[The apostle Paul is building a case for the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. He shows in chapter 4 that both Abraham and David were justified by faith. But now an important a loophole remains: Both Abraham and David were circumcised Jews! This being the case, then could it be that only those who are circumcised can receive justification? This notion is what Paul is seeking to dispel from Romans 4:9 onwards,—“Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also?” he asks.

In the first instalment of our study of this passage, we saw Paul arguing that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised, and therefore it can’t be that circumcision is a pre-requisite. In the second instalment, Paul argues that circumcision belongs to the law while justification is part of the gospel promise, and therefore circumcision could not be a prerequisite for justification. In this final instalment, we shall see Paul arguing God’s promise is not made to Abraham’s physical seed, who were circumcised, but to His spiritual seed. —JJL]

3. The Faith of the Circumcised 

Paul says:

16 Therefore it [i.e. justification] 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, 17 (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.

Paul is wrapping up his arguments that circumcision is not a pre-requisite to justification. This is not really a fresh argument. It is rather implied by what he has already said.

God’s righteousness must be received by faith. Otherwise, firstly, His promise would not be a gracious promise; and secondly, no one would receive the things promised. But since God’s righteousness is received by faith, it could be received by both Jewish and Gentile believers. In fact, God had assured Abraham that he would be a father of many nations. This assurance is made in Genesis 17:5. Paul quotes Genesis 17:5 in verse 17.

But what about the original promise in Genesis 17:7?

“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

Does this not indicate that the promise was only to Abraham and to his physical descendants? Well, no. Paul makes it clear in Galatians 3:16—

“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.”

That is to say: The promise was made in the context of a relationship with Christ. It was not made to every single of the physical descendants of Abraham. It is made with the children of the promise, the elect in Christ. For a long time the elect in Christ would descend from Abraham. But they were not be restricted to his physical descendants. Abraham would be a father of many nations. He would be a father of all believers. He would be a father of all the elect in Christ.

Again Paul makes this point clear when he says in his letter to the Galatians:

“And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Ga 3:29).

The Jews indeed descended from Abraham. But the father of unbelieving Jews is not Abraham. It is the devil. This is the assertion of our Lord himself in John chapter 8.

What Paul is saying is that God’s promise is not tied to circumcision. The Jews thought though that circumcision must be a pre-requisite for God’s blessing. Paul is showing that it is not circumcision, but faith. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to Him for righteousness. The same is true for the children of Abraham. Those who believe God in Christ, are heirs of the same promise. In other words, God’s promise is not made to Abraham’s physical seed (who were circumcised), but to His spiritual seed.

What is this to us? Well, baptism has replace circumcision. Today we baptise our children because the apostle Peter says at Pentecost:

“For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Ac 2:39).

Peter was addressing the Jews. And he was referring to the promise which God made to Abraham. Does this mean that every of our children would be saved? No! Just as God did not promise Abraham that every of his children would be saved, so God does not promise that every of our children will be saved. Our elect children will be saved.

We must baptise all our children as Abraham must circumcise all his children. If we believe God’s promise that he will be a God unto us and unto our children, then we must baptise our children. We must bring up all our children as covenant children as Abraham had to bring up all his children as covenant children.

But as the children of Abraham would be justified only by faith; so our children will be justified only by faith. We must therefore exhort our children to repent of their sins and believe in Christ.

They must not rely on their baptism. Being baptised is a great privilege. But they must not depend on their baptism. They must not become complacent like the Jews. Or they too will be disowned by the Lord, and considered the children of the devil.


What shall we say to these things?

We saw the apostle Paul’s proof that circumcision was not a prerequisite for justification. Now, for many of us, these things may seem very archaic. Perhaps, some of us may even be asking in our hearts—what is the relevance of all these. Why do we need to know the arguments? Isn’t enough just to know that we are justified by faith, and not by baptism?

Well, we spoke about them because they are part of God’s word. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. But we saw also that there are some practical implications for us today. Let me summarise the three implications we drew from the text.

· First, we saw that while baptism is important, it must not be over-emphasised. In particular, we must not emphasise baptism above faith or justification by faith. We must never speak of baptism as being a prerequisite to salvation.

Are you still unconverted? Do not think of baptism yet. Many who are baptised live hypocritical Christian lives. If you are an adult it is better for you to be sure of your faith before you are baptise, rather than the other way round. May I therefore urge you to repent of your sin, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? He and He alone can save you from your sins.

· Secondly, if you have been baptised, then remember this. We must keep the Law of God out of gratitude and love to the Lord. But we must never derive confidence from our obedience. Or let me put it this way: If I am seeking to keep the Law, I need not doubt my salvation if in moments of temptation, I fail the Lord. I should rather turn my eyes to the Lord and acknowledge that He alone can save me.

But let me now address you if you are a covenant child. You bear the sign and seal of God’s righteousness. Are you unsure whether you are born again because you fall into sin frequently? Well, let me tell you this: If you if you are concerned that you may not be born again, it is a strong indication that life has begun in you.

As such I would encourage you not to look at your self—at your failures or successes. I would urge you to look to the Lord. Remember that justification is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. If you know that you are sinner, and you believe that God justifies the ungodly in Christ, then you do not need doubt any more if you belong to Christ. Confess your faith in him confidently. Tell you mummy and daddy I believe! Oh what joy it is to know salvation in Christ!

· But thirdly, we are reminded that God’s promise is not for all who are baptised, but for all who are united to Christ by faith.

Are you baptised—whether as an adult or as a child? How are you living your Christian life? Are you living in obedience to the law of God? Now, I said that it is faith rather than law-keeping that saves. But remember: Genuine faith results in a heart of obedience. No, I am not talking about perfect obedience. I am talking about a desire to keep God’s Word and a love for the ordinances of Christ.

Is Christ the centre of your life? Is the name if Christ important to you? Is the Church of Christ important to you? Is the worship of God in Christ the most important activity in your life? Or is the church of Christ only an appendage in your life? Is public worship and prayer an optional part of your life or is it non-negotiable? If it is not non-negotiable, then you must seriously examine your faith. Could Christ be the centre of our life if you show contempt for his name and ordinances?

“And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:38) says our Lord. Amen.

—JJ Lim