Justification: By Faith or By Circumcision?

Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? 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 still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:9-12).

A continuous challenge for all who sincerely desire to reverently and rightly handle God’s word is to be an honest and careful student of it. Preconceived ideas and foregone conclusions are spiritual quicksand to any workman who desires to not be ashamed of his craftsmanship.

A great illustration of this truth can be found in a first century Jew’s belief that Abraham’s justification before God was dependent upon being circumcised. Many Jewish auditors of the gospel were prone to immediately dismiss its universal offer of justification with no requirement of circumcision.

As Paul so powerfully points out in the text above, Abraham was justified by faith while he was uncircumcised. Because of preconceived ideas and foregone conclusions, the Jews had missed this fact.

A quick study of Abraham’s life easily uncovers these facts: 1) Abraham left Haran for the land of Canaan when he was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4-5); 2) “he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6) occurred before Hagar bore him a son named Ishmael when he was 86 years old (Genesis 16:15-16); 3) God’s covenant of circumcision was made with him when he was 99 years old (Genesis 17:1). Therefore, there was over a decade (at least 13 years) of his 175 year life in which Abraham was justified and uncircumcised.

The Jews’ failure to catch their oversight of this would not necessarily be a big deal unless it impacted their thinking about circumcision and justification. It did. In a major way.

They erroneously believed that circumcision was essential to justification before God. (It was not in Abraham’s case; faith was.) They erroneously believed that only the circumcised could be justified by God. (Again, such was not the case with Abraham.)

By focusing on his circumcision and not his faith, the Jews missed the most important lesson to be learned about justification from the life of Abraham. Because they majored in minors, they missed the message.

Let him who thinks he stands take heed.

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Author: jchowning

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