“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace…” (Romans 4:16a)
Romans Chapter 4 opened up by demonstrating that Justification with God has always been by grace through faith. Citing two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and David, the Apostle Paul shows us that Salvation has never come through works of righteousness.
Moving on into Verse 9, we are also shown that Salvation has never been accomplished by the observation of ordinances. Circumcision was the sole Sacrament of the Old Testament, the solitary ritual undergone by every male Israelite identifying him as a member of the nation. It was such an integral facet of Judaism that the term itself became synonymous with Jewishness (e.g., Acts 10:45, Galatians 2:9).
In light of this, a time in the life of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, before he was circumcised seemed unfathomable. It was recognized, of course, that Abraham, the first Jew, had started his life as a Gentile (Deuteronomy 26:5), but the fact that he was justified with God before he underwent the act of circumcision is something of which Paul reminds his readers. Therefore, it was not the circumcision itself which justified Abraham but his faith and trust in God which preceded it.
“And he received the SIGN of circumcision, a SEAL of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised…” (Romans 4:11a, emphasis added)
So if circumcision failed to justify a man with God, what was the point of it? It is called a sign and a seal here; a badge outwardly identifying an inward commitment. The badge of circumcision does nothing to make a person right with God anymore than putting on a police officer’s badge makes one a police officer. The badge serves only as an outward symbol of a position that has already been established.
Circumcision is not seen as an identifying trait of those who belong to God under the New Testament, but what about the Sacraments that we have in the Church? If the observation of the Sacrament of the Old Testament failed to justify a person with God, can the Sacraments of the New? Does Baptism or Communion make a person a Christian, or are these signs of a transformation that is implied to have already occurred? Are these ordinances to be observed in order to justify us with God, or because we are justified with God? These, too, are “badges”; outward signs of an inward transformation.
“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)
That Abraham was not justified by the keeping of the Law of Moses is obvious since he lived centuries before the Law was ever given. But the fact that no one would be justified by the keeping of the Law is reinforced in the statement: “or to his seed.” It was not Law keeping or works of righteousness that caused God’s favor to come upon the nation of Israel in the first place — it was faith.
Any objections that might be raised against Paul’s case in the Book of Romans that Salvation comes by grace through faith are completely obliterated by his line of reasoning that demonstrates that God has always dealt with people based on His grace and their faith. It has never come by any other means. Justification, being put into right-standing with God, was never achieved by the keeping of Law and Commandments, the performance of rituals and ordinances, or works of righteousness. Even Abraham was justified by God’s grace secured by his faith.
If Salvation in the Old Testament, the Testament defined by Law and Commandments, came solely by God’s unearned grace received through faith, how much more does Salvation come by such means under the New? If the Jew was not justified by the keeping of Law, “good” deeds, or Sacrament, can the modern Gentile be? It is not through our keeping of God’s Commandments, our observation of the Sacraments, or our performance of works of righteousness that we are saved. It is God’s grace received through our faith. Just being a Jew was not enough to be justified, either. Our church membership and even our identification of ourselves as Christians is not enough for us to be saved. For the Jew under the Old Testament, there simply was no substitution for faith. Neither is there anything that we may offer in its place.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,