Yesterday, we continued our series in Romans on the Lord’s Day. I preached Romans 4:9-12 as we examined the salvation of Abraham—the forefather of the Jewish people. As we examine this man’s faith, we can learn some important and extremely applicable lessons. In fact, two lessons are vitally important for us in our present day.
The Jews had invented a new Abraham in order to support and undergird their false system of salvation by works. Paul understood their way of thinking very well, and he took the entire fourth chapter of Romans in order to drive home the reality that Abraham was justified by faith alone in Christ alone apart from works. Exactly how does Paul drive home that point? He pointed to the timing of his salvation in relation to his circumcision.
According to Genesis 15:6, Abraham received the righteousness of God by faith. It was counted to him (or imputed to his account). In the next chapter, we find that Abraham (then Abram) was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Gen. 16:16). In the following chapter, we learn that Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised (Gen. 17:23-26). If you do the math on the timing of these events, you will see that Abraham was justified and reconciled to God a full 14 years prior to the cutting of his flesh by circumcision. He received the sign after his conversion, and Paul points out that since this was the case—he was not saved based on his performance of the law.
Paul then drives home two very important lessons:
- Uncircumcised Gentiles can be saved too.
- Circumcised Jews can be lost.
Many Jews rejected the idea that God would save uncircumcised Gentiles. That’s one reason for the controversy that erupted in Galatia (see Gal. 1:6-9) over the perversion of the gospel. Paul refutes this by demonstrating that Abraham is the father in the faith to not only Jewish believers, but also Gentile believers too.
Many Jews likewise rejected the idea that God would send Jews to hell. There was an idea that circulated through the Jewish population that suggested Abraham was positioned near the gates of hell and would not allow an Israelite to pass through the gates into the flames of hell. According to Paul, not all of Israel was Israel, and many circumcised Jews were totally lost without Christ.
Paul explains the purpose of Abraham’s justification by faith apart from circumcision was “to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4:12). In other words, it’s possible to be circumcised and not walk in the footsteps of faith.
How true that is of many in the local church today. They have the sign of baptism as an external profession of faith and they claim to be redeemed by Jesus—but they don’t walk in the footsteps of the faith. It’s a sobering thought to consider how many self righteous Jews perished in their religion. Likewise it’s a sobering thought to consider how many church attenders are soothing their conscience with their check-box religion on a weekly basis while in reality they’re on a fast-track straight for an eternity in hell (Matt. 7:21-23).
Charles Spurgeon once said, “There is nothing that prevents a man from coming to Christ like a good opinion of himself.”