Abraham Father of the Gentiles
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 49 Holman Is this blessing only for the circumcised, then Or is it
also for the uncircumcised For we say, Faith was credited to
Abraham for righteousness.
Even if the Jews accepted Pauls teaching of justification by faith, they would still be tempted to think it could not provide salvation for Gentiles. The Jews had trouble yielding to any method of salvation that would be universally offered. Even Christian Jews in the early Church struggled with this.
The most radically exclusive Jews did not truly believe in a human race. They only believed in a race of Jews. This attitude resulted in the Gentiles feeling excluded from the God of the Jews. Gentiles often expressed interest in Judaism, but they were usually kept at arms length.
Hence, Paul found himself rebuking and welcoming. He had to rebuke the narrowness of some he had to encourage the timidity of others. To Jews he had to say, Be quiet and learn humility. To Gentiles he said, Be comforted a light has risen in your darkness.
Romans 410 How then was it creditedwhile he was circumcised or
uncircumcised Not while he was circumcised, but uncircumcised.
The Jews felt circumcision, a rite given by God to Abraham, was essential for salvation. Even some Christian Jews in the first century felt Gentiles should be circumcised before they could be Christians.
Some of the more radical rabbis believed so strongly in the saving power of circumcision that they said if a Jew were condemned, an angel was appointed to reverse his circumcision. The accursed would be made uncircumcised again before he entered Hell.
Paul had to attack this mentality. Unfortunately, such thinking is still rampant among us. Countless multitudes still think salvation is connected in some way with certain ordinances, rites, and ceremonies of the church.
Is the bestowal of righteousness connected in any way with the observance of ordinances Can a sinner be made right with God apart from such things Paul answers these questions by appealing to Abraham and the calendar.
Salvation was given to Abraham, but when What was his condition when God reckoned righteousness to him Was he circumcised or uncircumcised at the time Believe it or not, he was declared righteous 14 years before he was circumcised (see GN 156, 1724).
Circumcision did not save Abraham. His salvation was received by faith, apart from any rite. No ordinance, not even a God-given one, can provide salvation.
This would raise many a Jewish eyebrow. Paul could hear someone asking, If circumcision does not confer righteousness, then what is its purpose Paul offers an answer in the next verse.
Romans 411a And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the
righteousness that he had by faith while still uncircumcised.
Circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness Abraham received, not a substitute for it. It is not enough to have the symbol we must also have the thing signified. Circumcision bore witness to a previously existing righteousness.
Lets analyze what Paul meant here by sign and seal. Sign by definition denotes that which indicates or points to something else. The sign in and of itself has no importance. It has meaning and significance only with regard to what it points to.
A wedding ring is a sign that one person belongs to another in wedlock. It is a sign of the real thing, of marital faithfulness. The ring without faithfulness is useless.
On the other hand, we can experience faithfulness without having the ring. Twice I have performed a no ring wedding ceremony. Nevertheless, both couples are just as married as anyone can possibly be. A sign cannot be substituted for that which it pictures. Even so circumcision cannot be a substitute for salvation by faith.
Seal implies the confirmation of a previous bargain. It refers to a guarantee. In Abrahams case, circumcision was a guarantee of the trustworthiness of God. He can be depended on to secure the salvation He promises. The rainbow illustrates a seal. Rainbows do not keep the earth from being destroyed by a flood again, but they do serve as seals, guarantees that God will not let it happen again.
Do not confuse the seal with what it guarantees. They are separate items. When Good Housekeeping magazine places its seal of approval on a product, this does not in itself make the product good. It was already good before the seal was placed on it. The seal itself merely confirms a previous fact.
Circumcision was a seal of what God had already done. Rites and ceremonies are valid only when they point to the fact that one is already saved by faith. They are simply a reminder that God can be counted on to carry through their salvation.
Romans 411b This was to make him the father of all who believe but are not
circumcised, so that righteousness may be credited to them also.
Abrahams circumcision was a sign he would be counted as the father of all who believe. This means he would forever be deemed their pattern and leading example. The word father implies a common nature, character, or attribute.
Being a child of Abraham involves more than only a blood line. Abraham is more than a mere unit in a particular genealogy. Though Gentiles may not be kin to Abraham after the flesh, they can be kin to him after the spirit.
Gentiles have the right to claim Abraham as their father because he never received anything on the basis of his being a Jew. He did not get saved as a Jew, but rather simply as a person.
In fact, Abraham was the father of the uncircumcised believers before he was the father of circumcised believers. With one stroke Paul overturned any basis for national or racial pride among the Jews.
It is not necessary for a Gentile to accept Jewish rites in order to become a Christian. Rather, it is necessary for a Jew to accept the Gentile hope in faith as the only means of salvation.
Gentiles do not have to enter Christianity through a Jewish gateway. Rather, it is essential the Jews enter the same way Gentiles do. Any person, Jew or Gentile, who repents and believes in Christ puts his feet in the footsteps of Abraham and follows him right into Heaven.
Romans 412 And he became the father of the circumcised, not only to those
who are circumcised, but also to those who follow in the footsteps of
the faith our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
Now comes Pauls crowning blow to the nonbelieving Jews. Abraham is the ancestor of all Jews, but father only to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Without faith, a circumcised Jew is lost.
People are children of Abraham only if they have the faith of Abraham. The saved Jews are those who have heart-faith, as Abraham did. If we are not willing to be saved as Abraham was saved, we cannot be saved.
Do these verses Paul wrote about Jews of yesteryear have significance for church members today Absolutely. Many church members place their trust for salvation in church ordinances or sacraments.
We need Pauls message. Salvation has nothing at all to do with external rites and ceremonies. It is a matter of the heart. Being religious, experiencing baptism, observing the Lords Supper–none of these can save. Our hope is faith alone.
The ceremonies of a church are demonic if they become the ground of confidence for salvation. Outward rites have their true meaning only if they express a previous inner experience.
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