Monday, August 06, 2012

Romans - Before and after circumcision...

[Bible study on Romans - post 6]

The Bible talks a lot about circumcision. In Romans 4, the term circumcision stood for the covenant that God made with Abraham, because that was the sign of the covenant. (Genesis 17)

To the Jews, that covenant was everything. It was the foundation of who they were, and it was what set them apart from everybody else. No, they weren't the only nationality that practiced circumcision, but they were the the only people that were decedents of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That promise said that Abraham's descendants would be as numerous at the stars, and that they would be blessed. For them, circumcision was a symbol of that all-important covenant of blessing.

So when Peter and Paul began saying that "the uncircumcised" could be saved, and that salvation was not only for the Jews, many of them found that extremely difficult to comprehend and accept. Why would God have set them apart if, in the end, anyone could be saved? Why would God have given the law if anyone could be saved by grace through faith instead?

In Romans 4:9, Paul asks that question, "So... can only we Jews be saved because of our faith, now? Or can those who aren't Jews be saved this way?"

He reminds them of the point he'd just made... that God called Abraham righteous because he believed Him. And then, in verse 10, he asks, "So tell me, did all of this happen after Abraham entered into the covenant with God and was circumcised?  Nope! It happened before he was circumcised!"

And then he went on to say something even more shocking... that circumcision was a seal of the righteousness by faith that he already had!  It wasn't just the sign of the covenant. Both the sign and the covenant were because he was already righteous.

You see, they'd been putting the cart before the horse. They thought that their righteousness was because of the law, and the law was part of the covenant.  Paul was saying, "Nope. The righteousness came first. God entered into that covenant because Abraham was righteous. And he was righteous before the law was given."

I'm sure there were quite a few Jews who were having a hard time wrapping their minds around this one. After all, this was not what they'd been taught for centuries.  But the thing was... Paul was among the foremost scholars of the law at that time. He had the degrees and had passed the bar.

And he was using their own scriptures to prove everything he said.

Perhaps at this point, some of the Jews were thinking, "Okay. So we had the law, but we can also believe like our father Abraham. I guess it's okay if God lets other people in on the good news."  But then Paul takes it one step farther.

He said God did all of that so that Abraham might be the father of everyone who believes like he did... even without being circumcised.  He says that this was God's intent all along. Verse 16 says it again.
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
Paul finishes up the chapter by saying that these truths were made plain to Abraham, not only for Abraham's sake. All this was written down for our sake, too. And then he ties Abraham's faith in God's promise to our faith in what Jesus did.
23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
Whoah now! What is justification? That's what Paul explains next.

Go to the index of posts on Romans.

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