Abraham Justified Before Circumcision
9 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. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 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, 12 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.
When and how did Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, receive his justification (his sins were cleared forever) before God? Abraham was born “Abram” as a heathen in a heathen community in Ur (Genesis 11:27-32), God called him out of that community (Genesis 12:1, promised him what he would do with Abram (Genesis 12:2-3), and Abram BELIEVED God and walked in FAITH (Genesis 12:4). If you read the text, it says that God “spoke” to Abram – there wasn’t a burning bush, or a lightning bolt from Heaven, or a host of angels – God spoke to Abram – that was it. It was on those words that Abram believed. The Chaldeans (who lived in Ur, where Abram was raised) were a people who believed in a plurality of gods (idols). Abram’s father, Terah, was a well known idol maker and merchant. For Abram to abandon his faith in the gods of his people, those that he could see and touch, for a God whom no one can see or touch would have seemed preposterous to everyone around him. Still, he believed on God and what God had said and he walked faithfully. THAT is where he where he was justified. That is not by works, but by belief that leads to action. He trusted in this God whom he did not see and did what was instructed. This is not doing of “good works” to bring about your justification. God hadn’t even brought that up to him at that point. When the letter to the Roman believers was written, the Jews believed that they were justified before God because of their birth (in a lineage that leads back to Abraham), and their circumcision. God didn’t even institute this commandment until 24 years after Abram first acted on his trust in God (Genesis 17:10-11) when God is establishing His covenant with Abram (Genesis 17) – this is also where God changes Abram’s name to “Abraham” (Genesis 17:4-5). If you read the text of that covenant, you’ll see that the circumcision was not a lock ensuring that all who bear that mark are the chosen people of God but that it was a sign of the covenant which God has authored between Him and Abraham. Abraham was the physical father of many nations in his lineage, but his model of faith was where his spiritual lineage would be established. That is where Jesus says that we, as Christ followers, should walk in faith and not trust in our lineage to save us as God could raise up “children to Abraham from stones” (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8).