Friday, 5 April 2013
How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. Romans 4:10
Paul has shown as clearly as could be done, that righteousness comes apart from the law and that it is granted by faith alone. Noting this, Paul continues to make his address to those who would still consider the law as a means to an end. His questions are meant to dispel this notion once and forever. “How was it (meaning the blessedness of being declared righteous noted in the previous verses) accounted?” In other words, where or when did this declaration originate? In follow-up he asks “While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised?”
This is an immensely important question. If it was after circumcision, then the circumcision may have had a bearing on the declaration of his righteousness. This then might mean that this same declaration could be available only to those who are circumcised. If so, then anyone outside of the law would be in the same state they were always in – alienated from God and strangers to the promise. But Paul’s answer is a note of relief to those outside and it is one which comes directly from an analysis of Scripture itself… “Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.”
Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 15:6. He simply believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. It wasn’t until Genesis 17 that the sign of his righteousness was introduced. This was many long years later and it had no bearing at all on his state before God. If it had no bearing, then why was it even given? The answer is that it was an outward sign of the change in relationship and was intended for him and his descendants afterwards to remember that relationship and live in a manner worthy of it.
This outward sign was a means of validating what occurred. It had no bearing on what happened, but it gave him the memory of, and the assurance in, the act. As an example to grasp this, let’s consider a war hero. He is involved in a great act which saves many lives and which is the epitome of braveness and heroism. Everyone knows it and calls him a hero. This is equivalent to Abraham’s faith and God’s recognition of it.
After the act, the hero’s commander submits him for an award. The award goes through the ranks and arrives at the president’s desk. The president approves it – a Congressional Medal of Honor; the highest military award one can receive. The award is then officially presented to the hero on the one-year anniversary of his act. Did the presentation of the award have any bearing on the accomplishment of the act? No. Did the presentation have any bearing on his status as a hero? No, but it does validate it. The award was given as a sign and a confirmation (or validation) of the significance of the deed, but it in no way changes what occurred. This is Paul’s point. The circumcision, in which the Jew boasts, has no bearing at all on what was previously granted.
If the war hero’s descendants carry around his award and boast in it and yet don’t live a life worthy of the act of their father, then the award means less than nothing. In fact, it has become in them as if they weren’t even a part of this noble man’s family. And now, after more than a chapter of analysis and explanation, we can return to Paul’s words at the end of chapter 2 and more fully understand what he meant –
“For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:25-29
Life application: Don’t let anyone steal the prize from you by insisting that you adhere to some precept found under the law. Circumcision, dietary restrictions, dress codes, etc that are found under the law will only separate you further from God if you attempt to be justified by those things. Stand firm on the fact that Abraham was declared righteous by faith alone and this is how you will also be so declared.
Lord God, I see in Your word that Abraham was declared righteous before he was circumcised. The circumcision was only an outward sign of the declaration. I also see that this is how You work at all times – declaring us righteous by faith in what You alone have done. The work of Jesus frees us from the constraints of the law because He fulfilled them in our stead. Thank You, O God, for Jesus. Amen.