Summary: In this sermon we notice that Abraham was justified not by circumcision but rather by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
What does the word Yankee mean to you? Robert W. Mayer, in a Wall Street Journal article, writes, “To people in other parts of the world it simply means someone from the United States; to people in the United States it means someone from north of the Mason-Dixon Line; to us Northerners it means someone from New England; to New Englanders it means someone from Vermont; and to Vermonters it means someone from the Green Mountains.”
The term Christian has taken on a wide range of meaning too. Some have equated being a Christian with being an American. That’s far too wide! Others say a Christian is someone who has been baptized and become a member of a Christian church.
A true Christian, however, is someone who has come into a right relationship with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
This is what the apostle Paul teaches in our text today as he shows us that Abraham was justified by grace. Let’s read Romans 4:9-17:
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and 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.
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Romans 4:9-17)
When I think about how some people try to come into a right relationship with God I find it rather sad.
For example, let me tell you what John MacArthur says in his commentary on Romans about how Hindus try to come into a right relationship with God.
One of the great Hindu festivals is called Maha Kumbh Mela, which is celebrated every twelve years at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, called the fabled waters of the Sangam. It is claimed to be the world’s largest single religious event.
Disregarding the difficult journey, the great expense, and the cold waters, multitudes of the faithful are drawn to the celebration. Caste and economic class are temporarily set aside. The festival is led by a group of stark naked holy men who lead a procession of millions of pilgrims down to the filthy water. Fakirs sit on beds of nails and walk over broken glass and lie down on hot coals. A common sight is to see worshippers taking long knives and piercing their tongues in order to sentence themselves to eternal silence as a way to appease their myriad gods. Some worshippers will stare at the sun until they are blinded. Others intentionally cause their limbs to atrophy in gestures of worship. One man held his arm upright for eight years. Although his arm muscles had long since atrophied, his uncut fingernails had continued to grow and descended some two and a half feet below his hands.
One Hindu holy book declares, “Those who bathe at the conflux of the Ganges and the Yamuna go to heaven.”
Another sacred writing says that “the pilgrim who bathes at this place wins absolution for his whole family, and even if he has perpetrated a hundred crimes, he is redeemed the moment he touches the Ganges, whose waters wash away his sins.”
At this festival the waterfront is lined with countless shaving booths, in which the devoted strip themselves bare and have every hair on their bodies shaved off, including their eyebrows and eyelashes. Every shaved hair is collected and all the hair is then thrown into the water. Hindu writings assure pilgrims that “for every hair thus thrown in, you are promised a million years residence in heaven.” We are told that millions who come with spiritual hunger depart with peace in their hearts and renewed faith.