Summary: In this sermon we see that Abraham was not justified by circumcision or by the law; rather, he was justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
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)
The November/December 2000 issue of Modern Reformation has a fascinating interview with William Willimon, Professor and Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. At one point he addresses the issue with students of how modern people think about eternity. He says:
"This past Easter, I told the people: ’There was a day when I thought my problem was how to get critical, modern, twentieth century people to believe that a Jew who was dead three days then returned and came back. I just thought that was hard for you all to swallow. But then I realized last year, by my count, there were seven movies where people came back from the dead – Meet Joe Black, The Titanic, something about a snowman. Then I realized that it isn’t that you people are skeptical and critical. It’s that all of you easily believe in immortality. I mean, you all believe you’re just so wonderful that you’re going to just go on forever, that there will always be some spark of you.’"
Many people think that they are going to continue in eternal bliss, just because they are immortal.
Others, perhaps because of some religious strain, believe that immortal bliss is not automatically conferred; it has to be somehow earned. And so they perform religious ceremonies and strive for religious obedience.
Unfortunately, none of these ways prepare a person for eternal bliss. Satan effectively deceives people into thinking that a person’s righteous works will earn him or her a place in heaven.
But that is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word.
The apostle Paul teaches against such works righteousness in Romans 4. He points to Abraham as the supreme Old Testament example of a man was saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
In Romans 4:9-17—our text for today—the apostle Paul demonstrates three closely related truths: Abraham’s justifying faith did not come by his circumcision (4:9-12); it did not come by his keeping the law (4:13-15); but rather it came solely by God’s grace (4:16-17). Last week we looked at the first point.
I. Abraham Was Not Justified by Circumcision (4:9-12)
First, Abraham was not justified by circumcision.
Abraham was declared justified by God 14 years before he was circumcised. In other words, God saved him, and it was only 14 years later that he required him to be circumcised as a sign and seal of his covenant promises to Abraham. So, Abraham was not justified by circumcision.
Similarly, not one of you can be saved by circumcision. Nor can you be saved by baptism, communion, church membership, or any other religious ceremony.
II. Abraham Was Not Justified by the Law (4:13-15)
Second, Abraham was not justified by the law.
Again the chronology of the Scriptures proves his point. As every Jew well knew, the law was not revealed to Moses until more than 500 years after Abraham lived, and that patriarch obviously had no way of knowing what the law required.
People have never been able to come to God by means of an outward ceremony or standard of conduct. When Abraham was declared right with God, he was neither circumcised nor in possession of the Mosaic Law. Circumcision had not yet been required by God and the law had not yet been revealed by God. Therefore, 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 (4:13).