The Truth About Abraham: Was He Completely Useless?
It's fascinating how the Jewish leaders would always name-drop Abraham's name and lay claim to their grand-ancestor. They mention how the law given to them (the Jews) sets them apart from Gentiles (non-Jews). Jesus called them hypocrites. Paul also spent the first few chapters bashing them on it, going as far as saying they are making God look bad by doing so.
But Paul sets the record straight:
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." – Romans 4:3
Paul points out that Abraham wasn't justified by the law or his works:
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. – Romans 4:2
Abraham was justified completely by faith and not at all by works. Paul elaborates that works and gifts are distinct:
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. – Romans 4:4-5
What About Circumcision?
The Jews love to boast about their circumcision and how that makes them God's people. But Paul spent last chapter saying that circumcision of the heart matters more than circumcision of the flesh.
Here, Paul mentions that circumcision is the symbol of faith and not the other way around.
[Abraham] 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, and to make [Abraham] 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. – Romans 4:11-12
The danger if inheriting the symbol is that we can easily forget (several generations down) what it means and instead rely more on the symbol itself than the intent. Paul speaks to the Jews who forgot that Abraham first believed before he was circumcised and makes the key distinction that his faith justified him rather than circumcision.
To non-Jews, Paul shares the good news that they can be justified through faith as well, even if they don't have the law or circumcision.
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