The Old Testament from the life of Abraham proves that justification is by faith and not by works. The apostle Paul was referring to this truth in Romans 4:1-8 showing how Abraham didn’t work for his justification and how God justifies the ungodly through faith by crediting faith as righteousness. Abraham was justified because he believed God’s promise not because he worked to earn it. But from the life of Abraham the Old Testament also proves that justification is by faith and not by circumcision (which would also be a work).
This also has huge implications in our day for those who teach that justification is through baptism. Circumcision and baptism have a correlation in that circumcision was to serve as a sign and a seal of justification just as baptism is to serve as a sign and seal of justification. So in this study the truth will be established that justification is by faith and not by circumcision or baptism.
In Romans 4:9-12 the apostle Paul will prove that Abraham was justified long before he was circumcised showing that circumcision has nothing to do with justification and therefore even the Gentiles can be justified on the same basis that Abraham was justified – by faith and not by circumcision.
In Romans 4:1-8 the apostle Paul spoke of the blessings of justification on the basis of faith and not of works. Now in Romans 4:9 he moved into whether or not circumcision had anything at all to do with Abraham’s justification. If justification is based on circumcision then Abraham would have had to been circumcised before he was justified and the logical conclusion would be then that any man at any time would have to be circumcised in order to be justified. If this were true then the Gentiles would be excluded from justification apart from becoming a Jew through circumcision.
So Paul asked, “Is this blessing [of justification] then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, ‘Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness’” (Romans 4:9). In order to answer Paul’s question and establish the truth that his ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles was legitimate then the account of Abraham’s justification would have to be inspected in respect to his circumcision and see which came first. If circumcision came first then Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was illegitimate. If justification came first then Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was legitimate. So Paul went to the justification of Abraham as the prototype of all true believers and established the truth that justification is by faith and not by circumcision.
Abraham received the blessing of justification by imputation while he was uncircumcised (Romans 4:10). The account of Abraham’s justification occurs in Genesis 15:6 but he wasn’t circumcised until Genesis 17:23-27. There was at least fourteen years after Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. He was eighty-six (Genesis 16:15) when Hagar bore Ishmael to him (which was after he was justified) and he was ninety-nine when he was circumcised. Abraham was justified before he ever took matters into his own hands and conceived Ishmael with Hagar. There would have been a nine month gestation period before the birth of Ishmael so we can easily conclude that there was at least fourteen years between Abraham’s justification and his circumcision. The conclusion is more than obvious: Abraham’s circumcision had nothing whatsoever to do with his justification.
Circumcision was a sign and a seal of the justification which Abraham had while uncircumcised (Romans 4:11). Circumcision didn’t save or justify Abraham and it is not what Abraham did to cause God to show favor to him. Is anyone saved because he is circumcised? Absolutely not! Circumcision was to be a sign (symbol) of the removal of the flesh and a seal (stamp) of living by faith, pointing to two realities that had already taken place.
Is anyone saved by baptism? Absolutely not! Baptism is to be a sign (symbol) of the death and burial of the flesh and a seal (stamp) of living by faith by being raised up to walk in newness of life under the Lordship of Christ. To be justified either by circumcision or baptism is not to have righteousness credited but would be to earn righteousness through a work – perish the thought.
The faith of Abraham (believing God about the Christ – see Galatians 3:16) is what both the circumcised and the uncircumcised must possess to be saved (Romans 4:12). We are justified by faith and not by circumcision or baptism. “Even so Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. ‘Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.’ The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham the believer” (Galatians 3:6-9).