Which Came First; Faith or Circumcision? Romans 4:9-12
“9) Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 10) How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11) and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12) and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. Romans‬ ‭4:9-12‬
Paul now returns to the life of Abraham and makes an important observation. He answers the question; “Which came first; faith or circumcision?” He actually answers the question in Romans 4:10-11, but let’s be diligent and go back to the book of Genesis and color in the full story.
The story starts in Genesis 12:1-4 when Abraham was already seventy-five years old. God called him to leave his own country for a land that God would give to him and his descendants. Over the next ten years and three chapters, Abraham obeys God but he remains childless. Do you ever feel like God is slow about His promises?
Then in Genesis 15:2-3, Abraham points out to God that he was still childless. No matter how many blessings God gave to Abraham, it would amount to nothing because he had no descendant to inherit the blessings. God then again confirmed his promise to Abraham again.
“4) Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5) And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6) Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Genesis‬ ‭15:4-6‬
Notice verse 6, Abraham was reckoned as righteous based on his faith in God. The only problem was that God did not explain to Abraham that the promised child would come through Sarah. Over the next two chapters and about fifteen years, Abraham takes things into his own hands and Ishmael was born. By his own sincere efforts… Abraham got it wrong!
Then when Abraham was now 99 years old, God again appears to him and confirms His promise through Isaac. It was at that time God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision as a seal of the promise. (See Genesis 17:22-27)
However, the next few chapters point out that Abraham was not done with his fleshly ways yet. He continued to mess up and again lied about Sarah being his sister. (See Genesis 20) Sorry to point this out, but Abraham was still far from perfect.
Why is this important? Because righteousness was reckoned to Abraham through faith… because through his own fleshly efforts he got it wrong over and over again. Our fleshly efforts to be good and save ourselves always fall short. God is the author of our salvation. We do not earn it through our own religious efforts or ceremonies like circumcision. We are saved because God is faithful in and through our lives and He has provided the means of salvation through His Son. U
At first glance, the story of Abraham as recorded in Genesis 11-25 may seem insignificant, but it is packed with many insights. It provides the foundation of the doctrine of justification by faith, gives a foreshadow of the Gospel, hints at the Great Commission and I would argue that the doctrine of sanctification is also present. These chapters are foundational to the rest of the Bible. More and more insights will emerge from these chapters as you walk with God and grow in your faith.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: cofounder of GoServ Global