Two Descendants of Abraham: Romans 4:11-13
“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. 13) For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans‬ ‭4:11-13‬
Paul now makes a profound observation about Abraham. He had two lines of descendants. The first were physical descendants who inherited the sign of circumcision. The second were spiritual descendants who followed in the steps of faith of Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
This becomes significant in verse 13 where Paul points out that the promise to Abraham or his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not made through the Law. Rather the promise was made through faith.
Paul labors this point again in the book of Galatians. In chapter three he points out that the Law was given through Moses and not Abraham. (Galatians 3:17-18) The Law was given 430 years later, therefore it does not go back and invalidate the promise given to Abraham through faith. I would encourage you to study the whole book of Galatians to glean this distinction.
In both the books of Romans and Galatians, this becomes the backdrop to the discussion of justification by faith and the whole concept of walking in the Spirit versus the flesh. The big question relates to whether Gods plan of salvation relates to being a physical descendant of Abraham and therefore Jewish; or trusting in the plan of God through faith in Jesus Christ? Does keeping the Law bring salvation or does the Gospel bring salvation?
Why is this important? Why does Paul devote so much time and space to this discussion? It ultimately boils down to a works based system of religion or a faith based plan of salvation. Are you trying to save yourself through your own good works or are you putting faith in Jesus Christ as the only hope of salvation?
Ironically, every world religion goes back to a works based approach to salvation. They are based on some form of rituals, creeds or keeping rules and regulations. They leave people lost and hopeless in failed self effort.
Why? Because Romans 3:23 says; “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Religion and good works do not save people! God saves people through His Son. (John 3:16) Only faith in the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ brings salvation.
The implications of this discussion are very deep and includes many questions like: “How much of the Old Covenant do believers enter into?” And, “Does the Church become spiritual Israel in the New Testament?” Or, “What’s the difference between walking in the flesh versus walking in the Spirit?”
As you can see, we are merely scratching the surface in this basic study, but I would argue that the question of the basis of salvation through works or faith is the heart of the discussion. Until this issue is settled the other points are irrelevant. Many people end up arguing theology as an excuse to avoid the personal implications of the Gospel.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global