The Relationship of Faith and Ceremony
Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? 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 still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. NKJV
Paul now moves from works to ceremony. They Jews contended that salvation had to be on the basis of works. Paul showed that even though Abraham had much to boast of in the way of works, yet none of that mattered to God. God is not impressed with the works of rebels.
But now he moves on to the next objection that the Jews would no doubt raise. That is that circumcision separated the saved from the unsaved. That Abraham was circumcised and had passed that on to his descendants. And it was circumcision, the sign and seal of the covenant that guaranteed the Jews justification as being a part of the promise of God to Abraham.
Paul’s purpose here is to show that like works, faith preceded circumcision and therefore the promise was not on the basis of circumcision but rather faith.
I. What was circumcision?
A. The time of it.
1. Paul has already shown that Abraham’s faith preceded his circumcision.
2. When Abraham was 85 years old he believed God and God accounted that to him for righteousness.
3. When Abraham was about 99 years old God instituted circumcision for Abraham and his male descendants.
4. At that time Ishmael was about 13 years old.
5. Therefore in relation to time Abraham was justified by faith almost 14 years before circumcision was given.
6. The promise that circumcision was a sign and seal of was accepted by Abraham 14 years before circumcision was instituted.
a. The facts are these. (1) Genesis 15:6 records the event of Abraham receiving righteousness from God. (2) Sometime after that, Abraham had a son by Hagar when he was eighty-six years old (Gen 16:16). (3) At least one year had to elapse between the two events so that at the outside Abraham was eighty-five years old when righteousness was imputed to him. (4) Ishmael was thirteen years old when both he and Abraham were circumcised (Gen 17:25–26). (5) Abraham had righteousness imputed to him at least fourteen years before he was circumcised. Paul concludes that circumcision had nothing whatever to do with the imputation of righteousness to Abraham. King James Version study Bible.
B. The purpose of it.
1. Therefore the purpose of circumcision could not have been justification.
2. Circumcision was a visible sign that God had made this promise to Abraham.
3. It was also a seal to those who received it that they were also recipients of the same promise.
4. There were very stern consequences for any Jew not being circumcised.
5. When God first instituted circumcision to Abraham and his household it was accomplished on all males regardless of age.
6. Subsequently it would be only infant males who were circumcised.
7. There were special rules for adult males who would be added to Jewish households but that is not really relevant to our present discussion.
8. Gen 17:11 a sign of the covenant. Circumcision (cutting away the male foreskin) was not entirely new in this period of history, but the special religious and theocratic significance then applied to it was entirely new, thus identifying the circumcised as belonging to the physical and ethnical lineage of Abraham (cf. Acts 7:8; Rom. 4:11). Without divine revelation, the rite would not have had this distinctive significance, thus it remained a theocratic distinctive of Israel (cf. v. 13). There was a health benefit, since disease could be kept in the folds of the foreskin, so that removing it prevented that. Historically, Jewish women have had the lowest rate of cervical cancer. But the symbolism had to do with the need to cut away sin and be cleansed. It was the male organ which most clearly demonstrated the depth of depravity because it carried the seed that produced depraved sinners. Thus, circumcision symbolized the need for a profoundly deep cleansing to reverse the effects of depravity. MacArthur, J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (Electronic ed.) (Ge 17:11). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
C. A sign and the seal of what?
1. When Paul says circumcision was a sign and seal he is not saying that it guaranteed anything.
2. Circumcision was a sign to those who received it that they were partakers of the promises to Abraham.
3. It did not guarantee them that they were partakers of those promises.
4. Any number of things would have cut them off from the promises.
a. Any number of laws broken would.
b. And now we see that Paul is telling us that without faith, circumcision is void.
5. A seal authenticates, confirms, certifies, or guarantees the genuineness of that which is signified. Circumcision confirmed to Abraham that he was regarded and treated by God as righteous through faith. Believer's Bible Commentary.
6. The seal was for Abraham effectual for we know of Abraham’s faith. It was a seal for others only if they also had the same faith as Abraham.
7. What took place was that Abraham had been made some promises and those promises were to his descendants who continued to bear the sign and seal of those promises, namely circumcision.
II. Abraham in uncircumcision when declared righteous before God.
A. Paul shows here that Abraham was without doubt uncircumcised when he became heir of the promise.
B. Paul’s point is that if Abraham received the promise without circumcision than circumcision was not necessary for the promise.
C. What Abraham did have was faith, long before circumcision was instituted.
III. Abraham the father of all who believe, circumcised or not.
A. Therefore Abraham could be the father of all who believe, circumcised and uncircumcised.
B. Paul tells us in another place that circumcision does not avail anything neither does uncircumcision.
1. Gal 6:15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. KJV
2. This is important.
3. The idea is that God is not impressed with our ceremonies.
4. Even ceremonies that are required by God.
5. Unlike man God does not need to see what we do to know what is in our hearts.
6. God looks on the hearts, he knows before we act.
7. So whether it’s circumcision, or baptism, or worship God knows our hearts.
8. That does not mean that circumcision was unnecessary or unimportant.
9. Nor does it mean that baptism is not important.
10. But it does mean that neither circumcision nor baptism confers that which only faith can bring about.
IV. Present day application.
A. In theology baptism has replaced circumcision.
1. In the process of defending infant baptism many theologians saw a connection between circumcision and baptism.
2. The language of verse 11 where Paul says that circumcision was a sign and a seal, has been transferred to the article on baptism in the Westminster confession of Faith.
3. The problem is that baptism is never said to be a sign and a seal of justification, or salvation, or anything else like that.
4. Baptism is a picture; a picture of the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
5. For the person being baptized it is a testimony that they have died with Christ, have been buried with him, and now will walk in newness of life.
B. That is one of the reasons given for baptism of infants.
1. But in the minds of some, baptism replaced circumcision.
2. Parents circumcised their sons, so the conclusion is that parents should baptize their children.
3. In many Protestant confessions of faith you will find its stated that proper subjects of baptism are believing adults and their children.
4. That would not be so bad if it were not for the teaching that baptism makes one righteous, or justified.
5. The same verses that the Protestants use to teach infant baptism are the verses that Baptist use to show that infants need no baptism.
C. Some teach that baptism confers grace and causes one to be justified in God sight.
1. The mainline Protestants teach that baptism is a sacrament that confers grace on the receiver.
2. That on the basis of baptism one is declared righteous in God’s sight.
3. Even Martin Luther, the great reformer, makes baptism necessary for salvation. He does this all the while he is teaching that salvation is by grace through faith. The problem is he ties the faith to baptism.
4. The problem with this teaching (even though they refer to Romans 4:11) is that Paul plainly teaches that Abraham was justified before circumcision and without it. That is the whole point of this passage.
5. To use this passage to bring in baptism to replaced circumcision and then to apply the promise to baptism that Paul denies to circumcision in this passage makes no sense to me.
D. Is this important or is it just a lot of words about nothing.
1. Baptist and Protestants have calmed the rhetoric over baptism.
a. Oh they still chide us about our large baptisteries.
b. And were still waiting for them to show us where baby baptism is found in the Scriptures.
c. But for the most part we’ve kind of agreed to disagree agreeably.
d. But that does not mean that Baptist do not believe it is no longer important, because it is.
2. It is important when we realize that we are telling people how to get to heaven.
a. If you tell someone that baptism gets them to heaven and it does not, what would you call that?
b. If you needed directions and I gave you the wrong ones what would you call that?
c. Any time that you add anything to faith for salvation you make it impossible.
3. It is important when we realize that we are telling people that it is what God requires.
a. When Paul and Silas were asked, “what must I do to be saved,” they didn’t say you need to be baptized.
b. They said believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
c. God does require baptism but not for salvation.
d. God requires people to tell the truth but not for salvation.
e. God requires people to love their neighbors but not for salvation.
f. There are many things that God requires but faith is the only requirement for justification, to be declared righteous in God’s sight.
4. Neither circumcision or baptism guarantees righteousness but only faith.
a. J. B. Jeter’s third wife was a Presbyterian. A baby was born in that home. His wife said something about like this: "Mr. Jeter, you knew I was a Presbyterian, when you married me. As an honest Presbyterian I believe that our baby ought to be baptized." He consented on condition that she would consent to his holding the baby while the ceremony was performed. She thought it would be a feather in her cap to have the most prominent Baptist preacher in Virginia and one of the best known Baptist editors in the South to hold their baby, while a Presbyterian preacher baptized it.
So she consented. J. B. Jeter announced in his church in Richmond, that he would be out of his pulpit to be present at the Presbyterian church and why. That church was jammed and packed. The scholarly and dignified Presbyterian preacher preached and then announced that those who had babies to be baptized would please bring them forward. Bro. Jeter and his wife arose and he took the baby in his arms and they walked to the front. He was careful to get at the end where they were to begin. Quite a number of other parents had children present for that purpose. Just as the honored pastor of that Presbyterian church raised his hand to say the baptismal formula and baptize Bro. Jeter’s baby, Bro. Jeter said something like this: "My brother, you and I have been good friends for many years. My wife has been a member of your church for years and I have never tried to proselyte her to my faith. But as a Baptist I believe that we ought to be able to give a thus saith the Lord for all that we do. This is my baby as well as my wife’s. Before you sprinkle my child, I want you to take your Bible and read out of the Book your authority for what you are about to do." The scholarly, old-school Presbyterian preacher slowly raised his hand and pronounced the benediction. Mrs. Jeter soon became a Baptist. She said that her pastor was one of the most scholarly Presbyterian preachers in all the South. If he could not find infant baptism in the Bible, then it must not be there. If infant baptism was not in the Bible, she had never been baptized, for infant baptism was all she had ever had. With an open Bible she soon was led to the truth and obeyed her Lord in baptism. The Bible was written to make Baptists and it will do the work in every regenerate heart if they will only read it and obey it. Why Be a Baptist, Boyce Taylor
b. Baptism has not replaced circumcision.
c. Circumcision was for the Jews, and is still rightly practiced by them today.
d. Paul nowhere tells the Jews that they should stop the ordinance of circumcision. But neither does Paul tell anyone that baptism replaced circumcision.
So far Paul has struck a blow to two of the Jews arguments. Justification cannot be on the basis of works. If it is that it is a debt and not grace. Nor can justification beyond the basis of circumcision because circumcision came 24 years after Abraham was declared righteous.
If you want to be right with God, don’t depend on baptism. Don’t depend on your good works. Realizing that you are a sinner and can never measure up to God’s standard simply put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ believing all that the New Testament says about him.