“Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are counted as righteous because of their faith. And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.”
Romans 4:9-12 NLT
Paul continues his logical analysis, designed to expose and debunk the feelings of superiority that the Jews in Rome were obviously suffering from. He challenged them with the thought that God considered that Abraham was righteous, not because he had been circumcised, but because of his faith. We read in Genesis 15:6, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” But then some time later, we read in Genesis 17, that Abraham and his household were circumcised under the terms of the covenant God made with him.
Paul set out a powerful argument that opened the door for all uncircumcised people to be capable of righteousness before God. We considered earlier the verse at the end of Romans 2, “No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people” (Romans 2:29). Righteousness before God is a matter of our hearts. In Deuteronomy 30:6, we read, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live”.
The Jews of Paul’s days were fixated on the thought that they were in a right place before God because they had been circumcised. Once again Paul reminded them that this was not necessarily the case. We pilgrims might claim that such a belief in an outward act would never apply to us. But it is possible for Christians to delude themselves, to end up in wrong thinking, replacing a heart relationship with God with something else outward and remote. I’m thinking about the liturgies and rituals we go through in practising our religion. One of them that comes to mind is the Anglican communion service, where the especially manufactured wafers and the communion wine are blessed and sanctified by the priest, and people then solemnly and individually take the sacraments. There’s nothing wrong in any of that but what about our hearts? I remember a time in such a service where two young men in the seats behind me were discussing the local football match as the priest was going through his ritual. They then proceeded to take the sacraments when they were available. What about their hearts? One of the most precious times I remember was at the end of a fellowship meal when there was some grape juice and bread left over. We spontaneously shared communion together. Jesus never said it was only the Anglican priest who could make the sacraments available. He said instead that we should remember Him through the sharing of the bread and the wine. About the bread, Jesus said, “… Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”” (1 Corinthians 11:24). In the following verse, Jesus said, through Paul, “In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.””
Once again, we remind ourselves that righteousness starts with the states of our hearts. Do we believe in Jesus, in all that He has done for us, and the only way to God is through Him? Do we believe through faith that He died for us so that our sins were forgiven? Of course we do, but perhaps the Jews that Paul wrote to in Rome were a bit arrogant and confused. After they had read Paul’s letter they would have had no doubts about the source of true righteousness.
Dear Lord Jesus. We really do remember You, our wonderful Saviour. We worship You today with grateful hearts. Amen.
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