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(Romans 4:9-12) The Sign and Seal of Faith

(Romans 4:9-12) The Sign and Seal of Faith

Ref: Romans 4:9–12

What was the point of circumcision in the Old Testament? Many Jews believed it was a sign of salvation and that without it you couldn't have a relationship with God. Were they right? Stephen answers that question and many more in this message.


The Sign and Seal of Faith

Romans 4:9-12

In Romans chapter 4, Paul is attempting to illustrate that justification is not earned . . . nor is it deserved as a result of some perfect life of holiness.

Paul has illustrated this fact by using the two most prominent men in Israel’s history.  The greatest patriarch, Abraham, and the greatest monarch, David.

Neither Abraham nor David could ever claim to be perfect.  And we have rediscovered enough illustrations in the pages of the Old Testament to prove it.  It’s pretty obvious from a close study of their lives that they were both sinful men.

Abraham lied on two occasions, putting Sarah at great risk.  He disobeyed God’s instruction to leave his family by taking his idolatrous father along with him, as well as his nephew Lot.  Both men caused delay and division.  Abraham also failed to trust God during a famine by going into Egypt and relying on the pagan Pharaoh. 

David, we have also re-discovered was guilty of adultery, murder, lying and hypocrisy. 

Paul simply means to prove by way of illustration that these two men did not deserve to go to heaven.

Now Paul anticipates the response of his Jewish audience who would naturally say . . . “Okay Paul, you’ve shown us that these two men sinned, but don’t forget, they were circumcised – they had the physical mark of the covenant – therefore they were as good as saved.”

In Romans 4:9 Paul writes,  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;

What Paul does here is simply remind the Jewish reader of his history timeline.

Abraham was circumcised when his son Ishmael was thirteen years old and Abraham was 99 years old.  You find that in Genesis chapter 17.  However, if you turn back to Genesis chapter 15 and verse 6 you read that “Abram believed in the Lord; and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  In other words, Abraham placed his faith in the one true and living God and God justified him!

This took place when Abraham was 85 years old.  In other words, Abraham was justified by God, 14 years before he was circumcised. 

I can imagine all the Jewish readers and Rabbis scurrying about locating a scroll of the Torah, finding their place in Genesis and re-reading these passages and saying, “Phooey…”  Translated that means, “Paul’s right again and we’re wrong.”

Notice verse 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.

In other words, circumcision didn’t give Abraham righteousness before God; circumcision was simply the sign and seal that he was in fact considered righteous already, before God.

The problem was, by the time of the Apostle Paul, the Jewish nation had forgotten the purpose of  the sign and had simply fell in love with the sign.

The Rabbis taught, “Circumcision saves from hell.”  In the Midrash, a Jewish commentary, it is recorded that “God swore to Abraham that no one who was circumcised should be sent to hell.” 

In fact, it was further developed that just in case somebody slipped through the cracks and somehow was headed for hell even though he was circumcised, another Jewish commentary taught that, “Abraham sits before the gate of hell, and does not allow that any circumcised Israelite should enter there.” 

So, Abraham, poor guy, is confined to sit at the gate of hell and make sure none of his descendants accidentally go in.  Imagine what kind of existence that belief confines Abraham to – he the great Patriarch, the Father of the faithful who should be enjoying the greater part of Paradise is confined to sitting at the doorway to hell to make sure no Jew goes in. 

But what about a Jew that was so despicable and sinful that he shouldn’t go to heaven? 

Well, the Rabbis took care of that knotty little problem by teaching that if a Jew was so bad that he just had to be condemned by God, there was an angel whose job was to make these men uncircumcised over again before they were sent to hell.

Adapted from William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (The Westminster Press, Philadelphia) 1975, p. 66

By the way, there was so much confusion and angst over the issue of circumcision that it nearly divided the church in Jerusalem. In the Book of Acts in chapter 15 the debate was raging as to whether or not new Gentile believers had to be circumcised.  A council was convened and the decision made to allow Gentiles to become full members of the church without being marked as Jews.

Well the what was circumcision for?  Why did God give this rite, this act to Abraham and his descendants?  An act that we see set aside with the establishment of the New Testament church? 

Paul answers – look back again at the first part of verse 11.  “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith.” 

Circumcision was a sign and it was a seal.

It was a sign

     Circumcision was:

     1) a sign that the Jew was a distinct race of people

     2) a sign that the Jew had a covenant with God

     3) a sign that the Jews were separate from all the other nations unto God

Listen, a sign points to something far more important than the sign itself! 

If you’ve ever traveled across country, you’ve seen signs all along the way.  You’ve been traveling for days . . . you finally see the first sign with the name Raleigh on it.  “135 miles to Raleigh”  When you see that sign, you don’t pull over, get out, go over and hug the sign and say, “I’m home!”  No.  It’s a sign that points to a more wonderful truth – home is closer than ever!

The same problem exists today, and for the last many generations about religious symbols and ceremonies.  They forget what the sign points to and fall in love with the sign.

Let me put it this way . . .I wear my wedding ring today as a sign that I’m married.  Wherever I go, whether it’s somewhere in Wake County or on a plane to some other state or some other country . . . everyone who sees me can look at my left hand, see the wedding band and assume I’m married.  Now if I took it off . . . . . . . . . . .Let’s assume I can take if off – that wouldn’t mean that suddenly, I’ve become unmarried.

Now follow me here:

      I am not married because I am wearing a wedding ring. 

I wear a wedding ring because I’m married!

In fact, I could be single, and wear a wedding ring just because I don’t want to be bothered by anybody.

I am not married just because I’m wearing a wedding ring; however, I wear a wedding ring as a sign that I’m married! 

Likewise, with or without circumcision, a person can be a true believer in God through Christ. 

The question for Paul in Romans 4:9-12 is not, “Was circumcision important for Abraham?”  The question is, “Did circumcision save Abraham?”

And the answer according to Paul is, no!

Paul also said that circumcision was a seal.

A seal, in Biblical times could be melted wax on a document with some symbol pressed into the wax.  It represented a declaration of authority. 

I recently got a passport for my youngest daughter who will be traveling with me to the Island of Malta as I minister to ABWE missionaries from Eastern Europe, the Middle East.  She recently got it in the mail.  There, stamped on top of her photograph is the seal of the United States.  It communicates the message that she is a citizen of the United states and all the authority of the United States of America stands behind her as she travels abroad. 

What is the New Testament seal of the believer?   Just as Abraham was given a physical seal communicating the fact that he was a citizen of the Jewish nation, so we have been given the seal of our faith – communicating that we are citizen’s of heaven.  It isn’t a physical mark by the way.  It is a person indwelling us – whose name happens to be the Holy Spirit of God.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1: 21. “ Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God,  22.  who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.”

He also wrote in Ephesians 1:13, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14. who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”

In the old covenant, the seal was temporary; in the new covenant, the seal is permanent;

In the old covenant, the seal was physical; in the new covenant, the seal is spiritual.

Here is the stunning point of Paul’s latest paragraph in Romans chapter 4 verses 9-12.  “Abraham is not the father of those who have simply been circumcised; he is the father of those who make the same act of faith in God!”

Adapted from William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (The Westminster Press, Philadelphia) 1975, p. 66

Here’s the shocking truth, Ladies and Gentlemen; the Gentile doesn’t get into heaven by coming to God as a Jew; the Jew gets into heaven by coming to God as a Gentile! 

Just like the Gentile Abraham . . . he was a Gentile when God justified him – 14 years before he received the mark of that distinct nation of people.

The question remains then . . . How Is Abraham the Father of all those of Faith?

We call William Carey the Father of Modern Missions, because he was among the first to leave the United Kingdom for a foreign field of India.

We call Martin Luther the Father of the Reformation because he was the figure-head of what would become the Protestant Church.  He risked his life in following the scriptures.

In this way, Abraham is the Father of Faith . . . he was the first one of those who would become a nation of followers; he blazed the trail of faith, so to speak, risking his own life out of obedience to the words of God.

Paul uses a  wonderful phrase to illustrate this truth . . . verse 12b. “[those] who follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham. . .”

How did Abraham blaze the trail of faith for all of us to follow, whether Old or New Testament believer?

Two ways:

  1. Abraham believed in God’s word without ever experiencing the fullness of its promises.

Even though Abraham saw the miracle of a son born to he and his wife when they were decades past child-bearing or conceiving years, the promises to Abraham would occur in the future.

Think for just a moment about the promise of the land being his own possession.

The amazing thing is that Abraham never owned any land in Canaan, except for that small field where the cave of Machpelah was located.  The cave wherein he buried his beloved Sarah.

Imagine, Abraham saw the Promised Land and lived in the Promised Land and wandered through the Promised Land as a nomad, but he never possessed it.  Even his descendants did not possess the land until more than 500 years after the promise was given!

Yet Abraham believed the promise.  The truth is, the promise that Abraham believed in was not even the possession of the land by his descendants.  What was Abraham really looking for?  Hebrews 11:10 tells us, “Abraham was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

He was looking forward to the Kingdom of God on earth.

Abraham believed in God’s word without ever experiencing the full expression of its promises.

  1. Abraham believed in Jesus Christ without ever seeing Him in person.

Even while Abraham knew a lot less about Jesus Christ that those of us who have the New Testament.  We know the details of his birth, life, death, burial and resurrection – we don’t know how much Abraham was told by God concerning Christ.

What we do know is that God announced the gospel to Abraham in advance. 

Listen to what Paul revealed in Galatians 3:8.  “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.” 9.  So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”

Can you imagine that – God is the preacher – delivered to Abraham the gospel of Jesus Christ centuries before Christ arrived.

You remember the doubting of Thomas the disciple . . . Jesus arrived on the scene and Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.”  Jesus answered, “Because you have seen me, do you believe? Let me tell you something Thomas, “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe” (John 20:28).

All those who, like Father Abraham, believe I came from God, without ever seeing my face.

So Abraham becomes the Father of All Who Walk in his Footsteps of Faith:

He would become the forerunner of faith, followed by a man like Caleb, who sought to possess that mountain by faith in God’s power.

Like Mary and Joseph who walked by faith to Bethlehem, bewildered and amazed at what God was doing in and through them;

Abraham became the Father of Rahab who desperately wanted to leave her sordid past of prostitution and cling to the people of God.

He became the Father of Ruth the Moabitess who clung to Naomi and left her people and her home;

He became the Father of the Magi from Persia, who came to worship the newborn King;

He became the Father of the Ethiopian statesman who believed;

The Roman soldier Cornelius who dared Caesar’s wrath to follow Christ.

Abraham is the father of Luke, the Gentile doctor who wrote his own Gospel account as well as the Book of Acts;

And Abraham became the Father of Tertius (the Gentile who with his own hand penned the Book of Romans as Paul dictated it to him).

But that’s just the beginning.  Abraham has become the Father of every one of you – who believe without seeing, the Son of God – who believe without experiencing until some future day, the Kingdom of God on earth – you are sons and daughters of Abraham!

Not because of some physical mark – but because of a spiritual life, brought about by the Spirit of God in the hearts of all those who have placed their faith in the Son of God.

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