Monday, November 28, 2022

2022.11.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 4:9–15

Read Romans 4:9–15

Questions from the Scripture text: What is the apostle asking about, from Romans 4:6-8, at the beginning of Romans 4:9? What are the two possible conditions of people upon whom this blessedness could come? Whose blessedness does verse 9 propose as a test case? What way did faith become righteousness? What question does Romans 4:10 now ask about this accounting/imputation? And what is the answer—what was Abraham’s condition, when he was counted as righteous? What was circumcision, then, rather than a justifying work (Romans 4:11)? What did this sign seal unto him? Whose father is he? How many of them? When did they believe? What is also imputed to them, as it was to their father? Whose father is he in Romans 4:12? What are they “of”? But in what footsteps do they walk? When had Abraham walked in these footsteps? About what does Romans 4:13 now ask? What was this promise about? To whom (and Whom!) had this promise been made? What had not been given when this promise was made? Through what righteousness, then, could this promise be made and secured? Who are not necessarily heirs, then (Romans 4:14)? What would have been made void if the law changed this? What would have been made of no effect? Though the law did not give blessedness or righteousness or inheritance, what does it actually bring about (Romans 4:15)? What does the law make it possible for sin to do? 

Who are the heirs of God and descendants of Abraham? Romans 4:9–15 looks forward to the devotional in this week’s midweek meeting. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that Abraham’s true descendants are those whose faith is accounted as righteousness apart from works.

Circumcision not necessary to blessednessRomans 4:9-11b. The previous passage had recalled David’s Spirit inspired words from Psalm 32: that blessedness comes by God’s freely imputing righteousness to us apart from works. But for some Jews, this sounded like a problem. They thought that since blessedness is promised to the circumcised that somehow this meant that blessedness comes only to the circumcised and even through circumcision.

Romans 4:9 directly asks the questions, “Does this blessedness come upon the circumcised only?” However important circumcision may be, as the first sacramentally circumcised man, Abraham clearly answers “no” to the question. “No, blessedness does not come upon the circumcised only.”

It’s a simple matter of chronology. From Genesis 15:6 to Genesis 17, Abraham was a righteous and blessed—but still uncircumcised!—man for more than a decade. When he finally receives circumcision (Romans 4:11), it’s clearly not a way of obtaining righteousness. He had already been accounted righteous through faith. 

So circumcision enters late, as a sign of righteousness that he already had (Romans 4:11a), signifying how he came to have that faith in the first place: God cutting away the dead flesh and atoning for him by blood. This sign, that taught him about his faith, was also a seal that verified the righteousness that had been accounted to him through faith (verse 11b). 

The true children of AbrahamRomans 4:11-12. So, those who believe without being circumcised have a very good precedent: Abraham! He is the father of those who believe, and have righteousness imputed to them through that faith, even though they are uncircumcised (verse 11c). What an irony! A Jew, who is circumcised before he can believe, cannot walk in the footsteps of Abraham as fully as a Gentile can!

And the Jew who is circumcised is not a true descendant of Abraham unless he walks in the footsteps of the faith of an uncircumcised Abraham (Romans 4:12)!

Circumcision was added to the promiseRomans 4:13. Genesis 15 began with a great promise in Genesis 15:1. But Abraham didn’t understand how he or his seed could have God (and God’s world) as his very great reward, when he didn’t have any offspring at all (Genesis 15:2-3). This was the point at which the Lord made the marvelous promise concerning Christ in Genesis 15:4 and concerning all Christians in Genesis 15:5. It was this promise that Abraham believed. And as he rested upon Who Christ would be, this was imputed to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). The promise was secured through the righteousness of faith before there was even a hint about circumcision.

Circumcision could not delete the promiseRomans 4:14. Now, if the law about being circumcised decided who would receive the inheritance, what happens to faith? And what happens to the promise? 

Well, if being circumcised decides that you’re an heir, then suddenly the blessing is by the work of circumcision, rather than through faith in Christ. Is that possible? Can someone have Christ’s righteousness imputed to him, only to have that righteousness subsequently debited from his account? Can his faith be made void? If in Genesis 17, righteousness now comes through as a wage paid for the work of circumcision, then that is exactly what has happened: faith is made void.

And if faith is made void, what has happened to the promise? The promise, then, was made of no effect. God said that He would give it, but it suddenly becomes contingent upon something else. In this case, God would be dishonest and unfaithful, altering the previous deal. What a horrible, blasphemous thought!

Circumcision a good sign, but a fearful lawRomans 4:15. As a sign and seal, circumcision affirmed what God had promised, rather than substituting for faith. In that way, circumcision was not a work (just as faith was not a work). But what if it is viewed as a work? What if it is a legal way of obtaining righteousness and blessedness? 

In that case, the old problem of the law’s being weakened through the flesh (Romans 8:3) now reappears. There is no one who does good. The law cannot make a sinner into a doer of good; it only declares the sinner to be a sinner, convicts him as a transgressor, and sentences him to the Hell that he deserves for that sin. As Romans 4:15 puts it, “the law brings about wrath.” Sin is already sin. But when law is added, sin becomes guiltier, because now it is also a transgression of the law. Circumcision, then, cannot make a sinner better; it only makes him guiltier!

For us, very few think that blessedness is obtained by being circumcised. But there are some who think that blessedness is obtained by being baptized. If this were the case, blessing would be coming not by what Jesus has done but by what we have done. 

And even worse, we would never be able to live up to the proper way of being baptized to obtain blessedness. Baptism would become just one more thing in which we were offending God, without any hope of actual forgiveness or righteousness!

So, there are those who believe before they are baptized, and they receive the sign and the thing signified in the same order that Abraham did. And there are those who are already baptized, but in order to be Abraham's children they need to walk in more than just the sign-footsteps; they need to walk in the faith-footsteps. When they believe and have Christ imputed to them, with His righteousness, then they will truly be the offspring of Abraham.

Praise God, when faith in Jesus is imputed to us for righteousness, then Abraham truly is our father. It is thus that we walk in his footsteps. We rest only in Who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. And we receive our baptism not as a work that we do or present, but rather as a sign that God gives us of how truly and surely righteous are those who believe, being righteous with the righteousness of Christ. Praise God for what baptism signs and seals! And praise God for imputing righteousness to us from Christ, faithfully keeping His promise, just as He said He would!

What is the only way for you to be righteous before God? What sign has He given you to affirm this promise and its promised righteousness? How must you NOT think of this sign?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for making us righteous with Your own righteousness in Christ. And thank You for the sign of baptism that confirms the truth and certainty of the righteousness of those who believe in Christ. Forgive us for thinking of the sign as the thing that gets us in, rather than as a gift to strengthen our faith. And make us to be glad and sure of all that You have promised in Jesus, through Whom we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH433 “Amazing Grace”

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