Today's passage asks two important questions. Is this righteousness the Bible speaks of only for the Jew or also for the Gentile? And did this righteousness come to Abraham before he was circumcised or after? Fully understanding this scripture will change your life.
To address the first question, is this righteousness only for the Jew or also for the Gentile, we must ask ourselves how Abraham was justified. Previously in chapter four, Paul reminds us that Abraham was justified by faith because he believed God. His faith was credited to him as righteousness. ( Genesis 15:6 ) So if Abraham was made right in the sight of God based solely on faith, then it only stands to reason that anyone with that same faith is righteous before God.
Paul attests to the same thing in chapter 3 when he says, "this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." ( Romans 3:22-23 ). Paul is speaking both to the Jew and the Gentile, stressing that this saving grace comes by faith in Jesus to everyone who believes in Him. So the answer to our first question, yes! this righteousness is available for both Jews and Gentiles.
Now that we have established that this righteousness comes by faith, it is important to destroy the idea that circumcision is the means for justification. This idea that one needed to be circumcised was widely believed by the Jews. While this is true according to the Old Testament, Paul revealed in chapter 2 that circumcision was more than a physical sign. Instead circumcision was an inward reality of a spiritual truth. "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." ( Romans 2:28-29 ) Paul is stressing that circumcision takes place in the heart. Once that is accomplished, the evidence of the transformation that took place inwardly, will be unmistakable to everyone outwardly, by their actions and lifestyle.
More than that, Paul raises an important question to prove his point, was Abraham justified before he was circumcised or after? To us this might not seem relevant, but even today many Christians maintain that to be saved you must be baptized. While baptism is ordained by the Lord Jesus, the purpose of baptism is not to obtain salvation. The same argument that Paul used with the Jews for whether or not they must be circumcised to be justified, applies. So the answer is extremely important for us as well because the answer will settle once for all in our hearts, the grace by which to be saved.
The question is, was Abraham justified before he was circumcised or after? Paul reminds us that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Not only was righteousness credited to him before, but if you look back in the book of Genesis you will see that at least thirteen years had passed between the two instances. In Genesis 15:6, it is recorded that the Lord credited Abraham's faith as righteousness. This was before Ishmael was born. Then when Abraham, his whole household and Ishmael were circumcised, Ishmael was thirteen years old according to Genesis 17:25. So Abraham's circumcision had nothing to do with how he was justified, it was solely based upon his faith. In the same way, water baptism will not save you. The same principal Paul uses still applies. Only your faith in Jesus Christ will save you. That faith is what credit righteousness to you by the grace of God.
Now that we have the answers to our two questions, I want to point out one more thing. In the Old Testament, Abraham was the only person to be called a friend of God ( 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23 ). However, in the New Testament, Jesus calls us friends. "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends... ( John 15:15 ). Do you see how blessed we are? Through faith in Jesus we are justified, righteous, holy and called friends of the most high God. Today, know that this blessedness is not only for the circumcised Jew, it is also for us to whom God credit righteousness through faith in His son. Amen!