A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
Salvation: The Old Testament Illustration of Justification
Verse 9 introduces a new aspect of the case, of which the Jew would say, "There was a righteousness that Abraham had. Abraham was circumcised, and that helps towards his righteousness." So Paul now confronts that problem. Abraham was righteous; he had it by faith, not by works. But did circumcision have any place in it? Paul meets the issue: "How then was it reckoned? When he (Abraham) was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? (v. 10). Could you prove it? In Genesis 15:6 is the record of when Abraham received his righteousness. The seventeenth chapter records when Abraham was circumcised. The last verse of the sixteenth chapter says that Abraham was "fourscore and six years old" when Hagar bare Ishmael. According to Genesis 17:25-26, he was ninety-nine years old (thirteen years later) when he was circumcised. Abraham already had his righteousness thirteen years (according to the Jews' own scripture), probably fourteen years before God required the rite of circumcision. Certainly this was sufficient evidence that circumcision did not ener into the acquisition of righteousness.
"Well, then," the Jew might say, "what was the rite of circumcision for?" Some folks ask the same question today about baptism, thinking that one must be baptized to be saved. "Well," they say, "What is baptism for, then?" It has a place, and circumcision had a place. Because the rite was not what secured righteousness for the man did not mean that it was excluded from any place in the plan of God. "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness, it is a seal of righteousness already received. That is exactly what baptism is. Baptism does not secure righteousness for any man. But it is a seal of the righteousness received by faith and by grace, and when put in its proper place, it is a benediction and a blessing, as is circumcision according to this fourth chapter of Romans.
Since the Jew thought that the Gentile had to come in by the door that the Jew entered, Paul reverses the order to show that the Jew must come in by the way the Gentile entered. Abraham was a Gentile before called to be a Jew, the father of the nation. This was also before he was circumcised, which was a sign of Judaism. So Paul puts the Gentile first here. The Jew comes last instead of first.
Verse 12 makes it clear that circumcision alone will not suffice for the Jew. He must also walk in the steps of his Father Abraham. Paul takes the Jew away from external rites and send him back to that faith which Abraham exercised.
Abraham had righteousness; he got it by faith, apart from works and apart from human ordinances.
Abraham and his seed are heirs of the world, and we are heirs because we are his seed by faith. In that light, consider 1 Corinthians 3:21: "Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours." And the reason everything is yours is because you are the seed of Abraham - spiritually, of course.
The promise was made to Abraham that he should be heir to the world. How did he get the promise - by works? "It was not through the law, but through the righteousness of faith" (Romans 4:13). He puts the two things together in this expression, "through the righteousness of faith."
The inheritance that the Jew looked forward to was the world. He wanted his Messiah to come in order that they as heirs might take over the world. Abraham received that promise by faith.
Now the question arises, "Why could not this inheritance come through the law?" The Jew could not understand that. But Paul is going to give the reason.
Verse 14 raises the question about the promise. Is it not good? If God would offer this inheritance through the law, then this promise would fail. Why? Nobody ever kept the law. He proved that back in the first part of the book.
Isn't it strange that the very people who admit that they have never kept God's law are the ones who are insisting that they will some day be saved by keeping the law? For those who reason this way, Paul settles the question. He says in effect, "If God had made this promise through the law, it would have amounted to nothing."
Verse 15 expresses the fact that nobody ever kept it, and because they had broken the law, God's wrath must fall upon anybody who tried to keep it and failed.
Aren't you glad you are not under the law? "Where there is no law, neither is there transgression" in God's sight (15). Oh yes, you are a sinner, but not in God's sight! This is a legal proposition before God, in a courtroom, where you are not under God's law and there is therefore no transgression and He counts you righteous!
In verse 16 he tells why it positively came by faith: "to the end that the promise might be sure!" That is why. "That the promise might be made sure to all the seed."
Praise God that there is just one way that anything that God can give to the world is made available, and all must receive it on the principle of grace through faith. That can't fail because it all depends upon God. God is the giver. If you are going to depend upon law, it will have to depend upon you; and if you are the person upon whose works and whose faithfulness the promises of God depend, then "the promise is of none effect." On the other hand, if it is the grace of God, apprehended by faith (which is "simply the hand of the heart"), then "the promise is made sure to all the seed" down through the ages. It cannot fail, because God cannot fail, even though you may fail. That is the reason Peter said, "Our inheritance is undefiled; it is reserved in heaven for us." It is sure because it depends upon God absolutely!
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 39 - "Abraham's Posterity")