“Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” (Romans 4:9-10)
Faith apart from ordinances is the focus for the next four verses. God is drawing attention to the fact that Abraham was not circumcised when Scripture declared him to be justified. Abraham was declared righteous by God in Genesis 15, but the sign of circumcision was not administered until Genesis 17. Had the situation been reversed, man might have grounds for claiming ordinances as a means of justification; therefore, Paul is quick to point out that the ordinance of circumcision had no say in the matter of Abraham's justification. Over and over again, Paul fought the false teaching that circumcision is necessary for full salvation. It was the struggle of the early church in Acts 15 and a major theme in the book of Galatians. Man has not changed down through the centuries. He consistently attempts to alter God's simple plan of redemption; even the saved are guilty of resting in physical works for sanctification rather than resting in submission to the Spirit who is responsible for performing, within the believer, the work of sanctification.
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:”
In Genesis 17, God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham concerning physical seed and his possession of Canaan. The role of circumcision should not be minimized in God's plan, but it certainly had nothing to do with Abraham's redemption. As the text says, it was a seal of the faith that led Abraham to redemption. Abraham was obedient to God's command concerning circumcision, because Abraham had been converted and was willing to take on a physical sign that he belonged to a higher Authority. Had Abraham not been willing to obey God in this, one would have grounds to question the validity of his conversion. In some regards, baptism may be thought of in the same way. It cannot save. It is merely an outward expression of a spiritual truth. It expresses a willingness to be publicly identified with Christ.
The fact that Abraham was justified apart from the ordinance of circumcision, demonstrates the open nature of salvation. Should ordinances be necessary for justification, many people would be excluded; but since simple faith in Christ is the only requirement, salvation is available to all. The text calls Abraham the father of all them that believe. Obviously, Abraham is the physical father of Israel; however, he is the spiritual father of all who come to God in simple faith. He is referred to as a spiritual father because anyone who puts their faith in God is choosing to operate on the same principles of justification as did Abraham. A literal word-for-word translation of the phrase though they be not circumcised, would read through uncircumcision. Therefore, when this last phrase is combined with the first part, a literal rendering would be that he might be a father of all of the ones who are believing through uncircumcision. Through the avenue of simple faith apart from physical circumcision, God justified Abraham; and all men, whether Jew or Gentile, may avail themselves of this divine justification, if they so choose.
“And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:12)
Physical circumcision is nothing more than a sign of what happens on the inside when a person is truly converted. As physical circumcision removes a covering and an area for filth to collect, so spiritual circumcision removes the spiritual blindness and cleanses the filth of human pride. Spiritual circumcision is God's primary concern. In Acts 7:51, Stephen rebuked the elders of Israel for being uncircumcised in heart and ears. They had not allowed God to change them from the inside out. Such was not the case with Abraham. He bowed the knee to God's righteousness and God cleansed the filthiness of his heart and gave him eternal life. The physical act of circumcision pictured this great truth; therefore, he is called the father of circumcision. The Jew who has been circumcised as a baby and the Gentile who has not been circumcised may both come to Christ in simple faith and thus find a spiritual bond with Abraham who stands out as the ultimate example of justification by faith. The phrase who also walk means to walk orderly or to agree with or to hold to. True conversion is characterized by a willingness to be obedient to God's commands and desires for one's life. This is not to say that a true believer will never disobey or never be involved in wickedness; yet, a consistent desire to be disorderly and rebellious is not a trait of the redeemed but of the damned.