The Seal of Righteousness: a brief word about circumcision

He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Romans 4:11-12

Because Genesis 17 is the sermon text for this week, it seems fitting to give a brief thought on circumcision and what it means biblically. The issue of circumcision means very little for most of us today; however, for the first century church, it was critical. Key to knowing the issue’s importance is our understanding of Jews and Gentiles. Throughout the Old Testament, the Jewish people were the chosen people of God. The LORD established His covenant with them, promising to be their God and that they would be His people. The sign, the constant reminder, of this covenant was circumcision. Gentiles are essentially everyone else, and they were notably uncircumcised. When the long-awaited Jewish Messiah appeared (aka Jesus), He proclaimed good news that God was not only interested in saving Jews from their sin but Gentiles as well. Yet for many, this gospel did not sound as good as they were expecting. A primary source of brewing trouble came from men who said that Gentiles needed to be circumcised first in order to be saved by Jesus from their sins.

The Apostle Paul was not a fan of that thought. He argued that if we needed to circumcision to be saved then it is circumcision that saves us, not Jesus. To support this argument, he looks to the first person ever circumcised in the Bible, Abraham. By pointing out that God declared Abraham righteous before Abraham was circumcised, Paul effectively shows that circumcision is a sign, or a seal, of the righteousness that God already credited to Abraham through faith. Circumcision was always meant as a reminder of God’s work in saving us, and it has never the means by which God saves people. Because of him being first, we now call Abraham “the father of all who believe”, whether circumcised or uncircumcised. Today, the issue of circumcision in the New Testament stands as a token that no one is saved by anything except the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Regardless of good works or religious fervor, we are only saved by grace through faith; therefore, let us rejoice with great gratitude for such vast love from our Savior.

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