Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants continues—Abraham was counted righteous based on his faith in God’s promises in the first covenant. Specifically, Abraham believed that God would bring Abraham descendants. His faith was the means by which God brought salvation.
Now Abraham has been told to receive circumcision. This command God gave was to produce a testimony not to produce salvation. There is a big difference. One can be a means to the other but only as God chooses to do so.
That is clear enough, just in the very fact that the covenant that He gave Abraham here involves taking an eight-day-old child and circumcising them. If this is about salvation at any level how could we connect the dots how could we say that eight-day-old is somehow seeing their eternal destiny influenced by whether the dad does something or not when they are eight-days-old. There is no Biblical basis for coming to that conclusion. What if I go 4 or 5 generations into the future from Abraham? And I show up in Israel and I find jews practicing circumcision. Is that bringing them to faith? Is that the equivalent for them of entering into faith? Is God obligated by the fact they take circumcision to grant them the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant all the way into eternity? The answer is no. Some in Israel believed some didn’t. Even though they were all circumcised. Those Jewish men who failed to believe in the promises were not saved simply because their parents circumcised them. It doesn’t work that way. It never has. Obviously, women weren’t saved when their fathers were circumcised. That has no direct obligation for God on them. The obedience was simply a sign of the covenant and it didn’t equal faith itself. Paul taught this pointedly in Romans chapter 2 and into chapter 3. Listen to what. Paul says on this point… Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
Romans 2:28-29 (NKJV)
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Romans 3:1-4 (NKJV)
God’s Judgment Defended
3 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles (sayings, Scriptures) of God. 3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? 4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be (found) true but every man a liar. As it is written:
“That You may be justified in Your words,
And may overcome when You are judged.”
Paul says what advantage has the Jew? (chapter 3:1) Isn’t that a great question? Think about this for a minute. God has gone to the trouble to give Abraham these great blessings in His first covenant and then give him the second covenant of circumcision. Paul says well, that didn’t determine who was saved. Who was a Jew in spiritual terms? That comes out of a circumcision of the heart, a belief in God’s promises. What was the benefit for someone being counted a Jew by circumcision? What is the benefit of circumcision?
Notice that Paul says the test of who is truly Jew is one of spirit, not flesh. A true Jew is the one saved by faith, resulting in the marking of the Spirit on their heart. A greater circumcision is accomplished when we believe in God’s promises, resulting in the circumcision of the heart. That is the work of the Spirit at the moment of faith. We can say male or female that when we believe we had our heart circumcised, so to speak. God cut away the unbelief and left a soft tender heart he can work with. That’s the sign of our current covenant of faith. When we receive physical circumcision today, for example, if we circumcise our children, it makes no difference with respect to salvation it never did and still doesn’t. Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
Then Paul asks the obvious question: what advantage was it to be included in this covenant of circumcision? What benefit did it give to the Jew? Paul says there was a great advantage because it made them a part of Israel. Defining who was Israel, physically. Paul says it was very good to be a part of the nation of Israel because the nation of Israel was the people entrusted with the word of God. They are the one people group in the world and all of history that God saw fit to give His word. That’s why we have this. It was written by Jews. Because God gave them the word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. If you are of the people who are destined to receive the word of God, are you in a better position or in a worse position for obtaining salvation? Versus being a Gentile living on the other side of the world who has no concept of the word of God? Where do you think you are better suited if your interest is in becoming a child of God? That is why Paul said, there is, a great advantage in being circumcised because it left you in the family of Abraham. Inside the nation of Israel where you could hear and receive the word of God. Where you had the best opportunity to know the living God. Abraham’s Tale of Two Covenants
Or you could forego that and walk away from the nation of Israel. Circumcision didn’t make you a believer, it didn’t require that outcome, it didn’t force God’s hand but it put you in the right spot. That’s one of the reasons I believe as Christians we long sometimes to see our unbelieving friends or family join us on Sundays. We understand, I know, we all understand we don’t have to bring them into this building for them to be saved. It’s similar to circumcision. In the time of Abraham, Isaac, and, Jacob circumcising someone didn’t make them saved. But it was a good thing to do because of God’s commandment and because it brought them into an association with the place, the time, and people where God was at work. Which is a much better thing than not.
If someone received circumcision and they weren’t saved, did that somehow nullify God’s promises to Abraham? Did it suggest God was not keeping His promises to Abraham? Remember He promise Abraham this great inheritance. This great future. This eternal blessing for all those who are in the covenant. The sign of that covenant will be circumcision. So Paul backs us through that. He says if they took circumcision but didn’t believe, does that nullify what God said, did that make God a liar? And Paul says, no. Because it was never the deal, to begin with. It is never the means, never the intent. The benefits of being circumcised were simply earthly benefits that included having access to God’s word and to God’s people. But through those earthly benefits, there could be great spiritual blessings.
There is an interesting parallel for the Christian today. We have received the promises of faith in that one-way covenant through Christ, through Christ’s blood. Our belief in those promises brings us salvation and they don’t depend on our performance. But there are commands for us to keep. One of which, by the way, is to be baptized in water. Think about the parallel between circumcision for the Jew and baptism for the Christian. We are commanded to be baptized in water. It is a step of obedience, The purpose, is to welcome us into the body of believers. To make us a part of a group of people who are marked and set aside by faith as God’s people. It doesn’t make us God’s people. It doesn’t replace faith, but it is a means of identification so we can enjoy the full benefits of faith. Of our fellowship and association in faith.
If a Christian, one who has true faith does not receive baptism as a matter of conscious choice, if they make that determination, they are cutting themselves off from affiliation with the people they should be a part of. And over time that is going to have its effect in their life, in their family life, and in future generations. But it does not remove their own personal salvation if they believe. Conversely, someone can desire baptism, ask for it and receive it, and yet never come to faith. It’s possible. They will gain the earthly benefit of affiliation, but they will never have the eternal benefit that only faith provides. See how it can work both ways. And the same was true in the nation of Israel through circumcision. There were uncircumcised believing Jews who were cut off. There were unbelieving circumcised Jews who were included in the nation of Israel but never gained access to the promises of Abraham. If we believe in the gospel, we are saved based on God’s faithfulness. Ultimately, we must accept the gospel and be saved if we are to be counted a child of God and receive a circumcised heart. In fact, water baptism is the outward picture of the inward circumcision accomplished by the Spirit.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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