What Does God Require?
Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed; God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” (Romans 4:9-18)
A crucial question arose in the early church regarding the requirements for salvation: would a non-Jew (i.e. Gentile) who believes in the Jewish Messiah (Jesus of Nazareth) be required to become circumcised and follow the Law of Moses?
Paul’s answer was no. More importantly, the Biblical answer was no. A person is saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. No, Gentiles would not be required to become Jewish (proselytes into Judaism) in order to be justified by God. Salvation by grace through faith is the saving formula, in both Old and New Testament times (Ephesians 2:8-9). And as the church leaders gathered in Jerusalem to consider this question, their overwhelming answer was also no (Acts 15:1-35).
The best Old Testament example of these things was Abraham, identified here as the father of us all. Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (technically, before becoming Jewish; Genesis 15:6); and was also justified before the Law of Moses was even given (Galatians 3:17-18).
The only real difference between the saving faith of Abraham and saving faith for people today is in the timing of it, in relationship to the cross of Christ. Abraham looked forward to the cross as a future event; we look back to the cross as a past event. In Abraham’s case, the effect of the death of Christ was retroactive to him and others who believed; in our case, the effect of Christ’s death was in advance of our faith. In other words, the death of Christ was a timeless event in its power and saving ability.
The main similarity between Abraham’s salvation and ours lies in the fact that God gives life to the dead in both eras. We simply believe the promise and good news of God, He blesses us with justification. We become forgiven and free.
For Further Review
1. Have you ever thought that faith in Christ plus keeping the law or faith in Christ plus some religious rite (such as circumcision or baptism) were required for salvation? When and how did you stop believing that?
2. Can you think of someone you know who is caught up in wrong thinking about how to be saved? How can you help this person learn the truth of the gospel message? How does Romans 4:9-18 help you in your witness?
3. Read 1 Peter 1:20 and then consider the statement “the death of Christ was a timeless event in its power and saving ability.” What do you think about this statement? What sort of implications does it have with regard to how people were saved in Adam’s day or later?
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