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Chapter 4:1-12 (ESV)

Posted on December 17, 2023  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 4:1-12 (ESV) - What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 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.

Question to consider: Why was it important that Abraham was declared righteous by God before he was circumcised?

If you went through my study of Genesis, you may have noticed that while God considered Abraham righteous, it was certainly not because he acted without sin. Abraham was told to only take his wife on the journey, and yet he took his father-in-law and nephew as well. His nephew, Lot, ended up being a constant pain in Abraham’s side, and his father-in-law not only slowed them down but nearly derailed the entire venture. A couple of times, Abraham’s faith faltered, and he temporarily gave his his wife away to an Egyptian Pharaoh and ended up with a child by his servant, Hagar, trying to fulfill God’s promise on his own.

According to today’s passage, we find out that Abraham was called righteous because God declared him to be righteous. God made promises to Abraham, Abraham believed God’s promise, and God declared him righteous. Even though Abraham acted upon that faith and was circumcised, Paul pointed out that God’s declaration of his righteousness came before the act of circumcision, and thus God’s promise extends to all people (both the circumcised and uncircumcised) by faith.

Jesus’ brother, James, used this same example of Abraham and pointed to his works, but James was making a different point to a different audience. James also believed that righteousness was imputed to us by God through faith in His brother, Jesus. His point was that while our works do not justify us before God, a faith that is counted to us as righteousness will by its nature produce works. Abraham was already counted as righteous, but because his faith was true, he was circumcised according to God’s instruction.

Paul, however, focused on the fact that God declared Abraham righteous before he was circumcised so that the uncircumcised could believe God and be declared righteous as well. While circumcision may have been a sign and seal of God’s covenant with Abraham and eventually with Moses through the Law, the sign and seal of the New Testament in Christ is baptism. Paul will deal with baptism in chapter six, but I will point out that the New Testament in Christ is for both men and women so it stands to reason that the sign and seal of it would change to something that could be done for both. Since we are baptized into Christ Jesus who was circumcised, His circumcision is counted to us regardless of whether someone is male or female, Jew or Gentile. In Christ we become the sons and daughters of Abraham, and Abraham was made the blessing of many nations.


Dear heavenly Father, thank You for counting us righteous through Your promise to Abraham and not because of works we perform. As your righteous children, stir up in us a desire to live in a noble manner that exalts the name of Christ. Amen.