Romans 4:9-15 The goal of Christianity is to help believers grow in love, not to serve men’s ambitions and traditions

Romans 4:9-15 The goal of Christianity is to help believers grow in love, not to serve men’s ambitions and traditions

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Observation

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also?

Paul appears to be asking a question that pertains to the criteria of salvation. On closer examination, this question concerns God’s desire for universal salvation: Does God want all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth? The answer of course is a resounding “YES!” (see 1 Timothy 2:4). However, the Jewish community is so exclusive, the Law of circumcision is passed down through bloodline. If salvation is by way of circumcision, God forbid! Then, salvation applies only to Jews.

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised.

Paul answers the above question with another question: How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Here, Paul points to the sequence of events that leads to Abraham’s righteousness. Because Abraham was given the seal of righteousness before he was circumcised, circumcision does not contribute to Abraham’s initial righteousness. Indeed, circumcision plays a definite role in the life of a Jew, but not for the purpose of making one righteous.

So that he might be the father of all who believe… who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

If circumcision does nothing to make a Jew righteous, then what does? It is faith and faith alone! Thus, Abraham has become the model of righteousness to both the circumcised (the Jew) and the uncircumcised (the rest of humanity). Indeed, it is Abraham’s life of faith that is worthy of emulation, not his circumcision!

For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified.

Indeed, the promise of righteousness or blessing is to be heir of the world which Jews and non-Jews. The Bible describes an heir as a child of God and as co-heirs with Christ (see Romans 8:17). This promise is obtained by faith, not by observing the Law (which in the case of the Jew is circumcision). Salvation is extended to the world (through faith), the promise that Abraham would become heir of the world will be fulfilled. If salvation is only for the Jews (through the Law), then the promise to Abraham is nullified.

However, the Jew has considered (to their error) circumcision as an unequivocal demonstration of faith. Their error is in their understanding of what constitutes faith. What constitutes faith? Faith is hearing God’s directives and obeying Him (see Romans 10:17). Before anything resembling the church existed, Abraham heard God’s instructions to leave his country and obeyed. Subsequently, Abraham exhibited enduring faith by obeying all of God’s commands including the sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. Indeed, that is true faith in action! Even without the trappings of church traditions, we see in Abraham the expression of faith in its purest.

For the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

The Law comprises God’s word church teachings and traditions are derived. As for the Jew, the Law commands all males to be circumcised. Certain parts of the Law (e.g. the 10 commandments) carry great significance for the Jew. Thus, they believe that one has to fulfil the 10 commandments to obtain the promise. However, the Jew’s understanding of the Law is erroneous which brings about the wrath of God. Jesus considered the Jews hypocrites for they are motivated by self-gain, not by love for God or compassion towards others. Jesus rebuked the Jews,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” – Matthew 23:23-24

For those who know the Law and yet disobey incur a greater judgement than those who do not know. Hence, the apostle Peter said, that it would have been better for them not to have known the Law than to have known it and disobey the commandment (see 2 Peter 2:21). Indeed, the Law incurs divine wrath for those who have no faith. Jesus commended the faith of the centurion who did not know the Law. In the same breath, Jesus condemned the Jews, casting them into the outer darkness,

“Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment. – Matthew 8:10-13.

Truth

The goal of Christianity is to help believers grow in love, not to serve men’s ambitions and traditions.

The goal is to grow in love with God and with fellow men

The goal of Christianity is to help people experience God’s love and develop and an intimate relationship with Him. In the process, they may be delivered from their curses and experience breakthrough in their family, ministry and career. For that to happen, church leaders must function as prophets, as conduits of wisdom and power from heaven. We must make intimacy with God our goal, always growing in the fruit and gifts of the Spirit.

Jewish infants are circumcised on the 8th day from birth and as long as they continue in the traditions of the church, they are considered righteous and blessed. There are churches today that somewhat mirrored the Jewish mindset. Such churches consider those who have completed their classes, baptised and serving in various ministries as saved and blessed.

Even so, many churches have made it their goal to grow their membership as opposed to helping their members grow. Granted that they want to save more souls and fulfil the Great Commission. They lack the capacity to disciple their new members. And a majority of their leaders are burned out from running ministry activities. It is of utmost importance that leaders first disciple their existing members towards maturity before tending to new ones. Jesus trained and sent out the 12 disciples (see Luke 9) before sending out the 70 (see Luke 10).

Growth of the individual must come first

The goal of the church is to help members grow in faith. The individual’s usefulness and performance will come naturally as he grows in faith. Until they are ready, they must not be thrust into serving in certain positions in the church. For they must serve according to the measure of faith they possess. Young believers especially, in wanting to prove their worth tend to mistake performance for growth, knowledge for wisdom, virtues for commitment, and zeal for faith. Leaders who make personal growth (of faith) their goal will naturally encourage their flock to do the same. They will function as conduits bringing fresh revelations of wisdom and power from heaven. Such churches may appear dormant on the outside, but their members are experiencing tremendous growth in all aspects of life.

On the contrary, leaders who emphasise achievement will encourage their flock to serve at the expense of growth (in faith). Such churches carry an appearance of vitality but their community is constantly roiled with disagreements and in-fighting. In such churches, divine revelations are rare let alone miracles for breakthrough. Preaching from the pulpit comprises pep talks and politically correct messages. They rehash doctrinal clichés and trite messages that cause zero impact to the hearer. Members who took up too much ministry resources are considered liabilities. But easy cases are trumpeted as trophies to advertise the spiritual abilities of the church.

Purity and compassion must be prized above all

Human beings have a tendency to value knowledge, beauty, and abilities. The Jews prize the appearance of holiness, success and power. Their inclinations towards fulfilling the Law speaks of hidden darkness. But scripture has prized love as the greatest of all (1 Corinthians 13:13). It is love that resurrected and exalted Jesus to the right hand of God. Therefore, believers who are pure and compassionate must be cherished and made role models. But human instinct exalts those who come across as intelligent, resourceful and articulate. Unless, the church prize purity and compassion above all, members and leaders will not grow in love for God. Neither can they grow in compassion towards fellow believers, let alone people outside the church.

Application

1.  Re-examine your spiritual disciplines of bible reading, prayer and church activities. How do we better use these activities to build our love for God and for fellow men?

2.  Do we discern people by their appearance and religious background or by their heart’s posture? Perhaps, you could consider redefining your criteria for relationships; one that is not based on religious affiliation or chemistry but the virtues of the heart.

Dear Lord, help me use spiritual disciplines as a means to love you and to serve others, and not as works to merit Your favor. Help me be a genuine person at my workplace and use me to become a good friend to those who are lonely and marginalised. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.


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