Lesson 16—Romans 4:9-12

How Circumcision Illustrates the Doctrine of Justification by Faith

We have visited with Abraham and with David. We have learned from them how sinners are justified. But now a question rises in the mind of some one well versed in the Old Testament writings. Says he, “Abraham and David were truly justified but they were both in a charmed circle of privilege. David was the child of that covenant and Abraham was the father of that covenant. What about sinners outside that circle?

1. Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised, vs. 9, 10. We read the story of Abraham’s faith in Gen. 15. It was then he was reckoned righteous. We read the story of his circumcision in Gen. 17. That was at least 14 years after. Many things had happened since the night he gazed upon the stars and received the justifying word from heaven. Circumcision had absolutely nothing to do with his being justified. Abraham was not counted righteous because he was circumcised. In uncircumcision he was declared righteous because of his faith.

2. Abraham received circumcision as a sign after believing, vs. 11. Because Abraham was righteous he received his circumcision as a sign to signify that he was righteous in the sight of God. In Gen. 17 God establishes a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was never to be broken. It was a covenant of grace on God’s part. It was to be an eternal covenant. In it God promised many blessings to Abraham—temporal blessings and spiritual as well. In establishing this covenant God gave to Abraham the rite of circumcision. That was to be the sign of the covenant. What did it signify? We shall see. Circumcision means to cut around or cut away. Abraham’s part in the contract was to “cut away” something. What was to be cast aside as worthless? Why a part of himself, but that part was the symbol of the whole. Abraham was to apply the knife to himself. That spoke of self judgment, judgment upon the flesh. Circumcision was the mark of the unprofitableness of the flesh. Abraham bore about in his body a mark that reminded him of the fact that the flesh had no part in God’s covenant, it was faith that counted.

3. Abraham received circumcision as a seal upon his faith, vs. 11. When something is sealed it is secured and preserved. The seal is a witness to something that has been finished. Circumcision was God’s seal upon the righteousness that Abraham already possessed by faith. With the empty hand of faith he had received God’s gift. Now all was sealed to Abraham in the ordinance of circumcision.

For believers in this dispensation there is an ordinance that is a sign and symbol of a finished work. It is baptism. Baptism follows faith. After we have received God’s righteousness by faith we pass judgment upon the flesh. That is why the believer is buried out of sight in the waters of baptism.

4. Abraham is the father of all them that believe. vs. 11. God gave this sign and seal to Abraham after he was justified by faith, to make him the father of all them that believe. That is, he is the pattern man of faith.

5. Abraham is the father of circumcision, vs 12. Circumcision was a sign and seal. It was also a mark of separation. It signified a people separated from the world unto God. Of this true circumcision Abraham is the father. Israel was separated in an outward way. Every believer is to know the true circumcision of the heart. The proof of this will be a separated walk as it was with Abraham.

God said to him, “I am the Almighty God, walk before me and be thou perfect.” That is the walk of faith.

Thus we see that the great lesson we learn from the circumcision of Abraham is

Justification by faith apart from works.

The Holy Spirit guided me
To what the Scripture saith;
I grasped the truth; Christ died for me!
I’m justified by faith.


1. 1. What is proven by the fact that Abraham was declared righteous before he was circumcised?

2. What did circumcision mean to Abraham?

3. Of what was Abraham’s circumcision a continual reminder to him?

4. When, according to our lesson, was Abraham declared righteous?