GRACE IS FOR ALL
“Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after but before! And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe, but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” Romans 4:9-12.
What blessedness? The blessedness David experienced of knowing that his sins were forgiven! On what did David base his confidence? On the daily sacrifices that were offered by the priests on his behalf?
This is how David prayed when his sins were uncovered: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” Psalm 51: 1, 2; 16.
What was David saying? He did not base his plea on what he could do but on the mercy and compassion of God, and God could have mercy on him because He saw, not the blood of animal sacrifices but the blood of His own Son as an offering for David’s sin.
And what of Abraham? We know that Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation, but did Abraham have to be a Jew first before he could be accepted by God? Paul swept that notion away by pointing out that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness long before he was given the sign of circumcision.
Why did Paul take such pains to clarify this to his Roman readers? He wanted to bolster them up against the false teachers who were insisting on circumcision as a prerequisite for faith in Jesus. To Paul, this was unthinkable because there is nothing any human being can add to what Jesus did for us to make His forgiveness and all that flows from it more effective. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” He satisfied every demand of a holy God and cancelled every debt we owe Him for a broken law.
Unfortunately, this pernicious teaching recurs in many subtle forms today – Christ plus baptism; Christ plus good works; Christ plus church attendance or communion or giving to the poor or serving Him in some “full time” capacity. All of these things are good and necessary but not to make more effective what Jesus did for us. They are the outflow of faith, not the reason for confidence.
The thief on the cross had no opportunity to add anything to his dying plea, “Lord, remember me…” It was enough to hear Jesus’ words of reassurance, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
The tragedy for those who feel that they must earn their salvation by some addition to faith in Jesus, is that they will never know the blessedness of sins forgiven of which David spoke because they will never know when they have done enough to satisfy God’s holy law.
But far worse is the truth that any effort on our part to add to Jesus’ finished work actually cancels God’s grace. The moment we put our trust in something we have done we make everything Jesus did useless for us.
“Mark my words! I, Paul tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” Galatians 5:2.
What reassurance for the Gentiles who were wrestling with this problem! Paul’s watertight argument must have settled the question for them. The answer to their dilemma came, not from human reason but from God’s Word and Paul used it with effect to reassure them that their faith in Jesus had opened the door to God’s grace. Circumcised or not, they were acceptable to God because God’s mercy came to them, not because of what they did, but because of what Jesus did for them.
And for us!
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