11 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, 12 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. (Romans 4:11–12, NKJV)
God commanded circumcision of Abraham as a “sign of the covenant” He made with him (Gen. 17:1-14, esp. 10-11). The apostle calls attention to that historic moment. Like a seal marking authenticity, Abraham’s circumcision served as a sign or indicator “of the righteousness of the faith which he had” while still uncircumcised. This distinction is notable and confirms the blessings of Abraham are offered to all (Jews and Gentiles). It also confirms that faith is the means of justification, not the works of the law of Moses (Rom. 4:13). Verse 12 says Abraham is the father of those who “walk in the steps of the faith” he had before circumcision. Walking is active. Thus, faith is active – it involves steps. Faith obeys God, just like father Abraham. He did not earn the blessings of the covenant through keeping law. He was sinner, saved “by grace, through faith” (Rom. 4:1-5). His (obedient) faith expressed his trust in God, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Obedient faith is the only kind of faith that saves us (Jas. 2:17, 20-24).
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28–29, NKJV)
The gospel of Christ makes no fleshly distinctions when identifying the chosen people of God. The text before us is very clear. The gospel of Christ does not identify a Jew by outward circumcision, but by the inward circumcision of the heart. In Christ “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God’s “chosen generation” today is His church that is composed of Christians, whether Jew or Gentile in the flesh, it makes no difference to God (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 15:9). Scripture says, “nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” (Romans 9:7). Any doctrine that elevates any race of people above another has distorted the gospel of Christ and the salvation it extends to all, regardless of whether they are a Jew or a Gentile (Romans 1:16-17). Fleshly Israel was told to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). In Christ, it is the circumcision of Christ – the cutting away of “the body of the sins of the flesh” (which occurs in baptism) – that identifies a person as a child of God (Colossians 2:11-13).
17 But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20 Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:17–20, NKJV)
What Paul taught about marriage in verses 10-14 applies a foundational and universal principle he now explains in verses 17-22 (24). (That the believer is not being under bondage to the unbeliever in verse 15 applies another foundational principle, verse 23.) Non-sinful relations and conditions of life do not affect one’s salvation in Christ. Therefore, it is right and good to “remain in the same calling” in which you were called (v. 18-20). Circumcision illustrates this, which is inconsequential concerning salvation. What matters is keeping God’s commands, and circumcision is not commanded for salvation. Similarly, marriage is not commanded for salvation, but it is allowed. We conclude with certainty that Paul is not giving permission to remain in a sinful relationship when one becomes a Christian, including sinful marriages (Rom. 6:1-2; Matt. 19:9). Every sinful action and sinful relationship must be repented of and abandoned when one becomes a Christian (Acts 2:37-38; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:1-5).
11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11–13, NKJV)
The fleshly circumcision that identified Israel as God’s covenant people was an operation performed “in the flesh by hands” (v. 11). Removing the foreskin was a foreshadowing of the “circumcision of Christ,” which is “the putting off of the body of the sins of flesh” – the operation God performs when a sinner is “buried with Him (Christ, jrp) in baptism” (Colossians 2:11-12). Baptism is an action of faith in the power of God that saves the sinner and raises him or her to spiritual life in Christ (Colossians 2:12). Whether you are a Jew or Gentile in the flesh does not matter. In this gospel age, one is not a child of God until the circumcision of Christ occurs in the heart, as the sinner is buried with Christ in baptism and God forgives his or her sins by the blood of Christ (Colossians 2:13). That is when the sinner rises from spiritual death to walk in newness of life.
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses (Colossians 2:11–13, NKJV)
The apostle of Christ treats physical circumcision as wholly inferior to “the circumcision of Christ,” which takes place when the sinner is “buried with Christ in baptism.” Cutting off the foreskin of flesh was but a figure of what really happens in the circumcision of Christ – a cutting off of sins performed by divine hands. God performs a spiritual operation when the sinner is baptized; He cuts away the sinner’s sins and gives newness of life (Rom. 6:4). It is indisputable that the circumcision of Christ (the cutting away of sin) takes place when the sinner is buried with Christ in baptism (v. 12). The result is forgiveness of sins (v. 13). This spiritual circumcision is real; as real as the sinner upon whom the operation is performed. Without this operation of God the sinner remains dead in sin. With it, he or she is forgiven and alive with Christ.