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).
9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:9–10, NKJV)
The blessedness of which Paul speaks is the forgiveness of sins, given by God as He imputes righteousness to sinners by faith (Rom. 4:5-8). This blessed forgiveness is available to all, and is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 1:16-17). Those who tried to define forgiveness through keeping the law of the circumcised (the Law of Moses given to the Jews) failed to recognize that Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness while he was uncircumcised (Gen. 15:6). Binding any part of the Law of Moses as essential for salvation is inconsistent with this fact (Acts 15:5-11). When we “walk in the steps of the faith” that Abraham had (while he was still uncircumcised), our faith will also be accounted to us for righteousness. Justifying faith is active (it is a walk), it is obedient. We walk in the footsteps of Abraham when we obey the gospel by believing in Christ, confessing our faith, repenting and being baptized (Jno. 8:24; Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:37-38). God is not a respecter of persons. Whoever “fears Him” and “works righteousness” is “accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35). We are justified by faith when we believe and obey God like Abraham did (Jas. 2:20-24).
51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,” (Acts 7:51–52, NKJV)
As Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin council, he leveled the charge of stubbornness against them as the “betrayers and murderers” of Jesus Christ, the “Just One” (Jer. 23:5-6). They bore the outward sign of the covenant in the flesh (circumcision), but inwardly their hearts and ears were uncircumcised; covered and calloused by their rebellion against God. They were guilty of resisting the Holy Spirit by refusing the word of God that the Spirit delivered through the prophets. Then, they fully rejected the Son of God Himself. This should be our warning not to believe we can please God yet reject His word, the inspired Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Our heart and ears are uncircumcised when we resist and refuse the inspired word of God. Let us open our hearts and ears to God’s word every day, and follow Jesus Christ, who Himself is the Word (Jno. 1:1-3, 14).