Because he was a famous man of faith, everyone wanted to claim Abraham as their father. Jesus’ opponents loudly proclaimed themselves the children of Abraham (John 8:39), and, when Jesus said that could not be so in light of their desire to kill him, they shouted that God was their Father (John 8:41). Jesus said no, their true father was the devil, a murderer guiding their lives (John 8:44).
Obviously, it makes a big difference whether you are a true child of Abraham or not. It is the difference between heaven and hell.
(ESV) Romans 4:11–12 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Paul continues his biblical-historical argument about Abraham to demonstrate that God confers the status of righteousness by faith apart from works of the law (3:28). In order to promote understanding of these complex verses, I will present the sections one-at-a-time for discussion.
(ESV) Romans 4:11a “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”
Here (4:11a) circumcision is said to be a sign and a seal of Abraham’s justification. Grant Osborne rightly says, “Circumcision is seen both as the distinguishing mark [sign] and the confirming act [seal] of God’s covenant with his people.”
But the sign and the seal are related to — indeed they depend upon — a more important, more central idea. They both signal the primacy of “the righteousness that he had by faith when he was still uncircumcised” (4:11a). Paul clearly implies that without that faith circumcision means nothing.
(ESV) Romans 4:11b “The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,”
In presenting God’s two purposes for the significance of Abraham’s faith, Osborne says: “Paul could have subsumed [included] them under one statement that Abraham was the father of all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike. But instead Paul separates them into two sections for emphasis.”
Romans 4:11b is the Gentile track. Abraham is the father of all Gentiles who believe and receive righteousness, because Abraham was uncircumcised when he was declared righteous by faith.
In passing, we note that Paul once again points to God’s internal reckoning using the verb logizomai: “so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.” This is called a “divine passive” because the passive voice is often used in the NT for God’s actions. NT grammarian Daniel Wallace points out: “That God is behind the scenes is self-evidently part of the worldview of the NT writers. The nature of this book demands that we see him even when he is not mentioned.”
(ESV) Romans 4:12 “and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”
Before we explain this verse, we will look back at what Paul said in Rom. 2:28–29 where we find: “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God.” (NET)
Paul will also take up this theme later in the letter when he says, “For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel” (Rom. 9:6, NET).
Romans 4:12 shows the track of God’s purpose for true Israel. Thomas Schreiner puts it best: “Paul teaches that Abraham is the father only of Jews who have faith. Circumcision alone is insufficient to belong to the people of God.”
Wow! That is a game-changer for a lot of Jews who were involved in going-to-heaven-by-the-numbers — by analogy to painting-by-the-numbers. You can begin to see why Paul got a hot reception when he returned to Jerusalem. More than forty Jews swore not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul (Acts 23:12), and the Roman commander escorted him far away with a force of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen (Acts 23:23)!
So, Abraham is the father of believing Gentiles and believing Jews, but he is not the father of those Jews who are circumcised yet fail to have the faith which God requires for righteousness. Those without faith are orphans.
Like father like son
Jesus tells us that “everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Those who follow in the faith-steps of Abraham are truly his children.
1. To what extent do you benefit from feedback from others to ensure you are living with the faith of Abraham?
2. In terms of false standards, what could circumcision represent by analogy in the lives of others and in your own life?
Being from a good family does not help much with getting into heaven. In that setting, faith is the coin of the realm, and nothing else can substitute for it. Faith in Jesus Christ proves who your Father is once and for all.
Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 111.
 Osborne, Romans, 112.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 438.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 226.