“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.” (Rm 4:10-11)
Abraham’s Faith and Righteousness
The Bible says, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gn 15:6)
What Paul emphasized in Romans chapter 4 was the moment Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness.
1) Before Circumcision
First, Paul stressed that Abraham wasn’t circumcised at that time. Paul tells us in Romans 4:10,
“Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!” (Rm 4:10)
Circumcision was one of the most important matters that caused many debates and conflicts between the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles Christians. The Jews saw circumcision as the most important act in becoming God’s people. It was a religious and cultural symbol of belonging to God. So, some Jewish Christians strongly insisted that on top of faith in Christ, all believers must be circumcised in order to be saved.
Acts 15:1 describes this issue.
“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved,” (Acts 15:1)
This was what some radical Jewish Christians insisted on when Paul came back to Antioch from his first mission trip to Galatia. They added ‘certain works—obedience to the law of Moses’ as a critical condition of salvation. And, circumcision was representative of all works.
That’s why in Romans Chapter 4 Paul talked about Abraham’s faith and the timing of when God credited him as righteous. If Abraham was counted as righteous by the Lord ‘after’ circumcision, after certain works, then it could be argued that Abraham’s righteousness came from his works.
However, thankfully, it happened before he was circumcised as Paul said, “It was not after, but before!” (Rm 4:10). Abraham was already credited as righteous in Genesis 15:6, though he didn’t get circumcised until Genesis 17.
So, Paul makes it clear that Abraham was not credited as righteous because he was circumcised. Circumcision was not a condition of him being deemed righteous. As Paul says in the next verse, the circumcision was only “…A sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised…” (Rm 4:11)
Abraham’s circumcision was only a physical sign of the spiritual reality—his faith in God—and that reality didn’t rely on the sign itself. Paul reasons that if Abraham was saved by faith without circumcision, then uncircumcised non-Jewish people would also be saved by that same faith, without circumcision, and without works of the law.
“So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.” (Rom 4:11)
Paul also said,
“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring - not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (Rm 4:16)
2) Before the Law
There’s one more thing that Paul addressed about the moment Abraham received ‘credited righteousness’ through his faith in God. It was before the law of Moses was enacted.
Paul said, “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Rm 4:13)
Abraham didn't become righteous because he obeyed God’s law since God gave Moses the law after the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt. God’s law was enacted more than 400 years later. So, it’s clear that Abraham’s righteousness wasn’t based on his observance of the Law.
Justification by Faith Alone
What Paul is really proving here in Romans 4 is that only faith matters when it comes to justification, salvation, or righteousness. It’s not something we can earn from righteous acts. No matter how well we live our lives in the world, we can’t reach God’s standard of righteousness. And, regardless of how many good works we do, we cannot compensate for our sins.
God knew this well. So, He decided to make perfect righteousness to give freely to us. He doesn’t require a standard that we can’t possibly meet. The only condition God requires us to have is faith—faith in Jesus who was crucified to make us righteous again.
That’s the most important truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ we must hold on to. Realizing this makes us humble before God because there’s nothing to boast about in regard to the righteousness we have in the Lord.
Now, let’s talk about one more thing regarding Abraham’s faith.
Again, Gen 15:6 says,
“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6)
We already talked about when his faith was credited as righteousness. It was before he was circumcised and before the law was enacted. Now, what I want to focus on is Abraham’s life when he was credited as righteous.
Abraham left for the promised land when he was 75 years old, following God’s command and His promise. In Genesis 12, when God called Abraham, God promised him that He would make Abraham into a great nation. The problem was that he didn’t have any children even at an old age. Abraham was getting older, and so was Sarah, his wife. Abraham was getting tired and losing hope.
Then, after a long time, in Gen chapter 15, God appeared to Abraham again. At this time, Abraham complained to God, saying,
“Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir” (Gn 15:2-3)
Here, we see Abraham's disbelief of God. He failed to remember God’s promise. He was shaken by his situation, so he decided to make his own ways, apart from God’s promise. He turned away from the covenant with the Lord. It’s hard to see any righteous deeds of Abraham.
However, God didn’t blame Abraham for his disbelief. God understood his situation and his weakness. Rather than rebuking him, God renewed His covenant with him.
God took Abraham outside and said to him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars - if indeed you can count them.… So shall your offspring be.” (Gen 15:5)
Here’s Abraham’s response to God’s promise.
“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gn 15:6)
This is the verse Paul quotes in Romans chapter 4. So, what was Abraham’s situation when he was credited as righteous? He didn’t do anything righteous. In fact, Abraham forgot God’s covenant, turned away from it, and didn't trust that God would give him the son God had promised. Abraham didn’t deserve to be credited as ‘righteous’ at all.
However, God didn’t hold Abraham's past betrayal, mistakes, and faults against him. When Abraham decided to believe God and trust His promise again, God credited his faith as righteousness.
That’s the righteousness of God we receive by faith in Christ. Romans 4:11 says that the righteousness Abraham had by faith is credited to all who believe. God gives us this righteousness which we cannot earn, deserve or attain for ourselves. It means that no matter what we’ve done or who we've been before the Lord, we can receive God’s righteousness because it’s based only on God’s amazing grace and Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.
The only thing God requires us to have is faith—faith in Christ. I hope everyone here restores their faith and hope in the Lord so that we can joyfully live in God’s righteousness.