And regarding circumcision, Abraham did not receive the "sign" of circumcision until after he was reckoned righteous (justified) by faith. Then he was circumcised as "a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised" (verse 11). This is the crucial sequence of events that becomes our model.
Circumcision, the cutting off of the male foreskin, had significance beyond its use as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and beyond its practical health and hygiene considerations. It was intended by God to foreshadow or to prefigure for us the removal of our carnal flesh "by the circumcision of Christ." Therefore, circumcision prefigured and presently symbolizes a very important aspect of sanctification:
And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made with out hands [not physical], in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11).
Note carefully what circumcision symbolizes to every Christian: The removal of the flesh, which is a very important aspect of our sanctification. Now, we know that Abraham received circumcision as a sign and a seal-as a result, if you will, of justification by faith. Never, never is it taught that Abraham's circumcision preceded or caused his right standing before God. Just the opposite is true: Abraham's circumcision was a "sign" of his right standing before God.
Abraham could not have been justified either by the law or by his own circumcision because both events occurred after he was reckoned righteous through faith.
Likewise, the circumcision you have in Christ-that is, the removal of your flesh, the defeat of your carnal, sinful, fleshly nature- is always and only the result, never the cause, of right standing before God. Never, never is it taught that the removal of the carnal nature proceeds or causes justification by faith. Exactly the reverse is true.
The "rules" never change: justification, then sanctification. It always works that way. Getting your cart before your horse (trying to justify yourself through sanctification) can only lead to vexation and frustration. Remember, the Bible does not teach that you are supposed to grow out of justification by faith, but rather that you are to grow in it.
The Bible teaches clearly that in order to be sanctified it is necessary to be justified, that apart from justification by faith sanctification is impossible. Teaching to the contrary contradicts Scripture and brings much condemnation and confusion in the body of Christ.
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