KJV - 1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
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As Paul explains in Romans 4, circumcision was the external sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham in Genesis 12 to bless Abraham and his descendants. However, as Paul says, God chose Abraham on the basis of his faith before Abraham had actually been physically circumcised. That is, the act of circumcising itself had no significance with respect to God's calling of Abraham, but was a subsequent sign of that calling that marked Abraham (as well as any of Abraham's male descendants who were circumcised) as being a party to the covenant that God made with Abraham. Just as Abraham was called by God before being circumcised, God has now called all humanity (not just Abraham's physical descendants) to receive the salvation that is not offered as a result of works, or marked by any external sign such as circumcision, but as a result of of the same kind of faith in God that Abraham had before his circumcision -- in this case, faith in the covenant of grace established by the finished work of salvation that Jesus accomplished through his sinless life, atoning death, and subsequent resurrection. Those who put their faith in Jesus to make them righteous in God's sight are now in the same favored position with God that Abraham was because of his faith when God called him, and are now Abraham's heirs, without having to undergo physical circumcision as a sign of that relationship. That is why Paul refers to Christians as being "circumcised in Christ".
The short answer is that to be circumcised in Christ means one is saved, taking the word “circumcision” here to refer to “circumcision of the heart, indicative of genuine faith in Yeshua (Jesus).” To be sure, a few verses later we read,” For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”” (Rom. 4:3) Circumcision implies cutting something away, whether it is physical foreskin, or spiritual unbelief. Circumcised in Christ means unbelief has been cut away from the heart so that one sees Messiah by faith, and such faith saves him. Background needed to understand and appreciate the context of Romans 4, and to substantiate my answer: The term “circumcision” in Paul’s day quite often implied Jewish identity by context. The entire chapter of Romans 4 is Paul’s exposition to combat the 1st century mistaken notion that Jews and only Jews were genuine covenant members in Isra'el. Recall that Jewish males were circumcised as eight-day-old baby boys (Lev. 12:3). In effect, according to common Jewish reasoning, they were “born with covenant status.” The reason circumcision gets brought into Paul’s discussions so prominently (Rom. 2:25-29; Rom. 3:1; 1 Cor. 7:18, 19; Gal. 2:12; Gal. 5:2-11; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:11; Philippians 3:3; Titus 1:10) is because by the 1st century, Isra'el was using the term circumcision more as a sociological term that referred to Jewish status, than as a covenant sign that pointed to the Abrahamic promise of Gen. 17:9-14. In the eyes of these “ethnocentric” Jews, circumcision was the sign that guaranteed them covenant status and salvation (Acts 15:1). So if a Gentile wished to join Isra'el, a man-made ceremony of the proselyte was prescribed, in which one could ostensibly change their ethnicity and become Jewish. And because the same prevailing Jewish views believed the Torah to be a Jewish-only document, once a person earned their Jewish status, the Torah became their covenant possession and responsibility. We know this is the correct understanding of these opening verses because of Paul’s line of reasoning later on down in the passage in Rom. 4:9, 10: “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.” If I were to paraphrase these two verses and insert the implied historical, grammatical, and sociological meanings, they would sound something like this: “Is this blessing, that those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered because the LORD will not count his sin—in a word, salvation, only for those with legal Jewish status, or also for those who are not Jews, that is the Gentiles? For we state with certainty that salvation was counted by God to Abraham as righteousness in Gen. 15:6 and the Scriptures are definitely reliable. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he became Jewish? It was not after, but before he became Jewish.” The notion of “Jewish-only Isra'el,” and a “Jewish-only Torah” is also corroborated from reading the surviving, non-inspired Pharisaic writings from before and after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, namely, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Talmud and other rabbinic writings, etc. They indeed help us to better understanding the historical, grammatical, and sociological background to our own inspired Apostolic Writings (viz, the NT). Lastly, “circumcised in Christ” does not necessarily mean that physical circumcision is no longer valuable. For what does Paul say? Rom. 2:25 “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.” Rom. 3:1, 2 “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
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