What matters most: The outward sign or believing God's word?
Religious people are addicted to the signs and symbols of their faith. They provide an objective physical and visual way of identifying themselves as adherents. The Jews also had symbols and circumcision was the most personal. God gave these symbols to His people so that they would remember who they belonged to, but only until Jesus was revealed.
So, Paul explains, Abraham was not accepted because he had the sign of circumcision. He was credited with righteousness because he believed God's Word, before he was circumcised. The sign was the evidence that He already belonged to God because he had already believed what God said. Although God commanded His Old Testament people to have symbols of faith, they all pointed forward to Jesus. When Jesus rose from the dead and the church was formed, the symbols (temple, sacrifices, and circumcision) were redundant. People could have an intimate relationship with God, and receive the Holy Spirit to assure them that they were children of God (Romans 8:16).
Even believers in Jesus can slip back into 'symbol-addiction'. Christians should keep reminding themselves that a real relationship with God through Jesus does not need symbols - in the same way that the presence of a loved-one makes it unnecessary to clutch their photograph, because they are with you. Symbol-addiction undermines the work of the Holy Spirit, because it is His job to make Jesus real to us. So what about baptism and communion? These can never make us children of God; they are acts of obedience for us to follow because we already believe. So take a good look at your life with God? If the symbols become more important than listening to Jesus and believing Him, something is wrong.
© Dr Paul Adams