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The apostle Paul stresses that Abraham was justified before circumcision, not after (Romans 4:10-12). Circumcision was only a sign of the righteousness he had already received by faith. Aren't sacraments likewise only signs, with no effect?

  • In terms of necessity, this passage in Romans cannot be used to argue that sacraments are not necessary. Sacraments are necessary for us because they are commanded by the Lord himself, just as circumcision was necessary for Abraham because it was commanded by God. Had Abraham denied the necessity of circumcision with the rationale that it was only a sign, would he still be a man of faith?
  • In terms of saving effects, we cannot confuse circumcision with the sacraments. Circumcision is a covenant of flesh for Abraham and his earthly descendants (Gen 17:13). It is done by the hands of men and is a work of the law as such. Because no divine action is involved, its only function was to signify God’s promise and justification of Abraham. More importantly, it was a foreshadow of the saving work of Christ to effect justification for all men, whether Jews or Gentiles. “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal 3:19). So the law, including circumcision, could only signify the reality, which is Christ. In the sacraments, on the contrary, there is divine action, mediated by Christ himself. Baptism, for instance, is a circumcision done by Christ, not by men’s hands (Col 2:11-12). Sacraments are on a totally different level from circumcision because they are divine actions rather than just symbolic signs.

Publisher: True Jesus Church