Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11)
Relate: When I was in eighth grade our family moved from Syracuse to Rochester New York. The change also brought a switch for me from a Christian to a public school. In my new school, it didn’t take long for me to earn a new nickname: “Bible boy”. Since I was a tad bit outspoken at that age this was a name I wholeheartedly embrace. I had fantasies that I was carrying on a tradition extending back to John the Baptist and Elijah. I might not embrace their diet, but I had no trouble stirring up trouble by calling out sin. Let’s just say that I probably wasn’t the best witness for Christ at that age.
One day when I was walking down the hall another student came up to me as if he had a secret. “Hey, guess what?”
I took the bait, “What?”
“I’m just like you.”
I was confused. “Really?”
“Yes. I believe in God too.”
I just shrugged and kept walking. He walked along with me looking confused. “I do.”
“So what?” His confusion only seemed to grow, so I continued. “The demons believe in God too. At least they have enough common sense to fear him.”
He just stood there open-mouthed while I walked away in my smug self-righteousness.
In my very undiplomatic way, I was trying to tell him a point we all too often miss in the West. If you really truly do believe in God, your actions will prove it.
React: Circumcision for the Jews was a sign of who was in and who was out. If you were circumcised, you were a Jew. You were in. If you were not then you were a filthy dog, er… I mean, a gentile. What you believed was only secondary, what you did (or rather what was done to you) was what was important.
Since circumcision might be a painful way to look at this (at least for us men) and it means far less culturally now than it did then, let us say “works” instead. Abraham believed God. So what did he do? He packed up his bags and moved to a galaxy far, far away. Or something like that. There were two other choices available to him. On one hand, he could have said, “I believe in You, God, but let’s not get extreme about it. I think I will just stay here and be a witness in my community.” On the flip side, he could have said, “I’m not too sure about this ‘one God’ stuff but I really could use a change of scenery. Perhaps I will move and figure out where I am going when I get there.”
James would probably call these other two options faith without works and works without faith. Most of those who call themselves Christian today do fall into one of these two categories. Some are like my eighth-grade friend who said he believed God but there was absolutely no evidence of it in their life. There were no signs. Others are like what I was dangerously close to falling in to. They show all the signs of being a Christian, they do all the “works” but there is no true belief inside. It is all legalism without love. Don’t mistake the sign for the reality of someone’s belief. But also, don’t try to convince me you believe if there is no sign in your life that proves it.
I want to follow You. I don’t just want to say I believe but to really pack up my bags and go wherever You might call. Help my life to reflect the change You are working out inside. But help me to avoid mistaking that lifestyle for the inner reality. Don’t let me get so caught up in the doing that I forget it is only a reflection of being. Let my works be a sign pointing from an inward reality towards a heavenly truth.