“He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11 NRSV)
In this section of the Bible, there is a lot of heavy language concerning a person’s right standing with God (righteousness). Up to that time, people who followed the Ten Commandments thought their standing was based on their actions. If they kept the commandments, they received God’s love and blessings. If they ignored the commands, they would not. Now Paul, an expert in those commandments, realized in a flash he had gotten it wrong.
The new sect, called Christians, claimed grace for all who believed the death of Jesus was a covering over for their sins. Paul hunted and jailed them until he saw the light (Jesus) on the Damascus Road. He spent time studying scripture and saw grace way back in the life of Abraham, the founder of that religion. In the giving of circumcision Paul noticed that Abraham gained right standing (righteousness) with God before he did anything to deserve it. It was a heady thought.
Later, in his letter, the Apostle James added: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17 NRSV). Abraham, after gaining right standing by his faith also was circumcised. He enlivened his faith through his actions.
In the same way, I have to do more than just believe God is good and that Jesus is my Savior. I have to act on it, but that’s not easy. For me to tell others about my Christian faith requires a step of faith. To keep trusting God when I just heard bad news requires faith too. Truth-telling is a stretch especially when everyone else is lying. Making an extra large donation to a worthwhile need in the community may mean not knowing if the finances will be alright.
I have seen interesting and unexpected things happen when I step out in faith. It seems that the grace which comes through faith also surrounds the obedient action. God also gives me grace to do what He asks. So grace is found in faith and in works.