In preparation for reading this, skimming Romans Chapter 4 may help. Paul makes many significant points there on the subjects of circumcision, works, grace, faith and the law. To be honest what he says there is hard to understand even for us who know the story of Abraham. However, Paul spoke these words to the Roman church who knew very little about Abraham! Surely, it made them think and ask questions of the Jews who were around them.
Paul in this chapter revealed the mystery of God. He said it more briefly to other churches, but this Gentile church required more.
Paul's dissertation is an inclusive argument for the Roman people. Paul presents evidence that the Romans are heirs of Abraham just as the Jews are, even though they are not heirs of the circumcision.
Of course the mystery of God is that grace was always the path to salvation; not the law, that it was always by the blood of Jesus and it was always for all people. In Romans Paul reveals this mystery to the Roman church.
Now let is imagine a little bit.
It would appear that the Roman Christians were insecure in their salvation. Most people at this time considered Christianity to be Judaism. What Paul wrote here basically confirms my earlier premise that Judaism is an offshoot of Christianity since The Word was there in the beginning. Judaism failed to recognize that Jesus fulfilled what the patriarchs knew all the time: that when the Voice spoke and The Word said things, it was the Messiah to whom they were speaking. The Jews left Christ behind as they took the Law with them.
The Jewish people became encumbered with the Law because of all the rules and regulations of which they bound the Law. The binder became enslavement even though the tenants of the Law provides freedom!
The Ten Commandments are written on stone for a reason! Although the tablets are lost to history, what was written there are still words in stone. Surely the Jews would idolized the tablets if they were extant as they came kneel to the words which were written thereon.
Of course Jesus himself said "I didn't come to replace the law, but to fulfill it." As such the Law is still valid. Paul's letter demonstrates that the Law is merely a way to show love and faith by using the faith of Abraham as an example of that!
Abraham preceded the Law. He did a "work" as a show of love. His "work" was obedience to God. Essentially, works are things faithful people do because those people trust God! However, Jews used works to gain salvation. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his "only" son because he trusted God in what he was about to do. In essence, works do not merit salvation, but do show love!
Notice that Abraham never actually DID anything. He was, however, WILLING to do anything that God asked of him. It was his willingness which was accounted as faith because until he was stopped, Abraham obeyed! There was no threat to Abraham. God never said "If you fail to obey me, you are damned." He merely made it known to Abraham that "If you love me, obey my commands!" His only command was that Abraham offer his only son to him on Moriah, that mountain scholars know as Calvary.
When Abraham was about to offer his only son as a living sacrifice, because he knew that someday God would do that, The Angel of God called off the sacrifice by saying "thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me."
Incidentally, many scholars also believe that "The Angel of God" is the pre-incarnate Jesus. By that belief it is suggested that Jesus actually told his own story directly to Abraham. Abraham surely knew that what he was about to do was a picture of what Jesus would later do! Abraham and God both were are WILLING to make the same sacrifice!
Abraham was about to demonstrate tough love. He was willing to do the hard things to demonstrate his reverence for God. His WILLINGNESS was imputed as righteousness.
Shortly, God provided the ram in Isaac's place. That is grace! Paul showed the Romans that they too are sons of Abraham, and God provided a lamb for their sacrifice!
The Romans had never tried to obey the Law. It wasn't commanded to them! They accepted Jesus Christ as savior without being coerced. They were just as Abraham since Abraham was obliging God's will out of faith, not because out of fear! As such the Gentile Romans were truly as much the seed of Abraham as were the Jews! Abraham didn't need laws to show faith and the Romans didn't either!
But they were not circumcised! The Jews condemned them for that, I'm sure.
God recognized their circumcision. Unlike Abraham who had his flesh cut off, the Romans did as well. The Jews had their foreskins cleansed with the shedding of blood. The Romans had circumcised hearts. Paul takes the time to allay their concerns. They didn't have the scar to show it, but they were as faithful as the Jews, even more so!
Why more so? The Jews obeyed because they had to obey. The Romans obeyed because they chose to! What did the Romans do to become Christians? They merely believed (trusted) Jesus and their thoughts produced faith. God put those thoughts there, the Romans accepted the thoughts (conviction) and as a result their hearts were circumcised.
Abraham's faith showed forth when he sacrificed his foreskin. Christians demonstrate their circumcision of the heart by their willingness to sacrifice their entire flesh, giving up the old person in exchange for the new when they are baptized!
God nation built for thousands of years. While his Spirit was silent he built Rome. Protestants don't like it, but Christianity came to most of the world because of the Romans. Even now Christians do not get circumcised as a show of faith as the Jews do, but we show our circumcised hearts by baptism.
I've done that. I am an heir of Abraham because I did to myself what Abraham was willing to do with his son. I made a living sacrifice as I presented myself to God. I gave all my flesh, not just my foreskin. My sacrifice was great, but Jesus' was greater. My sacrifice was dirty. His was pure!
You see, words mean things, and there is much meaning in what Paul says in Romans 4.