Lesson 33: Romans 9:3-4
The Abused Blessings of a Corrupt Church
by Bob Burridge ©2011
In chapters 9 through 11 in his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul is dealing with the true nature of the church. This section of Romans presents a very different view of the church than the popular one both then and now.
When Paul became a Christian, he left behind the confusion of God’s word he had come to accept as a Pharisee. Some of his former Rabbi friends thought he had turned against God’s ancient church, but that was far from the truth. It was his love for the true church that troubled him so much. He called them back to what God had originally revealed about the coming Messiah.
He grieved deeply over their abandonment of the truth. The first 3 verses of Roman 9 say, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,”
Paul cared deeply for the family of God, and for the reputation of his Heavenly Father. He was calling Israel back to the terms and promises of the ancient Covenant.
Israel had been entrusted with great privileges and blessings, but she had not honored God with them. She had perverted them and confused them. Israel was set up by God to display his glory to the rest of the nations. She was to preserve the promises and covenant for the time of the coming of Messiah. By the time Messiah actually came, she had for the most part corrupted what God entrusted to her.
Paul got very specific about the advantages God had entrusted to his ancient church in the next two verses.
Romans 9:4-5, “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
1. The first thing he mentions that God had
entrusted to them was their adoption as sons.
The Israelites were adopted as the special people of God and pronounced to be his children. For example, God told Moses to tell Pharaoh “Thus says the LORD: ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’ ” (Exodus 4:22)
They were chosen as God’s family, by grace, above all the other nations. In Deuteronomy 14:2 it says, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
This did not mean that each Israelite was redeemed to new life and forgiven for his sins. The Covenant of God with the nation was external as a way of revealing his Sovereign glory. By circumcision each person identified himself with Jehovah and in a special way represented God in this world.
Some took on that covenant sign as if it meant far more. They assumed that simply by being a member of the ancient form of the church God would be bound to bless them, save them by their profession of his name only. However, they changed what God said, and by complex rules justified ways that offended God. They were rebellious children. As his family outwardly, they were specially held accountable.
This is one of the key ideas in understanding the whole Bible. It is central to understanding this next section of the book of Romans.
God establishes an outward church representing his blessings of grace. This outward organization of professing believers and their families is called the Visible Church. It is what we can see of God gathering a people to himself. It is the outward form God set up.
There is also an Invisible Church. This is made up only of those truly redeemed by Christ. These are those he saves from sin by the death of Jesus in their place. Since only God knows for sure who these are, and we cannot judge this without error, to us the boundaries of that membership must remain un-seeable, invisible. God gathers these saved ones into his visible church to live as a spiritual family, and there to represent him in the world.
All who are truly redeemed are commanded to join in the worship, fellowship, and discipline of the church. There is no biblical justification for believers refusing to be a part of the visible church. There is no biblical justification for thinking that all members of the visible church are redeemed.
The New Testament church continues that covenant body of believers. There is a new sign commanded to mark them out in the name of the Triune God. The sign of purification in the Old Testament has been fulfilled as it took the form of what we call “Baptism”. All who are baptized are marked outwardly as the children of God. God seals them as participants in his covenant. This does not mean that all who are baptized into the church are redeemed individuals. We must avoid confidence in the mere outward form of Baptism.
All Israelites were called to be part of God’s covenant nation, but not all Israel is true Israel (Romans 9:6). The members of the covenant are both those who receive its blessings, and those who receive its curses. A church is only honoring to God if it church honors God’s word and ways. The majority of Israel had abandoned its true spiritual family obligations in Paul’s day. There are those churches today which are a false family too.
Being called outwardly the sons of God is a wonderful privilege. However, we need to be legitimately adopted children of God, born again spiritually so that our profession is not just outward, but comes from a converted heart. We show evidence of this transformation by caring for the rest of the family, and respecting the truths our Father has entrusted to us.
2. God had given glory to Israel.
Jehovah had shown his glorious presence in the midst of his chosen people. He appeared on Mt. Sinai, showed himself as their protector in the fire and the cloud, and revealed his glory which filled the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) and the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-2).
The glory of Israel was the glory of God which was shown among them. His presence distinguished them from all other nations. Deuteronomy 4:33-36 says, “Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire.”
Sadly, they turned his glory into something abstract and magical. They took comfort in the outward appearances, but ignored the spiritual realities they represented.
God’s glorious presence among us in the church today is shown in a different way. It is no longer shown in voices from heaven, pillars of fire, and clouds. It is shown in three basic ways. God is seen among us in the pure preaching of the Bible which is his holy word. He is seen in the elements of the Sacraments when rightly administered. And he is seen in the lives of his redeemed people as taught, led and comforted by the faithful shepherding of church leaders ordained to represent Christ’s headship.
The corrupted forms of the church today abuse these advantages. The Bible is used by some only as a source book for arguments, or as a book of inspirational stories and quotes. The sacraments are either reduced to mere symbols, or elevated to magical ceremonies. The church authority structure is modified to fit various political theories and business models. The glory of God’s presence is therefore obscured and turned into a mockery.
Being privileged to bear these signs of God’s glory among us, we need to make sure we preserve them faithfully to the honor of our Heavenly Father.
3. God made the Covenants with Israel.
The word “covenant” in the Old Testament is the ancient word berit (ברית). It means a solemn set of promises imposed by a Sovereign Lord upon the threat of death. There was always a symbolic shedding of blood when a covenant was ratified. It symbolized the just punishment deserved by covenant breakers.
God’s covenant to redeem some from the fallen human race was special. He would come as Messiah to suffer the punishment in place of his people. This is called the Covenant of Grace. There is only one such covenant in Scripture. God made it known in stages, each time revealing more about his plan, each time ratifying it with those he chose to bring it to his people: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, then finally Jesus Christ and his Apostles. In each case it was the same Covenant of Grace, but an ever-clearer picture of Redemption.
Nothing more clearly marked out Israel as special to Jehovah than that in her era she was the special object of God’s gracious covenant promises. The Christian Church is the present form of that same covenant. We live in the predicted age of the Messiah’s Kingdom as promised and described by God through his prophets.
Israel had confused the meaning of God’s Covenant. She assumed that the outward advantages of living under God’s protection as a nation were all the covenant was about. However, the outward form was to illustrate what God does for individuals by grace. Being in the visible covenant nation of Israel no more removed a person’s guilt before God, than does being a member in the visible Christian Church today.
Those today who bear the covenant sign of Baptism, and who come under the care of the shepherds in a local church, and yet do not come to trust in Christ alone as their Savior and Living Lord, bring disgrace upon Jehovah and his covenant. They bring further condemnation down upon themselves.
As Covenant Children of God we need to restore the ancient promises and duties. We should trust in the amazing Grace that is ours by the love of God through Jesus Christ.
4. God had entrusted Israel with his written law.
The term used here is not just a reference to law in the narrow sense of rules and punishments. It encompasses all that God has revealed to us as a standard by which everything we believe and do is to be tested. These principles are not just to be looked upon as mere literature. Anyone from any nation could get a copy of the written word of God.
This verse has to do with God’s act of giving a revelation which was unique to Israel. God gave his word to his people through the prophets, and by his own hand on Sinai. Though they were the nation God trusted to guard his word, they had added their own ideas and corrupted its teachings.
The church today is also entrusted with the Bible as God’s revealed truth. Bibles are more available today than at any other time in history. They are sold in astounding numbers, and are electronically available free for home computers, smart phones, and tablets.
The church as a whole has not guarded God’s word as he has commanded. Some new translations change the text to fit man’s own ideas of what he thinks it ought to say. One current trend is to take out the male language about God so that he might be our Mother God as well as our Father. This misses the whole point of why male language is used, or why maleness even exists. They re-word the commandments to permit homosexuality, promiscuity, and divorce.
In many churches the preaching of the word is neglected. Instead of a systematic teaching from the Scriptures there are only brief homilies on morals, self-esteem, personal psychology, or social problems. At the other extreme the only message some hear preached week after week is how to be born again and do evangelism.
God has given his people a written word to love and obey. We need to learn and re-affirm the full range of teachings given to us in God’s word.
5. The services were entrusted to Israel.
The word translated here as “services” is latreia (λατρεια). It means the forms of worship God commands. By his word, God has always regulated how his is to be worshiped. Israel had desecrated the forms and attitudes God called for in gathered times of worship as a congregation. The Lord did not just prescribe what was to be done outwardly in the Temple. He made it clear in his word that only certain practices and motives please him when his people gather for worship at the call of the Elders.
The Jews had misrepresented the Sacrifice as a means of removing sin without a Savior. The creeds of Israel’s faith were no longer the biblical teachings, but the doctrines of Rabbis. The tithes and offerings were supplemented with other means of getting money for the ancient church. Their prayers had become proud declarations, instead of humble confessions of gratitude. Israel had so confused worship, that the temple itself would be destroyed in God’s judgment. The final destruction of this desecrated structure took place by the Roman armies in 70 AD during the ministry of the chosen Apostles.
Today the corrupted form of the visible church has turned worship into a time of entertainment, morality lectures, and mystical sights, sounds, and experiences. The goal is to get more people to come, instead of to give God glory in the ways he asks. Instead of the mandated reading of God’s word, prayer, psalms, creeds, sacraments, collections, benedictions, calls to worship, the leadership of Elders, and an atmosphere of holy respect, their worship includes new inventions added to the elements given in God’s word. Some of the new elements are outrageous. They have been known to bring in mimes, magicians, clowns, dance troupes, skits, film-clips, and pyrotechnics. Some do not even know that the Bible has a lot to say about the elements of worship. The current ignorance of God’s word is no excuse.
As those who are given the form God calls for in worship, our duty is to maintain the services God has given. Otherwise we will be like the popular, but unfaithful nation of ancient Israel.
6. God gave the promises to Israel.
There were many promises specially made by God to the Jews, particularly the ones about the coming Messiah.
The word “Christ” is our Western form of the Greek word Christos (χριστος) which means “anointed”. The Hebrew word for “anointed” is Mashiakh (משיח). In the time just before Paul, they had killed this Anointed One who was the greatest promise of all. In spite of the promises, they rebelled again and again to the disgrace of the God who blessed them.
Similarly, many in the church today redefine the promises made to them. They replace them with things they wish were true, things borrowed from paganism, humanism, and from a terribly uninformed reading of the Bible. Instead of God’s word about forgiveness of sin, inner peace, and the future hope of glory, people flock to hear a gospel that promises health, wealth, and fun. Gone from many churches is the gospel message of God’s amazing grace.
What God has promised is better than all the health, wealth, and emotional experiences one could imagine. Like unfaithful Israel, we need to return to the promises God has actually given us, and again behold the superior value of what our Creator said are the most important things.
7. Israel had the ancient fathers as their heritage.
It was from the Covenant People of the time before Christ that we have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, all those ancestors who are the spiritual teachers of us all. Paul was reminding the faithless Jews of the blessed heritage God had given them. Tragically, just as their ungodly predecessors persecuted the Prophets, they were now persecuting the Christians, those continuing to put their whole trust in the promised Messiah.
We have a wonderful heritage as God’s people. We need to treasure that history.
8. And from Israel came the Christ, God’s Messiah.
This promised Savior came from the Jews. He was an Israelite according to the flesh, yet they turned from this great honor and crucified him. He was not only an Israelite as to his fleshly nature. He was also God by nature.
Romans 9:5b, “… who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
These words strongly affirm the deity of Jesus Christ as the Sovereign Lord over all. No other interpretation of this fits the grammar, the flow of the context, or the argument Paul is laying out for them here.
Many who call themselves the Christian church today do not believe Jesus was the eternal God. They have stripped him of his deity, and made him a mere example of kindness, and a lonely martyr.
God had richly blessed ancient Israel with wonderful advantages, but she had traded them for superficial substitutes. The time had come for Israel as a people to give an accounting before God. Paul was not teaching that God was abandoning his true people. He was warning the corrupted ones in Israel that they had rejected God’s promised Messiah. He was calling them back to the principles and promises they had abandoned. As a nation they had drifted far from what they were called to be, so they were soon to lose that national privilege. The true church within the corrupted nation would grow beyond racial and national boundaries to include believers from all groups of people.
The churches today also have great advantages. To them is entrusted wonderful blessings as the called out visible body of Christ. But to those who bear the name of Christ’s church in vain, to those who re-write the promises to fit their own self-centered dreams, to those who would rather be comfortable than faithful, to them is promised the just and certain wrath of God.
We are called to represent God’s covenant family as those transformed by Christ. What kind of children are we in God’s family? Do we live to honor him? or to dishonor his name? The health of the church as a body is the health of the parts of that body. Each of us in our daily lives must appreciate, guard, restore, and represent the truths God has revealed to us in his word. We must strive in the power of our now Resurrected Savior to bring this gospel to those who are still in darkness. We ought to live as those who no longer belong to themselves, but to the Savior who bought them with the price of his own life.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)