Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

by Bob Burridge ©2012
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 106a
(watch the video)

From the way advertisers promote things you would think that temptation is not such a bad thing. You would wonder why Jesus told us to pray not to be led into it.

They put the word “Temptation” in the name of colognes, popular perfumes, singing groups, and songs. The Temptation restaurant at the Atlantis Casino on St. Maarten in the Caribbean advertises itself as “sophisticated, elegant, romantic: awaken your senses.” Temptation was also a popular game show in Australia where contestants are tempted by trips to Hawaii, Jewelry, cars and other expensive luxuries. Temptation Island was a reality TV show where couples tempt one another on purpose to see how strong or weak the already immoral relationships are.

We live on the battle field of an often ignored spiritual cosmic war. We should expect the coordinator of the war against God’s ways to do exactly what we see happening. An open attack would be too obvious. It would be seen for what it is. So he trivializes or even glorifies things that openly offend and dishonor God. He makes them seem unimportant, sometimes even appealing. The tragic thing is that even Christians become desensitized to sin and excuse it as normal and accepted behavior.

Jesus explained that this is not the way God’s creation ought to be. In Matthew 6:13 he taught us to pray,

“And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

We will deal with the second part of this sixth petition in the next lesson.

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 106 is, “In the sixth petition (of the Lord’s Prayer), which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.”

Jesus had just told us to pray that God would forgive us of our sins. So this next request follows very logically. If you are sincere about wanting to be forgiven for your sins, then you should also want to be delivered from actually sinning again. If it was possible, you would be happy and willing to have your opportunities for sinning taken away.

First we need to rule out
what we are not asking God to do.

The original word for “temptation” in this verse is peirasmon (πειρασμον). The root idea is simply “to test”, or “to prove something by testing”. We give tests to see how well something has been learned or done. We give math tests to see how well students have learned some particular concept, and how effectively they can put it to use in practical situations. It is not given with any wicked desire to make a student fail. It is simply a test. We test stress points on buildings and bridges to see if they can hold up safely. Sometimes it exposes a weak point that needs to be fixed.

Often the testing is about something moral. In our fallen estate the occasion offering the opportunity to sin becomes an inward desire which pulls us to do something God forbids, or to neglect something he commands.

Testing itself does not have an evil element. This same word was used in Luke 4 to describe how Jesus was “tempted” by the Devil in the wilderness. While he was asked to do something evil, he was certainly not enticed inwardly to do evil. It was a “test” to demonstrate the authority of our Savior, and to be an example to us of how we should deal with moral tests as they come along.

Jesus is not telling you to pray that you would never be tested. Testing is a good and necessary thing in this earthly part of your life. It can prove how much you trust God. It can improve your patience and faithfulness. It can also expose areas of weakness that humble you and make you work harder to improve by the power of the risen Christ. James 1:3 says, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”

In Genesis 22 the Lord tested Abraham asking him to sacrifice Isaac. The test was to designed prove his faith, not to make him sin. These tests are good for you. They can show you how strong the Lord is in your life, or where your weaknesses are. They make you call upon him for strength. They can also humble you and drive you to come to him for forgiveness and deliverance.

The word translated “lead” in most of our translations is a form of the Greek word eisphero (εἰσφέρω). It is a compound word where the prefix for “in/into” is attached to the ordinary word “to carry”. The word is used in the New Testament for bearing someone disabled on a stretcher (Luke 5:18,19), of bringing things into a situation (1 Timothy 6:7, Acts 17:20, Hebrews 13:11), and of being led into a location (Luke 12:11).

You should not ask to be exempted from all situations that test you. However, you do not want to be enticed to the point where you actually fall into sin. We should pray that we will not be taken in by the moral tests. We ask for God’s power that we will not be carried by situations into where we fail to honor God by our thoughts, words, or deeds.

God might put you in situations that test you, but the desire to respond in a sinful way comes from your own heart. James 1:13-14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.”

James uses the same Greek root word as in Matthew 6:13. God certainly tests you at times, but he never causes you to be enticed to sin. He might send calamities, or permit Satan to test you (he did that with Job, Jesus and others), but God never causes you to sin.

He may bring tests to show an unbeliever his need for Christ. He might test a believer to show where he needs to depend more upon Christ, or to help him see where God has already strengthened him by grace. When a person gives in and sins, it is always his own fault, not God’s. Our evil desires do not come from Satan. He might urge you on, but if you do wrong, you cannot say “the devil made me do it.” It is your own fallen desires that entice you to sin.

Every moral choice is a test. It is an opportunity either to sin, or to do what is right. When God brings them, the tests are no more motivated to make you sin than a math test is motivated to make you fail. When those tests come along, you can only give one of two answers: either, “No, I will not give in to evil,” or, “Ok, I’ll give in and do the thing God forbids.” In every choice that comes along you either prevail or fail.

God tests his children for many reasons, but it is always to strengthen them. David was given opportunity to sin with Bathsheba and to kill her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11). He failed horribly, and he grieved deeply for his choices. He bore pain that tormented him the rest of his life. There were, however, good results as we read in Psalm 52. David repented. He better understood his own unworthiness and the awesome grace of God. He learned to walk more closely with God.

Peter was tested three times about his readiness to stand for Jesus. He tragically denied the Savior each time that night his Lord was betrayed and arrested (Luke 22). Though he failed, there were good results. He was humbled to repentance and taught to depend more upon Christ as we see in his life after the resurrection of Jesus.

Our prayer then is this, “Lord, though you may test me, do not let me fall into the grip of temptation so that I sin. If I fall, forgive me by your grace, and deliver me from doing it again.”

All the natural human desires which God created in us
can be satisfied in morally good ways.

When you get hungry or thirsty, you have the sense of taste to enjoy satisfying those needs in moderate ways. If you eat foolishly or drink irresponsibly you give in to dangerous temptations. The consequences bring tragic results to your health.

You need friends to satisfy your need for companionship. It is not wise to surround yourself with people who have values that tempt you to do wrong things. Of course you need to be with unbelievers to influence them for Christ. To them, and to poorly taught believers, you need to be light and salt as Jesus taught us. However, that should not be where you look for your encouragement and regular fellowship. God calls you to take advantage of your times together with like-minded believers. Friends can either build you up or bring you down. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.” You need to be a friend for other believers, and make positive friendships for yourself.

The world has become very open about wrong ways to satisfy sexual desires. God made men and women to be attractive to one another so they would enjoyably build families and have children. When sexual desires are sought to be satisfied outside of marriage, the imagery God intended by it is confused and distorted. The family was designed by our Creator to teach us about his relationship with his church. It is no wonder that as marriage is trivialized we also see a decline in churches. There can be no real satisfaction to the whole person in the confusion of immoral sexual relationships. God provides for what we really need in that area of our lives. It is found only in marriage as he defines it in his word.

Natural desires themselves are not wicked. It is the wrong ways of trying to satisfy them that are evil. Wrong remedies for our desires are no real remedies at all. They only make people less content, and alienate them from God’s ways which alone give true pleasure. What is even worse is that these things offend God. They are truly evil because God forbids them.

When we ask not to be led into temptation, we should not be expecting that God would take away our normal and good desires, but that he will strengthen us to resist trying to satisfy them in wrong ways.

As we would expect, God’s enemies urge
deceptive ways of dealing with temptation.

One strategy of evil is to tangle us up in ways bound to fail. Our fallen nature is very willing to be taken in by remedies that appear to remove the problem. In reality they do nothing to help us avoid being carried off into sin.

Some try to resist temptation by turning against their natural desires. These ascetics make the mistake of thinking that by avoiding all pleasure they can avoid sin. The writings of the monks in the monasteries show that though they denied themselves pleasures, temptation followed them into their cubicles, into their retreats, and into the deepest thoughts of their hearts.

It is not necessary to retreat into a monastery to be an ascetic. Some make lists of common pleasures from which they choose to abstain in their quest of a more pure life. They might even consider the things on their list to be sin. They retreat from the culture in which God calls them to minister. They create isolated sub-cultures hiding their light under a basket when it ought to be on a lampstand shining God’s truth out to the lost world. Such people live with a crippling fear that they might enjoy something.

Wrongly satisfying our normal urges come from our fallen souls. It does not come from our natural needs themselves, or from the good things God made. Avoiding enjoyment will not keep you from lusting or coveting. Denying basic human desires denies what God made humans to be.

Avoiding the pleasures of God’s creation is no answer. There is no victory when the armies run from the battle. That is only giving in to another kind of temptation, the kind that is quick to condemn everyone else, and lay blame upon innocent things God has made. It excuses the person for neglecting his duties as God’s representative on earth.

We are to bring the Gospel of Redemption in Christ to those around us while we enjoy and work to subdue the earth and its inhabitants for God’s glory. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.”

The other extreme, quite the opposite of the ascetic, finds ways to embrace things God calls sin. Evil can brilliantly use of the minds God created in us to come up with irrational alternatives to the obvious.

Some openly reject God’s moral commandments respectfully dismissing them imagining that they no longer apply. Placing an expiration date on eternal moral principles is the strange logic used in many churches today. It appeals to the immature Christian if you tell him he doesn’t need to worry about obedience since he is “saved,” and that he can safely ignore what God revealed about himself before the time of Jesus Christ.

Some try to down-play the seriousness of sin. Like the serpent in Eden, they offer lies like, “God is all loving. He understands how hard it is for us, so he is not very upset about our sins.” Or they say, “God will not judge us just for trying to satisfy our natural desires, even if we do not always satisfy them in exactly the right way.” They reason that, “Everybody sins, certainly our common sins cannot make us as evil as real criminals.”

That is exactly the opposite of what God tells us in his word. Any sin demands an infinitely horrible price. It was so serious that Jesus had to die and to suffer that infinite disgrace to redeem us. Jesus wept when he saw the unfaithful hearts of those who said they were God’s people.

Then there are the open Hedonists who meet temptation with open arms. They indulge themselves with things God forbids and neglect what he commands. Usually these do not join with Bible believing churches so their threat is more to society than to believers.

This is the subtlety and deception of sin. It draws people either to despise the way God gave us to satisfy our needs the right way, or to despise God’s revealed ways so that sin can be freely embraced. Neither those who abstain from good things, nor those who indulge in forbidden things are ever truly satisfied.

There is a far better way.

Bible is filled with God’s help about
how you should deal with temptation.

Ephesians 6:14-18 tells about our spiritual armor in the battle against the enemies of God. It says, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

Before you can expect to overcome temptation, you need to be enabled by regeneration. The unredeemed only frustrate themselves because they cannot be victorious on their own.

To protect against the attacks of evil you need to have on that breastplate of righteousness. That is the righteousness Jesus earned for you by dying in your place. His work provides the helmet of salvation that protects your head, that vital part of your body, against attacks. If your sins are forgiven in Christ, there is no barrier between you and God’s care. The power to battle temptation rises to a new level in you.

Your weaponry in the battle against temptation is God’s word. The soldier’s belt holds his tunic in place, and holds the sheath for his sword. In our battle against temptation, that belt, the anchoring point, is God’s revealed truth. Truth is given to us in the Bible, the sword of the Spirit.

Jesus constantly quoted the Bible in his temptation in the wilderness. In Matthew 4:4 he did not allow Satan’s lie to stand. He corrected him from the Scriptures. He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Jesus was quoting from Moses in Deuteronomy 8:3. The manna God sent for Israel in the wilderness was not what really sustained them. It was God’s faithfulness to provide what they truly needed. He gave them his word of promise, his Covenant. His power is what made the manna fall. God promised and provided all they needed.

The Bible is a powerful weapon against evil and temptation. It teaches the right ways to satisfy our natural needs, the ways God designed, the ways that really work. Living outside the boundaries of what God approves will only stir up less satisfaction. We need to draw that sword of the Spirit and battle off temptation with the weapon of real truth. Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.”

God’s word does more than just inform us about sin. It is a living word that actually keeps us from falling into sin. It is there to protect us from the enemy’s weapons that tempt us. We need to deploy the shield of faith, trust in the revealed words of God. Temptation can only be battled successfully by the power of the Holy Spirit. By trusting in that power we have a power that no worldly counselor can offer as help in guiding us to overcome what tempts us. In Matthew 26:41 Jesus said, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Call upon the Creator Himself for strength and guidance. This is why the last spiritual weapon in Ephesians 6 is prayer. Psalm 139 is a good model prayer to offer sincerely as each day begins. It says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”

When temptation comes along, we need to draw alongside the cross. Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. When he ministers to us by his Spirit, his living word takes on all enemies and defeats them.

When Ephesians 6 tells the spiritual soldier to sandal his feet with the gospel of peace, it means to be ready to go to others to represent God’s ways to them too. Together we can battle against temptation by practicing and promoting God’s ways.

Therefore, when you pray, “lead us not into temptation”, remember what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Transformed Minds

Lesson 45: Romans 12:1-2

Transformed Minds

by Bob Burridge ©2012

In my earliest days of school I had little interest in Math, English, History, or Geography. Even mediocre grades on my report cards failed to stir me to put in more time on them. I worked enough to pass tests and move on to the next grade. I didn’t want those subjects to take time away from my true love which was Science. I read avidly about electricity, chemistry, astronomy, biology and other fields of that subject because I had a driving fascination to understand how things worked. I took things apart rendering them never to go together again. I wanted to know what was inside. I dismantled radios, TV sets, door bells and a few unfortunate insects.

No one made me do all that. There were no threats of tests of punishments if I didn’t pursue my curiosity. I spent that time and effort because of my amazement that such things existed and worked as they did. It wasn’t until later in life when I began to appreciate the benefits of Math, History and English that my overall school performance came to match my grasp of science.

Most teachers will tell you that an inner motive will always make a better student than external threats and pressures. When I was a teacher I tried to keep that in mind. I tried to present my classes with problems that would intrigue them rather than to just schedule deadlines, or threaten them with bad grades. Of course, not every student became motivated so easily. But those who did learned a lot more than what was in the text books. They even seemed to love doing it.

God constituted us humans to be motivated by inner desires in our relationship with our Creator. In our fallen estate, even though redeemed, our motives are imperfect. It is often the fear of immediate personal consequences that keeps us paying attention to what is right, and striving to put it into practice.

In moments of terror we may be motivated to cry out for mercy and divine help. The stark reality of the eternal consequences of our foolish actions and evil thoughts should certainly motivate us to desire a way of escape from the fires of hell. That kind of motive is part of why we to turn to the Savior for forgiveness, but we need a deeper cause in our hearts to hold our devotion every day, during the ordinary times that dominate our lives. We have such a motive, one that is greater than the threats of immediate discomforts or the deserved fires of a future hell.

As Paul begins the second half of the book of Romans, he turns to how we ought to live. The first 11 chapters build the groundwork for the greatest stimulus to godliness there is.

Paul begins chapter 12 by laying out
the right motive for godly living.

Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

All Paul had said before this should stir the Christian to do what is right. In chapters 1-11 he outlined the doctrines of grace. There he showed that God is sovereign over all things, and is perfectly holy. He explained the work of Christ in redeeming some lost humans from their sin. This was an amazing act of mercy. No one deserved anything but condemnation to eternal punishment, but God had chosen some to be vessels of mercy. For them he came as Savior to redeem them. He obeyed in their place, and met the demands of justice in their place.

Their salvation was not because of works they had done, motives that were pure, or because of things that were foreseen that they would do. It was by God’s grace alone. He loved them as his own before the foundation of the world, before they had done anything good or bad.

This grace of God is our strong incentive to be living for him. This is the “therefore” of the first verse in chapter 12. Since God’s mercies are as described in these first 11 chapters, therefore the Apostles urges the Romans to live in a certain holy way.

This is far different than the best motives imagined by the world’s false religions. Fallen heart tends to think we will obey better if we think we need to earn forgiveness, but God’s message is the opposite. We will obey better if we realize that we deserve wrath, but receive mercy instead. Gratitude, not merit, is the gospel motive for obedience.

The Heidelberg Catechism gives three things we need to appreciate to be happy in life and death.
1. “the greatness of my sin and misery” – by that we realize how much we owe to our Savior.
2. “how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery” – this work of grace redeems the undeserving through the sufferings and death of Christ.
3. “how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption” – we ought to be thankful for this amazing grace.

When we only obey out of fear of the consequences, we obey to the minimum. As long as we can avoid bad results, we will do as little as possible. If we study in school only to avoid a failing grade we will lean only enough to get by. But when we study because we are excited to find out interesting things, we will learn all we can.

A child motivated to avoid spankings or other punishments will learn to keep from getting caught. When he does wrong he will lie or deceive mom and dad. When he learns to drive he will keep a closer eye on where the police may be, than he does on the speedometer. When he goes into business he will say what ever he needs to advance himself.

A child develops a different attitude when motivated by a genuine love for his parents. This child sees their deep care and faithful tenderness, rather than just the punishments. He pays attention to the sacrifices made for him and the pain his rebellion causes them. A child like this behaves out of gratitude and devotion, rather than by coercion.

As children of God, we will best stir our hearts to overcome sin and temptation when we occupy our minds with the amazing goodness and grace of God.

John Calvin said that iron indeed must be the heart which is not kindled into love towards God by the doctrine which has been laid down. Calvin’s pastoral heart is seen in his application of this verse, “by no precepts, by no sanctions, is a pious mind so framed to render obedience to God, as by a serious meditation on the Divine goodness …”

If we would be more dedicated children of God, we will spend a good amount of time learning about and thinking about our Heavenly Father.

We should present our bodies a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice. He speaks of our bodies here. Christian living is not just a spiritual thing that remains unseen. If it is real it will make our outward physical lives different too. Our whole person, body as well as soul, will become involved in holiness.

Our involvement is called a “sacrifice“. This certainly would have reminded Paul’s original readers of the Old Testament system. There were two kinds of sacrifices in the period before the Cross.

1. Some sacrifices were to show how God would send Messiah to make atonement for sin. They involved the killing of animals, the shedding of their blood, showing that sin required death, and that a coming Savior would be the Lamb of God. The Temple sacrifices did not actually remove sin. They provided an act by which the believers showed their faith that God’s provision would satisfy their guild for them. When Jesus satisfied for sin, no more sacrifices would be acceptable to God.

This cannot be what Paul was referring to here. To imagine the somehow our bodies, our lives, atone for sin by some personal suffering or sacrifice would be to deny the work of Jesus Christ.

2. But there was another kind of Old Testament sacrifice that exactly fits what Paul meant here. Those sacrifices were to show a believer’s gratitude for God’s mercies to him. These various meal offerings and thank offerings were a response of the redeemed heart. Since we are redeemed from the spiritual death of sin, we must be living sacrifices showing our thankfulness to God for his mercies.

Hebrews 13:15-16 repeats how as a sacrifice of thanks we give praise to God continually, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

This is how we show thankfulness to God in our bodies. By speaking to God our gratitude, and by doing good to represent him on earth.

We are to be a “living” sacrifice, that is a sacrifice that continues and grows as our we give our daily energies to serving our Lord. Earlier in Romans 6:13 Paul had already explained this, “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Peter said about the same thing in 1 Peter 2:5 , “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Our Lord gives us life to enable us to live obediently within his covenant. In Christ we show our gratitude by learning to walk daily in newness of life.

We are to be a “holy” sacrifice. The basic idea of the word holy is to be consecrated to God, marked out for him. We now live as those who gladly belong to him. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

We are to be an “acceptable” sacrifice. Our living must be well pleasing to God, according to his standards. Paul explained about this quality of our lives as we live for him, by living like him. In Ephesians 5:1-2 he wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

This obedience is our “reasonable service“. The word for “reasonable” here is logikae (λογικη) from which we get our English word, “logic”. It is rational or reasonable service to show the involvement of our souls, our hearts and minds, along with our bodies. This is the idea. We serve God as whole persons, willingly and thankfully. Some translate this as “spiritual service” in that it involves not just outward acts, but the devotion of our hearts.

This is a “service“. This is a word use specially of the act of worship to God, latreia (λατρεια). Our living for God is a humble response to his mercies, a devoted praise, worship, for his goodness to us.

In the days of the Early Reformers there were some wanting to update the worship of God just as there are today. They introduced methods not revealed in God’s word as proper worship acts which are pleasing to him. John Calvin’s words are exactly fitting in warning the modern churches of today. He explained it this way, It is “… as though he had said, ‘Offer yourselves a sacrifice to God, if ye have it in your heart to serve God: for this is the right way of serving God; from which, if any depart, they are but false worshipers.’ ” This was the Genevan reformer’s theme to his congregation.

Calvin went on to say, “If then only God is rightly worshiped when we observe all things according to what he has prescribed, away then with all those devised modes of worship, which he justly abominates, since he values obedience more than sacrifice. Men are indeed pleased with their own inventions, which have an empty show of wisdom, as Paul says in another place; but we learn here what the celestial Judge declares in opposition to this by the mouth of Paul; for by calling that a reasonable service which he commands, he repudiates as foolish, insipid, and presumptuous, whatever we attempt beyond the rule of his word.”

The second thing must follow.
Our lives must be different as Christians.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

We must not be conformed to this world. By “the world” Paul means here the attitudes and values of fallen mankind. Society’s morals and beliefs about God are not compatible with the true Christian’s heart. 1 John 2:17, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

Of course this does not mean that we must be cultural misfits. He is not telling us to speak with 17th century English, or to wear 1st century robes and sandals. He is not asking us to repudiate computers, wrinkle free fabrics, or automobiles. Nor is he asking us to refuse to be aware of modern literature, or to avoid taking a stand on political issues. We are not to act like space aliens who have no point of contact with the world in which we are called to live.

Quite the contrary we are to be effective communicators to this world. We are to live in it boldly trying to bring our part of it under his lordship. But we are to do it without compromising one point of God’s word and ways.

Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The change is a fundamental one. It is permanent and real, not just adding new ideas to the corrupted ones. When a person is redeemed by God’s grace his heart is changed. He is spiritually born again. The regenerated mind is then set in motion. If it is really alive it will grow. This is the duty part that is the evidence that the change in us is not just religious zeal. It shows that the Holy Spirit has quickened what was dead.

There is a purpose in this transformation of our minds. It is to prove the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. The proof here is not some logical argument to convince a doubter. It is a term that means to demonstrate the truth and rightness of something. If we claim that the gospel changes lives, but there is no change in us, then we live a lie. If we are transformed, we demonstrate God’s plan, his will in action.

The same word is used in another place where it is often translated differently. In Ephesians 5 we are told to walk as children of light (5:8). Then in verse 10 the NASB says, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” The NKJV translates it, “finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” The KJV translates it as “proving what is acceptable unto the LORD”

The word translated as “trying to learn” or “finding out” is dokimazo(δοκιμαζω), just as it is here in Romans 12:2. It means to demonstrate as true what God reveals in his word as acceptable to him. The old King James comes closest to this meaning with its use of the English word, “prove”. We are to present the evidence, the data God reveals, as pleasing to him. We are to demonstrate the truth of it in our lives.

Transformed lives must show what is the good, acceptable, and perfect way that is pleasing to God. It is the way of confession: that we are lost sinners without hope except as we are redeemed by Christ. It is the way of profession: that the work of Jesus accomplished all that is needed to make us right with God. It is the way of obedience: that the transformation he performs in us makes us alive and drives us to holy living.

Holy living emerges from the heart transformed by the work of God’s grace. Right Christianity must include right living. Theology is not good if it does not move us to please God in our hearts and lives.

Our primary purpose in being created and redeemed is not simply to be accurate. Even Satan likely knows the facts about God and his creation better than any of us. Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This has to do with our attitudes, our thoughts, our motives, our values, our actions and words.

In the next chapters of Romans Paul lays out God’s standards for what a godly life is like. He writes about our unity as a church family, our life as citizens in a nation, living by love, dealing with those who differ with us, dealing with questionable social practices, and counseling one another in discouraging times.

If by sovereign grace the Holy God has saved us unworthy fallen sinners, then we must live in obedience moved by gratitude that flows from a changed heart. The way we accomplish this is to learn to appreciate the mercies of God and the grace that saved us. We are to respond with gratitude that shows the reality of that work in our hearts. We must live as those belonging to him by grace. Gratitude for God’s mercy is the most perfect and wonderful motive for a person’s life.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Forgive Us Our Debts

Forgive Us Our Debts

by Bob Burridge ©2012
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 105
(watch the video)

One of the hard lessons we have to learn as children is to know when it is right and good to forgive people who do hurtful things. It does not get much easier when we get older. We have a sense that bad things should not be ignored. There should be consequences. On the other hand we know that there are times when we have to end our grudges and anger. It is often not easy for us to do it.

God created us and this world in which we live to show a balance between Justice and Mercy. When we forgive someone, that act of mercy should never violate the principle of justice.

God is the perfect balance of justice and mercy. He both punishes and forgives. Since we were created in God’s image, we need to balance these things too. But God’s image in us is distorted and confused because of our fallen nature. We inherited corrupted souls from Adam. To complicate that, we grow up in a sea of fallen humanity that has distorted views and values. Fear or personal guilt can make it hard to hold others responsible for the harm they cause. Selfish cruelty can make people want others to suffer beyond what they deserve.

Distorted ideas about Justice can make people unmerciful. Justice can become a word used to justify a vengeful love for cruelty. It can make you refuse to forgive in situations where you should forgive.

Mercy can be distorted too. It can be twisted to where it promotes injustice. A twisted view of mercy might let criminals go free to hurt others. It can enable the wicked to continue doing evil without consequences. It can make you forgive where you have no right to do so.

Because of these imperfections we are sometimes conflicted inwardly about what to do. When people hurt us we want justice to be done, but we also know we need to show mercy. We pray for God’s mercy even though we know we are not innocent. Justice demands that our sins and guilt should be punished forever, yet God promises to forgive some, and to make them his dearly loved children.

Both Justice and Mercy are good things. Since God is both just and merciful, they can’t truly be in conflict with one another.

We need to get rid of the distortions and bring these two qualities together. We need to understand about God’s forgiveness to us, and about when we ought to forgive others.

Jesus taught us to pray about forgiveness
in the model we call the Lord’s Prayer.

In Matthew 6:12 Jesus said, “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” In Luke 11:4 Jesus put it this way, “And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. …”

After the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 Jesus immediately expanded on that point. He said in verses 14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” the NASB has “transgressions” instead of “trespasses.”

Together, these verses help us understand what we should mean when we pray for forgiveness.

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 105 is, “In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.”

First, we need to understand what
things are being forgiven.

There are three different words used in translating these verses in our English versions of the Bible: “debt”, “sins”, and “trespasses”. They all clearly refer to the same basic thing, but each brings unique meanings to the situation. They are offenses that become barriers to our fellowship with God or with others.

The word “debt” in Matthew 6:12 is a translation of the Greek word opheilaema (ὀφείλημα). This is the usual word used for a debt, owing something to somebody. You are a debtor to God because you have disobeyed your moral obligations to him. Your sin obligates you to its penalty, an infinite debt you can never pay off on your own. People become debtors to others when they mistreat them, or owe them something. They are obligated to make things right if they borrow, hurt, inconvenience, or harm someone.

The word “sin” in Luke 11:4 is the Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία). It comes from an ancient Greek root meaning “to miss what you aim at.” It came to be the usual word for sin. It was used pretty much the way we use the word sin today. We sin against God when we miss the target of what he tells us is right and good. Sin is when we do things we should not do, or when we neglect doing what we should do.

The word “trespasses” in Matthew 6:14-15 is the Greek word paraptoma (παράπτωμα). It means taking a wrong step, going where you should not go. A transgression of God’s law is when you do what he forbids or neglect what he commands. People trespass against us when they do bad things against us. They violate our safety, take what belongs to us, lie about us, cheat us, break agreements, show disrespect, or violate our trust.

These three words have a common theme and share the same basic meaning. They are violations of an obligation to someone. They create a barrier of offense. These are the kinds of things Jesus says should be forgiven by us toward others.

But what does it mean to forgive these things?

The true forgiveness Jesus was talking about is a mercy that respects the demands of justice. When we pray “forgive us our debts …” we are asking for God’s mercy to settle what we owe.

First we need to understand what needs to be forgiven. There is a deep offense that separates us from God. It is the infinite and impenetrable barrier of guilt from sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.”

This moral debt we owe is far greater than most people realize. Sin has real consequences. As sinners we all fall short of what God expects of us. We inherit Adam’s fallen nature and guilt, and we add to that by our own sins. This guilt condemns us to spiritual death. That means total separation from God’s fellowship for all eternity. It is a debt we all owe as members of the fallen human race.

God’s mercy had to deal with the demands of Justice. Jesus was the promised Messiah. He came to redeem his people from their debt. In his perfect life, and in his death and resurrection, he represented all those given to him by the Father. He paid their debt by dying in their place satisfying all the demands of God’s justice. He removed the offense that separated them from their holy Creator.

To simply forgive us by overlooking our sins would contradict part of God’s own nature. Divine justice demands that our moral debt against God must be paid, not just set aside. So Jesus paid the debt.

Those who put their hope in Christ, and renounce any other imagined way to innocence, show evidence that their debt is paid in full. The barrier of offense is removed, and their fellowship with God is restored. The life produced by that work in them changes their attitudes and moral values. It convicts them of sin, stirs them to sincerely repent, enables them to trust in the gospel promise, and starts them growing in their desire to obey God’s moral principles.

Forgiveness is not just forgetting about sins, it is about dealing with them. We are forgiven when the sin and guilt is washed away in Christ. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So, God does not forgive us just as an act of kindness by overlooking our debt of sin. He pays for our sins with the awesome price of his own suffering in our place. Only the perfectly holy and Sovereign God could make that kind of substitution. It was not just a kind thing to do as an example to us. It was necessary if we were to be redeemed without violating divine justice.

Jesus said in Matthew 26:28, “for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

God’s mercy never ignores or violates the demands of justice. It satisfies those demands.

In a similar way, we should forgive one another.

First we need to clear up a common error. Some misread what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. He did not say, “… forgive us our debts because we forgive others.” He said, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive others.” That is, “in the same way”

God is not waiting for us to forgive others before he forgives us. We are not the cause of God’s mercy. His love that sent our Savior to the cross is why we are forgiven. It is not because of what we do.

Those forgiven ought to be forgiving people. There is a way in which we forgive that is a model of what God does for us. That is exactly what Paul taught when he wrote to the churches. in Colossians 3:13 he said, “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” In Ephesians 4:32 to 5:1 Paul wrote, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.”

There should be forgiveness that emerges in those who are forgiven. They are changed people. But how can we satisfy justice for someone else so that we can be merciful? Obviously we cannot do what only the Savior could do. We are not able to be substitutes paying the judicial debt of others.

However, there is another sense in which the word forgiveness is used in Scripture. What Jesus did for us provided for a “judicial forgiveness”. Beyond that, and upon the basis of that, God treats us as his own children. This is “personal forgiveness”.

The Judicial kind of forgiveness is about our legal standing before the law. A person is forgiven legally for a crime when the penalty is paid or when he is pardoned. That removes the legal penalty the person deserved.

The Personal kind of forgiveness has to do with our attitude toward another person. It removes the grudge we might hold against an offender. We do not have the right personally to declare the person innocent before the law, but we can treat the person with kindness and forgive the offense we feel against us.

Forgiving someone cannot mean that you declare them innocent of what they did. If someone murders, God’s justice demands they pay the penalty required by civil law. We have no right to forgive them and set them free. That would not be mercy, it would be a horrible injustice. If someone steals, God requires that they make full restitution to the victim. We have no right to forgive them from meeting the demands of God’s law. Again, that would not be mercy, it would be injustice.

But, there is another part of forgiveness in Scripture. Once we are reconciled to God by the death of Christ, he treats us as his family. We cannot remove an offender’s guilt, but we can treat him with kindness and compassion.

As redeemed people we are told to show the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 lists these characteristics, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

The first of these qualities is love. It does not only apply to those who treat us well. Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

We are not to ignore what God demands. The State ought to execute convicted murderers, force criminals to pay their debts, and use deadly force when necessary to defend our safety, liberty, and land. The church is told to bar the unrepentant and contentious from the sacraments. It is not mercy to neglect these things, it is injustice. We are not to punish the guilty with a sense of personal vengeance or anger. We should treat all life with respect, though with contempt that a life created to declare God’s glory has been used immorally.

Only those properly authorized by God’s word can carry out his justice here on earth. As individuals, we have a different attitude than the world’s. When it is not criminal, but a personal offense, we should show the fruit of the Holy Spirit toward the offender.

We forgive others because we are forgiven. The renewed heart should want to forgive others. If we are sons of God, we should be becoming more like our Father. If we are regenerated this is one of the changes that should be growing in us.

When you personally forgive it means you do not hold a grudge against others. You treat them with understanding and mercy. They, like you, are merely sinners. If a person is redeemed, it is by God’s grace alone. When the work of grace is applied to us, our hearts are changed. One thing implanted in that renewed heart is that sense of forgiveness. Changed hearts should be learning to forgive others as Christ forgives them.

The true state of the heart is
betrayed by its ability to forgive or not.

Just as forgiveness emerges from a redeemed heart, persisting unforgiveness warns of an unregenerated one. To be able to fulfill your duty in forgiving others, you need to be sure that God has forgiven you for your sin and guilt. God’s law shows us that when there are tensions between people, even if someone has done something directly against you, you are obligated as a Christian to demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Let the civil authorities deal with crimes. On the personal side, show compassion for fellow sinners in need of Christ.

Exodus 23:4-5 gives an application to a particular case, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What God tells us to do teaches us about what God is and does. God forgives, and we should forgive others too. We have a responsibility to treat everyone kindly, patiently, humbly, gently, and meekly.

I saw a moving example on television several years ago. A mother was testifying in court in a sentencing hearing. A man who showed no remorse had been convicted of brutally murdering her child. She said that as a Christian she must, and did, forgive him. But then she pleaded for the court to hand out the maximum sentence for the sake of justice, and to protect others from the unremorseful criminal. Though not a theologian, she had an amazingly good grasp of this biblical principle.

This is not something that can be found or conjured up in an unredeemed heart. God redeemed you to be different. You’re to be a light in the world, not just someone who talks about light. But shining is not easy. This is why you should pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

When you pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer you are calling upon God in Christ to wash away your sins and keep your heart pure in its renewed estate. You are begging for the innocence Christ provided by grace alone. You are confessing that you have no other claim to innocence, but that he paid your debt. And you are asking for help in forgiving those who are debtors to you. You cannot do it on your own, but in Christ you can. As Paul said for our benefit in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Never let hatred and unforgiveness eat away at your heart and add pain to others. Attack the poisonous grudges that go beyond what justice demands, and stir up more hatred. Make the places where you live good places for others to be. Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

A Most Wonderful God

Lesson 44: Romans 11:33-36

A Most Wonderful God

by Bob Burridge ©2012

The most skilled Bible teachers, Theological Professors, and Pastors from the English speaking world, gathered at Westminster in the mid 1600’s. Their job was to examine Scripture to test every doctrine believed by the church. It came time to write their definition of God for the catechism they were preparing. Having already examined the facts of Scripture, it was time to find the right words to express such an awesome reality. So first they turned to seek direction from God in prayer. The assembly asked the youngest delegate to lead them. This would have been the Scottish Pastor George Gillespie of Edinburgh. It is said that in his prayer he addressed the Lord as, “God who is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” His words became the definition they had been seeking for Shorter Catechism Question 4.

The matter of God’s infinite nature is obviously more than just complex. It is absolutely beyond our full comprehension. However, God has made himself known in ways we can be made able to understand. He reveals himself in creation, in his acts of providence, in man’s moral conscience, and most clearly in his word.

The nature of God is the most fundamental truth in all the Universe. It is to be studied, and the results made known to others. Paul and the other writers of Scripture make no attempt to avoid the issue. Though humbled by the problem, they sought to express God’s nature in careful terms. They were directed by the Holy Spirit to say a great deal about the matter without error.

To know God’s nature better, is to know your Creator, Lord, and Redemption better. It is to appreciate more completely the hope of salvation and the way of sanctification. It is to help us develop right attitudes and behaviors toward the things we face in life every day.

This is a hard subject. Not that it is hard to know what God says, but it is admittedly hard to comprehend it all. Paul summarizes the glories of God in a most poetic but absolutely fact filled passage. Romans 11:33-36 is a response of praise at the end of the first eleven doctrinal chapters of the book.

First, the Apostle is overwhelmed by the depth of the wonders of God.

Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”

Here Paul exclaims about the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge. Translators are somewhat divided about how Paul expressed himself here. Either he is amazed at the depth of the riches which come from God’s wisdom and knowledge, or he is amazed and the depths of God’s riches, wisdom and mercy. It is a technical issue not really differing much in substance. There is no question about what he meant. Either way we translate it, it means that the nature of God is amazingly deep!

I remember when I loved to dig holes. Specially when I was a pre-schooler. I had a good sized area behind the house, on the side of our porch that was my play area. I had a swing set there so the ground was pretty well trampled down to the bare dirt. We lived in an upper story flat. It belonged to my grandfather who loved to fix up the yard and keep a nice garden. He took it very seriously. Once he ordered a truck load of soil and had it dumped in the corner of my play area. It was out of the way, and out of sight, so he could leave it there until he was ready to use it. But when I saw it I was thrilled! “A dirt pile!” He had a grandfather’s heart toward me though, so he gave me permission to dig in it, and in time he abandoned the pile to me, and ordered more soil for his garden.

I’d spend hours out there, sometimes with my friends, just digging and hauling the dirt around in my little toy trucks. I remember my mom saying that someday I’d dig all the way to China. I took her literally and suspected that if I dug deep enough I’d break through into some exotic underground city of Chinese people. I never did. But a few times I got so deep that I could stand down in the hole waist deep. I always thought it was amazing to see guys along the roads digging so deep they were in over their heads. I never quite made it that far, but I kept trying. That’s the image I always picture when I think of things being deep. I kept shoveling out dirt, but somehow China was always a long way off.

When we talk about deep things about God it’s even more of a dig than reaching China [which now I understand is a little under 8,000 miles down, and through some pretty rough and hot digging.] This verse tells us that God’s wisdom and knowledge, and the richness of all his glories, are deep beyond our comprehension. Generally, wisdom is more the right use of information, and knowledge is the information itself. Both are unbounded in God. He knows everything about all things, all the time.

Since his wisdom knows no limits we say it is infinite. Infinity is a mathematical concept invented to help solve some otherwise impossible problems. If you had a line that started right in front of you and it extended out infinitely, you could cut a piece off the end of that line, and it would still extend into infinity. You could cut a mile off of it, and it would still reach out forever. You could cut off the whole distance through the earth to China, and it would still go on infinitely. In fact you could cut off billions of light-years, and it would still go on infinitely!

God does not only know all the facts we can name about the whole universe and its history. He knows about an infinite number of things which we don’t even know about. If we studied all our life times about the things God has made known, about the things we can see, or measure, still his knowledge is infinitely greater. All the wisdom of the ages is but a small piece on the near end of the line of God’s infinite wisdom. All the riches of God that we can name are but infinitesimal, compared with his vast treasures.

When I was growing up in that upstairs flat in Buffalo, we had a big family Bible laying out on the coffee table in the living room. One of the verses I found there always fascinated me. It was Psalm 139:6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” (KJV)

There are many other verses that express the same thought. Psalm 139:17 says, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” This is a central fact of Scripture.

Then Romans 11:33 tells us that God’s judgments are unsearchable. His judgments include his rule over all things, his decrees and the purposes behind them. They include providence by which God directs all things to work together for his own glory. All these things are beyond what we can search out and discover.

Today, when we want to find out about something we use the internet. There are search engines which are web sites with programs that search through the millions of web pages to find what we want to know. They make encyclopedias and almanacs seem as archaic as horse drawn buggies. There is so much information available that if you aren’t precise about what you are asking for, you might end up with an unworkable pile of information.

For example, when I asked what is the diameter of the earth it listed 101,387,038 web sites all of which dealt with the subject in some way. Because of the way I asked, my answer in kilometers and miles was at the top of the list. But overwhelming results like that are nothing compared with all the judgments of God through which we might hope to search.

God’s ways are unfathomable. The verse here in Romans says “… His ways past finding out!” Literally the reference is to the impossibility of following a trail, or footprints. All that God is pleased to do, all the things that promote his glory, are impossible to trace out. The reasons behind them are vastly beyond our ability to follow along, or to grasp fully. Our finite minds can much less hold all the majestic truths about God than juice glass can hold all the oceans.

Next, the Apostle shows how far short
of these glories every creature falls.

Romans 11:34, “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?”

His question makes it clear that the answer is, “no one”. No creature knows the mind of God. Since God’s understanding is infinite, his mind will always be beyond us.

On the one hand we are finite creatures. The infinite is always beyond our comprehension. Our brains are of limited size and capacity. We can only process the information we know in limited ways.

On the other hand we are fallen beings. Sin has effected every human mind. Even if we are born again in Christ, we never overcome all moral corruption in this life. What we see in nature, and even what we read in the Bible, is imperfectly understood. Our outlook is hindered by self-interest and neglect of God’s holy glory.

Sin prejudices our minds against God’s awesome revelations. Its the ultimate foolishness to think we can improve upon what the Bible says by adding our own conjectures and theories.

This Book of Romans deals with such profound truths as: depravity, election, saving grace, reprobation — deep truths! These are ideas which go against our own fallen intuition.

False religion tries to dream up theories which attempt to explain away God’s Sovereignty and make the infinite seem more graspable to us mere creatures. Romanism, Fatalism, Pelegianism, Arminianism, Amyrauldianism, and so many others all begin by presuming to know enough to be able to reconcile hard truths with humanly imagined models. The Reformed approach is to let the facts revealed in the Bible stand on their own, and to resist elevating our theories to the level of doctrine.

The Canons of Dort wisely warn us (in Head 1, Article 14), “As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God … is clearly revealed in the Scriptures … so it is still to be published in due time and place in the Church of God … provided it be done with reverence, in the spirit of discretion and piety, for the glory of Gods most holy Name, and for enlivening and comforting His people, without vainly attempting to investigate the secret ways of the Most High.”

It hurts needy souls and feeds heresies when we pervert the character of God to make him seem more controllable or limited by the imaginations of man.

No creature can be God’s counselor. How dangerous and foolish to think that God listens to us in deciding how his universe will unfold and bring him glory. God is independent. He needs no supervision or direction by his creatures.

The arrogant small mind of fallen man often thinks, “If only God would do this my way.” We pray as if we knew better what should happen, as if we would improve things if we could get God to change the course set by him eternally. We need to take the advice of James 4:15 … Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.”

In ancient times, Job dared to challenge God’s treatment of him and his family. Then the Lord asked him if he understood the complexities of the universe. In Job 38:1-5 we read, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?’ ”

The Lord went on, until in chapter 42 Job was humbled and responded in verses 2-3 saying, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

David, in Psalm 131, understood that before God he was but a child in his understanding. There he wrote, “LORD, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever.”

How vain for men to dare to speculate beyond what is revealed. The inability of our own limited minds to explain God to our own satisfaction is no test for truth. Who are we to judge what God has said by a standard invented by fallen creations?

The Apostle Paul himself dared not to speculate yet he had the unparalleled privilege of direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. No human could better have known the flow of thought and intent of the verses of Romans, yet here he humbles his own mind before these incomprehensible realities.

The combined intellectual ability of all men and angels could never come close to the infinite.

No creature can obligate God.

Romans 11:35, “Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?”

No creature can do anything that obligates God to some return or reward. This has been Paul’s message in the first 11 chapters of Romans. Man could never merit election from his justly deserved damnation. He cannot earn his calling to sonship, his justification from sin, or secure his sanctification in holiness. The Creator owes nothing to his creatures. All blessing is from divine mercy alone. In Job 41:11 the Lord said, “Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him? Everything under heaven is Mine.”

Next, the Apostle directs us to the foundation for God’s absolute wonder.

Romans 11:36, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

God is the origin of all things, the means by which all things happen, and the goal toward which all things move. Charles Hodge writes, “it is for the display of his character everything exists, and is directed, as the highest and noblest of all possible objects.” Robert Haldane calls this “… the grand truth which lies at the foundation of all religion.” All things are from, through, and to God.

The Apostle ends this chapter by exclaiming the glory of God. Glory is his “weighty majesty”, the display of which is the ultimate purpose of all Creation.

Philosophers put man’s happiness as the greatest human good. In contrast, the Bible reveals to us that the greatest good is to proclaim God’s glory. This is why our own self-glory is so wicked and immoral. It takes from the Creator the honor toward which he designed all things. To steal God’s glory is the most horrible theft in all the universe.

The Shorter Catechism begins by teaching us that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

No enjoyment or happiness can ever be independent of first bringing glory to God. And God cannot be duly glorified, that it does not bring us the greatest happiness in being part of proclaiming that glory. All attempts at happiness that do not begin with directing glory to God produce only an imitation of happiness to the hurt and deception of the soul.

Paul tells us that God’s glory is forever. Even in eternity we will never be able to understand the infinite mind of God. Our wisdom will never equal his counsel. In heaven we will certainly learn more than we can possibly now imagine. However, we will be made able to grasp an immense piece of God’s infinitude. God’s wisdom and knowledge will always extend out beyond us forever. Therefore we will always be learning, always be growing, always improving. We will never exhaust the inexhaustible.

Paul concludes with an “Amen”. The Greek word Paul uses is amaen (αμην), which comes from the Hebrew word ahmaen (אמן). That root word means to affirm or to support something as true. Here Paul adds this word to affirm all he has said, to exclaim the wonders he beholds in God as he really is. It is the truth. When we say “amen” it means we solemnly declare that we are in humble agreement with what was said, that it is true as seen by the mind of God as revealed to us.

This high view of God is the groundwork upon which every belief and conviction must stand. This most awesome truth is also the most comforting of facts. As those redeemed by Grace, on the basis of the work of Christ, through a faith implanted into our hearts, we ought to honor God who is able to make us triumph regardless of our inabilities and in spite of all our fears.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Our Daily Bread

Our Daily Bread

by Bob Burridge ©2012
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 104)
(watch the video)

As humans we have three most basic survival cravings.
We need oxygen, water, and food.

The most powerful is our craving for Oxygen. When it is cut off we start gasping and struggling for air. We can only last a few minutes without it. After that the brain cells and other body parts stop functioning, and will not be able to recover.

The next strongest survival craving is for Water. It makes up about 62% of the body’s mass. It is needed for the chemical processes our bodies perform every minute. Water gets used up in these reactions, and some evaporates. If it is not replaced in time, we dehydrate and die. That is why thirst is such a powerful craving.

The third most important need is Food. Depending upon our health, we can probably go a few days without it. During that time the electrolytes in the body’s system start to run short and we feel weak. After our bodies use up the stored fats, they begin getting nutrients from more vital tissues. Some organs are weakened and shut down. When the body can no longer keep up with the energy demands, it dies from starvation.

When I was in Scouts I liked taking long hikes with friends in the forest-hills of Western New York. We each took a canteen of water, and learned how to get safe water out in the wild. To keep up our energy on long hikes we learned some helpful hints from the native Americans of long ago. My friend Gary and I would make up a batch of Pemmican. It is made from dried meat, rendered fat, and seeds, nuts, or berries depending upon your preferred taste. We wrapped individual servings in waxed paper were it would not spoil for weeks. One Chippewayan Indian guide’s recipe reportedly would last for several years. We were never thirsty or hungry and could explore the woods for days.

God did not just give us cravings. He also gave us a commission to labor for our provisions. He enables us to work for what we have. We also need to remember that without his provision of the basic materials and his care for us, we would have nothing. So Jesus reminded us in his model prayer that we should pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 104 asks, “What do we pray for in the fourth petition?” The answer it gives is, “In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God’s free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.”

When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread”
we ask God to provide for our regular physical needs.

The word bread is not just limited to what we make by baking ground-up grain. The Hebrew word is lekhem (לחם). It is a general word commonly used for “food”. Bread is so basic in our diets that it is often used in that more general way. In the time of Jesus, Greek was the common language. Their word for bread is, artos (αρτος). It was often used the same way. We sometimes call someone who works to support a family the “bread winner.”

In this model prayer, Jesus teaches that we should pray for our basic daily needs. But what about praying for specific kinds of provisions? There is a danger here. We should not become dissatisfied with what God provides to meet our needs. This prayer should not become an expression of covetousness for getting the best, or for expecting luxuries.

When Israel became dissatisfied with manna and asked for better food, it was treated as rebellion against the Lord in Numbers 11:6. We need to ask that our needs will be met. If God blesses you with more, be extra humbly thankful. This is what Proverbs 30:8 teaches. The wise call out saying, “… Give me neither poverty nor riches — Feed me with the food allotted to me;” While it is proper to ask to have our daily needs met, we should never become covetous of what the Lord has not chosen to give us.

This does not mean that luxuries are evil. God in his sovereign pleasure may provide you with abundance and rich material blessings. However, to covet that, and not to be willing to simply have your needs met, is very wrong.

Psalm 62:10 gives advice to those who are blessed with riches. It says, “… If riches increase, Do not set your heart on them.”

This is one of the dangers that have plagued the rich all through history. If you become covetous rather than humbly thankful, you forget that God is the source of every blessing. No one should say grace at meals, then live pridefully as if what you have was deserved aside from God’s care and mercy. That would reveal a horrible hypocrisy in your giving of thanks. No one should expect that he deserves more than others. We should not let our blessings make us look down upon the less fortunate, or to become arrogant.

Pray for your food and daily needs, but enjoy and appreciate whatever the Lord provides. All God gives you beyond your actual needs should be managed responsibly for his glory.

The real issue is the attitude of the heart. Whether you have inferior or superior things, remember that (assuming you have worked faithfully) what is alloted to you is God’s gift to be thankfully received and used well for his glory. Dissatisfaction or pride expose an unthankful and unsubmissive heart. As Job said in
Job 1:21 “… The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Paul reminded Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:8, “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”

Sometimes God might withhold some things we are convinced we need. However, we know that God is all wise and always good. He knows what is best for us to have at each moment, and when it is best to go without.

There are times when there is a good purpose in not having all we think we need. Our duty in those times, is to work hard for our provisions, but to trust that the Lord does what is best for us and for those we love.

By this we learn contentment in God as our Provider. Even in prison Paul could write in Philippians 4:11 “… I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”

Therefore, this is how we should pray for God to provide us with our regular physical needs.

When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread”
we confess that our provisions come only from God.

We should keep in mind that he provides for our needs through ordinary means. Asking God for bread does not mean that we should wait for it to magically appear on our door step. There were a few special provisions in ancient times where God provided supernaturally.

  • God miraculously provided manna and quail in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4 Numbers 11:31)
  • He fed Elijah by sending food by Ravens at Cherith (1 Kings 17:2-6)
  • At Zarephath miraculously increased the flour and oil for Elijah (1 Kings 17:10-16)
  • The Lord increased the widow’s oil to pay her debts (2 Kings 4:1-7)

These were exceptions. Even in biblical days, such special provisions were very rare and unusual events. The prophets and people did not expect their provisions to come that way.

Supernatural provisions were part of God’s special revelation. They took place, like all the physical miracles, at specific times to teach lessons about God. Now that the Scriptures are completed there is no need for special revelation like that.

God ordinarily and regularly provides for his children in natural ways. Even before the fall into sin, God did not give Adam his food by miracles. The Lord created things in nature to be his food. God told Adam to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28), and to cultivate and care for his garden (Genesis 2:15).

God’s diet for us includes: vegetables, fruits, grains, and the milk and meats of various animals. We are to grow the plants and tend to the animals. God calls some of us to other kinds of work to provide for other needs beyond just food. We use what we earn to pay those who produce the food for us.

We are created to work for our daily bread. Work is honorable and good. Sin did not make work necessary, it made work difficult.

We are also commissioned to care for the true needs of others who are not able to work. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

God provides opportunities to work, but he is the one who blesses our efforts. It is good to begin all your work with prayer. Ask God to help you to do your best. Keep this in mind when you pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”

There is a work ethic which God built into the world.

Working to the best of our ability, and for God’s glory, is a moral obligation. It is part of the way things were created so that God’s nature and love are displayed in us to the world.

Everything is God’s. Ownership is the responsibility to personally manage some piece of God’s world he has providetially given to you. There are three particular ways by which we humans get to own things:

  • You own what you earn by legitimate labor, and by the use of your talents.
  • You own what you inherit. What families earn remains theirs from generation to generation.
  • You own what you are given as gifts, or as benevolences in your times of need.

In each case someone worked, or gave what they earned to someone else.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 challenges Christians to practice this work ethic. “that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.”

There’s a sobering warning in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “… If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” This doesn’t say that those who are not able to work should starve. It means that those who refuse to work should not be supported in an irresponsible life-style.

Fallen human hearts held in the chains of sin
will pervert God’s principles.

In that fallen condition people try to get things in other ways than what God provides. Theft and fraud are obvious violations of God’s moral law. If you take something God has entrusted to somebody else, that does not make it yours. It makes you and open rebel against God’s care and wise provision for others.

Another violation of this principle is entitlementism. This is where people feel specially privileged, and believe they should not have to work. Sometimes people who are very wealthy get the idea that work is beneath them. Rather than care for God’s world and work to make it better, they expect others to make the sacrifices of time and energy in their place.

At the other end of the economic scale some of the poor believe others should support them. Many people go through struggles at one time or another. Some want to work but are unable. However, no one should ever become content to be lazy and let others do the work. They should not let support from others rob them of their incentive to work, or take away their God-given drive to be a part of the working world when they are able.

Some try to get more things by gambling. They risk some of the provisions God gave them, hoping to get things they didn’t work for. The word gambling is a little undefined because it could include legitimate investment risks, and the rewards or prizes of innocent recreations. However, it violates biblical ethics when the risks become an expression of coveting things not earned. Tragically some have become a burden to society and to friends because they foolishly risk what God entrusted to them, buying lottery tickets, betting on races, or games of chance, hoping to gain more things without having to earn them by working. In most cases gambling has a greater likelihood of losing what you have, than of getting more. There is a real danger if it is an attempt to gain things in ways God has not set up for gaining ownership.

Lawsuits have become another way people try to get around God’s work ethic. There are times when legal action should be taken to hold people responsible for damage they do. For some it becomes a business, or a way of taking things from others. They sue to get huge financial rewards, sometimes for their own negligence. Frivolous law suits cost society by raising insurance costs and strangling legitimate business.

We’re all familiar with case of the woman who spilled hot coffee in her lap and sued McDonalds for $2million. There is that wrongful death lawsuit of an oil company for simply giving out free tickets to the Great White concert where pyrotechnics caused a deadly fire. The courts should not take money from those who earned it, and give it to those who did not, unless there is real evidence that something criminally irresponsible was done.

Illegitimate ways of getting things cannot make a person the rightful owner of what he gets. They mark him as a thief who takes what is not properly his. A person only become a rightful owner of something by earning it, inheriting it, or by receiving it as a gift.

Prayer is commanded as part of how
you get your regular needs.

God made prayer to be one of the means by which he provides for his people. In Matthew 7:7 Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” Also, here in the Lord’s Prayer we are told to pray for our daily bread.

We pray because we know that we depend upon God for every blessing. We should never forget that, or take what he give us for granted. As Moses warned in Deuteronomy 8:17-18 you should never say in your heart, ” ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

Prayer should be offered with the humble awareness that everything good comes from God. He provides all the opportunities and abilities we have. He makes the food to grow, and makes it available to us.

Every day we need to confess to God in prayer that our provisions come only from him. We ought to show that we are sincere by obeying his rules for managing what he gives us.

  • We should understand the difference between the things we truly need, and the extras he blesses us with.
  • We need to manage as a faithful and responsible child all our Father entrusts to our care.
  • We should not use his blessings for things that displease him.
  • The tithe or our earnings which we bring to the church is never ours to spend. That is God’s budget for his children so that his kingdom on earth can do its work.
  • We need to look for ways to use that 90% that is ours, so that after our basic needs are met we can responsibly help others who might not be able to meet their needs at the moment.

In all things, we need to show our trust and gratitude to the Lord for our daily bread. Our duty is to work to the best of our ability, to pray for God’s blessing upon our labors, and to manage responsibly all our Lord gives us so that it maximizes the Glory of Jesus Christ and advances his Kingdom.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

God’s Olive Tree

Lesson 43: Romans 11:11-32

God’s Olive Tree

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I had a good friend when I was growing up. Gary and I did just about everything together. He was the type who always got the highest grades in the class, but was rather quiet. Gary loved the outdoors, and always said he would grow up to be a forest ranger. The last time I saw him was in 1963 when my family moved from Buffalo to live in Florida. I have no idea what became of him.

One of the many things we did together was to learn how to graft tree branches. He got some books from the library about it which he read carefully, then showed me. With some practice, we learned to carefully shape the cut end of a removed branch so it could be inserted into a notch in a tree, take in nourishment, and grow. I suspect there are still some strange trees with branches that are not natural to them scattered throughout the woods in Western New York.

In vineyard cultures grafting is a normal part of producing a good crop. I talked with a young man from Italy who grew up on a vineyard. He said that some trees have a healthy root system and supply nutrients better than others. So the most healthy and productive branches are cut off from the weaker trees and grafted onto the stronger ones. This would have been much more common in the culture of the New Testament than it is in our modern world. When Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, he used grafting as an illustration to bring together some profound spiritual truths.

The point Paul had been making was that a dramatic change had taken place. The old symbolic worship of Ancient Israel had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As predicted, the Kingdom of God was expanding beyond just the Jews. Included in this expansion, was a judgment upon Ancient Israel for her apostasy and unbelief.

Paul wanted the Jews to understand that this did not mean that God’s plan had failed. This had been his plan from the beginning. God saves all of those he had eternally foreknown, those with whom he had made his promise. God was still saving Jews. Paul was one of them. However, even among the religious the number actually redeemed and kept by grace is small. The rest of humanity is hardened. They receive what we all justly deserve.

God had a greater purpose in the rejection
of Israel than just her judgment.

Romans 11:11-15, “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”

There was a purpose in the spiritual stumbling of Israel that went beyond her fall and impending judgment. It was to stir up apathetic Israel by seeing God’s grace at work in his bringing the Gentiles into the covenant.

God’s grace toward the Gentiles, was used to provoke Israel in two ways. Some responded with anger and persecution. Their hatred of the message of Jesus and the coming in of the Gentiles demonstrated the lostness of hearts not truly redeemed. Though they had been privileged as a nation, they no longer as a whole believed the promises of God’s covenant.

On the other hand, some Jews were provoked to come repentantly in humble faith trusting in the promise of Christ. These elect Jews showed they were among God’s people, foreknown from eternity past.

God had called Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. The judgment of the Jews as a nation gloriously opened the door to the Gentiles. How wonderful that the elect from among the Jews believed in God’s true plan of redemption. It was a testimony to God’s work on their hearts. Judgment is surpassed by the wonder of regenerating grace.

Paul’s ministry was being magnified by this expansion of grace as some Jews were being provoked to believe God’s work of redemption through Jesus Christ.

Paul calls this return of repentant Jews, the “fulness” of Israel. The original word here is plaeroma (πληρωμα). It describes something that had come to its completeness.

Paul had been explaining this since the beginning of chapter 9. Outwardly, Israel had been the physical organization of God’s covenant nation. Scattered among those of the physical Jewish nation were those who made up “spiritual Israel”, God’s elect individuals. He distinguished them from the rest of Israel by using several titles in this section: “the children of promise” — “the remnant” — “the chosen” — “those foreknown.” Israel’s “fulness” is her coming to completeness as these elect Jews are converted to Christ, and those of other nations were brought into the covenant family of God.

To illustrate these ideas, and to bring them together
Paul introduces some examples.

Romans 11:16-24, “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”

First Paul reviews the covenant idea shown in the law of the first fruit. This was introduced in Numbers 15:18-20, “… When you come into the land to which I bring you, then it will be, when you eat of the bread of the land, that you shall offer up a heave offering to the LORD. You shall offer up a cake of the first of your ground meal as a heave offering; as a heave offering of the threshing floor, so shall you offer it up.”

The first dough made from the grain harvest was made into a single cake offered to the Lord. It represented the whole harvest as being consecrated thankfully to God who made it grow. Paul said, “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy.” The holiness of the first piece had nothing to do with innocence from sin. Grain does not sin. Holiness here is “covenantal holiness.” It identifies something as being set aside and consecrated as “special.” That is the meaning of the word “holiness”.

This is the holiness God promised to Israel as his Covenant Nation. It did not mean that all Israelites were made innocent of sin by God’s choosing the Jews. It meant they were set aside as the Lord’s. They were consecrated for a special purpose. They were to show God’s glory to the world. When they sinned, God’s justice was demonstrated. When they were forgiven and protected unworthily, God’s mercy was shown. Within that special nation there were also God’s chosen children, the elect. When they were redeemed it showed God’s election of Grace.

The same is true of the church as God’s covenant people today. The church was established by Jesus and the Apostles as an organization under Elders. Not all belonging to it are true spiritual children of God. Yet the church as a whole is given advantages and duties to perform as God’s chosen people. That is why it is so serious when those in the church live with disregard for the Lord. They specially offend Christ because they bear his name falsely to the world.

Next, Paul gave the illustration of the Olive Tree: It shows the process God uses in perfecting his church. This section has been the subject of many careless interpretations. It effects our view of Israel, the church, the end times, salvation, and many other issues. Many become confused in this section because they fail to see that Paul speaks of two olive trees, and four distinct kinds of branches.

1. There is the good root stock, the healthy root (16), the rich root (17). The healthy tree represents the Outward Covenant Nation of God. They were counted as holy, consecrated by the promise of God’s covenant. They grew up within the advantages of the influence of God’s word and blessing. However, this was not a holiness of moral or judicial innocence. They were not all automatically saved from condemnation for their sins. It was a holiness of duty. They were set aside specially to represent God to the world.

2. The other is the wild olive tree (17), the poor root stock. They are the Gentiles, born and growing up outside the covenant influence. They are not holy because it grew from a root which was wild, not set aside by God’s choice. They had no outward covenantal advantages. The Gentile Roman Christians Paul was writing to were from this tree. They were not natural branches of the Holy Root of God’s people. Their repentance, belief and obedience could only been produced by one thing: God’s grace.

The two different olive trees in this example each had natural branches. From the Good Root came the Jews at that time, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From the Wild Root came the Gentiles, born outside the covenant in paganism

There was a hidden quality not seen in the natural branches. Some branches growing on the Good Tree of Israel were of God’s elect, the rest were not. Even growing on the Wild Tree of the Gentiles, some were God’s elect, the rest were not.

God was cultivating the Holy Root-stock. Two processes were at work to make the good olive tree produce the best crop. These show the two processes God uses to perfect his Church for his greatest glory.

First is the process of God’s judgment. The unbelieving Israelites were being cut off. By rejecting and killing the Messiah, many of the Jews showed that their faith was not real. They were outwardly God’s holy nation, but inwardly remained spiritually dead. John explained this in his First Epistle 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” The unbelieving Israelites were being purged, pruned away as defective branches.

Second is the process of evangelism. Believing Gentiles were being grafted in. Though they were born of the wild tree, some of them were God’s eternally chosen children. When they believed they were grafted into the good olive tree. They became part of God’s covenant people.

These two processes continue today as God cultivates his church. The wild olive tree is the pagan world outside the professing church, just as it was with the nation of Israel back then. The good olive tree of course is no longer limited to Israel. Today it is the church of Jesus Christ. Its natural branches are those born into covenant families. The grafted in branches are those outside the church who join by professing the gospel. By evangelism God is grafting in pagans as they come to believe. By his judgments he is removing false branches from his church.

There is also a warning here for all individuals as branches in the church today. When members show that they are false believers God may remove them.

Some of the natural branches born and raised in the church may not truly be Christ’s. Also, some false Christians are among those grafted in from paganism. They join a church for wrong, selfish reasons. They come thinking that joining the blessed tree would redeem them from sin. They come looking for a way to find peace by self-effort or by the minister’s efforts. Or they come to get social or material benefits from the church. Their fraudulent christianity is exposed by their unwillingness to submit to the ways and true teachings of Christ.

The process of removal is carried out practically in one of two ways.

Some defect on their own by leaving the true church. Israel as a nation became apostate and rejected the Messiah. They walked away from the message God had delivered to them. They established congregations based upon false teachings. Israel as a nation had become what the Bible called a “synagogue of Satan”. The liberal churches today have confused what Messiah is and came to do. Some individuals hear things in church they don’t like, so they leave to find a church that adjusts its message to what is more comfortable to them. They abandon what the Bible teaches to find a place where they hear what they prefer over God’s truth.

Some must be removed from the church by the Elders through church discipline. In Matthew 18:17 Jesus summarized the process explained throughout Scripture. Those who continue in disobedience to Christ, and who will not submit to the church, are to be removed from membership and barred from the Lord’s Table. This is one of the major duties God in the New Testament entrusts to the local church Elders. They do not judge a person’s salvation or their hearts. However, based upon their lives, testimony, and actions, these are removed
to defend the purity of the church.

By this process of evangelism and judgment God gathers his people, and perfects his church. New branches are grafted in by faith, and unfaithful branches are cut off. At the return of Christ, the completed Church will be presented to the Father.

Paul then adds a serious warning against arrogance. If God has cut off even the natural branches of the tree for their unbelief, those who are grafted in from paganism should understand that if they are not truly his, they too will be removed.

There was also a promise to the Jews. This is that special blessing Paul enjoyed in his Apostleship. Those from the rejected tribes of Israel who come to Christ in humble repentance and faith will be grafted into the church, back into the good olive tree.

This was the point Paul started with back at the start of chapter 9. The true promised seed of Israel is never abandoned by God. It is those who say they are his, but are not, who are in grave danger of judgment. God will cut them off from his church, and will abandon them to eternal torment. By seeing this process of evangelizing pagans, and cutting off the falsely religious, it becomes all the more clear that salvation is by grace alone, unearned, undeserved.

This manifests the severity and goodness of God (11:22). His severity is shown in his judgment, by removing the unbelieving branches. His goodness is shown in his redemption and restoration of the repentantly faithful.

So the hardening of Israel in Paul’s time
was partial, not total.

Romans 11:25-32, “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.’ Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”

Paul was explaining a mystery, a truth God was just then revealing more fully. A hardening was happening to part of Israel. As we saw in our last study, this “hardening” was the spiritual dulling of the heart and mind. God was giving some of the Jews over to their own hatred and perversions.

This would continue “until of the fulness of the Gentiles (the non-Jewish nations) has come in”. During the first century, the Jews were the greatest antagonists to the gospel. It was the apostates among the Jews who stirred up the Romans to hate the Christians by slandering them. As more of the Gentiles came into the church, the olive tree became less “Jewish”. This fulness of the Gentiles marked the end of physical Israel as God’s people. God even used pagan Rome in 70 AD to crush Jerusalem, to destroy the temple the Priests had defiled, and to mark the final end to the special privilege of the physical seed of Abraham.

It is by this process that all Israel will be saved. The words describe the process by which God’s true Israel will be saved. It is not a prediction of some yet future event. Those who see here a future promise for the abandoned and apostate nation of Abraham, are missing Paul’s point about what constitutes the truly good olive tree.

It is not just Physical Israel. It is the outward Covenant Family of God. In the time between Abraham and Jesus, the tree was the nation of the Jews. In the time after Jesus, the tree is the Apostolic church, God’s Spiritual Israel (see Romans 9:6). As the elect from all nations are evangelized and brought in, the tree grows toward fulness. As the apostate and unbelieving are removed, the tree improves in purity. It is in this way that all of God’s true Israel will be saved. The New Testament Church does not replace Israel. The church is Israel in her completed form.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20-21 which promises that “The Deliverer will come to Zion,” and that God will, by his covenant, “take away their sins.” Clearly this is not national Israel, for no such promise was made to all Jews. God’s promise was to redeem the elect of Israel, then to add to them the elect from every nation, and to remove the ungodly in his judgment. This is the process shown in the illustration of the Olive Tree.

God had not yet finished with his people. As explained in chapter 9, God’s promise to Abraham was not to save all his children, but only those who were of the promise, those of his son Isaac (Romans 9:7). And of the seed of Isaac, God chose Jacob and hated Esau (Romans 9:13). So God’s promise to the fathers continues. The apostate children of Israel were never more than outwardly consecrated to God. At the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, God was using his grace toward the Gentiles to provoke the elect among the Jews to believe. When they see such grace that redeems even the pagan, these will understand that salvation is not a reward of merit, descent, or of human choice It is a special act of the Holy Spirit alone based upon the merit of Jesus Christ. They will all be redeemed who are God’s true Israel, the children of the spiritual promise. Therefore, even the disobedience God permits, will become a dramatic lesson of mercy.

Each person who has submitted to church membership under the care of shepherding Elders, is one of the branches of the good olive tree which is God’s covenant nation on earth.

What kind of branch are you? Some of those in the church are natural branches. They were born into covenant families, raised to know God’s truth, his promises, the principles he commands by which we are to live, and the gospel that alone makes us able to believe and obey. Some were grafted in by professing faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and its offensiveness to God. Those grafted in were once ignorant of the truth until mercy set them free. However, regardless of how someone becomes a part of the good olive tree of God, they become branches of it.

Each should ask himself, “Am I a blessed branch? truly humbled by grace? bearing fruit for God’s glory in my life? Or am I a fruitless branch? self-proud? drawing from the tree’s sap ungratefully? enjoying outward benefits but not truly transformed by the work of grace?

This is a serious warning. Consider your attitude about God’s grace and your love for him. Are you hardened, dull, and uncaring about the mercy that God shows to you? Is the fruit of your life selfish and empty of humble service for God? Many false christians deceive themselves and elude the discipline of the church Elders.

When our Lord returns for his church, any dead branches which remain will be identified and removed. He will present up to the Father a church purified and complete. When the final unfit branches are trimmed away at the coming of Jesus Christ will you be preserved or cut off? God’s church will be perfected. Make certain you are among its branches, bearing fruit by Christ’s power in you, and moved by your gratitude for the Savior’s grace.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

God’s Will

God’s Will

by Bob Burridge ©2012
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 103)
(watch the video)

Every day, all day long, we make choices. Most of them are made without a lot of thought since they have no obvious moral or life changing issues to consider. Many of our daily choices become habit. We make them because they are part of our routine. When we wake up in the morning we decide what to do next. Our regular schedules help us decide what happens after our feet hit the floor. We develop different patterns for weekdays, Sundays, Saturdays, and holidays. We pick out our clothes for the day, and decide about breakfast. We decide what turns to make on our way to places where we need to be, and what to do when we get there.

Some choices are more challenging to us. We know they will impact our lives or the lives of others. We make decisions about our careers, who we will marry, where we will live, and other matters where the outcomes are complex, and future conditions are impossible to foresee.

When the big complex choices need to be made, the wise look for advice from others so they can base their decisions upon the best information, and so they are aware of all the reasonable options. The best advice comes from God who knows all contingencies and factors. The principles in his word set important boundaries within which our decisions ought to be made.

The old “What Would Jesus Do” principle is generally good advice, but speculation can be dangerous. Jesus was God. He had authority which none of us have. He did things based upon knowledge of individual situations that only God could know. But if we strive to be directed by the actual teachings of Jesus in the Bible, we will have help in making those important choices that come along. We want to know what Jesus tells us to do. That is always a very good thing to consider.

As Christians, we want to please God with our choices. Often people worry about making choices that are out of the will of God. But commonly, they have a totally wrong idea about what being in God’s will means. They believe that somehow they might mess up God’s plan. That is never possible. However, it is possible to do things that violate what God says is good and right.

To better understand this, we need to know what God says in his word. There he tells about his eternal plan and our responsibilities in it.

Third petition of the Lord’s Prayer
tells us to pray concerning God’s will.

Matthew 6:10b, “… Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.”

There is a natural progression in this model prayer our Lord gave us. “You kingdom come” leads to “Your will be done.” When we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom, we are asking that God’s Sovereign Lordship would become increasingly clearer. That the false Kingdom of Satan would be diminished and ultimately destroyed, that the Kingdom of Grace would be built up in its place with lives redeemed by Christ’s work, and that the Kingdom of Glory would be hastened along to completion as we serve our Lord.

To promote God’s kingdom on earth, is to see that his will is done here. We want God to be pleased with what is done where we live today, just as he is with what is done in heaven where his kingly glory is most clearly seen.

John Calvin said, “The most important part of God’s Kingdom lies in His will being done.”

Ursinus, the writer of the Heidelberg Catechism said, “nor does the Kingdom of God come except by the use of those means by which it is advanced. These means now, are the duties which belong to every man’s calling in life.”

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 103 is, “In the third petition, which is, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,’ we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.”

The doing of God’s will here on earth, is the advancing of his kingdom. The one does not happen independently of the other. God involves the obedience of his people in his great victory. So, why should we pray for his will to be done, if all he wills is always done?

Moses explained it clearly in Deuteronomy 29. Verse 24 sets it up saying that when Israel breaks God’s covenant, and God judges her, “All nations would say, ‘Why has the Lord done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ ”

God’s answer to why he would do a thing so hard to understand is summarized in verse 29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

There is only one will of God. Some things in his plan are not made known, while others are.

Parts of God’s plan are kept secret.

From all eternity everything is done according to God’s plan. As Creator, he made all things to be exactly the way he knew was best. As the All-Able God, his plan is infallibly carried out and cannot be changed. There is nothing that could surprise God, because he knows all things from the beginning. There can be nothing that could come along to make him regret his perfect choices. If God regretted what he decreed, then he is neither perfect nor unchangeable. We would be talking about some other kind of being, one that cannot properly be called “God”. (The verses where it is sometimes translated that God “repented” are explained in a helpful article, “Does God Repent of Things He Has Done?”.)

There are two helpful verses in the Psalms that make God’s sovereignty very clear:
Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.”

David’s blessing to Jehovah in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 shows his confidence in God’s sovereignty. Notice the similarities to the Lord’s Prayer, “Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name.’ ”

Just as in the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer speaks to God as “our Father”, and it praises his glorious name. It says that his is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, and that his kingdom is forever and ever. It mentions his kingship, that he is head over all and rules over all.

God decreed all things according to the council of His own will. No one can violate the decrees, or keep them from coming to pass. Job 42:2, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You,” or as the NASB translates that last part. “… no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.”

In Isaiah 14:24 God himself says, “… Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand.” Then in verse 27 the prophet adds, “For the Lord of hosts has purposed, And who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, And who will turn it back?”

God’s secret plan, his decreed will, is always carried out.

Even Satan has to ask permission from God to do his evil. This is clearly shown in what happened with Job. Job never found out the details about why he suffered, but he learned not to question God’s purposes. In Job 42:2-3 Job cries out in repentance for daring to question God’s perfect plan and wisdom, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Though we do not yet see how it all fits together, it all does. God even allows sin, yet he is not the cause of it. He turns evil so that it accomplishes his eternal plan. God’s secret will, his eternal plan, is always done.

When evil hearts sin, they condemn themselves, and show the tragedy of opposing God. By overcoming sin and evil God reveals his grace and mercy and his victorious plan of salvation. The presence of both the creature’s sin and God’s mercy shows that there is a real moral distance between the creature and the Creator.

This secret will of God only becomes known when God carries it out. We see his plan as history unfolds. We cannot know what nations will rise and fall until they do. We will not know when we will become sick or meet someone special until we do. We do not know what opportunities will come to us, how they will work out, or what accidents, benefits, or disasters will happen — until they do.

God’s providence turns the hearts of kings and children, stirs up the storms, and calms the seas. It even shapes the hard to understand wishes of our own hearts.

The problem is that some think of God as if he was not what he says he is. They imagine him unable to do all he planned, that we could mess up his plans if we chose something different than what he wanted. Nothing could be more opposite to what the Bible directly and clearly teaches.

Parts of God’s plan are not kept secret.
They are revealed to us.

Deuteronomy 29:29 “… those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

The Bible tells us what things are pleasing to God so that we would aim to do them. It tells us what is morally good and wise. It explains how we ought to behave in God’s world, in the church, and in our families. Without Scripture, there is no way we could know for sure what God has already said. In Romans 7:7 Paul said, “I would not have known sin except through the Law.”

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul reminded Timothy that this is how we know God’s will for our lives, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Bible tells us all that God expects us to know about Himself and about our responsibilities.

We live in a time that hates rules and responsibilities that apply to everybody all the time. Many modern churches have abandoned the Ten Commandments as if they do not apply any more. They have abandoned keeping the Sabbath Day Holy. They make drawings and images of Jesus as if in his earthly state he was no longer God. Some even joke about God, or directly use his name in a careless way, which is the meaning of the word “vain”. We need to promote the revealed will of God in a world that laughs at the idea, or that thinks we are extremists if we really believe God’s word to be true.

So, can people be “out of the will of God?”

It depends upon what you mean. The Bible does not actually put it that way. No one can wander out of what God has eternally decreed. Our choices are free. They are our own real decisions. We are never compelled by God to chose something we do not really want to choose. But our choices will always turn out to be in fulfillment of exactly what God decreed.

That does not excuse us from moral responsibility for our choices. We certainly can be out of the revealed will of God. That is the situation when we do what he forbids, or neglect what he commands. We cannot “mess-up” God’s secret plans, but we can discover ourselves to be part of the rebellion.

There is a good example of this in the story of the three captured Hebrew teens in Daniel 3. During the captivity of God’s people King Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship of an idol. Three teen boys; Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, would not disobey God that way. When the angry king threatened to throw them into the fiery furnace they said, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

We know those boys best by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. They did not know what God had planned for them, but they knew what he commanded. They knew that nothing would happen if God had not purposed it to happen. He was able to deliver them if he determined to do so, but if not, they would obey anyway because that is what would please God.

How then should we make our daily decisions?

How do we choose our jobs or career, our spouses, and our houses? How should we plan our vacations and recreation times?

We cannot know the secret plan until it happens. However, we can know what God has made known in his word. The facts and principles there are powerful and sufficient when we trust in them.

First, we need to know and understand God’s word. We are not to make our decisions by miraculous visions, or by supposed private revelations. The age of those things passed away when the Bible was completed. We should not expect signs, dreams, omens, or angels to tell us what our job should be, who we should marry, or what house to rent or buy. Instead, we should be guided by the principles revealed in Scripture. God’s moral rules set the boundaries for our decisions. We should never consider anything that violates God’s moral laws, or ignores his instructions. It is also wise to seek godly council from those who might see things we are missing.

If we know and respect those limits, and honor God’s words of wisdom, we can make confident choices knowing that the Lord is guiding us.

Second, we need to observe circumstances and opportunities as God’s secret plan unfolds. We must accept the fact of God’s providence, his Sovereign rule over every opportunity and circumstance. We should be sensitive to the talents and skills God gives us, to the interests he stirs up in our hearts. We are to use the minds God gave us, and the lessons we have learned to decide which choice best fits with God’s word and the priorities he reveals there.

Third, we need to expect the guiding of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that he whispers secrets or new revelations to us. It mean that we pray that God will guide us. We ask that his Spirit will direct us by God’s word, and by our own understanding, to make the choices that most please him and promote his Kingdom and glory.

This is what God expects of us: faithfully and prayerfully applying his word in making all our choices. We make confident decisions within the boundaries of what the Bible teaches, with sensitivity to the circumstances of his providence, and by diligent and sincere prayer in submission to God’s guidance.

We might make choices that do not turn out well compared with what we wanted. However, if we made our decisions in a truly Godly way, we should accept the consequences. Rather than wishing we had turned left instead of right if we are in a car accident, we ask God to give us wisdom to honor him in that situation. If we do something sinful, then it is our duty to sincerely and humbly repent of it, and to rest confidently in Christ’s forgiveness.

What do we pray for here then?

When we pray “Your will be done” we are saying that we are pleased to see God’s plan unfold in the way that he knows is best. We accept his divine decrees as they unfold moment by moment. We truly want his will to be done, because we love and trust him. We are saying that we are satisfied with our callings in life, with our talents, our resources, and the opportunities he sends to us. We are saying that we want to be able to see God at work in all that happens, and that we want to be a part of it in a godly way that honors our Lord.

We pray that what occurs on earth should, to the best of our ability, and with God’s enablement, conform to what pleases God here on earth, just as it does in heaven.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

The Other Side of Grace

Lesson 42: Romans 11:7-10

The Other Side of Grace

by Bob Burridge ©2012

One of the hardest teachings of Scripture for us to understand and accept is that God did not intend to choose every person to be redeemed by Christ. There have been many attempts to try to explain away this clear teaching that permeates God’s word.

In our last studies we saw that though the nation of Israel had become corrupt, it was not a failure of God’s plan. He chose her as a special nation to reveal specific parts of his plan, but he never promised to redeem all her citizens. All those with whom he made his eternal promise, those he foreknew (Romans 8:28, 11:2), could not be lost. Salvation is based upon grace alone. It does not come by physical heritage, by religious rituals, or by the performance of what is perceived as good works.

God redeems both the Jews and Gentiles of his choosing, but the time of Jewish special privileges has ended. What about those who are not foreknown by God in this way? those of whom Jesus said at the judgment, “I never knew you, depart from me…” (Matthew 7:23)?

In Romans 11:7-10, Paul shows us
the two sides of God’s promise.

Romans 11:7, “What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”

Paul’s answer is very simple, but quite profound. Israel as a nation did not obtain the righteousness she was seeking so zealously, but the election obtained it, the remnant. The rest were hardened, blinded.

The thing being sought was righteousness. People want to be found acceptable to God, even if it is a god of their own imaginations. They want to be assured of divine tender care and salvation. However, not everyone will have that for which they seek.

It is the elect, not all of Israel,
who obtain deliverance from sin’s guilt.

Though they tried hard to be special to God, their whole motive was evil and self-defeating. They thought they would be accepted by earning God’s blessing. That was never the way God redeems his people. That is the fallacy and error of all man-invented religion.

Thinking they could deserve God’s blessing was evidence of what condemns them. It is what made the Jewish leaders reject Jesus as the Messiah. His message was not what they expected or wanted. They sought salvation by their own efforts and goodness. In contrast, God had repeatedly said that all our works are imperfect and would always fall short of what pleases him. No matter what sinners do, no act, word or deed can remove the guilt they already have. In Romans 9:15-16 Paul quoted God speaking to Moses when the Apostle said, “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”

Attempts to earn salvation are more than useless, they are condemnable and offensive to God. They deny what he tells us about our inherited depravity, and our need for his grace. They deny the absolute necessity for a perfect divine Savior to come to die in our place. They deny the greatness of God’s love that redeems the unworthy. Israel as a nation, in spite of all her zeal, perverted the way of salvation and blessing. She deeply offended God, her benefactor.

This is another of the direct biblical statements which affirm the doctrine of election. Israel was chosen and privileged to be God’s special nation, to represent him in the world. But it was not a promise that all of them would be redeemed. From among those marked out by the Lord outwardly as a nation, and now also from among the Gentiles, God has chosen some to be saved by the Savior’s death, to be preserved as his own children for all eternity.

Those redeemed would also be changed inwardly. They would truly grieve over their offenses against God and repent. They would respond in true faith, trusting in God’s promise alone for their eternal hope. They would try to live obediently, out of gratitude, not thinking it earned them salvation.

They are called here God’s “choice”, “called out”, or God’s “elect” eklogae (εκλογη) . They were by nature unworthy and sinful. Before God regenerated them they could not even seek after the true God (Romans 3:11). Yet they were redeemed by the Savior and drawn into the loving arms of the Heavenly Father. They obtained the righteousness that the majority of religious Israel missed entirely.

Next, Paul turned the issue to the other side. It is expected that some would ask this question, “What about those God does not redeem?”

Paul tells us that the rest were hardened.

Obviously the rest he is talking about are those not elected to obtain righteousness. These would be the ones left to what all fallen humans deserve.

The word translated “blinded” or more literally “hardened”, poro-o (ποροω), was mostly used of hardened hearts. It means to make a person unaware, unable to understand. It was sometimes used figuratively of being blinded, as when the eyes are hardened so they can no longer see. This is a hardening that effects both the person’s understanding and his desires. It makes him calloused and insensitive to things that truly please God.

We need to be careful not to think that God hardens innocent hearts. The basis of God’s hardening is always Judicial in Scripture. The sinner is hardened because of his sin. God does not make people do what they do not want to do. Their hearts already love sin. Remember Romans 1:24-26 where it says, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.”

There are no innocent individuals to be hardened. We all are fallen in Adam. It is the “the lusts of their hearts” that underlies their sentence of impurity (1:24). As Pastor Haldane put it: “Condemnation supposes positive criminality.” Their hardness came from their sin, it was not an imposed hardness that made them sin against their true desires.

Paul gives two reasons for God giving them over to cling to sin all the more (1:25),
1. They abandoned the truth God had made known.
2. They worshiped and served created things instead of the Creator.

This is the root of sin — when we put ourselves, or our ways, over honoring God first in our lives, when we put our preferred realities above his revealed truth.

Those who are forsakers of God, are also forsaken by God. He gives them over to their forsaking hearts. When the sinner is hardened, he sins all the more. He does it quite voluntarily. God gives them over to their corrupt desires. Hardening is part of their punishment.

The term used for the non-elect is “reprobate”. In reprobation, God passes by some leaving them to what all of Adam’s descendents deserve. Those passed by are justly condemned for their sin. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death …” That includes the eternal spiritual death that follows our own physical death which is unavoidable. All deserve to be eternally separated from God and tormented forever. That is not an easy truth to accept, but it is undeniably true. This is a clear biblically revealed fact.

The natural dessert of all the human race is eternal alienation from God because of sin. Some are chosen to become part of God’s family due to nothing special they have done. God chose them to display his glory and mercy. The rest are left for what is also an important function. They show God’s justice, power and wrath.

That’s the purpose Paul gives in Romans 9:21-24 using the Old Testament example of the potter, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”

The facts in God’s word are as plain as can be. There are two groups in God’s plan: the elect, and the reprobate. The Bible is filled with clear statements that can not be reasonably denied. These truths are only hard to accept because our small human minds and sin infected hearts struggle with such infinite and holy concepts.

When Peter wrote about how some were chosen from within national Israel to be saved, he too showed that it was by the appointment of God for his own purposes. 1 Peter 2:8-9 says, “… They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”

Jude makes this doctrine clear too in Jude 4 where he calls the ungodly, “who long ago were marked out for this condemnation.”

Sinners sin most willingly. It is never because God coerced them against their will. In Scripture, those not redeemed by Christ are always said to be condemned for sin, not for being in the wrong group. To try to explain more than what God tells us in the Bible is to step into very dangerous territory. How does it all come together in the eternal and unchanging mind of a holy God? We dare not imagine because we do not have all the facts. The infinite mind of God cannot be contained in the little mind of a human, no matter how smart it is.

It is not unfair that some are left to the condemnation we all deserve as covenant breakers. Those who are passed-by show God’s power, justice and wrath just as we all deserve. Those chosen by God for salvation, show his undeserved grace and glory.

In the next few verses Paul quotes
Scripture to support this hard lesson.

He combines several familiar Bible quotes the Jews would have known very well.

Romans 11:8, “Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.’ “

The Bible confirms that the ungodly are hardened, made unable to understand or to love God’s truth. Isaiah used this language in several places. For example in Isaiah 6:9-10 God said, “… Go, and tell this people: ‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.”

Then in Isaiah 29:10 it says, “For the LORD has poured out on you The spirit of deep sleep, And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.”

Moses had said this to Israel from the beginning in Deuteronomy 29:4, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.”

The same purpose and result of reprobation is confirmed in Romans 9:17-18. “For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.”

This hardening of the hearts of those left in sin, continues all through history. There are many great minds of science, literature, history, art, mathematics and other fields who have proven that lack of comprehension about the spiritual truths of Scripture and of life.

Paul next quotes from King David
showing the tragic results of this hardness:

Romans 11:9-10, “And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.’ ”

The quote is from Psalm 69:22-23, “Let their table become a snare before them, And their well-being a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually.”

Our table is where we lay out our provisions, the food we eat to become stronger. But for the ungodly, they who take glory for themselves for what God gave them, they live as if they deserve the things they have. So their food is made into nonnutritious filler that adds nothing to their health. They are snared by their blessings because they pervert them, and fail to honor God in them.

God had warned that even the blessings become a curse for the ungodly. Malachi 2:2 says, ” ‘If you will not hear, And if you will not take it to heart, To give glory to My name,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will send a curse upon you, And I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, Because you do not take it to heart.’ ”

Their backs are to be bowed down. They were to be humbled as slaves, serving God’s glory unwittingly as vessels of his wrath. Their backs are bent by work they did not fully comprehend or appreciate. God used their efforts to display the awesome attributes of a just and holy God.

This hardness and its effects are a recompense, a retribution because of their sin. It is a judgment that keeps the mind spiritually dull all the way to the final judgment scene. What horrors they will then face when at last they see their future laid out before them. Until that day, God justly blinds their eyes to the truth of that which fallen hearts have already despised.

Some imagine that the most dreaded temporal judgments in this life are the obvious things such as natural disasters or personal tragedies. But these things come to us all whether we are his or the Devil’s children. The judgment in this life we ought to fear the most is one that never makes the headlines. It is not one likely to get sympathy from others. It is the closing of our hearts to the true knowledge of God and of his redeeming love.

Israel with all her privileges and blessings, showed her spiritual depravity. The Jews took the law that exposes sin, and perverted it into a means for earning God’s blessing. They denied their need for the cross, and hated the idea of a suffering Savior. They killed the Messiah when he pointed out the error of their beliefs and ways. They showed themselves to be spiritually blind and foolish.

Today too, we are surrounded with God’s blessings, and the liberating truth of the gospel. Yet some still think they can merit forgiveness, or that our debt to God can be worked off. Some think that the cross was a nice idea, but not absolutely necessary for all to believe. Some think they can claim to love the Savior, yet knowingly excuse the breaking of his commandments. They make excuses as if their special circumstances justify their particular sins.

These attitudes do not belong in the heart of those redeemed to be the eternal children of God. When we detect them in us they should set of alarms.

Awareness of our bad attitudes is in itself a good sign. Those forever left to their lostness never admit the plague in their souls. This conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit as he applies the work of our Savior to our hearts to assure us that the guilt for our sins was paid for already on the Cross of Mount Calvary. This conviction drives us to God in humility resting in his grace alone for what we come to understand we do not deserve.

We will not be perfect in this life, even when we are given that new life by God’s grace. We come again and again to admit to our own inabilities, and to thank our Redeemer for his infinite love and mercy. We pray diligently for him to mature us in our Christian walk so that we might give clear evidence to the world around us of our love for God, and of the transformation he produces in the heart willing to admit its own total dependence upon him.

Hardened reprobates see God’s honor as unimportant, and his revealed moral principles as annoying. As Peter said in 2 Peter 1:10 “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” As a child of God — repent and repair you walk with God today.

Think about this hard but amazing exercise of undeserved divine love, that from among the whole undeserving fallen human race, from among the vessels of wrath destined to show God’s power and righteous judgments, some are chosen, and gathered in love, to be honored as joint heirs with Christ. Their sins are forgiven and new life is infused into them, making them into vessels of mercy showing God’s glory and redeeming love.

Fall in humble gratitude before our Lord Jesus Christ, that you were gathered into his special people by the secret counsel of his will.

NOTE: For a more in-depth look at the decree of God as it relates to election and reprobation, see our Syllabus article about God’s Effectual Calling.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

The Coming of God’s Kingdom

The Coming of God’s Kingdom

(watch the video Part 1 and video Part 2)
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 102)
by Bob Burridge ©2012

God created everything to work best with an organized authority structure. Our homes, churches, places of work, and communities were set up by our Creator to reveal his Kingship over all he made.

When sin was introduced into God’s universe there were those who challenged the King of Glory’s rightful authority and power to rule all things. He lost none of his sovereignty, but it became obscured in the eyes of the fallen beholders.

As hard as it may be for us finite creatures to understand, the challengers were part of the eternal plan. Their rebellion came as no surprise to the one who decreed it to reveal his justice and grace.

The great power struggle in this spiritual battle is led by Satan, the great deceiver and enemy of us all. His impossible ambition is to be free of the kingship of God the Creator. In the temptation of Adam the whole human race was brought into that conflict. We struggle today on the current battle-field of that cosmic war. Evil strives to suppress God’s display of glory in every area of human life. The confusion over who is King, over who is Lord of all and of your own life personally is a more serious concern than most people realize.

The second petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, “… Thy kingdom come … “

God’s Kingship and Kingdom are major themes in Scripture. The Old Testament is filled with promises about God establishing his kingdom. In the New Testament the word “kingdom” is used about 160 times. In the Book of Acts the Apostle’s Message is called the preaching of the Kingdom six times. God obviously considered it to be a very important thing for us to know about.

The kingdom idea is hard for us to understand today. Our modern political and social systems are nothing like the ancient ones. Most of us have grown up without a king of any kind. In my country our leaders are chosen by elections, and pledge to preserve the constitution which was designed to limit the authority and power of those who hold office. When they fail to do well they can be voted out of office. If leaders break laws they can be charged, tried, and if found guilty put in jail.

Even the Kings and Queens we know from our more recent English heritage are constitutional monarchs. They are limited by law, and by elected representatives who actually make the laws and set the policies for their nation.

The ancient concept of kings and kingdoms was very different. The king was totally sovereign over his subjects. His word was law, and there was no appeal. What he said was right simply because he said it. Individuals were thought to exist for the King. He controlled the military and the police to restrain his enemies and lawbreakers. God’s rule over the universe and over his church is not like that of our modern states. In his providence he permitted that ancient system to develop so that he might used it to reveal his kingship over all that is.

As Creator, he rules with absolute Sovereign authority over all things and all other beings. His word is law simply because he made things to be a certain way. Everything exists for Him. His glory is always the highest good. He alone has infinite power to preserve his kingdom and to protect his people.

When we pray, “Thy kingdom come” we are not asking for it to arrive as if it has not yet come. God is absolutely sovereign now, always was, and always will be. He is not waiting to become king. His Kingship, and therefore his Kingdom, has always been totally everywhere. There is only one true Kingdom, because there is but one true King, one Sovereignty, one Dominion that is over all.

Because God allowed sin into his creation, his Kingdom is not always clearly perceived or understood here on earth. Sin distorts God’s Kingship in the eyes of fallen creatures. The result is the acceptance of false ideas about his Kingdom, and the rise of a Kingdom of Deception.

The Head of State of that Kingdom of Satan is not really sovereign at all. His words are not law in any true sense of the word. His power is limited by the one higher than himself, the one who made him. Satan cannot preserve and protect his people. He cannot deliver on his promises to his followers. He only deceives, abuses, and dooms them.

History is filled with rivals to the thrones of Kingdoms. Bible history is filled with stories about usurpers in Israel and the other ancient nations. Even King David had to deal with his son Absolom who tried to take over the kingdom from his father by using spies, deceit, and military force.

Anyone can call himself a king, but is not what makes him one. Satan, from the beginning, has envied God’s power and authority. He has deceived people’s hearts, and lured nations into his anti-god ways. He feeds a culture of immorality, addictions, violence, and perverted religion.

He also knows the importance of God’s kingdom in the lives of God’s children. He knows that a right understanding of it brings comfort and encouragement, and weakens his claim to power. So he promotes a distorted view of all the world, and of God. He wants to confuse you, and make people believe him, and fear his false claims.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes what this prayer petition means in question 102. It answers this way:

“In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.”

The answer breaks down into three parts. When we say “Thy Kingdom come”,
1. we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed;
2. we pray that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it;
3. we pray that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

Satan is a liar from the beginning.

His kingdom is a deception. He has no real power over us. We should not believe his lies, or be taken in by his deceptions about what he claims to be able to do.

In human wars, the enemy tries to make it look like he is winning, even when he is not. He hopes the fear factor will dishearten the brave and empower the critics of the war. That kind of propaganda has been used in wars as long as history has been written. The same tactic is used by the forces of Satan in the cosmic battle here on earth.

God’s Kingdom has been progressively destroying the false kingdom all through history. The first attack on the human race was in Eden. It was a tragic attack, but it was quickly answered. God revealed why he allowed Adam and Eve to be taken in by deceit. He announced his plan to use a child born of a woman to totally defeat Satan and evil. The amazing plan of redemption, the reality of grace and mercy, and the power of his divine love were suddenly displayed in a way the enemy had not anticipated. The gospel promise was a devastating blow to the enemy after his first human attack.

Though the attacks that followed were fierce, at each stage the Kingship of God was made more clear. The depravity in the time of Noah was answered by a great flood, but Noah was saved by grace. When the nations of the earth drifted off into paganism, by grace God blessed one tribe of his choosing, the family of Abraham. When all seemed lost after hundreds of years of captivity and enslavement in Egypt, when Israel no longer bore any resemblance of a nation, God raised up Moses. The victory at the Red Sea and in the law being given at Sinai proved without any doubt, God still ruled as Sovereign Lord in a Kingdom emerging little by little through the ages.

The Kings of Israel showed what a mess we make of God’s kingdom when human greed takes over and tries to usurp the power and glory of God. Each time God raised up his Prophets to point out the hard to admit but indisputable reality: God was king, and this is his kingdom both to those who like that fact, and to those who do not.

Then Jesus came, the promised Messiah, God himself in real human flesh. He went to the cross innocently to suffer for all the guilt of all his people. The promise of Eden was completed on that hill just outside Jerusalem. Satan’s doom and ultimate defeat was sealed by the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior.

Then the church was born. It expanded from a group of cast out Jews to become a major force in the world. It has been infiltrated, its name and reputation compromised, perverted, and confused. However, the true church lives on declaring God’s Kingdom, and rescuing lost souls.

We fight in that continuing battle
against the Kingdom of Deception.

It is the job of this church, of you and me, of all true believers in all faithful churches, to continue to declare God’s kingship and glory. Not just that he is king over the elements, natural laws, and nations, but also as the loving Redeemer-King who rules wisely, and blesses his covenant people.

First, do your best to expose the lies. You have God’s truth in your Bible. It is your duty to keep improving your understanding of what is says there. You also have the Holy Spirit enable those you talk with to understand the message. Stay active in prayer to the King of kings asking for his transforming power to work in you and in others. Tell people what you know God said, and help them become a part of the true Kingdom. The lies cannot stand up when exposed to the truth.

Second, do not let sin run things in God’s Creation and Kingdom. Do not let it rule in society in general, or in his church where his kingship is specially seen. Impose God’s principles wherever you can to restrain the workings of sin. That means being a responsible citizen and a good neighbor. Support and vote for leaders who are most likely to persevere and promote God’s principles. Do not be taken in by the promises of politicians that they will give you personal privileges or material advantages.

Third, let people know that Satan is a defeated enemy. Tell about the victory of Jesus over Satan at the Cross. This is a fact, even though the critics of God’s kingdom make it look as if it was not the victory it is.

In Matthew 12:28-29 Jesus assured us that his miracles proved that God’s Kingdom had come to them. There he said, “if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”

God’s Kingdom had come to his listeners already in the special way promised by the prophets. If that was not true, he would not be commanding the demons. But he was. The Kingdom of Messiah had come in this special way during the earthly ministry of Jesus.

Satan was being bound by Jesus at that time, not at some future time. He was the “strong man” Jesus spoke of. His deceptive kingdom was being plundered even then, and it continues to be plundered now. Captive souls were and are being set free. In John 12:31 Jesus told us that Satan was already being dethroned. He said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.”

This was something happening at that time, “now” as Jesus put it. Satan was being cast out of the throne he falsely claimed. In the verses that follow Jesus connected this victory with his coming death on Calvary.

Though the final Judgment is yet future, the defeat of Satan is a past fact of history. The Apostle Paul told us about this disarming of the enemy in Colossians 2:15, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”

It is an accomplished fact. God’s promise in Eden was fulfilled by Jesus Christ on the cross. The seed of the woman had come in Bethlehem. Though he suffered, he crushed the head of that old serpent the Devil. However, Satan is still active in the death throws of an imagined but impossible take-over.

John explained this bondage of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3. He describes God’s angel coming down with the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. It says in verse 2, “He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;”

Verse 3 describes this bound condition of the enemy of God in this church age, “and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. …”

How is it that Satan is bound now but still obviously very active? This verse explains it very clearly and directly. It says he is no longer able to deceive the nations, the gentiles. After the Cross, when this Deceiver King was defeated and bound, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church at Pentecost. The Gentile age had begun. No longer would only the Jews be God’s people. God was taking back his world from the defeated enemy.

The term “thousand years” is regularly used in the Bible to represent the whole of something. For example, Psalm 50:10 tells us that God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” There are many times more hills in this world. Many more than that in Israel alone. His is not telling us that on all those other hills God has no control of the cattle. It uses that number as was common in the Hebrew language as a term meaning “the whole of all the hills.” There are many examples of this representative use of that number: Deuteronomy 7:9, Psalm 90:4, Psalm 91:7 to cite a few.

In this case it means this entire age of the Christian Church on earth, the whole time Satan’s power to deceive the nations is taken away. In that way he remains bound. The Kingdom promise to Abraham was fulfilled. God had told him that through his descendants (one of whom was Jesus) all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).

Though that Devil will be loosed again at the end of this age, he is doomed. For now, his powers are more limited than at any other age in history. The gospel has no national limits and is advancing until all God’s people are saved.

Tear the lie to pieces. Leave nothing left of it in the hearts of those you love. Jesus completed the promises. Satan was dethroned. The evil powers were disarmed, and Satan was bound. One day he will be utterly and completely silenced. Satan is doomed. His lies about what makes life fun and what gets you what you want are exposed.

So the Fourth duty is to rescue captive souls through the gospel of Christ. This leads us into the next part of the Catechism answer, “… that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.”

My dad fought in World War II as an Army paratrooper and medic. He fought in several campaigns including the Rhine Crossing and the Battle of the Bulge where he was decorated with the Bronze Star. His stories of it are captivating.

Wars are hard and horrible things. Sometimes an enemy becomes so threatening and deadly that he has to be stopped by force. After the battle, when the evil aggressors are out of power, there has to be rebuilding. If not, the devastated country becomes a breeding ground for more violence. We also can help the people oppressed by former regimes to get back to their lives.

My dad also served in the occupation forces in Germany trying to build an orderly ally where there was once a dedicated enemy. Some of the stories he tells of the confrontations he faced there are as interesting as the war stories.

We have seen how difficult reconstruction can be in defeated countries where terrorism flourished. Some have not wanted to be stabilized. This was also true at first in Berlin, in Tokyo, and in other countries that were once vicious enemies. The reconstruction work in some of those cases took many years or even decades.

What is true in our human wars is also true in the great cosmic war in which we all serve soldiers. Reconstruction is not just to change outward structures. In the case of God’s Kingdom, we have an advantage. Christ changes the hearts of those rescued from the enemy. He places in them a desire to conform to the ways of their Savior. Yet we are not to leave them unattended. We are to guide and help one another to grow spiritually by the use of the means of grace God has entrusted to us.

We are to advance the true Kingdom as we take the ground held by the enemy. We need to be building up the Kingdom of God’s special Covenant with his people. Once someone is rescued from spiritual death and bondage, they need to learn to be free and to become part of the Lord’s army to promote his good ways.

The Kingdom of Grace is where God
specially rules among his Covenant People.

God’s kingship is more than just his sovereignty and power over people and things. There is a special way that God is king. He redeems his people from sin and makes them his adopted children. By his Covenant Promises he bind them together into a spiritual nation, a Kingdom of God. This Covenant Kingship is only realized in those redeemed out of the Kingdom of Satan.

There is only one way to become part of this covenant kingdom. We enter by an act of God’s grace. Grace is the undeserved redeeming love of God for his people. Becoming a Christian is never something you earn. If you do good things it is because you were changed by Christ’s unmerited love. Grace alone has always been the way into the Kingdom of the Redeemed. The Bible says repeatedly that nobody is justified by his own deeds or efforts.

In Genesis 6:8 how was it that Noah obeyed God when others did not? It says, “He found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Abraham became father of God’s nation because God chose him when he was nothing. He is the prime example in the New Testament books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews to prove that it is not what men do, but what God does, that redeems a person. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 7 that God chose his people by his lovingkindness, by grace alone. David many times wrote about how all the good he ever did, was by God’s lovingkindness to him. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3, “… Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

When a person is rescued from the grips of Satan’s Kingdom of Destruction, he is naturalized into this Kingdom of God by grace alone. In that new citizenship he begins to see God for the Loving King that he is.

Those who trust in themselves or in the intercession of the church for their salvation, may imagine they are true children of God, but biblically they cannot be. It is only by grace, evidenced by faith in Christ alone, that anyone can be assured that he’s a citizen of God’s spiritual Kingdom. Only by grace can a person come to appreciate the covenant promises and the King’s unfailing care.

The Kingdom of Grace is an advancing kingdom.

Lives have been rebuilt out of the rubble of Satan’s Kingdom all through history. God turned the fall of mankind in Eden into a stage for revealing the greatest promise ever. He showed that Satan did not succeed in his attempt to destroy the human race. Instead Satan became an unwilling participant in the display of God’s glory, in the demonstration of the Creator’s justice, mercy, and love.

God rebuilt a judgment destroyed world, repopulating it through Noah’s family. He rebuilt the shattered life of a man named Moses. In the desert in his old age, God transformed him into a leader of the Kingdom of Grace. Through him, God took a humiliated population of slaves, and made them his Covenant Nation. Later, when her Kings rebelled, God sent Prophets to point the way to spiritual reconstruction.

The Kingdom of Grace advanced even more though the coming of Jesus Christ. He carried out what was promised from the beginning, and only hoped for until then. In his holy life and by his death on the cross Jesus paid the ransom for all his people. He became King over his Covenant People in a more visible and open way than before. He came to reign forever over the house of Jacob in a kingdom that would have no end. Hebrews 1:8 tells us that in Psalm 45:6 it was describing Jesus when the Psalmist wrote, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”

When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church at Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter explained that this was all part of the advance of the Kingdom. He said that this resurrected Jesus now rules on David’s throne. Within a generation, in 70 AD, judgment fell upon apostate Israel and the desecrated Temple. A new form of the Kingdom of Grace advanced to greater glory here on earth.

All through the history of that church, this Kingdom has been advancing. More are brought in day-by-day, one-by-one, as God’s plan unfolds.

This doesn’t mean that every year the number of Christians alive on earth is greater. There are times when true Christianity has been a small minority on earth. But always, every day, a greater percentage of the total elect are brought in. In the time of the Apostles only a small part of the Kingdom had been extended. There were yet millions of Christians to be born and believe.

Where are we now? Are there millions more? or is the total of the elect almost all brought in? We cannot know. Maybe 99.99% of all those chosen by grace are already saved, or maybe billions are yet to be set free from sin’s bondage.

Maybe there are more tragedies to come before then, to show the horrors of sin, and to demonstrate that the Kingdom of Satan cannot deliver the things it offers in its lies. As you see evil in its throws of death in desperation doing horrible things around you, remember that evil is defeated and is squirming in futility to be free of God’s grip. But evil is doomed. Reconstruction is underway in God’s territory.

Now and then stories are published in the local news about how it seems that US Highway 19 is never complete. I moved to this area of Florida in 1963. This road has been under some type of repair ever since then. Locals have said that it is not as much a road, as it is a construction site. As one reconstruction area is completed, needs crop up in ones repaired in the past. The job seems never to come to an end.

That is not that way it is with the Kingdom of Grace. How much longer before the reconstruction is complete? We don’t know. But until the Lord appears in all his glory and judgment, we have work to do here and now. We are the occupation army put here to rebuild out of the rubble.

When our house was destroyed by a tornado in 1992 the people of our church showed up with boxes, pick-up trucks, and black plastic bags. We sifted through the rubble to retrieve what we could, then the bulldozers came to get rid of the rest.

When the church I pastored was damaged with fire in 2004 there was a day when we all came here to clear out what we could salvage. Then the demolition of the damaged parts took place so we could rebuild. The result was a better building than we had before.

God’s Kingdom advances similarly. By his grace we see the rubble cleared away which had been left in us by the damage of sin left in the wake of its former rule in our lives. By his work in us, we strive to demolition all that remains of the ugly ways of wickedness. In its place we rebuild according to God’s plan. Transformed hearts show their gratitude and love of the Savior by putting on the ways of the new relationship we have as redeemed children. (Colossians 3:5-10)

Like US-19, it may appear that the job is never going to be finished. But there will come a time when your life and the lives of those you love in Christ will be finished, matured in glory, and the plans completed. It’s with that great expectation that we pray anticipating that the Kingdom of Grace will be advancing as it fulfills God’s promises in each believer, and in the larger plan for all of creation. God tells us that our prayers are effective. He uses them in completing his will on earth.

In Matthew 13 Jesus made some simple comparisons to help us understand this truth. He likened the Kingdom to a mustard seed. It begins very small, but grows to be immense (13:31-32). He also said it is like leaven. Just a small piece expands the whole batch of dough (13:33).

The Kingdom of Grace advances until all God’s children are brought in, meanwhile individuals grow spiritually to appreciate it more, and we work together as a family to increase its influence on everything and everyone you know. While you labor for Christ to the best of your ability, empowered by God through Christ, pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”

This Kingdom is still imperfect. We still struggle with sin and fail to fully appreciate God’s sovereign glory.
But there will come a yet greater and complete revealing of God’s Kingship at Christ’s return.

Therefore, you should also pray that
the Kingdom of Glory will be hastened.

The Kingdom of Glory is God’s Kingdom when all the promises are fulfilled perfectly. It’s that time when all sin will be eradicated, when the Kingdom of Satan will no longer exist as a viable enemy. It will be when all God’s people are united by Christ into the Spiritual family of their Heavenly Father.

It comes at the end of this age when Jesus Christ returns in final judgment. The ones he graciously redeemed will be taken into eternal glory. The rest will receive what we all deserve if it was not for our Savior’s death in our place.

But how long until he comes? No one knows. The time is fixed unalterably in the perfect plan of God.

So then why should you pray for the hastening of this Kingdom of Glory? You certainly would not want God to change his perfect and wise plan to speed up the cosmic calendar. If he has decreed that it would be best not to come yet, only a fool would want to make it come sooner.

God uses his people’s prayers not as a way to change his plans, but to carry them out. When you pray for this final day to come, you show your excited hope and expectation by faith of the coming age of glory. You show how much you confidently long for God’s Kingdom to reach its fullest visibility and perfection.

This is what Jesus meant when
he taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come …”.

God uses your prayers and obedience as his means of carrying out his plan.
1. Pray for the destruction of Satan’s Kingdom. Be busy exposing its lies, and telling God’s truth. Limit sin’s acceptance by those around you through the encouragement of God’s ways. Treat Satan as a defeated enemy who is on the run. Expect to be used by our Savior in rescuing captive souls from their spiritual bondage

2. Pray for the advance of God’s Kingdom of Grace in the world today. Build up God’s Kingdom by diligent faithfulness to God as your King. Tell others about God’s saving grace. Bring the lost to church, and explain the gospel individually. Romans 10 tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Humbly and prayerfully attack the remains of sin in your life and in the world around you by the power of the Risen Savior. Improve people’s understanding of God as the Sovereign King over everything. In place of the rubble left in people’s lives by the rule of sin and Satan, help them build a new life centered on Christ and God’s word.

3. Pray that the perfect and eternal Kingdom of Glory would be hastened. Jesus is going to return. That is a fact. We cannot know when it will happen. When he comes, everything God promised and warned about for our era will be completed. Be ready for that moment. Missionary Jim Elliot died as a martyr bringing the gospel to people in sin’s bondage. In 1951 he wrote this in his journal, “When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.” Do not be in a position of having issues that would make you pray to delay his coming. That would be exactly the opposite of what Jesus teaches you to do.

One day your prayers will be ancient history. The redeemed will look back upon the dim memory of this earthly life, and will enjoy the daily reality of the Kingdom of Glory. Make your citizenship there sure. Be a good patriot of God’s Kingdom by hastening its perfection by your prayers and thankful obedience.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Only a Remnant Foreknown

Lesson 41: Romans 11:1-6

Only a Remnant Foreknown

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Luther was grieved when he considered the condition of Christ’s church in his day. By the early 16th century the church had invented the office of Pope. Whoever held that office was declared to be infallible in his official pronouncements, and was venerated with the honor due to Jesus Christ alone.

The church had come to believe that saved souls spent time in a place they called purgatory. A person could buy certificates called indulgences promising to excuse them from their sins on the basis of good deeds done by the saints. The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper were believed to be transformed physically by the mass to become the literal flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

Critics were few, and those who spoke out were ridiculed or disciplined by a powerful church. Some were even accused of high crimes and executed painfully.

Bibles were rare and only available in languages that the scholars could read. The masses of people, some of whom dearly loved God and trusted in his provision, were deceived and led into superstitious, pagan, and fanciful beliefs by a corrupt church, one very much like corrupted Israel in the time of the New Testament.

The state of the church had deteriorated horribly. This pattern is seen repeatedly in the history of those who consider themselves to be God’s people. By the time of Noah, the world had mostly turned away from the heritage of Adam, Able, and Seth. By the time of Abraham, paganism had again gripped God’s world. In the time of Jesus and the Apostles, those who claimed to be God’s nation crucified the Savior and persecuted his people.

Sadly, we see the same pattern in our era at the beginning of the Third Millennium after Christ. Those who claim to be God’s people are dominated by a popular corruption of the truth. People see all the denominations, cults, and religions that call themselves “Christian”, and become confused.

In Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 11 we learn that it’s all part of a plan that is working toward a glorious end. We will see this more clearly as we come to the end of the chapter.

The particular issue that moved Paul to write this chapter was the corruption of God’s chosen nation of Israel, their rejection of the promised Messiah, and the dawning of a new era, the age when God’s church would see the fullness of the gospel message.

To learn what we can do about this problem in our own era, we need to go back to Paul’s answer to the Romans. The ancient prophets had warned Israel about her neglect of God’s law. The moral law condemned them before God, but they limited it to just certain superficial things, and violated the spirit of the law. They had come to believe that they were able to be morally pure by their personal efforts and by the rituals performed by the Priests.

The sacrificial laws as God gave them pointed forward to the coming of the Christ as the suffering Savior, but the teachers of Israel turned the sacrifices into empty rituals, and imagined that the promised Messiah would be a Jewish champion who would give them earthly power over the Gentiles. Therefore, God was going to bring the punishments of his covenant upon them. The Jews would no longer be his special nation, and the Gentiles were to become to predominant population of his true church on earth.

The Messiah (the Hebrew word for Christ) was not what most of the Jews expected. When he came they were not able to recognize him, so they rejected Jesus, and had him Crucified.

This tragic rejection of the promised Redeemer was their final condemnation. When the gospel call came to the Jews, they persecuted the messengers. Having had the word of the ancient prophets, and the special warnings sent through the Apostles and by the Christ himself, they were without excuse for their disobedience.

Paul wanted to clear up an important point.

God had not rejected his true people. He started with a question (a favorite method of Paul).

Romans 11:1a, “I say then, has God cast away His people? …”

His answer was quick and emphatic:

Romans 11:1b, “… Certainly not! …”

The original words he wrote are, may genoito (μη γενοιτο), “let it not be”. It was the ancient Greek way of saying, “No way! Such a thing should not even be considered!” God had not rejected his people.

He gave two lines of argument to support this.

First he pointed out the obvious …

Romans 11:1c, “… For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”

Paul himself was one of them. He was a Jew by physical heritage, a descendant of Abraham, particularly of the honored tribe of Benjamin. He was obviously not teaching that God was rejecting all Israelites. Not only Paul, but all the Apostles, and most of the early church were Jews.

Next, he reminded them about God’s own promise in Scripture.

Romans 11:2a, “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. …”

This had been a common promise in the Hebrew Bible. For example, Psalm 94:14 said, “For the LORD will not cast off His people, Nor will He forsake His inheritance.”

The confidence they had was in God foreknowing them. This was an expression that had to do with the Covenant the Lord made. To “foreknow” in Scripture is not just knowing things before hand. The Greek word used in the original passage written by Paul is a form of the verb proginosko (προγινωσκω). Literally it simply means “to know beforehand”. But what kind of knowing is this?

Some have suggested that it means, that God formed his plans by looking ahead to see what we might decide. That cannot be the meaning of the word as it is used here regarding the basis of God’s promise to his people. First, that interpretation does not fit with the way it is used in the sentence. It does not say “because of what God foreknew, but “whom foreknew.”

The God of Scripture is not presented as a changeable deity who looks into the future to see what individuals would do if he didn’t do anything, then decide to decree to do what they would have done anyway.

We need to see how the expression “to know” is actually used in the Bible, before we can know what it means to “know beforehand.”

“Knowing” can have several meanings in any language. One kind of knowing is the factual kind. You might know things like what you did yesterday, what is the square root of 9, what is the capitol of New York State, or the names of the U.S. Presidents. Another kind of knowing is more personal. This is where we “know” someone because we have met them personally and gotten to be friends. There is still another kind of “knowing” that is much more intimate. This is when we uniquely know someone in a very special way. It is when we come to love them like a family member. I may have known a teacher I had in school, but I did not know him in the same way that I know my own children.

An example might help illustrate this distinction. When I went to seminary I read the works of the great theologian Cornelius VanTil. I knew of him factually because I knew things about him and had read some of his books. When a friend of mine was visiting me in Philadelphia we got the idea of calling Dr. VanTil on the phone. To our surprise he invited us over for the first of what came to be several visits at his home. In time we got to know him more personally. VanTil knew many students and friends that way. While we were there we were served lemonade and snacks by the professor’s wife. We got to know him as a friend, but Dr. VanTil knew his wife much more intimately.

The Bible uses the word “to know” in each of these ways. We determine which meaning the word has in each use by the context.

God factually knows everyone and everything. So his foreknowing in Romans 11:2 could not mean just a factual knowing. Factually, God knows everything and everybody eternally, his eternal enemies too. It would have no special meaning for his own people compared with others as it says here. We also know that the facts about us cannot be the reason he made us his people, because Paul reminds us in verse six that it is not by works, but by grace that we were chosen to be his own in that special way.

Therefore, in this context, it must mean that God knows some specially in a way that he does not know others. He knows Israel and his church personally by the outward and formal covenant he made with them as a nation. However, within Israel and the church he knows his elect children intimately. He sent the Savior to redeem them and to make them heirs of the riches of his glory forever.

Jesus used this word in this very special sense too. He said to the superficial believers in Matthew 7:23, “… then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ ”

Jesus was quoting the ancient prophet Amos who was telling Israel what God was saying to them. Amos 3:2, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” The word translated “known” is actually the Hebrew word yada’ (ידע), the common word for “to know”. Amos was saying that God “knew” his people specially. That was why he treated them differently. As his own children, he was not going to let them continue in their destructive sins. By his covenant promise he was going to discipline them in love. God knows his own people with a personal and intimate kind of knowing.

Jesus was saying that of those who come to him and claim to be his on the last judgment day there will be some he does not know. He could not mean that he was ignorant that they existed, or unaware of what they had done. It could only mean that these were among those he did not know intimately as his own. They were not among those “foreknown” by God as stated here in Romans 11.

For God to foreknow his people, is to know them beforehand with that special kind of knowing. He entered into a special covenant relationship with them from before the foundation of the earth. This is the meaning of Ephesians 1:4-5, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”

Paul had used the same expression back in chapter 8:29-30, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Again, his predestining, calling, justifying and glorifying of them was not based upon what he foreknew about them, but upon whom he foreknew. It was those whom he would justify in Christ and one day glorify. He had known them specially before hand, from all eternity.

To teach us about his election of some to save them from among all those of the fallen race, God chose Israel as a nation. He made a covenant with her, and called her to be a testimony to the world. Though they had a special place in God’s plan, not all of them were redeemed. The same would be true of his Church in this post-apostolic age. Many belong to the church, but not all are truly transformed by the atonement of the Savior.

When the time came to judge Israel as a nation, it was not a failure of God’s plan. It was the execution of his already revealed plan. The warnings of the Covenant were about to fall upon those who showed themselves not to be among the redeemed. Their rebellion clearly demonstrated man’s depravity. God showed his grace by adopting some of the undeserving ones to be his own special children.

He also showed his love by not letting his loved children linger in sin. That was the point Amos was making. A Father does not punish the children down the street, they are not his to punish. He loves his own so much that he will not let them develop habits that are harmful and wrong. This is why God often brings hard times upon his people. It is because of his deep concern for them. He reminds them of how they need to depend upon his care, and that his care never fails. He reminds them of the awesome love that sent the Savior to suffer and to die in their place.

Then Paul reminded them of the example of Elijah.

Romans 11:2b-4, “… Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’? But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ “

Paul’s example came from 1 Kings 19. Most all the nation of Israel had gone off after the worship of Baal. Even the king bowed to this pagan idol. At the call of God, Elijah stood against the masses and the powers that ruled the nation. As God’s spokesman, he challenged and defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Then he pronounced the end of a long God-imposed drought over the land. However, when the wicked queen Jezebel issued a threat against Elijah’s life, he became depressed, went off alone, and prepared to die. He thought he had been left as the only faithful one remaining.

Paul refers to what Elijah said in 1 Kings 19:10. He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

Elijah had become so focused upon himself, that he missed how he fit into a much larger picture. He needed to be reminded of God’s electing grace. It is God who preserves his people. It is not they who preserve God or their place in God’s heart. The Lord announced that more judgments were coming, but through it all 7,000 will be preserved who would not have bowed to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).

God had chosen a remnant for himself from among all the unfaithful. Paul makes it emphatic in Romans 11:4 where God says, “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men.” It was not the faithful 7,000 who kept themselves true. It was God who by his covenant promises preserved them as his dear children. The remnant who remained true in the face of a prospering but compromising majority had been firmly held by the loving hands of their Heavenly Father.

The remnant principle is important for
believers to understand in every age.

Romans 11:5-6, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.”

The remnant principle applies all through redemptive history. Though the majority of those who seemed to be God’s church were deceived, God preserved some by grace alone to show his special redeeming love. It was true in every era. We think of the times of Noah, Moses, the Judges, the Kings of Israel, the prophets, Jesus and the Apostles, the times of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and it’s true today.

God brings judgments, sometimes upon the masses, but he is not pleased to let his own perish. He will keep them specially by grace. That is what Peter wrote of in his 2nd Epistle. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Peter had used several examples leading up to this statement. The angles who had rebelled perished in judgment. Though the world was destroyed, Noah and his family were preserved by grace. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, but Lot and his family were saved by grace.

Peter set the theme in the first chapter of this letter. In 2 Peter 1:10 he wrote, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.”

Those specially called and known of God will be kept by him and will not stumble. Therefore strive to show evidences in your life that you are among those who are redeemed.

Paul concludes with the reason for it all, grace. The remnant is kept by that one thing alone. It is God’s choice alone. It is not based upon the works of individuals, or those of a church.

Do you sometimes wonder why there are so few today who look to the Bible as God’s holy and infallible word? Why is it only a minority that sees his word as our only rule in matters of faith and life? Why are so many unwilling for God to be truly and completely Sovereign as he presents himself in Scripture? Why do only some see man’s great hope not in his esteem of himself, but in his esteem of his Savior’s love. Why are they not willing to forsake the ways of the world though God condemns such things? Why do they not come to worship honoring God rather than to be entertained, pampered, or humored?

If our works of the past, present, or future are in any way the cause of our blessing, then grace is no more grace as verse 6 tells us. When grace is abandoned, all these principles of Scripture come tumbling down.

God has preserved a remnant according to the election of grace.

Don’t let the numbers, or the media, or the appealing programs of a vacant religion discourage you or make you lose heart. As Israel was not all lost by its corruption in the days of Paul, the church is not all lost by its corruption today.

There is always a remnant kept by the eternal and intimate love of God. They are not identified by what the world counts as success, or by what the masses approve. They are known by their faithfulness to what God himself declares as centrally important.

Attitude controlling drugs may make you feel good for the moment, but they kill you slowly and only cover up what is really important in your life. The vain and popular forms of religion, even of so called Christianity, do the same thing for our souls. They numb their victims to the really important things, while they jubilantly dance their way toward destruction, the destruction of society and ultimately of their own souls.

But God is faithful. We ought not fear that God has lost control, or that his plan is off track. Though we may feel alone at times, as did Noah, Elijah, and many others, we must persevere in our trust in the promises and principles of God’s word. We must persevere in the duties and work he calls us to do. We must rest in grace alone, not in substitutes. That alone is what saves us now and prepares us for eternal glory.

Our hope is in the fact that God has foreknown his people eternally. Therefore they are eternally his in an intimate and special love that cannot fail.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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