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.)

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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.)

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

Does God Repent of Things He Has Done?

Does God Repent of Things He Has Done?

by Bob Burridge ©2012, 2023

Some texts in the Bible can seem confusing when taken by themselves. To overcome the confusion we need to remember some important principles.

1. What did the words mean to the original readers?
2. How does the text fit into the flow of thought in the Bible?
– first there’s the local context: What’s the flow of thought in the rest of the book where the passage is found?
– then there’s the theological context: What God had revealed about this in the other inspired books?
– and there’s the historical context: what had God made known up to the time of that writing?

In about 30 places in the Bible
it says that God was “sorry” about
something, or that he “repented”.

Genesis 6:6-7 is a prime example. The English Standard Version translates it this way:

6. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
7. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

The King James Version translates verses 6-7 this way:

6. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
7. And the LORD said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.’ “

Did God regret something he had done? Did he really repent as if he had made a mistake? Did God wish he could change what he had formerly done? First we need to take a look at the larger context. What do clear Bible passages teach about God’s nature?

God’s nature is “immutable” (he does not change).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism answer to question 4 is, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

If this is true, God can never regret, make errors, or change his plans. God’s knowledge includes everything that will ever happen. There can be no reason for him to wish he could change or modify what he does.

James makes a direct statement in his epistle in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

With God the Father there is “no variation”. The original Greek word there is “parallagae” (παραλλαγη). This is an astronomical term. From it we get the word “parallax”, a term still used in astronomy. In ancient times they could see that constellations appeared in different places as the seasons changed. Some dots of light in night sky moved into different constellations. They called them “wandering stars” (planets). Some objects in the night sky change their brightness regularly. With God there’s no variableness like what we see in the night sky.

With God there is “no shadow due to change” (tropaes aposkiasma, τροπης αποσκιασμα). This is another astronomical term, It has to do with changes in shadows cast by the sun and moon. As the sun and moon change their positions in the sky during the day or night, there is an observable change in the length and direction of the shadows they cast. This expression was used in reference to the eclipses of the sun and moon. Darkness took over parts of them. With God the Creator there is no such change. He is a steady and reliable light.

There is a direct statement in Psalm 102:26-27 about the earth and the heavens, “They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” This reminds us that though the earth and heavens change with time. Their Creator doesn’t change.

There are many texts where God’s inability to change is made clear. For example, Numbers 23:19, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” And Malachi 3:6, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

God has all things under his sovereign control as it says in Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases,
he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”

Ephesians 1:11-12, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”

God even controls the plans of humans. Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”

Open Theism teaches that God is open to change and adjusts his plans to new circumstances. Those promoting this view reject the biblilcal attributes of God (immutable, omnipotent, omniscient …). They say it’s wrong to view God as infinite and unchangeable. However, their view is based upon total misunderstandings of what the Bible actually says. They misuse the verses about God repenting or changing as if he regrets things he’s done.

So then, How Does an Unchangeable God Repent?

The Hebrew word here for “repent” or “change” is nakham (נחם). It’s translated many ways in the Bible depending upon the context. Most often it is translated either “to be sorry”, “to repent”, or “to comfort”, seemingly very different ideas.

The Brown Driver and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB) defines it this way: “to be sorry, to be consoled, to be moved to pity, to have compassion, to be comforted, to be relieved.”

Uses of this Hebrew word show that it describes the reaction of a person to some sorrowful event. The person grieves over the tragedy of some event or situation. The person longs to find comfort from those sorrowful feelings. The focus of the word is upon the impact some disturbing thing has had upon him. The word doesn’t fit with our English words “repent” or “regret” as we commonly use those words today.

When we repent over our sins, our response is grief over the offense they cause to God. When God “repents” he has nothing to regret in himself. He has nothing for which to be sorry. God answers to no one but himself and to his own perfect and eternal plan. The sins of mankind offend him deeply. These sorrowful occurrences are used by God as means to accomplish all he’d purposed to happen. When God observes these tragic outworkings of evil, he is grieved over the sin, but he turns them into occasions to reveal his justice in his judgments, and his mercy in redemption. The word nakham (נחם) beautifully conveys this response.

To communicate to us the offense toward God which is produced by the sins of his creatures, the Bible uses a human response we all understand. We often experience grief, sorrow, and a need for consolation. When a human emotion is used to explain how God responds to something, we call it an “anthropopathism”, a human feeling.

We are probably more familiar with the term, “anthropomorphism”, a human-like physical thing. That’s when some physical part of man is used to represent something about God. The Eternal God has no physical body. He is revealed as spirit. However, the Bible speaks of God’s hands, eyes, feet, wings, feathers, … etc. These communicate to us that he controls, sees, comforts, and such things.

In an “anthropopathism” some emotion or feeling of man is used to explain something about God. God’s spirit nature is very different in comparison with our human nature. Yet to know how much God is offended by sin and rebellion, these human terms are used to communicate to us his response in a way we can understand. Changes in how God treats people are based upon changes in them, not upon changes in God. It shows how God reveals his unfolding decrees to us in our timeline.

In Eden before the fall, God is seen blessing man in his innocence. Then he casts man out for his sin and deep offense. In the time of Noah he warned that the whole human race deserved destruction. By grace he chose Noah and preserved the human race beyond the flood.

All of these events of history were carried out according to God’s decree. The plan included allowing man to sin. God’s judgments show no change neither in God’s mind, nor in his plan. His sorrow shows us the affront of sin to his holiness.

The changes in human relationships with God reflect the Creator’s eternal and immutable decree as it unfolds. His plan takes into account human rebellions which accomplish his goal, even though that means enduring great offense from men’s sins.

Now we apply this to the text in Genesis 6:6-7

6. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
7. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (ESV)

Regret has no place here at all. God cannot regret or make mistakes. Even the grief of God in verse 6 is not the same as human grief. God’s eternal blessedness is never interrupted even though in time God permitted sin. In Romans 1:25 God is said to be “blessed forever.” Dr. Charnock points out that grief as we know it is inconsistent with undefiled blessedness. God’s blessedness can’t be impaired or interrupted. This language is an accommodation to our “limited creaturely capacity” to understand.

Genesis 6:6 reflects a change in God’s treatment of mankind, not a change in his plan. It fulfills his unchanging resolution to punish justly, and it shows how he detests sin. If God regretted, or admitted that his plan did not turn out as he intended, it would be contrary to direct statements where God tells us that he is totally Sovereign, and that he’s foreseen all that will come to pass.

Our unchangeable God can never regret what he’s done. Passages that appear to say otherwise need to be more carefully examined to understand the point being made.
1. Consider what God has directly stated elsewhere. This rules out what the passages cannot mean. God is perfect. His plan is unchangeable. No Bible passage can teach that God regrets or repents as we do.

2. Discover what the original words mean, and how they were commonly used. The word translated as “repent” or “sorry” is not equivalent to our word “regret”. It’s mainly about his discomfort connected with sorrowful things.

3. Consider the attitude of God described in these passages. We need to understand what the human emotion represents in the infinite and unchangeable being of God. God is offended by sin. It appalls him. It causes what was created in a blessed state to be treated at a later time with judgment and contempt.

God’s immutability is both a sober warning, and a comforting assurance. God’s true nature is an uncomfortable fact for those who remain unredeemed by Christ. For those brought into the family of God by grace, it is a wonderful truth. God can’t go back on his promises, nor can his plan fail in any way. His blessings and judgments are sure.

Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

Hallowing God’s Name

Hallowing God’s Name

by Bob Burridge ©2012
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 101)
(Watch the Video)

The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9) asks for our Heavenly Father’s name to be hallowed. “Hallowed” is one of those words few of you use much in general conversations unless you’re talking about the Lord’s Prayer. Although it’s an archaic word in English that only shows up now and then in some old writings, we need to know what it means because here it is in the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

When you hallow something, you mark it out as special in a good and honorable way. In this case, Jesus tells us that when you pray you should ask that God’s name be hallowed.

The Greek word in the original text of Matthew is hagiasthaeto (ἁγιασθητω). It’s based upon the word hagios (ἁγιος), usually translated by the word “holy”. When something is holy it is set aside or marked out as special in a good way. We hallow it.

God is holy. He is more unique and special than all else that exist. He is the most unique of all unique things. 1 Samuel 2:2, “No one is holy like the Lord, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.”

We can translate this part of the Lord’s Prayer, “… let your name be specially honored.”

It’s neither telling us to pray that his name should become holy, as if it wasn’t already, nor that we want him to become more holy. His uniqueness is already perfect in every good way. It means that we want his name be recognized for what it is. Our desire is that it would be treated in a most holy way as a testimony to our respect for the one who bears that name.

We should not come to God with casual familiarity. We should come solemnly to this absolutely glorious God, the one who made all things, sustains all things, and who redeemed the lost in gracious love.

The thing that we hallow in prayer
is the Name of God, our Father in heaven.

But what’s in a name? Isn’t is just a word? Shakespeare put it this way in the well known words of Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”

She meant that her family name and Romeo’s were not going to define them. Though the Montagues and Capulets were violent enemies, they were not going to let mere words or labels stand in the way of their love.

But they were more than just words. The names represent realities and histories. Romeo and Juliet suffered and tragically died because of what those names represented.

God’s name is more than a word. It represents what he is and what he tells us about himself. We need to know what we mean when we make reference to God.

The Bible uses many different words to refer to God. The Old Testament uses the Hebrew words for God: אל (el) or אלוהים (elohim). The New Testament uses the Greek word θεος (theos). That’s where we get the word “Theology” the Study of God. Both Testaments sometimes call him Lord, King, Father, Savior, Judge, Creator, Sustainer and many other titles.

God revealed his covenant name to Moses. It’s often translated as Jehovah. It’s the Hebrew “tetragrammaton” (four letters) יהוה corresponds with Y-H-V-H . The original vowels weren’t written in Ancient Hebrew, just the 4 consonants. The German Scholars used different consonant letters because their Alphabet is different. The “Y” and “V” sounds was represented by the German letter like our “J” and “W”. This produced an academic pronunciation of the name which differs from scholar to scholar. They range from “Jehovah” to “Yahweh” and some other academic variations.

Most accurately, research shows that the ancient Hebrew pronunciation would have been “Yah-VEH”. A lot of research went into restoring Hebrew pronunciation when Israel was set up as a modern nation after World War 2. A good analysis of how that pronunciation was restored is at the “Hebrew4Christians” website.

Out of respect, God’s people in the Old and New Testaments generally didn’t pronounced this special name. It was read as “Lord” (Hebrew אדני [adonai], and in the New Testament, the Greek κύριος [kurios]). For example: Jesus in Matthew3:3 said “Lord” when quoting Isaiah 40:3. The same with Paul in Romans 9:29 when quoting Isaiah 1:9. So even the Holy Spirit led the New Testament writers to use the word for Lord when quoting the Old Testament.

It’s not the words themselves that are important, or that need to be hallowed. It is what these names represent. In Exodus 34:6-7 God explains his own name, YHVH which is translated there as Lord, “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’ then in verse 8 it says, ‘So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.’ ”

Moses was humbled and moved to worship when he was reminded of all that God is. We reverence the words because of what they mean. God’s name is to be hallowed because he is uniquely unique above all else that is.

The negative side was given in the Third Commandment.

Exodus 20:7,”You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

When God’s name is used, or any of the words that describe his perfections and divine work, there should be a solemn awareness of what it means. To use his name in vain means to use it casually without really meaning what we say.

Most obviously we offend God when his name is used as an expletive to express emotions. People use his names to show frustration, surprise, or anger. They use the words “God,” “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” or even “Jehovah” as vain expressions. When people throw words like “Oh God,” or “Good Lord” into conversations they are quick to point out that they don’t really mean anything by it. That’s exactly what the word “vain” means.

The names of God identify him with all his unique divine attributes. He is the one who is Just, Holy, Gracious, and Merciful. When we use words like those in a vain or in a profane way, we violate this commandment. These words are used at times as names of God in Scripture.

One of the names used for God in the Bible is “Holy.” He is the perfection of holiness. All other holiness must come from him. To speak of holy cows and such things trivializes this characteristic of God.

Only God can condemn someone to eternal punishment. To use words like “hell” and “damn” in a profane way is to trivialize the very serious acts of God’s judgment. Sin and it’s eternal penalty are not trivial. They are a tragic reality. The application of them must always be God’s own prerogative.

To use words about what God is and does, but without really meaning what they stand for, is to vainly take up these words. The enemy of our soul is quick to get us to use high and holy words in ways that corrupt them and numb us to their meaning. One of the greatest joys to Satan and evil is to get God’s people to take God lightly, to make him an object of our humor and careless expressions, to diminish his holiness and trivialize his glory.

All this may seem innocent, unimportant, and trivial, but God made the honoring of his name the Third Commandment.

Some even violate the Third Commandment during worship. They let their minds wander off to other things while they sing his name, repeat creeds, hear scripture read and expounded, and when they pray. If while doing these good things your minds are not thinking of God when you say his name, you take it up without meaning and use it in vain.

In the Lord’s Prayer we have the
positive side of this moral principle.

The Third Commandment tells us how not to treat God’s name. Here Jesus tells us how his name ought be treated.

One of the first goals of our prayers is to ask that God’s name should be hallowed. It should be used with special awareness of all that God is. Pray that you will hallow the names of God. You might avoid the vain use of his name by just not mentioning him much, but the duty you have is to glorify him and to promote that glory.

Talk about him and his truths in a natural and respectful way. Don’t let people assume that God has become unimportant in this world. You can change that perception by speaking naturally about him in your daily conversations, by hallowing his name. Don’t be satisfied with the general words about God which are so confused and watered down today. Clarify why God is so important to you. Honor the name of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, as Shepherd and Comforter. Avoid trivial expressions about him, but do not keep silent.

Psalm 96:2-3 tells us, “Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.”

Pray that God will make you grow to more appreciate his absolute uniqueness over all that is. When you see his glory you will not have to work hard to let it show to others. Ask God to teach you about his own special nature. Study his word to learn more about him. Ask him to give you the humility to know how far short you fall of his perfections.

Let the names of God remind you that you owe him for all your skills, ideas, and abilities. Thank him for the faith he put in your heart, for the spiritual strength you draw from him, and for the grace that richly blesses you because of his perfect and undeserved love. Learn to rest in his perfect sufficiency and promises.

Pray that God would stir you to conform your whole life, all your thoughts, words and deeds, to that perfect moral standard, the unique holiness of God.

Pray that others will hallow the names of God too. Do all you can to help them come to understand God’s absolute uniqueness and perfection.

For the lost to become able to hallow God’s name, they need to become believers. Not just accepting some list of facts, or theological ideas. Not just making a personal decision, or reaching some emotional conviction. They need to rest in Christ alone for all that he is and has done. Only by his work on the Cross can anyone understand the real holiness of God and hallow his name. Tell them about the wonderful gospel that can really change their lives. Help them join with God’s people for worship, instruction, and encouragement.

This is how we hallow his name. It is what we expect our prayer to accomplish.

(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

Watch for the Warnings

Lesson 40: Romans 10:18-21

Watch for the Warnings

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Living in Florida we hear a lot about hurricane warnings. Many thousands of lives have been saved by the amazingly helpful warnings. Thankfully, we have not had an actual hurricane hit our area for many decades. But we have seen the horrible results of those category five storms and smaller ones that skirt the coast. Precious lives have been lost, thousands left homeless, and damage in the staggering range of billions of dollars.

When the storms are over, there are always those who become cynical. Some in Florida have complained that they were evacuated needlessly. The foolish come to ignore the warnings and are likely to become future victims.

Some ignore warnings even when the danger is obvious and imminent. One news report showed a car entering a street flooded with water. Ahead was another car that had been caught in the rising water. Only the top of its roof showed above the surface. The approaching car entered the flooded street anyway. As the front of the car slowly dipped below the surface, the news commentator said, “Sometimes, you’ve got to wonder.”

When I was a scout, our troop often went camping in the snowy Western New York winters at the Schoellkopf Scout Reservation, near Cowlesville. One morning the lure of a freshly snow covered hill tempted me to break the rules. It had been a typical late night of telling silly jokes, trying to out-do one another with scary stories, and good natured torments of one another.

The next morning, while everyone else was still in bed sleeping it off, I ventured out with my sled to the top of the long sloping driveway that let to the meeting hall. We had been warned not to be out of the cabins until we heard the morning bugle.

The crunching of the freshly fallen snow under my boots should have been a further warning, but I pressed on to the highest point, imagining the fast ride I’d have as the first one down the hill that day. I stopped at the top and placed my sled on the ground aiming at the steep slope in front of me. I took a moment to notice the beauty of the rising sun glistening on the crust that had formed over the deep powder underneath — that was the last warning, which I also chose to ignore.

Without another thought I flopped down on the sled which began sliding faster and faster. The frozen crust on top of the snow was slick. As I picked up speed I steered along the road feeling the cold air blow past my face.

Suddenly something unexpected happened! My sled broke through the crust of ice and continued on through the loose snow underneath. However, laying on the sled, I was just about at the level of the ice as my face tore through the sharp edges.

It hurt a bit and I was quite disappointed that my ride came to such a sudden end. So I dug out my sled and trudged into the cabin where others were beginning to emerge from their sleeping bags and gather around the little pot-bellied wood stove. When I walked in everyone went silent and stood there staring at me in shock. “What happened to you?” was the first thing I heard.

I managed to work up a smile on my rather frozen cheeks. But someone handed me a mirror, and to my shock, my face was covered with blood. I had cuts from the ice all over my nose and cheeks which took weeks to heal. You can imagine my poor parents when I showed up at home after the camp weekend was over.

There are warnings all the time. It’s wise to pay attention to them. In our modern age we get advanced warnings of storms, fires and drought. We have alarms that tell us when burglars break into our houses or cars. There are the warnings of parents, teachers and consumer agencies. But even the good advice does little good if we ignore it.

There are spiritual warnings too, that God lovingly gives to alert his children. They come to us in God’s word preserved for us in our Bibles. We need to take them seriously. God also put examples in Scripture of how others have responded to the warnings. Ancient Israel had done very poorly with the cautions of the prophets.

The Gospel was not what the Jews expected, or wanted. They turned the promises of grace into works of merit and special privilege. It was hard for them to accept the words of the Prophets that predicted God’s judgment on them, and that there would come a time when all nations will be equally blessed by God.

In our last study in Romans 10 we saw that Paul wrote in verses 12-13, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’ ”

The Jews hated that message, and for it they persecuted the Christians. Romans 10:16-17, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Unlike the Messiah the Jews came to expect, Jesus came as a suffering Messiah. His gospel included the Gentiles as equals in God’s Kingdom. This was not a new message. There had been warnings included in the prophetic word they should have recognized.

Paul asked a question to get them to realize
how they had ignored the clear warnings.

Romans 10:18, “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’ “

Paul was quoting a very familiar Old Testament texts from Psalm 19. In verse one it says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” Then in verse four it says, “Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. …”

The Psalmist was speaking of how God makes himself known to all in nature. Everything he made is showing his glory and divine nature. It is so clear that even the unbeliever is said to be without excuse for not honoring God as revealed. Paul said in Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

So if God proclaims his word in nature to all men indiscriminately, then why should the Jews complain about the gospel being proclaimed to all nations too? This is Paul’s reason for quoting this verse here. Have all heard? and are held responsible for honoring God? Absolutely!

Hengstenberg wrote, “the universal revelation of God in nature, was a providential prediction of the universal proclamation of the gospel.” If the word of God goes out to all by what he made, then the gospel should too.

This should not have been a surprise to the Jews.
They had been warned it would happen.

Romans 10:19, “But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: ‘I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.’ “

So was this new information for Israel? No. Moses had warned that God would use an ignorant nation to make Israel jealous. Paul was quoting from Deuteronomy 32:21, “They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation.”

God would stir up this apathetic and proud nation. The word translated “to make jealous” is qinnae (קנא), which means “to stir up to zeal, enthusiasm, passion.” The word translated “to anger” is ca’as (כעס), means “to irritate, provoke to anger.”

Israel had stirred the wrath and anger of God by idolatry. The god they were worshiping was not the same as the one described in their Bibles. As they had provoked him, God would stir them up specifically to a passion of anger.

There it was! a specific warning if Israel did not repent of her rebellious ways. God would use a nation that was not his people to stir them up. It was going to be a prophetic judgment, and the sign would be the use of the Gentiles.

That’s exactly the result the gospel produced. In Acts 4:1-3 we see what happened when the first offer of the gospel came to the Jews, “Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.”

As the gospel first started to spread, the book of Acts shows its results among the Jews. They were not content to not believe. They were stirred to rage over the gospel!

Acts 13:45, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.”

Acts 17:5, “But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

Acts 17:13, “But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

Acts 22:22, “And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!”

Matthew Henry explains, “God often makes people’s sin their punishment.” In Romans 1:26-27 Paul said this directly, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

I wore scabs and marks on my nose and cheeks for weeks after my sled rebellion. My sin of not paying attention to the warnings brought a very natural penalty. It would have been fitting if God had given me over to do the same stupid thing again. But in his mercy, he didn’t. He taught me a lesson instead. I learned that it’s not smart to ignore the warnings when you see them.

More seriously people wear the scars of their sinful lusts and addictions in ruined bodies, shattered lives, and troubled souls. Israel was given over to the god she had cherished more than the true God. As you sin, God may give you over to your offensive behavior too! There is nothing so alarming than when a person who says he is a believer ignores God’s warnings. Particularly when he admits that something is sin, but continues in it anyway. That was the message God’s prophets brought to Israel that revealed her true lostness. That is the message that should send absolute alarm to the soul of any who hears it today.

Hearing the languages of foreign nations being spoken in their midst, was a sign to alert Israel. This is how God would sound his warning to the Jews for their unfaithfulness, that God would judge them by using the Gentiles.

This was predicted when Israel was still wandering in the wilderness. The warning is recorded in Deuteronomy 28:49 “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand.”

Isaiah said it again when the Jews rebelled in later times. In Isaiah 28:11 it says, “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.”

In the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, God marked the beginning of the New Era. The work of Jesus was finished, so the Temple, its priesthood, and sacrifices were ended. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Christians to mark God’s anointing of them as the ones he would empower to be Jehovah’s continuing Covenant People as the prophet Joel had predicted. This also marked the bringing in of Gentiles, and the end of the Jewish era. God supernaturally moved them to speak in other languages to confirm his warnings. As Luke records it in the book of Acts 2:4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

This special experience was repeated as the Gospel came to other communities in the first few decades of expansion. Some in Corinth corrupted this prophetic sign as if it was a special continuing gift. When Paul corrected them he quoted directly from the warning in Isaiah 28:11. In 1 Corinthians14:21 he wrote, ” ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,’ says the Lord.” He added that last part of Isaiah 28:12, “yet they would not hear.”

Israel had not paid attention to the warnings of the prophets. They re-interpreted the signs into privileges, instead of indicators of danger and pending judgment. The covenant penalties were about to fall, and the Gentile era was about to begin.

Even today, some imagine the sign of speaking in tongues as a continuing gift for the church. They make the sign of judgment into a badge of spiritual pride. Those who believe that God moves people to supernaturally speak in tongues today, sadly pervert one of the covenant alarms. Though unknowingly, they turn it into a distortion of what God said it would be.

The gathering in of the Gentiles was
an amazing message of grace.

Romans 10:20, “But Isaiah is very bold and says: ‘I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ “

Again Paul used the Bible to show the Jews that God had already clearly warned them. He quoted from Isaiah 65:1, “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ To a nation that was not called by My name.”

God was to be found by those not even seeking him, by Gentiles. What a humiliation to those in the unbelieving nation of Israel, and an amazing display of grace, that totally undeserved favor of God. Israel had forgotten her own past. She had not earned her place as God’s nation. It was God’s sovereignly imposed covenant alone that made an unworthy race into a people so richly blessed. The Gentiles were no more undeserving than was Israel, or than is anyone. God’s sovereign right to save those whom he chooses is confirmed.

God’s warnings also show his
tender care that never fails.

Romans 10:21, “But to Israel he says: ‘All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.’ “

God had patiently offered his warnings. Now he was giving this final prophetic sign to the Jews to call them to come back to his truths. Paul continued the quote from Isaiah 65:2 about God’s perseverance and longsuffering, “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts.”

God’s faithful love to his people continued, even though they ungratefully provoked him.

It is the foolish and immature who ignore clear warnings about dangerous things. There are flood victims who drive their cars directly into raging torrents of water. There are those who disable fire alarms so they won’t wake them up at night. Then there was that scout who took an early morning sled ride against the warnings of those in charge and the ominous signs that the hill was dangerous. There are those who read the warnings of Scripture about the offense our sin causes against God, of the judgments that will fall on those whose faith proves to be a deception, of the awesome price that was paid to overcome the serious consequences of our guilt, yet they continue in the same sin and self-arrogance imagining that somehow they will escape the consequences.

God’s warnings come to his erring children to call them back, not to torment them. Even a study like this one might be the sounding of a spiritual alarm in your heart. What will you do with that warning? Will you be like Israel and basically ignore it? Will you presume that since you are in a sound church, or have made a particular profession of faith, or been baptized into membership, or done some good things every day, or belong to a Christian family, that somehow God will count that as merit? Do you think you can impress God enough so that you can continue in sin with no consequences? What a foolish deception human hearts throw over the truth of God’s loving word.

Rather, when you see your sin it should humble you to think that by grace God loves you in Christ. Considering his undeserved mercy, and patient warnings, you ought to love him all the more!

How God has stretched out his hands to call you back when you wander. He has given loving warnings as a caring father to his children threatened with danger. He has been so loving and good, yet still he is relegated to such a low place in some lives.

He warns us that, though he bears long, he does not wait forever. In time the corrupt nature of some emerges above their empty claims. It becomes evident that they are not the Lord’s people at all.

Isaiah 5;3-6 tells exactly how that was to happen to unbelieving Israel, “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it.”

By grace, God calls you to be a loving and faithful part of his family. But his call also transforms your soul so that his warnings will not go unheeded. When you sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit it should be great cause for thankful praise that God is indeed your Father and persistently warns you as his child.

Prove that conversion by responding with sincere repentance and a passion for pleasing God in all you think, say, and do.

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

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