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

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.)

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Only a Remnant Foreknown

Lesson 41: Romans 11:1-6

Only a Remnant Foreknown

by Bob Burridge ©2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul wanted to clear up an important point.

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

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

His answer was quick and emphatic:

Romans 11:1b, “… Certainly not! …”

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

He gave two lines of argument to support this.

First he pointed out the obvious …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Paul reminded them of the example of Elijah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.)

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

An Unexpected Deliverance

Lesson 39: Romans 10:12-17

An Unexpected Deliverance

by Bob Burridge ©2011

The way things really are may not be the way we expect them to be. Sometimes our strong but wrong expectations make the reality rather unwelcome.

For example, people have always watched the stars move across the night sky slowly toward the west making a complete trip across the sky every night. The next night each star rises about 4 minutes earlier than it did the night before. By the time a year has gone by, the stars movements would have completely cycled around to the same positions in the sky they had the year before.

Even in the most ancient of times people noticed the way the moon seems to move around the earth once a month. They saw five other lights in the sky that seemed to wander around us on unique paths. They called them planets, which means “wanderers”.

To explain it all, including such things as eclipses, became confusing. The problem was that they had it all worked out in the wrong way. They assumed that the earth was stationary,and that all the objects in the sky revolved around the earth. The stars were imagined as imbedded on a large celestial sphere which wrapped around everything else. The moon, sun, and planets were each thought to be attached to clear crystalline spheres within that outer celestial shell. They assumed that each layer rotated around the earth, each a little larger than the one it surrounded.

The movements of the planets were not fitting that model so to make the system work they came to believe that the planets were rotating on clear disks around points on the rotating spheres. That still didn’t solve the problem so more circles had to be added. Still some observations just could not be made to fit. The scheme became very complex and hard to handle. By 1538, just a short time after the Reformation, the system required 79 interconnected spheres.

The wrong starting point produced a complex system that was very impressive and somewhat convincing. There was only one problem — it was not the way things really were.

When the answer came it was most unexpected and unwelcome. Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus found evidence that the sun was at the center of the system. It was the earth and the 5 planets that moved around the sun. Very soon after that Kepler added the idea that the planets orbited in ellipses, not perfect circles.

Many like Tycho Brahe rejected the idea on philosophical grounds. They insisted that it could not be true. Brahe thought that the Bible itself demanded that everything revolved around the earth. Of course the Bible teaches no such thing. The truth was not liked at all. The Copernican idea was condemned as heretical foolishness.

However, once the basic structure was settled, the measurements started to fit much better. Without all the spheres and circles orbiting points on other circles with off-set centers, things were much simpler. In time even the skeptics had to admit that the unwanted truth was unavoidable.

Of course we are still measuring the light from stars and distant galaxies trying to answer many remaining questions. But we are making better progress now that we have the right foundation.

The most important issue of all has also been commonly misunderstood. There is that question that concerns those who come under conviction of sin, “How can I be forgiven and become accepted by God forever?”

Our fallen nature will not see or admit the problem as it really is. Therefore wrong answers are assumed. Spiritually dead souls imagine all sorts of abilities they don’t have, and imagine rules that don’t exist. Even God’s word is distorted to protect an assumed scheme of things.

People often assume that, “God loves everybody and could never punish anyone eternally.” Some say, “We are all really good deep inside, we are all God’s children.” Some propose that, “if we live a good charitable life God would have to bless us.” So they adopt mystical religions, impressive rituals, self-denying lists of taboos, and think of all the good things they have done that should impress God.

Since they build their ideas upon a wrong foundation, things cannot fit together well. If we are all good deep inside, how can we explain why so many violent crimes are committed? Why do people tend to lie so easily and ignore responsibilities? How can they justify punishing certain actions and behaviors while still trying to respect all views as right? Supposedly rehabilitated criminals are set free only to commit more crimes. Morals tend to evaporate away as cultures progress from their beginnings leaving a seething pool of raging humanity. Abortions of humans are championed as a right to be protected while they make laws protecting unborn sea turtles. To cope with frustrations they cannot explain people turn to drugs, suicide, multiple marriages, unrestrained and unsafe sexual habits, alcohol-abuse, over-eating, gossip, addiction to TV and computer games, and many more conscience blinding activities to avoid facing reality.

God’s answer comes unexpectedly to the fallen human heart. The truth had been confused from the beginning. The prophets were hated and persecuted when they declared what the Creator revealed to them. When Jesus was born fulfilling the prophesies, the Jews stumbled at it because it did not fit their scheme of things, and the Gentiles hated it because it did not fit with their philosophy either.

But there it was — the great promise was fulfilled in a suffering Messiah. Fallen humans, both Jews and Gentiles, expected a formula for earning blessings and rewards, but God sent Jesus to die in his people’s place to give undeserved life to all he called to believe in him.

Today it is no different. The secularists imagine that no Savior is needed. Religionists imagine that the Savior did not finish the job, so they hope in altar calls, emotional decisions, mystical rituals, and good deeds.

The deliverance God provided was unexpected
both in Scope and Method

Romans 10:12-13, “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.’ “

God’s work of salvation was unexpectedly large in its scope. The Jewish teachers in Paul’s time expected a Messiah to bless them specially because they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had become proud and bigoted in their customs and heritage. They were sure that salvation required everybody to first convert to Judaism. They imagined a revolutionary Messiah who would overthrow Rome, humiliate the Gentiles, and give the Jews advantages over them. To make that idea fit the words of Scripture, the Rabbis had completely re-interpreted Moses and the Prophets. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:29 “Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

In Christ the difference between Jew and Gentile was being done away. The truth of the gospel brings salvation to all believers without distinction. There are no more national privileges in the Gospel. There is only one Lord, no other God, no other Sovereign by which anyone is saved.

Many Jews were highly offended at the challenge being made by the Christians against the distorted view they had of their special standing. When God began to bring in Gentiles without first requiring them to become Jews, it was too much for the Rabbis and their blinded followers. It stirred hatred and persecutions to save a system that was unraveling in the light of truth.

God’s work of salvation was also unexpected in its method. The abounding riches promised by God were to be for all those who called upon Him. This had always been God’s plan. The symbolic rites of Judaism were to teach what was to come. They were never a means of salvation.

The quote here came from the Old Testament in Joel 2:32, “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. …” Joel was announcing the judgment of the Lord upon unbelief, and the salvation of his true people.

The same verse was quoted by Peter at Pentecost as a clear reference to the Messiah’s Coming. Peter also gave the context that shows that Joel was writing about the era of the New Testament. Joel 2:28-29, “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; …”

Calling upon the name of the Lord as it is mentioned in these verses is equivalent with identifying ourselves with his work of redeeming his people. It is an exercise of a true saving faith. It is not just calling out with specific words. It is an expression of heart-trust, asking for deliverance and expecting it to come as God promised it would. That is what it means to be a believer, one who calls out to the Lord trusting in his promise.

Paul used the same quote in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:”

There Paul substituted the name of Jesus for the word Jehovah in Joel. This calling out is a humbling confession that drives a person to the one true Deliverer.

Salvation is neither inherited nor earned as the Jews imagined. It came by what we call “vicarious atonement”. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross. There he removed the offense by paying the debt of sin for his people. It is vicarious because he does it in the sinner’s place as their representative.

Faith is the means God uses in applying our salvation. He implants confidence in the heart which then trusts in the true way of salvation as it is learned.

The Gospel was unexpected in both its scope and method. The free offer of the gospel to all nations had always been God’s promise. The Jewish leaders and teachers were wicked to have rejected what had been so plainly revealed. Therefore, Israel as a covenant nation was without excuse.

This unexpected deliverance
employed very ordinary means.

Romans 10:14-15, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ “

These obvious logical steps which God ordained involved his people in the process. If you call trustingly upon the Lord, you must first believe the truth of his gospel message. If you trust in him, you must first have heard about him. In order to hear the gospel, someone must have presented it to you. If you have been presented with it, some “proclaimer” must have been sent by God to deliver that message. That is how God planned that his work of redemption would be carried out.

The Greek word for “preacher” is the participle kaerus-sontos (κηρυσσοντος). It means one who “announces, tells, proclaims, publishes, makes something known”. This is not just the formal preaching that ordained ministers do. It includes that, but more broadly it is a promise to all those who tell the gospel truth to others. It includes those who translate and publish Bibles or write books, those who teach it in the worship services and Sunday Schools, those who take it to foreign countries and help establish new churches. It is also the work of us all as we talk with our children, friends, and co-workers. Every faithful believer becomes a link in this important chain.

The sending spoken of here is not only the commissioning and supporting of missionaries. This may be included, but unlike its common use in missions conferences, there is nothing in this verse that justifies limiting it to that one special application. God sends us all to bring his truth to others who have not yet understood it. By that proclaimed word, God gives people understanding, implants faith in them, and moves them to call out to Jesus showing the reality of the faith he put into their hearts. We who are sent on this mission by our Redeemer must obey, even though there will sometimes be strong opposition.

This was Israel’s job to declare the truth of God’s salvation to everyone, but she disobeyed, became arrogant and isolated. When the day came to expand to the Gentiles, the corrupted Rabbis became persecutors of those doing what they should have been doing all along.

When we explain the gospel truth to others, we speak with God’s authority because we are telling his words. Jesus said in Luke 10:16 “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

This is a wonderful duty to which God calls his people. Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ ”

Isaiah was speaking of those bringing news of release from captivity to Israel. That event represented the future coming of the promised Messiah to set his people free from sin. Those who were the enemies of God will be humbled by the undeniable power of the King of kings. The promise of deliverance, embraced or not, will be laid out before the whole world. A close reading of Isaiah showed that this included the extending of the truth about deliverance to the Gentiles too. Isaiah 52:10 says, “The LORD has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God.” This is how Paul uses the verse here.

Joy ought to be attached to bringing of the gospel message. The Jews who were angered by it, and found no joy in taking the truth to the Gentiles, showed that they were aliens from the true spiritual nation of God. Their feet were not on the mountains. They were propped up before them in selfish comfort.

As we take the gospel to those who are not already believers, we should never fear how they might treat us or what they will think of us. There will be those who oppose us whatever we do. It is far better to be the enemy of those who hate God, than to join his enemies and contribute to the confusion and silencing of the gospel.

Though God’s deliverance was not what they expected,
it was not a new idea.

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.”

God had foretold not only the bringing in of the Gentiles, but also the apostasy of Israel. When the Messiah came in the way he did, it was to most of the Jews an unbelievable series of events. They had so confused the message with their expectations that it seemed unacceptable.

Isaiah 53 foretold the coming of a Suffering Messiah. That is the chapter from which Paul was quoting here, “Who has believed our report?…” (Isaiah 53:1). Literally it means, “who would have believed the thing reported?” Isaiah was speaking of the unexpectedness of the Suffering Messiah which is described by the prophet in the verses that followed.

To the Jews it was a stumbling block. They assumed that salvation would have to be earned by keeping the law, by doing good works. They wanted a Messiah who would destroy Rome, and set up the Jews on an earthly throne. They wanted the Gentiles to be looked down upon as an inferior race of people. The truth was not what they expected or wanted to hear.

Like those who rejected the ideas of Copernicus, the truth about the Messiah was not appealing. It went against what they assumed was true. It meant that we humans are not as innocent or as powerful as it seems. The false ideas of of the fallen mind do not quite fit the reality we see around us, but in that spiritually blinded estate, the lies seem more appealing.

The gospel exposes what humans really need, but deny. It dashes the idea that someone could be redeemed by earning it through their efforts and choices. It shows that God is rightfully the judge of all who remain in their sins. It puts us all on the same level: Jew and Gentile alike, rich and poor, intelligent and slow of mind. This is a difficult message until the heart is changed by the inward work of the Holy Spirit.

So God sends us out as his people to tell the good news, even to those who do not see it as good. We are duty bound to bring it to as many as we can. It is not our duty to make them believe. It is our duty to tell them the facts as clearly as we can. It is our duty to pray for the Spirit to gather in all God calls to himself by grace.

God gives us a simple message, one that confounds expectations, but transforms the soul.

What is your mission field? It is where God puts you every day. It is made up of the people around you who are confused about the truth, those who cry out for answers but have a wrong system into which to fit everything.

How will you tell the message to those people? You can bring it up in your daily conversations with others as a caring friend. You can invite someone to coffee, lunch, or dinner where you can help them understand what it is like to trust in God’s promises.

When you have the opportunity, tell them the truth, not just what they want to hear. Speak humbly as one who knows he is as equally fallen in Adam as they are. Explain how salvation is promised by God himself, to all who call upon the true Christ in true faith.

It is by such simple obedience that Christ builds his kingdom. The right growth of a church is not found in attracting people to fancy architecture or entertaining programs. It is not found in social activities designed to appeal to every unique category in society. As helpful as these things may be, the real work of Kingdom growth is the gathering of each one who believes into a loving family in the Lord. There we each do our best to help one another. We should speak out when we can to spread the message about this wonderful truth.

(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

Misdirected Zeal

Lesson 38: Romans 10:1-11

Misdirected Zeal

by Bob Burridge ©2011

People often take their religion very seriously. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a matter of eternity, and of their whole purpose in life.

People sometimes get excited about football games. They shout, jump around, paint their faces, or wear rubber cheese wedges on their heads. So we certainly should expect that some would have great zeal about issues of the soul.

A football game lasts just a short time and its over. Even a winning season is only for one year. But our eternal relationship with God is neither seasonal nor renegotiated now and then. A sports fan might feel a sense of deep loyalty to a school, or city, or to the team itself. How much more should be our fervent loyalty to our Creator! Some type of religious zeal is expected in all redeemed humans.

Of course not every football fan paints his face, wears strange hats, or waves a giant foam finger that says “We are number one”. People show their zeal in different ways according to their personalities. Religious zeal is that way too. Not all believers will express themselves in the same way, or be able to engage in the same types of service to our Redeemer. But in every true believer there is a zeal for Christ implanted into his heart by grace.

Not all religious zeal is good. James speaks of true Christianity as the “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27) This obviously stands in contrast with what Paul denounces as “self-imposed religion” (Colossians 2:23). Zeal for false religion both dishonors God and hurts those drawn along by irresponsible leaders.

In chapter 10 Paul continues the ideas he had just explained in Romans 9. The Jews had confused the outward form of God’s covenant with the reality it represented. Israel was chosen as God’s special covenant people to represent his election of some to salvation. However, they had come to think of themselves as better than the rest of the world. They looked down upon the Gentiles as less worthy. Some of them were behind the killing of the Messiah because he did not bring a message that specially exalted them as they expected.

God had not chosen the Israelites because of their special worth to begin with. He chose them who were unworthy so that he could demonstrate his attributes of undeserved mercy and grace. The Jews mistook God’s grace as if it was an earned reward. They imagined that their own efforts in keeping God’s law actually saved them. They thought that keeping the law sufficiently was still possible for fallen humans. She also thought that Israel was specially privileged eternally. Neither of these beliefs are consistent with what is revealed in Scripture.

Paul again makes his deep
concern for Israel very clear.

Romans 10:1, Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.

Paul was concerned about the Jews who were the outward representatives of God’s covenant. Theirs was a very special and important relationship. Tragically, their rebellion was confusing what God was demonstrating by choosing them. Paul warned them about the divine judgment from which they needed to be saved. He did not cater to their “felt needs” to win them over. He did not use focus groups to find out what they wanted to hear.
He boldly told them the dramatic truth about what God was about to do.
First, the Jews would no longer be outwardly blessed above all other nations. Second, God was about to redeem Gentiles into his church as equals in the Covenant Kingdom. By this it would be shown that effort and birthright are not the causes of redemption. It was a hard lesson, but a needed one.

Paul commended their zeal.

Romans 10:2, For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

Though zeal can be a good thing, it doesn’t excuse the error their zeal was promoting. He already had made it clear that they needed to be saved. Zeal for the wrong things, no matter how sincere, is not a virtue. The value of zeal is in its object, not in its words, or actions. If God’s truth and glory are our goals, then our zeal in promoting those things is wonderful. But if the goal is something that obscures God’s truth or misdirects his glory then it is evil.

Many of the Jews at that time lived zealously by strict rules and rabbinic traditions. They fervently defended their religious heritage. They sometimes even gave their lives for the cause. But they were zealous for things contrary to what God had revealed as true and good.

Some tried to become righteous by
a way God said could never succeed.

Romans 10:3, For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

Their zealous belief that effort could remove their guilt was a terrible error. We are righteous when we are innocent with respect to all that God’s holiness demands. As far back as those early days in Eden God made it clear that fallen man needed to have his righteousness provided by God. The same was proven throughout history to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and to Paul himself. Israel was missing that important point. She was seeking to establish her own righteousness by works, deeds, efforts, and an arrogant sense of privilege. This error produced human pride and bigotry. It redirected toward mere creatures, the glory due only to their Creator. In their blind self importance, they rejected and killed the Messiah himself. This was the final just cause that ended Israel’s place as the special Covenant People of God. It was time for what they prefigured to take place in the unfolding of history.

Jesus Christ is the center of the whole issue.

Romans 10:4, For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

But how is it that Christ is the “end of the law”? Did Jesus annul the law which God had given for all the ages past? Did he cancel the moral principles summarized in the 10 Commandments? Did he mean that now sin is not defined by God’s law anymore? Absolutely not!

Such an interpretation is contrary to the actual wording of this verse, and is absolutely impossible. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

The word for “to fulfill” is plaerisai (πληρωσαι). It means to bring something to its full measure. Jesus brought the law to the fullness of what it was meant to be all along. He did not abolish it by fulfilling it (as some say to excuse us from the law). Jesus was making a contrast — instead of abolishing or destroying, he was fulfilling.

Here in Romans 10:4 the word translated “end” is telos (τελος). It means the end product of something, the goal to which something aims.

Jesus brought the law to its fullness by his life and death. He lived to keep the law in our place so that we can be counted as righteous in him. He died to satisfy the demands of the law in our place. He redeems individuals to enable them understand his moral principles, to love the attitudes and actions that please their Creator, and to humbly strive by Christ’s power to keep his moral principles to the greatest extent possible.

He did not do away with what the law says is moral and good. The moral law shows what God defines as good. Certainly that eternal standard never changes. It is what marks out those redeemed as having been made holy. We are called to “be holy even as the Lord our God is Holy”.

The ceremonial laws of Old Israel showed that our sin deserves death. Certainly that is still true. The symbolic sacrifices of the Old Testament ceremonies foreshadowed Christ’s death. Once the final sacrifice for his people was completed on the Cross, the symbolic sacrifices would be out of place. However, what was required by divine justice remained. The sinner must die (Romans 6:23), or a perfect Redeemer must die in his place. The only way this justice could be satisfied is by a redeemer who was also the infinite God, the one who was offended. It must be a righteousness provided by God.

So, how then is Jesus the end of the law? Peter uses the same word to describe what Jesus did regarding our faith. 1 Peter 1:9, “… receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls.”

The word “end” is sometime translated here as “outcome”. It is the same word translated as “end” in Romans 10:4 [telos (τελος)] with regard to the law. Certainly Jesus did not abolish faith, destroy it, or put an end to it. He brought faith to its complete goal in our lives, just as he did with the law. He provides our ability to do what faith leads up to, to reach its goal, to produce its fruit. In the same way, what Christ provides in us is that toward which the law aims us.

On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) There Jesus used the same word again, telos (τελος). The verb form used there is tetelestai (τετελεσται) which carries the force of something “brought to its end, completed.” He accomplished, consummated, perfected the work he came to do. He did not annul or destroy all he had done. He brought it to its full end.

Jesus came to satisfy the demands of the law for his people, and to enable them to begin to live in a way that truly pleases God within the bounds of his moral principles revealed in the law. His children are only able to live those transformed lives by the Savior’s power at work in them.

That is why it says that Christ is the end of the law “for righteousness.” By the completed work of Jesus we are declared innocent of what God’s holiness forbids. The law shows us how much we need a Savior. It drives us to him in humble repentance. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:24, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

The law never had the power to remove guilt, or to produce obedience and holiness. Only Jesus could do that. So he brought the law to its goal, to its intended end, by making his people righteous. The whole point of the work of Christ was to make righteousness in us a reality. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul wrote, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Then in Philippians 3:8-9 he wrote, “… that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

Paul tells us directly here that Jesus does not produce this righteousness in everyone. He came to secure it only in those who believe.

If left to keeping the law,
we would have no hope.

Romans 10:5, For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”

The Lord said through Moses in Leviticus 18:5, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”

Certainly, if it was possible for any man to keep the law as God demanded, he would live. He would enjoy life in its fullest both now and forever in God’s holy presence. But Moses also showed that such living is impossible after the fall of Adam. Our attempts reveal our sin and inability. They ought to drive us in repentance before God to plead for his mercy. This is why the sacrifices were needed. They pointed ahead to Christ. The law serves the purpose of exposing our lostness as our efforts fail, and it points us to Christ who alone is our righteousness.

Even one single sin would justly condemn a person forever. As Paul said in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” In Galatians 3:10 Paul again quotes the Old Testament saying, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ”

The Jews had ignored the part of God’s word about their inability, and about the unmerited mercies of God. They had turned the sacrifices into acts of merit, instead of confessions of need. They imagined that by zealously living by law they could make themselves right with God. The fallacy of their error is that it is the exact opposite of what God tells us in Scripture. They were striving for what was unattainable. In that zeal they offended God, and harmed themselves.

There is a way by which
we can become righteous.

Romans 10:6-10, But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, ” ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Paul bases these comments on another part of the writings of Moses. He uses the language of Deuteronomy 30 to show that our efforts are neither necessary nor helpful. They are not the cause of God’s mercies.

From Deuteronomy 30:12 he asks “Who will ascend into heaven?” Then Paul applies it to the fetching of the Messiah to come down to redeem us. Obviously he is demonstrating that no one needs to do this. No one would be able to do it.

Then he alludes to Deuteronomy 30:13 when he asks, “Who will descend into the abyss?” Again, applying this to fetching Christ, this time to bring him back from the dead. Once more it is obvious that this is impossible and unnecessary since it has been accomplished. It was not done by humans zealously securing for themselves what was needed. It was done by the grace of God alone through the provision of our Redeemer. Nothing remains for us to add, even if we could.

The righteousness which is based upon faith has a very different message. Paul then quotes from the next verse in that section of Deuteronomy 30. Verse 14 says, “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”

The salvation which is impossible for fallen man to seek and to obtain is already with us. It is the word of the Gospel which the Christians were spreading, the word of faith. Right after Paul wrote that the wages of sin is death, he added … “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)

No effort on our part is needed to move the hand of God. In fact such efforts deny grace which is the heart of the gospel itself. It is the hand of God that moves us. It is his work alone that redeems the unworthy completely apart from their own efforts.

The gospel is clearly imbedded in the law. It is the whole purpose of the law. The Good News is that God has done everything needed to redeem his people. He also infallibly brings about the change in each heart that brings his people to him through the work of Christ as Redeemer.

Romans 10:9 promises salvation to the person who confesses with his mouth the Lordship of Jesus. The word “confess” means to “agree with God about something”, “to admit that it is true.” The redeemed are those who admit that Jesus is Sovereign Lord over all. In him is all authority on heaven and on earth.

But confession that is of the mouth only is meaningless. So this statement is coupled with the next evidence of God’s work in us. We must believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised up from the dead as a work of God. The confession must reflect honest belief and trust. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34 “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

To say “I believe”, then to live as if what you professed is not really trusted, is offensive to God. It is nothing less than blatant hypocrisy. John Calvin explained that true belief is “… not a mere naked notion of the head.” Those who dare to confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ should seek to stand firmly upon that conviction even in uncomfortable situations, through persecutions, and in the midst of temptations.

The resurrection of Jesus was not in the primary act that redeemed us or pays for our sins. That was accomplished in full by our Savior’s suffering and death on the cross. The resurrection was the ultimate and comprehensive evidence that death, sin’s penalty, had been beaten. It showed that the dominion of sin and its curse from Eden was overcome. Rightly believing in the resurrection of Christ summarizes that the rest of the gospel is believed as well.

God’s promise cannot fail.

Romans 10:11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Believers, will not be disappointed or put to shame. Paul is referencing the verse he used at the end of chapter 9. Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.”

There is a reason why Paul said believers will not be put to shame (or disappointed), while Isaiah says believers will not act hastily.

The word for “hastily” used by Isaiah is khush (חוש). It means to act quickly, to be hasty, or to be excited. The idea is that the one trusting in God’s promises will not hurry away as if fleeing in shame or disgrace. There will be no panicked retreat since they trust in God’s faithfulness.

When the Hebrew text of Isaiah was translated into Greek a couple hundred years before the New Testament was written, the word khush in Isaiah 9:16 was translated by the Greek word kataischuno (καταισχυνω), which means to be disappointed, or to be put to shame. That is why Paul used that Greek word in Romans 9:11.

The connection isn’t as obscure as it might seem at first. In God’s covenant in Deuteronomy 28 God warned Israel of all the curses he would pour out on them in the time when they would rebel against him. In verse 37 he warned particularly, “And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the LORD will drive you.”

When Israel is finally rejected and the curses fall, the unbelieving nations will mock her saying, “where is her God?” The apostate Jewish nation will flee in shame. This is where the ideas of “shame” and “moving in haste” come together. Those who put their trust in God’s true promise in Christ will not have to be ashamed or flee in haste like those who receive God’s judgments. Shame follows apostasy. All those who by faith embrace Christ as their only true hope, will not be disappointed, or ashamed. They will be blessed and comforted by God in the judgment.

This is great news!
It is comforting and assuring.

Our salvation is not teetering upon our own ability to bring it about. Never be drawn away by the zeal of those who promote a different gospel than the one Paul has described here. Salvation is a free gift of God completely paid for by the work of Jesus Christ. There is nothing left undone that you must do to earn it. You cannot keep God’s law as a way to be made right with God. You cannot earn forgiveness simply by saying a right prayer or by making a personal decision. Those are good things to do. But the good you do is done because God has rescued you, not so that he will do so. You obey because God loved you eternally and transformed you through Christ. Obedience is not a formula to bring down God’s love.

Just as ancient Israel misrepresented God’s covenant to the world, so also the majority of those calling themselves Christians today present a warped message. The zeal of the theological liberals, of the cults, and of those who deny our total inability to earn God’s blessing by our own works, is the same futile effort that it was with Israel in the time of Jesus and Paul.

Those who blindly hold to those views are to be humbly pitied, and earnestly prayed for with sincere compassion. But they are not to be accommodated as if their zeal were a good thing in itself, and made up for changing the revealed truth of God. Satan too is zealous for his agenda, as are all his followers.

Paul displayed a right kind of zeal. He had compassion and concern, but without compromise of God’s truth. He told them the hard things because he cared for them. In the same way, we need to call neighbors, friends, and family to the truth of the gospel of Christ. It only offends those who will not turn and believe. But in those called of God, regenerating grace will produce righteousness in Christ and life eternal.

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

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No Points for Effort

Lesson 37: Romans 9:24-33

No Points for Effort

by Bob Burridge ©2011

We like to see people put forth effort in their lives to accomplish noble goals, but effort alone is no virtue. People can be very diligent in accomplishing horrible things. Evil people in history such as Adolph Hitler, the heretic Pelagius, Communist Vladimir Lenin, and others were tirelessly busy and totally committed to things they sincerely believed in. However, we don’t commend them for their efforts. They set evil goals and used means that dishonored God. No godly person thinks of Hitler’s failed attempt at genocide and says, “Well, at least he tired.” Doing a wicked thing is not commended simply because there was a strong effort put forth.

In the not-so-distant past doctors thought they could cure certain diseases by cutting a patient to let out large amounts of blood. Since a fever reflects blood temperature, the process appeared to work. There was a problem though, the patients often died from the loss of blood, infections, or a reduced ability of the body to fight of the disease that was causing the fever. No one today would applaud a doctor’s efforts if he went back to the practice of bleeding his patients. We wouldn’t say, “Well at least he has good intentions, and he tries so hard!” Wrong practices are not justified simply because there is a good goal in mind.

On an even higher scale, the same is true of righteousness. The world’s religions have many varied ideas about how to become “right with God.” Most of them have the same common element, human effort. For some that effort is directed toward doing charitable works and good deeds. Some turn to magical incantations and mystical ceremonies. Others make great personal sacrifices and endure self-inflicted pain. Some trust in the decisions they make or in certain prayers they recite. They all make the same mistake according to what God tells us in his word. Biblically, our efforts, even good efforts, cannot be the cause of our salvation. No one is able to do good until God produces new life in them. Good efforts are the effect of God already making a person right by grace. At the root, each of these false religions makes man out to be god over his own soul. They see human effort as what causes God to treat some with mercy and others with wrath.

That is directly against what we have seen so far in our study of Romans. God grants no points for effort!

In this 9th chapter Paul used Old Testament Scripture to prove directly that we are not saved by any desire of our own hearts, or by the work of our hands. We are chosen for eternal life by God’s eternal good pleasure alone. In verse 11 he wrote about God’s dealing with the sons of Isaac. He chose to redeem only one of them “… that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls.”

Paul then summarized his point in verse 18, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.”

Here Paul is dealing with the objections of ancient Israel. They mistook their own efforts as the cause of God’s blessing. They had added complex details and customs to the law of God. Their man-made additions made them reject the promise of a Messiah who would satisfy justice for their guilt by his suffering in their place.

They came to rely upon their own Jewishness instead of resting in God’s provision of grace. They looked down upon the Gentiles, and took pride in their own efforts. However, God’s word says that all our efforts are worthless unless they are the fruit of a redeemed heart. The prophet said in Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags …”

The prophets had warned that God would judge the nation for her corruption of the truth. Jesus said that God’s judgment would fall upon Israel while the generation he spoke to was still alive. When the Jewish Rabbi we know as the Apostle Paul become a follower of Christ, he also warned the Jews that their special time of blessing was about over.

God’s plan had not failed. Universal salvation of the Jews was never his plan. Just as he only made one of Abraham’s sons the heir of the promise, and only one of his Grandsons, it was only the chosen of Israel who were the true sons of God’s promise.

The time had come when God was not going to choose his people from Israel alone. Here our study continues in Romans 9:25-33.

God was going to add non-Jews to his covenant family!

Romans 9:25-26, “As He says also in Hosea: ‘I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, “You are not My people,” There they shall be called sons of the living God.’ “

Again Paul builds his case by quoting from the Bible. This is his consistent way of reasoning: If it can be shown that God said it, that settles it. So he turned to the book of the prophet Hosea to show that he was not introducing a new idea.

Verse 25 is taken from Hosea 2:23 “… I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘ You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ ”

Verse 26 is from Hosea 1:10, “… where it was said to them, ‘ You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, ‘ You are sons of the living God.’ ”

Hosea wrote to warn the Northern Kingdom of Israel about her unfaithfulness to God. She had compromised with unbelief and made alliances with heathen nations. But her strength was outward only. Inwardly she was weak and unfaithful. She had ignored the advice of God’s prophets. Most had abandoned the truth, so God was going to scatter them. He would let them be taken captive, led off into a heathen nation.

The life of Hosea teaches a memorable lesson that has taught us for thousands of years. God told this man to marry a prostitute by the name of Gomer. By her he had 3 children whom God named.

First he had a son and named him Jezreel [Yiz-re-EL (יזרעאל)]. Though Yiz-re-EL sounds similar to “Israel”, it is spelled very differently in Hebrew. The name means “scattered by God” in the sense of casting out seeds when planting so that they are spread out on the field. God said he would, “bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.” (Hosea 1:4)

Next he had a daughter whom God told him to name Lo-Ruhamah [Lo Ru-KHA-mah (לא רחמה)], which means “no compassion”. God said, “for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel …”

Then he had another son. God told him to name this son Lo-Ammi [Lo Am-MI (לא עמי)]– which means “not my people. And God said, “for you are not My people and I will not be your God.”

The names represented God’s relationship with his unfaithful nation. Though the Israelis were physical descendents of Abraham, members of his visible covenant family, they were to be scattered without compassion, and no longer to be called God’s people.

Then Hosea was told to seek a woman who had committed adultery. This illustrated how Israel had left her God and committed spiritual adultery. To show God’s mercy in saving some from among the unworthy and apostate nation, Hosea was told to go find this woman, redeem her with a price, and to care for her. The names of his children were used to illustrate God’s grace toward those he redeems. Instead of Lo-Ammi (not my people), he was to say, Ammi (my people). In stead of Lo-Ruhamah (no compassion), he was to say, Ruhamah (compassion).

Throughout the record in Scripture, we see that God divides mankind into categories. There are two main ways of making that division. First, some become members outwardly in God’s Covenant Family, and others do not. Before the time of the Apostles that visible church was the nation of Israel. In the time of the Apostles it took on the form of the Christian Church. The members of that Covenant Family are those out of all of fallen mankind who make a commitment to submit to God’s ways and teachings.

Within that outward form of the church there is a more important division of mankind. Some in this visible form of the church are also redeemed from their guilt and sin, and some are not. The redeemed are those who were eternally chosen by grace alone. We call the whole group of God’s elect the Invisible Church. These are the vessels of mercy chosen to display the glories of Christ (Romans 9:23). God elected them based upon his own pleasure, not based upon their own efforts.

Those left in their sin are justly condemned. It is what we all deserve. They are forever aliens from the true spiritual family of God. They are what Paul called God’s Vessels of Wrath in the last section of this chapter (9:22). They display God’s power and patience in administering justice in his good time.

Hosea wrote to the unfaithful tribes of Israel who had abandoned God’s covenant. This is why this portion of Hosea was so helpful to Paul in making his point. God’s promise to redeem was only made with the remnant he eternally planned to be his own. Salvation is not by effort or inherited advantage, it is by Sovereign Grace alone. Therefore God may bring in Jews who had abandoned the outward form of the church, and he could save Gentiles as well.

Peter used these verses form Hosea similarly in 1 Peter 2:9-10, “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; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

God had promised to adopt the unworthy into His Kingdom. To make this election by sovereign grace absolutely clear, the Lord was about to build his church from among the Gentiles, those who were so despised and looked down upon by the Jews. Paul also explained this in Ephesians 2:12-13, “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

God promised to save only a remnant of Israel.

Romans 9:27-29, “Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth.’ And as Isaiah said before: ‘Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah.’ ”

Paul again turns to the then existing books of the Bible, this time to the Prophet Isaiah. This section of Romans is a perfect lesson in using God’s written word as its own interpreter. In just these 33 verses, Paul quotes from the Old Testament 34 times. He makes eight Old Testament references in just these last nine verses.

The Bible is clear. God’s salvation is only promised to a remnant of those who claim to be his people. Isaiah 10:20-23, “And it shall come to pass in that day That the remnant of Israel, And such as have escaped of the house of Jacob, Will never again depend on him who defeated them, But will depend on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, To the Mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, be as the sand of the sea, A remnant of them will return; The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness. For the Lord GOD of hosts Will make a determined end In the midst of all the land.”

The great nation of Israel was going to be taken away by Assyrian invasion as a judgment of God. There, they will be reduced to a mere remnant. Only that remnant will return to the land in faith. It will be only those who “depend on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.” (Isaiah 10:20)

Clearly Paul and Isaiah did not see this as a promise to just a remnant of outward National Israel. The remnant was made up of those changed inwardly by grace and given a true faith. Since only a remnant is returned in faith, the majority of the outward church remained corrupt, even into the time when Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem hundreds of years after the delivering of Isaiah’s prophesies.

Those who take comfort in the size of their church or in the large numbers who seem to agree should take heed. God does not bless by majorities. He blesses his remnant rescued by grace alone. Popular trends in the churches through all the ages are never a good test of what is pleasing to God. Our trends must be measured by comparison with the honestly and carefully studied word of Scripture.

What of those who are not called by God’s grace to be his remnant? The Lord will quickly, surely, execute His Word. His judgment falls quickly. Paul again turns to the Scriptures for his support. Isaiah 1:9, “Unless the LORD of hosts Had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.”

Aside from his mercy, the just end of every human is like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities destroyed in terrifying judgment for their sin and unbelief.

On the other hand, God’s true Israel will always be delivered. Even though it will be only a remnant from the visible body of professing believers.

Finally, Paul exposes the error
of putting hope in our own efforts.

Romans 9:30-33, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ “

“What is this?” the Jews were asking. “Has God given salvation to the unworthy Gentiles?” That’s exactly what he has done. “But, …” they might object, “… they weren’t even pursuing righteousness — and we were!”

So then, why did the Jews not attain salvation since they tried so hard? Paul’s answer hits right at the heart of all false religion, they thought they deserved it. They had so corrupted what Moses said, that they thought the law was a means of salvation. They thought that because they were so zealous in their religion, God would save them. But God gives no points for effort.

No human works are free from corruption. Sin distorts our every goal. Even our best efforts and intentions condemn us all the more as they are done arrogantly for our own glory rather than for the glory of our Creator.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul made it clear that if it was possible to be made right with God by means of our efforts or by keeping the law, then the death of the Messiah would have been unnecessary. “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

Why send God the Son to suffer and to endure a cruel unjust death, if men were able to earn salvation by their deeds? if it could simply be deserved?

In Scripture Jesus is the Rock, the cornerstone of truth, and foundation of all hope. Upon the solid foundation of his holy life and atoning death his people stand with confidence that their guilt is removed. He is the cornerstone laid down first by the Master builder as a guide to how the rest of the building is to be oriented and constructed. As is says in Isaiah 28:16 “therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.”

Ancient Israel did not like the shape of the building that Christ’s truth marked out. She abused the law thinking it was a way of salvation. God gave his statutes to humble his people to repentance, and to instil in them a trust in his provisions for the soul. His law was the way those redeemed by grace show their gratitude. It was never given as a means of removing sin or earning salvation by our own efforts.

The suffering Messiah exposed that false religion of works. They looked for a different kind of Messiah, a Jewish revolutionary. The cornerstone became for the Jews a stumbling stone that offended them. Isaiah 8:14, “He will be as a sanctuary, But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense To both the houses of Israel, As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

Peter used this same Old Testament symbolism when he wrote 1 Peter 2:8, ” ‘A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.” In the next verses Peter used the reference from Hosea just as Paul did.

Dr. Haldane says, “A free salvation becomes an offense to men on account of their pride.” They will not admit their corruption due to sin, their guilt, their inability to merit God’s favor. They will not accept a God who is sovereign and just.

Israel in her unbelief stumbled at this. As a nation there was no evidence of a true faith. It exposed the spiritual aliens who lived among the true people of God. They who believe they can earn divine favor without the enablement of their Creator may take on the name of the Savior, but they are not part of the remnant redeemed by grace.

God shattered any glimmer of pride in the Israelite’s heart. He put faith into the hearts of the Gentiles considered by the Jews to be savage, pagan, and cursed. What grander demonstration of Sovereign Grace could be imagined? God saves sinners, not those who think they have earned the right to be called Son’s of God. The Gentiles had put forth no effort to come to Christ, or to discover God’s truth. Yet by grace alone they were grafted into the vine.

The effort we put forth in our lives is not done to merit God’s forgiveness. The cause of our alienation from him is not removed by good things we do or promise. Our efforts are the evidences of a forgiveness already granted. We strive toward holiness by the power of Christ at work in us, not to get him to work in us. By our obedience to God we express gratitude for blessings we know we do not deserve and could never earn.

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

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Is God Fair?

Lesson 36: Romans 9:19-24

Is God Fair?

by Bob Burridge ©2011

We grow up with strong ideas about fairness. From the time we learn to play with other children in our back yard, to the time we become adults, we are taught that there is a set of rules that should apply equally to everybody.

We also learn that not everybody is really equal. Some are more gifted physically. They become great athletes, or tireless skilled laborers. Some are more gifted intellectually and become inventors, or expert professionals. Some have deep compassion and become our encouragers. Some work hard and earn what they have and more to be able to help those truly in need. Others are lazy and become an unnecessary burden to others. Some break the law and forfeit certain rights so that the state can protect others in society. Some are the victims of prejudice, or become victims of life changing tragedies. People have different abilities, experiences, opportunities, and interests.

These realities show that God neither makes us the same to start with, nor wants us to all be the same in every way. It would be a sad, boring and unproductive society if people tried to be identical, and did not believe they needed others with different skills and abilities to survive.

There is a philosophy called egalitarianism that sees all inequality as evil. It is plainly anti-biblical. Egalitarians favor laws that force its own view of equality upon everyone. To make it work out in practice it means passing laws respecting only certain groups of people to remove their advantages. It is a self-contradiction. It results in unequal laws to force upon some what certain individuals in another group perceive as equality. God has obviously not purposed that everyone can be or should be equal in everything.

But there is a right idea of equality that is part of God’s creation. God imposes basic moral principles and civil liberties upon everybody. The 10 commandments show us that we all should respect the property, spouses and lives of others. We should all respect truth, rightful authority, and not covet what God gives to others. Everyone is called upon to worship the one true God in the ways he commands. No one has the right to bypass these standards, or to limit them to just some people.

The idea of human fairness is possible because there are universal principles which apply to us all. God is the one who has given these principles, and obligates us all to respect them.

However, we make a serious mistake if we imagine that God also has laws above him. That is why it is wrong to ask if “God is fair?” However, since that question often comes up naturally in our fallen minds, it is important to answer it biblically. It was a question that was bound to be in people’s minds as Paul wrote to the Romans.

God was about to judge Israel for her corrupted worship and sins. In Romans 9:6 Paul explained that God was not being unfaithful to Israel in judging her. The promise of God had not failed. It explained, “they are not all Israel who are descended of Israel.”

Israel had failed to understand that God’s covenant with Abraham and his seed was never made as a promise to all his descendants. On the physical side, only Isaac, then only his son Jacob were chosen. On the spiritual side, only the children of the promise are actually redeemed. God said he loved Jacob and hated Esau. That was not based upon anything they had done or would do (Romans 9:11). It was God’s sovereign choice alone that set his love upon the undeserving.

In 9:14 Paul showed that God is not unjust in just choosing some and not others. It said, “Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!”

Paul used Scripture to show that on the one hand God does not choose everyone. Clearly the Bible had said that God loved Jacob, but hated Esau. On the other hand, the Bible says that God is not unjust in choosing only some. God shows mercy upon whom he will, and he hardens whom he will. Though we may not see how all this fits together, we must accept what God’s word says.

Now we come to Romans 9:19-24.

Paul anticipates the next question that
naturally comes to the fallen heart

Romans 9:19, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’ “

The temptation is to ask, “How can God find fault, and condemn the sinner, if no one can resist his will?” Is God fair to condemn those who are not able to come to him? Was God fair to reject Israel for her unbelief when it is God alone who implants faith?

This question was anticipated as a possible objection to Paul’s teachings. Two facts had already been proven directly from Scripture, and are assumed by this question.
1. God is totally Sovereign over all that comes to pass.
2. God holds the sinner and unbeliever responsible for his sin and unbelief. He finds fault with them.

If either of these was not true, then Paul’s easiest answer to this question would be to say so. But Paul does not answer by saying, “God is not so absolutely Sovereign.” Nor does he say that, “Man is not really held at fault for his moral actions.” And he doesn’t answer by saying, “Sure we can resist the will of God.” He did not answer like that because those answers are simply not true.

The Apostle chose rather to tell the hard truth. God is sovereign, yet he holds individuals responsible for sin. Nothing could be more plain from God’s word than these facts.

The God of Scripture is Lord over all things. For example it says in Psalm 135:6 , “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.” And in Ephesians 1:11 the Bible says, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will”

Since he is sovereign, no one can resist what God wills. A few sample verses make this point absolutely clear.

Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”

Jeremiah 10:23, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”

Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

God’s word also directly states that he finds fault with the sinner for his sins.

Romans 2:5, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,”

Numbers 32:23, “But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.”

These points have already been proven from the Bible. So Paul moves on to the real issue.

Paul’s basic answer is given in one direct statement.

Romans 9:20a, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? … “

What right does man have to call into question what God has clearly said is so? Does the mere creature call the Creator into judgment? Does he really think he knows so much that he can say what God cannot be?

Such a question is inexcusably arrogant coming from a mere creature who took thousands of years to figure out that the earth rotates around the sun, who was so proud in his pronouncement that the atom was the smallest thing possible, but he was wrong.

I once owned an encyclopedia that said a human could not survive travelling at speeds over 60 miles per hour for very long. No one can speak all the languages that exist on earth even in just this one brief moment of history. No one can explain completely how planets bend space to produce gravitational fields. No one can describe the exact nature of light, the first thing God created. In mathematical physics no one can solve the most fundamental questions about the universe and the things of which it is made.

No one can even know what the next moment will bring. And no one can account for how all things got to be the way they are. Expert meteorologists are unable to consistently predict tomorrow’s weather accurately. Yet some dare to say that God cannot be both sovereign, yet still be fair in finding fault.

Even a human’s ability to question what might be, is a God given ability. Yet fallen man abuses his God-given faculties in such ways that only condemn him more.

The facts are plain. Sinners are under God’s control and serve his purpose, but they are not released from blame.

How can we reconcile God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s moral responsibility? Our finite and sin-corrupted minds should not expect to comprehend the infinite and complex ways of God. God’s will is not like anything we have experienced or seen.

Unlike our preferences and choices, God does not think in steps. He does not reason from one idea to derive the next. He does not have to gather facts, analyze them, and draw conclusions to decided a course of action. God is eternally unchangeable as he is described in Scripture. He eternally knows all things, and all the means that produce them. He knows the causes of everything. All the causes and circumstances are planned by him. That is too hard for us creatures to even begin to consider. The fallen heart cannot begin to see this aside from the Holy Spirit by grace giving the ability to submit to such a concept.

I remember a tragic account of a plane crash near Martha’s Vineyard. It cost the lives of three people. When I read the report no one knew for sure the cause of that incident. Some experienced pilots were speculating about how disorienting it is to fly with limited visibility. We hear a lot about the merits of flying by instruments over flying by sight. Visual flying is fine under clear conditions and in ordinary circumstances. But when visibility is low, or conditions are difficult, a pilot may easily become confused. Have you ever been parked at a light and when you glance at a car moving forward slowly next to you, you get the sensation that your car is rolling backwards so you push on the brake? Similarly in an air plane your body is not a good indicator of the attitude of the plane. A pilot may have the sensation he is flying level and headed safely toward the horizon when in reality he is flying directly into the water or his plane is at a dangerous angle making him likely to stall. These are conditions about which pilots need to be trained so that they ignore their feelings, and trust what the instruments are telling them.

Similarly we fallen creatures have hearts and minds that can fool us, and confuse reality. We may think something is quite reasonable and logical, when it is not. We may presume things as fact which are really only perceptions and assumptions.

We need to have something more accurate than our own feelings and limited understanding. We have such a guide in God’s word as preserved for us in the Bible. Living by the revealed word is similar to trusting the instruments of a plane. When God says he is Sovereign and yet holds men accountable, we must trust that it is true, just, and fair. We need to resist how we feel about it as mere fallen humans who are easily deceived.

Luther corrected his rival Erasmus telling him he had created: “… a god of your own fancy, who hardens nobody, condemns nobody, pities everyone. You cannot comprehend how a just God can condemn those who are born in sin … the answer is, God is incomprehensible throughout, and therefore his justice, as well as his other attributes, must be incomprehensible.” (Haldane 482)

Then Paul used a biblical example which
all the Jews would already know from Scripture.

Romans 9:20b-21, “… Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”

The example of the potter and the clay was used several times by the Old Testament prophets. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah use it to illustrate God’s Sovereign Lordship. Isaiah 64:8 speaks to Jehovah as “our Father”, and as “our potter.” It says to him, “all we are the work of Your hand.”

Jeremiah was sent by Jehovah to the house of a potter for a lesson: Jeremiah 18:3-6 says, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the LORD. ‘Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!’ ”

The thing made has no right to complain, as if his Creator had made an error.

Isaiah 45:9 , “Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?”

Isaiah 29:16, “Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, ‘He did not make me’? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”

The rebellious heart questions even God’s right to be God.

Paul here, just like the prophets of ancient Israel, rebukes the attitude that prompted the question. Only a foolishly ignorant and irreverent heart would dare such a complaint.

Our limited minds cannot understand the infinite mind of God. It is hard not to think that God reasons and works one step at a time as we do. But it is not the way his mind works. Every thought and idea of God is eternally there. He never sees sin appear, then decides what to do with it. He does not wait to decide to allow sin until after he considers the consequences of not doing so. Our little human theories fall far short of understanding a mind that is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.

The clear teaching of these Scripture references shows that the Maker has full authority over the things he formed to do with them whatever he wills. He made each part of his creation to be as it is to serve his eternal purpose.

We are reminded that we are not formed from different things. All are made from the same lump. We do not emerge in this life from a neutral glob of humanity. We are all created by the One True God, and all are fallen in Adam who represented the whole human race in Eden.

Romans 3:22-23, “… For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

Mankind as a whole race is fallen in Adam. Both those God saves, and those he leaves guilty, are from that same clay. From fallen mankind God sovereignly molds one to honor, and another to dishonor. Therefore, God would be fully just and fair if he threw out all the clay and left all mankind condemned.

The fact that God says so is enough, but Paul goes on to tell us more. He shows us something of why God has formed both kinds of people. In Romans 9:22-23 he writes, “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,”

Paul applied the Potter Principle to God to show the ultimate right of the Potter. The potter’s purpose is what ultimately counts in what he makes. In spite of what the world around us reasons in rejecting this principle, humanity’s highest good is not each person’s own happiness, prosperity, and ease. The thing formed is to fulfill the plan of the one who formed it. This is, from the time he is made, his highest good. It is not required that man understands how everything fits together. He cannot. But it is required of him to accept God’s word, and to promote his Creator’s glory.

God made two groups of humans so that his nature will be more fully known. God leaves some sinners in their deserved guilt. By them God says he makes known his wrath, and his amazing power.

He does not just destroy evil right away. He endures it patiently to supply a continuing lesson in them. He endures them all the way to old age to expose man’s depravity. No greater testimony could be given to the truth of the Bible than to look around at what flows from the heart of our neighbors and our nation’s children. Do you doubt depravity? Then read the daily news, talk about hell with your neighbor, let an unbeliever know that without Christ he is without hope. Until the Holy Spirit redeems someone, they will quickly show their dislike for what our Creator reveals as the truth. By his infinite and all wise power God endures such arrogance for his ultimate glory. How dangerous for anyone to take comfort in God’s longsuffering! How short-sighted of them.

God also makes himself known by those who become the objects of his mercy. In them he shows the riches of his glory, undeserved blessing through a suffering Savior.

Without both vessels of wrath and mercy, these truths about God would remain a secret. Dr. Haldane writes: “the awful ruin of the wicked is necessary for the full display of the riches of Divine mercy in saving the elect.”

The guilty have no right to complain that they are appointed to wrath. Judgment for sin is what all humans deserve. Only by grace is justice met by the Messiah for some. But no one is condemned aside from true personal guilt, for which the sinner is held fully responsible.

So then, how does God condemn those he does not call by grace? Paul does not get into that here. He just states the fact that it is so, and proves it from Scripture. Later, in Chapter 11 we will see more of the ways of God explained. For now, Paul has shown that it is not the will of a person, or his works, that makes him a Christian. It is God’s mercy alone, his undeserved blessing, that makes redeemed children out of lost sinners. God, the Maker, is at perfect liberty to do as he pleases with his fallen creatures.

Of course this is not a popular concept. Fallen man hates to hear about grace unless it is a message of the hope of salvation for everybody. The idea that God is just and holy offends the sinner because it condemns him. Jesus faced the same response when he spoke of election in John 6:65-66, “And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’ From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

It is not as if men want to come to Christ but cannot simply because they are not on some divine list. Unless they are redeemed by grace, they will not want to come to the true Christ of Scripture. It is that conviction and concern in knowing that this is true which shows a heart touched by mercy.

The whole issue is brought back
to the original question

Romans 9:24, “even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”

God’s plan had not failed to redeem all of the physical nation of Israel. That was never his plan. Israel had been called from among the other nations to represent God’s mercy outwardly. From within Israel God called some to be his true children of promise. These were the vessels of mercy chosen to display the glories of Christ.

When Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, the time had come when not only some from Israel, but some from all nations would display that they had been chosen as vessels of mercy. Since all humans are fallen in Adam and deserve God’s eternal wrath, there would be no injustice or unfairness if God left all to be condemned forever. Though we cannot fully understand how this all fits together, we must never dare to question what God has made clear in his word.

Man is not an accidental animal. He is an “on purpose” creation. He is made to display the glories of his Creator — which he does, like it or not. Either he honors God by showing evidences of mercy and grace, or his arrogance honors God as he boldly reveals the truth of his fallen nature and he takes his place as an eternal lesson showing God’s just wrath. Complaining and finding fault against his Creator is an unnatural business for the creature. But fallen man prefers to busy himself with finding fault in God, rather than admitting his own moral depravity, which is so much easier to prove.

Have you remembered to thank God for his undeserved redemption every day? Let this be a strong reminder that it should be our life and breath to live in that gratitude. While we all deserve the eternal terrors our sin justly brings with it, Paul reminded the believers in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 that contrary to what we deserve, “… God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”

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

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Is God Unjust?

Lesson 35: Romans 9:14-18

Is God Unjust?

by Bob Burridge ©2011

In the Book of Romans the Apostle Paul explains some hard, but important truths. For 2,000 years before Christ, God had specially blessed the Jews. He had given them many advantages, and charged them with safely keeping his word.

Sadly, for the most part, what God gave them was abused, and his word was confused. Jesus had warned that the glory of the Jewish people was about to be ended in judgment. Their temple would be destroyed, and their corrupted worship stopped. Paul too had taught that the coming of Messiah marked the end of their unique privilege. As a Jew himself, the Apostle Paul deeply grieved for their unbelief.

Did this mean that God was not keeping his promise to ancient Israel? Certainly that cannot be possible. God had never promised to save all of the physical descendents of Jacob. God gave his covenant promises to Adam, and later to Noah. But he never intended all humans descended from them to be his redeemed people. From the descendants of Adam and Noah, he chose the family of Abraham and his descendants to represent God’s blessings. From the children of Abraham God only chose Isaac to continue the advantaged line. And of Isaac’s twins, God loved Jacob but hated Esau as we saw in the previous part of this chapter of Romans.

Not all of the Jews by natural birth are the spiritual children of God’s promise. Of all those outwardly associated with the Covenant People, only a remnant of them are redeemed by the Savior. In that sense, within the Visible Church there is God’s Invisible Church, those chosen by God’s grace, those upon whom God set his love.

This is not an easy truth for the fallen mind. The spiritually dead heart does not want to admit its own guilt and its inability to change its own basic nature. He wants to be free to do what he wants to do. He wonders that if God chooses only some to be redeemed and to become his true children, is there injustice in God? Is he unfair?

In Romans 9:14-18 Paul deals with the justice of God in choosing some only. In 9:19-24 he handles more directly the fairness issue which we will take up in our next study.

Is God unjust?

Romans 9:14, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!”

Justice is one of God’s eternal attributes. It is part of what he is. When he created all things, he built justice into the universe as a moral principle. When he made mankind in his image, God put it into the heart of humans to love justice. The fallen heart corrupts that idea as it does all the qualities that are in God.

Justice describes what happens to lawbreakers. First is assumes that there is a rule, a law, that ought to be obeyed. It assumes that there is a penalty attached to breaking that rule. Whenever the rule is broken, justice demands that the penalty will be paid. Fairness means that the rule, and its penalty, are applied consistently.

Is God unjust or unfair when he rejects Israel as a whole, yet saves some? Is it unjust that he loves Jacob, but hates Esau (Romans 9:13, Malachi 1:2-3)?

Paul dismisses the objection immediately. He says, “Certainly not!” He uses strong words to deny to the very idea that God could be unjust. The Greek phrase here is mae genoito (μη γενοιτο), which literally means, “Let it not be!” It’s like when we say, “Don’t even think such a thing!” One of my Greek teachers used to bring this over into our day by using the American idiom, “Perish the thought.”

Since Romans is an inspired book of Scripture, if no more was said this would be enough. The Bible says here that God is not unjust. Paul had just shown from Old Testament Scripture that God loves some and hates others, that not all descendents of Jacob are the true Israel of God’s promise. Yet God is just. It says so here. That is all we really need.

God in his desire to show us more about this wonder, does not stop there. He explains beyond just telling us the fact. There is a great comfort here for God’s people when they understand this truth. There is a promise here that helps us through hard times and those moments of doubt.

The First Point of Doctrine in the Canons of Dordt, Article 14 on Election and Reprobation, states, “Just as, by God’s wise plan, this teaching concerning divine election has been proclaimed through the prophets, Christ himself, and the apostles, in Old and New Testament times, and has subsequently been committed to writing in the Holy Scriptures, so also today in God’s church, for which it was specifically intended, this teaching must be set forth–with a spirit of discretion, in a godly and holy manner, at the appropriate time and place, without inquisitive searching into the ways of the Most High. This must be done for the glory of God’s most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.” (translated from the original Latin manuscript, adopted in 1986 by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church)

To explain his answer more completely,
Paul again turns to Scripture.

Romans 9:15, “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.’ “

If God has stated this in his word, it is therefore true and must be accepted. The New Testament regularly cites Old Testament authority to prove its case. The Bible does not engage in abstract philosophical arguments to give authority to its teachings. Neither should we.

God spoke to Moses telling him about his divine prerogative in Exodus 33:19, “Then He said, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ ”

This is the verse Paul quotes here in Romans to support the point he is making. Mercy and compassion are shown toward those to whom God desires to show it. It is hard to imagine anything being more clear. God does not treat all humans in the same way. This is directly stated by God himself.

Also, God is just. The idea of justice itself comes from what God is. While he selects those to whom he will be merciful and show compassion, he never neglects the demands of justice in so doing. As Paul had also written about God, “He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13).

So then, if all humans deserve eternal damnation and separation from God, how can any be shown compassion and be mercifully delivered without violating justice?

Today we know more than Moses knew about how God justly displays his compassion. Jesus was God in human flesh. He came as the promised Messiah. Only he, as the infinite and perfect God, and as perfect man, could represent those chosen by God, to live and die in their place to satisfy justice for all those to whom God intended to show his compassion.

There can be no principles that limit God other than that which flows from his own nature. Nothing more absolute or eternal than him can possibly exist. Any concept of justice or fairness must come from God himself, not from things external to him. There can be no law that binds the hand of God. A principle that binds must be sovereign over its subjects. If something compels, it is in itself Lord over that which is under it. The highest principle above which is nothing else, is Lord of lords. The Bible tells us that this is the Creator who has revealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God incarnate in the person of Jesus. Since God defines justice and fairness, the thought of him being unjust or unfair not only denies that God is God, it makes nonsense out of the idea of the words themselves.

God has compassion upon whom he will. Whatever he desires is by definition right and just. God’s word has established that it is so. There is no need to explain further. The facts of Exodus 33:19 stands by themselves. No more needs to be said. Our inability to reconcile statements, or to comprehend them, is not a valid objection to their being true. The final test is to determine what God’s word says. That is the final word.

What then determines who the
object of mercy will be?

Romans 9:16, “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”

This is a partial conclusion in Paul’s argument. Since it is God alone who decides who will receive his mercy, then it cannot depend upon man. Man cannot be the cause of the mercy he receives if its cause is in God.

First: This mercy cannot be caused by man’s will. It is not by a human’s decision, choice, determination, or receiving that he is saved. It is caused by God alone who has mercy upon whom he will.

Then also he shows that mercy is not caused by man’s efforts. Running is a favorite metaphor Paul uses in several other letters (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Galatians 2:2, 5:7, Philippians 2:16). It stands for the busy work of man in what he sets his mind to want and to do. But all his efforts cannot be the cause of mercy. It is God alone who makes that determination.

Dr. Haldane suggests that Paul might be thinking back to Jacob, the Father of Israel. He desired the blessing that appeared to belong to Esau. He willed it. He wanted it. He ran off to get the venison, disguise himself and deceive his father. Yet in all this, his desires and actions were not the cause of his being chosen. God had chosen that rascal Jacob before he was even born. Before he had done good or evil. If anyone was undeserving of blessing it was that deceiver Jacob. How clear an example God gives us showing that mercy comes by God’s grace, not by man’s choice or effort (Romans 9:11-13).

The Apostle John tells us why some believe and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In John 1:12-13 he says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Of course it is also true that those God truly redeems will both will and run. They exercise faith. They receive Jesus as Lord. They do run to him. However, the point is that these are the effects, not the causes, of God’s mercy. He puts that love and faith into their otherwise dead and foolish hearts. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

There is always a divine purpose for some
being left in their evil dispositions.

Romans 9:17, “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.’ “

Paul again uses the Bible. He quotes the example of how God used Pharaoh. Instead of complex philosophical ideas being introduced, Paul looks to what God has said. Man is often tempted to try to explain the existence of evil beyond what God reveals. Some imagine that God is bound by some abstract idea of human freedom. Others imagine that God lays aside some of his sovereign ability to do his own will. But none of these theories come from God’s word. They are the products of the fallen human mind that creatively wants to be in control.

John Calvin wisely cautions us “… never to feel the least desire to attain any other knowledge concerning this doctrine save what is taught us in Scripture. When the Lord shuts his sacred mouth, let us also stop our thoughts from advancing one step further in our inquiries.”

Unwarranted speculation is dangerous, and it is blasphemous to the revealed nature of God. We are not required to comprehend how a thing is done, or how it all fits together. Our duty, which is not possible in yet fallen hearts, is to accept what God plainly says.

How did this part of Israel’s history come to happen as it did? This man who became the Pharaoh was born into the royal family of Egypt. He was raised to develop the dispositions he displayed toward God and the Israelites. It was this man who came to rule Egypt at just that right time. Only one answer is possible. Israel’s history, even her Egyptian captivity, was the decreed providence of God. All that Pharaoh was, made him the perfect tool for displaying God’s mercy toward Israel. It was God who raised him up to be the person disposed to act exactly as he did. It was not Pharaoh who determined that the Exodus would take place as history records. It was the eternal and unchangeable sovereign good pleasure of God.

God tells us that there was a divine purpose in it all. When six of the plagues had been sent upon Egypt, and four more were yet to come, God gave these words to Moses to say to Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16, “But indeed for this 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.”

God could have removed Pharaoh long before the first plague was sent. But God later explained in Exodus 33:19 to Moses, that Pharaoh’s stubborn and evil heart became the means by which God would show his power in delivering his people who could not deliver themselves. God would declare the glory of his divine nature, his holy name. This would be a testimony to all the earth, not just to the Jews but to us gentiles thousands of years later. Children even today learn of God’s power by hearing the story of the plagues, the passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, and God’s deliverance.

The verse Paul had quoted just a moment ago from Exodus 33:19 said the same thing. It was all done to display the glory of God’s name, that he has mercy upon whom he will. This is the revealed fact Paul appeals to. This is what God himself explained.

Next, Paul adds the negative side.

Romans 9:18, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.”

Here Paul concludes his reasoning from Scripture explaining God’s rejection of Israel. He repeats for a third time, God’s prerogative to show mercy on whom he will, but to this he adds the negative side. He eliminates any possible misunderstanding. If God has mercy upon whom he will, then there are those upon whom he does not show mercy. Those become hardened by the absence of God’s restraint upon their hearts. Being left to hardness, they are used to demonstrate God’s power and holy name. This has been proven already in the verses Paul has quoted.

By hardening, Paul does not mean that God made an innocent Pharaoh become wicked. He left him to the disposition of his own fallen soul. Pharaoh received nothing that was not justly deserved.

Dr. Charles Hodge explained about God’s work in the heart of this Egyptian leader, “He did not make him wicked; he only forebore to make him good…”

God is not obligated to bestow his mercy upon anyone. God’s nature demands that he must always be just. This is why a Savior was necessary to redeem us who are all unworthy in Adam. God’s nature involves a mercy that is a prerogative of his good pleasure. His redeeming grace does not apply to all fallen humans. We do not know this by implication or by the constructions of Theology. The Bible directly tells us.

Oh how this infinite nature of the Creator is so far above us! It is beyond our comprehension. In Psalm 139:6 we read, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.”

Of course we could look into many more cases in Scripture about how wicked hearts are hardened. We could study more into the details of Pharaoh’s heart and of the sovereign workings of God. We could examine how God hardens the hearts of those who are left in sin. Paul does not go into all that here. That would detract from the simplicity of his argument. He has quoted Scripture, and by this his point has been made. It is clearly true because God in his inspired word says so.

God’s dealings with Israel are not unjust. He would be a “Just God” if he had left us all in the condemnation of sin which we deserve. He may exercise his prerogative and show mercy and compassion upon whom he will.

How tragically foolish when men blame God when they sin. They reason as if it is the Lord’s fault for not stopping them. They assume that if God had a good purpose in their rebellion, then they cannot be held responsible. However, here God tells us that he held Israel responsible for her rebellion and blasphemy.

Paul’s reasoning is beyond objection. He uses God’s inspired word. God is not unjust in hardening Pharaoh, or the hearts of the apostate nation of Israel, or of the apostate modern Christian church. God is not unjust in saving some who deserve eternal damnation, because Jesus settled the debt of justice in the place of them according to that eternal plan. He has mercy upon whom he will, and whom he will he hardens. All are used in his plan to declare his power and glory.

Have you been touched by the mercy of God? Has he made you aware of the offense of your sin before his holy eyes? Has he made you see the wonder of the Cross of Christ? Has he made you hungry for righteousness. Do you desire to obey his moral principles in every way you can? Has he humbled you to repentance when you fail? The Eternal God did not have to do that. It was his divine prerogative to show mercy. You deserve as did Pharaoh, Esau, and all those not redeemed in Christ, to be justly left with your deserved guilt, and to be hardened in your heart against God.

What marvelous grace rescues us, and will not let us go! What comfort and hope is ours, who in Christ learn to rest in God’s compassion rather than in our own devices. Take time to thank God for his undeserved grace.

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

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The Israel which God Loved

Lesson 34: Romans 9:6-13

The Israel which God Loved

by Bob Burridge ©2011

Does God love everybody? The general belief is that he does, and that this is a primary teaching of the “Christian faith”. Like so many of the theories people come up with, it is not what is taught in God’s Word.

Paul had been warning the Jews that because of their continuing rebellion, and now their rejection of the Messiah, God was going to judge them as a nation. They did not like the message of Jesus. Both Jesus and Paul warned that God was about to judge Israel and remove her national privilege. The Jews could not accept that. In their thinking they were God’s specially loved people.

If what Paul was saying is true, that her time of national honor and glory was about over, then what had gone wrong? Had God’s promises to the ancient fathers been a failure? Absolutely not!

So Paul explained that he had a deep concern for Israel and wanted them to know the truth. The fact was, apostasy had set in, and God was angry with those who called themselves his people but were not.

Paul takes up this central question in Romans 9.

Romans 9:6a, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. …”

The problem was not that God’s promises failed, or were ineffective. He was keeping his promises exactly. The problem is that they didn’t see that side of God’s covenant with Israel. The promises had been gravely misunderstood.

Misunderstanding God’s word brings confusion today as well. There are so many different groups, each promoting its own brand of Christianity. They imagine that we are all really God’s people and that our different beliefs are not important. The uniting assumption is that God loves everybody. There is the problem. God’s promises seem to have failed, because people assume things God never promised.

Paul goes on to show what they had distorted about the promises.

Romans 9:6b, “… For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,”

To begin with, we need to know who God considers to be his Israel. His promise to his people, both to church in the Old Testament and in the New, is made on two levels. We went into detail about his in our last study.

On one level, God establishes an outward organization we call the Visible Church. It is made up of professing believers and their families. This was the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and is the Apostolic Church of the New Testament. God set up this outward form to represent how he chooses some from an unworthy humanity. The outward national advantages to those of the seed of Abraham were listed in the previous verses (Romans 9:4-5).

On another level, within the outward visible church, there are the true children of God. This is the Invisible Church. It is made up of those actually redeemed by Christ. They are saved by grace from the deserved outpouring of God’s wrath. They are the spiritual seed in whom God puts the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Since only God knows for sure who these are we say this group is to us invisible. God commands all the saved to join in the worship, fellowship, and discipline of the visible church. Not all members of the visible church are necessarily truly God’s redeemed people.

That’s what Paul said back in chapter 2 concerning the Jews.

Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”

The failure of the Jewish Nation in no way shows a failure of the promise. It shows the true nature of God’s promise. God has always been faithful to his true Israel. His covenant never fails to accomplish everything that was promised, but only to those for whom the promises were actually intended.

Paul tried to help the Jews understand God’s original promise.

The answer was actually proven in what every Jew already admitted. The promise was first made with Abraham, not with Israel.

Romans 9:7a, “nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; …”

God selected Abraham and his seed from all the other humans then alive on the earth. God called that one family to go to Canaan, and to become the visible nation of Jehovah. Within that visible nation God also chose some to be invisibly touched by grace. These only were the true sons of God. Being a physical descendant of Abraham did not guarantee being a child of the promise of grace. in Galatians 3:7 Paul had explained, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”

Jesus told the Jews the same thing. Some had boasted to Jesus saying, “Abraham is our father.” (John 8:39). Jesus answered implying that it was not that simple. He said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.”

He went on to explain to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me…” (John 8:42) . Then Jesus revealed their true spiritual heritage. Though they were all descended from Abraham he said, “You are of your father the devil …” (John 8:44). Jesus made it clear, all those descending from Abraham were not necessarily the true sons of God.

Next, Paul showed that God narrowed the scope even more

Romans 9:7b-9, “… but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.’ “

From among Abraham’s sons God only chose Isaac and his descendants. [en Isaak klaethaesetai soi sperma ( ἐν ᾿Ισαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα)]. These alone were to be the visible nation of God’s people. Obviously the Jews had no problem with this historic fact. They did not consider the race of Ishmael to be part of the called nation of God.

Their own understanding of God’s word taught that being a child of the flesh alone did not necessarily bring God’s promise. God never intended it that way. Only those to whom God extends his promise are counted as the promised seed.

Then Paul showed how God narrowed the scope even more.

Romans 9:10-12, “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ “

From all the lost families of the earth God chose the family of Abraham. Then he chose only the seed of Isaac to carry on that promise. But not all of Isaac’s descendants were of the promise either. Of his twin sons, Esau and his descendants were not to be part of the nation of God. Every Jew knew this. God chose only the line of Jacob, who was called Israel, to be the chosen Nation.

They both had the same father and mother. They were twins. This was to make clear that the choice was based upon God’s sovereign choice alone. Not all in the outward family were chosen to continue on the special promise. The one twin was chosen, and the other was not.

To further show the sovereign nature of the choice, the younger was chosen not the older. That was against the usual custom and God’s general law of primogeniture. God does not base his choices upon anything outside of his own eternal purpose. He makes it very clear that the choice was not based upon anything the sons did or would have done themselves. The determination was eternal, before they were even born.

Remember, Paul is using these obvious choices and rejections of the visible nation to show that a similar election of God takes place in the invisible nation. If God did not intend to include all the physical line of Abraham and Isaac in his visible nation, then certainly it is foolish to imagine that all the visible nation was to be saved eternally. That was never promised in the ancient Covenant of God. (We will see more about this spiritual election as Paul continues to develop his point in this section of Romans.)

No, God’s promise to Israel had not failed! The Jews had misunderstood who the true Israel was. Those who rejected Messiah, and who had perverted the temple worship and sacrifices were not true sons of God by the spiritual promise. They were only outwardly and by appearance the visible nation of God.

God’s promise had exactly succeeded, once that promise was properly understood.

Were all the Jews specially loved by God?

Paul quoted from the Scriptures to show that idea to be absolutely wrong.

Romans 9:13, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ “

Does this mean that God loved the one and hated the other?!! — Yes, that is what it says!

Paul quoted directly from Scripture. Malachi 1:2-3 had said, ” ‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘Yet you say, “In what way have You loved us?” Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ Says the LORD. ‘Yet Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness.’ ”

Note on the word, “LORD”: When the word “LORD” appears in all upper case letters in most English translations it represents the covenant name of God which is sometimes represented by the word “Jehovah”. In Hebrew, the Old Testament writers only wrote the four consonants יהוה which in our alphabet are “YHVH”. These four letters are often called the “tetragrammaton”. To avoid any careless use of this holy name the Jews would read it as “Adonai” (אדני) which means “Lord”. The vowels from Adonai were adjusted and put into the four letters. In older times the letter “J” was pronounced as our letter “Y” so the name “Jehovah” was invented. The reason the vowels don’t look the same in English has to do with rules of the Hebrew language. Even in the New Testament Jesus and the Apostles used Greek words for “Lord” (usually the Greek word “kurios” [κύριος]) when quoting the Old Testament where this tetragrammaton was used. This is why today we still use the word “Lord” when quoting those passages rather than attempting to pronounce the four Hebrew letters. This is the principle the Holy Spirit used in directing the writers of the New Testament, so it is the most biblical approach to reading and writing those passages. To let us know that the original word was YHVH the letters of “LORD” are often printed in all uppercase letters. The actual pronunciation of that name of God is somewhat uncertain. In older times they tried to pronounce it as “Yahweh” but there is no “w” in the Hebrew language. We now know that the letter “ו” that appears there should be rendered by our “v”. The best we can estimate is that the name would have been pronounced as “Yahveh”.

Those who want to believe that God loves everyone have a problem here. They must come up with some way to twist these words around in unnatural ways, otherwise they must admit that salvation is a sovereign work of God’s grace to some alone. That is something the fallen human heart cannot comprehend.

Several theories have been suggested to explain away the plain statements of the Bible.
1. Some say .. “hate here must only mean that God loved Esau less than Jacob”
That only brings in more confusion. It is clearly not what the same words mean in Amos 5:14-15. There it says, “Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the LORD God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. …” Does God want us to love evil less than we love good? That would be absolute nonsense.

If it only means that God loved one less than the other, what would that possibly mean relative to the point being made? If God loves some less than others, then what causes that distinction? The same problem remains.

If God loves everybody (which is never said in Scripture), what would love mean? Does God love Satan and the fallen angels just a little less than he loves the angels that remained faithful to him? Does he love the pagans just a little less than he loves the redeemed? If love is common to all, then it means nothing special to any.

Besides, If we can do that to the idea of “hatred” in this verse how can we make sense of the next part that says that God loved Jacob? Does that mean he only hated Jacob less than he hated Esau? You can’t make God’s hatred to be anything less than what the word hatred means, while at the same time you keep his love as really love. Such a tangled confusion denies the plain meaning of these very simple words.

2. So some have tried another theory.
They suggest, “Perhaps hate just means that God “slighted” him, or “treated him with an act of hatred.” Does this mean that God slights people he nevertheless loves? Does he treat them with an act of hatred when he does not actually hate them? This solution causes more confusion than it is imagined to eliminate.

We need to remember that God’s hatred of Esau is nothing more than what we all deserve. Jesus took on that hatred which resides in the hearts of some, in order to satisfy the demands of holy justice for them. That was an act of redeeming love that did not fail. It saved all those Jesus came to save. No one the Savior came to redeem is lost.

These foolish attempts to re-build the meaning of this text fail completely. Such ideas do not fit the purpose of Paul in showing why God’s rejection of national Israel was not a breaking of his ancient promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Those denying the obvious meaning of this verse often try to back up their position with a reference to 1 John 4:8. They quote the part that says, “God is love.” The problem is that this verse is not making a complete identity between God and love. It is not saying that the words are always interchangeable. The point is that God defines what love is, not that our idea of love defines God for us.

We should never use our confused human feelings about love to explain God. Rather God shows us what love is by his redeeming undeserving people. God is the original. All other love is derived from him. God’s love promotes his glory and furthers his eternal design. So our love should promote the same. That is John’s point. We who do not love as God loves, have not really known him.

The Bible also makes it clear that God hates the workers of iniquity. Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” Then in John 3:36 John the baptist said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Some have tried to save this idea of universal divine love by saying, “Isn’t it God’s love that sends daily provisions for the wicked?” However, that is not what the Bible calls it. When Paul speaks of that in Acts 17 at Athens, he calls it a display of God’s long-suffering, not of his love. When the wicked receive God’s rain and sunshine, they imagine they deserve them. This only condemns them more because of their self-centered view of life. Daily care for the world in general is not done out of love for the wicked, but to display God’s power, and to provide a livable world for his own children.

There are some who with great sincerity explain that God loves the sinner but hates his sin. That is way too general a statement. Sin cannot exist without a sinner. To hate some abstract idea of sin when detached from the person doing it does not explain why there are those God says he hates and fits for his wrath. If persons are not personally responsible for their own acts, there is nothing left to hate. It is true that God loves those he chooses to redeem yet does not like it when they sin, but that is a far more narrow statement. No where in the Bible does it say that God loves all sinners while he hates only their sin.

Part of the problem is that some have a wrong idea of hate. Hatred is not sinful. Biblically, that which is sinful ought to be hated (Amos 5:15). But in us fallen creatures, our hatred of evil is mixed with evil itself. In God it is not. We horribly distort God if we see his love as his only or dominant attribute. God is not only love. He is also holy, just, and consistent. He judges as well as blesses. If God does not hate he is not the God of Scripture.

In loving Jacob God shows unmerited favor toward him. In hating Esau he acts justly toward him. That is what he and all humans, even Jacob, deserve. Even in John 3:16 God’s love for the corrupted world order does not offer to save everyone. In that verse the love of God sends a Savior to redeem only those who believe. And believing is not possible for any aside from the gracious work of God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit applies the atonement of Christ to remove the offense and to reconcile. Without that grace, Jacob would receive the same deserved hatred, as would we all. Any godliness or faith is due only to the distinguishing grace of God.

God chose Abraham and his seed from all the fallen race, but not all his descendants were chosen. Only Isaac was chosen. Not all of Isaac’s seed was chosen either. Only Jacob was chosen. His brother Esau was rejected and cursed. Even of the 12 tribes of Jacob (Israel) not all were the spiritual seed of promise. Only a remnant will be saved. This becomes evident as Paul continues to develop his point in the remaining verses of this section of Romans.

Romans 9:27, “Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved.’ ”

Romans 11:5, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”

Those rejecting Jesus as the Messiah were not of that chosen remnant of Israel. God only intended to redeem the “children of promise”. In Galatians Paul leaves no doubt about this fact.

Galatians 3:9, “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Obvious questions come up in our limited and fallen minds which want to find a way out. Paul deals with them in the next section of this chapter.

God has always been faithful to his true Israel.

His promises never change nor fail. His covenant accomplishes all that is promised to those for whom they are intended.

Confusion about God’s promises is not just a matter of debate among scholars. Confusion hurts people. The average church member struggles to live to please God. But there is no comfort in outward things. If we put our hope in our own goodness, in our own choices, in church membership, in baptism, in prayers, in a re-defined God who loves and wants to redeem everyone but is for some reason unable to do so, then we hope in a tragic deception.

If, on the other hand, our hope is placed humbly in God’s grace, which is ours by the sovereign work of Jesus Christ, then we learn that we are loved even though we on our own could never deserve it.

Grace is greater than what we now are able to understand it to be. That appreciation grows as we learn more of God’s nature and of ourselves, removing the myths and human theories about each.

Has God loved you? Here is how you can know. Has he brought you to deeply sorrow for your sins? Has he made you know that Jesus paid your debt as no other could? Has he shown you that he lovingly calls you to him for forgiveness and comfort?

If so, then you have a solid foundation for hope, hope in a promise that cannot fail. The faith implanted in you by grace is a seal on your heart that you are not only visibly one of his people, but that you are invisibly redeemed by a love that never fails.

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

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