Monday, May 22, 2006

Review / Preview Romans 9:1-24

I lead a men's group in bi-weekly Bible study, and we're amidst what most theologians would agree is a hard teaching from the apostle Paul in Romans 9. I want to offer this review / preview as we work verse-by-verse through this passage.

As this is our off-week, I want to offer both a brief review of Romans 9:1-16,which we studied last Tuesday, and also a brief preview of Romans 9:17-24,which, Lord willing, we will study next Tuesday, May 30, at Aaron's house. Remember that this stuff is easy to understand - it's just hard to accept. Paul's language is clear. The truth he reveals with that language is hard to handle.

1I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms itin the Holy Spirit — 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel.

Paul shows his heart for the Jewish people. He has said many harsh things to them and about them in this letter to the Romans, so it's quite likely that they perceived Paul as not caring, incompassionate toward his own people. And he refutes that perception here. He also begins his teaching in this section of his letter with softening words, much as he did with Philemon, as Aaron pointed out several weeks ago when he taught Coram Deo. Paul is about to teach some hard things, and he wants his audience to realize that his intentions are good and his love is real.

4the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory,the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, Who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Paul continues a "list of benefits of being Jewish" that he began in Romans 3:1-2. Combined with that passage, there are 9 benefits. We can study these and offer concrete proof that Israel as a whole nation has neglected and disdained these benefits. Nevertheless, the benefits are still legitimate, as acceptance of themor non-acceptance of them does not legimatize them. Notice also here the clear claim of Paul to the Deity of Jesus Christ. He is to be forever praised. Amen.

6It is not as though God's Word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." 8In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

Here Paul begins to get "down-and-dirty." He is responding to a couple ofquestions: (1) Did the promises of God to the Jews fail, since they are not receiving Jesus Christ as Messiah? (2) Why aren't the Jews being saved?

First, he says that God's Word has not failed (see Isaiah 55:11). Not all Israel is Israel. That's the answer to question # 1. What does that mean? Paul explains it, moving from a view of corporate Israel to a view of specific individuals: "It is not the natural children who are God's children." Physical ancestry, while meaningful and beneficial for many reasons, does not matter for salvation! Rather, Paul says, "it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring." The children of the promise, Abraham's true offspring, are those who share Abraham's faith - his spiritual descendants, so to speak. And this is how it is that God's promises are not failing. His promise ofsalvation was never meant for all physical Jews; rather, it was meant for allspiritual Jews.

9For this was how the promise was stated: "At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son." 10Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad — in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12not by works but by Him who calls — she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

Now here's the first of 3 answers that Paul will give in Romans 9-11 to question# 2 from above. Why aren't the Jews being saved? God chose to save Abraham out of all the pagans of the world. God chose to save Isaac, rather than Ishmael, though both were physical descendents of the same man, Abraham. God chose to save Jacob, rather than Esau, though Esau was the firstborn and culturally more deserving of any birthright. The keyword there is "chose." This is the doctrine of election. God chooses to save some individuals and not others, and this choice is based on nothing that the individuals do and nothing that God foresees about them. And as harsh as this truth sounds, Paul even provides God's reasoning for it. The choice to elect some and not others is found in God's sovereign purpose to be the One who chooses! We might have expected Paul to say, "Not by works but by faith." He doesn't. He says, "Not by works but by Him who calls." If you are objecting to this teaching, what is your reasoning? Does it sound unfair? Paul knows that might be what you're thinking, so he addresses that concern:

14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.

"That's not fair, Paul! What you're saying makes God out to be unjust. If an individual plays no role in whether or not he is elect to salvation, then that makes God out to be unjust. It's not fair!" Sound familiar? That was my response for a long time, until I realized, by the grace of God, that my objection was the very same one that Paul addresses, therefore proving that I was objecting to the accurate Biblical understanding! God owes no one mercy. If we begin to think that God owes mercy, we're no longer talking about mercy; we're now talking about justice. Whatever God does is just, even if it is choosing some and not others.

17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose,that I might display My power in you and that My Name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.

Paul offers a proof from Scripture of this understanding. Pharaoh was hardened for the purpose of God to display His power and have His name proclaimed throughout theworld. Was pharaoh responsible for this hardening? No doubt he was. Absolutely! Butnotice that Paul says nothing of that here. Here, it's all of God's sovereign choice and purpose for His glory. And Paul's audience sees what he is saying and offers another objection:

19One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists His will?" 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?" Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22What if God, choosing to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory —24even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

The objection found in v19, once again, was mine for quite awhile. How can God hold pharaoh responsible for his hardening if it was God's will that pharaoh hardened his heart? How can God hold Hitler responsible for the Holocaust when God Himself used Hitler to accomplish that dreaded massacre? Make it more personal. How can God hold me responsible for my sin if God had a purpose for His glory in my sin?

Note Paul's response. What's the problem with the objection that is offered against Paul's teaching? It puts God on trial. And Paul puts an end to that reasoning. God is not the One on trial. Answer Paul's question in v21. Notice that God, as the potter, is making use of "the same lump of clay." The elect and the non-elect are from the same lump of clay. There's nothing different in the clay. The difference lies in the potter, not the clay. And God has a purpose for the clay. Some of it will be used for "noble purposes" and some of it for "common use." The clay has no say regarding its purpose.

And what is that purpose? V22-23 tell us. Both the elect and non-elect will glorify God according to His purpose. The non-elect will serve God's glory as objects of His wrath. They were prepared for destruction and born with great patience; and they will experience God's power in eternal judgment. The elect will serve God's glory as objects of His mercy. They, prepared by God in advance, will experience the riches of God's glory for all eternity. And finally, note v24. We are graciously among the elect, among those called by God to be vessels of mercy. Praise Him for choosing us first, for choosing us in order that we would glorify Him as vessels of mercy and not as vessels of destruction.

With all of this as food for thought, those of you who participated inlast week's study will recall that I suggested for "homework" a study ofJohn 1:11-13. I'd like to close by inviting you to read the following article,with the hope that you'll clearly see the parallels between John and Paul:

John 1:11-13

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