Friday, March 30, 2007

Romans 11:1-6

I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah--how he appealed to God against Israel: "Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me" [1 Kings 19:10,14]? And what was God's answer to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal" [1 Kings 19:18]. So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

There are four simple things that chapter 11, while being about God’s workings with and in and through Israel, can teach us in twenty-first century America: First, a saving relationship with Jesus Christ through genuine and transforming saving faith is vital to salvation. Second, understanding that God has been faithful to Israel throughout its rugged history is crucial to understanding that He is being and will continue to be faithful to us, the New Testament Church. If God hasn’t been faithful to Israel, then we can’t be sure He will be faithful to us. Third, we as Christians ought to have the utmost concern and respect for the nation of Israel. We ought to pray for Jewish people throughout the world, that they would be objects of God’s mercy, rather than objects of His wrath. Finally, we must stay focused on the eternal plan of God, the big picture. Often, when we struggle with the day-to-day problems of life we lose sight of the big picture. The daily details can easily be overwhelming to us. This passage can help us take a deep breath, pull back for a moment, and realize that we are part of God’s big plan, a plan that’s far bigger than our own problems. When we realize that, our own situations seem much less stressful. To realize that it’s not all about us, but about God, His glory, and His eternal plan, is not only practical but also essential to living Coram Deo, before the face of God. Notice several things in the first six verses:

We begin this chapter hearing Paul’s rhetorical question, “Did God reject His people?” And the answer is, “No!” Why would Paul need to explain this again? He already addressed it in chapter 9. Roman 9:6 “It is not as though God’s Word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” Paul explained divine election in chapter 9, that God chooses some and not others, and so His promises have not failed. His promises were not for every person within the physical nation of Israel, but only for spiritual Israel, the spiritual descendants of Abraham. So God has not been unfaithful. And in chapter 10 Paul explained that, on the contrary, most of Israel has rejected God. Because Israel has rejected God, it may appear that God has also rejected them. Israel had everything necessary to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, yet due to their depravity and sinfulness, Israel rejected Him and His Father as well.

Paul goes on to provide several reasons to believe that God has not rejected His people. He gives 3 proofs of that right here in this section: From v1, Paul himself explicitly (his lineage) and Paul himself implicitly (his life), and from v2-5, the Jewish believers among Paul’s audience. The first reason is Paul explicitly. He is a Jewish Christian, coming from Abraham and Benjamin. Abraham was not only the Father of the Jews physically, but also, as Paul pointed out in Romans 4, the Father of the Jews spiritually. Benjamin was the city of Jerusalem’s territory and the only other tribe to unite with Judah during the period of the Kings; so Paul is pointing out that he was truly a Jew among Jews.

If someone asked you if God has rejected the Gentiles, could you say, “No, God has not rejected the Gentiles. For I myself am a Gentile, and I am not rejected. I have been accepted not first because of the Jewish forefathers, but because of Christ, who loved me and gave Himself for me. My sins are forgiven. His righteousness is provided for me. My condemnation is removed. My guilt is taken away. I have been born again into the family of God, not by natural birth or any ethnic connection, but by the Holy Spirit who changed my heart and awakened faith. I am not an enemy of God, but a friend. I am not hardened and resistant anymore, but broken and dependent. No, God has not rejected the Gentiles, because in Christ he had not rejected me.” That’s what Paul is doing.

The second reason is Paul implicitly. He was the biggest threat to Christianity, and he has been transformed. He was the chief of sinners, and he has been saved. If God hasn’t rejected Paul, then there’s no reason to think God has rejected His people. And that’s great for us to hear. If God can make Paul into a Christ-like individual, then surely He can make me and you into the same.

Let’s spend some time on this third proof: the Jewish Christians, Messianic Jews, among Paul’s audience. Paul says, “God can not reject those whom He has foreknown, whom He has set His love on before the foundation of the world, and let me show you that from Scripture.” And Paul appeals to Elijah in v3-4, who complained to God that he was the only one left who still loved the Lord, and Paul quotes God as saying, “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” The actual verse in the NIV reads, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel…” It doesn’t say “For Myself.” Paul inserts that for us, because he wants to point out that God’s electing grace has accomplished it for His sovereign purpose. It’s not the fact that these 7000 kept themselves from bowing to Baal; rather, God has kept them from bowing before Baal. They aren’t elect because of something they did or something God foresaw about them; rather, they are foreknown or fore-loved, elect in order that God would and could work in them to will and to act according to His good purpose, in this instance to keep them from bowing to Baal.

The clearest illustration of God’s foreknowing in relation to the whole people of Israel is found in Amos 3:2. God says to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” Most theologians agree that this means, “You only have I chosen. You only have I sought out and made My own and chosen to know you intimately in the way that a husband knows his wife.” Israel is God’s foreknown or chosen people. We’ll talk more about the individual and corporate implications of this when we look at Romans 11:28-32.

Literally, v5 reads, “So too at the present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” And Paul’s point is that if God kept a remnant in Elijah’s day, He is also keeping a remnant in this present day. The evidence for the truth of Paul’s claim is that there are Messianic Jews (David Brickner) in our midst. There are still Jewish Christians just as there have been in every generation. And this reminds us of the mercy and faithfulness of God. Note that Paul’s argument is not an argument based on historical probability, like if someone batted .350 in 1925, then it’s quite certain that someone will bat .350 this season. It’s not like that, because God is the One working it for His glory. It’s all due to God’s electing grace, and not on probability assessments. God chooses based solely on grace for His name’s sake. Also notice that Paul does not contrast works and faith in this text, as he does elsewhere. There is no mention of faith here at all. So the point is not that works are things we do to earn God’s favor and faith is something we do in order to receive God’s favor. The contrast is between divine activity (grace) and human activity (works). The point is this: if election, and therefore salvation, is based on anything other than grace, it is no longer by grace. If we provide the decisive act in causing our election, it is no longer an “election of grace.”

And finally in v6, Paul just confirms his point from the first 5 verses, that God’s grace, rather than the works of the elect, is what determines who will be saved. The elect are not chosen because God foresees what they will do or what they will choose; they are chosen solely dependent on the grace of God. Paul is saying, “Look, when you look at Israel and see a believing remnant, and when you look at Israel and see an unbelieving multitude, don’t think that the difference between the believing remnant and the unbelieving multitude is to be found in the innate goodness of the believing remnant. Don’t believe that some were inherently better than others. Don’t believe that the difference is that some exercised faith while others didn’t. Don’t find the source of the distinction in them. Rather, find the distinction between these two groups wholly and solely in the grace of God, because that is the only source of salvation.

Just think of it for moment: What would election (the very first act of election in eternity) mean if it depended on our decisive initiative? If God watches (in eternity with foresight) and elects in response to what He foresees that we will do in a self-generated act, then we are not “chosen by divine grace”; rather, we are chosen by a decisive human act. God would simply be responding to our initiative. We would determine his action. And grace would no longer be grace. That’s what Paul is saying here, just as he did in Romans 9:11-12, that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was based not on works but on Him who calls. It’s God’s initiative, not God’s response. God freely by grace saves a people of His own choosing and creates a remnant. He can cause seven thousand not to bow the knee to Baal or seven million to believe in Jesus Christ. And nobody’s accountability is undermined. The main point is this: God has not rejected His people, and their rejection cannot stop Him from saving a remnant or saving a nation when He chooses to remove their hardness.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Romans 10:17,20-21

...Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ... And Isaiah boldly says, "I was found by those who did not seek Me; I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me" [Isaiah 65:1]. But concerning Israel he says, "All day long I have held out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people" [Isaiah 65:2].

V17 – Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ. What does that mean? What is saving faith? Paul is saying that saving faith entails believing the Gospel message and trusting in Jesus. Faith presupposes and requires the word heard through Christ about Christ. Saving faith requires that the message Christ declared and commissioned preachers to declare about Him be heard and believed. Paul is saying that Israel didn’t believe the message, not because they didn’t hear it in the sense that is was physically audible and intellectually assented to, but because they didn’t hear it through the Word of Christ in the sense that is was spiritually audible and trusted in from the heart. That’s what it means for the message to be heard through the Word of Christ.

V20-21 – God reveals Himself to those who do not want Him. His mercy is revealed in patience. Paul confirms the twin truths of God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility to believe the Gospel side-by-side here. In v20, God reveals Himself to those who do not ask for Him. This is in the strongest possible sense, like that of Paul’s conversion. God compels people to come to Him (Luke 14:23). God works in them to effectively bring them to Him. This is representative, of course, of God’s sovereignty in salvation. In v 21, God, having revealed Himself in plenty strong-enough, just not effectual ways, is patiently waiting for disobedient and stubborn people to turn to Him. He has patience with them, thereby revealing His mercy. He has a purpose in hardening them, but we’ll have to wait until chapter 11 to hear Paul explain that purpose. But this shows man’s responsibility to believe the Gospel.

Charles Spurgeon said, “That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.”

In conclusion consider several additional passages, like Romans 10:20-21, that teach both of these truths simultaneously: 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; John 6:37; Matthew 11:25-29; Acts 13:38,39,48.

All are sincerely invited, rather commanded, to come to Christ. Everyone who believes will be saved. But none will believe; none will obey, unless God makes it happen in them. Only those appointed for eternal life believe. Only those who are made alive by the Holy Spirit when they were dead obey the command to believe. Only those compelled to come (Luke 14:23) accept the offer and willingly receive Christ by coming to Him.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Romans 10:15-21

As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news" [Isaiah 52:7]! But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message" [Isaiah 53:1]? Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world" [Psalm 19:4]. Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, "I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding" [Deuteronomy 32:21]. And Isaiah boldly says, "I was found by those who did not seek Me; I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me" [Isaiah 65:1]. But concerning Israel he says, "All day long I have held out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people" [Isaiah 65:2].

Why is it that people reject the Gospel?

Paul asked four questions in v13-14, and he works through the answers to the questions in reverse order: Is it because God has not sent preachers? No. In v15 Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 to show that God has sent messengers, Isaiah being a primary one. Beautiful feet are not soft and pedicured; rather, they are dirty, rough, and worn. The messengers God calls are beautiful people because of the message they carry. We sing about Jesus being beautiful, but Scripture says that there was nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. Jesus is beautiful because of His message and His work.

Is it because the preachers have failed to share the good news? No. In v16, Paul quotes Isaiah 53:1 to show that Isaiah did deliver the message, but the people did not believe it. Isaiah 53:1 found its fulfillment in John 12:37-38. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’”

Is it because the people didn’t hear and understand the message? No. Skip over v17 to v18. Paul quotes Psalm 19:4 to show that the people did hear. This particular verse in Psalm 19 points to creation as general revelation. The whole Psalm gives room for general (v1-6) and specific (v7-11) revelation. Just as God as given creation as general revelation – a witness to Himself, to His eternal power and divine nature, so also has God given His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, as specific revelation – a witness to Himself through the Gospel. So Paul is “playing” with his audience here. Paul is basically saying, “If the Gentiles, who had only general revelation, have heard, then surely the Jews, who had general and special revelation, have also heard.” So the whole world has heard. See Colossians 1:23. But what about understanding?

Let me say two things regarding understanding. First, from v19-20, there is no intellectual problem. Paul proves that with quotes from both the law and the prophets. Notice that the first quote in v19 comes from Deuteronomy 32:21, and then the second quote in v20 comes from Isaiah 65:1. Paul is saying, “Look, both the law and the prophets in the Scriptures make it clear that the Gospel was clearly understood by the people of Israel, and it was made so clear that even the Gentiles, who didn’t understand, understood it.” Moses’ and Isaiah’s prophecies that the Gentiles would believe to the anger of the Israelites came true. That proves Paul’s point. The Gentiles were never very theologically sharp; they were a nation without understanding, yet they understood the message of the Gospel, that salvation is by grace through faith in the Messiah and not by works. They never sought God, but they found Him as He revealed Himself to them. But the Jews, on the other hand, were theologically sharp. They were a nation with understanding, that is, intellectual understanding or assent. But they sought God and did not find Him. So by hearing the Gentiles understood, but hearing doesn’t bring understanding for the Jew. Why not?

V21 answers this question, gives us my second point regarding understanding, and addresses the very first question Paul asked back in v14. Is it because the people heard and understood yet still failed to believe and call on the name of the Lord and be saved? Yes! The people had everything necessary to be responsible for believing; they intellectually understood, but they didn’t experientially understand. They had no understanding from the heart. Hearing is not understanding for the Jew, because it must come from the heart and not merely from the head. The Jews were disobedient and obstinate (stubborn). Paul is saying that Israel didn’t call on the name of the Lord because they went after other gods and sought God in the wrong way. The depravity of Israel kept the Jews from embracing the Savior. We’ll come back and look at v17 and v21 in more detail to finish up chapter 10 next time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Romans 10:14-15

How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news" [Isaiah 52:7]!

Let me point out four ways that Israel is practically a visible illustration of our own lives before God: (1) Israel has the law written down in history for all to read; we have the invisible law of God written on our hearts; (2) Israel fails to live up to its visible, written law for all to see; we fail to live up to our invisible law; (3) Israel is condemned by God visibly and publicly; we are condemned by our conscience as an echo of God’s severe wrath and just judgment; (4) Israel is given a remedy by faith in the Messiah, Jesus, who provides a righteousness that they could not provide for themselves; we are given that same remedy. So Israel’s historical story and our internal, personal story connect in Jesus. Their history was pointing to Jesus, and our spiritual struggles point to Jesus. And this connection continues to a fifth point made by Paul in Romans 9-11: (5) Israel missed the provided remedy (Christ), so that we would not miss it. That’s where Paul is going in this 3-chapter span in Romans. The Old Testament pointed to salvation by grace through faith, just as the New Testament does. And Paul’s audience might ask, “If the Scriptures teach salvation by grace through faith, then how did the Jews miss it? How did Israel fail to grasp it?” So Paul explains how and why they missed their Messiah and rejected the Gospel in this passage. Notice that Paul asks 4 questions in v14-15, gives 4 answers in v15-21 (skipping v17), and gives 2 important details regarding saving faith in v17.

Paul has just said in v13 that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. No nation in all of human history has called on the Lord like the Israelites. How is it, then, that they are not all being saved? Paul is asserting that the Israelites are not really calling on the Lord, because they’re not calling on Jesus Christ with saving faith. They may be crying out to God the Father, but they show that they do not really know God the Father, because they fail to cry out to His Son. In Romans 10:9, we saw that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Luke 10:22 “All things have been committed to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” It’s more than intellectual assent to the facts, and that’s what Paul wants to show. So he asks 4 diagnostic questions in v14-15 forcing his audience to get to the heart of the matter, to focus on the core of the problem.

First, they cannot call on the Lord Jesus Christ if they don’t really believe Jesus Christ is Lord. Second, they cannot believe that Jesus Christ is Lord unless they hear the Gospel. Third, they cannot hear the Gospel unless it is preached to them. Fourth, the Gospel cannot be preached unless preachers are sent by God. So Paul is asking his audience to focus on the problem. Why is it that people reject the Gospel? And we'll look at the answers to these questions next time.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Romans 10:11-13

As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame" [Isaiah 28:16]. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" [Joel 2:32].

Notice again that Paul, as he has done throughout this passage, is emphasizing that the Old Testament teaches the way of salvation by grace through faith in the Messiah. Why should people, especially the Jews, trust in God for salvation? Because their Scriptures say so. Even the law, says Paul, teaches salvation by grace through faith. And if we truly believe on Christ then we will not be ashamed of Him, and therefore we will gladly confess Him and obey the Gospel from the heart as He enables us and works in us to do so.

Paul says in v12, “There is no difference,” and he said the same thing in Romans 3:22. In that passage “there is no difference,” because Jew and Gentile alike have sinned and are condemned. In this passage “there is no difference,” because Jew and Gentile alike have the same Savior who will pour out the riches of His glory (Romans 9:23) to all who call on His name. All kinds of men without distinction are condemned due to the same sinfulness; all kinds of men without distinction are saved by the same Savior. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (with sincere saving faith) will be saved. Praise God!