Friday, June 26 –
It is Friday and as we come to the end of the week, we turn the page in our reading thru the New Testament to Romans 9:1-33. Read the passage first and then please come back that we might look some more at what the Apostle Paul has written.
At the end of Romans 8, Paul had concluded the message of the Gospel that he had begun in 1:16. The Gospel is a promise from God that through Jesus Christ, sinful and separated-from-God people are redeemed, by grace through faith. Their sins, although real, are paid for by the blood of Christ’s sacrificial death – a propitiation to God that allows him to be both Just in his Holiness, and Justifier of those who can not save themselves (3:21-26). It is a Sovereign action of God that is possible because of his gift of Grace through Faith. Now, we have “peace” with God (5:1), but still, have to contend with our sinful nature. We are redeemed, but we are not in heaven, so the flesh is still with us (chapters 6 & 7).
Nevertheless, in Christ, we have received of God a “not guilty” freedom (8:1) and by the work of the Holy Spirit, we are becoming the children of God (8:11-17). The golden chain of Salvation is clear – we who are called by God, have been predestined by God to become like his Son (8:29), and so our Justification in Christ Jesus will lead to our glorification in eternity (8:30). Nothing can separate us from God’s love, God’s purposes, God’s will being accomplished (8:31-39). This is the summary of the Gospel message Paul has been declaring since the beginning of this letter we call Romans.
As we turn the page we discover Paul wrestling out loud about a question we all have had at some time or another in dealing with our Faith. If we believe the Gospel, why doesn’t everyone? Worst yet, why don’t some of my dearest friends, my family, my loved ones also believe? Paul introduces us to a dilemma by admitting that the “good news” has not been received by many of his people – the Israelites (9:4), Paul’s brothers, and kinsman (9:3). Instead of connecting Faith in Jesus to their faith as proclaimed in the Scriptures, they have rejected it.
Israelites had been given God’s covenant (through Abraham first, then Moses, and David). They had been adopted as sons, freed from bondage in Egypt. They had seen God’s glory displayed in the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and the Tabernacle and Temple had testified to God’s presence among them. All of these advantages were a demonstration of God’s faithfulness to the nation of Israel – the Jewish people (9:4-5). Yet, Israel had largely rejected the Gospel. Many had not only rejected it but like Paul in his own beginning, even oppressed and ostracized their fellow Jews who had believed in Jesus. The obvious question then is “If the Gospel is such good news, why don’t my friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers also believe?”
In a broader look at this section, Paul is going to explain this dilemma in chapters 9 – 11. We will only be looking at the first part of this today, but read it all if you can this weekend. The answer to the question of Israel’s belief lies in four specific truths that involve the doctrinal truth of Divine Election. The truth of election is based on God’s sovereign choice concerning salvation. In all honesty, it runs against the grain of our 21st-century humanist, modernist, enlightened philosophy. We assume we are in control of life, especially the power we have to make choices. For many, the question of why some believe in Christ, and why others don’t is a matter of marketing, or the need for better arguments, or something else that is based on human will.
Election affirms that God is sovereignly in control of believing. Paul makes this clear in two different ways. He begins with something we all can affirm:
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (9:6-8).
The natural offspring of Abraham were not all included in the promise of God to Abraham. Isaac was the one who inherited the Covenant promise, not Ishmael. That became a pattern that continued on through Old Testament history. It wasn’t just that not all of Abraham’s offspring didn’t receive it, it was that God had chosen his salvation pathway and it was His sovereign choice that determined its path. Paul reminds us that it was Jacob who inherited the promise, not Esau (9:9-13). Why? Paul’s answer is clear: “that God’s purpose in Election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls” (9:11).
Most modern evangelicals struggle with the doctrine of Election. We are connected to a modernist philosophy of human choice as the sovereign reason for things happening. We live in a country that espouses human freedom and God is outside of that freedom. The Reformers knew that it was not so. Martin Luther was not the first, but he saw clearly that not all of the church were true believers in Jesus. He saw “tares among the wheat” and understood that while Salvation was by grace through faith, not all understood or believed it. In his masterpiece, “On the Bondage of the Will” he wrote about God’s sovereignty in Election. Reformation leaders all affirmed this doctrine. When the Enlightenment took over Europe the doctrine was attacked - both from without and within the church. Enlightenment philosophy had no place for a Sovereign God, only a Sovereign humanity. Even today, most pastors in churches do not dare speak the doctrine of election – in fact, many don’t believe it to be true.
What does Paul say? Which is asking, what does the Scripture teach? God keeps his promises and even though not all Israel believed, the true believers did (9:6, 11-12), and this is because they were called according to God’s own ‘purpose of election’. Does this mean God is unjust in exercising his Sovereign choice (9:14)? No. God is Merciful and compassionate on all those he chooses to extend his mercy to (9:15), and God demonstrates his judgment – as he did in the case of Pharaoh – when he chooses (9:17-18).
Election is consistent with God’s Holy character and the exercise of His will in terms of humanity is because he is both creator and Lord – i.e., he is over everything and everyone. Just like the potter has the ability to declare his purpose in making one vessel over another vessel, so God is able to declare his purposes in the creation of humanity (this lump of clay) (9:19-21).
The Israelites thought of themselves as special – better than the rest of the nations because God had selected them as His chosen people. Paul reminds us that “not all of them were heirs of the promise”, and that God had all along chosen to include the Gentiles also in that promise (9:24). The Gentiles were at one time, “not my people”, but God in the Gospel has elected them also to be called “sons of God” (9:25-26). This is how the argument of God’s sovereign election becomes clearer. Israel pursued faith in God, and thus their perceived “righteousness” before God, through the Law. They believed that by observing the Law they would be deemed righteous before God – they were wrong (9:31). They did not comprehend, would not comprehend their own Sinful nature. That sinful nature meant they also were under the judgment, or wrath of God. Their sinfulness was not any different than the Sinful nature of the Gentiles, and the only way to real Faith did not go through their own righteous efforts – which Paul said “they did not succeed in reaching that law”. The Gentiles weren’t pursuing God’s righteousness, but they were given it in the preaching of the Gospel (9:30).
The way forward to Israel was the same way forward for both Jews and Gentiles: “as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (9:33). God sent his Son as the “way, truth, life” and for all who believe, all who receive He is God’s sovereign way to salvation and eternal life. Jesus is either a pathway to walk on, or a rock to stumble over.
Paul had begun this section seeking to explain why some of his fellow Israelites, as well as some Gentiles, had believed in Christ, while many of his people and many Gentiles did not. The answer was that God is not unfaithful, he is not unjust, he is not unfair, but in his sovereign choice, he shows his mercy and grace. Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones summed up Paul’s writing of Romans 9 by saying, “in verse 6-29, Paul explains why anybody is saved – it is a sovereign work of God’s grace in Election. In verses 30-33, Paul explains why anybody is lost – it is their own responsibility”.
Election reminds us of two essential things: First that God sovereignly has determined the way as well as the means by which salvation will succeed. If we were in charge of salvation it wouldn’t occur. We are by nature alienated from God, and left to our own will, will never choose God. That is what Martin Luther, John Calvin, Augustine, and thousands of others down through the church’s history have faithfully read in the Scriptures and proclaimed.
Secondly, God’s sovereign choice reminds us that ALL he has called (8:29) will end up glorified. God has a people who he will redeem...that is certain. Salvation in Christ is the most secure place to be. It is not based on our faithfulness – the Lord knows that is not enough – it is based on His faithfulness. What it means personally is that His grace, mercy, and love are humbling and the reasons for great Worship and continuing obedient faith.
Well, then, “who are the elect?” God appeared to Paul in Corinth and told him “... the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people’ ” (Acts 18:9-10).
We open the Scriptures to see God and worship him. Who are the elect? I don’t know, so we pray and speak the Gospel to all, knowing that while not all will receive it, or believe it, God has his people who will. The Scriptures never say, "Try to determine whether you are elect." They say rather:
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).
“... to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).