Friday, June 26, 2015

Romans 9

    I'll be continuing the Romans series today, this chapter being Romans 9 today. This chapter is the chapter in which Paul begins to articulate the role of God's sovereignty in our salvation; a message which he continues throughout the next two chapters, 10 and 11. Once again, this is yet another reason why I believe Romans is such an incredible help in understanding exactly what happens during what we so often times refer so flippantly to as salvation.

    Paul is speaking of the choosing of Israel from among any other nation as God's chosen people to whom first to reveal His Law and ultimately His Son. But in Gal. 3:14, 29 and Rom. 11:17, 24, Paul outlines that we (the community of NT believers) are the elect since the death of Christ. While before the New Covanent, Israel was the elect (the olive tree referenced in Rom. 11), since Jesus' death, we have been grafted into the election and this choosing becomes one of both Jews and Gentiles on an individual basis, rather than a national identity.

    So, what this means (and we'll look at this in more depth in chapter 11) is that the election is of two different groups. One election is of Israel as a nation (the natural branches from chapter 11), the other election is of believers, both Jews and Gentiles (the grafted branches). Rom. 9 is speaking generically of the election, and I personally believe that Paul is speaking of both, since the chapter references attributes of both elections. Even more, the election of believers grafts us into the natural election, making the two separate elections one.

    V. 1-5 speak of Paul's incredible desire to see his own countrymen, the ones who rejected Jesus even after seeing Him, saved, even if at expense of his own salvation. This is an incredible heart for the lost. Paul's love for his own Jews was so great that, while recognizing their heritage of the Law (v. 4), he was willing if possible to forego his own salvation if by it the Jews would gain grace.

    V. 6-8 is where Paul begins differentiating between the two elections and describing the overlap. As we know from Genesis, Abraham had two children, Isaac and Ishmael. Only one was the child of promise, and only one was the elect of God. Only Isaac's descendents were the children of promise and thus God's chosen.

    But that leads us to ask a question. How did God choose one to be the beneficiary of all His blessings and to be His chosen people, but then reject the other? How did God decide? Was it simply because Isaac was better or wiser than Ishmael? Was it because he just naturally desired to follow God more than Ishmael did?

    Well, to explain that, Paul steps forward a generation to Jacob and Esau (v. 10-13). Instead of choosing who God would bless based on some innate merit or human choice, God demonstrates His own sovereignty in the entire situation by choosing which of Rebekah's children would be His while they were still in the womb. Before either one had chosen who they would follow, and before either had done anything, righteous or otherwise, God had already decided which one He would love and bless.

    Why? Why would God do this? Well, it says clearly in v. 11. " order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls." God gives us this striking example in order to illustrate that salvation is not dependent on yours or my works or free will, but because God has chosen to draw you and I to Himself.

    V. 14-23 address the objection that if you have ever been in a discussion with someone who is an advocate of man's total free will you will have heard before. But that's not fair! That wouldn't be just. That would mean God is deciding who will follow Him and who will not in spite of us!

    Yep, that's exactly what it means. In fact, that's actually what it says! V. 15-16 say it very clearly! "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then, it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." It's not up to us. Accepting or rejecting God's mercy is not up to us.

    And while some of you may be staring at the screen with your mouth gaping, this isn't a new concept. We've already spoken of man's enslaved nature in chapter 1-3 and other random places throughout the book. Man never chooses God, because he is a slave to sin and dead in sin. Man's natural desires, until God chooses to intervene, is to reject God and to be a hater of God. Thus, without God's sovereign intervention, we would forever reject Him.

    Paul gives an even stronger example here in v. 17, where Pharoah is mentioned as simply a pawn in God's hands that is raised up for the express purpose of making God's power known. Think about that! Pharoah was brought to the thrown of Egypt with the long before ordained purpose of bringing glory to God by rejecting His commands and being killed.

    Really, Paul sums it up with v. 18. "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." It's hard to get much clearer than that. God has mercy on those whom He has chosen to be recipients of His mercy, and those whom He desires to glorify Himself through His strict justice He hardens. Either way, God is glorified, either through His justice or His mercy. And honestly, that is the entire reason for our existence, isn't it? Should it really surprise us so much that God is using us to bring Himself maximum glory when that is the reason for our creation?

    Again though, Paul brings up the objection in v. 19. Why does God hold any of us accountable? If we're simply fulfilling what God has foreordained for us to do, why are we still held guilty for our sins? Well, the simple answer is that we are simply acting completely consistent with our sin natures. While God is hardening certain individuals against Himself (11:8-10), those individuals are also acting completely consistent with the desires of their hearts as shown in the first three chapters of Romans. Even while obeying God's sovereign choice for their destruction, they are doing so by following their natural desires of their own sinful hearts and minds.

    But Paul's answer is even simpler. Hold on. How can we even ask this question of God? Paul doesn't even bother to answer the question here! He simply points out that we are in no position to require that God explain His actions to us. Paul effectively shuts down the entire discussion by telling us that it is not our place to require a reason of God for why He does what He does. He is God, and He does as He pleases. And when we reject what He says because it runs contrary to our opinion of how it should go, we are placing ourselves in a position far beyond our fragile human state.

    So, if you want me to sum up the doctrine I've been speaking on throughout this whole post, I would do so with v. 22-24. In fact, I would sum up the entirety of sovereign choice doctrine with these three verses. "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy. which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles."

    This is ultimately the purpose of our salvation from God's perspective. Not only does He delight in us, but He desires to bring Himself glory through it, whether to highlight His wrath and power through the destruction of rebels or to highlight His mercy upon those of us whom He has chosen to snatch from our rebellion. Each of us have the same phrase describe us, that it was prepared beforehand what would occur. Rather than this being a choice simply dependent on us (which would require me to have some spark of righteousness in my natural spirit with which to choose Christ, which is contradicted by the many verses on man's depravity), this a decision which God made many years ago, that has resulted in Him forebearing for ages the sin and rebellion of those who He had prepared to show His power and wrath against sin through.

    V. 24-33 make a turn for the more comforting, lighter side. These verses should speak strongly to us as non-Jewish believers, since had the first election been the only election, then Israel would still be the people of God rather than those of us who are now the children of God. Rather, God chose to name some of us, Gentiles, as His people. We have been reconciled, even those of us who are not the privileged Jewish race, to be His children.

    Here, He calls us His people who were not His people. The very people who throughout the OT were the enemies of the Jews God know has reconciled with Himself, and now brings into the family of the believing Jews, making all of us together the heirs of the promise of Abraham (Gal. 3:21).

    Even here though, Paul continues to address the same issue He had in the first part of the chapter. V. 27-29 tells us that all Israel is not who will be saved, but rather a remnant that God sovereignly saved for Himself. V. 29 even says that if God had not sovereignly intervened to save the remnant, the entirety of the nation would have continued in their sins, even as Sodom and Gomorrah. Here, we see God Himself saving men from their own natures in order to preserve them as His people.

    V. 30-33 continues a strain that must have shocking to Paul's Jewish readers. Gentiles, the ones who did not have the Law of God, were now ushered into His family by His grace through their faith, while the Jews, those who had so scrupulously kept festivals and celebrations, were denied entrance because of their lack of faith.

    Yet again, Paul returns to works vs. faith salvation. Gentiles, those despised by the Jewish nation received salvation through their faith, while the Jews were rejected because of their attempts to earn salvation by works. Why did they try to earn it? Because they tripped over what v. 33 refers to as the "stone of stumbling and rock of offense". To the Jews, Jesus' message of freedom from the Law and spiritual freedom rather than literal freedom from Rome was enough to chase them away. Rather than exercise faith in this offensive stumblingblock, they preferred to continue to try to work their way into God's favor. And because of this, they did not obtain righteousness.

    If you have any questions or disagreements, feel free to comment below. I'm certainly open to anyone disagreeing with my viewpoints on this chapter, so feel free to say so. I would be happy to see your reasons behind your disagreement or agreement!

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