Day 297 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Romans.
Romans 9 – As an apostle “set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1), Paul agonizes over his “kinsmen” (his fellow Jews; verse 3) just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). Those who know the gospel feel a desire for helping others to know it, too; they want them to experience the Good News. Despite all the gifts and promises they received in former times, right up to and including “Christ, who is God over all,” the majority of Jews in Paul’s time did not acknowledge Jesus as God’s promised Savior and King.
Paul anticipates a key objection to his gospel message: if Jesus is the Christ, and if He came in fulfillment of God’s promises in His Word, and if God’s chosen people reject the Jesus, does that not mean that God’s Word has somehow failed? After all, God’s people the Jews did not rally to that Word.
Paul’s answer is a clear no (verse 6), and across all of chapters 9–11 he gives a sustained response to this question. At the core of Paul’s answer is that the gospel is a promise (for the key role that “promise” plays in Romans, see also 1:2; 4:13, 14, 16, 20, 21; 7:10; 9:4; 15:8). Gospel blessing is not a human entitlement based on ethnicity or some other human achievement or qualification (John 1:13). Paul bases his claim on the story of “God’s purpose of election” seen in the case of Jacob and Esau. God bestows His grace with utter sovereignty and wisdom. We bow before Him in worship and wonder, knowing that our salvation is truly all of grace.
The God who offers His good news of redemption is certainly not unjust (verse 14; see also 3:4–6). He remains faithful to His own ways, purposes, and promises. Much depends here on whether God’s Word is the measure of His actions, or whether human definition is the standard; Paul argues based on God’s Word. God is the only possible ground and source of His mercy, as the story of Pharaoh confirms (verses 17–18). He is not indebted to human expectations or demands.
The objection of verse 19 carries in it a note of accusation against God. Certainly God is willing to “reason together” with humans (see Isaiah 1:18). As Jesus was silent before His accusers (1 Peter 2:23), however, so also Paul gives no explicit answer other than to remind his accusers of God’s right to do as He will with those whom He has made (Romans 9:20–21), in order to reveal His mercy.
The answer does not satisfy all of our questions, but it is important to remember that Paul was not seeking here to address the concerns of unbelievers. In this section Paul is still fundamentally answering the earlier question of the concerned Jews in his audience: Has God’s Word failed? Paul asserts God’s prerogative to act as He pleases, to regard people in keeping with His eternal purposes, and so to constitute “His people” not only from Jews (many of whom rejected the gospel) but also from Gentiles (verse 24). In this sense, Paul is actually expanding his readers’ understanding of those to whom the grace of God applies.
It is at first unsettling to be confronted with God’s absolute sovereignty. But ultimately this is our true security, for if there was nothing in us, but only God’s good pleasure, that brought us into grace, then there is nothing in us that can take us out of grace.
Paul cites Scripture to verify his conception of God’s free and untameable grace. Both Hosea and Isaiah show that God has a track record of confounding human expectations, dispersing His grace freely and uplifting the undeserving. He was never bound to limit the Abrahamic promise strictly to bloodlines.
Paul draws this portion of his argument to a close. The gospel’s saving effect, “a righteousness that is by faith” (see Romans 1:17), has swept through Gentile populations in places like Rome. In contrast, “Israel” (meaning most of the millions of Jews in the Roman Empire), fell short of their own law. That law reveals sin and points people to their need of Jesus, whom most of the Jews did not accept as their promised King and Savior. As had been true of Paul himself in his youth (see Galatians 1:14), their approach to God was faulty, resulting in stumbling and offense rather than hearing, forgiveness, and new life.
Humanly generated “righteousness” is hollow and worthless. True righteousness is “by faith” (verse 30). This means that we come to God, sinners as we are, with the empty hands of faith, trusting only in Jesus.
How does the fact that you didn’t earn your salvation give you security to know you cannot lose what you didn’t earn to begin with?
Romans 10 – The question of whether God’s Word has failed (Romans 9:6) is still on the table. So is Paul’s distress that the judgment preached by John the Baptist and Jesus abides on unbelieving Israel in his day. He wants his fellow Jews to be saved from divine wrath. He commends the moral and religious zeal which are his own roots as well. But this zeal is misguided, he says. The Jews’ conception of righteousness is flawed because they think it comes from them rather than from God, and they will not submit to “God’s righteousness”—the provision God makes for our sin to be forgiven and God’s justice to be satisfied by faith in Jesus. Whether “end” in verse 4 means “goal” or “termination” or some of both, Jesus is regarded as neither by most of Paul’s kinsmen.
These verses are sobering. Evidently it is possible to be zealous for God and for righteousness and yet to be unsaved. The distinguishing line among all human beings is not between those who have zeal and those who do not, but between those who have faith and those who do not.
To show that God’s Word has not failed (Romans 9:6), Paul continually explains his gospel message by appeal to God’s Word, in this case Moses and other prophets.
Moses does teach that commandment keeping matters. But the righteousness based on faith which the gospel reveals (Romans 1:17) counsels against the error of replacing Jesus’ work with human striving or speculation. In verse 8, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30:14, seeing there a foreshadowing of the “word of faith” embodied in Jesus. The heart of gospel response is acknowledgment of Jesus’ divinity, His status as Lord, along with personal trust in Him as resurrected from the dead. This fulfills Scripture and is binding on Jew and Greek alike, for there is only one Lord, and He deals with all persons and ethnicities consistently, as Scripture makes clear (verse 13).
Verses 14-17 outline factors that help explain why so many of Paul’s fellow Jews regard Jesus with disbelief. They also help justify Paul’s concern for and appeal to Jews. To be saved, they must call on Jesus as Lord. But without believing, which requires hearing, which implies preaching, what hope do they have? And there are no preachers unless they are sent. Yet even when all these conditions are met, as in Paul’s day when Jesus has come and the gospel message has gone forth to synagogues in many places, the Jews “have not all obeyed the gospel.” In the end, it is not the Word of God that has failed (see again Romans 9:6). The issue is rather that many Jews are not giving the Word of Christ a hearing, resulting in disbelief.
Here is a reminder of why the book of Isaiah has often been called the fifth Gospel. In Romans 10:18 Paul quotes Isaiah to affirm that the good news has gone out everywhere. Jewish unbelief cannot be blamed on lack of opportunity to hear. In Romans 10:19 Paul quotes Isaiah to affirm that Gentile reception of the gospel should not be an offense to Jews; they should “understand” that what is happening is according to God’s will because Isaiah foretells God’s revealing Himself in a saving way “to those who did not ask for me”—which refers to the Gentiles, as Isaiah makes clear in another passage. In contrast, most of Paul’s kinsmen have slammed the door in God’s face—yet another gospel prediction and application of Isaiah.
Throughout this section, Paul’s point is that the failure of most Jews to receive the gospel does not lie in God’s Word (which foresees it happening) but in the refusal of His ancient covenant people to receive it. God is perfectly faithful; they, not God, are the faithless ones (2 Timothy 2:13). The same message applies to people today who reject the offer of the gospel from God’s Word.
So, has God’s Word failed, or is God respecting people’s decisions to reject Him?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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