Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The People of God Pt. 6: Rom. 10:11-15

As the countdown to the Super Bowl winds down many people are gearing up for all of the excitement that will ensue before, during, and after the game. As I anticipate what I will probably see tonight when I watch this spectacle, I couldn’t help but consider all of the different presentations that will be showcased as everything unfolds. There is a presentation of each team when they come onto the field, a presentation of the colors, the national anthem, coin toss, coach interviews, analysis, half-time show, and trophy presentation thereafter. It will be an evening filled with all kinds of presentations, each carefully designed to gin up as much excitement as possible for the viewers at home. Romans behaves in much the same way for Paul’s original audience. Paul has made presentation after presentation in the grand spectacle that is this theological treatise, each with its own significance, message, and hype. Today’s passage is no different. In Romans 10:11-15, Paul gives TWO presentations concerning the scope and spread of the gospel that will leave us encouraged and challenged to show up and perform well for the glory of God.

a) Compendium of Salvation Candidates-10:11-13

Now that Paul has explained HOW people are saved, he moves on to catalog the candidates for salvation, thereby answering “who can execute this procedure and have salvation applied to them?” Paul argued in verses 9-10 that those who confess “Jesus is Lord” and “believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead” will be saved. With only this to go on, it would seem that salvation is open to anyone who follows this process in faith. Paul verifies this in verse 11 with an Old Testament proof text—“For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed,…” (10:11). This quote from Isaiah 28:16 was also used by Paul in 9:33. There, Paul was referring to the stumbling stone of offense and claimed that anyone who dares to believe in the rock that is Christ will not be disappointed. Here, Paul applies the same quote to the potential scope of salvation and adds a word to the Isaiah reference to this end “pax” (everyone/whoever). Neither the LXX nor the MT of Isaiah 28:16 contains this verbiage, meaning that it is from Paul. Progressive revelation, under the control of the Holy Spirit has determined that it is appropriate to reveal here that “Whoever believes in Him (and follows the process indicated in vv. 9-10) will not be disappointed.”

There is another important comment to make here concerning the connotation of the verb “disappointed.” This word implies shame. Here, Paul says that believers are not ashamed. A lack of shame and embarrassment can be promised to believers because Jesus took on the shame of sin on their behalf. Even further, Jesus overwhelmed the shame of His humiliating death by means of the empty tomb. Shame is no longer possible for those who place their trust in Christ!  This is why Paul says earlier in Romans “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (1:16). Though, to be sure, a psychological benefit is possible for the believer given what Christ has already done, what is also true because of the empty tomb is a future vindication at the final judgment. Those who put their faith in Jesus as the resurrected Lord know present freedom from the shame that sin creates AND future victory from the condemnation to which sin inevitably leads on the Day of Judgment (Schreiner, Romans, 561).
In both 1:16 and 10:11, there appears to be universal efficiency inherent within the gospel. In other words, everyone is able to know the freedom of shame and sin by trusting in Jesus.

Just to be sure he was clear, Paul reframes his point in terms of ethnicity and heritage in verse 12—“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him,…” (10:12). Paul probably believed that this had to be said given the unusually acute Jewish pride among many in his audience. Here, Paul reminds the Jews that Jesus is the God of all people. As such, He can provide salvation to anyone who believes.

Romans 2:11-“For there is no partiality with God.”

Romans 2:28-29-“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God.”

After all…

Romans 3:22-23-“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…”

Romans 3:29-30-“…is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.”

These verses and many others indicate what Paul says in verse 12—“the same Lord is Lord of all (that is all people), abounding in riches for all who call on Him…”. His grace exists in superabundance—it is not limited to one people group or tradition. All who call on Him, Jew or Gentile, can experience His benefits.

To drive the point home, Paul picks up the same word he introduced in verse 11 (pax/whoever) and borrows “call” in verse 12 to say the following in verse 13—“whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (10:13). There is a beautiful parallelism that exists between verses 11-13 and verse 9-10. In 9-10, one was encouraged to “confess” and “believe” to be saved for “belief” results in righteousness and “confession” leads to “salvation.” Here, in verses 11 and 13, we have Paul explaining the scope of salvation with similar themes. In verse 11 Paul says “whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” and in verse 13 he reveals “‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,’”. Therefore ANYONE who believes and confesses, trusts and professes, will be saved. What an encouragement!

b) The Process of Receiving the Gospel-10:14-15

After arguing that everyone regardless of background or ethnicity is a potential candidate for salvation, Paul gives a presentation of the process by which the gospel message is transferred to these candidates. This presentation is given in reverse order, beginning with the terminus and moving back to the inception (i.e. describing how the process concludes and then providing the logical depiction of the steps that lead to that end). What is communicated in these verses is equally applicable to both the Jews and the Gentiles as these steps of the chain must be realized if ANYONE is going to call on the Lord and be saved (Schreiner, Romans, 567).

The last two links of the chain described (offered first by Paul) take people from belief to confession. Paul asks “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” (10:14a). This is the first in a series of rhetorical questions that all demand the same answer—“They can’t!” or “They wouldn’t!” Paul’s point is this: how will people confess Jesus is Lord if they do not believe this in their hearts first? After all, “out of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Here, confession is more than just a trivial statement made on a whim; it is a pledge of allegiance to the proposition that Jesus is Lord and to the person of Christ who is God made flesh. Such confession cannot be made from a heart that does not believe in Jesus first.

Next, Paul wonders ‘how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?...” (10:14b). As Paul will say a bit later “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (10:17). However, this “word” or the contents of what is heard is what is supremely important. The message that must be heard is the word about Christ—His deity, death, and resurrection. In fact, the noun “hearing” ‘can refer both to the act of hearing and to the message that is preached (as in the case of a judge awarding someone a hearing).Therefore, belief is dependent on the quality of the message going forth –a robust gospel message—and the apprehension of that message—hearing and receiving it. One cannot expect that people will believe in the gospel if they have not heard that gospel.

This also means that general revelation is not enough to save. In fact, in Romans 1, Paul was very cynical about the capacity for general relation to move anyone in God’s direction. In fact, “he does not contemplate the possibility that people will be saved by responding positively to natural revelation” at all (see Romans 1:18-32) (Schreiner, Romans, 567). Rather than be turned on to God, the lost who see God’s general revelation are prone to idolatry.

Romans 1:20ff-“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

This is why what Paul says in Romans 10 is so important. People cannot believe the gospel rightly if they are not made aware of God’s special revelation as found in Jesus Christ and witnessed in His completed work!

Paul continues his presentation of how the gospel is received in the last part of verse 14 when he says “and how will they hear without a preacher?...” (10:14c). Taken with 1:18-32, it is reasonable to conclude that people are not typically saved apart from the proclamation of the gospel. Though there are exceptions, the ordinary means of salvation involves the preaching of the Word. Calvin puts it this way, ”The gospel does not fall from the clouds like rain, by accident, but it brought by the hands of men to where God has sent it.” (Calvin, The Epistle, 231).

This ought to provide a sense for why the church ought to be so passionate about local, regional, and global missions. We cannot expect people to respond to a gospel that they have not heard and we cannot expect people to hear it when people are not preaching. This is just as true for that neighbor down the street as it is for the pigmy in Papa New Guinea. In fact, both are just as lost and in increasing numbers both are just as ignorant of the gospel. Gone are the days in our country where we can assume that the majority of people have an awareness of Judeo-Christian values, let alone Bible stories, let alone the person and work of Jesus and its corresponding implications. Unfortunately, instead of hearing the truth proclaimed by faithful followers who know the gospel inside and out, the vast population is being told what to believe about Jesus from the history channel, mainstream media, and/or television personalities with no business behind the pulpit!  

Paul understood this in the first century. In Rome, Christianity was an infant movement in a brave new world. In his day, people didn’t know about Jesus because He was a new phenomenon and word had not yet spread about His ministry and accomplishments. In the brave new world that is 21st century America, people don’t know about Jesus because He is “old news” and people could care less! Both contexts require preachers armed with the truth to share that truth in compelling ways so that people hear it, believe it, and confess it. However, Paul asks “How will they preach unless they are sent?” (10:15a).

A missionary does no good if he/she doesn’t make it to the mission field. Your witness and my witness will not be used if we fail to take that walk down the street, make that call to that loved one, or write that letter.

As shared earlier, many will gather together to watch the spectacle that is the Super Bowl. During the game, in between clever commercials, analysis, replays, and time-outs, you will witness two scenes if you choose to watch it—the huddle and the actual plays. The score that will adorn the jumbotron at the end of the game is ultimately not going to be a reflection of what happens in the huddle, but what is actually accomplished as players are sent to their positions and execute their respective roles. The same is true of the church. Imagine a church that was content with meeting, singing, praying, preaching, teaching, and very little else. This would be akin to a football team meeting, practicing, scheming, and even making it to the huddle, only to then return to the sideline and wait for something to happen! Both scenarios are ridiculous!

This first step, shared last by Paul, is the step that so many forget about—being sent. Just as Jesus was sent and then sent the twelve so too are we to be sent in our respective worlds to accomplish our role of preaching the truth of gospel in whatever ways make sense for each of us. Then, and only then, can the gospel be received by those who will embrace it.

In a celebration of this crucial first step Paul writes “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!...” (10:15). This statement is adapted from Isaiah 52:7 in which heralds were celebrated for having spread the news that the return from exile was at hand.  There, salvation for the Jewish people involved returning to the land of promise. Applied to Romans 10, salvation for all people involves hearing, receiving, believing, and confessing the preached gospel. How wonderful are the feet of those who share this gospel!

So What?

In this passage Paul gives two important presentations—a presentation of potential salvation candidates and a presentation of how the gospel is received by these candidates. In so doing, Paul has provided reassurance and a challenge. First, people everywhere can be reassured that God does not play favorites when it comes to those who are saved. All have sinned and are, without distinction, in need of salvation. Similarly, people everywhere, no matter what they look like or what tribe they come from, can receive the grace of God that is found in the gospel. However, we also learn that for people to receive the grace of salvation people have to be sent to preach the truth. This truth must be heard, believed, and confessed thereafter. This ought to propel us from our seats and into our mission field. As those who have been guided through this process ourselves by the grace of God, we are called to be God’s instruments through which the gospel enters our world and is proclaimed to those around us. It is game time!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The People of God Pt. 5 Rom. 10:1-10

There are many important questions that people confront in life—Will she say “yes”? Does this make me look fat? What is the meaning of life? What are women thinking? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? What is next for me? What if I did this differently? Or, perhaps most precarious—where do you want to go for dinner? J Though Paul doesn’t provide an answer to all of these questions in Romans, he has answered a lot concerning what is most important—salvation.

Who is guilty and needs saving? How effective is the law? Who are God’s people? What is grace? Etc. These are just some of the important questions that Paul has provided in our study of this important book. However, there is at least one question that has gone unanswered up to this point—“How are people saved?” Though we have learned that everyone everywhere needs saving as all have sinned, that it is grace through faith, not the law that saves people, and that God is sovereign over His program of salvation, an explicit explanation to HOW all of this is applied to the individual has not yet been provided. That is until now. In Romans 10:1-10 we are going to observe four elements of Paul’s presentation of the process of salvation and learn about the significance of confession and belief.

a) The Misconception-10:1-3

Paul begins chapter 10 by reminding his audience what his entire ministry is all about—“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (10:1). Paul leaves no doubt here that he desperately longed for his people –the Jews—to be saved. Unfortunately, many weren’t being saved. However, this has not stopped Paul longing that his countrymen experience salvation.
That said, why are so many of Paul’s compatriots in the dark on this? How has this happened? An account of their failure is provided in verses 2-3. First, they had all the zeal they needed, they just weren’t directing that zeal in the right direction—“for I testify about them, that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (10:2). Throughout the New Testament, the idea of zeal is praised. The same is true here. The only problem is, they were pointing their zeal in the wrong direction.

This is similar to what was discussed in chapter 9:30-33. There, a quote from Andy Stanley proved useful—“Your direction, not your intention, determines your destination.” Paul reiterates here that the Jews had all the right intentions, they were just heading in the wrong direction.

There was no question that the Jewish people were zealous for God, unfortunately, their zeal was not guided by “knowledge.”  What “knowledge” were they missing? What did they have wrong? 
Paul explains all of this in verse 3—“for not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (10:3). In other words the Jews “had no valid insight into God’s plan for providing righteousness. They failed completely to recognize the righteousness that comes from God” (Mounce, 207). This wasn’t because things weren’t clear. Instead, the verb for “not knowing” means to “ignore” as much as it does to “fail to understand.” Unfortunately, the Jews had ignored the true message and meaning of the Law and failed to head and understand the prophets. Because they interpreted these signs incorrectly or ignored them altogether, they did not understand what salvation was all about—God’s righteousness bestowed by His Son Jesus.

As a result, they “sought to establish their own.” Paul has already revealed this in the previous chapter. In chapter 9, Paul admitted that so many of his fellow Jews were not entering into a relationship with God because they were trading grace for performance and relying on their own patriarchy rather than Christ. The consequence—they replaced the standard of God’s righteousness with their own—“they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (10:3).

b) The Foundation-10:4-“…For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes,…”

This is a crucial mistake because, as Paul reveals next, Christ’s righteousness, not man’s, is the foundation for salvation—“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:4). In other words, the unreachable standard of God’ righteousness has been achieved, not by us, but by Christ. His achievement makes righteousness available for all who believe. One commentator has translated this important verse this way: “For Christ means the end of the struggle for righteousness-by-the-Law for everyone who believes in him.”

How did Christ achieve this? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21.

2 Corinthians 5:21-“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

A. M. Toplady: “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”

”The only thing God requires of people is that they not persist in trying to earn what they can only receive as a totally free gift” (Mounce, 208).

c) The References-10:5-8

After laying this foundation before his audience (again), Paul juxtaposes two brands of righteousness (self-righteousness and God’s righteousness) to further illustrate his point. Self-righteousness has its origin in the law, “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by that righteousness” (10:5).  What Paul means hear by quoting Leviticus 18:5 (see also Gal. 3:12) is that if someone were to perfectly adhere to all that the law demands, it would, in fact, lead to life. However, NO ONE has nor ever will be able to perform on that level. Again “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10).

God’s righteousness, on the other hand is “based on faith” (10:6; see also 9:30). Righteousness coming through faith is reiterated in Ephesians 2:8-9-“for by grace are you saved through faith and not by yourselves, it is a gift, not of works lest any man should boast.”  This kind of faith does not demand performance of any kind for effectiveness. This is what Paul means when he says that it “does not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down)” (10:6). Here, Paul interprets verses from Deuteronomy in reference to the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. “In Deuteronomy, Moses was telling the people that they did not have to climb up to heaven or cross the sea (in their own strength) to discover the will of God. Paul applied the passage to the availability of the message of salvation” (10:6).

Not only do people not need to “storm the citadel of heaven,” in their own power to reach God, neither do they need to invade “the kingdom of the dead” (Hunter, Romans, 95)—“…or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)…” (10:7). Instead, Christ has done all of this! It is He who has come down out of heaven to bring grace to the sinner by means of His incarnation. It is He who has conquered sin and death and has been brought back up from the dead to grant righteousness and salvation. “Christ the Saviour is here, incarnate and risen” (Hunter, Romans, 95).

As good as this news is, what makes it even better is it has been revealed and is near—“”The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching…“ (10:8). Paul is, at present, preaching this gospel message and many along with him have spread the word across the known world. In fact, when Paul says “in your mouth and in your heart” he is hoping that some in his audience have accepted and embraced the information given and, as a result, could speak the truth back to him and others.

This reference to the mouth and heart tees up the final element of Paul’s presentation of the program of salvation nicely.

d) The Process-10:9-10

As Paul elucidates the process of salvation, he indicates that there are two related steps—First, “confess with your mouth, Jesus as Lord” (10:9a). “Confession” involves the expression of one’s allegiance to a proposition or person. Here, the content of the proposition being endorsed is “Jesus is Lord” and the implied person is Christ. Though this is a short phrase, it is heavy with salvific implications. “Jesus is Lord” betrays at least two things when said in the context of confessing salvation. First, claiming “Jesus is Lord” is claiming that Jesus is God made flesh as “Lord” (kurioV) is the New Testament and Greek equivalent of the divine name of God used in the Old Testament (yhwh). The implications of this are immense as such a claim necessarily betrays belief in Jesus’ unlimited, universal, and absolute authority and equality with God. Second, “Jesus is Lord” indicates subservience to Jesus in large part because of His amazing power and authority as God. “Those who come to Christ by faith are acknowledging that they have placed themselves entirely and with no reservation under his authority to carry out without hesitation whatever he may choose for them to do” (Mounce, 209). Jesus, in essence, is master over whoever says these words in faith.

The second step involved in salvation, very much related to the first mentioned, is “believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (10:9b). Though Paul only mentions one element of Christ’s redemptive work here—the resurrection—he has the entirety of Jesus’ work in mind. We know this because of how Paul speaks about the resurrection in other places.

1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-“…and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain,…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins,”

These verses are offered after Paul defined the contents of his “preaching” and the proper elements of saving faith earlier in the chapter.

1 Corinthians 15:1, 3b-4-“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received in which also you stand,…that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.”

In 1 Corinthians 15 we have a clear case of what is called synecdoche—a literary device in which part of something, sometimes the most important part of something, is used as shorthand for the whole. Here, Paul capitalizes on the resurrection in an effort to call to mind Jesus’ entire program of salvation from start to finish. Therefore, “believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” is shorthand for believing in everything that Jesus did to accomplish salvation on one’s behalf. In fact, it logically follows that if you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead,  you would necessarily believe that Jesus had died. Even further, if one believes that Jesus died, it would naturally follow that one believe that he had been sent in the flesh in the first place. 

Those who confess “Jesus is Lord” and trust in His completed work of redemption “will be saved” (10:9b).

Why? What is significant about these steps? Paul says “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness” (10:10a). Belief in something implies complete trust and reliance in the truths involved. Contrary to where many were placing their belief in Paul’s day—themselves, the law, other gods, etc.—those who place their complete trust in and reliance upon Christ’s completed work will received what He alone is capable of giving (God’s righteousness). This righteousness is what God demands for relationship with Him.

Complementary to saving belief is saving confession—“and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (10:10b). The Bible has much to say about the tongue and the mouth. After all, God spoke the world and everything in it into existence with his voice (Gen. 1). Jesus is called the Word of God and the Word become flesh (John 1). These references indicate a creative power behind speech. Speech, in other words is capable of doing things. However, in the hands of man, the tongue can prove to be a “fire” (James 3:6) and “restless evil full of deadly poison” (James 3:9) proving that although “the tongue is a small part of the body,… it boasts of great things” (James 3:5). That said, out of the heart, the mouth speaks and here, any mouth that confesses “Jesus is Lord” indicates a heart that has fully trust in Christ’s work for salvation.

What we have in these final two verses (9-10) is an example of a chiasm (and A-B-B-A presentation) in which both belief in Christ’s completed work and confession of His corresponding Lordship is celebrated. Both are necessary for salvation to take place in the life of the believer.

So What?

In this passage Paul has answered a very important question—perhaps the most important question—“How are people saved?” His answer is twofold—(1) confessing that Jesus is Lord of your life because of one’s (2) trust in His completed work of redemption on your behalf. Ultimately, one must believe and confess who Jesus is and what He has done. So here is a couple of other questions worth asking in light of this passage today. Have you made such a confession in your life? Is Jesus your Lord?...Do you trust in all that He has accomplished on your behalf for meaningful life both now and on into eternity? Or, are you the Lord of your life? Do you trust yourself to pull yourself through to the end? As Paul reveals, this is a losing play call. It will fail every time.

My desire and the desire of this church is that you would not just have zeal for God or spiritual matters, but that this zeal would be accompanied by knowledge of Christ and what He has done to make it possible for you to enter into a relationship with God.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The People of God Pt. 3: The Potter and the Pottery- Rom. 9:19-29

The controversy concerning what Romans 9 says was not lost on Paul’s original audience nor is it lost on any student of the Bible today. As introduced earlier in our study of Romans 9-11, these passages, the truths therein, and the applications thereof, are difficult to understand and harder to digest. That said, no matter how difficult these truths may be, they must be included in any biblically-informed understanding of the gospel. However, for those who, like many, bring charges against God and question His ability to choose His people based on His prerogative, Paul provides a defense in Romans 9:19-29. Today we are going to observe four elements of Paul’s defense of God’s prerogative and come to understand who the People of God are and what they are/aren’t able to demand.

a) The Potter is Questioned-9:19

As Paul progresses in his presentation he continues to employ a conversation with a hypothetical objector. In fact, in verse 1, verse 14, and now in verse 19, this objector brings charges against Paul’s salient points and provide the apostle with an opportunity to further explain/defend what he has introduced. These objections begin with a question that confronts something that was presented immediately prior. In this latest case, the objector asks “why does He still find fault?” (9:19). This inquiry is based on what Paul has said about God’s prerogative in verses 14-18. If God is choosing people and hardening others, some might ask “how can God fault those who refuse Him?”
After all, “who resists His will?” (9:19b) or, put another way, “who can go against what God has ordained?” This line of questioning was inevitable and, continues to this day. Paul’s relatively clear presentation of God’s freedom to choose who His people are remains just as provocative as it must have been in the first century.

However, the way in which this question is framed takes on different forms in our own context. Some might ask, for instance, "if God chooses His people, are those whom He has chosen really free to make the choice in His direction in the first place?" Others might ask, "if God doesn’t choose others, are the unchosen not free to choose God if they wanted to?" Still others might wonder if God’s sovereignty doesn’t erase human freedom altogether, leading to determinism.

b) The Pottery is Cross Examined-9:20-22

Interestingly, instead of answering this question, Paul rebukes the inquirer—“On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?...” (9:20). There are two theories on what Paul is doing in answering this way. First, some believe that he is harshly scolding those who would dare make God answerable to humans (Mounce, Romans, 201). Others think that Paul is attempting to help this hypothetical objector see how his question(s) are illegitimate in the sense that the creature has no right to question to Creator. In either case, Paul’s retort highlights how inappropriate it is for humans to demand exhaustive knowledge of what God has left mysterious. In fact, the verb for “answers back” in this context carries the connotation of talking back or expressing disapproval in response to something done or said.

In an effort to illustrate how out of place it is for humans to demands these kinds of answers, Paul asks the following, “the thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this’ will it?” (9:20). In other words, “Man has no more right to talk back to his creator than the pot to the Potter” (A. M. Hunter, Romans, 91).

There were few household items that were more common than pottery in the first century. Additionally, the Old Testament frequently uses the imagery of a potter and clay to say something about God’s control over His creation. Nearest to Paul’s statement here is Isaiah 29:16.

Isaiah 29:16-“… Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, ‘He did not make me’; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (see also Isa. 45:9-10; Jer. 18:1-6; Job 10:9; 38:14).

In both Isaiah and Romans the author finds it unacceptable that the product would prevail upon the producer to understand or know his internal motivations. 

After all “does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” as Paul asks in verse 21. He went out and bought the clay or made the clay himself. As a result he owns the clay and can do as he pleases it. He does not seek the guidance of the clay before molding it with his hands nor does the will of the clay supervene over what the potter has purposed to make.

Similarly, God created the world and the people therein. He, as a result, owns it all and can do as He pleases with it. In fact, the potter and the clay imagery is not as figurative as it is a direct reference to Genesis.

Genesis 2:7-“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

There, man was literally formed by God’s hand from the ground much like a potter forms a masterwork on the spinning table. Mankind owes its very existence and survival to God and therefore, lays no claim to…well,…anything. This includes an exhaustive understanding of the way God works in the salvation process.

Applied to what Paul is saying here, He wonders why God (the creator, owner, and director) could not make different things out of the same substance as He wills (“make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”). Like a potter who fashions things for specific purposes as desired (ornamental vessels and other for menial uses) God is free to do the same. In fact, an example of the latter has already been offered in the reference to Pharaoh earlier in 9:14-18.

However, rather than ending on a negative note and example, Paul ends by once again highlighting the mercy inherent within God’s choosing by raising a fourth question in response to the objection made earlier—“What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make known His power, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (9:22). This is where a lot of people miss the real essence of Paul’s analogy. Far from the potter and pottery being a symbol of God’s active creation of vessels intended for destruction, here, Paul suggests that God is willing to tolerate and, in fact, redeem broken cups. After all, it was His intention to be a potter who made only the greatest! However, as a result of sin (which, news flash, is a result of PEOPLE’S FAILURE), only vessels of wrath prepared for destruction exist (sinners deserving of condemnation). What was intended for perfection has been broken and cracked –fitting only for the trash heap. However, God, while perfectly justified in destroying the whole lot, chose to “endure with much patience” such vessels. “’Objects of wrath’ are not summarily dismissed with no concern for their lot as those not chosen. God’s sovereignty does not reduce humans to helpless automatons. Although it was God’s will to show His wrath against sin and make known His power, He nevertheless postponed action against those who will someday experience His judicial displeasure” (Mounce, 202). Even further, some of those wrathful objects will be redeemed!

Therefore, this passage is not a suggestion of God’s choosing to see that some are destroyed as much as it is an argument for God choosing some of what would be destroyed saved from such destruction. Hallelujah!

c) The Purpose is Revealed-9:23

Paul explains again as in verse 17-18, that the reason God does this (and really anything for that matter) is to glorify Himself—“And He did so to make known the riches of His glory” (9:23a). It is a glorious God who shows mercy on those who do not deserve it. It is a glorious God who is longsuffering and patient on those bent against Him.

Though God is glorified, as we learned in 14-18, in both choosing some and hardening others, this glory is most acutely realized in the lives of what Paul calls “vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (9:23b). After all, these are those who receive what they do not deserve—grace in spite of their sin. Such vessels live as examples of God’s unconditional love and mercy. Paul says that these vessels—the people of God—were prepared beforehand for this special capacity to glorify God. Much as Jacob was while in the womb, these, as Paul has said in Romans 8 were “predestined,…called,…justified,…and glorified” (8:30).

d) The Participants are Identified-9:24-29

Chosen/hardened, vessels of mercy/vessels of wrath. These are the distinctions that Paul has identified when it comes to the human race. The people of God are those vessels of mercy that God has chosen for His glorious purposes. But what kind of diversity is there in this special group? Paul provides the answer in verses 24-29 when he provides three categories that successfully identify what kinds of people God chooses to be vessels of mercy.

First among these are Jews and Gentiles—“Even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among gentiles” (9:24). This may have come as a surprise to some in Paul’s audience. Many in the Jewish community believed that they had a monopoly on God’s affections and yet, Paul indicates here that both Jews and Gentiles are chosen of God to be included among His people. This means that God is not a respecter or race, ethnicity, geography, or tradition. People of all kinds are chosen by God and welcomed into his family.

The second category given in describing God’s people are former outsiders. As He says also in Hosea, ‘I will call those who were not My people,  ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved ‘beloved’ and it shall be that in the place where it was said to them ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God” (9:25-26). Here, Paul quotes two verses from Hosea (Hosea 2:23 and 1:10). Hosea was a prophet that was asked to marry a harlot and remain with her even after she left him. This served as an illustration of God’s unconditional love for and faithfulness toward his people who, on multiple occasions followed after other God’s (cheating on their first love).  One of the things that Hosea reveals in his book is this: because God’s people (the Jews) could not remain faithful, God would extend his grace to others (non-Jews) and bring them into His family. Those formally on the outside looking in would be welcomed to the table.

Jesus reiterates this pattern of accepting outsiders throughout His ministry. He confronted a Samaritan woman in John 4, invited himself over to Zaccheus’ house in Luke 19:1-10; dined with sinners in Matthew 9:10, and touched many who were ceremonially unclean, bringing healing not only to their bodies, but also to their isolation.  

The next term that Paul uses to describe the people of God is “remnant”—“Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly” (9:27-28). Earlier Paul mentioned that not everyone who calls themselves Jewish is really a spiritual member of God’s family.

Romans 2:28-“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

Later Paul said that Jewish family heritage, titles, and traditions matter very little when it comes to being among the People of God.

Romans 9:3-5-“For I could with that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants, and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever, Amen.”

Ultimately, the people of God have been and will continue to be a chosen remnant of true believers that exist in a larger body of mere professors.

God has always had a chosen remnant. For instance, Noah and his family were a remnant used to save humanity from annihilation. It is when a remnant doesn’t exist that real disaster ensues. This was the case in the story referenced by Paul in 9:29—“And just as Isaiah foretold, ‘Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

In the tragedy of Sodom and Gomorrah, God was willing to spare the city and her inhabitants if he found a remnant of faithful followers therein. The size of the remnant that Abraham negotiates with God moves from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to just 10. However, God didn’t find a remnant of ten. Only Abraham, Lot and their respective wives were spared as God rained down fire upon this wicked metropolis.

Paul’s point in Romans 9 is that a remnant does exist among the Jews of true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and so long as there is, salvation among the Jews would continue.

Who are among the chosen people of God? Saved Jews and Gentiles, former outsiders, and a persevering remnant of faithful followers.

So What?

These elements of Paul’s defense of God’s prerogative provide us with an understanding of who the people of God are. Are you among these? Can it be said of your life that you belong to the people of God? Are you a redeemed vessel of God’s glory or are you still a broken vessel, at risk of being discarded? The good news today is this- “God although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known” is enduring “with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” allowing them an opportunity to respond positively to His gift of salvation? Do you need to take advantage of God’s patience today?

For those who have accepted God’s grace but make demands on understanding everything about God’s choice in the matter, remember exactly who you are and who God is. You are a product of God’s creation and recreation—God is the Creator and Savior. As such He is free to do as He pleases and we don’t have the right to insist that He make explicit what He has left mysterious.  

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The People of God Pt. 2: Divine Prerogative Rom. 9:14-18

There are some attributes of God that most Christians love to sing about. For instance, there are many songs that celebrate the power of God (A Mighty Fortress is Our God…), the Love of God (praise Him praise Him all ye little children, God is Love, God is Love!, Jesus love me…), the faithfulness of God (Great is thy faithfulness, It is well,…) the hope that God provides (Even if you don’t, my hope is You alone!) and many others (His goodness, grace, sacrifice, and glory, etc.). These songs and the divine characteristics they mention receive a lot of airtime on Christian radio and attention during Sunday morning worship sets. However, at least one facet of God’s nature is not as well represented in the music that Christians enjoy or the discussions that Christians have—His sovereignty, particularly as it pertains to God’s prerogative in choosing people for salvation. Perhaps because of the controversies surrounding various interpretations of God’s sovereignty or a lack of knowledge concerning what it means are to blame for a believer’s reticence on this divine attribute. That said, God’s sovereignty is no less glorious or praiseworthy than His grace and it is my prayer that today’s message on Romans 9:14-18 might help us all learn to appreciate God’s divine prerogative (especially if we are put off by this idea). To this end we are going to listen carefully to 5 Statements Paul makes concerning God’s prerogative in choosing His people from Romans 9:14-18. 

a) A Question is Raised-9:14

In the previous passage Paul revealed the foundations upon which God’s program of relating to the world are fixed—people’s failure and His promised Word. In so doing, Paul used the choosing of Jacob over Esau as an example of how God’s will moved forward in the history of the Jews to bring about the Messiah—Jesus Christ. Some must have asked, as many do today, is this fair? Can God just choose Jacob over Esau and, by proxy, establish His people as He sees fit? In an effort to anticipate this question and provide an answer, Paul asks it himself in verse 14a-“What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?...”.

Many people throughout the church age and even more recently have unfortunately believed that God is somehow not justified in choosing some to be His people. The fact that not all are chosen or that not all are “God’s People” is offensive to many and viewed by others as “unfair.” However, don’t forget who is really to blame for the predicament people find themselves in. It was and remains the people’s failure to accept the will of God that has rendered everyone in jeopardy. God would be justified in condemning EVERYONE and choosing NO ONE.

This is why Paul answers this question with an emphatic “May it never be!” That God has saved some and not others is not an example of injustice as much as it is an expression of His great mercy. That God even has a people in lieu of people’s failure is an example of His supererogatory nature.

b) A Choice is Presented-9:15

That said, God’s choice in having a people at all is His to make—“I will have mercy on who I have mercy,…” (9:15a). This statement is a quote from Exodus 33:19. There, God is responding to yet another failure of the people to embrace the will of God. While Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai and received the Law, the impatient people down below, in an attempt to satisfy their tendency toward worship and in an example of reverting back to Egyptian practices, constructed an idol—a golden calf. Infuriated with this wicked demonstration, Moses breaks the precious tablets and intercedes to God on behalf of his people. Desperate for some assurance that God is still with them, Moses asks God to show him His glory. In response to Moses’ request, God calls him to himself and says “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim to you the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”

As with Moses in Exodus 33, Paul is concerned that many in his audience, like the Jews at the base of Mt Sinai, are missing what God has made available. In Exodus, the people of God failed to wait on the Lord and embrace His Law. In Paul’s day, the Jews failed to accept Jesus and endorse the salvation that He provides. As a result of both failures (one in the Old Covenant and one in the New Covenant), all deserved judgment and yet grace was provided in an effort to spare some—God inscribed a new set of commandments and the Gospel message continues to go forth.

c) The Reason is Given-9:16

Unlike the illustration above in which my student’s completion of the assignment or good performance in the bowling alley earned them something that I had previously determined to give, God’s mercy is bestowed in spite of man’s works or will.

The reason for God’s gracious choice is not determined by man’s will or works—“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs” (9:16a). The Hebrews did not earn a second set of tablets and the first century Jews didn’t deserve the gospel they were hearing. Earlier, Paul made the case that this was the same for Jacob and Esau—“for the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls” (9:11). These passages reveal that it is not mankind’s desire nor is it any set of works that mankind achieves that directs God’s program of salvation forward.

The fact that anyone is saved is determined by “God who has mercy” (9:16c). This is not surprising given the respective track records of mankind and the Lord. Adam and Eve’s desired wrongly to be like God and then performed an act of egregious sin; God’s mercy stepped in and provided coverings and a promise that one day sin would be dealt with soundly. Man’s lusts birthed pervasive wickedness leading to an epic flood; God’s mercy saved humanity through Noah and his family. People wanted to reach God in their own way and built a tower in Babel; God destroyed the tower but plucked a man called Abraham from obscurity to start a special nation of blessing. Abraham grew impatient and went around God’s will to have a son through Hagar; God graciously kept his promise to Sarah and gave the couple Isaac. Moses and his people proved frustrated and doubtful at times in the wilderness; God led their progeny to the Promised Land. David’s wandering eye led to a scandal of adultery and murder; God kept his promise of a forever kingdom through His line and even blessed David’s son. In all of these examples and many others, mankind has proven that whenever things are left to them, both their desires (will) and their actions (works) let them down. It is God who is consistently merciful, not giving what is deserved but providing grace according to His perfect will.

According to Paul, the same is true following Jesus’ ministry and the latest example of a failed will and incorrect action happens to be the Jewish people the apostle addresses here. Though they had every reason to accept and embrace Jesus, their wills led them away from Him and their works were in keeping with obsolete systems. In spite of this, God would, Paul says, save some of them out of His grace. The very opportunity for salvation is highlighted by Paul’s message of Jesus Christ given through the letter to the Romans and his many other correspondences. That said, if only some are saved, that means others aren’t. If God actively applies grace toward those that receive His mercy for His glorious purposes, then it is also the case that God can use those that do not receive His mercy to the same end.

d) An Example is Referenced-9:17

One compelling example of this is given in verse 17—Pharaoh. Paul has already alluded to and we have already identified how God used some in Old Testament in spite of themselves in a positive way. Now he reveals that God can use others in a completely different way. “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up,…” (9:17a). This Old Testament pagan ruler believed he was God on earth and demanded worship from those around him. From his youth, this lost soul was steeped in a worldview that was far from the Lord (much as all of us are before salvation). That said, God was at work in Pharaoh’s career and rise to power. God saw the connections and situation in which Pharaoh resided and determined to use him in an unexpected way.

God worked in and through Pharaoh’s rise to prominence to demonstrate the Lord’s divine power by brining Pharaoh to his knees—“to demonstrate My power in you” (9:17b). In the battle of wills that ensues between God and Pharaoh, a series of plagues eventually breaks Pharaoh’s resolve and  demonstrates to this polytheist ruler that there is only one true God over all.  In fact, in many ways the individual plagues (frogs, darkness, death of livestock, river into blood, etc.) each show God’s power over one of the many false gods in which the Egyptians believed.

God’s victory over Pharaoh and the subsequent salvation of the Hebrew people not only proved Yahweh’s superiority over paganism, it also betrayed the Lord’s character as the One who delivers the children of Israel from bondage. Something of God’s power and merciful character was made known throughout the world because of how the Lord used Pharaoh. This is what the Scripture means when it says “and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (9:17c). Again, even this—the proclamation of the name of God throughout the world—is an example of God’s mercy and grace for the world.

The reference to Pharaoh here is not only intended to provide an example of someone who has not received God’s mercy, it is also meant to show why God does anything, let alone save some and not others. In the case of Pharaoh’s saga, God did everything in an effort to 1) demonstrate His own power, and 2) see to it that His name (His character/who He is) would be proclaimed throughout the earth.

e) The Conclusion is Made-9:18

What this short passage teaches is summarized in verse 18—“So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”  Many do not have a problem with the first part of this verse and the idea that God is free to show mercy on whom He shows mercy. That God is gracious and loving to save sits comfortably in our twenty-first century context. However, many do take issue with the second part of this verse—“and he hardens whom He desires” (9:18). That God’s sovereignty extends this far is offensive to those who prioritize personal autonomy over divine will. That said, no matter how foreign this may be in our modern era, God is, much as he was shown to do in Pharaoh’s life, free to harden hearts against Him.

A few qualifications must be made in order for us to appreciate the nuances surrounding what has just been said by Paul (that God hardens people’s hearts). First, although the text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it also stresses that Pharaoh hardened himself (Ex. 7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34-35) (Mounce, Romans, 200).

Exodus 7:13-14-“Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; He refuses to let the people go.”
In fact, “neither here nor anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself” (Morris, Romans, 361). One commentator has even suggested that “the hardening of the heart by God is a protological way of expressing divine reaction to persistent human obstinacy against him” (Fitzmyer, Romans, 568). Such is the case in a similar competition between God and man found in Revelation.  

Revelation 16:8-11-“The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce hear; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.”

In other words, the Scriptures suggest that God hardens hearts that are more than just indifferent toward Him/ignorant of Him. He hardens hearts that are bent against Him and actively seeking to usurp His glorious throne (much as it was in the life of Pharaoh). God is just as free to harden hearts like this as He is to show mercy to those who do not deserve it.

Second, anytime God does anything (let alone harden someone’s heart), He does so for at least two explicit reasons and at least one implicit reason. First, as this text states, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to demonstrate His own power and see to it that His nature was proclaimed to the world. Surely we cannot find fault in that inasmuch as God is most powerful and His name is the only one worthy of being exalted. In essence, God does His choosing (His mercy-giving and His hardening) for His glory. Additionally, implicit within God’s choice of showing mercy and hardening is His bent toward providing salvation for what Paul calls elsewhere “the many.” Though, to be sure, salvation for Pharaoh did not result from God hardening his already hardened heart, the salvation of many Hebrew slave did result, in part, from how God moved in the life of this pagan leader. In fact, God is about disseminating the message of His mighty power and wonderful nature (glorifying Himself) by these less conventional means so that as many as possible might benefit from His grace and mercy.
Therefore, should we be put off by God’s choice to harden some and show mercy to others? No! We ought to trust that anything God does is for His glory and in an effort to promote His program of salvation to the world.

So What?

Paul’s presentation here has carefully explained the freedom that God extend mercy as He wills. If all have failed and are deserving of condemnation, that God would save anyone, let alone move in a way that proclaims salvation to as many as possible, is a demonstration of God’s love and mercy. That God chooses to harden others who have already hardened themselves against the Lord is God’s prerogative and a demonstration of His justice. Both activities determined by God’s sovereignty result in God being glorified and in this believers can rejoice. Truly, God’s sovereignty is something that all should embrace/celebrate for, it is active regardless of our feelings toward it.

The application for some in light of this passage is to ask whether they have received God’s mercy or whether they are hardening ourselves against Jesus, God, or even the idea thereof. Friends, one of the takeaways of this passage is simple: embrace the grace that you do not deserve before you receive the justice that you do deserve.

For those who have already embraced God’s mercy in salvation but have or are struggling to embrace the idea that God’s prerogative is directing His program according to His perfect will, consider this: the Christian life is supposed to be preoccupied with God receiving all the glory as is due His name. Therefore, if, as Paul has taught, His choosing results in His glory, we ought to be thankful and accepting of this facet of His matchless wonder.