If the first five chapters of the Book of Romans describe the Gospel, the next three chapters (6-8) make clear the implications of the Gospel in your life. You don’t follow lust or list, but are Spirit led. The next section of the letter (9-11) describes why the plan to transform lives is secure – because it rests on a FAITHFUL GOD who painstakingly works in lives for generations to tell His story.
Key Principle: The resistance of men to follow God isn’t evidence of God’s failure, but His faithfulness.
Imagine living in a country that once openly embraced a relationship with God as a GOOD THING. It didn’t mean that everyone had such a relationship, but it did mean that people openly acknowledged such a relationship built character and framed the general principles of good society. One day those who felt themselves on the outside of a relationship with God pressed hard against that frame. They decided the moral statements of those who expressed a relationship with God made them feel demeaned, and they didn’t think anyone had the right to make them feel the things they wanted in life were wrong. They saw themselves as victims, abused and misunderstood by those who held a moral premise based on a relationship with God. They found a forum in which they could come together and gang up on those who believed, attempting to topple the premise that a relationship with God was a good and necessary thing. As those who felt the moral foundations were important began to respond, they were shouted down and called “intolerant” and “argumentative”. Sensing new power, those who once felt ostracized began deliberately pushing out those who once held the foundations in place and claimed the right to close off opportunities to those who once were assumed as in charge – because they felt they could prove a history of intolerance. In order to defeat the beast they perceived in others in the past, they became that beast. As those who felt victimized, they became attackers – victimizing others without sensitivity. This they called progress.
Look at these problems:
• Some nations used to follow God and now don’t – does that mean the story about Him is not true?
• If God designed the world and only some believe, does that mean that God is unjust?
• If God wasn’t reaching people who used to know Him – how could He justify reaching those who never tried to follow Him?
Because a people once followed God and now do not – Has God failed them?
We are fortunate that God’s Word offered a model of this very problem long ago. You may have not thought about it this way, but Paul lived as a part of the premier nation that had, in the past, followed God – and then turned away from doing so. It leaders had very deliberately moved from support of what God wanted to do into a position of opposition to it. Staring at the situation of the Messiah’s coming, it is easy to forget how someone like Paul felt about the departure of his people from following God, and how much he longed for them to move back into a position of desiring God’s leadership.
Romans 9:1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, [separated] from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 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, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But [it is] not as though the word of God has failed.
Watching people fall away from their former standing is emotionally tough. It makes a believer sad to think that things that were once “common understanding” were now thought to be both regressive and harmful. Paul used words like “great sorrow” and “unceasing grief” because he felt the slipping into darkness that a sensitive believer feels when he watches people walk away from their long held God relationship. It is true that the Jewish leadership didn’t refuse the symbolism and religious life that went with their former aspirations of a personal God and intimate walk. Sometimes that happens. Long after the relationship is no longer the center of their culture, the religion continues. At the same time, those with a true walk with God recognize the religious life to be a mere “shell” of its former self.
Paul made an observation that God had not failed in the process of his people turning away. When you first read those words, they can seem odd. Yet, don’t pass by that observation too quickly, because one of the outcomes of watching a curtain of darkness fall can be “disappointment with God”. Paul made clear is wasn’t unusual in the plan of God to have only PART of the people of God following Him at any time.
Paul offered two supporting arguments to show that God had not failed…
First, from within that people, only some of them ever truly followed:
Romans 9:6b ”…For they are not all Israel who are [descended] from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”
This is one of those passages that needs to be read slowly. Do you recall “sets” and “subsets” in mathematics? Imagine the “set” is all of genetic Israel. Imagine within that “set” is a smaller “subset” of those through whom God would work a special and intimate relationship. Notice the set is genetic, but the subset is the group through whom God is working His promises. This isn’t a story of how God left Israel and started working with Gentiles – since all of the set was genetically Israel to begin with – that isn’t Paul’s point. The issue was this: God always had a part of the whole He worked His promises through – it was never the whole pool of people.
We need to remember that God’s work of intimately working in lives has always been a minority work. There have always been those who weren’t really on board with following God, even when the culture seemed to hide them. A moral shift in a culture isn’t an indication of truth or of God’s existence and goodness – it is a power shift between those who are experiencing a move of God in their live, and those who think frame life in another way entirely. Maybe they believe that “religious stuff” is all nonsense. Maybe they wanted it to be true, but didn’t experience God personally – and concluded it just wasn’t real. In any case, one of the outcomes of a moral shift in the power base of a community can be disappointment in God – and that is unwarranted. God always works in a subset, even when they seem to hold sway over the culture.
Second, God specifically designed His story to work in a certain line of people:
In the second argument, Paul wanted people to recognize that the events he saw were part of God’s plan. They didn’t take God by surprise…
Romans 9:10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived [twins] by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though [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, 12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”
Recognition of God’s sovereignty in His work with people can be a tough subject to tackle. Even believers can become so earthly minded that we forget that God is not an elected leader Who seeks our approval. He is the Supreme. He is the Creator. All answer to Him, and He answers to none. That can be deeply offensive to the American mind, but that makes it no less true. God is God – and as such, He is the Planner, the Author and the King. Don’t skip what Paul wrote and focus only on the offense: Paul made the point that God had (and has) a plan. He is at work. He has decided on the basis of His own desire to work through some people, and that wasn’t based entirely on them – but on His sovereign right to make such a decision.
Before you dive into what seems objectionable about those words, look at them. If you have a relationship with the Living God, you can celebrate the fact that you are not a cosmic accident. God has a plan He is working. He wanted you, and He chose you! How can that not be an exciting reality?
To be fair, any sensitive believer immediately thinks beyond their own choosing about those who DON’T KNOW GOD. The converse of the choosing of God seems harsh. As a result, almost in the same breath, Paul recognized the objection of people to this stark truth about God, so Paul offered a bit of further explanation…
Because in God’s plan He chose to have only some relationships, Has God been unjust?
Romans 9:14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
Paul un-spooled answers to this objection along four lines of reason.
• He attacked an “underlying presupposition” (that people deserve a relationship with God).
• He unraveled an “approach error” (that people can sit eye to eye with God and call His judgment into account).
• He suggested a “limitation error” (that we may not fully grasp what God is doing in His choices).
The objection was over the JUSTICE of God. Let’s take a moment and see how Paul responded…
First, he made clear there was a “Presupposition Error”:
Such a challenge to God’s justice begins with the notion that people deserve a relationship with God – but that is wrong!
Look at Paul’s writing for a moment, and follow the words closely:
Romans 9:15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it [does] not [depend] on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
It is easy to frame these words in the harshest way, and make God look uncaring and unloving in His justice. That is a mistake. The qualities of God are so deeply intertwined that they do not separate from one another. God isn’t JUST – Hie being DEFINES JUSTICE. God isn’t GOOD- He being DEFINES GOODNESS. God isn’t merciful – His being DEFINES MERCY. Christians need to stop viewing life through DUALISM. There isn’t ‘GOOD’ and ‘BAD’ and God falls into conformity to doing GOOD. God defines good and evil. He is the beginning template of all things. No one loves more than His love – since He is the core definition of love. No one is more just than He, since His character is the basic form from which the idea of justice flows.
We believe the Bible explains God’s revealed perspective of humanity. In the beginning of the human experience, the Bible explained that people began with a relationship with God and after a time they rebelled against Him. Given an opportunity to stand with God against the temptation of God’s enemy or follow that enemy – man chose rebellion. He didn’t do it because He was underprivileged or ignorant of God’s will – it was a mutiny pure and simple. That set the tone for the entire story of the Bible between man and God.
Don’t think of people in terms of innocence anymore – that isn’t the Biblical view at all. Think of the woman who walks into the house and discovers her man with another woman for the fifth time. Later, you meet the man and the line of his reasoning is that “He deserves more chances from her”. Do you agree? His desire for a renewed relationship overcame his memory of infidelity – but she remembered! HE abandoned the relationship, and now HE feels he is entitled to more chances. That is the kind of mutiny men pulled on God in the Garden. It isn’t right to blame God and assume people have a right to a relationship after a mutiny.
God wasn’t heartless – He made a way to bridge the gulf of man’s mutiny. Yet, here is the interesting thing. Even today, a great many men seek another way to God that isn’t according to His plan. They choose religion or good deeds over the plan God revealed of the gift of Jesus’ full payment at Calvary. When they attempt an alternative way to God, they continue their mutiny. Mutiny is a willful rejection of God’s plan in favor of our own. It happened in the Garden of Eden, and it is happening in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and philanthropic pursuits around the world even now. When men make their own way to God, they continue to deny His absolute right to set the rules for all things – including how He is to be accessed.
Let’s be clear: God loves more than any of us. God is just in the purist sense of the word. Yet, God has been snubbed. Men are not innocent. They cheated on Him. They have no right to claim they deserve God’s changing of the plan to overlook their mutiny.
Approach Error: Such a view places God across from men in an equal relationship – but that is wrong!
This wasn’t the only line of response. Paul knew that the very trial of God’s justice was inappropriate. He wrote:
Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or 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?
Paul explored a fairness argument that often rises in a heart that has been swelled. That argument goes something like this: “If God has a plan, is it just to include in the plan some who reject Him? If He does that, isn’t that unjust?”
The questions are based on a misunderstanding of Who God is, and who we are – a blunder that I will simply call “an approach error”. The questions presuppose things that are not true:
• First, that I have the standing to ask such a question. Paul made the point that the thing created cannot put on trial the Creator and judge the purposes for which it was created. That sounds offensive to the human mind – particularly the one raised in our culture. We have been trained to believe we ‘DESERVE’ anything we ‘DESIRE’. We aren’t used to being told “No!” by anyone and thinking it is just. Here is the stark reality: Because we don’t like the feeling has nothing to do with the fact that we are created beings and our Creator is not our peer. He doesn’t need to answer anything that arrogantly presupposes equality between the Creator and the creation.
I don’t create much artistically anymore. I used to try, but life has gotten bigger and squeezed out any artistic pursuits. Besides, I was never particularly good at it. Most of my shaping and creating is now done strictly with words on a page. What I do know about artistry is this: things I make are for my own purpose. If I want my pile of wood to be a bookshelf, that is what I make it. It doesn’t get to “weigh in” in its best use.
Someone who is sensitive is looking right through my little illustration. They are sitting there quietly, but vehemently objecting on the inside. “Wait a minute!” they are quietly objecting. “That’s fine for a book shelf, but we are talking about PEOPLE!” Of course, you are right… to a point. The Bible isn’t man’s perspective on God, but God’s perspective on man. God is Creator, and God is the first cause of everything. Men and women have value because He ascribed it to them. They are not intrinsically more that many complex organisms apart from the Creator declaring them to be so – and thankfully He has made that declaration. Don’t get arrogant, though. God created who and what He created to tell His story…and it is His right to do so. There is no one and nothing that rivals Him as an equal. We simply don’t have the right to stand up and think we look Him in the eye. We cannot demand anything from Him – we don’t have the standing.
• Second, that I could understand the intricacy of the plan if it were fully explained. Job sat in a pile of ash and contemplated the reversal of his family, fortune and physical soundness. He and his friends posed ideas about suffering that God included in the record of His word. Yet, at the end of the book when God intervened – He largely left the questions about “Why?” unanswered. He did so on a singular basis: Job couldn’t grasp the size of the question, let alone the answer. God wasn’t being cruel – He quizzed Job to illustrate that Job didn’t know what he was even asking God. The text posited this truth: Men can’t ask God about the plan, because they don’t have enough knowledge and understanding to understand the full range of their QUESTION, let alone God’s ANSWER.
Limitation Error: Such a view neglects to consider that God may be working an agenda greater than for one people!
Paul wasn’t done. He also revealed that God’s agenda is often larger than a man’s ability to comprehend it! He wrote:
Romans 9:22 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? 23 And [He did so] to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
Many years ago I was trying to build a full sized replica of the Wilderness Tabernacle in Israel. I wanted people to see and touch the materials that were the setting of God’s people and their work in Exodus 25-40. The problem was that I didn’t know fabric. I worked and worked to get the little tabletop model of the way the fabric was supposed to lay across the top of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies – but I couldn’t get it to work. It just kept coming out uneven, no matter what I did. My wife was quietly watching me. She walked up, picked up the fabric, and put it over the little model in about ten seconds – and it was perfect. I had studied for YEARS about that building. I knew things about the detail of construction that I am certain only Bezalel, Moses and I will be able to discuss in the afterlife. Yet, I didn’t know fabric. I didn’t know how to get it to work. Someone who did made it work without effort. Here is the point: If you don’t have the requisite knowledge of an area, you can think forever about it and not comprehend the question, let alone the answer.
Paul offered an insight: God made Gentiles with a purpose to eventually embracing them during a period of darkness for the house of Israel. That dark period was planned and revealed by earlier writers of Scripture. Paul made clear that God had said…
I will reach other people:
Romans 9:25 As He says also in Hosea, “I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.'” 26″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.”
Hosea 2:23 revealed seven hundred years before Jesus that God had a plan to re-open the door to a formerly estranged people that was scattered throughout the earth that we lump together in the term “Gentiles”.
I will reach only a portion of my own people:
Romans 9:27 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; 28 FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY.”
Contemporary to Hosea was Isaiah, a prophet who acknowledged that God was going to precisely fulfill His prophecy through PART of Israel, but not ALL of Israel. Paul was part of that remnant, as are born-again Messianic Jews today. They are minority, but they exist as part of God’s plan until the re-opening of the eyes of Israel later.
If I didn’t reach my people – none of them would come at all:
We dare not overlook the last part of what God said, because it is an essential point: God’s mercy is seen in any of even His unique people coming to Him…
Romans 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.”
Let’s be honest: The world isn’t filled with people who get up in the morning with the heartfelt desire to deny their inner desires and serve their Creator. We are, on the whole, a pretty self-centered lot. We WANT what we WANT. Watch the traffic for confirmation of that! Everyone is moving ahead with their own agenda, but trying to get there without crossing into another’s lane and smashing society. Sodom and Gomorrah were cities that made what was wrong seem moral. If you cannot see the connection, look at the news – it is all around you. We want to do what we want, and we want to stop anyone else from thinking we are wrong, even if we are. We want a life without an account.
Las Vegas now has a call-in “Connection Confession” line where people can call and confess their sins to a recording. America’s first confession line makes it possible, for a fee of $9 per three minutes, to record your sin, and if you want to pay a little more you can listen to other people’s sins. Apparently the service is being bombarded by calls. One of the originators said, “It’s a technological way to get something off your chest without the embarrassment that comes from confessing one on one.” But do you know what it really is? Besides a money maker for someone? It’s confession without accountability. -Contributed by: Timothy Smith (Dailysermonillustationsblog.com).
Paul asked one more set of questions…I believe he didn’t think the issue of watching his people slip into darkness was fully explored. He asked and answered two questions:
Paul asked: “Are we saying that the Jewish people, who I deeply love, have fallen out of an vibrant relationship with the God of Abraham while those who were reached by missionaries (but weren’t looking for God to meet them) are now the recipients of a great and intimate walk with that same God?” Then Paul followed up with another question: “Why is that the case?”
Don’t relegate this discussion to some cold theology of the past. Paul was losing his nation. Have you felt that about your nation?
He was sensing a rejection of God’s way by the people and he was broken by it – as we all should be if and when it happens. Look at the question again…
If God is saving people who didn’t ask Him to, while rejecting those who for generations pursued Him, what went wrong?
Paul offered one answer in the Spirit: “People made their own standard of relationship – and didn’t follow God’s standard”.
Romans 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at [that] law. 32 Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though [it were] by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for [their] salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Here is the truth: God doesn’t want you to EARN a relationship with Him – He wants you to accept it as a gift based solely on His unmerited favor. When we pursue a relationship based on religious life, personal morality or merit, we rebel and demean His right to be the sole provider of salvation and eternal relationship. Let’s be clear: Any plan that attempts to rival God’s plan is the device of a rebel.
A man in North Carolina bought a new car with a voice-warning system. … At first he was amused to hear the soft female voice gently remind him that his seat belt wasn’t fastened. … Edwin affectionately called this voice the “little woman.” He soon discovered his little woman was programmed to warn him about his gasoline. “Your fuel level is low,” she said one time in her sweet voice. Edwin nodded his head and thanked her. He figured he still had enough to go another fifty miles, so he kept on driving. But a few minutes later, her voice interrupted again with the same warning. And so it went over and over. Although he knew it was the same recording, Edwin thought her voice sounded harsher each time. Finally, he stopped his car and crawled under the dashboard. After a quick search, he found the appropriate wires and gave them a good yank. So much for the little woman! He was still smiling to himself a few miles later when his car began sputtering and coughing. He ran out of gas! Somewhere inside the dashboard, Edwin was sure he could hear the little woman laughing. People like Edwin learn before long that the little voice inside, although ignored or even disconnected, often tells them exactly what they need to know. Source: From a sermon by Gerald Flury, “Sputtering, Stuttering and Shuddering“; (Dailysermonillustationsblog.com).
God isn’t failing our country – we are making choices to rebel because we don’t think beyond what we want. It happened before, and it is heartbreaking to watch – but it isn’t a new phenomenon. We have been here before, and the Gospel survived. The message continued. When God’s people don’t get distracted trying to fix problems they cannot and get back to offering their neighbor the Gospel – the message keeps moving forward.
The resistance of men to follow God isn’t evidence of God’s failure, but His faithfulness.
Don’t misunderstand. You are still here…and you possess the answer to salvation. It isn’t a government program. It won’t start from the White House or Capitol Hill. It is a message from the lips of a stooped grandma to her nine year old grandchild, delivered while they make cookies together. It is a lesson that will cost you investing in the lives of neighbors and your community. It is a message that transforms others, just as it did you.