Tag Archives: Romans

Sermon: Romans — Gospel Power

15 Apr

Below is a lightly edited manuscript of a sermon which provides an overview of the book of Romans, delivered by Scott Frady at West Hickory Baptist Church on April 15, 2018.

We live in a sound bite culture. We digest information in small pieces. We pay attention to headlines, to bumper stickers, to tweets and texts. We are not so good at digesting more than this. Our attention span is weak. Most of us rarely read an article if it is more than a page or two. Most of us have trouble sitting through a movie unless it is action-packed. And for sure we have trouble sitting attentively through a sermon. We have trouble following a person’s argument for or against something if it goes on for very long. So I recognize that my aim today of preaching through the whole book of Romans in one sermon is counter to our culture. How does a pastor preach through the whole book of Romans in one sermon? We are about to find out. I think it is so important for us as Christians to get the big picture. First, we need to read through the whole Bible and get a big picture of how it all fits together. Then as we come to read individual books of the Bible, it is good for us to see how individual books of the Bible fit together as well.

As we read together through the Bible as a church and spend this quarter in the letters of the New Testament I thought it would be helpful to us this morning to lead us through an overview of the book of Romans. As you have been reading through Romans, you may have found many encouraging sound bites but you may not be grasping the overall message of the book. If you have felt this way as we have been studying through the book then I invite you to listen with special attention today.

On one level this will be a very simple message. We will be looking first at the Argument of the Book of Romans and then at the Applications that flow from that Argument. So it’s just a two point sermon today. But as we look at these two points, we will find one of the most treasured books in all the Bible and the greatest explanation of the gospel in the world.


Romans really is a masterpiece. Following the introduction, which brings out Paul’s heart for the nations and the Church and the fulfillment of God’s plan in Christ, Paul unfolds the theme of Romans in 1:16, 17 – 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The powerful gospel reveals the righteousness of God and enables the righteousness of God to be active in the life of anyone who believes.

Romans 1:18-3:20 tells us we start not with God’s righteousness but with God’s wrath. 1For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. We need God’s righteousness because we are under God’s wrath. The focus of chapter one is on the fact that the Gentiles are under God’s wrath and the final words of the chapter sound like they were ripped from today’s newspaper 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Do we not live in a world that demands not only that we give people the freedom to do all sorts of things God says are wrong but also demands that we approve of people who are living in sin? The people of Romans 1 have suppressed what they knew of God from looking at the Creation. They ignored His power and majesty, pushed those things down. So God gave them over to their sin. But it is not only the Gentiles, who are under God’s wrath. The Jews, the nation God chose in the Old Testament, the nation through whom God would bring salvation, are also under wrath. In 2:1-3:8 Paul makes it clear that the moralist, even with religious privileges, fails the internal test. There are still inward desires and outward actions even among those with a religious background which bring the wrath of God. So the devastating crescendo of 3:9-20 comes crashing down What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Jew and Gentile are under sin and deserving of the wrath of God and His judgment.

After giving the bad news, Paul turns to the good news. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. God has made a provision of His righteousness to take away His wrath. Righteousness apart from the law, because chapter 2 showed us the law is insufficient to save, has been revealed. Faith in Jesus Christ brings God’s righteousness for all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike, so that God gets the glory and we get the blessing.

Faith in God’s provision of righteousness through the shed blood of Christ is the key and this is illustrated by the father of the Jews, Abraham. In chapter 4 Paul explains that Abraham was not justified by works or ritual but by faith. In this way Abraham is not simply the father of the Jews but the father of all who believe. Paul uses Abraham in this way to take away any thought from the Jews that their heritage saved them. If Abraham their forefather according to the flesh, was saved by faith, how much more shall they be saved by faith.

With chapter five, Paul turns from talking about how we are saved and set free from wrath and counted righteous to a discussion of how that righteousness actually is at work in our lives. Chapter 5 opens with the wonderful truth that through our Lord Jesus Christ we have peace with God, joy in the hope of the glory of God, joy even in our sufferings because we know God uses them to develop perseverance, character and hope in us, and we have escape from the wrath of God.

Chapter 5:12-21 brings out the contrast between Adam and Jesus. In Adam, because of his sin, all are dead. In Christ, because of His death, all sinners who trust Him are made alive. This passage teaches us that Adam’s sin was counted against us and we follow in his steps by sinning ourselves. But the good news is that through faith in the dying and rising of Christ, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is counted for us and He gives us a new nature so that we can obey God and live a life of spiritual maturity. Our union with Christ doesn’t just forgive us, it changes us.

In chapter 6, Paul takes up the issue of change by addressing whether there is any need for it. Using an imaginary opponent, Paul asks many questions and gives strong answers. Since we’re forgiven, should we just keep on sinning? No way, because we are united with Christ. No way, because sinning leads to more sinning and we become enslaved to sin. No way, because sinning disregards the sacrifice of the cross. This is the argument of chapter six, answering this question of sin in light of the truths of justification and union with Christ.

Chapter 7 is difficult and there are differences among Bible-believing people about this passage. I think the big picture is helpful here before we get into the specifics. We have to take chapter 7 with chapter 8, they go together. Chapter 7 is the negative side of the argument; our flesh and the law cannot keep us from sinning. Chapter 8 is the positive side of the argument; our union with Christ and the Spirit can sanctify us and keep us and bless us. So we’ve got to keep chapter 8 in mind in order to understand chapter 7.

The big point to take away from chapter 7 is that anyone who tries to make progress in life with God through following external commands will fail. We don’t fight sin through supreme discipline and self-effort. We will fail every time. Just as we must have a deliverance from outside ourselves to be saved, so we must have an external power to be holy. And the truth of Romans is that the way to be saved and the way to be holy are found in the same place: the person and work of Jesus Christ. We fight sin because we have received God’s righteousness through faith in Christ and there and only there can we see real deliverance from this body of death.

The law is good, but the flesh is bad, so the law has no power to enable us to live obediently.

But thanks be to God, there is Romans 8. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! And those who are in union with Christ by faith are not only not condemned they are also enabled by the Holy Spirit to gain victory over sin and death and to be brought into the family of God and into an eternity of glory, which nothing can take away from us. In the meantime, as we groan through the sufferings of this life awaiting future glory, we can trust that God is working in all things for good and that He is carrying out His plan among us through the golden chain of salvation. Listen to the glorious plan of God in Romans 8 . . . 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Having dealt with God’s righteousness in salvation on an individual scale in chapters 6-8, Paul in chapters 9-11 turns His eyes to God’s plan of salvation in the world. How is it that God can be righteous and yet reject the people of Israel, whom He had so blessed with great covenant promises? Paul makes it clear in chapter 9 that God’s word has not failed but that not all Israel by birth are truly the people of God. Paul says in chapter 9 that God’s righteousness is bound up in His choice and what He chooses is right, because He is righteous. Paul shows that God has always been choosing, even within the family of Israel he chose Jacob and rejected Esau. Israel rejected Jesus, clinging to the law.

And so in chapter 10, Paul is heartbroken over the lost state of his kinsmen according to the flesh and longs for them to be saved. Yet the message of chapter 10 is that Israel is still unrepentant. So how will God be true to His Word with this people He had chosen who had so largely turned away from Him? This is the question Paul addresses in chapter 11.

Paul points out first that God has not rejected all of Israel for there is a remnant of Jews who have turned to Jesus as Messiah. And the rejection is not final. The Gentiles are being brought into the tree of salvation to arouse the jealousy of the Jews, that they might seek Christ. Paul points to a final turning of Jews back to God in 11:25-32. Then Paul concludes this section with the great doxology of chapter 11:33-36. This seems to function as a word of praise for the whole first eleven chapters.

So what is left to say? For Paul, his focus now turns to what this great salvation looks like on a daily basis, how is the righteousness of God lived out among the people of God? Chapter 12 points to personal commitment of our lives to the Lord, this is what our April memory verses are about, “offer yourselves as living sacrifices.” Paul then turns to how we live as the church, how we use the  gifts God has given us in the church body, and how to relate to one another. Chapter 13:1-14 tells us how the Christian should relate to earthly authorities and to the world around us. Chapter 14:1-15:13 moves us back into relationships in the local church. Whereas chapter 12 was telling us more the positive behaviors to affirm, chapter 14 is helping believers walk through the challenges of living righteously together. Paul says we are not under the law and we don’t have to keep food laws or other ceremonies, but he does not look down on those who do. He urges the believers in Rome not to judge each other over such things. Our freedom in Christ should open us to love, not cause conflict between each other.

Paul concludes by explaining his mission to Spain and his calling to take this message of the gospel of God’s righteousness to places that haven’t heard. Chapter 16 concludes with Paul’s greetings to those in the church in Rome, a warning about those who cause divisions in the church, greetings from Paul’s co-workers, and a beautiful doxology which brings together several key themes in the letter.

Let’s finish up this morning by looking at several APPLICATIONS OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS

What are the key truths we take away from our reading of the book of Romans?

Universal guilt. The book of Romans makes it clear that there is no one righteous. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. We need to hear this message in our nation today in the way that Romans gives it to us. We are prone to diminish this idea in our world. We say things like, “Nobody’s perfect” or “everybody makes mistakes.” But God says, “All have sinned.” The wrong we have done is first and foremost an offense against our Creator God. And this sin means that we are under God’s wrath. We don’t just have a few faults or some problems we are utterly lost and under God’s judgement and destined for eternal hell. If the book of Romans stopped at chapter 3 verse 20, it would be the saddest book ever written. But universal guilt is not the end of the story. Because the book of Romans also speaks of . . .

Universal salvation (no distinction between Jew and Gentile). Now don’t misunderstand. I am not saying the book of Romans teaches that everyone will be saved. That is a heresy you won’t find in the Bible anywhere. Some will be judged. By what I mean by universal salvation is that through Christ salvation is available to all kinds of people. Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, young and old, all may come to God through Jesus Christ. We are freed from the wrath of God through faith in Christ.

Salvation is greater than we think. The early chapters of Romans speak to our being justified (set free from the penalty of sin and given peace with God). The middle chapters of Romans speak of our sanctification (being set free from the power of sin in this life and living a life of holiness by the power of the Spirit). And the middle chapters speak of glorification (our future with the Lord when we will be set free from the presence of sin). And it doesn’t stop there. Romans tells us that the whole creation has been corrupted by Adam’s sin but in its groaning it will one day be renewed. And the book of Romans tells us even as salvation is available to Jew and Gentile alike, God has not forgotten His people, whom He foreknew but has planned a great ingathering of the Jewish people in the last days. So how great is this salvation we enjoy? How great is the work of God in our midst? How great is the work Jesus has accomplished? The truth of the greatness of our salvation should cause us to see that there is nothing more significant than Jesus and His kingdom. The gospel changes everything!

The gospel is the power of God. As we said last week the gospel is powerful. But it is a directed power, a power directed toward salvation, toward a good end. It is not raw power that just destroys and conquers, it is directed power that restores and builds up. The gospel is the power of God.

We also learn from Romans that salvation changes all our relationships.  The first chapters of Romans definitely tell us salvation changes our relationship with God but chapters 12-16 also tell us that salvation changes our relationships with others as well. Because we have been so well-loved by Jesus, we are secure in our identity in Him and so we are free to surrender our hearts and lives first to God and then to live as a loving member of our new family: the church. We can even submit to outside authorities and live among those who do not know Jesus in a peaceable way. And when conflicts arise in the body of believers, we can look for solutions instead of running into our corners or building walls of division. A healthy local church is one of the greatest demonstrations of the power of the gospel in the world because in it you have the gathering of diverse people who are there united in love to worship and serve Jesus.

Another application we see in the book of Romans is that Doctrinal rigor is not the enemy of active ministry, it fuels active ministry. Sometimes people that are concerned with doctrine and theology are perceived as being all about the head and not about the heart or the hands and feet. In other words we have this idea that there are thinkers and then there are doers. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul was the great missionary pioneer. He was buy with travel and occupied with ministry for years. And yet he took time to write the book of Romans and many other books of the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So the great missionary was also the great thinker. His meditations on the gospel fueled his passion for ministry and his passion for ministry fueled his thinking about the gospel. All that to say we would be making a deadly mistake as a church to set aside theology in an attempt to reach people. Because there comes a point when you have to ask: if you’re not reaching them with truth, what are you reaching them with? Everything else: programs, personalities, all the rest, will fade away. But the souls of people and the truth of God will remain. Woe to us if we turn away from knowing and loving and joyfully sharing the truth. Paul proves you can be deeply theological and deeply relational, just look at all the co-workers he lists in chapter 16.

We also see in our survey of Romans this: Since the gospel is for all who believe we should make every effort to take the gospel to those who have never heard. We need to recapture good and God-honoring ambition. Selfish ambition is always wrong, but an ambition for God to be glorified through us is a good thing. And God is glorified as His gospel goes out into the world. Paul’s ambition, expressed in Romans 15, was to preach Jesus where He had not been named. We too are called to that ministry. We can all be a part of Jesus’ plan to take the gospel to the nations. And it’s not an either/or thing. It’s not either local evangelism or global missions. It’s both. That’s why we are having an Evangelism Conference at the end of this month and then in November we are having a Missions Conference, because we believe both are important and both deserve our special attention.

Finally, we see in the book of Romans that God’s Glory and Our Joy Are Not at Odds. Some people seem so God-centered that they don’t care about people and others are so people-centered that they scarcely bring God into the conversation. Romans shows the uselessness of both approaches. God’s glory is demonstrated by His mercy to sinners. Our joy is found in His grace toward us. God’s glory therefore is most clearly seen in His saving work. As John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

As we come to the end of this message I don’t think there is a much better way to end than to remember Paul’s words in Romans 11:33-36 . . .

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34   “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

35   “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


Commentary on Romans 9:16

14 Jun

16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Now the most important word to define in this verse is the smallest word in the verse, the word “it.” What is this word referring to in this verse? The “it” is God’s saving work in the world, the display of His glory to individuals and nations, His work done in His way by His choice. And His choice is rooted in mercy.

God’s saving work does not depend on human will or exertion. What is the difference between these two? Human will refers to inner desires while exertion speaks of action, carrying out the inner desires.

So mercy doesn’t come because I want it and mercy doesn’t come because I work for it. It comes because God chooses to give it. But that’s not fair. How can God withhold mercy from those who want it? Well, let me ask you a question, who doesn’t want mercy? Isn’t mercy something we all want at the end of the day? Some might claim to want no mercy but when the chips are down in their life I bet they will want it. Everybody wants mercy. But not everybody wants mercy on God’s terms. And since He is God that is the way we’ve got to have it if we’re going to get it. We want mercy on our own terms and that usually means we either want mercy plus or we want mercy earned. In other words we want mercy without forsaking our idols. We want God to forgive us for the golden calf even as we are bowing down to the golden calf. Or we want to think we in some way have earned mercy by our goodness or by our effort. But Paul puts the lie to both these approaches. You’re not going to have IT by your desire and you’re not going to have IT by your effort. God’s saving work is God’s work and it is rooted in mercy and in nothing in us.

Commentary on Romans 9:11-12

16 May

11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

Now we have to read this sentence well to understand it. The middle of the verse is commentary on the truth outside the dashes. If we read the outside together we get the details of what happened and if we read inside the dashes we get the reason why things happened as they did.

So we get first, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad she was told, ‘the older will serve the younger.’”
And then we get the purpose, the why . . . “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”

God’s plan for these boys was marked out before they were ever born. Rebekah had this word from God about their destinies before they were ever born. Before they had ever done anything good or bad. The word for bad is a less common word for bad and is actually better translated “evil.” Here the KJV gets it more accurate I think. We just need to remember that what is in view here is not just a generic bad,, like bad handwriting, but a moral falling short. The older would serve the younger because of nothing in them but because of God’s purpose in election.
And when we think about Jacob’s life we see clearly how he would have never been entitled to the promise if we based it on works. He was a really shady character. His name can even be translated “deceiver.” But even if he had been a better man, his works could never have earned the promises. It’s just that Jacob’s life makes it really easy for us to see that being chosen of God is never by works.

The word “purpose” in its verbal form is protithēmi (προτιθημι), “to set before one’s self, to propose to one’s self, to purpose, to determine.” The word speaks of the action of an individual setting before himself a proposed action. Thus, it presupposes deliberation upon a course of conduct, and then the determination to carry it through.

This word is the same one used in Romans 8:28 when Paul says, “And we know in all things God works for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
So what do we see about God’s purpose in the Bible . . .
• His purpose is set, is based on foreknowledge, and included the death of his own Son (Acts 2:23).
• Individuals apparently serve God’s purpose during their lifetimes, as did David (Acts 13:36).
• Believers are called according to God’s purpose, and God causes all things in their lives to meld with his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
• Part of God’s purpose involves displaying his power and proclaiming his name in all the earth (Rom. 9:17).
• God’s purpose requires some noble vessels and some common ones (Rom. 9:21; 2 Tim. 2:20).
• God has a plan by which his purpose is worked out, which includes the choosing of individuals to fulfill certain parts of his purpose through his predestined plan (Eph. 1:11).
• God’s purpose is eternal and is accomplished through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:11).
• God works his will, to include even our actions, in and through us to accomplish his purpose (Phil. 2:13).
• Believers are saved and called to a holy life on the basis of nothing in themselves but because of God’s purpose enacted through grace (2 Tim. 1:9).
• God’s purpose is unchanging in nature (Heb. 6:17).

Here in verse 11, it is God’s purpose in election. The fact that it doesn’t rest in our works or our heritage or anything in us means that God’s purpose in election is to do the choosing. And it has always been so, in Old Testament times to today. God has always been choosing among people. And He does this in order to glorify Himself. So the how of election is choosing without regard to human merit and the why of election is for God’s glory.
And the amazing thing is, God’s purpose is not only without regard to human merit, it is also often contrary to human expectation. So in this case the younger is served by the older.

Not because of works but because of him who calls. Now why does Paul say this again? He has already told us it was before they had done anything good or evil. He has already told us that God’s purpose of election will stand. But now he repeats this. Why? Because we are thick-headed. He just wants to make it really clear, really solid, it doesn’t come from works. I know many people believe the Israelites thought they were saved by works, but most didn’t. They knew they were chosen by grace. Yet the temptation in receiving God’s favor is thinking you deserve it. In both their tradition and their thinking, the Jews did, for all practical purposes, think of themselves as better than others and to some degree, as being worthy of God’s love. . If you are a Christian and you understand these truths, do not think about them in a way that pushes you toward any kind of sense that you are deserving of God’s grace.

The purpose of God is clear. Election is not based on foreseen actions, deeds, or faith. Rather, it is based on God’s sovereign grace.

Commentary on Romans 9:10

10 May

The ninth chapter of Romans is not a separate side discussion from the rest of the book of Romans but is integrally linked with the whole theme of the book: the righteousness of God in salvation. Flowing out of the great promises of Romans chapter 8, Paul looks around him at the state of things as they are and expresses, in light of the glories of chapter 8, his grief over his kinsmen in the flesh, the Israelites, who had received so many gifts yet rejected salvation of the giver. Paul is saddened to the core but ultimately his concern is that this reality of Israel’s rejection of Jesus does not lead his readers to question the character of God. So Paul moves from expressing grief in chapter 9 verses 1-5 to an extended defense of the character of God and an explanation of his ways that stretches all the way from chapter 9 verse 6 to chapter 11 verse 32.

Paul’s main point in his argument throughout these chapters is stated right at the start of verse 6, “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” God’s word has not failed. His character is trustworthy, His purposes are still advancing. And the first reason this is so is because we do not see clearly as God does. We see Israel and think of them all the same, but God says no, there is an Israel within Israel, a true Israel and it has always been so. Paul illustrates this first by the example of Isaac and Ishmael. Both were children of Abraham according to the flesh but only one, Isaac, was a child of promise. And this promise was a promise from God so its fulfillment was dependent on God. Isaac, not Ishmael Abraham’s firstborn, would receive the promise. In the same way, there are those in the nation of Israel who are only children of the flesh not children of the promise. They are physically Israelites but they have not trusted in God’s promised Savior, Jesus. So they are lost and Paul grieves over them. We could live with that as an explanation, but Paul is determined to go deeper. In going deeper Paul seems at first to muddy the waters, but in the end, if we will stick with it, we will see that he brings out precious truths here . . .

Let’s take a look at verse 10 . . .
10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,

We see first this phrase, “And not only so.” So we see Paul is connecting this illustration to the last one and he is making it clear that he is going a step further. Not only this, but also this. He is adding to his argument as to why God’s Word has not fallen.
He makes his argument by going to the next generation of Israel, the children of Isaac. The reason he does this is because there is a possible objection to his first illustration that might make it seem to lack value in the minds of his readers. The objection is this: since Ishmael was born of the slave woman Hagar and Isaac was born of the wife of Abraham, Sarah, it would only make sense that Isaac was favored. In other words, there was something intrinsic to Isaac, his bloodline, that made him more worthy to be the child of promise. But this possible objection to God’s free electing grace is blown out of the water with the case of Jacob and Esau.
Here we not only have we an example of the election of a son of Abraham by one woman, and a rejection of his son by another, but also of the election and the rejection of the children of the same woman.
And it is even more dramatic than that, because these two sons are twins. The Greek word here translated “conceived” is referring to the act of intercourse, the idea being that they were conceived at the same time. So their mother is exactly the same, Rebekah, and their father is exactly the same and their time of conception is exactly the same. So all things in verse 10 are equal, yet still there is a distinction. This must mean that the distinction that is to be made must lie outside human will or physical circumstances.
Isaac is mentioned here as our “forefather.” This is to link him certainly to the Jews, as he was one of the patriarchs of God’s people. But also, as the child of promise, he is the forefather of all who trust in the fulfillment of the promise, Jesus.
One more thing to note here in verse 10 . . . remember Rebekah was barren. Sarah had been barren. Later Rachel, Jacob’s wife, would be barren. Yet in each case God enabled them to conceive a child and these children were in each in some way connected to the fulfillment of God’s promises for His people. God made it clear from the very beginning that He was in control. The oldest child, according to cultural expectation, would carry on the promises of the father. But in Genesis it is never like this. It is always a child chosen by God who carries on the promises. This is all illustrating the principle idea of this chapter, the power of God to choose.
We will see this power further fleshed out in verses 11 and 12 . . .

Commentary on Romans 9:9

7 May

9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

That’s the promise. Sarah shall have a son. Not Hagar shall have a son, and not Keturah shall have a son, Sarah shall have a son. And so God is selective. Isaac was born at a special time, born by the special power of God and born by the promise of God. He is the child of divine choice as God acts in human history.

Just as it is said of Esther that she had come to the kingdom for just such a time as this, just as the Bible tells us God acts through various human beings at special times in history, just as it says of Christ in Galatians 4 that He came at appointed time in the fullness of time, so it is that in the right moment in the right time by the right choice God chose to give a child of promise, Isaac. And this is just an illustration, simply pointing out the fact that God is selective.

This is very difficult for the Jews to accept this because what it says to them is that within the Jewish race there are some who are chosen to be the children of the promise, but not all. But for Paul’s purposes in Romans God’s selectivity is a comfort, for it reminds us that large-scale Jewish unbelief in Paul’s day doesn’t mean God has overturned His promises. John MacArthur says, “So Paul’s statement here is, ‘Look, not all Israel is Israel, it’s a remnant. And so the unbelief of Israel doesn’t mean that this message can’t be true, Israel has been unbelieving in all of the messages God has sent. And if you need an illustration, remember this, Abraham had several sons, only one was chosen by God…only one was a child of promise, only one. And God has always worked through an elect remnant, a saved minority.'”

NT Wright says, “The first point is that the practice of selection, of God working his purposes through some and not others, was intended to continue past Jacob and on into the subsequent history of Israel. It had continued, in fact, right down to the point where the Messiah had carried Israel’s destiny all by himself. When Paul arrives at last at 10:4, the central point of the argument of these chapters, we realize that this was where the whole story had been heading. God’s purpose was to act within history to deal with the problem of evil, but this could only be done by employing a people who were themselves part of the problem, until the time was ripe for God’s own son to emerge from their midst and, all alone, to take their destiny upon himself.”

So yes, God is selective, and always has been. This makes many people uncomfortable and it is an inescapable conclusion if you really read the Bible: God has chosen some and not others. In the verses to come we will deal with some of this discomfort but in the meantime we must fall back on one of our foundational statements with all that we struggle to understand in Romans 9-11: God’s character is our confidence.

Commentary on Romans 9:7

10 Apr

Reading the book of Romans reminds me of a time when I was hiking. I went hiking and got to the top of a hill thinking I was done only to find another ridge that was really our final destination way off in the distance. In Romans, we study through chapters 1-8 and we’ve climbed a high theological mountain, only to find another higher ridge awaiting us in Romans 9-11. When we reach the top of the mountain at the end of chapter 11, we read these wonderful words, 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
These words at the end of chapter 11 are like the beautiful vista we see at the end of our climb. But along the way to these great verses there are many difficult verses. But in the end I want to keep front and center a heart of celebration. As we think, I want our hearts to sing. Part of the reason theological and truth-minded people have a bad reputation is because lots of people do not like the truth, because it reveals our unrighteousness. On the other hand, sometimes truth-minded people have a bad reputation because we are more concerned with being right than we are concerned with worshiping God. It is true that we worship in spirit and truth but in that we have to always guard our hearts against the tendency to love being right more than we love the truth we may be right about. So I pray for an attitude among us that as we wrestle through these things, we do so with a heart of joy, a heart that echoes chapter 11:33-36. We want to be able to say those words with Paul whether we fully grasp every idea in these chapters or even if we are wrong in some way about how we interpret these chapters. Every one of us should be able to affirm and rest in chapter 11:33-36.
Now last time we established two truths from verse 6. First, we saw that the word of God has not failed. Second we saw that not all Israel are Israel. These two truths are closely connected. Paul was concerned with the failure of the word of God because he saw how many of the Jews, God’s people, had rejected Jesus. This grieved Paul because he realized that his people were destined for hell. In fact he will later say that he would be willing to be cut off and accursed for the sake of his people. But this wasn’t just a personal grief for Paul, he also saw how it called into question the character of God. How could God be all-powerful if those He had chosen had rejected Him?
So Paul is dealing with the question of whether God’s character is trustworthy in light of the fact that the Jews had rejected Jesus. And His strong answer is that God’s word, by which we think he means the purposes and promises of God culminating in Jesus, has not failed.
Paul is clear that God’s Word has not failed because not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel. Now in context he is talking about the Jews. This is made clear from verses 1-5. There is national Israel and then there is within national Israel a portion who are true Israel. Now at this point in the text we don’t know what he is talking about exactly, we only know these distinctions because of context. The immediate and remote context of verse 6 tells us that he is talking about the situation of Israel, his kinsmen according to the flesh.
So Paul is talking here about a distinction between two kinds of Israel here, one that is Israel but is really not true Israel and one that is Israel and is true Israel. Now what Paul will illustrate is why this is so.
Now what might we expect Paul’s answer to be as to why there is one Israel that is not Israel and another that is true Israel? (One rejected and one received). The expectation most people would have is that the true Israel is the Israel of faith and the false Israel is the Israel of unbelief. And I want to say to you that this is true. But I want to also say that according to this text there is something even more fundamental and basic at the bottom of this distinction that is vitally important and which disturbs many. That is what we are going to be looking at in verses 7-13. We’ll start with verse 7 . . .

7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
Now this is a verse where I like the KJV much better than the ESV. I like it for the use of two words, “seed” and “called.” What Paul is doing here is that he is going to use two examples from the book of Genesis to show how there is a true Israel inside national Israel. In verses 7-9 he will bring up the example of Isaac and in verses 10-13 the example of Jacob and Esau. The point of the first example is to show that physical relation to Abraham does not guarantee salvation. This illustration is not exactly equivalent to the reality of what Paul is bringing out in verse 6, because all the people he is talking about there are physical children of Abraham through Isaac. But the point of the illustration is to show how God’s ways have not changed and therefore how His character is unassailable. God has always made distinctions. God has always had a chosen people to whom His promises applied, so His Word has not failed.
There is a difference here between the seed of Abraham and the children of Abraham, or as the ESV puts it, between his offspring and his children. Ishmael and Isaac were both Abraham’s children; yet it was through Isaac alone that God counted Abraham’s descendants spiritually.
The difference between seed and children here is the difference between physical relation and entrance into the covenant promises God gave to Abraham. And the illustration is referring to the immediate children of Abraham rather than to all his descendants. The illustration is intended to tell us that everybody who descended from the loins of Abraham is not automatically in the covenant, that everybody descending from Abraham is not automatically in the promise, and that everybody descending from Abraham is not automatically in the salvation blessing. The best way to prove this is to go right back to Abraham’s biography.
Isaac was not the firstborn son of Abraham. Ishmael was. But Isaac was the child of promise. God came to Abraham and promised that he and Sarah would have a son. But Ishmael was rejected, he was outcast, he was put apart from the line of promise. And God gave to Abraham and Sarah in spite of their sinfulness the child of promise who was Isaac.
Now the point here is this: God chooses some of the sons of Abraham to covenant blessing, not all of them. And it’s obvious from the very start, He rejected Ishmael. He accepted the line to come through Isaac. And I don’t know if you remember but Abraham had another wife by the name of Keturah through whom he had a couple more sons. And they too were rejected. So just being a child of Abraham doesn’t put you in the place of blessing. And that’s verified by the illustration of the case of Isaac. The chosen nation was to come through the loins of Isaac. Paul’s argument is very simple. Ishmael and Isaac demonstrate that God never intended all those naturally descending from Abraham to receive covenant blessing. The point is, God is selective…or better, God is elective. And the key word is “called,” chosen by God’s sovereign will.

Commentary on Romans 9:6

5 Apr

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,

This first line in verse 6 may be the most important phrase in the whole section from chapters 9-11. One of the great commentators on Romans, C.E.B. Cranfield says,“This half-verse is the sign under which the whole section of 9:6-29 stands – in fact, the sign and theme of the whole of chapters 9-11.”
John Piper has written a book on Romans 9 that has a very interesting title. It is called The Justification of God. That is really what we are dealing with in Romans 9-11 and I would say is also a big theme of the whole book, upholding the character of God. Remember that right in the beginning of the book Paul said the gospel has come in part to reveal the righteousness of God and that Jesus came in order that God might be just and the justifier, in other words that His character of holiness and mercy might be displayed in fullness to those who receive His grace.
So Paul raises the issue of God’s character here and then is quick to defend God’s character. The situation Israel is in of having rejected the Messiah while also having been long-term recipients of God’s favor is not a fatal blow to the character of God. It is not a black mark against God in any way.
We have to consider in this verse two terms: the phrase “the word of God” and the word “failed.” What does Paul mean here when he uses the phrase “the word of God”? I believe based on verses 4 and 5 that the phrase “word of God” is Paul’s way of summing up the privileges God gave to the Jews. It is this purpose of God, this plan of God, these promises of God, that has not failed.

Now the word “failed” is interesting because most of the time when it is used it means “fallen.” So there is a word picture there of something falling, in this case the blessings of God to Israel in verses 4 and 5. The picture I get is one of a wall tumbling down. So Paul says here that even though Israel largely rejected Jesus God’s promises have not become undone.
The passage that comes to mind here is Isaiah 55. 10 “For as the rain and the snow
come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Now what we see there is that the word won’t return void but God’s purpose will be accomplished. But the illustration in verse 10 is interesting. The rain and the snow is compared to the outworking of God’s Word. The rain waters the ground and causes the plants to grow. So it takes time. It is a process. Now think back to Romans 8:28, “God works in all things for good.” So God is working out His plan. So even though things on the surface look difficult or uncertain or dark, God is working and His word will not fail. The character of God has not changed.
The problem is not with God or His plan but with our understanding of who really makes up Israel. This is what Paul says in his next line, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.”
So what Paul is bringing out here is two Israels. There are all those who have their physical descent from Israel and then there is true Israel. The second Israel seems to be from context those who are spiritually the people of God.
Of course, there is a similar thing for us when we think about the church today. We know that when we meet together as a church, that not all the church belong to the church. In other words, in every church there are lost members who claim membership in the church. People looking in from the outside would say all the people in the church are saved but we know it most likely is not the case. In the same way, looking at Israel from the outside we would regard every Jew as a part of Israel. But this is only true physically, just as church membership makes a person appear to be a Christian.
The Jews in the Bible often appealed to their physical heritage as a proof of their special relationship with God. But what Paul will say here is that real relationship with God depends not on physical lineage but on God.
There are two kinds of Israel and two kinds of election. There is a sense in which God elected the whole nation of Israel to receive His Word and to be the people through whom the Savior would come. And we will see later, when we get to Pharaoh in verse 17, that sometimes God elects a person or a nation to a certain purpose. This is a common theme in the Bible. But there is also an election to salvation, which comes by the grace of God through faith in the Savior, Jesus. All the promises of verses 4 and 5 culminate in the coming of the Messiah so to be a true recipient of the blessings of verses 4 and 5 requires faith in the end to which all of these blessings pointed, namely Christ. So all those past and present Jews who either looked forward in faith to the coming of the Messiah or trusted in Christ when He was revealed, these are true Israel. God does not promise to each offspring of Abraham that he is saved because he is an offspring of Abraham. To be a Jew by birth does not make a person a child of the promise. So the real Israel is contained within the natural Israel. Spiritual Israel is contained within physical Israel.
John MacArthur says it this way, “Though the nation was chosen as a nation to be a vehicle to transmit the Scriptures, to be a vehicle to propagate the message of monotheism, one God, though the nation was chosen to be a witness nation, the choosing of the nation as an entity does not mean that every individual within that nation was also chosen to salvation. So the fact that Israel does not believe, that many individuals don’t believe doesn’t cancel the promises because God never intended in His sovereignty that every Jew would believe but that within the physical Israel there would be a believing remnant. The nation was elected to privilege but only individuals are elected to salvation. The real Israel is the Israel of faith and throughout all of the history of Israel there have been faithless Jews.”
Now this concept shows up throughout the Bible. We see it in the days of Elijah. The great prophet feels all alone in serving God. He sees all his fellow Israelites fully immersed in worshiping Baal and he just wants to give up and die. But God encourages him and says, “I have reserved to Myself 7,000 men who’ve not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” So there were the thousands of unfaithful Israelites but within that nation there was a true Israel that was faithful to God.
When Jesus talks to the Pharisees in John 8, they claim their relationship to Abraham makes them ok. But Jesus says they are not true children of Abraham because if they were they would do the works Abraham did. And going back to John 6, where Jesus says the work of God is to believe in the One God has sent and looking at verses 44-47 in chapter 8, we see that the Pharisees did not do what Abraham did because they did not believe in Jesus. Now you say, wait a minute, Abraham lived a couple of thousand years before Jesus. But look at John 8:56. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
And of course with these texts we have to also think of Romans chapter 2 verses 28 and 29, “for he is not a Jew is one outwardly neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh but he is a Jew who is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart in the spirit and not in the letter whose praise is not of men but of God.”
Now there are times, like Galatians 6:16, where Paul may use the term Israel to refer to both Jews and Gentiles, kind of like a short hand way of saying “God’s people.” But here in Romans 9 it is clear that in both cases in verse 6 he is talking about ethnic Israel, the distinction being one of saved Israelites vs. unsaved Israelites.
So not all Israel are true Israel, in terms of God’s word being fulfilled in their lives. Now where it gets really interesting is how Paul chooses to illustrate this fact because his illustration points to the reason for the separation between true Israel and the rest of Israel. What would most of us assume is the difference between true Israel and the rest of Israel? True Israel had faith and the rest did not but rejected God. That is right. But now what Paul is going to do in these next few verses is tell us why Israel had faith. And it is at this point that Paul gives an answer that surprises and even infuriates many.

Commentary on Romans 9:3

30 Mar

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

In verse 3, Paul expresses a wish that, in light of all he has said in chapter 8, is amazing. It is a hypothetical wish, he knows it can’t come true, but he wishes it could. That wish is to be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers, his kinsmen according to the flesh. Here he is talking of course about the nation of Israel. And what he is saying is that if he could, he would be cut off if they could be saved. He doesn’t specifically say outright here that he wishes they could be saved, but he makes it clear that he would wish to be accursed for the sake of his brothers, the clear inference being that they would be saved as he would take their curse. But knowing only Jesus can carry their curse, Paul knows his own sacrifice for his people’s sin is impossible. In his anguish he uses the word anathema, which means “cursed” and which Paul sometimes uses of those who preach a false gospel, like in Galatians 1. The discussion that will follow makes it plain that by and large he considers his brothers according to the flesh, this nation of Israel, to be lost. He outright states in chapter 10 verse 1 that his heart’s desire is that Israel would be saved. So that is the overarching message of verse 3 and the explanation for the intensity of Paul’s feelings in verses 1 and 2. Paul would give anything to see the people of Israel turn to their Messiah, Jesus.

Israel was made to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation but instead the chief priests and elders of the people were instrumental, along with the Romans, in putting Jesus to death. And in the days that followed Paul had been part of the group of religious leaders who first persecuted followers of Jesus.

In Acts 9, Paul went from “Breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” Paul “went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus” so that he might take any believers found there “as prisoners to Jerusalem” to where, just eighteen verses later, Paul “began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” Paul, the former persecutor of Christians, really had to believe that what he had written in Romans 8 was true, that nothing, not even his own brutality against followers of Jesus, could separate him from God’s love.

We can see clearly in the book of Acts that Paul never forgot his brothers and sisters in the flesh. He was commissioned to reach the Gentiles but whenever he ministered in a city, he always tried to start in the Jewish synagogues. I believe this was not only because of missionary strategy but also from a genuine love for his brothers in the flesh.

When I read this verse I thought about Moses in Exodus 32 when, in the aftermath of the golden calf incident, Moses asks for his own name to be blotted out of the book of life as he is interceding for his people.

Paul’s heart’s desire was that he could call his brethren according to the flesh also his kinsmen according to the Spirit.

But the problem is that most of his fellow Jews were not his kinsmen according to the Spirit. This is at the core of Paul’s anguish. NT Wright said it is like Paul is driving at the head of a convoy and he takes a fork in the road and then watches in horror as most of the other cars go down the other road. They think Paul’s wrong and he is sure they’re wrong. He knows the road he has taken is the only path to the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. So what will happen to all those who took the wrong road? And why did they go that way? Why did they ignore all the signs they had received that pointed to God’s plan? Has God’s plan failed? Is God unrighteous or unfair in the way He has carried out His plan? This are the kinds of questions Paul will be addressing in the next three chapters.

A Simple Commentary on Romans 9-11: Introduction

28 Mar

Paul was a passionate proclaimer of the gospel. His mission was to reach the Gentiles. We see this Gentile-based ministry in God’s call to him in the book of Acts and we also see it in Romans 1:5 where he said his aim was the “obedience of faith among the Gentiles for the sake of his name.” We also know that Paul believed that Jesus alone was the hope of salvation for all mankind. All the great promises of Romans chapter 8 are dependent on one thing alone . . . being in Christ. Our great salvation comes through Christ. So Paul would never support the idea that everybody gets to God in their own way or that every type of faith is of equal value. People today like to think that way but the reality is much different. Jesus alone is the way of salvation. Paul has made this clear throughout Romans.
Now in chapters 9-11Paul will further explain the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation by showing that He is the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. Paul has already hinted at this idea in Romans of course, with his words in 1:16 about the gospel being the power of God for salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek. And Paul has told us in chapter 3 that Jew and Gentile alike are justified by faith in Christ. But now he is going to be more explicit about Israel’s lostness apart from Christ. The reason he has to take three chapters to unfold and explain this is because it is, in a sense, confusing. After all, God did choose the nation of Israel and call them to Himself and make them His people. And through them came Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior their prophets had predicted. Jesus is the fulfillment of Judaism. The problem is, in Paul’s day as well as ours, the Jews have largely rejected their Messiah.
So in Romans 9-11 Paul is trying to explain how Israel could reject their Savior. But at the same time Paul wants to be careful not to reject Israel and her role in salvation history. He affirms God’s plan for Israel while also seeking to explain why she has rejected the Messiah.
But more than anything else, what Paul is trying to do in chapters 9-11 is not to explain himself or defend Israel, what Paul is trying to do is to uphold the righteousness of God. How can God be loving if it appears that He has rejected His people? How can God be strong if His people seem to have rejected Him? This theme of God’s righteousness runs all through the book of Romans and now comes to center stage once again in chapters 9-11.
Romans 9-11 then is not a sideline issue or a divergence from Paul’s main argument. It is central to Paul’s argument in the book of Romans. Romans 9-11 sheds light on everything in chapters 1-8 and will open you up to a deeper understanding of who God is and what He has done.
In studying through these chapters I have come to the conclusion that in many ways Romans 9-11 is an extended commentary on Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I think this especially in light of the verses that follow, namely Romans 8:29-32, with their words about God’s plan unfolding link by link in an unbreakable chain of salvation.
The goal of our study of Romans 9-11 should be the same as Paul’s conclusion to the section (11:33-36). Just as Paul broke into a doxology in the last four verses of chapter 11, so our response to what we see in these chapters should be worship. I hope reading these short articles each day and meditating on these verses might prompt someone to worship Jesus more fully.

A Simple Commentary on Romans 9-11

27 Mar

Romans chapters 9-11 has long been considered one of the most challenging portions of Scripture to understand. Over the last several months I have been studying and teaching through these great chapters and over the next few weeks I hope to blog about Romans 9-11 in a simple commentary form. Lord willing, I will plan to comment on one verse a day in a clear, understandable style with a view toward personal application. I hope these thoughts will help someone grow in love for our great God, from whom and through whom and to whom are all things.

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