God always keeps His promises

Frederick the Great was the King of Prussia. Over two hundred and fifty years ago he and his chaplain were discussing the Bible and whether or not it was true. Frederick the Great asked his chaplain, “Can you prove to me in one sentence that the Bible is true?” After thinking about it for a while the chaplain said, “I don’t need an entire sentence. I only need two words to prove that the Bible is true and that God doesn’t lie. Those two words are ‘The Jews!’” What a perfect response! God has miraculously preserved the Jewish people for millennia despite hatred, opposition, and persecution.

Have you ever questioned God’s love for you? Have you ever felt forsaken by God? I have two words for you: The Jews. As we consider the past and present rejection of Israel, we must ask such questions as: Has God’s love for Israel been quenched? Have His purposes for Israel been shelved? What about all the blessings promised to the nation that have not been fulfilled? An even more relevant question is: How can I, as a Gentile Christian trust the promises of God, when God was not able to fulfill His Word to Israel? Romans 11 tell us that Israel still has a great future in God’s plan. The reason is simple: God keeps His promises despite our failures. Romans 11makes three declarations.

 

  1. God’s People Are Chosen By Grace (11:1-10)

God has demonstrated a past commitment to Israel. But Israel’s incessant rebellion and rejection of Christ (cf. 10:21) causes Paul to ask: “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?” (11:1a). This question is not really a question; it’s a statement of fact. Therefore, Paul responds with an emphatic, “May it never be!” How can Paul be so certain that God hasn’t rejected His people? Paul states his first line of evidence in 11:1b: “For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul’s point is that if God can save a hardhearted man like himself He can save anyone!

 

Since Paul was able to believe in Christ, he can confidently say, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (11:2a).The very fact of God’s choice excludes the possibility of His desertion of His own people. It’s not a matter of God rejecting Israel; rather, Israel as a whole has turned her back on God (cf. 10:18-21). Paul states that God “foreknew” (proginosko) His people. This means that God chose Israel to be His people in a corporate sense; however, He also elects individuals to justification-salvation to preserve the nation.

 

Paul gives a second illustration to demonstrate that God hasn’t rejected Israel. In 11:2b-4 Paul writes, “Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.’ But what is the divine response to him? ‘I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.’” Paul is not the lone exception; even in Elijah’s day God had a remnant. Paul’s point that a remnant exists demonstrates that God has not abandoned His plan for the nation. This leads to an important principle: God does His best work through a remnant, a faithful minority. Today, you may feel alone and discouraged. The good news is that you’re not alone. Be encouraged—you have brothers and sisters in Christ in your county, throughout your country, and all over the world. This has always been the case, and it will always be the case. God preserves a remnant.

 

Through these two illustrations Paul has demonstrated that God’s program still includes Israel. Now, in 11:5-6 he applies what he’s been illustrating: “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” Israel as a whole did not attain to God’s righteousness because they sought it by works. The elect remnant, however, did attain to God’s righteousness, but it was solely out of grace—God giving what is not deserved. The point is: Grace and works are mutually exclusive. God’s election was (and is) established solely on the basis of grace. Verse 6 is a critical New Testament principle: Justification and sanctification are by grace.

 

After explaining the positive privilege of the elect, Paul explains the negative judgment on the rest of Israel. In 11:7-10 he writes, “What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, ‘GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.’ And David says, ‘LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM.’ ‘LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER ’” Israel is guilty of seeking religion apart from a relationship with Christ. Fortunately, God has “chosen” individuals from among the nation to believe in Jesus. The rest were “hardened.” God simply allowed the hardness of their hearts to run its natural course. These verses are not in reference to an unbeliever who has never heard, but of a religious unbeliever. Thus, they serve as a warning to unbelieving church attendees not to grow hardhearted. The principle of “hardening” is like dieting—weight is easy to put on but is difficult to take off. The longer you harden your heart, the more unlikely it is that you will ever respond to Christ. So please trust in Him today. Tomorrow may never come.

 

The blessings (cf. 9:4-6) God gave Israel turned into burdens and judgments (11:9-10). The picture is of a well-laid, prosperous feast. But the very prosperity of the household turns out to be a curse. Their religious practices and observances became substitutes for the real experience of salvation. As a result, Israel has been darkened. Those who do not wish to see become even less able to see. The figure of bent backs (11:10) is a picture of an elderly person with weakened faculties and lost vigor and energy. The old person is decrepit and crippled, without the ability to care for himself. It is a picture of what Israel became once God allowed the nation to fall into hardness and spiritual blindness. Fortunately, great good has come out of this bleak situation, as we will see in the next section.

[Paul’s first declaration is God’s people are chosen by grace. Now we learn that …]

  1. Grace Should Keep God’s People Humble (11:11-32)

God has a present and future plan for Israel and Gentiles. Israel’s rejection of Christ has made it possible for Gentiles to be included in God’s family. This gracious invitation ought to humble us to dust! In 11:11-15 Paul writes, “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” The obvious question from 11:7-10 is: If Israel has rejected Christ, is their rejection final? Again Paul declares, “May it never be!” Israel’s failure is not final. There is a future for Israel. Paul calls it their “fulfillment” (11:12) and their “acceptance” (11:15).

 

Today, Israel is fallen spiritually, but when Christ returns the nation will rise again. Today, Israel is cast away from God, but one day they will be accepted again. God will never break His covenant with His people, and He has promised to restore them. In the interim, God is so sovereign that He welcomes Gentiles into His family to make Israel jealous (11:11, 15). Have you ever watched a young child who tires of playing with a toy, only to become jealous when another child comes along and picks it up? The first child had no interest in the toy until some other child wanted to play with it. Similarly, as Gentiles experience “salvation” (i.e., justification and sanctification) Israel will eventually grow jealous and believe in Christ as messiah.

 

Applicationally, do you make both Jews and Gentiles thirsty for Jesus? Does your life make anyone hungry to know the Lord? Do you exhibit such joy that people want to know where it comes from? The phrase “life from the dead” likely refers to the spiritual awakening of the whole world. If Israel’s rejection by God brought the reconciliation of the world, then Israel’s acceptance by God will make the world alive spiritually.

 

In 11:16-17 Paul brings us into his kitchen and into his backyard for two metaphors intended to illustrate Israel’s glorious return and to humble Gentiles. He writes: “If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.” The term “holy” (hagios) means “to be set apart for special use” or “consecrated to the service of God.” The entire nation of Israel is “holy” not because each Jew is experiencing salvation but because the nation is under God’s special care as He plans to fulfill the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God keeps His promises despite our failures.

 

The Metaphors Identified in Rom 11:16-17

 

The first piece/lump The Jewish fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
The root Abraham
The lump/the branches Israelites
The wild olive Gentiles
The olive tree The promises of the Abrahamic covenant

In 11:18-21 Paul responds to the potential question: Do Gentiles receive the graft or the shaft? He warns his Gentile readers: “… do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.” Paul is saying: “Remember your roots and that your roots support you.

 

In 11:18-19 Paul makes it clear that salvation is of the Jews, therefore, Gentiles best not mess with Jews. After all, Gentiles have been grafted in. Gentile Christians were never the “pioneers” of salvation. They were favored only by Israel’s foolishness. Only faith will preserve their future as God’s people. I am reminded of the relationship between a flea and a dog. Israel is the dog and the flea is a Gentile Christian. How foolish for the flea to despise the dog and to suppose that the dog is dependent on him. All the flea does for the dog is make him itch. All the Gentile does for the Jewish unbeliever is make him jealous. How foolish for the flea to look down on the dog. How foolish for Gentiles to disdain the Jews! We ought to be the most humble people on the earth. We should be astounded that God chose to include us at all. The moment you become proud of grace you are in great danger. We must “fear.” No one knows the grace of God who does not know the fear of God.

 

This fear is further accentuated in 11:22 where Paul makes the startling point that if Gentiles follow the path of the Jews they will be “cut off”: “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” This is not the loss of salvation but the cutting off of a group (Gentiles). Romans 11 deals with the problem that the community of Israel as a whole had lapsed from a position of God’s blessing.

 

In this context, to be cut off is to become like Israel and not be a major player in God’s program. It is to lose the national blessings that result in salvation. None of this impinges on the security of an individual believer. We have a similar episode in Revelation 2:5 where the church of Ephesus as a whole is being addressed. Here, John records that Jesus has something against the church of Ephesus. He states that they have left their first love. As a result Jesus says, “I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place.” The removal of the lampstand is not the loss of salvation of individual Christians; it is the removal of the corporate church as a light and witness. Today every single one of the seven churches of Revelation has ceased to exist. Once the Muslims conquered Turkey, Christianity virtually disappeared. We too must heed Paul’s warning. This fate could happen to our church and to the church in America. America is not God’s “chosen nation”—Israel is. God isn’t required to always work with America. He can set aside America because of her pride. We must pray for national humility and confession of sin.

 

In 11:23-24 Paul returns to the theme of God’s commitment to Israel: “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” Paul has said that God has grafted Gentiles into the benefit of the Abrahamic covenant (11:16-22). Now he states that someday God will graft Israel in again (11:23-24). Paul described this “grafting in” as contrary to nature. Usually a cultivated branch is grafted into a wild tree and shares its life without producing its poor fruit. But in this case, it was the “wild branch” (the Gentiles) that was grafted into the good tree and then bore fruit! C. S. Lewis said it best, “In a sense, the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world.” God keeps His promises despite our failures.

 

In light of these verses, several applications come to mind:

(1) We must be grateful and affirming toward Christians Jews. There should be no expression of pride or disdain. On the contrary, we should acknowledge that the Bible is a Jewish book, Jesus is a Jewish messiah, and the Jews are God’s chosen people.

(2) We need to remember that grace reaches unlikely people. God is always full of surprises! We should, therefore, share Christ freely.

(3) We must not give up on “hard” people. It’s been said, “The bigger they are … the harder they fall.” This can be especially true when it comes to simple rejecters of Jesus Christ (just ask Paul). May we passionately share Christ with Jews and Gentiles alike.

In 11:25-32 Paul explains that the same mercy that has overtaken the Gentiles who were formerly disobedient will finally overtake the now disobedient Israel. In 11:25-27 Paul writes: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.’ ‘THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.’” Whereas Paul has explained the human side of Israel’s rejection because of her disobedience, there is another side to this phenomenon, a divine side, yet unknown to his readers. Paul calls it a “mystery.”

 

A biblical mystery is not like Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drews and Agatha Christie. Rather, it is a truth that was unknown in the Old Testament that is now being revealed in the New Testament. Here, the “mystery” is that Israel’s restoration will follow a great response of faith among Gentiles. Paul is referring to the hardening of Israel, which is permitted “until” the Gentiles enter into a relationship with Christ. The expression “the fullness of the Gentiles” refers to the total number of Gentiles who will be included in God’s program during the time of Israel’s hardening. God has a precise number of Gentiles that He is going to save. We don’t know when the last Gentile will be saved. But what is exciting is: The final Gentile conversion could occur at your church on any given Sunday. The moment this person believes in Christ, the rapture could occur and Jesus could take the Church to be with Him always. After this “fullness of the Gentiles” has come in, then “all Israel will be saved.” The expression “all Israel will be saved” does not mean that every individual in the nation will turn to the Lord. It means that the nation as a whole will be saved, just as the nation as a whole (but not every individual in it) was rejecting the Lord. The purpose, then, for which Paul is expounding this mystery, is to prevent pride and to bring about humility on the part of the Gentile believers in Rome.

 

Now Paul writes in 11:28-29: “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” God has chosen Israel and He loves His people. Hence, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” which means “not to repent.” God does not change His mind. He made promises to Israel and He will fulfill them. The special privileges that God gave Israel are probably what Paul intended by his reference to God’s gifts (cf. 9:4-5). They have intimate connection with God’s calling of Israel for a special purpose. God will not withdraw these from Israel. Paul said virtually the same thing about the security of individual Christians in 8:31-39.

 

In 11:30-32 Paul concludes this lengthy section by focusing on the mercy of God: “For just as you [Gentiles] once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their [Israel’s] disobedience, so these [Israel] also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they [Israel] also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all [Jew and Gentile] in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” It is God’s mercy (four times) that permits anyone to be saved. Paul points out that Israel was active in their disobedience but they passively received mercy from God. Mercy is a gift that we don’t deserve. Jewish disobedience sped up the process of the gospel going to Gentiles. Israel delayed God’s promises. When you live a life of disobedience to God, you put off the benefits of the promises; you do not cancel them. God’s promises are always valid; your participation in those promises may not be. Obedience is always critical because it makes what is supposed to happen always happen at the time it is supposed to happen so you don’t waste precious time waiting for it to happen. God keeps His promises despite our failures.

[Paul’s second declaration was: Grace should keep God’s people humble. His final declaration is …]

  1. God’s People Should Glory In His Grace (11:33-36)

After eleven chapters of theology, Paul closes with doxology, which is an ascription of praise or glory to God. What an appropriate finale of the doctrinal portion of Romans. Slowly read 11:33-36: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” For Paul theology isn’t dry, dull, or boring; rather it stimulated worship! Paul gets excited over theology! He bursts into praise when he grasped God’s plan for the future. The apostle says, “What a God! What a plan!”

 

God’s dealings with humanity are designed to stimulate worship of His glory, not questioning of His methods. God would not be worthy of man’s worship if He could be comprehended by man’s wisdom. God’s Word is designed to ignite a fire in you! God is the first cause—the source (“from Him); He is the effective cause—the sustainer (“through Him”); and He is the final cause—the goal (“to Him”). Why are you living? It ought to be: “from Him … through Him … to Him!” God wants to totally possess your entire being. “From Him”: how does He want me to live? “Through Him”: He empowers me to live. “To Him”: why are you living? To bring glory to Him! This is the whole gist of Scripture! We exist for God’s glory!

 

Consider the bagel. The humble bagel is one of God’s greatest creations. You make it by first dipping the dough in boiling water and then cooking it. You can get bagels in almost every flavor—onion, garlic, rock salt, pumpernickel, poppy-seed, or in trendy flavors like apple-cinnamon, banana-nut, or chocolate chip.. I think all God’s people should wake up every Sunday morning and enjoy a bagel lavishly spread with whatever you like to the glory of God! Bagels are a uniquely Jewish creation. You will find them almost everywhere in the world because you can find Jewish people almost everywhere. The bagel is a symbol of God’s faithfulness! Even after all the attempts to destroy them—the Jews are still here. And they’re still making bagels for the world: proof positive that God keeps His promises. God keeps His promises despite our failures.

 

This chapter ought to be a great comfort to you because it demonstrates the unconditional love and acceptance of God. He is a covenant-keeping God who is forever faithful. He is the ultimate “promise keeper.” Therefore, if He is faithful to Israel, He will be faithful to us. We can trust Him with our eternal salvation and with life’s every need. How can you say “no” to a love like that?

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No excuses!

Have you ever had your “Check Engine” light go on? Are you driving right now with your “Check Engine” light? A survey found that 10% of the adults polled were driving with a “Check Engine” light on. An alarming 50% of those whose cars were showing signs of an impending breakdown indicated the light had been on for over three months. Another 10% said the light had been on between one and two months. What’s especially bad is a few years ago the U.S. government put the on-board diagnostic system in place to alert drivers when their vehicle had a problem. This light can signify something potentially costly and possibly dangerous to the passengers or others on the road. The survey found drivers had a whole litany of excuses for ignoring the light. Some turned a blind eye toward the indicator because the car seemed to be “running fine.” Others pointed to a lack of sufficient funds. Still others simply noted that they just didn’t have time to worry about diagnostics and subsequent repairs.

 

It’s easy to ignore the “Check Engine” light. People do it every day. Sometimes there are consequences; sometimes there aren’t. Similarly, God issues a “Check Soul” light. Yet, people ignore God every day. Often there may not seem to be consequences in this life, but there will be in eternity. How you and I respond to Jesus Christ determines our destiny. We must sense the urgency. Now, I would be the last person to ever set a date for Christ’s return. I won’t even predict the decade that Christ will return! But I know this: we are closer today than we’ve ever been. Hence, we must plead with people to believe in Jesus Christ and urge believers to share the good news. Although many Christians interpret Romans 10 as a missionary text, it is important to note that Paul’s primary point is that God is already on mission. He has sent people to preach the good news, but the hearers have failed to believe. Consequently, the issue here is: There’s no excuse for making excuses. In 10:14-21 Paul makes two urgent assertions.

 

  1. Christ Must Be Preached (10:14-17)

The process of faith and Christian faithfulness is dependent upon believing in Christ and sharing Him with others. In 10:14-15a Paul asks four questions that receive a negative answer. Paul raises two more questions in 10:18-19. The answers are strong affirmations from the Old Testament. The implication is that the Bible has the answers to our questions. This should give us great confidence in God’s Word. Paul writes in 10:14-15, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? [The NASB renders the Greek verb kerusso as the noun “preacher.” Unfortunately, this implies an ordained minister, but Paul meant “someone preaching” (NIV)]. How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!’” Paul lays down a simple five-point process. However, he presents these five steps in reverse order. For our purposes, we will walk through this text in a chronological fashion from start (sending) to finish (calling).

 

First, a messenger is sent. The word “sent” (apostalosin) is a passive verb that means “to be sent.” It speaks of representing the sender. The noun cognate of “sent” is “apostle,” which literally means “sent one.” Paul quotes Isa 52:7, which implies that God is the One who sends the messengers. So consider yourself sent by God! Every believer is commissioned as a messenger. The Bible is clear: we must go to sinners if we expect them to come to the Savior. God’s goal is for you is to have “beautiful” feet by sharing His good news. Isn’t it ironic that many Christians, who go to great lengths to dress their feet in the world’s latest fashion, do not have the beauty of an African saint whose feet will not rest until all within his reach hears the gospel? How beautiful are your feet? How beautiful are the feet of the church of Jesus Christ at large? May we be people of passion more than fashion as we take the good news of the gospel to a waiting world. Does this sound daunting? Perhaps your vision is too small? A podiatrist in Washington D.C. claims that the average person’s feet travel more than four times the earth’s circumference in a lifetime. Let’s put shoe leather to the gospel! Take a picture of your feet and place it in a prominent place to remind you that beautiful feet share Christ with others.

 

Second, the messenger proclaims the truth. In ancient times good news traveled by means of messengers who ran from one place to another. No one had a cell phone. You couldn’t turn on the TV and watch the battle in real time as we can today. They didn’t have the Internet that flashes news around the world instantly. Everything depended on the messenger delivering the message. Today, we are called to be messengers who proclaim Jesus. The trouble is that a great many Christian preachers (professional pulpiteers and believers alike) are guilty of preaching about politics, social issues, ethics, entertainment, and anything else except Christ. Nonetheless, we must all proclaim the good news. We must always remember that when Christ sends us, He always goes with us. He will give us the words, and He will open hearts. We must simply tell others that there’s no excuse for making excuses.

 

Third, individuals hear the message. We must endeavor to preach so that lost people can hear of Christ. But we must recognize that God has not called upon us to win the lost—only to tell them the good news. It is not sufficient, however, to proclaim the truth only within the four walls of our church buildings, for most of the lost will never venture inside. We must take the message of Christ to where the people are—at work, at school, in the neighborhood, over the internet, on TV, and even overseas. They must hear.

 

Fourth, individuals believe what they hear. Many people claim to believe in Jesus; however, they believe in Jesus plus something else (e.g., baptism, church membership, good works). Yet, this cancels out one’s belief, for justification is faith alone in Christ alone. Other people claim to believe that Christ lived a perfect life, died, and rose again, yet they fail to trust Him for salvation. It’s critical to recognize that one must personally appropriate faith and be persuaded that Christ guarantees eternal life.

 

Fifth, individuals call on Him, upon whom they believe. Please notice that belief precedes calling. The public confession of calling on the name of the Lord is something that only believers can do. This final step transitions from eternal life (belief) to the abundant life (confess/call). This salvation is broader than mere justification, and is the only appropriate response to initial belief in Jesus. We must boldly and courageously call on the Lord. Although it may be intimidating and frightening, God provides courage. Emerson said it well, “Do the thing you fear—and the death of fear is certain.”

 

In spite of the opportunities God has given to people, they often choose to reject Christ. Paul writes in 10:16-17: “However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The key phrase in this passage is 10:16, where Paul states that the majority of people who hear about Christ will not believe in Him. In fact, only a remnant will be saved (cf. 9:6b, 27). This sad reality remains true today as well. Regardless of how many people you share Christ with, only a small percentage will believe. Nonetheless, we must remain faithful to preach Christ. It’s worth noting that there is a play on words in 10:14-16. To “hear” and “heed” are closely connected ideas. The word for “heed” (hupakouo) is a compound form coming from the word to “hear” (akouo). To fail to “heed” or “obey” is to disbelieve in Christ. This is why Paul emphasizes the necessity of hearing “the word of Christ” (i.e., the gospel) and exercising faith. We must remind others that there’s no excuse for making excuses.

 

Brother John was a timid man who dreaded speaking in public. He was terrified on the day it was his turn to give a devotional message. With his knees knocking, he faced his listeners and said, “Do you know what I’m going to say this morning?” “No,” answered the audience. He then said, “Neither do I,” and he ran from the room. The next day he was told to try again. So he again asked, “Do you know what I’m going to say?” This time they replied, “Yes.” So he said, “Then you don’t need me to tell you.” Again he fled. He tried a third morning, saying, “Do you know what I’m going to say?” Half his hearers shouted, “Yes!” and half shouted, “No!” “Ah,” said Brother John, “Then let those who know tell those who don’t know,” and again he fled. At first, his hearers sat in silence. Then the words hit home: “Let those who know tell those who don’t know.”

 

Since you and I know we are obligated to share Christ, how can we be faithful to this task?

(1) Pray for unbelievers and believers alike. (Explain the “Seven for Heaven/Seven for Earth” card: pray for seven unbelievers to trust in Christ and seven believers to share Christ.) Prayer is the most vital human element in seeing unbelievers respond to the gospel. Are you praying and dreaming about the salvation of a spouse, a loved one, a neighbor, a coworker, an unreached people group or country?

 

(2) Find common ground with unbelievers. What movie or TV show can you draw upon as a transition into spiritual things? Can you bring up a secular music band that an unbeliever might be interested in? Do you know any Christian athletes who are believers that you can discuss? Are you reading a book that you could talk about? What about world events? Do you have a thought provoking question? You must prepare content and questions for discussions, expecting that God will speak through you. As you pray and prepare, God will use you at work, school, as you run errands, and everywhere you go. But remember: you won’t find opportunities to witness if you’re not looking for them. Pray for open doors and then walk through them. Remember that God does not want your ability as much as He wants your availability. Preach the good news! Don’t be ashamed (cf. 1:16). Tell others that there’s no excuse for making excuses.

[The first assertion is that Christ must be preached. The second assertion is …]

  1. People Must Believe (10:18-21)

Our responsibility is to get “the gospel” to people; it is the responsibility of each listener to act on it. Here Paul deals with the two primary objections that lost people tend to have: (1) They haven’t heard and (2) they haven’t understood. In 10:18a Paul raises a first objection to belief: “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they?” Some Israelites may have been tempted to say that they had never been give an opportunity believe in Christ. Many people use the same argument today about themselves or the heathen.

 

However, Paul insists in 10:18b that this is an illegitimate excuse. He declares, “Indeed they have; ‘THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH, AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD.’” It is likely that Paul is using hyperbole here (cf. Col 1:23) to say that the gospel is going forth throughout the world. He isn’t saying that the Great Commission has been accomplished, but that it is in the process of being fulfilled. He quotes Psalm 19:4, which opens with that well-known statement of natural revelation. Nature, the psalmist says, has a voice and while that voice is non-verbal, it reaches every human being. Since every human being has enjoyed natural revelation (i.e., creation), obviously every Jew has also received it. And Psalm 19:6-10deals with the special revelation (i.e., Scripture), and every Jew also received that.

 

The Old Testament included scores of prophecies of the coming Messiah. So the Jews cannot use the excuse that they never heard the gospel. Besides, Jesus and the apostles shared the gospel with the Jews before they ever took it to the Gentiles.

Paul addresses a second objection to belief in 10:19-20: “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, ‘I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER YOU.’ And Isaiah is very bold and says, ‘I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME, I BECAME MANIFEST TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME.’” Paul uses Deut 32:21 and Isa 65:1 to demonstrate that Israel did indeed understand the good news of Christ. God granted His people both general revelation and special revelation, and if that wasn’t enough, He even offered salvation to the Gentiles for the purpose of making Israel jealous so that they might turn to their Messiah. But the vast majority refused God’s gracious revelation. Nevertheless, they are without excuse.

Paul’s use of Isa 65:1 reflects the predestination/election theme of Rom 9-11. The apostle makes the special point that Gentiles believed in Christ as their Messiah even though they were not seeking or asking for Him. In fact, they were running as fast and as far away from Christ as possible. Yet, God in His sovereignty chose to reveal Himself to Gentile runners like you and me. God’s grace is truly amazing! He alone can and should receive all the glory in salvation.

 

Our passage closes in 10:21 with a very powerful verse: “But as for Israel He says, ‘ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.’” I love the phrase “All the day long…” In spite of Israel’s hardhearted, stiff-necked rebellion, God expresses love for His people. What a potent example that God’s nature and character never change. His love is unconditional. God had shown much love to the people of Israel. He says to Israel: “I stretched out my hands all day long …” The idea of “stretching out the hands” is normally a reference to prayer. It refers to urgent pleading. It is the kind of posture we adopt when we are pleading for God to do something for us.

 

But what we have here is not some people spreading out their hands in plea to God, but God stretching out His hands pleading with the nation of Israel! The relation is the reverse of what we should expect. Israel ought to be pleading with God, but God is actually pleading with Israel. Israel seems to have fallen out of God’s favor, but the word of God to Israel has not failed, and God has not been unfaithful. On God’s side, He has shown them nothing but love.

What does it mean to stretch out your hands to someone? This gesture can refer to helping someone up, giving a gift, giving a warm hug, or offering an invitation. The picture of stretching out your hands to someone depicts nothing but love. If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, He is stretching out His hands to you right now. All that you have to do is believe in Him. Will you do so today? If you have already believed in Christ, God’s heart is that you would stretch out your hands to someone else as an extension of His love.

Perhaps you’ve been deeply wounded by your spouse.

Maybe he or she has committed adultery or has neglected your marriage. God may be calling you to stretch out your hands with His love and grace.

If you have children, it’s quite possible that they have sinned against you in horrible ways. Will you forgive them as Christ has forgiven you and stretch out your hands to them?

Perhaps your coworkers or classmates have ruined your reputation at work or school. Your character has been illegitimately maligned. Will you stretch out your hands to such individuals?

Maybe there are people in your church who have wounded you deeply. It seems like those who hurt us the most are brothers and sisters in Christ. Nonetheless, will you take the initiative to stretch out your hands in reconciliation? God stretches out His hands to you and to me and to the entire world. In light of all that He has done for us, can we not show others God’s great love?

Satan and his demons were devising plans to cause people to reject the gospel. “Let’s go to them and say there is no God,” proposed one. Silence prevailed. Every demon knew that most people believe in a supreme being. “Let’s tell them there is no hell, no future punishment for the wicked,” offered another. That was turned down because people obviously have consciences which tell them that sin must be punished. The planning was going to end in failure when there came a voice from the rear: “Tell them there is a God and there is a hell, but tell them there is no hurry. Let them neglect the gospel until it is too late.” All hell erupted with ghoulish glee, for they knew that if a person procrastinated on a decision for Christ, they usually would never trust in Him.

The sobering truth is there is a sense of urgency—dare I say a state of emergency. The time for belief will soon be over. It could be any moment—maybe even today. Are you ready? Have you placed your faith in Christ alone? If you are a believer, are seeking to call upon Him? Let’s share the gospel as if everything depends upon us, yet rest assured that since God is sovereign, everything ultimately depends upon Him. There’s no excuse for making excuses.

Let God be God part 2

  1. God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Authority (9:19-23)

God is sovereign in the actions He takes and gracious in withholding wrath or extending glory. Paul writes in 9:19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” This is the exact question we are tempted to raise at this point. We might also be tempted to follow up this question with: “How can God blame people for rejecting Him if He did not choose them?” Or, if God hardens people then why does He blame them for being hard? Now this is a great spot for Paul to include an apology or strong word of explanation. But he does neither. He doesn’t try to soften his teaching nor does he feel the need to clarify or defend what he has previously taught regarding election. Don’t miss this! The question in 9:19 is only valid if the premise is valid. The premise of the question is that God is sovereign, and that He does choose to save some but not others. If the premise was wrong, then Paul would have corrected it here and now. But he doesn’t correct the premise. This further confirms that he is teaching the doctrine of individual election.

 

Paul even indicts the questioner for talking back to God: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The question and the questioner are out of order. It’s a question that no one has a right to ask. We cannot approach God as though He were an equal or as if He had to answer to us. He is under no obligation to give us any answers at all. This is graphically illustrated for us in the book of Job. The book begins with a glimpse into heaven when Satan asks God’s permission to sift Job. The Lord grants Satan permission to do anything short of killing Job. For the next thirty-seven chapters Job goes through every type of trial imaginable. At the end of that time, God comes to Job and says to him essentially the same thing that Paul says here in these verses: “Who are you to answer back to God?”

 

What a great reminder to Let God be God. There are certain jobs that I’m not qualified for. One such job is anything dealing with automotive care. I can change my own oil, but that’s about it. Since I lack the necessary knowledge and skills, I have no right to tell an auto mechanic how to do his job. Likewise, I can’t walk into the home of another man or woman and change the rules of that household. I don’t own the place. Similarly, I don’t own this world. God does; and, He has a right to call the shots.

 

Paul backs up his theology with an Old Testament illustration. In 9:20b-21 he says: “The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? 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?” These verses are some serious “smack down.” Paul says, “Shut your mouth!” He puts you and me in our place! Paul is trying to hammer home the point that God is wholly unaccountable for His dealings with us. This is illustrated in the matter of the potter and the clay. Doesn’t the potter have the right to take a lump of clay, divide it in half, take half of the lump to make a beautiful vessel that is designed for display in a living room, and take the other half to make a slop jar or something for the kitchen? Doesn’t he have this right? Yes, he does. The potter has the right to do with the clay as he wishes. Does clay ever talk back to the potter? Of course not!

 

In Paul’s analogy, sinful humankind is the lump of clay, which is sinful through and through. There is no neutrality in man—he is an enemy of God. So the question is not, “Why are some made to dishonor?” because dishonor is the natural state of the clay. The question is rather, “Why are some selected for honor?” Paul wants us to realize that we’re not the customers, we’re not the critics . . . we’re the clay! And the potter always has full right over the vessels that he creates.

 

On an intensely practical note:

Have you given “Potter’s Rights” to the Lord for how He made you, your personality, your looks, your physical makeup, your abilities and skills, your intellect, and the opportunities of your life?

Are you content with who God has made you to be and what He is doing in your life?

Do you want to be like someone else, or do you want to have something more? You and I must realize that God has the right to do whatever He wants to us and in us and through us and with us. We must submit ourselves fully to His use and let God be God over our lives.

 

Paul now comes to two of the most difficult verses in the entire New Testament. In 9:22-23 Paul writes, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” These verses have brought more than one reader to his or her knees before our awesome God. It’s time to put your thinking cap on. In an attempt to simplify the complicated, let me make a few observations:

 

  1. There is an obvious contrast between “vessels of wrath” and “vessels of mercy.”

 

  1. Two different Greek words are used to translate the word “prepared.” In 9:22 the word “prepared,” referring to the vessels of wrath, is a passive participle with no clear subject. In 9:23 the word “prepared,” referring to the vessels of mercy, is an active participle that has God as the subject. In 9:23 God is clearly the one who does the preparing. In 9:22 Paul avoids God’s direct involvement in the preparation of the vessels of wrath for destruction.

 

  1. The “vessels of mercy” were “prepared beforehand.” The Greek word translated “prepared” has a prefix at the front of the word that means “before.” This would seem to suggest that the vessels of wrath were prepared, but not necessarily in eternity past. Like Pharaoh, who hardened his own heart, and then God entered the picture and hardened his heart, the vessels of wrath may be prepared for destruction during their lifetime. But vessels of mercy are prepared in eternity past by God’s election. This great truth should never be softened or finessed.
  2. God’s choices on these matters are not disclosed to us, and they are not meant in any way to cause despair. It has been well said, “These truths were not meant to be a puzzle to the mind but a pillow to the soul.” The point of these two verses is to demonstrate God’s glory, which is evidenced in His patience and mercy. Putting it simply: The “vessels of mercy” have only God to thank, and the “vessels of wrath” have only themselves to blame.The vessel of mercy can only say, “I’m in heaven because of God!” While the vessel of wrath can only say, “I’m in hell because of me!” Those who experience eternal destruction will never be able to blame God or say, “I’m damned because God did not choose me!” Their damnation is based not upon God’s rejection of them but upon their rejection of God.

 

Imagine the following scenario. A man is imprisoned for a crime he actually committed; yet, he calls a press conference claiming to the world he’s been unjustly jailed. His incarceration is not fair. Why not? “It’s the governor’s fault,” he says. Why is it the governor’s fault? “Because the governor didn’t give me a pardon. If he would give me a pardon, I’d be out on the street right now; but, since he didn’t give me a pardon, I’m in prison. Therefore, it’s the governor’s fault I’m in prison, not mine.” Would you be swayed by that logic? I doubt it. Instead, you’d reply that the criminal is behind bars for crimes he committed—because he killed somebody, he robbed somebody, he stole something, or he extorted something. He broke the law, that’s why he’s in prison. Now, the criminal might be out if the governor chose to exercise mercy, but that isn’t why he’s behind bars. He’s in prison because he’s a criminal.

 

The same thing is true with us. We’re in deep trouble with God because we are criminals against Him. If we go to hell, it’s for only one reason: because we’ve rejected Christ as our sin bearer. Those who are punished are not punished unjustly. They are punished justly because they’re guilty. It would only be unjust if they weren’t guilty. If God chooses to exercise mercy on some people then it’s His prerogative. We must step back, sit down, shut up, and let God be God.

[God’s choice is a matter of His character and His authority. Now we will see a final great truth . . .]

  1. God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Program (9:24-29)

Regardless of how it may appear, God is bringing about His kingdom purposes. Paul concludes the whole argument of this passage by stressing the fact that the Gentiles are as much an object of God’s mercy as are the Jews. The salvation of Gentiles is not an afterthought with God. Indeed, someone has well said that all saved are not God’s afterthoughts, but His forethoughts! Our text culminates with four quotations from the Old Testament, in which the same theme is sounded, namely, that it is because of God’s grace and mercy that any are saved, and those He has saved are not saved because they belong to a certain race or class but simply because God chose them and loved them.

 

Paul writes in 9:24-29: “. . . even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 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.’ 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.’ 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.’” At first glance, you may say, “What’s the point of all these Old Testament quotes?” They speak to one of the primary objections against predestination. Many people think that predestination means that only a few people will be saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has determined to open the doors of heaven to the whole wide world. Anyone who believes in Jesus can be saved. In Paul’s day that meant that salvation was not just for the Jews; it was also for the Gentiles.

 

Today there are approximately 13.5 million Jews in the world out of a total population of nearly seven billion people. Who are the Gentiles? That’s everyone who isn’t Jewish, which is roughly 99.999% of the world. If God had said, “I’m only going to save the Jews,” he would still be fair because no one deserves to be saved. We couldn’t complain if salvation were limited to a small group if that’s what God had decided to do. Remember, no one can talk back to God. But, He didn’t do that. These verses teach us that God opened the door of salvation to everyone!

Romans 9 is designed to bring us to our knees. As a result, God wants us to cry out, “MERCY!” He longs for us to acknowledge that it is His mercy that has saved us. He also wants us to cry out, “MERCY” because we recognize that His ways are incomprehensible. If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, your concern should not be, “Have I been chosen?” but rather, “Have I believed?” Please humble yourself before the sovereign Lord of this universe, acknowledge your sins, and believe in Christ today.

 

 

The pastor’s graveyard part 1

Albert Einstein’s wife was asked the question, “Do you understand the theory of relativity?” She responded immediately, “No, but I know Albert, and he can be trusted.”

This brilliant response by Meliva Einstein provides a tremendous principle for accurate biblical interpretation. There are some portions of Scripture that are so deep that we can’t understand them fully in this life. As finite beings we just can’t understand the infinite. However, we know God, and He can be trusted.

In Rom 9:14-29 we encounter what may be the most difficult section in the entire Bible. This passage on predestination has been notoriously labeled a “pastor’s graveyard.” Paul’s words are not terribly difficult at face value, but they seem to contradict other passages that emphasize human responsibility. Thus, many well-meaning Bible students attempt to marginalize predestination verses instead of letting any tension remain. However, when we study texts that deal with God’s election, we need to accept them as they stand and not try to figure out details that God has not chosen to reveal. Deut 29:29a states, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” In Isa 55:8-9 the Lord declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Similarly, Rom 9 is written from the perspective of heaven looking over God’s shoulder. Hence, I don’t claim to fully understand it, I just claim to believe it.

 

Perhaps you’re reading this lesson and you’re thinking, “Can’t you give me something more relevant? What about my marriage, family, work, school, and financial concerns? I need something that will touch my felt needs.” I can appreciate your sentiments; however, I believe that if your understanding of God increases and you grow closer to Him, that many of your personal concerns will take care of themselves. As important as your felt needs may be, it is your knowledge of God that is most important.

 

In Rom 9:14-29 Paul says: Let God be God. He then provides three inescapable truths that relate to God’s choice. These truths should lead us to humble our hearts and prostrate our souls before our great God. Now, let’s take a deep breath, buckle our seatbelts, and humbly pursue an immense view of God.

 

  1. God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Character (9:14-18)

God’s saving choice reflects His mercy, not injustice. In 9:14 Paul writes, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?” The apostle raises consecutive, rhetorical questions because he assumes, in light of what he has said in 9:6-13 regarding God’s choosing, that there will arise a logical question. The question is, “Isn’t God unfair to choose some (e.g., Isaac and Jacob) and reject others (e.g., Ishmael and Esau)?” Paul answers with a firm, “May it never be!” The fact that God’s justice in election is questioned here points to the truth that election originates and is based only in God. Some people argue that God merely foresees who will believe in Him and then chooses such individuals because of that knowledge. That may be a very attractive view because it removes some of the potential objections in this text. However, if that view were correct, then no one would voice any concerns. The rhetorical questions in 9:14 would be completely irrelevant because it would be a very reasonable thing for God to choose individuals that chose Him. No one would ever raise any objections and say that God is unjust.

 

Again, stop for just a moment and ask yourself, why does Paul anticipate this question? If election is ultimately based on human decisions, this objection makes no sense. No one raises this question to someone who emphasizes “free will.” It is only to the doctrine of predestination that this question is raised.

 

Paul now spends four verses building a case for God’s sovereign choice. He cites two proofs (“for,” 9:15, 17), from which he then derives two inferences (“so then,” 9:16, 18). In 9:15 Paul quotes Exod 33:19: “For He says to Moses, ‘I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.’” It is important to understand the context of this quote. In Exod 32 the children of Israel rebelled against God and made a golden calf in violation of the second commandment. The people were guilty and they all deserved to be judged and destroyed (32:10). Yet, God in His mercy only slew 3000 (32:28). In 33:12-23 Moses demanded various proofs and evidences of God’s presence. He even asked to see God face to face. God declined to grant that impossible privilege, but He did use the occasion as an opportunity to teach Moses about His sovereignty. In effect, the message from Exod 32-33 is that God does what He wants, and He doesn’t bother to ask for our opinion about it.

 

So, instead of attempting to defend God’s honor and explain why He is really just, Paul states that God pours out His mercy on some. Of course, the typical objection is: “But why doesn’t God pour out His mercy on all?” This objection misses the whole point. The real question is this: “Why does God pour out His mercy on anybody?” No one deserves His mercy. Instead, every person deserves to pay the penalty for his or her sin in hell. If God chose to show no mercy at all and pour out His judgment on every single person He would be absolutely just because this is exactly what we deserve.

 

The amazing thing is that God shows mercy toward anyone! It is the theme of mercy that is the central point of this entire passage. Surprisingly, this is the first occurrence of the term “mercy” in Romans. God’s grace has been mentioned throughout the letter; but, not until 9:15 is mercy named. This timely inclusion reveals that until mercy is understood, grace cannot be fully appreciated. For, mercy is God withholding what we deserve, and grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve. May we cry out: “Lord, have mercy! Help me to understand just how merciful you have been to me.”

 

To demonstrate further God’s mercy, Paul writes in 9:16: “So then it [God’s mercy] does not depend on the man [any person] who wills [desires] or the man who runs [acts], but on God who has mercy.” This is a very important verse because it demonstrates that salvation is strictly the result of God’s mercy. Even faith is not the ultimate cause of salvation. God’s mercy is behind our faith. Although we are commanded to believe, salvation is nonetheless God’s work and His alone.

 

Think this through: If salvation finds its origin in the will of the creature, rather than in the will of the Creator, then I can never be fully assured of my salvation, for I may someday lose my faith in God, or I may decide to reject my faith altogether. If the salvation of others is not in the control of God, then I have little reason to pray for the salvation of the lost. But if salvation finds its origin in the will of God, then I know that I am forever secure as a Christian, for even though I may change, God is unchanging. Since it was He who purposed my salvation and He cannot change, then my salvation is as certain as the One who is its source. If God determines salvation, then I may come to Him in prayer with the confidence that He is both able to save and that He takes pleasure in saving as well as in answering my prayers.

 

In 9:17 Paul provides another proof as to why God is not unjust: “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.’” Here Paul quotes from Exod 9:16. He cites the Egyptian Pharaoh who refused to release the people of Israel until God had done several miracles. The point here is that, even though the Egyptian Pharaoh defied God and hated the people of Israel, God had a purpose in this episode. God “raised” Pharaoh up for two purposes: (1) “to demonstrate” His power in and through Pharaoh (cf. 9:22), and (2) that the name of God might be “proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” Simply put, God wants His glory manifested in all the earth! As much as He may love you, He is even more concerned with His glory and His supremacy. Until we understand this truth we will never fully grasp the Bible.

 

Paul’s point is that even in his hatred and rebellion, Pharaoh serves as a witness to God’s greatness and glory. When human beings react against God, they think they’re acting on their own, and they think they can short circuit His plans, but actually God is using their very resistance to accomplish His purposes. God used Pharaoh’s resistance to display His power and make His character known. The inference Paul draws is that since God is sovereign over even evil people; He is clearly sovereign over salvation. In short, God has chosen to save in this way to glorify none other than Himself. Let God be God.

 

This leads Paul to state in 9:18, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Again, this verse emphasizes that God’s choice does not depend upon our choice—it’s a matter of His mercy. Most people, however, express angst over the fact that God “hardens whom He desires.” Yet, it is important to understand the context of Exod 4-14. The text is clear that Pharaoh hardened his heart for the first six plagues. It’s not until after the sixth plague that it says, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” God just brought out what was already there. God told Pharaoh, in effect, “If you are determined to have a hard heart, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to finish what you started. Since you want a hard heart, I’m going to make it like granite. I’m going to make it as hard as possible so you will know who is God in Egypt.

 

People are not lost because they are hardened; they are hardened because they are lost. If mercy is not giving people what they deserve, then the hardening of the heart is simply allowing what they deserve to run its full course. The hardening of the heart is, in that sense, pure justice. For instance, the rain that has just been falling the last few days is going to bring forth some beautiful flowers, but it is also going to bring forth some ugly weeds. Don’t blame the rain for the weeds. It didn’t bring the weeds; it simply revealed they were there. The grace and mercy of God does not place hardness in anybody’s heart, it just reveals the hardness that’s there. The same sun that melts ice hardens clay.

 

This verse brings to mind the truth that God did not intend to save all people. Rather, He reserves the right to choose whom He will save. Then, immediately someone says, “That’s not fair! Everyone should have an equal chance to be saved, or God is unjust.” These are dangerous words! We must be careful not to ever demand fairness or justice from God. I don’t want anything to do with the justice of God. Remember, if all of us received justice, every one of us would be condemned for all eternity. The fact that some are not condemned is sheer mercy.

 

Charles Spurgeon, said it best: “I believe the doctrine of election because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that doctrine.”

The roller coaster and you

When was the last time you were on a roller coaster? Did you want to throw up? I can think of nothing better to kick off Romans 9-11 than a terrifying and exhilarating roller coaster ride. The reason is simple: For many people these chapters contain the most terrifying and exhilarating words in the New Testament.

In 8:28-39, Paul established that: (1) God has a purpose for believers; (2) nothing can prevent that purpose from being fulfilled; and (3) no one can separate God’s people from His love. But a question remains: What about God’s chosen people—the Jews? God loved them and had a purpose for them too. Yet, Israel appears to be excluded from God’s program. Therefore, the inescapable question is: Since so many Jews appear to have become separated from the love of God, haven’t His promises and eternal purposes failed? If so, then what basis do you and I have for believing that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled? Our Christian hope is at stake! Paul addresses this concern.

In Romans 9-11, he explains Israel’s spiritual condition: past (9), present (10), and future (11). In our first installment, 9:1-13, we learn that God’s promises and plans never fail. Paul shares two essential truths about God.

1. God Is Committed To His People (9:1-5)
This opening paragraph reveals both God and Paul’s burden and passion for Israel’s salvation. We will also see the necessary balance between human responsibility (9:1-3) and divine sovereignty (9:4-5). In 9:1-2 Paul begins by expressing his sorrow. The intensity is built up by three doublings: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Isn’t it interesting that Paul appeals to his truthfulness, to his conscience, and to the Holy Spirit? Why is Paul so concerned that his recipients know that he isn’t lying? Because they would undoubtedly find it remarkable that he could love the Jews when they hated him so much. Everywhere Paul went they treated him as an enemy and a traitor. They harassed him, they threatened him, and they stirred up mobs against him.
In Acts 23:12-13, 40, Jewish zealots bound themselves with an oath that they would not eat or drink until they had killed him. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul states that on five different occasions he received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes, adding that he was in constant danger from his own countrymen. Yet nowhere in his writings is there ever found even the hint of personal retaliation or bitterness against the Jews. On the contrary, Paul’s spirit was the same as that of Christ, who wept over the city of Jerusalem even though He knew He was about to be crucified by its leaders (see Matt 23:37).

Years ago some servants of the Salvation Army went into an extremely tough American city and after working there for several years, they said, “It just won’t work. We’ve tried everything. The gospel is just not being received here.” They telegraphed that to General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, and he telegraphed back a two word message: “Try tears.” Do you have a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a classmate who doesn’t know Jesus Christ and you think you have tried everything? Well, have you tried tears? Have you asked God to break your heart for the lost?
Paul continues in 9:3 by claiming, “For I could wish [pray] that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Paul actually wishes he could forfeit his own salvation if it would lead to the salvation of his fellow Jews. He knows he cannot actually be separated from Christ—he just said so in 8:31-39. Yet his feelings are, nevertheless, genuine. Paul loves his people enough to go to hell for them, if that were possible. It’s difficult to fully appreciate his emotions, for he is exhibiting supernatural love. Nonetheless, we must seek to share Paul’s heartbeat.

Do we love the lost like Paul did?
Do we share his burden for souls?
Would we be willing to go to hell if someone else would be saved?
How far are we willing to go to see people believe in Christ?
What sacrifices are we willing to make?
If there’s a “secret” to evangelism, it is cultivating a heart for lost people.
Do we have a burden that others will not spend eternity in hell?

In the film, The Guardian, the viewer is taken into the world of United States Coast Guard rescue swimmers. Eighteen weeks of intense training prepares these courageous men and women for the task of jumping from helicopters to rescue those in danger at sea. The challenges they face include hypothermia and death by drowning. Why would people risk so much for strangers? The answer is found in the rescue swimmer’s motto, “So Others May Live.” May you and I share this very same mission. I challenge you to share Christ with someone this week. Don’t be bashful. Don’t be presumptuous and assume that people aren’t interested. God may use you to lead someone to faith in Christ. Today, pray that God gives you an unquenchable burden and zeal for the lost.

In 9:4-5, Paul emphasizes divine sovereignty by listing the remarkable privileges that God has given Israel. Verse 4 is arranged in two sets of three that are grammatically and conceptually parallel:

o The adoption as sons/the giving of the Law: The “adoption as sons” refers to a national adoption that has to do with a unique action on God’s part to put His special mark of ownership upon one race of people. God “adopted” Israel and gave them instructions on how to be different than their surrounding neighbors. It was an extraordinary privilege for the Jews to be God’s people and have received the very words of God.

o The glory/the temple service: The “glory” likely refers to the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led Israel through the wilderness during the Exodus. Later, when the tabernacle and the Temple were built, the Levites were given the amazing privilege of temple service. Though anyone could come to worship in the Temple, only Levites (i.e., Jews) could serve the Lord there. No other nation ever received such a remarkable sign of God’s presence.

o The covenants/the promises: “The covenants” refer to the special agreements that God made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. These covenants included the “promises” that God made to Israel regarding their place in His plan and His unconditional love for them despite their failures. No other nation has been so privileged.
Two other privileges are mentioned in 9:5. “The fathers” is a reference to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. No other nation has had such great leaders as Israel. “The Christ” was, of course, the greatest privilege ever granted to Israel. But this privilege is stated differently. The previous items are mentioned as possessions of Israel. The Messiah, on the other hand, is simply “from” Israel. Notice, however, that Paul not only identifies Christ as of the Jewish race, but also stresses His deity. Jesus is “God over all” and is “forever praised.” Because of His heavenly origin and mission, He cannot be claimed exclusively by any segment of the human race. He is the greatest gift known to humankind.

Despite the privileges God freely gave to Israel, the bulk of the nation continues to reject Jesus as their Messiah. Like Israel, many people in our lives have been blessed with great privileges. Yet, many still reject Christ. We must recognize that privileges such as information, opportunity, and blessing don’t guarantee salvation. However, privileges do guarantee accountability. Jesus said, “To whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48paraphrase). Those who have heard of Christ are responsible to believe. If you are reading this message you likely have exceptional privileges, yet you still must believe in Christ as your Savior. Today, is there anything keeping you from trusting in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? If not, I urge you to place your faith in Him alone right now. Don’t wait another minute. I’m not trying to scare you or manipulate you, but I must remind you that you are not guaranteed tomorrow. So settle the issue today once and for all. You will then come to realize that God’s promises and plans never fail.
[Not only is God is committed to His people, we will now see that . . .]
2. God Is Committed To His Sovereign Choice (9:6-13)
We have now come to the top of the roller coaster. We are about to take a hair-raising plunge that may leave you breathless. So, hang on and let’s see if we can survive the ride. First, let’s quickly define our terms. If you draw a line right in the middle of the word “sovereign,” it looks like this: “sov | reign.” Only royalty reigns and that word “sov | reign” means “reigns alone.” Only God has ultimate and absolute authority. This section begins, perhaps, the key passage in the Bible on the subject of predestination and election. Yet, these doctrines create a lot of spiritual heartburn and indigestion for many Christians, so I’m going to substitute a simple English word that means the same thing but doesn’t carry nearly so much baggage. It’s the word “choose” or “choice.” The result is the same—God chooses people before they choose Him.

Paul begins 9:6a with his thesis statement for the whole of Romans 9-11: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Paul begins his response to the question that was raised in 9:1-5: If Israel is God’s covenant people, to whom so many glorious privileges have been given (9:4-5), why are so few Israelites saved? Has God failed Israel? Paul responds with conviction and certainty, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” This is one of the greatest principles in the entire Bible. Things are not always as they appear to be. When it looks like God’s Word has failed us, we should repeat this verse with personal application. “Even though this situation has happened, it’s not as though God’s Word has failed me.” Always remember: God’s promises and plans never fail.

In 9:6b, Paul gives the reason “for” his thesis. He points out that God’s promises to the Jews have not failed, because God never promised to save every Jew. He puts it like this: “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Paul denies that God ever intended to save all ethnic Israelites. His purpose has always been to save a remnant within Israel. Paul informs us that salvation isn’t a matter of physical descent. When he says, “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,” he means that being an Israelite does not automatically make one a child of God. Simply put: “Salvation is not a Jewish birthright.”

If we went downtown and observed a parade passing by with banners that read, “American Communists for the Downfall of America,” we might look at each other and say, “They’re not all Americans who are Americans.” What we would mean is that though these people may have been born in America, they are not committed to the principles upon which our government is based; they are outside of what America really stands for. Hence, whether we’re talking about Israel, America, or any other people, God is more about “grace, rather than race.”

In 9:7-13, Paul now uses two illustrations to support his thesis from 9:6. In the first illustration, Paul shows that salvation has never been based on heritage, lineage, or pedigree. In 9:7-9 he writes: “. . . nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.’ 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. For this is the word of promise: ‘AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.’” Abraham, the father of our faith, had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was a child of the flesh in the sense that he was the product of Sarah’s carnal effort to help God out. See, God had made a promise that Sarah would have a son. But it didn’t happen within Sarah’s allotted timetable, so she gave her handmaid to her husband and the handmaid bore a son. Thirteen years later Sarah herself had a son, a son of Promise, a supernatural son, and God said in 9:7, “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” God made the choice.

To demonstrate that there is a difference between ethnic and spiritual Israel, Paul reminds us that God sovereignly selected Isaac over Ishmael. Though Ishmael was also Abraham’s son, Isaac inherited the promise by grace. It was Isaac, not Ishmael, who was a “child of promise.” The ignoring of Ishmael and the calling of Isaac illustrates the fact that some have been called to salvation and others have been left as they are. The modern equivalent of this truth might be, “It is not the children of Christian parents who are Christians; it is those who have personally embraced Christ as Savior who are Christians.” God is free to choose however and however He likes—this is His prerogative. Whether I like how He operates or not, He’s God and I am not. I must allow God to be God.

You may be able to stomach this first illustration, for Isaac was the only legitimate son of Abraham and Sarah.” But Paul now provides a second illustration of God’s divine choosing that may make your stomach turn. In 9:10-13 Paul shows that salvation has never been based on personal character or works. The apostle writes: “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 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, it was said to her, ‘THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.’ Just as it is written, ‘JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.’” Now here we have two twin sons, so both have the same mother and same father. Yet, God also made a choice between them, namely that “the older will serve the younger.” This choice was contrary to the culture of that day, which required that the older son be given priority. In fact, these verses seem contrary to our entire experience and western thought process so we must delve further into some specifics:

o God’s saving choice includes individuals (9:6-13.) Some try to argue that Paul is referring only to nations in these texts and not individuals. They support their view by showing that two of the Old Testament texts that Paul cites (Gen 25:23; Mal 1:1-5) have to do with the privileges and blessings of the line of Jacob over that of Esau. It is agreed that these two Old Testament texts do not immediately pertain to salvation. But the real question is: “How does Paul use these two Old Testament quotations to respond to the question that he raised?” His initial question in 9:6a was: Why are so few Jews saved? If Paul is referring to nations, then he is saying that the reason not all the nation of Israel is saved is that God has chosen the nation Israel. His answer is unintelligible! An appeal to the collective election of Israel (i.e., Jacob and his seed) doesn’t resolve the problem of unbelieving, lost Jews. In fact, it only fuels the question! We must also bear in mind that specific people are mentioned: Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. Clearly, the principle of divine election involved individuals before it involved nations (9:13).

Imagine that I was a multi-millionaire who was able to purchase a major league baseball team. However, I had to choose between my two favorite teams: the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros. Even though I would be selecting a team, I would base my decision upon the individuals on the team. So, it truly is a matter of individual election, not corporate or national election. We should also note that the language Paul uses throughout this paragraph generally refers to the issue of eternal salvation. Hence, Paul’s use of these verses pertains to God’s sovereign election of individuals.

o God’s saving choice was predetermined before birth and before behavior (9:11, 13). Paul tells us that God differentiated between Jacob and Esau before they were born. Their destiny was predetermined. Moreover, He differentiated between them before they did anything good or evil. Hence, their behavior had nothing to do with God’s choice. Paul clearly denies the notion of God looking ahead to see faith. God’s choice was not contingent upon anything about them! God doesn’t wait to see who will believe, or choose us because He knows we will believe. As Augustine said, “God does not choose us because we believe, but in order that we may believe.” As for the seemingly problematic 9:13: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” Paul is using “hate” (miseo) as an idiom where the opposite is used to express a lesser degree. He’s simply saying that God loved Esau less than He loved Jacob. More precisely, Esau was “not chosen” as the object of God’s electing purpose. Now if this troubles you, please revaluate your thought process. We really ought to be appalled that God would love Jacob. Why in the world would God choose a scheming, conniving, lying cheat like Jacob to love? Moreover, we ought to ask: Why did God choose me and love me? Why did He send His Son to die for me while I was a sinner and His enemy (5:8)? There is only one correct answer: God was immeasurably gracious and chose me and loved me from eternity past. And, His grace is all in spite of me.

o God’s saving choice was based upon His own good pleasure (9:11). While denying that the basis of God’s predetermination is anything in people, Paul affirms what that basis is—His sovereign purpose and pleasure. In other words, the reason why God saves one and not the other is grounded in His own will. He does what He does for His own good pleasure! Now this may make you uncomfortable. We must be very careful that we aren’t deceived into thinking that God chose each one of us for salvation because of our personal attributes or works.

Perhaps you’ve always assumed that your salvation has been the result of your quest for God and your faith. I can assure you that before you were seeking to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside of you, God was drawing you to Himself. Before you exercised faith, God had chosen you and Jesus was praying for you to come to faith. It is important to acknowledge God’s ultimate role in salvation. You and I are not nearly as important as we think. Stick your finger in a glass of water. See the impression you leave. You’re not that important. God is the One who is important. In the end, this passage teaches us one very important truth: God is completely sovereign. This ought to lead us to worship our great God. God’s promises and plans never fail.
If you have had a challenging roller coaster experience, it might parallel our experience as we ride the roller coaster of Romans 9. When we don’t understand the depths of God’s truth, we ought to be able to cry out, “Jesus save me!” Save me from a small mind. Save me from putting you in a box. Save me from trying to completely understand that which can’t be understood. When we conclude our study, we ought to exclaim, “Thank you Jesus for saving me. I’m amazed that you did it. I don’t deserve it. But thank you.”

Come alive!

A radical change is expected and required when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. When no change becomes apparent, we begin to wonder if there has been a genuine conversion or if the one who was truly saved understands God’s Word concerning sanctification and discipleship.

 

Those who can identify with the agony of Paul in Romans 7 will rejoice with him in the ecstasy of Romans 8. Do you desire to serve God and to obey His commands and yet find it impossible to do so? If not, then you should go back to the beginning of Romans and start reading again. Either you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you fail to understand what God requires, or you do not see the futility and inadequacy of merely human effort. But if you have come to that point of despair of which Paul speaks, then you have come to the point of dependence upon God. Read on, my friend. There is more good news for you. The solution to your problem is now the topic under discussion in Romans 8.

Let us look to the Holy Spirit, of whom theses verses speak, to enlighten our minds concerning those things which we would never grasp apart from His divine illumination (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

 

No Condemnation
(8:1-4)

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Paul’s condition, as described in the last half of Romans 7, was agonizing and frustrating. With his mind, he served God, but with his flesh he served the law of sin (7:25). Paul’s dilemma is two-fold. First, there is the matter of his sins, committed as a Christian. Second, there is the problem of righteousness. What can deliver him from his sins? What can enable him to be righteous? Verses 1-4 deal primarily with the first problem and briefly allude to the second, discussed more fully in verses 5-11.

 

Paul’s first problem was that of his sin and of the condemnation which sin brings upon sinners. The solution to the problem of sin Paul describes here may be summarized in this way: For all who are in Christ, by faith, there is no condemnation for sin, but rather the condemnation of sin in the flesh.

Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:1-4 is fundamental to the Christian life. The Christian need not be overcome by guilt or by fear, due to his sins. The cross of Jesus Christ is the solution from sin and its condemnation, for all who are justified by faith. The death which Christ died was for all of the sins of the one who receives His work, by faith. Pre-Christian sins and post-conversion sins are covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This is no license to sin, as Paul shows in Romans 6, but it is the assurance that through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ Christians have been delivered from divine condemnation. The forgiveness of sins Paul describes in Romans 3:21–4:25 applies to all the sins of the one who trusts in Christ.

There is no condemnation! What a wonderful truth to the ears of every believer. But there is more. The death of Christ has delivered us from condemnation. While our Lord’s death at Calvary delivered us from condemnation, it also delivered sin to condemnation. In Christ, God condemned sin. God condemned sin in the flesh. The flesh was sin’s stronghold. It was the “handle” which sin found by which to lay hold of us and to bring us under condemnation. When God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, He came in the flesh. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. And when He suffered the wrath of God and the penalty of death in the flesh, sin was condemned in the flesh. In that very realm of the flesh, in which it seemed sin could not be defeated, God overpowered sin, condemning it in the flesh. Because of Jesus Christ, we are not condemned. Because of Him, sin is condemned, and in the flesh. For the Christian, the shackles of sin are surely broken.

 

Paul’s first problem is that of sin and its consequences. The second problem is that of righteousness. The sin which Paul wished to avoid, he committed, in the flesh. The righteousness which Paul desired to practice, Paul avoided, due to his flesh. The problem was with his flesh. With his mind he could serve God, but in his flesh he could not produce the fruit of righteousness. If sin dominated him through his flesh, then something greater than him must empower him to live righteously in his fleshly body. The solution is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The problem was not with the Law and its requirement. The “Law is holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). The flesh is simply not able to achieve what the Law requires (for reasons Paul is about to spell out in 8:5-8). The Holy Spirit is able to empower us to do that which the Law required (8:4). The righteousness of God is accomplished, not by walking according to the flesh, but rather by walking according to the Spirit. God’s righteousness cannot be achieved by the flesh, but it can be accomplished by means of the Spirit of God. Paul is soon to explain how and why this is so.

 

The foundation for Christian living, living righteously, has been laid in verses 1-4. The Christian is not under condemnation because he is in Christ Jesus, who bore the penalty for all our sins. Sin is under condemnation, through the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. The righteousness which the Law requires and which we find impossible to achieve, God achieves in and through the Christian, through the prompting of and power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God has delivered us from the penalty and the power of sin.

Not by Means of the Flesh, but by His Spirit
(8:5-11)

The truth Paul gives in verse 4, which he explains in verses 5-11, is not new. Centuries earlier, the Lord told the prophet Zechariah: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

God’s work is never accomplished by human effort but only by divine enablement. It has always been this way.

The righteousness which the Law requires cannot be realized by walking according to the flesh, but only by walking according to the Spirit. Verses 5-11 are devoted to explaining and illustrating this truth, so that Christians will forsake seeking to please God by means of the flesh and walk according to the Spirit. Verses 5-11 give us two sides of one coin. Verses 5-8 explain why it is impossible to please God by means of the flesh. Verses 9-11 explain why it is possible to please God by means of His Spirit.

THE FUTILITY OF WALKING ACCORDING TO THE FLESH (5-8)

5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The futility of walking according to the flesh is spelled out in these verses. The conclusion to Paul’s argument, developed in verses 5-8, is stated in verse 8:

THOSE WHO ARE IN THE FLESH CANNOT PLEASE GOD.

The basis for this conclusion is developed in verses 5-7. Here, Paul gives us three reasons why it is impossible for those in the flesh to please God. Let us consider each of these reasons.

First, those who are “according to the flesh” have their minds set on the flesh. They have a one-track mind. They are like an AM radio which can receive only signals on this band. FM signals are not received and cannot be. The spiritual dimension of life—that unseen realm which is only grasped by the enablement of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) and which can only be believed by faith (Hebrews 11:1)—is only perceived by those who are in the realm of the Spirit, by faith in Jesus Christ. Those who are “according to the Spirit” have their minds tuned to the things of God and to His Spirit.175

 

If a Christian is walking “according to the flesh,” his mind will not be on spiritual things but only on earthly things. When Peter rebuked our Lord for speaking of His death on the cross, our Lord rebuked him for having his mind set on the flesh:

“Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33).

Jesus’ words here also make it evident that Peter’s fleshly mindset was a reflection of Satan’s views and values.

In verse 6 Paul gives the second reason why those who are in the flesh cannot please God. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, while the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” It took me a long time to take the verb is seriously. Elsewhere Paul tells us that sin leads to death, and righteousness leads to life. Here Paul says that the mind set on the flesh is death. There is a significant difference between that which leads to death and that which is, in and of itself, death. God’s wrath is both present (Romans 1:18) and future (Romans 2:5). God’s salvation likewise has a past, present and a future dimension (Romans 5:1-11). So too death is both present and future. Death is much more than physical death. Death is separation from God. The fleshly mind is so alienated from God that those whose minds are set on the flesh are dead, alienated from God, limited only to the physical world and their distorted perception of it.

 

Third, those who are in the flesh are not merely ignorant of God and unaware of His existence; they are actively hostile toward God and toward His Law (verse 7). Fallen men hate God, they reject His authority, and they resist His Word:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

 

Those who are unsaved are “in the flesh,” and as those in the flesh they serve Satan, in mind and body. They may not consciously serve Satan, but they do consciously seek to indulge their flesh, fulfilling its lusts. And in so doing, they reject God and rebel against Him.

No wonder it is impossible for anyone to please God by walking according to the flesh. The flesh cannot and will not comprehend the things of the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The flesh hates God and rebels against His authority and His Law. And even if unsaved men wished to do right, they could not do so.

Consider these illustrations. Serving God in the flesh is like trying to manufacture sophisticated silicon computer chips in a garbage dump, rather than in a “clean room.” Pleasing God in the flesh is as impossible as trying to train a wolf to be a sheep dog. Being righteous in the power of the flesh is like trying to teach a corpse to dance. It simply cannot be done.

Now we know why Paul was not able, in the flesh, to keep God’s Law, even though in his mind he agreed with it and desired to obey it. Now we know why those who would fulfill the requirement of the Law cannot do so by walking “according to the flesh.” Let us next turn to verses 9-11, where Paul explains why those who walk according to the Spirit can fulfill the requirement of the Law and so please God.

 

IN THE STRENGTH OF HIS SPIRIT (9-11)

9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.

How different is Paul’s approach to the spiritual life from that of many today. Paul does not seek to motivate Christians by questioning their salvation or by suggesting that, by sin, they can lose it. He does not suggest that unspiritual living is the result of failing to possess the Spirit but bases his teaching on the certainty that every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit. And he does not appeal to guilt or fear but to grace and assurance. Chapters 5 and 8 especially underscore this. Paul assumes that his readers are genuine Christians. If they have been justified by faith, then they have the Spirit dwelling within. If they do not possess the Spirit, then they cannot be saved. Christians, according to Paul, do not need to receive the Spirit, but to respond to the Spirit, in faith and obedience for assurance, guidance, empowerment, and a host of other ministries.

 

Paul, and every Christian, faces two problems as dealt with in our text: first, the problem of sin; second, the problem of righteousness. Our problem with sin is that we do it. Our problem with righteousness is that we do not, and cannot, do it. God solved the first problem by condemning sin in the flesh through the death of our Lord at Calvary. Now, in verses 9-11, Paul tells us how God has provided the solution for the second problem.

 

God’s Law reveals the standard of righteousness. The Law tells us what righteousness is like. The Christian agrees with the Law of God, that it is “holy, righteous, and good.” The problem is the strength of sin and the weakness of our flesh. As Paul has shown in verses 5-8, the flesh cannot please God. God has provided the means for Christians to live in a way that enables them to fulfill the requirement of the Law and to please God. God’s provision—for Christians only—is the power of His Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian.

 

The flesh is dead, because of sin. But the Spirit is alive, living within us, so that righteousness will result. The Spirit, who indwells every true believer, is the same Spirit who raised the dead body of our Lord from the dead (verse 11). Our problem, as Paul says in Romans 7:24, is “the body of this death.” Our bodies, which are dead due to sin, so far as doing that which is righteous, the Spirit will raise to life, as He raised the body of our Lord to life. And so the problem of righteousness has been solved. We cannot, by the flesh, please God and do that which is righteous. We can, by means of the Spirit, fulfill the requirement of the Law and please God.

 

And so the two problems (1) of sin and (2) of righteousness have been solved, by God, through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is no condemnation for sin for all who are in Christ, by faith. Sin, on the other hand, has been condemned in the flesh. The righteousness which we could not do, because of the deadness of our fleshly bodies, God accomplishes through His Spirit, who raises dead bodies to life.

The Implications of Paul’s
Teaching in 
Romans 8:1-11

Romans 8:12-17 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

In verses 12-17 Paul applies the principles he has just taught in verses 1-11. The application to Paul’s teaching is given in verse 12. Verses 13-17 provide the support for the application.Verse 17 serves both as a conclusion to verses 12-17, as well as an introduction to Paul’s next topic, sonship, suffering, and glory, discussed in verses 18-30.

Paul gives his readers no specific commands. He lays down no rules. After all, the Law has set the standard. Those things which Paul will lay down as specific applications find their biblical basis in the Law (see Romans 13:8-10). Instead, he speaks of the Christian’s obligations. Paul’s words in verse 12 inform us that we have no obligation to serve the flesh and strongly imply that we do have an obligation to serve God in the Spirit. This reiterates what he has already taught in verse 4 and explained in verses 5-11: We shall fulfill the requirement of the Law when we walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.

One thing has puzzled me as I have attempted to understand Paul’s words in verse 12: Why does he apply his teaching by speaking to his reader in terms of obligations? Why not duty? Why not obedience? Why obligations? I think I am beginning to understand what he means. We feel obligated to another only when we believe they have done something for us. “One good turn deserves another,” we say. When someone does us a favor, we feel obligated to them. When someone does us harm, we do not feel an obligation at all. Traveling overseas offers an illustration of this. When a car comes to an intersection and has to wait for a moment, a man may very well push through the crowd, get out his small array of equipment, and begin to wash your windshield. When he has finished, he hopes you will feel obligated enough to him to give him some money. We feel obligated when someone has rendered us a service.

Thus, Paul speaks of obligations. The fact is many Christians feel obligated to the flesh. This is why Paul must remind us that we have no obligation to the flesh. The flesh has done us no favors. It has acted independently of our minds, causing us to sin and to fear divine condemnation. The flesh is instrumental in our doing things of which we are now ashamed (see 6:21). We owe the flesh nothing.

Why then do we feel obligated? Why is it necessary for Paul to tell us we are not obligated to the flesh? The reason, as I understand it, is simple: even though it is not true, we feel that the flesh has performed some beneficial service for us. Let me suggest some ways Christians might come to this false conclusion.

There are those who tend toward the libertine extreme of error, supposing that God’s grace in Christ is a license to sin. They believe that once they have been justified by faith, they can continue to live as they formerly did—in sin—with no guilt or condemnation. If Christ paid the price for our sins, they reason, then why not sin all you can? The false assumption is that the pleasures of sin and the lusts of the flesh are really good. Thus, living in sin is good for the present, and the forgiveness of sins is our guarantee of heaven in the future. Those who foolishly think and behave in this way wrongly conclude that they owe the flesh something because it has been so good to them.

The legalist feels the same obligation to the flesh as does the libertine but for what seems to be the opposite reason. The legalist may sincerely believe he is avoiding sin and practicing righteousness, but he is doing so through the flesh and not through the Spirit. Legalism tries to fulfill God’s Law by means of human effort and not by walking in the Spirit. The scribes and Pharisees believed they were overcoming the flesh, but they only appeared to do so and this by means of the flesh. It is the outward appearance which the legalist judges and not the heart (see Luke 16:15). The outward appearance of righteousness may very well be the result of serving God in the flesh. I am reminded of a song I once heard: “Workin’ like the devil, servin’ the Lord.”

 

We do not owe the flesh anything. The flesh accomplishes nothing which is righteous. The flesh is subject to sin and to death. Whether the flesh produces self-indulgence or self-righteousness, it cannot please God. We owe it nothing. In fact, it is so hostile to the Spirit that we are obligated to put to death the deeds of the flesh. All too many Christians, including myself, are far too busy catering to the flesh rather than crucifying it.

Having summarized our obligations, both negatively and positively in verse 12, Paul goes on to support his exhortation with two arguments. The first argument is not new, but simply a summarization of what he has already said. The second argument is new to this chapter. The first argument has to do with the consequences of living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit (verse 13). The second introduces the doctrine of the Christian’s sonship (verses 14-17).

Verse 13 gives the first reason why we are obligated to the Spirit but not to the flesh. It all comes down to the consequences of following the one or the other. If you are living according to the flesh, you must die. “The mind set on the flesh is death” (8:6). “The wages of sin is death” (6:23). When one chooses the path of the flesh, it is a one-way street, and its destination is death. To follow the flesh leads to death as certainly as Interstate 35 North leads to Oklahoma City and beyond. I cannot go south to Houston and be on Interstate 35 North. I cannot reach righteousness and life by living according to the flesh. This is a certainty, as evident in the word “must.” “… if you are living according to the flesh, you must die” (verse 13).

Just as certainly, living by the Spirit leads to life. Paul says this in such a way that it presents us with a paradox:

If we seek to live according to the flesh, we will surely die.

But

If we, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live.

Paul’s point here agrees with the teaching of our Lord: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).

 

Paul’s words in verse 13 indicate that the Christian is to be far from passive in living out his life in the Spirit. We are not to be striving to be righteous in the strength of our flesh, but we are to be putting to death the deeds of the flesh through the Spirit. Furthermore, Paul’s words indicate not only a strong distinction between the flesh and the Spirit but an intense animosity. This is stated emphatically in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Galatians 5:16-17).

 

There is no peaceful co-existence with the flesh. We will either walk according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will wage war against the deeds of the flesh which seek to dominate and destroy us. We must take this struggle seriously. We must choose sides. We dare not choose the flesh. We are obligated to walk according to the Spirit. Therein is righteousness, life and peace.

There is yet another reason for our obligation to the Spirit—our sonship as those who have been justified by faith. This sonship has both a present and a future dimension. In verses 14-16, the present dimension of our sonship is predominant. In verses 17ff., the future dimension of our sonship is in view.

In verse 11 Paul argued that those who are saved have the Holy Spirit living within them. Now in verse 14, Paul argues that all who are being led183 by the Spirit are God’s sons. Walking in the Spirit not only means walking in the power which the Spirit provides but walking in accordance with the prompting of the Spirit. As Paul has said elsewhere, “… it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). From our text in Romans, we know that the Holy Spirit is God’s instrument through which this work is accomplished.

WHAT IS A SON OF GOD?

Before going further, we must pause to be certain that we understand the meaning of the expression, “son of God.” What does Paul mean when he speaks of being a “son of God”? Let us consider this expression from the context of the Bible as a whole and then go on to see how Paul is using sonship in the context of Romans 8.

ADAM AS A SON OF GOD

Luke’s genealogy of our Lord begins with Joseph,185 and it ends with Adam. The final words of the genealogy read: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Adam was “the son of God” we are told. He was the son of God in that He was the creation of God. God was, so to speak, Adam’s Father. Adam was created in the image of God and as such was commissioned to rule over God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28). By his sin, Adam rebelled against the authority of God. He could never rule over God’s creation as a reflection of His image. There would have to be another “son of God.”

THE ISRAELITES AS SONS OF GOD

Adam and Eve lost the right to rule, but they were given the promise of deliverance through a son (Genesis 3:15). With the passage of time, it became evident that God was raising up another son—the nation Israel. At the exodus, this “son” was begotten:

“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My first-born. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born.”’” (Exodus 4:22-23).

This nation, this “son,” was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Speaking of Israel’s exodus, the prophet Hosea wrote: “Out of Egypt I have called My son” (Hosea 11:1).

Paul recognized this “sonship” of Israel, and so he wrote: “For I could wish 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 …” (Romans 9:3-4a).

The Jews had a strong sense of their sonship, but in a distorted way:

“You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God” (John 8:41).

Like Adam, the nation Israel failed to rule as God had commanded. They rebelled against God, over and over. And so God removed their right to rule. Though they claimed to be sons, they did not act like sons. There would have to be some other “son of God.”

ISRAEL’S KINGS AS SONS OF GOD

God gave Israel a king as they requested. He gave them Saul (see 1 Samuel 8). After Saul was removed and replaced by David, the man after God’s heart, God made a covenant with David known as the Davidic Covenant. In this covenant God promised David,

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-16.)

The words of verse 14, “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me,” are very significant. The relationship between God and His appointed king was described as a father/son relationship. When the descendant of David was coronated, it was with the words, “Thou art My son” (see Psalm 2:7).

A king from the line of David was to be the “son of God” through whom God’s rule was to be established over the whole creation. This “son” was not to be David nor would it be Solomon. Both David and Solomon sinned, as did all of their sons who reigned on the throne of David. If there was to be a “son of God,” it would be a very special “son of God” indeed. As the Old Testament revelation continued to unfold, it became evident that this “king” who was to be God’s “son” would be a very special person. He was described as being both divine (see Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-5) and human (“son of man,” see Daniel 7:13-14 and also Psalm 2:7-9). Whoever this “son of God” was to be, he would be a very special and unique person. And so He was.

JESUS AS THE SON OF GOD

Adam failed as a “son of God,” as did Israel and all the kings from David on. All hopes for God’s rule on the earth focused upon the coming Messiah, the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15; see also Galatians 3:16), the Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14) and the Son of God (Psalm 2:7). The “Son of God” was not to be Israel, as a nation, but Jesus of Nazareth. And so, when Jesus was brought from Egypt to Israel by His parents, Matthew cited this text from Hosea as being fulfilled by the return of our Lord from Egypt: “Out of Egypt did I call My Son” (Matthew 2:15, citing Hosea 11:1).

Jesus was the “Son” for whom every true believer had been waiting. It is little wonder that at His baptism the Father would speak these words: “This is My beloved Son …” (Matthew 3:17).

It is also little wonder that the temptation of our Lord resembled the testing of Israel in the wilderness or that our Lord’s responses to Satan’s solicitations should come from the Book of Deuteronomy (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). Satan’s great effort in the temptation of our Lord was to divert Him from His role as the Son of God.

When Peter made his great confession, it was the confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Son of God: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

At His transfiguration, God the Father again identified Jesus as His beloved Son (Matthew 17:5). The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was unique in His identity and role as the “Son of God” through whom salvation would be accomplished and who would subdue the earth and rule over all creation.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “THOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM, AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”? And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.” And of the angels He says, “WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE.” But of the Son He says, “THY THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. THOU HAST LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, THY GOD, HATH ANOINTED THEE WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE THY COMPANIONS” (Hebrews 1:1-9).

ALL CHRISTIANS ARE SONS OF GOD

Jesus Christ is the “Son of God” through whom all of God’s promised blessings are fulfilled. All who are justified by faith are joined with Him in an inseparable union (see Romans 6:3-11). By faith in Jesus as God’s Messiah, men may become sons of God:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

John answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Sonship, therefore comes to all of those who have a new birth, through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is to this sonship that the Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian, bears testimony:

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:16).

We are God’s children, sons of God, by faith in the Son of God.

THE SONSHIP WE AWAIT

Our sonship has both a present and a future dimension. In verse 17, this future dimension is introduced and is the subject of Paul’s teaching in verses 18-30. While we enter into sonship by birth—the new birth—our entrance into the future blessings of sonship comes by adoption.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:19, 23).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the “Son of God,” but His return to the earth to subdue His enemies and to rule over all creation is yet future. Our part as sons of God is future as well. Paul speaks of this future hope in Romans 8:18-25. As Paul explains in Galatians 4:1-7, there is a time when a son is kept under guardians and managers until the time comes for him to be put in authority. This process Paul refers to as adoption. When Christ returns to the earth to rule over it, we will receive our full adoption as sons and rule with Him. It is for this future dimension of sonship that we wait in hope. Our present sonship is a marvelous blessing and privilege, but there is much more to come. The blessings of our future sonship show our present sufferings in identification with Christ to be a small thing in the light of the glory yet to come.

SONSHIP AND OUR OBLIGATION TO WALK IN THE SPIRIT

With this survey of what it means to be a son of God, we return to our exposition of the text. Paul begins in verse 12 to make application of his teaching by speaking to the Christian concerning his obligations. The Christian is not obligated to the flesh, but he is obligated to the Spirit. In verse 13, Paul gives the first reason for our obligation to the Spirit but not the flesh: living according to the flesh leads to death; living according to the Spirit leads to death for the deeds of the flesh, but life for us.

Verses 14-17 continue the contrast between these two ways of walking. How different they are. Walking according to the Spirit is described in verse 14 in terms of being led by the Spirit. How different this is from the way of walking in the flesh. Walking according to the flesh is slavery, and its motivation is fear (verse 15). Walking according to the Spirit is not serving a slave master but obeying our Father as He leads us by His Spirit. It is not a matter of slavery but of obedience, rooted in a deep sense of love, gratitude, and thus, obligation.

How different are these two ways of walking. When we walk according to the flesh, we serve as slaves motivated by fear. We are overpowered and overrun by it. When we walk according to the Spirit, we are led. We serve our Father out of a deep sense of obligation, not fear. We owe the flesh nothing. We owe our Father everything.

As we leave Paul’s words of application in verses 12-17, let me point out that the very spirit in which Paul applies his teaching is consistent with his teaching. The Christian’s walk according to the Spirit is a walk of obedience, based upon our obligation to God, based upon His goodness and grace to us. There are no harsh words, no dictatorial commands. Paul is not a sergeant here addressing new recruits but a brother reminding us of the goodness of our Father. God’s Spirit is a gift from the Father to every Christian. He reminds us that we are sons. He leads us and empowers us so that we may act like sons to the glory of the Father.

Sonship is a glorious position with great privileges. Sonship does not come without suffering however. If we are to identify with our Lord in His future manifestation as the Son of God, we must now identify with Him in His rejection and suffering. It is this dimension of sonship to which Paul turns in verse 17. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our struggles Paul will explain in verses 18-27, matters which we will consider in our next lesson.

Conclusion

I must ask you: Are you a son of God? Have you become His child by faith in the Son of God? If not, why not become His son now? All you must do is acknowledge your sin, your desperate need for the forgiveness of your sins and your need for the righteousness which God requires for eternal life. That forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ, who died in the sinner’s place, bearing the punishment of God. That righteousness is found in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness God will impute to you on the basis of faith alone, apart from any works you might do, apart from any merit of your own. To receive God’s gift of salvation in His Son is to become a son of God.

If you are a son of God by faith in Jesus Christ, this passage is foundational to your Christian life. Let me conclude by summarizing some of the major truths Paul teaches in this text and suggest some ways these truths apply to us as Christians.

(1) The Christian life is possible because our sins have been forgiven, our guilt has been removed, and God’s Spirit has been given. What was impossible for us to do as unbelievers, and even impossible for us as Christians in our own strength, is possible through the enablement of the Holy Spirit of God.

(2) The Christian life is impossible in the power of the flesh; it is possible only in the strength of the Holy Spirit. The unbeliever can only live according to the flesh by which he is enslaved. The Christian has a choice. The Christian can live in the realm of the flesh or in the realm of the Spirit. He will live in one of these two worlds. He will walk in accordance with one of these two ways—the way of the flesh or the way of the Spirit.

(3) From the Christian point of view, there is no good reason to walk according to the flesh and every reason to walk according to the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The one who walks according to the flesh must die. To walk in the Spirit is life and leads to life. To walk in the Spirit is to be assured that God is your Father, and the Spirit is your guide and your strength. To walk in the Spirit is to be assured of your present sonship and an even greater sonship in the future. We are obligated to walk according to the Spirit, but there is no obligation to walk according to the flesh.

(4) There is no middle ground between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh. We are either walking according to the Spirit, or we are walking according to the flesh. Many Christians seem to think there is some neutral ground. Jesus said it long ago: there are but two masters; we will either serve the one or the other (Matthew 6:24). We will love one and hate the other. We will live to the one and seek to put to death the other.

(5) The flesh and the Spirit share nothing in common. They are incompatible. Indeed, they are mortal enemies (see Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:17). Why is it then that one of the key words in the Christian world today is integration? For example, many are trying to integrate psychology and theology. Why? Is there something necessary to living righteously which God has omitted either in His Word or in His provisions for us? Peter does not think so (2 Peter 1:3-4). Neither does Paul (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

 

(6) The distinction between the Spirit and the flesh is fundamental and foundational in the Scriptures because it provides us with a biblical basis for separation. All too often we make distinctions but the wrong ones! For example, we distinguish between that which is “secular” and that which is “spiritual.” Herein lies the false assumption that those in “full-time ministry” are working at that which is spiritual while those with “merely secular” jobs are involved in that which is not spiritual. Falsely we assume that certain activities (like prayer, worship, and Bible study) are spiritual, but others (like washing dishes, changing diapers or the oil in the car) are not.

 

Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 says this is wrong. Consider this principle: IT IS NOT WHAT WE DO THAT MAKES SOMETHING SPIRITUAL OR FLESHLY, BUT HOW AND WHY WE DO IT.

Whether we work at preaching, painting houses, or washing dishes the issue is whether we are doing it by means of God’s Spirit or by means of the flesh.

Some of the activities which appear most spiritual are those which can be, and often are, done in the flesh. For example, prayer can be accomplished in the flesh, or in the Spirit:

“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:5-7).

Follow the Ruler, not the rules

Many years ago a very tragic boating accident resulted in the loss of two lives. A family enjoying a day at the lake made a sudden turn in their boat and the daughter fell overboard. Quickly turning the boat around, the father jumped into the water to save his daughter. The father could swim, but for some unexplained reason he immediately drowned, leaving the little girl thrashing about in the water. No one on board knew how to operate the boat, and it continued to drift away as the girl struggled.

Nearby a man was fishing in a small rowboat. Seeing the accident he began to row to the scene to help in any way he could. Paralyzed from the waist down, the man’s ability to help was limited. Approaching the struggling girl, he held out an oar for her to grasp, but he could do no more because of his condition. Unable to hold on to the oar, the girl slipped beneath the surface of the water while the man watched helplessly.

 

Humankind is just like the drowning girl. We are overcome by sin and unable to save ourselves. The Old Testament Law, and any other system of rules, is very much like the paralyzed man attempting to rescue the girl. His intention is sincere and commendable, but he lacks the power to save her. Likewise, the Law cannot save the sinner. Neither can the Law release the Christian from his or her bondage to sin. As a matter of fact, it is the Law, which somehow sustains our bondage to sin. The solution to the problem of sin, therefore, is to be released from the Law and thus, from sin. Paul describes this release in Romans 7:1-6. He does so by explaining two great truths: (1) We have been released from the Law, and (2) we have been joined to Christ. Verse 1 serves as a principle for all that Paul will say. He then illustrates his principle in 7:2-3, and finally concludes with an application in 7:4-6. The main point of this passage is that we can try to live by rules, or we can live by a relationship. We could put it this way: Focus on the Ruler not the rules. Paul’s first great truth is . . .

 

  1. We Have Been Released From The Law (7:1-3)

The reason that we’re free is because we have died to the Law. In every church there are believers who are prone to abuse grace and others who are more likely to advocate legalism. In chapter 6 Paul deals with grace abusers; in chapter 7 he deals with legalists. At various times in our lives, we are guilty of both. Therefore, Paul’s words are immensely practical for us. Paul begins with a foundational principle in 7:1: “Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?” The question, “Or do you not know” refers back to 6:3, which is the only other place this phrase is used in the New Testament. Here, Paul asks, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”

 

Paul assumes that his biblically astute Jewish and Gentile readers (“brethren”) understand that they are no longer under the Law because they have died with Christ. This is especially evident in the word translated “jurisdiction” (kurieuo), which is a form of the word “lord” or “master.” Paul is saying that the Law only has mastery over us while we are alive. But since we have died with Christ to the Law, we are free indeed! As Paul says in 6:14b: we are “not under law but under grace.” We are freed from the Law by our death in Christ. One relationship is terminated, so that another may begin. The Law of Moses, or any other law, only applies to us while we are alive. Dead people are released from the Law.

Imagine someone commits a crime and the legal authorities want him for prosecution and possible imprisonment, but then the police discover that the person has died. At that point they drop all concern about trying the criminal with any charges. The police no longer bother with him because the law only has authority over him while he is alive. Again, Paul’s principle is: The Law only has authority over a person while he is alive.

 

In 7:2-3 Paul now illustrates the principle that we have been released from the Law. “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.” Just for your information, this illustration does not really help us in the controversial issue of divorce and remarriage. The only point that Paul is making is: Marriage is for life. Any other commitment is not Christian marriage. Too many people—including some Christians—go into marriage thinking that if it does not work out, they can always get a divorce. That “back door” mentality often leads to the break-up of the marriage. The only way to stay married is for both parties to believe that “divorce is not an option.” So if you’ve been using “the D-word: (i.e., divorce), stop it! The only D-word you should be using is death, as in “til’ death do us part.”

 

Okay, I’m off of my soapbox. This purpose of Paul’s illustration is to help us understand our relationship to the Law, not our relationship with our spouse. Paul indicates that a wife is bound to her husband as long as he is alive. If she chooses to marry another man while her husband is alive she commits adultery (see the seventh commandment, Exodus 20:14). However, if her husband dies, she is free to remarry. The wife is not guilty of breaking the seventh commandment because death has severed her legal relationship with her husband. A death puts the wife into an entirely different status. The Law that was restricting her is entirely irrelevant. She is free to enter into another relationship without being troubled by the Law which once bound her.

 

Similarly, we died to the law in Christ. We are now “married” to Christ. This leaves the Christian free to pursue an entirely different kind of relationship. So I must ask you: “What is keeping you bound? Why are you staying in a legalistic relationship when Christ has set you free?” Mixing law and grace will never work. God has released you to experience and enjoy spiritual freedom. This is your emancipation declaration—your spiritual Independence Day. Focus on the Ruler not the rules.

[The first great truth we learned was, “We have been released from the Law.” Now in 7:4-6, he provides a direct application and a second great truth . . .]

  1. We Have Been Joined To Christ (7:4-6)

When we died to the Law, we were made alive to live for Christ. In 7:4 Paul writes, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Paul uses the word “therefore” (hoste) to introduce the application of his theological argument and to conclude this section with a bang! He argues that we “were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ.” The passive verb translated “were made to die” (ethanatothete) shows that God made us to die to the Law. In Christ’s death we died! We died to the Law! The Law can never die, but we died! It is worth noting that we had to be “made to die to the Law” because our independent, performance-oriented way of life had to be broken.

 

Prior to conversion, men and women attempt to earn their way to heaven through the Law and other works of righteousness. Yet, this verse makes it clear that “through the body of Christ” we have died to the Law. We must, therefore, place our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ and relinquish any confidence in our flesh. This is true of our salvation and our sanctification. Remember, Paul is no longer discussing salvation, as he was in 3:21-4:25. In 5:1 he began a new section on sanctification. The context then makes it clear that we are no longer under Law as believers. To put it even more radically, the key to the Christian life is not obedience to God’s standards! In true spirituality, obedience to God’s standards is the byproduct and inevitable result of something that is centrally more important. God wants to release us from a life of rules, rituals, and regulations. Focus on the Ruler not the rules.

 

Paul states that we were made to die to the Law for two very specific purposes: a person and a purpose. The first purpose of our death follows the clause “so that” (eis). We have died to the Law so that we “might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead” (7:4b).Paul’s point here is that our old husband (i.e., the Law) just made us behave worse! To bear a better fruit we had to marry a better husband (i.e., Christ). Paul uses the word translated “joined” (ginomai) to refer back to his analogy of marriage (7:2-3). The good news of the gospel is that we are now married to another. We have been “joined” with Christ. Paul is motivating us to experience a deepening relationship with our new husband, Jesus Christ. Jesus longs to be intimate with us.

 

Have you ever thought about that? Did you know that Jesus desperately desires a deep relationship with you? This is a mind-boggling realization. The God of the universe wants fellowship with you and me more than we could or would ever want fellowship with Him (even on our best spiritual day).

 

Not only have we been released from the Law to a Person but Paul also shares with us that we have been released for a specific purpose. Notice that we have died to the Law “in order that [hina] we might bear fruit for God” (7:4b). Paul expects us to “bear fruit for God.” Please notice, Paul doesn’t say “manufacture fruit” or “produce fruit”—he says “bear fruit.” He explicitly states that we are to “bear fruit for God.” This means our first aim is to please Him and glorify Him. The phrase “bear fruit” (karpophoreo) is used elsewhere by Paul in a positive sense only in Colossians 1:6, 10 (cf. Romans 7:5b). In this Pauline prayer to the church at Colossae, Paul challenges his readers to a life of good works. Are you flowing in good works? Are you seeking to serve? Are you striving to love those that the Lord brings to you on a daily basis? Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). When people observe your life they ought to say, “What shiny and delicious fruit! I’ve got to pluck a piece of that fruit and bite into it!”

 

Elsewhere the word for “fruit” (karpos) includes worship (Hebrews 13:15), giving money (Romans 15:28), and godly character (Galatians 5:22-23). As we contemplate how the Bible uses the term “fruit,” may I ask you several questions? Is your love for worshipping Jesus deepening? Do you look forward to attending church and being with God’s people, or would you rather be out of town, shopping, or watching sports? Do you offer God the fruit of your lips as you worship with His people (Hebrews 13:15)? What about giving? Rom 15 calls giving “fruit.” Giving is one of the greatest expressions of our worship. Jesus talked more about money than anything else. He devoted twice as many verses to money than to faith and prayer combined. He even had more to say about money than heaven and hell combined. Jesus spent a whopping 15% speaking about money.

 

If you are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, are you growing in this area of stewardship? What about the most obvious expression of fruit bearing—the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? Are you looking more and more like Jesus on a daily basis? If not, why not? As we will discover in Romans 8, God has predestined you to be “conformed to the image of His Son.” How are you cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in your life? Why not choose a particular fruit from the list of nine and cultivate this character quality? God wants us to bear fruit for His glory!

In 7:5 Paul contrasts our fruitful experience as believers with our unfruitful experience as unbelievers. He commonly reminds us that who we once were is no longer who we are. Paul writes, “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” In our old life, the Law was the means of arousing our sinful passions, and the members of our body were used to “bear fruit for death.” Consequently, we certainly bore fruit, but it was deadly fruit that led to a harvest of death! Well-meaning Christians often divulge how they formerly lived wicked and immoral lives, and one almost gets the impression that they feel they are missing out now. We must emphasize the death dealing consequences of our sin and avoid glorying in our past life apart from Christ.

 

Paul concludes this text in 7:6 by summarizing 7:1-5: “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” Thank God for 7:6! It means that 7:5 is not the end of the story. When we are utterly hopeless and helpless, God has a wonderful habit of butting in! Paul says, “But now.” Through Christ we are discharged from the Law, dead to that which held us captive.

 

Exercising faith in Jesus Christ as Savior is not a small matter. It is a gigantic leap from sin, death, and despair to life, newness, and power. When a person believes in Jesus Christ, he or she is taken out of this realm of sin, judgment, and Law, and is given the Holy Spirit. It is an entirely new realm, a realm “in Christ” and under grace. Where sin once abounded, now grace abounds all the more (cf. 5:20). We must grasp this fact. We have died to the Law; we are in the Spirit forever.

 

Let us make sure that we understand why and how we have been “released from the Law.”

(1) The why: We have been “released from the Law” as a result of Christ’s sinless life. Jesus “fulfilled the law” (Matt 5:17-18). He came “under the Law” (Gal 4:4). He kept the Mosaic Law in minute detail. He obeyed the Sabbath (but not additions to it). He kept its ritual, attended its festivals, and offered its sacrifices. He refused to criticize it when invited to. When He changed it (and He did) it was to move in the direction of a deeper and higher spirituality (Matt 5:21-48). Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly! He is the epitome of all that the Law was intended by God to be.

(2) The how: Since Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law, we are released from the Law the very moment we trust in Him. It is a matter of substitution. Instead of striving and straining to keep the Law perfectly, we choose to trust in the One who did keep it perfectly.

 

So how do we “serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter”? Paul makes it clear that the Law has been abrogated because it is too low a level for Christian spirituality. We should definitely read the Law, but when we read it, we must not say to ourselves, “How can I obey this?” Instead, we should talk to Jesus and say, “Lord, how do you want me to go beyond all this that I am reading about in the Law of Moses?” Jesus will answer and lead you through His Spirit (see 8:1-17). If we fall in love with Jesus and walk in the Spirit deliberately, we will fulfill the Law accidentally. We do not need to be “under” the letter; we can serve in the Spirit. Godliness comes indirectly by faith, by Jesus, by the Spirit. The Law cannot produce the righteousness we want; only a direct relationship with Jesus can. It is not that duty and obedience are not important. They are! It is just a matter of one’s focus and motivation.

 

What is the cure for seasickness?  “Don’t close your eyes; just look at the horizon.” As I began to look at the horizon and watch the setting sun, the sickness began to leave me and I was able to return to fishing.

What is your gaze fixed upon? My prayer is that it is fixed upon Jesus Christ alone. When we open our eyes to who Jesus is, we will experience true freedom and exhilaration. In the process, Jesus will also enable and empower us to live a victorious Christian life. Will you fall in love with Jesus and let Him live His life in and through you? Focus on the Ruler not the rules.