Belief should impact behavior

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” These are some of the most important and strategic words ever penned in human history. They serve as a halftime address—a coach’s “chalk talk.” Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2 are capable of leading God’s people to victory. But please don’t let your familiarity with these verses lead to passivity. Study them anew and afresh. If you do, God will transform you from the inside out.

 

After devoting eleven chapters to heavy-duty theology, Paul transitions in chapter 12 from doctrine to duty, from creed to conduct, and from belief to behavior. He says, “In light of what God has done, here is how we should live.” To put it another way, the apostle encourages us to turn our theology into “walkology.” In other words, we are to live out our beliefs. Paul uses the imperative thirteen times in the first eleven chapters of Romans; he uses it eleven times in chapter 12 alone! In fact, this chapter has more commands in it than any other chapter of the New Testament. It is a chapter of action! Paul’s thesis is: Beliefs should impact behavior. In 12:1-2 he shares two appropriate responses to the theology of chapters 1-11.

 

  1. Present Your Body (12:1)

This verse is one of the most important in the entire Bible and contains more key theological terms and truths for its size than perhaps any other verse of Scripture. Verse 1 gives the “what” that we are to do in response to God. Paul opens this new unit with the word “Therefore” (oun). This important word begs the question: What is the word “therefore” there for? “Therefore” looks back to all the doctrine that Paul has covered in chapters 1-11. It is a “call to arms,” for the most important part of doctrine is the first two letters. Paul believes that you haven’t really learned the Word until you live the Word. How well have you learned the Word? Have you been applying the truths of Romans? When you study the Bible on your own, do you bring it to bear on your life? Are you just a hearer of the Word or are you a doer of the Word? Only when you become a doer of the Word, have you truly learned the Word.

 

Paul writes, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Instead of a command or a demand, Paul urges, or better yet, exhorts his readers (see NET). The verb parakaleo denotes a sense of urgency with a note of authority (cf. 12:8; 15:30; 16:17). This term was used in classical Greek of “exhorting troops who were about to go into battle.” What a great word picture of the Christian life where God is our general and we are enlisted in a spiritual battle. Although parakaleo is a strong word, it is worth noting that the noun form (paraklete) is used to describe the Holy Spirit who comforts, encourages, and exhorts. Paul functions as a Christian coach who challenges and encourages us to reach a particular goal. There is further tenderness in this appeal, for Paul speaks as a Christian brother to other Christian brothers and sisters. This is a family affair!

 

The apostle exhorts us to respond to “the mercies of God.” Although the key word of Romans 9-11 is mercy, Paul’s use of “mercies” refers back to 1:18-11:36. In 1:18-3:20 humankind is described as sinful and condemned. Yet, in 3:21-4:25 God showcases His mercy in the person and work of Christ by offering us salvation as a free gift. In 5:1-8:39 God’s mercy frees us from the law and empowers us to grow up in Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this section we also discover the blessings of full assurance and security in our relationship with God. This leads right into 9:1-11:36 where Paul informs us that God’s love for His people is unconditional. Is God merciful? You better believe it! God chose us, called us, saved us, released us, and will one day take us home to heaven. Indeed, God’s mercies are past finding out (11:33-36)! That is why I’m convinced that the best motivation to live for Christ is a good memory of all of the mercies He has blessed us with.

 

Admittedly, it can be difficult to always be cognizant of God’s mercies. I can often fall back into an unhealthy works-mentality. I can apply this orientation to my personal life, ministry, marriage, and children. When I adopt this faulty motivation, I often see results, but only for a few days. Long-lasting change only occurs when gratitude for God’s mercies is the chief motivation. The Bible’s way of preaching holiness begins by reminding Christians who they are, what they are, and what they have. Who are we? We are the children of God with all of the power of God working on our behalf? Where are we? We are in the kingdom of God and have died to the dominion of sin. What do we have? We have the Holy Spirit, we have Jesus’ intercession working for us, and we have the power of God ready to come to our aid. Hence, the best way to motivate people is to show them what God has done for them and let them rise to the challenge of responding to that love appropriately.

 

In response to God’s mercies, Paul challenges us “to present” (paristemi) our bodies. Although this exhortation is not an imperative, it should be understood as such (cf. 12:2). But please note that Paul does not say “yield” or “surrender” your bodies but “present” them. Yield and surrender are biblical terms, but they imply a measure of reluctance or hesitancy. Present, on the other hand, implies a glad, happy, willing offering of oneself. If I yield or surrender a gift to my wife, she will not be impressed by my efforts. Our presentation of our bodies to God as a sacrifice for His use, just like my presentation of a gift to my wife, is to be a joyous and spontaneous act.

 

God is not asking you to dedicate your gifts, abilities, money, time, ideas, creativity, or any such thing. He is asking you to sacrifice yourself. This is an appeal to those who have been set free by grace to live under grace by presenting all that they are to God. Incidentally, Paul uses the same verb “to present” (paristemi) in 14:10 where it means that one day you will “present” yourself before the judgment seat of Christ. If you faithfully “present” your body to Christ you will experience great reward at the bema. Beliefs should impact behavior.

Paul states that you are to present your body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.” The words “living,” “holy,” and “acceptable” all follow the noun “sacrifice.”

 

There are three qualities of our sacrifice:

(1) Living: In the Old Testament believers were called to “make” a sacrifice from a dead sacrifice. In the New Testament believers are called to “be” a sacrifice from a living sacrifice. The point is: God wants you to live to die. Most believers could take a bullet for Christ in a moment of courage, but every believer struggles to die to self and live for Christ on a daily basis.

(2) Holy: We are to be wholly dedicated, “set apart” from the world and belonging to God. The term speaks of being fully abandoned to God. This means that as individual Christians and as a corporate church, we must do all that we can to ensure that holiness is promoted. That is why we must exercise church discipline. That is why we must speak the truth in love. That is why we must disciple new believers. We are commanded to be holy as God is holy.

 

(3) Acceptable: The term “acceptable” builds on the Old and New Testament concept of the sacrifice as pleasing God. When you present your body as a sacrifice that is living and holy God is pleased.

 

Paul states that when you present your body as a sacrifice you have fulfilled your “spiritual service of worship.” The Greek adjective translated “spiritual” is logikos, from which we derive the English word logical.”  Logikos pertains to reason or the mind, and therefore does not really mean “spiritual.” It is better translated “reasonable” or “rational” (see the NASB marginal note, NET, KJV, NKJV). I think what Paul is saying is: “If you consider all that God has done for you—a sinful being—the only reasonable response is to offer Him your life” (cf. 6:1-3, 15-16). After all, this is the only logical response! Why would freed slaves continue to serve their old master? Presenting your body to serve the interests of your new Master, on the other hand, is completely logical—very much in keeping with good sense. A response of sacrificial worship expresses a heart of gratitude. It puts feet to our faith. Beliefs should impact behavior.

 

Do you know what an Indian Giver is?

Similarly, perhaps you’ve offered your body to Christ. You’ve declared that you will honor God with your body. But then you found yourself in a compromising situation. Your hormones screamed to be satisfied, and you obliged. Maybe you promised God that you would not get involved in one more dead end relationship, but then you became lonely and someone swept you off your feet. Perhaps you assured God that you would honor Him with ethical behavior at work, but then your boss offered you a promotion if you would just compromise yourself a bit. I can assure you that God doesn’t like being “pranked.” He may have a sense of humor, but He’s not laughing when you break promises with your body. Rather, He would say, “You’ve been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

So how can you present your body as a sacrifice?

  • Resolve to make worship a priority. Worship is a Monday through Saturday lifestyle that doesn’t have to end on Sunday afternoon. Throughout the week you should worship the Lord and have your own private worship services. Determine todayto present yourself as a sacrifice. Don’t put off this logical decision. Every morning declare, “Dear God, because of Jesus, I am Yours.”

 

  • Seek out ministry opportunities. Do some chores, run an errand, lend a hand. Take the extra time to make a visit. Pick up the phone and check on someone who is going through a struggle. Volunteer to help on a project that will show God’s grace to someone else. Look for ways to demonstrate your love for the Lord in practical ways. Why? Martin Luther once said, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The busier you are, the less likely you will be to give into your illegitimate bodily urges.

 

  • Commit yourself to physical exercise. Discipleship demands discipline. If you want to “present” your body, you need to subdue it. Most godly people who I respect are committed to physical exercise (e.g., walking, hiking, weightlifting, athletics). God wants all of you! This shouldn’t scare you because if you let God have your life He can do more with it than you can.

[In 12:1 we have the “what” of the command (“present your body as a sacrifice”), and in 12:2 we have the “how” we are to respond to God.”]

  1. Renew Your Mind (12:2)

Presentable bodies come from changed minds because the mind controls the body. Verse 2 gives the means by which we can carry out the sweeping exhortation of 12:1. There are two commands, one negative one positive. In 12:2a Paul continues his thought from 12:1 by using the word “and”: “And do not be conformed to this world.” The term “conformed” (suschematizo) literally means to be molded or stamped according to a pattern. The verb is passive, implying that if you don’t actively and intentionally resist this age, you will be conformed. As the Phillips translation reads: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” Paul’s use of “world” is not a reference to planet earth, but rather to the world system (lit. aion = “age”). Being conformed to this age refers to having the same type of thinking as this age.

 

The world’s philosophy is pretty simple: If you want something, go get it (partners, possessions, and power). People are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them. Public opinion defines truth … popularity is more important than holiness. Faith and everyday living are unrelated. Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences. You are the center of your universe; don’t let anyone push you around! Our world also screams tolerance (religions are the same; accept and affirm same sex marriage) and truth is not absolute (what’s good for you is good for you). You must not be shaped by these influences. You must fight against the tide of sin, self, and Satan.

How much television do you watch in the course of a week?

How many movies do you watch in the course of a year?

What type of music do you listen to?

What magazines, books, and websites do you read?

How much time are you devoting to social networking?

Who are your friends? What type of influence do they have on you?

What are your hobbies? How do you spend your discretionary time?

Even though Paul is writing to the church, we are a group of individuals. These verses are speaking specifically to YOU. Will one diseased fish affect the whole tank? Will one mad cow infect the whole herd? Will one person conformed to the world have an effect on our church? YES! Hence, I dare you to be different. Stand up for Christ. Don’t go with the flow; go against the grain. Rebel against the status quo—become a disciple of Christ. Your life will be an adventure. Beliefs should impact behavior.

Turning from the negative to the positive, Paul goes on to say, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The term “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphoo, which forms the root for the English word “metamorphosis.” When a tadpole is changed into a frog or when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, we speak of it as a metamorphosis. That is what God wants for each of His children. At what stage are you in this Christian transformation? Are you staying in the larva stage? Caterpillar? Baby butterfly? Full-grown butterfly? Where are you on the conformity to Christ growth chart?

 

There are three critical observations related to the verb metamorphoo:

(1) Paul uses the present tense: this is not an “on again, off again” transformation, but a continuous one.

(2) The verb is passive, the implication being that the catalyst in the transformation is God.

(3) The verb is imperative, indicating that we do indeed have a responsibility.

The Spirit “changes” us and enables us to offer ourselves completely to God. This takes place in the mind, which is renewed or changed (lit. “made new again and again”) by the Holy Spirit. Before you were saved, you were so accustomed to sin that you wore a groove into your heart and mind, like a river cutting a gorge through rock. What you now need to do is make some new grooves. That’s why Paul says you must be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

So how can you renew your mind?

  • Saturate yourself in godly thinking. Read God’s Word. But it is really more than just reading. It is a matter of absorbing and interacting with God’s Word. When we read the Bible we must constantly be asking ourselves, “What does this mean for my daily life.” Saturating ourselves in godly thinking also means exposing ourselves to godly writers, teachers, and influences. We need to meet regularly with friends who share our commitment to Christ. We must work to expand our thinking so that we are not just one-dimensional believers.

 

  • Memorize Scripture. But you may object, “Memorization has never come easily for me.” “I’m too old; my mind left me a long time.” For what it’s worth, you can memorize Scripture. The great men and women I know who have been successful at this discipline have merely read various sections of Scripture over and over and the memorization took care of itself. You don’t need a Navigator’s Scripture Memory System. Just read and meditate on Scripture and watch how God hides it in your heart.

 

  • Slow down. It has been said that Americans have three idols: Size, Noise, and Speed! Worship runs in the opposite direction. It reminds us of our littleness. It reminds us to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10ESV). It reminds us that we need to wait upon the Lord. Today would you begin the discipline of renewing your mind by getting away from the hustle, bustle, and distraction of life? Turn off the TV, turn off the radio, turn off your cell phone, shut down your computer, and hear from God.

 

Paul concludes that you are to present your body and renew your mind so that you may “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The key word is “prove” (doximazo). Notice, Paul doesn’t speak of “finding” or “discovering” God’s will. He says that you can “prove” God’s will. However, the apostle is not dealing with questions such as: Should I get married? Where should I go to college? Should I buy a new house? Should I move to Longview or to Gladewater? These questions are important, but they are secondary when it comes to God’s will. The “will of God” here deals with obedience to His general will. As you obey God’s revealed will, He may well unveil His specific will for your life. But if you refuse to obey His explicit moral will, there’s no point praying for God to reveal His specific, individual will for your life. If you obey the clear injunctions of this text, God’s will “finds” you!

 

God wants your body and your mind; He wants all of you. Is there anything or anyone that you are withholding from God? Is your marriage and family yielded to Him? Is your vocation His? What about your finances or hobbies? Will you present yourself to Him today and every day hereafter? If you will, your life will never be the same.

 

It is likely that when you were growing up you used to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. The pledge is a reminder that you are a citizen of the United States. Romans 12:1-2 is the Christian Pledge of Allegiance. It serves as a reminder that you are a citizen of heaven.You belong to heaven. Will you worship the Lord today by pledging your allegiance to Him?

 

 

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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?

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.