Last night we looked at a difficult and glorious passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters 9 through 11. Here are thoughts and notes:
As I studied this passage over the last month, I found that the key to understanding it was to remember the rest of the letter and the things Paul has already written to the Romans in chapters 1 through 8. Many of the concepts (especially in chapter 9) he’s working with have already been explained in the first eight chapters, and since this is a letter (which means Paul would have expected the Roman church to read it as a whole), we can assume that he expected us to keep the things he has already explained in our mind when we read this section. In other words, if I separate out these chapters and read them as if they stand alone, I run the risk of misunderstanding the points Paul wanted the church to get. (I find the chapters also appear much more troubling when read that way.) But no worries, we simply need to read these things with an attention to the things Paul’s actually written, and a heart to hear the voice of God in them, regardless of what He might say to us.
First, we need to see the back story to these chapters. Read Acts 13:46-47, 15:1-2, 21:17-28; and Romans 15:30. Paul had acquired a reputation for being anti-Jewish, even though he wasn’t. This really comes out in the first few verses of Romans 9. Second, we need to see where this discussion of Israel comes from, by seeing what he’s already written about Israel in Romans. See 1:1-4, 1:16, 2:10, 2:24, 2:28-29, 3:9, 3:19-24, 3:28-29, 4:13, 5:1. The upshot is that he’s been saying that simply being descended from Abraham doesn’t put someone in a right relationship with God. Neither does doing the works of the law. Everyone, Jew or Gentile, must believe in JEsus in order to be counted righteous.
9:1-6. Paul’s heart is broken, not cold. Israel has much blessing…but nothing God said (promised) has failed.
First problem: But why are so many lost in unbelief?
9:6-9. It has never been that anyone is “saved” by being physically related to Abraham. (This is the question he’s answering, so it must be what they would have asked.) Because, righteousness only comes by faith in Christ. (So “Israel” is the seed of Abraham who believe (see 4:11-12)). God never promised to eternally save all descendants of Abraham.
Second Problem: Israel seems to not be blessed by their own Messiah (as the OT said) (see ch 11…)
9:11-13. Who’s included in Israel? God decides. Just like always. And just like now: Who does he include? Those who believe in Christ.
9:14. Same idea as v. 6. Is God allowed to decide who he will bless? Must he bless all Jews (or, for us, all humans? Regardless of whether they believe in Christ or not?)
9:15. The point: God would be “unrighteous” if he was inconsistent with what He said. But God is consistent. He’s always shown mercy to who he wanted to.
9:16. You don’t earn or demand God’s mercy. (see 3:20, 27, 30; 4:2-5)
9:17. Ex: Pharaoh. God raised him to power for hi own purposes. [in other words: God raised up a non-believer to power to show His own power]
9:18. Is God obligated to show mercy to anyone? No! (see Gen 2:17, Rom 2:5)
9:19-21. …It is totally God’s prerogative.
9:22-24. “endured” Does this refer to God waiting …up to time of Christ? (3:25) …up to present day? (2 Pet 3:8-9) Either way, it comes out to this: If God wanted to allow sin to run rampant, people to be prepared for destruction, for long periods of time, and endure it so that He could save some, is He unrighteous?
9:1-23 Sum Up: If God has chosen to save only those Jews who trust in Christ, not those who work for it by keeping the law (ch 8-11) or all of them because they are related to Abraham (ch 9), that is his prerogative as God. He is not unjust, and he is not inconsistent, because he is not obligated to save all of any one bloodline, either Abraham’s bloodline, or Adam’s.
This is totally in line with the OT. Who said that God would do surprising things with who he called his people, and that He would actively save a small remnant of Israel.
Israel is like everyone else when it comes to salvation (10:12) They must believe (10:9). Whoever does not is lost.
10:6-8. The secret to obtaining righteousness is not an esoteric mystery.
10:9-10 …It’s the simple trust in the word of the Gospel.
10:14-21. They don’t need special insight, a bloodline, or work, just a preacher, and faith in what he says. Israel has that, and most of them have not believed.
11:1. God’s purpose, which he announced beforehand, is moving forward.
11:2-5. He’s keeping his promise to bless Israel by preserving a remnant (like always). [He’s not obligated to save all ethnic Israelites, but he did promise to bless and use Israel as a nation, and he’s doing it.]
11:6 … and it’s only grace, not works – the way God works.
11:7-10. But all who reject Christ have been judged.
11:11-15 … But, that rejection was not to destroy Israel, but to save the world.
11:16-24 …so Gentiles who are saved can’t be arrogant towards Israel…(11:18)
- Because your salvation is from them and depends on them (17-18)
- Because you, like them are only included by faith in God’s grace (20)
- Because they can still believe and be included
11:25-32 …and, the present state of things is temporary. Soon many Jews will believe.
11:33-35 Paul’s response to all this? Praise! God’s ways could not have been guessed at, but he has shown us that he has a better plan than we could have imagined. He glorifies himself, he shows mercy, people are saved by his grace. And all things return to the one who made them.