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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « We all wear glasses | Main | Why Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel Produce So Many Calvinists »

    Seven Questions

    Romans 9: 1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

    The Context of Romans 9

    Two things are clearly evident. Firstly, Paul is a Jew and it grieves him tremendously that his fellow Jews (as a whole) failed to recognize Messiah when He came.

    Secondly, the theme of God’s righteousness is central to Paul (see Romans 1:16, 17; 3:21-27; 5:17-21; 8:4) and so he understands that God’s very integrity is on the line if in fact there are all the many promises given to Israel, yet in the end, none of them are fulfilled.

    “What is at stake ultimately in these chapters is not the fate of Israel; that is penultimate. Ultimately God’s own trustworthiness is at stake. And if God’s word of promise cannot be trusted to stand forever, then all our faith is vain.” – Dr. John Piper

    After the crescendo of revelation in Romans 8, Paul now attempts to deal with an objection that he knows would be mounted against all he has communicated so far, namely, “If it is impossible for the people of God to be separated from God’s love (the point being made in the preceeding verses), why is it that most of the Jews now stand in just such a condition?”

    Most of Israel did not embrace Jesus as Messiah. As such, there is no salvation for them. Paul desires this with a fervent passion (Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.) But it still needs to be explained why a nation who are His special chosen ones, with so many unique privileges (v. 4, 5), failed to recognize their long awaited Messiah.

    How can this be possible? It seems outrageous that such a scenario could happen. Therefore, the Apostle Paul is doing what he knows must be done – defend the integrity of God and His promise.

    That’s why all the opening verses of Romans 9 which show God's special relationship with Israel and the unique privileges they enjoyed are merely a prelude to address this central issue in the sixth verse, namely how could it be possible that Israel failed to embrace Messiah. The logical question to be asked is "Did God's promises to Israel fail in any way?"

    Paul wants to answer that question with a resounding "no!" and he wants to explain WHY this is the case and does so, starting with verse 6.

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

    God's word has not failed. Yet on what basis can Paul declare such a thing?

    The answer is that when God made His promises to Israel, God defined Israel as not merely those of a certain physical descent, but a chosen group of people amongst that rank. This is the Israel to whom the promises were made. Therefore, understanding this, God's word to "Israel" has not failed in any way at all - all the true Israel will inherit the promise.

    Lets read verse 6 again to make sure we grasp this:

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

    It has always been this way!

    Having made this declaration, Paul then seeks to show that this is not some new doctrine he has come up with out of nowhere. This is not new in any way at all. In fact, this concept lies at the very heart of Israel's history and identity.

    To prove this, he gives two Biblical examples. These are particularly striking in that Paul does not reference something obscure and unfamiliar in Israelite history but cites the very patriarchal fathers themselves. In other words, this concept can be traced all the way back to the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to deny it, would be to run roughshod over Israel's very identity in the purposes of God.

    Firstly, though both Ishmael and Isaac were the physical children of Abraham, only Isaac was chosen to be the heir of the promise:

    7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

    The second example given is Isaac's twin sons, Jacob and Esau. We could not be given a clearer illustration to demonstrate the fact that physical descent is not the basis for God's choice. Here we have two brothers who shared the same womb, and yet one was chosen and the other was not.

    10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

    14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

    For the sake of time, let me focus on verse 13 and its context and ask seven questions:

    (1) Some seek to find refuge from the obvious by saying that the two twins (Jacob and Esau) became nations, so the verse is talking about national rather than individual election. However, though it is certainly true that the two brothers did become nations, that fact is not mentioned in the passage whatsoever. The text simply talks of two twin brothers and of God's electing purpose for each of them before they were born.

    Furthermore, every nation is made up of individuals, and so the concept of Sovereign election is still in place and unavoidable (if God chose one nation and not another). Isn't that right?

    (2) Verse 11 says, "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls..."

    Election is unconditional - "not because of works" - yet isn't it true to say that every non Reformed approach to the passage makes election entirely based on works - the future actions/decisions of man?

    .. and if it is true, as some say, that God's choice of one twin over the other was based on what He foresaw would be their future actions, why did God not say this (this passage would have been THE place to say it more than anywhere in the Bible) and how is it that this concept is never mentioned in the Bible - not even once?

    (3) Following on from question 2, if election is based on what God foresaw of man's actions, why on earth would verse 14 ask the question it does? It would make no sense to ask about God's fairness IF in fact, God was totally "fair" in electing based on man's choice. In other words, verse 14 is only a logical question to ask IF in fact, Paul was seeking to teach that God's electing grace is Sovereign and unconditional, without a view to the actions of man (past, present or future).

    If someone looks at the passage honestly, isn't this conclusion unavoidable?

    (4) If words mean anything at all, isn't it also unavoidable to conclude that God had a different measure of love for one of the twins rather than the other?

    (5) However we define the word "hated," doesn't this one verse alone compel us to forsake the idea that God has the exact same measure of love for all people?

    (6) Some react to this by saying "I could never love a God like that. My God loves everyone the same way." Yet if this IS the word of the only God that is, isn't it true to say that such a person, will have to one day stand before the God who inspired Romans 9, and not some made up "god" of the imagination?

    (7) Isn't it better to accept and embrace God's clear revelation of Himself, on His terms, rather than spend a lifetime fighting and railing against the God of Romans 9?

    "19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?


    - JS

    Posted by John Samson on May 24, 2012 09:36 AM

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