Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Who Was Responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus?

Part 1 of No Greater Love

Text: John 19:1-16a




So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” (vv. 5-6a). 


Who Was Responsible?

If you do a Google search for “who was responsible for,” you’ll discover that people want to know who was responsible for various tragic events (e.g., responsibility for the September 11 attacks). 

Sometimes the answer isn’t completely clear (e.g., responsibility for World War I).

What about the crucifixion of Jesus? Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus? 


If They Had Only Known

Before we attempt to answer the question about who was responsible for the crucifixion, we should take some time to consider the flogging and mockery of Jesus by the Roman soldiers. Even before the crucifixion, he suffered greatly.
  • Jesus was “flogged” (v. 1). Sometimes the flogging was so severe that the victim’s entrails or bones became visible. What’s amazing is that some people thought that the flogging “was merciful because it so weakened the prisoner as to hasten his death on the cross.” [1] This speaks volumes about the awfulness of crucifixion. 
  • The Roman soldiers put a “crown of thorns” on his head (v. 2). They were making fun of the idea that this Jesus of Nazareth could be a king. 
  • They dressed him in “a purple robe” (v. 2). 
  • They said: “Hail, King of the Jews!” (v. 3). They were pretending to address him as the Roman Emperor: “Hail, Caesar!” 
  • They “struck him with their hands” (v. 3). 
If only those soldiers had known the true identity of Jesus!

Pilate made two statements about Jesus: “Behold the man!” (v. 5) and “Behold your King!” (v. 14). I think Pilate might have said these things to try to gain sympathy for Jesus (i.e., this man is no threat to anyone). What Pilate didn’t know was the Jesus is the man—God “made flesh” (John 1:14), the King of kings!

Perhaps these two statements that begin with “Behold” are meant to point us back to what John the Baptist said about Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29; cf. 36). Like one of the sacrificial lambs, Jesus would die for the sins of humanity.


What About Us?

Let’s get back to the question: Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus?
  • Was Pilate responsible? Pilate believed that Jesus wasn’t guilty of any crime: “I find no guilt in him” (vv. 4-6). But, in the end, he handed him over to be crucified (v. 16). Why? It was because of fear. Doing the right thing would have hurt him politically: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (v. 12). 
  • Was Judas responsible? Judas betrayed Jesus and delivered him into the hands of his enemies. Why? Maybe because of greed, though thirty pieces of silver wasn’t a life-changing amount of money. 
  • Was Caiaphas responsible? Jesus had said to Pilate, “He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (v. 11). He was probably talking about Caiaphas. He was the Jewish high priest, the head of the Sanhedrin. He and several other Jewish leaders were the ones who demanded that Jesus be crucified: “Crucify him, crucify him!” (v. 6). Why? Because of hatred. 
  • What about us? John Stott writes, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us…, we have to see it as something done by us….” [1] Jesus was crucified because of our sin. 

But There's More 

But we still haven’t completely answered the question  about the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus? [Read Isaiah 53:3-7, 10a.] Jesus was crucified because it was the plan of the Father. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isa. 53:10).
  • “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). 
  • “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). 
  • “God so love the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). 
  • “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). 
But Jesus wasn’t forced to die. Jesus was crucified because he laid down his life.
  • “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18; cf. v. 11). 
  • “Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’” (John 18:11).
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He laid down his life not only for us but also because of us. 
When we consider who he really is and what he did for us, how can we say no to Jesus?

____________________

[1] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (vol. 2), p. 1119.
[2] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 63.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Theology and Doxology

Part 7 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 11:25-36




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


THE SALVATION OF ISRAEL 

Paul has an intense desire that Israel be saved.
  • “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 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” (9:1-3). 
  • “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (10:1). 

In verse 25, Paul brings up a “mystery” about Israel: “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers…” (v. 25). In the NT, a “mystery” is truth that has previously been hidden but now revealed. So what’s this mystery? The mystery is this: “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. [1] And in this way all Israel will be saved” (vv. 25-26).
  • Who will be saved? The context makes it clear—in my opinion—that “all Israel” refers to the nation of Israel (as opposed to the “remnant”). Does “all Israel” mean every single Jew? No, but it does mean the majority of Jews. 
  • How will they be saved? Israel will be saved the same way everyone else is saved. There aren’t different ways to be saved. Jesus declared, “I am the way” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12). 
  • When will they be saved? Israel will be saved around the time of the second coming. “The Deliverer [i.e., Jesus] will come from Zion [2] [i.e., heaven], he will banish ungodliness from Jacob [i.e., Israel]” (v. 26; cf. Isa. 59:20-21). 

Is it really possible that “all Israel will be saved”? Doesn’t that seem unlikely? It does seem unlikely, but is it less likely than the resurrection of Jesus or his second coming? If we believe Jesus rose from the dead and that he is coming again, then we can believe that Israel will be saved.

Why does Paul use the word “now” in verse 32? “So they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.” If Israel will not be saved until around the time of the second coming, why does Paul say they “now receive mercy”? “The best explanation is that Paul wants to emphasize the imminence of Israel’s salvation. As the next item on the agenda of God’s plan, the return of Christ and the conversion of Israel can take place at any time.” [3]

What about “all” in verse 32? It means “all” without distinction—in other words, all kinds of people—not “all” without exception. This verse is not teaching universalism—the belief that everyone will eventually be saved.


DOXOLOGY 

[Read verses 33-36.] Is Paul expressing frustration in these verses? It’s true that there’s so much about God that we don’t understand: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).

Paul is not filled with frustration because of what he doesn’t know about God; he’s filled with praise because of what he does know about God. We can’t understand everything about God, but what we can understand should cause us to be amazed!

It’s not completely clear in the original Greek if Paul is referring to three or two of God’s attributes in verse 33. The ESV says, “Oh, the depth of the riches [i.e., riches of God’s kindness] and wisdom and knowledge of God!” The NIV says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” If the three-attribute translation is correct, then each of the three rhetorical questions in verses 34 and 35 can be seen as corresponding to one of these attributes.
  • Since God is infinite in knowledge, “who has known the mind of the Lord”? 
  • Since God is infinite in wisdom, “who has been his counselor”? 
  • Since God is infinite in riches, “who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid”? 

From him and through him and to him are all things” (v. 36). “God is the creator, sustainer and heir of everything, its source, means and goal.” [4]

Theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated. “To him be glory forever. Amen” (v. 36).
  • There should be no worship that is without truth. 
  • There should be no teaching or study of truth without worship. 

Learning about God should always lead to worship of God.

____________________

[1] “God has determined the number of Gentiles to be saved. Once that number is reached, Israel’s hardening comes to an end” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 377).
[2] Isaiah 59:20 actually says, “And a Redeemer will come to Zion.” “Zion” in this verse refers to Jerusalem. Jesus will come “from Zion”—the heavenly Jerusalem (see Heb. 12:22)—“to Zion”—the earthly Jerusalem.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 381.
[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 311.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Don't Distort the Grace of God!

Part 6 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 11:11-24




Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off (v. 22). 


SO WHAT? 

Romans 9-11 is about Israel. You might be wondering, “What does this have to do with us?” It actually has a lot to do with us!
  • If God has broken his promises to Israel, how can we trust God’s promises (e.g., the promises in Romans 8) to us (i.e., the church)? In Romans 9-11, Paul argues that “the word of God has failed” (9:6). God has not broken his promises to Israel, and he will not break his promises to us. 
  • In Romans 11, Paul warns that we could be “cut off” (v. 22) from “the olive tree” (v. 17)—a metaphor for the people of God—if we don’t continue believing. How should we understand this warning? 

KEEP THE FAITH! 

In verse 13, Paul speaks directly to Gentiles. The church in Rome was comprised of both Gentiles and Jews, and there was probably tension between the two groups. The Gentile believers needed to be careful about not having a distorted view of grace.
  • Grace doesn’t give us a reason to be arrogant about our salvation (vv. 17-20). 
  • Grace doesn’t give us a reason to be presumptuous about our salvation (vv. 21-23). 
Is the warning of verse 22 a pretend warning? No. Is there a contradiction between this warning and the promises concerning the eternal security of believers? No.

Part of the answer is that some people appear to be believers, but later reveal their true nature. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plan that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

The Bible teaches both the preservation of the believer and perseverance of the believer. “God infallibly saves, but we are fully responsible to respond to his grace in such a way that that infallible salvation does finally transpire” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, 375).
  • “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13). 
  • “…if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heart” (Col. 1:23a). 
  • “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labour would be in vain” (1 Thess. 3:5).

Monday, March 18, 2019

Let Grace Be Grace!

Part 5 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 11:1-10




So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (vv. 5-6). 


LET A COOKIE BE A COOKIE!

Sometimes my wife tries to make cookies with healthier ingredients. But how much can you change a cookie and it still be a cookie? To me, a cookie is supposed to be sweet. I say, “Let a cookie be a cookie!”

What a cookie is or isn’t is subjective. But to the apostle Paul, what grace is and isn’t is black and white. And the meaning of “grace” is incredibly important because over and over again in his letter to the Romans, Paul states that we are saved by grace.

If we are saved by grace, that means salvation is a gift. It’s undeserved. We aren’t saved by God’s grace plus our works. You can’t add works to grace, “otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (v. 6). Paul is saying, “Let grace be grace!”

How does the concept of grace make you feel? Should anyone—regardless of what they’ve done—be saved by grace? Does salvation by grace lead to a passive Christian life?


CHOSEN BY GRACE 

In chapter 10, Paul says that the Jews of his day had heard and understood the gospel, but most of them had rejected it. Now in chapter 11, Paul brings up the question “Has God rejected [i.e., given up on] his people [i.e., the Jews]?” (v. 1).

Paul’s answer is “No!” He says, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (v. 2). [1] To “foreknow” is to “chose ahead of time.” [2] Here Paul is talking about group election (i.e., election of the nation as a whole), not individual election.
“The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the faith of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all people, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut. 7:6-8). 
In Paul’s day, even though most Jews had rejected the gospel, there was a “remnant” within Israel that was saved. Paul writes, “At the present time there is a remnant” (v. 5)
  • There was a remnant in Paul’s day. Paul says, “I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (v. 1). 
  • There was also remnant in Elijah’s day. Elijah thought he was the only follower of God left in Israel, but God said to him, “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (v. 4; cf. 1 Kings 19:1-18). 
Paul says that the remnant in his day was “chosen by grace” (v. 5). This is individual election. They were not chosen “on the basis of works” (v. 6). If works had anything to do with it then “grace would no longer be grace” (v. 6).

Paul writes, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking” (v. 7). What was Israel seeking? The Jews were seeking justification (i.e., the acceptance of God). Paul says, “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (v. 7).


RESISTANCE TO GRACE 

Many people have a resistance to the concept of grace. We want to say, “I earned that.” Or, “I had a part in that.” That’s pride.

And to many religious, self-righteous people, it’s offensive that God would save “bad” people.

To accept the gospel requires humility. It requires us to admit, “There’s nothing I can do to make me acceptable in God’s sight.”


WHAT GRACE DOES 

Does grace lead to a passive life? If we’re saved by grace, can’t we say, “I’m saved by grace, so it doesn’t matter what I do”?

Think about Paul’s life. He says, “I am … unworthy to be an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). He realized that he was completely undeserving of salvation: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (v. 10).

How did grace affect Paul’s post-conversion life? He says, “[God’s] grace was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of [the other apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (v. 10).
____________________

[1] In the OT, “know” refers to something more than intellectual knowledge. In Amos 3:2, God says to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” And in Genesis 4:1, we read, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived.”
[2] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 354.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Can Anyone Be Saved?

Part 4 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 10:5-21




For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved?” (vv. 11-13). 


WHO CAN BE SAVED?

We have no greater need than the need to be saved.

Can only the elect be saved? Or can anyone be saved?

Yes. Only the elect can be saved, and anyone can be saved.


SALVATION IS ATTAINABLE BY FAITH 

Paul says there are two kinds of righteousness (i.e., two ways to pursue justification): (1) “the righteousness that is based on the law [i.e., obeying the OT commands]” (v. 5) and (2) “the righteousness based on faith [i.e., believing the gospel]” (v. 6).

There’s a contrast here between the law and the gospel.
  • The law is about doing (which basically sums up every religion other than Christianity). Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5: “the person who does the commandments shall live [1] by them” (v. 5). 
  • The gospel is about believing. [2]
In verses 6-10, Paul explains that “the righteousness based on faith” is attainable. Here he goes back to the book of Deuteronomy. [3]
  • The phrase “Do not say in your heart” (v. 6) is from Deuteronomy 9:4. The full verse says, “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land.’” This fits very well with what Paul has been saying about justification in Romans: I am not justified because of my righteousness
  • The rest of the quotes are from Deuteronomy 30. [Read Deuteronomy 30:11-14.] The people of Israel didn’t need to ascend into heaven or descend into the sea/abyss to get God’s law. God gave it to them. [4] And we don’t need to ascend into heaven “to bring Christ down” (v. 6) or descend into the abyss “to bring Christ up from the dead” (v. 7). God has already brought Christ down from heaven (i.e., the incarnation) and brought him up from the dead (i.e., the resurrection). 
  • Paul uses the words “mouth” and “heart” (found in Deuteronomy 30:14) to explain how a person can be saved: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 9). [5]
“The word of faith” (v. 8) [6]—the message that we must believe in order to be saved—consists of two parts: (1) “Jesus is Lord” (who he is) and (2) “God raised him from the dead” (what he’s done). 


SALVATION IS AVAILABLE TO ANYONE 

Who can put his or her faith in Christ and be saved? Paul says “everyone”! He quotes two OT verses to make this point:
  • Isaiah 28:16: “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame [i.e., condemned]” (v. 12). 
  • Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13). In Romans 10, “the LORD” is Jesus.” In Joel 2:32, “the Lord” is Yahweh. When the early Christians declared Jesus to be Lord, they were saying that Jesus is God. 
Many people believe that 1:16 is the key verse in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [i.e., Gentile].”


THE GOSPEL NEEDS TO BE HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD 

In verses 14-21, Paul writes that the gospel needs to be heard and understood. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (v. 17).

Did the Jews have an excuse for not being saved? No.
  • “Have they not heard?” (v. 18). Yes, they had heard.
  • “Did Israel not understand?” (v. 19). Yes, they did understand. The Gentiles were believing, so the Jews had not excuse. 

WHAT NOW? 

This passage tells us that we need to do two things.
  1. We must believe the gospel. 
  2. We must communicate the gospel. (Notice the great concern Paul has for the unsaved Jews in Romans 9-11.) [7]
____________________

[1]“Live” doesn’t mean “gain eternal life.” It means enjoying the kind of life God wants us to live.
[2] When we get to Romans 12, we will see that believing leads to doing.
[3] Romans 10, we find several OT quotations. Paul often quotes the OT in very creative ways—sometimes in such an unusual or unexpected way so that he’s accused of misapplying the OT. Paul’s quotations from Deuteronomy 30 are especially difficult to understand because Deuteronomy 30 is about the law, not the gospel.
[4] We shouldn’t think that the law was a bad thing. It was a gift from God to Israel, and God doesn’t give bad gifts. But the law wasn’t intended to justify a person (i.e., make a person perfectly righteous). A lawnmower is a good thing, but you don’t expect it to wash your car! That’s not a lawnmower’s intended purpose.
[5] Paul isn’t saying that verbal confession is a requirement for salvation in addition to faith.
[6] Paul also calls this “the gospel” (v. 16) and “the word of Christ” (v. 17).
[7] Before we communicate the gospel, we must pray. “Notice that because Paul believes the truth about God, and because he cares about those around him, he prays. Our prayer lives— whether we pray, and what we pray— tend to reveal what truly lies in our heads and hearts” (Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 for You, p. 65).

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

How Do I Know if I'm One of God's Elect?

Part 3 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 9:24-10:4




For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (10:4). 


ARE YOU ONE OF GOD’S ELECT? 

In Romans 9-11, the apostle Paul brings up the subject of divine election—a subject that today often leads to arguments among Christians. Divine election is the biblical doctrine that God, in eternity past, chose who would be saved.

My view on divine election is that it’s unconditional (i.e., not based on God knowing who would believe). What the Bible says about divine election and human freedom (i.e., our ability to make real choices) appears to be a contradiction. It’s a paradox.
  • Before creation God chose who would be saved. (Those whom God has chosen to save are “the elect.”) 
  • God word promises that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). 
People often wonder, How do I know if I’m one of God’s elect? It’s an important question!


VESSELS OF MERCY 

Paul describes those whom God has chosen to save as “vessels of mercy, which [God] beforehand prepared for glory” (9:23). The “vessels of mercy” include both Jews and Gentiles: “even us [i.e., Paul and the believers in Rome] whom [God] has called [i.e., called to salvation], not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (v. 24).

Then Paul fires off a series of OT quotations that speak of God showing mercy to both Jews and Gentiles.
  • “As indeed [God] says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people [i.e., the Gentiles] I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.”’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God”’ (vv. 25-26; cf. Hos. 1:10; 2:23). [1]
  • “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay’” (vv. 27-28; cf. Isa. 10:22-23). 
  • “And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah’” (v. 29; cf. Isa. 1:9). If it wasn’t for God’s mercy, all of Israel would have been destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 17). 

CHRIST IS THE END OF THE LAW 

In verses 30-33, Paul presents an irony: The Gentiles, who weren’t seeking righteousness (i.e., justification) had found it, and the Jews, who were seeking righteousness, had missed it. Why? Paul writes, “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (v. 32). The Jews had “stumbled over the stumbling stone” (v. 32).

The “stumbling stone” is Christ. Paul quotes Isaiah 28:6: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (v. 33). Because they were pursuing righteousness by works (i.e., obedience to the law), they didn’t see their need to trust in Christ.

“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (v. 4). What does Paul mean when he says that Christ is “the end of the law”?
  • “End” could mean “termination” (though we still have commands—“the law of Christ”—that we are to obey). 
  • “End” could mean “goal.” Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). 
  • It could be that both meanings are included in the word “end.” (My view.)
We could think of the “end” as being the finish line. Christ is the finish line. Everything in the OT points to him and our need of salvation. The Jews though thought that the finish line was the law. 

Paul has given two reasons why the majority of Jews in his day were not saved. 
  1. God had not chosen them to be saved (divine election). 
  2. They had rejected Christ (human freedom). 

HOW DO I KNOW? 

The apostle Peter writes, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). 
  • Make sure your trust is in Christ. Everyone who is justified will be glorified (Rom. 8:30). It’s not “Can I be justified?”; it’s “Will I be justified?” 
  • Show evidence of a changed heart.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Is God Unfair?

Part 2 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 9:14-23




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


DIVINE ELECTION 

In Romans 9, we come face to face with the doctrine of divine election. What is divine election? The word “election” means “choosing.” [1] And the word “divine” indicates that this choosing belongs to God. Divine election is the doctrine that God has chosen before creation who will be saved.

The big issue with divine election is whether it’s conditional (i.e., based on God’s foreknowledge of people’s faith) or unconditional. I believe that divine election is unconditional. Wayne Grudem writes that election “is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” [2]

In verses 14-23, the apostle Paul brings up the two most common questions people ask about unconditional election.
  1. “Is there injustice on God’s part?” (v. 14). 
  2. “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (v. 19). [3]
If unconditional election is true, is God unfair?


NO EASY ANSWERS 

Admittedly, the questions that Paul raises aren’t easy questions to answer. Divine election is a difficult doctrine. It’s not something we can completely understand (like the Trinity).
  • Before creation God chose who would be saved. 
  • God’s word promises that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). [4]
The fact that the Bible contains many paradoxes (like divine election and human responsibility) could be seen as evidence that it’s not a merely human book. (Who would make this up?)


PAUL’S ANSWERS 

How does Paul answer these two questions?
  • Question: “Is there injustice [i.e., unfairness] on God’s part?” (v. 14). Paul’s answer: “[God] has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (v. 18). [5]
  • Question: “Why does he still find fault?” (v. 19). Paul’s answer: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (v. 20). 
Basically, Paul is saying that God has the right to do what he wants, and who are we to accuse him of being unfair? Perhaps those aren’t the answers we’re looking for, but we must remember two things.
  • God will never act in a way that is contrary to his nature. If God is good and just, he is good and just in all that he does. 
  • Some of the questions we ask have answers we can’t understand. 
Lest we think that God is cold-hearted toward the non-elect or that he prevents the non-elect from being saved, listen to what God says in Ezekiel 33:11: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”


WHO AM I? 

Divine election isn’t in the Bible so that we can argue with one another about it. One reason why the Bible tells us about divine election is to produce humility in us.

Who am I that God would choose to save me? I am saved only because of his grace. Who am I that God would allow himself to be treated unfairly—betrayed, mocked, crucified—so that I could be saved?

And we are called to show this same kind of grace to others.

____________________

[1] To “elect” someone is to “choose” that person (e.g., electing a political candidate).
[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 670.
[3] The fact that Paul brings up these questions indicates that he’s talking about unconditional election, not conditional election (i.e., an election that is based on God’s foreknowledge of a person’s faith).
[4] The Bible doesn’t teach fatalism or that we’re like puppets/robots.
[5] Paul takes us back to the book of Exodus. In verse 15 he quotes Exodus 33:19. And in verse 17 he quotes Exodus 9:16. The book of Exodus tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3) and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34; 13:15).

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Can God Be Trusted?

Part 1 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 9:1-13




But it is not as though the word of God has failed (v. 6a). 


ROMANS 9-11 ISN’T EASY READING! 

We’ve now come to the most difficult section of Romans: chapters 9-11. Full disclosure: In these chapters, there are truths about God and his ways that I don’t completely understand.

At the end of chapter 11, the apostle Paul concludes this section with a doxology, which, in part, says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable [i.e., incomprehensible] his ways!” (v. 33). The KJV says that God’s ways are “past finding out.”

But, of course, the inability to understand something doesn’t make it untrue. For example, if a two-year-old child doesn’t understand how computers work, that doesn’t mean computers aren’t real.


ISRAEL’S UNBELIEF 

Paul writes, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (v. 2). Why? Because most Jews had rejected the gospel. And he says, “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” (v. 3). In other words, Paul is willing to go to hell instead of his fellow Jews who had rejected the gospel.

Paul lists several privileges that God had given to Israel (vv. 4-5). [1] And notice the last privilege he mentions: “from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” (v. 5). “The Christ” (i.e., the Messiah)—Jesus—was born a Jew. And what does Paul say about Jesus? He says he is “God over all” (v. 5).

When God—God the Son—took on humanity, he was born a Jew. But he was rejected by most Jews. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).


DID GOD BREAK HIS PROMISES? 

“Romans 9-11 is not about Israel—it is about God.” [2] Israel’s unbelief leads to a question about God. God had made many promises to the people of Israel. For example, God promised, “I will be their [i.e., Israel’s] God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). Who are the people of God today? The church, which is mostly made up of Gentiles.

Did God break his promises to Israel? And if God broke his promises to Israel, will he do the same to us? What about the promises in Romans 8? Can God be trusted? Here’s Paul’s answer: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed” (v. 6).

Paul writes, “For not all who are descended [physically] from Israel belong to [spiritual] Israel, and not all are [spiritual] children of Abraham because they are his [physical] offspring” (vv. 6-7). There are two Israels. There is a physical Israel, and there is a spiritual Israel (sometimes called a “remnant,” v. 27).

Did God break his promises to Israel? No. God never promised to save every physical descendant of Abraham.


DIVINE ELECTION 

Paul goes on to say that people are saved because of God’s choice (i.e., election). This choice is not based on any foreseen good of person chosen to be saved. Paul gives two examples of divine election from Israel’s history: (1) Isaac was chosen instead of Ishmael; (2) Jacob was chosen instead of Esau. [3]

Some Christians believe in unconditional election (i.e., an election not based on anything about us—our goodness, faith, etc.); others believe in in an election that is based on God’s knowledge of who would believe. (But if God’s election is based on foreseeing our decision to believe, is God really making a choice?) [4]

Divine election shows us that God deserves all the glory for our salvation. John Stott writes, “If we were responsible for our own salvation, either in whole or even in part, we would be justified in singing our own praises and blowing our own trumpet in heaven. [5] But such a thing is inconceivable.” Salvation is by God’s grace alone.

What about our faith—our decision to believe? Douglas Moo (a Calvinist—someone who believes in unconditional election) writes,
…faith cannot be omitted from the salvation equation. However much we may want to claim that salvation is based on God’s choice, we must also insist that the human decision is based on God’s choice, we must also insist that human decision to believe is also both real and critical. We are not puppets in God’s hands, passively moving as he directs. We are responsible human beings, called by God to exercise faith in his Son. The evidence of Scripture compels us to maintain a fine balance at this point. The Bible teaches in passages such as 9:6-13 that God is the one who ultimately determines, by his own free decision, who is to be saved. But it teaches that every human being is called upon to respond to God’s offer of salvation in faith. [6]
Stott says, “Many mysteries surround the doctrine of election, and theologians are unwise to systematize it in such a way that no puzzles, enigmas or loose ends are left.” [7]


DIVINE LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS 

Lest we get the impression that God is a cold Deity, that he just randomly chooses who will be saved (“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe….”), let’s consider how Jesus (God in human flesh) felt about Israel’s rejection of the Christ.
  • “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on the day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41-42a). 
  • “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37). (The fact that Jesus says, “You were not willing” implies that they could have been saved.) 

Paul says, “I would give up everything if Israel could be saved.” But that’s what Jesus actually did! A God who loves us this much will keep his promises. Our God can be trusted.

____________________

[1] Tim Keller points out that these privileges “should have prepared and pointed them to Christ” (Romans 8-16 for You, p. 49).
[2] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 291.
[3] “Loved” and hated” in verse 13 refer to actions, not emotions. God chose Jacob and rejected Esau.
[4] It’s argued that Paul is not talking about individual salvation here, but isn’t he answering the question of why most Jews (individuals) rejected the gospel?
[5] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 268.
[6] Moo, Romans, p. 307.
[7] Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 268.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

If God Is for Us, We Will Never Be Abandoned

Part 3 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:35-39




For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (vv. 38-39). 


TOGETHER FOREVER 

During a wedding ceremony, the couple is warned that bad circumstances might come, such as sickness and poverty. They might not “live happily ever after.” And they are asked to promise that they will stay together as husband and wife “until death do us part.”

I believe that 99.9% of brides and grooms are sincere when they make that promise. They truly believe that they can’t live without each other, that they’ll be together forever. But, sadly, less than 99.9% of marriages don’t last a lifetime.

Marriages end for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes a marriage ends simply because the couple falls out of love. They just don’t love each other the way they once did.

Will God ever stop loving us? Would God ever say, “I’m tired of [insert your name]. He/she is constantly falling short of my expectations. He/she will no longer be my child.” 


GOD’S LOVE IS REAL LOVE 

Love that is only an emotion is not real love. Real love causes a person to act. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). God’s love is more than an emotion. God’s love causes God to act.

  • “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). 
  • “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). 
  • “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). 
  • God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).
If you want to know what real love is, consider what God has done for us. To love is to give, to give help to those in need.


NOBODY AND NOTHING! 

Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” What’s the answer? Nobody! We can’t be separated from God’s love.

Nothing can undo what God has planned for every person who has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ.   God has given to us an unchangeable verdict: “There is…now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1; cf. vv. 33-34). God has given to us an unbreakable promise: Every person whom God justifies will be glorified (Rom. 8:30). Romans 8 begins with “no condemnation” and ends with “no separation.”

But what about when we experience “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (v. 35)? Does God use these things to show us that he doesn’t love us anymore? No. Most of these things Paul had already experienced in his own life. [Read 2 Corinthians 11:26-27; 12:10.] And his life would end by the “sword” (i.e., execution by beheading). Paul also quotes Psalm 44:22 (v. 36) to show that God’s people shouldn’t be surprised by suffering. Bad circumstances don’t tell us that God doesn’t love us anymore.

Paul says, “No, in all these things [i.e., all these bad things] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 27). We are “more than conquerors” because God can use the bad things in our lives to do something good for us.


CAN WE SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM GOD’S LOVE? 

But can we choose to separate ourselves from God’s love? What if “tribulation,” etc. causes us to renounce our faith?

Notice the phrase “anything else in all creation” (v. 39). “Paul is not only saying that Christ still loves believers when persecution arrives, although that is doubtless true. He is also saying that the love of Christ is so powerful that believers will not forsake him despite the sword, persecution, famine, and so on” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 466).

The process of Romans 8:29-30 is an unbreakable process.


WE ALSO OUGHT TO LOVE 

What kind of effect should God’s love have on us?

  • “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). 
  • “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). 
  • “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). 
  • “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ love the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). 
Love is more than an emotion. To love is to act. To love is to help. To love is to give. To love is to be faithful. To love is to be like God.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

If God Is for Us, We Will Never Be Condemned

Part 2 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:33-34




Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (vv. 33-34).


GOD IS FOR US! 

The apostle Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” There isn’t any uncertainty as to whether or not God is for us. “If” means “since”—“since God is for us, who can be against us?”

What does it mean for God to be “for” us? It means that God is on our side—we are his people, his children. “God is for us.” We can write our names in the verse: “God is for….”

Since God is on our side, it doesn’t matter who are enemies are. None of God’s plans for us will fail—especially his plan stated in verses 29-30!


JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH 

Paul has a lot to say about justification. To be “justified” means to be declared righteous (i.e., innocent). How can we be justified since “all have sinned” (3:23)? We are sinners by nature and by choice. [Read 3:23-25a.]

Our justification is by grace. It’s a gift received by faith in Christ. It’s undeserved. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).

It’s not “Look at me! Look at how good I am!” It’s “Look at God! Look at how gracious he is!”


NOBODY! 

Paul asks two questions in verses 33 and 34: (1) “Who shall [successfully] bring any charge against God’s elect?” (2) “Who is to condemn?” These are rhetorical questions. Paul isn’t seeking information; he’s making a point. The answer is nobody! 

Look at how Paul describes us in verse 33: “God’s elect.” This takes us back to verses 29 and 30. Every person whom God “foreknew” and “predestined” and “called” and “justified” will in the end be “glorified.”


IT IS GOD WHO JUSTIFIES; IT IS CHRIST JESUS WHO DIED

If God is for us, we will never be condemned. 

Paul says, “It is God who justifies.” He doesn’t focus on justification. Instead, he focuses on the God who justifies. There is no higher judge. There is no appeal that can overturn God’s verdict.

Then Paul writes, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (v. 34). It’s like Paul is piling on the reasons why we will never be condemned (“more than that”). Back in Romans 4:25, Paul said that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The very presence of Jesus in heaven assures us that all of our sin has been taken care of and we will never be condemned.


THE GOSPEL IS FOR EVERYONE 

The gospel—the message of justification by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ—is not just for those who have not yet believed. The gospel is for everyone. Believers need to hear the gospel.

Back in Romans 1:15, Paul writes, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Who is Paul writing to? A few verses earlier, he tells his readers, “Your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (v. 8). Paul is writing to people in Rome who are believers—people who have already heard and believed the gospel.

Why do believers need to hear the gospel? Because the gospel “is not just a call to initial saving faith but also a call to continue in a daily walk of faith” (ESV Study Bible).

Paul mentions suffering earlier in Romans 8: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v. 18). In times of suffering we need the gospel.

We need to remember that God loves us—he’s “for us” (v. 31), he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (v. 32). We need to remember that we will never be condemned because God—the one who loves us—is the one who justifies. We need to remember that God will never stop loving us. “[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).

This is what the gospel tells us—those of us who have already believed. The gospel gives us peace and strength during times of suffering. The gospel is for everyone.