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.

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