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.