Friday, February 8, 2008

Romans 9 Part 4

Verses 22-23 have as much controversy surrounding them as any other passage in the Bible. “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,”(NASB Ro. 9:22-23) Whenever someone points to others and says “What about them?”, we must turn it back and say, “What about them?” If God has, with great patience, prepared vessels of destruction to make his great mercy known to us, we should praise him for it. Does this not make our salvation even more precious? To say that the “enduring patience” Paul speaks of is God patiently waiting for those who call down wrath on themselves to repent is, again, bad hermeneutics. The participle here is unclear. It could be a causal force (“because he wanted...”) or a force of concession (“although he wanted...”) but the causal force seems to fit the context of verse 17 better. (Newman S. 188)

I do not know how Paul could make it any clearer. God does the choosing, not man. I came to this realization on my own as a young Christian. A man at my church asked me to a movie, and afterwards, we were walking through the mall and talking about the movie and the Bible. He asked me if I had read Romans 9. I told him I had and he asked me what I thought it meant. I will never forget my answer. As an immature Christian who had no idea what a Calvinist or an Arminian was, I answered honestly. I said, “I think it means what it says.” He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Good luck with that viewpoint.” I had no idea what he meant at the time, but over the years, I have been amazed by how people will try and explain away the simple meaning of a text when it does not line up with their presuppositions. I think when anyone will honestly and humbly consider the passage, this becomes clear.

In verse 23, Paul calls attention to who exactly the vessels of mercy are—those called from the Jews and the Gentiles. In His sovereignty, God chooses people from all nations. This is not at all what the Jews would have considered possible in their understanding of salvation. They thought they were chosen for salvation, and that they attained it by keeping the law. How wrong they turned out to be. Even though the Old Testament has much to say about this: “I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE” (NASB ROM 9:25), the Israelites did not seem to understand.

Paul gives numerous examples from the Old Testament showing that God has not changed. He has always dealt with sinful man the same way; He always will deal with sinful man the same way. Those in the Old Testament looked forward to the coming Messiah; we now look back to the finished work of the Christ.

In verse 30, Paul is summing up his argument against his fellow Israelites, once again telling them they are no different from the Gentiles. “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith” (NASB Ro. 9:30) Keeping the law does not save anyone; salvation comes by faith in God keeping the law for us. Israel wanted to do something to earn salvation, to get it on their own by keeping the law. Paul tells them the error of their ways and goes on in verse 32-33 to warn what will happen if men continue to try to reach God on their own. “Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, 'BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.'”(NASB Ro. 9:32-33) They will stumble over the stumbling stone. Why is this a stumbling stone? Because men think it too easy, the gospel is God doing the work for us. We tend to think we must do something. Paul makes it abundantly clear, if you try to do anything to contribute to your salvation, you will stumble.

Romans is Paul’s systematic theology. He begins by showing that no one is righteous, Jew or Gentile. All have sinned. All fall short of God’s glory. He goes so far as to say no one even seeks after God. Paul follows this up in chapter three with two little words that mean the world to sinful man: “but now.” With these words, Paul announces that, apart from the law, righteousness from God has come. He goes on to show that salvation in the Old Testament was by faith alone. Using Abraham as an example, he shows us that it is not by works, but by faith. Paul shows us in chapter six that we are free from the condemnation of the law through grace. In chapter seven, Paul uses himself as an example of how the believer will sin and do the very things he does not want to do, and not do what he should, but he follows that up in chapter eight with the promise of deliverance in Christ Jesus. He shows us how God will work in our lives to make His glory known and keep us safe until our sanctification is complete.

In chapter nine we have the culmination of this gospel that Paul proclaims. It is through God’s sovereignty that He brings people into his kingdom. It is a hard doctrine to accept, but we must believe, teach, and preach what the Bible says is true, not what we want the Bible to say is true.



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