Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Romans 9 (Part 1)

Several people have asked me what I think about Romans nine, and if I would write a blog on it. I was happy to do that, of course, but I wasn't quite sure how to go about it. I'm much more used to writing about one particular point, and explain why I believe it is true, or how it cannot possible be true. Basically, I'm much more used to writing persuasive essays. To write about this whole chapter will require me to use a different method of writing.

For this blog, I'm not going to be trying to prove any points. I will not be putting forward a case, showing why it must be correct, and explaining why other ideas are mistaken. No. What I will be doing is just quoting the chapter, and writing about what it seems (to me) to be saying. If you disagree, that's fine. I'm just writing this an as answer to all those who wanted to know what I think about Romans nine. If you have a more particular discussion, IE "why do you think verse 9 means X instead of Y?" then ask me about it specifically, and I shall write you another blog!

Romans 9:

Introduction: love and concern for the unsaved of Israel

I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

This is the introduction to the chapter, and it puts forward a couple of points very strongly. One point is that Paul loves these people very much, and because they will not all be saved, he has great sorrow in his heart. The other point is that not all Israelites will be saved. The first point really gets my attention because it shows that Paul loved non-elect people. By human standards, it sometimes seems more intelligent not to love someone if that love will do them no good, and will only cause you grief. Now, some of the audience of this letter were probably Israelites. Israelites for centuries had considered themselves to be the chosen people of God, and considered that they would attain right standing before God by following the law that God had given them. The idea that they might be in some sort of danger, that Paul would be worried or grieved over them, was to them a radical concept!

Section 1: God chooses not according to the conditions people think He should, yet God is just. God, not you, is the One who saves. God also hardens. All this is according to His choice, His reasons, not yours.

But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.”That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”

Since the Jews consider themselves the Children of Promise, they are not worried that they might be in danger because, after all, God would not break a promise! Paul responds to that line of thinking by putting forward first that God's promises are indeed always true, and will always come to pass. However, Paul puts forward the idea that they are misunderstanding the promise: that the chosen people are not only who they though the chosen people were. The "children of promise" are not just the literal offspring of Abraham. Paul quotes some Old Testament Scripture to back up that point.

Then Paul takes them back in time. Back to the time when God was choosing the Israelites as His people. Was God's choose merely about lineage? Was it about attaining righteousness by works?

And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

Paul demonstrates clearly that first of all, it wasn't merely about lineage. Both Jacob and Esau were of the same line of descent. Both were "sons of Abraham," and yet not both of them were chosen to be the special people of the Lord. Paul then quotes Scripture to show that even before the children were born, God told Rebecca who He would choose. To make his point clear, he spells out twice the implication that one was not chosen over the other because of good deeds. God's choice was according to His own thoughts and purposes, and not according to the works of man. This would really have shaken up the Jews ideas: Paul has quoted verses that they all agree with, and shown that God does not choose people just because of lineage, or because of good works. Those ideals were what they had based their confidence on, and run their lives by! Needless to say, the readers probably would have had some sort of emotional reaction to these claims! The idea that they could have lived their whole life by the hebrew law, dedicated to God, making all the vows and sacrifices, and be tossed away like Esau - they probably thought "but that can't be right!"

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”

First Paul responds to the hypothetical question and gives the obvious answer that God is not, and could never be anything but perfectly good, pure, and just! That is the answer that the Jews were looking for, except they meant to use that answer to prove that God couldn't possibly choose people the way Paul said He did. Again Paul quotes Old Testament scripture to show that while God is holy, He also has the right to choose whoever He wants for whatever reason He wants. God in righteousness has no obligation to show mercy or compassion on anyone, and if He does, it is righteous and just that He should choose His own reasons and qualifications for picking people! God chooses not according to lineage or works, yet God is just. All this choosing is according to His choice, His reasons, not theirs!

So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

Going on with speaking of God's mercy, Paul points out that mercy does not rely on the person who wants mercy or strives for mercy, but on the one being asked for mercy. Even in human courts, we can see that anyone can ask for mercy, and anyone can try to bribe the judge or do whatever to obtain mercy, but it all depends on the judge. In the same way, salvation comes from God. God is the one who saves. We do not save ourselves. By using the word "mercy," Paul made it obvious to Israelites that they could not gain God's favor by good works. It is obvious because first of all if you need mercy, it shows that you are not already good enough in yourself. It's also obvious because mercy is something that never ever depends on you.

For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

After putting forward the idea that God has mercy on whomever He wills, Paul quotes a verse to put forward the corollary: God hardens whomever He wills. Still, this is in conjunction with the idea that there is no unrighteousness with God. God only hardens people's hearts justly. How is this particular situation just? That is another story, and since it's terrible off-topic, Paul never addresses it, but goes back to tie it in with his main point here: God, not you, is the One who saves and condemns. God chooses who to have mercy on, and who to harden, and still God is just. All this is according to His choice, His reasons, not yours.

Go to Part 2