Summary of “DEATH IN THE CITY” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book Death in the City, Schaeffer accentuates six sobering observations.  First, the reason for why there’s death in the city is that we have turned away from our Reformation roots.  God has been discarded by not only our culture but also by many professed Christians. The propositional force and nature of the Scriptures is what has been abandoned and what we must return to in order for life to spring forth in said desolation.

Second, just as the God who is there exists, it follows biblically that He is both holy and gracious in revealing to us His propositional truth.  To neglect Him and thus His self-disclosure (which we have) is to fall into judgment.  Jeremiah  wept for the church and the culture.  We must also.  His message was one of truth and grace.  When said truth is trampled, judgment follows.  Nothing has changed.  To speak prophetically to our culture it will require us to preach the two sides of the same coin with humility and love.  That’s a tall task and one which God enables us to accomplish.

Hence, there must be a dual weeping, a knowing that preaching judgment is hard but indispensable.  For where false religion, adultery, extortion, lying, and the oppression of the poor by the powerful exist, there’s judgment.  We must call sin, sin; beware of our affluence and its trappings, and put our hope not in man’s power but God’s strength ultimately.  If we preach this way coupled with humility and love, then the world might start taking us seriously.  We’re truly in Jeremiah’s days.

Third, are we perturbed that the message of judgment is ever lingering before men but do we love God and people in such a way that we cry out with the truth compassionately?  Jeremiah did and his message of judgment on both great and small brought a price on his head.  The people wanted him dead.  Nothing’s changed, people want us dead as well.  Disdain for God’s word is ever real, nothing new and always our doom.  God help us in our weakness.

Fourth, in light of the aforesaid, persistent compassion is vital and yet costly.  Jeremiah illustrates the physical and psychological price that will be paid by those who follow in his footsteps.  Like Jeremiah we must:  a) preach the truth of judgment, b) recognize that our country is already under God’s judgment, c) practice the truth, d) know it will be costly, e) persevere doing the above regardless of the price.  When historically the church fails to do the above, defection is followed by destruction.

Fifth, the man without the Bible will be judged according to his own standards which he has broken.  The man with the Bible will be judged according to the light of Scripture which he has broken.  The fact is that all are under judgment.  But in Christ, God’s rescue is available and can be realized by the compassionate clear preaching of the Gospel.  We are debtors to the lost and often we don’t feel this.  God help us here.

Lastly, we must live as Christians before the lost.  This includes a life of dependent prayer to the God of Creation who is there.  He will hear the cry of our hearts and respond to believing supplication.  And when He is silent, we must continue to trust the Faithful One who is amazing.

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Summary of Chapter 4: FROM THE SIXTEENTH THROUGH THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES_Part 1

imagesThe sixteenth century saw primarily religious controversies within Christendom.  Protestants and Catholic controversies were over the Mass, indulgences, purgatory, the sufficiency of Scripture, etc.  The primary apologetical issue was the credibility of the Faith.

The seventeenth century saw much skepticism and religious indifferentism largely due to the Christian disunity.  The main apologetic focus (for Protestant and Catholic) was to show Christianity’s importance and relevance.

The eighteenth century manifested blatant attacks contra Christianity due to the Enlightenment’s appeal to the sciences in history to prove their case.  Hence, Christian’s apologetic focused on scientific historical evidences and also on the role of metaphysics in the debates.

THE PROTESTANT REFORMERS [Pp.113-116]

Martin Luther (A.D. 1483-1546) constructed no formal system of apologetics, although polemicized with the Jews.  Saw reason in two spheres.  The first sphere: reason is a a proper guide when used properly to sharpen man’s natural prudence and might even lead to a sort of civil righteousness.  In the second sphere: reason is incompetent and arrogant when concerned with divine things, it’s “the devils whore”.  Luther understood that reason prior to faith can only be used to raise objections and engender doubts.  But if it was submitted to faith, then reason was a useful handmaid to faith.  For Luther, the problem of faith and reason was not epistemological (i.e. how we know what we know), but rather soteriological (i.e., how one can be saved and know it).

Philipp Melanchthon (A.D. 1497-1560) was Martin Luther’s Systematizer.  In his Loci communes (A.D. 1521) he adopted a negative view of the autonomous use of reason and philosophy.  But philosophy was not only a great servant of the faith; it is also a propaedeutic device (I.e., preliminary instruction) for leading men to the gospel.

John Calvin (A.D. 1509-64) was the most systematic of the sixteenth century reformers.  In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (completed definitively, A.D. 1559), he saw several things:  First, by contemplating creation, man could arrive at the knowledge of God’s existence, wisdom, life, power, etc.  But man’s inherited depravity, unless aided by positive divine revelation, leads him only into idolatry.  Second, the witness of the Spirit is the primary and sufficient reason for admitting the origin of Scripture.

THE COUNTER REFORMATION AND BAROQUE SCHOLASTICISM [Pp.116-120]

Whereas those responding to Luther were mainly in Germany and the Low countries, Catholic apologetics in a more traditional style continued to be in Italy and Spain.

Gian Francesco Pico della Mirandola (D. 1533) in the footsteps of his uncle Giovanni inveighed the philosophical errors of the Epicurean Aristotelians.

St. Robert Bellarmine (A.D. 1542-1621) was an Italian Jesuit and the greatest Systematizer of Catholic polemics against the Protestants. He wrote Disputations Concerning the Controversies of the Christian Faith against the Heretics of this Age.

Cardinal Caesar Baronius wrote Ecclesiatical Annals, intended to offset the propagandistic of the Lutheran account of Church history.

Francisco Suarez s.j. (D. 1617) wrote on the motives of credibility, putting primary emphasis on the inner qualities of Christian doctrine, its purity, and its efficacy in leading men to a higher moral life.

FRANCE BEFORE 1650 [Pp.120-123]

The chief apologetical questions focused on the dangers and values of doubt, tolerance, and religious indifference.

Philip du Plessis-Mornay (A.D. 1549-1623) was the leading Protestant apologist and Hugenot of the sixteenth century.  In his treatise On the Truth of the Christian Religion, he specifically emphasizes as method; one must find common ground by arguing from principles that are accepted by your adversary.

Moise Amyrut a Hugenot author, wrote A Treatise Concerning Religions, in Refutation of the Opinion which Accounts All Indifferent (A.D. 1631).

Catholic apologetics after Montaigne combines skepticism and fideism to pave the way for faith by exposing the feebleness of reason.

J.F. Senault in his L’ Homme criminel (1644) grounds his apologetic from an anthropological stance and prepares the way for Pascal’s existential logic of the heart.

FRANCE IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY [Pp.123-133]

Blaise Pascal (A.D. 1623-62) after making breakthrough discoveries in mathematics and physics, he became convinced that the certainties of faith are unattainable, except to the heart that loves.  In his Pensées he covers many issues.  First, the psychological fabric of man mingled in a paradox of our pride and feebleness.  Second, he makes no effort to ground the faith metaphysically.

He thought even if one can prove God’s existence, all these arguments at best leads one to deism.  He instead proved the existence of God by referring to man’s unhappiness until he finds happiness in God (a la Augustine).

Third, Pascal makes an inventory of the various philosophies and religions, profoundly analyzes the relationships between faith and reason, and as Augustine, he finds a unity of the two in diversity.

Fourth, his biblical apologetic is profoundly Christocentric, arguing from miracles and prophecies.  For Pascal prophecies are the greatest proofs of Jesus Christ.  He also demonstrates a keen understanding of the human heart and a deep Christian spirituality in his apologetic.  His apologetic work outshines most in helping unbelievers come to the faith.

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (A.D. 1607-1704) in his Discourse on Universal History, he relies heavily on historical apologetics, specifically using prophecy.  He uses a more questionable approach were the desolation of the Jews is an apologetic strategy. He also impugns Protestants for their lack of unity and stability in his A History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches (1688) and concludes that Catholicism’s constancy in doctrine, is never contradictory, and thus built on the rock.

Pierre Daniel Huet (A.D. 1639-1721) was an erudite man who became Bishop of Avranches.  He wrote several philosophical works on faith and reason.  His major apologetical work,  A Demonstration of the Gospel to his Highness, the Dauphin.  He viewed that all the Biblical books were written at the times to which they are attributed to their commonly supposed authors.

Jacques Abbadie (A.D. 1654-1727) was a Hugenot pastor who wrote Treatise on the Truth of the Christian Religion, where he demonstrates extensively God’s existence, the necessity of religion, the truth of the Jewish religion, and the truth of the Christian religion.  He displays a defiant attitude toward all those who oppose Christianity in his Treatise on the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, especially towards Mohammedanism.

Reflections From 2 CHRONICLES: 19-20 “WHEN KINGS RULE WELL”

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          The ruled and those ruling have a long history.  Those oppressed by rulers groan, those with power too often wield it foolishly.  King Jehoshaphat instituted two reforms worthy of note and demonstrated one act of desperation as war was upon him.

First, the king appointed judges in all of the fortified cities of Judah.  He said:

“Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment. Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.” (19:6-7)

When kings rule well judges are appointed to represent God’s authority under which justice is administered.  A judge’s dealings are meticulously before God’s gaze and the corruption of justice will not go unpunished.  Only the fear of the LORD in these judges will assure they act justly, not wickedly.  Note they must be men who can’t be bought, who are not partial, and who do righteousness.

Today it’s no different.  Judges in power will give an account to God for how they have administered their sword of influence (lawyers too), for this power does not originate in man, but in the God of creation they are to mirror.  Yet, when there’s no fear of the LORD, justice is aborted and perverted, folly is exalted, and equity is deplored.  What an ominous thought.  Oh God! may the judges in this nation judge righteously, may those in the three branches of government tremble with the power bestowed on them, and may the righteous truly shine.

Second, Levites and priests were also appointed to judge in Israel.  The king warns these judges that the fear of the LORD, the law ordinances and statutes are to be faithfully upheld to avert God’s wrath and thus assure peace is in the land:

In Jerusalem also Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites and priests, and some of the heads of the fathers’ households of Israel, for the judgment of the Lord and to judge disputes among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Then he charged them saying, “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully and wholeheartedly. 10 Whenever any dispute comes to you from your brethren who live in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and ordinances, you shall warn them so that they may not be guilty before the Lord, and wrath may not come on you and your brethren. Thus you shall do and you will not be guilty. 11 Behold, Amariah the chief priest will be over you in all that pertains to the Lord, and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, in all that pertains to the king. Also the Levites shall be officers before you. Act resolutely, and the Lord be with the upright.”     (19:8-11)

The LORD is a God who loves justice to be done in the land and His people are to also love it.  When a king rules well his main concern—along with the securing of borders—is for justice to be executed in the land.  When this does not occur, the moral fabric of a people eventually deteriorates.  The reason I think is unfortunately quite simple—as the leadership of a home, city or nation goes, so too do those who follow.  People are deeply impacted in their behavior from what they see modeled more (it seems) from what they are “told to do”.

Third, when war was upon the king he cried out to the LORD God of his fathers:

“Now it came about after this that the sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon, together with some of the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and reported to Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, out of Moab and behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is Engedi).” Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the Lord; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the Lord.” (20:1-4)

His nation-wide fast and prayer is an illustration of desperation for divine aid that is utterly dependent on a positive response from God or else hope vanishes.  It is an act of desperate measure appropriate for the occasion.  The king rehearses in his prayer the covenant and its application of being in the land which was now being threatened.  The word of the prophet assured Jehoshaphat that the battle belongs to the LORD God.  The deliverance comes and worship is expressed led by the king:

They have lived in it, and have built You a sanctuary there for Your name, saying,‘Should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house) and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us.’ 10 Now behold, the sons of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom You did not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt (they turned aside from them and did not destroy them), 11 see how they are rewarding us by coming to drive us out from Your possession which You have given us as an inheritance. 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” 13 All Judah was standing before the Lord, with their infants, their wives and their children.  (20:8-13)

Often I feel utterly doomed with the lack of resources in my life (even though I live in America) be they physical or spiritual, and I have the occasion to seek Him through prayer and fasting.  May I seize those moments and not let them go to waste.

(SDG)

Summaries__CHAPTER 1: APOLOGETICS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT    [Pgs.1-21] 

 

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Apologetics and specifically apologists have had a bad rap among modern Christians for various reasons.  Some have been known to be arrogant, pushy, snobbish, graceless, prayer-less people who ironically have diluted the gospel message. But a few bad apples “don’t spoil the whole bunch”.  There have been many who have been faithful to the cause of Christ and the kingdom of God and have paid the price for it as a result.

The church has been graced with many apologists since the inception of the primitive church who were marked by: prayer, erudition, genius, talent, and true piety.  In this book Avery Dulles aims to reveal how the heroes from the past understood and lived out what it meant to fulfill the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15.

Although nothing “new” can be said, recurring issues from the past resurface with “new” garb, which at the core are the same old problems.  Dulles gives special attention to both Catholic and Protestant contributors.  This text is a historical must read for those would learn from those who have gone before us.          

APOLOGETIC MOTIFS IN THE EARLY TRADITION

Christianity was a message before being an apologetic.  Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, crucified, buried, and Risen from the dead was at the story’s core [pp.2-3].  The Earliest Preaching focused on Christ’s Lordship (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26); backed up the claims of his Messiahship through fulfilled prophecy (Ps.2:7-8; 110:1; Acts 2:26; Heb. 1:5; 5:5); emphasized his resurrection as the core of the apostolic proclamation (Dan.7:13; acts 2:25-28); and Jesus’ passion was seen as the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s account (Is.53):

Who has believed our message?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.  By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But he Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.  11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

APOLOGETIC DEVELOPMENT:  [Pgs.3-9]

The early believers confronted and answered their objectors with amazing precision, penetration and practicality.  One objection was explaining: “the Ascension of Christ—where is He now?”  He’s presently in heaven (Ps.16: 11; 110:1); he will return as the judge of the living and the dead (Acts 3:21); and his dominion is presently exercised through the Spirit’s outpouring (Acts 2:16-21).

When it came to the Passion of Christ, Jesus was seen to be cursed by God through the crucifixion (Dt.21:23), but this humiliation was part of God’s redemptive plan (Is. 52-53, see 53:5) in order to justify many from the curse of the Law through faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:10-14).  Moreover, the blindness of the Jews was predicted by the prophet (Is.9-10; Acts 28:26-27); and was caused by God even though God has not forgotten them (Rom.9-11).

Another issue that had to be addressed was the betrayal of Judas.  How could Jesus have miscalculated the treachery of this disciple?  This betrayal was also predicted in scripture (Jn.13:18; cf., Ps.41:9) and points to the sovereignty of God in all things even when our choices are significant and we’re culpable.

Then there’s the issue of Jesus’ Origin being from Nazareth.  He’s in the line of David (Ps.89:3-4; Jn.1:45-46; Mic.5:1; Mt.2:5; Jn.7:42) seen by his birthplace to be in Bethlehem.

Again, there’s the issue of Jesus’ Public Life: where he never claimed to be the Messiah.  Nevertheless, God pointed to Jesus as his beloved Son (Ps.2: 7; Is.42:1; Lk. 3:22; 9:35; Acts 10:38; 2 Pet.1:17); the writers of the New Testament later understood that Jesus’ Messiahship was to be secret (Mk.1:34; 3:12; 5:42) perhaps because the Jews could not conceive of the type of Messiah Jesus was, or maybe because of Jesus’ ambivalent attitude toward the messianic appellations, or possibly because their hearts were hardened (Mk.6:52; 8:17; Jer.5:21).

When it came to the Miracles of Jesus they had a specific purpose.  Miracles were aids to faith, evoking wonder and amazement; they are seen (especially in the casting out of demons) as Satan being overthrown by the inauguration of the Kingdom of God; and they authenticate Jesus’ message because they blend in with the Good news of salvation.

CHANGING CONTEXTS: ACTS, PAUL, AND HEBREWS [Pgs.9-13]

In The Book Acts [pp. 9-11] we see Stephens defense of Christ and the gospel (Acts 7) by pointing to Old Testament redemptive history, where God is to be sought through the prophets, who ultimately point to the exclusivity of Jesus as the only means of salvation (Is.6:9-10).  Then there’s Peter’s address to the uncircumcised (Acts 10) where he undergoes a major paradigm shift of who can be saved and explains that Jesus is the healer, wonder worker, and risen Lord from the dead.

We also observe the Gentile world addressed through the agency of Natural Theology employed by Paul (Acts11…).  This apostle is seen contradicting polytheism (14:15-17); on the Areopagus address to the Athenians (17:23) Paul confronts their worship, explains God’s necessity and his transcendence.  Moreover, because Paul knew their authorities he could speak more forcefully to the gospel truth of coming judgment and Christ’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul [Pgs.11-13]

This converted Pharisee who once persecuted the church was now its most influential spokesmen especially to the Gentile world.  When Paul addressed the Corinthian church he tackled the issue of Faith and Reason; refused to capitulate to their love of human wisdom (1 Cor.3: 6); would not ground his preaching on the hot philosophic views of the age, but instead rested his proclamation on the Spirit’s power so that their faith (the Corinthians) be not based on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

When Paul addressed the Romans, he focused on the hindrance to worship (Rom. 1).  This was the classic case against idolatry (vv18-23) that’s inexcusable, self-delusional, self-exalting, self-destructive, and is the reason for why God’s judgment obtains.

The Book of Hebrews [Pg.13]

We don’t really know who wrote the book of Hebrews but it’s the first apology to the Hebrew Christian Community where Christianity is seen as the perfect religion which eclipses the religion of Israel because of who Jesus of Nazareth is.  Here, the Old Covenant is compared to the New Covenant, Moses is compared to Jesus, the Levites are compared to Jesus’ Priesthood, the constant sacrifices are compared to Christ’s final sacrifice and Christ’s supremacy is placarded throughout the letter.

THE FOUR EVANGELISTS AS APOLOGISTS [Pgs.13-19]

The gospel accounts come from four different perspectives concerning the life and teachings of Christ.  At the core their message is identical, yet due to their audience, each biography has a different emphasis.   For example, Mark’s Gospel focuses on [p.14]; the edification of converts, the explanation for why Christianity began, the supply of preaching material for missionary preachers, an armory of apologetic arguments for Jewish and heathen opposition, with the view always to remember that Christ is risen indeed.

Matthew’s Gospel intentions [p.15] focused more on the believing community where apologetically the writer was concerned with fulfilled prophecy—as a summary of Jesus’ career (Is.14:1-4), with ecclesiastical hierarchy (Mt.16:19), with combating Rabbinic thought (Mt.23), and finally with unfolding the Passion narrative (Mt.27-28).

Luke-Acts intentions [Pgs.16-17] focused on demonstrating the accurate historical account of the life of Jesus (to know the truth of all Theophilus had heard (Lk.1:1-4), it was geared toward the Roman ruler it was focused on redemptive history, and the need to establish a harmonious relationship between the Church and the supreme secular powers.

John’s Gospel intentions [Pgs.17-19] are for people to come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the goal of which is eternal life.  This would be realized through; the Signs of the miracles, emphasis on Jesus as the Light of the world to a Hellenistic audience.  John’s aim in all of this is to sustain and intensify the life of believers.  As such, it has apologetic affinities.

CONCLUSION

The Resurrection of Jesus was indubitably the centerpiece of early Christian apostolic preaching.  Since the majority of audiences held the OT Scriptures as authoritative, it was the sacred text used apologetically to demonstrate Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and Redeemer of all mankind.  However, when ignorance of such literature obtained, preachers like Paul would employ natural theology to proclaim the Gospel.

This brief outline is packed with Gospel truth that you believer would do well to meditate on, understand and impart to those God has called you to disciple.

Reflections From ROMANS 16: “THE GOSPEL OF GOD BEARS THE FRUIT OF OBEDIENCE FOR HIS NAMES SAKE”

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            Paul in this chapter rounds off his Gospel opus by first acknowledging the Gentile and Jewish fruit borne by the power of the holy resurrected Lord (vv.1-16, 21-24), secondly by warning converts to turn away from those preaching a contrary Gospel to his (vv.17-20), and lastly by offering an amazing benediction (vv.25-27).

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.  Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, the approvedin Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 GreetRufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”

21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.  22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.  23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]

Paul begins by acknowledging the fruit the Gospel bore through mentioning the names of both Jewish and Gentile men and women, some prominent others common, but all participants in one way or another with their gifts and talents in the Gospel work (i.e., the obedience of faith).  These were committed to Paul through being committed to Christ.

What is apparent to me is that real, named people in space time history demonstrated in differing capacities the genuineness of their profession by how they lived.  This life was fueled by a love for God which sometimes led to peril and other times brought about pleasure.  But regardless, this was a faith demonstrated through words and deeds and was worthy to be praised and mentioned.

This Gospel touches real people who Paul called, “fellow workers”, “fellow prisoners”, “who risked their own necks”, “in the Lord”, “my first convert in Asia”, “a choice man in the Lord”, etc.  What an honor to be named in this list, to be mentioned in this letter.  Often in Scripture when people’s names are mentioned we see accentuated their dark side, their shameful acts.  But here what’s being accentuated is Gospel fruit…please don’t miss this friend.  In a day with twisted, anemic, impotent views of what it means to be a Christian, this text accentuates that to be a real believer Gospel fruit must be evident or one is not real, period!

Moreover, this Gospel which produces fruit in space time history issues from the God who is there, the God of the Gospel who while justly wrathful is nevertheless benevolently merciful to those who through the preached Gospel are called, chosen and elect (Rom.9-11).

17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Secondly, Paul urges believers to guard the truth of the Gospel and the church through guarding the Gospel they received.  This requires knowing it, loving it, being convinced of its veracity, being vigilant for false gospels which would try to subvert the real Gospel delivered to them through the prophets and the apostles.  They are to do this command by turning away from false teachings.

In other places Paul is seen arguing forcefully against those who teach a contrary Gospel (e.g., Acts, Galatians) but here he commands the Roman church to turn away, not even engage them in debate.  Is he contradicting himself?  In order for a contradiction to be in order, there would have to be a text that commands to always turn away and never debate concerning the message but there isn’t.  Instead, there’s a time and place for everything as evidenced in the life of Christ, Peter, Paul, etc.  There’s a time to engage false teaching (Acts 17, 1 Pet.3:15, Jude 3) and there’s a time to refrain (Mt.10:14; Mk.6:11; Lk.9:5).  Paul is not just confident that the Roman church will obey him, but he wants to assure them that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”.  That is, this present struggle has a definite end which God in his wise timing will bring about.

25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.

             Lastly, Paul offers a benediction which in my estimation is up there with texts like (Num.6; Heb.13; 1 Tim.1, etc,) and offers a prayer on behalf of the Roman believers that God establish them evidenced by their being led to live an obedient faith.  Paul’s Gospel delivered through preaching Christ Jesus which is the revelation of the mystery previously hidden but now revealed through the prophetic Scriptures which are sourced in the eternal self-existent God, has now been made known to all the nations (not just to Israel) for the purpose of bringing eternal glory to the only wise God, revealed to us through the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son, the 2nd person of the Triune God.

What Paul is accentuating is that God has spoken through this gospel whose authenticity is sourced in God, reveals God, and thus produces the life of God in those who claim to know God.  To Him, Be the glory forever.  Amen!

(SDG)

Summary of CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE GOD WHO IS VERY ANGRY [Pages 201-211]

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First, Carson opens the chapter by considering why talk about the wrath of God tends to make people so uncomfortable. In our culture according to Carson, “…it is hard to think about this topic because anger is often connected in the public mind with intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and bigotry”.  And yet, according to the “eternal gospel” in Revelation 14:6-7 the herald calls every nation, tribe, language and people to fear the God of all creation and give Him glory and worship for His judgment has come.  And the impending doom of paganism (e.g., Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great) is that of a “society that’s been set free of God is its own worst enemy”:

And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

Second, Carson considers how Revelation 4&5 unpack the gospel.  According to Carson, revelation 4-5 unpacks for us what the gospel is.  Chapter 4 reveals that God is the God of creation and the entire created order is dependent on Him to live move and have its being.  Chapter 5 reveals God’s purpose for judgment and blessing and only the Lion, who is the Lamb, can open the seals. 

 Third, Carson looks at the meaning of two agricultural metaphors found in Revelation 14:14-20.   The grain and the treading of the wine press are teaching about the final judgment. 

14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18 Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.”19 So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.

Grain Harvest means that a set time is coming when the harvest will happen, and there’s no escaping it.  It speaks of the goal of history, and end in sight, where time will be no more after the final judgment.

The Treading of the Wine Press means to emphasize the violent thoroughness of God’s wrath when it is finally poured out.  This imagery is horrific—it’s about the trampled blood of people by God’s thorough wrath.

 Fourth, Carson addresses the issue of manipulation when we talk about hell.    Many have charged that talking about hell is manipulative.  Carson rightly emphasizes that it’s not manipulative if it’s true.  After all, Jesus spoke of hell more than any other person in the Bible and he warned people of impending doom (Mt. 10:28).  However, if it were a lie, then it would be manipulative and the charge would be warranted. But, if it’s true, to not sound the alarm is vicious, cruel, and unloving.  Jesus warned people, we must also…but many times we have not.  That’s troubling!

When we preach about hell we want to be faithful to Christ’s attitude about it, not betray Him.  Moreover, we who have been pardoned by the sovereign grace of God through the Son were once under God s wrath.  We’re no better than any other person.  We are beggars/prisoners who know where to find bread, and who have received pardon.  Plain and simple!

Summary of CHAPTER TWELVE: THE GOD WHO GATHERS AND TRANSFORMS HIS PEOPLE [Pages 187-200]

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            In this chapter Carson first notes why scaling and measuring Christian commitment from nominalism to fanaticism is mischievous.  The reason is because the grace of God truly humbles us.  It is radically loving, forgiving, and generous.  That is because unlike other religions whose focus is on effort and moral improvement, such that the result is self-righteous, bigoted, over-confident, condescending people, Christianity is different when one is biblically faithful.

For Christianity underscores the fact of grace that transforms a Biblically faithful living out of the regenerated life where salvation is by grace, and is based on Christ’s work on our behalf, not on our own achievements.  This changes everything!  Even though true Christians have done awful things (e.g., Crusades, Slavery, etc.), it’s the very Christian message previously ignored that challenged and eventually toppled these enterprises.[1]  Christianity has often apologized for the Crusades but Islam has not.

Second, Carson considers the fact that something has to be ultimate.  If God is not ultimate then it will be the creature’s creation; be it the State, the Dictator, or any other idea. The reason for this is our “mannishness” which is designed to worship the Creator and when He is not then inevitably the image bearer concocts something to worship. 

            The gospel calls out people, gathers them together, and transforms them.  Thus, any so-called Christianity that does not incorporate the aforesaid reality into its vision, is not worthy of the name it carries.  For according to Ephesians 2:8-10 believers are saved by grace through faith in order to do the good works God prepared for them to walk in.  This means that new birth necessarily produces the fruit of the “new creation,” and while good works don’t secure our salvation, they attest to the genuineness of it.  Transformation must occur!

            Third, Carson considers whether or not one can be a biblically faithful Christian and separate themselves entirely from a local church.  He answers absolutely not and rightly so!  Consider Paul’s take in (Ephesians 2:11-22):

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

             The church is God’s household where we are being built up into a holy temple where Christ Jesus is the chief cornerstone.  In the Old Testament circumcision was the mark pointing to the one who belonged to the redeemed community.  In the New Testament baptism is the initiation one receives in order to join the ChurchThis is flows from the reality of new-birth in the early church.

In this community God speaks, sanctifies, transforms, and puts many into leadership positions.  The church is not a building, but rather the gathered people of God.  Thus, Biblically faithful churched people (while not perfectly) are the people of God who reflect His character among themselves and the world.

            Fourth, Carson speaks to the reasons for why Christians are moved to obey from a posture of gratitude for what Christ has done.    He points out that looking at things is utterly transforming because they force us to see that empty handed we came to the cross and filled with treasure we leave.  Where we once thirsted, now we are satisfied and this is apart from anything we do or bring, because it’s all based on what Christ has done and given to us—new creation! (Eph. 4:17-5:10)

            And while moral structures are definitely here, they are never nor ever can be the basis for gratitude when we see the gospel exemplified on Calvary’s cross.  We’ve been so deeply forgiven, how can we hold a grudge?  We’ve been given the Spirit securing our future inheritance how then can we be stingy and clinch to fleeting treasure? We are destined to be with Almighty God Forever!  Hence, everything changes!

            Fifth, Carson considers why greed is labeled idolatry.  The reason is because what you most want becomes your god.  It displaces God who is ultimate, it makes me long for that which is contingent, finite, and at the end of the day—what will fail me!  It’s the looking for our identity in someone or something other than God, that’s why it’s labeled greed.

            Sixth, Carson accentuates that for the Christian suffering is both a privilege and a sign of grace.  Suffering transforms our attitudes when we obey Jesus’ command to follow him, “take up your cross and follow me”.  This is stunning and too often utterly missed in the church.  Crucifixion was brutal, it was torture. (Mt. 16:24).  Death to self-interest is the point.  Though most of us will not be tortured for our faith, all of us face the issue of saying to God, “My will, not Yours’ be done, sorry–God”.  The scripture reveals that it’s been granted to us not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer on his behalf (Phil.1:29).

Both belief and suffering are equally gifts from God to us.  This is so counter-intuitive that unless it were so clear, I would today still miss it as I read these same words early in my Christianity and just glossed over them as impertinent to my situation.  Amy Carmichael and Jacob DeShazer have stories that depict a life of self-sacrifice where self-pity was not nurtured, but the transforming power that the gospel brings was exemplified.

            Seventh, Carson reflects on John Newton’s life and the lesson we can learn from him.  It goes something like, “that while I sin and do fall down, The Lord does lift me from the ground, And while I hate the sin I see, I’m not the man I used to be, For grace has given me new life, And when in death I close my eyes, Christ’s loving arms will be my prize.  That’s profound.

[1] I don’t think that all of the Crusaders were evil, but those who in their activity crossed the boundaries between what is clearly contra Christ’s teaching to hate what is evil and cling to that which is good.  See Rodney Starks book,  GOD’S BATTALIONS: The Case for the Crusades, © 2009 by Rodney Stark, Harper One, Harper Collins Publishing Company, New York, NY

Reflections From ROMANS 12:3-9 “TRUE LOVE IS TO MOVE OUR ACTIONS, NOT HYPOCRISY”

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            Acceptable worship before God comes from holy living and holy thinking.  Both the thought life and the life lived affect one another.  David in Psalm 51 after having repented for his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba said:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.  13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.” 

David understood that he would be able to impart God’s truth to sinners only after he was cleansed from sin, only after he was walking in holiness.  This aspect of the life of the mind and the heart is too easily dismissed by many and what results is a disjointed spirituality where the cognitive dissonance within paralyzes and distorts our living which does not glorify God.

Nevertheless, according to the Gospel and God’s activity believers are commanded now to live a certain way.  Paul’s command in (vv.1-2) gives the reason for why the following imperatives can be obeyed:

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” 

Paul again is addressing the thought life and demonstrates its’ power: that it can be used either for self- exaltation (haughtiness) or as a means to honor God through sound judgment (sobriety).  This phrase “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” seems to refer back to Paul’s warning to the Gentiles regarding their view of the Jews in chapter 11.  It could also mean that the gospel message should contour and color our thought patterns as we relate to one another in Christ’s body for our position in this body is by grace alone.

Another observation here is that God chooses the measure of faith bestowed.  Again this is a gift for the body of Christ, not self-promotion.  This gift has the goal of serving and strengthening the people of God, not self-exaltation.  Sound judgment here thus seems to indicate an awareness of the gifts God has given each one of us without apology and without a superiority or inferiority complex.  The reason is because these come to us through God’s tender mercies and grace which cause our souls to rejoice in Him!

Paul continues and explains his command in verse 3:

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

I think it’s important to note that Paul commands the church in his apostolic role with the grace God had given to him (12:3) and now we are to exercise whatever gift God has given to us with the same grace God gave to Paul.  All of these gifts have certain functions the other lacks and needs to optimally perform (e.g., analogy of the body of Christ is relevant here).  Sound judgment (v.3) here regulates their use beginning with the attitude that one gift is not more important than the other.  And from that, each gift is to function according to its capacity.  We have much to learn here in the body of Christ.

Too often people tend to pit one gift against another considering it “superior” to the next.  For example, consider the debate raging within Christendom for the last two millennia regarding “faith and reason/heart and head”.   A lot of this issue is deeply misunderstood and thus not properly explicated because people don’t do a good job of coming to terms.  Nevertheless, some view that what certainly matters to God is our faith/heart (and it certainly does), rather than our reason/head (which is a false dichotomy).

Plainly stated, “Theology” is for the scholar, but for most of us we just need “to love Jesus” and not worry about deep thought.  The first eleven chapters of Romans obliterates that position for this letter was written to the Church, not to the scholarly elite, the purpose of which through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,  (Rom.1:5).

How can we obey what is not understood or how can we understand this gospel without thinking deeply?  We can’t!  The fact remains that part of loving God with the entire being includes the use of our minds and Paul is bringing that application to the fore of his argument.

What about the Martha types?  These are the ones in the body of Christ that do much of the “grunt work”, underappreciated and overlooked, except when the toilets are plugged or the dishes need to be cleaned, or the food needs to be cooked and then served.  I think the point is clear: each gift has its proper function and need according to the need of the moment.

Paul continues this thought with a command to love in a certain way:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”    

How can love truly be love, if hypocrisy is attached to it?  Perhaps Paul means that when love is demonstrated it does abhor what is evil and clings to what is good.  Implied here is that love (if real) flows from the base of truth rather than merely from the whim of feeling or emotion.  Perhaps, un-hypocritical love deals with the following verses that allow love to perform or express itself not just in word but also in our actions.  Consider the following verses:

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Notice here that the call of the Christian is to a life of humble obedience to Christ which is revealed in how others are treated.  These constitute the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Perhaps that’s what Paul means about un-hypocritical love.  At the end of the day, this kind of love looks to the infinite God for the reward rather than to finite human beings for accolades.  It’s definitely the love Christ manifested to us when he walked among us.

Perhaps, Paul is also referring back to the use of God’s gifts which are to be exercised humbly knowing that they come from God for His purposes and ends not ours.  That truth should curb our sinful inclinations for self-exaltation rather than the edification of another.  (SDG)         

Summary of CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE GOD WHO DECLARES THE GUILTY JUST [Pages 169-185]

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In this chapter Carson tackles the issue of how and why God can and does declare the guilty just.  It’s largely Paul’s argument in Romans 1-11 and is perhaps the most misunderstood aspects of the gospel transculturally.

First, Carson explains why it’s impossible to be acquitted with justice on the ground of the good things we do.   The reason is because we are all law breakers: those with the Book, and those without the Book.  All of us have broken even our own lesser standards.  It’s ridiculous for the murderer to appeal to his “good deeds” before the judge after he in fact has been properly convicted of committing the crime.  How much more before the judge of Creation?!  And yet, people tend to flock to this absurdity when it comes to eternal matters.

Second, the main theme of Romans 1:18-3:20 is precisely how everyone is justly guilty before God.  All are under judgement; all are guilty, because they have denied God the Creator.  They have thus become fools and Paul reminds us that there are none righteous, none who understands, none who seeks God, none who does good, not even one—their deeds and words condemn them, none who fears God.  Humanity is the core of all the evil there is, for in wanting to go our own way we have all disowned the God who is there, The One, who has made us.

Third, Carson explains several ways in which the Old Testament anticipates the arrival of Jesus.  There’s the sacrificial system of the blood of bulls and goats which testify to what was to come in the new covenant.  Here the high priest came with sacrifices into the holiest place on the Day of Atonement—all pointing to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  Then, there are the Ten Commandments which anticipate a day when murder and adultery will not only be prohibited but unthinkable in the new heavens and new earth.  And there’s also the anticipated day from the law when the righteousness of God would be revealed in Christ. 

Fourth, Carson considers how God’s righteousness is available to all people without racial distinction but on the basis of faith.   The reason it’s good news for the above mentioned caption to be true is because all are guilty before God, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  All means everyone under heaven’s sky, on earth’s dirt and in the oceans water.  Carson then explains three terms related to our salvation in Christ.

There’s righteousness, which is achieved through Christ’s redemption.  This redemption involves buying back from the slave market one who is indebted to another and has absolutely no possible means to pay for the debt.  A redeemer is one who purchases the one in debt and delivers him and his family from slavery to another.  Biblically, Jesus justifies us freely through faith by the redemption of his blood.  Thus, believers are justified before the God of heaven!

Then there’s the act of propitiation.  Propitiation is that sacrificial act whereby God becomes favorably disposed to us.  He is set over against us in wrath, but now by the sacrificial act of His son, He has become favorable toward us.

Another term is expiation, which is the act whereby God wipes out sin from the board, sin here is cancelled.  The object of expiation is sin, while the object of propitiation is God.   The text says that God propitiated God through the sacrifice of His son.  This is mind boggling in light of the fact that in the pagan world those offering sacrifices for propitiation to the gods were the worshippers.  Not so in the Bible, God propitiates God.  Thus, turning away of God’s wrath and the cancelling of sin are achieved by both expiation and propitiation.

 Fifth, Carson explains what is meant when Paul says that in the cross God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.  God’s holiness must be maintained.  Therefore He must punish sin which He did through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  He maintained Justice!  God’s love has been demonstrated by paying for our sins on the cross. He displayed Love!  Unlike so many understand today, in the Bible faith is related to truth.  If it’s not true, it’s worthless.

In the Bible, Faith doesn’t mean that which makes you feel good and is not subject to verification.  Rather, it deals with that which is stated and argued as actually occurring in space-time history.  Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 15 where he affirms that if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead the first witnesses are all liars.  Again, if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead we are still in our sins.  Then if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead our faith is useless.  And that if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead we are to be pitied more than anyone else.  Our lives are a joke precisely because we consider that which is false to be true.

Conversely, if the resurrection is actually true, then all others rejecting the truth of these claims are sadly under the wrath of God and the “joke” is on them.  That’s sobering, sad, and must cause our hearts to live under God as we endeavor to shine in this world for Christ.

Reflections From ROMANS 11:13-36 “THE GENTILES ARE TO WALK IN HUMILITY BEFORE THE JEWS LEST THEY TOO BE CUT OFF”

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            Paul goes from explaining the Jewish hardening of heart to warning the Gentile Christians he’s been called to reach to walk humbly before the Jews and God:

13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.

             Here, the apostle seems to continue explaining the hardness of Israel’s heart with the goal to achieve Gentile salvation.  He now glory’s in his ministry to the Gentiles wanting to magnify or placard its’ preciousness so that some Jews may be stirred by jealousy and come to salvation in Christ.  The reason Paul thinks in this manner is because if their rejection (the Jews) or stupor lead to gentile salvation, which is glorious, then their acceptance (i.e., reconciliation to God) is gloriously being raised from the dead (metaphor for salvation).

That’s my understanding but now verse 16 is a bit tricky.  The metaphor of bread and trees that follow seems to explain that the fruit or result of good bread is holy dough, and the reason that branches are holy is because the root also is.  Paul seems to be telling his Gentile converts that they owe their relationship to Christ in large measure to what God did in and through Israel.  He continues this argument:

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

It seems that the apostle is arguing for the respect that is rightly due to Jews because of God’s choice to use them as a light to the nations through which Messiah would arrive.   Moreover, Paul here also appears to be accentuating that salvation is of the Jews (e.g., Jesus and the woman at the well) and as such a proper appreciation for them should in their lives.

Unfortunately, church history is riddled and loaded with Jews being mistreated by the Christian (Gentile) Church and much of it is based on the arrogance Paul here denounces.  This arrogance as is often the case is based on ignorance, not knowledge.  Why this attitude towards Jews?  Human nature is such that often when one is privileged and another is not, the fortunate person brags and “rubs into another’s nose” that fact.  Ill feelings often arise and alienation between people takes place.  But such an attitude has no place in the lives of God’s redeemed people.  Undoubtedly Gentiles must have been made to feel inferior to Jews who kept kosher food laws and celebrated the festivals.

Now Gentiles (and Paul knows it) are in a similar place being in Christ to think of themselves as better than their Jewish counterparts who are apparently “not chosen” which utterly misses Paul’s point.  He continues and says:

19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.”              

Unbelief, broken off, faith and conceited are terms that refer to what Paul has already explained in Romans.  It’s because of unbelief that both Jew and Gentile alike are under God’s just wrath.  Broken off seems to metaphorically refer to those relying on law keeping to attain righteousness.  Faith contrarily is trusting in Christ’s righteousness alone to secure our peace before God.  Conceited  are those who boast in anything other than in Christ’s cross.

Paul is warning the Gentile believers to consider Israel’s past (the good and the bad) and walk humbly before God for if they don’t, God will deal with them as he did with the Jews.  Contextually it seems that arrogance and conceit mark the Gentile believer (a bad sign) and may indeed prove they are not in fact part of the remnant (chosen by God) even as so many Jews proved not to be.

The reason I say this and don’t believe it’s talking about one losing their salvation is in light of God’s kindness and choice—which is utterly up to Him, never up to us.  Paul continues:

22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

There’s no letting up in Paul, we demonstrate with our living whether or not we trust God in Christ.  To continue in His kindness I take to mean that we trust in Christ’s work alone to secure our salvation, while unbelief is to rely on law-keeping to secure salvation—it’s the means to attain a righteousness that’s acceptable before God.  Yet, recall that the purpose of the Law was to utterly show how sinful sin is by shining its’ light on it.  The Law can never make anyone righteous before God because that’s not its’ design.  Only Christ can make the unrighteous righteous.

I want to briefly mention the idea of bread and the root from this chapter.  According to Jesus, the things written in the Old Testament were in one way or another pointing to Him.  We know first that the manna God fed Israel in the wilderness was from heaven.  Jesus said that he was the true bread which comes down from heaven, “I am the bread of life”.  In this chapter I can see Paul playing off this Hebraic motif of bread and holiness, both of which bring life, both of which point to the resurrected Christ.

Another popular Old Testament motif is that of the “root”. The root sustains the “Tree of life” in the Garden of Eden, and the root is also used to speak of the coming Messiah’s Davidic lineage originating from the “root of Jesse”.  The idea of root is tied to that which brings “life” originating from the Holy One Israel.  The Holy One sent Messiah to rescue dead sinners from wrath.  Both lump and root are holy for they come from the Holy One of and this holiness is required to see the LORD according to the Hebrews account.  What’s the fruit of this holiness?  Not pride, arrogance, or conceit (which is Paul’s warning to the Gentile believer) but humility and gratitude for God’s kindness.  Paul proceeds:

24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?      25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”         28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

            I want to work backwards here with Paul’s argument to see if I can get at his point.  First, I take “gifts” and “calling” of God here to mean those God has sovereignly chosen to rescue in accordance to His promise to Abraham that he would be the father of faith for a multitude (that’s a lot of souls).  God has kept His word to Abraham through Christ’s redemptive work.

Second, the sad reality in Paul’s day was that Jews who rejected Christ as Messiah were enemies of the gospel, but why for “your sake”?  Perhaps to make it clear to the Gentiles the kindness and severity of God, moreover to highlight God’s mercy toward them which should and does work holiness, humility and gratitude in the recipient of said favor, not pride, conceit or arrogance in the soul.

Third, Paul wants the Gentiles to see this in light of Israel’s partial hardening of heart.  That is, this partial hardening has a purpose in God’s salvific design which is to bring into the fold every Gentile whom God has chosen from eternity past.  The point seems to be so that Gentiles don’t think themselves more “special” than Israel and thus fall into conceit and pride.  God has allotted a time to everything under heaven—this includes the time of Israel’s rescue for his names sake.  I want to note here when the text says, “all Israel will be saved” contextually means those whom God has chosen, the remnant.

Fourth, Paul argues from the lesser to the greater.  The lesser here is the “wild olive branch” which is the Gentile grafted into the greater “cultivated tree” which is Israel.  The point here is that if Gentiles can be rescued while being strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, the fathers and the covenant, how much more does the same mercy obtain for the Jews?  Paul continues emphasizing God’s mercy:

30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

             Paul here hearkens back to Romans 1:18-20 where all are justly condemned for the purpose of showing His mercy to all.  The “all” again contextually I take to mean the called, the chosen, the elect both Jew and Gentile alike, not every human being that’s ever lived (which is universalism: a view of salvation fraught with contradictions).  And the jealousy motif earlier in verse (14) is connected to a means God uses in order to save both Jew and Gentile.  This motif of jealousy is clear in the book of Acts where Paul after repeatedly being rejected by the Jews with his message determines only to minister to the Gentiles.

Paul buttons off this long argument with a doxology.  Overwhelmed with God’s knowledge, power and wisdom, he declares what Job came to understand when confronted by the living God Himself:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

             God’s election, choice and mercy are grounded in His being which the creature can barely began figure out, only perhaps to scratch the surface.  Because of this Paul can only declare the utter greatness of God comparable to nothing created, and as such, His ways supersede our abilities to understand.  What God has however revealed, has made known to us, is that this Gospel is the fulfillment of what Isaiah 40:11 said: Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

Paul has argued for and laid out the Gospel indicatives (facts) that in Christ alone both Jew and Gentile alike are rescued from God’s just wrath through the righteousness of Jesus which is imputed to the believer (it’s an alien righteousness which is from God and never ourselves).  Now while this rescue is real it is nevertheless accompanied by a battle with sin which remains.  And lest anyone think they are something when they are nothing, Paul finishes accentuating God’s mercy with the emphasis on His being and attributes of knowledge and wisdom perhaps to aid the reader from pride and conceit.

The remainder of Romans will now focus on the Gospel imperatives (commands) which is the obedience of faith Paul mentioned in (1:5-6).