WHAT’S SO “GOOD” ABOUT GOOD FRIDAY? Perspectives on the Work of Christ

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What’s so good about Good Friday?  This question deals with what Jesus of Nazareth accomplished over 2000 thousand years ago on Calvary’s bloody cross.  On that hill far away, the Son of righteousness fully satisfied God’s justice and love.  Since its inception, the Church has celebrated the grueling, horrific death of an innocent man who by virtue of his ontological status (His nature as the God/Man) secured rescue from God’s just white hot wrath toward rebels born of Adam.

But how can this be good?  One could argue, and many have, that this act was unjust, cruel, and an act of child abuse (i.e., the heavenly Father sent his one unique Son to die for those who hate God).  Who would ever treat their own sons and daughters in such a way by ordaining them to be brutally murdered by the Jews and the Romans on Calvary’s cross?

God did.  He’s the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who makes covenant with His chosen ones and does nothing wrong.  He’s the God who sets the standards of what is true, beautiful and good.  He’s the God of creation who spoke the worlds into existence out of nothing, sustains its order, and is taking history into a glorious reality never before known or imagined.  To read the full article, click on What’s so good about Good Friday?

Chapter 2 Summary: The Patristic Era_Part 4_THE LATIN APOLOGISTS OF THE THIRD CENTURY [pp.38-45]

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After considering some of our Eastern Apologetic Fathers, a look at some of the Latin apologists reveal men who were very practical most likely because most of them were converted Lawyers.  Among them was Marcus Minicius Felix [p.39-40] who was well versed in classical philosophy, letters and expresses himself in a pleasant Ciceronian manner.  There are more prominent ones, which we will consider.

Perhaps the most famous of these men is Tertullian a prominent speaker for the Carthaginian Church at the beginning of the 2nd century.  He was converted about (AD 193) and wrote profusely in defense of Catholicism until his lapse into Montanism (AD 207).  He was a skilled lawyer in the practice of the Roman courts.  [Pp.40-43]

The Apology (AD 197) is perhaps his finest work where he employs his juridical skills to defend Christianity raising questions like: “Why are Christians exclusively convicted for their name without a trial?”  In it he also notes how absurd charges brought against Christians of infanticide, sexual promiscuity, and atheism, issues of which he refutes with wit and sarcasm.  After refuting the charges that Christians are evil, he proceeds to demonstrate their goodness.

This book is the most powerful and moving of its kind, it throbs with a fierce love of truth and virtue, it’s filled with intensely passionate and searing argumentation that’s biting and clearly this African raised the Roman court to new heights of eloquence.

In his work Prescription of Heretics reveals his forensic talents, arguing that Christ gave over His revelation to the Church so that it may be taught by its authorized spokesmen.   For Tertullian getting at the truth equaled being at a Church that could claim to have continuity with the Apostles.  Heretics are not entitled to appeal to Scripture, because those were given to the Church.  This shows that he was a Papist whose hermeneutics were exclusive.

Concerning the issue of Faith and Reason he viewed the latter as foe not a friend because he wanted to liberate Christianity of the straightjacket of all metaphysical systems whenever God’s revelation was in danger of being trumped by human speculation.

This stalwart of the Faith is to be highly commended for his faithfulness to his convictions and the Church.  Agree or disagree with his ecclesiology, Tertullian is a serious thinker worthy to be read.

Cyprian of Carthage was its Bishop who wrote several works: [pp.43-45]  On the Vanity of Idols (247) where he seeks to apologetically demonstrate that idols are not divine, and that there is only one God; On the Unity of the Catholic Church (251) which is pastoral in its tone and directed against schism, not unbelief.  Here he mentions the moral miracle of the Church’s universality, it’s inner cohesion and marvelous fecundity.  In his Testimonies are three books which best typify the literature of the early Church.

The Writers of the 3rd Century were exceptional, energetic and talented.  Their focus and genius was on the practical rather than on the speculative aspects of apologetics.  This again is instructive for too often the apologetics being practiced don’t aim at winning the affections, but purely the intellect.  To make Disciples of Christ we are called to do both [P.45].

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)

Reflections From ROMANS 15: “THE WEAK AND STRONG OUGHT TO LIVE FOR THE EDIFICATION OF THE OTHER”

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             Paul continues his thought from the previous chapter regarding the strong and the weak who are both accepted by God and therefore are to accept one another on issues not central to the Gospel (e.g., eating meat vs. vegetables) specifically addressed to the Jewish and Gentile believer.  We obey this command in obedience to (Rom.12:1-2) where our living holy is made possible by God’s mercies toward us.  Thus Paul commands:

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”

So then, Paul exhorts the strong to live for the good of their weaker brother and not just live for themselves which he grounds on the example of what Christ previously accomplished.  Here, the apostle quotes Psalm 69:7-9 which reads:

Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; dishonor has covered my face. I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother’s sons.  For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

The context of this psalm depicts in large measure Christ, the Son of God, the Most High, bearing the insults of friends and neighbors, relatives and siblings because of who he was and what he said.  This suffering he endured for God’s sake, so in the same way we are to emulate Jesus if we truly are the strong.  We ought to live in an understanding way with our weaker brothers who unjustly judge us and simultaneously think they are more acceptable before God than we.  We are to do this for God’s sake so that we may build up the body of Christ.

This depicts what it means for us to pick-up the cross, deny ourselves and follow Christ.  This is real suffering (Mt.5:10-12) and part of kingdom living.   To spur us on in the command he says:

“ For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

             Paul is reminding the reader here to consider the word of God and its content and to understand that its purpose is to edify us through hardship so that hope may arise.  Hope is a Scriptural word denoting a confident expectation of what God has spoken will come to pass.  He is the God who is present to meet our every need which includes the turmoil experienced by the soul when we are unjustly treated.  Christ knows this well by personal experience and will shepherd us safely through the storm.  Paul continues:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,

Instead of discord, Paul exhorts the reader to “grow-up” already and be of the same mind (i.e., I take to mean on things that are not essential to the gospel, don’t divide but rather build up one another, accept each other because God has accepted both weak and strong).  The purpose here is God’s glory.  Paul continues his point in verse 9-13:

and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Your name.” 10 Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” 12 Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.” 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

             Paul now will switch his focus from giving commands to appealing to his apostolic authority as the means of grace through which God enabled him to preach this gospel which demands the abovementioned directives for the edification of the church:

14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”      

             Paul now backs his apostolic authority by appealing to the Gentile fruit produced through the word preached evidenced in their obedience of faith (i.e., in word and deed, they talked and the talk and walked the walk) because of the power of the Holy Spirit in the gospel proclamation.  This proclamation left no stone unturned:

17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand.”

             Paul rounds off this section of biography with a plea for intercessory prayer that struggles on his behalf so that the enemies of the gospel may not subvert his service in Jerusalem and so that he may arrive in Rome in order to be refreshed and filled with joy by the saints there:

22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.  30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

             Paul cared for not only the spiritual needs of the saints but also for their daily sustenance evidenced in his ministerial fruit from Macedonia and Achaia.  These Gentile believers emulated their example who was Paul, the former enemy of the gospel and now its’ greatest proponent.  Amazing!

(SDG)

Summary of CHAPTER FOURTEEN: THE GOD WHO TRIUMPHS [Pages 213-224]

 

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In this final chapter, Carson first explains what it means “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also” from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.6:21).  He explains that it means we are to choose our treasure, not guard our hearts. Here Jesus presupposes that our hearts will follow our treasure.

The term heart is that aspect of our being created in God’s image that contains what we think, cherish, and who we are.  It’s not merely our emotions.  The heart is that apparatus of the soul where we eat, drink, breath, sleep and dream of (x).

Our imagination lingers on those things we treasure most.  Unfortunately, good things become bad things when they keep our appetites only on the present state of affairs, at the expense of the new heaven/earth that are forthcoming.  This however does not happen in places like the Sudan/China where persecuted believers await the deliverance from said evils.

Moreover, unlike the Greek dualism of salvation—consisting of the flight of the soul from the earthly and transitory to the spiritual and eternal, the Biblical view is where—man is always placed on a redeemed earth, not a heavenly realm removed from earthly existence.[i]  The future of this earthly existence is specifically described in the book of Revelation.

Second, Carson explains the forthcoming New Jerusalem.  When the scriptures describe the New Jerusalem being built like a cube, we must understand that its’ symbol laden.  The only place a cube is found in all of scripture is the tabernacle—the Most Holy Place. This is where the Ark of the Covenant lay, the place of meeting with God—on the Day of Atonement.  This was the place where God manifested his glory when the blood of sacrifice was poured on it.

The New Jerusalem, the entire city is a cube which is a way of saying that we will forever be in the presence of God.  We will no longer need a mediating priest, neither a blood sacrifice, equivalent when the veil was rent in two after the crucifixion.  So not only is it described as a cube, but it’s also described in terms of negation—what is not there.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev.3-4)

Carson is of the view that the reason we speak of the New Jerusalem in terms of negation rather than in a positive description is because it’s easier to describe it negatively in light of the effects of the fall in our lives.  The negative description assures us there will be the absence of: tears, pain, mourning, death and nothing bad.  The positive side is incalculable pleasure.  We have yet to experience anything like this!

There are also many things missing from this city: the temple, sun and moon, impurity.  The reason for the temple missing is because God Himself will be there.  Here the heart of God is revealed for in a real sense we’re in His heart!

The sun and moon are lights no longer needed in light of Gods glory and the Lamb our lamp.  The ancients were given structured times through these two lights.  Moreover, they experienced much danger when night came—hence cities were closed at night for safety.  Thus when it comes to this city there will be no more danger, curse, sin or rebellion because God is in the midst.  Thus, an immaculate perfect moral state will obtain.  Such a thought is utterly foreign to any of our references to life.  And yet, an absolute God-centeredness will be the norm because that is the way it should be. This means that the culture in the new heavens and new earth will be infused with absolute shalom—whose measureless source is the God of heaven and earth.

When it comes to the best feature of the New Jerusalem, is the its’ peacefulness.  This peaceful habitation of the lion and the lamb will be amazing.  It’s the unfettered, unhindered beatific vision that will be most joyfully glorious.  It is the contemplation of the manifold perfections of our spectacular, unimaginable God.  Here, we see face to face and live for our sins have “been burned away”.

Third, Carson explains what means to live now in light of the new heaven and the new earth.  He points to the need that we understand that all I have is Christ; to live is Christ and to die is gain; God alone is our true heart’s desire; it is truly making it our aim to: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and you’re your strength. 

Friend, are you ready for the new heaven and the new earth?  I’d like to say yes honestly and truly.  I fear that this world and the cares of this life want to drag me down so often.  I want to be more vigilant, resting in His grace that empowers me to say no to ungodliness and embrace the holiness purchased for me to walk in by Christ’s blood.  Lord, help me thirst for the new heaven and earth and help me be the light that I am.  (SDG)

[i] Mounce, The Book of Revelation, NICNT, pg. 368, © 1977 Eerdmans Publishing House]

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)         

Reflections From ROMANS 12:1-2 “GOD’S MERCIES GROUNDS HOLY LIVING & HOLY THINKING”

book-of-romans

In this chapter Paul makes an inference to the previous chapter specifically (“therefore”) and I think generally to the entirety of the book going back to Romans 1:1 where God chose Paul to be an apostle of the Gospel of Christ.  Paul starts with:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Many years ago I practiced praying these texts over myself and others.  They were and still are “go-to-prayers” for power to walk with God.  Paul now makes a break in this letter that can be missed but hurts the readers understanding when it occurs.

In his letters, Paul has a habit of going from the indicative to the imperative which means that he explains the revelation of the gospel first (indicative=facts) and secondly he gives the implications of the gospel (imperative=command) where believers are to live in accordance to that message.

A quick recap of Romans up to this point will be helpful.  Chapter 1&2 shows Paul being eager to preach the Gospel of Christ (God’s Son) because both Jew and Gentile are under God’s just wrath (1:1-2:29).  In chapter’s 3&4 Paul argues that the true Jew is not the one circumcised in the flesh but the one who has Abraham’s faith.  In chapter 5 the two Adam’s are compared where the 1st one brought death resulting from his rebellion, and the 2nd Adam (Christ) through his obedience and death brought life.

Then in chapter 6 we see that believers are dead to sin but alive to God because of Christ’s resurrection, yet in chapter 7 Paul considers the battle of sin within believers still fight, a battle that Christ alone can/does help us win.  In chapter 8 Paul then assures believers that in spite of this battle with sin, God’s condemnation passes over them—working in them to be more like Christ.

Finally, in chapters 9-11 Paul argues for the election of both Jew and Gentile alike (9), that this salvation and election is accomplished through the preached word of God (10), and finally that God has not rejected Israel, but has a plan for them to also be rescued (11).  The bow around these three chapters is the grandeur of God’s being which includes His wisdom and knowledge which are unsearchable.  The proper response to all of this is doxology—praise, worship and adoration.

It’s these gospel truths to which Paul is inferring when he now commands believers to live a certain way.  Here’s a powerful lesson in the proper use of authority to bless people rather than manipulating and controlling them for selfish means.  Paul grounds his “urging” or “appeal” on God’s mercies to vessels of mercy, which formerly were objects of wrath, to live and to think in a certain way.

Both living and thinking are to be impacted by Christ’s Gospel already revealed in this letter.  This mystery revealed must now be evidenced in how believers relate to each other and to the observant world (both enemies and the state.)  Unlike Monists who deny the reality of the physical realm by denying real distinctions and claiming they are mere illusion, or those who claim that the body is bad and the spirit is good (thus what one does in the body is inconsequential), the Gospel of Christ says no!  God says that, “My people are to be holy as I Am holy”:

 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”       

The sacrifices offered on the altar in the Old Testament, for example, were dead so they could not feel any pain of being burnt.  But here “somewhat like the Master” on Calvary’s cross, his followers are expected to in one degree or another suffer.  Minimally, when we are tempted to misuse our bodies (as in chapter 1:18-32 with illicit sexual acts) and we don’t succumb to it, we truly suffer hardship because of our love for God.  This is evidenced not only through a chaste life, but also by denying homosexual tendencies overall.

But our bodies also are involved with other degrading passions such as gossip with the tongue, murder with our hands, etc.  Our bodies house our soul and while they are decaying these bodies will one day be resurrected to immortality.   For Paul, the body is the tool believers are to use to honor God, but it’s just not our bodies, it’s also our minds which engage this worship:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”   

             Here, Paul not only affirms our bodies but also our minds (i.e., not the brain which is physical, but the mind which is an immaterial substance) as the means to worship God.  These two are gifts from God and should be used in accordance to their design.  An atheistic worldview denies any such notion of immateriality or spirit, this is called physicalism.  But according to God’s revelation such a view is an example of “suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness”.  The point here is that our thinking in light of the gospel must be disciplined so that foreign ideas to it are not adopted and thus dishonor God.  Instead, our thought life is to align with God’s thoughts as revealed in this letter of Romans.

One thing is certain in light of election (Chapters 9-11) all human pride is crushed, boasting before God is eliminated because only sovereign grace can rescue anyone from God’s wrath.  This means that any “works of the Law” righteousness people rely on in order to be acceptable before God will utterly disappoint because that foundation of “sand” can’t save from Holy wrath, but actually assures it on the participant.

Note that to prove or to know God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will our thinking must change, it must be transformed from the way this present evil age thinks.  The application here is massive.  The point is that our bodies and minds, what makes us image bearers, are included in the true worship of God (see Mt.22:34-40).  Thus, how we think and how we live demonstrates our understanding of reality in light of the gospel of Christ.  LORD, have mercy on us!  (SDG)          

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

ROMANS

            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).

Reflections From ROMANS 11:1-12 “THE REMNANT IS ACCORDING TO GOD’S CHOICE, NOT OURS”

book-of-romans

            In this section of Romans we see here that God reveals how people become His precious possession.  Paul writes:

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.”

             Paul here basis his view of God not rejecting His people whom He foreknew first by: pointing to himself, his nation, and his tribe.   Paul’s life is evidence that Jews were, are and will be saved.  They will be loved, not abandoned.  Secondly, Paul points to Elijah’s presupposition and uncloaks its’ deceptiveness.   The reality is that there’s way more children of God than we can fathom.  The main agent in this turn of events is not Elijah or any creature but God.  Finally, Paul assures his readers that this remnant like the former one is according to Gods’ gracious choice, implying not the choice of the creature.

Thus, Gods gracious choice is the centerpiece here, not the false notion that God forsakes His people.  So thus far according to the previous chapters salvation comes to both Jew and Gentile alike, through embracing the proclaimed word of God.  This word is not received by all which is evidenced by Israel’s rejection of it.  Lastly, this rescue results from God’s gracious choice, not ours.

I know this is a tough knot to untie or a hard will to swallow, but I can’t exegetically come to any other conclusion that it is God’s gracious choice by means of the preached word embraced, we come into God’s fold made of Jew and Gentile alike.  Specifically speaking of Israel, God has never removed His love toward them—which seems to be evidenced through the existence of the remnant contextually.  Thus, God has not rejected His people.

Paul continues explaining Israel’s state and says: But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.  Here I take Paul to affirm what he’s previously argued (chapters 5-8) that becoming acceptable (righteous) before God never entailed doing works of the law.  Instead, righteousness comes only through grace which is through the 2nd Adam Christ Jesus.  Remove God’s gracious choice of rescue from the Messiah, and the result will be death.   Paul ensues:

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.”  And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.  10 “Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.”     

The text seems to be saying that those who cared about knowing God, did not come to know Him (recall they rejected His word chapter 10), but rather those chosen obtained this knowledge of God which results in salvation.  The reason the former (Israel) did not obtain salvation is because God hardened them, and reason the latter did obtain it is because He chose them.  This reality is difficult to bear (and we must nevertheless remember that there’s no injustice with God), but I can’t make sense out of the passage in any other way.

God however is always working out the counsel of His will and Paul is thus going to explain the reason for why God hardened Israel:

11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

             It seems that God’s end in Israel’s stumbling had the purpose of bringing salvation to the Gentile world and as a result would cause Israel to become jealous: jealous of what?  Jealous that now outsiders, foreigners, aliens and those once estranged from Israel’s common wealth are now partakers of it.  That wealth, that treasure is nothing less than being part of God’s redeemed family.  There’s nothing more precious here than to be God’s child, God’s friend.  Paul continues:

12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be”  

             Paul seems to be transitioning into a deeper thought concerning Israel and Gentile believers, the goal of which is going from degree of glory to the next level of glory.  I think Paul is arguing that if Israel’s sin is the means through which the riches of heaven have come to earth (i.e., salvation to non-Jews), then Israel’s salvation after their own transgression will be ever more glorious (11:25-27).  The drama of redemption truly is the greatest story ever told.  (SDG)