Reflections from ROMANS 12:9-21 “LOVE LIVES BY TRUTH AND TRUSTS IN GOD’S RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE”

ROMANS

            In this section of Romans Paul gives many commands or imperatives that he grounds first with “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good” (v.9).  The command to love necessarily implies we are to resist, actually hate, what is evil or abhor its opposite.  It seems here that hypocritical love is evil when believers treat each other not in accord to God’s mercy they have already received.

John the apostle commands the church to love not only in words but also with actions (so does James), and Paul now is following suit.  Thus, I take hypocritical love to be masked by gracious words, not backed by actions.  Paul says that is evil and sadly many of us are not aware that we are transgressing.  So Paul now is going to describe what love looks like…and it is costly for it demands my time, treasure and talents to be used for the good of another.

(v.10) “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love”; I take this to be a familial reference since we believers relate to each other as “adopted children” by God, a special relationship obtains and is to reflect in our interaction.  Devotion is a powerful word, the opposite of indifference.  It means that my brother or sisters joy in God is my goal for them and will contour how I pursue their good, not hypocritically, but sincerely.

Give preference to one another”; is a call to serve one another since we’ve received this amazing mercy from Christ.  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for the other”, Paul here is simply re-iterating what Jesus previously commanded.  And now attached to this command to love and give preference to one another is a string of participles modifying or nuancing what love looks like.

(v.11) “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”; this triad is a call to the relentless pursuit of seeking the others good by fighting sloth that so easily captivates our work, as we ultimately look to the Lord for our reward, not our brother or sisters as we serve them.  This reality should compel us to pray for God to show us how to minister to each person that crosses our path, not least believers.

(v.12) “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer”; I take this to mean that our kingdom work is to be characterized by a joyful disposition because our focus is the kingdom of God and its purposes.  This purposeful kingdom work however is accompanied by hardships that often beat down the soul.  Regardless, what is to buttress said work is prayer, intercession by those devoted to Christ and his people.

(v.13)contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Here is where our treasure is shared with those in need and where our homes are the Bastian of where such acts manifest (e.g., at the dinner table, sofa, or patio) for God’s glory.  This is where we invite others to see how we live from a closer view.  These verses seem to focus on the redeemed community, but the following verses can apply to believers and non-believers alike.

(v.14) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  This reminds me of Mathew 5:9-12 where the peacemaker as a kingdom subject is blessed and thus when persecution arises for the sake of the name of Christ, rejoicing is to be the response.  The reason is because unlike the rotting “lotto” ticket, an imperishable reward awaits in heaven.

I’m also reminded of Isiah’s vision of God in (Isa.6) where in the presence of the Ancient of Days he confesses; “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  The holiness of God stripped the prophet of any possible pretense and his confession revealed the indwelling sin that the mouth reveals.  Jesus said that, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” and Isiah’s confession exposed his heart and that of his society’s.

Today, we are no different.  Gross conduct and lewd language is lauded and encouraged as a form of self-expression, it’s a form of art to many.  “F-bombs” are common place today.  It’s as if they were discipled by “Tony Montana”.  Why should this command be obeyed?  Because it demonstrates the reality of the mercy and grace believers have received, the reward that awaits for them in heaven, and a wake-up call to persecutors that there’s a heavenly reality of which they too can be partakers.

(v.15)“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. We tend to neglect both of these commands.  When someone is rejoicing it’s usually because an immediate good has come to them (e.g., promotion, marriage, children born, a home purchase) and if we are not finding our happiness in God, it becomes difficult to sincerely be happy for another.  What a waste of energy.  Why this attitude?  Many reasons I suppose but one seems to be core: we forget God has not overlooked us but is uniquely working out His purposes in and through our lives.

Moreover, we don’t like to be sad in the 21st century so why go and weep with someone down in the dumps?  It’s a sign we love them and that Christ whom we serve, came down from heaven to embrace suffering and remedy it, rather than avoid it and leave things as they’ve been. It’s a way of imitating Christ when he wept for his friend Lazarus and their family.  It reveals that we like Christ, are not “fair-weathered friends” but are ready to endure life’s hardships with them.

(v.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.   Paul here is calling believers to walk humbly with each other, refusing to look down at each other because of social status, but rather associate with those unlike ourselves.  Too often, the rich and the poor think they have nothing in common, but in Christ we have adoption as sons in common.

Moreover, it’s been the tale of history that the rich are “better than” those less fortunate, but not ontologically, for we all share in the image of God, both male and female.  But not just that, as believers we share a common inheritance which Christ purchased for us through his bloody sacrifice on the cross.

(v.17)“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.   On the one hand, the first part of this command seems quite clear: two wrongs don’t make a right.  Again, we are never to mistreat even those who commit misdeeds toward us.

Now when Paul says to, “Respect what is right in the sight of all men”, does he mean that we are to value what is good, not what is evil, and by our lives show it?  Or, does he mean that we are to somehow value a relativistic view of truth and morals which the culture holds to be dear?  I affirm the former and deny the latter contextually, since the objective realities of the Gospel are true regardless of culture or historical chronology.

Having said that, Paul may however be saying that when we are mistreated because of our Gospel stance (I see no other reason here) that by “respect” we leave people to their own persuasions and let matters rest because in verse 18 he says, If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 

Paul continues on this vein and says:

(v.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.

(vvs.20-21) 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.

It seems that Paul wants to stay the tendencies for personal retribution by believers by reminding them that God is much better at meting out justice than they are, that He is better at repaying people for their evil deeds than we ever can be.  Again, this deals with personal revenge and retributive acts not the meting out of justice by the state as the following chapter considers.  May You Lord teach Your people to walk in the depths of this kind of love. A love that is grounded in the truth of Your existence and trusts in your divine justice.  (SDG)

Advertisements

Book Summary Available!

51-PJJ4Wo6L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

Available now in summary form is The God Who is There by D.A. Carson.  This introductory resource on the big ideas of the`Bible is indispensable to aid both young and old with the main Biblical ideas and to see how they all point to Jesus.

This book in particular is an amazing example of writing a “salvation history” tome in terms a high school student can grasp without forfeiting theological rigor.

Too often the Bible is read like a “fortune cookie” whose ideas are not tied to any overarching theme or purpose.  This book explains the Bible’s unifying message in a way that models how to faithfully read the Scriptures so that the reader may actually hear God’s voice in a more sure, clear way.  Take up and read friends.

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

51-PJJ4Wo6L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

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]

51-PJJ4Wo6L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

            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”

RomansGraphic

            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 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).

Summary of CHAPTER NINE: THE GOD WHO LOVES [Pages 135-149]

51-PJJ4Wo6L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

The Bible says that God is love, but it also says that God is just, holy and good.  In the area of judgement and discernment many seems American Christians that are very confused, affirming things that flatly deny the Scriptures plain teachings on said matters.

First, Carson considers the difference between being morally discerning from being judgmental.  He argued that having moral discernment deals with making distinctions that are based on revealed truth, where we humbly recognize our need to first deal with our own shortcomings in order to be able to see for the aid of another (Mathew 7:1-6)

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 6“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

To be judgmental is based on a hypocritical disposition where self-righteousness is in the heart.   This Jesus always condemns.

 Second, Carson lists five ways the Bible speaks about the love of God.  There’s love within the TrinityThis is a perfect love:  

 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” (Jn.3:35)

“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (Jn. 5:22-23)

but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me Get up, let us go from here.” (Jn.14:31)

Then there’s love and God’s general care over the creation (Mt.5:44-47).  This extends to friends and foes alike.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

What follows is God’s Love that invites, commands, and implores (Ez.33:11).  This is where God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’

Then there’s God’s Love that’s selective (Mal.1:2-3).  Here He chooses one and not another:

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.”

Finally there’s God’s love that’s conditional (Jude 21).  This is where those in covenant with God experience his pleasure and displeasure based on obedience to Him: “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”

Third, Carson answers the question of the extent of God’s love.  To answer, “does God love everyone in the same way” is dependent on what is meant.  God does send the rain and the sun on both the righteous and the wicked, so the answer in this sense is yes!  But He chooses Israel over all the other nations as his special possession.  Thus in this sense, the answer is no!

Having said that, Carson considers the famously read/heard text of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world,” and points that what makes God’s love so wonderfully admirable is grounded on the objects of His love—humans. 

That is, we who are God hating, self-absorbed, murderous people, are nevertheless loved by God.  He loves all nations and ethnicities—Jews and Gentiles.  He does this not because we are so loveable, but because God is that kind of God.  He’s amazing!

 Fourth, Carson explains why the measure of God’s love for us is Jesus.  God gave us Himself in essence, the cost of which was the life of his treasured Son for God-haters!  Consider Jesus’ tenderness when he had compassion on a leaderless people; how he embraced little children; how Isaiah speaking of Jesus said that a bruised reed he would not break.  He is a tender God.  And while he rebukes the hardened one’s; He also weeps for them:

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. (Mt.9:36)

 But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt.19:14)

Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel, nor cry out;
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
20 “A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory. 21 And in His name the Gentiles will hope.” (Mt.12:18-21)

 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.  16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.(Mt.23:15-16)

Then, consider Jesus’ individual-nessWhen he approached the rich young ruler he dealt with him in a very different way then he approached the Samaritan woman.  They were both broken lives who were both addressed truthfully yet compassionately.  What a Savior.  The rest he offers to all who are weary and burdened is precious:

 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”(Mt.11:28-30)

Then consider His crucifixionHe loved us to the end “forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk.23:34)  Forsaken by the Father on Calvary (Mt.27:45-46)

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? ” that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Fifth, Carson explains the purpose of God in giving us His Son.  It was that we might have life.  God gave his son not to condemn but to save the world!  He came in order that those already condemned may be delivered, rescued and set free.  To not believe means that people remain condemned.  Whereas to believe means that one has been rescued from impending doom.

Carson concludes the chapter by explaining that God’s love will rightly stir in us gratitude and joy as we consider our weakness and need as finite creatures who are rightly dependent on an all-wise infinite God that has revealed himself in the creation and ultimately in his precious son.  Nothing do I bring, to the cross alone I cling.

Reflections From ROMANS 10: “THE WORD OF FAITH IS NECESSARY FOR SALVATION—CONTRA INCLUSIVISM’S CLAIM”

img13635539511929_sm

            Paul picks up where he left off in the previous chapter referring to Israel and their present standing before God.  He prays for Israel’s salvation but knows that their ignorance of the gospel is the reason they’re not yet redeemed.  Their zeal for God has blinded them (zeal without knowledge Scripture condemns) to God’s righteousness while trying to establish their own through law-keeping (Vv.1-3):

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

Paul continues to pound the anvil with the hammer of Christ’s work and says that, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes, for Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness” (Vv.4-5).  Paul here is quoting Leviticus 18:5 which is the giving of God’s moral commands and says:

You shall keep my statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD

It seems that the life of the individual is to rely solely on his ability to do the requirements of the law.  It seems that Paul is accentuating the motif again between Christ’s righteousness which is given not merited (thus crushing human boasting), it’s imputed not earned.  Recall that the Law’s purpose was never to be a means of “I do and God rewards”, but instead to shine the light on the sin within, never was it to liberate us from its jaws.  If one trusts in law-keeping to become righteous before God it will only result in death.

Having said that, a believer must not conclude all is well even if he lives an immoral life.  This is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel, for to be in Christ produces the fruit of obedience to God (never without the struggle of Rom.7).  Here, the believer has been freed from slavery to sin in order to live for God.  And by living for God we are thus freed to live for one another (Rom.5:17-6:23; 8:1-14).   By Israel trying to establish their own righteousness apart from Christ, they have rejected God and have been cut off from life indeed.

So the righteousness based on law can’t save, but the righteousness based on faith (i.e., Christ’s work) does save (Vv.6-7):

But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

I’m however a bit puzzled here about the meaning of verses 6-7.  First, verse 6 is a quote from Deuteronomy 30:12 where God is laying out before Israel the blessings and cursing if they choose to obey or disobey.  Now much attention in Deuteronomy 30 is given to what God did and will do for Israel: namely restoring them from captivity which we know occurred because of their idolatry.  God is said to:

…restore you from captivity…have compassion on you…etc”.  (Deut.30:3-8) “circumcise your heart (v.6) to love the Lord which is to obey the Lord (v.8)

This word of salvation is not far, seems to be the point or would eventually manifest (which it did in Christ the Logos), but is now here.  Still a bit hazy on verses 6-7.  Nevertheless, the word is being preached and its content is faith (trust) in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who conquered the grave and offers the righteousness of God as a gift to all peoples and this word will not disappoint because God always keeps His promises.  Let God be true and every man a liar (Vv.8-13):

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”                  

This word of faith however comes in a specific way which if not given dooms sinners with no hope of rescue.  Paul now asks four rhetorical questions which an inclusivist view of salvation seems to contradict.  I’m going to point these out in reverse order because the apostle Paul begins with the end and ends with the beginning of the logical order (Vv.14-15):

“14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

First, there’s the bearer of good news whose beauty is too often hidden from those presented with the Gospel (v.15).  Second, there’s the need to send vessels willing to impart this good news which means they must be supported with finances and prayer.  Third, the sent must be preachers who proclaim the news of the Kings arrival in a way that’s understandable so that people may have the opportunity to both hear and respond to the message.  Fourth, hearing is essential for belief to arise, otherwise they will not trust in Christ which is the word of faith that requires preaching.  Fifth, after the message is preached and the preacher heard, people then have an opportunity to believe and when belief arises, then one is ready to call on the Name of the LORD and be saved.

Now Paul says that that word is preached in both creation (v.18 cf., Ps.19:4) and through the prophets (Isa.53:1; Dt.32:21; Isa.65:1-2).  And so in response to Israel’s hard heart, God will stir them to jealousy by revealing to the pagan world Christ’s righteousness of which the apostle has been writing.  Thus, Israel has no excuse for their unbelief and God is not unjust having mercy on whomever He wills.

But when the word goes forth and people respond we must understand that God has ordained conversions to happen through the word of Christ—God’s word of promise fulfilled in the Messiah by the lips of a preacher proclaiming it.  This is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to the called, Christ is both the wisdom of God and the power of God to us who believe.  (SDG)            

Reflections From ROMANS 9: “GOD’S ELECTION IS NOT UNJUST BUT MERCIFUL”

ROMANS

This chapter begins a new thought in Paul’s letter.  The first eight chapters dealt with what the gospel is, why it is the only hope for Jew and Gentile alike, and because in Adam all sinned, everyone is justly under God’s wrath and in need of divine mercy for salvation.  This salvation, redemption is a work of God that affects our word and deed.  And while this salvation is real, residues of rebellion remain in the believer’s heart such that until final glorification, a war is constantly being waged within.

Now, Paul turns his attention to the theme of Israel and her rejection of the gospel of God.  He first reveals his passion and longing to see his kinsmen according to the flesh saved and loving Christ, because after all it’s through them that this gospel came (Vv.1-5):

“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Second, he points out however that God’s word has not failed concerning their rejection of Christ because the descendants of Israel actually come through Isaac not Abraham.  He explains this further in relation to the flesh vs. the promise motif.  That is, through Isaac’s seed the Messiah would come, never through Ishmael.  This word of promise is a major Scriptural theme pointing to God’s faithfulness to execute His word.  Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Mt.5:18)  This means that God always keeps His promises.  And what He will and will not do is more certain than the heavens above or the earth below—which accentuate God’s constant faithfulness.  And as God told Abraham, so it has come to pass that through Sarah, not Hagar, Messiah would come.

Consider Rebekah’s twins Esau and Jacob which again reveal the motif of God’s certain promise which points to His sovereign will ruling over all rather than man’s finite choosing:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”        

             This passage clearly demonstrates God’s choosing or election of what He has decided to do through Jacob and Esau.  I noticed here something previously overlooked: could it mean that God hating Esau is equivalent to Him serving his younger brother or is that hate based on what Esau treasured which was a bowl of soup over against his birth-rite?  This needs further inquiry, but I’m leaning towards the latter option, not the former.  Nevertheless, Paul asks a question he anticipated would be raised:

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!”

 Third, often God is accused of being unjust in light of election but the apostle emphatically says that is never the case.  Thus he proceeds to recount Pharaoh’s hardened heart and concludes that God chooses who will receive mercy and who does not.  The reason:

15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

             God had a purpose for Pharaoh’s rise to power and that was so that His power and Name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.  This means that the central reason for God’s purpose in his dealings with Israel and Egypt are ultimately about God’s power and person as Creator and Redeemer.  God is utterly God-centered in his dealings and an aspect throughout Scripture that’s too often unnoticed or discarded.  One reason for this is our human tendencies to make much of ourselves and very little of God:

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

             I think this is the logical conclusion to ask such a question.  I can hear the philosopher (and rightly so), grappling with this issue for at stake is the justice of God.  So what does Paul think?  He poses the rhetorical question of the potters right to do whatever he pleases with the clay’s purpose.  He concludes that the potter has the right to choose the purpose for the clay vessel: either for honorable purposes or dishonorable purposes:

20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”   

             Fourth, but God is not unjust, for through His wrath justly poured on evil doers He demonstrates His righteousness.  And all have come under this just condemnation.  Recall that Paul hearkens back to Job in principle and that righteous man’s utterly silenced before God’s inquiry: “Where were you when I…?”  The fact is we creatures are out of line to question God’s actions as if we had the moral upper hand on the Holy One.  This attitude while understandable shows our pride of not trusting in God’s word of promise, questioning His goodness and justice within the salvation history framework.

Paul goes on to explain however that vessels of wrath (those not chosen) are necessary in order for vessels of mercy to know God’s glory in salvation.  Consider the following:

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 
26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’  There they shall be called sons of the living God.”  27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

That’s what Paul seems to be arguing.  But then he concludes his thought with another question which goes back to Israel’s standing with God compared to the Gentiles—all of which are under condemnation (Chapters 1-3) and in need of redemption through Christ, the last Adam:

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Israel misunderstood the purpose of the Law of Moses, turned it into something foreign to God’s purposes and thus perished.  That is, law-keeping is impossible because sinful hearts need to be renewed.  The Law’s purpose was only to shine the light on our sinful state so that we might look to the 2nd Adam, the Messiah whose purpose was to save us through His own blood and thus renew our dead hearts to God.  The Law was never a list of “do’s and don’ts” in order to be acceptable before the Holy One.

Fifth, this faith of which Paul speaks is Abraham’s who believed in God’s word of promise evidenced by how he lived.  Paul’s purpose for writing Romans (1:5) of the obedience of faith props itself up again here.  This faith is trust in God’s word of future fulfillment that He alone will and can accomplish.  Thus, when we talk about salvation through election, it’s never unjust, because all are under God’s just wrath and none possess the remedy for rescue.

The fact is that election is all about God’s mercy demonstrated toward vessels of wrath so that the glory of God may be seen and known by vessels of mercy. This is severely humbling and troubling.  It’s humbling because there’s no boasting except in God’s works, never ours.  And it’s troubling because of how many do despise this plain truth, thus dishonoring the Creator and Redeemer to their everlasting damnation.

(SDG)

Summary From CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GOD WHO BECAME A HUMAN BEING [Pages 101-119]

51-PJJ4Wo6L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

Carson begins this chapter by first pointing out that before Jesus was born, the prophet Jeremiah promised a new covenant.  What this promise implicitly says about the old (Mosaic) covenant is that in some sense, it is becoming obsolete (Jer. 31:31-34):

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Secondly, Carson explains how in Jesus God became human.  For starters, “Jesus’” name means “Yahweh saves.”  This is the covenant name of God given to Moses at Sinai.  The importance of this name in Mathew’s gospel is that it sets forth the entire theme of the book; namely that Yahweh has come to save his people from their sins (in Christ).

He then explains the doctrine of the Trinity to mean that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are God.  Not three Gods, only one.  One way of explaining this, is that the Word shares one substance with the Father, but is distinguishable from Him.  That is, there are three distinct persons within the Godhead who are equally the One God, co-existing, co-equal, and co-eternal.

In John’s prologue (John 1:1-18) it’s clear that the “Word” is simultaneously God’s own peer and God’s own self?  In verse 1 this is emphatic: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  God reveals, himself to the prophets through his word; God creates through the spoken word in (Gen.1; Ps.33:6); God transforms his people through the word (Ps. 107:20), and Jesus is God’s self-revelation, self-expression; God’s own agent in creation; and he comes to save and transform his people.

Thirdly, Carson explains what the incarnation means.  It means that the Word becomes a human being (i.e., the infleshing). God becomes something that previously before the incarnation, he was not.  What John does not say is that the Word merely clothed himself in animal humanity, pretended to be human, coexisted with a man called Jesus, nor is all of God exhausted in Jesus.  But John does say that the Word (God’s own peer) became a human being.  Jesus is the “God/Man.  God in his divinity cannot change, but in Christ’s humanity there’s a distinct addition: a human nature.  This is mind baffling.

Fourthly, Carson makes the connection between the Old Testament Tabernacle and New Testament incarnation.  He does this by thematically connecting John 1:14-18 on the one hand and Exodus 32-34 on the other hand.  He explains that the Tabernacle and Temple, point to the fact that Jesus is the ultimate meeting place between a holy God and rebellious sinners.  He is said to have “tabernacled among us”.  This is where the meeting place of peace with God can be found in Jesus Christ.

Glory is what Moses wanted to see of God on Sinai, but when Jesus tabernacled among us the wonder of his glory, God’s glory, is seen in the miracles and ultimately on Calvary’s tortuous bloody cross.   Grace and Truth (Love and Faithfulness) God reveals himself not only as the One who punishes evil doers but is also kind and forgiving.  Full of grace and truth is that which brought him to the cross to pay for our sins.  Here is where justice and love kiss!

Grace and Law means that we have received grace in place of grace already given.  The gracious gift of the Law was superseded by the ultimate revelatory expression of God in the 2nd person of the Triune God who through his sacrificial death on Calvary’s bloody cross purchased the redemption price required for wrath doomed sinners to be rescued and thus adopted into God’s family.  It’s found in the new covenant, which replaces the old covenant.

Seeing God can only be accomplished through seeing Jesus. We cannot look directly on God, according to John 1:18.  What is at present, the closest we can come?  Presently, we can see the character, holiness, wrath, forgiveness and glory of God in Jesus.  He is the ultimate revelation of God the Father—he is the incarnate son of God.

And as such, Jesus most spectacularly showed that he is full of grace and truth on the cross.  Both God’s justice and love are fully expressed there.  This field will forever be marveled on by the redeemed age without end.