Thursday, July 20, 2017

Romans 11:25-36 All Israel Will Be Saved.

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I wonder why nobody asked me why this portion of chapter 11 was left out, as I forgot to post it here in its proper sequence. Nonetheless, here it is!

Romans 11:25-27 (HCSB) So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins.

Last week we saw that Paul turned his attention explicitly to the Gentiles in the church at Rome. He argued that Gentiles have no cause of boasting, as it was grace that grafted us into Abraham’s spiritual promise just as it was for the Jews – perhaps more difficult for us as we were not in the covenant people to whom the oracles of God were given. Verse 25 continues in this thought, plainly revealing a mystery to us so we will not be conceited. The mystery, that had confounded many Jews and, no doubt, caused many Gentiles to get the big-head, was that the rejection of Israel was complete; it was a partial hardening. There has always been a remnant in Israel, the 7,000 who did not bow the knee to Baal, who were brought from spiritual darkness that enveloped the nation into the glorious light of Christ that all His redeemed enjoy. As with much of Paul’s use of the word “mystery,” here it does not mean something difficult to understand, it means something revealed that had been hidden. Jew and Gentile both thought national Israel was God’s chosen people, just as the Pharisees demonstrated – through trust in their flesh. The mystery is that most of Israel’s people were hardened and only a small number were reconciled to God. For from the beginning, God made clear that ALL nations would be blessed in Abram – not only national Israel. This partial hardening continues until all the Gentile elect – people from every nation, tongue, and tribe – have been brought into the sheepfold of Christ. As one commentator put it, “until all elect Gentiles come into Israel.” And in the same way, all Israel will be saved. What does he mean, “in the same way”? How are Gentiles saved? Paul explained to us in chapter 10 how one calls upon the Lord and is saved. In the same way means that those Jews who will be saved, the ones who were not hardened, will be saved in the same way as us Gentiles are saved. They will call upon the name of the Lord! Every one of His elect will call upon His name and be saved.

Paul then does what is fairly common in the New Testament – he cobbles together a “quote” from the Old Testament from several fragments that his audience would have been familiar with. Not a precise citation as we are accustomed to when we read books. He grabs part of Isaiah 59 (which has connections with Psalm14, Micah 4, and Isaiah 2) and Jeremiah 31. The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins. These were promises of the Messiah coming to redeem Israel. Paul applies these promises the work of the Spirit that was going on as he was writing to the Romans, and will go on until the full number – all Israel and Gentile – are saved. Those who were by nature captive to the sin we hold so dear will be liberated by the King of Zion. Freedom does not come from Sinai! This King will turn His people away from godlessness, take their sins away, and bring them into the New Covenant. All this action is of God. Our part is godlessness and sin. His part is to take those away and make us new creatures in Christ. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Romans 13:1-7 The Rub With Government

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Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Some have noted the abrupt change in content and tone that takes place here, changing subject and tone from chapter; thinking this passage was inserted later, perhaps by a scribe. However, if we consider other teaching from the New Testament, we see this as a familiar thread: render under Caesar the Lord taught (Mark 12); and pretty much thought-for-thought in 1 Peter 2:13-17: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Both passages tell us the role of earthly governments, our role in submitting to them and honoring them, and the reason we should submit to them.

Doug Moo points out that this passage in Romans 13 actually builds on what we studied in chapter 12 – where we read that we are not to take out vengeance but leave that to God. Here we are told that God has appointed civil governments as His ministers to punish those who do evil. While God will bring His vengeance to bear on dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Revelation 22:15) at the end of this age, He has given to the state the role to do so until then. Verse 4 of our text: if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Paul is not contradicting himself – saying the only wrath to be suffered is at the hand of; he is pointing out God’s provision until He returns.

One complementary point that must be made: we see in the Bible, in history, and in our times that our civil governments are most often comprised of God-haters. Yet they are appointed by God as His ministers of justice! How can this be? In this passage, Paul doesn’t say each and every person in government is appointed by God; he says God established every earthly authority. However, we see in the Old Testament that God selected the good kings and the evil kings for Israel and the Arab nations, and it YHWH Who claims this role for Himself. Psalm 75:6-7 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. So it would seem that Paul assumes his audience would know that not just the institutions are established by God, each person put in a key position is put there by Him. We see in the record of Paul’s life how we might respond when mistreated by ruling authorities.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Romans 12:9-21 Proverbs for Christian Living

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Last week we began our trek through the application portion of Romans. Everything we will be told to do in this part of this epistle is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit which means none but the redeemed can truly walk as Paul instructs. However, we all know that behaviors and speech that looks like Christian life can be imitated by false brothers, so our on-going mission is to keep an eye ourselves to make sure we see reasons for the hope we profess.

Verses 9-18 are a series of short statements of instructions, very much New Testament Proverbs as he contrasts good behavior and attitudes with those which are bad.

Romans 12:9-18 (HCSB) Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.

Love is to be without hypocrisy. These two are polar opposites. Worldly love is self-seeking and must be hypocritical, so we don’t lose face. We give birthday and Christmas gifts because we want others to think well of us much of the time; usually feeling guilty if our gift isn’t valued as highly as another or liked as much as another. This represents self-love and is not biblical love, which is to seek what’s best for the person. Love in truth can only truly be done when it’s done by the Spirit.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Do we stop and ponder what is good, what is evil? Recall how at the end of a long road filled with much sorrow, Joseph declared to his brothers that though they meant it for evil, God meant it for good. Being locked up on false charges after surviving being thrown in a hole and sold as a slave, who would have thought Joseph’s life was good? We are short-sighted, selfish people – that’s why we can’t see the good our Lord intends when we experience something unpleasant, which we think is evil. That’s why we must be people of the Book wherein our God has revealed what is good and what is evil, so we might live as wise a serpents in this evil age, not being led astray by its agents.

Show brotherly or family affection with brotherly love. There is One who is closer than a brother and He shows us what love is. He disciplined Himself, withstood temptation that would cause us to crumble, allowed creature He called into existence to mistreat and murder Him. Betrayed by those He called to be apostles. After Peter had denied Him the third time, he caught the eye of the Lord Jesus looking at him from across the courtyard. Is was not the look of condemnation but of love, knowing the frailty of the man yet loving him such that he became a stout man of God. Affirming one another is not the bedrock of this type of love, teaching, exhorting, rebuking – all with the aim of heralding Christ more clearly – is.

To out-do each other in showing honor – esteeming others more than ourselves – is another aspect of biblical love. This is what the Lord taught in Luke 14 when He advised people not to take the seat of honor at a wedding feast, but wait to see if the host invites you to that seat. What James (chapter 2) was talking about when told us not to give preference to the rich man in the assembly but associate with the poor. How is that working out in most churches? Yet the counsel of God is to out-do one another in showing honor.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Romans: 12:1-8 How Should We Then Live?

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Every good sermon will have a theological point and an action point or application. God’s people are still people and it is helpful for us to be instructed on how to apply instructions to our lives. This is the structure of Paul’s letter to the Roman saints. Having taught the theology of salvation, the apostle now turns to the application. It is a grand level application of the principle of indicatives and imperatives: having covered the theology, Paul proceeds on the reasonable assumption that his readers are Christians. Since this is true of them, they can comprehend and live in accordance with the instructions that follow.

Romans 12:1-2 (HCSB) Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

The first two words gave me the indication that I mentioned – Paul is speaking to people he considers to be brothers and sisters in Christ and he wants them to bear in mind what’s been covered as he begins the application. Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, Not content to rest on the identification of his readers as brothers, Paul pleads with them according to their standing in Christ – by the mercies of God! This reinforces their identity and the foundation for next 4 chapters. As Lamentations 3:22 & 23 reminds us, God’s mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness in providing us needed mercy is great, overly abundant! While we ought to be working diligently to be pleasing to our God in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we need His guidance and provision to do so. Those who are not in Christ have the general provision granted in Noah’s covenant (seedtime and harvest, food and shelter) but they cannot be pleasing to Him. They do not have these mercies that are shed upon the souls of the redeemed.

Having established their identity, Paul tells them the over-arching goal of whatever time each one of them has left: present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. We all know that animals that were sacrificed were killed for that purpose. This picture ought to provoke us to wonder about how serious we are in living deliberately for the glory of God in our daily lives. The animal being sacrificed has no say-so in how his life will go; it is not happenstance that Paul used this word here. He says elsewhere that we have been bought at a price and are longer our own. When we reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ, we will live more in line with Paul’s teaching here. And doing so will be pleasing to our God and Judge. The apostle says living this way is our spiritual or reasonable service. There are some who think living an obedient life is easy (they are not doing so, mind you); other say it is too difficult (they are imagining it in their own strength). And some think they are to obey the law spelled out in the Mosaic Covenant – surely those laws reveal what pleases God! Do you recall from Matt’s sermons from Galatians, this message: Galatians 3:3 (HCSB) Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? And in chapter 7 of this letter, Paul is speaking to those under the law, explaining how the law does not bind them since they have died to it by becoming alive to Christ. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Romans 11:13-24 The Penalty of Unbelief

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Romans 11:13-15 (HCSB) Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them. For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

Since the beginning of chapter 9, Paul has been mostly talking to a Jewish audience, making the case that he began in chapter 2 – that the Jews do not have an advantage over the Gentiles regarding reconciliation with God. Here, he addresses the Gentiles. This is one of the clearest clues that Paul has been focused on the Jews these past few chapters – he announces that he is turning his attention to the Gentiles. 

Notice his tentative approach to his former audience – since he was called by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul is saying that if makes much of that ministry, being very public among the Jews in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles; he might, somehow, incite his kinsmen of the flesh to envy with the result that some of them might be saved. The theme is consistent – there is not seen thus far in Paul’s letter or in the redemptive prophecies found in the Old Testament that project an unbounded optimism that all ethnic Israel will be saved. There is a remnant that will be saved, having been marked out by God from the beginning. David Gay provides a literal translation of verse 14: “‘My services I glorify if by any means I shall provoke to jealousy my flesh and shall save some from among them’. This is a far cry from any note of certainty and talk of ‘success’.” The point our brother is making is simply that there is no basis in this passage for thinking national Israel will be turning to the Lord in huge numbers.

Verse 15 is a parallel to what we saw last week in verse 12: (ESV) Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Romans 11:15 (ESV) For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? In both places Paul posits an – off-putting of Israel as bringing benefit to rest of the world. Let’s pause for a minute to recall the singular benefits Israel had as a nation, chosen to be favored by God. They were called forth from Abram, who was called from the post flood mass of humanity. YHWH began bringing a few men to Himself and provided a cultivating ground in Egypt, where their slavery kept them from polluting themselves with the pagan religions so dominant in that culture. When He considered the timing right, He raised up Moses to lead them out of Egypt – there were more than 2 million Hebrews at the time. They were given a covenant by which to live, that would keep them in God’s pleasure should they follow it. He gave them a peculiar religion and plans for a tabernacle so the whole world would know Who He was. Early on, YHWH told them they were His chosen people, not because they were big and powerful, but because He had chosen them and is faithful to the promise He made to Abram. They grew and number and wealth, though they gave God much reason to discipline them for disobedience and by the time of Christ, they had added so much to the religion He gave them, adopting much from the pagan nations, that they reflected Pharaoh. They hardened their hearts and YHWH pushed them along. That’s how we end up where we are  - with Paul’s desire that many of his kinsmen be saved but no presumption on his part that such will be the case. Recall how he opened chapter 10, be stressing his desire, contrasted with his knowledge: Romans 10:1-2 (HCSB) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation! I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Romans 11:1-12 Has God Rejected His People?

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Romans 11:1-3 (HCSB) I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel? Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars. I am the only one left, and they are trying to take my life!

Last week, we learned a little more about how bad off national Israel was. It was a gloomy picture that Paul started painting in chapter 2. So he asks another rhetorical question – Has God rejected His people? By this, the apostle clearly refers to ethnic Israel. He has been locking them, locking them out of the kingdom of God, putting their very identity as God’s people in question. Natural means cannot beget spiritual life – this is the essence of all that has gone before. This is a major point for this chapter, same as he taught in chapter 9 – Israel as a nation has no standing before God. But God has always kept a remnant and Jewish people will continue to be brought into the kingdom until New Jerusalem is complete. Has God rejected His people? Is there no hope for Abraham’s children of the flesh?

Paul rushes in to answer this rhetorical question, wanting to make sure his fellow Jews understand that they have NOT been rejected by God. His proof is himself - Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. His evidence that God has not rejected his people is simply that he, Paul, was redeemed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This evidence is indicative of one thing – God does not save groups of people, He saves individuals from every group of people. He always has His people present, in every generation – to be a witness to the world of His power and authority and redeeming love. So Paul goes back to the Scriptures to provide his support – Don’t you Jews know about Elijah, how he cried out about Israel’s disobedience, holding himself out as the ONLY one left? This is the human condition – we think we are alone.

When we moved up here from Houston, in the summer of 2014, I was called to serve as pastor in a small church near our property. 4 weeks into the arrangement, I was fired – because I preached according to how I told them I would and because I did not go along with extra-biblical traditions without explanation. People who have lived in that part of Latimer County all their lives told me they had never met a Calvinist before. We visited church after church, looking for a gathering of God’s people who know salvation is of the Lord. There were times I wondered if we were the only people in SE Oklahoma who accepted God at His Word. And these others who claimed the same Savior I do didn’t want us around. Some were angry simply knowing we believed things differently than did they. But in due time, God showed me there was a small gathering, not so close to our home, where sovereign grace was preached and taught. There was a remnant in SE Oklahoma!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Romans 10:16-21 Faith Comes By Hearing ...

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Last week we saw, as Paul quoted from Isaiah, that the gospel was intended to be proclaimed to national Israel and all people. The first century Jews had as much difficulty accepting that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the redeeming savior of Gentiles as well. They had selective learning from their biblical authors – just like we do!

And therefore, the apostle to the Gentiles works to show his kinsmen of the flesh how their standing as Abraham’s children (according to the flesh) accounts for nothing in the kingdom of God. Romans 10:16-17 (HCSB) But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. We now read what some call Isaiah’s lament – the prophets’ anguish as he realizes not all of God’s ethnic people, the Jews, believed the gospel he proclaimed. Paul brings this to his people, to make sure ignorance is no excuse. The 4 gospels in the New Testament record the Lord Jesus doing much the same thing, in the parables wherein He shows the Jews how they have persecuted His prophets and will kill Him.

We see in verse 16 the statement that not all obeyed the gospel. What does it mean to obey or not obey the gospel? Is it a law or set of laws that one must obey to be saved? Here’s where a proper understanding of the gospel is vital. We have covered the gospel before – it is a proclamation of who Christ Jesus is and how He saves people from their sin. It is NOT a set of laws or rules that must be obeyed. Here’s a short poem thought to be by John Bunyan that rightly contrasts law and gospel:

Run, John, Run! The Law commands;
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
Far grander news the gospel brings;
It bids me fly and GIVES ME WINGS!

Verse 17 sums up much of what Paul has written and all of came before in this chapter: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Recall verse 14? But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? Sinners hear Christ when we proclaim the gospel and their ears are opened if the Spirit has prepared them. In this redemptive work, we cooperate with God, we do not take the place of God.

Hear the anguish from this apostle, as he quotes the Hebrews’ prophets to them again:

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
 “Their voice has gone out to all the earth,

and their words to the ends of the world.”