Monday, June 28, 2010

God's Sovereignty in Election (Romans 9:6-13)

The doctrine of election isn’t easy to understand and is the source of much conflict among professing Christians. Just as the apostle Peter said about the writings of the apostle Paul, “Just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Notice that it wasn’t the intellectual ability of the apostle Paul that allowed him to plumb the depths of God's sovereignty in election but his ability to do that was because it was according to the wisdom given him. Paul was taught of God on this subject and so what we have before us is the wisdom and words of God which cannot be anything other than truth. It is the untaught and unstable which distort not only this section of Scripture but the rest also to their own destruction.

So it will not be by our intellectual ability to understand this subject but by the very truth that we have been born again and are able to receive the things of the Spirit of God so that we are not untaught but indeed taught of God. Just as it is written, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election brings about two reactions from those who don’t understand it: (1) it brings about the accusation of injustice in God (Romans 9:14) and (2) it brings about the accusation of men being robots (Romans 9:19). These two responses are the conclusions that would be drawn from those who don’t understand the Gospel of grace and are what Paul anticipated and dealt with from the Scriptures.

Let me give you a few examples of how the doctrine of election is sometimes attempted to be explained but are not what the Bible teaches:

First there is the belief that election means that God is voting for you; the devil is voting against you; and you cast the deciding vote. That all sounds nice and sounds like what might be happening in election but it isn’t. The Bible tells us that God’s election of those whom He would save took place in eternity past – before the foundations of the world. Also we know that the devil wasn’t and isn’t a registered voter – he had absolutely no say in who would and who wouldn’t be saved. We also know that we weren’t even born yet and so we weren’t old enough to vote. So that means that God is sovereign in election.

Second, there is the belief that election is only to service and not to salvation. Those who hold that Romans 9 is dealing with national election and not individual election would hold to this theory. However that would clearly violate a host of other Scriptures that indicate that election is unto salvation and it is individual – a truth Paul establishes in Romans 9. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians also establishes the clear truth of individual election unto salvation – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:3-4, 11-12). See also 1 Thessalonians 1:4 where the apostle Paul speaking to those believers about their faith in Christ said, “Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.”

So election is not just unto service it is also unto salvation and more specifically it is unto salvation for the purpose of serving the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9) and serving His purpose of magnifying His grace and glory through our salvation (Ephesians 1:1-14). Neither is election just a matter of national choice for if that were so then Paul was wrong, the Jews were right, and God’s Word has failed.

Election then is unto salvation to the praise of God’s glory and grace and it is for individuals - proving that God’s Word has not failed but that it has accomplished exactly what God sent it out to do. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 9. Here in Romans 9:6-13 the apostle Paul showed two main truth’s about God’s sovereignty in election: (1) It was not based on physical descent (Romans 9:6-9) and (2) it was not based on personal merit (Romans 9:10-13).

We will get deeper and into greater detail concerning these two main truths about God’s sovereignty in election but for now we will just summarize their implications.

First of all the truth that God’s sovereign election unto salvation isn’t based on physical descent (Romans 9:6-9) proves that this text isn’t speaking of national election but of individual. This is why the argument that God’s Word has failed won’t stand. As a whole the Jews believed that because they had Abraham as their father that they were guaranteed salvation because of God’s sovereign choice of Abraham and their physical descent from him. They repeatedly relied upon their relationship to Abraham but that was to no avail. Abraham had Ishmael first by the flesh and then Isaac second by faith. They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel and neither are they all of faith who are descended from Abraham.

Last of all the truth that God’s sovereign election unto salvation isn’t based on personal merit (Romans 9:10-13) proves that election is unconditional and not based on God’s foreseeing anything good in us at all. This means that the Word of God is absolutely true and that the flesh profits nothing or the flesh is of no use at all (John 6:63) and that our salvation is based solely on His good pleasure and His grace and not on anything that we have done or can do for God. This the Jews also misunderstood and instead of rejecting the flesh and its inability to obey the Law they rejected faith in Christ and His ability to obey the Law and relied upon their flesh and the Law (Romans 2:17). They thought they had free will and therefore they thought they had the ability to obey God when in reality they were in bondage and needed to be set free (John 8:31-36).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Great Sorrow for Israel (Romans 9:1-5)

Many teach that Romans 9-11 are an interruption in Paul’s doctrinal teaching on the Gospel before he moved into its application in Romans 12. However, a careful study of Romans 9-11 reveals that this section is not an interruption or a parenthesis but is a necessary part of Paul’s argument for justification by grace through faith. Don’t forget that because of his preaching of the Gospel, Paul was considered a traitor to the Jewish nation and an enemy of Judaism. Paul was perceived as preaching against the people (Jews), preaching against the Law, and preaching against God (see Romans 2:17 and Acts 21:27-28).

So the book of Romans is Paul’s explanation of the Gospel which shows that he was not preaching against the people, the Law, or God but that the Gospel is validated by the Word of God. And whatever you do don’t forget that Paul’s explanation of the Gospel is inspired by the Holy Spirit, is the Word of God, and is absolute truth.

Paul was hated by the Jews for his ministry to the Gentiles and his teaching of salvation by grace and the total inability of being justified by the Law of Moses. Paul preached this Gospel of grace in many synagogues in many places as he carried the good news to the Jew first and through doing so he caused trouble everywhere he went. The religious but lost Jews viewed the Gospel message as dangerous and unscriptural. They viewed it as dangerous because they thought that justification by faith gave the license to sin as much as one wanted (Romans 6:1, 15). They viewed it as unscriptural because it taught that the Jews were actually condemned by the Law and couldn’t be justified by the Law (Romans 2:17 – 3:20). Since the Jews hated the message Paul preached they also hated the messenger. This is why Paul was considered a traitor to the Jewish nation and many wanted to kill him.

This caused Paul great sorrow and increasing grief. He wasn’t trying to make anyone mad but out of love he was telling them the truth. Paul went to great lengths explaining that he wasn’t anti-Jewish, that he wasn’t anti-Law, and that he wasn’t anti-God. Paul wanted the Jews to know that they were wrong just as he had been at one time. Paul wanted the Jews to examine the Scriptures and see that what he was saying was so. He desired above all else their coming to the saving knowledge of the truth and not their condemnation.

Despite Paul’s love for his people which he made evident over and over through his uncompromising stand on the truth, his great patience, and his gentleness correcting those who were in opposition, the majority still would not believe. Paul had the joy of salvation by grace through faith but he had the sorrow and grief of his kinsmen according to the flesh continually resisting the Holy Spirit and rejecting the Gospel of Christ. There was a Scriptural reason for Israel’s resistance and rejection which Paul taught in Romans 9-11 so that this section is still doctrinal and still the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of justification by grace through faith.

Paul had argued in Romans 8 that the believer is secure in Jesus Christ and that God’s election would stand (Romans 8:28-39). Because the Jews had wrongly interpreted God’s Word concerning election they believed that any member of the Jewish nation would be allowed into heaven based on his heritage as a Jew. The Gospel that Paul proclaimed clearly taught that just because a man is a Jew is no guarantee that he is going to heaven. So in the minds of the Jews if all Jews were not saved then God has failed to keep His promise and the very character of God was at stake.

Many who still misinterpret God’s Word today concerning the doctrine of election think that God either made a mistake or that His Word has failed. They may ask the question, “What about the Jews? They were chosen by God, and yet you now say that He has set them aside and that God is building His church. Did God fail to keep His promises to Israel? Is His Word really sure and true? If God was not faithful to the Jews, how do we know He will be faithful to the church?"

Paul will explain all that the Jews had misunderstood and how they had improperly interpreted God’s Word to show that God did not make a mistake, that His Word has not and will not fail, and that God’s character is not at stake because He is always true to His Word and His promises.

Here in Romans 9:1-5 we see Paul’s great sorrow for Israel because of her great stumbling.

Great sorrow for Israel (Romans 9:1-3) – Paul loved Israel and had a strong passion for her salvation. Paul understood completely the powerful bondage of corrupt and apostate religion on his people because he had been there once himself. Paul also understood the powerful deliverance from such deception and sin through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wanted his fellow Jews to see the truth of justification by faith and experience the liberation and joy of salvation by grace.

The unrepentant and unbelieving condition of Israel caused Paul to have great sorrow and increasing grief in his heart, so much so that Paul could wish himself accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of his kinsmen. But if the Lord Jesus becoming a curse on the cross of Calvary wouldn’t change their minds neither would Paul’s becoming accursed. Paul and Moses both were willing to be cursed and separated from Christ if it would mean the salvation of Israel.

Great stumbling by Israel (Romans 9:4-5) – The Israelites lived with great privileges because of God’s covenant with Abraham and His choosing of Jacob. They were privy to the blessings and protection of God because of God’s choice of bringing the Christ through the nation of Israel. Israel was adopted by God as His own people (Exodus 4:22-23). He gave them His glory in the tabernacle and temple. He gave them His covenants which He gave to Abraham. He gave them the Law through Moses. He gave them the temple services. He gave them the promises and the patriarchs. The purpose of all this blessing was to bring Jesus Christ into the world through Israel to accomplish justification by faith. But in spite of these blessings Israel failed and rejected her Messiah.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Super-Conquerors (Romans 8:36-39)

The truth that Christians will suffer for the sake of Christ and for the sake of righteousness is found in Romans 8 in its undiluted and potent form. This truth is not watered down or hidden from our sight but is put on brilliant display and stunning clarity in this chapter. It is here that we see in high definition that the devil and the world are against us seeking to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We have recently considered together the truth that there are people and problems that are against us wishing to cause us to compromise or apostatize. There are those who would bring charges of ungodliness against us and condemn us to hell if it were in their power (Romans 8:33-34). These same people will cause us problems with all the means at their disposal that they have in this world (Romans 8:35).

As Christians we are foolish to believe that because we have been saved by God and are proclaiming His Gospel of forgiveness through Jesus Christ that we are going to be loved by the world rather than hated by the world. The truth that the world will hate us came from the lips of our Lord and is printed in many places in many ways in the Bible. We have been told from the pages of Scripture what to expect so that we will not stumble and fall away when what is supposed to be happening to Christians actually happens.

With all the suffering that Christians must endure for the sake of Christ it would be easy to lose heart and give up if it weren’t for the wonderful truth found in this chapter that God is causing all this to work for us and not against us because He is for us and not against us. This makes all the difference in why we endure suffering and do not throw away our confidence in God. “If God is for us, who is against us” (Romans 8:31)?

In Romans 8:36-39 we find the wonderful truth that nothing can defeat us because God is for us – we are super-conquerors through faith in Christ.

The certainty of our suffering – “Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered’” (Romans 8:36). No Christian is exempt from suffering for the sake of Christ. There is none who will ever reach some super-saint status that exempts him from suffering for Christ. The ones that don’t suffer for Christ but are loved for their version of Christianity aren’t true Christians but are false according to the words of our Lord Himself – “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6:26).

It is written that we shall suffer for the sake of Christ. Paul quoted Psalm 44:22 to show that this doctrine of suffering that he was teaching was and is Biblical. Faith in God doesn’t exempt us from suffering but guarantees it. What does that say about all the health, wealth, and prosperity preaching going on today?

Our suffering for the sake of Christ is certain – it is as sure and certain as Scripture because it is declared in Scripture. True Christianity always has and always will be hated by the devil and his counterfeits.

The certainty of our success – “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). The suffering that we must endure for the sake of Christ will not and cannot destroy us because God will not let it. He is for us and not against us and He causes us to overwhelmingly conquer all our suffering through our immovable trust in Him who loved us.

Only the true believer perseveres in the face of trials and tribulations, not because he is strong in himself but because he stands in the strength of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit and in the strength of the might of His loving Lord (see Ephesians 6:10). Those who fail to persevere demonstrate their lack of genuine trust in the love, power, and wisdom of God.

The true believer overcomes and super-conquers all the suffering and sorrows thrown his way through Him who loved us. The phrase, “overwhelmingly conquer” means to super-conquer or to conquer with success to spare. We don’t just barely make it through our trials and tribulations, we come out with stronger faith, stronger love, and a stronger stand for Him who loved us and brought us through. We sing the victory song of the saints and declare with the Psalmist in Psalm 3 – “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! Many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, ‘There is no help for him in God.’ But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of His holy hill. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that have set themselves against me round about. Arise O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou has smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people.”

Our success is certain and we are super-conquerors through Jesus our Lord who is our shield and defender.

The certainty of our security – “For I am convinced that neither death, or life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). The security of the believer and his full and final salvation is certain because there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus our Lord. Nothing can cause us to compromise and nothing can cause us to apostatize because God is for us and not against us.

Our suffering is certain; our success is certain; and our security is certain! What a mighty God we serve!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Security of the Saints (Romans 8:33-36)

In our studies of Romans 8 we have been considering the truth that the things that would work against us and cause us to turn away from the truth of God and our trust in Him are actually being used by God to work for us and not against us. This means that all the trouble that the saints have to endure for the sake of righteousness strengthens their faith instead of stifling it. It is because of this that the saints persevere to the end by patiently enduring all trials and tribulations with complete faith and confidence in God’s love, wisdom, and power on their behalf in and through all situations and circumstances.

We could summarize Romans 8:31-39 like this: God is for us (Romans 8:31); Christ died for us (Romans 8:32); God justified us through the sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:33); Christ intercedes for us and so we cannot be condemned (Romans 8:34); Christ loves us and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35-36); and God loves us and nothing in all creation can separate us from His love which He has given us in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39).

The security of the saints is guaranteed based on what God has done and on nothing that we have done. God justified us freely as a gift by His grace without any cause whatsoever in us to merit that gift (Romans 3:24). He chose us by His foreknowledge (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2); He called us through the Gospel (Romans 1:6-7; Romans 8:28); He predestined us to become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29); He justified us through Christ (Romans 3:24; Romans 8:30); and He speaks of our glorification in the past tense because of all that He has done for us (Romans 8:30) which means that our salvation is completely by His grace and not based on any works that we have done or will do (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8-9).

There is one thing that the saint is sure of and it is the truth that God loves him with an out of this world love because he doesn’t and couldn’t deserve to be loved by God. The saint knows that God is for him and not against him and that God has proven it by giving His Son to pay the penalty of capital punishment for him while he was yet a capital offender (Romans 5:8; Romans 8:31-32). With that in mind the saint knows that no person or any problem can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

No person can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:33-34). We notice in these two verses that there are people who would accuse us, charge us with ungodliness and condemn us to hell if it were in their power. We are not to be surprised by this but are to expect it. Jesus told us that the world would hate us because it hated Him and it now hates us because He has chosen us out of the world (John 15:18-19).

These are the people who substitute light for darkness and darkness for light. They call evil, “good” and good, “evil.” They claim to be servants of God although they do not know God nor are they known by Him. They claim to be Christians while labeling true Christians as false. They think that they are serving God when they charge us with ungodliness, insult us, persecute us, falsely say all kinds of evil against us, and would want to kill us (Matthew 5:11; John 16:2).

These are servants of the devil who disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 10:13-14), who boast in the flesh (2 Corinthians 11:18), who do not live by faith (Romans 8:5-8), who do not have the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), who do not have accurate knowledge of the way of salvation (Romans 10:2) and who seek to establish a way of salvation that depends in some form or fashion on what they can do for God (Romans 10:3). It is because their understanding of the way of salvation violates God’s way of salvation that they hate, persecute, and would charge God’s elect with ungodliness.

They think they are right when they are wrong and they think those are wrong who are right. They hate the real Gospel and love a false gospel. Therefore they bring charges of arrogance, pride, speaking against the people, speaking against God’s Word, and speaking against God against God’s elect. There are two problems with that: one, the charges are false and two, God is the one who justifies! They cannot undo the justification that God has granted in Christ Jesus. They may bring up our past but that is under the blood. They may bring up our present but that is under the blood. They may bring up our future but that is under the blood. They cannot condemn us because that is not their prerogative. The intercession of the Lord Jesus on our behalf guarantees that all genuine charges are paid in full and that no false charge will be considered as true.

No problem can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-36). Not only will men who are of the world hate us and charge us with ungodliness hoping to condemn us, they will also attempt to get us to water down and compromise the truth in order to separate us from Christ and silence our witness. They will cause us problems.

Notice all the ways that men of the world have at their disposal to try and separate us from our love for Christ and His love for us. First is tribulation which is trouble or pressure of a general sort. They put pressure on us and cause us trouble. Second is distress which carries the idea of strict confinement or being helplessly hemmed in. Third is persecution which refers to affliction suffered for the sake of Christ. Fourth is famine which results when Christians are persecuted and discriminated against in employment and cannot afford to buy enough food to eat. Fifth is nakedness which refers to destitution in which a person cannot adequately clothe himself. Sixth is peril which means to be exposed to danger in general, including danger from treachery and mistreatment. Seventh is the sword which means having to face being murdered or executed because of unwavering commitment to the truth of Christ.

Christians should not be surprised by the problems they have to face for the sake of Christ. It is written, For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered (Psalm 44:22; Romans 8:36). Instead we are to face these problems knowing that no person or no problem can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We are to sing the victory song of the saints to the praise of the glory of His grace.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Victory Song of the Saints (Romans 8:31-32)

Remember in studying and interpreting God’s Word accurately we have to always pay attention to context. I have three words of wisdom for when you and I are seeking to accurately interpret God’s Word – context, context, and context. When we get the context right then our interpretation will be right because we haven’t taken God’s Word out of context and made a portion of it into a pretext. This guards us from twisting the Scriptures to our own destruction and thereby insures that we are guarded by the Scriptures.

The context of Romans 8 is the security of the believer in and through all trials and troubles that would otherwise cause us to apostatize. The chapter starts off with, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and proceeds to those who are in Christ are led by the Spirit, live by faith, suffer with Christ for His glory, patiently endure persecution while waiting for Christ to return, are guarded by the intercession of the Holy Spirit, are protected by God who causes all things (all the suffering and persecution) to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose, and to the believer’s absolute security because of God’s promise to glorify everyone whom He justifies.

After establishing the wonderful truth of our victory in Jesus, Paul came to the great and glorious conclusion of what could easily be classified as the victory song of the saints. Here we see the security of the saints based on the grace, mercy, and love of God in saving and keeping saved everyone who believes in Christ through the gospel. It is here that our faith sores to heavenly heights, scales the tallest obstacles, and is found to be the victory which overcomes the world. We so trust God for what He has done and is doing for us that we face any suffering or persecution with absolute and total confidence in God who is for us and not against us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? What shall we say to all the suffering and persecution that comes our way for the sake of loving and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ? We say that we know that God is causing all things to work together for our good! We say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23).

When trouble comes we say, “If God is for us, who is against us”? When trouble comes we say, “You don’t know who you are messing with because you can’t mess with me and not get God involved on my behalf.

When trouble comes we do not throw away our confidence in God but we remember that He is for us and not against us. We do not shrink back from trouble but we stand up for the truth, we do not water it down, and we will overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us and is for us.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? This is the foundation of our faith. If we don’t believe God in what He has accomplished for us by giving His innocent Son to suffer capital punishment in the place of us the guilty then we will not believe and trust Him in anything else either. This is the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us and His trustworthiness to save. Since God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for capital punishment for us all then surely He is for us and not against us. Since God gave us the highest and most valuable gift of justification through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus freely (Romans 3:24) without any cause in us or any cost to us, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Can you see why the truth of what God has done and will do for us in and through Jesus Christ causes our faith to gain new strength and mount up with wings like eagles, to run and not get tired, and walk and not become weary (Isaiah 40:31)? If we can trust God to save us from our sin through the gospel of His Son then we can trust Him to be for us and not against us in all of the suffering that we will endure for His name’s sake.

We can rejoice and rest secure in the salvation that God has granted us singing the victory song of the saints. As Martin Luther wrote in 1529:

A might fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing; For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate; On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing; Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.

And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us; We will not fear, for God hath willed, His truth to triumph thro’ us; The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure; for, lo, his doom is sure; One little word shall fell him.

That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours; through Him who with us sideth; Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever. Amen!

Baptist Hymnal (1975 edition), A Mighty Fortress is Our God, 37.