The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Romans (page 1 of 4)

Remnant . . . Plus

How could we trust God’s promises to his church (8:18-39), if God’s word to Israel had failed?  It had, right?  Look!  The majority of Israel is cut off from her promised Messiah.

But in Romans 9-11 Paul is arguing that God’s word hadn’t failed.

He  pictures God as a longing, rejected lover . . .

“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21; from Deuteronomy 32:21).

He rephrases the has-God’s-word-failed question . . .

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?  ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (11:1-6).

“By no means” has God rejected obstinate Israel!  No matter how it seems! For starters,  Paul himself is an Israelite!  Furthermore, as in the days of Elijah, “ . . . at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”  Within national, Messiah-rejecting Israel lives a “chosen-by-grace” Israel whom God has kept for himself.

“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.”   God knew from eternity those he would choose and to whom he would give saving faith.  Those Israelites God has not rejected.

But God didn’t choose them “on the basis of works” .  He chose them “by grace”.  Ethnic identity.  Circumcision.  Possessing and living by the law.  None qualifies a Jew to belong to the chosen remnant.  Only God’s grace.  Only God’s unmerited kindness.

”What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs forever bent’” (11:7-10).

“Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking” . . . “Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works” (9:32a). 

“ . . . the rest (other than the elect among Israel) were hardened”.  The Greek, poro-o, refers to a judicial act of God by which he gives unbelievers a closed mind because they have refused to listen.

“ . . .sluggish spirit . . . “  denotes a senseless, “deep sleep”  mental condition. Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 29:10) and David’s pronouncement (Psalm 69:22,23) are fulfilled in them.  All this has come upon national Israel.

Is this the end?

“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” (11:11-15).

Much of the rest of the chapter Paul directs to the Gentiles at Rome.  Apparently, in that church Gentiles were bragging about their status as God’s people versus so many Jews who had “stumbled”.

True, admits Paul, Israel failed to do God’s will when Messiah came.  But by no means “to fall”!  No, they’re not utterly ruined before God, like someone who falls to a violent death.

God has brought good out of bad.   Israel stumbled and disbelieved Messiah.  Consequently,  the apostles (Paul in particular) turned to Gentiles with the gospel.  How that makes Israel “jealous” is unclear.  But Israel’s “stumbling”/”defeat” means the riches of the gospel is being taken to the Gentile world.

Since that’s so, “how much more will [Israel’s] full inclusion mean!”  The Greek is playroma—used of what is brought to its desired end, here “fulfillment”.  Paul uses the word again in 11:25—“until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

Paul makes much of his ministry, so many Gentiles will come to faith, and Jews will be jealous and so some will be saved.  But the apostle to the Gentiles can’t forget his own kindred; he longs for them to believe (9:1-5; 10:1).

Paul seems to see his longing fulfilled.   Israel’s “rejection (of Messiah) is the reconciliation of the world (that is, people from among every language and nation)”; but “what will their acceptance (by God by their faith in Messiah Jesus) be but life from the dead?”

Douglas Moo (Professor of New Testament, Wheaton Graduate School) comments–

“The implication in this case, would be that to the present remnant there will be added a much greater number of Jewish believers so as to ‘fill up’ the number of Jews destined for salvation.”

I take “life from the dead” to mean that a great number of Jewish believers will pass from spiritual death to life.  Others reason this way:  once the full number of Gentiles come in, the full number of Israel will, and then the end-time resurrection will come.

So, does Paul see a greater harvest of believers among Israel?  Apparently so.  How that will occur and when and how many isn’t explained.  Paul, however, certainly implies that God’s people in Christ will include many more from Israel than now.

God’s word hasn’t failed (9:6a)! Not only because he made his promises to true IsraelNot only because in Paul’s day, until now, a remnant of Israel believes.  But also because God’s promises will reach greater fulfillment among Israel by God’s choice and Israel’s faith.  Ultimately, he will save a remnant–plus.

* * *

If you’ve read to this point, you may be asking, “So what?”  One “what” is this.

You may be like me–caught in the middle of a mystery.  What is God doing?  How can this possibly be a good thing that conforms me more to the likeness of Christ?   Why does God seem silent?  Has God forgotten his promises?

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform . . .



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Incomprehensibility and No Excuse

Excuse:  attempt to escape blame.   In Romans 10:14-21 Paul addresses Israel’s possible excuses for not believing in Jesus as Messiah.  Incomprehensibility:  the doctrine that finite humans are unable to fully understand God.  I’ll explain its place in this text below.

Paul ended his previous paragraph with this quote from Joel 2:32–“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (10:13).

Paul begins his next paragraph by raising rhetorical questions, which Israel might use for not calling on the name of the Lord (Jesus).


“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (10:14,15).

 If no one was sent and no one proclaimed, so that no one heard and could not believe and call, excuses would be valid.  However, in the next two verses Paul implies the message has rung out, but did not meet with faith.

“But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (10:16,17).

“Submit” (as in 10:3) might be a better translation of hupopaso, since “obey” often connotes the idea of good works. In any case, Paul tells the church at Rome, that the good new has been proclaimed, but with mixed results.

So faith (obedience, submission) comes from what is heard through the word of Christ.  Charles Spurgeon said . . .

“Faith cannot be washed into us by immersion, nor sprinkled upon us in christening; it is not to be poured into us from a chalice, nor generated in us by a consecrated piece of bread. There is no magic about it; it comes by hearing the word of God, and by that way only.”

Paul now returns to Israel’s unbelief in the promised Messiah.  And, despite God choosing recipients of his mercy, lays the blame for unbelief at Israel’s feet . . .

“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.’ Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’ Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people’” (10:18-21).

 Israel heard.  Paul quotes from Psalm 19, where God’s existence is heard throughout all creation. Paul here means that the gospel is being proclaimed “everywhere”, and Israel has heard it.

But did they not understand it?  Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:31 where the Lord through Moses predicts he will make Israel jealously angry “with a foolish nation.”  He’s preparing for what he will say about Gentiles in chapter 10.

Then he quotes the Lord speaking through Isaiah (Isaiah 65:1)—the Lord will be found by those not looking for him (Gentiles).

Finally he refers to Isaiah 65:2. The Lord had been patient and tolerant with Israel, but Israel remained “disobedient and contrary”.

So, Israel is without excuse.  The nation has had more than enough knowledge in order to believe.  But, despite the Lord’s pleas, she is “a disobedient and contrary people.”  No excuse.  We have none either, if we refuse to act in faith on what we know.


But how can national Israel be liable for rejecting the Messiah, if God hadn’t chosen her to believe?  The question nags at me.  I know I can never fully understand even one single thing about God.  He is incomprehensible.  But this seems totally illogical.

Nor is this just a matter of “theology”.  I don’t understand God’s ways with my health.  Why primary lateral sclerosis?  Why, on top of that (literally), melanoma?  I’m reminded of Scripture texts, such as . . .

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom” (Psalm 145:3).

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5).

“Such knowledge (of God) is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6).

When it comes to fully understanding God’s ways, I have only two options:  (1) reject his Word as irrational, or (2) humble myself before him and trust though I don’t understand.

I chose #2 and will echo these words . . .

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.
–Romans 11:33-36





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Christ–End of the Law

God’s promises are extraordinary.  Take just two from promise-rich Romans 8. The glory about to be revealed to us will be incomparably greater than present sufferings (8:18).  Nothing in all creation can ever separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:38,39).

But suppose God’s word had failed before?  How could we trust his promises to us now?

This is what makes Romans 9-11 so important to us.  And why we must understand God’s ways, as much as humanly possible.

Remember the problem Paul addresses in those chapters:  Israel, upon whom God lavished privilege after privilege (all pointing to the Messiah), rejected the Messiah and were, consequently, cut off from him.

What happened to all those promises?  Israel didn’t get what God had promised!  Had God’s word to Israel failed?  “By no means!” shouts Paul.  Because “It is through Isaac that [Abraham’s] descendants shall be named . . . it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise . . . “ (9:7,8).  That means that within national Israel lived true Israel.  To them God made those promises.  And to them God was keeping them.  God chose to “ . . . have mercy on whom [he would] have mercy” (9:15).  And that includes Gentiles!  Good for us, huh?

“Well then, what shall we say about these things? Just this: The Gentiles have been made right with God by faith, even though they were not seeking him. But the Jews, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded.  Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law and being good instead of by depending on faith. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures (Isa. 28:16) when he said, ‘I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that causes people to stumble, and a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who believes in him will not be disappointed’” (9:30-33, New Living Translation).

Gentiles, not seeking God, have been made right with God by faith.  Jews, who tried hard to get right with God by keeping law, failed.  Why?  Because they didn’t seek the righteousness that comes by faith.  So they “stumbled” over Jesus Messiah—the one to whom God’s promises pointed and the one in whom Abraham’s line through Isaac culminated.  He was crucified—crucified!—in abject weakness as the sacrifice for their (and our) sins.  But they thought they didn’t need a Savior. They were building their own righteousness by trying to keep God’s laws. So, they stumbled and fell in unbelief. 

Yet, Paul still longs for their salvation and admires their zeal, even though it’s enthusiasm without true knowledge of how to be right with God . . .

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness” (10:1-3).

. . . . submitted”—interesting word-choice.  He could have written “received God’s righteousness”.  But he wrote “submitted”, maybe because receiving God’s righteousness requires humility, a confession that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot keep God’s law and be declared righteous.

“For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (10:4).

“ . . . end” is English for the Greek telos. Three meanings are possible.  Christ is the goal of the law—the One to whom the law is intended to bring us (Galatians 3:23-26).  Christ is the termination of the law—the One who ends the Law Covenant and ushers in the Covenant of Grace (Romans 6:4; 7:4).

But this is best:  Christ is the fulfillment of the law (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”–Matthew 5:17).  Jesus perfectly obeyed every law of the Father.  Therefore, he can impute his righteousness “for everyone who believes”. 

This leads Paul to contrast “the righteousness that comes from law” with that which comes by faith in Christ.

“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘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). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:5-9).

Pastor (Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) Sam Storms comments . . .

“Paul’s point seems to be that even the Law itself proclaimed salvation by faith and not by works. Salvation is not a matter of searching high and low or of working to win God’s favor. God has already made provision for us in Christ Jesus. We do not have to scale the heights of heaven to procure it: Christ Jesus has already come down from heaven with it. We do not have to descend into the depths to bring it up: Christ Jesus has descended into death and has been raised on our behalf. In other words, salvation is not a matter of performing some magnificent physical deed. It is already here, present and available. All one need do is believe.”

Righteousness by law-keeping requires actually doing all the law’s commands.  I’m not certain exactly what Paul means by citing Deuteronomy 30:11-14.  But this much is clear:  righteousness by faith doesn’t demand herculean effort on our part.  Still citing Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Paul writes “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”—then identifies that word as “the word of faith that we proclaim”.

We’re saved by confessing “the word of faith””.  One, that “Jesus is Lord”.  Two, believing in our heart that “God raised him from the dead”.

When we proclaim “Jesus is Lord”, we’re acknowledging that he is God (the Son), the one who possesses absolute sovereign authority over everything and everyone. When we proclaim “God raised him from the dead”, we’re declaring that he conquered death and that his death was accepted by God as sufficient payment for all our sins.

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (10:10-13).

This is the mercy God sovereignly lavishes on those he chooses.  A mercy that results in salvation from his rightful wrath and in righteousness, not by our efforts at being good, but by believing God’s Word is true.

Paul bolsters his argument with two Scriptures.  The first, from Isaiah 28:16, reminds us that God will do everything he said he would.  We won’t be put to shame for trusting him.  The second, from Joel 2:32, reminds us that we must express our faith by calling on him, and “all who call on him” reminds us that the “saved” will be people from every “tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

* * *

“God wants us to be good.”  That’s what most people think.  But how can we know if we’re good enough?  That’s why “Christ is the end of the law” is such good news.  He says to everyone (including you and me) who try so hard to be good by keeping his laws . . .

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NRS).

“Christ is the end of the law”–
the end of our trying to be good enough,
the end where we can rest in his righteousness,
and receive his glorious promises.






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Who Are You to Criticize God?

I see a guy shaking his fist toward heaven.  He’s angry–picking a fight with God.  Who does this little man think he is?  Paul’s words in Romans 9:14-29 hit him like a stomach punch.

 “What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” (9:14)

What are we to say to what?  To Paul’s argument that God’s word hadn’t failed, when Israel rejected her long-promised Messiah and was “cut off”.  Within national Israel lived true Israel, chosen by God.  And true Israel believed (see Romans 9:1-13).

Well: “Is there injustice on God’s part?”  If God chooses, is that unfair to the unchosen?  (See my fist-shaking.)  In Genesis 21:12, Abraham is distressed because Sarah’s insisted he send Hagar and his son by her (Ishmael) away.  The LORD says, “Don’t be . . . for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.”  Paul cites that incident when explaining “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise” (9:8) as made to Abraham (“I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you”—Genesis 17:6,7).

So:  By choosing Isaac over Ishmael, and later Jacob over Esau, by giving none a say in the matter, was God being unfair?

Paul answers emphatically: “may genoito”—“May it never be!” (NSV); “Out of the question!” (NJB).

But why is God choosing not unfair?  Why should some be chosen for God’s covenant blessings and others not?  It’s imperative to remember Paul’s dark description of humanity in 1:18-3:20. We’re all under sin.  We’ve all turned away from God.  None of us seeks God.  We’re all Adam’s children—condemned sinners (5:12-21).  Therefore, none of us merits anything from God.

Two other truths to remember.  One, God is absolutely holy.  Sin can’t be tolerated in his presence.  Two, God is committed to upholding his glory.  His name must be exalted.

With that in mind, read Paul’s explanation of why God’s choosing isn’t unjust . . .

“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. ’So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (9:15,16).

“Mercy” implies no merit.  All are guilty; but the LORD tells Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy . . . “  In Exodus 33:18, Moses begs the LORD, “Show me your glory . . . “  In 33:19, the LORD replies “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.”

John Piper explains . . .

“since God’s righteousness consists basically in his acting unswervingly for his own glory, and since his glory consists basically in his sovereign freedom in the bestowal and withholding of mercy, there is no unrighteousness with God (Rom. 9:11f.). On the contrary, he must pursue his ‘electing purpose’ apart from man’s ‘willing and running,’ for only in his sovereign, free bestowal of mercy on whomever he wills is God acting out of a full allegiance to his name and esteem for his glory.”.

Not only his words to Moses, but to Pharaoh . . .

“For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’  So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses” (9:17,18).

Whoever the Pharaoh was during Moses’ days (scholars disagree), the LORD raised him to rule and spared his life through the plagues to display God’s power, so the name of the LORD might “be proclaimed in all the earth.” 

In verse 18, Paul draws a conclusion  that expands God’s choosing beyond Israel to include “whomever”—“he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens (in unbelief) the heart of whomever he chooses.”

A bit troubling? No problem if the Lord chooses Jacob over Esau and hardens Pharaoh’s heart.  But “whomever”?  If anyone (“whomever”) is to receive God’s mercy in Christ, God must first choose him to receive mercy in Christ.  Paul makes this explicit in Ephesians 1:3-6 . . .

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

One view (“Arminianism”, early 17th century) argues that God chooses based on his foreknowledge of those who would, of their own free will, believe.

Paul’s next words, though, seem to argue for God’s sovereign choice . . .

“You will say to me then, ‘Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?” (9:19-21).

The anticipated objection clearly implies that God makes a man as he wills, not that God foreknows how he will respond, then chooses him accordingly.  However, that raises a real objection—if God leaves some of us in unbelief, how can he blame us for not believing?

Paul replies sharply.  “Who are you . . . to argue with God?” A mere man has no right to criticize God!  Quoting from Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9, Paul says God is like a potter.  No back-talk from a clay lump! The potter can make of it whatever he wants.

“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (9:22-24).

John Piper comments . . .

“Romans 9:22,23 . . . is probably the closest the Bible ever comes to offering us a justification of the mysterious ways of God with man . . . God tolerated, as it were, a tenfold recalcitrance from Pharaoh and sustained him alive instead of bringing destructive judgment on him right away. He did this even though he himself had hardened Pharaoh and destined him for destruction . . . [This] answers . . . why God sustains and tolerates vessels of wrath.  Evidently, by doing this, God’s sovereign power and terrible wrath can be demonstrated even more vividly than if God were to bring down final judgment on vessels of wrath at the very outset of their disobedience. . . .The acts of God come forth . . . from a unified, sovereign purpose.  They cohere to achieve one great end—the magnification of God’s great glory for the eternal enjoyment of his chosen people” (The Justification of God, p. 187-189).

This, writes Paul, not only explains God’s dealings with Pharaoh, but God’s dealings with “the objects of mercy . . . including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles.”

Paul now cites two prophets.  Their words reveal God showing mercy to his chosen ones but executing his sentence against others . . .

“As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.”’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they shall be called children of the living God. And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.’ And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah’” (9:25-29).

Each prophecy foretells God’s mercy.  Mercy on those not God’s people.  Mercy on a remnant of Israel, who would otherwise have suffered Sodom and Gomorrah’s fate.  Which is Paul’s point in this whole passage.  God has mercy on whom he has mercy, because he’s committed to glorifying his name by showing mercy on undeserving sinners.

* * *

It’s pretty hard to argue against “election” (God choosing to have mercy on whom he wants).  Who God chooses is all part of the mystery of God.  But, instead of debating theology or criticizing God for choosing, let’s ask this more pressing, personal question:  “How can I know if I’m chosen or not?

Scripture never answers.  John Piper offers assurance:  “How To Confirm Your Call and Election” (a brief article worth reading)–

Or we can ponder this simple bit of a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision . . .

“I need not search to see if I am elect or loved,
for if I turn You will come to me;
Christ has promised me fellowship if I take him,
and the Spirit will pour himself out on me,
abolishing sin and punishment,
assuring me of strength to persevere . . .
I could never have sought my happiness in Your love,
unless You had first loved me.

If we have a heart to go to him, that means he chose and called us first!





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Jacob I Loved

So we have in mind this one surety from last time: “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Romans 9:6a).  Despite all Israel’s privileges (9:4,5) and the nation’s inexplicable rejection of Messiah, “It is not as though the word of God had failed.”

How can you make such a claim, Paul?  God’s promises to the nation unkept!  Israel accursed and cut off from Christ (Messiah)!  And you say God’s word hadn’t failed?  Why?

“For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you’” (9:6b,7).

There is, Paul explains, an Israel within Israel—a spiritually chosen remnant within the Jewish nation.  Not every ethnic Israelite is a true Israelite.  Douglas Moo (New Testament Professor, Wheaton College Graduate school) comments . . .

“If the OT teaches that belonging to physical Israel in itself makes a person a member of God’s true spiritual people, then Paul’s gospel is in jeopardy. For were this the case, the gospel, proclaiming that only those who believe in Jesus Christ can be saved (cf. 3:20-26), would contradict the OT and be cut off from its indispensable historical roots. Paul therefore argues in vv. 6b-29 that belonging to God’s true spiritual people has always been based on God’s gracious and sovereign call and not on ethnic identity. Therefore, God is free to ‘narrow’ the apparent boundaries of election by choosing only some Jews to be saved (vv. 6-13; 27-29). He is also free to ‘expand’ the dimensions of his people by choosing Gentiles (vv. 24-26)”.

In the verses above, Paul distinguished between “Abraham’s children” and “his true descendants”.  In the verses below, Paul distinguishes between “the children of the flesh” and “the children of God” . . .

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. For this is what the promise said, ‘About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son’” (9:8,9).

“Sarah shall have a son”.  That was God’s promise.  He would be born by God’s miraculous intervention.  And that son’s descendants are “not the children of the flesh” but “children of the promise” and, thus, “children of God.”

Paul also cites Rebecca . . .

“Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau’” (9:10-13).

One husband:  Isaac.  Before the twins’ birth or behavior:  God told her “The elder (Esau) shall serve the younger.”  Why?  For what purpose?  “ . . . so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by (their) works but by his call . . . “

Again, Paul explains, it’s not children of the flesh who are God’s children, but children of God’s election and call.  A God-chosen, God-called Israel lives within ethnic Israel.  So ethnic Israel rejected her Messiah, but “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Romans 9:6a).

What, though, are we to make of Paul’s reference to Malachi 1,  “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau”?

Commentators suggest various solutions.  Some, for example, suggest “hated” only means that God loved Jacob so much his feeling toward Esau seemed like hatred.  Here is Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) . . .

Perhaps hate does indeed have a positive force. God not only did not savingly and redemptively love Esau, as he did Jacob, but he actively rejected him and manifested his displeasure and disfavor by means of retributive justice. It is not merely the absence of blessing that Esau suffers, but the presence of judgment (see Ps. 5:5; 11:5; Prov. 6:16; 8:13; Isa. 1:14; 61:8; Jer. 44:4; Hos. 9:15; Amos 5:21; Zech. 8:17; Mal. 2:16).

I agree.  But, if we buy Storms’ interpretation, we should remember God hates without malice, revenge or bitterness.  Unlike the hate of sinful humans, God’s hatred is holy.  It’s a rejection of Esau.

Therefore, God’s word hadn’t failed, because God was keeping his promises to Israelites whom he sovereignly chose, not to ethnic Israel for whom his promises were never meant.

* * *

Romans 9-11 may be the most controversial section of the Bible, because we balk at God’s sovereignty, captured succinctly in the uncomfortable statement, “I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau.”  Paul will unfold more about God’s sovereign choices in the coming verses.  We’ll have to face them head-on.

But, for today, I wish to downplay I have hated Esau” and turn the spotlight on “I have loved Jacob”.  God loved a cheat, a hypocrite, a con-man!  In many ways, Esau is easier to love.  But the Lord loved Jacob.  This was the Lord’s sovereign choice of grace, as it was his choice of Isaac over Ishmael (God told Abraham, “Do not be so distressed about the boy (Ishmael) and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring  will be reckoned”–Genesis 21:12).  It was a choice of sovereign grace and love for an undeserving liar.

So God has loved and chosen me.  I’m as crooked as Jacob, as deceitful as Isaac.  Yet the Lord set his love on me.  (I know, because I believe in Jesus Christ.  Such faith is not mine; it’s God’s gift–a sign of being chosen.)  So, for today, I erase from my thinking, “I have hated Esau”.  In boldface I write, “I have loved Jacob”. 

And I gratefully write next to it, I have loved Allan”.



Our “right-to-choose” mind naturally erupts that God would choose Isaac, not Ishmael, and Jacob, not Esau.  I have no answer for God’s sovereign choice.  But, instead of trying to solve an unsolvable mystery, I choose to marvel that God chooses some sinners at all.  Instead of stumbling over “Esau I hated”, I’ll stand in awe that “Jacob I loved”.

Why should God love a con-man?  Why should God love me?  But, if I believe in Jesus, then I can be sure God has chosen me.  He’s set his love upon me.  Sent his Son for me.  It doesn’t solve the dilemma.  But it leaves me in wonder of why he should love me at all.




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God’s Word Failed?

Imagine reading a book on nuclear fission, when suddenly you find three chapters where the author reveals his feelings about friendships lost.  Bewildering, no?  That’s how Romans 9-11 appears.  But, as we’ll see, Paul has a purpose consistent with the gospel.

“I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh” (9:1-3).

Paul elaborates on the truth of what he’s about to write.  Not because we think he might lie, but because he earlier said some harsh things about the Jews (2:9,17-29; 3:9,29; 4:9-18; 9:25-10:5,19-21; 11:1ff.)—and what he’s about to say is quite the opposite.

He is, he writes, “speaking the truth in Christ”.  That is, he’s speaking the truth as Christ himself would.  His “conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit”.  That is, he knows intuitively that he’s speaking the truth as found in his Spirit-filled heart.

And what is this truth?  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”

What causes such sorrow and anguish?  Paul hints at it when he wishes he himself were “accursed and cut off from Christ”.  Messiah, for whom the Jews longed, has come—and they rejected him.  They are “accursed”.  The Greek is anathema—“delivered over to God’s wrath”.  They are “cut off from Messiah”.

And Paul wishes he might be in their place.  Commentators go to considerable length to explain the possibility of Paul prayer-wishing such a thing.  Could Paul have really prayed like that?  Might God accept such a sacrifice for others.  I think Paul is merely stating how much he loves his “kindred according to the flesh”, and what he would do to save them if he could.

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (9:4,5).

Paul stands in awe at the God-given privileges they enjoyed.  “Israelites” is a general term of honor meant to summarize the privileges that follow.

“ . . . to them belong the adoption”.  One commentator explains this is Paul’s way of speaking of the Israelites as God’s sons.  Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (Exodus 4:22,23) . . . Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (Deuteronomy 14:1).

“to them belong . . . the glory”. 

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:34-38).

The “glory” signified God’s holy presence among the Israelites.

“to them belong . . . the covenants”.  These include, not only the Mosaic covenant, but all the promises the LORD made to Israel.

. . .remember lthat you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12).

“to them belong . . . the giving of the law”.  Paul takes his readers back to Sinai and the LORD’s revelation of how his people must live as his covenant people.  The law reflected the very nature of God.

“to them belong . . . the worship”.  That is, the sacrificial system by which their sins could be atoned for and which pointed forward toward Messiah and the Temple where the Holy One himself dwelt among them.

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.  For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.  Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrews 9:1-5).

“to them belong . . . the promises”. 

Here’s one the Lord made to Abraham . . .

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:6-8).

And another through the prophet Daniel . . .

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13,14).

to them belong the patriarchs”.  Great men of faith and exploits:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and probably David.

“ . . . and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

“Messiah”, writes C.E.B. Cranfield (late New Testament scholar), “is the supreme privilege, the supreme dignity of the Jewish people”.

* * *

Despite all that, the majority of Jews  rejected the Messiah.  Hence, Paul’s great sorrow and unceasing anguish.

How could such a thing happen?

We ask, because we suddenly remember that through Paul God the Holy Spirit has made promises to us, too.  Roman’s 8 runs full of them and ends with this extravagant promise . . .

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Indeed, all of Romans 8 contains similar grandeur that it takes our breath away.

Now:   if God didn’t keep his word to Israel, how can we be confident he’ll keep it to us?

Hear Paul’s emphatic response: . . .

“It is not as though the word of God had failed” (9:6a). 

Paul will explain in following verses.  He’ll answer our, “How could such a thing happen?”, question.  But, for now, this is enough.  On this we must stand. And pray that the Holy Spirit will root it deep in our minds and heart.  For this is the very nature of our God  . . .

“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

Be assured.  Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord, no matter how life seems.

“It is not as though the word of God had failed” (9:6a).





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Defiance in His Voice

“May I please come with you?”  That’s a polite question.

In Romans 8:31-39, Paul asks four questions–not politely. John Stott (20th century English Evangelical leader) wrote that Paul “hurls these questions out into space, as it were, defiantly, triumphantly challenging any creature in heaven or earth or hell to answer them or deny the truth that is contained in them.”

“What then are we to say about these things?” (8:31a). ‘’

This question isn’t one of Stott’s four.  But, if Stott is right, Paul asks it with the same challenging spirit evident in the coming four.  So, having thought deeply about what Paul’s just written (especially Romans 8:1-30), what should (or, will) we say about “these things”?

Question 1: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31:b).

“For” translates the Greek hupare.  Paul uses it again in 9:3—“For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people . . .”.  He uses it in the same sense here.  So we might say, “If God has so acted for our sake in Christ, who is against us?”  Or, to particularize, “If God works all things for our good to conform us to the glorious likeness of his Son, who can be against us?”

Well, a lot can be against us!  “ . . .tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’” (8:35,36).  So, Paul doesn’t mean no one and no thing can be against us.  He means no one and no thing can beat us.  Since, God has acted for our sake in Christ (8:1-30), we can’t lose—no matter what.  God is our Protector.

Question 2:  “ . . . will he not with him also give us everything else?” (8:32b).

Here’s the whole verse: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”

Paul is arguing logically, from the greatest to the least.  The greatest:  God did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for us all.  The least:  he will with him give us everything else.  Here’s John Piper’s explanation of Paul’s reasoning . . .

“The reason [God’s sparing not his own Son is] the greater thing is that God loved his Son infinitely. His Son did not deserve to be killed. His Son was worthy of worship by every creature, not spitting and whipping and scorn and torture. To hand over his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13) was the incomparably great thing. The reason for this is the immensity of God’s love for his Son. This is what made it so unlikely that God would hand him over. Yet God did it. And in doing it he showed that he most certainly would do all other things — all of which would be easy by comparison — to give all things to the people for whom he gave his Son.”

What is “everything else”?  It includes at least two glorious things both free from sin’s corruption and death’s decay:  a new, resurrected body and a new creation (8:18-23).

Question 3: “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?” (8:33a).

Paul is not saying that no one will ever condemn us or charge us.  In fact, Satan does.  In Revelation 12:10, the apostle John hears a loud voice in heaven calling Satan “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, [who] has been hurled down.”  This implies we are constantly accused before God, much like Satan accused Job (Job 1:9-11–“‘Does Job fear God for nothing?'” Satan replied.  ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.'”

Paul is saying that no charge against God’s chosen ones will stick.  Because, “It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (8:33b,34).

Paul has already said that God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us, so we are “right” before him.  Who can condemn us since God has justified us?  Not Satan.  Not our own sins.  Not an enemy.

Christ Jesus died.  He was raised.  And he’s at God’s “right hand” (metaphor for God’s place of sovereignty and dominion) interceding for us.

I heard Pastor Jack Arnold { offer this illustration (my paraphrase) . . .

“I imagine standing before God on Judgement Day. He reviews all my sins, then asks, ‘What do you have to say for yourself?’  Jesus stands next to me and says, ‘I’ll take care of this.’  He says not another word, just holds out to the Judge his nail-scarred hands.”

Jesus paid it all.

Question 4: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35a).

Christ’s love is seen supremely in his sacrifice for us.  But will anyone or anything ever be able to sever us from his love?

“Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered’” (8:35b,36).

I understand “hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword” to be suffering that might make us presume we’re no longer in Christ’s love.  Does this hardship mean Christ no longer acts to me in love?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:37-39).

“ . . . more than conquerors” is the NRS’ translation of hupernikao—“to be completely and overwhelmingly victorious.”  It’s a rout, a shut-out.  In all these things, however hard, we’re super-conquerors “through him who loved us.”  Christ Jesus is our means of conquering.

Paul makes this audacious conquer-claim because he’s convinced that . . .

  • “neither death (death brings us to Christ—Philippians 1:21-23),
  • not life (anything it throws at us),
  • nor angels, nor rulers (nothing in the spiritual realm, good or evil),
  • nor things present, nor things to come (not today’s circumstances, not tomorrow’s troubles),
  • nor powers (supernatural forces—Satan, demons),
  • nor height, nor depth (anything above the heavens or beneath the earth),
  • nor anything else in all creation (with these words Paul encompasses anything unsaid in the above list).

. . . absolutely nothing has the power (Greek, doonami) to set us apart from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.

* * *

This Scripture deserves a 100-piece orchestra and huge choir singing its words so we could soak them into our soul as the music shakes the walls.  But here’s the best I can do for now.  I turn Paul’s questions into four defiant declarations of faith. . . .

“If God is for me, no one and no thing can succeed against me!”

“Since God gave up his Son for me, he will surely give me all things with him!”

“No one can ever condemn me, because I am one of God’s chosen, justified by Christ!”

“Absolutely nothing in all creation can ever separate me from God’s love in Christ Jesus my Lord!”







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It’s All Good

John 3:16—the best-known Bible reference, thanks to football game signs. Psalm 23– probably the most-loved passage.  But Romans 8:28 is our go-to verse in suffering. Today we’ll examine it and the following two verses.

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (8:28, NRS).

“We know” connects us to the preceding, especially 8:26,27.  In suffering the Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s will (and God wills us to be glorified—8:1-25). So, we know God will make all things work together for good.

The words, “all things work together”, are a translation of a Greek word, “soon” (together with) “ergeo” (work).  Question is, how encompassing is “all things”.  There’s no reason not to take the Greek word pas literally—all things.

Does this mean that everything that’s happened in my life—from a loose tooth to our car breaking down on I-80 traveling home from Bible college, to marrying Lois, to parenting three children, etc., etc.—all “work together for good”?   Here, Paul is emphasizing suffering.  Thus we could rightly translate, “We know that all things—even suffering—work together for good . . . “

“ . . . good” is the Greek agathone—good in the sense of morally good and beneficial.

This mind-stretching promise is true “for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” 

In reply to the question, “Which commandment is the greatest?”, Jesus said, ”Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Matthew 22:37), affirming the Lord’s command through Moses to Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4,5).

The Greek verb, agapao, refers to love as a matter of the will and action.  We are to love God as a matter of our will and demonstrate it in our actions.  That leaves us with a big problem:  our will is “bent” toward sin, toward not loving God.  Which is probably why Paul hastily added, “who are called according to his purpose.”  God’s call is a call to justification and sanctification and, ultimately, glorification. That’s God’s purpose for those he calls.   So God works for good in all things for those whom he has called and who, thereby, love him (however imperfectly).

It’s a shame that 8:29,30 don’t always follow when someone quotes 8:28.  Verses 29 and 30 explain the good God is working and the purpose for which he’s called us.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (8:29,30, NRS).

Paul uses five key verbs to explain why he knows God works for good in all things for his called ones.

“foreknew”.  This means more than God knowing beforehand who would love him.  It means God knowing from before creation whom he would predestine, justify and glorify.  How could God know that?  Because he chose them before creation . . .

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4).

“ . . . who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began . . . ” (2 Timothy 1:9).

“ . . . foreknew” means more than “had knowledge beforehand”.  It means “knew personally” even before they had been created!

“predestined”.  The Greek (proprizo) means to “determine in advance” or “decide on beforehand”.  So God “decreed in advance” that those he called would “be conformed to the image of his Son”. That’s God’s predetermined destiny for believers.

What does it mean to be conformed to the Son’s likeness?  One, we will have resurrection bodies like Christ (8:11).  Two, our indwelling sin-nature will be gone, for we will have reached the goal of the sanctification process and be glorified.  Beyond that, we can let our imaginations soar!

Our likeness to the Son has a purpose: “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  In other words, that Jesus might be the firstborn in a family of believers, who ultimately are together conformed to the Son’s likeness.  (Many sons and daughters like the Son!)

“called”.  Peter uses the word (kaleo)  of God inviting to salvation those he foreknew (1 Peter 2:9).  Matthew uses keleo of Jesus summoning Matthew to discipleship (Matthew 4:21).  Since this “call” comes to those who God foreknew and predestined, this call (that comes in time)  must be effectual (able to produce the desired effect)If God calls, you won’t and can’t refuse.

“justified”.  The Greek point-in-time aorist tense of dikio-o means God “justified” the ones he calls at a point in time, like a judge declaring “not guilty”.  But beyond being declared “not guilty”, “justified” implies what theologians call “imputed righteousness”.  To “impute” means to reckon or attribute to someone the blessing of another.  In this case, it means God credits his Son’s righteousness to those who believe!  “ . . . they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24).

“glorified” (doxodso).  Paul uses this word to describe the culmination of God’s saving work in those he called.  Sanctification complete:   God gives his called ones what John Piper calls “the inward beauty of holiness”.  Resurrection complete:   God gives his called ones a new body like Christ’s (see 1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

Suffering with Christ is the prerequisite for being glorified with Christ (8:17).  But suffering, Paul reckons, is “not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18).  It’s the revelation of the children of God for which all creation waits with eager longing (8:19).

Furthermore, suffering is part of the “all things” God works together for his good purpose.  Toward that purpose, he knew his chosen people before creation, predestined them to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, called them, justified them and glorified them.

“Glorified”, like “justified”, is in the Greek point-in-time aorist tense, though “glorified” remains future in our experience.  It’s as if Paul chose the aorist tense because Christ has been glorified (and our glorification is a share in his), and because he wants his readers to know the certainty of its fulfillment.

* * *

So we come back to, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  This knowing isn’t only intellectual; it’s knowing as in assurance.  And how do we know that all things work together for good?  Because, if we believe in Jesus, we’re caught up in God’s grand purpose.  We’re among those he foreknew, predestined to be conformed to his Son’s likeness, called, justified and glorified–all in Christ.

And because Christ suffered in order to be glorified, so must we.  But what if our suffering isn’t persecution?  What if it’s illness or the death of a child?  All Christian suffering is suffering with Christ, because it tests our faith in him and it draws us closer to him.

So whether it’s an enjoyable beach vacation or a painful hospital stay, it’s all good.  We can believe it.  Because we’re graciously caught up in God’s grand purpose–and he’s using all things toward the day of our glorification with Christ.




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The Spirit Prays for Us

There are days when many  of my prayers are silence.  I’ve asked for healing over and over.  I’ve  complained (it’s okay; the psalmist did—Psalm 64:1).  Some days there’s nothing left to say.  I read a psalm.  Or a prayer from The Valley of Vision.  But from my own mind, I have no words.  I don’t mean to sound like a martyr; but suffering sometimes is like that.  So today’s text is good news . . .

 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

“Likewise”, Paul writes, “the Spirit helps us . . . “  In the same way (“likewise”) as what?  Just as we have “the first fruits of the Spirit’ and so groan longingly for bodily redemption, so “the Spirit helps us . . . ” .  The Greek word, soonantilambanomy, means “grasp hold of someone to help”.

So, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . .” .  Greek, asthenia, refers to weakness of any kind.  Paul uses it in 6:19, “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations”.

Our suffering (the context of 8:1-27) intensifies our natural weakness (in this case, the weakness of ignorance).  Paul specifies it as not knowing “how to pray as we ought”.  He doesn’t mean the form of our praying, nor its frequency or fervency, but its content.  Especially in our suffering, we don’t know what to ask God for.  But “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.

Jesus promised the Spirit to be exclusively in his own people . . .

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17).

As Jesus promised, the Spirit indwells us.  He is God the Holy Spirit present with us and in us.  And he not only “comes alongside to help us” (paraklaytos—John 14:26), but in our suffering-weakness he “grasps hold of us to help us”.

My handicapped niece painted Jesus bending over with two hands reaching to pick up a young girl who had fallen.  This is what I see in Paul’s words, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.  He helps, not because we’re too weak to walk, but because we’re too ignorant to pray.

He “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  Greek, stenagmois (“groanings”) alalaytois (“that cannot be expressed in words”).  We can’t verbalize these groanings, though they may or may not be audible.  They are the Spirit in us praying for us.

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (8:27).

God, writes Paul, examines our heart and knows what the Spirit in us is thinking.  This is because the Spirit intercedes for God’s holy ones according to God’s will.

David wrote of the Lord searching and knowing him . . .

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me” (Psalm 139:1).

Here Paul writes of God searching our heart to know the mind of the indwelling Spirit.

Now we see what we’re ignorant of—namely, what God’s will is in our times of suffering.  So, the Spirit “takes over” and prays God’s will for us.  So, not only does incomparable glory await us, in the present we have the Holy Spirit who “grabs hold of” us to help us by interceding according to God’s will for us.  And he intercedes for us, not only to strengthen us in suffering, but also to empower us in suffering “so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk . . . according to the Spirit” (8:4).

“Paul is saying . . . that our failure to know God’s will and consequent inability to approach God specifically and assuredly is met by God’s Spirit, who himself expresses to God those intercessory petitions that perfectly match the will of God.  When we do not know what to pray for–yes, even when we pray for things not best for us–we need not despair, for we can depend on the Spirit’s ministry of perfect intercession on our behalf.” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p.525).

* * *

Our prayers matter.  Else why would the Spirit intercede for us with sighs too deep for words?  That he intercede for us “according to the will of God” is a reminder that prayers are effective when we pray according to his will (1 John 5:14,15).

That being said, two questions.  One, if God’s going to do what he wants, why does the Spirit intercede in prayer for us?  (Why doesn’t God just do his will?)  Two, can we know when the Spirit intercedes for us and does it matter or not if we know?

Answer to #1:  all prayer is designed to deepen our relationship with the Lord.  God will do his will with or without our prayers.  But seeking him draws us closer to him.  And in some way, God uses prayers prayed according to his will to accomplish his will.  (All this, by the way, sounds authoritarian on God’s part–until we remember God’s will is holy, pleasing and perfect–Romans 12:2).

Answer to #2–Perhaps we know when the Spirit is interceding when we sense a special measure of the Spirit’s presence.  Regarding the Spirit accomplishing his intercession, it doesn’t matter if we know he’s praying for us or not.  But regarding our assurance that he’s interceding, it does, because we’re enjoying that assurance with a felt sense of his presence.

Questions aside, Paul intends these statements to give us assurance in suffering.  When we’re hurting and don’t know how to pray as we should, the Spirit indwelling us prays for us according to God’s good will.

I sit in my wheelchair on my little platform outside on my pool deck.  Downcast.  Prayers for healing so far unanswered.  Wondering why God should answer when many others suffer so much.  Old age is filled with illness.  Breathing deeply in dismay.  Sighing.  Is the Spirit deep inside me interceding for me according to God’s will?  That’s the hope Paul offers.  I grab on.






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Glory Way Greater Than Suffering

Despite prosperity preachers, and despite our wishing it were not so, we will be glorified with Christ in the resurrection, if we suffer with him in this life . . .

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).

Considering the context (8:1-16), Paul is probably thinking about suffering in our struggles against sin.  In the passage below, he’s thinking about suffering in our struggles against persecution.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him . . . “ (Philippians 1:29).

But in Romans 8:18-25, he seems to broaden his thinking to include all kinds of suffering with which we struggle in the body.  Paul tells his readers how he evaluates the suffering situation (“I consider . . . “)

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18).

“ . . .the sufferings of this present time” are no small thing.  Paul knew suffering.  So do we.  My suffering (though it certainly could be worse) consumes me.  Christians endure cancer, heart disease and more.  Persecution causes suffering, dislocation, fear and death.  It’s happening today.

So Paul’s statement makes some of us say, “Yeah, right.  You don’t know what I’m going through.”  And what some of us are going through makes Paul’s consideration sound like childhood fantasty.  Thus we’re immediately faced with a choice:  to believe or not.

Paul makes the same comparison in 2 Corinthians 4. “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure . . . (4:17).  Put suffering on one scale and glory on the other—the “glory” scale crashes down to the counter under the weight.  “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later” (8:18, NLT).

“ . . . glory” is one of those hard-to-define words, a word one uses when a word is insufficient.  Greek is doxa, a manifestation of God’s excellent power, awesome holiness, awesome majesty.  English definition: “majestic beauty and splendor”.  But definitions don’t do it.  “Glory” is more–a word we use when something is so wonderful it can’t be expressed.  Paul tries . . .

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:19-21).

This glory is so glorious, Paul explains, that the whole creation “waits with eager longing . . . “  The Greek apokaradokia personifies creation as someone who is eagerly, expectantly waiting with his head stretched forward alertly.

Possible?  Really?  Is creation—trees, grass, flowers, clouds, sun, stars, bird, turtles, lions, air, planets—“waiting with eager longing” like a child for Christmas morning?

What’s creation waiting with eager longing for?  “ . . . the revealing of the children of God . . . “  I understand Paul to mean the unveiling of God’s children as God’s children.

Now we’re seen as ordinary people.  People like everybody else.  But then, glory.  The word stirs in me a child-like wonder that defies detailed definition.  It’s enough to wildly imagine. 

In our wild imaging, note this:  creation longs to be “set free from its bondage to decay and . . . obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  Our “freedom” will be from death and all ills associated with it.  Creation itself longs to be freed from its bondage to decay.    That raises an interesting question:  In what way is creation decaying?  That research is for another time.

What’s also interesting and is just my speculation.  Paul’s language may imply God’s children “get glorified” (in an instant–1 Corinthians 15) and the glory sort of sweeps from us to creation.  Whatever the sequence, as in the first creation, we (in this case God’s redeemed children) are the zenith of the glorious new creation.

But Paul has more to say . . .

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:22,23).

The creation “waits with eager longing” because “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains . . . “  Paul bases his view on Genesis 3:17-19 . . .

“And to the man he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ”’You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Creation lies under God’s curse.  The suffering of man’s sin against the Creator extends to the creation.  It’s in pain.  But Paul calls it “labor pains”.  Something’s about to be born.

“ . . . not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  Christians groan.  We have “the first fruits of the Spirit”—the fruit of the Spirit’s work inside us that portends an overwhelming harvest to come.

We groan in suffering.  Our bodies hurt, grow weak, contract disease, endure the wounds of persecution, die.  We have received “the Spirit of adoption” (8:15); but we wait for the fullness of adoption—“the redemption of our bodies.”

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

In present suffering, this is our hope.

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (8:24,25).

We were “saved” in hope, says Paul.  That is, from the start, the gospel promised, not just sins forgiven, but the hope of glory.  To miss this is to miss the wholeness of the gospel.  It’s to leave Christ in the tomb—and us with him.

What we see of Christianity now is not all it is, not all we receive.  We have a hope of what we don’t yet see.  And this hope produces “patience”.  The Greek word, hupopalmanay, is better translated “patient endurance.”  Because we have the hope of glory, we patiently endure until the glorious day of bodily redemption dawns.

* * *

Suffering.  Honestly, I’d rather be delivered from it now (and still have glory awaiting!).  But I don’t get to choose.  Christ Jesus has revealed himself to my mind and heart–and I must follow.  I understand persecution suffering, because enemies of the cross will attack Christians.  I don’t understand what appears to be random illness that sits me in a wheelchair and robs so much of these years with my wife.

But this is the path our Father has chosen for me, his child.  I still pray for healing.  But I listen to Paul’s words. too.  Beyond this suffering our Father has prepared incomparable glory.   Somehow, by his grace, I must keep my eyes on that future.  And I must trust, like a little child, that the fantastic hope of a glorified body and a glorified new creation lies ahead.

So I put my child-like  hope in Christ, looking beyond suffering to the glory that is way greater.


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