Lesson 10: Redemption for Jew and Gentile
How much do you love people? How much do you love your people? Paul starts Romans 9 unusually: by assuring the Romans that what he is about to say is seriously on his heart not once, not twice, but three times. “I’m telling the truth,” “I am not lying,” “my conscience testifies.” (Romans 9:1) About what? The grief that he has over his people, Israel (9:2). He yearns for their salvation as much as Moses did (Romans 9:3, Exodus 32:33-34). Do I have that love, that love that causes unceasing grief? I remember when first reading this passage five years ago, I wrote “I pray for pain.” I want that compassion and that surety of the Gospel.
For me at least, Romans 7 is the most difficult chapter in the book with regards to personal spirituality, but the chapter covered in this lesson, Romans 9, is the most difficult on doctrine. Many of my dear friends of the Reformed tradition will point to this chapter as evidence that God has predestined the eternal fate of every man and woman — some to eternal bliss, others eternal damnation — and that man has not the ability of his own power either to resist God’s grace or to accept it. Man’s free will, at least for the purposes of their relationship with God, was lost at the Fall, they say.
Admittedly, on first blush, this is what Romans 9:14–24 seem to imply. And I will not here try to tackle the enormous theological debate between Calvinists and Arminianists. But I will mention that not only must the passage be taken in context of the larger whole, but also in context of the rest of Scripture, which boldly declares that God desires (doubtlessly no less than Paul) that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), that His grace is indeed extended to all men (Titus 2:11), and that we are responsible for making our calling sure and not falling away (2 Peter. 1:10) by believing in Jesus (John 3:16). God’s unalterable plan in our lives is important — part of me thinks that was the reason God had Aaron’s rod in the ark — but He does not elect into salvation those who don’t “believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). As Romans 9 itself ends, what matters is our pursuit of righteousness by faith (Romans 9:32).
Indeed that is the point of this chapter. What matters is not the flesh. Israel had a great heritage that gave them so much opportunity to fulfill God’s wonderful plan in their life. They had full knowledge of the perfect law of God. But what mattered more than that was faith in God, whereby some Gentiles attained the righteousness of God despite their lack of all the blessings Israel had. And on the same token, Israel fell short of this righteousness, trying to get it by their own works. (Romans 9:30-32).
Certainly are not many of us in the same boat as Israel? Many of you were probably raised in the best of Adventist Homes, with generations of witnesses coming before you — but that won’t make you right with God. Many are highly involved in your church, baptized as an early teen and haven’t missed a Sabbath worship yet — but that won’t make you right with God. As the adult quarterly posits on Sunday’s lesson, “You can be of the right blood, the right family, even of the right church, and yet be lost, still be outside the promise. It is faith, a faith that works by love, which reveals those who are ‘children of the promise.'” Praise God for the light that we have been given, but we also need a living and active faith, otherwise, frankly, everything else is a waste of time. And if you haven’t got that faith, you need to drop: drop everything else you do, drop to your knees, drop your reservations, and drop yourself into the arms of God.