Tuesday, August 4, 2020

What must I do to be saved? Romans 10:5-13

In the book of Acts, we have this stirring story of the conversion of the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:25-34).  This is the man who threw Paul and Silas into the “inner prison” and “fastened their feet in the stocks” (24), not exactly the most comfortable way to spend the night, especially given the fact that they had been brutally beaten with “many blows” (23).  Nevertheless, Paul and Silas didn’t wallow in their disappointment with the situation; instead, they “were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (26).  At this point, God sent an earthquake and opened the prison doors.  It awakened the jailor, who was about to commit suicide, supposing that the prisoners had escaped (not only his job, but his very life, depended on his ability to keep the prisoners in).  But Paul stops him, and assures him that no one had left.  It is at this point that the jailor realizes that the message about God he had presumably been hearing from these men was true, and at the same time realizes his danger, for he had been opposing this God.  And so he cries out: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (30).  To which Paul answers, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (31).  The jailor did just that.  He, along with his entire house, believe and are baptized (33-34).  This is precisely the answer Paul now gives to his reader in Romans 10 in the text will are considering this morning.

It is to me a tragic thing that perhaps most people in our time do not think this is a very important or urgent question at all.  More than that, many charge that this preoccupation with being saved is an impediment to the kinds of change we really need, things like salvation from poverty or oppression.  They will say that the call to be saved from something future like hell or the wrath of God is a distraction from more pressing social concerns.  They will even charge that getting people to focus on the future has in fact been used to oppress people and keep them down in the present. 

This is, of course, nonsense.  I think an unassailable argument can be made (and has been) that when the church has been most focused on the eternal, it has also been the most earthly good.  Take the primitive church, for example.  They were certainly very focused on the eternal and the age to come and yet at the same time they were also very concerned about alleviating earthly ills whenever and wherever they could.  Now, I’m not denying that professing Christians in positions of power have at various points in history abused their power, and even used the church to aid and abet them in their pursuit of ill-gotten gains.  But they did not do this by applying Biblical principles: they did so by denying them.  True Christianity leads to the alleviation of soul and body, both in this age and in the age to come.  We must never forget that hospitals and orphanages belonged historically to the purview of the church, not the state.  The state didn’t invent these institutions; in many places it has simply displaced the church as the one that governs and runs them.

Nevertheless, it is a red herring to say that a preoccupation with getting to heaven is a distraction to more pressing earthly concerns.  Really?  How is it, I ask, that earthly concerns are more pressing than the eternal?  Imbedded in this objection is the assumption that earthly problems are more important than the eternal abode of the soul.  It is to say that facing God’s wrath against our sin is no great shakes compared to living under the poverty line.  And that, I say, is idiotic.  It is absolutely insane to argue that where you spend eternity is not as important as the latest talking point among the politicians. 

It is the easiest thing in the world to ridicule Christianity now for its insistence upon the eternal and on getting right with God.  But when at the Final Judgment you stand before the God of the universe and he asks you why he should let you into heaven and you can can’t open your mouth because you realize you have nothing to say, you will finally and tragically understand that it was not the Christian who was the insane one, it was yourself.  If you will not flee from the wrath to come, you will inevitably be engulfed by it.

The question, “What must I do to be saved?” is therefore not something we can afford on which to be wrong. Again, it is the very question to which the apostle Paul addresses himself in the passage we are considering.  And it behooves us to hear what the apostle Paul has to say on this subject.  For this is not someone who arrived at his conclusions after staring at his navel for weeks on end.  This is not someone who got his wisdom from the elites who have again and again been found to be wrong.  Rather, Paul is someone who got his message from the Lord of heaven.  “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.  For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12).  This is an authoritative message, and we urgently need to hear it.

But there are other dangers besides various alternatives to the gospel.  Among Christians who accept the basic facts of the NT record, there can often be serious disagreement as to what constitutes a true conversion and what it means to be saved.  There are a couple of dangers in this category I want to mention.

First of all, there is the danger of making conversion more than it really is.  This is what has often happened when dramatic and sudden conversion experiences of others in history are used as a template for all conversions.  We read or are told of this or that dramatic conversion, and it is so obviously a work of the Lord, that we begin to wonder if we have been truly saved because ours is not exactly like that.  You see the problem: it leads inevitably to a lack of assurance in those who have in many cases been truly saved.  However, the problem with this kind of thinking is that in point of fact everyone’s conversion will be different in terms of their personal experience of the transition from spiritual death to life.  One of the reasons for this is because conversion takes into account our own personalities.  And we are all different, and therefore we should not be surprised when our conversion experience is different from that of another person.

But second, there is the danger of making conversion less than it really is.  On one hand, there are those who think that all the gospel demands of us is to be nice people.  As long as you are a good citizen and a nice person, you are deemed to be saved.  But this is not what the gospel demands of us.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  You may be a nice person and a good neighbor; but if you are not a conscious disciple of Jesus Christ, then you are not saved according to the gospel which Paul and the apostles of Christ proclaimed.

On the other hand, even among those who recognize that the gospel demands more than mere niceness, there is nevertheless the tendency to dumb it down, and to make it nothing more than a call for people to sign their names on a card or to say a canned prayer.  There is no call for repentance from sins, especially specific sins in the life.  They are content for people to have Christ as Savior who will never have him as Lord.  But as we shall see, this also is foreign to the Biblical gospel proclaimed by Paul. 

Whereas the first danger has the tendency to squash true assurance, this second danger has the tendency to create false assurance. 

So what does Paul say?  He says at least four things.  In this passage we see the impossibility of the gospel’s alternatives (5), the accessibility of the gospel’s message (6-7), the simplicity of the gospel’s demands (8-10), and the universality of the gospel’s call (11-13).

The impossibility of the gospel’s alternatives (5).

Our text begins this way: “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them” (5).  Paul says in verse 4 that the reason so many Jews were ignorant of God’s righteousness (1-3) is because they failed to see that Christ was the goal of the law.  They failed to see that the law did not point to itself as the means whereby we become righteous before God through good works.  They failed to see that it pointed to Christ as the one who fulfilled its righteous requirement and in whom every sacrifice found its antitype.  They failed to see that those who are united to Christ by faith are made righteous, not those who by law-keeping seek to become righteous.

Verse 5 is a confirmation from Lev. 18:5 of verse 4.  It is a confirmation because it shows the impossibility of being saved by the law.  Paul had said the same thing to the Galatians: “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’  But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them’” (Gal. 3:11-12).  What Paul is saying, I think, is this: if you want to be saved by the law, then you must be saved on its principles.  And the fundamental principle of the law is that its blessings depend on obedience.  If you are seeking salvation as the blessing expected from the law, then the only way you can get it through the law is by perfectly obeying its commands.  And no has even done that, nor can do that (cf. Rom. 7:10). 

In other words, Paul’s Jewish relatives made two interrelated mistakes.  They failed to see the true end (goal) to which the law pointed, and therefore they mistook the law as a means to gain salvation through works.

Now, though Paul was referring to the Mosaic law, it applies to anyone who is seeking to establish their own righteousness before God.  This text teaches us to beware of just doing the best you can and relying on that to get you into a right relationship with God.  And that basically is every alterative there is to the gospel.  If you are not relying on the righteousness of God in Christ, then you are relying on a righteousness of your own.

This does not, of course, mean that it doesn’t matter how we live.  It doesn’t mean that we do not live under the authority of God’s law.  It does not mean that holiness is not important or that sin is not the calamity that it is.  God is still holy and he will have no fellowship with evil.  Of course we should not sin.  But that is just the problem.  Our hearts and lives have been warped by sin and we cannot put them up against the perfect standard of God’s law and expect them to be judged to be straight.  God’s law is like a medical exam that is meant to diagnose a disease.  But we must not mistake the exam for the cure!  God’s law is meant to show us our sin and to show us that we need to be saved from it.  But in showing us our need for salvation the law itself is telling us that it cannot save us – we cannot save ourselves by our good works.

What does this mean for you and me?  It means that the first step to true conversion is recognizing my own inability to save myself, that the righteousness which I desperately need is outside of myself.  It means that I need to recognize the sin in me, to see sin in terms of specific sins, and to see the extent to which they control us.  It means that we need to see how hateful sin is, not only because of what it is and will do to us but because it is hateful to the God in whom we live and move and have our being.  For until we see the rot that is in our soul, we will remain convinced either that it is nothing serious, or we will remain convinced that it is something we can take care on our own terms and in our own time. 

The accessibility of the gospel’s message (6-7).

The apostle continues: “But the righteousness based on 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)” (6-7).  In these verses, Paul grounds the call of the gospel in the work of Christ for us in his redemptive life, death,  and resurrection, and shows that what is inaccessible through the law has become accessible to us in Christ.

However, before we look at the next element essential to true conversion, we need to consider the role of verses 6-8 in the overall context of the argument.  It appears that Paul is quoting loosely from Deut. 30:12-14.  But how is he using this OT text in his argument?  There are two problems that on the surface appear in Paul’s use of this text.  The first problem is that it looks like he is pitting one OT text against another.  The second problem is that it looks like he is offering an interpretation of the Deuteronomy text which is not faithful to its meaning in the original context.  What then do we say to these things?

First, Paul is not pitting Moses in Leviticus against Moses in Deuteronomy.  He is not saying that in one place, Moses taught salvation by works and in another he taught salvation by faith. Those who accuse Paul of doing this fail to properly understand how he is using the Deuteronomy passage. 

The fact of the matter is that Paul was not offering an interpretation of the Deuteronomy passage, which was about the law, not Christ.  He is simply using OT language to illustrate the nature of the righteousness by faith, in particular, its accessibility to us.  He is putting it this way to underscore the fact that what was impossible by the law is possible in Christ.  You can see this in the way the apostle frames the Deuteronomy quotation: “But the righteousness of faith speaks like this” (6, my translation – the word houtos is untranslated in the ESV, but which is translated as “on this wise” in the KJV).  In other words, Paul is saying that the righteousness of faith comes to us in a way similar to the way the law came to Israel.  What is this similarity?  It is our easy access to it.  As John Stott put it, Paul “is not claiming either that Moses explicitly foretold the death and resurrection of Jesus, or that he preached the gospel under the guise of the law.  No.  The similarity he sees and stresses between Moses’ teaching and the apostles’ gospel lies in their easy accessibility” (Stott, Romans, p. 284).

The whole point, therefore, of verses 6-8 to contrast the availability of the faith righteousness with the impossibility of works/law righteousness. Just as the law was easily accessible to Israel, for God brought it to them, so Christ has brought righteousness to those who believe.  There is no need for us to storm the ramparts of heaven or to plumb the depths of the earth, for the work has already been done by Christ. 

Paul thus uses the Deuteronomy passage negatively and positively.  Negatively, the message of the gospel tells us to not act as if Christ was never born or never rose again.  It accepts what Jesus did as a sure foundation for a saving righteousness (6-7).  Positively, it confesses and believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior (8-10).

But the point is this: the gospel message of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ is what God has done in Christ to save us.  He is the one who has made salvation accessible to us.  He has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. 

It is important for us to understand that the essence of the gospel is not in how we respond to the message of Jesus’ life and death, but in the message of his redemptive work itself.  That’s not to say that the response is unimportant, and Paul will go on to deal with that.  But if we don’t get the message right we won’t get the response right either.  What the apostle is saying in these verses is that God has accomplished our redemption through Christ.  Salvation is not achieved by acting as if Christ never came.  And the gospel message is not primarily a list of tasks for us to do, but first and foremost it is to recognize that though I cannot save myself, Christ has done what I cannot do.

The apostle anchors our salvation in the incarnation and resurrection of Christ (and everything in between).  Our response to this message is not to add to his work.  Christ did not bring salvation just out of our reach; no, he brought it to us, he made it accessible.  He doesn’t need us to supplement his work; he has done the work for us.  The gospel is not a new law, it is not Sinai 2.0.  The gospel rather is the good news that the righteousness of God can come to us on the basis of what Jesus did in his substitutionary life and death.  That is the point of verses 6-7.

The simplicity of the gospel’s demands (8-10).

Very well, the good news, the gospel, is announced.  How shall we respond?  What response is demanded of us?  Paul tells us: “But what does it say?  ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because [better, that] if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (8-10).

Here we see that the response demanded in the gospel is one that corresponds to the news given.  If it is true that Jesus Christ has finished the work of redemption, if it is true that he has accomplished salvation for us, then redemption and righteousness as a whole is something which we must receive from him.  How do we receive it?  We receive it by faith.  The word preached is thus “the word of faith.”

Faith is the means by which we receive the free gift of salvation and righteousness.  Faith is the open-hand of the beggar who comes pleading for grace and mercy from the Most High.  It is fitting for us to receive salvation in this way, because in faith and trust we look outside of ourselves.  It is impossible to be truly trusting in Christ for salvation while leaning on your own goodness and righteousness.

Nevertheless, this is not mere lip confession.  Nor is the faith that saves an empty faith, a mere cognitive acquiescence to certain truths.  The faith that saves is a faith the comes from the heart, from the very center of the human soul, and carries with it our will and affections.

Why does Paul put in confession though?  Why does he make salvation in some sense depend on it?  He doesn’t do so because confession is what makes us worthy before God.  He does so because confessing Christ is the necessary concomitant of saving faith.  What I mean by this is that if you truly believe in Jesus you will confess him before men.  Confessing Christ, then, is not the ground of our salvation, it is the evidence of it.  Confession and faith go together.  Where confession is lacking, you can be sure that faith is lacking also.  Someone who will not confess Christ is someone who has not trusted in him for his salvation.

I think it is also important to note how it is that we receive Christ: we confess with our mouths (expressing our faith) Jesus as Lord.  This is parallel to believing that Jesus rose from the dead, and in the NT we see one as the evidence of the other (1:4; Acts 2:36; Eph. 1:19-21).  Resurrection proves lordship (14:9).  This is very significant.

First of all, it is a recognition of the divinity of Jesus Christ.  The word here (kyrios) is used more than 6000 times in the LXX to represent the Tetragrammaton.  In Phil. 2:9, “Lord” is the “name which is above every name.”  In verse 13 of our text, Christ as Lord is the object of prayer, and this is also significant since prayer to anyone other than God was to a Jew, as someone put it, “utterly repugnant” (also note the OT context of the verse 13, which is Joel 2:32).  C.E.B. Cranfield puts it this way: “We take it for granted that, for Paul, the confession that Jesus is Lord meant the acknowledgment that Jesus shares the name and the nature, the holiness, the authority, power, majesty, and eternity of the one and only true God” (Cranfield, Romans [ICC, vol 2], p. 529). 

Second, it is a recognition of ownership, of belonging to Jesus as a servant belong to his master, so that mere confession with no regard to the claims of Christ on the life is spurious and absurd.  Remember Paul’s confession in 1:1; it must be the confession of every one who claims the name of Christ. 

Sometimes you will hear well-meaning Christians put down “Lordship salvation” as if it is introducing a new kind of legalism into Christianity.  But my friends, it is not.  There is no other kind of salvation; if you do not receive Christ as Lord, and if your life does not bear out that relationship, then you are not saved.  For the stunning announcement, “you will be saved” (9,cf. ver. 10, 11, 13) is only given to those who receive and believe in Jesus as the risen Lord.

This is where a good understanding of the total picture the Bible gives us of salvation is so important.  Faith does not come out of nowhere.  It is the gift of God, created in the heart by the Holy Spirit who regenerates us and brings us out of a state of spiritual death.  In doing so, he makes us new creatures, gives us new affections, and begets in us new desires.  Faith is born in that context, so saving faith is also a holy faith.  Now it is true that it is not the nature of our faith that saves us, it is its object; but there is only one kind of faith that will receive the righteousness of God in Christ and that is a faith which is holy and which would never demur to receive Christ as Lord and to bow the knee to him in love and trust.  Is that true of you?

The universality of the gospel’s call (11-13).

This is the point of verses 11-13: the word of salvation does not depend on one’s race or heritage or spiritual background or age or rank or past.  It depends only on faith and therefore is open to all.  So Paul writes, “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Note the emphasis in the words everyone (11), no difference . . . unto all (12), and whosoever (13). 

There is great encouragement in these words.  They include anyone who will believe on Christ, no matter who they are or where they come from.  If you believe on Christ, you will not be put to shame – that is to say, you will be able to stand before the awful judgment seat of Almighty God with absolute confidence.  And you will receive the bestowment of the riches of Christ forever (cf. Eph. 2:7).  And you will be saved.

I once heard or read R. C. Sproul say that, even though he did not embrace the Roman Catholic belief in the power of the priest to forgive sin, he could understand why people would want to hear a priest say to them, with authority, “Your sins are forgiven.”  But, my friends, we don’t need a priest to tell us that, because God himself is saying it to us right here.  He is saying it to us here in Romans 10 and in Isaiah 28:16 and in Joel 2:32.  If you trust in Christ and receive him as your Lord and Savior, God himself is saying to you, “You will be saved.”  Your sins are forgiven!  How much more assurance could you have, do you need?

A friend of mine said that for a long time he struggled with the assurance of his salvation.  But then one day he read Rom. 10:13 and realized that all the assurance he needed was the assurance offered him in that promise, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He took God at his word and found rest for his soul.  Will you?  Come to Christ, find in him all the grace of God to poor and weary sinners.


Monday, July 27, 2020

Why people reject the gospel: Romans 9:30 – 10:4

Let me begin with an analogy.  Suppose I ask someone to explain the Model T automobile.  They say, “The Model T is explained by science.”  And they would be correct.  The principles of engineering and the laws of physics are an explanation for how the Model T car operated.  Now suppose I ask someone else, and they say, “Henry Ford.”  And they would also be right.  It is a different explanation, but it is not a wrong explanation.  Different explanations for something can be complementary without being contradictory. 

Now of course an obvious application of this analogy is to the current debate over the roles of religion and science as explanations of the universe.  Both proport to be explanations of the universe.  And I would argue that they are complementary without being contradictory.  Now some make them contradictory by saying that science assumes a closed, materialist view of the universe.  But that is not a scientific statement; it is a philosophical one that must be taken ultimately on faith.  No matter how you slice the cheese, there is no necessary contradiction between faith and science.

But I want to apply this to the problem of how to explain why some people are saved and others aren’t.  One explanation is to point to God’s sovereign choice.  As we saw, this is Paul’s explanation in Rom. 9:6-29.  But others will explain this by pointing to human faith or unbelief: those who believe are saved and those who don’t believe are not saved.  As we will see, this is Paul’s explanation in Rom. 9:30-10:4.  Now I am saying that these are both explanations.  They are different, yes; but they are complementary explanations, and not contradictory explanations.

That doesn’t mean we can fully understand how they are complementary; there are some things revealed in Scripture that we can know but can’t fully explain.  Take the Trinity for instance.  You cannot tell me how God can be one and three.  Just saying, “God is one in essence and three in person,” is correct, but it doesn’t really dissolve the mystery, especially if you think about it long enough.  In some sense, it is just restating the mystery.  Even the analogies run into problems (like water being solid, liquid, and vapor), and ultimately lead to heresy (the water analogy, for example, leads to modalism).  And when the church has articulated the doctrine, it has most often been in negative terms (“God is not like this”) rather than in positive terms (“God is like this”), because it is just so hard to say these positive things about God apart from what Scripture explicitly says.  But we can see why we run into difficulties: it is because we are dealing with God.  Given the complexities of life and the universe – what God created – we should expect the God who created all this to be beyond our ability to ultimately comprehend.  God himself reminds us that his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8).

I think this applies to the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in the matter of salvation.  With Paul, I take them to be complementary explanations of why a person is saved.  It is right to say that the ultimate reason I am saved is because God chose me (cf. Acts 13:48).  But it is also right for me to say that I am saved because I trusted in Christ, and that the onus is on us to repent and believe (cf. Acts 17:30).  It is also right to say that a person who is not finally saved that it is because they did not trust in Christ (Jn. 3:18, 36).  And it is also right to say that it is because God did not choose them: “you do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (rather than “you are not among my sheep because you did not believe”! – John 10:26). 

If you are waiting for an explanation how these two explanations are compatible, you are going to be waiting a long time, because I simply can’t do that.  Of course we can say some things.  We can say that faith is necessary because it is the appointed means God has chosen to bring salvation to his people, and this means is according to God’s sovereign, eternal election.  But that doesn’t get rid of all the mystery, and those who say it does just haven’t thought about it long enough.  It is enough for me to say that they are logically compatible and Biblical; but at the end of the day there is mystery here that I can’t explain, much like the doctrine of the Trinity.  The mystery here comes in because we are not just dealing with human effort, but also with the work of God.  It simply should not surprise us that there will be certain aspects of our salvation that we cannot fully comprehend.  But that doesn’t mean that we should reject it; it only means that we should humbly embrace it as far as the Bible reveals it.

Now let’s come to the text.  Note how Paul begins: “What shall we say, then?” (Rom. 9:30).  Every time Paul uses this phrase or something like it, the apostle is tying together two parts of an argument.  It is sometimes to confront a false implication to what he has been saying (as in 6:1; 7:7; 9:14).  It is sometimes to transition to another stage in an ongoing argument (as in 4:21).  It is sometimes to draw a conclusion from the foregoing verses (as in 8:31).  But the point is that this demonstrates that Paul has not moved to a different subject.  He is still dealing with the reasons why so many Gentiles are being saved and why so many Jews are lost.  His explanation in the previous verses (9:24-29) rests upon God’s sovereign choice.  Here in these verses, his explanation rests upon human decision: Gentiles believed and the Jews didn’t.  The fact that this text is part of one overarching argument shows that election to salvation and the gospel call to faith and repentance for salvation are compatible.  It is true that Paul doesn’t explain how these are compatible, but he seamlessly transitions from one explanation to the other.  And this shows that they are both explanations. 

So our message this morning will come in two stages: first, we will look at Paul’s explanation as to why many in Israel were not being saved (9:31-33; 10:1-4), and second, we will look at Paul’s explanation as to why the Gentiles were being saved (9:30).  And though this text was written in a first-century context, it has implications for us today: the same reasons why people are saved or not remain the same today.  So this is very relevant for us today who live in the twenty-first century.

Before I begin, let me just point that that in stating that many in Israel were not being saved, Paul was not being anti-Semitic.  After all, he was a Jew, and he was writing this out of a genuine concern for their salvation (9:1-2; 10:1).  And the fact of the matter is that the reasons why so many Jews did not believe are very similar to the reasons why so many 21st century late modern people don’t believe.  The categories are transcultural and, as I said, very relevant no matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile.

Why people aren’t saved

I’m considering not only 9:30-33 but also 10:1-4 because there is a lot in these two passages that are parallel.  So the first thing we should say is that we can’t locate their lostness in their religiosity.  For in 9:31 the apostle describes his fellow Israelites as those who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness.  The word described those who competed in the races and presents the idea of fervor and enthusiasm.  Then in 10:2, he says that they “have a zeal for God.” 

Now there are many today in the West, which is at the moment becoming more secular, who think that religion will be a thing of the past.  But according to Tim Keller[1], scholars who research these trends say that the twenty-first century will be more religious than the twentieth, not less so.  Religion is not going away.  However, we must not think that this means that the Christian faith will become more prominent. We will always be faced with those who have a zeal for God but who do not have faith in Christ.  Religiosity is no guarantee that you will be saved.  In fact, religious fervor and sincerity is no mark of saving faith.  If anything, false religion can blind people to true religion and render them impervious to the call of the gospel.

But the fact of the matter is that more and more people in our culture are becoming non-religious, identifying themselves as one of the “nones.”  What does this text have to say to such people? 

In 9:31-33, the apostle says that the Jews pursued the law of righteousness but did not attain to righteousness.  Why?  He tells us in chapter 10: they did not attain to the law of righteousness because (1) they were ignorant, (2) they were self-righteous, and as a result (3) they did not submit themselves to God’s righteousness.  “They being ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” (10:3, KJV).  As a result, they missed Jesus, who is the righteousness of God for us, the goal of the very law they claimed to pursue (10:4).  I would submit that these are the same reasons that men and women remain eternally lost today.

People are not saved because they are ignorant of the righteousness of God.

Being ignorant of the righteousness of God doesn’t mean you don’t know about the gospel.  Certainly many of Paul’s own contemporaries had heard the gospel and rejected it, and I think it is these folks of whom he is saying that they were ignorant of the righteousness of God.  Rather, he means they were ignorant in the sense that the message of the gospel didn’t ring true to them.  It didn’t capture their hearts, and they neither saw the relevance of it nor felt the weight of it upon their consciences.  They were ignorant of its truth and relevance and power.  This had been the case with the apostle Paul before his conversion.  He describes himself as having been “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13).  That’s the reality here: it is the ignorance of unbelief.

There are many people today who are in this camp.  They claim to know about the gospel, but they do not believe it is true.  They are ignorant of the righteousness of God.  They do not see their need for a Savior.  Why?  The answer is that they are self-righteous.

People are not saved because they are self-righteous.

The Jews of whom Paul was writing were those who were seeking salvation by works.  Not all Jews were legalistic, of course, but many were, and they rejected the gospel for that reason.  They “pursued a law that would lead wo righteousness” and “they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (9:31-32).  They were “ignorant of the righteousness of God” and were “seeking to establish their own [righteousness]” and so “they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (10:3). 

There are basically two types of people in the world.  There are those who have a sin-stricken conscience and those who are careless with respect to sin.  Our culture has created and nurtured millions of the latter and though it may seem surprising, such people are in a better position to seek salvation by works.  It is only when you fail to see the gravity of human failure and sin that you begin to think you can save yourself by being better than others.  And you see this all around us.  Don’t think that because people have rejected the authority of God and his word that they don’t feel the need to be righteous.  It’s part and parcel of the human condition.

For example, think about the cancel culture that in our present moment has become so powerful.  It is interesting that those who are enabling the cancel culture are precisely those who think that values are relative, that we determine our own identity, and have absolutized personal freedom.  Why then are they cancelling others?  It is because they think the “others” are bad, and deserve to be cancelled.  On the other hand, they think they are better (more righteous) than the “others” who needs to be cancelled.  Now they have no real right, on the basis of their own world-view, to call anyone bad, but they do so, and it is a testament to the enduring human need to be righteous. 

It is true, of course, that many of these self-righteous cancellers aren’t trying to be good in order to get into heaven.  They may or may not believe in heaven.  Rather, they are trying to create a utopia, a heaven, on earth.  Their salvation is earth- and time-bound. 

But how is this like the Jews of Paul’s day?  They put their own self-effort and self-righteousness as the means by which they saved themselves.  And even though they attempted to define their own righteousness by God’s law, they ended up missing God’s law and the righteousness it pointed them to.  People today may not think highly of the Bible or of Biblical standards like God’s law, but they still have a notion of right and wrong, and they are still trying to save themselves.  What they are saving themselves for may be different, but they are still trying to save themselves.  And they have adopted the same mindset of the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18 who told God that he was thankful he was not as bad as other people were (Lk. 18:10-14).

Of course, if you feel that you are good enough, then you are not going to seek salvation outside of yourself.  You are not going to see the need for an alien righteousness, the righteousness of God.  And that is the case with millions of people on planet earth.  They don’t feel a need for the gospel because they are doing quite well on their own, thank you very much.

Sadly, any salvation is impossible when it is based on self-righteous works, even when its locus is the here and now.  Say that you define salvation in terms of personal freedom, which is the case in the West at the present time [by personal freedom I don’t mean political freedom, to which this is ultimately antithetical, but rather the right to determine my personal identity to be whatever I want it to be].  People who seek salvation in this modern gospel peddled on our city streets are trying to find their salvation through personal autonomy in an identity they have self-created.  Many are attracted to this personal autonomy and are promised that it will lead to a world in which their will be no more hate or people excluding others, and it will give them the fulfillment they are seeking without judgment from anyone else.

But here is the irony: absolutizing personal freedom has created whole groups of “bad” people who now need to be excluded.  The salvation sought was supposed to get rid of one group excluding another, but instead it has created the need to exclude others.  Furthermore, because our personal freedom is so important, we end up exploiting others in order to safeguard our freedom.  When my own freedom is so important, the people around me become props to support my self-conceived perception of myself (i.e. Facebook and Instagram!).  When they threaten that, we have to cancel them (un-friending people on Facebook, for example, is often a very mild form of this).  This identity, then, is too fragile to support the weight put upon it.  The satisfaction we seek in this world is ultimately elusive.

Why is this?  It is because we are created by God who made us for himself.  When we put our own self-created identity/freedom in place of God, we are going to inevitably end up frustrated.  God will not allow us to find peace apart from himself: “’There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Isa. 57:21).  He made us to find our salvation, not in some self-created identity, but rather in him.  He created us to find our freedom, not in abandoning his law, but by conformity to it.  When we violate the order of creation, we should not be surprised when we fail to find salvation.  Like the Jews of old, modern man is trying to establish his/her own righteousness.  And when we seek to establish our own righteousness, whether that is by God’s law or by our own notion of right and wrong, we will not submit to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3), which is the only way we can be saved.

People are not saved because they do not submit to God’s righteousness.

Jesus is the righteousness of God.  He is the savior that people reject, and with him, their own salvation.  But it stands to reason that if you can save yourself, you don’t need a Savior.  Because people are ignorant and self-righteous, they don’t see a need to submit to God’s righteousness.  That was the mindset of the Jews, and it is the mindset of most people in our day as well.  Paul says, quoting the OT, that Jesus was a stumbling block to them (9:32-33).  He remains a stumbling-block and a rock of offense to many today.

First of all, because people are ignorant of God’s righteousness and confident in their own righteous, they end up actually wanting a different savior.  They don’t want salvation before God in the age to come; they want salvation before men in the present.  Like the Jews, who didn’t want a Christ hung upon the cross dealing with the most important issue of justification before God, people today want a political savior – they want their salvation from “Rome” and from political oppression.  People talk all the time now about righteousness and justice, but this is almost always on a horizontal level, in terms of what people do to other people.  However, the reality is that justice on the horizontal level is going to be impossible until we achieve justice on the vertical level, and this can only be done in Christ. 

Again, the problem is that this insistence on other saviors and salvations won’t give them what they want.  Take, for instance, the fact that today people are rightly worried about the abuse of power to oppress others.  For them, the savior they are seeking is salvation from political oppression.  But any solution apart from Christ will only lead to more of that.  If we don’t come through Christ, we are going to end us using the power we gain to oppress and exploit others.  We may start by valuing freedom, but we will end up by destroying it.  The French Revolution started by valuing equality, liberty, and fraternity, and ended up with baskets of heads.  Jesus shows us a different and better way, because he gave up power – his throne in heaven – in order to save those who had no power to save themselves.  Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).  People who embrace the Christ of the Bible aren’t going to use others or oppress others, but will be willing to lay down their lives for others.  Injustice clearly cannot survive with that mindset. 

Second, because people are ignorant and self-righteous, they do not see (and cannot) that Jesus was the goal of the law for righteousness (10:4).  The word “end” in verse 4 can carry the notion of “aim” or “goal” (cf. 1 Tim. 1:5).  Many of Paul’s contemporaries did not see that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Scriptures (1 Co. 1:23).  They were blind, in fact, as to the real meaning of the OT even though they had the Bible in their hands (Jn. 5:39, 45-47).  They were blind because they failed to see the depth of their need and didn’t think they needed a Messiah who had to die for their sins.  Instead, they thought they could deal with their own sin by their religious works. 

At the end of the day, they failed to see that the law pointed to Jesus.  In the same way, modern man misses the multiple signposts put up by God in the created order that point to the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  People sense the need for things like justice, and love, and forgiveness.  This need is a signpost to the cross, for that is the only place we will ultimately find the concurrence of all three: justice, love, and forgiveness.  For on the cross, God’s love comes to expression in giving us his Son for us that we might be saved from the worst imaginable end in hell.  On the cross, our Lord saves us from our sins and thus lavishes upon us the forgiveness of our sins, which we receive through him.  But amazingly, we also see justice, for we are saved precisely because on the cross God poured out his holy wrath against sin.

When we realize that Jesus is the goal of the law for righteousness, that our righteousness can only be found in him, then he will also be the end of our trying to gain righteousness by self-effort.  He did what we cannot do: he satisfied the justice of God on account of our sin.  We can talk all day long about the injustices of other people; what we all need to realize is that everyone of us is guilty of injustice towards God, and he will by no means forgive the guilty.  The only way we can receive salvation is if our sin and guilt is dealt with, and we cannot do that.  Only the God-Man can do that.  Only someone who was both God and man could save us: Man so that he could identify with us and be a substitute for us, and God so that he could bear the weight of infinite guilt upon his shoulders – infinite guilt because we have sinned against a God of infinite majesty.  Our obsession with the present material order has blinded us to our greater need of reconciliation before God, but that does not mean that this need does not exist.  It does, and it can only be dealt with in and through Christ, who is the righteousness of God for us.

There is no salvation outside of Christ.  There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).  He is the end of the law for righteousness, because he is the only one who can achieve the righteousness of God by which we are saved.  He is the only one who dealt with the problem of injustice on both the vertical and horizontal levels (cf. Eph. 2:11-22), and therefore he is the only one in whom we can find peace and justice in this world or the next.

This is why people are not saved.  They are not saved because they rest in their own righteousness and refuse to rest in the righteousness of God in Christ.  But that begs the question: why are people saved?

Why people are saved

Paul’s answer is related to the reason why the Gentiles were being saved, but his answer has significance for anyone who wants to know how people are saved: “What shall we say then?  That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith” (30). 

Paul’s answer is that people are saved by faith.  Now this doesn’t mean just any faith, but faith in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world.  We see this because in the next verses we are told that the Jews had a lack of faith in Christ, who is the stone of stumbling and rock of offense (cf. 10:11 with 9:33). 

Why are we saved by faith?  Well, by this point we should know the answer.  We are saved by faith in Christ because it is when we believe in him that God justifies the ungodly (cf. 4:5; 5:1).  We need to be justified; we are sinners in the sight of God and a holy God will not have fellowship with the wicked.  We need the guilt of our sins to be dealt with first and foremost.  We need somehow to be made right with God.  But how can a holy God declare a sinful man to be righteous?  He can do so because by faith the righteousness of Christ is communicated to us.  Not because our faith makes us worthy, but because by faith we are united to the only one who is worthy, Jesus.  Jesus Christ kept the law we could not keep and died the death we could not die, and he did this as a substitute for sinners, so that his merits could be communicated to us by the sheer grace of God. 

My friend, you are not going to find salvation in a self-constructed identity.  You are not going to find salvation by demanding the freedom to define yourself however you want.  You are not going to find salvation by being good, or by being just as the world defines justice.  You are not going to find salvation in yourself.  It can only be found in Jesus Christ, because Jesus is the only one who can restore us to fellowship with God.  He is the only one who can balance the scales of justice in our favor.  He is the only one in whom we can be justified and saved.  Don’t relate to him as a rock of offense or a stone of stumbling.  Don’t hide your sins behind your self-righteousness, but have them purged in the righteousness of God in Christ.  All who come to him, he will never cast out.

[1] See Keller’s book Making Sense of God (Viking, 2016), p. 9-11.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

God’s Election for Jews and Gentiles – Romans 9:24-29

In the verses before us, the apostle Paul completes the first part of his answer to the question of how God can be faithful to his promises to Israel in light of lostness of so many Israelites.  He emphatically rejects the notion that God is unfaithful to his promises: his word will not fail (6).  His explanation why his word will not fail is summarized in verses 6b-13: God’s promise of salvation is not given to every descendent of Abraham, but to those among them whom God chooses to save.  It is important to remember that because the problem the apostle is dealing with has to do with the lostness of individual Israelites, the election under consideration is an unconditional election of individuals to eternal life. 

The however, leads to the objection that this makes God look unjust (14).  Now the fact of the matter is that no one ever objected to God choosing one nation or individual over another for historical purposes and tasks.  But as soon as you make this about matters of eternal significance, people begin to complain that God couldn’t do it this way or he would be unrighteous.  That is true in our day and it was true in Paul’s day.  He answers this objection in verses 15-18.  We saw that his main answer is that this is the way the Scriptures represent God: God is the one who shows mercy one whomever he chooses to show mercy and has compassion on whomever he chooses to have compassion (15).  The apostle quotes two passages in Exodus to make this point.  His answer is not primarily a philosophical one: it is simply that the God of the Bible is the God who decisively determines who will be saved.  The implication is that since God is this way, he cannot be unrighteous in acting this way, for the God of the Bible is righteous.  You cannot sever his attributes; they are united in the divine essence.  God is both sovereign in salvation and righteous; he is both.

Then comes the objection about the tension this brings between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  If it is in fact true that God decisively determines who will be saved, then how can God hold anyone accountable for their actions (19)?  The apostle answers this objection in verses 20-23.  Again, his answer will be very unsatisfying for those who are looking for a complete explanation.  Paul doesn’t do this; he simply says that we are not in the position to question God.   God is the creator; we are creatures.  From this reality there are two reasons why we shouldn’t question God’s sovereignty in salvation.

One reason that we are not in the position to question God has to do with God’s rights as creator.  As creator he also has the right as creator to do with his creation whatever he wills, just as a potter has the right to do with the clay whatever he wills.

But another reason has to do with our limitations.  As I said last time, people have a problem with unconditional election of individuals to eternal life because they project upon God their own limitations.  As Luther put it to Erasmus, their thoughts of God are too human.  They imagine that because they couldn’t determine someone’s will without destroying their responsibility, therefore God couldn’t determine someone’s will without destroying their accountability.  But this logic depends on the notion that God relates to the wills of his creatures in the same way we relate to the wills of our fellow man.  This, however, is not true; God is not limited by our limitations.  I think this is implied in Paul’s response in verses 20-23.

Now this is important because modern man is probably more guilty of this kind of thinking than previous generations.  This is especially true when it comes to the problem of evil and unexplained suffering.  When you hear deconversion stories, the problem of evil always comes up.  How can a good God exist when there is so much purposeless suffering in the world?  People ask this question as if the answer is obvious: no such God could exist!  But the funny thing is that ancient man was far more conversant with suffering and evil, explained or not, than we are.  And they wrestled with the problem of evil.  Just take the book of Job, which is, if it is anything, an extended meditation upon the reality of apparently purposeless suffering in the world.  But what is interesting about Job is that it never once considers the possibility of the non-existence of God as an answer to the problem.  What is the difference?  Why was it that when ancient people wrestled with the problem of evil, they rarely (if ever) considered the possibility that God does not exist?

The reason, I think, has to do with the fact that modern man has far more confidence in his own ability to reason than ancient man had.  We are far more likely to look to the deliverances of reason than our fore-fathers were.  They realized (rightly, I think) that they were not in the position to understand everything about God.  If there was unexplained evil in the world, that didn’t mean there wasn’t a purpose for it, it just meant they couldn’t know it.  But modern man, on the other hand, thinks that if he can’t understand it, then it must not be possible.  The difference is not that ancient people were too stupid to think about the problem of evil; it was just that they were more humble about their ability to understand it than we are.  Our hubris gets in the way.

The irony is that this confidence in the deliverances of reason is not something you can prove.  Why is it that we think that our reason is so powerful?  Ultimately, modern man’s confidence in his reason as the ultimate arbiter of truth and fiction is held as a matter of faith.  This is almost comical given the fact that modern man is so resistant to matters of faith – and yet this foundational confidence is itself based on faith.

Something similar is going on here with the sovereignty of God in salvation.  Are we going to reject it because we can’t understand it?  As we’ve already noted, Paul doesn’t defend God’s right to choose whomever he pleases to be saved on the basis of philosophy and reason.  What does he do?  He appeals, again and again, to Scripture.  He does this more in chapter 9 than any other chapter so far.  He quotes six OT passages (Gen. 21:12; 18:10, 14; Gen. 25:23; Mal. 1:2,3; Exod. 33:19; 9:16) in the previous verses.  In the text we are considering this morning, he quotes Hos. 2:23; 1:10, and Isa. 10:22,23 and 1:9.  In other words, Paul wants his readers to understand that this understanding of who God is and how he saves is not based on his own reason but on the revelation that God has given of himself in Scripture.

That doesn’t mean reason is not important.  Of course we don’t want to embrace things that are irrational or incoherent.  But when it comes to theology, we have to be willing to embrace all the Bible says about God, even if we don’t understand it.  And as we come to the verses before us, we see that Paul continues to develop his argument in terms of what the Scriptures say. 

God’s purpose of election for Jew and Gentile

What do they say?  Notice what the apostle says in verse 24: “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”  In other words, what the apostle has been saying about the Jews – namely, that God has sovereignly chosen to save some (but not all) – is also true of the Gentiles.  Gentiles are among the “vessels of mercy” that are “prepared beforehand for glory” by God (23).  Election is not just for Jews, but for Gentiles as well.  God’s purpose of election is a purpose to save some among every kindred, nation, tribe, and language.  All that Paul has said before applies to all who are called by God to salvation, no matter what their heritage.  This is important because the gospel is going out to all the nations, and the church includes both Jew and Gentile.  And though it is true that the gospel is a gospel to the Jew first, it is also a gospel to the Greek (1:16).  Paul not only has to explain why many Jews are lost; he also has to explain why so many Gentiles are being saved.  That is what he is doing here.  The apostle speaks first to the Gentiles (25-26), and then back to the Jews (27-29).

For the Gentile (25-26)

One of the interesting things about these verses is that Paul quotes from the book of the Old Testament minor prophet Hosea: “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” (25, a quote from Hos. 2:23).  What follows is a quote from Hos. 1:10: “And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God’” (26).  When Hosea wrote these words, he was writing them to and about the northern nation of Israel, which had apostatized from the true faith and were worshipping false gods. 

God had called Hosea to a very difficult task.  In order to be a parable to the nation of Israel, God told Hosea to marry a prostitute who would bear children from adulterous relationships, just as Israel had abandoned faithfulness to God to go after foreign gods.  Their names indicate as much.  Gomer, Hosea’s wife, had three children: Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi.  The last two names mean “not my loved one” and “not my people,” respectively.  They were probably not Hosea’s children.  But instead of letting Gomer go (who had also run off and abandoned Hosea), God tells Hosea to get her back and to show her mercy.  And her children then become “my loved one” and “my people.”  Even so, God is saying through Hosea, he will one day welcome back these wayward people into his family.

The strange thing is that Paul applies all this to Gentiles, as the connection between verses 24 and 25 makes clear.  But that does not make the application questionable.  The apostle is simply taking a principle and applying it to a similar situation.  Just as Israel’s idolatry put them in the category of those who were no longer God’s people, even so the Gentiles did not belong to the people of God (cf. Eph. 2:11-22).  Nevertheless, many Gentiles were being called by God in his sovereign mercy to become the people of God. 

In the twenty-first century, it is often easy for us to forget just how wonderful and surprising this blessing is.  God never had to include the Gentiles in his plan of salvation.  It is his sovereign mercy that brought us into the fold of God’s family.  It is God’s doing, not ours.  It was God who sent Peter to Cornelius, a Gentile, sent the Spirit so they would believe, and introduced Gentiles into the church (Acts 10).  When those who were scattered abroad as a result of persecution preached to Gentiles, we are told that “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21).  And when Paul first went to Europe, it was because “God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10).  And the first convert in Europe, Lydia, was converted because God opened her heart to attend to the things preached by Paul (Acts 16:14).  In other words, at every turn we are reminded that God was the one who brought Gentiles into the family of God.  He sends the Spirit, he attends with power the word preached, and he opens hearts.  We who are Gentiles have God’s eternal purpose to thank for our inclusion into the people of God.

I think it is worthwhile to consider the terms by which this is described.  Those who are saved are called by God, “my people.”  And this is not merely a name for those who are set aside for historical tasks, but who are incorporated into the family of God forever.  Look back at verse 23: the vessels of mercy are prepared for glory.  “Glory” in Paul is not a reference to a special historical task, but to eternal blessing.  We are not to interpret the people of God here merely in terms of being God’s people in this world. This means to belong to God forever as his children.  The apostle Peter quotes this verse as well, and applies it to his reader’s in terms of salvation: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9-10).

So Paul says that Gentiles who are called to faith in Christ are part of the people of God.  More than that, he says that they are “beloved.”  To be the people of God means that we are loved by him.  It is why the apostle John wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are. . . . Beloved, God we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:1, 2). 

I think a lot of our problems stem from the fact that we forget who we are.  If you believe in Christ, it is because you have been called by God to belong to his family and to be embraced in his eternal love.  There is nothing more secure than that.  There is no greater blessing than that.  Let the people of this world seek security in the things of this world; let them seek their comforts there.  It is nothing compared to what is laid up for the people of God and what even now we are beginning to enjoy.  Knowing this rightly would be the sovereign cure for worry and dissatisfaction.  May we live in the light of the reality of verses 25 and 26!

But this is not all Paul has to say.  Since the main problem in view is the problem of Israel, he returns to their place in God’s saving purpose and plan in the next three verses.

For the Jew (27-29)

In these verses the apostle quotes Isaiah.  Again, the emphasis here is on two realities: first, that a small number of the Israelites are being saved, and second, that God is the one who ultimately is responsible for this state of affairs. 

As for the first reality, Paul refers to those who are saved as “only a remnant” in contrast to the total number of the children of Israel (“as the sand of the sea”) in verse 27, and then in verse 29, he refers to them as “a seed.”  So the fact that so many Israelites had rejected the gospel and so lost was not something that took God by surprise.  It was part of his plan to save a remnant.  And as William Hendriksen points out, Paul is not spiritualizing this text when he applies it to the eternal salvation of some Jews over others.  For, “a close look at Isaiah’s own prophesy shows that he by no means restricts this prophesy to a physical return from captivity, but states that the remnant will return ‘to the mighty God’ (Isa. 10:21).  They will lean on Jehovah, will rely on the Lord (verse 20).  Paul is therefore exactly reproducing Isaiah’s thought when he says that of the total number of Israelites only the remnant will be saved.”[1] 

The second reality is that God is the one who is doing this.  Verse 28, though it is difficult, yet the overall idea is that God is fulfilling his purpose in this state of affairs, and he is doing it speedily and thoroughly: “for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”  The thought behind these verses is that God has not been defeated in the overall apostasy of Israel; rather, he is fulfilling his purposes even in this.  God’s purpose of election is not to be judged by the numbers of those who embrace the faith, for it is his purpose to save a remnant, a small seed.

You see the emphasis upon the action of God also in verse 29.  Who is it that leaves a seed, an offspring?  It is the Lord of hosts.  And it is he that keeps the apostasy from being complete: for “if the Lord had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”  In other words, not only is God not being unfaithful to his promises: he is actually carrying them out as the Gentiles pour into the church and Israel is rejecting the gospel.  And the ultimate explanation for all of this is the fact that God is sovereign in salvation.

Now we should be encouraged by this.  For there is a principle here that ought to strengthen us.  Sodom and Gomorrah are represented in Scripture as a picture of ultimate rebellion against God and wickedness as well as a picture of God’s final judgment upon the wicked (see esp. Mt. 10:15; 11:23,24; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7).  Today we are surrounded by a weakened and frightened church and an emboldened world hostile to God’s people.  We are confronted with high profile professing Christians who deny the faith and de-convert, many times very publicly.  We are living, as it were, in a reincarnated Sodom and Gomorrah.  The apostasy is all around us.  And it is very easy – I speak from experience – to get depressed when we see everything getting worse and worse.  It is easy for us to have the attitude of Elijah, who complained that he was the only faithful person left in Israel.

But we need to encourage ourselves by the fact that even in the midst of what looks to us as the crumbling of God’s plans, in fact God is actually carrying out his plans.  Paul looked around and saw so many of his fellow Jews rejecting the gospel.  That had to be very hard.  How many synagogues had he been thrown out of?   How many times had he been rejected and beaten and scoffed and scorned by his own people?  And yet Paul didn’t give up.  Why?  Because he had confidence that God always in all times is successfully working out his plans, even when we can’t see it.  He will save his elect.  And in fact, if it were not for his election, we would all be lost.  The fact that there is still a church is proof that God is still working, still calling his people home.

My friends, the wicked do not have the final word.  The Ahabs and Jezabels may appear powerful, and they may lead many away from the true faith.  But God has those whom he has reserved for himself, even though it be a remnant.  People often talk about this or that side of history.  My friend, there is only one side of history and that is God’s side.  Trust in God.  He is working out his eternal purposes even when we cannot see how any of this will turn out for good.  We have no reason to fear.  We have no reason to worry.  And though hard times may be ahead for the people of God, it is not because the reins of history have gotten out of his hands.  He is in control and we can rest in that.  And God’s people will be saved.  Not one shall be lost.  And if you belong to Christ, that means you.  You are in his hands, and therefore most secure!

[1] William Hendriksen, Romans (Baker, 1981), p. 332.

What must I do to be saved? Romans 10:5-13

In the book of Acts, we have this stirring story of the conversion of the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:25-34).   This is the man who threw P...