Sunday, August 23, 2020

“God has not cast away his people”: Romans 11:1-6


What should be our attitude toward Israel?  By this I don’t mean the geopolitical entity in the Middle East, but rather I mean the Jewish people (although it is true that our attitude toward the latter must affect our attitude toward the former).  Admittedly, the attitudes of Christians toward the Jew has varied greatly through the years.  It is certainly a cause for a lot of reflection and self-examination on our part as Christians that for many years the attitudes of professing Christians, especially in Europe, was (often openly) hostile and anti-Semitic.  The sixteenth century German reformer Martin Luther said a lot of pretty bad things about the Jews, which Hitler would later grasp and use for his own nefarious purposes.  On the other hand, there are bright and shining examples of the opposite, guys like Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a German Lutheran!), who sacrificed his life in the fight against Nazism and its brutality against the Jewish people. 

Theologically, the place of the Jews in the plan of God has been debated through the centuries by Christians as well.  Today, there are some who, taking the OT prophesies literally, believe that every OT prophesy about Israel can only be fulfilled through the Jewish people.  This is the stance, for example, of dispensational theological systems.  Others have embraced what is sometimes called “Replacement Theology,” the belief that that the OT prophesies of Israel which have not been fulfilled yet will all be fulfilled through the Christian Church.  In this view, there is no longer a place for the nation of Israel in the outworking of God’s redemptive plan.  According to this perspective, the church is the new Israel, and that is that.

Personally, I fall somewhere between dispensationalism and Replacement Theology.  I do believe that many of the OT prophesies will be and are being fulfilled in the church.  For example, the prophesy about the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 is being fulfilled in the church.  We know that and celebrate that every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  However, on the other hand, when I look at Romans 11, it seems clear to me that God is not done with the nation of Israel, with the Jewish people, and I am willing to allow that many of the OT prophesies about Israel that are still unfulfilled could very well have a future fulfillment through the nation of Israel.

When we think about the Jewish people and their relationship to God’s redemptive plan in history, I think the following two points need to be made at the outset.  First of all, we must not back down from the insistence of the NT that Jews as well as Gentiles must embrace Jesus as Lord in order to be saved.  The gospel is not just to Gentiles, but it is first of all to Jews (Rom. 1:16-17).  When Peter said that there is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12), he was talking to the Jewish leadership.

On the other hand, we must never, ever, allow ourselves to cultivate a proud and condescending attitude towards Jews (note Paul’s admonition, “Be not high-minded, but fear,” ver. 20).  For, as we shall see, Israel is still God’s chosen people – he has not cast them away.  There is no place, therefore, for antisemitism among Christians.  We, of all people, should be praying for and loving our Jewish neighbor.  For that was Paul’s attitude (Rom. 10:1) and it should be ours as well.

But what is Paul doing here?  How does this chapter tie into his overall argument in Romans 9-11?  Remember that the thesis statement of these chapters is 9:6a, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.”  God has not gone back on his promises to Israel.  In chapter 9, Paul demonstrates this by arguing that “not all that are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (9:6b).  In other words, the salvation of the Jew and the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel does not depend upon physical descent, it depends on God’s election (chap. 9) and personal faith in Christ (chap. 10).  So I think what Paul was doing in chapters 9 and 10 was dealing with a misunderstanding that the Jews had with respect to God’s promises to Israel.  Many of them thought that their being related to Abraham determined their salvation, but Paul argues that that is not the case; it depends primarily on God’s sovereign choice which is evidenced by their faith in Christ.  However, now in chapter 11, he is dealing with a misunderstanding that the Gentiles might have about God’s plan for Israel (“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers,” Rom. 11:25).  Some of them apparently (and this is born out by history) that God was done with the Jews and that all they had coming from God now was judgment.  But this is not the case, as the apostle will go on to show and that should calibrate our attitudes towards Israel.

So as we consider this text this morning, there are three things I want to do.  First of all, I want us to consider what the apostle means when he says that God has not cast away his people.  Second, I want us to consider what evidence Paul gives that God has not cast away his people.  Finally, I want to look at some applications this text has for us today.

What does it mean that God has not cast away his people?

Again, this question was prompted by the fact of Israel’s wholesale rejection of the gospel (cf. 10:21).  Israel has rejected the Lord – has he rejected them? 

Now let me reiterate the fact that when the apostle refers to “his people,” he is talking about the nation of Israel, the Jewish people.  We know this because in verse 1 Paul answers his question by referring to himself as “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.”  So the people of God being referred to here are the Jewish people.  In saying this though, we must remember that there are two elections Paul is referring to in these chapters.  First of all, there is the election of the nation of Israel.  This is what prompted the whole discussion of these chapters in the first place.  It was assumed by many that this election guaranteed the salvation of all Jews but Paul argues that it does not.  Second, there is the election of the remnant, an Israel within Israel (9:6, 11; 11:5).  The first was an election of the nation of Israel to great privileges (cf. 3:1,ff).  But the second was an election of individuals unto salvation.  As we can and shall see, the two are related, but they must not be confused.

So first of all, when Paul says that God has not cast away his people, he must not mean the salvation of every individual Israelite, otherwise Paul would overthrow his argument which he had already made in chapter 9.  We also know that because, as the apostle unfolds his argument here in chapter 11, he refers to the elect remnant (ver. 5).  In other words, Paul does not confuse the election of the nation to spiritual privileges with the election of individuals within the nation to salvation.

Therefore, it must mean, in light of Paul’s response, that there will always be an elect remnant among the people of Israel.  Which by the way is significant because this is not a promise given to any other people-group.  It is true that God has promised to save some out of every kindred, people, and language (cf. Rev. 5:9).  But this is different from what Paul is saying here, which is that no matter when you are looking, there will always be a remnant of saved Jews.  If you had looked in Elijah’s day, you would have found 7000 who were faithful to the God of Israel.  And if you looked in Paul’s day, he himself was an example of a faithful Jew.

But his argument goes further: not only will there always be an elect remnant, but that finally “all Israel shall be saved” (ver. 26).  Now I have heard this text applied repeatedly to the church.  But that is not what Paul is talking about: if you look in the previous verse (ver. 25) the apostle clearly distinguishes Israel from the Gentiles.  And so in verse 26, when the apostle refers to Israel, he must be referring to the nation of Israel in distinction from the Gentiles.  In other words, God’s rejection of Israel is neither total nor final.  There will always be the knees who have not bowed to the image of Baal and there is coming a day when the vast majority (if not all) the Jewish people will embrace Jesus as their Messiah.

What evidence is there that God has not cast away his people?

The first piece of evidence is implied in the question itself (ver. 1).  There are different ways to ask a question in Greek.  You can ask a question in a way that it implied a negative answer, and that is the way Paul asks the question here.  One way you could translate the verse in order to convey this idea is the way the NASB has translated it: “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?”  And then of course there is Paul’s emphatic answer: “By no means!”  In other words, we should approach this question expecting there to be a negative answer.  And why?  Because God always keeps his promises!  If he has made these promises to Israel, then we should expect him to keep them.  If he has separated Israel and made them his special people, we should not expect him to abandon them.  Because God is not like that.  We can always take his promises and his commitments to the bank.

I think it is worthwhile for us to ask ourselves: do we have this sort of expectancy?  Is this the way we approach the promises of God?  How often we are crippled by our little faith, and let the circumstances in which we find ourselves to overshadow the realities of God’s own word to us.  We should always, as it were, give the promises of God the benefit of the doubt, even when it doesn’t look like they can be fulfilled.

The second piece of evidence is the example of Paul himself (ver. 1).  Here was Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles.  But we must never forget that he was a Jew!  It astounds me how some people in the history of the church have tried to marginalize the Jews.  Our Savior is Jewish, and everyone of the books of the Bible, with the possible exception of Luke/Acts, were written by Jews.  Our holy book is essentially a Jewish book.  The apostles, whose teaching form the theological basis of the church, were all Jews.  So it is not an exaggeration to say that our faith is a Jewish faith.  We ourselves may not be Jews, but we share the faith of the prophets and apostles who were all from the nation of Israel.

Though Paul doesn’t mention this here, it is surely significant that God made the foremost persecutor of God’s people into the foremost apostle to the Gentiles.  If there was any evidence that God wasn’t through with the nation of Israel, this was it!  For if there was anyone who should have been rejected by God and cast away, it was the apostle Paul.  But not only did God not reject him, he chose him and loved him and made him one of his greatest servants.

Then third, there is the fact that they have been foreknown: “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (ver. 2).  Just as God foreknowing the elect (Rom. 8:29) means that he will never forsake them, so God foreknowing Israel means that he will never forsake them or cast them away in the context of his covenantal commitment to them.  Note that clearly “foreknow” here cannot mean that God looked down through the corridors of time to see if Israel was worthy, and on that basis choose them.  For the context here is the wholesale apostacy of Israel!  God didn’t foreknow them in the sense that he chose them on the basis of their worthiness: rather God foreknew them in the sense that he had been committed to them by covenant and promise, from the beginning, to the nation of Israel.  And because of this, Paul was sure of God’s ongoing commitment to the nation of Israel.  After all, his gifts and calling are without repentance (cf. ver. 29).

Finally, there is the evidence of God’s answer to Elijah (ver. 2-6).  I love this.  I love it because I can identify with the discouragement of the prophet.  Not that I’ve ever been in his shoes!  But here he was, on the heels of his greatest victory over the prophets of Baal, and yet Jezebel was still there, threatening his life.  Ahab was still on the throne, as apostate as ever.  It didn’t look like anything was going to change, no matter how hard he worked.  And so he goes out into the desert and complains to God and asks him to end his life then and there: “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life” (ver. 3).  He is no longer appealing to God for Israel; he is appealing to God against Israel.  This is not just anyone appealing to God against Israel, this is a great and holy prophet of God.  This is a man who has God’s ear.  This is a man who has boldly and faithfully served God in a very difficult time. 

And yet what does God say to Elijah?  He says, “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (ver. 4).  In other words, Elijah had it wrong: he thought he was alone, but he was not.  There were seven thousand others with him!  God had his righteous remnant (ver. 5).  Paul applies this to his day: just as there was a remnant according to the election of grace (note that there is no way this can mean the national election of Israel!) in Elijah’s day, so there was in Paul’s day, and by implication, in every generation.  The evidence that God has not cast away his people is that he always has this righteous remnant.

We must pause here to make a couple of observations.  First, don’t you love this description of the elect: they are those whom God has reserved for himself.  To be reserved for God, what better thing is there?  Suppose that someone pulls an old top-hat out of their attic; it is old and tattered and good for nothing, really.  No one would ever wear it.  And then suppose that it was discovered that this top-hat belonged to Abraham Lincoln.  Immediately its worth has shot through the roof, even though it may be unwearable!  In the same way, to be reserved for God, by God, is to make a sinner into a saint.  It is the only thing that can give us the meaning that we crave.  To be reserved by God for God is a thought so full of comfort and encouragement if we would but grasp its implications. 

And there is another description of the elect: it is that they are elect by grace.  God doesn’t choose us because we make ourselves worthy.  Like the dilapidated hat in the attic, its owner is what determines the value.  Our value doesn’t come from our works, but from the fact that God has chosen us.  It is an election of grace, which excludes all works (ver. 6).  Those who say that God chooses because of something we do (including believing) make salvation to be determined by works.  But we are not saved by works, but by grace, and that too is an encouraging and comforting reality.

Application: How God advances his cause and our part in it.

One principle we can take from this text is that nothing will stop God from fulfilling his purpose and promises.  He made these promises to Israel, and he will fulfill them.  God has a plan for the Jews and it will come to pass.  In the same way, nothing will stop God from advancing his kingdom and cause.  And so we can draw some important lessons from what Paul says about Israel and apply them to the church in our day.

First, there will be times when it seems like all is lost (ver. 3).  It certainly seemed like that to Elijah. It may seem like that today.  There are so many discouraging signs.  In an interview recently, Tim Keller was asked what encouraging signs he saw for the church in the near future.  To be honest, I was very surprised to hear him say that he didn’t see many at all!  And, on the surface, he is absolutely right.  There are so many things going to the wrong way for the church in our day.  And yet, we must remember that there have been many times in many places when the church was nearly blotted out, either through external opposition or internal rottenness. 

It is important for us to remember this because we can fall into the trap of thinking that success for the kingdom of God and the church means that external conditions for the church will be good, that people will look on the message of the gospel and find it compelling, that the freedoms we have enjoyed will remain intact, and that Christian people will be respected.  But this is not the atmosphere in which the church took root and in which it flourished.  We must never forget that “Christian” was probably at first a derogatory term, that the early Christians were described as those who had turned the world upside down, that the gospel was seen to be foolishness and uncompelling to the culture at large.  We need to have a realistic perspective when it comes to God’s promises.

Second, we should never lose hope (ver. 4).  Because, ultimately, salvation is of the Lord, not man.  Note the emphases of the text: “I have reserved for myself” – “remnant according to election of grace” – “not of works” – “election obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”  Because salvation is of the Lord, his purposes of salvation will always be successful!  His kingdom will never perish.

And because God’s cause rests on his shoulders, he can advance it in ways we cannot.  We should beware of thinking that for anything big to happen, it must be done in a big way.  Remember the way God revealed himself to Elijah on the mountain.  It was not in the fire, not in the storm, but in a still, small voice.  God doesn’t advance his cause through the multitudes, but through the seven thousand knees who have not bowed to the image of Baal.  I think this is a reality that the church, especially in the West, needs to relearn.  We think that God is only in something if it is done in a big way, with obvious results.  And because of that, we have adopted all sorts of ways of doing ministry and church that really are just pandering to the world.  And it does not in the end strengthen the church, it weakens it.

However, the point is that no matter how bad things may look, how weak the church may be, or how empowered the wicked are, God is not limited nor will his plans ever be thwarted.  He is often working in the least likely scenarios and moving in the most unlikely places and people.  So we should never lose hope!

Finally, we play our part in the advance of God’s cause through godliness (ver. 4).  In Elijah’s day, how was God advancing his cause?  He was doing so through those who refused to bind their allegiance to Baal.  This is what grace does: it does not give us a pillow upon which to rest in our sin, it gives us the power and strength and will to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  It makes us into holy men and women.  It creates people whose ultimate allegiance is to Christ.  When Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, the result was that he was the only person in a world gone mad to pursue and preach righteousness.  And in the same way, grace will keep creating and keeping God’s elect in the way of holiness and light.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Necessity of the Gospel – Romans 10:14-21

Let’s begin by comparing two passages in this letter: Romans 8:28-30 and 10:14-17.  Both passages describe a sequence of events.  And in both passages, the sequence of events lead to final salvation.  Now the Romans 8 passage differs from the Romans 10 passage in that God does all the acting.  God is the subject of foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying, and glorifying.  It might seem, at least on a superficial reading of those verses, that they imply that there is no role that mankind plays in the working out of God’s redemptive and saving plan.  However, the verses we will be considering this morning affirm that we do play a significant part.  Balanced theology affirms both Romans 8 and 10: both passages describe how people are saved, and what must happen for us to be saved.

It is important that we not only recognize the fundamental place that God’s decree plays in the outworking of history, but we must also recognize that God’s decree does not nullify the responsibility of man and the seriousness of human decisions.  And we must not think that because we can’t understand how they go together therefore they must not be compatible.  Remember the great example of Paul’s experience of shipwreck in Acts 27.  During the storm, God promised that no lives would be lost (27:22-25).  Paul essentially encourages the sailors and soldiers by informing them of God’s purpose and decree – that no one would die in the storm.  But if you look a few verses down, when the sailors try to escape the ship, leaving every one else to fend for themselves, Paul says this to the centurion, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (31).  How are those two things compatible?  If you apply the logic that non-Calvinists use, the fact that God had promised – unconditionally – that no one would be lost, must mean that it wouldn’t matter whether the sailors stayed or left.  But that is not the logic of the apostle Paul and it is not the logic of Scripture!  God’s decree in that instance did not cancel the care that needed to be taken with regard to the safety of the ship’s passengers (the converse is also true!).  So we have no reason to think that God’s unchanging decree in the matter of salvation must therefore cancel out the responsibility we bear in the matter of salvation.

It reminds me what Elder John Leland once said.  Leland was a Baptist preacher in Virginia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  He pointed out that if a preacher is never accused of sometimes being an Arminian and sometimes accused of being a Calvinist, it is because they are not preaching the whole counsel of God.  If you preach Romans 8-9 correctly, you are going to be accused of being a Calvinist.  If you preach Romans 10 correctly, some people are going to accuse you of bailing on the doctrines of grace.  But to be balanced, we must preach both.

Or consider Acts 2:23, in which Peter explains what happened at the cross: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hand of lawless men.”  Here we are reminded that the decree of God did not render the decisions of the Jewish leaders blameless and did not invalidate their moral significance.  Even so, God’s decree that the elect be saved does not make a human response to God either insignificant or unnecessary.  We must hold to both.

Thus, the passage we are considering this morning clearly affirms the necessity of hearing the gospel to be saved: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (17).  We are justified by faith, and surely we cannot imagine anyone being saved apart from being justified before God.  But faith comes by hearing, hearing the gospel, which is communicated by human messengers.  It is the reason why God commissioned Paul to be an apostle in the first place: “to open their [the Gentiles’] eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).

The fact of the matter is that natural revelation is not enough to save.  The whole point of Romans 1:21, ff, is that the testimony of nature only serves to leave men without excuse, not that it can save.  This is the same point made in 1 Cor. 1:21, which reads, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”  The world does not know God through its own wisdom, that is, through the wisdom available through the created order.  We can’t know God in this way because our eyes and our hearts are blinded through sin.  And the history of the world bears this out.  Men don’t end up naturally gravitating toward true religion but toward false religion and idolatry.  So what has God done?  He doesn’t save men and women through their own wisdom but chooses to save us through the preaching of the gospel. 

You see this demarcation between natural and special revelation in Psalm 19, which Paul actually quotes in verse 18.  In verses 1-6, the psalmist celebrates the universal reach of natural revelation.  It indeed declares the glory of God, but nowhere are we told that it holds any saving power for those who live under its sway.  On the other hand, special revelation in terms of God’s law is celebrated in verses 7-14.  Here we are told that the law revives the soul and makes wise the simple (7), enlightens the eyes (8), warns us and gives us great reward (11).  The word of God gives us wisdom in ways the created order on its own could never do.  We need the word of God, and in particular, we need the gospel.

So the central claim of these verses is that it is God’s purpose for people to hear the gospel and be saved.  We see this worked out in two ways.  First, in the sequence delineated in verses 14-17.  And second, in the Scriptures discussed in verses 18-20.

The necessity of the gospel seen in the sequence delineated (14-17)

Paul works backwards from the effect to the cause.  Through a series of questions, he demonstrates that we must not expect people to call on the Lord and be saved who have not first heard the gospel.  “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  God sends preachers of the gospel, and their message is heard by some who believe it and call upon the name of the Lord and are saved.

The questions that the apostle asks are rhetorical.  In other words, the answers are obvious – we should not expect those who have never heard the gospel to believe it and call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  And that means that missions are necessary and a part of God’s plan and purpose to extend his kingdom and to bring his elect home.  Paul sums it all up in verse 17: “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”  This clearly shows that the very least we can say is that it is God’s ordinary way of working to bring people to faith through the preaching of the gospel to them.

This is a purpose for both Jew and Gentile.  We know this because the verses preceding the sequence in verses 14-17 are universal: “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” (12).  And that extends to the present time: it is God’s will today that people hear the gospel in order to be saved.  It is the reason why Jesus gave the church the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations [not just some of them!], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20).  It is a commission to the church in every age, down to the end of the world.

I would ask the young people here in our congregation to consider the possibility that God may be calling you to serve in the ministry of world missions.  Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t all have the obligation and privilege to be sharing the gospel and making disciples.  We all do.  But there are some who are specially called and sent out to reach those who are unreached, who are called to go into all the nations.  It is a special and blessed calling.  Indeed, “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things” (15, KJV).  And know that if God has called you for this, know that he will also gift you for it.  As one missionary put it, “Those whom God calls, he uses!”

Before we leave these verses, what about verse 16?  This seems out of place.  What is Paul doing here, quoting as he is Isaiah 53:1?  What he is saying is that though this is a sequence which leads to salvation, yet it is not an inevitable sequence.  In other words, this is different from 8:29-30.  In that sequence one thing leads inevitably to another leading ultimately to glorification.  But here, just because the gospel is preached doesn’t mean that people will respond to it.  That doesn’t make it any the more necessary, but it is important that we remember this, or we will ultimately give up in discouragement.  We need to remember that even when we have presented the gospel in the most winsome way possible, there will be some who will simply not believe.  After all, if people rejected the gospel preached at the mouth of our Lord, should we expect any the less from us?

The necessity of the gospel seen in the Scriptures discussed (18-21)

You also see the need for the gospel in the Scriptures referenced in these verses.  Remember that Paul is arguing why so many Gentiles have embraced the faith and why so many in Israel had rejected the gospel.  For many Jews, this was the exact opposite of what they would have expected.  So one of the things the apostle is saying is that the Jews cannot complain that they have not heard the gospel.  But he is also saying that they should have known that this is the way it would unfold, because this was predicted in the OT.  God predicted that many in Israel would reject his word while many among the nations would embrace it and be saved.  Going back to the point of 9:5, they can’t argue that God’s word has been invalidated because God is fulfilling his word in the way things were coming to pass.

But an important implication of these verses is that it is God’s will for his word to be disseminated throughout all the world.  In verse 18, Paul quotes Ps. 19:4, which is about general revelation.  But what the apostle is doing with it is arguing that just as general revelation is means to be universal, so it is with the gospel.  It is God’s purpose for the gospel to spread through all the nations.  And if we are going to be people who want the will of God for their lives, we ought also to be people who want to see the gospel spread through all the nations.  Does that reflect our heart?

Now Paul quotes this verse as if it has already been fulfilled.  But we must not press the language here.  After all, in chapter 15, he shares with the Roman believers that it was his “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (15:20), and this was the reason he wanted to badly to go to Spain (24).  I think he is simply saying that the outworking of God’s purpose had already begun. 

In verses 19-21, the apostle argues that this universal spread of the gospel, which would gather in many Gentiles (19-20) and leave many in Israel unchanged (21), was prophesied in Scripture, in particular in Deut. 32:21 and in Isa. 65:1-2.

I think the Isaiah passage is particularly interesting.  Paul clearly applies verse 1 to the Gentiles and verse 2 to the Jews.  What is interesting about this is that it once again underlines the compatibility of both sovereign grace and human responsibility.  We see sovereign grace in that the Gentiles are described as those who weren’t even seeking after God.  And yet God was found by them.  How?  Because he had shown himself to them.  In other words, it is God’s sovereign initiate that is to explain the salvation of the Gentiles, not their goodness or their cleverness or their religiousness.  On the other hand, we can see the reason for this in the attitude of the Jews, which really just mirrors the universal human condition: we are people who will, if left to ourselves, reject God’s offers of mercy.  We need the grace of God, not only to help us, but to save us, from beginning to end.

On the other hand, we see the responsibility of those who rejected the gospel.  Those who refuse to believe are described as those who do not obey God, implying culpability and guilt in such refusal (see verses 16 and 21).  It is true that apart from God’s grace we cannot and will not embrace the gospel.  But that does not mean that we are not still obligated to obey it.

Now some people will argue that God could never require a response to the gospel if we don’t have a native ability on our own, apart from grace, to respond.  In other words, they reason from the commands of Scripture to an ability of our own (again, apart from grace) to obey the commands.  This is one of the arguments that the Catholic scholar Erasmus made against Martin Luther in the day of the Reformation.  To which Luther responded, in his inimitable fashion: “Even grammarians and schoolboys at street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by verbs in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done?”[1]

Nevertheless, the main point of this all is to show that it is God’s will for the gospel to spread through all the nations.  And if that is God’s desire, it ought to be ours as well. 

Two objections.

At this point, I think it is necessary to answer a couple of objections which are often raised against this view that the gospel is necessary for salvation.  As a passing remark, I find it interesting that, in my experience, the first is an objection that is shared by unbelievers or liberal theologians and hyper-Calvinists!

Obj. 1.  What about infants, the mentally incapacitated, and those who live in places where the gospel has never been heard?  Doesn’t this imply that they can never be saved? And wouldn’t that make God unjust?

Ans. 1.  What Paul is describing here is God’s normal method of saving people – God’s decree is usually realized in those who hear the gospel and believe (Acts 13:48).  The salvation of Cornelius is instructive here (Acts 10-11).  God sent an angel to him, not to preach the gospel to him, but to tell him to send for Peter who would preach the gospel to him whereby he would be saved (cf. 11:14).  Couldn’t the angel have preached the gospel to him?  Of course he could have.  We mustn’t think the angels are ignorant of God’s saving purposes – after all, they make up the audience before whom the drama of redemption is played (Eph. 3:10).  Nevertheless, God didn’t let the angle preach to Cornelius – he made him send for Peter!  This shows us just how committed God is to having men preach the gospel so that his people are gathered into his kingdom.

Just as it is necessary for the sun to rise and set in its normal cycle for life to exist on the earth, that does not mean that sometimes God can’t change things (as in Josh. 10).  We can’t put God in a box.  However, we must also be honest with the testimony of Scripture that God uses the gospel to bring men and women to faith, and more than that, that this is normally the way it happens.  At the same time, we must also recognize that infants who die before being able to receive the gospel are not then unable to enter eternal glory.  After all, the hearing of faith is the means, not the basis, of our salvation: Christ and his righteousness are.  Infants dying in infancy are saved on the basis of Christ’s work, just as anyone else is.  So there is a place for exceptions.

Ans. 2.  We must also remember, especially when considering the case of the unevangelized, that God is not unjust to let them perish without ever hearing the gospel.  We are reminded, for example in Rom. 2:14-15, that God has not left himself without witness, and though men in such cases will not be judged for rejecting a gospel which they never heard, they will nevertheless perish because they don’t live up to the law of God witnessed to by their own consciences. 

Couldn’t the Holy Spirit work in such people and places apart from the gospel?  Of course that’s possible.  But the witness of Scripture goes in another direction: it indicates that where the Holy Spirit works, God will send the gospel (cf. Acts 18:10).  So we need to urgently pray for and generously support as we can those who are bringing the gospel to the unreached.

Again, the fundamental problem with the foregoing objections is that they do not square with the Biblical passages, like our text.  The questions themselves are not based on Biblical considerations of text and context.  We must always and ever calibrate and adjust our theological bearings on questions like this by the language and direction which the Biblical text itself gives to us.

Obj. 2. How is this compatible with the doctrine of election?  Doesn’t this make God’s saving purpose conditional upon human effort?

Ans.  Some would argue that because God has elected some to eternal life and this election necessarily leads to their salvation, therefore it is incompatible to argue that our salvation in any sense depends upon missions and the preaching of the gospel.  Like one preacher put it to William Carey, “Young man, if God wants to save his elect, he will do it without your help and without mine!”

But what we need to remember is that God’s decree is realized through the preaching of the gospel.  Election does not make missions unnecessary; in some sense, it makes missions essential.  Remember how Paul put it to the Thessalonians: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:13-14).  Here we see that we are chosen to believe and we are called to believe through the gospel. 

Now that does not make election to hang in an ultimate sense upon human effort, because faith is the gift of God, and the call of God secures the response of faith.  So God creates the faith by which we receive the gospel and are saved. 

So this passage deals with two excuses we might raise for not sharing the gospel.  First, that it doesn’t matter whether we do or not because of the doctrine of election.  But Paul clearly does not reason that way, and neither should we.  Second, that people will reject the message.  But Paul argues that even if people do, God is still glorified, his purpose will be served, and his people will be saved.

Closing Considerations

So what should we do?  Let me leave you with four closing considerations.

First, we should want to have and should pray for a burden for souls.  The fundamental problem with people is not economic or ignorance in general, but spiritual. 

Second, We should share the gospel as God gives us opportunity through gospel conversations in the spheres in which God has placed us.

Third, we should live in such a way as to not to bring our message into disrepute, which is part, I think, of being “ready” as Peter put it in 1 Pet. 3:15.

Finally, we should support those who carry the gospel to unevangelized peoples, and to be ready to go ourselves.

[1] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (trans. by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, 1957), p. 159.

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.


How to be blessed by the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:1-4)

I have heard it said that if you were to poll the average Christian on which book of the Bible they most want to study, the answer would be ...