In our depravity, if God came down to us we’d hide from him, run from him, deny him, and even kill him, and that’s precisely what we did.
In our depravity, if God came down to us we’d hide from him, run from him, deny him, and even kill him, and that’s precisely what we did.
For a class this semester I have to choose a passage from either Romans or Hebrews to study in depth. I wanted a “difficult” passage because those are the most fun for me to study so I chose everyone’s favorite chapter: Romans 9. You read that right. I decided to dive deep into Romans 9 for this project and have already started to love this passage. I wanted to share three things I’ve already seen thus far.
Paul’s Imitation of Christ: Romans 9:3 contains some very surprising words: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” To be honest, I’ve always thought this was a little over-the-top. Surely Paul is exaggerating, right? Surely Paul would never even consider being “accursed and cut off” from God, right? But this week I remembered something incredible. The words of Christ on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34; see also Psalm 22:1). Where Paul wished himself accursed and cut off from God, Christ actually was accursed and cut off from God the Father. Paul is merely imitating Christ in his desire to see others come to know the Father. They both desired to share Christ with others so much that they were willing to suffer for it.
God’s definition of injustice: After recalling the story of God choosing to love Jacob and hate Esau before either had been born (Rm. 9:13), the next verse asks this question: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” (Romans 9:14) When we read this, we assume the “injustice” is that God hated Esau. But, in the context of the passage, this is completely wrong. Look at verses 14-16 and pay attention to the words I have made bold:
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Notice anything? The injustice is not that God hated Esau. The injustice is that God loved Jacob! Think about it for a minute. What is justice? Merriam-Webster defines justice as: “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” The key word there is merited: merited rewards or punishments. Justice is giving people exactly what they deserve. Because we’ve already established—in Romans, no less—that everyone has committed rebellion against God (Rom. 3:23) we know that everyone deserves eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Justice would be giving us our merited punishments. Injustice would be giving us grace, forgiveness, love, and eternal life. God’s grace to sinners is the ultimate act of injustice, but He has the right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and compassion on whom He will have compassion. Why? Because He’s God! J
God’s sovereignty in human history: Take a look at this list of historical people in Israel’s history:
Believe it or not, all of those people are mentioned, quoted, or alluded to in Romans 9. Just verses 4 & 5 contain all of this: “4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:4-5)” That is a ton of Jewish history and Paul was writing to Jews, which makes me think that he understood that they would understand many of these references.
So what’s my point? My point is that Romans 9 rapidly and succinctly traces almost all of Jewish history from Abraham to Jesus. In the context of a discussion about God’s sovereignty, and when we think about God’s sovereignty, I think it’s important to remember that God has been around a lot longer than us and He has guided all of human history for His purposes. If we view human history as being guided by God, we suddenly get a much larger view of who God is and how His purposes span centuries and even millennia.
Romans 9 is a humbling passage and I look forward to sitting under it, learning from it, and growing as a result.
Before we get started, here are four things you need to know…
Okay, now that we’re all caught up…
For the last few weeks I’ve been obsessing a little bit about Romans 6-8. I used to think I loved Romans 8, but not compared to how much I love it now. You see, in Romans 6, we’re taught that we who have died to sin (Rom. 6:6) are now alive to God (Rom. 6:11). Furthermore, we are now slaves to Christ (Rom. 6:18) and follow a path and process that leads to eternal life (Rom. 6:22). In the same way that a woman is no longer legally married to a man after he dies but can freely remarry, we are remarried to Christ so we can bring glory to God (Rom. 7:4).
The only problem is our death to sin is a spiritual reality that has not yet been physically manifested; that doesn’t happen until after our physical death and resurrection (Rom. 8:23). We’re stuck in an in-between state; the check has been written but it hasn’t been cashed yet. This is why we still sin (Rom. 7:14-15); because there is a tension that exists within us (Rom. 7:25).
But!!! Even though we make mistakes, there is no condemnation for Christians (Rom. 8:1) because Jesus condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). We may be influenced by the flesh (Rom. 7:20), but we are not dominated by the flesh (Rom. 6:6; 8:11). This means we battle the flesh by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 7:13) because we have been adopted (Rom. 8:16). We have a new identity that isn’t determined by our actions or even our failures but who God says we are. The fact that we are part of God’s family means that we are heirs with Christ and will be glorified with Christ, but we will also suffer with Him (Rom. 8:17).
However!!! The suffering we endure in this life pales in comparison to the glory awaiting us (Rom. 8:18) and we wait patiently to meet the Father who has adopted us because we understand that it will be worth the wait (Rom. 8:25). This is the check that has been written but is not yet cashed. In fact, the Holy Spirit helps us (Rom. 8:26) as we continue to be transformed to look more and more like Christ so that, when we ‘go home,’ we’ll fit in the family of God (Rom. 8:29).
In fact!!! Because Christ is on our side, no one and nothing in all creation (Rom. 8:38-39) can stand against us (Rom. 8:33). We have been irrevocably adopted by God; He chose us before the creation of the earth (Eph. 1:4-5).
So here’s what I’m realizing. Chapter 7 spends about 17 verses talking about our failures and our inability to be perfect. But this is bookended by Romans 6 & 8 where God spends almost 70 verses assuring us that we are free from sin (Rom. 6:7), and are now slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18); that we have a new identity and belong to Christ (Rom. 7:4); that we face no condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 33-34); that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26) and that even Christ intercedes for us at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34)! Romans 9 continues this line of thought by explaining that God’s choice cannot be revoked by any mortal (Rom. 9:16).
So, my question for Christians is this: why do you let your failures haunt you and condemn you if God does not? The whole ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ idea applies to you, too! If God is for you, how can you be against yourself?
Who will condemn you? You? Christ Jesus is interceding for us. Will you condemn yourself? Do you really think your guilt outweighs the power of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ interceding on our behalf? Do we think our failures revoke God’s choice to adopt us? Who do we think we are? God? If God is for us, who can be against us? Our failures don’t define us in God’s eyes; Christ’s finished work and resurrection define us. God doesn’t look at our failures; He looks at our new identity as His slaves/children (seems weird to us, but that’s what the text says; think of us as adopted slaves).
During Christmas time, all these thoughts swimming around in my head help me appreciate the lengths to which Christ was willing to go to make sure that I could be adopted into God’s family. I praise God that, despite my failures, He chose to adopt me. I praise Christ because He chose to come and bridge the gap between sinfulness and God’s mercy. I praise the Spirit for helping me as I await the redemption of my body. God was willing to bridge the gap so that I could be adopted into His family; for that I am eternally grateful.
“…you have been raised with Christ…” (Col. 3:1)
It’s really easy for us to get things twisted. We read a simple phrase like the one above and perhaps picture ourselves walking alongside Christ with our arm over His shoulder as He helps us along. Perhaps something like this:
But the truth is, this is a passive verb. It’s more like “you have been raised by Christ and with Christ.” Christ is the one doing all the work. Christians are raised with Him and by Him. We’re raised with Christ in the sense that, now that He’s picked us up, He’s taking us where He’s going. We’re along for the ride! It’s really more like this:
This word is used in the Greek Old Testament to describe someone getting a donkey off the ground with its load. “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. (Exodus 23:5)” The term used for rescuing the donkey is used to describe us in Colossians 3:1.
The most interesting thing to me is the fact that, in order to rescue us, Christ had to come down to earth to pick us up. His death on the cross was the ultimate falling down to raise us up. To save us from death, He endured death and conquered it. We are able to be raised because Christ was raised first. Acts 26:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20, and Colossians 1:18 all describe Christ as being the “first born.” Notice they all say “first” and not “only.” Christ is the first of many who will conquer death. Romans 8:29 describes Him as “the firstborn among many brothers!”
Praise be to our great Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for coming down to earth in order to lift us up to Heaven.
It was the second half of 2005. I was 19, had just arrived at my first duty-station of Alaska, and had some big plans. First of all, I was going to sign up to go to the Air Force Academy. I had made this decision because, after listening to multiple general officers tell their stories, I realized that the Academy was my best shot at making general. I figured I would give the Air Force 30 or so years before retiring and figuring out what I wanted to conquer next. If I had to pick one word to describe myself, it would have been ambitious. I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure I was successful in my military career.
It was about then that I first read Philippians 2:3, which says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Uh oh. I had the sudden and horrifying realization that all my plans were nothing more than “selfish ambition.” Truly, at that point the only thing that motivated me was “vain conceit.” I was selfish and conceited; and I knew it. But, truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what else to do or how else to be.
But then it got worse! I made the mistake of joining a Bible study group that happened to be working through 1 John and I ran across this: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17).” Not only had I realized that all I cared about was myself, but now I realized that all my goals and plans were ultimately pointless because they were unlikely to outlive even my short life. I would never leave a legacy because I would never actually devote myself to a lasting cause. So what did I have to live for? What could be my purpose?
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, God delivered the death-blow to my pride when I decided to start reading through the Gospels for myself and was pierced by this arrow: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).” I realized that I had a choice: either build up God’s eternal Kingdom, or pour my life into building a castle of sand that would quickly be washed away by the waves of time.
My motives: selfish and conceited.
My plans: pointless and ephemeral.
My ‘kingdom’: short-lived and pitiful.
It all came to a head one night. It was a Saturday night in the Fall of 2005 and I was just a little drunk. I was looking at the second half of my strongly made Jack & Coke—mostly Jack with a dash of Coke, really—and I was trying to calculate how much of it I could drink and still be sober for choir practice the next morning (yup, you read that right). If I finished the drink, they’d probably be able to smell the alcohol on my breath and either way I would definitely feel terrible. So there I sat, 19 years old—which meant I was drinking underage, by the way—trying to figure out how drunk I should get when the Holy Spirit whispered three words in my ears. They were three words I’d ignored for at least 3-4 years up until that point but deep down inside I knew them to be true. In fact, those three words had bothered me ever since I started going to church in high school and claiming to be a Christian while still smoking pot, popping pills, drinking alcohol, cussing like a sailor, and messing around with girls. Those three words: “you’re a hypocrite.” Somehow I had managed to ignore those words while I pursued idol after idol: an Air Force career, impure dating relationships, worldly success. But at last, the Holy Spirit convicted me; I was “cut to the heart” as Luke said in Acts 2:37. I realized that I was on a path that would never lead me to an intimate relationship with God; I was on a path that would never make me the man I always wanted to be. I was pursuing idols, not God. It was time to try something else.
And so I did. And I haven’t looked back since. So what’s holding you back? Are you building your own short-lived kingdom or are you devoting your life to an eternal Kingdom? Are your plans eternal or vaporous? Are your motives selfish or selfless? I can’t answer those questions for you, but I promise you one thing: Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2)
I can’t tell you how many times—especially growing up in the Bible Belt—I heard that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart. Over the last few years, and especially lately, I’ve been convicted of a couple problems with that phrase.
First, there is nothing more arrogant than for us to assume that Jesus must earn or receive our “acceptance.” The truth is, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). In fact, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” Romans 8:8). The truth is, you are either in the flesh or in the Spirit (Romans 8:5). There’s a direct contrast between the two, so to tell someone—anyone—that they have the capability to accept something to which they are hostile is foolish. It would be like telling the darkness to accept the light or a decaying corpse to accept life. It cannot. The miraculous truth is that God accepts us because of the finished work of Christ. The only option we have is to bow down in humble worship and gratitude because we have been accepted (Colossians 1:13-14).
Second, Jesus doesn’t enter your heart. I have two big, big problems with this claim. Of greatest concern is that it doesn’t say this anywhere in the Bible. Sure, Jesus is “with us always (Matthew 28:20),” but no where in the Bible does it say that Jesus lives “in our heart.” Actually, the Scriptures tell us that after resurrecting, Jesus physically ascended up to heaven (Acts 1:9) and is seated at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; Revelation 4:2, 9-10, 5:1, 7, etc.). Jesus is not in your heart, Jesus is seated on a throne. Why is this important? Because it shows that Jesus’ work is finished (John 19:30). The other reason I dislike this phrase is because it doesn’t make any sense. As Christians, don’t we believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? How, then, does He fit in our hearts? Sounds absurd right? That’s because it is. Once again, Jesus is seated on a throne. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, not Jesus (Romans 8:9-11—now, I realize that in vs. 10 of that passage it says “if Christ is in you” but vs. 11 clarifies this by describing the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” The idea here is that, because of the 3-in-1 nature of the Trinity, there is some overlap with regards to who is your heart, but the specific role of dwelling within believers falls to the Holy Spirit. See John 16:4-15 for further clarification.).
Finally, something my pastor has been saying recently that has really resounded with me is this: “When I became a Christian I didn’t invite Jesus into my life, He invited me into His.” Jesus doesn’t join your life, your plans, and your purposes. You join Jesus’ life, plans, and purposes. The point is simply that you do not attach Jesus to what you already have going on as though He’s a simple accessory to be added to your wardrobe. Instead, we reorient our entire lives around Him. Jesus becomes our True North. Instead of living for ourselves, we lay down our old lives and live for Christ.
The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 563.
This video amazes me every time I see it. It’s my prayer that we can all remember and appreciate the great depth of God’s love for us.
For God does not want to save us by our own but by an extraneous righteousness, one that does not originate in ourselves but comes to us from beyond ourselves.
It’s only when you face the depth of your need that you can adequately celebrate the grandeur of God’s provision.