Gravity of grace (5): Overview of Romans 9-11

Previously, Paul had announced he was not ashamed of the gospel because it is God’s power to save all those who believe, whether Jew or Greek. Furthermore, he asserted that this gospel reveals God’s righteousness. Subsequently, Paul proceeded to demonstrate God is righteous whether it be in judging people or how God justifies people “from faith to faith.” Chapter 8 ended with a crescendo emphasizing the security and confidence those in Christ possess.

Ironically, Paul begins to address the ramifications of this gospel that had elevated God’s fairness in making “no distinction” (Rom. 3:22,29; 4:16). If the Law cannot provide life or if ethnic Israel is not coextensive with God’s people, has God’s word failed? It is toward hard questions such as these that Paul now turns.

With chapter 9, Paul’s opening thoughts underscore his desire for ethnic Israel. Paul is not anti-semitic.

Paul launches into defending the reliability of God’s word because two ideas appear incompatible. One the one hand God had earlier adopted Israel to be his people and had given them the covenants and the Law. Yet if this is true, how can it be that when Paul was writing Romans, the Jews were largely excluded from God’s people?

Paul points out that God identifies his people Israel, not based upon birth, but rather upon God’s prerogative to choose a people/seed based upon calling. For example, God only chose some of Abraham’s descendants to be the “seed.” Thus God’s people would be found in Isaac, not Ismael. Similarly, Israel would be found through Jacob, not Esau. Neither human effort nor morality played any role in how God selected who would serve as his people.

It should be noted that although Paul cites examples involving individuals, the context reveals these merely serve to illustrate the principles by which God identified “the seed.” His focus is upon the shaping and use of a people, not individuals. Paul does not abandon his topic of how God can choose and use his people.

For God to show such selectivity, in contrast to the earlier claim that God makes no distinctions, might seem to call into question God’s justice. Not at all, quips Paul. Scripture reveals that God is free to be merciful and compassionate upon whomever he desires. God can choose people to play whatever role he wants, as the example of Pharaoh illustrates. God’s will is in charge, not humanity.

Is this fair? How can humanity resist being used by God for one purpose or for another? Furthermore, how can God judge humanity if people cannot avoid being used for one purpose or another?

Paul’s response involves questioning the one who would question God. “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” God possesses a big picture view of what he is doing. The creature, as Job discovered, is not in a position to judge what is best nor how things ought to work. God is both the maker and the measure.

It is God’s prerogative to either expand or contract his people. Thus on the one hand God can call the Gentiles to be his people, while on the other he can call only a portion or remnant of ethnic Israel. 

Historically the Gentiles attained being right before God because they responded with faith, while Israel who had sought being right with God failed to achieve righteousness. The reason for this is because Israel refused Christ. This meant, according to Paul’s application of faith from Deuteronomy 30:14, that faith remained beyond their grasp and likewise righteousness. She had refused to believe in Christ and to acknowledge him. Yet, since God makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile, hope is held out to all because “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Since faith comes by hearing the word and Israel heard, why didn’t she respond with faith? The problem is not with God, because he has held out his hands to a resistant people. Nor is it the case that God had rejected his people, as evidenced by his choosing a remnant by grace. God remains faithful. Rather, only those who accept God’s gift of Jesus become part of the remnant.

Paul reminds us of the big picture. The result of the Jews rejection of Christ caused the gospel to go to the Gentiles leading them to call upon the Lord. Thus the Jewish rejection of Christ led to the inclusion of the Gentiles! 

However, Gentile Christians should not gloat over their inclusion. For if God removed the Jewish natural branches because of unbelief, they too can be broken off. The appropriate response is reverence noting both God’s kindness and severity. Furthermore, God can graft the Jewish branches which were broken off if they overcome their faithlessness. 

The Jewish response to the Messiah has put them in opposition to God’s plan, however they are loved on account of the patriarchs. All people have thus been disobedient. Likewise God has been merciful toward all. Paul concludes this section of his letter praising God’s wisdom.

Once again this merely provides a brief overview of how Paul’s thoughts flow. Nevertheless, it provides a basic framework for understanding his usage of grace. In chapters 9 to 11, Paul only used “grace” four times and that in two verses, namely Romans 11:5,6.


The final article is: Gravity of Grace: Concluding Suggestions

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