In Romans 1 and 2 Paul concludes that God’s wrath is against all of sinful humanity, Jews and Gentiles alike. Romans 3 and 4 Paul concludes that God’s grace benefits all humanity, Jews and Gentiles alike. Romans 5 unifies us under peace and righteousness with God through work and life of Jesus. Romans 6 because we are unified under peace and righteousness, we are also unified in Christ’s death and life. Romans 7 gives Christians a unified basis for our relationship with God. And Romans 8 continues Paul’s motivation to see a Jew and Gentile church united under the banner of faith in Christ. Romans 9 exposes the Jewish nation’s current standing with God.
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Romans 9
So question time here, if God chose the people of Israel to be in a unique relationship and now they are cut off from God, then shouldn’t the Roman church be concerned about their faith? Will they be cut off too? Paul answers this perceived question throughout this portion of his letter to the Romans.
Paul is grieved by the state of his countrymen. They are seeking God by ways other than faith in Jesus. They are trying to establish righteousness by either their nationality or by the works associated with that nationality. This issue is critical in Paul’s letter. In fact, it is the biggest issue in the whole New Testament. How are we made right toward God? Is it by Jesus or is it by ethnicity or by works associated with the temple.
Paul understands without Jesus there is no righteousness. We can not do it on our own. We need a messiah. The Jewish nation was waiting for a messiah, but not for Jesus. He was not quite what they expected, so they killed him and even the ones that followed him. Paul loves his nation. How do I know? Because he spent his whole preaching career seeking to unify Jews and Gentiles.
6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[b] 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. Romans 9
Do not be alarmed Roman church! The Spirit that lives inside of you will not fail. It may appear that the state of Israel is the result of God’s failure. But God had something else in mind. God wanted children, not slaves. The children of the promise are children of the promise between God and Abraham. That those that love God and seek his ways will come to live in the land.
Paul came to understand that the promise was for us. The Holy Spirit works in our lives so that we come to love God and seek him. This is a sign or seal that we will come to live in the land God promises. The land for us is the place where God dwells. I am hesitant to use the word heaven, because of heaven’s cultural understanding as a ethereal place with toddler angels and wings and clouds. The land is a place where we will be in the presence of the Almighty. Where justice and love will rule.
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[g] 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Romans 9
I ultimately think Paul is starting a train of thought here to encourage the Roman Church. God is intentional with his work in the Roman Church. God is displaying his power in the Church. This is a sign of God’s purpose for the church. Paul is writing to them because of God’s sovereign work. He pulls from a OT passage to substantiate this claim. What about Pharaoh? A symbol of deity and power, he could do whatever he wanted. Yet, he is merely a puppet created and cultivated so God might display his mighty power. Paul wants to validate the Church’s unified faith.
Is it wrong for God to use Pharaoh in this way?
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] Romans 9
Paul answers another presumed question. It is not wrong, because God made us. But Paul is going to twist this around. If God can create and cultivate to show his power, he can also create and cultivate to show his mercy.
22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—Romans 9
Some will look at this passage to prove that God is an evil and maniacal monster, while others will look to this passage to prove that God is a merciful and glorious loving Father. And I suppose that is how it has always happened. How will you respond to God?
Religious leaders tried to throw Jesus off a cliff, demons flee at his name and the healed serve him. So many different responses, yet one Jesus, one way. Paul wanted the Roman church to understand God’s sovereignty as a merciful and glorious trait. That God worked throughout history, so that we could come to fully experience his goodness and love.
30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. Romans 9
As I have been trying to explain, Paul says clearly. He clarifies Gentiles are sons of Abraham according to the promise and that God has brought the Gentiles into the church by his own sovereign hand. Yet those he seek God through spiritual pride and entitlement are bound for wrath. Let us not become like Israel. Let us seek God in humility and trust. And view his work in our life as loving guidance.
How would Paul have responded to so many different denominations in the Christian landscape? How do you believe he would have attempted to unify so many different viewpoints?
What role do we have in unification? How should we respond to different denominations?
What role does spiritual pride have in division? How can we overcome spiritual pride in our lives?
How do you know if you proud? What are some practices that can help us become humble?