Bible Reading for the Week of January 20, 2019
Reflections on Romans 10-12
This section is a continuation of the preceding discussion about the nation of Israel. There are three significant truths in this section. First, passion for God that is not based on truth will ultimately fail. Second, zeal based on an inaccurate foundation of knowledge leads to self-righteousness. Said differently, any righteousness that is not God’s righteousness in Christ is self-righteousness. Ultimately, all self-righteousness is using ourselves as the measure of right and wrong, rather the unchanging nature of God. Third, Christ is the “end point of the law” so that everyone can be righteous through faith in Christ. The NASB, NRSV, and ESV use the phrase “the end of the law” which gives the impression that the law has no utility. The law, however, is still a part of God’s Word. The NIV actually has a better translation using the word “culmination,” instead. The Greek word is telos which means “end, goal, purpose.” In other words, the Law is fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is the purpose toward which the Law was pointing. Therefore, anyone who pursues righteous through faith in Christ may be made righteous.
In this section, Paul is actually quoting (loosely) passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy. He seems to imagine that one of his hearers might object to what he is saying, so he is, in effect, saying, “Hey, it’s not just me that saying this, Moses said this a long time ago.” By making this type of appeal he greatly reduced the probability that a Jewish reader would reject his claims outright.
The heart of this section, and one of the most well-known passages in Romans, is verses 9 and 10. Inward belief and outward confession of faith in Christ results in justification and salvation. The Greek words for justification and salvation have very similar meanings.
When it comes to salvation, Paul wants his hearers to know that there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation on the basis of faith. Jews would have understood salvation to be exclusive to the Jews because of the special relationship that had with God based on their reception of the covenants, law, prophets, etc. Unfortunately, as Paul says in the previous paragraph, righteousness, is not derived from any of these things, but through faith in Jesus.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Jesus] will be saved”
Paul is describing the process of evangelism: a sharer of the gospel is sent. The preacher preaches to people who listen. Listeners become believers. Unfortunately, not everyone who hears will respond affirmatively. Nevertheless, the preacher is tasked with going and telling so that those who would respond will respond in faith.
This is great news for most of us reading this article since we are not Jews by heritage. God does not limit his salvation to the nation of Israel. Salvation is not limited to those included in the Sanai covenant (a point that Paul has repeated multiple times in Romans).
The inclusion of non-Jews in God’s plan for salvation may have led some to wonder whether or not Jews had been completely rejected by God. Paul’s anticipates this response and replies with a resounding no. God has not rejected His people, but Paul acknowledges that not everyone in the nation of Israel will respond in faith to Jesus Christ. Therefore, only a remnant of Jews will actually be saved. Paul appeals to several Old Testament passages that support his contention that only a portion of those from Israel who believe will be saved.
One issue that Christians frequently stumble over comes in verses 7-10. Those who believe are saved, but others are “hardened,” have a “spirit of stupor,” “eyes that are darkened,” and several other phrases that seem to imply that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen some and rejected others. However, from an Arminian/Wesleyan perspective, God offers salvation by grace through faith to everyone; however, some choose to reject God’s offer. As a result, their hearts are hardened, their eyes are darkened, and so forth. These are consequences of their sin of rejecting God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Did the Jews of Paul’s day need a Life Alert system? “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Paul would say no. Yes, they have undoubtedly fallen short of living lives of faith. They sinned. But their sin opened the door to the possibility that all humanity might come to the saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. Yes, God has rejected them because of their lack of faith (as a whole, though He has preserved a faithful remnant, as stated above).
The primary metaphor in the section is the grafting of wild branches into a domesticated tree. Yes, some branches have been broken off in order to make room for their new branches, but there is always the possibility of grafting the old branches back into the tree. Paul urges humility for those saved by faith because God’s destruction of the original branches can just as easily be applied to the new branches.
The phrase in verse 26 “so all Israel will be saved” has led to a lot of debate among theologians, and there are multiple schools of thought with no general consensus. Taking my lead from the prior section, I tend to view the grafted in branches, alongside the native branches are the new Israel. The New Covenant in Christ supersedes the Old Covenant.
In many conversations with people so far this year (January 2019), people have said in unison, “Paul is hard to understand.” In this section what we have is Paul’s admission that God is hard to understand sometimes. God’s wisdom and knowledge are unsearchable and unfathomable, two words that essentially mean the same thing, thus bringing emphasis to the depth of God’s wisdom and knowledge. No one has known all that is in God’s mind. No one has offered God advice. God has not suffered a deficit such that we can loan him anything. All things are from God, through God, and to God.
Paul ends this section of theological exposition with praise. Rather than being disheartened and saying God is too hard to understand, and giving up, he concludes by giving God glory.
We will see this pattern in most all of Paul’s letters: he gives theological instruction and then gives the practical implications of the theological discussion. He starts chapter 12 with “therefore.” In light of the foregoing discussion, this is how you are to live as people of faith.
As followers of Jesus, we willingly sacrifice our own way to the way of God in Christ. We willingly submit our own thoughts about how we should live our lives to the teachings of Jesus and when there is a conflict between the two, we follow Jesus’ teaching. The goal of everything we do is please God. We are to resist be being pressed into the mold of the world. As believers, we are to allow God to transform us, starting with our minds, but then working that transformation out in our behavior. The result of this transformation is that we can determine God’s will. In fact, we can only determine God’s will to the degree that we have been transformed into the likeness of Christ. Above all else then, transformation into Christ’s likeness is the primary focus of the Christian life and the goal of all Christian discipleship.
This section outlines spiritual gifts, but begins with a caution to humility. The prideful person has an inaccurate self-perception (just as the person who has too low a self-perception of him or herself). What Paul is calling for is an accurate self-perception. We all have gifts, but no one has all the gifts. Our job is to exercise the gifts faithfully. This is not a complete list of spiritual gifts. Other lists of spiritual gifts are found in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. Even combining all these lists is not exhaustive. The gifts listed here are:
Everyone can exercise any of the gifts, even if they do not have that gift. Anyone can prophecy; that is, speak the truth. Anyone can serve even if that is not their primary gift. But there are some people for whom Teaching just comes naturally and people learn. While everyone has been called to be generous financially, God has given some people the ability to make money so that they can be especially generous financially. Not having a gift does not absolve us of our responsibility to be obedient to the teachings of Christ.
This section contains a series of ethical exhortations that are to govern the lives of followers of Christ. Verse 21 is a kind of summary statement, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with God.” For many, this idea is quite foreign. For example, some people live by an alternative Golden Rule, “Do unto other before they do unto you.” This is “dog-eat-dog” ethics. Still others, “Do unto others as they have done to you.” This is tit-for-tat ethics. But Jesus said in Matthew 7:12 Jesus says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
- Have you ever met anyone who was extremely sincere, but sincerely wrong? Perhaps they thought they could fly and jumped off a roof only to find out otherwise when they hit the ground and broke their leg. What are the potential consequences for this kind of error in the spiritual life? (10:1-4)
- What is the importance of both inward belief and outward expression with regard to salvation? (10:5-13)
- What role do you play in the evangelism process? (10:14-21)
- How do you understand God’s foreknowledge and human freedom to make choices? (11:1-10)
- How does Paul warn against Antisemitism in 11:11-24?
- How do you typically respond when you don’t understand something in God’s word? Frustration? Rejection? (11:32-36)
- In what ways are you seeking to be transformed by God? What priority do you give to this transformation? (12:1-2)
- What are your spiritual gifts? How do you exercise them? (12:3-8)
- Give yourself a grade on each of the ethical commands listed. Have you noticed any progress in your conformity to this list of ethical commands over the past weeks, months, and years? (12:9-21)
Lord, by your grace, be our teacher. When we struggle to understand, give us hearts full of praise. We commit ourselves to seeking you as our highest priority in life. Transform us into the likeness of your son Jesus. Thank you for your gifts. May we use them to build your kingdom.
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