ROMANS 8: 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What wonderful promises these are! But there is just one whopping great problem for us as we come to trust them. An obstacle which may not be so obvious to us in Western Europe in the 21st Century but a problem which would have leapt out to anybody reading Paul’s letter to the Romans in the first Century in the Middle East. And it was a big problem for Paul Himself. WHAT ABOUT THE JEWS?? Can we actually trust God’s promises to us as Christians. Two Thousand years before Christ Abraham had received God’s promises. 1500 years before Christ Moses and the nation of Israel had received the Covenant and the Law. A thousand years before Christ God’s promises had been renewed to David, God’s chosen King. But what about the Jews? Because in God’s plan of salvation as Paul was explaining it to the Roman church, the Jews are on the sidelines, relegated to the substitutes’ bench. If God’s plans have actually turned away from the Jews, how can WE now trust God’s promises?? This is the problem chapters 9 to 11 is there to solve.
WHAT ABOUT GOD’s PROMISES to the Jews?
9 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
This wasn’t an abstract theological problem for Paul but a deep personal tragedy for this Pharisee of the Pharisees. How did his fellow Jews, his family and his oldest friends, fit into God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ? And the answer is – they don’t!
3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
Despite having received God’s promises in Abraham and Moses and David, the Jews were now being treated like every other human being in God’s new way of salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what about those promises, Surely the nation of Israel was God’s firstborn son, they were the chosen people. They were the ones rescued in the Exodus. They had been given the promised land. They were the ones entrusted with the Law. God had sent the prophets to Israel. And for almost one thousand years, God had been worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem.
So here is the problem. If the gospel of Jesus Christ brings those blessings and more to people who are not Jews, who are not part of God’s chosen people – isn’t God letting the Jews down? Here is Paul’s answer.
SALVATION IS BASED ON GOD’s PROMISES
It always had been – it always would be.
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.” 8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
Paul is saying that God’s promises have not failed and never will fail. God’s promises were always intended for those who received them BY FAITH. For those individuals who believed the promises and who put their trust in God. Those who followed Abraham, “who believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s true children, the actual heirs to the promises, are not the natural descendants of Abraham but those who were his spiritual descendants, those who similarly put their trust in God. God HAS kept His promises to everybody who has Abraham’s faith. Not only that, also remember this.
SALVATION DEPENDS ON GOD’s CHOICE
10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
God is Sovereign. God is Almighty. God may love and forgive and accept WHOEVER He chooses. We thought about this in Romans 8.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
It is God’s choice who will receive His promises – and God will never fail to honour those promises to his chosen people, those whom He foreknew and predestined and called.
“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” We shouldn’t be surprised that God hated Esau, who valued God’s promises so little that he despised his birthright and traded it away for a bowl of porridge. The astonishing amazing thing is that God should love a lying stealing cheating rogue like Jacob – or even miserable sinners like you and me. Yet God did love Jacob – and God does choose to set his love on us! Is that unfair? Paul’s answer is that
GOD’s MERCY IS ALWAYS FAIR
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 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 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
None of us – no human being who has ever lived – could ever earn or deserve God’s love. We simply gratefully receive it! It is God’s choice who receives that mercy. And God who is in his essential character perfect justice and righteousness will always choose with a fairness which we will never understand, this side of glory anyway.
After the example of God choosing Jacob and rejecting Esau, Paul takes the example of Israel and Egypt and Moses and Pharaoh.
17 For the 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.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
The Bible teaches us very clearly that sometimes, because of His unfathomable purposes, God actually hardens the hearts of people who face his righteous judgment bringing them to the point where they can no longer even hear his voice. This might seem unfair until we remember that without God’s mercy and grace ALL OF US face his judgment. Those whose hearts God chooses to harden are no worse off than they were before. Yet is this fair? We saw back in Romans 1 that God hardens people’s hearts simply by letting them God their own way.
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
Human beings gave up worshipping and serving God – so He gave up on them. That is how God’s judgment works.
GOD IS GOD!
The Almighty Sovereign Creator God can do what He chooses.
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
Who are we to challenge God? We are only His creatures. Compared to His infinite wisdom we understand as little about God’s cosmic purposes as a lump of clay understands about the potter’s designs. God is Creator. He is Sovereign. He is Lord. GOD IS THE BOSS!
Isaiah 55 says this. 6Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
We dare not presume to challenge God’s choice or God’s fairness. All that ANY of us deserve is condemnation and punishment.
22 What if God, 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— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
God could choose to destroy all evil here and now, and all of us miserable sinners along with it. It is only by God’s grace and generosity and mercy that he spares any of us. Remember the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13.
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ” ….
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
It is only by God’s grace that any of us are spared the final judgment.
25 As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”26 and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”
The nation of Israel had been spared by God from the judgment which came in the form of the Exile to Babylon. That was God’s grace! Nothing to do with them being God’s chosen people.
GOD’s PROMISES ARE FOR THE FAITHFUL REMNANT
27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.
Throughout the Old Testament and the history of Israel it was always the faithful remnant who enjoyed God’s blessings, not the rebellious majority. God had ALWAYS been faithful to that remnant and kept his promises to them.
28 For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” 29 It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”
The whole world faces judgment. Those who survive will only be those who are saved by God’s grace and mercy and according to His sovereign choice and promises He never breaks. It is not our place to challenge the fairness of God’s election – but simply to receive His blessings with even greater humility and gratitude when we realize that there are others who will not receive the blessings which we do.
SALVATION IS RECEIVED BY FAITH, NOT BY WORKS
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 Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
So it is in God’s master plan that we who are not Jews, who never searched after God’s mercy, yet receive the blessings He has promised. And it grieves Paul deeply to recognize that the Jewish people miss out, NOT because God’s promises failed but because the nation of Israel kept on missing the point. They kept on trying to earn God’s salvation by good works, or so often simply took that salvation for granted, instead of trusting in the Rock of Ages, their own messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. God has not let the Jews down. The Jews let God down – they let the marvelous salvation God had promised them slip through their fingers. So those promises come to us instead, Abraham’s spiritual descendants who put our trust in Jesus Christ. God’s promises will never fail. God will NEVER let us down.