Romans 9 – The Israel Conundrum

Romans 9 begins a new section of the letter (Rom9-11) which, if I’m honest, I’ve always found the most difficult. It is difficult because there are some things that are hard to understand and it is difficult because there are some things that are hard to hear. If the truth be told we probably wished some of these verses said something different so that they were less disturbing to us. But they don’t, and we need to hear what they are saying in order that we know the fullness of who God is and the riches of His gospel which brings salvation to us.

There is a tendency with difficult passages like these to reduce them to complicated academic doctrines that few people actually really understand or appreciate. However, we must keep in view that this is a pastoral letter written to a church. Discussions about Calvinism and Arminianism can be helpful, but the bottom line is that Paul wrote this to explain the gospel and in the end it should be something that changes our perspective and challenges our behaviour as we are transformed by the power of it.


Romans 9-11 continues to be all about the gospel, but the focus shifts to Israel and her role in the salvation story of God.

Before you read Rom 9 it is probably worth stopping to consider who we are talking about when we speak of Israel:
Who is Israel historically and biblically?
What was the role and relationship Israel had with God in the Old Testament scriptures?
What do we understand Israel to mean today – geographically, racially, in a religious sense and in any other way?

Read Rom 9

What do you find difficult or disturbing in this chapter? Write down or speak out the questions you have and things that you struggle with having read the chapter. You may well need to wrestle with these questions and difficulties with some time, but it is worth the struggle! As it was with Jacob (Gen32), through the wrestling we will gain a deeper appreciation of who God is.


A few questions for reflection

What does it mean that ‘not all that are descended from Israel are Israel’ (:6)?
What does the idea of a ‘remnant’ mean (:27)?
Can you think of Old Testament stories that describe this idea of only a remnant being saved?

Rom 9:10-13 are hard verses to read, how do you react to them?
The tendency is to see these verses highlighting the negative side of God’s election, but what is the positive side (:16)?

In Rom 9:22-23 Paul twice says ‘what if ….’, almost as if to say ‘even if this were the case who are you to argue with it?’! The two ‘what if’s in verses 22 & 23 are a challenge to our belief about God. They ask the questions, ‘Is God really like this? Has He really done this?’
So let us ask the question has God really done these things and if so how does it ‘make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy’?


In conclusion, one thing we must take away from this chapter is what the prophecies that Paul quotes from in Hosea and Isaiah point towards. Through the gospel of Jesus people from every nation are being chosen and saved by God.
Rom9:25-26 tells us that people from the previously rejected are now being chosen for salvation – the harsh rejection of Esau seems to not have been a complete rejection in the sense that the unloved are now loved.
Rom9:27-28 tells us that people from the rebellious and undeserving chosen people are still being chosen for salvation – God’s word has not failed (:6).

Thanks be to God!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Eph2:8-10)

 

 

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Romans 8 – Security Services

The end of Romans 8 brings to a conclusion the themes and ideas that have been developed in Rom5-8, with Rom8:28-39 being a rich section of scripture that you could spend almost a lifetime digesting! One of the themes we find here is the often controversial idea of predestination and how it is connected with some of the most famous and popular verses in Romans.


Read Rom8:28-39

Rom8:29-30 describes a ‘chain reaction’ of things that God works, which originate in His foreknowing and predestining. With these words we find the idea that God already knows who He is and who He isn’t going to save, and the idea that He has chosen in advance some people to be saved and others not to be.
How do these ideas sit with you?
Are there implications of these concepts that are surprising to you?
Are there implications of these ideas that make you feel uncomfortable?

Regardless of your reservations (or not) about the idea of predestination is it possible for God to be God without the ability to foreknow or predestine things?

Rom8:28 says ‘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.’
How does the idea that we are called according to God’s purpose give us security in God working all things for the good?
What is meant by ‘all things’ here? Do we tend to narrow down the application of the scripture and if so in what way?
What do you think is meant by ‘good’ here? Do some of the other things mentioned in Rom8:29-30 help us understand this good more fully?

Rom8:31 says ‘If God is for us who can be against us.’
What do you understand this to mean – does it mean that nothing bad will ever happen to us, or does it mean that no opposition will ever overcome us, or does it mean something else!?
If you combine what Rom8:28 & Rom8:31 are saying are our enemies actually against us?
Compare and describe how this truth is revealed in the story of Joseph (Gen37-50, esp Gen50:20) and also in the opposition and suffering Jesus faced. How does this change our perspective on ‘defeats’ that we may suffer in our lives?


Listen to Sunday’s sermon here.

 

 

Romans 8 – Now but Not Yet

Romans 8:18-27 is a rare bit of New Testament writing where Paul connects our future hope with a future hope for all creation. He speaks of our future salvation having a cosmic significance. Rom8:19 says ‘For the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.’ This revealing of the sons of God speaks of the time of resurrection from the dead of the God’s children. When this occurs creation itself will be brought into freedom, no longer subject to the slavery of decay, but brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. This is huge! The resurrection of Jesus points us towards a future where, not only are we resurrected in a renewed body but creation (animals, plants, communities, economies, towns and cities, forests and deserts, oceans and streams) is also renewed and restored. This amazing liberation for all creation is an ultimate reversal of the curse God pronounced after Adam sinned (Gen3:17-19). Adam’s sin not only brought death into the world but also curse on the ground. The decay that creation is currently subject to came as a result of mankind’s sin. It follows, therefore, that with mankind’s ultimate redemption there will also come a redemption for all creation. The salvation of mankind is intimately intertwined with the restoration of all creation!


Read Rom 8:18-27 & Is65:17-25

What does Is65:17-25 tell you about the scope of God’s salvation restoration to all creation?
Look at the description of the different aspects of creation that are redeemed in this passage. In what ways does this broaden your perspective of the future hope we have in Christ?

The idea that God will renew all creation at some point in the future could lead us to think that we don’t need to worry about the world and environment around us. If God is going to renew everything one day then surely it’s ok to use and abuse the world we have now, and squeeze everything we can out of it? Is this attitude and approach right? Why?
What is a gospel centred way of living in this world?

Should Christians be environmental friendly? Should churches get involved in the communities around them? Should the church get involved in politics? Should Christians fight for justice and work for peace in this world? Should Christians help serving the poor and disadvantaged in this world?
If so how what is a gospel centred way of going about these things? Take one or more of the above issues and consider how a gospel centred approach may differ or be in harmony with the way in which the world approaches them.

Find ways as individuals or as a group in which you can practically live out the signs of the future hope of the gospel in the creation around you.

Romans 8 – Sons of God

On Sunday we looked at Romans 8:14-18 which expands another benefit of the gospel to those who are in Christ and led by the Spirit in that they are adopted as sons of God. This means that everyone who is in Christ (male or female – Gal3:28) has the legal position of a son of God and gains all privileges and inheritance that comes with it, to the point where they are co-heirs with Christ Himself!

As with the rest of this chapter these few verses are rich in gospel meaning and significance, so take your time to meditate on them! Here are a few thought provokers.


Read Romans 8:14-17

Rom8:15 says the Spirit does not make us slaves but rather brings about our adoption to sonship. Consider the connections between this and Ex4:22-23 where God calls Israel His son and sets them free from Pharaoh’s slavery.
– What are the differences between a slave and son?
– In what way were we slaves before we knew Jesus and how does that change now we are sons?

Rom8:15 says that it is by the Spirit ‘we cry ‘Abba, Father.” Consider the connections between this and what happens at Jesus’ baptism (Matt3:16-17).
– How does the Spirit work in assuring us of our position as God’s sons?
– Why is the Father’s affirmation of His son important?
– How does God’s affirmation of you as a son impact you personally?
– ‘Abba’ is Aramaic for ‘Father’ or ‘Daddy’. Explore the implications of what this means for our relationship to God. How does this way of addressing God change the way we understand Him?

Rom 8:17 says as children of God we are co-heirs with Christ. Consider the connections between this and the statement God makes to the kings of Israel in Ps2:7-8.
– What does it mean to be a co-heir with Christ (the ultimate king of Israel)?
– In what way do we share in the sufferings of Christ?
– What do we know of the glory of Christ that we will also share?

Sonship is an important biblical theme and helps us fully understand who Jesus is and who we are in Him. In light of Rom8:14-18 read the story of ‘the Two Sons’ in Luke 15:11-32.
– What does Lk15 teach us about the depth of the relationship between the father and the sons?
– What does the story teach us about the type of inheritance we have in Christ?
– The story tells of one son who misused his inheritance and the other son who underused his inheritance. Where do you see yourself in the story?
– How can you live fully in the reality of God’s inheritance now as God intends you to (Lk15:31)?

Romans 8 – No Condemnation but Some Obligation

On Sunday we started to explore Romans 8 which has been described as the ‘inner sanctuary within he cathedral of Christian faith.’ You can hear the sermon by clicking here.

We looked at the complete removal of the condemnation that comes from the law of sin and death. And the difference between that and the conviction of the Holy Spirit (:2-3).

We looked at the contrasting ways of life that this chapters describes:

  • The law of the Spirit who gives life and the law of sin and death (:2)
  • The mind set on the flesh which is death and the mind set on the Spirit which is life and peace (:5)
  • The realm of the flesh which leads to death because of sin and the realm of the Spirit which gives life because of righteousness. (:9)

We rejoiced in the assertion that, if we are a Christian, we are not in the realm of the flesh but in the realm of the Spirit (:9).

We considered the balance we need to strike between knowing it is only the Holy Spirit who can work our sanctification and our obligation to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit (:13).


Read Rom 8:1-13.
Take time to work through this wonderful passage of scripture and use the following questions as springboards for discussion, prayer and meditation.

What does this passage speak to you?
How does it make you feel?
What does it do to you as you read it?

Are you able to distinguish the difference between condemnation of legalism and conviction of the Spirit?

If you perceive you are feeling condemned as a Christian where is that condemnation coming from? How does Rom8:1 minister to these feelings of condemnation.

What does Paul mean in this chapter by the ‘flesh’? (‘Flesh’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘sarx‘ translated ‘sinful nature’ in Rom 7!)

Do you read this chapter and sometimes wonder whether you are in the realm of the flesh or the Spirit?
Is being in the realm of the Spirit optional or something we have control over if we are a Christian?

How does God’s grace practically work in our lives?
Is it the case that we have no responsibility at all in our sanctification?
If we have an obligation but it is not to the flesh, what is it to? (:12)?
Consider the balance that Rom8:13 describes between our responsibility and the Holy Spirit’s action.

Romans 7 – Thanks be to God

Apparently Romans 7 is one of the the most debated chapters in the New Testament. Primarily the question that is debated is ‘who is Paul speaking about in verses 13-24?’ Is he speaking of himself as he was before he met Jesus or is he speaking of himself after he met Jesus?
Personally (without wanting to think I have the simple answer to a 2000 year old controversy) I actually think this is missing the point! To me Paul seems to be speaking of a person (Christian or non Christian) who is trying to work out their sanctification themselves. Take verse 15 for example ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’, the emphasis seems to be very heavily on ‘I’. However, the gospel is not about us working out our own sanctification but God doing it in us, it is His work not ours. This whole section is notable for it’s absence of any mention of the Holy Spirit, which I think gives the clue to the reason for the struggle and failure that Paul describes in verses 13-24. In conclusion Paul describes himself as a ‘wretched man’ (:24), which I think is his admission that he has realised he cannot change his own sinful nature, and as a result he asks the question ‘Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?’ Fortunately he does not leave the question unanswered, but goes on to say ‘Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (:25). Whether it’s our sanctification or justification its always God’s work through Jesus in us. This is gospel!

I mentioned 2 ways on Sunday in which we easily fall into the trap of trying to work out our own sanctification, which I called Self Reformation and Self Resistance.
Self Reformation is when we try and change ourselves by doing things, such as develop new skills, new relationships or take on worthy activities. It is doing things to try and become a better Christian. The problem with this is that we are trying to change something that cannot be changed. Our sinful nature (:18) is unredeemable and no matter what we do we can’t change it. With Self Reformation we may be able to change certain aspects of our life (and that may not be a bad thing), but it will never succeed in transforming us. Issues will always resurface in other areas of our life, as we can never ourselves deal with the root problem which is the sin in our flesh.
Self Resistance is where we realise that we can’t change ourselves so instead we develop coping strategies to manage our sin issues. In doing so sin becomes an acceptable, and sometimes even welcome, part of our lives. But coping with sin is not the same as dealing with sin. As with Self Reformation it doesn’t matter how good you are at coping with sin, if you are never dealing with the root of the sin it will always get the better of you at some point.
Neither Self Reformation or Self Resistance work when dealing with sin. Our only hope is to deal with the root of our sin issues by dying to it. And only God can do this in us as we live in our baptism.


 

Take some time to consider areas of your life in which you may be trying to self reform or self resist sin. To do this you might want to meditate on a passage of scripture (Gal5:13-26 for example) and allow the Holy Spirit to highlight areas where you are trying to overcome sin yourself.
Take these areas of your life and give them over to God. Don’t try and change them but die to them and allow God to bring new life into your lives.
Pray for one another to grow in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.


If you fancy reading more into the issues debated in Romans 7 you might find this blog that I mentioned on Sunday helpful.

Romans 7 – Free from Law

The beginning of Romans 7 returns to a similar idea we heard at the beginning of Romans 6, in that to be completely free from something we must die to it. The idea of dying to something always brings us back to the reality and power of our baptism into Christ, in which we die to the old and are born again into the new through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Rom7:1-6 uses marriage as an analogy of how this ‘dying to’ works in our relationship to Law. The comparison is that if a married woman has a relationship with another man it is adultery, but if her husband dies she is free from the law that says she married and is able to marry again. In the same way through Christ we have died to our ‘relationship’ with the Law which made us captive to sin, and have been made free to serve God in a new way through the Holy Spirit. Rom6:14 puts it this way, ‘we are no longer under law but under grace.’
The result of this is that we no longer need to follow the Law to be pleasing to God. Following the Law is not what makes us ‘good people’! Christianity and the gospel is not about what we do or don’t do, but always what God does through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
However, this extreme freedom of grace makes most, if not all, of us a little uncomfortable. We all feel more at ease when there are set boundaries for ourselves and the people that are around us. Surely freedom from Law just gives rise to lawlessness?! And with this fear and misunderstanding of what true gospel freedom is the church has been very good at creating laws, rules and restrictions that define things such as salvation, godliness, spirituality and maturity. Far too often the church becomes like the Galatians who started with grace and then added law, making free people slaves again (Gal3:1-3). The result is an unwritten but well known Christian Law that I call the Evangelical Torah that defines criteria by which we measure ourselves and others as Christians. For example:

  • ‘You must have a daily quiet and read the bible at least once a day.’
  • ‘You must attend church every Sunday (preferably well dressed)’
  • ‘You can’t smoke, drink or have tattoos.’
  • ‘You shouldn’t dance or generally show any enjoyment of life.’

Now I’m not saying that reading you bible every day is a bad idea etc, etc. What I am saying is that we all too easily slip into judgement when we take some of these ideas and make them requirements, because the emphasis has moved from what God has done and is doing, to what we are doing. We must remember that the gospel is always God’s salvation action in us.
Freedom from the Law through gospel does not result in lawlessness, but instead brings new birth in us by the Holy Spirit. Through baptism into Christ we receive the Holy Spirit who works in us to change and transform us into the likeness of God. Our sanctification is not something we ‘do’ but is something we allow God to do through the inner working of the Holy Spirit in our lives.


Consider what rules/laws/requirements you feel you live under or impose on others.
What are the signs that these things are enslaving you?

Does the idea of freedom from all law and commandment make you feel uneasy? If so why and how can you overcome this?

How can you be active in inviting the Holy Spirit into areas of you life that need freedom from legalism.


What is the point of the Law in the first place you may well ask? And that isn’t a bad question, and one we will look at next week. But for now let us revel in the fullness of God’s grace and soak in the reality that we have been made free from the Law!