Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Romans 9-10: Many Called, Few Chosen

Rom 9:30-10:17  What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;  but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness  did not succeed in reaching that law.  Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,  as it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."  Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.  

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) or "'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);  because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame."  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?"  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

In Romans 9, Paul introduces the idea of divine sovereignty in election. Not all who are offspring of Abraham are necessary "children of promise": "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring" (9:6-8). Then Paul went on to explain that between Isaac's twins Esau and Jacob, Esau was rejected in favour of Jacob, even though he was a descendant of Abraham: "Jacob I loved, and Esau I hated" (9:13). And this choice was made even before they were born: "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call" (9:11). This sovereign choice of whom shall be included as God's people is called election of grace.

If we are chosen on the basis of divine sovereignty, does it mean we didn't have a choice? That we are somehow like puppets on the stage and words and actions are determined by the strings pulled by the Divine Puppeteer? Paul gives the illustration of Pharaoh whom God raised to display his power: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth" (9:17). Did not Pharaoh bear a personal responsibility for resisting God's will ten times? Romans 9:18 says, "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."

Having affirmed God's over-ruling sovereignty in His choice of the elect, yet in Romans 10, Paul explains that the only way Israel can be saved is through faith, not through the Law of Moses: "What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness  did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works" (9:30-32). So, now Paul seems to be saying that while we may be God's elect as a result of divine sovereignty, we still have to respond in faith in order to be saved. Clearly, Israel, who were descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, was set aside to be God's people for they were recipients of the covenant ratified at Sinai:
  • Ex 19:3-6 "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel."
Despite Israel's election as God's people, whether they ultimately become one is conditional on their obedience: "if you will indeed obey my voice...keep my covenant (then) you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." So Jesus said: "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Mt 22:14). Israel was called but not all in Israel are chosen for not all responded in obedience of faith: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved" (Rom 9:27). So election is a divine call, but ultimately we have to respond to that call with faith. It's God desire that all men be saved, but not all are because not all respond to God's call with faith.

This issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the matter of salvation has divided Western Christianity right in the middle: on the one side are theologians who emphasize divine sovereignty (Calvinists) and on the other side are theologians who emphasize human responsibility (Arminians). But these two theological truths are not mutually exclusive, otherwise Paul would be contradicting himself when he went from Romans 9 to Romans 10 to declare: "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (10:9). He is almost saying we need to respond to divine election with faith if we want to move from being called to being chosen.

In other words, divine sovereignty does not cancel out human responsibility. But how does Paul reconcile these seemingly antithetical truths? The answer is found in the verses that follow:
  • Romans 10:14-17 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
The key to resolving this theological paradox is the preaching of the Word: those who have been elected will respond in faith when they hear the Word of Christ. But someone must tell them: "how are they to hear without someone preaching?... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." Faith is a respond of the elect to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While God has sovereignly determined who shall be included as His people, He has not chosen to tell us: He simply commands us his church to go tell everyone. Those whom He has chosen will then respond in faith to what they hear. That is why Jesus says in John 10:16-17, "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." So, the people who are unsaved are "lost sheep" that are to be brought home.

I remember in one Alpha, one pre-believer testified that on that day she decided to accept Christ, she prayed, "Father, I want to come home!" She felt like the prodigal son who belonged to the father but finally decided to return home. So, God has his "other sheep" who have not returned to the fold. The church's mission is to seek them out and bring them home.

Father, thank You that You already know who will be chosen, though the call is given to everyone. Help us O God to respond to Your election by going out to call home those who belong to You, but have not returned home. Amen.

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