Posts Tagged ‘Reformed Theology

25
Aug
17

Issues in Romans Nine

It is common for Arminians and other Synergists to accuse Calvinists of taking verses in Romans 9 out of context and using them to prove a doctrine they were never intended to support. This is quite common among Dispensationalists who imagine that God is pursuing two separate programs for two separate peoples. For this reason, they imagine that because Paul is addressing an issue that concerns ethnic Israelites, the doctrine he sets forth must have no application to the Church and to spiritual salvation at all.

Now, it is true that Israel is not the church and the church is not Israel in the sense that Israel as a nation was a body of believers washed in the blood of the Lamb. One does not enter the community of New Covenant in the same way that people became a part of the Old Covenant community. What we must understand is that because the nation of Israel stood as type or prefiguration of the Church, the same principles that applied to that nation in a typical sense are now applicable to the Church in a spiritual sense. None of the blessings the members of Christ’s body now receive were granted to the Israelites, as mere natural descendants of Abraham, in the same sense as they are now granted to believers in Christ. They were chosen, redeemed, called, adopted, granted inheritance etc., but none of those blessings are spiritual or eternal in nature.I

My approach to this passage will necessarily depart from both the classic Reformed view and from the classic Dispensationalist understanding of Israel and the Church. The Reformed view is that the Church is the visible Kingdom of God that is, by design, comprised of believers and unbelievers [i.e., believers and their infant children] in the same way that Israel was the visible Church in the Old Testament. The Dispensational view, as already mentioned, is that God is pursuing two perpetually distinct purposes for two perpetually and perhaps eternally distinct peoples. But we must understand that God has not planted a separate olive tree called “the Church” that is separate and distinct from the good olive tree that is rooted in covenant promises. Instead, he has grafted Gentile believers into “the Righteous Branch” of the good olive tree through faith in Christ, so that they have become heirs of the spiritual promises made to Abraham. According to the Dispensational view, Romans chapters nine through eleven can have little if any significance for anyone other than natural Israelites.

My view is that natural Israel stood as a type or prefiguration of the true people of God [I am using the word “true” here in the same way John and Jesus used the it, i.e., to denote the fulfillment as opposed to the type and shadow. Consider as an example, “I am the TRUE bread.” Jesus did not mean that the manna in the desert was not REAL bread, but that he was the fulfillment of the type]. It helps to understand that the study of typology is simply a matter of recognizing that there are repeated patterns in God’s dealings with his creation.

Some time ago I posted an article titled “Thoughts on Romans 9-11” which I intend to repost at the end of this article since I believe it is important to understand the issues involved in the entire context. What I would like to do here is simply consider this important chapter in its context in an attempt to discern whether Calvinists are truly guilty of misusing it to illegitimately support their doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the matter of the sinner’s salvation.

Romans Nine Is About Spiritual Salvation

My first observation is that the entirety of Romans nine though eleven concerns spiritual salvation. There is not a single word in the entire passage, if properly understood, that concerns the reestablishment of Israel as a political entity, the restoration of the land to that nation, etc. It should be clear to any thinking person that Paul would not be willing to be accursed from Christ for such mundane reasons. It was for the spiritual and eternal salvation of his people that he was concerned. We must remember that after types or prefigurations are fulfilled, they cease to exist. Paul understood that “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.” The issue here was salvation through union with Christ. This becomes clear as we near the end of the chapter and move into chapter ten. In verse twenty-three Paul wrote about the “vessels of mercy which he [God] had prepared beforehand for glory.” Since this is set over against “destruction,” it must be a reference to spiritual salvation. In verse twenty-seven he wrote, “the remnant will be SAVED.” In verses thirty-thirty-two he wrote specifically about the attainment of righteousness through faith, another clear reference to spiritual deliverance. If any question remains about the subject of this pericope, it should be laid to rest once for all by Paul’s opening statement in chapter ten, “Brethren, my prayer to God and heart’s desire for Israel is that they may be saved.” Finally, Paul closes his argument with the conclusion, “and thus, all Israel shall be SAVED.”

The Apostle’s Argument in This Chapter

We must first understand that this entire section is intended to answer a single issue. That issue concerns the promises God made to Israel during the Old Covenant period. It seems that Paul has anticipated an objection about what he had written in the foregoing chapters. This was the objection. When we consider what has happened to Israel, “his own people” to whom he came, does it not appear that the promises of God have fallen to the ground without fulfillment? His initial answer to that objection was, “but it is not that the Word of God has taken no effect.”

The remainder of chapter nine is concerned to address two issues relative to that objection:

  1. The first issue is the identity of the ultimate recipients of God’s promises to Israel.
  2. The second issue is whether those who were the recipients of these promises were to receive the blessings promised as a matter of right or by sovereign disposition.

These two issues are related in that, due to their physical ancestry, the Jewish people of the first century had developed a sense of entitlement. One can see this attitude reflected in such statements as we find in John 8:33 “We are Abraham’s descendants and were never in bondage to any man.” Paul’s argument in this passage is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to him for baptism–“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matt. 3:7-9). Paul’ s two-fold argument is that his brethren according to the flesh are entitled to no spiritual blessing by virtue of their physical lineage. The inheritance is not of bloods [bloodline], and the reception of spiritual blessing is a matter of sovereign disposition.

The Identity of “Israel”

Paul began to speak to the first of these issues in verse six of this chapter, “. . .for they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” This understanding must control our thinking concerning everything else Paul wrote in this entire passage. When he speaks of “Israel” he is not referring to all the physical seed. Toward the end of the chapter, Paul introduces a theme that recurs throughout the passage, i.e.,  it is not to the nation as a whole that the promises are made but to the elect remnant (see 11:5) within the nation. The physical promises [e.g. the promise that they would be blessed in the land as a result of their obedience to the covenant] that God made to members of the nation, based on covenant fulfillment, [promises of living and being blessed in the land of promise] find their fulfillment in Christ, the consummate Israelite, and in those united to him by faith (cf. Exo. 19:5-6, 1 Pet. 2:9-10). True believers in Christ have entered into the inheritance of which the land was a type. God did not promise eternal, spiritual blessings to any of Abraham’s natural offspring except Christ.

There can be no question that the supernatural character of Isaac’s birth stood as a type of the believer’s supernatural birth. The true seed, the true heirs are children of promise as was Isaac (see Gal. 4:28). The point Paul was making is that God’s promises to Israel have not fallen to the ground without fulfillment at all since those promises belong to those who are born supernaturally as was Isaac. Surely, this is what Jesus had in mind when he told Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above. Though one could enter the material kingdom of Israel by physical birth, one can only enter Christ’s kingdom by supernatural, spiritual birth. That which is born of flesh belongs to the realm of flesh and has no ability to function in the spiritual realm.

In the same way, Paul intended the recounting of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau to illustrate that God’s promises to Abraham were not intended for all the physical seed but for those sovereignly chosen by God and blessed contrary to the natural order. The fact that the reference to Jacob and Esau in Malachi extends to their descendants does nothing to diminish Paul’s argument in this passage. The principle remains the same; God’s blessings are granted according to promise and not according to physical descent and are determined by God’s elective purpose. This does not in any way suggest that every descendant of Jacob was an heir of God’s spiritual blessings. That is simply not the case. What it does suggest is that just as God’s love for Jacob and the physical and material blessings he granted to the nation of Israel were determined by God’s electing love, so the spiritual blessings that flow to the antitypical Israel are determined by the sovereign will of God. Additionally, Paul showed that God’s choice is not only made apart from merit but contrary to merit. Jacob was not the most likely candidate to father a holy nation. It is quite true that in this context these principles have primary application to Paul’s brethren according to the flesh, but, as he stated in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, they are no less applicable to those God calls from among the Gentiles.

The Basis of Blessing

The second of these issues rises out of Paul’s explication of the first. Paul wants his natural brothers to understand that they have no rightful claim to God’s blessings since those blessings are sovereignly granted and not a matter of right. If they are blessed it will be due to God’s sovereign mercy granted contrary to merit, and not because they are entitled to his blessing.

This truth could not have been elucidated more clearly than Paul has expressed it in verses eleven through thirteen of this chapter. He wrote, “(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘the elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.’” At the very least, one would have to conclude from the Malachi passage from which Paul has quoted that God did not love Jacob and Esau equally and it the same way.

It should be clear to any reader that Paul’s intention was to show that the salvation of his brethren according to the flesh has been determined by the same sovereign principle as that enunciated in these verses. It they are saved, it will not be because they deserve God’s favor but because he has sovereignly decreed to show them mercy.

Some, e.g., Norman Geisler, have had the temerity to suggest that God foresaw the actions of the nations that came from these two individuals and chose them on that basis. There are two basic and, one would think, obvious objections to that view. The first is that it absolutely contradicts Paul’s clear statement in verse eleven, “before the children were born, and had not done any good or evil, THAT the purpose of God according to election might stand. . .”. The second reason his assumption cannot stand is that it would obviate the need for Paul’s entire argument in the following verses.

Two Common Objections to Sovereign Election

There are two objections that are commonly brought against the doctrine of divine sovereignty in the salvation of sinners. Paul introduces both these questions in Roman’s chapter nine. It is impossible to say whether these are objections that had been introduced by real detractors or if he introduced them for the sake of making a point. One is that if sovereign election is true, it would make God unfair–“What shall we say then, is there unrighteousness with God?”. The other is that if the bestowal of mercy is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God’s who shows mercy, and if God grants mercy to whomsoever he will show mercy and hardens whomsoever he wills, how can he hold his creatures responsible? –“Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted his will?” The will about which the apostle has written must be God’s will of decree since we have all resisted his revealed will from time to time.  If all that occurs has been decreed by God, how can he hold people responsible for our actions?

Both these question could have been answered very simply with one statement.  All Paul needed to explain is that God has left the issue of our salvation to libertarian free will.  If only he had explained that God’s choice of certain sinners was based on the faith and perseverance that he foresaw in them, neither of these questions would have arisen. Their very presence is the evidence that God’s foresight of certain sinners’ faith could not have been the basis for his choice. What better place could there have been for Paul to give such an explanation? Yet, there is not the slightest hint that God’s choice was determined by the sinner’s free will choice. Instead, he doubled down on his insistence that salvation depended on the will of the sovereign potter.  There are two important truths he offers to help his readers understand the true doctrine of God’s saving activity.  One concerned the proper relationship between God and his creatures. He asked, “Who are you, the creature, to question the Creator?”  As you consider this issue, you need to remember that there is only one true God and that God isn’t you. You aren’t in control, God is. The second answer to these questions concerns the nature of that “lump” out of which God forms one vessel for honor and another for dishonor.  Notice that he refers to the vessels of honor as “vessels of mercy.” That tells us that these vessels did not deserve God’s favor any more than did the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.  God being righteous [fair] would have condemned the entire sinful lump.  How can God hold sinners responsible for our sins when we are simply fulfilling his decree? Because when we sin we are doing what we desire most. We are acting according to the sinful nature that we share with the rest of mankind.

The Nature of Salvation Itself

One reason people wish to argue that Roman’s nine is not about the sinner’s salvation but about some future work God intends to perform in restoring Israel as a nation grows out of their inadequate view of salvation itself. If we persist in defining salvation in terms of heaven and hell, we will not only continue to misinterpret passages such as Romans nine but will miss the entire biblical teaching about the nature of salvation itself. I am willing to concede, and I am sure others are as well, that Paul does not speak a word in Romans nine about some sinners being chosen to go to heaven when they die and others being left to perish in hell. That is clearly not the issue. But that does not mean this passage does not concern the sinner’s salvation or the teaching that salvation is granted to sinners by the sovereign good pleasure of God alone.

Not once in the entire inspired record of first century gospel preaching do we have an example of any preacher asking sinners if they wanted to escape hell and be assured that they will go to heaven when they died. The reason we find no such example is that such was never the issue in the salvation of sinners. Jesus framed the issue succinctly when in his intercessory prayer recorded in John seventeen he said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). He immediately follows these words with “I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do” (v.4) from which one could argue that eternal life is principally concerned with the manifestation of God’s glory [the sum of his glorious attributes].

It is my belief that much of the controversy that persists between Monergists and Synergists exists because the latter view salvation in such a superficial manner. Often they speak of salvation as “simply reaching out and accepting the free gift,” or to put it in the terms they like to use, “taking the life ring that has been thrown to the sinner [indeed, to all sinners equally].” Among the many biblical issues that this simplistic approach completely ignores is the universal hostility of sinners to the rescuer. If being on the lifeboat requires being in the presence of the lifeguard, they would prefer to drown.  Additionally, this view reduces Jesus to a mere means to an end. All the focus is on the sinner. Once the rescue is accomplished, the life ring can be hung out of view and ignored. All the life ring represents is the possibility of salvation, not salvation itself. We would agree that unregenerate sinners are able to walk down a church aisle, sign a card, repeat a prayer, and submit to “baptism.” What we do not believe is that such actions constitute genuine salvation from sin.

The assumption of some seems to be that since Paul does not speak of heaven or hell in Romans nine, the passage must not concern the salvation of sinners, but this simply reflects a faulty understanding of the nature of salvation itself. The primary purpose of God’s salvific activity is not to establish the eternal destiny of sinners, but to restore in sinners the ability to reflect his glory. Please understand that I am not denying that there are two distinct and different destinations for the saved and the lost. I am simply denying that establishing that destiny is the primary consideration in the salvation of sinners. I would challenge you to examine those biblical passages that state the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work to either verify or falsify my contention here. Let me simply suggest three verses for your consideration—Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24-25. As you consider these verses, note well the purpose clauses introduced by the words “that” or “in order that.”

The modern church has become so absorbed with the idea that Jesus died to forgive our sins so we can go to heaven when we die, that we have forgotten that salvation is not principally about the forgiveness of sins. Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on the promises of Scripture alone is certainly a key doctrine that we must not surrender for a moment, but being declared right with God is not the ultimate end of his salvific purposes. In reality, it is a means to an end. Before we can approach God with any kind of confidence, we need to know that he has cancelled our guilt and that he has declared us righteous in his sight. Justification is necessary because people burdened with a sense of unpardoned guilt do not love, glorify and enjoy God.

We must remember that God’s redemptive plan is concerned not only with saving sinners from his wrath but also with purifying them so that they will be able to glorify him. Remember Paul’s words, “That we should be to the praise of his glory. . .” God is concerned not only with our guilt but also with our sinful hearts that are hostile toward him in a state of nature.

Unlike his remedy for our guilt that is wholly outside of us, his remedy for our spiritual blindness, hostility, pollution in sin, and deadness toward him must be internal. To use one of Paul’s metaphors, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor.4:6).

Paul has framed salvation in terms of glory just as Jesus did. When he was praying to the Father about finishing the work he had given him to do his words were, “I have glorified you on the earth. . .I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:5-6). One of the primary differences between soteriological synergists and monergists is in their view of God’s purpose in saving a people for himself. It should not escape our notice that in its statement on the decree of God concerning the salvation of his people, the Westminster Confession of Faith begin with these words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory. . .” The Scripture reveals no higher motive for God’s creative, providential and salvific activity than this. This must be our starting point in all our thinking about His purpose in the world.

God’s Sovereign Bestowal of Mercy

It is as Paul begins to answer the first objection to his doctrine that his argument begins to turn from an articulation of general principles regarding God’s sovereign disposition of his favors to an application of those principles in the sovereign bestowal of saving mercy.

As we have seen, Paul does not even hint that God maintains the integrity of His righteous kingdom by merely rubber stamping decisions he foresaw his creatures would make. He has tersely dismissed the idea that God could be unrighteous in anything that he has done with the words, “Certainly not!” or “God forbid!”  Literally he wrote, “May it never be!”(μη γένοιτο). Then, he proceeded to show that God is himself the standard of righteousness who has the absolute right to dispense his mercy to whomsoever he will. He owes mercy to none. If it were a debt, it would cease to be mercy. So then, he concludes, it [the showing of mercy and compassion] is not of him who wills [it is not based on human decision] or of him who runs [it is not by human exertion] but it is of God who shows mercy (see verse sixteen).

In the verses that follow, Paul illustrated this truth from the life of two men.  One was the Pharaoh of Egypt; the other was the leader of God’s people, Israel. God treated these two men very differently but showed no injustice to either of them. In hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, God made him no more evil or rebellious at heart than he was by nature. He simply removed his gracious restraints and permitted him to be himself. He did nothing to him that he did not deserve.

In treating Moses as he did, he gave him nothing that he did deserve. The verse that Paul quoted in Romans nine, fifteen is found in the context of Moses’ request to see Yahweh’s glory (see Exo. 33:19). Remember here what we have written about the nature of God’s saving activity. Salvation is ultimately a matter of God’s self-disclosure. It is a manifestation of his glory. When John summed up his and his companions’ experience with the eternal Word, in what words does he express that experience? He wrote, “and the Word became flesh and tabernacled [pitched his tent] among us, and we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [compare “full of grace and truth” with “abounding in goodness [lovingkindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness]” in Exodus 34:6.

What is it that Paul tells us the unconverted are unable to see when the gospel is preached to them because the god of this world has blinded their minds? He answers, it is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (see 2 Cor. 4:4). I believe we think of salvation rightly only when we think of it in terms of the manifestation of God’s glory as it now stands revealed to us in Christ.

Paul clenched the case we are making when he wrote in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, “and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles.” We must understand the word “called” here not in the sense of a mere invitation but in the sense in which Paul has used it in chapter eight, verse thirty where he wrote, “. . .those he called, he also justified.” He is referring to that divine activity by which believers are called into union with Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:9),

It should be clear to any but those who have deliberately closed their eyes to God’s truth that Paul was writing about God’s saving mercy in revealing his glory to Moses. The point that he would have his readers take away from what he has written is that the bestowal of his favor was altogether of sovereign mercy. It is not that the Pharaoh deserved condemnation and Moses deserved a manifestation of God’s glory. No, Paul writes, “It is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who show mercy.”

We should not forget that in the case of both the Pharaoh and Moses there was a manifestation of God’s glory. In the case of the one, it was a manifestation of his glorious justice but also of his power. God showed his power in the case of the Pharaoh not only in his destruction but also in his patient endurance of Pharaoh’s recalcitrant rebellion. Time after time God gave him opportunity to repent and let his people go, but Pharaoh hardened his heart. God demonstrated his longsuffering in giving him space to repent. In the case of Moses, God made known his glorious attributes and all by his sovereign mercy.

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Thoughts on Romans 9-11

  1. One should understand everything in the entire section in terms of the issue Paul is addressing and not import other issues that are not mentioned.

The issue is the spiritual salvation of Israelites and whether God’s promises to them have fallen to the ground without fulfillment. Paul begins the section by expressing that his prayer to God and his heart’s desire is that Israel might be “saved.” There is no justification for the assumption that the Israelites for whom he expresses concern are on a separate and different trajectory from Gentile believers. There is nothing in the entire context about Israel being restored as a nation, the establishment of an earthly, Jewish kingdom, the nation’s restoration to the land etc.

  1. One should understand “Israel” in the entire passage according to Paul’s definition caveat in 9:6-7, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” There is an “Israel” that is not Israel and Paul refers to this group of unbelievers in this section, but it is to the true Israel God’s ultimate spiritual promises were made, not to the natural offspring of Jacob.
  2. The entire issue hinges on God’s sovereign decree. God will have mercy on those he will save not because of debt but because of grace (9:10-25). Not even all who are of the promised seed, Isaac, are heirs of the promise.
  3. Paul further narrows the focus of God’s saving grace to that remnant within Jacob’s (Israel’s) offspring who are called. Here we must understand “called” not as an invitation but as an effectual divine action that unites the called ones to Christ (9:23-29). Those “called” are the vessels which he “prepared beforehand for glory.” This agrees with Paul’s previous statement in chapter eight that “those he predestined for future glory [being conformed to the image of Christ or glorified], he also called. (8: 29-30).”
  4. Paul lays the burden of responsibility directly at the feet of Jacob’s offspring who had rejected “God’s righteousness” [I understand the term “God’s righteousness” in Romans to refer to his method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] and insisted on going about to establish their own method of self-justification (9:30-10:21). God presents himself as an ever willing and able Savior for all who will call on his name.
  5. When Paul answers the question “Has God cast away his people?” (11:1), his answer is conditioned and delineated by the definition he has already given of “his people.” There is no question he refers to those who are the physical descendants of Abraham, but the reality is God has cast many of them away. The burden of his question at this point seems to be whether God has completely abandoned all Abraham’s physical descendants because of the unbelief of the majority of them. Paul’s answer is that though God has cast away unbelieving Israel, he has not cast away those whom he “foreknew” (according to the law of first mention, “foreknew” should be interpreted in light of Romans 8:29). Paul himself is an ethnic Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin yet he has not been cast off. Even now there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (See 11:5-7).
  6. The blessings God will grant restored Israelites are the same as those now enjoyed by believing Gentiles. Paul’s concern is to “save some of them,” not to see a Davidic dynasty established under Christ’s Messianic rule and a fulfillment of land promises (see–10:1, 13; 11:14, 26-27, 30-32). Note: the mercy now granted to the Gentiles is parallel to the mercy God may show to believing Israelites. The mercy he has shown us is the forgiveness of our sins and in parallel must refer to the same kind of mercy granted to believing Israelites.
  7. The blessings Gentile believers now enjoy result from Israel’s unbelief. The inclusion of the Gentiles was to have the effect of making the Israelites jealous so that some of them might be saved. Verses 11 through 15 of chapter eleven give us important insight into the way the New Testament writers used the word translated “world.” It should be obvious that “world” in these verses does not refer to every person without exception since every unbelieving ethnic Israelite is excluded from it. Their exclusion has resulted in the reconciliation of the “world,” i.e., believing Jews and Gentiles.
  8. It seems clear the root of the “good olive tree” refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham. The good olive tree grows out of that root. It is important that we remember there were natural branches of that tree that should have produced good fruit but did not. Ishmael and his descendants were branches of the tree as were Isaac and his descendants. Isaac was the heir produced by faith, the child of promise; Ishmael was the child of the flesh, a child of unbelief. Still, both benefited physically and materially from their paternal relationship with Abraham.

The family tree on Isaac’s side of the family continued to branch until the ultimate offspring to whom the promises were made was born. He was the true offspring who was the ultimate heir of the Abrahamic promise. All the promises of God find their fulfillment in him. None of the branches of the olive tree were fruitful as the mere natural offspring of Abraham. Abraham was “the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4: 12). What Paul was saying is that physical descent from Abraham is of no value at all in terms of the spiritual inheritance. To be a son of Abraham in the spiritual sense, one must walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.

Natural birth is no advantage in the spiritual realm. The reason the natural branches were broken off was unbelief–rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. They thought they could receive the inheritance apart from the heir, merely because they were Abraham’s natural offspring. Gentile believers have become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), because, through faith, we have been united to the Christ, the seed of Abraham. Assuming God intends to graft believing Israelites back into the good olive tree, it will be a grafting into Christ, a natural branch of the tree, by faith. It is in him that God has made believing Israelites and believing Gentiles one. He has made us one with the true Israel by grafting us into Jesus who is the true Israel. Jesus and those united to him by faith are the true seed of Abraham. We are not a replacement for Israel; we are the fulfillment of Israel and the promises made to them.

  1. This passage does not necessarily teach a future salvation of ethnic Israelites, though I would lean toward that position. It is possible Paul is stating that the full number of the elect remnant within ethnic Israel will come to faith before the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. “In this way, all Israel will be saved” (11:26). There are several considerations that might lead one to this conclusion:
  2. Throughout the entire section, Paul has focused on passages that speak of the salvation of a “remnant.”
  3. He speaks about God grafting them in again more as a possibility than as a certainty, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (v. 23).
  4. He writes, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). It is possible he means this hardness will never come to an end. In 1 Sam 15:35 we read, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” This does not mean that Samuel came to see Saul on the day of his death, but that he never came to see him again. In the same way, Paul could be saying that this partial blindness will never come to an end until the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles have been saved and the full number of the remnant of ethnic Israel and the full number of elect Gentiles will occur at the same time.
  5. The focus of verses 26-27 is on the redeemer coming to or out of Zion to establish the new covenant by his redemptive work, not on the redeemer coming out of heaven to apply that accomplishment. That is, he is speaking about the basis on which this salvation about which he speaks has been accomplished, not about the time at which it will be applied. It is the certainty that all of these who have been redeemed from sin will be saved that is in view, not the occasion on which it will be accomplished.

I have mentioned these issues not to argue for them but to show that in such areas as this, dogmatism is probably unwarranted. What is clear is that there is not a word in the entire text about restoring Israel as a nation. One must read this idea into the passage since the passage says absolutely nothing about it.

  1. The part of the olive tree into which members of ethnic Israel will be grafted is not merely a natural branch but also the spiritual branch, namely, Christ. Paul’s concern is not with those promises that granted the natural seed of Abraham physical, material, and nationalistic blessings, but with spiritual and eternal blessings. They will not be grafted into Jacob; they will be grafted into Christ and thus become the “true Israel.”
    12. In 11:28-32, Paul’s focus is on God granting mercy to sinners, not on God granting nationhood to Israel. In other words, Paul clearly saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in their spiritual salvation “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed, for. . .” (9:6) “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
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25
Apr
12

The Distinctiveness of the New Covenant

There are clear differences between Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology. There are also clear points of agreement between them. One of the straw man arguments CT often uses against NCT is that the latter believes God based justification prior to the establishment of the New Covenant in the redemptive work of Christ on works of obedience to the Law. That is clearly a false charge. We do believe justification is based on obedience to the Law, but it is Christ’s legal obedience, not ours.

This is what one of CT’s proponents has written,

The problem with Non-covenantal thinking is that it consistently shows an inability to understand that Covenantal progress in redemption allows a maturation that is significant but still connected to the original covenant. The danger with Non-covenantal (i.e. Baptist) thinking in [is?] its inevitable tendency to emphasize total differences between covenants as opposed to maturative inspired distinctions in the one covenant of grace is that they often end up with one way of salvation for the old covenant saints with a new way of salvation for the new covenant saints which and this by necessity implies a God who is janus faced with His stern mien turned to His old covenant people and gentle faced turned to the new covenant people.

Welcome to “Straw Man City.” We do not emphasize the total differences between covenants. We believe there are likenesses between the OT covenants and the New Covenant. This is why we believe there is a type/antitype or a promise/fulfillment relationship between those covenants. If they were totally different, such a correspondence would not be possible. Secondly, we do not believe any sinner has ever been justified apart from the free grace of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

There is no question the Abrahamic Covenant finds its spiritual fulfillment in Christ. By that I mean the spiritual, not the physical and material promises of that covenant are fulfilled in Christ, not that the physical and material promises must be “spiritualized.” There are no spiritual blessings promised to anyone apart from spiritual union with Abraham’s SEED, Christ.

This same proponent of CT stated that he prefers to talk about “the Covenantal progress of redemption” rather than “differing administrations of one covenant of grace.” In my view, it all amounts to the same thing. There is still, in his view, but one covenant of grace that never changes in character in any of its manifestations. It simply matures as history progresses. The illustration he uses is that his son is still the same son whether he is three or eighteen. One wonders how the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews could state that the New Covenant God established with Israel was “. . .not like the covenant I [he] made with their fathers. . . .” (8:9a). It would seem, would it not, that these two covenants were different. One difference is that God disregarded them because they did not continue in his covenant (8:9b). That will never happen to the heirs of the New Covenant because all the conditions of that covenant have been fulfilled by Christ, our Covenant Head.

The question I can’t seem to get an answer for is whether he believes everyone who was born into one of the progressive stages of that covenant [insert your own expression if you don’t like mine] was a redeemed child of God. If the Mosaic covenant was but a phase in the covenantal progress of redemption and not essentially different from the New Covenant in Christ, then it would seem to follow that everyone born under that covenant was redeemed by the blood of Christ, just as everyone who is united to Christ under the New Covenant is redeemed and justified. Supposedly, it is all the same covenant

I think it is fairly clear from NT teaching that all the physical descendants of Abraham are not God’s sons (See John, 8 for example). Perhaps someone could explain to me why, if these are all progressively revealed stages of the same covenant, progressively working itself out in redemptive history, being born into the Abrahamic covenant and born under the Mosaic covenant does not necessarily translate into being justified freely by God’s grace. Certainly, being united to Christ and thus becoming heirs of the New Covenant secures for us all the blessings of that covenant. If that covenant is simply a part of the “covenantal progress of redemption” and is no different in character from the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic etc. covenants, why didn’t participation in those covenants guarantee the justification of all who were participants in them?

The only conclusion I can come to is that his view of the NC and its heirs is different from mine, and, I would suggest, from that of the biblical writers. Being a Paedo-baptist, he clearly believes the covenant community is made up of believers and their children. This is a doctrine that has no legitimate biblical foundation whatsoever. In reality, it is part of the vestigial remains of the Papacy. The truth is, the Reformers maintained the same sacral view as the Papists. They believed the church consisted of all within a given location. In Calvin’s case, “the church” was co-extensive with Geneva. Everyone born in the city was “baptized into the church.” If these little moistened vipers truly became part of the covenant community, [but they didn’t] then there is no difference between the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant. One enters both of them, not by a spiritual renewal, but by an “accident” of birth. But see, John 1:13.

It was necessary for those who were born under the Mosaic covenant to exhort others born under the same covenant to know the LORD. There were many members of that covenant nation who clearly needed such an exhortation. Their conduct made it clear they had no knowledge of or love for Jehovah.

Every member of the NC community is so through sovereign calling and regeneration. It is wrong to read Acts 2:39 as if it teaches the promise of the Holy Spirit is for believer’s children merely by virtue of their physical birth whether they believe or not. The text continues, “even to as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.” No longer do we need to say to members of the NC community, “Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11).