Posts Tagged ‘Salvation

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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31
Dec
16

Can Sinners Called by Grace Resist If They Want To?

We read in Mark 3:13, “Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” It should be clear to anyone who reads this text that coming to Jesus is an act that results from Jesus’ desire and not from theirs and that such a call is effectual in its nature. He called and they came.

Often, our non-Calvinists friends like to amuse themselves by asking whether sinners who are called by God’s grace are able to resist that call if they want to and remain in their sins. This is their banal and misguided attempt to derail the Calvinistic doctrine that has regrettably been called “Irresistible grace.”It seems the burden of their question is whether sinners are forced to act like preprogrammed robots who are unable to choose what we desire.

In reality, they are asking the wrong question. The issue is not whether sinners could resist grace if they wanted to; the issue is whether any sinner to whom God has manifested his glory [the sum of his glorious attributes] in the face of Jesus Christ, would desire to resist him. Those whose stony hearts have been made pliable by God’s grace are not forced against their wills to become followers of Christ. Instead, in effectual grace, God has graciously removed the sinner’s persistent and pervasive disposition to resist his offers of mercy in Christ. The issue is that those whom God calls no longer want to resist him.

30
Mar
13

In These Last Days–CHAPTER SEVEN– SALVATION: ACCESS INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD

No Access Under the Old Covenant

The writer understood that Jehovah intended the old covenant to emphasize His absolute holiness and unbending righteousness (2:2;10:27-31;12:18-21,29). While the first tabernacle stood and the old covenant remained in force, the way into the holy presence of God remained hidden, “. . .the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” (9:8). Only the High Priest could enter the holy of holies. Even he could enter only once a year. Then, he dared not enter God’s presence without the blood of the sacrificial animal, which he offered first for his own sins and after that for the sins of the people.

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance (9:7).

The old covenant priests had to repeat this ritual year after year, signifying that God had not yet forgiven the sins for which they offered sacrifices. The day of atonement was a solemn reminder that guilty, covenant-breaking sinners could not approach a holy God.

10:1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered for the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The best the old covenant sacrifices could do was to provide ceremonial cleansing for sins that were committed unintentionally (9:7-10). They could formally restore the relationships that had been broken between a man and his God and a man and his neighbor, but they could not take away those sins that had caused the breach. F.F. Bruce writes, “Our author does not deny that such ritual cleansing was real and effective so far as it went. What he does deny is that cleansing of this kind could be of any use for the removal of inward and spiritual defilement” (Bruce , Commentary on Hebrews, p. 218).

One of the major points in which the old covenant was “weak and unprofitable” was its inability to quiet the nagging conscience. Under the old covenant, this was even true of the believer’s conscience. The word translated “conscience” or “consciousness” (syneidesis) occurs 32 times in the NT (5 times in this epistle). In general, it has reference to the awareness that a man possesses concerning the moral character of his actions. A person’s conscience tells him whether he is guilty or innocent. His thoughts accuse or perhaps defend him (Rom 2:15). The conscience, acting apart from Scripture, is not a safe guide since it may have been wrongly instructed. Yet, it is never safe for a person to disobey his conscience. If he should do so, he would be acting contrary to what he believed to be right or wrong.

The function of the old covenant was to awaken the sinner’s conscience to bear witness concerning his guiltiness before the Holy One of Israel. The tables of stone testified that the righteousness God requires is, to a sinner, merely an external code, not an internal, governing life principle. By instructing the Israelite’s conscience, the intricacies of the Mosaic code intensified his awareness both of the infinite holiness of God and the heinousness of his transgressions. It produced in him what our author calls “an evil conscience.” The heart of the sinner in Israel whose conscience God had awakened by the covenant of Sinai was so overwhelmed by a sense of unpardoned guilt that “drawing near to God” was inconceivable. The law could not produce acceptable worship or acceptable worshippers (10:1). John Brown has rightly understood this relationship between the sinner’s guilty conscience and his inability to draw near to God. He wrote,

“An evil conscience” is a conscience burdened and polluted with a sense of unpardoned guilt. A man who has offended God, and knows this, and who has no solid ground of hope of pardon, is totally unfit for affectionate fellowship with God. His mind is a stranger to confidence and love–It is full of jealousy, and fear, and dislike. The man must get rid of this “evil conscience” in order to his coming to God. (Brown, Hebrews, P. 461).
The old covenant believer could not enter God’s presence because sacrifices that could not satisfy God’s holy wrath for sin could not satisfy his conscience. God never intended for the Israelites to believe that they could appease His righteous anger by offering the blood of dumb and unwilling beasts. Until the thinking Israelite could see a correspondence between the sacrifice appointed and the awful predicament that existed because of his transgressions, his conscience could not be silenced. He had good reason to rejoice that God was pleased to continue to dwell in the camp of Israel and to receive the sacrifices that He had sovereignly appointed. Still, he knew that the sacrifice appointed did not have sufficient value to take away his sins. Consider F.F. Bruce’s excellent comment concerning the effect of the old covenant sacrificial system.

It was inevitable that the earlier law should be abrogated sooner or later; for all the impressive solemnity of the sacrificial ritual and the sacerdotal ministry, no real peace of conscience was procured thereby, no immediate access to God. That is not to say that faithful men and women in the Old Testament times did not enjoy peace of conscience and a sense of nearness to God; the Psalter provides evidence enough that they did. . . .But these experiences had nothing to do with the Levitical ritual or the Aaronic priesthood. The whole apparatus of worship associated with that ritual and priesthood was calculated rather to keep men at a distance from God than to bring them near (Bruce , Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 148 ff).

If the Levitical system could have met the needs of sinning Israelites, then it would have been the substance, not the shadow. There would have been no need for another priest as our author argues in 7:11. “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the Law was given to the people) why was there still need for another priest to come . . .?” The effect of the Levitical ceremonial system should have been to cause dissatisfied Israel to look for a sacrifice that could silence the nagging conscience by cancelling guilt completely. Instead, some to whom our author addressed this epistle had become infatuated with the “shadows” when they should have been enthralled by the “substance.”

We Draw Near to God
The Basis of Our Access

Christ, in the new covenant, brings a better hope “by which we draw near to God” (7:19). The entrance of our representative, our great priest, into the heavenly sanctuary assures believers in the new covenant era of access into God’s holy presence. It is the truth that believers have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens into God’s presence that forms the basis of our confidence and hope as we approach His holy throne (4:14-16;10:19-22). We may now enter God’s presence with confidence since our great priest has entered, now to appear in God’s presence for us (9:12;24).
One of the more important contrasts between Christ and the priests of the old covenant concerns this entrance into the Most Holy Place. There are at least four areas of contrast between them. There is a difference in the place that they entered. There is a difference in the means by which they entered it. There is a difference in the duration of their ministry in the Most Holy Place. There is a difference in the frequency of entrance. Consider these contrasts one by one.

The place that Christ entered is far superior to the place entered by the old covenant high priest. “They [the old covenant priests] serve in a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven” (8:5). But, in contrast to them, Christ entered and ministers in “the true tent set up by the Lord, not by man” (8:1).

9:11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation . . .24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

The sanctuary in the wilderness was only a shadow and symbol of the heavenly holy place. Accordingly, the restoration effected by the blood of sacrifices offered in that sanctuary was only ceremonial and typical. In the divinely prescribed ceremonies of the old covenant, a typical priest offered a typical sacrifice in a typical sanctuary for those who as a nation were the typical people of God.
The means by which Christ entered the presence of God is better than the means by which the old covenant priests entered. Since He has entered the true, rather than the typical presence of God, it is necessary that He offer a sacrifice that truly cleanses. Ceremonial purification will not suffice. It is for this reason that Christ offers His own blood in the presence of God. Our author writes,

11When Christ came as high priest . . .12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God (9:11-14).

The sacrifice that the old covenant demanded, but was unable to provide, has come. Christ is that sacrifice! He has accomplished a true rather than a merely typical cleansing. No other sacrifice could satisfy the guilty conscience. Justice would frown and continue to pronounce the sacrifices of the old covenant insufficient to forgive sins and wash away the stain. But, as John Newton wrote, now that Christ has offered Himself as an all-sufficient sacrifice, “. . .justice smiles and asks no more.” In the same vein, Isaac Watts wrote,

Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside.

In addition, there is a contrast between the duration of Christ’s ministry in the Most Holy Place and that of the old covenant priests. The Levitical priests had no resting place in the Most Holy Place in the wilderness tabernacle. They never finished their work. Once those priests had presented the blood of the sacrifice before the typical presence of God, it was necessary for them to leave. Once Jesus, our Great High Priest, entered the heavenly sanctuary, there was no need for Him to leave to offer another sacrifice. He sat down because He had finished His sacrificial work. We must be careful to distinguish, as does the writer of this epistle, between Christ’s work of oblation and His work of intercession. In His intercessory work, He continually displays the results of His finished work on behalf of believers. This does not mean that His work of sacrifice continues. He has completely accomplished His work of sacrifice.

. . .he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. When he appears again, it will not be to offer sacrifice for sins, but to bring (eschatological) salvation to His people (9:24-28).

Finally, notice the contrast between the frequency with which those priests entered, and Christ’s entrance once for all. Those priests were required to enter the Most Holy Place repeatedly to offer the same kind of ineffectual sacrifice they had offered the previous year. The repetition of these sacrifices speaks eloquently concerning their inferiority and insufficiency. If they had met the worshipper’s needs, they would have stopped being offered (10:1-4). Christ offered only one sacrifice because one was all that was needed to do the job. He does not need to enter again with the blood of a new sacrifice. He has done enough already. Therefore, He has entered once for all.

The Boldness of Our Access

The theme of “boldness” in the presence of God seems almost to have disappeared among those who love the truth of sovereign grace. Yet, if anyone has reason to approach God with confidence, it is we who understand these precious truths. Perhaps we have lost this confidence through an overreaction to the “easy believism” that has characterized evangelical Christianity for so long. We have seen so much false assurance and outright presumption on the part of many who give no evidence of saving faith that we have gone to the other extreme. Often, the focus of attention is no longer on Christ and His gracious dealings with believers but on the believer’s conformity to ten commandments, namely, the old covenant. Many give the impression that to be truly “spiritual,” a Christian must be a doleful doubter. Nothing could be further from the teaching of the New Testament Scriptures. We, as God’s people who love the grace of God, walk in character with our profession only when we boldly rejoice in the standing that we enjoy in Christ.
Our author not only writes about entering God’s holy presence; he encourages his readers to do so with boldness. The word translated “boldness” or “confidence” (parresia) occurs four times in this epistle (3:6;4:16;10:19,35). It has reference to the confidence with which believers may now approach the throne. Many older hymn-writers wrote about this theme. For example, Augustus Toplady wrote,

From whence this fear and unbelief?
Hast thou, O Father, put to grief
Thy spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin
Which, Lord, was charged on thee?

Complete atonement thou hast made,
And to the utmost farthing paid
Whate’er thy people owed;
How then can wrath on me take place,
If sheltered in thy righteousness,
And sprinkled with thy blood?

[If thou hast my discharge procured,
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine,
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.]

Turn then my soul into thy rest;
The merits of thy great High Priest
Speak peace and liberty;
Trust in his efficacious blood,
Nor fear thy banishment from God,
Since Jesus died for thee.

Charles Wesley has, in several of his hymns, written even more explicitly on the subject of the believer’s boldness. In his hymn, “And Can it Be,” he wrote,

No condemnation now I dread.
Jesus and all in him is mine.
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine.
Bold, I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own.

In another of his hymns, “Arise My Soul Arise,” he wrote, “. . .With confidence, I now draw nigh. . .and Father, Abba, Father cry.”

It is just this kind of confidence and assurance that our author intended the message of this epistle to produce in the hearts of those who had “fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them.” This is also the intention of the other NT writers. Such confidence can never be the result of examining one’s heart in the light of the stone tables of the old covenant. God’s Spirit can only produce this sort of assurance as we continue to fix our thoughts on the apostle and high priest whom we confess (3:1). Any message that destroys the confidence of God’s people and removes the focus of our attention from Christ is at cross-purposes with the New Testament message. This is true even if those who preach it do so from the pure motives, seeking to bring the lives of God’s people into line with biblical truth.

Concerning the so-called “law/grace controversy,” many give the impression that the only ones who care about holiness are those who preach the Ten Commandments as the sole standard of sanctification. The truth is that there is no disagreement concerning whether believers should live godly lives. We all agree on the bottom line. “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The issue is how God produces such righteous behavior in His peoples” lives. By what method do we arrive at the bottom line? We contend that God will never produce such holiness through the thunders of Mt. Sinai. He will only produce it when we focus on Mt. Calvary. It is not the law, but the grace of God that has appeared to discipline us and instruct us in godliness (Titus 2: 11). True worship of God never springs from a spirit of bondage, fear, and dread. In contrast to the obligations of old covenant believers, the exhortation that the writer gives us is to “. . . be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. . . . (12:28)” True worship will always be the result of gratitude as we meditate on the redemptive accomplishments of Christ. As we contemplate Calvary, we will marvel at God’s wisdom in designing this plan by which He can lavish His love, mercy, and grace on sinners without compromising the integrity of His absolute justice. Such worship will never occur while we gaze at ourselves. This is true even if we are focusing on what God is doing in us. It will only take place when we gaze on Christ and what God has done in Him.

Should we, then, avoid self-examination? Of course not! We should simply keep it in its proper place. God never intended self-scrutiny to be the believer’s continual occupation. In fact, the writers of the New Testament Scriptures never give a general exhortation for believers to examine themselves as a part of their daily discipline. None but those who are in danger of personal apostasy (because of the presence of false teachers who have led others away) or those who are walking contrary to the revealed truth of God are counseled to examine themselves. Search the context of such passages as 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5; 2 Pet 1:10; and 1 John 5:13 to see for yourself if this is true. The object of our continual meditation must be the glory of Christ revealed in the Scriptures. It is as we gaze on His glory that it will please the Spirit to transform us into His image (see 2 Cor 3:18). On occasion we must take personal inventory to be certain that we are on track. Then, we must turn again to gaze on our beloved.