By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article Originally Printed January 31, 1985)
The title of this lesson is a quotation from the Old Testament and is used by the apostle Paul in Romans 9:13. These words have become the wrestling mat of destruction for so many. It reminds us of what Peter once said about some of Paul’s writings. “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” Peter’s reference is to those things in his writings, that Paul also had written in his epistle. But when we listen to the tremendous misuse of Paul’s writings in the Roman letter, the words of Peter certainly fit our day.
This lesson will lay background consideration about the Roman letter and the intent of the words of Paul, “… Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” The next lesson will deal with the specific meaning of those words. There is good reason to do a little wandering with limits before we study the specific verses of interest. The constant ignoring of the contextual setting of the book of Romans has distorted it into a seedbed of error. Our general text is difficult because the sovereignty of God, the mercy of God and the appointing of God are all interwoven in discussing a problem that goes beyond the topic of individual salvation. Men come to this passage and forget to ask themselves, what was Paul’s concern in this writing? They do not stop and ask themselves, what is the general theme and flow of this book?
The focal point of the Roman letter is that all shall be saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).” This grand truth raised two contentions that Paul was constantly involved in answering, in the Roman writing. How did justification (being made right) by faith relate to the works of law and how could God reject Israel and be faithful to the promises made to the fathers? The Jews raised many objections around these two issues and Paul constantly made an effort to answer the objections in the Roman writing.
Paul reveals clearly in chapter 1 the Gentiles need of salvation. Romans 1:21 reads, “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Paul then turns his attention to the Jew and reveals their need of salvation. Romans 2:3 reads, “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” Again Paul writes, “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.” This is true, even though you had the great advantage of the oracles of God committed to you. Possibly the Jewish objections raised in the first part of chapter 3 and answered by Paul were; if the death of Christ brought righteousness, why did the taking of his life bring condemnation to Israel?
Paul puts the truth before all. Romans 3:9 reads, “What then? are we better than, they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews, and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.” Paul then quotes from the Old Testament that none are righteous. Romans 3:22,23 reads, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
Paul then reaches that grand conclusion that the salvation of Jew and Gentile is realized in believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, justification is established in Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23-26 reads, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” We suggest to our reader to now take your Bible and carefully and thoughtfully read through the first three chapters of Romans. This will help you see what Paul has been developing and help you grasp the general setting of the book. Do it, even though you may not have time to come back and finish reading this lesson in one setting.
The wondrous truth that there is no salvation without Jesus Christ is the ever recurring thrust of the New Testament. Paul reminded the Jews, who had been converted to Christ you cannot go back and serve God under the old covenant. Just stop for a minute now and think how much of the New Testament relates to that topic. Why did Paul remind them so often, beyond the fact the people were attempting to return and he had to warn them? It was because under that old system, there was no adequate sacrifice to remove sin. (Hebrews 10:26) Therefore, you must remain under Christ and the law of faith. Otherwise, you are going to have to claim salvation by works of law, i.e.; perfect obedience or merit. But you know you have sinned, so you cannot be made right in that manner. It brings the words of Acts 15:10 to our mind. “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Yes, salvation takes Jesus.
Indeed, the grand theme that there is no justification without Jesus Christ occurs time after time. Paul looked at that great truth in a very different context in the letter to the saints at Ephesus. This is a little outside of our lesson but read Ephesians, chapter 2. Now, just ponder the whole theme and thoughts of that epistle. The writing declares that the relationship of salvation by grace through faith involves not only the death of Jesus, but also the building of the church. Yes, salvation takes the church. “And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross….” Again, “… even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” Recall Acts 20:28 which reads in part “… to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Now read 1 Peter 1:18-25.
Paul leaves no doubt in the Ephesian letter the body under consideration is the church. “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” Today, we find so many who say they want Christ, but they do not want the church. This is wrong. It also appears today we have some who want the church, but have forgotten too much about Christ. What do we mean by the preceding statement? Many tend to forget everything rests on the shed blood of Jesus Christ and therefore tend to elevate their works. They forget that works of faith exclude boasting “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.”
Enough of this let us begin to pursue our main lesson. The Jews objected strongly to Paul’s grand theme. They perceived such a message was an indictment against God because of his promises to Israel. They charged that God was unfair in justification by faith, for this meant many of fleshly Israel would be rejected. We catch a glimpse of what is going on in Romans 2, as Paul also makes preparation for what is to follow. Romans 2:28,29 reads, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter: whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
The Jewish objections kept trying to raise their heads. Do you mean we can be justified without the law God gave us? “Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith and uncircumcision, through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” We are Israel in the flesh and God promised us many wondrous things through our fathers. Therefore, how can God reject any of Israel?
Paul in chapter 9 comes to grips with this objection. Yes, God did indeed make promises and gave unto Israel great privileges. He committed many things in his divine plan to be their responsibility. Paul says there is no controversy over this claim. “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” But now Paul counters the argument and begins to show that God never did promise to save all Israel simply due to their fleshly lineage.
Israel do you hear me? Please realize that all of Israel is not Israel. What did you say Paul? “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel (Romans 9:6).” One can almost see John and hear John say, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. And think not to say within yourselves; We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham (Matthew 3:8,9).” Israel, the key is that all of Israel is not Israel. In fact, you know this is true, but you keep ignoring it. My brother in the flesh, recall our history and you will see the truth.
What did God tell Abraham: Genesis 12:2 reads, “And I will make of thee a great nation, and will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.” God is sovereign. He is merciful, He is just, but does this statement to Abraham say or imply that all of fleshly Israel would be included? Let us receive our answer from the scriptures. Genesis 21:12 reads, “And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Now, did being of Abraham’s seed assure all were his children? Did it? We all know the answer, do we not fellow Israelites? Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children? But in Isaac shall my seed be called (Romans 9:7).” (to be continued…)