But of course, as Paul has been explaining, Israel’s failure to obtain righteousness through faith in Christ was not universal. There was a remnant who obtained it: “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (11:7b). Despite the rejection of Israel as a whole, some individual Jews have responded to the Gospel. At present, they reflect the reality of an Israel within Israel who are the elect who have been chosen by God’s grace. The remnant has obtained the right standing before God that Israel as a whole was seeking. As Israel as a whole was seeking it in their own merit, they demonstrate their hardened state before God. They were hardened in the sense that they constantly displayed an insensitivity to listen to what God had actually been saying to them. Paul’s reference from the Old Testament to support the notion of Israel’s hardening is an intriguing composition: “as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day” (11:8). Linking phrase from Deuteronomy 29:4 with Isaiah 29:10, perhaps Paul is suggesting that Israel’s hardening has been a condition throughout the eras of the Law and the Prophets.
While Paul has set this sequence of sending, proclaiming, hearing, believing, and calling in a way that pertains to both Jews and Gentiles, we should remember the particular burden of this larger section—the wholesale refusal of Israel to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (10:16, quoting Isaiah 53:1). The message of the Gospel had not been obeyed; it was disbelieved. Obedience here means a resolve to call upon the Lord for salvation. The Gospel is a message, but it is more than the information of religious data, it is a summons to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord. And yet, the confidence to turn to Christ comes through the message we hear about Him: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:17).
Therefore, since salvation comes through faith and not works of the Law, Paul calls for a response of faith to the Gospel he preaches: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9). Confessing that Jesus is Lord is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian. Confessing Christ’s Lordship has huge implications for the unlimited claims that Christ has over those who trust in Him. Such a confession must come from from the heart: “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (10:10). When Christ is trusted and confessed, no shameful judgment awaits: “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (10:11, quoting Isaiah 28:16). The salvation that comes through faith in Christ is not limited to one group of people; it is open to all kinds of people: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him” (10:12). This universal offer of the Gospel that provides a righteousness before God through faith in Christ is not a new development. God’s original promise to Abraham was not selective but universal: “in you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). And now in Christ, the universal blessing that the Prophets proclaimed, is for all who believe: “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13, quoting Joel 2:23).
Just as 9:14 was an objection to what Paul had just previously said, so another anticipated objection is raised: “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (9:19). If God shows mercy and hardens whomever He wills, regardless of human effort or choice, then how can He hold human beings responsible for their choices and actions? It is very shattering to be brought to the realization that God’s will is the ultimate cause of human destiny. And yet, Paul does not allow for that reality to detract from the truth that human beings are truly responsible before God. Paul anticipates the protest against God being sovereign and yet man still responsible. Paul vigorously responds: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (9:20-21, referencing Isaiah 29:16, 45:9). Paul wonders how man-finite, frail, weak-could venture to either dictate and/or judge the infinite, mighty, great Creator. While human beings are not like inert clay pots in every aspect, God, like a potter, has complete freedom and authority to do whatever He likes with His creatures.
God’s promises have not, are not, and will not fail; they are unfolding exactly to the very ends that God has always intended. God has not promised to call every ethnic Jew to follow Jesus, but He has chosen to summon some to belong to Christ. This is always the way that God has chosen to operate. Therefore, even at present, not all ethnic Jews are recipients of God’s saving promises and that is why they have refused to believe in Jesus as Lord. At present, unbelieving Jews are like Ishmael, a physical descendant of Abraham, but not a true offspring of his. Not only are unbelieving Jews like Ishmael, they are also like Esau. Once again, Paul explains that not everyone in Abraham’s lineage is a part of the people of God. Drawing from the episode in Genesis 25, Jacob and Rebekah and their twin boys serve as a further illustration that not all Israel is Israel: “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac” (9:10). In this case, there are not two different wives with sons born at different times, but only one woman whose sons are conceived at the same time.
Paul wraps up his explanation of all that God has done in Christ by the Spirit for His people, with a question: “What then shall we say to these things?” (8:31a). Looking back, not simply the stunning statements found in the immediately preceding verses (8:28-30), nor merely to the powerful promises at start of chapter eight, but more likely going back to the incredible implications expressed at the start of chapter five, Paul solicits a response from his readers. Not waiting for an answer, Paul summarizes all that he has expressed since chapter five by saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31b). God is for His people. This beautiful reality has correspondence to Paul’s declaration from chapter one: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). In between this announcement that God is against all mankind and the announcement that God is for His people, Paul has explained the Gospel as, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16).
Yielding to the command to put the remaining expressions of the flesh to death is a sure sign that we are children of God: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (8:14). Children of God have a habit of submitting to the governing authority of the Spirit in their life. So, being led by the Spirit is not so much an issue concerning guidance for the everyday decisions of life as much as it is concerns the issue of pleasing God. But in thinking about what pleases God, being led by the Spirit pertains to what to do about remaining sin as well as relying upon the enablement of the Spirit in the ongoing battle against temptation, sin, and the pull of the flesh. Being led by the Spirit is expressly the same as living according to the Spirit, that is, having an outlook on life that is determined by the Spirit. Our desires, thoughts, and acts of obedience evidence the Spirit’s presence-the cause behind our activities.
The Personal Agent for the transformation is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (8:2). The liberation from the Law that was expressed in chapters six through seven now comes full circle to express itself as liberation for keeping the Law. The Law of God operates either in the realm of the Spirit’s power or in the realm of “sin and death.” Because of the power of sin, the outcome of the Law’s promise of life is only death. Without the Spirit, the Law is only associated with death. But with the Spirit, there is liberation from the outcomes of sin and death. In Christ, the Spirit produces different outcomes in regard to the Law: a life of lawfulness.
Sin and the Law are separate and yet inseparable companions: “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (7:8). The Law is good because it clarifies sin for the sin that it is. But a believer must die to the Law-for it could never be able to serve as a primary means of true moral and spiritual transformation. The Law certainly is inherently good in that it reveals God’s will, but the Law has no inherent power to bring about what it reveals. Such inherent powerlessness to the Law makes it a paradoxical companion to the power of sin.
Just as justification did not come through works of the Law but by grace through faith in Christ, so transformation comes, not from being under the Law, but by being under grace. Romans 6-8 will carefully explain how the covenant that revealed the Mosaic Law is inadequate as an agent of true moral and spiritual transformation. That is not to say that the Mosaic Law is bad nor that there isn’t any place for it in the Christian’s life; however, true transformation occurs by union with Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Grace does not turn people into greater sinners, with the Law is out of the way. In fact, it is completely the opposite: grace has killed the power of sin and the Law, and has made provision for a life to be lived for God.
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