Let God Be God (Part 1).
Romans 9 – 10.
The abnegation of faith in Christ by his Jewish compatriots was a constant heavy burden on Paul’s heart, and in this segment of his Epistle to the Gentile Roman church, he pulled aside the curtains to his heart, enabling us to catch a more detailed glimpse of his abject distress and agony over them. After all, he elucidated that they were initially adopted as sons of God with a glorious inheritance, and were given the covenants, the Law, and the promises. Furthermore, God’s unique presence made their temple worship distinct. They were also descendants of the patriarchs, from whom came the Christ. And despite this privileged rich heritage, they chose to resist the gospel (Rom 9: 1-5). Paul’s notable intensity in prayer for his fellow Jews’ salvation provoked his own willingness to be accursed for their sake, so that they may know Christ. His travailing attitude is a formidable model to us over unsaved souls. Paul’s struggles with God’s will for His people led him to explain how Yahweh’s unrealised promise for their salvation came to benefit the Gentiles.
Paul concluded that it was God’s absolute sovereignty that He chose the Jews to be His people, and he traced their history for the Romans, with various Old Testament quotations. He then differentiated ‘the children of the promise’ from the ‘children of the flesh,’ clarifying that not all Israelites will receive His promise of salvation (Rom 9:6-9), as it was God’s sovereign will in electing those who were to be saved, which He called ‘the remnant.’ Again, Paul went back to the Scriptures to buttress his point. Therefore, the true Israelites – ‘the children of the promise’ – included both Jews and Gentiles who were saved by faith (Rom 9:6-29). The Apostle emphasised that it is God’s prerogative whom He choose to save, for ‘He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires,’ and humans, as vessels of clay, do not have the right to question the Creator-Potter (Rom 9:18-23). The human capacity to submit unquestionably and absolutely to God’s sovereignty is one of the most difficult faith issues to confront, but our embrace of it determines our trust and love for our Lord.
Rhetorically, Paul questioned how the Gentiles, who had no inclination to pursue Yahweh’s righteousness, attained righteousness, intertwined with the reason for the Jews’ unbelief? (Rom 9:30-31). Astoundingly, the Apostle determined that the problem was the latter’s human-oriented zealousness for God (Rom 10:2), not unlike Paul’s own passionate persecution of Christians prior to his Damascus meeting with the resurrected Christ. He explicated that his countrymen’s zealous righteousness was based on the law and not by faith in Christ Jesus (Rom 9:31-32; Rom 10:5; c.f., Eph 2:8-9). This deduction was consistent with his earlier pronouncement that neither Jew nor Gentile were capable of achieving the righteousness demanded by a holy God through keeping the law perfectly (Rom 1:18-19; Rom 3:20-26). When we realise that our own righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), it makes sense that this other righteousness that the gospel speaks of, can only be received by faith through God’s grace, based on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf (Rom 4:16). Hence, if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9-13). Therefore, self-righteousness has no place within the heart and mind of any believer, as it clearly contradicts the basis of salvation by grace alone.
Paul then concluded by explaining his motivation as a missioner. He again rhetorically posed several pertinent questions: if faith in Jesus is needed for salvation, how do people believe in Him if they have not heard? How will they hear if there are no preachers? How will preachers share the gospel if they are not sent? So, this enigmatic and indispensable faith comes from hearing the gospel message of Christ (Rom 10:14-17), as Paul buttressed for us the work of the evangel through every generation and age, within society and to the world. This is a sober reminder that the responsibility for the spread of the gospel remains with each individual and each part of His worldwide body, the church. This challenges us on the reality of His agape in our hearts, the living Christ in us reaching out to others by His Holy Spirit (Matt 24:14; c.f., 1 Tim 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9).