30. Romans 9:6-13
Offspring by election
Paul has traced the election and blessing of Israel from its foundation to its apostasy and division. He now states that not all who are descended from Abraham actually Israel. He clarifies, however, that this reality does not mean God's word has failed. He shows that the reality of God's intention far surpasses the Israelites' understanding of God's first promises to the patriarchs. At the same time, he shows that God's promises to the patriarchs cannot fail.
The assertion that God's word cannot fail, however, must be based on more than Paul's claim. There must be internal evidence that the Bible is God's eternal word and not merely a collection of various peoples' thoughts. The Bible describes the word of God as "active". It is incisive enough to penetrate and divide between the soul and the spirit, joints and marrow, and it judges a person's thoughts and the attitudes of his heart (Hebrews 4:12).
Further, the word of God is something people can embrace or not. They can hear it but not accept it, and it has no effect on them. They can hear it, respond with enthusiasm, appear to be changed by it-yet when life gets hard, and they begin to suffer because of the word of God, their enthusiasm dries up. Because they have not put down roots into the word or nurtured their relationship with Jesus, their experience with the word and with God dies. Others hear the word of God, receive it, but allow the cares of the world to be their primary concern, and their cares choke out the word of God in them. Still others hear the word, receive it with joy, nurture it, and reap a large harvest of faith and fruit. (Mark 4:13-20)
Jesus elevated the position of the word of God beyond the privilege of being related to Him. When a woman called out and blessed His mother, the one who bore and nursed him, Jesus responded, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."(Luke 11:27-28) In other words, simply knowing about and interacting with Jesus does not make us righteous. Internalizing the word of God and embracing its instruction, however, is what blesses us and brings us into relationship with Him. We know God through the revelation of His word.
When Jesus was affirming His divinity to the Pharisees who were accusing Him of blasphemy, He referred to Psalm 82:6 where the psalmist referred to divinely appointed rulers as "gods". If the Pharisees could accept that designation, Jesus contended, why could they not accept the fact that the Father had set apart and sent Jesus into the world, and Jesus was, like His Father, God. As Jesus referred to the text in Psalms, he confirmed it by saying, "Scripture cannot be broken." (John 10:34-38) What the Bible says, Jesus was saying, is from God, and God's word is reliable and sure. It cannot fail.
In the days of the apostles and the formation of the church, King Herod stood to address the people, and they bowed before him, proclaiming him to be a god. Because he did not praise God and give Him glory, however, God struck him down, and he died. This act of God's wrath and justice, though, did not stop the growth of the church. "The word of God continued to spread," reports Acts 12:21-24. God's word, taught verbally in the days of the apostles but available to us today as Scripture, has the power to convict and convince people of sin and God's will. Its truth transcends even desperate circumstances, and people are moved and changed by it.
Paul affirmed the power of God's word many times. He thanked God that the Thessalonians received the word of God from him not as merely the words of men but as the word of God "which is at work in you who believe." (1 Thessalonians 2:13) The word of God is not merely information; it works inside people, changing them by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing them into reality and truth. Paul further emphasized the living quality of God's word when he wrote to Timothy while he was in prison. He admonished Timothy to remember Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead, and he called the news of Jesus "my gospel for which I'm suffering in chains. But," he said, contrasting his own plight with the truth of God's word, "the word of God is not in chains!" (2 Timothy 2:8-9) Even when God's people are persecuted for bearing the truth about Him, God's word is not stopped by the bondage of His witnesses. It is powerful and alive with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and God's word cannot be stopped by evil opposition.
Peter also proclaimed the power of God's word when he wrote, "You have been born again of imperishable seed through the living and enduring word of God." (1 Peter 1:23) Our spiritual rebirth and transformation occurs because of the power of God's word when we finally internalize it. In his first epistle, John confirms that his readers are strong, that the word of God lives in them, and that they have overcome the evil one. The word of God is not knowledge or information; it is something alive and life-giving. It has the power to overcome the evil one within a person's heart. (1 John 2:14)
Finally, John introduces the book of Revelation by stating that he testifies in this book to everything he saw, including the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:1-3) Normally, one would be mixing metaphors to say he "saw" the "word" and the "testimony". Yet John saw Lord, and the word of God and the testimony of His salvation are inseparable from the person of Jesus Himself. By seeing Jesus, John did see the word of God and also the testimony of Jesus.
God's word is eternal and alive with the power of the Holy Spirit. We receive it through Scriptures which God has guarded and preserved throughout the millennia, but the Bible is more than a book of stories and sayings. It is literally the recorded record of God's words and promises to humanity. We can and must respect the Bible as the revelation of God and His will. We must surrender our arrogance and accept the fact that God will teach us reality and truth through His word. Our attempts to interpret or explain the Bible so it makes sense with current philosophy or a religious idea are really our attempts to manipulate God into our image. The eternal word of God cannot be changed. Even though we claim to have unique revelation of its intent, we lie if we refuse to take its words as God's intended message to us.
Children of Promise
After establishing the fact that God's word and His promises cannot fail, Paul explains that genetic inheritance is not what determines Abraham's descendants. Paradoxically, Abraham's offspring do not necessarily have any genetic link to him at all. Instead, those who inherit the promises God made to Abraham are the "children of the promise".
Paul seems to confuse the issue, though, when he counteracts his declaration that Abraham's descendants are not necessarily genetic by asserting that "it is through Isaac that [Abraham's] offspring will be reckoned." (verse 7) Isaac was most definitely Abraham's genetic son. What does Paul mean when he says Abraham's descendants are reckoned through Isaac, yet they do not necessarily carry any genetic connection to him?
Genesis records God's promises to Abraham and His declaration that Isaac, Abraham's son born when Sarah his wife was long past childbearing age, would be the offspring who would receive and pass on the divine legacy. Isaac, however, was not Abraham's eldest son. Ishmael, his son born to him by Hagar, Sarah's handmaid, was his firstborn. God, however, told Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away after Isaac was born. Abraham's offspring, God announced to him, would be reckoned through Isaac. (Genesis 21:9-13)
Ishmael, the son born in the natural way without divine intervention, would also become a great nation, God promised. He would not, however, receive the blessings of seed, land and blessing that God had promised Abraham. Isaac, the second-born, the miracle baby born by a miracle of God to Sarah, would inherit the promises.
Hebrews 11:17-19 records that Abraham, by faith, offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God asked him to do so. Even though Abraham knew that God had promised his blessings to be given through Isaac to his offspring, Abraham did as God asked. He reasoned that God could raise Isaac from death, if necessary, in order to fulfill the promises He had made to him. In spite of the apparent contradiction, Abraham did not doubt God but obeyed in faith.
The shadows of Christ in this incident are powerful. For example, Abraham willingly offered his son Isaac because God had asked him to sacrifice him. Isaac complied willingly. Even though Abraham did not actually have to kill Isaac, figuratively he did receive his son back from death when God provided the ram to sacrifice instead. In this passage in Romans 8, Paul is stating that those who receive the promised blessing from God are those who are Isaac's descendants. In other words, those who live by faith in God's promises are the ones whom God rescues from death. The figurative "resurrection" of Isaac foreshadowed the resurrection of Jesus that would grant life to all His followers.
Further, this incident with Abraham and Isaac on Mt Moriah demonstrates God's sovereign choice. He appointed Isaac to be the recipient and the distributor of His promises. God's choice has no human explanation. Out of the mystery of His sovereignty, God chose the miraculous second-born son of Abraham to be the father of His people. Those who, like Isaac, receive God's salvation from death are the objects of His sovereign choice. We do not choose or earn God's favor. He chooses us and transforms us to be like Him.
In Romans 8:13-14 Paul identifies further what it actually means to be a child of promise. People who receive the promises of God live by the Spirit and not by the sinful nature. They allow the Holy Spirit to give them the willingness and strength to "put away the misdeeds of the body". They live not by their wits and impulses by surrender to the will of God.
Paul, in Galatians 3:16-18, further addresses the issue of Abraham's offspring being children of promise and not of descent. This passage identifies Abraham's Seed as Jesus Christ, and he explains that the law, which came 430 after Abraham, did not supercede God's promises to Abraham. If inheriting Abraham's promised blessings depended on keeping that law, then those blessings would no longer be ensured because the law would have taken precedence over God's promises. Yet God's promises are eternal and cannot be changed; therefore, the blessings He promised to Abraham and his offspring still depend only upon the unchanging word of God, not upon keeping the law which God gave in order to hold people in bondage to sin so they would realize their need for a Savior.
In chapter 4:21-31 of Galatians, Paul further explains the reality of being a child of promise. He uses Hagar and Ishmael as a metaphor for Israel and the law; Hagar, he says, represents Mt Sinai-the law. She and her son are in slavery. Sarah, conversely, represents Jerusalem-the city of God's presence-and she is our mother. We are, therefore, to throw out Hagar and Ishmael and embrace Sarah and Isaac, our true mother and brother. We are to turn our backs on the law-including the physical law of genetics-and embrace God's promises and sovereign election. God's promises and choice are eternal, and they cannot change. The law was temporary. The children of promise are not those who carry the genes of Abraham or live under the law; they are slaves, bound to the mortal law of inheritance and the temporary law that brings death. Slaves do not receive the inheritance promised to the sons. The children of promise are those who accept God's call and embrace Him on the basis of His promises and His sacrifice. They abandon their efforts to earn God's favor, and they give up their sense of somehow "deserving" God's blessing. They respond completely to God's sovereign grace and surrender their own senses of entitlement and control.
Romans 4:13-14 reminds us that Abraham did not receive God's promises through law. Rather, he received God's blessing by the "righteousness that is by faith". In Galatians 3:29 Paul further identifies the children of promise. If a person belongs to Christ, he says, that person is Abraham's seed and heir "according to the promise". In 4:28-31 of Galatians, Paul continues his explanation by saying that we are children of promise. When we "throw out" the "bondwoman", the natural human desire to live by good works and law-keeping, we then belong to the "free woman". We are children of Promise because we give up our "right" to contribute to our own salvation in favor of surrendering to God's sovereign promises.
Even though Isaac was Abraham's son, the Bible refers to him not as the "natural" son but as the son of promise. Ishmael was "natural". He was born as a result of Abraham's decision to have Hagar father his child. Isaac was the product of a miracle-God's sovereign election of him-that resulted in old, barren Sarah conceiving and bearing a son who was created for the purpose of inheriting the birthright of God's promises. It was not his genetic relationship to Abraham that qualified Isaac as the son of promise; it was, rather, his birth by God's power that qualified him. We are also Abraham's sons by virtue of God's intervention in our lives and by His bringing us to life by His Spirit.
Isaac foreshadows new birth
The election of Isaac and the miracle of his birth foreshadows his promised descendant, Jesus, who was born by a divine miracle to the virgin Mary. He also foreshadows all those who would be born again following the life and death of Jesus. When God talked to Abraham about His promise that Sarah would bear a son He said, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Then He promised that He would return "at the appointed time" the next year, and Sarah would have a son. (Genesis 18:14) The fact that no natural means existed for Sarah to bear a son did not prevent God from accomplishing His sovereign will. He chose to fulfill His promises to Abraham when he and Sarah were old-and Sarah was already known to have been barren-so there could never, throughout history, be a doubt about the miraculous nature of Isaac's birth. This same miraculous intervention creates the new birth in every person who surrenders to Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
John writes in 1:12-13 of his gospel that God gave the "right" to all who receive Him to become children of God. Only those who believe in and surrender to Jesus become God's true children. They are born, John continues, not by "natural descent" or by human decision. Rather, they are "born of God". John also records Jesus' private conversation with Nicodemus in which He told him that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he has been born "of water and the Spirit." "Flesh gives birth to flesh," Jesus said, "but Spirit gives birth to spirit" (John 3:5-6). This profound statement declares that God works a miracles outside our physical understanding when a person accepts the sacrifice of Jesus as his own. God's own Spirit brings our spirits to life. This new birth makes us a completely different kind of creature from non-born-again humanity.
Paul confirmed that a person born of the Spirit is different from other humans. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 he explains that spiritual things are spiritually discerned, and without the Spirit, a person cannot understand spiritual reality. "But we," he concludes, "have the mind of Christ." Having the mind of Christ is only possible by receiving the divine miracle of being born of the Spirit and becoming a new creature in Christ.
Throughout the epistles the apostles confirmed the miraculous reality of the new birth. To Titus Paul wrote that God saved us by the washing of rebirth and by our renewal by the Holy Spirit Who God poured out on us generously so we could be heirs of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7) James wrote to the earliest converts scattered far from Jerusalem that God chose to give them [the earliest converts to Christianity] "birth through the word of truth" that they would be a kind of "firstfruits of all he created"(James 1:18). In other words, the miraculous new birth God granted to the first believers was a promise, just as the first yield of a harvest is a promise, that many more would also come to life in Christ.
Peter wrote that those who are new in Christ have been born again, "not of perishable" but of "imperishable" seed through the "living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23) This miraculous new birth, Peter explains, is the result of the power of the gospel and the promises of God-His very word which cannot fail-producing a miracle in us. John also wrote that no one who is born of God will continue to live a life characterized by sin, because "God's seed remains in him" (1 John 3:9). When we are born again, we take on the characteristics of our Father. Our lives become hidden in Christ, and out-of-control sin no longer defines us. Everyone who loves, John continues, has been born of God and knows God, because love comes from God (1 John 4:7). In fact, everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world through faith (1 John 5:1, 3-4).
Isaac foreshadowed all of us who have been born again. His birth was not humanly possible. It was a birth God promised long before it happened. God preordained Isaac's birth, and He predestined him to inherit all the promises He gave to Abraham. His birth was the direct result of God intervening in a hopelessly barren old woman's life and creating something out of nothing. He brought life out of a dead womb.
Further, Isaac was the second-born of Abraham. His first son was born naturally and immorally-the son of Abraham and Sarah's handmaiden Hagar. Yet God broke with tradition and gave His special blessing to the second-born son. He would inherit the divine birthright, not the first son. In the same way the church, those who are born again of the Spirit, are God's second-born. We do not replace the firstborn, Israel, but the church reveals the mystery Israel did not understand: God literally lives in us. All-Jew and Gentile alike-who will be part of His kingdom from the time of the cross and onward will enter it by means of the new birth. The miracle of Isaac foreshadowed the miracle of the church, and we are Isaac's descendants if we have received the new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Younger serves older
Paul takes us back to God's election of Jacob over Isaac. Twice before the twins' birth, God had honored the younger brother over the older brother-a distinction unheard of in the ancient world. The firstborn always inherited the birthright which included leadership of the family as the father aged.
Genesis 4:1-13 records the story of Cain and Abel offering sacrifices to God. Cain brought "some of the fruits of the soil" which he had raised. Abel brought "fat portions" from among the firstborn of the flocks he raised. God rejected Cain's offering, but He accepted Abel's.
Many people have said the problem with Cain's gift was that he did not bring a lamb representing the coming Savior. The text, though, indicates no such idea. Cain's profession was raising crops; Abel's profession was raising flocks. Their offerings would naturally spring from the increase of their particular work. Further, there is no record at this point that God had commanded certain kinds of offerings to be made, although we might suppose He had instructed Adam and Eve in the requirements of sacrifices. In addition, when God codified his instructions for Israel's offerings, His requirements included offerings of firstfruits and grains. The identity of Cain's offering does not seem to be the reason God rejected Cain's sacrifice.
Hebrew 11:4 states that Abel's offering was offered by faith. "By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offering." The reason for God's acceptance of Abel's offering was that Abel came to God with a heart of faith, while Cain did not. The Genesis account even describes Abel's offering as being portions of the best he had, while Cain merely brought "some" of his fruits.
God's blessings do not follow traditional human ideas of honor. God honors faith above birth, heritage, or external shows of worship.
Hundreds of years later, God told Abraham He would honor his second son over his firtsborn. Ishmael, Abraham's first son, was not the promised child God had foretold. He was the result of Abraham's attempt to manipulate circumstances to help God accomplish His will. God never accepts our efforts as part of His sovereign acts. Isaac, the miracle child, was the one God selected to share His covenant blessings. God blessed Ishmael for Abraham's sake, but Isaac received the promised inheritance.
Again, God does not bestow honor and blessings on people based on logic or human cleverness or hard work. Rather, His blessing flow to those whom He has made His own through His own miraculous intervention. No one can hope to receive God's favor by being "good". Only the heart transformed by faith in God through God's own power can experience the peace and blessing of God.
After the flood, when humanity demonstrated at Babel that it was hopelessly evil, God appeared to Abraham and started something completely new. Beginning with Abraham's offspring, God created a new race of people who would receive His blessings and promises. This new race of people was different from all people previously in that God miraculously intervened in human life and brought into being a child who could never have been without the grace of God. He created something out of nothing and called "things that [were] not as though they were" (Romans 4:17)
The Israelites, those people who descended from Abraham's miracle son, were set apart from their beginning by God's seminal power. He granted life to Sarah's dead womb, and because of that resurrection power, a race of people came to be who were solely the result of God's choosing and creative act. He brought them into being when their very existence was a human impossibility. God's bringing Israel into existence was no less an act of raw creation than was His forming Adam and Eve. Further, in a world slowly destroying itself by evil, God declared Abraham, the father of Israel, to be a righteous man. The Bible is clear that Abraham's righteousness was not related to his obedience or good deeds. It was entirely a result of his faith (Romans 4:2, 9-10). Yet even his faith was not a result of Abraham's own doing. When God told him he would have a son by Sarah, he "fell facedown" and laughed (Genesis 17:17). Yet God continued to explain to Abraham the fact that He would make his covenant with Sarah's son, and although He would bless his son Ishmael, still God's promises would be for the son yet to be born. As part of His explicit promise of His blessing on Abraham, God commanded Abraham to circumcise his entire family as a sign that they accepted God's choice and covenant with them.
After this conversation with God, Abraham immediately circumcised his entire household, including himself. He was 99; Ishmael was 13. This act of circumcision demonstrated the fact that Abraham allowed God to strengthen his heart with faith. Abraham had no saving faith of his own in spite of God's previous talks with him. He laughed when God told him he would bear a son by Sarah. Yet Abraham was counted righteous because of his faith. The faith was the result of God's work on his heart. On his own, Abraham couldn't muster up enough confidence in God to act as if His promises were true.
Just as God miraculously created faith in Abraham and brought Israel into existence, even so he now miraculously intervenes in our lives when we accept Jesus. He Himself indwells us and brings our spirits to life. In Him we are born again. Our new birth and our standing as righteous children of God is through absolutely no effort on our parts. God calls us to Himself, and when we acknowledge His claim on us and accept Jesus' sacrifice for us, He creates something completely new in us: a living spirit. Through our spirits brought to life by God's own Spirit we become intimate with God and connected to Him eternally. His strength becomes our strength.
God's people have always been those whom God chose and miraculously brought to life. From creation onward, God has been intervening in human lives and miraculously transforming those who believe in Him. The cross, however, brought about a change more astonishing than anything that came before. God not only chooses us, but he re-establishes the intimate spiritual connection Adam and Eve had with Him before the Fall. We have not yet been completely restored to Adam and Eve's intimacy with God, though; we are still waiting for the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Our physical redemption will no doubt be as startling as is our spiritual rebirth. When God again physically intersects time and human life by returning to earth, and gives us glorified bodies, the reality will be more than we could have imagined, just as "Christ in [us], the hope of glory"(Colossians 1:27) had been a mystery to pre-cross humanity.
Jacob I have loved, but Esau have I hated
Verse 11states that God chose Jacob over Esau before they were born in order to show clearly that His choice of Jacob was His alone and had nothing whatever to do with the boys' deeds or performances. This sovereign choice had far-reaching effects. Malachi 1:2-3 records God speaking to Israel, reminding them that He loves them. They ask God how He loves them, and God replies, "Was not Esau Jacob's brother? Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau have I hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the jackals"
Esau's descendants were known as the Edomites. Historically they were enemies of Israel, but God forbade Israel to fight them or hate them. When Judah finally fell, the Edomites rejoiced, but the prophets foretold judgment on them for their hatred. Between 550 and 400 BC, the Nabatean Arabs gradually forced the Edomites out of their land. Ultimately, Judas Maccabaeus subdued them, and they were finally forced to be circumcised and incorporated into the Jewish people. Interestingly, the Herods were of general Edomite stock.
Although for centuries God allowed Esau's descendants to oppose Israel, ultimately He allowed them to be punished for their aggression. The paradox of this story, however, is that although the Edomites were historically cruel to Israel, yet in their final submission, God allowed them to be brought into His covenant people. They did not, apparently, come in willingly, but God allowed Israel to overpower them and to circumcise them in order to become inheritors of God's promises.
Edom, however was not the only nation to receive God's judgment. The nation of Judah also was exiled into Babylon for her apostasy. During the Israelites' captivity, God promised that He would save them from exile and give them peace, and security. He would not completely destroy them (Jeremiah 46:27) Gold was faithful to His promise, and he returned Judah to Jerusalem.
Even though God chose Jacob over Esau, he still protected Esau and his descendants from Israel's anger. Although they did not receive God's covenant blessing as a nation, still, in the end, God brought them into a covenant relationship with Him through circumcision. As incorporated members of Israel, they had the opportunity to anticipate the Messiah and to learn to trust God by faith as had their common grandfather, Abraham.
God's glory is the ultimate value in the universe. Fairness as humans understand it does not motivate God. God acts from an eternal perspective that sees more than our anger and hurt feelings and resentments. He knows that we need to learn to trust Him regardless of our circumstances and regardless of His sovereign acts. He redeems and restores us according to His will and in His time. Just as God made a covenant with Jacob's offspring and finally included Esau's Gentile offspring in the covenant as well, so He has brought us Gentiles into His Church and entrusts us with His gospel. We are never to disparage our Jewish brothers whose hearts are hardened for a time; God's promises and His justice and mercy are eternal. He is still making all of us one in Him.
In verse 13 Paul recounts Rebekkah's prenatal message from God about her twins: "Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated." While Jacob and his descendants did receive God's special covenant blessings and Esau did not, still Esau's descendants were ultimately brought into the nation of Israel with its promises, even though their entrance was not their choice. The word "hate" ion this context does signify a lack of care or an unwillingness to redeem. Its use is similar to Jesus' use of the word in Luke 14:26 where He says, "If anyone does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple." Matthew records the same incident with a slight variation of words. Instead of Jesus saying a man must hate his family, He says, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Similarly, John records Jesus saying that anyone who loves his life will lose it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it (John 12:25-26).
These passages clarify that the word "hate" is relative to the word "love". When the Bible says God hated Esau, it is saying that God chose Jacob for His special blessings and covenant over Esau. Jacob was the object of God's sovereign choice. Conversely, God sovereignly passed over Esau to bless the second-born. The reasons for these choices are not revealed to us, but we know these choices did not doom Esau and his descendants to hell. God's love and salvation and redemption were still available to them. Just as our ultimate loyalty must be to God before even those we love, so God established a covenant of loyalty with Jacob that he did not establish with Esau. Even though God has made a new covenant that clarifies His inclusion of Gentiles as His people, still His original promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stand eternal.
Our election for God's glory
Even though we can't fully understand the way God's election functions, we can know certain things about God's purposes behind His election. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that God works out everything for the good of those who love Him, and He called us to be "conformed to the likeness of His Son." In Ephesians 1:4-13 Paul tells us that God chose us to be His adopted sons. He chose us to be redeemed, to reveal to us the mystery of our unity in Christ, and to be for the praise of His glory. Ultimately, God's election of us is for the purpose of bringing us to spiritual life, of transforming us, of making us His, and of being glorified through His work in us. Our lives are not our own; we are here for God's glory. His election of His people is for the purpose of involving us in bringing honor and glory to Himself.
The groundwork of our salvation is ultimately God's election of us, not our assent to Jesus. While our assent is a necessary part of our being saved, without God's election we would be unable to assent. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond all cure," Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 17:9; "Who can understand it?" Paul states in Ephesians 2:8-9 that salvation is God's gift. We cannot obtain it by our effort, and we cannot boast about it. But God has riches and power beyond anything we can muster; it is power like that which raised Christ from the dead, and it is for us (Ephesians 1:18-20) This life-giving power is what gives our desperately wicked hearts the ability to say "Yes" to Jesus.
In Romans Paul says that a righteousness apart from the law has been made known to us and comes through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:29). This righteousness is revealed in the gospel, and it is by faith, "from first to last." (Romans 1:17) God initiated our salvation from eternity, and He initiates our responses to Him by softening our sin-scarred hearts. If we generated our own responseses to God's mercy, our salvation would ultimately be about our own wisdom and desire. As it is, however, our inherent wickedness holds our hearts hostage to sin, and without God's divine intervention, we would not be able to say, "Yes" to Him.
God is sovereign over us and our salvation. While our choices have eternal consequences, they are not equally powerful with God's choice and election. Our choices are within His sovereignty. Our response to God is generated by His Spirit; His election of us is the foundation of our eternal security.
God has foreknown and elected you. From the foundation of the world He knew you. God is asking you to surrender the objections and encumbrances in your life so His sovereign love can transform you. Even if you try to avoid God's calling of you, He pursues you and allows His discipline to enter your life in order to bring you to face your need of Him.
God's call to you is to surrender your resistance to Him. Allow Him to reveal to you the areas in your life where you are hiding from the truth. Ask Him to make your heart willing to obey His promptings and to learn from His discipline. Ask Him to do in you the work He knows needs to be done.
Above all, thank God for knowing you and for choosing you before the creation of the world. Praise Him for His sovereign choice that gave you a role in His story. Honor Him for being the sacrifice that paid for you sin, and commit your life to His glory.
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." (Revelation 4:8)
Paul has just traced the election and the blessings of Israel. Now he follows the nation from its election to its spiritual division. "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel," he says. Paul here begins a careful analysis and confirmation of God's sovereign choice of His people, a choice over which we have no influence but to which we can respond.
1. Paul prefaces his discussion of Israel's responses to God by stating his foundational truth: "It is not as though God's word had failed." How does the Bible confirm that God's word is more than a collection of thoughts but is the reliable and eternal message from God? (see Hebrews 4:12; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 11:27-28; John 10:34-38; Acts 12:21-24; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 2:8-9; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 1:14; Revelation 1:1-3)
2. After establishing that God's promises are eternal, Paul explains that not all those who descend from Abraham and Israel are truly Israel. "On the contrary, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.'" Verse 8 identifies Abraham's offspring as "children of the promise". What exactly does Paul mean here, since Isaac was Abraham's son? (see Genesis 21:9-13; Hebrews 11:17-19; Romans 8:13-14; Galatians 3:16-18; 4:21-31)
3. Who are these "children of the promise"? (Romans 4:13-14, 16; Galatians 3:29; 4:28-31)
4. In what significant way was Isaac's birth a foreshadowing of Jesus and also of those who are born again as God's sons and daughters? (see Genesis 18:14; John 3:5-6; 1:12-13; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Titus 3:4-7; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 5:1, 3-4)
5. Isaac, the son of promise, had twin sons. Before they were born, God said the older one would serve the younger one. What other examples are there of God honoring the second-born over the first-born? (see Genesis 4:1-13; 17:17-22)
6. After God destroyed the earth's population with a flood only to have evil re-assert itself, He promise Abraham that He would give unnumbered descendants to him and his barren wife Sarah by means of a miracle, not by "natural" conception. What was significant about this new line of people God was beginning?
7. Verse 11 states that God chose Jacob over Esau before they were born in order to demonstrate that His sovereign election, not the boys' works, determined His acceptance of a person. What far-reaching effects did God's election of Jacob and rejection of Esau have, and how did this situation bring glory to God? (see Malachi 1:2-3; Jeremiah 46:27l)
8. What exactly does it mean when the Bible says God "hated" Esau? (see Luke 14:26; Matthew 10:37; John 12:25-26)
9. What is God's purpose in electing those He loves, as mentioned in verse 11? (see 8:28-29; Ephesians 1:4-13)
10. For what reasons must God's election, not merely our assent to Jesus, be the groundwork of our salvation? (see Ephesians 2:8-9;1:18-20; Romans 1:17; 3:29)
11. In what ways have you seen God's election at work in your life?
12. In what ways or areas of your life are you resisting God's calling of you? Ask Him to reveal to you the areas of your experience you need to surrender to His sovereign will. Ask Him to make your heart willing to submit to His claim on your life. Ask Him to give you His Spirit of obedience so you can know the truth and allow Him to change you and to be your strength where you are weak. Thank Him for knowing you before you were born and for choosing you to belong to Him.
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