This week, we turn again to the eleventh chapter of Romans. We have seen that in this final section of the chapter, Paul has argued that the Jews, as a national race of people, have not been permanently abandoned by God in His plan of salvation. We have seen in this chapter that the reason the Jews, under God’s sovereign control, did not respond to the gospel was so the gospel would be preached to the Gentiles. These unbelieving Jews according to Paul in verse 25 had “experienced a hardening” by God so as to allow the gospel to be presented to the Gentiles. Though there was this small, believing remnant of Jews, the focus of God’s main saving work through the gospel was and still is the Gentiles. In our text last week, Paul makes the promise that “all Israel will be saved.” That is, that in the last days the Jews as a national people will turn to Christ. This will fulfill the promises God made to the Patriarchs about the salvation of Israel.
As we turn to our text this week, Paul seeks to clarify the promises he made in verses 25-27. He explains to these Gentiles WHY God will turn and save Israel as they place their trust in their Messiah, Jesus Christ. As Paul concludes this section (and really all of his argument in chapters 9-11), he says some profound things about the nature of God and his mercy that we all desperately need to hear. With that, let’s turn to Romans 11:28-32. Paul is speaking of the Jews and says, “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. 32For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
As Paul concludes his main argument in this section of Romans, he brings out the main theme which he has been stressing in his treatment of God’s actions toward the Jewish people. That theme, which we have seen repeatedly in this section is the mercy of God. In light of the prevalence of this theme of God’s mercy, let’s again focus our attention on God’s mercy. Theologians tell us that God’s mercy and grace are, subsections of his goodness. Part of God’s goodness is seen in his GRACE. That is, he gives sinful, rebellious people good things they have done absolutely nothing to deserve. Rain, food, families, relationships, wealth, health, etc… That’s grace. The other side of that goodness of God coin is seen in His mercy wherein God withholds from sinful, rebellious people what they do so justly and richly deserve. In this life, we deserve misery, pain, heartache and sickness just to name a few and in the next life we all deserve the eternal fires of hell. We deserve that. We have that coming to us—that is what our sinful nature and sinful actions deserve. We have fully earned that. We have earned all of that in inestimable severity. When you consider what it is to live as a created being full of sin before a holy, just, Creator God, you can’t overstate the misery and punishment we deserve. God’s mercy is His withholding of that which we deserve.
Understanding and more importantly, living with an acute awareness of the mercy of God in our lives is of bedrock importance for us to live God-honoring lives as Christians. This is one of the crucial foundation stones every believer must have in place. We see just how central this often overlooked requirement for a sanctified life is in the beginning of the next section of Romans. As Paul begins chapters 12-16 where he applies the glorious truths of the gospel in a concentrated way to Christian living—as he sums up the previous eleven chapters of this, the most thorough exposition of the gospel anywhere, how does he begin this section? He says, “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices,…” The theological attribute of God Paul uses to sum up the entire contents of the gospel. The main ground for living out the Christian life according to the apostle is nothing less than the mercy of God. Oh, how much more dynamic and supernatural our lives would be liberated to be if we were to only live with this continual awareness of what it is to be a recipient of God’s mercy.
The reason why this awareness is something we have to continually strive for—why it isn’t just a part of our experience naturally is the influence our flesh has on us in this area. If you’ll remember Paul says Christians, though redeemed, still have what he calls our “flesh.” Our flesh is that part of us that is opposed to God, is married to the sinful world system and is highly influenced by Satan. And one of the most spiritually lethal activities--one of the most destructive manifestations of our flesh is to blind us to what we truly deserve from a holy God. Our flesh is purely self-centered. It is in the business and is set on fire by hell itself to cause us to center our lives around ME—what I have and don’t have, what I want, what I deserve. The flesh is that part of us which energizes our thoughts of what I need and deserve. It stokes the fire of our self-centered thoughts and beliefs about the way things should be for me. The flesh is that part of us that is constantly telling us what it is about our circumstances that are wrong and why it is so horribly unfair that we don’t have it as well as someone else has it. ALL these kinds of attitudes are generated by the flesh and they are utterly opposed to God and the truth.
One utterly deadening effect this fleshly preoccupation with what I need and deserve is this: In its whining about what we want, deserve, SHOULD HAVE, the flesh, drowns out this absolutely essential truth necessary for us to truly love and honor God. That is, the constant awareness that we deserve, we have earned from God, NOTHING but his wrath and curse in this life and eternity. The truth is, if we are experiencing ANYTHING other than that, we are swimming in an ocean of His mercy. Satan knows if he can keep us focussed on those things we selfishly think we have coming to us—health and wealth, we will not be thinking about what we justly deserve, God’s wrath and curse. We are not inclined to think about the wrath we deserve from God when we are busy listening to our sinful, flesh-generated thoughts that tell us that things should really be much better than they are for me. The flesh, in screaming its satanic lies at us about what we deserve in this life can obscure and cause us to forget about what we TRULY deserve. And forgetting the truth about what we, as sinners, genuinely deserve before a holy God can spiritually disable us, especially in this Disney World culture we live in where we are daily fed the lie that there really is true, lasting joy found in chasing the pleasures of this life. As a people, no culture in the world has been more blessed materially—so saturated with wealth--even the “poorest” of us. It is also true that no culture has produced more shallow, superficial, self centered people (even in the church) who walk around with the mistaken impression that God owes them a Disney World existence. If the book of Romans teaches us anything, it teaches us that God owes no one anything. He is a debtor to NO MAN. The sincere believers I know are praying, “God, if you need to, don’t hesitate to take me out of this Disney World and put me in a place where I can get my eyes off the fantasy and empty promises of health, wealth and surface tranquility and focus them on you.”
As you look at Paul’s argument in 28-32 here we again see the oscillating or alternating mercy of God. That is, this pattern by which God dispenses his mercy throughout salvation history. First, it was on the Jews in the Old Testament, then on the Gentiles for the past two millennia. Finally, Paul tells us the pendulum will in the future swing back to the Jews as the mercy of God is again poured out on national Israel at the close of salvation history. On the flip side of that coin, in the Old Testament, the Gentile world were God’s enemies. That is, God was opposed to them. Since the coming of Christ, Paul says the unbelieving Jews have become God’s enemies through their rejection of Him so that those Gentiles who believe in Christ would know God’s mercy.
We will examine Paul’s argument when he explains WHY God will in the last days, revisit the Jews as a nation with his mercy in a moment, but first let’s address a question about how God works in salvation history. As you look at this oscillating pattern of God’s mercy, you may be tempted to ask, “Why did God choose to do it that way?” Why does he choose (in large measure) to pour out His grace predominantly on EITHER the Jews or the Gentiles, but not both at the same time? It’s certainly not because the supply of his grace is limited and he has only enough to give to one group at a time. So why does he choose to alternate between the two groups?
As we learned from chapter nine, we know those kind of questions must be asked with much humility and never in such a way as to accuse God. We must also understand that the full answer to those kind of questions will be known only in eternity because they have to do with God’s sovereign purpose in election and no answer to that question today can be given with certainty. However, from what Paul has said in chapter nine in answer to a similar question, it is reasonable to assume that at least one reason He alternates between these two global people groups is to highlight His mercy. What better way for God’s people to learn the wonders of God’s mercy than for them to witness another group of people who are not receiving it? How can we predominantly believing Gentiles better learn God’s mercy in sparing us from the wrath we deserve than by looking at the unbelieving Jews, who, for the most part are receiving the wrath of God they deserve?
The Jews are a group of people whom God has hardened against Himself during this season of salvation history. They are just like us—sinners before a holy God. We deserve the wrath of God just as much as they do. But for now, we live in this bubble of mercy because God has awakened us from the dead and allowed us to believe on Christ and find mercy in him. Why aren’t believing Gentiles as a people unresponsive and disobedient like the unbelieving Jews? Only one reason, the mercy of God. God wants those who have received His mercy to regularly meditate on the fact that He was under no obligation to show us mercy. And exhibit “A” testifying, reminding us of the fact is the presence in our world of those who have NOT received mercy which includes MOST of the Jews. Today, the Jews, with all their heritage with God as a people, are predominantly receiving not His mercy, but His wrath. This is what broke Paul’s heart as we saw it in the beginning of this section in chapter nine.
The fact that God uses people who are receiving his wrath to cause those who are receiving his mercy to glory in that mercy is precisely the argument Paul makes in 9:22-23. Paul is speaking about those people God hardens against Him and why he hardens them. He says, “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath [people he has hardened]—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory know to the objects of his mercy whom he prepared in advance for glory—” One way we can more fully appreciate the mercy of God is for us to witness that there are other people and people groups who HAVE NOT BEEN SPARED THE WRATH OF GOD.
Think about what it would have meant to the Old Testament Jews in the promised land if they would have learned what, in retrospect, God was clearly trying to teach them. He takes these Jews, he calls them a stiff-necked, small nation of people and sets them in the midst of other pagan nations stronger and more numerous than they. Of all these neighboring pagan people, ONLY the JEWS knew the one true God. The other nations had a pantheon of gods and lived in demonically inspired fear of these gods. They appeased these gods by giving them their crops, animals and even sacrificing their children to them.
As we see in the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel, these pagans would serve these gods by cutting themselves until their blood gushed out, losing themselves in demented, demonically-induced trances. They did this because they believed that, in return for this self-mutilation, the gods would grant them good harvests and prosper them. What a hideous, barbaric way of life. The Jews should have seen the violent contrast between these “gods” and their God, who loved them like a father loves his children—who graciously made provision for their sin, who gave them hope and a future and who abundantly blessed them without exacting any cruel payment from them. The Jews should have looked at this self-destructive, satanic paganism of their neighbors and reveled in the mercy of Yahweh because their father Abraham had been delivered out of that paganism.
These people all around them were under the unremitting wrath of God, living, not love-based lives, but fear-based lives. They were under the curse of God and deservedly so. The Jews should have witnessed the wrath of God being poured out on their neighbors and gloried in God’s mercy toward them. Instead of seeing God’s wondrous mercy, they became self-centered and longed for the flesh-appealing sin of their neighbors’ pagan worship. The point is, one way we can fight to keep a consciousness filled with God’s mercy is to regularly think about the mercy of God in what he has spared us from. Right now, in this season of salvation history, a poignant reminder of that can be found in the Jews who, being so close in some ways to God, are under his wrath for their disobedient unbelief. And the single, solitary reason why we are not under that same white-hot wrath of an angry God is, God’s mercy to us.
Paul’s point in this text however is to point out that the wrath the Jews are now experiencing because of unbelief will not always be the norm for the Jews as a people. He says in verse 28 of the Jews, “as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” Paul is saying if you look at the large number of unbelieving Jews through the lens of the gospel, you will see they are rejecting it and are therefore the enemies of God. But if you look at the Jewish people through the lens of election, that is, God’s ultimate plan for them as a nation, they are beloved by God. Paul is simply reiterating the truth that the Jews as a nation will in the last days come to salvation through Christ. The reason for this last-days salvation where God showers his love and mercy on them is because of the promises God made to the patriarchs about the salvation of the Jews. In other words, God’s purpose in electing the Jews to be saved will see its fulfillment in these last days Jews who will come to faith.
In verse 29 Paul gives the general principle about God that reinforces the certainty that the Jews will come to Christ in fulfillment of the promises by saying, “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” When God gave Israel the gifts of salvation—gifts like adoption, his glory, His covenant, law and promises and when He placed His calling on them to be his people, his commitment to them was unbreakable. Paul says that we will see that unbreakable commitment to His gifting and calling of Israel played out in the last days when they turn and receive Christ.
This truth is a blessing not only to the Jews but to all of us who seek to be faithful to Christ and hang on to the hope of eternity. If God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable to Israel, what does that say about his gifts and calling upon us as believers? It says this: if God has truly called a person to be his child for all eternity then it WILL happen because salvation is from the LORD, not by the decision of a person and He will never revoke His call on a person to be with himself. He will never change His mind about having us as His child if we are truly His. He will never kick us out of His family to which He has called us because his call is unbreakable. We need to feel the assurance in that.
In speaking to the Gentiles in verse 30 he says, “Just as you were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their [the Jews] disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.” When Paul says, “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” he is not promising that all men will be saved. That would contradict most of what Paul has said up to this point. His point is that God will save all people without distinction, be they Jew or Gentile. His mercy knows no national, ethnic, racial limitations. People from every tribe and every nation will populate heaven. Paul even highlights the imminence of the Jews again receiving mercy by using the word “now.” Paul here is consistent with all of New Testament thinking here. The end of salvation history could come at any moment and he has this sense of expectancy we should all have about the return of Christ.
Notice one final stress on God’s mercy in verse 32. Paul says, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Paul says that God has bound up or literally “shut up” or “imprisoned” all people in disobedience. That simply means that God allowed the Fall and sin to enter the human race. The sin that came through the Fall imprisons people. Everyone born into this world is locked up in a prison of sin and rebellion, shackled by their wicked heart. That sin incarcerates both Jew and Gentile. God allowed this. Ultimately, it was his plan of redemption conceived before the world began (Ephesians 1 tells us) that allowed the confining power of sin to bind all people under the curse, both Jew and Gentile.
Why did He do that? Paul says God allowed all people to be bound up by disobedience so that He could come to some people and unlock their prison doors through the blood of His Son and therefore manifest His mercy. How else is He going to manifest his mercy to sinners who don’t deserve anything but his wrath and curse? Remember, God doesn’t cause the sin. The sinners are always held accountable for their sin. But God’s plan allowed for the entrance of sin so that he could manifest his mercy to some of those sinners and withhold from them what they deserve. This answer Paul gives will be noxious to us if we believe that God’s plan of redemption is ultimately about us. We might be tempted to think, “Well, that’s just fine for God to show His mercy and all, but I’m sure all those people in hell aren’t too thrilled about being God’s exhibit “A” of what sinners deserve.”
A vital truth we’ve seen before must be brought to bear against that kind of thinking. We must know that God is the holy Creator and that means that when his race rebels against him, what is remarkable is NOT that many of these rebels go to hell and suffer His wrath. That is perfectly just and appropriate. What is remarkable is that he allows ANYONE through His mercy to go to heaven. It is the mercy of God seen throughout salvation history to both Jew and Gentile that is so unexpected and glorious. It is the mercy of God that is so scandalous and shocking. It is the mercy and grace of God in the gospel that Peter says in First Peter one that amazes even the angels of God. If we are in Christ, we are the recipients of the most outlandish gift given in all of eternity, the mercy of a holy God through the blood of His Son. Are we living in the light of His mercy, glorying in the wrath we have been spared? Or are we spending our lives focussing on all those things our self-centered flesh has deceitfully convinced us we deserve? May God give us grace to glory in His wondrous mercy to us.
Page last modified on 1/1/2002
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