If the first five chapters of the Book of Romans describe the Gospel, the next three chapters (6-8) make clear the implications of the Gospel in your life.You don’t follow lust or list, but are Spirit led. The next section of the letter (9-11) describes why the plan to transform lives is secure—because it rests on a faithful God who painstakingly works in lives for generations to tell His story.
Key Principle : Human Resistance to Following God Isn’t Evidence of God’s Failure, but of His Faithfulness.
Imagine living in a country that once openly embraced a relationship with God as a good thing. It didn’t mean that everyone had such a relationship, but it did mean that people openly acknowledged such a relationship built character and framed the general principles of good society. One day those who felt themselves on the outside of a relationship with God pressed hard against that frame. They decided the moral statements of those who expressed a relationship with God made them feel demeaned, and they didn’t think anyone had the right to make them feel the things they wanted in life were wrong. They saw themselves as victims, abused and misunderstood by those who held a moral premise based on a relationship with God. They found a forum in which they could come together and gang up on those who believed, attempting to topple the premise that a relationship with God was a good and necessary thing.
As those who felt the moral foundations were important began to respond, they were shouted down and called “intolerant” and “argumentative.” Sensing new power, those who once felt ostracized began deliberately pushing out those who once held the foundations in place and claimed the right to close off opportunities to those who once were assumed as in charge—because they felt they could prove a history of intolerance. In order to defeat the beast they perceived in others in the past, they became that beast. As those who felt victimized, they became attackers, victimizing others without sensitivity. This they called progress.
Look at these problems:
- Some nations used to follow God and now don’t. Does that mean the story about Him is not true?
- If God designed the world and only some believe. Does that mean that God is unjust?
- If God wasn’t reaching people who used to know Him, how could He justify reaching those who never tried to follow Him?
Because a People Once Followed God and Now Do Not, Has God Failed Them?
We are fortunate that God’s Word offered a model of this very problem long ago. You may have not thought about it this way, but Paul lived as a part of the premier nation that had, in the past, followed God—and then turned away from doing so. It leaders had very deliberately moved from support of what God wanted to do into a position of opposition to it. Staring at the situation of the Messiah’s coming, it is easy to forget how someone like Paul felt about the departure of his people from following God, and how much he longed for them to move back into a position of desiring God’s leadership.
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. (NASB, Rom. 9:1-6)
Watching people fall away from their former standing is emotionally tough. It makes a believer sad to think that things that were once “common understanding” were now thought to be both regressive and harmful. Paul used words like “great sorrow” and “unceasing grief” because he felt the slipping into darkness that a sensitive believer feels when he watches people walk away from their long held God relationship. It is true that the Jewish leadership didn’t refuse the symbolism and religious life that went with their former aspirations of a personal God and intimate walk. Sometimes that happens. Long after the relationship is no longer the center of their culture, the religion continues. At the same time, those with a true walk with God recognize the religious life to be a mere “shell” of its former self.
Paul made an observation that God had not failed in the process of his people turning away. When you first read those words, they can seem odd. Yet, don’t pass by that observation too quickly, because one of the outcomes of watching a curtain of darkness fall can be “disappointment with God.” Paul made clear is wasn’t unusual in the plan of God to have only part of the people of God following Him at any time.
Paul offered two supporting arguments to show that God had not failed.
First, from within that people, only some of them ever truly followed.
For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “at this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Rom. 9:6-8)
This is one of those passages that needs to be read slowly. Do you recall “sets” and “subsets” in mathematics? Imagine the “set” is all of genetic Israel. Imagine within that “set” is a smaller “subset” of those through whom God would work a special and intimate relationship. Notice the set is genetic, but the subset is the group through whom God is working His promises. This isn’t a story of how God left Israel and started working with Gentiles—since all of the set was genetically Israel to begin with—that isn’t Paul’s point. The issue was this: God always had a part of the whole He worked His promises through; it was never the whole pool of people.
We need to remember that God’s work of intimately working in lives has always been a minority work. There have always been those who weren’t really on board with following God, even when the culture seemed to hide them. A moral shift in a culture isn’t an indication of truth or of God’s existence and goodness—it is a power shift between those who are experiencing a move of God in their live, and those who think frame life in another way entirely. Maybe they believe that “religious stuff” is all nonsense. Maybe they wanted it to be true, but didn’t experience God personally—and concluded it just wasn’t real. In any case, one of the outcomes of a moral shift in the power base of a community can be disappointment in God—and that is unwarranted. God always works in a subset, even when they seem to hold sway over the culture.
Second, God specifically designed His story to work in a certain line of people:
In the second argument, Paul wanted people to recognize that the events he saw were part of God’s plan. They didn’t take God by surprise.
And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “the older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom. 9:10-12)