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Monday, March 12, 2018

“Who Can be Saved?”

Romans 9:1-8

Jesus said that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).  Paul in this passage is struggling with the fact that while God’s covenant of salvation comes from the Jews, many of them even in Paul’s time did not believe in Christ.  This causes Paul great sorrow to the point where he would be willing to be accursed if it could bring his people into a saving relationship with Christ.

Paul’s fundamental question then is once we have understood the nature of God’s saving activity in Christ, we have to ask the question, what about the Jews?  Paul has already touched on this issue earlier in his letter to the Romans.  He asks the rhetorical question, “What if some were unfaithful?  Will their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God?  By no means! (Rom. 3:3-4a).  In these chapters in Romans Paul explores the whole idea of salvation and Israel’s role in it.

Paul struggles with two clear realities.  On one hand it is certain that the Jews are God’s chosen people.  God chose them for himself (Deut. 7:7-11).  On the other, Israel has never really been faithful to God (II Kings 21:14-15).  God made good promises to Israel (Joshua 21:45).  What has become of those promises?

Paul will have an extensive discussion of that question.  His first point is that it cannot be the case that the word of God has failed.  He goes on to say that Israel cannot only be defined as a physical, historical group.  Paul raises the question, “What does it mean truly to be an Israelite?”  Abraham had more than one child.  However it is only Isaac that was the child of promise. Those who are the children of promise are the true descendants of Isaac.  Those “true descendants” include all those who believe in Jesus Christ whether they are Jew or Gentile.  Israel then is not defined by a physical lineage, “the children of the flesh.”  Rather Israel refers to those who live by the promises of God.  Every one of those promises is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20).

For Paul everything depends on god’s promises.  In one of his most provocative statements he says that God chose Jacob over Esau “before they had anything good or bad.”  This seems very unfair to us.  Paul will address that complaint in a subsequent passage.  His key emphasis here is that everything depends on God’s mercy.  It is not up to us.  It is up to God and God alone is truly merciful.

Gracious and faithful God, I thank you for all your promises as set forth in your Word.  I thank you for your mercy revealed in Christ.  I praise you for this, in Jesus’ name, Amen.