Has the word of God failed?
According to Paul.
And then he wrote Romans 9-11, three of the hardest chapters in the Bible. We often wrestle with them, like Jacob wrestled with God. And when we realize we are wrestling with God as Jacob did, as opposed to being “loved less” by God as Esau was, then our only response should be, “Thank you God that I get to walk with a limp for the rest of my life!”
So with that in mind… what is the main idea Paul is arguing for in Romans 9-11?
Read on to see what the main idea is not:
It is not the doctrine of election
It is not the past special place of Israel
It is not the future salvation of Israel
It is not God’s sovereignty over the human will
It is not for faith versus works
It is not ror Him who calls versus works
It is not for grace versus works
It is not for the issue of zeal without knowledge
It is not for the plea to harden not your heart
It is not for confessing with the mouth and believing in the heart
It is not for faith coming by hearing the word of Christ
It is not for how the gentiles are grafted into the rich roots of the olive tree
Before you throw me out and brand me a total heretic, Romans 9-11 does deal with all of these doctrines. All of these are there, and so much more, and many of them are argued for. But the main reason Paul wrote Romans 9-11, needs to be on our radar screen as we read these chapters or we will be so easily confused or angered. It needs to humble us and help us ask the right questions of the texts. We should not try to argue against the texts with our particular theological bents. We should let Paul answer the main objections the way the Spirit of God inspired him to write, with the Spirit wrought exegesis of the old testament texts.
So… here is the main problem Paul is trying to address in Romans 9-11:
Has the Word of God failed?
This is the objection Paul is responding to in all of Romans 9-11. This is the main reason he wrote these chapters. Because if we can’t trust God to His word, what can we trust?
Why is this objection raised to Paul? Why would people have been asking him this over and over as he went into synagogues and proclaimed the Gospel? Why is Paul’s heart crying out something that almost sounds apostate (almost):
For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren – Romans 9:3
I could wish… in another life it was possible to wish such a thing, but God would never allow an act of love to be the reason for a curse. But we get a glimpse of how hard this for Paul. This is probably the most painful thing He has to deal with, thus why I think he is so emphatic in these first 5 verses of Romans 9.
So to understand why Paul goes on (what seems to be) a detour between Romans 8 and 12, we have to look at the end of 8, to see why an objection would be raised. At the end of the great 8, we get 3 amazing rhetorical questions sandwiched between 2 ways of stating the most amazing promise of God in the Bible:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28
If God is for us, who is against us?
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?
Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:37-39
So immediately some of the favorite, most quoted verses in the Bible (Paul didn’t put the chapters and verses in, we did) he starts groaning for Israel, because someone is making an objection… here it is, and it is terrifying:
What happened to the covenant made with Israel?
God made all of these promises to Israel, and look, they are being cut off!
They aren’t happening.
They are being hardened, so He is not keeping his promise!
Therefore, I can’t trust God’s promises.
God’s word has failed!
That is a massive objection. And Paul really wants us to trust God’s promises, so in answer to that objection, he wrote Romans 9-11 for this reason: He wants us to believe Romans 8.
So… has God’s word failed?
According to Paul… NO!
Why Paul? How has it not failed? Look at every promise in the old testament… you are saying they are not true aren’t you?
For they [are] not all Israel , which are of Israel – Romans 9 (KJV)
γὰρ πάντες οἱ ἐξ Ἰσραήλ οὗτοι Ἰσραήλ
And those 10 words in English, 7 words in Greek are probably the most important words in scripture about scripture. Because if we think that everyone “which are of Israel” are who the promises of God are intended for, then according to Paul, we can’t trust the word of God. It has failed. Throw out the whole old testament. So much for Abraham and the promised land.
they [are] not all Israel , which are of Israel
So then we ask, who is Israel? And by that I mean true Israel, and not just physical, ethnic Israel?
Don’t we wish that the next thing here was Hebrews 11? Wouldn’t it be so nice and easy if Paul simply said, those who had faith in ethnic Israel were true Israel? There, case closed, no need for these 3 chapters. But he didn’t. Because that’s not why… because it’s not about man, God is the one who takes responsibility for Israel’s unbelief. And this is meant to humble us, and make us thankful, and to never give us a place to ever judge anyone for their unbelief, but to always look to God to change their hearts.
So enough suspense… I think that it’s pretty clear from the text Paul’s answer is this:
The called of God according to His purpose in election. Who is that? 3 answers:
- The remnant of Israel, past and present
- The full number of the gentiles grafted into the cultivated olive tree
- At some future date, all of Israel that has become jealous of God’s grace to the gentiles
Do we believe Romans 8? Do we believe that these promises can’t fail? Do we believe that they can’t fail for the same reasons Paul writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit wants us to believe them?
Election not works?
Grace not works?
Faith not works?
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. – Romans 9:16
Question: What is “it”? What is the “it” that does not depend on man’s will?
Answer: Being part of true Israel. Are we part of true Israel? Am I part of true Israel?
Oh that we would join with Paul, and wonder at the answer God revealed to him through Scripture, in crying out, “Oh!”….
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:33-36
Now and only now…
Now after looking at Christ in Romans 9, and being grateful to be Jacob and Esau…
Now after being humbled that the Gospel has been preached to us that we can believe…
Now after being thankful that so much of physical Israel has been lopped off of the tree so that we gentiles can believe…
Now and only now…
Now we are ready for one of the strangest, most amazing Gospel verses in the Bible:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship.
– Romans 12:1 (AMP)