Children of the Promise

I used to have a large collection of stationary—notecards, notepaper—in all colors and weights. Most of my friends have received letters or cards from me at some point in time. It makes me feel closer to someone far away when I can sit down and write them a letter. And in my mind it conveys a lot more than just a quick email or text message.

In Romans 9, Paul continues his letter writing, his connection with the early church. He starts off with his concern. “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters.” (Romans 9:2,3) Paul unburdens himself, letting us know that his concern is for the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Have you ever been in that position? Where you care about someone and what they are thinking doing, keeps you up at night? I know I have. And usually when I write and pray. Paul turns to his pen and paper not just to express his anguish but to provide a solution, hope. Paul’s letter and his concern extends to us as his brothers and sisters, those who share the lineage of Christ.

Paul dives into his exploration by asking “Has God failed to fulfill his promise to the Jews?” He then goes on to carve out an explanation, reasoning that God has kept his promise and detailing how. He makes a distinction and points out that it is not just the lineage or relationship to Abraham that sets the Jews apart; it not just the fact that they are Jews. Paul points out that God has created a distinct people. God makes the choice. This sentiment is mirrored in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who calls out to me, 'Lord! Lord!' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.” (NLT). Here, Jesus points to the sovereignty of God in choosing his representatives.

“Receiving God’s promise is not up to us.” (Romans 9:16, NLT) Paul points out that Jews and Gentiles share God’s promise of salvation, that God has extended mercy. The offering of salvation is accessible to all. However, this offering still rests with God. “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy.” (Romans 9:16, NIV). This same message of equal access was studied earlier in the Sabbath School lesson. We discussed the nature of the promise and who had access. In Romans 9, Paul emphasizes the nature of God in relation to the promise of salvation. Over and over Paul brings home the point that salvation is not earned, that it is a gift. This gift cannot be accessed outside of a relationship with God.

Paul ends his message in Romans 9 by once again asserting that both Jews and Gentiles are receivers of God’s promise. However, he makes a distinction that ties into his concern from the beginning of the letter. Paul points to the complex system of rules and laws set up by the Jews, noting that this system is not the way to attain salvation. “But the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.” (Romans 9:31, NIV). He contrasts this constant striving to be in compliance with man-made laws with the Gentiles who accepted Christ’s offering of mercy by true faith. “That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith.” (Romans 9:30, NIV) He points to the motivation behind the work and origin of the salvation that each group reached for. True salvation comes from God and God alone.

Paul’s message in Roman’s 9 resonates today. Aren’t we, as Adventist Christians, similar to the children of Israel? We call ourselves a “peculiar people” and teach that we have the truth. “They have the privilege of worshipping him and receiving his wonderful promises.” (Romans 9:4). We also have been extended the mercy of receiving God’s promise of salvation. We need to examine our motivations and accept that we are limited in our capacity to understand. “No finite mind can fully comprehend the character or the works of the Infinite One…We can so far comprehend His dealing with us as to discern boundless mercy united to infinite power. We can understand as much of His purposes as we are capable of comprehending; beyond this we may still trust the hand that is omnipotent, the heart that is full of love.” E.G. White, Education, p. 169. Although limited God has extended mercy and salvation and has claimed us as his people.

Resources:

Holy Bible, NLT Tyndale 1996

Holy Bible, NIV Zondervan

White, E.G., Education, 1952, Ingram.

Image Credit: Unsplash / Andrew Pons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8440
1 Like

Calvinism and Arminianism I believe have both muddied the waters on Paul’s teaching about election and predestination. Maybe as Christians we have missed the simple but profound truth by trying to defend our position in one camp or the other.

Paul was commissioned to be the Apostle to the Gentiles which happens to be my lineage. I cannot claim any Jewish blood-line. For this reason I’m thankful for the doctrine of predestination and election that Paul clarifies in Romans and in Ephesians.

God predestined the Jewish nation to be His chosen people. Through Israel the Messiah was born and the gospel of grace was realised in Christ.

God also predestined from ages past that the gospel of grace through the crucified and risen Christ would extend to the Gentiles from all nations of the world. This was a mystery held secret from ages past but revealed in Christ.

I now believe that this is the essence of Paul’s teachings about predestination.

Paul regularly had to defend his role as the Apostle to the Gentiles. This is the context of his teachings on predestination.

The miracle of God’s election in predestination is that because of Calvary, we Gentiles now have full access to the gospel, just the same as the children of Israel. Calvary broke down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. God had that planned, predestined, all the way through.

Pharaoh, Jacob, Esau, the potter and the clay are there to remind us that God’s sovereignty is supreme and who are we to question God’s decisions and actions. We as humans do well to accept God’s wisdom in electing that Christ was predestined to be born through the line of Judah.

It was also God’s predetermined plan that Calvary was to be the watershed that gives meaning to the doctrine of predestination as taught by Paul.

Abraham was predestined to be the father of many nations. This promise to Abraham was realised through Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection and saving grace. He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

We as Gentiles were predestined from ages past to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ in the same way as those of faith from God’s chosen people of Israel.

This is why I’m excited about the doctrine of predestination. I’m a Gentile, saved by grace, just as God planned it. Jew or Gentile, the gospel is ours by faith in Jesus Christ.

Thank you David for the link in your post. It makes a lot of sense even on a first reading. To understand God’s sovereignty and human authority and free-will in this framework certainly answers a number of hard questions.

I may have oversimplified Paul’s teaching on predestination in my post but I think it fits well into the framework in the article you referenced. There’s a lot to comprehend in Romans 9, 10 and 11 and in Ephesians 1, 2 and 3. I think God’s plan to extend the gospel to the Gentiles in His own way is a key part to understanding what Paul is saying.

Ephesians 2 is interesting. The “Uncircumcision”, Gentiles by natural birth, so-called by the “Circumcision” were in an unenviable position from a human viewpoint. I admit that I find it difficult to understand why the following was in God’s plan for the Gentiles prior to Calvary but I don’t doubt His sovereignty just because I don’t understand it.

Separate from Christ.
Excluded from the commonwealth of Israel.
Strangers to the covenants of promise.
Having no hope.
Without God in the world.
Formerly far off.
Separated by a barrier of the dividing wall -
A dividing wall of enmity which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances.

All this and the Gentiles were brought near by the blood of Christ - in Himself to make the two into one man - peace - reconciled - through the cross - the enmity which is the Law of commandments put to death. It was peace for the Jews and peace for the Gentiles who also were now brought near - all in one holy temple in the Lord.

One can only imagine the impact of this revelation on the devout Jewish mind. No wonder Paul talks about facing death daily.

Ephesians 3 draws attention to the mystery of Christ that in previous generations was not made known to the sons of men. But now, Paul says, the mystery has been revealed through God’s holy Apostles and prophets in the Spirit.

The mystery revealed is specifically this, “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…”

As I see it, God, by His sovereign will and according to His eternal plan, revealed this mystery to Paul. Without it, Christianity may well have just become another Jewish sect. With it, the promise made to Abraham and realised in Jesus Christ was fulfilled. Paul was commissioned to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ. This commission, handed on to the church, extended to Gentiles from every nation, tribe, tongue and people on earth.

Saved by grace was the message for Jew and Gentile alike - “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…”

David, in the light of the article, I think we still have a lot to learn about God’s sovereignty and why He planned it all this way.

2 Likes

Why are we are still insisting on dividing “the law” into two separate sections when the Bible has no such division? Nowhere in Romans 9 does it say the Jews obeyed “man-made laws”, as opposed to having faith. In fact, it says - …but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because THEY DID NOT PURSUE IT, (THE LAW) BY FAITH, but as though it were by works". THEY STUMBLED OVER THE STUMBLING STONE. This is to say, that if Israel had kept the law out of FAITH they may have attained, but they kept the law, as qualifying them for special status. Differentiating clean and unclean pots and pans; and keeping track of Sabbath distances to travel legally, is not what Paul is talking about. It’s the whole law - including the big TEN.

We still slip in a distinction between what we call the “ceremonial law” and the “moral law”. Paul makes no such distinction. Israel’s “stumbled” by trying to keep the law as a means - just as we do, by pretending Paul is talking about the ceremonial law; and not the law as a whole. It’s not about keeping the law at all. It’s about FAITH.

5 Likes

Ray, I enjoy reading your comments.
I believe you are a true seeker of truth; one open and honest in your effort to know God and His plan for us.

When I first became an Adventist my Calvinist friends pointed out passages such as Rom ch 8 & 9 and Eph ch 1 as proof of their belief in election or predestination. They were right and I had no answer for them. But, in the light of what I have now come to believe, our problem was that all we were thinking about was our own personal salvation. Now I see God’s ultimate goal and greater purpose in choosing some first is that they can play a part in the achievement of something much more grand (as hinted in Eph 1:9-10 and elsewhere, e.g., Col 1:20; Phil 2:10-11; Rev 5:13).

I believe one of the greatest impediments to our understanding is that we bring our theology to Scripture and study it, not with an open mind, but to verify our beliefs. It should be the opposite, but because it can be quite uncomfortable on many levels, we have tremendous difficulty in suspending our long held, cherished assumptions and beliefs long enough to discover a new and hopefully deeper understanding.

Below is a link to an article I came across several years ago that got me seeing things very differently. It suggests a resolution of the long running Calvinist/Arminian debate. Perhaps it will help you:

https://gods-kingdom-ministries.net/teachings/articles-and-poetry/how-to-believe-in-god-s-sovereignty-without-being-a-fatalist/

I don’t understand the last sentence in this essay: “Although limited God has extended mercy and salvation and has claimed us as his people.” Is the author saying that God is “limited”? Just what is it that is limited?

This week I will try to present that similarity.

It is found in Romans 10:2 & 21.

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 10:2

“All day long I have stretched out My hands
To a disobedient and contrary people.”10:21

Verse 2 expresses fanaticism

Verse 21 expresses disobedience and dissension/argument.

Since 90% of churchgoers have not read their whole bible and probably many SDA neglect to read Romans or their SS lesson, they are just educated on the usual SDA religious lingo and clichés.

This ambiguous, superficial, simplistic, sugar coated , soft sell soteriology promotes fanaticism and perpetuates the carnal nature.

Many pastors or SS teachers attempt to pacify Rom 8:7 listeners by quoting the safety net verse in 1 JN 1:9

What I experience is that SS attenders get upset or annoyed when they hear some bible verse or SOP quote that they are not familiar with and attack the messenger…saying things like they got beat over the head with it.

Do a quick survey and see what % of class even read any of Romans. It happens in the church I attend and the vote=10% or less.

Here is a challenge-----what can anyone do to get more people to read their bible or their SS lesson? Do people have to be threatened?

BTW, check out the translation of “peculiar”

Save it for KJV lovers

Looks like Sabbath School on Spectrum is getting the low attention seen in SDA churches