The Letter to the Romans



42. God's Mercy On All


Romans 11:28-32

Paul has just explained that God's promises to Israel are not void. They have been partially hardened for a time, "until the full number of the Gentiles has come in." Paul now continues his explanation of God's ultimate faithfulness to His promises in spite of humans' unfaithfulness.

"As far as the gospel is concerned," he says, "they are enemies on your account"(verse 28). In order to understand exactly what Paul means in this passage, we must identify his meaning of the word "enemies" and then look at how Israel's being "enemies" is for the Gentiles' benefit.

Earlier in this chapter (verse 11) Paul said that in spite of their apostasy and rejection of Jesus, Israel hadn't stumbled beyond recovery. Because of their transgression, however, salvation was extended to the Gentiles. In the Old Testament, Gentiles could become part of God's people by submitting to Jewish law, being circumcised, and entering the Israelite community, observing Jewish practices and rituals, and honoring God. Under the old covenant, only Jews were born into a covenant relationship with God. God had chosen them for His service and gifted them with His special revelation and literal presence. All baby Israelites were born into this inherited covenant relationship with God.

Being born into the Israelite community, however, did not guarantee that each individual would trust God. Within the framework of the covenant symbols and shadows of the coming Redeemer, each person had the opportunity to learn about God's promises and to place their faith in Him.

Gentiles, on the other hand, could come to know God also, but they were required to become "Jewish" by accepting circumcision, the sign of entrance into the covenant promises of God.

Once Jesus had come and fulfilled the shadows of Israelite law and prophecies, the new covenant was inaugurated. No longer did a person have to enter relationship with God through membership in the Israelite community and through adoption of the shadows of their ritual laws. Now God's covenant was ratified between the Father and the Son. Through Jesus alone the human race can enter fellowship with God.

The Israelites were offended that Jesus claimed superiority over their laws. Unwilling to see in Him the hope they had long awaited, they spurned Him, clinging to their now-defunct traditions instead of embracing Him. By rejecting Jesus the Jews put themselves outside God's covenant. The rituals they loved had pointed to Jesus, but they were too proud of their historic "chosen-ness" to accept the fulfillment of their entire culture.

Now, because the laws and rituals were no longer necessary in order to teach people about God's purposes and promises, anyone-Jew or Gentile-could enter a relationship with God through saving faith in Jesus. While the Jews spurned their Savior and clung to their dead traditions, increasing numbers of Gentiles embraced Jesus and His forgiveness and grace toward them.

Because Israel took themselves out of God's "program" by rejecting Jesus and His new creation, the church, Gentiles became God's covenant people and soon outnumbered believing Jews. For the last two millennia, the church has been growing primarily among the Gentiles of the world while Jews have remained largely unbelieving.

This state of unbelief-this rejection of Jesus as their Messiah-has caused them to be enemies of the gospel and of God. Romans 5:10 discusses the fact that Jesus reconciled humanity to Himself while we were "enemies". In other words, an "enemy" is a person who is hostile to God and refuses to trust His sovereign design for our salvation. Having been reconciled by Jesus' blood, however, an enemy is saved by Jesus' life-by believing in the Lord Jesus and being born from above by the Holy Spirit. The new birth is the point at which an enemy enters the life of Jesus. The power that raised Christ from the dead brings us to spiritual life (Ephesians 1:18-20), and we are saved eternally.

Colossians 1:21 further explains an enemy of God; it is a person who is alienated from God-dead in his inherent sin-and, because of his resultant evil behavior, is an enemy of God in his mind. He cannot please God, nor does he have a desire to be in relationship with Him.

Ephesians 2:1-4 also describes the condition of being an enemy. An enemy of God lives among his own transgressions and sins and follows the "ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." Such a person lives to gratify the cravings of his own sinful nature and its desires and thoughts. An enemy is by nature an object of wrath because he is completely cut off from the life of God.


Loved on account of the patriarchs

Even though the people of Israel are "enemies" as far as the gospel is concerned, even though far more Gentiles have received the new covenant blessings than Jews have, still, Paul asserts, the Jews "are loved on account of the patriarchs" and still are among the elect of God.

Earlier in chapter 11, Paul used two metaphors to illustrate Israel's election and His faithfulness to keep His promises to the patriarchs. If the firstfruits of a batch of dough is holy, he said, then the whole batch it holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches (v. 11). In other words, the "firstfruits" of Israel-the patriarchs who were the root of the figurative olive tree representing God's people and purposes-were God's elected founders of the nation. They trusted God, and His promises to them were unconditional. God would grant them numberless descendants, possession of the land, and blessings that would come to and through them.

In Romans 9:5 Paul also explains that Israel holds a special place in God's purposes because "theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ." God's promises cannot fail; what He has said, He will do. Just as He is keeping His word to scatter and discipline Israel for their apostasy and unbelief, so He will again bless them with the eternal blessings promised to Abraham.

Paul's argument is that if the patriarchs were holy and the unconditional recipients of God's promises, then their descendants also continue to be special to God. He will not back down from His promises to them. Even though Israel appears to be scattered and abandoned, God's faithfulness has not ended. They are still God's people, and He is preserving a remnant who will eventually be the recipients of His unconditional promises to their forefathers.

In Deuteronomy Moses emphasized to the people of Israel that God was not blessing them and winning their battles because they were a great nation. On the contrary; they were small and relatively insignificant. God delivered them from slavery and chose them because He loved their forefathers and kept the oath He swore to them. The people of Israel are the beneficiaries of God's unchanging, unconditional promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Many of us learned that God's promises to Israel were "conditional". Their blessings depended upon their obedience. While it's true that the promises of the Mosaic covenant were conditional, the promises God gave directly to the patriarchs were not based upon Israel's obedience. God Himself made the promises, and He did not make them dependent upon the patriarchs' or their descendants' obedience.

Paul explains from a new covenant perspective the eternal certainty of God's promises. In Romans 8:28-30 he states that those "God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son." Further, he says that "those he predestined he also called, those he called he also justified, those he justified he also glorified." In other words, God sovereignly predestines and calls those who are His own. That call is not dependent upon human response. Rather, he chose His people in Him and predestined them to be adopted as His sons before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). Therefore, when God called Abraham and promised him seed, land and blessings through his miracle baby Isaac, He made irrevocable promises based on God's own word, not on human response.

Genesis 12:1-3 and 6-7 tell the story of God's first promise to Abraham. He asked him to go to a land God would reveal, and He promised to make him a great nation, to make him a blessing to all the people of the earth, and to give him land.

Romans 4:1-4 focuses us further on Abraham. Abraham believed God, Paul tells us, and that belief in God's promises God counted as righteousness. If Abraham's righteousness had been the result of Abraham's good work, his righteousness would have been an obligated wage, not a gift. Verses 16-17 further describe this mystery. God's promises come to people by faith and by grace. They are promised to all of Abraham's offspring-people who are identified not by genetic inheritance but by their saving faith in God. God's promises of righteousness and salvation are not conditional. His promises are eternal, and He will fulfill them in the lives of Abraham's descendants-all those who respond to God with faith.

1 Corinthians 1:9 describes the ultimate purpose of God's irrevocable call to all Abraham's descendants. He calls His people into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Ephesians 4:1 and 4 admonish God's people to "live lives worthy of the calling" they have received. They were called to "one hope", and that hope is in the one Lord through whom is one faith and one baptism. Through Jesus those whom God calls know the one Father "who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:5). God is fulfilling his promises to Abraham. Already He has sent the promised Seed, Jesus, through whom all people of the earth have been blessed. Yet Paul is saying that God's promises to Israel are not defunct. God has included believing Gentiles in His covenant promises, but He has not backed away from His promises to the patriarchs and His people Israel.

Hebrews 7 describes another irrevocable promise of God. He has appointed Jesus to be our permanent high priest (v. 20-21), and he has made Him the mediator of a "better covenant" (v. 18-19) than the Mosaic covenant under which Israel lived. This new covenant is superior to the Mosaic covenant because it is founded on "better promises", the promises of God alone-not of any mortal human.

The reason we can know that God's promises to the patriarchs and His promise of the New Covenant are unconditional is that those promises were not made as agreements with people. The Mosaic covenant depended upon Israel's obedience. God's unilateral promises to Abraham and His new covenant promises fulfilled through Jesus depend only upon God's faithfulness. No mortal was involved in them. They are unconditional.

Numbers 23:19 tells us that "God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind." He acts when he speaks; he promises and fulfills; when a person receives a command to deliver God's blessing, that person cannot change God's blessing. 1 Samuel 15:29 also declares that the God of Israel does not change his mind as a mere man would. Malachi 3:6 records God saying, "I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed."

Many people believe that Israel has forfeited God's continued and future blessing because of their apostasy. To be sure, God is disciplining them, but His promises to them through the patriarchs will not change. His original promises to Abraham are still for the remnant of Israel whom God is preserving. When Paul explains that Israel is still loved on account of the patriarchs and that they have experienced a hardening in part "until the full number of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25), he is telling us the reality of God's faithfulness to Himself.

We are living as Gentiles in the time of the Gentiles. The fact that we are witnessing the long-term scattering and apostasy of Israel does not mean God's promises no longer apply to them. The Mosaic covenant no longer applies-the covenant to which they still cling. God's unconditional covenant with Abraham and the new covenant in Jesus' blood, however, are unconditional for all those who respond in faith. God has made His sovereign promises, and He will be faithful to fulfill them. He remains faithful to Israel "on account of the patriarchs".


Separated and disobedient

In this passage Paul emphasizes not only that God's promises are trustworthy and unconditional but that God's sovereignty over the situations of all men is likewise certain. "You were at one time disobedient to God," he reminds the Gentile readers, but "have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience"

According to the Jewish perspective under the Old Covenant, God's choice and favor honored them, while the Gentiles would never be able to achieve the special status with God that the Israelites enjoyed. Now, however, Paul explains how that traditional perspective no longer explains the reality of God's blessings. Now Israel is suffering as disobedient people, and the Gentiles are the most visible recipients of God's mercy.

Historically, however, the Gentiles were far from God and separated from Israel by a seemingly insurmountable barrier. In Ephesians 2 Paul talks about the reality of the Gentiles' condition. They were "dead in [their] transgressions and sins in which [they] used to live when [they] followed the ways of this world and the spirit now at work in those who are disobedient" (1-2). They were considered "uncircumcised" and were "separated from God, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise." They were "without hope and without God in this world" (v. 11-12). They lived in futile thinking and were "darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." They had lost all sensitivity and had "given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge every form of impurity with a continual lust for more" (4:17-19).

They had suppressed the knowledge of God with their wickedness, and God had given them over to immorality, perversion, and depraved minds (Romans 1:18-20, 24, 26, 28).

Both Paul and Peter quote Hosea when they remind the Gentiles that formerly, God had considered them to be "not my people" or "not my loved one" (Hosea 2:23, 1 Peter 2;10; Romans 9:25). God had, indeed, specifically adopted Israel as sons and had given them His glory, His covenants, His law, His temple worship, and His promises (Romans 9:1-5). The Gentiles were not the historic holders of this special revelation from God.

They were considered disobedient and separated because God specifically called and blessed Israel to hold and protect His revelation of His purposes and His mercy and love to the world. The Gentiles had not been included in the special revelation of the Mosaic covenant. The very terms of the covenant, in fact-the law which defined Israel and revealed God's sovereign will-was the very thing which kept the Gentiles separate from the Jews. The law informed Israel how to keep themselves separated from the Gentiles, how to avoid adopting their pagan practices, how to avoid becoming familiar with them and intermarrying with them. The law protected their genetic heritage and preserved the lineage of the promised Messiah.

Paul bluntly states that Jesus destroyed this barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles. He abolished the law "with its commandments and regulations" in His flesh when He died on the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16). He destroyed the barrier that kept the Jews and Gentiles separated, and He opened the same living way-His blood-for all mankind to have access to the Father freely and confidently. In the atonement of Jesus, the Gentiles are no longer outcast. There is no more need for Israel to protect and preserve the law which foreshadowed the redemption in Jesus' blood. Jesus Himself has fulfilled those shadows and has replaced the law as the standard and rule of faith and practice. The barrier between Jew and Gentile is forever destroyed in Jesus.


Separated from each other

The fact that the Bible specifies that God created Israel and kept them separate from the Gentiles raises the question, "Why?" From the call of Abraham and the birth of Isaac, God had been building a people whom He kept separated from the rest of the world with laws and regulations that demanded exclusion.

Since its formation, Israel has been seen as the locus of God's presence and revelation. Isaiah 2:3 foretold a future time when people would say, "Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord; He will teach us his ways so we may walk in His path. The law will go out from Him." Even Gentiles would recognize Jerusalem, the center of Jewish culture, religion, and society, to be the seat of God's law, rule, and instruction.

Jesus alluded to this divine discrimination between Israel and the rest of the world and gave an insight into its purpose. When he was at Jacob's well with the Samaritan woman, she asked where the proper place to worship was. Jesus replied that the Samaritans did not know Who or what they worshiped because the knowledge of God was with the Jews. He continued by saying the time had come when people would worship God not in a sacred place but in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-22).

The Samaritans were a mixture of Assyrian people and Israelites from the exiled northern kingdom. They had some knowledge of God, but they had developed a syncretistic religion that mixed paganism with Jewish traditions. They considered Bethel to be their holy place instead of Jerusalem. There was great animosity between them and the Jews.

Jesus acknowledged the truth when He said the knowledge of God was with the Jews. Paul explained this reality further in Romans 3:1-2 when he says the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God. In Romans 9:4-5 Paul further explains that theirs was the adoption as sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and the human ancestry of Christ.

God formed the nation of Israel for the purpose of revealing Himself and His will to the world through them. They were, as a nation, part of a "living metaphor" foreshadowing God's ultimate plan to pay for sin and to create His likeness and His holiness in all His people. The ultimate means of fulfillment of this divine plan was the birth of Jesus who descended from the tribe of Judah and became the singular One who could take the penalty of sin and usher in a new reality: an open way for people to unite with God.

God kept Israel separated as long as they served Him so He could demonstrate what life would look like when people lived in and for the presence of the Sovereign God. He chose them to perform the temple rituals that pointed to the Messiah and His suffering for sin, and He chose to place His own visible presence in their midst by dwelling over the mercy seat in the temple in the form of a cloud. He kept Israel physically separated from the surrounding nations as a shadow of the reality of the new birth that would come to those who accepted the coming Savior and would separate them spiritually from natural humanity. He chose Israel to prepare the world for Jesus a to awaken humanity to their hopeless depravity. He chose Israel to be a pure race, unstained by intermarriage or impurity, in order to preserve the inheritance of the promised Seed Who would come and bring redemption.

In Romans 15:8-9 Paul says that Jesus has become the servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth in order to confirm the promises He made to the patriarchs and also so the Gentiles would glorify God. In other words, Jesus fulfilled His role as the servant who bore sin for the people of God. By doing this sin bearing and dying, He confirmed the promises that God made to the patriarchs. Also, by doing the servant's work of bearing the people's sins, Jesus took the curse of the law into Himself and abolished the law "in his flesh" when He died on the cross (Ephesians 2:15). By abolishing the law, he destroyed the barrier that had separated Jews and Gentiles. Now God's promises were for all people who accepted Jesus.

Under the old covenant, salvation came by faith to those who accepted the revelation of God through Israel. Now, in the new covenant ushered in by Jesus' death and resurrection, salvation comes through accepting Jesus and His sacrifice for our sin. Now the Gentiles glorify God for His offering salvation to them directly. No longer do they have to become Jews and submit to the law in order to live in God's will. Now they can directly accept salvation through the blood of Jesus, the One who fulfilled the law for them.

Because of Jesus' obedience to become a servant of Israel and to fulfill all the shadows of their sacrifices, priestly intercession, and the requirements of their laws, salvation has come to all mankind. Now the Gentiles who accept new life through Jesus glorify God.


Mercy for the Gentiles

Verse 30 points out that the Gentiles, "you who were at time disobedient to God", "have now received mercy as a result of their [the Jews'] disobedience." We have looked at how Israel lost the blessings God had promised her, at least for a time, because of her apostasy. Now we will look at how Israel's disobedience resulted in the Gentile's being blessed. How do we reconcile God, with whom there is no favoritism (Ephesians 6:9), blessing the Gentiles as a result of Israel's disobedience?

In Romans 2:5-11 Paul explains that for all the self-seeking and for those who reject truth, there will be wrath and anger, trouble and distress, first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles. Conversely, there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good: for the Jew first, then for the Gentile. In verse 25-27 he explains further; circumcision is of no value, he says, if the circumcised one-the Jew who is under the law and participating in God's Mosaic covenant with them-breaks the law. If an uncircumcised person (a Gentile), on the other hand, does what the law requires even though he is not circumcised, he will be in the position of condemning the law-breaking Jews.

In this passage Paul begins to clarify that even though the Jews have the advantage of having God's special revelation through the law and of being in a special covenant relationship with Him symbolized by being circumcised, that covenant relationship doesn't guarantee that they will live righteously or that God will consider them righteous. Quite the contrary; Gentiles who do not have the special knowledge of and relationship with God will be considered more righteous than the disobedient Jews if they live according to the standards God's laws demanded of the Jews.

In Romans 3:9-10, Paul emphasizes his point by saying that both Jews and Gentiles alike are under the curse of sin. Law or no law, the Jews have no advantage over the Gentiles as far as their enslavement to sin is concerned. No one is righteous. While the Jews felt privileged because they had this special revelation from God, Paul explains that from a heavenly perspective, those laws did not qualify the Jews as righteous. The fact that God blessed them with the knowledge of Him did not make them less prone to sin. In spite of God's revealed expectations and the knowledge of Himself, the Jews were still unable to be what that law required. They and the Gentiles were equally sinful.

In fact, in verses 19-20 Paul even states that the law "speaks to everyone under the law, so everyone is accountable to God; no one will be declared righteous by keeping the law." Rather, "through the law, we become conscious of sin."

In other words, the advantage the Jews had because of receiving the law was that they, far more than the Gentiles, were aware of God's standards and demands. They were far more conscious of what sin was and of the fact that they were sinners. The Jews, far more than the Gentiles, lived with the consciousness of guilt and of the purity of God which they were completely unable to embrace.

Rather than the law making Israel more holy or righteous in God's eyes, it made them more aware than the Gentiles of their abysmal sinfulness. Their advantage was not being more worthy or more righteous; their advantage was in being more aware of their true nature and of God's demands and promises. The law and God's revelation of Himself awakened guilt and desperate need in Israel-but it offered hope at the same time.

Verses 27-31 of Romans 3 ask rhetorically, "Where is boasting?" God is the God of the Jews and the Gentiles (a bold statement of God's sovereignty given the Gentiles' beliefs in pagan gods). He will justify both the Jews and the Gentiles by the same faith. Paul here explains that the advantage of the law dos not guarantee the Jews' justification before God. For both the Jew and the Gentile, God's evaluation measures their faith in Him rather than their observable behaviors. By explaining this, Paul is indirectly stating that when Gentiles keep the law without being circumcised, the thing they do that counts as "law-keeping" is actually functioning by faith in the one true God.

In chapter 4 of Romans, verses 14-15, Paul goes into more detailed explanation. The law, he says, "brings wrath." In other words, unless a person has a knowledge of God's moral standards, he is not aware of being under a curse and of deserving God's wrath. Receiving the law brings with it the awareness of being under God's wrath for disobedience. This knowledge of God's wrath was part of the spiritual awareness that was Israel's advantage; because they had the law, they knew the consequences for disobedience.

Paul also explains, however, that merely conforming to the outward behavior the law demands is not enough to satisfy the Author of the law. God's promises to Abraham were not conditional upon keeping the law. God made those promises hundreds of years before He gave Abraham's descendants the law on Sinai. God's promises were based on God's word only-not on Abraham's obedience.

Abraham's descendants were the recipients of the law, to be sure. But, Paul says, if living by the law makes a person an heir of God's promises, then faith-that divine gift which qualified Abraham as a righteous man-counts for nothing. There is a dichotomy here. God made promises to Abraham with no qualifying promises from him in return. God would keep His promises because He cannot lie. His honoring His promises did not depend upon Abraham's or his descendants' obedience. His promises depended only on God's word.

If, however, obedience to the law is what qualifies a person to inherit the promises God made to Abraham, then faith in God is worthless, and God's unilateral promises are worthless. It is not living by the law that qualifies people for God's blessings. This fact is what Israel did not grasp. They believed that God's law was His special "ticket" for them to be righteous. They believed that God's Sinai covenant, based on the law, was what qualified them to be holier than the Gentiles. This belief missed the point. The law was God's gift to make them aware of their sinful nature, not a way to make them worthy and holy. God's promises predated the law, and they were sure and certain with or without a law. The written law was something new and temporary (see Galatians 3:17-25) that defined sin and the need for redemption. It was not the means to achieve redemption.

Jesus addressed the issue of Gentiles' inheriting God's blessings as a consequence of Israel's apostasy. In his parable of the vineyard, in which the tenants continued to kill the agents the absent master sent to check on them, the self-centered tenants finally killed the master's own son when he came. Wanting the control and the income and the inheritance for themselves, they became jealous of the son and His rightful role, and they thought to secure the vineyard for themselves by eliminating the "competition". The master, angry at the disloyalty of the tenants, declared that the tenants would meet a "wretched end", and the vineyard would be given to another. Then Jesus plainly said to the Jews that the kingdom would be taken away from them and given to people who would produce fruit.

Again, in Matthew 8:10-12, Jesus addressed the issue of Gentiles inheriting the kingdom. When he healed the Roman centurion's son without being in the presence of the sick boy, thereby honoring the centurion's faith when he told Jesus that he knew if He merely spoke, the healing would be done, Jesus said, "I have not found anyone in Israel with so great faith." Then he prophesied, "Many will come from the east and from the west and take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

In looking at Jesus' statements in tandem with Paul's theological explanations, we find that it is not the divine gift of the law that qualifies people to be holy. Rather, the law merely gave Israel the advantage of knowing truly how sinful human nature is. The law further promised a coming redemption, but it did not guarantee the Jews would receive that redemption based on their law-keeping.

Instead, the real key to being counted righteous is believing God and His promises. As long as the law was the focus of a Jew's attention, he missed the point of honoring the Law-Giver. Just as the vineyard tenants deceived themselves into thinking they "owned" the kingdom and could secure it for themselves, so the Jews had deceived themselves into thinking that because they had God's special revelation, they "owned" His favor and His kingdom.

Because the Jews diverted their attention away from the sovereign provision and care and promises of God and instead focused on the law as their special inheritance, they failed to recognized God's fulfillment of that law when Jesus came. Because of their self-centered blindness, God has set them aside, dispersed them throughout the world, and removed His immediate blessing from them as a nation. Now, through the finished work of Jesus, He has awakened the Gentiles to the reality of a completed righteousness. Through Jesus they become aware of their deep sinfulness, and by grasping firmly by faith the sacrifice of Christ, Gentiles are inheriting God's kingdom.

Just as Israel was a "living metaphor" of God's provision for doomed humanity, so the Gentiles today are demonstrating the mystery of the gospel: God indwelling those who by faith alone embrace the promises of God and become His heirs. Gentiles are demonstrating that faith is all that's required for a person to be counted righteous. God has, for a time, set aside the law-keepers because they refused to embrace the law's fulfillment. Instead God is demonstrating His purposes through the faithful Gentiles who have succeeded in embracing Christ's righteousness apart from the law.


Mercy results from disobedience

This passage which describes God's granting the Gentiles mercy as a result of Israel's disobedience and then promising mercy on the Israelites "as a result of God's mercy on [then]" seems enigmatic at first glance. Why does God turn the Jews over to hardening and disobedience during the time the Gentiles are flourishing in Christ?

God had chosen the Jews for His special revelation of Himself and His plan for humanity. He had entrusted them with His law, His prophets, His presence, and His promises, but they had taken their eyes off the Giver of these shadows and focused instead on their role as their keepers. They had become convinced that God blessed them with these symbols of Himself because THEY were special. Instead of seeing God's glory as the central issue, they had come to see their own glory as their driving motivation. Instead of allowing the law which they treasured to reveal their deep sinfulness, they used the law as a tool to measure their righteousness. They convinced themselves that they were righteous before God because He entrusted them with the law and His presence. They began looking at life as if God's purpose was to exonerate and glorify them, instead of their purpose being to honor and glorify God.

In Romans 3:9-18, however, Paul quotes the Psalms to make the point that no one is righteous. All people have turned away from God and are given over to deceit. They do not fear God. Paul's reiteration of this fact echoes Solomon's pray when he dedicated the temple. 2 Chronicles 6:36-40 records Solomon declaring that there is no one who does not sin. Therefore, he pleads with God that when (not if) Israel does sin and God gives them over to oppression and exile among their enemies, He will hear their prayers when they eventually repent. Solomon asks God to be attentive to Israel and to restore them from their exile. The psalmist says in Psalm 106:6 that Israel has sinned, even as their fathers did.

Romans 5:12-13 clarifies that even when people are not consciously aware of sin, they are still sinful. Sin entered the world through one man, Paul explains. Even before the law was given, there was sin-but, Paul says, "sin is not taken into account when there is no law." In other words, people are not held accountable for specific acts of sin if they are not aware of the prohibitions against those acts. Still, even they are counted sinful because of Adams's legacy to the human race. Galatians 3:22 further states that the whole world is a prisoner of sin. This fact makes everyone dependent upon the mercy of God's promises that declare righteousness for everyone who believes and places their faith in Christ. In other words, no human has any hope of avoiding terminal sinfulness apart from God's promises expressed to us in Christ Jesus.

God's long discipline of Israel during this "time of the Gentiles" was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. God has turned them over to their own deception and has partially hardened them, keeping them from experiencing His blessings on them as a whole nation. This hardening and prohibition from entering God's rest is for the purpose of breaking their arrogance and bringing them to the humility of realizing they are no less sinful than the historically hated Gentiles. God's purpose is to teach them that His blessing are not something they deserve because they are special. Rather, His blessings come as a result of God's own faithfulness to Himself. He will bring all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to faith in exactly the same way: through a recognition of their deep sinfulness, through repentance from their sin, and through embracing the God's promises realized in the person of Christ and freely given to all who believe Him.


Mercy for the disobedient

In verse 32 Paul says, "God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all."

Step by step, Paul has explained that God always keeps His promises, including His promises to the patriarchs and to Israel. Although He has disciplined Israel repeatedly throughout the millennia, still he brings them back to Himself.

Since they rejected Jesus, however, God has hardened Israel for a time. The new reality of the church has been primarily a Gentile phenomenon, with the gospel spreading rapidly and growing among the nations for nearly 2,000 years.

In Romans 11, though, Paul explains that God has not permanently rejected Israel. While the Gentiles flourish in the gospel, Israel has been sidelined for a time, scattered among the nations, and largely unbelieving in Jesus. The time is coming, however, when God will "un-harden" them, and they will receive His mercy just as the Gentiles have received His mercy. When this happens, they will clearly experience God's forgiveness and acceptance based on Jesus' sacrifice and their acceptance of His substitute death. They will see that God's blessing them is not because of their genetic heritage or "special-ness". Their inclusion back in the olive tree of God's plan and God's people will be entirely because of His mercy, not because of their privileged status.

In this last verse of his detailed explanation, Paul states that "all men" are in the same category before God. He has bound everyone in disobedience in order that they might experience His mercy.

Some theologians, however, say that God is innately loving, and He forgives unconditionally without the need of Jesus' sacrifice. This view of God's forgiveness leads us to ask why, then, Paul insists that God deliberately binds all people to their disobedience, "rubbing their noses" in their sin and shame, instead of simply offering His forgiveness. If He is truly forgiving, why force us to wallow in shame before offering His forgiveness?

God knows that none of us can understand or begin to appreciate Christ's sacrifice for us until we are confronted with the hopelessness and depth of our sinfulness. Romans 3:23 states clearly, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 1 describes the inevitable progression of depravity when people suppress the knowledge of God and insist on being their own authority in life. Verses 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, and 28 outline what is happening: God's wrath is already being revealed against the godlessness and wickedness of those who have suppressed the knowledge of Him and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. His wrath is manifested in His turning them over to their sinful lusts, shameful desires, and depraved minds.

Romans 2:1 declares that the Jews who had the law are no different from the Gentiles in terms of their depravity. Because they had the law, they felt qualified to point out the sins of law-breakers, but Paul told them that at whatever point they judged others for breaking the law, they themselves were guilty and condemned themselves.

Ephesians 2:3-5 states that all people lived among their transgressions and sins, "following the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." By nature all are objects of wrath-but because of His great love and mercy, God saved us when we were dead IN our transgressions.

Ephesians 4:17-19 further states that the Gentiles lived in "the futility of their thinking, darkened in their understanding, separated from the life of God, and ignorant because of their hardened hearts. This same hardening of the heart is what Paul describes as being the condition to which God has bound Israel for a time. Heart hardness leads to spiritual ignorance, futile thinking, and self-indulgence.

Isaiah cried out God's call to Israel. In 30:15 he declared that their salvation was in repentance and rest; quietness and trust would be their strength-but they would have none of it. Jesus also said he did not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners (Luke 5-31-32. He was to suffer and rise from the dead so repentance and forgiveness of sins could be preached to all nations-beginning with Jerusalem (Luke 24:56-57.

Paul said he declared to both Jew and Gentile that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus (Acts 20:21, 26:20). Romans 2:4 Paul chastises the Jews for having contempt for God's patience and kindness, not realizing that these things are for the purpose of leading people to repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7:10 Paul says that godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation, but worldly sorrow brings death. Peter also affirmed that God's timing and patience is for the purpose of salvation; "God is not slow but patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

The point in God's allowing all people, both Jew and Gentile, to be bound over to disobedience, is so they will come face-to-face with their abysmal depravity and the hopelessness of their condition and repent before God. His forgiveness and grace are meaningless to us-at least on a deep level-unless we truly see how depraved we are. We are not just a "little off"; we are hopelessly sinful. Unless we admit this deep depravity, we will not be able to accept the cleansing and the debt of pure gratitude Jesus' sacrifice yields.

We must know our sin before we can accept His salvation and allow Him to change us. If His grace seemed automatic and His forgiveness was what we could expect as a matter of course, we would never submit ourselves to Him in dying to ourselves and becoming alive in Him.



God is bringing you to a place of understanding that His word is 100% certain. The promises He made to the patriarchs were unconditional. He did not promise Abraham seed, land and blessing only if Abraham obeyed. He declared those things to be reality, and God swore His covenant with Abraham Himself while Abraham slumbered in a supernatural sleep (see Genesis 15). No human promises were involved in God's declaration.

You may have learned that the Old Testament promises to Israel were "conditional" and thus null and void now. While its true that God's promised blessings in the Mosaic covenant given at Sinai were conditional, His promises to the patriarchs and to David regarding a perpetual king on his throne transcended Sinai.

Romans 11 clarifies that God still loves Israel "on account of the patriarchs", and Revelation 19:12 pictures the New Jerusalem with the names of the twelve tribes on the 12 gates of the city-above the twelve foundations bearing the names of the 12 apostles.

God is asking us to surrender to Him our notions of how eternal things are and submit ourselves to His revelation through His word. He is asking us to release all the pockets of pride and arrogance that frame our view of reality and ask Him to teach us truth.

Further, God is asking us to repent of the sin or rebellion or fear we may be harboring deep in our hearts that is preventing us from embracing reality.

Ask God to show you what you need to know about yourself and your own life. Ask Him to make you willing to change what needs to be changed and to grow in the ways you need to grow. Ask Him to make your heart willing to know the truth and to be open to accepting His sovereignty and grace.

Ask God to make your heart alive and growing, nurtured and protected by His Spirit as He changes you from glory into glory.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for knowing you, saving you, and bringing you to new life in Him!

Copyright (c) 2006 Graphics Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted June 21, 2006.
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