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Blogging Romans: Nice Feet!

February 13, 2012

Last week our class spent the entire evening in the eighth chapter of Romans.  Paul offers a sweeping statement of the power of God’s grace, declaring that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Paul could have ended the letter here with a loud “Amen!” and left everyone satisfied.  Except Paul knows that a question continues to hang in the air: If nothing can separate people from the promises of God, what does it mean that Israel has, by and large, not seen in Jesus the fulfillment of these promises?  If God’s people turn down God’s promises, are the promises null and void?

After voicing his own distress, Paul offers an opening “No” to his own question: “It is not as through the word of God had failed” (9:6).  The apostle proceeds to unfold a twofold argument in chapter nine.  First, there is a difference between being a child of Abraham and, well, a child of Abraham: “not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendents” (9:7a).  In Christ, Israel itself has been reconstituted.  One no longer belongs to Israel by a biological connection but by the grace of God.

The second element of Paul’s argument unfolds naturally from the first: the fact that God chooses his own people by grace is actually the way God has always operated.  From Abraham God fulfilled the promise through Isaac, not Ishmael; from Isaac, God fulfilled the promise through Jacob, not Esau.  God chose Pharaoh and hardened his heart, lifting him high to prepare for him a mighty fall, so that Israel’s chosen status could continue.

God, Paul declares, is the potter and has the right to do what he wishes with his clay.  What has God chosen to do?  God has granted righteousness to the Gentiles through faith while Israel stumbled over the stone of the Law, which convinced them they could attain righteousness based on works.  God has chosen to do this and in his sovereignty has the power to elect in this way, just as he always has.

The potter has the right to do what he will.  What then?  Is Israel lost?  Not so fast, my friend!  Paul has two more arguments to make regarding the penultimate and ultimate stages in God’s free process of election.  First, salvation through Christ is still a universal proclamation.  There is no longer Jew nor Greek, Paul declares; if Israel no longer has an advantage it is also not at a disadvantage: “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him” (10:12).

Hence the very evangelistic imperative that drove Paul in mission now drives us to preach the gospel in order that electing faith might be created.  Paul knows that the grace of God that comes through faith is the best news ever shared and heard, so go share it!  We who are concerned with the salvation of others ought not retreat into philosophical queries about the justice of God.  Rather, we are sent for the sake of the world that all may come to faith.  This is such good news that even the feet of those who proclaim it are declared beautiful!  “How are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (10:14c).  Well, Paul says, that’s our job now!  Go share the good news that there are no longer any demands, that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved!  Put on your shoes and get out there!

Paul points beyond even this in chapter eleven.  “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?  By no means!”  (11:1).  Without walking step by step through the chapter, Paul’s thrust is that God has used Israel’s rejection of Jesus to bring salvation to the Gentiles, who had stood outside the promise.  Now God will use the Gentiles to bring salvation to Israel.  God has not and will not reject his chosen people whom he foreknew.  The electing God retains the right of election: “as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (11:28b-29).

This is the mystery of God (11:25), that God’s persistent love and unfailing mercy cannot be thwarted, not even when those who are elected reject God’s means of salvation.  This is the final reality of God’s love and the final nail in the coffin of salvation by works.  Paul does not even allow faith to become a work, insisting that it remains nothing more than trust in the God who is trustworthy; faith in the God who is faithful.  God has disallowed any other means of salvation, choosing instead simply to save those he will save.  And who are those who will be saved?  “God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32).  The mystery of God’s electing grace is finally that he desires to show mercy to all.  And there it is, the final note of God’s triumphant grace.  It is intended for all.  All!

Two quick points regarding God’s people Israel: First, this section of Romans drives home the fact that even apart from Christ, ethnic Israel remains God’s chosen people in an important way.  We have, therefore, no cause to boast (10:17-18).  Second, anti-Semitism of any sort is entirely unacceptable for Christians (one might say the same thing of any and all “isms” but this is certainly true regarding the Jewish people).  This thread running throughout Christian history is one that demands continued repentance and, even more, attempts at mutual love and understanding.  As a Christian I may believe that God is saving the world – even ethnic Israel – through Christ alone.  The fact that Jews (and others) disagree does not give me the right to persecute or denigrate them in any way.

And so our task today is to pray fervently for the inclusion of those who stand outside the promise and trust that this mysterious God will show mercy to all.  But that’s not all.  It is our task now to go forth speedily and faithful on beautiful feet to share this news that is nothing but good: You have been chosen!  You are elected!  You who were once far off have been brought near!  You, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman, are now God’s own, God’s beloved!

May you trust in God’s mysterious mercy for all even as you go and share this promise: Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

“And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”  Romans 10:15

From → Scripture

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