I wonder what your first impression was of studying Romans 9? Why does Paul suddenly go off on one about the nation of Israel, God's choosing people and something about pottery? Each of these issues is worth looking at in its own right but to see the main point that Paul's making we need to ask how they fit together.
As we saw in RML on Tuesday, the thread that connects all of the different ideas in Romans 9 is the issue of whether God's word has failed (9:6). Paul wants to show us with lots of examples from the Old Testament that God's hasn't defaulted on his promises to Israel but has done what he said all along. Some of the key points are:
- God always said he would choose some and not others - just as he did with the first members of the nation of Israel back in Genesis (Romans 9:6-13)
- God's character as a God who is fair and faithful to his word is not compromised, because he always said he has mercy on some and not others, and no one has the right to his mercy, justice is the fair outcome, as was clear in Exodus (Romans 9:14-18)
- As we start to question why God works in the way he does, we should tread carefully, remembering that he is the maker and we are his creation, he is the potter and we are the pottery (Romans 9:19-24)
Once we're clear on what this passage is saying, it's time to ask why Paul feels the need to add this to his letter. And why does it matter to us today whether or not God kept his word to his people in the past?
This is where the link between chapter 8 and chapter 9 comes into play - so often in the Bible the wider context holds the key. Just think of all of God's promises mentioned in chapter 8. Through Jesus' death Christians will not be condemned on judgement day, but will be adopted as God's children and have an eternity in God's new creation to look forward to. Romans 8 ends in triumphant confidence that we will receive the promise of the new creation and nothing can stop us.
But can we really trust that promise? Is God's word solid enough to build your life on? What about the people who did seem to be God's people for about 2000 years but who now seem to be cut off, the people of Israel? Can you see how we, 2000 years after Romans was written, need exactly this kind of reassurance that God does stay true his word even after thousands of years?
God has not failed us
If we had a "spiritual-encouragement-o-meter" which could detect the chapters of the Bible that are most often read, most closely cherished, most fervently preached and most frequently turned to in times of need, then we could safely expect that many of the passages that we've looked at so far in Romans would score pretty highly. But I'm not sure we could say the same for Romans 9 and 10 with any great confidence... after all why would Christians today turn to chapters which talk about the history of Israel for our own encouragement in life or to grow in our faith? I wonder whether studying Romans 9 and 10 in RML Romans over the last two weeks has left you any the wiser?
But why do we need chapter 10 as well as chapter 9? Did you notice how the two chapters are addressing the question from opposite angles? Last week showed us that God has not failed to keep his promises but has done what he said all along. This week we saw that Israel did fail in that they failed to trust God's promises, even though they were available to them all along. In chapter 9 we see the question answered from the point of view of God's sovereignty - God chooses to have mercy on some and not others, but in chapter 10 we see it answered from the point of view of human responsibility - alongside God's choosing, people are making real and conscious choices about whether to accept or reject God's word and they are responsible for the consequences. Paul made this point in two big steps:
- It's not that God failed to keep his promises to Israel but that Israel failed to trust in God for righteousness, seeking instead to establish their own righteousness through the law (Romans 9:30-10:13)
- And it's not that Israel didn't have the opportunity to believe the gospel - they did hear the good news all along, the problem was their stubborn refusal to accept God's word (Romans 10:14-21)
Questions to think and pray about
How does this serve to strengthen us in our faith today? Why not spend some time thinking and praying about that question? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- How does this help to show that God didn't fail to keep his promises to Israel and so show that I can count on God to keep his word to us in the future?
- How does the truth of Romans 10 help me if, having read chapter 9, I'm now worrying whether or not I've been chosen?
- How does this encourage me to keep going even if lots of people I know seem to hear the gospel but refuse to believe it? Is there something wrong with the gospel?