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Monday, April 27, 2009

Romans 12 - Part 3

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:11-13 NIV)
Energetic and enthusiastic service should characterize believers in Jesus. Sometimes I find this a discouraging requirement, especially as I have gotten old, and energy is a scarce commodity! But zeal (i.e., enthusiasm, “spiritual fervor”) can show itself in ways that do not require that we all be 18-year-olds! There are some Christians whose very presence I find uplifting. I’m sure they have their share of troubles and reasons to worry and fret. But somehow they find inner resources by which to maintain a positive outlook. I need to be less negative about the whole experience of living. We all have our hardships. But when we go around with long faces, we are not helping our brothers and sisters in Christ to handle their own burdens. There is already more than enough hardship in life without my adding more to a friend by my gloomy and pessimistic attitude.

Verse 12 gives us two important resources to fuel our flagging enthusiasm and zeal: they are hope and prayer. ‘Hope” in the language of the Bible never means wishful thinking, but rather a sure prospect—not just the action of hoping, but the thing hoped for. We know that in the end God will triumph over evil, and we as members of the body of Christ will participate in that final glorious and eternal celebration. Specifically, the nature of our hope is in the promises of God in the scripture. Paul could say to those who brought charges against him, that he did what he did because of the hope given in the ancient prophets:
Acts 23:6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”
Acts 24:15 and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
Acts 26:6-7 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me.
After Jesus’ resurrection, the early believers were infused with new and exciting hopes, the promise of the Holy Spirit to indwell them, empower them, and the promise of the return of Jesus to reign. This latter event was always in their minds. They ended every celebration of the Lord’s Supper with the Aramaic words marana tha “come, O Lord!” (1 Cor. 16:22). And Paul could refer to the return of Jesus as “that blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
Secondly, by prayer we can call upon the infinite resources of God and find those resources bubbling up within us by the Holy spirit who lives in us.

And thirdly, we can act upon our hope in the present both by patience in hard times and by giving to others in need, even when we ourselves might be short of resources. In the delightful musical The Sound of Music Julie Andrews sang a song which embodies a profound psychological truth.
Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I'm afraid. The result of this deception is very strange to tell, for when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well!
There is something about putting our faith into concrete action that turns around and re-energizes the faith that produced it. Fear and worry are paralyzing emotions. Faith in our loving God is liberating.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I wrote in earlier postings how Romans 12-16 portrays how we who believe can live now, as though already in the eschatological kingdom of Christ. We know that we are living in the kingdom already, because we experience in the Holy Spirit the powers of the coming age, powers that enable us to do the morally impossible. Skeptics sometimes criticize Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount as “unrealistic” and “impractical”. But isn’t that precisely what proves that Christians today already have access to the powers of the coming age? Jesus can expect impossible feats from us, because he has made them possible through his death and resurrection, and through giving us the Holy Spirit to live in us and empower us. Paul here paraphrases Jesus’ own teachings (Matt. 5:39, 44; Mark 9:50), that we should turn the other cheek, love those who hate and harm us.

But, although Jesus expects us to do seemingly “impossible” things by faith and love, he does not require us to do what is actually impossible. Verse 18 reads “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Living at peace with another person requires that both of you are willing. For that reason, Paul adds “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you”. Some people will resist making peace, no matter how much you concede to them. We are to do good to all men, even those who hate us. but God does not guarantee the recipients will respond gratefully. Our motive should always be to please Jesus. Pleasing a stubbornly antagonistic person is sometimes not possible.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Romans 12 - Part 2

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
The wording of this introductory clause to the detailed moral exhortations—“by the grace given me I say to every one of you”—may invoke Paul's apostolic authority (so Dunn, Romans 720), since it recalls passages like Rom. 1:5; 15:15; 1 Cor. 15:9-10; Eph. 3:7-8, where apostleship is regularly linked to grace.

The use of pistis “faith” here in the sense of stewardship is argued by John C. Poirier (Kingswell Theological Seminary) in his article "The Measure of Stewardship: pistis in Romans 12:3" in Tyndale Bulletin 59.1 (May 2008).
Summary: A tiny handful of studies have recognized that pistis in Romans 12:3 could be rendered as something like ‘stewardship’, ‘trusteeship’, etc. This article argues that this option deserves to be more widely visited. The explanatory power of this rendering is far greater than that of other options, and the strength of its philological backing (which includes entries from Josephus) has not yet been fully appreciated. One reason this rendering has not received the hearing it deserves is that earlier studies have failed to understand how it fits with the use of pistis in 12:6.

What is Paul warning his hearers about here? Is it what we would call “pride”? Or is he warning them not to rashly overextend themselves, by trying to do things for which God has not gifted them? The Greek verb sōfronein translated here “think with sober judgment” is used in a variety of ways by Mark, Luke, Paul and Peter.

Mark and Luke use it to describe the composed and quiet rationality of the Gerasene man after Jesus expelled the demon from him (Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35). It is used of being clear-minded and self-controlled in Titus 2:6 and 1Pet 4:7. It is hard to be clear-minded when estimating one’s own abilities. We tend to either overestimate ourselves in pride, or we underestimate ourselves in timidity and fear. Paul challenges us to assess ourselves soberly and according to how our brothers and sisters in Christ see the gifts of the Holy Spirit manifesting themselves in us.
4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
In verses 6-8 Paul lists just a few sample “gifts” and ministries within the body of Christ, some that perhaps he knew from reports existed in the Roman churches. The list by no means exhausts the many gifts that the apostles and the ancient church possessed. See 1 Cor 12:27-29, and Ephesians 4:10-12. Paul himself possessed the gift of apostleship, which he exercised constantly. He also possessed the gift of prophesy, by which he received new revelations from God to incorporate in his letters and his preaching. 

But you can see from this passage that he singled out gifts that were less spectacular and showy, humble means of service: serving, encouraging, contributing to the needy, showing mercy.

If Poirer (see above) is right in understanding pistis “faith” here as “stewardship”, God has measured out to each of us a stewardship, a calling. It should be our joy to exercise that gift and that calling to his glory. Maybe your calling is greeting guests at the church or classroom door, helping them to get to know others in the group. Maybe it is leading the singing. Maybe discovering the special needs of newcomers and marshaling the gifts and resources of others in the group to help meet that need. Maybe you have the rare ability to help fellow believers see areas of their lives that need correcting, and to do this without offending them. This is how we “ought” to think about ourselves and our mission, as members of one body in Christ, dedicated to serving the other members.

I think we hear a bit too much nowadays about the supposed values of “diversity”, especially when those lifestyles that are praised as being “diverse” involve the violation of the ethical standards of Scripture. But there is definitely a healthy diversity in the abilities that individual believers bring to their congregations. One of the first questions we should ask ourselves (and others) when we enter a new Christian group is “How might I be able to serve the others in this group?”
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10 NIV)
When Paul finishes listing sample gifts, he remembers what he has so often taught in his churches and which we see so clearly in 1 Corinthians 13, that gifts of the Spirit must always be exercised in love. Without love, the exercise of any spiritual gift means nothing. It is like a noisy gong instead of a beautiful string trio. Then, just as in 1 Cor. 13:4-7, he describes the way true Christian love should manifest itself. 

The first thing he says here is that it must be unpretended. It is so easy in church to meet people, even ones whom secretly you may dislike, with a pasted-on smile. This kind of “love” smells to high heaven in the nostrils of God! It was this kind of hypocrisy—both sycophantic and censorious—that Jesus detested in some of the Pharisees who trailed around after him, as he ministered. To the extent that you disapprove of a fellow believer’s actions, on good biblical grounds, it is better that you be lovingly candid with him or her. This is what Paul means when he recommends “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Many find it hard to understand biblical commands to “love one another”, since for them love is an emotion that is elicited by lovable qualities. How do you go about trying to love? I think the answer is twofold. First, recognize what qualities in Christ’s eyes are truly lovable and what ones do not count. We tend to value superficial qualities: outward appearances, wealth, education, knowledge of the world. Jesus sees the heart. He values love, generosity, humility, a forgiving spirit, concern for others. You can obey his command to love others by teaching yourself to value what he values in people.

But secondly, Jesus loves the unlovely. He commanded us to love those who hate us (see also here in v. 14). This is the really difficult kind of love. It is what sent Jesus to the cross for you and me, when we were God’s enemies. But Christ’s own love is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us (Romans 5:5).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Romans 12 - Part 1

Paul's letter has two sections: chapters. 1-11 and chapters 12-16. It is likely that chapters 1-11 fulfilled Paul's intention to "preach the gospel" (as he proposed to do at the outset of the letter in 1:15) and the exhortations and encouragement of chapters 12-16 fulfilled his desire for "mutual encouragement" in 1:12. Both request sections (12:1-2 and 15:30-32) are linked to the opening thanksgiving section and communicate Paul's desire that mutual benefit accrue to his Roman hearers and himself.


I urge you”: Compare: “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love” Philemon 9, where Paul’s leverages his request to Philemon by his longstanding friendship with Philemon and the many ways he has helped him in the past. Christ has every right to command us who believe in him. But he too “urges” us, in view of all he has done for us, to live as he did.

As living sacrifices: James C. Miller (Tyndale Bulletin 58:105) has pointed to the use of the singular "(as) a living sacrifice" (NRSV, ESV; not "as living sacrifices" NIV) in v. 1 to indicate that the believers 'offer' themselves collectively to God as one living sacrifice. Such an 'offering' constitutes their 'reasonable service of worship' (12:1).

In other words, what is in view here is not a multitude of individual sacrifices to God, but one corporate one. This fits what Das and others have tried to show, namely, that the audience is primarily—if not exclusively—gentile, and that Paul's argument in chs. 1-11 has shown the eschatological moment—predicted among other places, in Isa. 66:19-23—has come for the "offering of the Gentiles" (note the plural) (Rom. 15:16, the offering consists of gentiles offered to God). The "mercies of God" is therefore an eschatological term which triggers the offering of the Gentiles. In the OT God's "mercies" (frequently in the plural, Greek οἰκτιρμοί oiktirmoi reflecting Hebrew רחמים raḥămîm) refers to his faithfulness to his covenant with Israel even when they sinned dreadfully (e.g., see Neh 9:19-31).

Thus it is true that:

A literal temple with its sacrifices and priesthood is no longer necessary. God's people are his temple, the dwelling place of his eschatologically bestowed Spirit (1 Cor. 6: 19; 2 Cor. 6: 16). Christ's death on the cross was the climactic and, by implication, final Day of Atonement sacrifice (Rom. 3:25-26). The believer's ethical conduct is his or her "spiritual sacrifice" (Rom. 12: 1; cf. Phil. 3:3). Paul himself is a priest who offers the sacrifice of believing Gentiles to God (Rom. 15:16), and, in the process, he himself is poured out as a sacrifice to God (Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6). Thus, there is no more need to observe the vast body of laws regulating the temple cult (Thielman, Theology of the NT 446).

This is your spiritual act of worship: The offering of our whole selves ("bodies") to God is an act of profound collective worship (Greek λατρεία latreia). And because it involves every aspect of our daily work-week lives, much of it is public worship—the world of non-believers sees us in this act. Paul calls this kind of "worship" λογικά logika, which some Bible translations render "spiritual." But what is meant by that adjective? Surely there is no implication that it is non-material or non-physical, as his discussion of the workings out of this kind of worship by obedience in chapters 12-14 clearly shows. No, the adjective λογικός logikos, derived from the noun λόγος logos "word, reason," means worship which is "guided by the logos," i.e., by the word or revealed will of God. This may also be described as "spiritual" in the sense that it is the Spirit of God who opens believers minds to the truths of the word of God and leads them into all truth (1 Cor. 2:6-16; John 14:26; 16:13; 1 John 2:20). Another possibility must be entertained. Since from what we have said above the one collective offering of believing gentiles to God, as prophesied in the OT, is in view, then that act of worship is λογικά logika in the sense that it was predicted in God's Word (his λόγος logos).


Be transformed by the renewing of your minds: Lest we think that the offering of our bodies as “living sacrifices” is some mere gesture, Paul immediately informs us that this means a transformation of our lifestyles. It means not allowing the unbelieving world around us to dictate how we should live. Paul conformed to groups of people he wished to win for Christ (Jews, Greeks, etc.; see 1 Cor 9:19-21, and other passages), but that conformity was only in externals (dress, language, “innocent” variant forms of devotion), but never involving a compromising of theology or ethics. Like Jesus before him, Paul understood the mutual incompatibility of the “world” (as a system of thought and behavior) and God. The apostle John also mirrors his Master’s attitude in his own statements about “the world” (1John 2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1, 3-5; 5:4-5, 19).

But that is only the negative side of the coin. The positive side is that we should allow God’s Spirit who lives in us to use the gospel and the scriptures to create in us a new outlook and attitude, one that is “counter-cultural” in the true sense of that word, instead of the trendy sense fostered by unbelieving media personalities. In fact, much that today goes by the term “counter-cultural” is nothing more than adolescent rebelliousness, and a knee-jerk conformity to a mindset that is frozen in the 1960s.

But the Christian “renewed mind” is something different. It is nothing other than bringing a new believer's ethical criteria in line with God's revealed law and word. Ridderbos puts it well when he writes:

Nowhere in Paul's epistles do we find anything of a spiritualism that with regard to the content of God's will makes an antithesis between the law and the Spirit, the decree coming from without and the inner disposition. The law itself is holy and spiritual (Rom. 7: 14), and thus cannot be placed over against the Spirit; it is not made superfluous by the Spirit, but rather established. "Letting oneself be led by the Spirit" consists also in learning anew to discern and prove the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2), qualifications that with a little variation are elsewhere applied to the law (Rom. 7:12) [Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 283].

Making the mind of these Gentile converts new ("renewing") was necessary, because Gentile ethics were much inferior to the high moral standards of the Torah, inferior even to the less stringent Noachic commandments.

That this transformation of a believer's mind is a lengthy, day to day process is shown by the present progressive sense of the Greek verb μεταμορφοῦσθε "keep on being transformed". That the verb is passive need not mean that no effort on our part is required. But ultimately it is God who makes our ethical judgments and our life decisions to fit with his own mind.

And without in any way seeking to downplay the role of the Holy Spirit in the process, let me warn you that you should not make of this process something magical or mystical. Often it is accomplished by nothing less unusual and down-to-earth than meditating on passages that we read in the Bible. Thoughtful reading accompanied by intermittent short prayer can accomplish a great deal in the area of making our attitudes and priorities truly “new” in Christ.

Again, let me remind you of the centrality of Psalm 1 in Paul’s thinking in this chapter. “Don’t be conformed to this world” is Paul’s commentary on Psalm 1:1 “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” And “but be transformed by letting your mindset be made new” is his comment on Psalm 1:2 “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in this law he meditates day and night.” The most important key to understanding Paul is to understand that for him the work of the Holy Spirit virtually always involves the use of the Bible in our minds and our motives.

In the rush-rush world we live in, with all the competing claims on our time and the lure of readily accessible information and entertainment, it is more difficult than ever before in history for us who believe in Jesus to make time alone with him in slow, thoughtful meditation on Scripture and in earnest prayer for the needs of others we know of. This “quiet time” is always in danger of being sidetracked by the glitzier ways we can spend “free time”. That is why the Christian life is so often portrayed in the Bible as a demanding discipline (Acts 20:24; 1Cor 9:24-27; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 3:7-11; 1Tim 4:7; 2Tim 2:3-4; 4:7; Hebrews 12:7-8). But just look at how hard professional athletes work and how much pain they endure, just to be able to play in the best competition and to gain fame and a big salary (see 1Cor 9 again). Is not what we are after much greater than this?


On Rom. 15:16 see Bruce, NT History 353: “The collection [for the poor believers in Jerusalem] was not designed by Paul only as something that would forge a bond of fellowship between his Gentile mission and the mother-church, greatly as he desired this. In his eyes it was fraught with eschatological meaning. It was the tangible 'fruit' of the Aegean phase of his ministry which was now completed; his ministry thus far would be 'sealed' by the presentation of this 'fruit' at Jerusalem. In a sense the money collected might be called the offering of the Gentiles, but when Paul tells the Romans of his aim 'that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit', he is speaking of the Gentile believers themselves as the offering which he himself is presenting 'in the priestly service of the gospel of God' (Rom. 15:16). The collection for Jerusalem was but an outward and visible sign of this more sacred offering.” See also E. P. Sanders, Paul [1991], 2f., 50f., 118f.; E. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission [1991] 975f.; J. Stott, Romans [1994], 379; T. Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles [1997], 255f.; W. Kaiser, Mission in the OT [2000], 10, 77;

See “He is like a tree planted [passive!] by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” Psalm 1; believers are “filled [passive!] with the Spirit”.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Romans 11

In chapters 9 and 10 of this book Paul has begun to address the question: "Has God rejected the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?" You remember, the question arose naturally out of Paul's triumphant statement at the end of chapter 8 to the effect that "Nothing can separate us [i.e., believers in Jesus whom God has called to be his special people] from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus." If God has rejected the people of Israel whom he similarly called in the Old Testament, why should we have any confidence that he will not similarly reject us?"

In chapter 11 Paul reaches the climax of his argument that God has not rejected Israel, but that what we see now is an extended period of wandering from God that will end eventually with the people's acceptance of Jesus as their messiah.

So let's begin with the first division in this chapter's argument:

    (a) 11:1-6  God has not rejected his people, whom he chose and called. God's people have always been those who believed and obeyed him. The doctrine of the Remnant.


I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.  2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel:  3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”?  4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.  6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.


Since most of the disagreement among commentators over this chapter has to do with the definition of what is meant by "Israel," let us begin with this verse, which sets the topic for the following argument. The question is whether or not God has rejected his people (Greek ὁ λαός αὐτοῦ). This can hardly be the largely gentile Church, since what preceded in chapter 9-10 had to do with the possibility of ethnic Israel's rejection because of failure to believe, and because Paul's refutation is that he himself, one descended from the tribe of Benjamin, is a believer. The existence of a believing remnant of ethnic Israel shows God's intention to restore the whole. Throughout the Bible the remnant is not a basis for a new and different people but the basis for the restoration of the whole. The existence of the believing remnant in Elijah's days made possible the newly restored nation that returned from the Babylonian exile under Ezra and Nehemiah. So in Paul's own day the existence of a believing remnant—Jewish believers in Jesus—was a guarantee of the eventual restoration of the whole.

Paul's second argument against God's having abandoned his ancient people is the fact that God 'foreknew' them (v. 2). In Paul's theological vocabulary the verb "foreknow" implies election (“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29 NIV). And in verse 29 he will state that the gifts and calling of God (i.e., his election) cannot be nullified or revoked. The original choice of ethnic Israel was not influenced by anything that people was or would be; it disregarded any merit. For the same reason it cannot be nullified or revoked on the basis of good or bad deeds.

But that doesn't mean that there will never be significant casualties along the way, sometimes huge ones. Paul alludes here to such a case during the reign of King Ahab (in 1 Kings 19), when the king and queen of Israel were worshipers of the Phoenician god Baal, most of the priests and prophets had converted to the worship of Baal, and the remaining minority of true prophets were hunted down and killed. Such an extreme case of a people abandoning its God could hardly be imagined. Yet when Elijah considered himself virtually alone in faithfulness to God, and prayed to God, implying that God should now wash his hands of Israel, God's answer was "I will leave over (or: make a remnant) within Israel: seven thousand who have not bowed their knees to Baal" (1 Kgs 19:18 [Hebrew]). God did not say to Elijah that he would now reject all the others. Rather he would keep the rest because of the existence within Israel of the faithful remnant. Throughout biblical history, the existence of a faithful minority both preserved the unfaithful majority and was the pledge of the eventual restoration of the whole. Paul will write in v. 16:

If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

God destroyed Sodom only when he could not find ten righteous people in the city. There will be no universal judgment on the world like Noah's flood so long as believers are in it.

When Paul says in verse 5-6 that there is also at the present time "a remnant chosen by grace", he does not refer to the entire Jewish and gentile church, but to all those who like himself were both believers and members of ethnic Israel: Peter, James, John, Andrew, Thomas, Mary, Martha, Philip, Stephen, and the other Jewish nucleus of the earliest church. The existence of this remnant, this "Israel of God," guaranteed that God would not reject the rest of his ancient people.

And even this godly remnant was not chosen on the basis of their good deeds, but by grace operating through their faith in Jesus.


So long as there are Jewish believers in Jesus, God will not allow the Jewish people to be totally assimilated with the nations and cease to exist: they remain capable of a massive, corporate repentance and belief in Jesus.  In the same way, why doesn't God destroy the ungodly world today? Certainly he has every right to do so. We say it is because he wishes to give them time to repent, but is it not also because of the existence of his believing family within this lost world? Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", and salt is a preservative. We guarantee to the world around us time to repent. We are not only the dispensers of the gospel, but a sign to the world that God has not yet given up on them.

    (b) 11:7-10 God hardens those who refuse to believe him.


What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect [Jews] did. The others were hardened, 8 as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.” 9 And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. 10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”


"What then?" says the text in verse 7. This means: "What was the result of God's choosing for himself a remnant by grace?" The vast majority of the Jews in Jesus' and Paul's times failed to obtain the right standing with God ('righteousness') that they kept seeking. The remnant chosen by God—Peter, Andrew, James, John, Mary, Martha, and the other Jews who believed in Jesus—obtained it by grace through faith. The others were "hardened". They had eyes that 'saw' but did not perceive; ears that 'heard' but did not understand—exactly the situation that God told Isaiah would happen in his own time when he proclaimed God's message to the people. Paul quotes Moses and Isaiah as witnesses of this situation in their own days in v. 8 and David in v. 9. The darkening of the eyes of David's enemies is significant, because Jesus the messiah is "son of David". Their "table"—the very basis on which they enjoyed fellowship with God, most likely an allusion to the Jerusalem temple—would become the trap that ensured their downfall. You remember that one of the principal charges against Jesus and the earliest Christians was that they claimed God would destroy that temple and replace it with a "temple not made with hands".


I take no pride in being either a Calvinist or an Arminian. Since the Bible teaches both that God is in complete control of all events and guides their course, as well as teaches that we humans have freedom to choose and are held responsible for those choices, I don't try to 'resolve' the seeming contradiction between the two views. It is futile for us puny humans to think we can comprehend—much less correct—our creator!  God is ultimately inscrutable to humans. Therefore I cannot avoid affirming what scripture says. Here as in the earlier parts of Romans Paul affirms that all salvation—for Jews and for gentiles—is solely by God's sovereign choice. Some he chooses to enlighten; others he chooses to blind and harden. But it is not up to us to assume we know what he has chosen in individual cases of people we know. We all know some loved one or close friend who once seemed to be a fervent believer, but now denies it all. We wonder how this could have happened. We wonder what we can do to rectify it. My conclusion is that the ultimate answer is prayer. With Samuel we should say, “Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (1Samuel 12:23 RSV). This must always be our attitude toward non-believers whom we know and care for. Is your  prayer list populated with such people? It should be!

    (c) 11:11-15 Gentile salvation is made possible by Israel's stumbling, but will lead to Israel's restoration.


Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! 13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?


Earlier (in verse 1) Paul put the question more harshly with the verb "reject". Here he uses a milder term "stumble" to describe Israel's failure to recognize Jesus as the messiah. A stumble is something from which one can recover. Did you ever see the 1981 film Chariots of Fire? If you did, you remember how the Scottish runner Eric Liddell stumbled in the initial phase of a championship quarter-mile race. He fell to the ground and the rest of the runners passed him and gained an advantage of 30 yards! Irrecoverable! But Liddell got to his feet and set out after the field of runners, eventually passing them all and winning the race!

Verse 11 shows one of the very few places in which I thoroughly disagree with the NIV translation. The words "fall beyond recovery" implies that they can recover, but not that they will recover. Whereas the actual Greek text, translated here correctly in the KJV and ESV, is that God did not blind them and cause them to stumble with the intention that they never recover. Rather, Paul's point is that God's intention is that Israel will recover. The presence of the Jewish remnant is God's sign throughout history that this final recovery will happen. This is one reason why I witness to Jewish friends and give and pray for the work of organizations such as Jews for Jesus. This was also why Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, always visited the local synagogues and evangelized before devoting himself to the surrounding gentiles.

Paul's point here is that, it was necessary for Israel to be hardened in order for the gospel to go out to the gentiles. And eventually God's blessing upon the gentile believers will make the Jews envious (v. 11).  Paul doesn't say when Israel will show this envy. One assumes that he means it will be manifest at the End Time, when Israel recognizes her messiah. But it is possible that he means even today, and that this takes place whenever a Jewish person decides to believe in Jesus. The testimonies in the literature of Jews for Jesus are replete with personal stories of just such 'envy'.

Verses 12 and 15 give a glimpse at Paul's estimate of what it will be like when the remnant expands to become the whole, when "Israel which is not Israel" becomes the true "Israel of God". If you think that the Church is a great blessing to the world, just imagine what an Israel that believes in Jesus will be! And notice Paul's choice of language: not "how much greater riches might their fullness bring" but "how much greater riches will their fullness bring". Also: "For if their rejecting [Jesus] led to the reconciliation of the world, what will their accepting [him] be but life from the dead?"  The same group that was once rejected because of unbelief is the group that will be accepted because of repentance and faith. To Paul there was no uncertainty that this will happen. And just as the "fullness of the gentiles" means the full or complete number of the saved gentiles, so also in v. 12 the words "their fullness" refers to the full complement of Jews as opposed to the present remnant of Jews within the Church. This "fullness" (or "full complement") is the same thing that Paul means by "all Israel" in verse 26.


There is a real sense in which you and I owe our salvation to Jews who originally lost theirs by rejecting Jesus! I don't seriously mean that we should be grateful to them, as if they voluntarily sacrificed their own eternal happiness in order to give it to us. But in a historical sense it is true that God used the one to accomplish the other. And we should let that sense of "guilty gratitude" energize our loving witness to Jewish friends and associates, of whom I have many.

    (d) The image of the olive tree (16-24).

16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!


We are all familiar with how Paul branches off periodically into a related topic. This is usually because some word or thought in his argument seems to require further elaboration. In this case it is the word "branches" in v. 16.

When he begins that verse, he seems to be comparing the Jewish remnant with the unfaithful majority. The remnant is the part of the dough offered as the firstfruits, the acceptance of which by God allows the Israelites to use the rest of the dough for their sustenance. The priests argued that by consecrating the smaller portion first, the people made the rest of their dough "holy" and therefore permissible for them to eat. When we tithe by giving God the firstfruits of our income, he allows us to use the rest of our income for our sustenance. The whole income has become "holy". But when he adds a second image—that of root and branches—this reminds him of another way in which the present state of unbelieving Israel should be seen by gentile believers.

One of the many agricultural images for Israel in the OT was an olive tree. It was a beautiful image, because the olive tree is one of the most beautiful trees that grows in the Middle East, and because its yield of olives and olive oil was one of the basic staples of the diet. In this image the root of the tree was Abraham, the first to believe the LORD. The trunk or body of the tree was the people of Israel. And the natural branches were individual Israelites. Paul depicts the relationship of gentile believers to the tree of salvation as unnatural branches grafted in because of their faith. The tree on whose life the gentile believers drew was faithful Israel. Paul warns gentile believers who were beginning to boast that they, not Israel, were the true "people of God" not to be so arrogant. Ironically, in verse 19 the hypothetical gentile believer describes his situation accurately, when he says, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in", which is why Paul replies "Granted" in v. 20. That was the purpose of God in hardening Israel. If you ask me why this was necessary, I will answer you that so long as the Bible doesn't specify why, I will not be so foolish as to guess. It is part of the mysterious purpose of God. In verse 21 Paul seems to predict that in the End gentile branches will be broken off in order for Israelite ones to be grafted in again. Whether this means a wholesale apostasy of the gentile "Church", I will not speculate. Again notice Paul's precise language: not "he might not spare you either" but "he will not spare you either"—which implies a future reality. Since God never breaks off believers, it is clear that the breaking off of Jewish branches in Paul's day and the future breaking off of gentile ones in the End Times, refers to persons who appear to be faithful worshipers of God, but are not true believers in Jesus. 


There is both a promise and a warning in these verses. A promise to those who do not yet believe but whom God loves tenderly, and a warning to those who profess to believe and are arrogant. The lesson is a simple and an old one, but nonetheless profound and important: God will leave the ninety-nine in order to pursue and bring back the one lost sheep. He loves lost people. This is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Israel is God's prodigal son. We gentiles in the church must not be the "older son" in the parable who despised his brother who left home.

    (e) 11:25-32  In the End All Israel will be saved


I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27  And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” 28  As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.


For the first time in this argument Paul suggests that the answer to the question cannot simply be deduced from present facts or even the apparent meanings of the scripture. Instead it is a "mystery" which God is now revealing. The word "mystery" in biblical parlance is not just something inscrutable, but something that was previously inscrutable, but now made clear by God. The content of this particular mystery is that the main body of Israel has experienced a "hardening"—what elsewhere the scripture refers to as a blinding—but that this hardening will not last forever. It has befallen Israel "until the full complement of gentiles has been saved."  The Greek adverb houtōs translated "and so" in verse 26 can also be rendered "and then", which is how many NT scholars understand it and how I would prefer to take it. After the full number of gentiles is saved, then "all Israel" will be saved. As F. F. Bruce rightly observed in his commentary on Romans, Paul probably understands this to occur immediately prior to the Second Coming of Jesus.

If, however, one insists on the translation "and so", it can be understood to mean that, just as it was necessary for the larger body of Jews to be hardened so that large numbers of gentiles could come into God's family of believers, "just so" at the End after the full number of gentiles have come in, it will be time to lift the hardening and allow for the fullness of the Jews, which is what Paul earlier in this chapter says will be so spectacular—like life from the dead! That "fullness" of Israel is what Paul means here by "all Israel". This may not be the total number of Jews alive at that time, but it might. If it doesn't, it means all the Jews that remain whom God has chosen. I am inclined to the view that it means a huge number, simply because of what Paul wrote in verse 15 about it being so spectacular, like "life from the dead." By using the words "like life from the dead", Paul has in mind the prophetic vision of Ezekiel 37, in which the valley-full of dry bones representing Israel is brought together, covered over with skin, and brought to life. to God's question to Ezekiel "son of man, can these bones live again?" Paul answers emphatically, "Oh yes! They will live again!"

Although this truth is a "mystery", Paul is able to cite some OT passages that allude to it. He quotes from Isaiah 59 and Psalms 14 and 53. The identical wording of the verses from the two psalms refers to this banishing of ungodliness from Jacob in terms of God bringing them back from exile, whence they had been sent on account of unbelief. The Deliverer mentioned is obviously Jesus. He comes "from Zion" in the sense that he is humanly speaking the Kinsman Redeemer born in Israel, i.e., Zion. He can redeem Israel, because he is himself a part of the Jewish remnant as well as their messiah. On the eve of his crucifixion he said to Jerusalem, "You will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Luke 13:35). They will say that, and they will see him again. If you want to get an impression of what that day will be like, read Psalm 118, which is the psalm that sentence is quoted from, as well as Isaiah 53, which is the libretto of Israel's future national repentance.


“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry. “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”” (Luke 15:20-32 RSV)

In the original gospel setting, the younger son represented the non-Pharisaic Jews—prostitutes and tax collectors—who knowing they were sinners, welcomed Jesus and believed in him. the older brother represented the critics of Jesus' ministry—Pharisees and temple officials. But one can see how at the End Time there can be in Paul's vision a kind of reversal: the older brother representing proud gentiles who refuse to allow God to rescue the people whom he first chose. God is free to have mercy: this is his glory.

    (f) 11:33-36 God's plan was and is infinitely wise and just.


Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.


Paul closes this section of his letter with a hymn of praise to God. It encompasses all that he has written about from chapter 1 through chapter 11. The theme is God's great and wise plan for the redemption of his lost creation.  It is also about grace and mercy, as verse 35 makes clear. But Paul focuses on the infinite wisdom of this plan. Only an infinitely wise God could have devised a plan whereby he could undo the wreckage of sin caused by the fall of Adam and Eve and elaborated upon by each generation of humans since then. Only an infinitely wise God could devise a plan that would include Israel as his chosen people, allow the majority of them to be hardened while he gathered in the gentiles, and finally to restore them in a final turn of events as dramatic as a massive resurrection from the dead.

The goal of this drama of redemption will be myriads of the redeemed along with the angels, singing the glory of God. To him be the glory forever!


"Who has known the mind of the Lord?" highlights the surprising mystery that God intends nothing less than the long-delayed "restoration of Israel" as the icing on his redemptive cake. "Who has been his counselor?" underscores the unlikelihood that any human being would have predicted—much less devised—such a plan. How much easier it would be for God just to drop Israel like a bad egg. In a similar vein, how much easier would it be for God to abandon earth and just make the eternal state be "heaven". But the Bible tells us that the eternal state will consist of "new heavens and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:13), in other words a new version of the original "heavens and earth" that God created according to Genesis 1. You see, God is a recycler. Nothing is wasted. Thank God. Otherwise, you and I would have been thrown out to become land fill!

[A good friend sent me these links to helpful articles about Romans 9-11, and about the experience of Jewish believers in Jesus. If you like, you can double-click on one or more of them and download or view them in PDF form.]

Monday, April 13, 2009

Romans 10:5-21 Faith Righteousness Was Always Available

Rom. 10:5-21 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.”  6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’’” (that is, to bring Christ down)  7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:  9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,  13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  14     How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  16     But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”  17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.  18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:    “Their voice has gone out into all the earth,   their words to the ends of the world.” 19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,    “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;   I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” 20 And Isaiah boldly says,    “I was found by those who did not seek me;   I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”  21 But concerning Israel he says,  “All day long I have held out my hands   to a disobedient and obstinate people.” 


Paul has affirmed that God's right to choose his people is absolute and unconditioned. It is sovereign grace. But that does not mean that God did not and does not use a means to that grace, which is faith in his word, a God-given faith that produces a faith-righteousness.

It is not that the Jews of OT times and of Paul's day didn't have access to this kind of faith righteousness. It was always available and at hand to them. In ch. 4 Paul has already indicated that Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”.

Furthermore, Hebrews 11 gives a roll of honor of OT persons who showed faith in God.

But Paul says here that Moses himself made a distinction between two kinds of righteousness: that through the law (v. 5) and that through faith (vv. 6-7).

Righteousness by the law (Lev. 18:5=Rom 10:5) seeks by carrying out the duties prescribed in the law to bring the messiah and the promised eschatological kingdom. The one who pursues that kind of righteousness depends entirely on his own efforts and is doomed to failure.

But he who seeks the righteousness by faith recognizes his inability to bring in the kingdom of God by good deeds and enforcing moral law (Deut. 30:12-14 =Rom 10:6-8). He recognizes that would be like ascending to heaven to bring the messiah down or descending into the depths of the earth to bring him up from the dead. No human could do such things. By not depending upon themselves those who pursue faith righteousness will find it.

About the means of acquiring this faith righteousness, scripture says: “The word is near you, in your mouth and heart” (v. 8 = Deut 30:14). That is what Moses wrote.
But Paul asks, “What is this word that is in our mouths and heart that can save?” And his answer is (v. 8) “the word of faith that we are proclaiming.”

Then he explains what that "word of faith" is and how it relates to one's heart and mouth.
“That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (10:9-10).


“Mouth” is for confession; “heart” (that is, mind) is for belief. The ancient OT Jewish remnant—the "Israel within Israel"—believed and confessed their faith in the one true and living God, revealed to them in the name Yahweh. They also obeyed the one whom they believed and confessed.

The larger "Israel" that was not the real Israel may have confessed, but neither believed nor obeyed out of that belief.

But once the messiah had come in the person of Jesus, had not been recognized, had been rejected, executed, and risen again, the content of required faith was significantly changed. Now a true Israel that showed itself true by faith needed to believe that Jesus was Lord. And the Greek word for 'Lord”, kyrios, in this context implied deity. A re-defined monotheism was required, a plurality not equivalent to pagan polytheism, but one within the parameters of OT monotheism.

As in the Old Testament period when new layers of divine revelation were given and required of the true Israel of faith, so now redefinitions and adjustments based upon faith in God's unfolding revelation were required. To refuse the new truths meant to cease to be believing Israel.

And the center of the newest revelation of God was the person of Jesus and his victory over death. It was the resurrection of Jesus more than anything else that he did or said that showed him to be Deity. True Israel, if she would remain the true Israel, must now believe God's final revelation.

Many of you already believe the gospel and have trusted Jesus as your Savior. In Sunday services you also confess that faith. I hope that you do this not as routine, but with heart as well as mouth. It is easy to go on auto-pilot and just let the familiar words come out. We can easily fall into that mode in our singing too. It takes a special effort not to do that, but to focus on what we say.

But confessing Christ with our mouths is meant for more than gatherings of believers. The confession of faith that “Jesus is Lord”. Meant more than merely Jesus' deity. When pagan Romans heard a Christian say “Jesus is Lord,” they thought of  a “lord” claiming one's  allegiance. To a Roman, the chief of all “lords” was the Roman emperor, Caesar. The Roman provincial governor  Pliny wrote to the emperor for guidance as to how to handle the trials of persons in his district accused by neighbors of being Christians. They were accused of treason because they claimed that Jesus was their lord, not  Caesar. Until the reign of Constantine no Roman emperor ever relaxed the rule that only he was “lord” of his subjects.

We do not use the term “lord” for our heads of state today, and God help us if we ever do! When we confess to our friends and associates that Jesus is our Lord, we need to make it clear that by his being our Lord, we mean that no one or no institution will ever take precedence in our lives over loyalty to him, honoring him in our speech and behavior, and obeying his commands in scripture.

Is it clear to your own inner person that Jesus is Lord in your life? Is it clear to your family, friends and associates? Are you sending conflicting messages to them by inconsistent behavior? 

If Jesus is Lord of your time, how do  you use it? Primarily for entertainment and pleasures, or for service?
If Jesus is Lord of your resources, how do you use them? Is most of your money spent on unnecessary items? Or is it invested in God by being invested in serving others?

If Jesus is Lord of your body and your mind, how do you use them? Keeping healthy doesn't have to be sculpting your body into something to impress others. Nor do we kid ourselves into thinking we can significantly delay death. But curbing overindulgence in food is part of the discipline that Paul urges upon believers, even if it adds not an hour to our life expectancy. And sharpening one's mind by healthy reading, above all the scriptures, is a spiritual discipline required of us, even if it doesn't increase our earning powers or delay the onset of senility. Are you memorizing scripture, so that it can play a constant role in guiding your life and enriching your prayers?

All these things are implicit in the confession we make that Jesus is LORD. To believe anything less is to kid ourselves and risk not really knowing what it is to be a believer.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Romans 9:30 - 10:4 How Non-Christian Jews have missed God's Blessing

Rom. 9:30-10:4   What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith;  31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”  33 As it is written:  “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble   and a rock that makes them fall,  and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  10:1  Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.  3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.  4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.


God laid down the rules in Abraham's and Moses' days: “righteousness” (that is, a right relationship with God) must be pursued by faith, not just obedience to rules. Judaism has always been a religion in which main divisions are marked by differing praxis rather than belief. There are virtually no Jewish books on theology, while there are scores on correct praxis. One is Reformed (liberal), Conservative, or Orthodox, depending on how you implement the rules of living: in particular the dietary laws and ritual observances.
The good side of this focus on practice, of course, is that it honors the Bible's teaching  that we show our love to God by obeying him. Jesus said  “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

But an obedience that does not include believing what God says has never counted as “righteousness” in God's eyes. And a failure to believe his most important words, that Jesus is the Savior whose death and resurrection are the fulfillment of God's saving work, leaves a person without any claim to righteousness.
Here is where Paul cites the very zeal of his people to please God as another basis for his own anguish and prayers for them. How frustrating to see such sincere energy and passion going for the wrong cause!


During my college days, when I was a new believer, I saw so many students who didn't care at all about God. And I saw others who were very religious. It never ceased to amaze me that often it was the former who were apparently 'easier' to reach with the gospel. They had no illusions about their own righteousness. It was the guys who were working hard to be what they considered righteous who were the hardest to reach. How do you convince a guy who doesn't carouse with women, get drunk, do drugs, cheat on exams, and who attends church or synagogue every week and prays every night—that he needs a Savior, who is Jesus?

I'm not saying that there aren't exceptions. Nor am I saying that there aren't good ways to approach and reason with the second type. I'm merely illustrating in today's life the truth that Paul applied in this chapter to the Jews of his day. The more passionately persons pursue a righteousness of their own devising, the harder it is to convince them that this is not God's righteousness.

That is why we need the work of the Holy Spirit to illumine their eyes, and that is why we need to persevere in prayer for such people.