Genuine love is a spiritual phenomenon. Verses eleven and twelve address the spiritual dimensions of love as well as the need to cultivate these realities through personal habits. Three exhortations stress the spiritual dimension of love: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (12:11). We must be on guard against complacency in showing love. Instead of being lazy, we are to be internally ignited by the Holy Spirit even as we grasp that loving others well is an act of basic obedience to the Lord. As with any enablement derived by the Spirit, there are means that we are to deploy. Paul lists three heart postures that aid the Spirit’s work of enlivening us to love well: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (12:12). As we cultivate joy, endurance, and prayerfulness, the Spirit enflames our hearts, prompting us to: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (12:13).
Since the mercies of God in Christ not only provide deliverance from God’s wrath, but also power to live a changed life, Paul prefaces his descriptions of being a living dedicated sacrifice with the reminder of God’s mercies: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God” (12:1a). Our obedience is empowered by what God has done, not something we manufacture on our own. In light of mercy that has come to Jew and Gentile alike (11:30-32), now any and all who name the name of Christ are to begin learning to walk in all the ways of Christ. The appropriate response to grasping all that God has done for us in His Son is to seek to give ourselves wholly over to Him in service and devotion. While the imagery that Paul uses came from the Temple and the work of the Priests, Paul is not describing a worship response that is restricted to a special class of people, nor is he speaking of an activity that is confined to special days. All who follow Christ are to consider every day as a worshipful response.
The reality that there is still a future generation of Israel that will overwhelmingly come to faith in Christ is backed by the Scriptures: “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (11:26b-27, quoting a blend of Isaiah 59:20; Jeremiah 31:33; and Isaiah 27:9). God’s revealed promises to Israel describe the circumstances when “all of Israel will be saved.” Around the time Jesus returns, God’s Spirit will apply the blessings of the New Covenant to Israel. The result of this mighty work is that the generation of Jews that are alive at that time will experience forgiveness and restoration through faith in Christ. Israel’s hardening will be brought to an end.
At present, Israel was cut off from the blessing promised to the Patriarchs. In place of the Jews, the Gentiles were being grafted into the olive tree, receiving the blessings promised to Israel. But Paul has a stern warning for the Gentiles: “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches” (11:17-18a). The Gentiles had begun to think more highly of themselves over the fact that God had cut off the natural branches of the olive tree and grafted them, alien branches, into the olive tree. The Gentiles had begun to believe that such actions were taken because of their innate superiority over the Jews. Paul addresses their pride with two facts. First, Gentiles should not boast in their new status, for they do not support, but are supported by the Jewish roots of the olive tree: “If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (11:18b).
But of course, as Paul has been explaining, Israel’s failure to obtain righteousness through faith in Christ was not universal. There was a remnant who obtained it: “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (11:7b). Despite the rejection of Israel as a whole, some individual Jews have responded to the Gospel. At present, they reflect the reality of an Israel within Israel who are the elect who have been chosen by God’s grace. The remnant has obtained the right standing before God that Israel as a whole was seeking. As Israel as a whole was seeking it in their own merit, they demonstrate their hardened state before God. They were hardened in the sense that they constantly displayed an insensitivity to listen to what God had actually been saying to them. Paul’s reference from the Old Testament to support the notion of Israel’s hardening is an intriguing composition: “as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day” (11:8). Linking phrase from Deuteronomy 29:4 with Isaiah 29:10, perhaps Paul is suggesting that Israel’s hardening has been a condition throughout the eras of the Law and the Prophets.
While Paul has set this sequence of sending, proclaiming, hearing, believing, and calling in a way that pertains to both Jews and Gentiles, we should remember the particular burden of this larger section—the wholesale refusal of Israel to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (10:16, quoting Isaiah 53:1). The message of the Gospel had not been obeyed; it was disbelieved. Obedience here means a resolve to call upon the Lord for salvation. The Gospel is a message, but it is more than the information of religious data, it is a summons to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord. And yet, the confidence to turn to Christ comes through the message we hear about Him: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:17).
Therefore, since salvation comes through faith and not works of the Law, Paul calls for a response of faith to the Gospel he preaches: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9). Confessing that Jesus is Lord is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian. Confessing Christ’s Lordship has huge implications for the unlimited claims that Christ has over those who trust in Him. Such a confession must come from from the heart: “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (10:10). When Christ is trusted and confessed, no shameful judgment awaits: “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (10:11, quoting Isaiah 28:16). The salvation that comes through faith in Christ is not limited to one group of people; it is open to all kinds of people: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him” (10:12). This universal offer of the Gospel that provides a righteousness before God through faith in Christ is not a new development. God’s original promise to Abraham was not selective but universal: “in you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). And now in Christ, the universal blessing that the Prophets proclaimed, is for all who believe: “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13, quoting Joel 2:23).
Just as 9:14 was an objection to what Paul had just previously said, so another anticipated objection is raised: “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (9:19). If God shows mercy and hardens whomever He wills, regardless of human effort or choice, then how can He hold human beings responsible for their choices and actions? It is very shattering to be brought to the realization that God’s will is the ultimate cause of human destiny. And yet, Paul does not allow for that reality to detract from the truth that human beings are truly responsible before God. Paul anticipates the protest against God being sovereign and yet man still responsible. Paul vigorously responds: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (9:20-21, referencing Isaiah 29:16, 45:9). Paul wonders how man-finite, frail, weak-could venture to either dictate and/or judge the infinite, mighty, great Creator. While human beings are not like inert clay pots in every aspect, God, like a potter, has complete freedom and authority to do whatever He likes with His creatures.
God’s promises have not, are not, and will not fail; they are unfolding exactly to the very ends that God has always intended. God has not promised to call every ethnic Jew to follow Jesus, but He has chosen to summon some to belong to Christ. This is always the way that God has chosen to operate. Therefore, even at present, not all ethnic Jews are recipients of God’s saving promises and that is why they have refused to believe in Jesus as Lord. At present, unbelieving Jews are like Ishmael, a physical descendant of Abraham, but not a true offspring of his. Not only are unbelieving Jews like Ishmael, they are also like Esau. Once again, Paul explains that not everyone in Abraham’s lineage is a part of the people of God. Drawing from the episode in Genesis 25, Jacob and Rebekah and their twin boys serve as a further illustration that not all Israel is Israel: “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac” (9:10). In this case, there are not two different wives with sons born at different times, but only one woman whose sons are conceived at the same time.
Paul wraps up his explanation of all that God has done in Christ by the Spirit for His people, with a question: “What then shall we say to these things?” (8:31a). Looking back, not simply the stunning statements found in the immediately preceding verses (8:28-30), nor merely to the powerful promises at start of chapter eight, but more likely going back to the incredible implications expressed at the start of chapter five, Paul solicits a response from his readers. Not waiting for an answer, Paul summarizes all that he has expressed since chapter five by saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31b). God is for His people. This beautiful reality has correspondence to Paul’s declaration from chapter one: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). In between this announcement that God is against all mankind and the announcement that God is for His people, Paul has explained the Gospel as, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16).
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