September 24, 2006 Commentary:
"Has God Rejected His People?"
While many Christians dismiss the doctrine of election by saying that Romans 9-11 are about Israel rather than about how individuals are saved, sometimes we on the Reformation side of things fail to recognize that while individual election is clearly addressed in these chapters, they are part of a larger argument about Israel. From the first chapter on, Paul has shown how all people, Jew and Gentile alike, are in Adam, under sin and can only be justified through faith in Christ. Then he reaches that summit in chapter 8: "Those he predestined, he called; those he called, he justified; those he justified, he glorified. What shall we say, then, in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" But if all this is true, a Jewish person is likely to wonder, whether God can be trusted for these things if he has failed to keep his original promise to Israel. Is the church Plan B? Has God rejected Israel? Wasn't that an unconditional promise of grace, too? And if so, then how can we get excited about our election?
In chapter 9, Paul answered this by reminding us that all along, as the prophets especially highlighted, God has always saved an elect remnant. Individual election was always based on his unconditional grace, while the corporate election of the nation was conditional. Now, as long as Israel kept God's law, it could remain in the land as a sign of the coming messianic king. Israel's exile was historical proof that this national covenant was based on the nation's collective obedience and that the nation had failed. But what then of God's promises to Abraham? These promises have not failed. God has always had his elect remnant; his word is always met with success. He has always kept his promise, but his promise to those chosen by grace is unconditional, whereas his promise to the nation was conditioned on its obedience. You can't confuse the national election of Israel to its status in the earthly land with the particular election of individuals to inherit the Abrahamic promise. Israel confused the Abrahamic covenant of grace with the Mosaic covenant of law, seeking to obtain by works what had been promised by grace alone. Paul says that explicitly.
So where does that leave ethnic Jews today? That's where we pick up today as we continue the Romans Revolution.
The Remnant of Israel
 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.  God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?  "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life."  But what is God's reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal."  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,  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."
 And David says,
"Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever."
Gentiles Grafted In
 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.  Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry  in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.  For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?  If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
 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. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.  Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in."  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.  For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
The Mystery of Israel's Salvation
 Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
"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."
 As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.  For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience,  so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.  For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
 "For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?"
 "Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?"
 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
September 17, 2006 Commentary:
"Pursuing Faith in a 'Follow Your Heart' Culture"
In the movies, on TV, in the news, in politics, in our relationships... there seems to be one overriding dogma of our contemporary society: follow your heart. Once upon a time, this was called sentimentalism and narcissism. Sentimentalism refers to that tendency to base your beliefs, thoughts, and actions based on how they make you feel. But at the end of the day this amounts to narcissism, the assumption that the decision about what's true and false is made simply on the basis of how it affects you, as if reality exists for your own individual benefit. The Apostle Paul told the young pastor Timothy, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Tim. 4:1-5) In other words, people will follow their hearts instead of God's Word, Paul told Timothy. Precisely because in doing so, they make themselves rather than God the measure of truth. Just a chapter earlier, he warned that in these last days, people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving slanderers without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And that's what happens when you just follow your heart. Tonight we are going to be tackling the question, What does it mean to pursue our faith as Christians in a "follow your heart" culture?Click here for related information to the September 17 broadcast.
September 10, 2006 Commentary:
Faith Comes By Hearing (Romans 10:5-21)
What's the difference between the latest, greatest religious attraction at the stadium and an ordinary service at your local church, where the Word is properly preached and the sacraments are properly administered? In one, the religious ego is fed; we hear the hype and come to believe - or, at least, to hope - that after having tried so many other spiritual fads, at least this one will do the trick. We'll raise ourselves from earth to heaven, from blahs to bliss, from strain to living at the center of God's blessing.
In the other - that is, the ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament down the street - the religious ego is identified as the sin of the old Adam targeted for killing, and we're raised as new creatures in Christ. We don't have to pack our spiritual bags for another religious trip in pursuit of another blessing because in Christ, God has already made the trip all the way, bringing us all spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ in heavenly places, as Paul says in Ephesians 1. Well, in our last program we considered Paul's lament for his own fellow Jews who had tremendous zeal, but were ignorant of God's righteousness that comes through faith alone. Zeal, as a result of gratitude for free grace, is simply the inevitable fruit of faith. But apart from the gospel, spiritual zeal can actually become a fog that keeps us from recognizing the good news that all of our righteousness lies outside of us. We are saved by God's zeal for us displayed in Christ, not by our zeal for God displayed in our own exuberant but misguided flights of fancy. As great as the news is that God has come down to us in Christ, even when we couldn't take the first step up the ladder toward him, it gets even better: Not only 2,000 years ago when our redemption was accomplished, but here and now when our redemption is applied, God is making all the moves. So as we continue our trek through the marvelous letter of Paul to the Romans, we'll be looking at Romans 10:5-21.
Romans 10:5-21 (ESV)
 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.  But the righteousness based on faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down)  or "'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);  because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame."  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?"  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, forClick here for related information to the September 10 broadcast.
"Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world."
 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
"I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry."
 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
"I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me."
 But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."
September 3, 2006 Commentary: Zeal Without Knowledge (Romans 10:1-4)
"The first Reformation was about doctrine; the second one needs to be about behavior," best-selling author Rick Warren told the Congress of the Baptist World Alliance last year. Going on to quote him again, "We need a Reformation not of creeds, but of deeds." Throughout the speech, as reported on the group's website, Mr. Warren announced that a new movement is under way in the church, shifting the emphasis from doctrinal issues to service to the world. "It's time to stop debating the Bible and start doing it. This is the new Reformation I'm praying for." Now, this isn't a new message. In the history of evangelical revivalism, there has always been a running screed against everything formal, creedal, historical, and always been a play of the heart over and against the head. At least in the evangelicalism I grew up in, the deeds over creeds speech is pretty familiar. Nearly any crazy fad in the church today can be justified by its success in conjuring emotional passion and zeal for good works regardless of how quickly and how many victims of these revival fires get burned out in the process. Whatever its problems with Mary and the saints, Protestantism has shown time and again that it is just as capable of building towers of zeal reaching to the heavens in works-righteousness. Nobody – nobody – needs Paul's message here in Romans 10 (that we'll be looking at in this program) than we do, and at no greater moment than ours. "Zeal Without Knowledge" is our program in this edition of the White Horse Inn as we continue our Romans Revolution.
 Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.  I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.Click here for related information to the September 3 broadcast.