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August 27 Commentary: What About Free Will? (Romans 9:10-21)

As God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion, so that it depends not on human will or effort but on God’s mercy.” Well if doctrine is controversial, then the doctrine of election is perhaps the granddaddy of them all when it comes to stirring up things. And if you think that doctrine is just an intellectual head game, just see how high emotions run when your Bible study group comes to election and free will. Recently a large organization dedicated to lay Bible study informed their leaders that when they go through Romans this year, they’ll have to skip the hot-button issues like election. So evidently, election is not even allowed to be discussed in Bible studies where Paul, in the Bible, goes on about the subject for several chapters. Why do so many Christians get so uptight about election? And why do some Christians who get excited about it have to carry it around in a plain paper sack? Maybe the reason is that if it’s true that God has chosen me to be saved apart from anything that I’ve done, even apart from anything apart that he has foreseen that I will do, that there’s no such thing as free will. There are several objections to election, but this is a big one. So in this program, we’re taking a closer look at this topic of election and free will, and we hope that your heart will be encouraged as well as your mind held in wonder at the unspeakable riches of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ.

Romans 9:10-21 (ESV)

[10] And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call — [12] she was told, "The older will serve the younger." [13] As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

[14]What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19]You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" [20] 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?" [21]Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?

Click here for related information to the August 27 broadcast.

August 20 Commentary: The Remnant (Romans 9:1-15)

For the Jews of Paul’s day, there were two covenants: a covenant of life, defined by observing the law; its mediator was Moses and its heirs were those born into the nation of Israel or converts who receive circumcision and submitted to the whole law of Sinai. The other covenant was a covenant of death, defined by breaking the law. So you were either a Jew, an insider, or a Gentile, an outsider. That’s what defined everything. Throughout this epistle, Paul has basically said, “No, you have it all wrong. There are two overarching covenants that determine human destiny – you’re right about that – but they don’t divide between the nation of Israel and the Gentiles, but between those who are ‘in Adam’ – under the law and its just sentence of condemnation and death, and those who are ‘in Christ’ – freed from the law’s judgment and heirs of eternal life.” So instead of the knife cutting between Jews and Gentiles, it now cuts between those who seek life by the law and are therefore condemned, and those who seek life in Christ alone and therefore are saved.

Well, what then of Moses, Sinai, the land, and all of these promises? Doesn’t the covenant at Sinai obligate God to save all the nation of Israel no matter what? A lot of Christians today have the same understanding about Israel today. Since most Jews have not accepted Christ as messiah, the only way of getting God off the hook is by saying either that they will be saved in some other way, or by saying that the promises God made at Sinai will be fulfilled in a future era with a restored temple, nation, and sacrifices. Well how does Paul answer that? Has God gone back on his word? Has “Plan A” – namely, saving Israel the nation, failed? Is the church “Plan B?” Or has God always saved his church in both testaments through the gospel of Christ as a remnant of Israel and the world? Is the church a replacement for Israel, or is it the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham that in him and his Seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed? A lot to cover in this program of the first fifteen verses of Romans chapter 9…

Romans 9:1-15 (ESV)

God's Sovereign Choice
[1] I am speaking the truth in Christ--I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit — [2] that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. [3] For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. [4] They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. [5] To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

[6] But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son." [10] And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call — [12] she was told, "The older will serve the younger." [13] As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

Click here for related information to the August 20 broadcast.

August 13 Commentary: More Than Conquerors

If I were to ask you to list the top ten catalysts for spiritual growth, what would they be? The Scriptures, prayer, fellowship, evangelism? But what about suffering? How can suffering be a stimulus to spiritual growth? After all, don’t we usually associate a deep bout with suffering, pain, or loss with a person’s bitterness toward or rejection of God? A teenager loses a parent and writes God off. Another person can’t understand why a loving and fair God would let something so rotten as a terminal illness reach someone so obviously good and devoted as him or her. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a popular book several years ago titled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The book was endorsed even by some evangelical writers, and Rabbi Kusher’s passionate book simply concludes, “God would like for people to get what they deserve in life, but even he cannot always arrange it.” Even God can’t hold in check the damage that evil and chaos can cause. Characteristic of a self-confident and narcissistic age, modern Americans find the idea of sin and suffering being the result of a weakness in God somewhat self-justifying if not entirely comforting. Forced to make a choice between God’s being in charge and his being good and loving, many today will choose to believe that God is too good to allow me to suffer, and I’m too good to deserve it. But God himself gives us a refreshing perspective on suffering in the Christian life that defies the false dilemma between God’s love and power. It’s a perspective that’s neither a Stoic sort of stiff upper lip, take-it-like-a-man and don’t ask questions approach, nor a descent into the jacuzzi of effervescent sentimentalism. Realism is what we find in the pages such as the one on our agenda tonight, but it’s a realism that really does help us understand the meaning of our particular experience of pain and disappointment. But before we hear God speak, we have to be aware of the idols that we’ve set up in our own hearts and minds that raise their voices in competition.

Idol number one says that God can’t stop the suffering. This is the view popularized by George Burns’ character in “Oh, God” – you know, the classic line that Burns give John Denver, “If you can’t believe in me, maybe it will help to know that I believe in you.” This idol isn’t all-powerful, but that’s okay, because at least he’s a nice guy. The biblical revelation is perfectly clear here, though. God is the Lord over everything, including sin, suffering, evil, and pain. Although he’s not the creator of evil, he is in charge even of that, and as Luther has said, “Even the devil is God’s devil.”

Idol number two is a deity who is almighty and in control, but unloving and uncaring. Ultimately his will is arbitrary and capricious and he doesn’t really care about the suffering, the wars, the injustice, and all the pain in the world. In short, he’s a God who can’t be trusted – not because he’s weak, but because he’s mean.

What we find in Scripture is a God who is both all-powerful and good. He could put an end to suffering immediately by a simple fiat. But that’s not what he decided; instead, he chose to establish a universe in which he could tell the story of his glory, his justice and his mercy, his wrath and his grace, his holiness and his love are displayed for the whole creation in this script God has written for human history. Poised between Christ’s first and second comings, we are like those early Christians who received this letter of Paul in the first place, in the middle of what biblical scholars call the “already” and the “not yet.” The exodus from Egypt has already taken place in one sense; we are redeemed from the guilt and power of sin, and yet we don’t see an end to sinfulness in our own lives as Christians, much less an end to war, hatred, suffering, injustice, poverty, and immorality in the world. One’s view of how history unfolds and where we are in it all is called eschatology. Now ever since the Enlightenment, a powerful eighteen-century philosophical movement that secularized the west and influences every one of us in subtle ways, God has been displaced in our thinking as Lord of history. Oh, sure, he’s the Lord over a lot of other things – the Lord over the quiet time, he’s the Lord of my personal relationship with Jesus, the Lord of the spiritual activities in the church – but real history, the stuff of which headlines are made, has purely natural, secular explanations. And yet even though this secular Enlightenment program sought to eliminate the triumphant note of Christ’s resurrection as the meaning of history, and the clinching of a final victory for the entire creation yet awaiting us, it merely replaced it with its own triumphalism. Instead of being willing to wait on God for future fulfillment because of a saving event he accomplished in history, secularism has decided to play God and bring salvation through its own Towers of Babel. But even we Christians have been captive to this way of thinking: Instead of waiting for a final victory at the end of the story, we want to write the end, “They lived happily ever after,” into the script right now, right where we are. We want instant healing, instant experience, instant happiness, instant gratification, instant face-to-face encounters with God, instant holiness, or instant moral and political victories. We share with the pagan secular culture, a belief in man, and his abilities to bring salvation according to his own efforts, and an impatience that makes it very difficult to wait on the Lord. If God’s going to mean anything to us, promises won’t be enough. We have to see some action: Heal me! Make me happy! Make me prosperous! Testimonies often focus on making God appealing to us by offering these instant victories (and if you’re not completely satisfied, simply return the unused portion for a full refund.) What’s God up to in history? Where are we in all this business? Is God just saving individuals, or is he planning on saving this whole planet? All of these questions and more will be raised as we discuss Romans 8:18-39. “More Than Conquerors” is our program; it’s the White Horse Inn.

Romans 8:18-39 (ESV)

Future Glory
[18] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

[26] Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27] And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. [28] And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God's Everlasting Love
[31] What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? [33] Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,

"For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
[37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Click here for related information to the August 13 broadcast.

August 6 Commentary: No Condemnation (Romans 8:1-17)

Tonight we arrive at just one more of those many summits in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. He has just finished explaining that the gospel of grace doesn’t lead to license, and that those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ so that they are both declared righteous and are being refashioned into the likeness of Christ by his resurrection. At the same time, Paul says, there’s no place for any notion of perfectionism since even the believer continues to sin. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “For even the holiest of Christians in this life make only a small beginning in obedience in this life. Nevertheless, they begin with serious purpose not only to conform not only to some, but to all the commandments of God.” But God requires absolute perfection, so if we make only a small beginning toward it in this life, how can God accept us? Does he say, “Well at least Mike’s on the way”? Does he grade on a curve and accept my inauspicious beginnings as sufficient for letting bygones be bygones, in the way a friend might forget a debt after an argument is over? No, God can’t forgive like that because his holiness and justice demand a satisfaction be made.

What God does, then, is this: He gives us the perfect righteousness he requires right up front, at the beginning of our Christian life, not at the end. It’s not something we attain ourselves or grow into by the power of the Holy Spirit, but something he gives us. Like a robe, Christ’s righteousness covers our nakedness so that God sees us right now not only as if we’d never sinned, but as if we had perfectly loved God and our neighbor throughout the course of our entire lives. Far from leading to a lack of concern for growth in righteousness and holiness, however, what the Bible calls sanctification, this doctrine of justification is the only perfect foundation for anything else that can take place in the Christian life. That’s why Paul in chapter 8 begins by announcing that in spite of the lack of spiritual victory you experience, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Many religious people believe that the best motivation for holiness is fear of punishment and hope of reward. Sermons often become either pep talks that attempt to cajole the people into following God because of the practical benefits, or scolding in which they’re brow-beaten for not gaining victory in Jesus or surrendering every area of their life. Paul starts at neither of those points when he wants to lead believers into the new obedience that results from the life in the Spirit, choosing instead to announce all over again the heavenly verdict that calms our fears and allows us to love God instead of resent him for the very first time in our lives. After all, how can people really begin to love God and obey him if they view him as an angry judge? That’s why the Christian message announces the good news: the believer’s status before God is given all at once in the beginning, rather than being a goal held out for the “victorious” Christians. The law, Paul says, was powerless to produce the kind of righteousness that God requires for that very reason. Every time it made its demands, I sunk lower and lower into despair. When I hear the law I don’t get excited and say, “Oh, now I can do that!” Now, some of us have never really come to that place, where we experience the sting of the law. We say, “Sure, I’m no all-star in the spiritual arena. I make mistakes (we all do), but I’m basically a good person.” We can only say that if we don’t know God’s standard of what is good. Through the law, we become conscious that we are sinners condemned justly by a holy God, and we learn that there is nothing in us that is capable of recovering the righteousness before God that we must have. So the law fails to bring about in us, Paul says, that righteousness and holiness that God requires. But he says we’re not only justified by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, but we’re also controlled neither by the law nor by sin, but by the Spirit. The law continues to set out God’s expectations for us, but it can no more give the Christian the power to obey than it can give the non-Christian that power. The new obedience that results from being baptized into Christ is entirely the work and fruit of the Spirit who unites us to the living Vine. Well the bottom line in all of this message in chapter 8 is eschatology. For many of us, when we hear that word we think of end times, but it really refers to the whole story of redemptive history from Genesis to Revelation. In other words, it’s an attempt to answer the question, “What’s God doing in history?” Paul’s eschatology is remarkably positive, given his pessimistic views even of the Christian spiritual life. Although the believer continues to struggle with sin, sin is no longer his master, since another master has dethroned it (so much for the idea of the “carnal Christian”). But Paul even goes a step further. God isn’t just concerned with individuals in his redemptive scheme through history; he has a cosmic redemption in mind, as the whole creation has recovered from the clutches of sin, evil, suffering, and decay. Tonight on the White Horse Inn, we’re talking about “No Condemnation” in our continuing series, The Romans Revolution.

Romans 8:1-17 (ESV)

Life in the Spirit
[1] There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. [3] For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [5] For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

[9] You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. [10] But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Heirs with Christ
[12] So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [13] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [14] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Click here for related information to the August 6 broadcast.

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