ROMANS CHAPTER 11
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD THROUGHOUT HISTORY IS REVEALED IN HIS DEALINGS WITH THE JEWS. Romans 9:1 - 11:36.
GOD HAS NOT REJECTED THE JEWS AS A WHOLE. A REMNANT HAS ALWAYS ACCEPTED GOD'S GRACIOUS CHOICE OF THEM. Romans 11:1-10.
"(1) I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. (2) God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? (3) 'Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.' (4) But what is the divine response to him? 'I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' (5) In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. (6) But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. (7) What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; (8) just as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.' (9) And David says, 'Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. (10) Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever.'" Romans 11:1-10. NASV.
A typical Jew of Paul's day with his strong tendency to believe that all Jews were predestined to salvation, after hearing Paul preach the gospel, might have asked, "God has not rejected His people, has He?" Paul answered, absolutely not. Then Paul cited himself as proof that God has not rejected the Jews. Paul said, in effect, I am a Jew and God has not rejected me. "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew." This is absolutely true, said Paul, no matter how many of Israel have been disobedient and obstinate. Paul does not mean that God has not rejected the disobedient and obstinate. He has. But the key to the meaning is in the phrase, "whom He foreknew." God has rejected many but He has not rejected those "whom He foreknew." And the key to fully understanding this is found back in chapter 8:29-30 where Paul wrote, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son ... and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified." God has absolutely not rejected those whom He foreknew. To the contrary, He has conformed them to the image of His Son; He has called them; and He has justified them. Paul said that all this applies to Israel as well as to the Gentiles.
Whom did God foreknow? Whom did He predestine to become conformed to the image of His Son? Whom did He call? We read the answer to these questions in Romans 10:13: "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." God accepts all those who call upon His name. God has not rejected the Jews. He put His call before them and all who have responded by calling back to Him, He has saved.
All of Israel has not been disobedient and obstinate. Paul reminded them of the prophet Elijah's plea with God against Israel. Elijah said, "Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life." In other words, Elijah said to God, "You might as well reject this people in totality for they have all rejected You." But God's response was given. "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." There were among the group God foreknew would remain faithful to Him, seven thousand men. This was just a remnant of Israel. But God would not reject Israel even though Elijah thought there were none left to save. In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. (Romans 11:5). Some of the Jews have turned to Christ in faith and have been conformed to the image of Christ. God wanted all the Jews to do that. Although many of the Jews have rejected the gospel of Christ, God has a remnant. So it absolutely cannot be said that God has rejected the Jews. God chose them through His grace and a remnant has accepted God's choice of them.
The trouble was that the zeal of most of the Jews for God was not according to knowledge of God's revealed word. God had made it clear that His righteousness would be imparted to those who pursued it by faith and not by works of Law. Paul reminded the Jews of the folly of expecting God to extend His grace to those who sought it on the basis of works when He said in Romans 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace."
Therefore Paul said in Romans 11:7 that what Israel sought by works, it did not obtain, but those who were chosen obtained it. Who were chosen? All those were chosen who believed and called on the name of the Lord. Those who were willing to forego striving for righteousness as a wage for their work were chosen. Those who were willing to lay aside their works as of no value at all, who were then eager to call on the name of the Lord for salvation by His grace, those were chosen.
What happened to the rest of Israel who did not call on the name of the Lord by faith in His grace? They were hardened! This was a principle of God that has always been true, even to this day. Those who reject God will be hardened. If we reject God, even His plan of salvation will become a stumbling block to us, even Christ will become a stumbling block to us. When we become hardened, God can no longer use us as His vessels of mercy and we become vessels to carry out the wrath of God just as Pharaoh became long ago. Our attitudes become stumbling blocks to ourselves and, possibly, to others.
In Romans 11:8 Paul quoted messages of both Moses and Isaiah to remind the Jews that this principle had been in operation for a long time. God gave them (the Jews of old) a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day. And in Romans 11:910 Paul quoted David's message, "Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumblingblock and a retribution to them; let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever."
If anyone should think that this principle was applied only to the Jews of old and does not apply to us today, let him read II Thessalonians 2:1012. There Paul said that those who "do not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved ... God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." Even today, the "table" that God sets before us can become a snare, a trap, and a stumblingblock if we do not call on the Lord by faith in His grace, and if we are not willing to receive God's gift of love of the truth so as to be saved.
GOD IS STILL CARRYING OUT HIS PLAN TO SAVE JEWS. Romans 11:11-36.
1. God makes Jews jealous by offering His salvation to Gentiles as well. Romans 11:11-14.
2. God will graft Jews back into His tree if they will believe. Romans 11:15-24.
"(11) I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. (12) Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! (13) But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, (14) if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. (15) For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (16) And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too. (17) But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, (18) do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. (19) You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' (20) Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; (21) for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. (22) Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. (23) And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. (24) For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?" Romans 11:11-24. NASV.
The Jews, by and large, had rejected God's grace. God sent them a stumbling block. And they had stumbled. Paul asked, "They did not stumble so as to fall, did they?" The meaning of this question seems to be - they did not get into such a condition that those Jews alive in Paul's time could not avail themselves of God's grace by calling on His name, did they? What about the Jews today? They are not cut off without a chance, are they? "May it never be!" Paul answered his own question. Absolutely not! God wants the Jews to come back to Him. "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord," even from among the Jews, "will be saved."
But God has used their transgressions to bring the Gentiles to salvation. And now God is using the salvation of the Gentiles to try to make the Jews think again about their lost condition and turn back to God. As Paul stated in Romans 8:28, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God," Jews or Gentiles. God wants the Jews to call on Him also. The Jews can come back if they will.
In their unbelief God allowed their sins to harden them. God had let His "table of blessings" to them become a stumbling block to them. But it had been for their own good. God had not pronounced a final judgment upon them. God wanted them back. So He sought, as a last resort, to shock them to their senses just as He had shocked Paul on the road to Damascus earlier in his life. Although God had allowed their sin to harden them and bring them a strong delusion, He still was patient with them. They were alive and they still had opportunity to come to the knowledge of their sins and repent. The stumbling blocks which their sins built up before them, God caused to work together with His patience and His gospel to lead them to realization of their lost condition and repentance. While there was still life and the possibility of them changing their choice, the Jews could change and again call upon the name of the Lord. It appears that the "stumbling blocks" which God erected before the Jews had more to do with second chances than they had to do with final judgments!
Despite the transgressions of God's chosen nation of Jews, God gave the riches of salvation to the rest of the world, to the Gentiles. Just think, if you can, what God could do if the Jews would turn back to Him. It becomes staggering to our finite minds. Just look what God has done for the world in spite of the disobedience and obstinacy of His chosen nation of Jews. If the Jews would only accept God's grace, think how rich the world would be then!
Paul said that God had given him, a Jew, the special ministry of being an apostle of Christ to the Gentiles. He said that ministry was magnified or enlarged in that He also had opportunity to move the Jews to jealousy and save some of them also. Even today, when Paul is mentioned to some Jews, they are moved to jealousy! They say, "Paul! That traitor!" A Jew with that attitude may have a better chance of being touched by the gospel of Christ than other Jews who "could care less" about Paul or religion of any kind, Jewish or Christian.
"For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:15). Note that Paul counted the disobedient Jews as "dead" because they had rejected God's grace. They were not dead yet physically, but they were dead spiritually. Paul intimated that God wanted to bring them back to "life". Is there any doubt but that God can bring spiritual life to the spiritually dead of the earth? None whatsoever! Our Lord, born in the flesh as a fleshly Jew, has proved the point. God raised Him from both physical and spiritual death. And in a spiritual sense, God has raised countless others from spiritual death with Christ as they put Him on in baptism. Our God performs a miraculous resurrection from the spiritually dead every time someone calls upon His name and puts on Christ in baptism. God raises that one as a new creation from the spiritually dead. There is no question but that God can raise the Jew from the spiritually dead also. Even the one whom God has hardened, even the one before whom God has placed a stumblingblock, God wants him to repent and call upon His name. God will give him life from the dead.
In Romans 11:16 Paul spoke in parables. Paul spoke of the "lump of dough" which makes the entire loaf of bread rise. Everyone knew that if the first lump contained the proper leaven, the whole loaf would be properly leavened. Since the first piece of dough from which the spiritual nation of Israel was formed was holy, the whole nation which grew from the first lump was holy. Paul also spoke of the branches of the tree which take life from the root. If the root be alive, the branches are kept alive. If the root of God's nation of Israel was holy to God, the branches which grew from the root were holy to God also. God created the nation of Israel. No man did it. It was holy because God created it and sanctified it. It grew out of God's holy "piece of dough". It was connected by God to the holy "root" which God created. It was God's intention that His Israel would always be holy to be used for His purposes and God provided the leaven which was to keep it holy.
But Paul said in Romans 11:17 that some of the branches of this holy tree had to be broken off because they refused to serve the holy purposes of God. These branches in Paul's illustration represented the disobedient Jews of Paul's day. And Paul said that God had grafted wild olive branches into the tree. The wild olive branches represented the Gentile Christians of Paul's day. The Gentiles then were partakers with Jews of the holiness which was imparted by the holy root. All who had not been broken off, and all who had been grafted in, partook of the leaven of God's holiness and served God's purposes.
Paul warned the Gentile Christians in Romans 11:18 not to become arrogant or to try to lord it over the natural branches, the Jews, who had been cut off the tree. Remember that the Gentiles were allowed to be partakers of the root which did not originally support them at all. God's holy root supported them only after they had been grafted in. Paul warned the Gentile Christians to "remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you."
Exhibiting his knowledge of human nature, Paul prophesied in Romans 11:19 that Gentile Christians would say arrogantly, "Branches were broken off so that (we) might be grafted in." In other words, Gentile Christians will think that God prefers them over the Jews. That is not true. In Romans 19:2021 Paul said that it was "quite right" that Jews were "broken off", but if was because of the "unbelief" of the Jews, not because God wanted to get rid of them in order to show His preference for Gentiles. Branches were broken off because they chose not to believe. God had to cut them off the holy root because they were no longer holy. So the Gentiles who have been grafted in must not be conceited. They have done nothing to merit their position on the tree. God has grafted them in. They have simply had faith in God. God did the work of grafting them in. It was only a matter of belief or unbelief on the part of the branches that made the difference. God would have kept the Jewish branches except for their unbelief.
As for the Gentile Christians, Paul said that they should keep a healthy "fear" of falling into unbelief. If they should fall into unbelief, undoubtedly God will cut them off. If God would not spare the natural Jewish branches, He will not spare the Gentile branches either. (These verses confute the doctrine of many denominational churches which claims that Christians who are once saved will always remain saved.)
Paul reminded his readers in Romans 11:22 that God is both severe and kind. This is another way of saying what Paul said in Romans 3:26, that God is both "just and the justifier." Those who do not believe must be judged and the judgment they receive will be severe and just. Those who believe will receive the kindness of justification given as a gift by the Justifier.
Has God rejected His Jewish people who developed in the flesh from the holy root? No! Paul said in Romans 11:23 that "if they do not continue in their unbelief," they will be grafted back into the tree. God is able to graft them in again for God can give eternal spiritual life to the spiritually dead. In Romans 11:24 Paul reasoned that, if God could perform the very difficult task of cutting off what was by nature a wild olive tree and grafting it contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how comparatively easy it would be for God to graft the natural branches back into the tree again. The illustration served to assure Paul's readers that God had not rejected the unbelieving Jews of Paul's day. They could again become part of God's holy Israel if they would turn from their unbelief.
Let us note as we study the Roman letter that the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to view God's Israel not just as a fleshly nation of fleshly Jews, but as a spiritual nation which transcends the flesh and consists of all human beings who have turned in faith to God. Remember that God's plan for all people for all time was made before the foundation of the earth. The "holy root of the olive tree" can be likened to God's vehicle for His overall redemptive plan. Out of that holy root grew many things which God created: the fleshly nation of Israel, yes, but not only Israel - the entire congregation of spiritual creatures whom God has saved since the beginning of mankind now making up the "body of Christ."
All who are saved today, or who have ever been saved, have had to be grafted to God's olive tree in order to receive the holiness necessary to go into God's presence. Those of fleshly Israel who did not enter spiritual Israel were cut off and that cutting off of unfaithful Jews who had lived up to the time of Paul had already occurred when Paul wrote Romans. The spiritual body of Christ, the church of Christ, was already in existence when Paul wrote. Both Jews and Gentiles by faith were, and are, welcomed into the church of Christ which may now be referred to as the Israel of God.
3. God has shut up in disobedience both Jews and Gentiles that He might show mercy to all. His mercy will result in the salvation of all the children of promise (all Israel). Romans 11:25-36.
"(25) For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; (26) and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.' (27) 'And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.' (28) From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; (29) for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. (30) For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, (31) so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. (32) For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. (33) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (34) For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? (35) Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? (36) For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." Romans 11:25-36. NASV.
Paul intimated that there was some danger that the Gentile Christians might think that the unbelieving Jews were cut off forever and salvation was only for the Gentiles. The great commission of Christ, of course, was that the gospel should be preached to every creature, including both Jews and Gentiles. The Gentile Christians needed to be informed so that they would not be "wise in their own estimation" by thinking that fleshly Israel cannot now be saved. Paul said, "a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in." It is important to note that the "partial hardening" was already occurring when Paul wrote this. Israel as a fleshly nation had already been cut off. Many Israelites (Jews) were hardened because of their unbelief. But the hardening was termed only "partial" because some of Jews believed. Also the hardening might have been termed " partial" because those who were hardened still had opportunity to repent and believe and it was to be expected that some would. All the Jews were not hardened because all did not disbelieve. The very first people to receive spiritual life and be added to God's spiritual Israel, the church, were Israelites (or Jews). Since the fleshly Jewish nation was cut off, it was not that to which the believers were added. It was spiritual Israel to whom all believers, Jews and Gentiles, were added.
Not only had the partial hardening of Israel already come about when Paul wrote this, also the fulness of the Gentiles was already coming in. Some Gentiles were already a part of spiritual Israel along with a remnant of Jews. So, just as there was no ground for the Jews to think themselves more favored than the Gentiles, so also there was no ground for the Gentiles to become "wise in their own estimation." All were one spiritual Israel and access was by faith, not by fleshly race or any kind of predetermination by God except that "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved."
The fulness of the Gentiles does not refer to any special number of individual Gentiles. The full number of Gentiles in spiritual Israel were all those who were, or who would be, saved by faith. In a sense, "fulness of the Gentiles was achieved in one day when the gospel was preached to the Gentile, Cornelius, and He with his family believed, repented, and were baptized with the result that God added them to His church, His spiritual Israel. In the same way, the partial hardening of the Jews was no special number of Jews who turned away from the gospel of Christ. The Jews were no different from the Gentiles in respect to the fact that only a partial number of them turned to the Lord, the remnant.
"And thus all Israel will be saved," said Paul. That is, all whom God has added to spiritual Israel will be saved. Remember, Paul has already indicated in the Roman letter that God never intended that fleshly lineage alone would describe His nation of Israel. In Romans 9:6 Paul said, "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." In addition to being born into fleshly Israel, God required the Jewish people to live by faith in Him as a prerequisite to being part of His spiritual Israel. Only those Jews who had faith in God were counted by God to be part of spiritual Israel. With the sacrifice of Christ, Israel was enlarged to include Gentiles of Paul's day who turned to Christ as well as all those of all the earth's ages who had been, or would be, saved by their faith in God. Thus, Paul could say timelessly and in truth, "All Israel will be saved." (Romans 11:26). There is no indication given here or anywhere else in the Holy Scriptures that the salvation of fleshly Jews would be on any other terms than that of faith in God and His Son, the Christ. The Gentiles had salvation on the same terms, and faithful Gentiles were also part of God's Israel.
In Romans 11:26-27 Paul's quotation from Isaiah chapter 59 bears this out. Paul quoted as follows, "The Deliverer will come from Zion. He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins." The Deliverer was Jesus. He came in the flesh from Zion (another name for fleshly Israel). He and only He could remove ungodliness from Jacob. Jacob was the original name of the man Israel. God gave the name Israel also to the nation made up of descendants of the man Israel, His covenant people. God's covenant was to take away the sins of those who would believe. Those whose ungodliness was removed and whose sins were forgiven had spiritual life and were made part of Jacob, spiritual Israel. So the name Jacob, as used by Isaiah, and quoted here by Paul, referred to spiritual Israel rather than to fleshly Israel. Isaiah declared in prophecy that the Deliverer, Jesus, would come from fleshly Israel to remove ungodliness from spiritual Israel.
Salvation was available to all of fleshly Israel because, as Paul said in Romans 10:13, it was available to "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord." Those who have believed have proved themselves to be part of God's Israel. God has saved them. Their ungodliness has been removed. If they continue in their belief nothing can stop them from being delivered from their sins. All Israel will be saved because all the "saved" have been added to "Israel" and "Israel" is made up only of the "saved". Indeed, all who will ever be saved of either the Jews or the Gentiles, past, present, or future, have already been saved as far as Christ's sacrifice is concerned. The "saved" are God's Israel.
Paul said in Romans 11:28, "From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake." In Paul's day, and even to this day, many of the Jews have been and are belligerent to the gospel of Christ. Therefore, from the standpoint of the gospel, many Jews have been and are enemies of God for the sake of the Gentiles. But God did not force them to be enemies. In Romans chapter 9 Paul indicated that the vessel that the Almighty Potter was forming of the Jews "spoiled" in the hands of the Potter. God, the Potter, puts all things to use to perform His purpose. So the Jews who "spoiled" in God's hands, were put to another use that would carry out God's purpose.
God has had, and still has, an irrevocable love for the Jews for the sake of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, God has said over and over again in the Scriptures that He wants to be known among all men as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the fathers of the Jews.
In Romans 11:29 Paul pointed out that God gave irrevocable gifts and promises to the fathers of the Jews. These gifts and promises were concerning the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul made it clear here in the Roman letter, and we should now be aware that the primary posterity line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom God made promises, was a line of faith. Of course, foremost among those whom God wanted to remain faithful were the fleshly posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that is, the Jews. How sad that so many of the fleshly descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would become unfaithful to God and thereby remove themselves from God's Israel.
God's promises are irrevocable. God will carry them out. Nothing can stop God from carrying out His purpose. God has kept a remnant of the Jews who have remained faithful. Actually, only a remnant of the Gentiles have been faithful, just as only a remnant of the Jews have been faithful. Today, we see God giving gifts and calling men, Jews and Gentiles, into spiritual Israel as He planned even before the foundation of the world, and as He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Paul said in Romans 11:30 that the Gentile Christians to whom he wrote were once disobedient. This reminds us of chapters 1 and 2 of the Roman letter where Paul pointed out that the consciences of the Gentiles bore witness to the fact that they were disobedient to God's law. Their breaking of God's law put them in a position of being without excuse and in danger of the wrath of God. They needed mercy. Paul reminded them here in Romans 11:30 that through Christ they have been shown mercy. But Paul added here that the Gentiles have been shown mercy because of their (the Jews) disobedience. Somehow, in the evil choice of Jewish souls to be disobedient to God, God found a way to make something good come from evil. Because of the Jews' disobedience, God showed mercy to the Gentiles!
In chapters 2 and 3 of the Roman letter Paul wrote of the sins of the Jews which left them without excuse before God just as the sinful Gentiles were left without excuse. The Jews also were in danger of receiving the wrath of God as judgment for their sins. They needed mercy from God just as did the Gentiles. In Romans 11:31 Paul reminded his readers that these (Jews) also now have been disobedient. But Paul added here in Romans 11:31 that because of the mercy shown to you (the Gentiles), they (the Jews) also may now be shown mercy! In other words Paul said that God somehow has based His extension of mercy to the sinful Jews upon the fact that He also has extended mercy to the sinful Gentiles.
Paul revealed in Romans 11:32 the result of God's actions regarding solution of the problem concerning man's sinful disobedience and man's need for mercy. In His wisdom God knew that mankind had to be brought to a knowledge of his sinful, lost condition, and his need for God's mercy. Without a knowledge of his need for God's mercy, man was just not going to call on the name of the Lord for salvation. So God did something surprising to man, something awesome, something wonderful and needful to bring man to his senses. "For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all."
God's shutting up of all people in disobedience to His law was, perhaps, the major example of God's use of a "stumblingblock" to bring about His purposes for mankind. God knew that His law would become a "stumblingblock" to all people. Paul recited in Romans, chapters 1, 2, and 3, the true story of mankind's disobedience to law and the "strong delusions" and "hardening of hearts" into which mankind's disobedience has led all down through the ages of mankind on earth. It has all been for the purpose of awakening people to their need for salvation from the wrath of God against lawbreakers. Paul revealed here the ultimate purpose of law. In this explanation the readers of the Roman letter could see how the law served them as a schoolmaster (or tutor) to lead them to Christ. (Galatians 3:24). Here Paul further expanded on his statement, "Through the law comes the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20).
Here we see how God accomplishes His purpose to bring us to our senses and save us, sinners all, who will request His mercy through our "obedience of faith." We first come to a knowledge of our guilt and our need for mercy. Then, we recognize the inestimable value of God's gifts and we call upon His name. Everything we need, God has made available to us. In addition to drawing us to Him through demonstration of His love for us, He gently "nudges", then "pushes," and, if necessary, "shoves us sprawling" over the "stumblingblock" of law which has convicted us of sin. It's all summed up in the amazing statement that "God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all."
Paul's Roman letter has shown us that God determined, even before the creation, that He was going to have "children of promise," that He was going to have "Sons of God" from among His creation. God also determined that each person of His creation would have a free will of His own. God undoubtedly knew that, immediately upon His creation of the first man, Satan would enter the scene and take advantage of man's free will to subvert him from God. Satan did just that and immediately alienated God's creation from Him. But God went on with the working of His purposes with the divine knowledge that He is completely victorious over Satan. God just uses Satan for the ultimate good of all those who love Him. Immediately as Satan alienates God's creation, God nullifies all Satan's actions by granting mercy to mankind. God uses even the defection of His mighty angel, Satan, to give man a choice to exercise his will. In spite of every person first falling prey to Satan, God receives as His children all who will reverse their first choice. God foreknew that there would be those who would reverse their first choice. These are God's "children of promise." This is the remnant God has kept for Himself.
We see God's purposes being carried out through time in His holy history book, the Bible, from Adam to the Law of Moses, to Christ, and to our present day. But God actually did it all in one bold stroke. God is not limited by time. God foreknew His people. He predestined them to become conformed to the image of His Son. He called them. He justified them. And He glorified them. It was all done in one bold stroke. From God's perspective it is done. The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
And how marvelously God has done it! In the Roman letter Paul has reviewed for us the part God gave to Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Esau. And see how God used even Satan's man, King Pharoah of Egypt, to establish His purposes. When Satan thinks He has some great advantage in a powerful man like Pharoah, God just turns it all around to bring about His own purposes. Satan has been defeated from the beginning. Actually, Satan is powerless to do anything except to serve as God's vessel of wrath! So God uses everyone either as a "vessel of wrath" or a "vessel of mercy" to bring about His purposes.
And always, when it seems that mankind is totally lost, God preserves a remnant. And how marvelously He does this! He gives mankind inner knowledge and laws to lead him to come to a knowledge of his sin. Man starts to wander away from God in the wrong direction. Then God erects a "fence of law" in front of him. If man sees the fence and understands it, he turns back to God. But if he doesn't see it, or decides to ignore it, then God causes Him "to stumble" over it, to hurt himself on it. Then man can recognize the "fence". He can't ignore it. If he goes on away from God regardless of the fence of law, he has no excuse. He receives the just wrath of God. But, if he turns back, God's mercy is waiting. Everything man needs for salvation is there and waiting.
See how marvelously God used Moses and the children of Israel. See the lessons of truth He has brought to all mankind through them. When they have served God in faith, they have been great vessels of God's mercy and teachers to the world. When they have not believed, they have served as vessels of God's wrath to teach us of God's power and might.
See how God always sends His "preachers" to preach His word so that all may hear of His mercy, may believe and call upon His name. See how God uses the occasion of the Jews' nonbelief to bring the blessings of salvation to the Gentiles. See how God uses the occasion of the mercy shown to the Gentiles to offer mercy also to the Jews. And so God's mercy is available to all.
Who else could have done these things? Which of us could have figured out all of this and brought it to pass? Who of us can even understand it all now? Paul himself was overwhelmed by this revelation of God's ways. It brought him to exclaim in Romans 11:33¬36: "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."
(This was taken from the book "God's Righteousness Revealed," a commentary on Romans by F. M. Perry.)
© 2002, F. M. Perry