This is a picture of a tower of books in the Lobby of the new Ford’s Theater in D.C.
Fords is of course infamous as the location of Lincoln’s assignation.
It eight feet around and 34 feet tall…made of 7,000 different books written about Abe Lincoln.
The fact is that is less than half the total number of books written his about life (15,000)
Maybe around 3 million pages…or 6 pages written about him for every hour he lived.
So if you wanted to know the “real story” of a single man…Abe Lincoln you can get started.
But if you did read those 15K books (or at least some of them) you would find a lot of different views (to say the least) about the “real” Abe…it could get confusing.
And Abe is in second place behind Jesus in terms of the books written about him.
So, how do we propose to get the truth about who Jesus is…or any number of other important issues in our lives…when there are just so many different views?
Medical: How many times have medical experts changed their minds?
Diets: How many times have we been told contrary things regarding diets?
Political: How many views of what nations, states, Cities, individuals should do are there?
Family: How should you act if you are married, want to be married, don’t want to be married? How should you raise children, get babies to sleep or eat or potty?
Theology: How many religions, denominations, churches are there?
It makes your head spin…and people come to different conclusions about what to do with all this.
- Pessimism: We can’t know…so why try?
- Apathy: It doesn’t matter…do what you want.
- Arrogance: I’m right, your wrong.
-Sometimes the disconcerting nature of the competing views can lead people to come to simplistic solutions that they hold firmly too.
-Life if so complex it overwhelms me…so I will choose to believe only what makes complete sense to me.
- Humility: Humble pursuit of truth. Truth exists…God is the source of all truth…so I will do my best to pursue it by pursuing him and trusting him in the pursuit.
-Humility is not at odds with confidence; it is at odds with arrogance.
-I can be confident that I have discovered what it true, real…but humble in that I don’t think its because I’m smarter or better than others.
-Gratitude not arrogance is the attitude of humble confidence.
Jesus asked Peter who people were saying he was (their conclusions were wrong)
Jesus asked Peter
Matt. 16:15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
Jesus didn’t say “Peter, you are such a smart guy…so much smarter than the others.”
He said “Peter you are a blessed a guy…because you could not discover this truth on your on…God has revealed it.”
The proper response to finding truth is “confident humility: gratitude”
Experts change their minds about medicine, diets, political systems, parenting, etc.
But what doctors have gotten right…has helped me in incredible ways.
What people have learned is good to eat and is not…though up for debate in some ways is many ways is clear and very helpful.
Same for the other issues we face…including the issue of what we are to believe regarding God, humans, salvation.
What we have is accurate (true) and adequate (enough)…God revealed information.
So, let’s move through life and Scriptures with a humble pursuit of truth and a confidence in the God who has made himself known and continues to do so.
Don’t be dismayed by the fact that there are mysteries, differences of opinions, loose ends…its ok.
What we do know is in the end, what we most need to know.
Today we are in Romans 11.
We will go through most of the chapter down to the final four verses, which we will save for another day.
This chapter is the last of the mainly theological section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.
The last four verses of chapter 11 form the break into the practical applications of his theology.
Those four verses are a declaration of worship…doxology…praise.
Good theology (thinking) leads to worship (doxology) leads to life lived well in the light of truth.
We are not going to read all of Romans 11, its long, it is packed full of OT quotes and fairly complex theological thinking.
If you are so inclined to do further study on this or any chapter in Romans, I personally recommend Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans.
It is well received by scholars who are Christ followers, it balances humility and confidence.
Not everyone would enjoy it or be helped by it (and there are many others, some longer and harder some shorter and easier)…but if you feel a need to dive deeper it is a good starting point.
So what we will do is look at a couple of the big issues in this chapter and hopefully get the general idea of Paul’s point or points as well as how those points might directly apply to us.
Especially as we prepare to move from his theology of the gospel into the practice of the gospel in the last 5 chapters of his letter.
What about Israel?
There are a lot of different views regarding the place of Israel (the physical descendants of Abraham) in God’s plan.
Some of the questions are:
- Do Jews have their own way of salvation apart from the Gospel? (obedience to the law)
- Has God promised them (irrevocably) a physical land, and nation?
- Has the church replaced them completely? Believers of all nations are the true “Israel of God”
People from what is called “Dispensationalism” often believe in a strict distinction between national Israel and the Church.
People from a Reformed perspective often believe that the Church is the “true Israel” and that the people of God has always been comprised of people of faith regardless of their nationality.
You see some of these differences being worked out in public policy and personal actions.
- Deference given to the Nation of Israel by American politicians…whether they are right or wrong on an Arab issue.
- Suspicion of Israel by other politicians…whether they are right or wrong.
- A refusal or reluctance to evangelize Jews by some, a focused evangelism on Jews by others.
I’ll give you my conclusions…you of course, have freedom to think differently.
Here’s my summary:
Paul sees a distinction between “physical Israel” and “spiritual Israel”
All you have to do to be a part of physical Israel is to be born into Abraham’s lineage.
All you have to do to be a part of spiritual Israel is to be born again by faith in the gospel.
Paul begins this section by asking and answering a question.
“Did God reject his people?”
“By no means” he says “I’m an Israelite myself.”
So clearly, he hasn’t rejected Jews.
He then tells the story of Elijah who was feeling sorrow for himself after a wicked King had murdered many of the prophets of God.
He complained to God and said “I’m the only one left.”
God replied “Nonsense, I have 7000 more just like you who do not worship Baal.”
Then from this illustration Paul declares that just as there was a significant “remnant” then so there is one now.
11:5 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.
But notice the remnant is a remnant of grace, not works…all are saved the same way.
Paul goes on in this chapter to tell of how physical Israel did not respond (in whole) to the gospel but of course many Jewish people did.
This rejection by Israel helped launch the gospel to the wider world…Gentiles were coming into the kingdom in large numbers.
Practically speaking in the book of Acts the persecution of the Church (largely by the Jewish authorities) scattered them out from Jerusalem and they were forced to take the gospel to the nations.
Paul then warned his Gentile readers…”Don’t get cocky…God is not through with Israel and you are merely recipienst of grace yourselves.”
11:25 “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you many not be conceited…”
Paul talks often about election…God’s gracious choice to save people.
We are not saved because we are good or smart…but because God has freely given us salvation.
We talked a few weeks ago about the mysterious union of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility…so we will not tarry there again this morning.
But clearly there is a distinction between corporate and individual election.
God choose a nation (Israel) to represent him in the world, to be a source of blessing for the world. They were a nation of privilege of service.
They were promised a place (Canaan) and a position as a nation if they remained faithful.
They did not, they went into exile. They were allowed to return under Persian rule, later Roman rule.
Now they are again an independent nation in our day.
But the election of Israel to be a nation is different from God’s choosing of individuals from within Israel and outside of it to salvation.
It can be confusing but Paul talks in Romans about Israel as the physical descendants of Abraham…a nation chosen by God.
But he also says that not all Israel is Israel, speaking of individuals who are of Jewish background but have not received Jesus the Messiah.
So there are the people of the Covenant made with Abraham…a people and a place with conditions attached.
Then there are the people of the New Covenant…a spiritual people with only the condition of faith attached.
So has the church “replaced” Israel?
Well there is and always has been one “People of God”…always by faith.
In the OT the people of God was mostly from the nation of Israel but there are notable exceptions…Rahab, Ruth, Uriah…non-Jews who were clearly part of God’s family and important in the story of God.
In the NT we see that Jesus (a Jew) the promised Messiah, came to bring salvation to the entire world…all nations.
So the Church, the Ekklesia…the called out ones…are the people of God.
But it is not really correct to say that the church has “replaced” Israel.
Its more correct to say, I think, that the church is what the remnant of Israel always was…the call out people of God.
The church is made up of Christ followers from every people group…Gentiles and Jews alike.
Just like the church in Rome to whom Paul’s letter was written.
So there are really in a sense “two Israels” and they belong to different categories.
Jewish people whether they believe the gospel or not (or in many cases do not even believe in God) belong to national Israel by birth.
The church is a spiritual Israel, made up of people from all nations, including the nation of Israel.
So…is there is still a special place for National Israel…or is God done with them?
Paul argues here that though the church is the focal point of God’s saving work in history (the called out ones throughout the ages).
God is not done with national Israel…there will be a large turning to Christ at the end.
Some believe it will be a continual trickle others a more sudden surge.
Some believe God’s ongoing plan for national Israel involves ongoing physical blessings…a place, a nation.
Others don’t…they believe the blessings for Jews that become Christians are like those for all Christians…they largely promises of a spiritual, eternal nature.
I lean towards the latter position.
In the Old Covenant (Testament) God set his people apart and gave them a covenant that went like this:
-Keep my commands and I will bless you physically among all the nations.
*He did just that, when they did just that.
But likewise in the Old Testament God told of a time when he would write his commands on the hearts of his people:
-Even those who lived under the Old Covenant experienced relationship with God through faith not works.
The New Testament (Covenant) is in the blood (Sacrifice of Jesus)…it is, as it always has been by faith that we have a saving relationship with God.
The English word “Church”=is a translation of the Greek word “ekklesia” (to “call out”)
The church is comprised of the “Called out ones” from every nation and people group.
OT…God called Abraham to go to the place he would show him.
-Throughout the OT God continually called his people out, to be set apart for his purposes.
So it may be helpful to change the word “Church” to “Called out ones” or “People of God.”
Then you can see the continuity between the people of God then and now…they have always been his “called out ones.”
Set apart for his purposes.
Then you could put it all together like this:
God made a nation who came to be called Israel in order to carry the truth of who he is through the ages. Within this nation he called out individuals who would follow him by faith. From this nation God brought the Messiah, Jesus. All who place their faith in him are part of the people of God. Jews and Gentiles alike are part of his “called out ones.” The day will come when many more from the lineage of Abraham will also become followers of Jesus.
Let’s move on to another big question/issue that this chapter surfaces.
- Pride and security
At one point in this chapter Paul is challenging the Gentile readers to not become arrogant.
If God cut off his called people because they did not have faith…then the wild branches(Gentiles) that were grafted in should not become proud because they could be cut off as well.
11:20 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.
Paul uses the analogy of an olive tree where a wild olive shoot is grafted into the domestic tree.
The “natural branches” he says were cut off from the root in order to allow you to be grafted in.
Don’t think you can’t be cut off as well.
The root is God…he is the giver of life and eternal life.
So it appears we have another thorny issue here.
Here’s the first point: Paul indicates that we are to have complete and lasting confidence in our relationship with God.
8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Then there is this point:
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.
So is our salvation unconditional (once we are saved, we cannot be lost)?
Or it is conditional (we can be saved, and fail to continue and therefore be lost)?
There are people who take the Scriptures seriously on both sides of this issue.
I’ll tell you what I believe…you are again, free to come to your own conclusion.
But remember the fact that there is disagreement doesn’t mean there is not truth or that the truth doesn’t matter.
In the end, something is true, real about this and we should try to get close to it if we can…both in belief and life.
I believe those who have been born again will endure the end…and some act like believers but are actually not.
1John 2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
I think there are also people who for a time walk away, but God relentlessly pursues them…often in severe demonstrations of mercy.
The writer of Hebrews said “God disciplines those he loves.”
God brings discipline to his own kids in order to get them to return to him.
Last week Glenn Campbell died…Famous for “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Wichita Lineman” (one of the most covered songs of all time)
Glenn was enormously and naturally talented and wildly successful…sold 45 million records.
He was also an outspoken Christ follower who lost his way.
Drug addiction, maritial unfaithfulness…brokenness…and eventually a return to his faith.
This can happen…one of my favorite descriptions of why is found in Jeremiah 2.
Jer. 2:13 God’s people have always been prone to two forms of folly:
-Forsake the well of living water (God’s good ways)
-Dig our own wells that cannot hold water (Our own foolish ways)
So believers can, for a time, even a long time…act like unbelievers…but it won’t go well for them.
Other people give initial evident of being a believer but then walk away.
If they walk away finally and fully…then I believe they may have come close but not all the way to becoming a Christ follower.
Paul wrote in chapter 8
Rom. 8:30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
There is a unified and ultimately completed process from justification to glorification.
An unbroken chain from the Initial experience of forgiveness to completed experience at death.
So why is Paul giving this severe warning if there is no danger of these folks actually losing their salvation?
I think he tells us in verse 25 “I don’t want you to be conceited.”
If a person believes, as some do…that they are saved by a token prayer, or by religious activities rather than by transference of trust from self to Christ…they are not safe at all.
They are deluded.
Some in Israel believed they would be protected just because they were part of Israel…that it didn’t matter at all what they actually did.
Jeremiah was a prophet in Israel before the people were taken captive into Babylon.
The prophets were primarily “forth tellers” not “foretellers”
They called people to reform more than telling people their futures.
Jeremiah warned his people…you need to obey…God will not protect you from your own rebellion.
Jer. 7:4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!”
The temple was their greatest physical display of God having chosen them…they put their confidence in it as a sign of their favored status.
“What do you mean we are to be judged…look at that temple of the Lord!”
We are God’s people, nothing is going to happen to us.
Like a spoiled child of a famous person who believes his father’s fame will keep him from consequences.
Israel had the most famous of father’s and they believed they could do as they please.
“The temple of the Lord!’ “Do you know who my dad is?”
5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
Paul is giving a Jeremiah type warning to the folks in Rome…If you do not continue in the faith…you did have not have faith.
Paul told the Romans…”continue in the kindness of Christ.”
Meaning…continue to put your confidence in his grace and when you do his grace will show up in your life towards others.
So…should I be worried?
I sin, I struggle, I fail…how do I know if I have trusted Christ?
Are you right now trusting Christ?
Do you repent of known sin, are you putting your confidence only in what he has done for you rather than in what you can do?
Then you need not be worried…you have reason to live with humble confidence.
What are some practical differences in terms of believing you can or cannot lose your salvation?
- If you believe you can lose your salvation then you can live with insecurity that is unwarranted.
- If you believe you can lose your salvation then you can also believe you have a role in your salvation…namely your own endurance or obedience.
1Cor. 1:8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jude 24 To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy —
- If you believe you cannot lose your salvation then you can believe it doesn’t matter how you live or what you do.
*I would argue that anyone who has experienced God’s grace and love would not take this attitude or approach.
Whatever you believe about security or lack of it…it is clear from Scriptures that we cannot earn God’s grace, it can only be received.
It is also clear that recipients of his grace will give evidence over time of being his people.
It will not be a walk of perfection, but it will be a walk in his direction.
- Do you live with a false sense of security?
*Persistent, unrepentant sin?
*Those who have trusted Christ and are trusting Christ will reflect him over time.
- Do you live with a false sense of insecurity?
*Your every failure makes you believe you are not his child.
*It is unlikely it would matter so much to you that your life please him if you where not a child of his.
*Stop striving…rest in him.