Romans 10 is an open door to the world. Paul has agonized over his countrymen but stood fast on God’s open door to the Gentiles despite resistance. To a Jew, there existed only two types of people: Jews and non-Jews. In our age of diversity, it seems strange that for a Jew, the world was “us or them” depending on whether one’s flesh traced back to the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The issue is not archaic, however, because there is always an in-crowd to a mind that thinks in an in-crowd way. Only a miracle can break that.
The issue is always law, even when it comes to tolerance. What good does it do to tolerate or even celebrate varieties of people if the emphasis is till on trying to keep God’s laws as independent selves? The tension is so great that one will either discover the miracle of how we are kept or else reinterpret God’s word not to mean what it says. The latter is a religion of human qualities and misguided “zeal for God” which is “not enlightened” (Rom. 10:2), meaning the light of the Spirit as the fruit producer.
Apart from the Spirit, nothing changes inwardly: religion merely takes an idealistic form in which the worshiper measures righteousness according to the self and not a standard that only God is and which only God can produce in a person. If the Christian life does not take a miracle, it is not the Christian life. It is just another reconfiguration of the same old plot—effort to look good while remaining the same inwardly.
Getting to the end of self-righteousness is painful, not only to the one going through it but to Spirit-led onlookers. Grace means living by Christ’s own righteousness. Our deepest intercession takes place for those still clinging to the hope of keeping God’s laws themselves, or clinging to hope in laws of their own making. All of the law is fulfilled in Christ. To have Christ is to never need law to bring flesh into compliance because Christ lives his compliance in our members.
Under the Mosaic covenant, the Jews were called, and the Gentiles were not called. Paul affirms this in Ephesians Chapters 3 and 4, saying it was a mystery hidden that the Gentiles would be invited into the family of faith as the elect. Yet in Romans 9, Paul uses Old Testament promises to show that scripture always revealed to the eye of faith that all nations would be invited into the elect family.
This does not now exclude the Jewish nation. It means that the non-Jewish nations are included because Christ fully forms himself in anyone who receives him—pressing that person on to know that fruit bearing son-ship is the point. The Bible does not recognize partial versions of salvation in which a believer settles merely for going to heaven. God is after sons to operate the Father’s business of restoration and dominion in the world.
God calls real people, anyone who will believe, to know Him as His friends and heirs. He does this according to faith, and in Paul’s day, God opened up this calling to anyone in the whole world who would like to be included by miraculous birthing in the Spirit into the body of Christ. Naturally, Paul thought a lot about Jews and Gentiles. We might not think so much about them, but because of the fall, everyone seeks elite status over others in some way until Christ in our hearts melts away that evil unbelief.
The Bible shows that God cares for all of creation. When He talked to Jonah at the end of the book of Jonah, He even mentioned “much cattle” (4:11 RSV). The idea that God only concerns Himself with the wellbeing of a remnant misses the agony of God over everything and everyone He has created, whether they believe or not.
Love cannot harden itself. It must suffer, and God cannot avoid suffering Himself and does not even choose to avoid it. He reaches out to save all who will believe. God knew all along that the Old Covenant was meant to prepare us for “whosoever will.”
Once the mind of Christ settles into you, the independent outlook and verbalization of that by others is painful to hear. We want to get everybody aware of what it means to be crucified with Christ and risen as a new creation. The opposite of this is to think that the Gospel means Jesus added as a help to the same old person that we were. That old thought includes thinking that people of themselves are either good or evil, and if evil, they can work on themselves and be good with help for Jesus and by trying to apply the principles of his teaching. However, this is not “being saved by His life” as Romans 5 puts it. being saved by His life means that life is no longer my life with a little help from His life, but that Christ is our life (Col. 3). That ends the lie of a separate life that I live. No longer do I know myself as just a mere man (1 Cor. 3). I am Christ in my form. That means that Christ has me in His body as just the very part that He needs to be, as me. No other player can play this part, and it is not I living but Christ, and yet the life I live in the flesh is there, just not an independent flesh but flesh expressing Christ by the particular human that I am. I didn’t think this plan up, God did. I do my part is to agree with God’ s mind as His mind declares who every Christian is. Now the rub, once we settle into who we are, is the horrible effect on the nerves of others’ independent view of themselves as Christians. It can drive you mad to listen to all the self Improvement talk. On top of that, the independent thinkers, like the Corinthians, have no clue what Paul is saying and even make him to be the ogre. The reason this entry is called Failsafe is that even though other Christians do not know who they are, we remember, and so underneath the frustration and vexation that the Spirit feels in us over the entrenchment of th lie hanging on in them, we remember that they are Christ in their form. This is a great relief: seeing through to the identity of someone who does not yet know his or her own identity and shows no openness in wanting to know. Praise God for this Failsafe.
Readers might think Paul’s passion for the Gentiles sprang from disillusionment with the Jews, yet Paul tells us how deep his love in Christ is for the Jews. It is not lessened, no matter how much he is called to the Gentiles. Not many Jews at that time received the Gospel—only a remnant. However, this did not mean that the Gospel failed. The Gospel is even more a success for moving from outer identity to inner. Paul has already said “He is a Jew who is one inwardly” (2:29 RSV). Fleshly, external identity is not one’s identity. Christ is our identity.
Works, good or evil, have nothing to do with God’s choice of a person. We see this in God’s word to Sarah where the promise had nothing to do with natural birthing. It was about supernatural birthing when the natural level fails. A son of God is a son by miraculous Spirit conception and not external, natural means.
The fleshly mind protests: if our good or bad actions are not the determining weights on the scales of justice, how can life make sense? Isn’t the universe capricious and random? No, because the new birth must be one that is not dependent on anything about the human but only on God’s mercy. Why God created those He knew would reject Him is His business, and Paul says that God did this in order to birth sons—those who are offspring only by His mercy. He called the Jews by mercy, and He now also calls the Gentiles by mercy.
Paul writes Romans 9 as a passionate apologetic for his ministry to the Gentiles. He tells us about Sarah and Isaac, then Rebecca and Jacob, in order to make a point: the GENTILES! He shows that God all along intended to open the door to those not apparently called. He did this with the patriarchs, who had no precedent for being called. Then He used a barren woman, and later a promise about a son who was not the natural first-born. The whole framework for birthing is supernatural and by faith.
God completes what He begins in a son. Jesus, Himself, is the firstborn son; and all sons, after Christ justifies them, follow His same path to glorification through suffering. This is not only for themselves, any more than Christ’s glorification was only for Himself. We are eternally for others because love operates that way. How can the sons be other than Christ’s life being lived in them?
Yet love is not always understood by others. Sons can expect opposition, in which adversaries accuse and condemn them because the opponents have not overcome the accuser of the brethren. The enemy hates freedom and constantly tempts sons to become introspective about freedom, as if they are too loose with it. However, faith knows that freedom’s purpose is to express Christ in union—based on containing him, not imitating him.
How wonderful that liberty is. It is not for the purpose of spiting others, even our enemies. Rather, opposites stir tension by which sons refuse going back under law as if they are independent selves. The tension prompts the Spirit of grace all the more to believe for others.
Accusers love to suggest that tribulations prove God’s lack of favor, and that faith is foolish and useless. The comfort is scripture’s word that nothing anywhere, any place, or of any kind, can separate sons from the fixed and constant love of God in Christ Jesus. Paul quotes from Psalm 44, a grim Psalm where the Psalmist cries out in suffering that God’s people were being killed like sheep but not because of sin. Job also is a reminder that terrible things happen to everyone.
The sons’ keeping is that in everything, “we are more than conquerors.” This is surely not on a feeling level. We feel what we feel, but spirit runs deeper. The conquering place is by faith alone when nothing appears that way and when faith appears ridiculous. When Paul gave his testimony to King Agrippa in Acts, the king thought that Paul had lost his mind. In one sense, he had, but had received another mind—the mind of Christ.
When we believe and others do not, there is agony. Thus, Romans 9 is a difficult chapter because reason attempts to affirm the doctrine of election and still account for freedom. This is exhausting and can only be exhausting since reason is not spirit. Freedom is not a quality apart from God that He gives us whereby we make choices; rather, freedom is the foundation of God’s being, out of which God operates, beginning in the free sea of nothingness and proceeding to His eternal choice to be for others, which is why there is a Cross in the heart of God.
Therefore, when God gives us freedom, He cannot give it apart from Himself. All He can give is Himself, making even freedom a process in God alone, into which we enter and in which we decide whether to unite with the Cross in His heart or to shrink back from it. Shrinking back would mean entering into misused freedom, which in God is only a potential because of His eternal choice to be the lamb slain.
Paul has just affirmed in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God, but now Paul is willing to be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his countrymen, the Israelites. This is his voluntary depth of love and not a legalistic constraint, and Paul does not think this up himself; it is the completeness of his son-ship to say this. As a son, he embraces what Jesus embraced in going to the Cross. Paul is willing for Christ to do in him, Paul, as Christ himself did for us.
Paul is not saying that Christ did not complete everything required for our salvation, for nothing can add to the blood and body of Christ that saved us, and no other can accomplish that for us. Paul mirrors Colossians where he says that the one who knows Christ living within, also desires to be used up in intercession to offer Christ’s finished work to others because sons can only do what the Son in them does.
Our friend Jamie Resset came through on a visit on his way from Missouri to Virginia for some Army training. He plays trombone in the army band. When he visited last October, I gave him my book “Did You Ever Think of This?” While we were having breakfast this visit, he said that he had been enjoying the book and even reading and enjoying the poems. He quoted a line from one of them but did not remember the name of the poem, and I couldn’t place it either. After he left, I found the poem, and here it is. It’s one of my favorites.
“I Buried My Sins”
I buried my sins;
I hid them—
under a pile of Light.
I hid them before,
in terrible fear,
under a pile of night.
Hiding is not
how will one
do the hiding
Now—in Your full sight,
I hide it all—
never again to see
my darkest night
for all thy Light.