Throughout The Book of Romans, Paul addresses the great paradox of faith. Belief requires a certain element of uncertainty. It is all about trusting in God. And trusting in Him leads to certain attitudes and behaviors. Obedience is a work of perspective and a work of action. In this episode, we discuss the complex relationship between faith and action. For Paul, the key is a constant reminder that Christ is the head, from which all good things flow.
The Gentiles AND Israel will be saved
Tim: So, in Romans 9-11, Paul is addressing the objection from his opponents that we’ve been talking about. This is relative to, “Okay, if you can just do anything you wanna do without the law, the law is this covenant, the law comes out of this covenant with Israel. So if the law is no longer necessary, then Israel must not be necessary. God has forsaken Israel.” See how dumb that is? Okay, so that’s another one of their objections. And so in 9-11, Paul is answering that objection. Now he already said that the law is no longer, it’s not that the law is good, it’s that it doesn’t work to the end that it was intended. It shows us our failings, but it doesn’t give us the power to actually accomplish the result, which is to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ But what does work is inner faith. Then, if you have that inner faith and you live that inner faith; you can love your neighbor, particularly with the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when you love your neighbor, you’re fulfilling the law. So we actually go beyond the law. You get out from under it and then go beyond it. Paul’s already argued that, but he still wants to address this ‘well, what about Israel?’ And he ends up, in chapter 11, culminating his argument specifically in 11:26. And he says, “and so all of Israel will be saved.” Ultimately Israel is going to be brought completely back into harmony with God, that’s his point. It is going to happen. And he says the reason why in verse 29 of chapter 11, “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Because he says, concerning the Gospel, the Israelites are enemies. So all of these people are enemies to the people who believed in the Messiah, but concerning the election, they are beloved for the sake of the Father. And this goes all the way back to Deuteronomy, which says, “The Lord did not set His love nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which he swore to your forefathers.” It’s very explicitly stated. I think it’s Deuteronomy 4:37 and 7:7-8 that say that. So God says, “I’ve chosen you because I love you,” which is John 3:16, right? “For God so loved the world.” So that’s the same reason He died for everybody, He loves us. Which is encouraging. But he makes it a real clear thing that yeah, Israel will be saved. And then the question is, “how did the Gentiles fit into that?” And in chapter 11, he says that Israel is like an olive tree where “branches were broken off…” but the root is still there. The root is still there and it can grow back. And if you go to Israel, you can see this. They’ll chop those things down and they’ll start growing again out of the root. It’s kind of a cool thing. And he says, “And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree…” So wild olive trees don’t produce olives, but you can take a wild olive branch and graft it in, and it’ll start producing a hybrid vigor. You get the hardiness of the one and the productivity of the other. And he says, “…you have been grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches…” So don’t get haughty and think that you’ve been raised above Israel, you haven’t. You’ve been grafted into Israel. And in fact, he also says in Romans that “Abraham is the father of all of those who believe.” He’s the example, and if you want to be a true son of Abraham, you get your heart circumcised, which means that–circumcision was a physical ceremony that set you apart as being in the family of Abraham—the physical part doesn’t matter, it’s the heart part, to have this faith. And that is what sets you apart, as you can walk as Abraham does. That’s the true children of Abraham. It’s a spiritual children. So there’s this spiritual grafting in that happens. And what he says here is something kind of wild because what’s happened is that God has used the rejection of His people–His people rejected Him, they suffered for it–for the result of immense blessing for the Gentiles, because they got all this space and time. In Acts 3, Peter preaches this, he says, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that the (Messianic Kingdom) may come from the presence of the Lord.” He calls it “the time of refreshing.” We wouldn’t be here, right? This, none of this would have happened. So he calls it “the time of the Gentiles.” This time of the Gentiles happened because of their rejection. He had a true offer, it was rejected, they suffered, and we benefited.
And so Paul recognizes here that there’s something crazy going on because we have choices. He orchestrates events, which means He’s in control, but our choices still matter, which is extremely paradoxical. And in Chapter 9, he says that God does whatever he wants to do. “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and if you complain about it, He’s God! Now, Pharaoh hardened his heart first, and then God’s like, “Okay, I’m going to harden your heart so that you get way more of this than you were really bargaining for it.” So there’s still a cause-effect, but God orchestrated it. He comes to the end of this whole thing, which he has laid out, and he says something that I think kind of explains the paradox of God and the paradox of Christianity. Because God is paradoxical and Christianity is paradoxical, and God is in control of all things, but He gave us free choice and the choices are real. How can that be? God is three and He’s one. How can that be? God is human and God is spirit. How can that be? So if He’s human, He’s limited, but He’s infinite. How can that be? And then he brings that to us and says, “If you want to live, die. If you want your life to be raised up, lay it down. If you want to be great, then serve children. Everything is paradoxical. And he sums this all up with the explanation. And you’ll get into a lot of debates with people that want to figure this out, you know? How can it be? The presumption is that everything must fit into the boundaries of my logical understanding or I can’t receive it, right? And here’s Paul, the Apostle Paul, the smartest guy in the bible, here’s his explanation, “Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable His ways!” And then he quotes the Old Testament, “…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.” So that’s how this whole thing– Romans 1-11 in answering these guys, these objectives– all culminates. And then he goes into 12-16, where he goes “this is the example of what this life of faith looks like.” It all culminates with, “I get that this is hard to understand, but I told you it was all about faith. And it’s not faith in me. It’s me making good choices.” Because he says in 9, “God controls everything.” And in 10 he says that we better “make good choices because our choices matter.” And it’s all cause-effect, it’s up to you. Well, how can that be? God. God figures it out. What’s up to us is not to figure it out, it is to be faithful with what we know. And that’s a pretty cool way he sums this whole thing up.
Don’t solve– embrace and celebrate
Joey: Yeah, you’ve mentioned Romans as a political pamphlet. We’ve also talked about it some as this kind of story, you know, as a narrative that’s happening. And it occurs to me that, how great a climax to the story this is. And for Paul–you might have heard the reference of the Bible or the Gospel as the greatest story ever told–so Paul is sitting here on this great plot twist and climax and saying “this is the story, this is what it’s all about.” This is the fulfillment of the covenant, not the abolition of it. This is the beauty of it, not the challenge, not the restraint. It is challenging and frustrating, but also beautiful. And that’s the paradox of it, but the paradox is part of the wonderfulness of it. And the paradox isn’t a problem that needs to be solved, it’s a mystery that needs to be embraced.
T: Embraced and celebrated. It is all the depth and the riches of the wisdom of God. Isn’t that amazing? This is the guy that cares about us, that’s orchestrating all this and giving us a spot and a place and a role and an opportunity to play a part in this. It’s incredible! And in 2 Corinthians, Paul says, I think fairly clearly, although he doesn’t admit it. He says, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body, I do not know, God knows– such a man was caught up to the third heaven…(he) was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak…” Well, it has to be him, right? Because if you’re not allowed to talk about it, he couldn’t have found it out from some man.
J: Right, right.
T: And he says, “who saw things that you’re not allowed to talk about.” So he has had a peek, he has had a peek into this somehow, and he’s like, “I’m just telling you that this is beyond our capacity to really comprehend, but it’s not beyond our capacity to be faithful in.” And then he goes straight into, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies, holy, acceptable to God, which is a reasonable service.” Given all that’s gone before you, lay down your life. Set aside flesh and all of its appetites and all of its slavery and all of its affection for the world, put that to death–which is what a sacrifice does, it dies for the pleasure of this amazing God and for the pleasure of all the people that are going to participate in the feast. Why? It’s in your best interest. This is how you get true fulfillment as a human, which is why it’s reasonable. It’s your reasonable service. And how do you do that? Be transformed from a person who focuses on the world in its system, in all of its empty promises, to a person who understands unfathomable God in the sense that we can understand it and seeks that and goes after what God has for us. And when you do, what it looks like is, not thinking of yourself first, but deferring to others, and thinking about their best interest. Especially with kids, whether they perceive it as being benevolent or not. And often if you’re going to do something truly benevolent, the other person isn’t going to like it. And what we tend to do is define benevolence as ‘that which gives me affirmation.’ No, that’s not it. That’s self-seeking.
Because God said so
J: Well, to go to the parent analogy a little further… it drove me crazy when I was a kid like, “Why do I have to do whatever you’re saying?” And my parents would say the old phrase, “Because I said so.” And I think it translates into our faith because it often feels like this obligation, but what parents are really after when they’re saying that is like, “this is in your own best interest, I’m just not sure you’re ready for a full explanation. And so you’ve got to trust me.” And it occurs to me that the paradox–we talked about this Tim with our Ecclesiastes series and other places–but the paradox doesn’t seek a solution, it seeks a resolution. So it’s not a problem that needs to be solved, it’s a reality that you can participate in. So the resolution is to trust God, faith is the resolution of the paradox. And what Paul’s opponents here and what so many of us, even the three of us included, try to do so often is to solve the problem rather than to put our faith and trust in God.
T: Well, what we tend to do is resolve it through our control. What our solution is, “how can I get control of this?” And that is always an illusion. It is always an illusion. Now, we do control three things. We control who we trust– God left that wholly up to us. We control how we look at things– we can look at things through the world’s lens, or we can be transformed by the renewing of our mind and look at things as “if I’m a living sacrifice that’s in my best interest.” We get to choose that, and that’s what Paul is admonishing us to do in this. And then, going back to this “believe, speak, do” in Deuteronomy 30, the righteousness of faith that he talked about, “confess, believe; believe, confess.” If we believe that what God tells us is in our best interest and we speak it, think about those things, and dwell on it, then we’re going to do it. And so he gives us some things like, “here’s what that might look like,” but that’s for us to dwell on, not to use as a rule set.
Righteousness & harmony– Plato vs. Paul
T: Now, you were talking about the narrative. You know, I had mentioned earlier that I think one of the layers of this multilayered treatise is that Paul is writing a counter to Plato’s Republic idea of what righteousness is. And righteousness is harmony, and I had mentioned that Socrates said that righteousness is, “when everybody in a city-state does what they do best for the city-state, and the head is this group of people with superior constitutions that they were born with”, which we all know doesn’t happen. Right? The Guardians. And Paul comes up with roughly the same thing– in one sense, it’s the body where everybody does what they do best for the benefit of the body. The huge difference is that the head is not a group of people. It is Christ. Christ is the head. God is the head. So look now at what we’ve just talked about. When we hold this paradox of faith and seek the unfathomable mind of God, we’re now bringing harmony between God and us through our faith and our actions. So that is righteousness– when everything is coming into harmony. And the clash, the disharmony, is going to be between the Kingdom of God, which is this way of our mutual benefit, and the kingdom of the world– which is a tyrant ruling over the weaker. The strong exploit the weak. So now, I mentioned with Romans 9 and 10 that “confess believe; believe, confess” is actually Paul trying to get us to adopt this mindset and apply it. Just like Moses was presenting to God’s people, the children of Israel. He wasn’t trying to get them adopted into God’s people– they were already His people. And he was trying to say “You have a choice. Choose which way you go.” And that’s what Paul is doing here. And they’re actually in the whole book, but some people use verses from Romans to show people how to be born again. And you can actually use any verse from the Bible to show people how to be born again because it’s life vs. death. And anywhere along the way that the Bible is talking about seeking life, that is an invitation. That is an invitation for anyone to seek life. And if you’re not a believer, your first step is to have enough faith to look upon Jesus on the cross saying, “I really don’t wanna die, I trust that you’ll save me from the penalty of sin, separation from God.” And at that point, you’re made a new creation in Christ, now you’re born. And the rest of the time, it’s developing your faith to live the life that you were born to live, so you’re saved from the penalty of sin. Then, daily, you need to be saved from the power of sin in the flesh to walk in your newness of life–that’s an ongoing choice. Who are you going to trust? How are you going to look at things? What are you going to do? Every day. And then you’re looking forward to the time when you’re saved from the presence of sin– where we get a new body and a new world. But in that time, the end of their life here is actually not our death on earth, I would say. And the start of the next life isn’t when we go to heaven, because everybody goes to heaven for judgment, and then there’s a repositioning back to Earth. I would say the end of this life is the judgment– when what we do in this life is judged. And that happens when we’re freed from, delivered from, saved from, the presence of sin. Like we said in one of the verses in Romans, “we are nearer now to our salvation than when we first believed.” So we’re getting closer and closer to that time when we’re delivered from the presence of sin, but part of that is to be judged for our stewardship of what we did with the gifts that God gave us. And that last day is supposed to be our main focus of what our life counted for. And then there will be a reset and refining and all our tears will be wiped away, and all gifts will be given, some will reignain and some won’t and that’s how that works. We’re not really told. We’re told that God will figure that out. So don’t worry about other people, worry about yourself. And then there’s this new world that we get into that we get a little taste of. But you get the new Earth and the kings bring their glory into the city, and the nations are doing these amazing things, and there’s this city that’s 1500 miles high–it’s telling you this is going to be something way different than what you’ve ever experienced and it’s amazingly cool. It’s not going to be sitting around on piles of toilet paper and plucking harps while you’re staring off into space. It’s going to be vibrant and exciting and engaging and interactive, you get that sense, but it’s just beyond our capacity to know. Now, I’ll just throw this in, right at the end, one of the questions that we got was, do pets go to heaven? And when we say go to heaven, what we actually mean is, “be in harmony with Christ for eternity.” This is maybe going beyond the scope of Romans a little bit, but heaven is actually just where God is. That’s, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Heaven is wherever God’s will is being done. So when we are doing God’s will, we’re actually bringing a little piece of heaven onto Earth. The ultimate culmination of human history is when God comes to Earth, the new Earth, and heaven comes to Earth. And that’s another harmony that happens. Right now they’re separated, the spiritual is separated from the physical and heaven is separate from Earth. Those things are going to come together and harmonize. Our new bodies, as Paul calls them in 1 Corinthians 15, are “spiritual bodies.” So now the spiritual and the physical are harmonized, and there’s no more temple because Jesus Himself is the temple. He’s dwelling on Earth. So the harmony we have to look forward to is stunning, it’s a real stunning deal, and it’s beyond our capacity to comprehend. But what we’re told, and this is pretty clear, the more we live by faith in this life, the greater will be our appreciation and capacity to participate in that harmony in the future. That’s what we’re being told and it’s going to be a big deal if we miss out on that, a big, big, big deal. So you want to get all you can. And I think that Socrates is telling the Greeks, “you can have this” and Paul is like “Peanuts, that’s total peanuts. Wrong head and wrong objective. Having a great city-state is good, but that’s just nothing. Let me blow that away and show you what’s really possible.” And it starts with serving and loving others, and when you do that, you’re doing something cosmically stupifying, terrific, amazing, and wonderful.