These are my unedited, daily devotional thoughts on the text. We will be spending two weeks on this chapter. Share your thoughts. Don't be afraid to disagree.
Monday, March 3, 2014 - 'Circular Reasoning'
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.
Was Paul a 'logical' thinker or had he fallen into the trap of 'circular reasoning' and/or 'emotional thinking'?
For instance, Paul asked, 'God has not rejected His people, has he?' Then he immediately answered his own question by saying, 'May it never be.' Thus, as his reasoning goes, since 'it may never be', God 'hasn't rejected His people.'
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 'Because..Therefore'
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 Your prophets, they have torn down Your 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.”
Again, Paul wrote, 'I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham.' God cannot have rejected Israel because God had accepted Paul as an Israelite. Very circular reasoning indeed. But, despite his reasoning, has Paul raised a valid question?
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 'Paul's Present, Not Ours'
5 In the same way then, there has also come to
be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.
First, an error that is often made with this text is in missing the time stamp from verse 5. Paul was writing to the Roman church about the Jews of 'his' time, not about the Jews of all time. We are reading a letter that has principles that are applicable to all Christians, in all places, and at all times - but we need to be careful not to imagine that every particular of this correspondence applies to today. Far too often we read scripture anachronistically.
In Paul's time, as he wrote to the Roman church, there was a 'remnant' of Jews who were both fully committed to God, yet had not become convicted that Jesus was the Messiah. The problem was not 'faith', but information. Just because they had not yet confessed Christ did not mean that they were not genuine people of faith. The principle for us today is that we should not judge others as 'non-believers' simply because they don't see all points of doctrine as we do. Paul was, himself, an example of this. This being said, Paul was speaking about those of 'his' time, not ours.
Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 'Grace Is Grace'
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise
grace is no longer grace.
For those of us who have come to know Christ, it would be well for us to focus more on self-examination than other-examination. Can we say that all of our practices and beliefs exemplify 'grace'? Do we judge others as lacking faith simply because their 'works' are different from our own? Or do we see others through the eyes of 'grace', looking past the externals and asking the Spirit to help us discern the 'heart'? Do we see the 'fruit of the Spirit' present in another regardless of their doctrinal beliefs and religious practices?
If 'grace is grace' then we must see through the eyes of grace.
Friday, March 7, 2014 - 'First, Find True North'
7 What then? What Israel is seeking, 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.”
The story of the Titanic reminds us that no matter how wealthy, sophisticated, or powerful you are - if you are headed into an iceberg, the chances are that you will sink. Direction matters. As has often been said, simply rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic or changing the tune the band played, didn't keep them from destruction. Going in the right direction, not merely having good intentions, is essential. Arrogance can be painful.
Again, Paul was writing about the Jews of his time, not ours. Yet, in principle, his words apply to all people regardless of their religious preferences. If we refuse to listen to the Spirit, to stop and truly reflect on our direction, God will permit our choices play out. What good would it be to force someone into the right direction if they don't want to go that way. The 'right' direction is the 'wrong' direction for anyone who has a bad sense of direction.
But, how does 'grace' apply here? Does 'grace' permit free choice? Does God, through grace, account wrong directions as a right direction? Shouldn't 'grace' still apply for those who are walking in the wrong direction? Would it then matter which direction we are going 'if grace is grace'?
Not from the biblical presentation of grace. Grace is for all, but is realized through faith. In other words, if we place our faith in God, yet we are going in the wrong direction, through grace we are still received. Yet, if we are going in the wrong direction without faith, how can we still find acceptance with God? Direction is important, but faith is more important. Faith, though, doesn't automatically redirect our path. We may turn to God in faith while traveling in the wrong direction and yet largely continue in that direction after faith.
I can be headed in the wrong direction without faith, in the wrong direction with faith, in the right direction without faith, or in the right direction with faith. From Paul's perspective, since faith determines salvation, direction is less important. Yet, he also warned that going in the right direction - i.e. being a Jew - yet not having faith in God, is just as bad as going the the wrong direction. The real blessing is having both faith in God and walking in the right direction.
Is God's grace always linked to faith? Is faith the delimiter of heavenly grace? Then, is grace absolutely grace?
Saturday, March 8, 2014 - 'Delimiter of Grace?'
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 is riches for the world and their failure is 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 is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
Paul straddles a very uncomfortable fence in this chapter. Though Israel rejected God, God did not reject Israel. Instead, God massaged their rejection into an opportunity to more clearly reveal His grace to both the Jews and the Gentiles. On the other hand, even though grace is available to all through faith, not all exercise faith in order to received God's grace. How can that be?
Take, for example, a situation where I have hurt someone, yet they have totally forgiven me. How can I benefit from their forgiveness if I refuse to believe that they truly forgive me and/or I refuse to forgive myself? Their forgiveness continues to exist whether or not I accept it. In other words, from Paul's perspective, God's grace is universal, yet salvation is not universal. There aren't any 'sins' that have not been covered by the blood of Jesus. Yet this does not mean that all will be 'saved' and enter into life eternal, simply because many folks refuse to believe.
Many scholars perceive a flaw in Paul's reasoning. If grace truly is grace wouldn't it take into consideration the weaknesses of mankind? Would anyone walk away from God if they could see the whole truth? Aren't those who move in the 'wrong' direction doing so out of 'blindness'?
Paul's initial assumption in Romans chapter one was that everyone has been convicted about the existence of God and are therefore without excuse, but was his assumption valid? Aren't we all blinded to some degree due to our culture, education, and life experiences? If grace is grace, wouldn't it take into consideration all our legitimate reasons for not exercising faith in God?
If I cannot place faith in God because I find it impossible to reconcile the existence of God with many millennia of human suffering, would that require God to forbid me from entering eternal bliss - if, contrary to my best efforts to know the truth, it turns out that there really is a God? Aren't we supposed t all have a 'reason for our faith'? If I can't find a 'reason' to put faith in the existence of God, would my lack of faith obstruct grace if God actually exists? In other words, when we understand the nature of man, how can we conclude that faith is even a delimiter of grace?
Faith is itself said to be the 'the evidence' of things hoped for. But what elicits faith to begin with? Isn't faith the product of reasoning? In other words, as a person examines the world, s/he may reason that something beyond what we can see and touch 'must' exist. Reason compels faith in that which exceeds reason.
Monday, March 10, 2014 - 'Faithless Insiders"
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.
Paul continued to make his case for faith. Salvation is about faith in God's grace. All human beings are subjects of God's grace. The only question is, will we put our faith in God, trusting in His grace?
From Paul's perspective our salvation/lost status can change based on our choice to either live by faith or not. This is not to suggest that every time we have a faithless moment salvation is ripped away from us. Peter had many such moments when his faith lapsed into unbelief, yet Jesus never said that Peter - if he had died in that 'faithless' moment - would have lost salvation.
The larger point in all this is that it is by grace that we have been saved through faith. We cannot inherit salvation because of our parent's faith, nor is salvation automatically ours because of our religious pedigree, nor is salvation ours because of our great knowledge 'about' God and Christ. Again, this is Paul's position, his interpretation of the gospel of Christ.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 'Rachel and Leah'
Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not
spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 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 will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own
Though this is said to be one of Paul's later letters with a more developed theology of God, it is evident that Paul's notions remained a work in progress. His previous belief in the OT retributive God continued to compete with his new covenant belief in the God of grace.
Whereas Jesus portrayed God as embracing those who fell, Paul portrayed God as kicking us when we are down. Though Paul from one side of his mouth reminded us that there is no partiality with God - neither Jew nor Greek, in this letter he insinuates that God prefers the 'natural' Jew more than the 'wild' Gentile. Remember, Paul was writing this specifically to Gentiles (v. 13).
In other words, Paul was presenting the 'fairness' as 'grace', rather than 'compassion' as 'grace'. God was 'fair' to the Gentiles who happened to come to faith in the God of the Jews. When the Jews entered into 'unbelief' God separated from them, but wanted them back as if He was infatuated with His wandering lover. On the other hand, if the Gentiles fell into unbelief, there was no such affection. The Gentiles were the Leah's in marriage, whereas the Jews were the Rachel's.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 'Convoluted Explanation?'
25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation..
Some scholars have pointed out that Paul seemed to be projecting his own theological dysfunction when he warned others about 'being wise in their own estimation'. Paul's explanation of what was happening to the Jews was just that - 'Paul's' explanation. He did not say that God gave him this understanding in a 'clear' vision. Paul was himself trying to grasp the meaning of events as he witnessed the Gentiles becoming far more open to the 'gospel of the kingdom' than his fellow Jews. How could that be happening when God had promised everything to the children of Abraham?
Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 'I Won't Let You Know'
...that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until
the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be
Couldn't Paul have as easily assumed from Isaiah 11 that the 'remnant' God was 'saving' was those who followed the 'Branch' from the 'stem of Jesse'? Why did Paul choose to interpret Isaiah 59 to be a reference 'back' to those who hadn't accepted Jesus as the Messiah? Why did he decide that those who had rejected Jesus were only temporarily 'hardened' by God in order to give the Gentiles time to know Christ? Why had Paul concluded that the calling of God was 'irrevocable' when God Himself had promised to either bless or curse Israel based on their choices, not on His choices? Was Paul simply expressing his personal desire, much as Moses once asked God to blot him out rather than Israel (Ex. 32:32)? Paul appears to be explaining God's grace from within the confines of God's law, which seems to contradict his earlier teaching that grace exceed the law.
Paul's phraseology, or at least our English translation of it, often presents us with conflicting notions. Can all these conflicts be explained away? Maybe. Are the explanations 'inspired'? Not necessarily. Do our interpretations and explanations of Paul reveal 'confirmation biases'? Of course. Is there any way to be absolutely sure that our interpretations of what Paul truly meant to say are correct? No.
If we begin with the unprovable assumption that every word of scripture comes directly from God and therefore there aren't any contradictions or inaccuracies, we automatically limit our ability to read scripture. If we insist that all scripture must be internally consistent then we are far more apt to corrupt the words of one author so that it will match another. In fact, if we assume that each author only wrote truth, we will be forced to either attempt to 'fix' or ignore any internal inconsistencies within even one letter from one author.
The alternative is to assume that the authors of scripture were not only human, but individuals who were growing in their understanding of God. At any given moment within their lifetimes their thinking was always a mix of truth and error. They were themselves trying to sort out the truth as they wrote. They made the best presentation of their beliefs they could as honest believers in God. We are 'inspired' by their spiritual courage. It is circular logic to say that the Bible tells us the truth because the Bible tells us that it tells us the truth. And, since the Bible tells us that it only tells the truth, the Bible must always and only tell us the truth.
The very best we can do is to listen to what the Bible tells us about Jesus, then to adjust our understanding of Paul by the teachings of Jesus - rather than to adjust our understanding of Jesus by Paul's interpretations.
Friday, March 14, 2014 - 'The Gospel Perspective?'
...just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He
will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “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 the
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, that because of the mercy
shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up
all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
Saturday, March 15, 2014 - 'Co-opting God'
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.
After having given his own 'private interpretation' of why God must save Israel, Paul went on to thank God for His plan. That is to say, by thanking God Paul was trying to convince his readers in Rome that his explanation was 100% correct. This is another example of circular reasoning. Paul gave his own interpretation of what God was doing. Then, Paul thanked God for working in the manner that Paul described. Thus because Paul thanked God for His wisdom, Paul's interpretation must be correct.
We will come to two very different conclusions about what the Bible tells us depending on how we initially approach the Bible. If I want to know if the Bible is an accurate source of truth about God should I just accept that it is because the church says so or because the Bible itself says so, or should I simply read it and test it's accuracy using logic and reason and allow the 'chips to fall' wherever they do? If I choose the former, I will obviously be subject to confirmation bias. If I choose the latter, I will be free to ask questions.
Paul, raised as a Jew and educated as a Pharisee, assumed that God existed and that the OT scriptures were 'inspired'. He assumed that God's love for Israel was sacrosanct. He also assumed that if his own conclusions about 'what' God was doing was in harmony with his assumptions about God's love for Israel, then his conclusions must be perfectly correct.
In what ways have you fallen into the trap of 'circular reasoning'?