Children of the Promise

Romans 9:1-18

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

 

One of the interesting things that Paul does in his writing is that he answers rhetorical questions from his readers. In other words, he anticipates some of the questions that he thinks his readers will be asking and then he tries to answer them. And, so, sometimes he’ll actually pose the question…like he does in verse 14 & 15 and sometimes he’ll just answer a question without actually asking it. And, that’s one of the things that we have to realize about chapter 9, Paul is going to great lengths to answer a big question that he perceives people will be asking. So, hold that thought.

 

One of the things for us to remember here is that Paul is probably not trying to give us a full doctrinal statement. But, he is trying to unpack for us what he believes about God. And, that brings us to the big question that he is addressing today. And, that question is this: what about the Jews? And, let’s not forget how we got here:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.29 For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Paul ended that chapter by eloquently stating that nothing can separate us from the love of God. But, if that is all true, then Paul what do you do with the fact that the majority of Jews don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And Paul answers that question in two ways.

  1. He tells us of his own grief concerning those who do not believe
  2. He tells us what he believes about God.

And, what you will see is that what Paul believes about God is not arbitrary and it is not based on feelings. Instead, it is based squarely on Scripture. And, listen, and this is so important, when we base our understanding of God on Scripture we need to be prepared for some difficulty because Scripture presents God for who he really is. And, who he really is, is not a human being. He does not operate in the way human beings operate. He doesn’t follow our systems or structures. He doesn’t define things in the way we define things. And, because of this, when we really encounter the God of the Bible, we are undoubtedly challenged by him because it is impossible for us to understand him fully. But, we can know what he is like.

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 

 

So, you could call this Paul’s thesis statement here. And, here is the case he’s making: there is a physical Israel; these are people who are descendants of Abraham by heritage. He calls them “children of the flesh.” Then, there is a spiritual Israel. These are those whom Paul says are “children of the promise.” And, Paul’s point here is that it is God who decides what’s what and whose who.

 

and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

So, if you remember the story of Abraham, he also has a son by his wife’s maid Hagar, and that child was named Ishmael. But, then he has a son named Isaac by his wife Sarah. And even though Ishmael is a descendant of Abraham and even though he is technically Abraham’s firstborn, God ordains that Abraham’s line would continue through Isaac and not Ishmael. So, to use Paul’s language, God has elected that this would happen.

 

This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

 

Don’t miss that phrase “children of God,” because remember, Paul spent the last chapter of Romans telling us that through Christ we will not only be saved from death and hell, we will also become what…children of God. So, verse 8, Paul says, just because you are Jewish by heritage does not mean you will be saved from death and hell and become a child of God. Instead, it is children of the promise. Well, what promise? Verse 9

 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

So, not just any promise, but the Covenant that God made with Abraham, which wasn’t just that Abraham would have children, but that his wife would have a children and that God would bless those descendants and make them a blessing to the nations, as numerous as the stars in the sky. But, God’s election didn’t stop with Abraham and Sarah he says:

 

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

So, even in the life of Abraham’s son, Isaac, God chose the younger child to be the one through whom Abraham’s lineage continued. Verse 13 can be a bit jarring too, God loved Jacob and hated Esau? But, I thought that God loves everybody. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son right. This is where a quick word study can be helpful. We have one word love and that word is not nuanced. So, I love you, and I love pizza. Not the same thing, but the same word in English. The Greeks had numerous words for love, Philos was brotherly love, eros was romantic love, philautia was self love…but, this word is agape. Agape is the love that is associated with God in Scripture and it is sometimes interpreted as the word affection or the word charity. When the Bible says God is love, this is the word that is being used, and many scholars including C.S. Lewis think that one of the primary characteristics of agape is that it is self-sacrificing. On the other hand, the word that is interpreted “hate” is the same word that Jesus uses in Luke 14 when he says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Again, in English, we don’t have a lot of nuance in the word hate, but Jesus is not calling us to despise our mother and father, but, instead to love him more. So, in a literal sense, verse 13 is telling us that God extended his affection or charity to Jacob but Esau, he loved less.

Now, we’re rational, reasonable, fair-minded people and so, of course, we ask why. Why did God do that? And, Paul’s basic answer is that, “well, that’s what he chose to do.” Look at verse 14, again, Paul anticipates the question: well, how is that fair to Esau?

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!

Remember what we said earlier, God is not a human being, and he is not playing by our human rules of fairness because our view of fairness is often murky. In fact, if we believe that we are all sinners who are deserving of nothing more than death before a holy God, then God has actually done a supremely unfair thing by sending his son Jesus to die. That is not what we deserved. Praise God that he is not fair. So, fairness is not a characteristic of God, but justice absolutely is. So, as God is doing an unfair thing by sending his son to die for sinners, he at the time is doing a just thing because Jesus’ sacrifice paid the price for our sin. He took on the punishment that we were due, so justice was satisfied. Remember, agape is self-sacrificing love. Verse 15:

15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

Paul is not telling us what he thinks God is like or what he feels God is like. He is giving us God’s own words, and what God here is describing about himself is the fact that he is “sovereign.” Sovereign is simply a word that means supreme or ultimate power. Or, to put it in extremely simplistic terms, God does whatever he wants because he is God. He is the author of all things. He is all-powerful. And, while he desires to known by you, that’s the whole point of the Bible, God is also not overly concerned that you understand him fully, as if we could.

Paul also points us to the story of the Egyptian pharaoh in verse 17:

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

So, Paul is telling us very clearly, based on Scripture, that he sees God as being divinely active in not only our lives but also the socio-political events of our world, and his divine activity is shaping and orchestrating events in our lives and in world, and that he does these things not randomly but in accordance with his will. And his will is often mysterious to us who cannot see the full picture. This view of God as being divinely active is opposed to another popular view of God which is that he is all powerful and all knowing, but he is mostly hands off and just letting things play out in your life and in our world, unless maybe you pray and ask for something. He knows what will happen, but he isn’t necessarily directing things. Paul rejects that idea.

To illustrate Paul’s view, the late R.C. Sproul, a theologian and teacher who taught on this topic often would ask his students, “why are you a Christian?” …

Let me wrap up. One primary closing thought: we said last week that part of Paul’s point in talking about God’s predestining and electing work was that for those who are in Christ, we are more than conquerors and our future is secured. Nothing can separate us, and that should bring us great contentment and peace. And, look, he is making the same case regarding God’s sovereignty in verse 16: So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. If you are a child of God, Paul’s case is that it is not because you have done something, it is because God has done something. And, that doesn’t make you a robot who is being controlled. That makes you a recipient of grace, and, again, should be a source of peace in your life. Let me stop there for today. We will continue to talk about these things in the weeks to come. It could be that you come away today with many questions or it could be that you find great comfort in these words.

 

 

 

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