Study On The Book Of Romans If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.

*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing,  and  from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.

Romans 11:6-10 All of God


Two things must characterize any Christian. One is a profound sense of personal sin and unworthiness. The other is an overwhelming awareness of the grace of God. The two go together, of course, for without a proper sense of sin, we will never appreciate grace. We will think that the good we experience from God’s hand is merited. On the other hand, the more we appreciate the grace of God, the more aware we will be of our sin and want to be free of it.

The apostle Paul was a trophy of God’s grace, and he never forgot it, which is probably why he has included the words about grace that we find in Romans 11:6. Paul loved the doctrine of grace, saw it everywhere, and wanted his readers to see it and love it, too. Paul also knew how difficult it is for most people to accept grace and how inclined we are to add works to it. I imagine that as he wrote the preceding verses, referring to the seven thousand faithful Jews from the days of Elijah’s ministry, he would have thought that some readers would instinctively give those faithful Jews some credit and by extension give themselves a bit of credit, too.

Because that kind of thinking comes naturally to all of us, and Paul knew it, he interrupts the natural flow of thought that would have led him to the distinctions between the majority of Jews and the remnant, which he develops in verses 7-10, to make sure we all understand that even the remnant exists by God’s grace only. It is not that some had it in them to be faithful while others did not. It is rather that God chose the remnant to believe. Verse 6 makes only one point: that grace and works are incompatible opposites. So if a person is to be saved by grace, it cannot be by works, otherwise, grace is not grace. Conversely, if a person is to be saved by works, it cannot be by grace; otherwise, work would not be work.

A good teacher knows when enough information has been given out and it’s time for a summary. Paul seems to have been aware that a summary was needed at precisely this point in his letter. It is what Romans 11:7-10 is about. These verses are a summing up of what Paul has written thus far in Romans 9-11. What has he written? First, there is his teaching about election. He introduced the subject in Romans 9, showing that God’s purposes in salvation have not failed because even though the great majority of Jews had rejected the gospel, those whom God has elected to salvation beforehand nevertheless were being saved.

Second, there is his teaching about reprobation, the doctrine that God passes by the many who are not saved, sovereignly declining to elect them to salvation. Third, there is the reason for man’s rejection of the gospel. The Jews are Paul’s prime example, because he is discussing the fate of unbelieving Israel in these chapters. But it’s the same for all persons apart from Christ. People reject the gospel because they want to establish their own righteousness and do not want to submit to the righteousness that comes from God. Paul discusses these in chapter 10.

Fourth, there is the teaching that what has happened historically in the overall rejection of Christ by Israel had been foretold by God and was therefore no surprise to God, nor did it cause a departure from His plan. In Romans 9, Paul gave four separate Old Testament quotations to make this point (Hos. 2:23; 1:10; Isa. 10:22-23; 1:9). In Romans 11:8-10 he provides two more: verse 8, which combines words from Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10; and verses 9 and 10, which quote Psalm 69:22-23.Yet Paul’s summaries are never mere summaries. They always seem to carry his argument just a bit further, even in summing up. In this case, Paul’s summary has the effect of highlighting the doctrine of election and thus brings him back to the point from which he started out.

In another way in which these verses carry the argument further comes by comparing Paul’s teaching about reprobation in Romans 9 with what we have here. In chapter 9 Paul uses Esau, the father of the Edomites, and Pharaoh, the nation’s great enemy. Paul wrote that God “hated” Esau and that He “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart. Neither Esau nor Pharaoh was among the elect people of God. But here is the striking thing. In Romans 11 Paul is not writing about non-Jews, Edomites, and Egyptians. He is writing about Israel, which means that he is applying the doctrine of reprobation to the allegedly “chosen” people. What’s more, he is saying that even those things that should have been a blessing to them – presumably the very things he lists at the start of Romans 9 – have become a “snare,” “trap,” “stumbling block,” and “retribution” for them in their unregenerate state (11:9).

Here is where this summary of Paul’s teaching comes home forcefully to us. If individual Jews, who were a chosen nation, missed salvation because of their rejection of Christ and if, as a result, the blessings of God that had been given to them became a curse for these people (see Mal. 2:2), it is entirely possible (indeed probable) that many sitting in the evangelical churches of America today are also missing salvation because of their failure to trust Jesus in a personal way and that their blessings have become curses, too.

Do you understand that? It means that if you will not allow the good things we enjoy as allegedly Christian people to lead you to Christ, which is what God has given them to us for, they will be worse than worthless to you. They will actually be harmful and propel you inevitably into an even greater spiritual stupor, hardness of heart, and sin.

Here are four examples: (1) Baptism. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward, spiritual union with Jesus Christ. It is meant to strengthen our faith by making the inward reality more palpable to us. But countless allegedly Christian people have trusted the outward sign without the inward commitment. They have judged themselves to be saved persons without any true following after Jesus Christ. (2) Communion. The same thing is true of communion. Entire branches of the church teach that grace is somehow imparted in the physical partaking of the elements, so that the physical act by itself conveys salvation. But the reality in not physical. The Lord’s Supper is meant to show us the broken body and atoning blood of Jesus Christ and lead us to trust Him and place our faith in Him, not the ceremony. If we don’t trust Christ, the sacrament, which is intended to do us good, actually becomes a curse for us, and we become superstitious and even pagan in our practice.

(3) Material possessions. Money and other material goods are from God. But they are dangerous, particularly when we possess them in abundance. They should lead us to God in gratitude. More often they lead us from Him. (4) The Lord’s Day. In earlier years, Sundays were sacred days of rest and worship for the majority of Americans, and even those who were not Christians respected them. Look how this has changed today, look how many events today are scheduled on Sundays, and do any of them give rest and the worship of Jesus Christ?

Romans 11:6-10 Reflection Questions:

What is the situation of the Jews to whom Paul is referring in Verses 7-12?

Paul sees Israel’s blindness and stumbling (vv. 8-10) as means by which the wider world can be brought into God’s family (vv. 11-12). How is it that Paul nonetheless has hope for Israel’s future and envisions its resurrection (vv. 11-15)?

How do you deal with Paul’s statements concerning God’s decision to save some and not others, to harden the hearts and to shut the eyes and the ears of some?

Romans 11:1-5 God’s Remnant


Paul is in the middle of proving that God’s historical purpose toward the Jewish nation has not failed. To prove it he unfolds the seven main arguments found in chapters 9-11. At the start of chapter 11, the point to which we have come in our verse by verse exposition of Romans, we are at Paul’s fourth argument. Question: “I ask then: Did God reject His people?” Answer: “By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin” (v.1). Here Paul is using his own case as proof that Israel has not been abandoned. As long as there is only one believing Jew – though, in fact there are many – no one can affirm that God has rejected Israel utterly. Paul is a remnant himself, whether or not there are any others. But, in fact there are and always have been others.

Here are several points of application we can take from verse one: (1) We should not be discouraged in our evangelism, because all whom God is calling to faith in Jesus Christ will come to Him. If anyone should have been discouraged in his evangelism, it should have been Paul in his attempts to reach the Jewish people. He was God’s chosen messenger to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), but Paul always began his missionary efforts with the Jews and again and again he was rejected by them. (2) We should be warned against presumption. It is true that all whom God is calling to faith will be saved, but this does not mean that all of any race, social class, or denomination will be. Being a Jew did not in itself save these people, though there were great advantages to Judaism, as Paul acknowledges. Neither will membership in a Christian denomination save you, though there are also advantages to belonging to a good church. We must not presume on our affiliations. (3) We should put all our confidence in God, who alone is the source, effector, and sustainer of His people’s salvation. How foolish to put your confidence in anything else, or even in a combination of lesser things. If a person can be a Jew, with all the spiritual blessings attending to that great religious heritage, and yet be lost, certainly you are foolish to trust in your ancestry, nationality, education, good works, or (strange as it may seem) your good intentions. Salvation comes from the Lord; it comes from God alone. Make sure you are trusting Him and what He has done for you in Jesus Christ.

In Romans 11:2-5, the apostle touches on a great Old Testament story as support for his contention that God has not abandoned Israel and that the Word of God has not failed. It is the story of Elijah, following his victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-19:18). This account begins the fifth of Paul’s arguments in Romans 9-11 in which he proves that the purposes of God for Israel have not failed and are in fact continuing.

The new idea in this argument is the “remnant.” This word refers to a small surviving part of something, either an object or a custom or a people. In the Old Testament the word refers in most cases to a small company of Jews who survived or were to survive the invasions, destructions, and captivities inflicted on them by the Assyrians and Babylonians in the sixth and eighth centuries B.C.

So, to whom is Paul referring when he speaks of “his people, whom he foreknew”? There is no question that Paul has been proving God’s faithfulness to his people by referring to an elect remnant. Since God has elected some Jews, though as remnant, to be saved along with the believing Gentiles, it’s clear that Israel as a nation has not been cast off. The “his people” in verse 1 and “his people, whom he foreknew” in verse 2 refer to the same people, and this people must be the nation as a whole. This is the direction in which the chapter is moving.

The application of these truths in regard to Israel is what the rest of Romans 11 contains. We will be following it out in detail as we make our way through chapter 11. But there are two applications for us today: (1) God always has a remnant, and the remnant is often much larger than we might suspect. I think of many Christians who are working in difficult places or under difficult circumstances – in inner city mission, for example. They have worked hard; there have been meager results. What they have done may have been misunderstood and rejected, perhaps even violently. They might be inclined to give up, thinking, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your alters; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me” (v. 3). If you are thinking or feeling that way, you need to know that God still has his seven thousand who have not bowed down to Baal, that you are therefore not alone and that your work will not be without results.

(2) The Remnant of those who are God’s people have not bowed to Baal. Baal was a particularly corrupt god of the ancient Canaanites whose worship consisted of blatant sex worship, coupled with pure materialism. Sound familiar? We have the same thing today. Our western culture, particularly in America, is charging down the twin freeways of sexual promiscuity and blatant materialism. But God has His remnant. There are devout people, who are living for God and trying to do the right thing, often in what are terrible circumstances. We should be encouraged to know this, seeking out such persons and encouraging them whenever we can. That is what the church is to be, after all – the company of those who are living for God and are encouraging one another to live for Him even in this present evil world.

So let us get on with it. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” and so run the race set out for us (Heb. 12:1-2), whatever it may be. Moreover, let us run it, knowing that one day, like ourselves, all God’s elect people will stand before Him having conquered this present wicked world. And though we will generally have been despised and persecuted, we will know that God has accomplished His perfect will in us and that nothing we have done for Jesus will have been done in vain.

Romans 11:1-5 Reflection Questions:

Once again Paul raises the question of whether God has abandoned Israel and perhaps broken His promise to them. In verses 1-6 Paul uses the story of Elijah (from 1 Kings 18-19). How are Paul and Elijah similar?

The idea of a “remnant,” a few people, who remain after a great disaster, comes from the heart of the Old Testament, from Isaiah 10:20-23 where the prophet describes those who will return after the punishment of exile. Who is the remnant Paul has in mind?

What are some major sidetracks and pitfalls that keep people from discovering Jesus Today? How can we expose the futility of following these paths?

Romans 10:16-21 Excuses and the Outstretched Hands of God


Several thousand years ago, there was a man who was chosen to follow a great leader. The leader possessed outstanding religious and moral qualities, and the man I am talking about lived with him and learned from him for three years. He was part of a small group who were privileged to do so. In time this man became disillusioned with his teacher and eventually betrayed him to his enemies when he had an opportunity to profit personally from the betrayal. But then he became disillusioned with himself for what he had done. Disillusionment led to depression, depression to desperation, and desperation to despair. In the end he killed himself by hanging. That man’s name was Judas and his teacher was Jesus Christ.

Few people like to discuss their failures, but there are failures for all of us, even as there was for Jesus. (At least they are failures from a human point of view, though not from God’s perspective.) The point is we need to understand “failures.” Paul did. God gave Paul great success in his missionary work, enabling him to plant churches throughout much of the ancient world, particularly in Asia Minor and Greece. But Paul was too honest not to describe his failures, too. One of the places he does so is in Romans 10:16.

Paul has been describing the chain by which the gospel comes to an individual, enabling the person to call on Jesus Christ and be saved. But the apostle is nevertheless aware that it is possible to fulfill the two human parts of that chain – sending and the preaching – and still have people fail to believe the good news or call on Jesus. Unbelief is a sad and painful reality to those who know Jesus Christ. But it is still a reality, which we must acknowledge if we are not to become discouraged and utterly ineffective in our witnessing.

Scoffers abound and critics multiply. But the lesson of history is the unique power of the Bible to change people’s lives and build churches. This is what Paul is getting at in verse 17. What Paul is saying in this verse is: “Faith comes from hearing the gospel preached, and the reason faith comes from hearing the gospel preached is that Jesus Himself, the object of the gospel as well as its subject, speaks through the messenger to call the listening one to faith.” The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. That is the way that salvation came to you, if you are saved. If you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, you need to understand this verse is very true and accurate when it says that, “faith comes from hearing the message. God planned it that way. The message is being taught. Your part is to open your ears to that truth, trusting that, as you do, God will make the message true for you and that you will find yourself calling on the Lord Jesus Christ to be your Savior.

In verses 18-20 Paul is dealing with excuses. The first excuse is that the Jews were not responsible for their unbelief for the reason that they had not heard the message. Paul’s answer is that they have heard it, and he establishes this truth by quoting Psalm 19:4. We cannot object, as this imaginary listener to Paul’s teaching might be supposed to object: “But isn’t it the case that they have simply not heard?” That is not a way of getting off the hook for most people. The message has been known, and they have heard it – so they are without excuse. You are without excuse, too, if you have refused to come to Jesus Christ as your rightful Lord and Savior.

Yet the human mind and heart are quite subtle. “True,” our imaginary questioner might say, “the Jews as a whole have heard and been acquainted with the gospel. But isn’t it true that the problem might lie in another area, not that they have not heard but that they have not understood the message when it has been made known. Wouldn’t that explain their unbelief?” Paul’s answer is another quotation, in fact several. He quotes from Deuteronomy 32:21 and Isaiah 65:1 (and, at the very end, from Isaiah 65:2). Paul is saying that the Jews did understand the gospel, because they were provoked to jealousy when the Gentiles, upon whom they had often looked disparagingly, believed it. Otherwise why would they care if the Gentiles believed it? But that was not the reaction Paul was seeing. There was jealousy and anger on the Jews’ part. This indicated that they understood very well what was happening. They knew that the message being received by the Gentiles was a message of salvation by the grace of God apart from keeping the law and that it was being taught not as a contradiction of Judaism, but as a fulfillment of it. That is what made it so offensive.

It is characteristic of Paul’s method of teaching that he ends a reasoned argument with quotations from the Old Testament, establishing what he just said. In fact in Romans 10 he has already given us six quotations from the Old Testament: Joel 2:32 (in v. 13), Isaiah 52& (in v. 15), Isaiah 53:1 (in v. 16), Psalm 19:4 (in v. 18), Deuteronomy 32:21 (in v. 19), and Isaiah 65:1 (in v. 20). The seventh quotation is a continuation of the reference to Isaiah 65:1, since with it Paul simply moves on to the next verse (Isaiah 65:2) in verse 21: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” This is a moving statement, because it spells out the nature of God’s love in contrast to the disobedient and obstinate rejection of the love of God by human beings.

The first part, the part that spells out the nature of God’s love teaches three things about it: (1) It is continuous. God pictures Himself as holding out His hands toward Israel for an entire day. (2) It is compassionate. The love of God for sinners is not only continuing love. It is compassionate, that is, it is filled with passion for you. This is clearly taught in this text, for the picture of the constantly outstretched hands of God is meant to portray compassion. It is the posture of a parent reaching out to a crying child. It is the picture of Jesus, who reached out to us from the cross. (3) It is costly. There is one more important thing to see about the outstretched hands of God. They teach us that the love of God is costly – that is costly to God. Those hands bear the imprint of the nails brutally pounded through them as Jesus was affixed to the cross to bear the penalty for our sins.

What has been the response to God’s great love? This is what the second half of the verse is telling us. The response has been rejection. Two words summarize it: (1) Disobedient. When we think of the gospel, we usually think of it as an invitation, and it is true that the Good News is sometimes presented in that way (see Matt. 11:28 & Rev. 22:17). But what most of us forget is that the gospel is also a command. It is a command to turn from sin to faith in Jesus Christ and to follow Him in obedient discipleship. It is a characteristic of people to labor strenuously to disobey this command, It was that way for Israel, and it is also true for people today. (2) Obstinate. Not only was Israel’s response to the gospel one of disobedience; it was an obstinate disobedience. That is, it was hard-nosed, steely-faced, heart-encrusted, and doggedly persistent. So is ours. What was true of Israel is true of all natural human responses to God’s love in Christ Jesus.

Jesus described this in a parable (Matt. 21:33-46). The picture is of obstinate resistance to the rights and love of God and it describes what happened. The prophets were the servants. They had been beaten, killed, and stoned. Jesus was the Son. He was crucified. Therefore, the kingdom was taken from these Jewish tenants, and the door of salvation was thrown open to the entire world. Because of Jesus’ death, the way was open, and anyone – Gentiles as well as Jews, women as well as men, slaves as well as free born people – anyone could come to God through Him.

We have found exactly the same thing that both Jesus and Paul found. The unregenerate world is not interested in the gospel. And, if the truth is told, there are a good many apparent Christians who do not seem to be very interested in it either. They treat church attendance lightly, preferring to stay home Sunday’s and watch T.V. rather than worship God, who saved them, and allow the teaching of His Word to nourish their emaciated souls. They don’t study their Bibles and they do not read Christian books. They don’t tell others about Jesus. They don’t work for Jesus, and they don’t even give money so that others can do the work in their place. They just live for themselves. Are they not like those Paul describes? Disobedient?

God is calling you, and He is doing exactly as Paul says He does in Romans 10:14-15. That is the way the gospel comes to everyone. You need to hear the message, because it is in the teaching of the gospel that the voice of God is heard and His outstretched hands are seen. It is a wounded hand that holds out salvation to you and invites you to come. Reach out and touch that hand. Then allow it to enfold you in an embrace that nothing on earth or in heaven will ever diminish or disturb.

Romans 10:16-21 Reflection Questions:

In 10:16 Paul goes back to the question that has caused him such anguish. “Why are so many of the Jews refusing to believe in the Messiah?” In a series of Old Testament quotations who does Paul, playing the lawyer, call as witnesses against the Jews, and what is significant about each piece of testimony (10:16-21)?

At the end of chapter 10 of Romans we do well to stop and ponder the strange path by which the gospel first made its way into the world, humbling the proud and lifting up the lowly. Is this what happens with the preaching of the gospel today? If not, why not?

In what ways has the gospel burst into your life unexpectedly?

Romans 10:14-15 A Plea for Missions (Evangelism)


Romans 10:14-15 are a stirring plea for missions, one of the most important in the Bible. But much of the force of these verses comes from their setting in Paul’s argument. Think of the preceding verse: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13). That is a wonderful statement of the universal application of the gospel. It is for everybody. Anyone who calls on Jesus Christ as Savior will be saved. But how can people do that unless they know about Him? And how can they know about Jesus unless someone goes to them to teach them about Him? Those are precisely the questions Paul has in mind as he begins this new section.

Not only are these verses related to verse 13, they are also related to what follows, to verses 16-21. For Paul, in this entire section (Romans 9-11), is dealing with Jewish unbelief, and he is going to show in the latter half of chapter 10 that the unbelief of Israel is not God’s fault, since God had sent messengers to the Jewish people. Paul himself was one. He had preached the gospel, and he had done so clearly. If the Jews did not believe, it was not because they could not, since they had both heard and understood the message. In these verses Paul gives us a series of linked statements, leading from an individual’s calling on Christ in faith, backward through the mandatory intervening steps of belief in Christ, hearing Christ and preaching about Christ, to preacher’s being sent to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ to those who need to hear him. In other words, the text is a classic statement of the need for Christian preaching and for the expanding worldwide missionary enterprise.

The first thing that is necessary if a person is to be saved, is that he or she “call on” Christ. Verse 13 flatly distinguishes between “believing” (the Greek word is “faith”) in Christ and “calling on” Christ for salvation: “How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?” Many people know about Christ. A significant number of these also probably believe that He is the Son of God and the world’s Savior, as the Bible teaches. But they have never called on Him in personal trust, and so they are not Christians. They are not saved. Let me make this personal. It is not enough for you to understand the preaching of the Word of God to be a Christian, important as that is. It is not enough for you to know theology or even to be a student of the Bible. I commend all those things to you, but they alone do not make you a Christian. To be a Christian you must call on the Lord Jesus Christ personally, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, I confess that I am a sinner. I cannot save myself, and I call on you to save me. Help me. Save me from my sin.” If you will do that and really mean it, Jesus will save you! In fact, He already has, because it is His work in you that leads to that confession.

The second step in Paul’s linked series of statements is that a person must believe in Christ in order to call upon Him. I have just said that mere intellectual belief is not enough. There must be personal trust or commitment to Him as Lord and Savior. Yet this does not mean that the other part, intellectual belief or content, is unimportant. On the contrary, it is essential. For how can you call upon one you don’t know? How can you ask Jesus to save you from your sin unless you understand and believe that He is the Savior? Intellectual understanding without commitment is not true faith, but neither is commitment without intellectual understanding. If you must believe on Jesus in order to call on Him, then your mind must be engaged in knowing who He is and what He has done for you.

The third of Paul’s statements is that in order to believe in Christ a person must hear Christ. The point is that it is Christ Himself who speaks to the individual, and that it is hearing Him that leads first to belief and then to calling on His name in salvation. This should not surprise us, of course, because this is exactly what Jesus taught. John 10 is a clear example. In that chapter, Jesus was speaking about Himself as “the good Shepherd,” and He was explaining how His sheep know Him and respond to His voice (John 10:2-5, 14-16). When a minister stands up to teach the Bible, if they do it rightly, it is not their word you are hearing. It is the Word of God, and the voice you hear in your heart is the voice of Christ. And when you respond don’t think you are responding to them. You are responding to Jesus, who is calling you through the appointed channel of sound preaching.

We have already moved on to the fourth step in Paul’s series of linked statements, which are in the last analysis a great plea for missions. It is that for a person to hear Christ, someone must proclaim Christ to him or her. This is a strong statement for the necessity of preaching. Today’s preaching is not valued equally with the Word, but it is through preaching that the Word is most regularly made known and blessed by God to the saving of men and women. In real preaching the speaker is the servant of the Word and God speaks and works by the Word through the servant’s lips.

This brings us to the fifth and last step in Paul’s linked statements about the way people are brought to call on Jesus Christ for salvation. Paul has indicated that people must believe in Christ before they can call on Him. They must hear Christ before they can believe. There must be preaching of the Word if people are to hear Christ. Now he concludes that for Christ to be proclaimed to such people, preachers must be sent to them. By whom? By God, of course. This is God’s work; no one can take it lightly upon himself. It is why Jesus said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field” (Matt. 9:38). If God does not send the messenger, the message will not be blessed by Him, and those who hear will not be saved.

But it is also true that messengers must be sent by the churches, just as Paul and Barnabas were sent on their missionary journeys by the Gentile church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). In fact, one of the objectives Paul had in writing Romans was to enlist the support of the Roman church in his plan to take the gospel beyond Rome to Spain and other places to the west (Rom. 15:23-29). The application for us is that if people today in unreached areas of the world are to hear the gospel and have the opportunity to believe on Jesus Christ, those who know Christ must pool their resources to send God’s messengers to them. We must do it. A strong missions program is mandatory for an obedient church.

Romans 10:14-15 Reflection Questions:

Does your church have a missions program?

Is God calling you to go preach the Word? Will you obey His call?

In what ways were Paul (quoting Isaiah 52:7) and the apostles who went to the Gentiles with the gospel fulfilling the traditions of Israel rather than being disloyal to them (10:13-15)?

What people do you feel the strongest desire to reach with the gospel?

Romans 10:5-13 How Faith Speaks


The paragraph to which our study of Romans has now brought us (Rom. 10:5-13), is part of a longer section beginning with Romans 9:30 and running to the end of Romans 10, a section in which Paul is explaining that the unbelief of his countrymen is not God’s fault but theirs, since the gospel had been communicated to them. The paragraph develops that analysis by contrasting what Paul calls “a righteousness that is by law”with“righteousness that is by faith.” But the verses we are studying (vv. 5-9) do more than this. They also describe three kinds of religion, pointing us away from the two wrong kinds of religion to the true religion that confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. These three religions are: (1) the religion of works, (2) the religion of signs, and (3) the religion of faith. Paul develops them by telling us: (1) how legalism speaks, (2) how faith does not speak, and (3) how faith does speak.

The first religion is the religion of works. In religion we are talking about more than mere morality. We are talking about how a person can become right with God. If we approach the text at that level, allowing the word “live” to speak not merely of a happy life here but of eternal life, then we need to acknowledge that no one is able to keep the law of God well enough to reap this great benefit. It is true that anyone who is able to keep the law perfectly will be rewarded by God with eternal life. But nobody does keep the law perfectly. Therefore, salvation is beyond the grasp of those who are merely law-keepers. Right standing before God must be sought in a different way entirely, and that is by faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior.

Paul would add that the way of works and the way of faith cannot be mixed, which in my judgment is how he uses the text from Leviticus 18:5 here. The way of works is the way of law, he says. If you think you are going to be saved by law, it is by keeping the law that you try to be saved. But you cannot make up your deficiencies by adding faith to it, just as it is also impossible to begin by faith and then add law. No one can be saved by a religion of works, however he or she tries. Many are trying. Most of the world’s religions are works religions. But the Bible says that if you would be saved, you must give up any thought of contributing to your salvation by what you do and instead trust Jesus Christ and His work completely.

The second religion Paul writes about in these verses is the religion of signs and wonders, which he introduces as a way the religion of faith does not speak (vv. 6-7). These verses introduce a second reference to the Old Testament (Deut. 30:12-14), but they are not an exact quotation. In this case, because he is handling the words loosely, Paul writes instead, “The righteousness that is by faith says…” Then Paul throws in an additional twist, explaining Moses’ reference to ascending into heaven by adding “that is, to bring Christ down” and his reference to going beyond the sea (or descending into the abyss) by adding “that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.”

What do those strange explanations mean? (1) Israel did not need an additional Word from God. This is the literal meaning of the words in Deuteronomy, and although Paul adds specifically Christian interpretations to them, this meaning alone is true both of Israel and for the Christian community. (2) Israel did not need to do something in order to bring the Messiah to them. This is the unique sense of what Moses said to the people. For we notice that he did not speak merely of waiting for a new word from heaven or beyond the sea but rather of “ascending” into heaven or “crossing” the sea to get it. The Jews wanted to do something to earn their salvation. Yet even before the Messiah came they were not expected to do anything, only believe God’s Word and look forward to Him in faith, as Abraham, David, and other Old Testament believers had done. Now it is even more apparent that this is the case. All that is needed is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel. (3) Neither Israel nor Christians today are to look for miracles. If someone could produce Christ or His power on demand, bringing Him down from above or up from below, that person would be a miracle worker. We are not to seek miracles as part of the gospel presentation. For a religion of signs and wonders is as false a gospel as the religion of works. Both are attempts to do something that God has declared outside true Christian proclamation, and signs, as well as works, detract fatally from the message of Christ’s atonement.

This brings us to the third of these religious systems, the one Paul has been urging all along. We have seen how faith does not speak. It does not call for signs. How then, does faith speak? Paul gives the confession of true faith in verses 8 and 9. It’s important here to see the essence of this third, true religion. First, it is a religion based on Jesus and His work alone. For the message that is near us, in our mouths and hearts, is Jesus, and the confession of faith through which we are saved is that “Jesus is Lord” and that God raised Him from the dead. Christianity is Jesus Christ. So anything that detracts from Him or His work is a false religion.

Second, faith is essential. We are not saved by works or miracles, but this does not mean that salvation is somehow extraneous to us in the sense that it happens mechanically. On the contrary, it is as intimate and life-transforming as anything could possibly be. It finds us as dead men and women, under the curse of God, and it changes us into spiritually regenerated people who now live under God’s protecting love and blessing. How does that happen? It happens through faith, which is what Paul has been saying all along.

Notice what happens to the language of the message in verse 9. In verse 5 Paul has been quoting Moses. He tells us what Moses said. Verses 6 through 8 have been quoting “the righteousness that is by faith.” They tell us how faith speaks. But what happens in verse 9? For the first time in many verses, the language shifts from the third person to the second person, emphasizing the word you. “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

It is the clearest means Paul could possibly have chosen to use in the context of explaining the nature of true religion and the essence of the true gospel: “You must believe it.” It is not of works, and it is not in response of miracles. But it is of faith! Therefore, it is only those who believe on the Son of God who are saved. Have you believed on Christ and confessed Him before other people, as He commands you to do? Have you called on His name?

Remember, works will not save you. You cannot keep the law even if you want to, and deep in your heart you don’t even want to keep it. And God is not going to give you miracles to stimulate your religious appetite. Christ has already descended from heaven. He has already told us who God is and what He requires of us. Jesus has given His life for His people. He has already been raised from the dead. Therefore, the gospel is not far off. It is right here. It is in our mouths and in our hearts. All that remains is for you to embrace it personally and so pass from a false religion to the true one and thus from death to life.

Romans 10:5-13 Reflection Questions:

Read Deuteronomy 30:11-14, which Paul mentions in Romans 10:6-8. Deuteronomy 28-30 come near the end of Moses’ long charge to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. There Moses tells Israel what is going to happen to them in the days to come. If Israel keeps God’s commandments, God promises blessings; if they don’t, he warns of curses to come. What’s more, Moses solemnly predicts that Israel will disobey and will be driven out of the Promised Land, sent off into exile. But then Deuteronomy 30 has a fresh word, a further promise to which God commits Himself. He promises to transform their hearts, so that they can at last keep His law the way He always intended.

In Romans 10:5-13 how is Paul suggesting that what Moses said about Israel’s disobedience and exile, as well as the promise of a new word, have been fulfilled in Jesus?

In Paul’s world, “Lord” was a title for Caesar. Saying Jesus was “Lord” meant, ultimately, that Caesar was not. Today, when we say Jesus is Lord, who or what are we saying is not Lord?

Romans 10:1-4 Christ: The Fulfillment of the Law


The first two verses of Romans 10 are linked to the last verses of Romans 9, and it is exactly this that makes the first two verses of Romans 10 so compelling. Paul has just said that the failure of the Jews to believe was due to the mistaken notion that they could earn their own salvation by good works. But instead of writing them off at this point, as we might have done, Paul immediately goes on to show that he is concerned about them and is continuing to pray for them (v. 1).

This is a very simple prayer, but like most Bible prayers it suggests a number of important truths. The first is that prayer is always worthwhile. The fact that God elects some to salvation and passes by others does not stop him from praying, and the fact that failure to believe is a human failure rather than a divine failure does not stop him from praying. Which means Paul was always accustomed to be praying for the salvation of other people. The second truth we can see in Paul’s prayer for his countrymen in Romans 10 is that the most important of all prayers are those for whom we are praying might “be saved.” We are to pray for all sorts of things, we are to pray for peace, national prosperity, and for wisdom and righteousness on the part of those who rule over us. But Jesus also said something we need to think about carefully. “What good will it be for a man is he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26a). This means that, however good it is to have peace and prosperity, these and countless other things count as next to nothing (or worse than nothing) if we acquire them and yet fail to receive God’s salvation.

The third truth in Paul’s prayer for his countrymen is found in verse two. It means that zeal is no substitute for conversion. Even the zealous must be saved. When Paul speaks of Jewish zeal in the matter of religion, he was speaking from experience and of something well known to everyone, which means that this statement was not flattery but an honest admission of a great Jewish strength. Paul acknowledged the zeal of his countrymen. Yet he still regarded them as lost, prayed for them fervently, and worked tirelessly for their salvation. The fourth and last truth expressed in Paul’s prayer for his countrymen is that the necessary first step to conversion, which all persons need, is knowledge. I say this because of the very last phrase of verse 2, which notes that the problem of the Jews was not their zeal itself. In itself zeal can be a very good thing. It was rather that “their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Verse 3 explains it. It was their ignorance of the righteousness of God. What they didn’t understand is that the righteousness God requires is divine righteousness. And since it is divine and not human, the only way it can be obtained is from God Himself as a free gift.

It is what Paul was writing about earlier in Romans, in the chapters in which he was explaining the gospel, which is why he was writing it. If the problem was the Jews’ lack of knowledge, the solution was to share or communicate that knowledge. To put it in other language, the task is to teach the Word of God. This means that Christianity is primarily a teaching religion. It is and always has been. In fact, this was the primary thrust of Jesus’ three year ministry, to teach the people the way to salvation, and to provide for it by Himself dying for the sin and then rising from the dead.

Romans 10:4 seems to be a very simple verse: “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Yet this verse is difficult to interpret. Instead of looking at the difficulties of the possible meanings of “law” – law of Moses, a principle of conduct, the ceremonial law, or moral law – we will step back from the text itself and instead ask, “How does Jesus Christ fulfill the law?” He does it in a variety of ways. After we have explored those answers, we can then come back to the text, interpret it, and apply it practically.

The first way in which Jesus fulfilled the law, and thus became the end of the law, is that He kept it perfectly Himself. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). In the story of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus responded to John the Baptist saying, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). The most important word in this exchange is “all.” For by it Jesus was declaring His intention to fulfill all that God has required. He did this so well that His enemies were unable to accuse Him of any wrongdoing, as much as they would have liked to.

The second way Jesus became the end of the law is that He fulfilled the law on our behalf, so that now He is not only the source but is Himself the righteousness of all who are joined to Him by faith. This is what Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:30 and 2 Cor. 5:21: “Christ Jesus…had become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption,” and “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is what justification is about, and it is what Paul seems chiefly to be talking about in this section of Romans 9 and 10. This justification, by which we stand or fall in the sight of the holy God, involves two corresponding transactions. On the one hand, if we are believers, our sin has been transferred to Jesus Christ and was punished in Him when He died in our place on the cross. On the other hand, His righteousness was transferred to us, with the result that we are now counted as being righteous in Him. Both belong to justification, and both are true for anyone who has turned from sin and committed his or her life to Jesus Christ. It is what Paul has been writing about in much of the earlier portion of Romans and is reiterating in this passage.

Paul says that Jesus is the end of the law “so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” A righteousness for us is a righteousness imparted to us by God for Christ’s sake. Paul’s point here is that we are neither justified nor sanctified by the law. But those who are justified will also be progressively sanctified by the Spirit of Christ who lives within them, and this means that they will inevitably and increasingly live righteous lives. If they do not they are not Christians.

Here are three practical applications of our text: (1) Christ is everything. The law was the very essence of Jewish religion. Yet Paul, who was himself a Jew, is telling us that Christ is the culmination, fulfillment, and (in a sense) termination of the law. For Jesus “is the end of the law.” It is a way of saying that everything that matters in salvation and religion is in Him. (2) If I am in Christ, I will never be condemned for breaking the law or be rejected by God. How could I be, since Jesus has fulfilled the law on my behalf and has borne the punishment due to me for breaking it? He has become my righteousness. (3) To be “in Him” I must believe on Him. For the verse tells me, “Christ is the end of the law…for everyone who believes.” For everyone? Yes, but for everyone who believes. The promise is universal and specific.

Romans 10:1-4 Reflection Questions:

Why do you think Paul was so concerned about the Jews? What is God saying here?

In 10:4 Paul says the Messiah, Christ, “is the goal of the law.” Christ is the end, the final purpose of the law, where God’s purposes that began with Abraham were headed all along. The purpose of the law is not to accumulate a treasury of moral merit, but it is the assured status of belonging to God’s people. How does Christ accomplish the purpose of the law?

Why do people look for answers to life’s questions in so many places?

Even when the gospel is clearly presented, many reject its saving message. How can we encourage them to accept Christ?

Romans 9:30-33 All by Faith not by Works


Romans 9:30-32 could be taken as summing up the preceding verses, which they do in a sense. But they are actually a new section of the argument. In fact, they introduce a major new portion of the argument, because the matters they raise continue to be discussed throughout the remainder of chapters 9 and 10, and it is not until Romans 11:1 that Paul brings in an entirely new observation. These verses have a very simple outline. Verse 30 says that the Gentiles as a whole are being saved. Verse 31 says that the Jews as a whole were not being saved. Verse 32 explains why.

The critical word in these verses is “righteousness,” which we see at once when we read them. What does righteousness mean? In these verses it is the equivalent of salvation or, to be more precise, justification, which is the same word as righteousness in Greek. Far from seeking the righteousness of God by obedience to the law of God, the Gentiles had actually rejected God and were in the process of running away from Him and His law as fast as possible. This placed them on that downward slippery path that Paul describes as well. The surprising thing is that the Gentiles were finding righteousness anyhow. Why? Because that righteousness is in Christ, and they were finding it in Christ because they were believing on Him as their Savior. If we should ask how this can be, seeing that they were not even seeking it, the answer is that this was due entirely to the seeking grace of God.

But now we come to verse 31, and we find an even greater puzzle. We find that the Jews, who were trying to earn their salvation, did not attain it. The Jews did have the law, and devout Jews did pursue acceptance before God by that means. Like Paul himself during his years as a Pharisee, they labored earnestly to keep the law in all it many minute particulars, thinking that they would be saved by doing so. But as Romans 2 also showed is that their trying to keep the law was doomed to failure. What the Jews had not reckoned on was their own sinful natures, which made it as impossible for them to keep the law of God perfectly as it would have been for the Gentiles to keep it, had they possessed the law and tried to keep it.

The Jews – Paul himself was one – thought they were closer to salvation than the Gentiles, because they were at least trying to keep God’s law. But what they failed to see is that they were still failing. And because they refused to see that, they also failed to see what the law was actually given for: to show that we cannot achieve salvation by our works and to point us to the only way salvation can come, which is through faith in Jesus Christ. Instead of becoming self-righteous, we should become aware of our radical unrighteousness and turn to Christ. Many labor and have zeal, perhaps even tears. But none of this is enough. Only God can save us and – if that is the case – salvation must be received on God’s terms, which means through faith in the work of Jesus Christ.

There is only one thing you can do, and that is also what you need to do. You can accept it. You need to open up your hands and receive it. You need to wrap your fingers around it and clutch it to your heart. And stop trying to think that you have earned salvation or can earn it, because you cannot. Righteousness is wrongly sought by human works. It is only rightly found by the faith that receives God’s gift.

In the last two verses of Romans 9 (vv. 32-33) the apostle Paul introduces an image to illustrate what he has been saying in the earlier half of the paragraph, namely, that Israel had not obtained salvation because the people as a whole had been offended by Jesus, rather than believing Him or placing their faith in Him. His image is of a “stumbling stone,” which is what he calls Jesus, drawing on two passages in Isaiah for the illustration. By establishing Jesus as a rock in Zion, God also proclaims Him as the divine Rock upon which His people are to build. Texts identifying God as “the Rock” or “my rock” are frequent in the Old Testament.  So Paul’s use of the image is evidence of his belief in the deity of Jesus Christ.

This was an offense to Israel, of course. In fact, it was the root or foundational offense they found in Paul’s teaching. Paul spoke about this in an autobiographical way in 1 Corinthians, saying that the gospel of Jesus and His cross was “weakness” to the Romans, “foolishness” to the Greeks, but a cause of “stumbling” to the Jews (1 Cor. 1:22-25, 27-29). We can find those three problems in preaching the gospel today. We are not dealing with Greeks, Romans, and Jews specifically. But we can find that some people reject Christianity because they consider it a religion for weaklings; they don’t need “religion.” Others reject it because it seems foolish; it doesn’t conform to the “wisdom” of our secular, scientific age. Still others reject it because the idea of a divine Son of God is an offense to them; they do not understand why they cannot “save” themselves.

There are four great stones for stumbling (four great offenses of the gospel): (1) the deity of Jesus Christ; (2) His humanity and humble estate; (3) that the gospel must be received by faith rather than being earned by works; and (4) that salvation is according to God’s sovereign election and calling. We may ask, “Why should God create a gospel that is so offensive?” Doesn’t God understand techniques of good marketing? The answer, of course, is that God knows exactly what He is doing. What He is doing is to humble human pride, which is absolutely necessary if you or I or anybody else is to be saved. Pride is the very root of sin. There can be no salvation unless our pride is cut down, torn up by the roots, and cast out, which is what the gospel does. When pride is destroyed, then, and only then, are we ready to believe in Jesus and begin to build upon Him.

Build your life on Jesus Christ. If you will not have Jesus Christ, He will become a stumbling stone to you that will cause you to fall spiritually. That fall will mean your eternal destruction. But if you trust in Him, you will find Him to be the foundation stone that God has Himself established, and you will learn, as you live the Christian life, that “the one who trust in Him will never be put to shame.”

To be “ashamed” means to be utterly confounded in the day of God’s final judgment of the world and all persons. It means standing before God with your mouth firmly shut, with nothing to say in your defense as your deeds are read out, their evil judged by the standard of the perfect holiness of God, and your condemnation pronounced in terms so terrible that you will wish to have the mountains fall on you to protect you from the wrath of God or a flood to sweep your from His presence. On that day, your condemnation will be certain unless you are in Jesus Christ. Before it comes, be sure your feet are planted firmly on the Rock.

Romans 9:30-33 Reflection Questions:

How many “Rock” passages can you find in the Old Testament?

How many of the “”offenses” have you come across while sharing your faith?

Read Isaiah 28:16 and Isaiah 8:14, which Paul combines in Romans 9:33. Looking at Romans 9:30-10:4, what is Paul trying to communicate by saying that Christ, the Messiah, is both a stumbling block and a reliable Rock?

Romans 9:25-29 God Calls a Remnant


There are times in a study of Paul’s writings when it seems that the apostle has lost track of his argument. It is because his thought is so rich and because he has the habit of moving on quickly from one connected thought to another, We have found this in chapters 5 through 8 of this letter, and we see it in Paul’s other writings too. That seems to be the case in the verses we have been studying from Romans 9. Has Paul lost track of his argument? We are wrong if we think so. For at the very end of this section, in verse 24, Paul in a masterful way comes back to the point from which he started out, stating that salvation is for those whom God has chosen and called, “not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.”

Verse 24 is not only a return to the point at which Paul began, it is also a wrap-up of his first main argument showing why God has not been unfaithful to Israel or, to use the language he himself uses, why the Word or purposes of God have not failed. That means that verse 25, to which we come now, is beginning a new section of the argument. There are four quotations in verses 25-29, two from the minor prophet Hosea and two from the major prophet Isaiah. The passages from Hosea show the acceptability of the Gentiles. The passages from Isaiah show that the call to salvation has never included all Israel.

The Beatles once recorded a song called “Nowhere Man.” It grew out of a casual, dismissive remark one of them had made about somebody they’d just met. It was met as a scornful put-down, and if the person they were referring to had heard it, it would have hurt. The prophets knew all about giving people names and particularly about giving Israel names, names which reflected what God was thinking about them. The first two chapters of the prophet Hosea are full of this kind of thing, and Paul draws on two key promises from that passage. He quotes them in reverse order, beginning with Hosea 2:23, where the prophet declares to the Israelites that God will receive them back again after rejecting them. Then he quotes the earlier passage, Hosea 1:10.

What is Paul saying with these somewhat obscure, though clearly dramatic, quotations? Paul is continuing to tell the story of Israel, the story of Abraham and the other patriarchs, which continued through the Exodus, and which now reaches the period of the prophets. Paul’s point, made here in poetic fashion, is in essence quite simple: the prophets themselves promised that God would make Israel pass through a period of judgment in order then to come out into salvation. First Israel had to hear, and bear, the name “not My people,” before they could again be called “My people.”

Paul’s point, yet once more, is that God has indeed been faithful to His promises. He has not gone back on His Word. He said He would have to whittle Israel down to a remnant, and that’s what He has done. To imagine that Israel could be vindicated as it stood – that all Jews would automatically be classified as true “children of Abraham” – would be to ignore what Israel’s own Scriptures had been saying all along. The problem of Jewish unbelief is not, then, the problem of God failing to keep His Word, but the problem of Israel not hearing what that Word had been saying. All of this makes Paul’s chief point, namely, that God’s rejection of Israel as Israel and His election of the Gentiles should have taken nobody by surprise, particularly the Jews, since it was prophesied clearly in the Jewish Scriptures.

The point of the Hosea quotations is that God had announced in advance that He would save Gentiles. The point of the Isaiah quotations is that He had likewise announced that not all Jews, but only a remnant of Israel, would be converted. There is an interesting tie-in between Isaiah 10:22-23, the first of Paul’s quotations from Isaiah (v. 27), and Hosea 1:10, the second of his two quotations from Hosea, which was just given (v. 26). In chapter 1 of Hosea, verse 10 begins with the words “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand of the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted.” Paul does not quote those words in Romans 9:26, though he quotes the second half of the verse, because the words are about Israel explicitly and Paul wants to use the verse as a promise of God’s future blessing on the Gentiles. Those words remind Paul of the verse from Isaiah, which he cites next: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.” Do you see what this Isaiah verse is saying? Leaving the unbelief of the Gentiles aside for a moment, isn’t it true that Isaiah 10:22 describe the generally poor results and great difficulties of Jewish evangelism?

In Romans 9:27 the words “the remnant,” refer to the remnant of God’s electing choice, who will be saved. As for the rest, “The Lord will carry out His sentence on earth with speed and finality” (v. 28). That is, the rest will perish in God’s final judgments. Verse 29, the second of Paul’s two quotations from Isaiah, picks up from the second half of the first quotation, also referring to judgment. But this is a different kind of reference. The first quotation describes what is surely going to happen. This verse describes what is sometimes called “a condition contrary to fact.” It teaches that unless the Lord had left a remnant, the people would have been like those of Sodom and Gomorrah, that is, entirely wiped out. They would have ceased to exist. Yet this is not the case. If fact, God has left a remnant, which, as Paul is going to say in Romans 11, God has, “chosen by grace” (v. 5). Apart from the grace of God there will be destruction, fire from heaven! The only thing that keeps this from happening to all of us is the mercy and kindness of God. It is only because of the explicable grace of God that any of us are spared the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Romans 9:25-29 Reflection Questions:

How do verses 25-29 also emphasize Paul’s point that God is faithful to His promises to Israel?

How do these verses respond to the charge that God is not just?

God has to reshape Israel because of their failure to live out the purpose to which they had been called, just as a potter molds a lump of clay for his own ends. The church has also been called to a purpose in the world. What is that purpose and how well is the church living this out?

What needs to happen for your Christian community to live out its purpose more strongly?

Romans 9:22-24 The Patience of God


Romans 9:22-24 speak of five of God’s attributes: wrath, power, patience, glory, and mercy. Two of these have just been mentioned: power in verse16 and mercy in verses 15, 16, and 18. Two others, wrath and glory, were introduced earlier in the letter. The new and unexpected attribute in these verses is patience, which Paul declares has been shown to “the objects of His wrath – prepared for destruction.” The verses teach that God’s treatment of the wicked is neither arbitrary nor meaningless, but is intended rather to make His wrath, power, and patience known, just as, on the other hand, His treatment of those who are chosen to be saved displays His mercy. In both cases the glory of God is achieved by God’s exercising or making known these attributes.

God’s chief end is to glorify God. Therefore, since God is all-powerful, this end will certainly be achieved. It will be achieved in every detail of history and in the destiny of every individual. Every person who has ever lived or will ever live must glorify God, either actively or passively, either willingly or unwillingly, either in heaven or in hell. Your will glorify God. Either you will glorify Him as the object of His mercy and glory, which will be seen in you. Or you will glorify Him in your rebellion and unbelief by being made the object of His wrath and power at the final judgment. In fact, if you are rebelling, you are glorifying Him even now, because even now His patience is displayed in you by His enduring your sin for a time, rather than sending you to hell immediately, which you deserve. These verses teach that the patience of God is seen in His toleration of the wicked for a time.

We might think that God shows patience to the wicked only to allow the sins of such persons to accumulate so that He might more fully display His wrath and power in judging them at last. True, that is one purpose. It is what has been said of Pharaoh. God raised him up (even hardened his heart) so that the full measure of the divine power might be displayed in him and God’s name might be proclaimed in all the earth. But that is not the only purpose. The patience of God is also displayed so that those whom God is calling to faith might have space to repent. Both purposes are good. The second purpose is gracious.

There is another text that needs to be drawn into this composite picture of God’s patience as discussed in Paul’s writings, and that is 1 Timothy 1:15-16, in which Paul speaks in a very moving way of God’s unlimited patience to himself. He calls it a trustworthy saying. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.” What Paul is giving in these verses is a personal illustration of what he discusses doctrinally in Romans. Paul was aware that he had been chosen by God in Christ from before the foundation of the world. But he also remembered with sadness how he had been allowed to go his own self-righteous and wicked way for years until God called him.

Yet God was patient with Paul. Instead of striking him down, God suffered him to march along his own self-righteous path, heaping sin upon sin, until at last God called him to faith in the Jesus he was persecuting. God did it so the horror of Paul’s earlier conduct might form a more striking contrast to the grace, mercy, and glory of God that he afterward received. This isn’t just Paul’s story of course. It is the story of believers throughout history. How patient God was with Adam and Eve! Surely God was not willing for our first parents to perish but rather that they might come to repentance and find eternal life. In the New Testament, think of the believing thief who died on a cross at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. The man was a murderer as well as a thief. But God was patient with him, sparing him throughout a very long life of sin so that in the very last hours of his life he might demonstrate that grace can come even to the worst of men and in their final moments. Surely, “our Lord’s patience means salvation” (2 Pet. 3:15), and “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance” (Rom. 2:4).

Has it led you toward repentance? Is it doing so now? Let us look at this matter through by these observations: (1) God is patient for a reason. If you are not in hell today, which you are not though you deserve to be, it is because God has been patient with you, and the purpose of His patience is to lead you to repentance. God’s patience is a great thing. We have explored some of its greatness in this study. But you must not abuse it. It is meant to do you good. The day of God’s patience is the day of His grace. (2) God will not be patient forever. Although God’s patience is great, it is not eternal. We are warned in Scripture that God’s wrath has been withheld by His patience, but that it is building up like waters behind a great dam and that it will one day be poured forth. God’s patience leads to repentance, but you must still repent. You must believe on Jesus. If you do not, you will face God’s judgment in the end, however much you may scoff at it now. (3) Because God is patient, we should be patient. The word patience is found in reference to God only three times. But here is the interesting thing: It is found as a virtue to be cultivated by Christians six times, that is twice as often as in reference to God. It is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is commended as a virtue in the Christian ministry. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, perhaps this is the application for you. We tend to be impatient with other people, especially with those we are trying to win to Christ. But God is patient, and we should be also.

There are four other attributes of God in verses 22-24. Wrath is one, but we are not called upon to show wrath. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Power is another, but God and not ourselves who must show power. Even glory is not for us to demonstrate. But we can show mercy. We are to be merciful people, remembering how God has been merciful to us. And above all, we can be patient. It is not easy to be patient, but let us try to be. And the God who is Himself patient may use our patience to draw many hurting people to the Savior.

Romans 9:22-24 Reflection Questions:

When was the last time you shared your personal testimony about God’s patience in your life?

What are some examples from the Old Testament and the New Testament of God’s patience?

Is there any way that God could have revealed the riches of His mercy and glory, exercised His sovereign choice in all this, and still leaves each of us responsible for his own decisions (free will) regarding God?  Explain how man’s free will and God’s predestination could work together.

Romans 9:19-21 The Potter and the Clay


The human heart is a deceitful but very resourceful thing, and two ways it expresses these characteristics are by dismissing God, on the one hand, or blaming Him, on the other.

This is the kind of thinking Paul is dealing with in Romans 9:19-21, as he continues to teach about the sovereignty of God in salvation. In the first half of the chapter, he has been arguing that the matter of salvation God operates by the principles of election and reprobation, and he has answered the question: Is God just in so operating? He has shown that God is just, since God owes mankind nothing, salvation is by grace, and God rightly demonstrates all aspects of His glory, including His wrath and power as well as His mercy and grace, by so doing. But now the wicked resourcefulness of the human heart comes in. For, if a person cannot deny God’s sovereignty over human affairs and human destinies or even God’s right to save some and pass by others, as God does, the person will at least try to deny his or her own responsibility in the matter. So a new question arises: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists His will?” (v. 19).

This of course, is a major theological question: the relationship between the sovereignty of God and free will. It is a question that can be answered and has been, particularly by Jonathan Edwards in his treatise on “The Freedom of the Will.” But Paul doesn’t answer the question here, at least not directly. And the reason he doesn’t answer it is that he already has.

For this objection to have weight, the person making it must assume that God determines to condemn some persons without reference to what they are or do as sinners. It assumes that He creates some people only to damn them, to send them to hell, and that they are passive in the matter. But that is not what Paul has been saying. Reprobation means “passing by” or “choosing not to save.” And those whom God passes by chooses not to save are not innocent persons but sinners who are in rebellion against Him. God does not condemn innocent people. He condemns sinners only. But God does have the right to save or not to save sinners, as He chooses.

So the question is really an objection to God’s right to do what He does, which is what has been under consideration all along and which is why I have said that Paul has already answered it. Paul knows that the objection really rises out of the rebellion of the heart against God’s sovereignty. In fact, the very question is rebellion. For the query “Who resists His will?” is itself resistance. Human beings are sinners, are guilty, and they prove it even by the way they ask their questions. Therefore, Paul answers by reiterating once more that God has a right to do with His (sinful) creatures as He will.

We have already looked at the question. The answer (v. 20) and the illustration (v. 21) provide contrasts that are intended to put the question in its proper perspective and ourselves in our proper place. There are three of them: (1) Man and God. You and I are mere men and women set over against the God who made not only us but all things. It is ludicrous for creatures as small, ignorant, impotent, and sinful as we are to question the propriety of God’s moral acts. We may not understand what God is doing in any particular case, in fact most of the time we will not (see Isa. 55:8). For us to suggest that He is wrong in what He does is patently absurd. (2) What is formed and He who formed it. The contrast between man and God, the first, stresses the insignificance of one and the greatness of the other. This second contrast brings in another matter, namely, that we are mere creatures – God is the Creator – and therefore everything we are and have comes from Him, including even our ability to ask such questions. (3) The clay and the potter. Each of these three contrasts says the same thing. But each also adds a new element, and the new element here is the authority of the Old Testament, since the illustration of the potter and clay is drawn from the Old Testament and shows that the principle involved is a point of revelation (Isa. 29:16, 45:9, 64:8; Jer. 18:1-11).

Paul doesn’t seem to be quoting specifically from any one of these texts. But the points in Romans are exactly what these verses in the Old Testament also say: (1) It is absurd for a mere man or woman to fault God. (2) God has absolute sovereignty over His creatures, saving whom He will and condemning whom He will. (3) This is not an arbitrary selection, since His judgments are based on His justice in condemning sin. (4) Therefore, “turn from your evil ways…and reform your ways and your actions.” Instead of objecting to God’s actions, we should fear them and allow our fear of judgment to drive us to the repentance we need.

God’s purpose is not solely to condemn. The demonstration of His power and justice in judging sinners is a true part of what God is doing in human history, but it is not the whole thing. God is also making known the riches of His glory in the salvation of some, as these verses, particularly the next verses, show. Why should you not be among those who are saved?

If all God wanted to do was send people to hell, He would not have needed to tell us these things or anything else. There would have been no need for a Bible, no need for preachers to preach or messengers to explain and teach it, no need for a Savior to be held forth as the heart of the Bible’s message. If all God wanted to do was let us go to hell, all He would have needed to have done is nothing. We are capable of rushing off to hell entirely by ourselves. But God has not done that. He has provided a Savior. He has given us a Bible. You cannot bring God under obligation to save you by anything you might do, and indeed you have not done anything significant. But the way He saves people is by the preaching and teaching of His Word, which is what you have just received, and by the power of His Spirit working through it.

If what you have heard has made sense to you, if you know that God does not owe you anything, that you have actually spurned what good He has shown you, and that all you actually deserve from Him is judgment, then God is already using His Word to bring about the needed transformation of your heart. Now, instead of trying to tell Him that what He does is unjust, you will wisely and rationally seek His mercy through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, where alone it may be found.

Romans 9:19-21 Reflection Questions:

Paul recalls the image of a potter and clay from Isaiah 29:16, 45:9 and Jeremiah 18:1-6, which tells of a stage in Israel’s history when God was struggling with rebellious Israel. How is the image of a potter and clay helpful in understanding God’s attitude toward sinful Israel and the purpose He had for it to be a means of blessing to others?

In what ways has the teaching of today’s study encouraged you to be able to answer any questions that may arise when you are sharing the gospel with others?