A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #29 Without Excuse Romans 10:5-21

Romans 10:17 Faith Comes By Hearing (black)

10:5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law.NRSV Paul quotes freely from Moses. The first quote is from Leviticus 18:5, a section in Leviticus that gives God’s instructions to the people for how they should live in the Promised Land. He explains that they are not to be like the people of the land, but are to obey God’s laws because “the person who does these things will live by them.”NRSV In Leviticus, this phrase is preceded and followed by God’s self-affirmation, “I am the Lord your God.” From Paul’s repeated insistence, we know that he was not demeaning the law. So how are we to understand this reference to Moses? The meaning hinges on what was intended by live. Was God promising that the person who lived by the law would live eternally? Or was God stating that obeying the law was the best way to live on earth, without reference to eternity. So the idea might be paraphrased, “In following the law, a person will find a godly way of life, rather than the ungodly life of following the ways of the Egyptians or Canaanites.” This was what God required for them if they were to obtain his blessings and flourish in the Promised Land (see also Nehemiah 9:26).

The Jews carried the concept further, however, trying to obtain more than godly living by a righteousness that comes from the law. In essence, they interpreted God’s statement to mean, “Keep the law and you will live eternally by it.” But in order to do so, they would have to live perfectly, not sinning once—and that is impossible (see James 2:10). Righteousness that comes from the law is the ideal way of life, but it cannot be achieved well enough to merit God’s acceptance. For that level of righteousness, supernatural help is needed.

Why did God give the law when he knew people couldn’t keep it? According to Paul, one reason that the law was given was to show people how guilty they are (Galatians 3:19). In addition, the law was a shadow of Christ—that is, the sacrificial system educated the people so that when the true sacrifice came, they would be able to understand his work (Hebrews 10:1-4). The system of ceremonial laws was to last until the coming of Christ. The law points to Christ, the final sacrifice for sin, the reason for all those animal sacrifices.

10:6 Righteousness that comes from faith.NRSV Moses also wrote about righteousness by faith. In verses 6-8, Paul recalls phrases from Deuteronomy 30. The book of Deuteronomy includes Moses’ final speeches to Israel as they were about to enter and subdue the land that God had promised to them many years before. Moses recited the blessings they could look forward to for their obedience to God, as well as the curses they could expect if they disobeyed and turned away from him.

At the conclusion of his third address to the people, Moses explained, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven . . . Nor is it beyond the sea . . . No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 niv). In other words, the people knew what they had to do to please God. The message was as near as their mouths and hearts. No one would have to go up to heaven or cross the sea to get it so that they would know what to obey. They knew what God required of them, and they could do it if they chose. But they also knew what God had committed himself to do, which is the point of Deuteronomy 30. There God spoke of his intention to “circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love [God] with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6 niv). From the beginning, the law had been given with the understanding that it would guide those who submitted to God. Without that submission, the law’s effectiveness was nullified.

Paul applies those words to the people of his generation, speaking of a relationship to Christ. The truth of righteousness by faith in Christ is now known. And the way to achieve it is not beyond our abilities.

“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down).NIV No one has to go up to heaven to bring Christ down as though he had never been incarnated; Christ himself has already come in the flesh (John 1:14). The attitude that Paul is attacking is the assumption that one’s righteousness can contribute to God’s saving plan. self-righteousness goes looking for God, seeking to find him. Righteousness by faith begins by submitting to God, allowing him to find us.

10:7 “Or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).NIV The deep (literally “the abyss”) as used here refers to the grave or Hades, the place of the dead. No one has to go into the grave to bring Christ up from the dead; Christ has already been resurrected.

The extent of the quest in verses 6 and 7 is reminiscent of the psalmist’s recognition of the universal presence of God: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8 niv). Before people even begin to look for God, he is already present, and no matter how far they go out of their way to find him, he is never farther away than when they first started out. As long as we insist on doing the finding, we will discover that the search never ends. But if we begin by trusting God, we discover he is to be found right where we are.

Paul adapted Moses’ farewell challenge from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 to apply to Christ. Christ has provided our salvation through his incarnation (coming to earth) and resurrection (coming back from the dead). God’s salvation is right in front of us. He will come to us wherever we are. All we need to do is to respond and accept his gift of salvation.

10:8 “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”NKJV Just as God’s message was already clear to the people of Moses’ day, so it is as near as the mouths and hearts of Paul’s readers, including us. The words convey an immediate opportunity to respond. It is as close and available to us as it can possibly be without overruling our will. What message is that? The word of faith that we proclaim.NRSV Salvation is available through faith in Jesus Christ.

10:9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord.”NIV The word is near—as near as your mouth and heart (10:8; Deuteronomy 30:14). To “confess” (homologeo) means to “give verbal affirmation,”—in this case to acknowledge with your mouth that Jesus Christ died and was raised for you. Anyone can say he or she believes something, but God knows each person’s heart. In this confession, it is not enough to merely utter the words; they must be declared, professed, proclaimed “from the heart,” expressing our full conviction. For salvation you must truly believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.NRSV In 1 Corinthians 15:17 Paul asserts how the Resurrection is totally interrelated with our salvation: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (niv). Jesus is distinct from all other religious leaders: he is the only “Lord” to have risen from the grave. This makes Christianity more than a philosophy of life or a religious option; it is the only way to be saved.

You will be saved. The gospel message in a nutshell is “believe and confess Jesus as Lord, and you will be saved.” There is no reference to works or rituals. The point of decision is between a person and God, but the point of confession implies another person. It is true that God is often our first confessor, but having others witness our confession confirms our belief. In fact, to confess and to believe become mutually related responses. If one is true, the other follows.

Jesus is Lord. The title Lord (kurios), though rarely used outside of diplomatic circles today, carried great weight in Paul’s day. It was a title of respect (similar to sir), a form of address for Roman emperors (similar to “royal highness”), a title given to Greek gods, and the title used in the Greek translation of Old Testament to translate the Hebrew word YAHWEH. When we confess that Jesus is Lord, we are acknowledging his rank or supreme place. We are pledging our obedience and worship; we are placing our life under his protection for safekeeping. We are pledging ourselves and our resources to his control for direction and service. Lord is intended to represent the highest authority to whom we submit.

Have you ever been asked, “How do I become a Christian?” These verses give the beautiful answer—salvation is as close as your own mouth and heart. People think it must be a complicated process, but it is not. If we believe in our heart and say with our mouth that Christ is the risen Lord, we will be saved.

10:10 It is with your heart that you believe and are justified.NIV You must first believe with your heart—that belief justifies you (God declares you “not guilty” for your sins).

It is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.NIV By prayer to God, you confess with your mouth your belief in God and what he has done for you. As in verses 8-9 above, belief and confession lead to salvation.

As has already been noted, neither of these components that establish our personal relationship with God can be reduced to reciting certain words or assenting to the facts. To believe and to confess involve whole-person commitment. Neither are these components described in such a way that a person might accomplish one without accomplishing the other. They are two parts of a single step, just as lifting the foot and then placing it back down are two movements in the one act of taking a step. Likewise, one cannot be saved without being justified, nor justified without being saved.

10:11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”NIV To summarize the transaction that he has just described, Paul quotes again from Isaiah 28:16, as he did at the end of chapter 9. Anyone who trusts in Christ will be saved. What appears momentarily in verse 10 to be two separate actions turns out to be two parts to the response the Bible calls trust (or belief).

Paul is not saying that Christians will never be disillusioned or disappointed. At times people will let us down and circumstances will take a turn for the worse. Paul is saying that God will keep his side of the bargain—those who call on him will be saved. God will never fail to provide righteousness to those who believe.

10:12 No difference between Jew and Gentile.NIV The “anyone” of verse 11 includes both Jews and Gentiles. In 3:22-23, Paul also writes that “there is no difference.” But the focus is on all people’s sinfulness, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Here, there is no difference because God’s salvation is available to all who believe (the point Paul has been making throughout this letter), for the same Lord is Lord of all.NRSV Every person is confronted with the need to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Because sin is a universal condition, the remedy of justification by faith universally applies.

Richly blesses all who call on him.NIV To call on the Lord is to trust him for salvation. Paul is keeping the parallel between confession and belief, heart and mouth, and trust and call. Those who are saved will be richly blessed—in this world (although not always materially, as some might hope or expect), and most certainly in the world to come. Paul also keeps the parallel when describing the results: justification and salvation, not put to shame and blessed.

10:13 “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”NKJV A final quotation taken from the Hebrew Scriptures (Joel 2:32) serves well for Paul’s conclusion. God’s special relationship with Israel will continue, but it has been broadened to include everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. God’s plans for Israel had their climax in Christ. Access to God, for all people, now comes through Jesus Christ. With this last reference, Paul neatly lays the foundation for the necessity of worldwide evangelism. Joel 2:32 is an Old Testament mandate for missions. To call on the Lord is to ask the Lord to come to you and be real to you. Those who call on Jesus as their Lord want him to be their Lord and Savior.

They misunderstood their own Law (vv. 4-13). Everything about the Jewish religion pointed to the coming Messiah—their sacrifices, priesthood, temple services, religious festivals, and covenants. Their Law told them they were sinners in need of a Saviour. But instead of letting the Law bring them to Christ (Gal. 3:24), they worshiped their Law and rejected their Saviour. The Law was a signpost, pointing the way. But it could never take them to their destination. The Law cannot give righteousness; it only leads the sinner to the Saviour who can give righteousness.

Christ is “the end of the Law” in the sense that through His death and resurrection, He has terminated the ministry of the Law for those who believe. The Law is ended as far as Christians are concerned. The righteousness of the Law is being fulfilled in the life of the believer through the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:4); but the reign of the Law has ended (see Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14). “For ye are not under the Law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

Paul quoted from the Old Testament to prove to his readers that they did not even understand their own Law. He began with Leviticus 18:5 which states the purpose of the Law: if you obey it, you live.

“But we did obey it!” they would argue.

“You may have obeyed it outwardly,” Paul would reply, “but you did not believe it from your heart.” He then quoted Deuteronomy 30:12-14 and gave the passage a deeper spiritual meaning. The theme of Moses’ message was “the commandment” (Deut. 30:11), referring to the Word of God. Moses argued that the Jews had no reason to disobey the Word of God because it had been clearly explained to them and it was not far from them. In fact, Moses urged them to receive the Word in their hearts (see Deut. 5:29; 6:5-12; 13:3; 30:6). The emphasis in Deuteronomy is on the heart, the inner spiritual condition and not mere outward acts of obedience.

Paul gave us the spiritual understanding of this admonition. He saw “the commandment” or “the Word” as meaning “Christ, God’s Word.” So, he substituted “Christ” for “the commandment.” He told us that God’s way of salvation was not difficult and complicated. We do not have to go to heaven to find Christ, or into the world of the dead. He is near to us. In other words, the Gospel of Christ—the Word of faith—is available and accessible. The sinner need not perform difficult works in order to be saved. All he has to do is trust Christ. The very Word on the lips of the religious Jews was the Word of faith. The very Law that they read and recited pointed to Christ.

At this point Paul quoted Isaiah 28:16 to show that salvation is by faith: “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.” He quoted this verse before in Romans 9:33. He made it clear in Romans 10:9-10 that salvation is by faith—we believe in the heart; receive God’s righteousness, and then confess Christ openly and without shame.

Paul’s final quotation was from Joel 2:32, to prove that this salvation is open to everyone: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Paul had already proved that “there is no difference” in condemnation (Rom. 3:20-23); now he affirms that “there is no difference” in salvation. Instead of the Jew having a special righteousness of his own through the Law, he was declared to be as much a sinner as the Gentile he condemned.

This entire section emphasizes the difference between “Law righteousness” and “faith righteousness.” The contrasts are seen in the following summary.

Law Righteousness Faith Righteousness
Only for the Jew For “whosoever”
Based on works Comes by faith alone
Self-righteousness God’s righteousness
Cannot save Brings salvation
Obey the Lord Call on the Lord
Leads to pride Glorifies God

Having explained the reasons for Israel’s rejection of God’s righteousness, Paul moves into the next aspect of the subject.

The Remedy for Their Rejection (Rom. 10:14-17)

This passage is often used as the basis for the church’s missionary program, and rightly so, but its first application is to the nation of Israel. The only way unbelieving Jews can be saved is by calling on the Lord. But before they can call on Him, they must believe.

For the Jew, this meant believing that Jesus Christ of Nazareth truly is the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. It also meant believing in His death and resurrection (Rom. 10:9-10). But in order to believe, they must hear the Word, for it is the Word that creates faith in the heart of the hearer (Rom. 10:17). This meant that a herald of the Word must be sent, and it is the Lord who does the sending. At this point, Paul could well have been remembering his own call to preach the Word to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-3).

The quotation in Romans 10:15 is found in Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15. The Nahum reference had to do with the destruction of the Assyrian Empire, the hated enemies of the Jews. Nineveh was their key city, a wicked city to which God had sent Jonah some 150 years before Nahum wrote. God had patiently dealt with Nineveh, but now His judgment was going to fall. It was this “good news” that the messenger brought to the Jews, and this is what made his feet so beautiful.

Paul used the quotation in a present application: the messengers of the Gospel taking the Good News to Israel today. The “peace” spoken of is “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1) and the peace Christ has effected between Jews and Gentiles by forming the one body, the church (Eph. 2:13-17). The remedy for Israel’s rejection is in hearing the Word of the Gospel and believing on Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 53:1 was Paul’s next quotation, proving that not all of Israel would obey His Word. This verse introduced one of the greatest messianic chapters in the Old Testament. Traditionally, Jewish scholars have applied Isaiah 53 to the nation of Israel rather than to Messiah; but many ancient rabbis saw in it a picture of a suffering Messiah bearing the sins of His people (see Acts 8:26-40). In Isaiah’s day, the people did not believe God’s Word, nor do they believe it today. John 12:37-41 cites Isaiah 53:1 to explain how the nation saw Christ’s miracles and still refused to believe. Because they would not believe, judgment came on them and they could not believe.

Note that trusting Christ is not only a matter of believing, but also obeying. Not to believe on Christ is to disobey God. God “commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Romans 6:17 also equates “believing” and “obeying.” True faith must touch the will and result in a changed life.

Some of us share the news here at home, but others are sent to distant places. In spite of some closed doors, there are still more open doors for the Gospel than ever before; and we have better tools to work with.

Dr. E. Meyers Harrison, veteran missionary and professor of missions, says that there are four reasons why the church must send out missionaries: (1) the command from above—”go ye into all the world” (Mark 16:15); (2) the cry from beneath—”send him to my father’s house” (Luke 16:27); (3) the call from without—“come over and help us” (Acts 16:9); and (4) the constraint from within—”the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Cor. 5:14).

10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?NIV If God’s salvation is to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (10:13), how can people call on God for salvation if they have not been moved to believe in him? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?NIV There can be no call, no belief, if these people have not heard about God (“heard” means a hearing that understands

the significance of the words and realizes that a response is required), and been given the offer of salvation. And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?niv There can be no call, no belief, no hearing, unless someone communicates the truth. What is the best general method of preaching? (1) to invite, (2) to convince, (3) to offer Christ, (4) to build up; and to do this in some measure in every sermon.

John Wesley


In the task of evangelism, an effective witness must include more than being a good example. Eventually, someone will have to explain the content, the what and the how of the gospel. Modeling the Christian life is important, but someone will need to make the connection between the mind of the unbeliever and the message of the gospel. There should never be a debate between those who favor life-style evangelism (one’s living proclaims the gospel) and confrontational evangelism (declaring the message). Both should be used together in promoting the gospel. Do people know of your faith by your actions? To whom can you communicate the life-changing message of Christ?

10:15 How shall they preach unless they are sent?NKJV There can be no call, no belief, no hearing, no preaching, unless there are those sent to share the Good News. The Greek word for “preach” (kerusso) is not limited to the Sunday morning sermon from the pulpit; rather, it means to announce or proclaim something. All believers are sent to announce this Good News. The process of salvation begins with the one who tells another the Good News.

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”NRSV Like Paul and the early Christians, who spread the message of Christ despite persecution and even death, we should be eager to share this Good News of salvation to all who will listen. In the verse quoted from Isaiah 52:7, the herald is bearing good news to Judah about the end of their exile in Babylon and their return to their own land. His feet were beautiful to them, for his good news was so welcome. The message was what he brought, but it was those worn and dusty feet that brought him. Those feet were beautiful because they represented the messenger’s willingness to be sent with good news. Only now the message was not just for Israel, but for the whole world.

We must take God’s great message of salvation to others so that they can respond to the Good News. How will our loved ones and neighbors hear about Christ unless someone tells them? Is God calling you to be a part of making his message known in your community? Besides thinking of a person who needs to hear the Good News, think of something you can do to help that person hear it. Then take that step as soon as possible.

10:16 Not all the Israelites accepted the good news.NIV Many Jews did not accept the gospel of Jesus Christ—they heard it but refused to believe and submit to it. The failure of Jews to respond to God’s warnings of impending judgment was true in Isaiah’s day, for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”NRSV It was true while Jesus preached (John 12:37-41), and it was true in Paul’s day. We can expect the same today. Bringing people good news does not guarantee a welcome. But having been changed by the message ourselves ought to change the way we see those who have not yet heard. As Paul writes earlier in Romans, “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks” (1:14). We are not held responsible for how others respond, but we are expected to carry the Good News.

10:17 Faith comes from hearing the message.NIV This statement expresses the main theme of this section. People need to hear the Good News of salvation in Christ in order to believe it (10:14). Faith does not respond in a vacuum or respond blindly. Faith is believing what one has been told about God’s offer of salvation and trusting the one who has been spoken about.

The message is heard through the word of Christ.NIV The word of Christ is the word about Christ and what he has accomplished to give salvation to all who believe in him.

The Results of Their Rejection (Rom. 10:18-21)

There are three results, and each of them is supported by a quotation from the Old Testament.

Israel is guilty (v. 18). Someone might have argued with Paul: “But how do you know that Israel really heard?” His reply would have been Psalm 19:4, a psalm that emphasizes the revelation of God in the world. God reveals Himself in creation (Ps. 19:1-6) and in His Word (Ps. 19:7-11). The “Book of Nature” and the “Book of Revelation” go together and proclaim the glory of God. Israel had the benefit of both books, for she saw God at work in nature and she received God’s written Word. Israel heard, but she would not heed. No wonder Jesus often had to say to the crowds, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!”

The message goes to the Gentiles (vv. 19-20). What marvelous grace! When Israel rejected her Messiah, God sent the Gospel to the Gentiles that they might be saved. This was predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 32:21. Paul had mentioned this truth before in Romans 9:22-26. One reason why God sent the Gospel to the Gentiles was that they might provoke the Jews to jealousy (Rom. 10:19; 11:11). It was an act of grace both to the Jews and to the Gentiles. The Prophet Isaiah predicted too that God would save the Gentiles (Isa. 65:1).

As you study the New Testament, you discover that “to the Jew first” is a ruling principle of operation. Jesus began His ministry with the Jews. He forbad His disciples to preach to the Gentiles or the Samaritans when He sent them on their first tour of ministry (Matt. 10:1-6). After His resurrection, He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem and to start their ministry there (Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8). In the first seven chapters of Acts, the ministry is to Jews and to Gentiles who were Jewish proselytes. But when the nation stoned Stephen and persecution broke loose, God sent the Gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8:1-8), and then to the Gentiles (Acts 10).

The Jewish believers were shocked when Peter went to the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). But he explained that it was God who sent him and that it was clear to him that Jews and Gentiles were both saved the same way—by faith in Christ. But the opposition of the legalistic Jews was so great that the churches had to call a council to discuss the issue. The record of this council is given in Acts 15. Their conclusion was that Jews and Gentiles were all saved by faith in Christ, and that a Gentile did not have to become a Jewish proselyte before he could become a Christian.

God still yearns over His people (v. 21). This quotation is from Isaiah 65:2. “All day long” certainly refers to this present “day of salvation” or day of grace in which we live. While Israel as a nation has been set aside, individual Jewish people can be saved and are being saved. The phrase “all day long” makes us think of Paul’s ministry to the Jews in Rome when he arrived there as a prisoner. “From morning till evening” Paul expounded the Scriptures to them and sought to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 28:23). Through Paul, God was stretching out His arms of love to His disobedient people, yearning over them, and asking them to return. God’s favor to the Gentiles did not change His love for the Jews.

God wants to use us to share the Gospel with both Jews and Gentiles. God can use our feet and our arms just as He used Paul’s. Jesus Christ wept over Jerusalem and longed to gather His people in His arms! Instead, those arms were stretched out on a cross where He willingly died for Jews and Gentiles alike. God is long-suffering and patient “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Will God’s patience with Israel wear out? Is there any future for the nation? Yes, there is, as the next chapter will show.

10:18 Have they not heard?NKJV Some might argue that the Jews weren’t given enough chances to hear or that somehow the message should have been made clearer for them. Perhaps Isaiah’s complaint (“Who has believed?” 10:16) was the fault of the messenger. But Paul emphatically responds that of course they heard. The message had been preached far and wide, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles (see 1:16). Then Paul quotes from Psalm 19:4: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”NIV When Luke ended the book of Acts with Paul in. Rome, this was probably considered a culmination of the great commission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). At this time in history, the Good News had been preached to Jews and Gentiles for about twenty years, and it had spread throughout the Mediterranean areas where Jews lived. There may have been some Jews who truly had not yet heard, but to use that as an excuse for the large number of Jews who had rejected the gospel did not sit well with Paul (see also Romans 1:18-20).

As the loopholes close for the Jews, they close for everyone else, too. If the Jews are not excused for their unbelief, how can the rest of us think there might be some excuse for us? In the end, some may wish they had heard more, but God will declare that what they heard was enough. In the meantime, those of us who have beard have little excuse for our apathy in passing on the Good News!

10:19 Did Israel not understand?NRSV Someone might then argue, “Okay, so the Jews heard, but perhaps they didn’t understand that God’s message was salvation not by the law, but by faith, and that it was for the Gentiles too.” Paul didn’t like that excuse either. The Jews’ knowledge of their own Scriptures should have led them to believe in Christ. He quotes again from their Scriptures to answer the argument. First, from Deuteronomy 32:21: “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”NIV The Gentiles were not a single nation; they consisted of everyone who was not part of the Jewish nation. The Jews would be envious that God would offer salvation to the world at large and not just to his chosen people. They would be angry that the pagan peoples whom they considered to have no understanding would be accepted by God. In all of this, God’s purpose would not be to reject his people, but to cause them to return to him.

10:20 Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”NIV The second quote is from Isaiah 65:1. Paul was sure that those were the Gentiles. Although they had previously ignored God as simply the God of Israel and so had never sought him out, the Gentiles would recognize God as the one true God, and God would reveal himself to them.

The next statement in Isaiah 65:1 reads, “to a nation that did not call on my name” (niv). Israel considered itself to be the only people of God, but the time would come when other nations would seek him. Paul points out that these other nations would seek him. God’s people today are those who accept Jesus as Savior and Lord whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Since the gospel is for everyone, we must seek to proclaim it to every nation and race, and man and woman.

10:21 Concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”NIV Finally, from Isaiah 65:2, Paul explains that God had been gracious to his people, patiently holding out his hands to them and calling them, only to have them turn away. God held out his hands to his people indicates a gesture of dual purpose: one of welcome and one of giving. But God’s welcome was spurned and his gifts were rejected.

The disobedience of Israel was judged by God’s welcome to the Gentiles (even though that was in his plan all along). But he will still accept his chosen people if they will only return to him. He remains faithful to his promises to his people, even though they have been unfaithful to him. God still holds out his hands.

It is agreed by all commentators that this is one of the most difficult and obscure passages in the letter to the Romans. It seems to us that what we have here is not so much a finished passage as summary notes. There is a kind of telegraphic quality about the writing. It may well be that what we have here is the notes of some address which Paul was in the habit of making to the Jews to convince them of their error.

Basically the scheme is this—in the previous passage Paul has been saying that the way to God is not that of works and of legalism, but of faith and trust. The objection is: But what if the Jews never heard of that? It is with that objection Paul deals; and, as he deals with it in its various forms, on each occasion he clinches his answer with a text from scripture.

Let us take the objections and the answering scripture texts one by one.

(i) The first objection is: “You cannot call on God unless you believe in him. You cannot believe in him unless you hear about him. You cannot hear about him unless there is someone to proclaim the good news. There can be no one to proclaim the good news unless God commissions someone to do so.” Paul deals with that objection by quoting Isa 52:7. There the prophet points out how welcome those are who bring the good news of good things. So Paul’s first answer is: “You cannot say there was no messenger; Isaiah describes these very messengers; and Isaiah lived long ago.”

(ii) The second objection is: “But, in point of fact, Israel did not obey the good news, even if your argument is true. What have you to say to that?” Paul’s answer is: “Israel’s disbelief was only to be expected, for, long ago, Isaiah was moved to say in despair: ‘Lord, who has believed what we have heard?'” (Isa 53:1.) It is true that Israel did not accept the good news from God, and in their refusal they were simply running true to form; history was repeating itself.

(iii) The third objection is a restatement of the first: But, what if I insist that they never got the chance to hear? This time Paul quotes Ps 19:4: “Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” His answer is: “You cannot say that Israel never got the chance to hear; for scripture plainly says that God’s message has gone out to all the world.”

(iv) The fourth objection is: “But what if Israel did not understand?” Apparently the meaning is: “What if the message was so difficult to grasp that even when Israel did hear it they were unable to grasp its significance?” Here is where the passage becomes really difficult. But Paul’s answer is: “Israel may have failed to understand; but the Gentiles did not. They grasped the meaning of this offer all right, when it came to them unexpectedly and unsought.” To prove this point Paul quotes two passages. One is from Deut 32:21 where God says that, because of Israel’s disobedience and rebellion, he will transfer his favour to another people, and they will be forced to become jealous of a nation which has no nation. The second passage is from Isa 65:1 where God says that, in a strange way, he has been found by a people who were not looking for him at all.

Finally, Paul insists that, all through history, God has been stretching out hands of appeal to Israel, and Israel has always been disobedient and perverse.

A passage like this may seem strange to us and unconvincing; and it may seem that some at least of the texts Paul quotes have been wrenched out of their context and made to mean what they were never intended to mean. Nevertheless there is in this passage something of permanent value. Beneath it there runs the conviction that there are certain kinds of ignorance which are inexcusable.

(i) There is the ignorance which comes from neglect of knowledge. There is a legal maxim which says that genuine ignorance may be a defence, but neglect of knowledge never is. A man cannot be blamed for not knowing what he never had a chance to know; but he can be blamed for neglecting to know that which was always open to him. For instance, if a man signs a contract without having read the conditions, he cannot complain if afterwards he finds out that the conditions are very different from what he thought they were. If we fail to equip ourselves for a task when every chance is given to us to equip ourselves adequately for it, we must stand condemned. A man is responsible for failing to know what he might have known.

(ii) There is the ignorance which comes from wilful blindness. Men have an infinite and fatal capacity for shutting their minds to what they do not wish to see, and stopping their ears to what they do not wish to hear. A man may be well aware that some habit, some indulgence, some way of life, some friendship, some association must have disastrous results; but he may simply refuse to look at the facts. To turn a blind eye may be in some few cases a virtue; in most cases it is folly.

(iii) There is the ignorance which is in essence a lie. The things about which we are in doubt are far fewer than we would like to think. There are in reality very few times when we can honestly say: “I never knew that things would turn out like this.” God gave us conscience and the guidance of his Holy Spirit; and often we plead ignorance, when, if we were honest, we would have to admit that in our heart of hearts we knew the truth.

One thing remains to be said of this passage. In the argument so far as it has gone there is a paradox. All through this section Paul has been driving home the personal responsibility of the Jews. They ought to have known better: they had every chance to know better; but they rejected the appeal of God. Now he began the argument by saying that everything was of God and that men had no more to do with it than the clay had to do with the work of the potter. He has set two things side by side; everything is of God, and everything is of human choice. Paul makes no attempt to resolve this dilemma; and the fact is that there is no resolution of it. It is a dilemma of human experience. We know that God is behind everything; and yet, at the same time, we know that we have free will and can accept or reject God’s offer. It is the paradox of the human situation that God is in control and yet the human will is free.

 Additional Comments

The Parameters of Salvation, The Predictions of Scripture (Romans 10:11-21)

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!”

However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? At the first Moses says, “I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you.” And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.” But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (10:11-21)

Continuing to discuss Israel’s failure to believe the gospel, Paul digs deeper into the issue of salvation, showing its extent and pointing out that Israel’s failure was not a surprise, but long beforehand was predicted in Scripture.

The Parameters of Salvation

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!”

However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (10:11-18)

Paul next explains the parameters, the extent, of salvation.

Because most Jews strongly rejected the idea that God’s grace extended to Gentiles, they were willingly ignorant of the full measure and extent of His provision for redemption. Because they were God’s specially chosen people, they believed they were also His only saved people. They knew, of course, that Ruth, a Moabite, was the great-grandmother of David and therefore in the line of the Messiah. But they insisted that such Gentiles who converted to Judaism and were blessed by God were exceptions that proved the rule.

Consequently, just as they had rejected Jesus and His teaching, they also vehemently rejected the teaching of Paul, a former zealous Pharisee and persecutor of the church, who now not only claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, but that Christ had appointed him to be “a chosen instrument… to bear [His] name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15; cf. Gal. 1:16).

But Paul declares that God’s extending His salvation to all Gentiles was nothing new. That gracious offer did not begin with the all-inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ, which Christians, most of whom were Jews, were then proclaiming to everyone who would hear. To the contrary, as Paul had already cited (9:33), The Scripture says through Isaiah, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” (cf. Isa. 28:16). God had always been calling to Gentiles (whoever). In fact, Israel was to have been His witness nation, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6), to preach salvation in the true God to the rest of the world.

The Old Testament Scripture, as “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,” had long testified that “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [is] for all those who believe; for there is no distinction” (Rom. 3:21-22, emphasis added). In other words, salvation through faith in Him for anyone (whoever believes) has always been God’s plan. As Paul declared earlier, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16, emphasis added). And as he assured the believers at Corinth, many of whom were Gentiles, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17, emphasis added). From eternity past, God’s Word invariably has accomplished His divine goal, which has always included His loving and gracious desire that no human being would perish but that “all [would] come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

That wondrous truth is a balance to the great emphasis Paul has been placing on God’s sovereignty (see, e.g., Rom. 9:6-26). Although the two truths seem mutually exclusive to our finite minds, God’s sovereign choice of every person who is saved is, in His infinite mind, perfectly consistent with His promise that whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed. Both the Old and the New Testaments make clear that salvation is granted only to those who trust in God and that He offers His gracious redemption to all mankind, Jew and Gentile. No one who believes in Him will ever be disappointed by the salvation that He so graciously and universally offers.

The barrier to salvation, therefore, is not racial or cultural but personal rejection of the God who offers it. People perish because they refuse to “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). Yet it was that very universal aspect of the gospel that many Jews resented. The classic biblical example of Jewish religious and racial pride and reluctance to reach Gentiles is found in the prophet Jonah when he responded to the Lord’s call to preach to Nineveh.

Jonah lived in Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II, who ruled from 793 to 753 b.c. It was a prosperous time for the nation, which had expanded its boundaries northeastward to include Damascus. Because the Assyrians periodically made raids into Israel, Jews developed a special hatred for Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.

That immense city of perhaps 600,000 inhabitants is said to have taken three days to traverse on foot. Ninevites, like all other Assyrians, were noted for their immorality and idolatry, and Assyrian soldiers were infamous for their merciless brutality. Nahum spoke of Nineveh as “the bloody city, completely full of lies and pillage; her prey never departs” (Nah. 3:1).

Therefore, when the Lord called Jonah to preach to that wicked Gentile city, the prophet immediately took ship to travel in the opposite direction. Because of the hatred of Assyrians that he shared with his fellow Israelites, Jonah’s concern was not that his preaching might fail but that it would surely succeed. It is not surprising, therefore, that the remarkable repentance of the Ninevites, from the king to the lowest servant, “greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity'” (Jonah 4:1-2). At the very time he was forced to testify to God’s grace and compassion, he disdainfully refused to emulate those virtues himself.

God’s miraculous work in the hearts of the Ninevites was an object lesson to Israel in several ways. First of all, it demonstrated that great power for salvation was in God and His proclaimed Word, not in the prophet who proclaimed that word. Second, it doubtless was also intended to shame Jonah and all other self-righteous, hard-hearted Israelites. One extremely reluctant prophet went one time to preach one message and God caused the entire city to repent!

By tragic contrast, despite all the blessings in being God’s called people, with whom He made covenant and to whom He gave His law and sent His prophets, Israel repeatedly turned away from Him into idolatry and every other form of ungodliness. Yet Nineveh, which was thoroughly pagan and had no such advantages, in one day “believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5).

Some eight centuries later, Jews still held unabated disdain for Gentiles. When returning to Israel from another country, Jews would shake the dust from their robes and feet, lest they carry any defiled earth into their land. They would not enter a Gentile house, eat or drink from a Gentile vessel, or so much as touch a Gentile hand. Every morning many Jewish men would pray, “I thank God that I am not a woman, a slave, or a Gentile.” Jews were reluctant to have any dealings with Gentiles, and were especially loath to share the redemptive truth of their God, lest, as Jonah feared, their “gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness,” would cause even pagans to repent and be saved.

Paul knew that it was the Lord’s plan for the gospel to be preached first “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8), making “disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). As already noted, Paul had testified at the beginning of Romans that “the gospel… is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16, emphasis added). But it was doubtless also for another reason that Paul always witnessed first in a synagogue or other place of Jewish worship. Had he preached first to Gentiles, Jewish indignation would have been so strong that they would never have listened to him.

As more and more Jews believed in Jesus and were saved, many more turned more fiercely against Him and His Jewish followers. Just as Jesus had warned, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:1-2). When Paul took four Jewish men who were under a vow into the temple for ritual purification, “Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the multitude and laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people, and the Law, and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’ For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple” (Acts 21:27-29).

In the modern state of Israel, most Jews, including many who are not religious, still strongly resent and oppose Christian missionary work in their country. Although Jews consider all other religions to be false, they are particularly fervent in their opposition to Christianity. Like the Jews in Jerusalem who decried Paul’s visit to the temple, they view Christianity as a Gentile religion that is specifically “against [their] people, and the Law” (Acts 21:28). And they make little or no effort to convert Gentiles to Judaism.

Nothing could have been more devastating to Jews than to be reminded that God makes no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. Those whose greatest pride was in the belief that they were far superior to all other peoples could not tolerate that humbling truth.

Proclaiming the same message to the Galatian church, Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Not only that, but shockingly he went on to say that believing Gentiles, just as much as believing Jews, “are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29).

To Gentile believers in the church at Ephesus Paul declared, “Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:11-13). Later in that letter he said, “I, Paul, [am] the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles” (3:1). The great “mystery of Christ,” which Jews so intensely hated, is that “Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (see vv. 4-6).

The same Lord who called out Abraham and his descendants to be His chosen people, is Lord of all who believe in Him. But because most Jews were looking for a national deliverer rather than a universal Savior, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which He extends to all who call upon Him, was unacceptable.

Not only is Christ the Savior and Lord of all who believe but He is also abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. Gentile believers have God’s equal blessing as well as His equal salvation. And just as God sovereignly calls all believers to Himself, all must call upon Him in faith.

To further emphasize the universal outreach of the salvation message, Paul quotes another prophet, Joel, who centuries earlier had declared to Israel the extent of saving grace when he said that whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (see Joel 2:32).

In the Old Testament, the phrase call upon the name of the Lord was especially associated with right worship of the true God. It carried the connotations of worship, adoration, and praise and extolled God’s majesty, power, and holiness. Emphasizing the negative side of that phrase, the imprecatory psalmist cried to God, “How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou be angry forever? Will Thy jealousy burn like fire? Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations which do not know Thee, and upon the kingdoms which do not call upon Thy name” (Ps. 79:5-6, emphasis added). Again the psalmist exulted, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” (105:1, emphasis added). Still another time in the Psalms we read that he “called upon the name of the Lord,” praying, “‘O Lord, I beseech Thee, save my life!’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate” (116:4-5, emphasis added).

In the four references just cited from Joel and the Psalms, the word Lord represents God’s covenant name, Yahweh, or Jehovah—which is rendered in many translations in large and small capital letters (Lord). Therefore to call upon the name of the Lord was not a desperate cry to just any deity—whoever, whatever, and wherever he or she might be—but a cry to the one true God, the Creator-Lord of all men and all things. As Paul has just stated, it is by the confession of “Jesus as Lord” and belief in one’s “heart that God raised Him from the dead” that any person “shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9). He is the one true Lord on whom faithful Jews had always called in penitence, adoration, and worship. To call upon the name of Jesus as Lord is to recognize and submit to His deity, His authority, His sovereignty, His power, His majesty, His Word, and His grace. Everyone, Jew or Gentile, who does so will be saved.

Forms of the Hebrew word yasha, most commonly translated save, is found some 160 times in the Old Testament, and forms of the corresponding Greek term sōzō (saved) are found well over a hundred times in the New Testament. Paul alone uses the term forty-five times.

To further explain the universal extent, or parameters, of God’s saving grace, the apostle asks rhetorically, How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?

With simple, progressive logic Paul establishes that only those who call upon the name of the Lord can be saved, only those who have believed in Him can call upon Him, only those who have heard of Him can believe in Him, only those who have a preacher can rightly hear of Him, and finally, no preacher can preach the true gospel who has not been sent by God. Viewed from the other direction, Paul is saying that if God did not send preachers no one could hear, if no one could hear no one could believe, if no one could believe no one could call on the Lord, and if no one could call on Him no one could be saved.

The capstone of Paul’s argument in this passage is that a clear message which gives understanding of the truth must precede saving faith. He reminds his Jewish readers that God called Abraham and His descendants in order that “the whole earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3) and that He called those descendants (Israel) to be His witnesses before the whole earth, as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). Just as He did in the Old Testament, God stills sends His preachers to witness to the farthest corners of the earth.

Again gathering Old Testament support, Paul quotes from Isaiah, Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (see Isa. 52:7). It is not the physical feet of God’s preachers that are beautiful, but the wondrous glad tidings of good things that those feet carry to the ends of the earth.

That verse from Isaiah was written in celebration of Israel’s deliverance from years of captivity and bondage, first in Assyria and then in Babylon. But for Paul’s purpose, an even greater fitness of that verse is seen in Isaiah’s subsequent declaration of a future day when “The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God” (Isa. 52:10, emphasis added). In that day, we learn from John, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders [will fall] down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they [will sing] a new song, saying, ‘Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation‘” (Rev. 5:8-9, emphasis added).

Changing from a note of great rejoicing to one of great sorrow, Paul reminds his Jewish readers that They did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (see Isa. 53:1). Heed translates hupakouō, which has the basic meaning of listening attentively and the derived meaning of submission or obedience. Tragically, the offer of salvation that is proclaimed to all men is not heeded by all men.

As do many other passages of Scripture, this verse makes clear that, even in His omnipotent sovereignty, God chooses not to exercise absolute control over human affairs. Contrary to the idea of a divine determinism, such as that of ultra-Calvinism, God’s glad tidings must be received in faith by those who hear it. Only lopsided and unbiblical theologies put everything on God’s side or everything on man’s side. In order to produce salvation, God’s unmerited grace demands man’s positive response. Inherent in God’s eternal plan of salvation is man’s obedient faith. In perhaps the most concise and beautiful statement of the gospel, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

Luke reports that in the very early church, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). The phrase “obedient to the faith” is here a synonym for becoming saved. Near the opening to his letter to Rome, Paul declared that “through Jesus Christ our Lord… we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:4-6). Here again we see both sides of salvation. Those who are “obedient to the faith” are believers who have been “called of Jesus Christ.” Later in the letter, Paul declares the corollary truth: “To those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [God’s] wrath and indignation” (2:8). Later still, the apostle says, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (6:16-17).

Paul assured the church at Thessalonica that, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, [he will deal] out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:7-8). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews speaks of Christ as having become “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). Scripture makes clear that saving faith is marked by submissive obedience to God’s righteous truth, and that unbelief is marked by disobedience to that truth (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10-12).

John declares that “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7). As the apostle goes on to say, true salvation does not bring sinless perfection in this life. “If we say that we have no sin,” he explains, “we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1:8-10). When they fall into sin, genuine believers go to the Lord to seek and receive the forgiveness He continually offers to those who are His.

To be saved is to submit oneself to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus will not and cannot be Savior of those who will not receive Him as Lord. “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus attested; “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). On another occasion Jesus declared to a group of Jews who claimed to believe in Him: “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). When they claimed to be free already, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin'” (v. 34). To their claim to be Abraham’s offspring, He said, “I know that you are Abraham’s offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you” (v. 37). To their claim that Abraham was their father, He said, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do” (vv. 39-40). And to their claim that God was their Father, He responded, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me… You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (8:41-42, 44).

To have one spiritual father is to have one spiritual lord. Those relationships are inseparable. There is no such thing as partial fatherhood or partial lordship. In the same way, to have Christ as Savior is to have Him as Lord. Christ does not exist in parts and cannot be accepted in parts. Those to whom Christ is not both Savior and Lord, He is neither Savior nor Lord. Those who have not accepted Him as Lord have not accepted Him as Savior. Those who have not accepted the Son as Lord have no claim on the Father but are still slaves to sin and are still under the fatherhood and lordship of Satan.

When Isaiah wrote the words quoted by Paul in Romans 10:16, the prophet was speaking of the suffering, dying, substitutionary Savior, who “was pierced through for our transgressions, [and] was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). The report of which Isaiah and Paul speak is the glad tidings of the gospel, the good news of Christ’s dying that we might live, the glorious truth that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). But because Jews as well as Gentiles did not all heed the glad tidings, Jesus went on to declare that “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Later in his gospel account John reported that Jesus “had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'” (12:37-38).

As Paul and Barnabas explained to unbelieving Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; [but] since you repudiate it,” that is, reject the glad tidings “and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).

Summarizing what he had said in verses 1-16, Paul declared, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Salvation does not come by intuition, mystical experience, meditation, speculation, philosophizing, or consensus but by hearing and having faith in the word of Christ. To proclaim the saving word of Christ is therefore the central and essential purpose of evangelism to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Paul reminded the elders of the church at Ephesus that, in obedience to that commission, he solemnly testified “to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

The purpose of evangelism is not to use human persuasion and clever devices to manipulate confessions of faith in Christ but to faithfully proclaim the gospel of Christ, through which the Holy Spirit will bring conviction and salvation to those who hear and accept the word of Christ. It is tragic that many appeals to salvation are a call for trust in someone and something they know nothing about. Positive responses to such empty appeals amount to nothing more than faith in faith—a blind, unrepentant, unsubmissive trust in a contentless message that results in a false sense of spiritual security. Such false evangelism cruelly leads the unsaved to believe they are saved, and leaves them still in their sin, without a Savior and without salvation.

Paul next asks rhetorically, But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? and then answers by quoting from the Septuagint (Greek) version of Psalm 19:4, Indeed they have; “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” In other words, even David understood the universal parameters of God’s offer of salvation, which already has gone out (a past tense) into all the earth. David opens that psalm with the declaration that “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard” (vv. 1-3). Their voice and their words refer to God’s revelation of Himself that has gone out into all the earth and has been proclaimed to the ends of the world—to all men and women who have ever or will ever live.

That is the same truth Paul emphasizes so strongly in the first chapter of Romans. For “those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness… that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they [unbelievers] are without excuse” (1:18-20). All men have both internal and external evidence of God. Just as the heavenly bodies touch all the earth and extend to the ends of the world with God’s natural revelation, so His gospel touches all the earth and extends to the ends of the world with His special revelation. God cannot be unfair or unjust. Those who refuse to trust in Him do so because they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18).

The way of salvation has always been offered to all men everywhere. As the Lord graciously promised through Jeremiah, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). God’s absolute and universal assurance to all men is that no person who sincerely seeks for Him will fail to find Him. The incarnate Christ “was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9, emphasis added), and the incarnate Christ Himself declared that “this gospel of [His] kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations” (Matt. 24:14). Even in the first century Paul could therefore declare, “the word of truth, the gospel… has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing” (Col. 1:5-6). Although the apostle was probably speaking here only of the part of “the world” to which the full gospel had been proclaimed, the benefit of the gospel was available to all the earth and the ends of the world.

In Romans 10:11-18, Paul affirms that the gospel is not just one more local invention or one more pagan mystery religion but is the good news of salvation that God always has sought to be proclaimed to every nation and to every person, Jew and Gentile alike.

It is that universal extent of the gospel that caused many Jews to reject Jesus as their Messiah. The Pharisees reprimanded the officers who reported Jesus’ authoritative teaching and work, arrogantly saying, “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?” (John 7:48). In other words, an ordinary Jew was presumptuous to believe and trust in a Messiah who was not recognized by their religious leaders. Tragically, many Jews today reject Jesus as their Messiah for the same foolish reason.

When Galileo was summoned before the Roman Catholic inquisition for teaching that the earth revolved around the sun rather than the sun around the earth, he was charged with heresy. When he offered to demonstrate the truth of his findings by having them look through his telescope, they refused. Their minds were already made up, and they refused even to consider evidence to the contrary. With that same obstinacy, most of Israel, from New Testament times to the present, have refused even to consider the claims of the gospel. Consequently, they have failed to know God, Jesus Christ, and saving faith.

The Predictions of Scripture

But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? At the first Moses says, “I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you.” And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.” But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (10:19-21)

Finally, Paul points out that Israel was ignorant of the predictions of their own Scriptures, a truth implied throughout the previous part of this chapter. But ironically, the ignorance of Israel was not based on lack of truth; it was not because the people did not know. As already noted, God called Abraham and His descendants in order that “the whole earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3) and He called those descendants (Israel) to be His witnesses before all His earth, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). They did know, and consequently had no excuse for not understanding and accepting God’s universal parameters of salvation.

Quoting another part of the Pentateuch, Paul reminds his readers that Moses says, “I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you” (see Deut. 32:21). God’s blessing of Gentiles who believe in Him would make His chosen people jealous and angry. Some fifteen-hundred years before Paul wrote this letter, Moses declared that the salvation message was to reach Gentiles as well as Jews.

Jesus depicted that truth in the parable of the “landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey” (Matt. 21:33). When the vine-growers beat, killed, or stoned two successive groups of slaves who came to reap the owner’s produce and then killed the owner’s son, the owner brought “those wretches to a wretched end” and rented “out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who [would] pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons” (vv. 34-41).

Quoting again from Isaiah, Paul finally reminds his readers that the prophet was very bold when the Lord said through him, “I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me” (cf. Isa. 65:1). Through Moses, who represented the law and through Isaiah, who represented the prophets, Paul firmly established that Israel’s rejection of her Messiah came as no surprise to God. It was predicted that, because of that rejection, God would be found by Gentiles who had not sought Him and would manifest Himself to those Gentiles who did not ask for Him.

But as for Israel, God’s chosen people, who ignored His Word and sought Him in their own way and on their own terms, the Lord said, All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people. Apeitheō (disobedient) literally means to contradict, to speak against. Throughout her history, Israel had, for the most part, contradicted and opposed the truth of the God who had lovingly called her and graciously and patiently (all the day long) stretched out [His] hands to her.

In another of Jesus’ parables, a man gave a great banquet to which none of the originally invited guests came. When the slave reported the various excuses that were given, “the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner'” (Luke 14:21-24).

Because of Israel’s persistent rejection of Him, Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37).

What monumental and tragic failure! Unbelieving Jews misunderstood and rejected God, Jesus Christ, and saving faith because of their self-righteousness, and they misunderstood the extent of salvation because of their proud prejudice. They therefore failed as God’s witness nation.

How would you respond to this statement: “If a man claims that he does not know the gospel, God is obligated to save him if that man is good”? In Romans 10:5-21 Paul shows that we are without excuse if we do not know the gospel.


First, look at the word good. Our definition of “good” and God’s definition of “good” may be quite different. We call a man good if he goes to his job each day, if he is a family man, and if he is a good neighbor and citizen. But what does God call good? One time a rich young ruler came to Jesus with a question about eternal life. He said, “Good master, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response was, “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but God.”

Jesus was saying to the young man, “You have called Me good, but none is good but God; thus you have called Me God.” If the young man recognized Him as God in the flesh, he was right. What would Jesus have us know about goodness?

None is good but God. In the absolute sense man is not good. Why is he not good? He is not good because every responsible human being is imperfect. When somebody says God is obligated to save a person because that person is good he misses the point because no one is good in the absolute sense.

Look at the other word, obligated. Obligation carries the idea of debt; and debt suggests that we can earn a proper relationship with God. No man can earn salvation. According to Ephesians 2:8,9, it is the gift of God. God grants as a gift of grace the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. God is obligated to no man. Imperfect human beings will be saved by the grace of God and not be- cause of obligation. Man in the absolute sense is not good, and God is not obligated.

Then there is the first part of the statement: “If a man claims that he does not know the gospel, . . .” There are those in this world who have never heard the name of Jesus. There are those who do not know the message of Jesus. There are those who do not, therefore, know the gospel. What God does with the man at judgment who never has heard the name of Jesus will be right. The New Testament places an emphasis upon man’s need of the gospel and man’s alienation from God. It does not elaborate upon the individual who lives in some corner of the earth who has never heard the message. The New Testament, as far as I know, does not hold one ray of hope for men who are outside of the gospel message. That is one reason that it is such an urgent matter to get the gospel to the whole world.

But what about you and me? Most of us have several copies of the Scriptures in our homes. Could any of us, if we fail to respond in the right way to the gospel, claim ignorance of the gospel? Could we claim that we did not have the opportunity to know the message of Christ? Since none of us is ultimately good, God will not save us on the basis of personal goodness. No man is accepted by God upon his fleshly heritage, but by God’s grace through Jesus Christ in obedience to the good news about Him.

  1. II. WHAT WE HAVE RECEIVED PROVES IT The question could be raised, “Is God just in casting off His people?” Paul comes very near to their hearts, I am sure, as he answers the claim, “We did not know the gospel!”

Romans 10:5-13 (ESV) For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6  But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7  “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8  But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9  because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10 contains at least six words that bring to our hearts the thought that we are without excuse when we are outside the gospel.


Verse 8  But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)

The Word is near. That the Word is near was true of Israel in the first century, and it is true of us in the twentieth century. This phrase would suggest this question: “Why have we not known the gospel?” If we do not know the truth of the gospel, perhaps it is because we have not studied. Perhaps it is because we have taken somebody else’s beliefs for what the New Testament says. Every one of us has the responsibility and obligation to search the Scriptures to see if what we believe is true. I venture to say that there are countless people who have never studied the New Testament for themselves. What is our excuse for not knowing? The first word is near.


Romans 10:18 (ESV) But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

Paul  asks  of  his  contemporaries,  “Have  they heard?” His answer is this, “Most assuredly they have heard.” Why? Because the preaching of the message went to the entire world of that day. Have you heard? Have I heard? It is not because the Word is not near, and it is not because we have not heard. Our responsibility is to weigh what we have heard and discern between truth and error. Yes, we have heard it.


Romans 10:19 (ESV) But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

We know what it says. We cannot plead ignorance. The Word is in our hands; it is in our ears. Now it is our responsibility to obey the truth so that the truth can make us free. Yes, we know.


Verse 17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

The word is faith. Paul said, “The word is near.” That is true of each of us. He said you have heard it, and having heard it, you know. Why has that Word not led to faith? One may respond, “Oh, I do believe.” What do you believe? “Oh, I believe the Bible.” Yes, but what is biblical faith?

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Have you been convicted and convinced of the truth of the gospel, namely that every man is lost without Christ, and that Christ, as the sacrifice for sin, is the only answer to our greatest problem? That is what biblical faith involves.

In John 8:24 Jesus said, “. . . unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.” We must be convinced that He is the only answer to the sin problem.

Having been convinced of the truth of your lost condition and of the only way of salvation being in Christ, do you trust Him to do what He has said He will do?

In Mark 16:16 Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” That is not a statement about which we are to quibble or argue, it is a statement that gives us an opportunity to manifest our trust.

Do we trust Him or not? Will He do what He has said He will do? Faith involves trust. Faith involves doing what the Lord Jesus Christ has asked us to do.

Remember that in Matthew 7:21 He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father, who is in heaven.”

Doing the will of God is faith in action. When you do the will of God you are not earning salvation; you are not obligating God to save you. You are simply accepting by faith what God by His grace has offered.

James 2 says, “Not by faith alone.” No, it is a faith that is active. It is a faith that surrenders. The key word in Romans 10 is faith.


Romans 10:16 (ESV) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

Obey. Have you obeyed the gospel? Earlier in 6:17, 18, Paul said, “But thanks be to God that

though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

When were we made free from sin? “When you obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine.

What was the form of doctrine? The gospel of Christ centers in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ according to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. That is the doctrine. Christ died for our sins. He was buried, and He rose again. We obey the form of that doctrine. We are poured into the mold of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

In 6:1-6 Paul shows us how we obey from the heart the form of doctrine. He said, “We have died to sin.” Just as Christ died for sin, we die to sin. He said, “We are buried with Christ.”

When we are immersed in water we are overwhelmed or submerged. As Christ was buried, we are buried with Him when we are baptized. Paul said, “As Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

We are raised as He was raised. Thus, we picture the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We obey from the heart the form of doctrine. Paul says they have not all obeyed the gospel.


Romans 10:13 (ESV) For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

That is the end result of the gospel. Will you cry out to Him to save you? Not to save you as you are, but to save you from what you are. No to save you on your terms, but to save you on His terms. We can reject Him; but at the judgment of God we will not be able to plead ignorance.

CONCLUSION. Yes, we know. America is not a very good place from which to go into the judgment of God unprepared. Seriously consider these matters, for they are of utmost importance.

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Posted by on December 2, 2021 in Romans


The Christian and Civil Government by Wayne Jackson

The Christian and Civil Government

In order to properly understand the relationship of the Christian to the civil government, it is necessary to briefly consider the function of governments in the overall scheme of divine redemption, as viewed in the context of the Bible as a whole. There are great principles which must be carefully considered by way of introduction to this important theme. It is commonly believed that there are three institutions of divine origin: the home, civil government, and the church. I do not believe that is an accurate concept. Certainly both the home and the church are of divine origin, but did civil government actually commence with divine approval?

The Origin of Civil Government

The first civil government of which one reads in the Bible was founded by Nimrod: “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:10). Nimrod, whose name according to some signifies, “Let us rebel” (Jacobus, 204), was a mighty hunter before Jehovah (10:9). Of this passage Clarke notes: “The word tsayid, which we render hunter, signifies prey; and is applied in the Scriptures to the hunting of men by persecution, oppression, and tyranny. Hence, it is likely that Nimrod, having acquired power, used it in tyranny and oppression; and by rapine and violence founded that domain which was the first distinguished by the name of a kingdom on the face of the earth” (Clarke, 36). Leupold commented that “the gross violation of men’s rights, that this mighty hunter became guilty of, did not elude the watchful eye” of Jehovah (1.367).

Human civil government was thus founded in rebellion to God. Centuries later, when the Israelites requested a monarch that they might “be like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5, 20), though Jehovah gave them a king in his anger (Hos. 13:11), their desire for such a ruler clearly reflected a rejection of the Lord’s arrangement for them (1 Sam. 8:7).

If civil government was originally initiated in rebellion to God, then it is not of divine origin. In starting human governments, men surrendered the control of their affairs to Satan, hence, the devil is said to be the prince of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In fact, Christ clearly referred to his impending arrest by the civil authorities when he said: “…the prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in me” (Jn. 14:30). Moreover, in the wilderness temptation, Satan showed Christ “all the kingdoms of the world” and promised, upon the condition that the Lord would worship him, “To thee will I give all this authority, and the glory of them: for it hath been delivered (Greek paradedotai, perfect tense – past action with abiding results) unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it” (Lk. 4:6). It need hardly be pointed out that if Jesus had known that Satan merely was lying, there would have been no temptation in the diabolic suggestion! I am fully aware that elsewhere the Bible says that “the higher powers are ordained of God,” and that will be considered presently.

God’s Sovereignty in the World

“The term ‘sovereignty’ connotes a situation in which a person, from his innate dignity, exercises supreme power, with no areas of his province outside his jurisdiction” (Zondervan, 498). God is the sovereign of the universe. He is in control of all things ultimately! Now it is a fact that Jehovah desires that all men serve him by voluntary submission, but when they do not, he can, and does, take charge of earthly affairs to bring about his own redemptive purpose. The Bible is literally filled with examples of this truth. Observe the following.

God exercises providential control over the nations of the world. Daniel informs us that ultimately it is “the Most High” that “ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the lowest of men” (Dan. 4:17). The Almighty removes kings and sets up kings (Dan. 2:21). Indeed, “he is ruler over the nations” (Psa. 22:28). Of world powers Paul says that God determines their appointed seasons (i.e., the duration of their administrations) and the bounds of their habitations (the extent of their conquests) (Acts 17:26). Christ plainly said that Pilate could have exercised no authority against him except by divine permission (Jn. 19:11).

God can, consistent with his own holiness, use evil men to providentially bring about ultimate good in his world. Here is a tremendous Bible principle that needs to be recognized: the Lord can take wicked men, who are in absolute rebellion to him, and use them as instruments of vengeance to punish other evil people, or to maintain order in society.

(a) When Israel became deeply involved in idolatry, Jehovah raised up the Assyrians to be “the rod of mine anger” (Isa. 10:5). He sent the haughty Assyrians against profane Israel, and yet, amazingly, the Assyrians had no idea that they were accomplishing Heaven’s will [“Howbeit he meaneth not so.” 10:7].
(b) When Assyria needed to be punished (Isa. 10:12, 24-25), God exalted the Chaldeans [Babylonians] to overthrow them, and to subdue the kingdom of Judah (Hab. 1:5ff). The evil Nebuchadnezzar, whom the Lord called “my servant” (Jer. 25:9), was employed as an instrument to this end.
(c) Then, the Babylonians, by the decree of God, were conquered by the Medes and Persians, whom the Lord denominated his “consecrated ones” (Isa. 13:3). In that endeavor God used a pagan king, Cyrus, as his “shepherd,” his “anointed” (Isa. 44:28; 45:1).
(d) Under Jehovah’s direction, the Medes and Persians were subdued by the Greeks, led by the “rough he-goat,” Alexander the Great (Dan. 8:5, 21; cf. 2:39). (e) The Greeks were eventually destroyed by the Roman armies [God’s armies (Mt. 22:7)] to punish Jerusalem and the Jews.

The Functions of Civil Government

Romans 13:1-7 sets forth the function of civil government. Let us studiously consider this context.

First, the “higher powers” are identified as the “rulers” of civil government (1, 3).

Second, they are said to be “ordained of God” (1). Exactly what does that expression mean? The word “ordained” translates the Greek term tetagmenai [a perfect, passive participle form of tasso]. The word simply means, as Arndt & Gingrich observe: to “appoint to or establish in an office.(the authorities) who are now in power are instituted by God – Rom. 13:1” (813). The word itself says nothing whatever about the character or the spiritual nature of the subject involved. The word is not some sort of “sanctified” term which would necessarily suggest that a child of God could function, with the Lord’s approval, in that capacity. A form of the word, for instance, is used in Acts 18:2 of Claudius’ edict (diatasso) which banished all Jews from Rome.

Third, those who resist the rulers withstand the ordinance (i.e., that which has been appointed) of God and shall thus receive judgment.

Fourth, rulers are appointed to be a terror (i.e., to produce fear) to those who would do evil in society.

Fifth, the civil authority serves as a “minister of God” for good on behalf of the Christian. “Minister” translates the Greek diakonos, meaning “servant;” but, again, with no necessary indication of character suggested. Remember, the evil Nebuchadnezzar was God’s “servant” (Jer. 25:9) to chastise Judah; then the Lord punished the king! Moreover, at the time this Roman epistle was penned, Caesar Nero, that wicked, homosexual tyrant, was one of those rulers who is here called a “minister of God.” The point is this: just because a function is in some sense a ministry or service to God, does not necessarily mean that a Christian may serve in that capacity with divine approval! Also, observe that in Romans 13:4 the roles of the ruler and the Christian are clearly distinguished by the use of the third person and second person pronouns. “…he is a minister of God to you.” Nowhere in this context is the Christian commissioned to function in the role of an instrument of God’s wrath.

Sixth, the ruler is said to “bear the sword” as a temporal “avenger of wrath” upon evildoers. Christians are clearly instructed not to avenge themselves (Rom. 12:19); God will render vengeance for them; ultimately – in the judgment (Lk. 18:8).

The use of force is necessary to maintain order in this sinful world. Let the civil agents function as ministers of wrath in society; let Christians use themselves as ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-21), employing the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17).

The Christian’s Duty to Government

The Christian’s duty to civil government may be set forth under a threefold heading: pray, pay, and obey.

Pray – Scripture exhorts us to pray “for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Note, though, that the real purpose of the prayer is for the Christians’ benefit.

Pay – Because we do derive benefits from the government for services rendered, it is only right that we: “Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Rom. 13:7). Some have suggested that a Christian may withhold his tax money if the government is involved in immoral enterprises. No, that is not the case. Governments have always promoted wickedness to some extent. The Roman government subsidized idolatry from public funds, yet Paul urged these brethren to pay taxes into that system. Thus, though governments may promote wars, finance abortions, etc., the child of God is not implicated in such evils simply because he pays taxes.

Obey – Finally, the Lord’s people have the obligation to “be in subjection to the higher powers” (Rom. 13:1,5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). We must be respectful and obedient to the rulers under which we live. The Christian should be the best possible citizen. However, our obligations to the government are not without limitations; governmental powers are not unrestricted.

The Limitations of Government

In these times in which we live, it is very probable that there will be increasing conflict between the church of the Lord and human government. We must consider, therefore, how far we may, or may not, go in yielding to the pressures of government. Let us reflect upon the following principles.

No government has the right to prohibit that which is right. When the apostles were charged to refrain from speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus, they informed the authorities that they had a greater obligation to a higher power (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). Some countries do not allow the importation of Bibles, but a Christian could take God’s word to the lost anyhow! In some places it is against the law for a parent to spank his child; could not the child of God, however, lovingly administer discipline according to the principles of the Bible (Prov. 22:15; 23:13-14)? In California one cannot legally obtain a divorce specifically on the ground of fornication, yet the Lord certainly allowed this for the innocent part in an adulterated marriage (Mr. 5:32; 19:9).

No government has the right to authorize what is wrong. A nation may legalize an act, thus making it optional; yet, that act may be immoral and so not permissible. In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand, but that does not make the bloody act moral. Drunkenness is legal, but not right. The law of the land allows divorce for every cause imaginable, but God still permits it only on the basis of fornication (Mt. 19:9).

No government has the right to force the Christian to violate a divine command or a biblical principle. Suppose that a civil power, upon the basis of a law that forbids sexual discrimination in employment, issues an edict requiring the Lord’s church to employ women preachers? What shall we do? We will, of course, obey God, not man. Or suppose you are a Christian employer in Berkeley, California, and you have a position open in your business establishment. Two people apply for the job. One is a Christian who is reasonably qualified for the work, but the other is a homosexual who happens to be better qualified. The law says you must hire the homosexual, but what would you do? I would not hesitate to violate such a law.

Recently I read an interesting article concerning how the Communists of Russia are training young men to infiltrate Western Europe for the purpose of subversively obtaining information that would be valuable in defense of that nation. The plan is for these men to form illicit sexual relationships with lonely secretaries and other female government workers and thereby to extract from them classified information.

Could a Christian, in the “line of duty,” in the interest of national defense, commit fornication with divine approval? The concept is simply unthinkable. While we doubtless have little difficulty with the foregoing examples, for many years there has been considerable controversy in the brotherhood of Christ over whether or not the Christian may, with impunity, deliberately take the life of another human being in interest of society – either national or local. And so, we must briefly address this matter.

The Christian and Carnal Warfare

May a Christian, with God’s blessing, take human life in defense of his nation? The great restoration preacher, Moses E. Lard, has expressed my viewpoint exactly:

“…where a State is engaged in war, and commands a Christian subject to bear arms and fight, what is his duty? My opinion is that he must refuse obedience to the command of the State, even at the expense of his life. For no Christian man can, according to the New Testament, bear arms and take human life” (Lard, 399-400).

My reasons for this conviction are:

The Christian is never authorized to function as a punitive agent for the civil powers. While it is true, as we have observed already, that God does providentially use the powers that be to administer the sword of justice in a lawless world, he, nevertheless, has not commissioned his children to bear that sword of wrath. When Peter sought to correct the injustice of Christ’s arrest by the use of the sword, Jesus told him to put it away for “all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Mt. 26:52). Guy N. Woods has well commented: “When Peter sought to defend the Lord with a sword he was rebuked for his pains; and in bidding him sheathe it, he forevermore made it clear that his followers are not to fight with carnal weapons in his behalf. But if men are forbidden to fight in his defense, in whose defense may they properly fight?” (385).

Carnal warfare is contrary to the New Testament principles of love and peace. Any view of Romans 13:1-7 which contradicts, or negates the force of, dozens of New Testament passages obligating Christians to love and to be at peace with all men, is obviously incorrect [cf. Mt. 5:21-22; 38-47; 26:52; Jn. 13:35; 18:36; Rom. 12:19-21; 14:17, 19; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 4:2-3; 31-32; Col. 3:8; 1 Thes. 5:13, 15; 4:9; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:24; Tit. 3:2; Heb. 12:14; 13:1; 1 Pet. 1:22; 2:17; 3:8-9; 1 Jn. 3:16,18]. Followers of the “Prince of Peace” are to love their brothers (1 Pet. 1:22); their neighbors (Mt. 22:39), and their enemies (Mt. 5:44; Rom. 12:20). Love (i.e., the Greek agape) always seeks nothing but the highest good of others (cf. Barclay, 174ff).

If it is argued that God loves, yet he will destroy his enemies, it may be replied: God’s destruction of his enemies will be a matter of his judgmental justice upon those who have rejected his love! He has not, however, assigned that role to us (cf. Mt. 13:28- 30). If the Christian thus loves his brethren, neighbors, and enemies –  with whom else shall he war?

If a Christian can engage in carnal warfare, the kingdom of God is subordinate to human governments. Before Pilate, Jesus laid down this logical argument concerning the nature of his kingdom. (a) If my kingdom were of this world, my servants could fight in its defense (cf. Jn. 18:36). (b) But my kingdom is not of this world. (c) Therefore, [implied conclusion] my servants cannot fight in defense of my kingdom.

In connection with this point, we may note the following. There is a type of argument frequently employed in the New Testament known as the a fortiori principle. When there are two similar propositions to be proved, if one establishes the more difficult first, the other automatically stands proved (cf. Broadus, 184). Now this: if a Christian cannot fight for the Lord’s kingdom (the greater), how in the name of reason could he war for the kingdoms of men (the lesser), which are coming to naught anyway (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6)?!

Carnal warfare is specifically forbidden the Christian. Paul writes: “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds).” (2 Cor. 10:4). Our battle is “not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12); rather, it is spiritual. And in it, we employ the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), not an instrument of blood.

Opposing Viewpoints Considered

Several arguments are advanced by sincere advocates of the carnal war position. We will consider the most prominent of these.

The centurion (Mt. 8), Cornelius (Acts 10), the jailor (Acts 16), etc., were not told to abandon their military professions; such, thus, must be acceptable to God. This argument is based solely upon silence and those who advance it will not stand with their own logic. The centurion was not instructed to free his slaves (Mt. 8:8-9). Are we to assume that the Lord approves of one human being owning another? Where is it specifically recorded that Rahab was commanded to forsake her harlotry (Josh. 2), or Simon his sorcery (Acts 8)?

The truth is, the Old Testament prophesied that those who entered the kingdom of Christ would become peacemakers (Isa. 2:4; 11:6-9; 60:18; Hos. 2:8; Zech. 9:10), not war-makers. We must assume, therefore, that sincere converts to the Savior, as they learned the principles of the gospel, forsook all occupations inconsistent with discipleship of Jesus Christ. And, as we shall subsequently point out, history bears this out.

God’s children fought wars in the Old Testament era with his approval; thus, it could not be morally wrong today. The nation of Israel was a theocracy (a religious political system), and so the Lord used his people as instruments of wrath upon alien nations, and upon offenders within their own ranks as well [who will argue for the church using the death penalty for wayward members today?!]. The New Testament church is not a theocracy. God’s people are not vessels of wrath today.

Besides, many of the wars of the Old Testament period were strictly offensive, not defensive. Yet, most today would allow the Christian to fight only in a defensive encounter. No serious student of church history should fail to read J.W. McGarvey’s essay “Jewish Wars As Precedents for Modern Wars,” which appeared in Lard’s Quarterly, Vol. 5, April, 1868, pp. 113-126.

The government is authorized to bear the sword; it cannot be right for the government and yet wrong for the Christian. While it is true that Jehovah does use human rulers to keep order in his world, this does not mean that these individuals are blameless. If those who serve as “instruments of divine wrath” in civil situations are blessed for functioning in that capacity, what is their reward? It is heaven?

Observe this point, please. Christ was delivered up according to the divine plan (Acts 2:23). But, Judas was the instrument of that deliverance(cf. Mt. 10:4, ASVfn). Hence, he was a necessary component in Jehovah’s divine program. Yet, though he was used by God in this role(because of his character), his involvement was sinful (Mt. 27:4), and he was held accountable for it (cf. Jn. 17:12).

Look at another matter. The destruction of Jerusalem [A.D. 70] by the Romans was clearly the work of God. In one of his parables, Christ said that the king [God] would send his armies [the Romans] to destroy the Jews and burn their city (Mt. 22:7).

Was it right that God do this? Certainly. One might assume, therefore, on the basis of the argument stated above, that the early Christians could, and should, have joined with the Romans in Jerusalem’s slaughter. After all, how could it be “right” for God to do it, and, at the same time, “wrong” for the Christian to participate? But such a conclusion is clearly erroneous, for the disciples of the Lord were specifically warned to avoid that conflict; indeed, they were to flee to the mountains (Mt. 25:15ff).

Those who advocate the Christian’s participation in an armed defense of the nation simply cannot reconcile this New Testament example with their viewpoint.

The Testimony of History – Historically, most Christian leaders have opposed participation in carnal warfare. The non-Christian historian, Edward Gibbon, wrote the following.

“…nor could their [the Christians’] humane ignorance be convinced that it was lawful on any occasion to shed the blood of our fellow-creatures, either by the sword of justice or by that of war, even though their criminal or hostile attempts should threaten the peace and safety of the whole community. It was acknowledged that, under a less perfect law, the powers of the Jewish constitution had been exercised, with the approbation of Heaven, by inspired prophets and by anointed kings. The Christians felt and confessed that such institutions might be necessary for the present system of the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their Pagan governors. But while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defense of the empire” (416).

Noted historian Philip Schaff wrote:

“Then, too, the conscientious refusal of the Christians to pay divine honors to the emperor and his statue, and to take part in any idolatrous ceremonies at public festivities, their aversion to the imperial military services, their disregard for politics and depreciation of all civil and temporal affairs as compared with the spiritual and eternal interests of men, their close brotherly union and frequent meetings, drew upon them the suspicion of hostility to the Caesars and the Roman people, and the unpardonable crime of conspiracy against the state” (430).

Another careful writer has observed: “Early second-century literature gives no direct evidence in regard to Christian participation in military service. The general statements which do occur imply a negative attitude. They reflect the Christian abhorrence of bloodshed and a general Christian affirmation about peace. Only in the early 170’s do we find the first explicit evidence since apostolic times to the presence of Christians in the military service” (Ferguson, 221-222).

It is sometimes argued that the reason the early saints declined military service was mainly because of the government’s involvement with idolatry. That is not the reason given by the ancient opponents of Christian military service. They contended that God’s people ought not to be involved in military activity because it is wrong for a Christian to kill (Ferguson, 226-227).

Later, within our own American restoration movement, the list of names of those who opposed the Christian’s participation in carnal warfare reads like a Who’s Who of the brotherhood. Men like Alexander Campbell, Tolbert Fanning, P.S. Fall, B.U. Watkins, Moses Lard, J.W. McGarvey, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Milligan, W.K. Pendleton, T.M. Allen, David Lipscomb, Jacob Creath, Jr., and H. Leo Boles spoke out strongly for pacifism. Bill Humble states: “Except for Walter Scott, all the early restoration leaders had been pacifists” (44). A little later, Earl West comments, “On the side of those who felt Christian participation permissible, there were a few leading brethren” (338).


Christians are engaged in the greatest possible conflict – a war against Satan for the souls of men. Let us not, therefore, degrade ourselves by becoming entangled in the carnal conflicts of this world (cf. 2 Tim. 2:4) – which frequently result, in fact, in the wholesale destruction of souls.

Wayne Jackson


Barclay, William. 1974. New Testament Words. Philadelphia. Westminster.
Broadus, John. 1944. On the Preparation And Delivery of Sermons. New York. Harper Bros.
Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Bible, Nashville, TN: Abingdon. Vol. I.
Ferguson, Everett. 1971. Early Christians Speak. Austin, TX: Sweet Pub. Co.
Gibbon, Edward. n.d. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, New York. Modern Library. Vol. I.
Arndt, W. & Gingrich, F.W. 1967. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Humble, Bill J. 1969. The Story of the Restoration. Austin, TX: Firm Foundation.
Jacobus, Melancthon, 1864. Notes on the Book of Genesis. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board. Vol. I.
Lard, Moses. n.d. Commentary on Romans. Cincinnati. Standard.
Leupuold, H. C. 1942. Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker. Vol. 1.
Schaff, Philip. 1980. History of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Vol. II.
West, Earl I. 1953. The Search for the Ancient Order. Nashville, TN. Vol. I.
Woods, Guy N. 1959. Commentary on Peter, John, and Jude. Nashville, TN. Gospel Advocate.
Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Vol. 5. PAGE 7

Published in The Old Paths Archive


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Posted by on November 29, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #28 The Christian and Civil Government Romans 13:1-7

The Christian's Response To Civil Government | David Teis

God has established three institutions: the home (Gen. 2:18-25), government (Gen. 9:1-17), and the church (Acts 2). Paul was writing to believers at the very heart of the Roman Empire. As yet, the great persecutions had not started, but were on the way. Christianity was still considered a Jewish sect, and the Jewish religion was approved by Rome. But the day would come when it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a Christian to be loyal to the emperor. He could not drop incense on the altar and affirm, “Caesar is god!”

In our own day, we have people who teach riot and rebellion in the name of Christ! They would have us believe that the Christian thing to do is to disobey the law, rebel against the authorities, and permit every man to do that which is right in his own eyes. Paul refuted this position in this chapter by explaining four reasons why the Christian must be in subjection to the laws of the State.

Over the years I have found Christians are little different than non-Christians in their attitudes and responses toward authority. Compliance is given, but cooperation is not. For example, I would be just as likely to find a radar detector in the car of a Christian (even one serving the Lord), as I would in the car of an unbeliever. Christians comply with the law. We slow down as we pass the police car with its radar speed detection equipment. We drive carefully and lawfully when the patrol car is following us. But as soon as we are sure it is safe, we drive normally—and illegally.

In Romans 13:1-7, Paul deals directly with the Christian’s attitude and conduct with respect to governmental authority.[1] In particular, Paul addresses the Christian’s relationship to civil government.[2] There are a number of reasons Christians and civil government might be at odds with one another, and Christians might wrongly twist these into excuses for disrespect and disobedience to authorities.

First, civil government is secular in nature while Christianity is spiritual. Christians are aliens and strangers, just passing through this world (see 1 Peter 1:1). Their citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Second, the state can look upon Christianity as competitive, even hostile to its authority. The Christian’s highest authority is God. In Rome, Caesar was “god.” Because of this, Romans considered Christians as atheists. Christianity was eventually seen as treasonous. Third, at times Christians were required to “obey God, rather than men” (see Acts 5:29), which openly confirmed the government’s suspicions. Fourth, government officials, either unconsciously or willingly, used their authority to actively oppose the church and to persecute Christians.

If governmental authorities began to view Christians with suspicion, and even fear, Christians also were tempted to see government as their opponent, and as an enemy of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Civil disobedience might easily become common practice rather than a necessary exception. Submission to governmental authority was a vital topic in a day and time when the Lord’s church and civil government were on a collision course.

The church is on a very similar course today. In the earlier days of our nation, our government was founded on certain Christian assumptions and convictions. If our early government founders and officials were not Christians, at least their beliefs and values were compatible with Christian doctrines and practices. Our culture and our government has strayed over the years farther and farther from Christianity.

Until recently, many Christians thought their views and values were still held by a majority of Americans. Christians only needed to mobilize the moral majority and encourage them to speak out—especially by voting. We could turn things around, we were assured, if only we could mobilize the masses. This view is now for the most part recognized as unrealistic and untrue. Christians and their values are becoming an unpopular minority view. Consequently, government will increasingly regulate, hinder, and even oppose Christian activity. At the same time, some Christians are becoming increasingly disobedient to the laws of our land. Some even teach that if we disagree with a particular law, we are not only obliged to disobey, but we can also justify disobeying other laws in protest.[3]

Paul ends chapter 12 by exhorting his readers about their Christian life-style as they relate to unbelieving neighbors, employers, and others. In chapter 13, he discusses how Christians should relate to the government. Remember, Paul’s immediate audience was in Rome, the capital city of the mighty Roman empire. Before the spread of Christianity, Judaism was a permitted religion in the Roman empire and thus protected by Roman law. Although Jewish observances and practices were generally safeguarded, imperial edicts could change anything. In a.d. 19, all Jews were expelled from Rome by the emperor Tiberius. Another expulsion occurred about a.d. 49-50, for when Paul went to Corinth on his second missionary journey, “he met a Jew named Aquila . . . who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:2 niv). The situation for any minority religious sect was tenuous at best, depending on the particular ruler. During the rest of the first century after the death of Christ, Christianity was regarded by Rome as a sect of Judaism. Through this entire letter, Paul has explained the makeup of the new people of God—they are not like the Jews, an ethnic sect set apart by their ancestry and heritage. Therefore, they were in an awkward political position—how should they fit in? They could not expect any legal protection such as that afforded (at times) to Judaism. Besides that, Christianity was suspect as being seditious.

  • The founder of this Christian sect, Jesus Christ, had been crucified under Roman law for leading a movement that challenged Caesar as ruler and God—the inscription on Jesus’ cross read, “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26 niv).
  • Christians had been accused of defying Caesar. When Paul had visited Thessalonica a few years prior to writing this letter, his enemies stirred up trouble by going to the city officials and exclaiming, “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here . . . They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7 niv).
  • Wherever the gospel was taken, it usually caused a spiritual upheaval because both pagan and Jewish systems were threatened by this new religion based on faith (see Acts 16:16-22; 19:23-41).
  • Christians often were blamed for social disturbances. Business-people, like silversmiths, who made a living off of religion were threatened by Christianity. Riots often ensued when the gospel was preached, not because the speakers stirred up the people, but because someone’s power or livelihood was affected when people began following Christ and rejecting pagan idols. Leaders in other cities found that mere accusations against Christians could be used effectively against them.

Paul urges believers to be careful in their relationships with the governing authorities. There would come enough persecution without them bringing it on themselves by rebelling against authorities who could just as well serve them.

In addition, modern-day readers must take special note of what life in the Roman empire was like. The political powers were there by birth, connection, wealth, or ruthlessness. The masses had no power, could never expect to have any power, and could never think that they could change the status quo. Their best strategy was to live within the structure and take advantage of the protection offered by it. Because people still believed in “the divine right of kings,” most authority went unquestioned. And those in authority usually had a well-developed system of spies and informers who would not hesitate, in the name of good citizenship, to turn in anyone who complained or rebelled. It may be difficult for us to understand the political realities in ancient Rome, but the mind-set of the times caused Paul to exhort believers to be careful. Christians were not to rebel against godless Rome—Roman law was the only restraint against the lawless.

Paul’s words were vital in his own day, and they are just as important to contemporary Christians. For wrath’s sake (vv. 1-4). It is God who has established the governments of the world (see Acts 17:24-28). This does not mean that He is responsible for the sins of tyrants, but only that the authority to rule comes originally from God. It was this lesson that Nebuchadnezzar had to learn the hard way. (See Dan. 4, and especially vv. 17, 25, and 32.) To resist the law is to resist the God who established government in the world, and this means inviting punishment.

Rulers must bear the sword; that is, they have the power to afflict punishment and even to take life. God established human government because man is a sinner and must have some kind of authority over him. God has given the sword to rulers, and with it the authority to punish and even to execute. Capital punishment was ordained in Genesis 9:5-6, and it has not been abolished. Even though we cannot always respect the man in office, we must respect the office, for government was ordained by God.

On more than one occasion in his ministry, Paul used the Roman law to protect his life and to extend his work. The centurions mentioned in the Book of Acts appear to be men of character and high ideals. Even though government officials are not believers, they are still the “ministers of God” because He established the authority of the State.

Let us consider what God requires of us in our relationship to civil government.

The Precept  (13:1a)

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.

Paul gives us a very clear, categorical commandment at the beginning of our text. The commandment is addressed to all mankind, without exception. Every person[4] is included in this instruction—both believers and unbelievers. Every person is required to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Subjection certainly includes obedience, but it implies even more. Subjection focuses on the spirit or attitude of the individual, which leads to obedience. It recognizes an authority over us to which we are obliged to give not only our obedience but our respect. It implies a spirit which seeks to understand the perspective and purpose of the one who is superior and to seek to enhance that one’s position and purpose.

The authorities in view here are the governing authorities, those authorities which govern us politically. Submission to other authorities (e.g. wives to their husbands; slaves to their masters) is discussed elsewhere. These governmental authorities are assumed to be legitimate, for there are those who claim authority but are illegitimate. A Christian living in a country where a military coup has occurred may have to determine which government is actually in power. Under normal conditions, it is the government which is in place (see verse 1b).

From several Scriptures one might come to the conclusion that there are exceptions to the rule or precept Paul has laid down here. There were times when men had to chose to “obey God, rather than men” (e.g. Daniel 3, 6; Acts 4:19-20; 5:27-32). I would like to suggest to you that while the Christian may not, in good conscience before God, be able to obey the government in every instance, true submission to the government is never actually set aside. Generally, submission is exhibited by one’s obedience. But when one cannot obey, they can still demonstrate a submissive spirit. This submissive spirit should never be set aside when it comes to those in authority over us.

Let me try to illustrate what I mean, using some of the texts which seem to be exceptions to submission. In 1 Samuel chapter 25 Abigail takes a gift to David, and tells him that her husband is a fool. She knew that Nabal would have forbidden her to do what she did. She acted in a way that was contrary to her husband’s will, but not contrary to true submission. She subordinated her interests to those of her husband, putting herself at risk in an attempt to save the life of her husband and the men in her household. By the way, she acted in submission not only to Nabal, but to David, the one she knew was going to be Israel’s next king. She talked David out of doing a foolish thing that would have negatively impacted his reign, yet with a submissive spirit.

In Daniel chapter 3, Daniel’s three friends were commanded to bow down before an image of gold. They refused, and rightly so, for they could not serve God and bow down to an idol. But the way in which they declined to do so demonstrated a submissive spirit. They did not refuse to obey all of the king’s commands, only this one. They knew that disobedience might cost them their lives, and they were willing to pay this price. They did not advocate the overthrow of this government, and they were willing to submit to the death penalty if necessary. The same is seen in Daniel chapter 6, where Daniel will not cease praying to his God. Daniel refuses to comply with a specific law, and even the king agrees with him and hopes for his rescue.

In Acts chapter 5 the Sanhedrin has demanded that the apostles (Peter and John) stop preaching in the name of Jesus. This they cannot do, lest they disobey God. Though they could not and would not stop preaching about heir resurrected Lord, they did not challenge the authority of this body. Their answer was evidence of their submissive spirit and intent: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Submission usually is demonstrated by our obedience, but even when we must disobey, we can and should do so in a submissive spirit and manner.

Therefore submission to the authority of legitimate governmental agents is required by God, at all times and in all cases. Submission usually, but not always, results in obedience. Submission always gives honor to whom honor is due. In the remaining verses of this text, Paul gives us three reasons for our submission to human government.

13:1 Submit . . . to the governing authorities.NIV Paul basically commands believers to submit to the governing authorities. Submission means cooperation, loyalty, and a willingness to obey. These were wise words to this small group of believers living within the massive structure of the Roman empire. It wouldn’t take much for an imperial edict to fall on a group who might become known for causing unrest within the empire. Their quiet submission would not guarantee peace, but at least it might allow them to continue to spread the gospel freely for a time.

Paul does not recommend either of the two possible extreme responses to the presence of a hostile authority. He does not favor believers becoming like the Zealots, Jewish rebels who fought (often violently) for freedom from Rome; neither does he suggest that they withdraw to the desert to set up their own community far , from the evil city. Instead, Paul explains how Christian should live within the structure. Only then would they be able to share the gospel and transform society.

Recent rapid political changes in the world have demonstrated that even under the most restrictive and hostile forms of government, the gospel continues to bear fruit. In fact, the faith evidenced by oppressed believers exhibits a vitality missing in many who have political and religious freedom.

Although submitting to God is our most basic responsibility, God has placed us in situations that offer daily lessons in submission. If we don’t learn proper submission in those areas, our submission to God may be imaginary. To measure our progress in learning practical submission we can ask:

  • Which of the following challenge me to practice submission: family, school, work, sports, civil government?
  • To what persons in authority am I personally accountable?
  • How submissive is my attitude toward each of those authorities?
  • How well am I able to separate issues of authority from matters like personality differences, disagreements, envy, and ambition?
  • In what specific ways can I demonstrate respect for the authority of even those whom I do not admire?

We can learn how to submit to God by submitting to those whom God has placed in authority over us. What grade would you give yourself for how you are doing in God’s class on submission?

Reason 1: Civil Government Is Divinely Ordained (13:1b)

For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

God sets all authorities in place. He allows all governments and leaders to function under his sovereign will. Government is ideally in place to protect and serve its citizens. When governments distort or betray this function, those who run them will answer to God. They are under God’s constraint and under his final judgment (see also Psalm 2; Daniel 4:34-35).

Paul’s entire argument is based upon a fundamental premise: God is sovereign. He possesses ultimate authority. He is the sole authority of His creation. All human authority is delegated to men by God.[5] No one has authority independent of God.

How do we know that a given government is ordained of God and that He has given it authority? A government’s existence is proof that it is ordained of God and that it possesses divinely delegated authority. Paul says, “those which exist are established by God.” God is sovereign. He is in control of all things. He causes all things to “work together for good” (8:28). In days gone by, He raised up a disobedient Pharaoh (9:17), as well as Assyria and Babylon, as His chastening rod (for example, see Habakkuk 1 and 2). Whether democratic or autocratic, heathen or God-fearing, every government which has the power to rule over its people has been granted that power and authority by God.

Submission to government then is an expression of our submission to God. God has instituted human government to exercise divinely delegated authority over men. We should be subject to human governments for this reason alone. But Paul adds two very practical reasons for our submission and obedience in verses 2-7. These provide additional motivation for our obedience to this divine command.

Reason 2: Consequence (13:2-4)

Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.

13:2 He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.NIV Citizens of any government should respect their government and obey its laws. If they choose to break a law, they can expect to bring judgment on themselves.

Christians understand Romans 13 in different ways. All Christians agree that we are to live at peace with the state as long as the state allows us to live by our religious convictions. For hundreds of years, however, there have been at least three interpretations of how we are to do this.

(1) Some Christians believe that the state is so corrupt that Christians should have as little to do with it as possible. Although they should be good citizens as long as they can do so without compromising their beliefs, they should not work for the government, vote in elections, or serve in the military.

(2) Others believe that God has given the state authority in certain areas and the church authority in others. Christians can be loyal to both and can work for either. They should not, however, confuse the two. In this view, church and state are concerned with two totally different spheres—the spiritual and the physical—and thus complement each other but do not work together.

(3) Still others believe that Christians have a responsibility to make the state better. They can do this politically, by electing Christian or other high-principled leaders. They can also do this morally, by serving as an influence for good in society. In this view, church and state ideally work together for the good of all.

None of these views advocates rebelling against or refusing to obey laws or regulations unless those laws clearly require a person to violate the moral standards revealed by God. Wherever we find ourselves, we must be responsible citizens, as well as responsible Christians.

Are there times when we should not submit to the government? Paul does not address this question here, but other passages of Scripture give guidelines and examples. The government can demand respect, obedience, taxes, and honor from its citizens inasmuch as God appoints governments to protect people. When a government demands allegiance that conflicts with a believer’s loyalty to God, Christians must respond in a different way. Believers should never allow the government to force them to disobey God. Jesus and his apostles never disobeyed the government for personal reasons; when they disobeyed, they were following their higher loyalty to God (Acts 5:29). Their disobedience was not cheap; they were threatened, beaten, thrown into jail, tortured, and executed for their convictions. If we are compelled to disobey, we must be ready to accept the consequences (see 1 Peter 2:13-14; 4:15-16).



In the Bible, God’s faithful people resisted or disobeyed corrupt political or religious structures:

Daniel declined the food fit for a king (Daniel 1:8-21)
Daniel’s friends refused to bow to the king’s image (Daniel 3:1-30)
Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11; 14:1-6)
Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-5) and refused to be silenced (Acts 1-22; 5:17-32)

13:3 Rulers are not a terror to good conduct.NRSV Verses 3 and 4 focus on officials who are doing their duty. Society needs leadership and positive constraints in order to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens. When these officials are just, people who are doing right have nothing to fear. Therefore, in order to be free from fearing the one in authority, people should simply do what is rightNIV—i.e., obey the laws of the land. Governments that serve well facilitate and encourage citizens to do right. That is their purpose. If citizens are conscientiously seeking to do what is right, and the rulers disagree, citizens must respectfully appeal to the higher authority of God.

History records many instances where Christians have taken submission to government far beyond the point of reasonable cooperation. They have gone along willingly when those in authority were clearly breaking God’s commands. In passing judgment on their errors, we must acknowledge how easy it is to criticize with hindsight. We condense the developments of years into single sentences and imply that those who lived through those times experienced them at the same speed that we have summarized them. After judging the past, we must conclude with a clear answer to the question, How well do we passionately pursue what is right?

Perhaps most widely discussed is the response of Christians to Nazi rule in Germany. At first the Christian response varied; some believers did suffer and die while protecting Jews and resisting Nazism. But, on the whole, Christians responded slowly and ineffectively to what their government was doing. In Germany, as in other totalitarian governments, many citizens had lost the capacity to view the authority structure critically. Some were so dependent on the benefits and generosity of the central government that they had lost their will to criticize its goals or actions. They cooperated rather than risk their security. Many were so uninformed or isolated that they were unable to take a stand until it was too late.

Today believers live under tyranny. Others live in societies that have recently thrown off totalitarian rule. Every government makes mistakes. God passes judgment and grace on these human institutions as well as those in authority, and the citizens. God is for right and good in every sphere of living. He is against every form of evil. We must side with God, constantly depending on him to help us see and act on the difference. We are to pursue right living and resist evil.

Christians are not to use their freedom in Christ as a handy excuse for disobeying the laws of the state. Civil disobedience should come only after submission to authority has been practiced. We should be informed and willing to question the motives of those who govern us, but we should be more demanding and more suspicious of our own motives. We must be careful not to be ruled by our sinful desires. Our protest may not be spiritual but rooted in our offended pride or hatred of any authority. This response is not directed by Christ or the Holy Spirit.

13:4 He is God’s servant to do you good.NIV Rulers are in their position only because God has placed them there, and they are ultimately responsible to God. God is sovereign, and the church may grow even in a hostile environment under an atheistic leader. “The, king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 niv). All earthly governments are temporary—only Christ’s reign will be eternal. To rebel against them is to rebel against their God-given authority. In practice, the responsibilities and opportunities of the politically powerful and the politically powerless will differ. For believers in a hostile environment, cooperation may be the most realistic approach. Believers who have the opportunity to affect change must challenge, speak out, offer solutions, and confront the power structure.

So if you do wrong, be afraid.NIV Paul’s guidelines are directed toward seeing human government as a control on blatant evildoing. People can become so oriented to evil, so completely out of control, that they will only be brought to accountability by sheer power.

He does not bear the sword in vain.NKJV When properly used, force shown by a good government prevents tyranny, maintains justice, protects and commends those who do right (13:3), and brings punishment on the wrongdoer.NIV


Willingly or unwittingly, people in authority are God’s servants. They are allowed their positions in order to do good. This provides our principal motivation to pray for our rulers. Paul instructed Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 niv). Praying for those in authority over us will also mean that we will watch them closely. If we pray diligently for those in authority over us, we will be functioning as God’s sentinels. We must avoid ignorance of and apathy toward our world.

In verse 1, Paul has stated that human government has divine authority. Verse 2 seems to emphasize divine consequences, based upon Paul’s statement in verse 1b. Because of these consequences, resistance to governmental authority is also resistance against God Himself. Such resistance eventually brings divine judgment.[6]

Disregard for government’s authority also has present ramifications. These are described in verses 3 and 4. Government is given an unexpected title in verse 4—“minister of God.” Its task is to serve God by dealing appropriately with those who do good and also those who do evil. God’s purpose for human government is to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil.

The role of government in punishing those who do evil, and in rewarding those who do good, is consistent with and complimentary to the purposes of the Christian. You will remember that in verse 9 Paul wrote,

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.

The Christian should abstain from evil and pursue what is good. Government should praise those who do good and punish those who do evil. Therefore God’s purposes for us and for government are in harmony. Government is here to help us do what God has called us to do and what we should desire to do.

Ordinarily, one who is seeking to do good need not fear government. One who is serving God need not worry about government opposition. Christians should be the best citizens, for their calling is consistent with government’s divine commission.

But we should fear government when we choose to do evil. Only the law-breaker looks over his shoulder, wondering where the police are. The Christian should never need a radar detector, nor should he ever fear paying the penalty for speeding. If we would desire to live our lives without fear of punishment, we need only to do what God has required of us, and what government requires as well.

It should also be said that government’s God-given role also frees the Christian from returning “evil for evil” by retaliating against those who persecute or mistreat him (see Romans 12:14-21). God has not given us the task of administering justice or of paying men back for their wrong-doings. God has given this task to governmental authorities. When we “leave room for the wrath of God” (12:19), we leave room for government to deal with the evil deeds of men against us. Government “bears the sword[7] for such purposes. And if government should fail in this task, God will make things right in that day when He judges with perfect judgment.

Reason 3: A Clear Conscience (13:5-7)

Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

We move a bit higher in our motivation now. Any citizen can obey the law because of fear of punishment, but a Christian ought to obey because of conscience. Of course, if the government interferes with conscience, then the Christian must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). But when the law is right, the Christian must obey it if he is to maintain a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9; 4:2; Acts 24:16).

The United States Government maintains a “Conscience Fund” for people who want to pay their debts to the Government and yet remain anonymous. Some city governments have a similar fund. I read about a city that had investigated some tax frauds and announced that several citizens were going to be indicted. They did not release the names of the culprits. That week, a number of people visited the City Hall to “straighten out their taxes”—and many of them were not on the indictment list. When conscience begins to work, we cannot live with ourselves until we have made things right.

Romans 13:7 commands us to pay what we owe: taxes, revenue, respect, honor. If we do not pay our taxes, we show disrespect to the law, the officials, and the Lord. And this cannot but affect the conscience of the believer. We may not agree with all that is done with the money we pay in taxes, but we dare not violate our conscience by refusing to pay.

Subjection which is based only on the fear of painful consequences is as incomplete as sexual purity based solely on the fear of contracting AIDS. A higher reason for subjection is found in verse 5.

The external motivation that promotes submission is the fear of punishment—at least primarily. The motivation Paul calls for here is internal—that of a desire to maintain a pure and undefiled conscience. The standard which the law sets is the minimal standard for all men. The standard set by our own conscience is personal, individual, and hopefully higher than the minimum set by human government.

What is the conscience? It is an internal standard, defining right and wrong. It is not present only in Christians. All men have a conscience (Romans 2:15). The conscience of one may be stronger than that of another (see 1 Corinthians 8:7, 10, 12). Some consciences have become hardened and insensitive due to sin (1 Timothy 4:2), while the consciences of others are sensitized by obedience (Hebrews 5:14). We must never defile our conscience by doing what it considers evil, nor should we offend others by practicing what their consciences condemn as evil (1 Corinthians 8).

Our conscience is not an infallible guide to good and evil. While we must never do what our conscience condemns, we dare not assume that everything our conscience permits is good, since our conscience can become hardened and insensitive (1 Timothy 4:2).

Paul’s conscience was very important matter to him. He sought to serve God with an undefiled conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Timothy 1:3), which he urged others to do as well (1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9). A clear conscience is a prerequisite for love and service to others:

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day (2 Timothy 1:3).

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14).

Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22).

Whenever we violate our conscience we hinder our fellowship with God and our service, to Him and to others. A violated, guilty, conscience makes us less sensitive to sin and more vulnerable to error (see Hebrews 5:12; 2 Timothy 3:6). A guilty conscience makes us more tentative and less bold to proclaim and practice our faith. Due to a defiled conscience, we may tend toward a legalistic, external obedience, based upon appearances rather than on reality (see Luke 16:15).

What does our conscience have to do with submission to human government? Mere outward compliance with the requirements of government is simply not enough. This we can expect from unbelievers, if for no other reason than the fear of punishment. But God desires a fuller, deeper, obedience from the heart. This requires conscientious subjection—submitting done out of obedience to God. Such an attitude of submission enables us to retain the right attitude and actions toward government even when we must disobey specific laws in order to obey God.

An internal attitude of submission stimulates us to obey government even when our disobedience cannot be seen or punished. The actions of verses 6 and 7 are the outflow of an undefiled conscience and a spirit of submission. Paul does not tell us here to “obey the laws of the land,” but rather to honor those in authority and to pay taxes and custom fees. Why are these specific forms of obedience named? I believe it is because these are the very things which are easiest to avoid doing, and the least likely violations to be discerned and punished.

We can be rude and disrespectful to officials and get away with it. We can even more effectively pretend to be respectful and never have our insincerity detected. We can quite easily report our income or our baggage in such a way as to avoid income taxes or customs fees. More often than not, if we are devious, we will not be caught.

But we already know that government has God’s authority and ministers for Him. Thus, when we fail to “pay our dues,” whatever these might be, we disobey God. Even if the civil authorities never catch us, our conscience before God will be defiled. Our fellowship with Him will be hindered. Our service to others will be adversely affected. And so we must live by the higher standard. We must not only comply with the demands of government, we must cooperate in spirit. In so doing our conscience will be clear, our testimony untainted, and our service unhindered by sin and guilt. Living in subordination to divinely ordained government is beneficial to our walk with God and our service to others.

Finally, these things which God requires us to give government officials are those things which facilitate the ministry of public officials. Both honor and money are necessary for public officials to carry out their tasks.[8] Our subordination to those in authority not only means that we should do what we are required, but that we should provide all that is necessary so that our superiors can do their jobs. Our submission means that we serve and support them.

13:5 Submit to the authorities . . . because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.NIV Believers have two good reasons to submit to their government: to avoid punishment and to heed their own conscience, for it will prod them to do what is right. Believers know in their consciences that obeying the authorities pleases God. However, a believer’s conscience answers to a higher, divine authority; if ever the human authority contradicted the divine authority, a believer must be true to his conscience in following the higher authority.

True citizenship is rarely rewarded. Faithfully carrying out our small duties may not gain recognition. But Paul reminds the Romans that God notices every action. When we obey the government because it serves God, God knows our real motives.

13:6 Pay taxes. Believers are called not only to submit to authorities, but also to support them by paying taxes (see also Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17). Taxes pay the salaries for those who give their full time to governing.NIV This was a heated topic at the time Paul wrote—he does not refer to this in any other letter. Government taxation, and abuses of taxation, were causing great unrest in the city. Christians might be thinking that they could get away with not paying the inflated taxes, but that would inevitably draw the attention of the authorities and put the believers at unnecessary risk. So Paul says to pay. In this regard Paul followed Jesus, who told Peter to pay taxes so as not to offend the governing authorities (Matthew 17:24-27).

For the authorities are God’s servants.NRSV God’s servant (theou diakonos) is used twice in verse 4, while here, God’s servants (leitourgoi theou) are specifically God’s public servants. The difference may be that earlier Paul emphasized the way that believers relate to rulers, while here he is pointing out that rulers serve God by being responsible for the entire population. Paul is not teaching that all the authorities in Rome are God’s servants in the same sense as the believers are God’s servants. The powers in Rome were arbitrary and often self-serving. But they were God’s servants, ultimately responsible to the one who set them in place.

13:7 Pay to all what is due them.NRSV Christians are not exempt from fulfilling the expectations of any government: taxes . . . revenue . . . respect, and/or honor.NIV

This verse also prepares for Paul’s idea of debt in the next section. We must certainly pay taxes to the government, but our obligation also extends to others to whom we may owe a debt of gratitude, honor, respect, money, or an assortment of “borrowed” items, from books to garden tools. What is borrowed must be repaid or returned.


This is not the only text in the Bible on the matter of “conscientious subjection.” Paul writes generally of this obligation to Titus (3:1). Peter speaks of submission to human government in the context of suffering (1 Peter 2:13-14). But when Paul speaks of submission to government in our text, he does so in the context of service. This is the main theme of Romans 12:1–13:7. We are challenged by Paul in 12:1-2 to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service of worship. Paul then speaks of our sacrificial service in terms of the church, the body of Christ, and of the exercise of our spiritual gifts (12:3-8). In verses 9-21 Paul writes of our service in the context of love, whether we are serving our fellow-believers or our enemy. Subordination to civil government is discussed in Romans 13:1-7, only to find Paul returning to the theme of walking in love in verses 8 and following.

Paul’s teaching on subordination is no interruption of his theme or emphasis, but rather an extension of it. From verse 1 of chapter 12, Paul has been teaching the importance of subordination. We must subordinate our lives to God, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. We must subordinate our interests to the interests of others if we are to walk in love. We must also subordinate our lives to those in authority over us as civil servants.

There is a very important principle underlying all of Paul’s teaching on subordination, which we are now able to identify: SUBORDINATION IS A PREREQUISITE TO SERVICE AND A MINDSET WITHOUT WHICH SERVICE IS EITHER IMPOSSIBLE OR UNFRUITFUL.

Recently I watched a television program called “Over My Dead Body.” In this program, a long-time servant was arrested for murder—naturally, he was innocent. In the course of events, a famous author (turned detective) secretly took the servant’s job to try to uncover the truth and expose the real murderer. The true servant’s spirit, as well as his service, was vastly different from that of the short-term “servant.” The true servant saw himself as subordinate to those he served. The one disguised as a “servant” saw himself as better than the job and those whom he served. Without true subordination, loving service is impossible.

Self-interest must be set aside and replaced by a spirit of subordination if true service is rendered. We cannot seek our own interests as a priority and genuinely serve others at the same time. We cannot love ourselves first and love God and others next. It simply does not and cannot work. Subordination is prerequisite to service. This is precisely the point Paul makes concerning our Lord’s attitudes and actions, which should serve as our example:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Subordination is the key to loving God and others. It is not the inclination of our flesh. It is not the spirit of our age. But it is what God requires and what the Spirit enables when we walk in Him.

As said earlier, Christians are rapidly moving in the direction of opposing government more than submitting to it and serving it with a pure heart and a clear conscience. We have lost our respect for those in authority and have come to disdain, en masse, those in public office. We have come to view government as God’s opponent rather than as God’s divinely ordained instrument. There may be reason for disobedience to certain laws, but there is no excuse for our spirit of insubordination and for an obedience which is more compliant than it is cooperative and supportive.

Christianity is, at the moment, much more intent upon producing Christian leaders than it is in producing Christian followers. While His disciples had their heads filled with thoughts of position, power, and prestige, Jesus constantly talked to them about subordination and service. While we think much about leaders, Jesus talked most about being followers, disciples. Ironically, the way men become good leaders is by learning to become good followers.

Contemporary Christianity is probably more purposeful and aggressive in seeking to influence government and legislation than ever before. And yet I fear that we are less effective than in previous times. How can this be? On the one hand, we seem to be relying on the “arm of the flesh,” on human mechanisms and motivations, rather than on those which are spiritual. We seem to think that we need large numbers to attract the attention of government officials, and that we will not be able to change men’s minds or voting habits unless we hold over their heads the threat of losing the next election.

Daniel illustrates the truth of Romans 13:1-7 and exposes the folly of our fleshly efforts to affect change in government. Daniel was a young political hostage. He had no credentials or political clout to impress his Babylonian captors. And yet Daniel had tremendous political influence on several kings and administrations over a long period of time. What was it that made Daniel the E. F. Hutten of his day? What made kings listen when he spoke?

I believe the answer is that Daniel subordinated himself to the heathen, human government of Babylon as God’s divinely ordained institution. In the first chapter of Daniel, and again in chapter 6, Daniel had to say “no” to his government, even though it might have meant death. He had to disobey two specific orders because his obedience to government would have been disobedience to God. He refused to eat from the king’s table, because it would defile him and deprive him of a clear conscience. He would not cease praying for the same reason. He disobeyed his government when his faith and his conscience required it.

But our text in Romans explains the positive way in which Daniel maintained a clear conscience. Daniel maintained a clear conscience not only in what he refused to do but also in what he did. While Daniel would not defile himself by eating food from the king’s table, he did submit to the king and his government by showing those in power his respect and by cooperating and supporting that government in every way possible. He was educated in the ways of the Babylonians. He worked hard and was at the top of his class in his studies. He aggressively sought not only to interpret the king’s dream, but also to spare the lives of his heathen counterparts.

Daniel was but a single man, living in a godless society and in a heathen culture. But Daniel was a man who was respected and sought by the political leaders of his day. Why? I believe it was because Daniel was practicing what Paul later preached. Daniel was serving God by his subordination to civil government. As he sought to serve God with a clear conscience, he refused to do only that which was disobedient to God and defiling to his conscience. As he served God, he eagerly cooperated and supported the governmental system under which God had placed him.

Down through history, men like Daniel have had a profound impact on kings and government officials—even though they served God and even though they were in the minority. John the Baptist was a man who stood for what was right and who did not shrink back from pointing out Herod’s sin. And yet, Herod found himself strangely drawn to John and his teaching. He listened intently to him. He would not have put him to death except for his drunkenness, his foolish offer, and his foolish pride (see Mark 6:14-29).

Jesus had the attention of the governmental leaders of His day. They were eager to see Him face to face. It was only reluctantly that they played a part in Jesus’ death. Paul too had a spiritual impact on some of the political leaders of his day. Even today, men like Billy Graham are sought out by presidents and powerful political figures. Why? Not, I think, because they control votes, but because they are subject to God, to His Word, and to the government under which He has placed them.

We do not need to muster more votes or more political clout. We need more “moral clout,” gained by simple obedience to God, to His Word, and to the institutions He has ordained. May God grant that we will present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, as we subordinate ourselves to others and to the government He has ordained.

[1] Submission to civil authority is but one facet of the much broader issue of authority. Authority has been one of man’s prominent problems down through the ages. Satan rebelled against God’s authority and then tempted Adam and Eve to do likewise (see Genesis 2 and 3). Jacob was always seeking to resist or manipulate authority. Joseph had to learn what authority meant, and especially how he was to use it. David struggled with his authority as the promised king of Israel and with Saul’s authority as king until the time of David’s coronation. Israel’s kings, priests, and prophets all struggled with the proper use of their authority. Often those in positions of power misused their authority.

When Jesus came to the earth, He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their misuse of authority (see Matthew 21:23-46; 23:1-39). His disciples were preoccupied with acquiring positions of authority. Jesus had to continually contrast the servanthood which was to characterize the Christian in power to the self-seeking of the unbeliever who abused his power (see Mark 10:35-45).

[2] Paul speaks of “rulers” (verse 3), of “taxes” and of “custom” (verse 6).

[3] Thus, a law which permits abortion is viewed little differently from a law which requires it. In protest against abortion, some Christians feel compelled to trespass and to commit other violations of the law in order to make their point. It becomes very difficult to define where civil disobedience must stop. Is it right, in order to save the unborn from the murderous and mercenary hand of the abortionist, to burn down an abortion clinic? These are now issues Christians are debating among themselves. All the while, civil government is looking at us as its opponent.

[4] For this same expression, see also Acts 2:43; 3:23; Romans 2:9. All of these expressions seem to imply “all without exception.”

[5] See Isaiah 30:30; Jeremiah 5:31; John 19:11; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 2:10.

[6] The rendering “condemnation” in the NASB and “damnation” in the KJV strongly suggest divine retribution. The more neutral “judgment” of the NIV leaves the interpretation somewhat undefined. When Paul uses this same term in Romans 2:2, 3, he adds the expression, “of God” in both instances. Elsewhere in Romans the term is used in 3:8; 5:16; and 11:33. The context seems to require us to take “judgment” here as divine judgment. Government will also penalize men for their wrong-doings, but this is a more indirect form of divine chastening. What government fails to judge properly in this life, God will make right in the final judgment.

[7] One can safely imply that government’s authority to judge the evil-doer extends to the degree of capital punishment. I believe that the reader of Paul’s day understood “the sword” in verse 4 to include capital punishment. Having said this, let us not lose sight of the many offenses for which capital punishment was the penalty in the Old Testament. If we were to follow the Old Testament in the matter of capital punishment, we would all live in dread fear. Capital punishment is not the focus of Paul’s teaching here, and so we should be careful not to overlook the “camels” in this text because we are straining at the “gnat” of capital punishment (see Matthew 23:24).

[8] In the context of church “ministers,” both honor and financial means are also to be a token of our submission and of our support (see 1 Corinthians 9:3-14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17). It is interesting that in 1 Timothy 5:17 the word “honor” itself has this two-fold sense of honor and remuneration.

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Posted by on November 25, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #27 God’s Mercy On Israel Romans 11:1-10 and the Gentiles 11:11ff

Rom 040: God's Mercy Or Rejection? - Rick Grundy Live

For centuries people have been puzzled by the nation of Israel. The Roman government recognized the Jewish religion, but it still called the nation secta nefaria—”a nefarious sect.” The great historian Arnold Toynbee classified Israel as “a fossil civilization” and did not know what to do with it. For some reason, the nation did not fit into his historical theories.

Paul devoted all of Romans 11 to presenting proof that God is not through with Israel. We must not apply this chapter to the church today, because Paul is discussing a literal future for a literal nation. He called five witnesses to prove there was a future in God’s plan for the Jews.

The Callus On the Heart (Rom 11:1-12)

There was a question now to be asked which any Jew was bound to ask. Does all this mean that God has repudiated his people? That is a question that Paul’s heart cannot bear. After all, he himself is a member of that people. So he falls back on an idea which runs through much of the Old Testament. In the days of Elijah, Elijah was in despair (1 Ki 19:10-18). He had come to the conclusion that he alone was left to be true to God. But God told him that, in fact, there were still seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. So into Jewish thought came the idea of The Remnant.

The prophets began to see that there never was a time, and never would be, when the whole nation was true to God; nevertheless, always within the nation a remnant was left who had never forsaken their loyalty or compromised their faith. Prophet after prophet came to see this. Amos (Am 9:8-10) thought of God sifting men as corn is in a sieve until only the good are left. Micah (Mic 2:12; Mic 5:3) had a vision of God gathering the remnant of Israel. Zephaniah (Zeph 3:12-13) had the same idea. Jeremiah foresaw the remnant being gathered from all the countries throughout which they had been scattered (Jer 23:3). Ezekiel, the individualist, was convinced that a man could not be saved by either a national or an inherited righteousness; the righteous would deliver their own souls by their righteousness (Eze 14:14, 20, 22). Above all, this idea dominated the thought of Isaiah. He called his son Shear-Jashub, which means The Salvation of the Remnant. Again and again he returns to this idea of the faithful remnant who will be saved by God (Isa 7:3; Isa 8:2; Isa 8:18; Isa 9:12; Isa 6:9-13).

There is a tremendous truth beginning to dawn here. As one great scholar put it: “No Church or nation is saved en masse.” The idea of a Chosen People will not hold water for this basic reason. The relationship with God is an individual relationship. A man must give his own heart and surrender his own life to God. God does not call men in crowds; he has “His own secret stairway into every heart.” A man is not saved because he is a member of a nation or of a family, or because he has inherited righteousness and salvation from his ancestors; he is saved because he has made a personal decision for God. It is not now the whole nation who are lumped together as the Chosen People. It is those individual men and women who have given their hearts to God, of whom the remnant is composed.

Paul’s argument is that the Jewish nation has not been rejected; but it is not the nation as a whole, but the faithful remnant within it who are the true Jews.

What of the others? It is here that Paul has a terrible thought. He has the idea of God sending a kind of torpor upon them, a drowsy sleep in which they cannot and will not hear. He puts together the thought of a series of Old Testament passages to prove this (Deut 29:4; Isa 6:9-10; Isa 29:10). He quotes Ps 69:22-23. “Let their table become a snare.” The idea is that men are sitting feasting comfortably at their banquet; and their very sense of safety has become their ruin. They are so secure in their fancied safety that the enemy can come upon them all unaware. That is what the Jews were like. They were so secure, so self-satisfied, so at ease in their confidence of being the Chosen People, that that very idea had become the thing that ruined them.

The day will come when they cannot see at all, and when they will grope with bent backs like men stumbling blindly in the dark. In Rom 11:7 the King James Version says, “they have been blinded.” More correctly, it should be, “they have been hardened.” The verb is poroun (<G4456>). The noun porosis (<G4457>) will give us the meaning better. It is a medical word, and it means a callus. It was specially used for the callus which forms round the fracture when a bone is broken, the hard bone formation which helps to mend the break. When a callus grows on any part of the body that part loses feeling. It becomes insensitive. The minds of the mass of the people have become insensitive; they can no longer hear and feel the appeal of God.

It can happen to any man. If a man takes his own way long enough, he will in the end become insensitive to the appeal of God. If he goes on sinning, he will in the end become insensitive to the horror of sin and the fascination of goodness. If a man lives long enough in ugly conditions he will in the end become insensitive to them. As Burns wrote:

“I waive the quantum of the sin,

The hazard of concealing;

But och! it hardens a’ within,

And petrifies the feeling!”

Just as a callus can grow on the hand, a callus can grow on the heart. That is what had happened to the mass of Israel. God save us from that!

But Paul has more to say. That is tragedy, but out of it God has brought good, because that very insensitiveness of Israel opened the way to the Gentiles to come in. Because Israel did not want the message of the good news, it went out to people who were ready to welcome it. Israel’s refusal has enriched the world.

Then Paul touches on the dream which is behind it all. If the refusal of Israel has enriched the world by opening a door to the Gentiles, what will the riches be like at the end of the day, when God’s plan is fully completed and Israel comes in, too?

So, in the end, after tragedy comes the hope. Israel became insensitive, the nation with the callus on her heart; the Gentiles came by faith and trust into the love of God; but a day will come when the love of God will act like a solvent, even on the callus of the heart, and both Gentile and Jew will be gathered in. It is Paul’s conviction that nothing in the end can defeat the love of God.

In this section Paul points out that not all Jews have rejected God’s message of salvation. He draws upon the experience of Elijah to show that there had always been a faithful remnant among the people. In Paul’s day, there was still a remnant living by faith, under the law (11:5). After all, Paul was a Jew; so were Jesus’ disciples and nearly all of the early Christian missionaries. Part of God’s sovereign choice involves bringing a remnant of his people back to himself. This truth forbids any hint of anti-Semitism God’s plan still includes the Jews.

Paul Himself (Rom. 11:1)

“Hath God cast away His people? God forbid! For I also am an Israelite!” If God has cast away His people, then how can the conversion of the Apostle Paul be explained? The fact that his conversion is presented three times in the Book of Acts is significant (Acts 9, 22, 26). Certainly Dr. Luke did not write these chapters and repeat the story just to exalt Paul. No, they were written to show Paul’s conversion as an illustration of the future conversion of the nation of Israel. Paul called himself “one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). In 1 Timothy 1:16 he stated that God saved him “that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.”

The accounts of Paul’s conversion tell very little that parallels our salvation experience today. Certainly none of us has seen Christ in glory or actually heard Him speak from heaven. We were neither blinded by the light of heaven nor thrown to the ground. In what way, then, is Paul’s conversion “a pattern”? It is a picture of how the nation of Israel will be saved when Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth. The details of Israel’s future restoration and salvation are given in Zechariah 12:10-13:1. The nation shall see Him as He returns (Zech. 14:4; Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7), recognize Him as their Messiah, repent, and receive Him. It will be an experience similar to that of Saul of Tarsus when he was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians (Acts 9).

This is why Paul used himself as the first witness. The fact that he was saved does not prove that there is a future for Israel. Rather, what is important is the way he was saved.

11:1 I ask, then.NRSV Paul continues his “I ask” format that he used in 10:18 (“I ask: Did they not hear?”) and in 10:19 (“I ask: Did Israel not understand?”). Paul now asks: Has God rejected his people?NRSV

The Jewish nation had heard such words before. In the depths of their sinfulness when King Manasseh ruled the northern kingdom of Israel, God said, “I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies . . . because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day” (2 Kings 21:14-15 niv). Indeed, Jeremiah had warned the people: “Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath” (Jeremiah 7:29 niv). With this question Paul expresses a deep concern—has God finally grown tired of Israel’s constant disobedience and rejected them forever?

Paul responds, By no means!NRSV Literally, “May it never be!” One proof of this is Paul’s experience. Paul had received salvation, and he is an Israelite . . . a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.NIV Paul is a full-blooded Jew (who had even gone so far as to persecute Christians before he became a believer). Surely if God was going to reject someone, Paul would have been a good choice. But God, in his sovereignty, called Paul and rearranged his entire life.

The Prophet Elijah (Rom. 11:2-10)

Israel is God’s elect nation; He foreknew them, or chose them, and they are His. The fact that most of the nation has rejected Christ is no proof that God has finished with His people. In his day, Elijah thought that the nation had totally departed from God (see 1 Kings 19). But Elijah discovered that there was yet a remnant of true believers. He thought he was the only faithful Jew left and discovered that there were 7,000 more.

Paul referred to this “remnant” in Romans 9:27, a quotation from Isaiah 10:22-23. At no time has the entire nation of Israel been true to the Lord. God makes a distinction between Abraham’s natural children and his spiritual children (Rom. 2:25-29). The fact that the Jews shared in the covenant by being circumcised did not guarantee their salvation. Like Abraham, they had to believe God in order to receive His righteousness (Rom. 4:1-5).

Note that this remnant is saved by grace and not by works (Rom. 11:5-6). Note also the parallel in Romans 9:30-33. It is impossible to mix grace and works, for the one cancels the other. Israel’s main concern had always been in trying to please God with good works (Rom. 9:30-10:4). The nation refused to submit to Christ’s righteousness, just as religious, self-righteous people refuse to submit today.

If a remnant had been saved, thus proving that God was not through with His people, then what had happened to the rest of the nation? They had been hardened (a better translation than “blinded” in Rom. 11:7). This was the result of their resisting the truth, just as Pharaoh’s heart was hardened because he resisted the truth. Paul quoted Isaiah 29:10 to support his statement, and also referred to Deuteronomy 29:4. We would expect a pagan ruler to harden himself against the Lord, but we do not expect God’s people to do so.

Romans 11:9-10 are cited from Psalm 69:22-23. This psalm is one of the most important of the messianic psalms and is referred to several times in the New Testament. Note especially Romans 11:4, 9, 21-22. Their “table to become a snare” means that their blessings turn into burdens and judgments. This is what happened to Israel: their spiritual blessings should have led them to Christ, but instead they became a snare that kept them from Christ. Their very religious practices and observances became substitutes for the real experience of salvation. Sad to say, this same mistake is made today when people depend on religious rituals and practices instead of trusting in the Christ who is pictured in these activities.

Paul made it clear that the hardening of Israel is neither total nor final, and this is proof that God has a future for the nation. “Hardness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). The existence of the believing Jewish remnant today, as in Elijah’s day, is evidence that God still has a plan for His people. Paul did not imitate Elijah’s mistake and say, “I only am left!” He knew that there was a remnant of Israel in this world who trusted God.

11:2-3 God has not rejected his people.NRSV God did not reject his people in the days of Moses, nor in the days of the prophets. And he is not rejecting them now. Regardless of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God always keeps his promises.

  • Samuel told Israel, “For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own” (1 Samuel 12:22 niv).
  • A psalmist wrote, “For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance” (Psalm 94:14 niv).
  • Jeremiah prophesied, “‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.’ This is what the Lord says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:36-37 niv).

Whom he foreknew.NRSV God’s foreknowledge of his people implies his special relationship with them. God chose “Israel to be the people through whom all other nations of the world could know him. He made this promise to Abraham, their ancestor (Genesis 12:1-3). Israel didn’t have to do anything to be chosen. God had given them this privilege because he wanted to, not because they deserved special treatment (Deuteronomy 9:4-6). God knew beforehand that Israel would be unfaithful; if God’s faithfulness to Israel was going to be dependent on their faithfulness, God would never have chosen them in the first place. God will remain faithful to his promises to Israel, despite Israel’s failure.

Elijah . . . appealed to God against Israel.NIV Paul then reminds his readers of a time when all Israel had deserted God, but God had preserved a remnant. After Elijah’s stunning demonstration of God’s power over Baal’s prophets at Mount Carmel (and the killing of all of Baal’s prophets.), Elijah fled for his life from the wrath of Israel’s evil Queen Jezebel who threatened to have him killed. He ran for many miles and then stopped to rest. In his terror and exhaustion, he cried out to God, “Lord they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.”NIV “They” actually refers to the evil leadership in the northern kingdom of Israel, but Elijah was holding the entire, nation responsible for the actions of many. He had concluded that he was the only person left in Israel who believed in God.

11:4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”NIV God shared some very important information with Elijah. Elijah was not the last of God’s people left on the earth—God had seven thousand believers who had not turned to idol worship. That was not a large number, but it was a faithful “remnant.” Notice that God reserved these faithful followers for himself-the remnant existed because of his sovereign choice.

When we experience conflict and antagonism, it is likely that we will feel alone. That is especially the case when we focus on the failure of others to recognize that we may be the last of the real followers. When we think this way, we overestimate our importance and underestimate God’s power. It is shocking to discover, at times, that verbalizing our faith causes others to reject us. But we also discover, much to our delight, that until we verbalize our faith, we don’t really know how many other believers there are that surround us. God always has his remnant in places we might least expect.

11:5 There is a remnant, chosen by grace.NRSV Just as God had preserved a remnant of his people when almost the entire nation had turned to idolatry, God is restoring a remnant through Christ—and only because of God’s sovereign choice and by his grace. The remnant is a small group who have remained faithful, yet it is by God’s grace that the remnant stands firm. The Jewish believers in this faithful remnant are proof that God has not rejected his people (2 Kings 19:4, 19). What Paul could say with confidence in his day, we can repeat today. No matter how grim and hopeless the situation might seem, because of God’s sovereignty we can say with confidence that at the present time there is still a remnant chosen by grace!

11:6 If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works.NRSV Jews who struggled to gain God’s acceptance by good works and adherence to the law have lost the grace of God. But the “remnant chosen by grace” (11:5) understand that God’s choice is not on the basis of works, but by his grace and mercy—his generosity to them. Salvation is never on the basis of works; it is always by God’s merciful choice, as Paul has explained earlier in this letter. Jews who believe in Christ are not denying their faith or their heritage; instead, they are discovering what these were truly meant to be.

Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace.NRSV If God’s grace in choosing us depended on our works or obedience to the law, it would not be grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 niv).

Do you think it’s easier for God to love you when you’re good? Do you secretly suspect that God chose you because you deserved it? Do you think some people’s behavior is so bad that God couldn’t possibly save them? If so, you don’t entirely understand that salvation is by grace, a free gift. It cannot be earned, in whole or in part; it can only be accepted with thankfulness and praise.

11:7 What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain.NIV This verse provides an excellent summary of Romans 9-11. The nation had earnestly sought God’s acceptance by doing works of the law (see 10:2-3). But God did not accept them. Instead, he accepted the elect—the remnant chosen through his sovereignty and grace. Throughout the Old Testament God dealt with the people of Israel in two ways: (1) as individuals, and (2) as a corporate community. At times, God emphasized the responsibility that each person bears for his or her own sins. At other times, God emphasized the fact that the entire nation might be affected by the acts of a few. Paul uses the name Israel to indicate the community of Jews, most of whom rejected Jesus and most of whom were busily but hopelessly pursuing righteousness under the law.

But the elect did.NIV There was a chosen remnant among the chosen people, however, who did respond, who did obtain.

The rest were hardened.NKJV Israel’s failure was foreseen by God and, in fact, brought about by him (see 9:22-23, 33). This “hardening” was confirmation of their inability to understand and their insensitivity to God’s Word and God’s call. When God judged them, he removed their ability to see, hear, and repent; thus they would experience the consequences of their rebellion. But this “hardening” is not the same as rejection; rather, it confirms their response to God. Paul illustrates this “hardening” from two passages in Scripture (as follows).

11:8 As it is written. This verse describes the punishment for hardened hearts that was predicted by the prophet Isaiah.

“God has given them a spirit of stupor.”NKJV Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10. This stupor is a kind of numbness that results in blindness (eyes . . . could not see) and deafness (ears . . . could not hear).NIV When people repeatedly refuse to listen to God’s Good News, they eventually will be unable to hear and understand it. Israel’s present misinterpretation of their Scriptures and refusal to accept Christ as their Messiah is a continuation of their tendency to misunderstand God’s plans and purposes for them. Paul saw this happening in the Jewish congregations he visited on his missionary journeys.

Resisting God is like saying to him, “Leave me alone!” But because God is always and everywhere present, his answer to that prayer might be to agree and make that person less sensitive, more hardened to him. The very possibility of that happening ought to keep us asking God specifically for ears that really hear and eyes that really see—openness and responsiveness to him.

11:9-10 David says. Verses 9 and 10 are from Psalm 69:22-23 (a psalm thought to be prophetic about the suffering of the Messiah). These words of David were originally a curse directed at Israel’s enemies. Paul turns the curse around and points it at the Jews!

Their table. This refers to the blessings that God had given Israel. These blessings should have drawn Israel to him and thus led them to Christ; instead, they became a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.NIV Israel’s blessings had led to pride that led them away from God. Thus, not only did they miss the Messiah when he came, but they also persecuted and killed him.

Eyes be darkened . . . and keep their backs forever bent.NRSV The Jews refused to see God’s truth when it was set before them (Isaiah 6:9-10), so they are cursed with eternal blindness and the back-breaking burden of their self-imposed law keeping and regulations, their sins, and their guilt. John 9 records Jesus confronting the Pharisees with their spiritual blindness. He had healed a blind man, but the religious leaders had invalidated the healing because it broke their Sabbath work rules. Eventually, the healed man came to realize Jesus was the Son of Man, the Messiah (John 9:35-38). Jesus used the man’s experience to explain his own ministry: “‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains'” (John 9:39-41 niv). For Jesus, those who claimed to see but could not recognize his true identity were afflicted with the worst possible blindness.



Paul had a vision for the church, and thus for local churches, to be a place where all Jews and Gentiles would be united in their love of God and in obedience to Christ. While respecting God’s law, this ideal church would look to Christ alone for salvation. A person’s ethnic background and social status would be irrelevant (see Galatians 3:28)—what mattered would be his or her faith in Christ. In this section, Paul describes a large olive tree, from which some branches had been pruned and to which other branches had been grafted. That tree represents Paul’s vision for the church.

True Christians have no basis for persecuting others. Attempting to force Christian belief only destroys that belief “Evangelism” does not justify hurting others. Both Gentiles and Jews have done so much to damage the cause of the God they claim to serve that Paul’s vision of unity seems very distant. Yet God chose the Jews, just as he chose the Gentiles, and he still works to unite Jews and Gentiles in a new Israel, a new Jerusalem, ruled by his Son (see Ephesians 2:11-22).

But Paul’s vision has not yet been realized. Many Jewish people rejected the gospel. Depending on their works and heritage for salvation, they did not have the heart of obedience that was so important to the Old Testament prophets and to Paul. After Gentiles became dominant in many of the Christian churches, they began rejecting Jews and even persecuting them. Unfortunately, this practice has recurred through the centuries.

The Gentiles (Rom. 11:11-15)

In Romans 2:1-3 Paul used the Gentiles to prove the Jews guilty of sin, but here he used the Gentiles to assure Israel of a future restoration. His logic here is beautiful. When the Jews rejected the Gospel, God sent it to the Gentiles and they believed and were saved. Three tragedies occurred in Israel: the nation fell (Rom. 11:11), was lost (Rom. 11:12, “diminished”), and was cast away (Rom. 11:15). None of these words suggests a final judgment on Israel. But the amazing thing is that through Israel’s fall, salvation came to the Gentiles. God promised that the Gentiles would be saved (Rom. 9:25-26) and He kept His promise. Will He not also keep His promise to the Jews?

It is important to understand that the Old Testament promises to the Gentiles were linked to Israel’s “rise”—her entering into her kingdom. Prophecies like Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 60 make it clear that the Gentiles will share in Israel’s kingdom. But Israel did not “rise”; she fell! What would God then do with the Gentiles? God introduced a new factor—the church—in which believing Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). In Ephesians 3, Paul called this new program “the mystery,” meaning “the sacred secret” that was not revealed in the Old Testament. Does this mean that God has abandoned His kingdom program for Israel? Of course not! Israel is merely set aside until the time comes for God’s plans for Israel to be fulfilled.

Paul stated that the Gentiles had a vital ministry to Israel. Today, the saved Gentiles provoke Israel “to jealousy” (see Rom. 10:19) because of the spiritual riches they have in Christ. Israel today is spiritually bankrupt, while Christians have “all spiritual blessings” in Christ (Eph. 1:3). (If an unsaved Jew visited the average church service, would he be provoked to jealousy and wish he had what we have—or would he just be provoked?)

There is a future for Israel. Paul calls it “their fullness” (Rom. 11:12) and their “receiving” (Rom. 11:15). Today, Israel is fallen spiritually, but when Christ returns, the nation will rise again. Today, Israel is cast away from God, but one day they shall be received again. God will never break His covenant with His people, and He has promised to restore them. (See Jer. 31:35-37 where God links His promises to Israel to the sun, moon, and stars.)

11:11 Did they stumble . . . beyond recovery ?NIV This is the tenth time in this letter that Paul has asked a question only to respond in a strong negative: Not at all!NIV No, Israel’s stumbling did not cause them to fall so that God has declared the nation beyond recovery. Their blindness is not permanent (11:8); their fall is not fatal. Israel’s stumbling, their transgression (rejecting Christ so strongly that they killed him) means that salvation has come to the Gentiles.NIV Israel’s rejection of Christ was a part of God’s plan all along, as essential as God’s sovereign choice of Jacob over Esau (9:10-13) and his hardening of Pharaoh (9:17-18).

When Paul preached in various cities, he usually went to a synagogue first to speak to the Jews. Many times their unbelief would turn to hostility toward Paul. Then Paul would take the message to the Gentiles: “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles'” (Acts 13:46 niv). But the salvation of the Gentiles is not the end of the story. It too has a purpose.

To make Israel jealous.NRSV Both the news that salvation is in Christ and that God accepted pagan Gentiles served to provoke Israel to jealousy. Israel had lost sight of the reason for their election as a nation; God had told Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 niv). Instead of accepting Jesus as Messiah and Savior and then taking that good news to all peoples on earth, the Jews were “hardened” for a time while God got the Good News out in other ways. But this was God’s plan all along. The blessings offered to the Gentiles would spur Israel to end their hostility toward the gospel and ultimately bring them to faith. God desires to restore Israel to himself.

11:12 Their transgression means riches for the world.NIV The Jews’ rejection of the Christ meant that the gospel was given to the rest of the world. The world was greatly blessed—those who received the gospel received great riches for eternity; and believers, in turn, have an influence for good on the rest of the world.

Their loss means riches for the Gentiles.NIV God took the riches that the Jews should have received and offered them to the Gentiles, who gladly received them.

How much greater riches will their fullness bring!NIV Paul looks beyond the present to a future time when Israel will accept the riches of salvation that God offers (see 11:26). The word fullness is to be understood in the same sense as “the full number of the Gentiles” in verse 25; in other words, all those chosen by God to receive salvation. Israel’s acceptance does not mean that the riches given to the Gentiles will be taken away; rather, when the Jews are saved, the Gentiles will enjoy even greater blessings along with them.

Paul visualized a church in Rome where Jews and Gentiles would be united in their love of God and in obedience to Christ. There were plenty of spiritual riches for everyone. If either group tried to claim sole ownership of the truth, both groups would be impoverished. God’s plan involves a large, healthy tree of life, with both Jewish and Gentile branches growing vigorously. Healthy churches come in many shapes and sizes, and the power of Jesus Christ is often demonstrated in the sheer variety of people who gather around the Cross for worship. It is spiritually healthy to ask, from time to time, “Who, or what, is at the center of the church where you worship?”

The Wild Olive—Privilege and Warning (Rom 11:13-24)

It is to the Jews that Paul has been talking up to this time, and now he turns to the Gentiles. He is the apostle to the Gentiles, but he cannot ever forget his own people. In fact he goes the length of saving that one of his main objects is to move the Jews to envy when they see what Christianity has done for the Gentiles. One of the surest ways to make a man desire Christianity is to make him see in actual life what it can do.

There was a soldier who was wounded in battle. The padre crept out and did what he could for him. He stayed with him when the remainder of the troops retreated. In the heat of the day he gave him water from his own waterbottle, while he himself remained parched with thirst. In the night, when the chill frost came down, he covered the wounded man with his own coat, and finally wrapped him up in even more of his clothes to save him from the cold. In the end the wounded man looked up at the padre. “Padre,” he said, “you’re a Christian?” “I try to be,” said the padre. “Then,” said the wounded man, “if Christianity makes a man do for another man what you have done for me, tell me about it, because I want it.” Christianity in action moved him to envy a faith which could produce a life like that.

It was Paul’s hope and prayer and ambition that some day the Jews would see what Christianity had done for the Gentiles and be moved to desire it.

To Paul it would be paradise if the Jews came in. If the rejection of the Jews had done so much, if, through it, the Gentile world had been reconciled to God, what superlative glory must come when the Jews came in. If the tragedy of rejection has had results so wonderful, what will the happy ending be like, when the tragedy of rejection has changed to the glory of reception? Paul can only say that it will be like life from the dead.

Then Paul uses two pictures to show that the Jews can never be finally rejected. All food, before it was eaten, had to be offered to God. So the law laid it down (Num 15:19-20) that, if dough was being prepared, the first part of it must be offered to God; when that was done, the whole lump of dough became sacred. It was not necessary, as it were, to offer every separate mouthful to God. The offering of the first part sanctified the whole. It was a common thing to plant sacred trees in places sacred to the gods. When the sapling was planted, it was dedicated to God; and thereafter every branch that came from it was sacred to God.

What Paul deduces from that is this—the patriarchs were sacred to God; they had in a special way heard God’s voice and obeyed God’s word; in a special way they had been chosen and consecrated by God. From them the whole nation sprang; and just as the first consecrated handful of dough made the whole lump sacred and the dedication of the sapling made the whole tree sacred, so the special consecration of its founders made the whole nation sacred in a special way to God. There is truth here. The remnant in Israel did not make themselves what they were; they inherited faith from their forefathers before them. Every one of us lives to some extent on the spiritual capital of the past. None of us is self-made. We are what godly parents and ancestors have made us; and, even if we strayed far away and shamed our heritage, we cannot totally part ourselves from the goodness and fidelity that made us what we are.

Paul goes on to use a long allegory. More than once the prophets had pictured the nation of Israel as the olive tree of God. That was natural, because the olive tree was the common est and most useful tree in the Mediterranean world. “The Lord once called you a green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit” (Jer 11:16). “His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive” (Hos 14:6). So Paul thinks of the Gentiles as branches of wild olive engrafted into the garden olive tree which was Israel. From the point of view of horticulture Paul’s picture is impossible. In horticulture it is the good olive that is grafted into the stock of the wild olive so that a fruit-bearing olive may result. The process that Paul pictures was never used in actual practice, because it would have served no useful purpose. But the point Paul wishes to make is quite clear. The Gentiles had been out in the deserts and the wildernesses and among the wild briars; and now, by the act of God’s grace, they are engrafted into the richness and fertility of the garden olive tree.

Out of this picture Paul has two words to speak.

(i) The first is a word of warning. It would have been easy for the Gentiles to develop an attitude of contempt. Had not the Jews been rejected that they might enter in? In a world where the Jews were universally hated such an attitude would have been all too easy. Paul’s warning is still necessary. In effect, he says there would have been no such thing as Christianity unless there had been Judaism first. It will be a bad day when the Christian Church forgets its debt to the root from which it sprang. It has a debt to Judaism which it can never pay by any other means than by bringing Christianity to the Jews. So Paul warns the Gentiles against contempt. Grimly, he says that if the true branches were lopped off because of their unbelief, still more can that happen to the branches which were only grafted on.

(ii) The second is a word of hope. The Gentiles have experienced God’s kindness; and the Jews his severity. If the Gentiles remain in faith they will remain in that kindness; but, if the Jews come out of their unbelief and enter into belief, once again they, too, will be engrafted in; for, says Paul, if it was possible for a wild olive to be engrafted into the garden olive tree, how much more is it possible that the olive tree’s own natural branches can be grafted in again? Once again Paul is dreaming of the day when the Jews will come in.

Much in this passage is hard to understand. It thinks in pictures which are out of our world altogether; but one thing is crystal clear—the connection between Judaism and Christianity, between the old and the new. Here is the answer to those who wish to discard the Old Testament as merely a Jewish book which is irrelevant for Christianity. He is a foolish man who kicks away the ladder which raised him to the height which he has reached. It would be a foolish branch which cut itself off from its stem. The Jewish faith is the root from which Christianity grew. The consummation will come only when the wild olive and the garden olive are one, and when there are no branches at all left unengrafted on the parent stem.

11:13-14 I am speaking to you Gentiles.NRSV We can almost sense the intensity of Paul’s words as he defines his audience. If we are not Jews, we know that the next words are meant for us. Paul singles out the Gentile believers to listen carefully to what he is going to say. They (and we) are being given an opportunity to understand their role in the divine plan. Paul will explain that the salvation of the Gentiles both depends on Israel and contributes to Israel’s salvation.

I am an apostle to the Gentiles.NKJV All of the apostles were preaching both to Jews and non-Jews, but Paul had been specially chosen and commissioned by God to go to the Gentiles: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15 niv; see also Galatians 2:3-10). Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul’s “mission” was to persecute the followers of Jesus. Once he became a Christian his ministry was to proclaim the Good News to the Gentiles. Throughout this ministry he had been a strong (and at first lone) advocate for Gentile freedom from the Jewish law.

I glorify my ministry.NRSV Paul is emphasizing God’s sending him to the Gentiles in order to somehow arouse his people to envy and save some of them.NIV Paul’s reference to envy means that he hopes to cause the Jews to recognize that God greatly blessed the Gentiles when they believed in the Jews’ own Messiah. The Jews might then realize that those blessings are still promised to them as part of God’s covenant with them, but they can only be obtained by faith in Jesus Christ. Again Paul is revealing his great desire to see his people be saved (see 9:1-3; 10:1).

11:15 If their rejection is the reconciliation of the world.NRSV Israel’s rejection by God meant that all other people could hear the Good News and be reconciled to God. But how can Paul make this statement when 11:1 states in forceful terms that God did not reject his people? In verse 1, the word translated “reject” is aposato, “putting away,” while in this verse, rejection translates the Greek word apobolei, “casting away or setting aside.” In spite of our use of the same word, Paul must have meant two different ideas. The context of the first “rejection” indicates that Paul was responding to the charge that God’s acceptance of the Gentiles meant abandoning his chosen people. This idea of “rejection” Paul does not support. In this verse, Paul presents the idea that God had always planned to include the Gentiles, even if that meant a temporary setting aside of the Jews. When the chosen people, who were designated as the vehicles of God’s blessing to the world, actually blocked that message from getting through, God made sure that the message arrived anyway. The “riches” that have been made available to the world (11:12) are found in reconciliation with God. (See the discussion on Romans 5:11; see also 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 for more on reconciliation.)

What will their acceptance be but life from the dead?NKJV The Jews had been moved aside, so God offered salvation to the Gentiles. When Jews come to Christ and God accepts them back, there is great rejoicing, as if dead people had come back to life. The structure of this verse is almost identical to verse 12, where Paul writes that the “transgression” and “loss” of the Jews brings “riches to the world,” but that their “fullness” (pleroma) will bring “much greater riches.” Several possible meanings have been suggested for life from the dead: (1) spiritual awakening in the world, (2) resurrection of the dead, and (3) the conversion of the Jews. But it is clear from the context that Paul has in mind the future role of the Jews in God’s plan. As Paul goes on to illustrate by his grafting metaphor, the “rejection” of the Jews actually allows them another opportunity to fulfill God’s purpose for them. Their terrible failure in rejecting Christ will make their eventual acceptance as vivid as the resurrection that all believers will experience.

Though we may not grasp all the nuances of Paul’s extensive argument, his purpose is unmistakable. He wants to give Gentiles every reason possible to welcome their Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith with open arms. At the same time, he wants to help his Jewish brethren reciprocate that welcome. Neither group is to claim supremacy in the church. The message is: God has made room in his family for both of you, so you must get along together.

The Patriarchs (Rom. 11:16-24)

From looking at the future, Paul next looked to the past to show Israel’s spiritual heritage. From the beginning, Israel was a special people, set apart by God. Paul used two illustrations to prove his argument that God was not finished with the Jews.

The lump of dough (v. 16a). The reference here is to Numbers 15:17-21. The first part of the dough was to be offered up to God as a symbol that the entire lump belonged to Him. The same idea was involved in the Feast of Firstfruits, when the priest offered a sheaf to the Lord as a token that the entire harvest was His (Lev. 23:9-14). The basic idea is that when God accepts the part He sanctifies the whole.

Applying this to the history of Israel, we understand Paul’s argument God accepted the founder of the nation, Abraham, and in so doing set apart his descendants as well. God also accepted the other patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, in spite of their sins or failings. This means that God must accept the “rest of the lump”—the nation of Israel.

The olive tree (vv. 16b-24). This is a symbol of the nation of Israel (Jer. 11:16-17; Hosea 14:4-6). Please keep in mind that Paul was not discussing the relationship of individual believers to God, but the place of Israel in the plan of God. The roots of the tree support the tree; again, this was a symbol of the patriarchs who founded the nation. God made His covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He cannot deny them or change them. Thus, it is God’s promise to Abraham that sustains Israel even today.

Many of the Jewish people did not believe. Paul pictured them as branches broken off the tree. But he saw an amazing thing taking place: other branches were grafted into the tree to share in the life of the tree. These branches were the Gentiles. In Romans 11:24, Paul described this “grafting in” as “contrary to nature.” Usually a cultivated branch is grafted into a wild tree and shares its life without producing its poor fruit. But in this case, it was the “wild branch” (the Gentiles) that was grafted into the good tree! “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).

To say that the olive tree, with its natural and grafted branches, is a picture of the church would be a great mistake. In the church, “there is no difference”; believers are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). God does not look on the members of Christ’s body and see them as Jews or Gentiles. The olive tree illustrates the relationship between Jew and Gentile in the program of God. The “breaking off of the branches” is the equivalent of “the fall” (Rom. 11:11), “the diminishing” (Rom. 11:12), and “the casting away” (Rom. 11:15). To read into this illustration the matter of the eternal destiny of the individual believer is to abuse the truth Paul was seeking to communicate.

Paul warned the Gentiles that they were obligated to Israel, and therefore they dared not boast of their new spiritual position (Rom. 11:18-21). The Gentiles entered into God’s plan because of faith, and not because of anything good they had done. Paul was discussing the Gentiles collectively, and not the individual experience of one believer or another.

It is worth noting that, according to Bible prophecy, the professing Gentile church will be “cut off” because of apostasy. First Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 3, along with 2 Thessalonians 2, all indicate that the professing church in the last days will depart from the faith. There is no hope for the apostate church, but there is hope for apostate Israel! Why? Because of the roots of the olive tree. God will keep His promises to the patriarchs, but God will break off the Gentiles because of their unbelief.

No matter how far Israel may stray from the truth of God, the roots are still good. God is still the “God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6; Matt. 22:23). He will keep His promises to these patriarchs. This means that the olive tree will flourish again!

11:16 If the part . . . is holy, then the whole . . . is holy.NRSV Paul believes that Israel’s refusal to accept Christ is temporary and that one day the nation will be brought back to God. He explains this through two illustrations: the first fruits and the olive tree (with its branches).

In Numbers 15:20, Moses had instructed Israel about their offerings to the Lord. After Israel entered the Promised Land, they were to show their thanks to God for the bounty of food by presenting a portion of the food to the Lord as an offering: “Present a cake from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor” (niv). If the first part of the dough (the first fruits) offered is holy, then the whole batch is holy. It is set apart for the Lord, and the whole batch is blessed.

If the root is holy, so are the branches.NKJV The second illustration is a tree. The root obviously is the first part of a tree, and it will form the “character” of the branches. Abraham’s faith was like the root of a productive olive tree, and the Jewish people are the tree’s natural branches. As a result of God’s choice and Abraham’s response, the nation that descended from him was set apart for God.

Each of these illustrations conveys a different idea. In tile first, a sample, or tithe, or firstfruits represents the whole. In the second, the foundation, source, or root determines the quality of the particulars (branches).

In the Old Testament, God made his rightful ownership over everything clear, but he only required token gifts that acknowledged his ownership. The gift represented the whole. If given to God, it was declared holy and served to sanctify the whole. Paul extends the principle to cover the fate of his people. If the firstfruits, the remnant of Jews who since Abraham had lived by faith, were called holy by God, then there is still hope for the whole, proving that God has not rejected the dough (Israel). If the root, the tree of justification by faith, is holy, then any branch attached to and nourished by that root will also be holy. In the first illustration, the part affects the fate of the whole; in the second, the whole affects the fate of its parts.

Note the present parallel to how an unbeliever comes in contact with the church. He or she may meet the church as a corporate body by attending a worship service and draw certain conclusions about the individual members from their experience with the whole. Or the person may meet the church through one or more individual members and draw certain conclusions about the whole from particular believers. What might unbelievers think about Christianity from knowing you? What might they think of Christians from attending your church?

11:17 Some of the branches were broken off.NRSV God did not tear down the entire tree, but some of the branches were broken off because of sin and unbelief. These branches are Jews who failed to respond in faith to God’s mercy. In their place, the Gentile believers, likened to a wild olive shoot were grafted in.NRSV Grafting involves inserting a bud or shoot of one plant into a slit in the stem or trunk of another plant. The shoot shares in the nourishment from the main stem or trunk (the nourishing sapNIV) and grows. Usually the cultivated olive shoots were grafted into wild olive trees (11:24), not vice versa. But Paul is emphasizing God’s special work.

11:18 Do not boast over those branches.NIV But the Gentiles, the wild olive shoots who have been grafted into the cultivated olive tree (Israel), have no grounds for boasting. The Gentile “shoots” need to remember that they are just as dependent on “the root,” for their survival as the Jewish branches they have replaced. God has not changed his original plan; salvation stems from the promise to Abraham and God’s choice of Israel. Hence Paul’s warning and explanation: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.NIV Both Jews and Gentiles share the tree’s nourishment based on faith in God. For Paul, the only appropriate attitude for any “branch” is humble thankfulness. Any attitude of superiority is to be avoided, for it might indicate that grafted-in branches are candidates for the same fate as the original ones that had been broken off (see 11:21).

Whether in worship, prayer, or our relationships with nonbelievers, from time to time all believers need to be reminded of who are the sinners and who is the Savior. There must never be any doubt who is the dependent one and who is the Sustainer. We are to share with the world a gospel they don’t deserve, while remembering that we don’t deserve it either!

11:19 “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.”NKJV A Gentile believer might make this argument. It is true that it was necessary to break off some branches in the grafting process. But it would be a mistake to assume that Paul is limiting God’s acceptance, as if there was only so much room on the tree for branches. The point is not so much replacement as opportunity. The idea is not that Jews were broken off so that we could take their place; but rather that they were broken off so that the Gentile opportunity for justification by faith might become clear. This is underscored by Paul’s assertion that even broken off branches can be grafted back in (see 11:23).

11:20 Broken off because of unbelief.NIV The real reason some of the branches of the tree, some of the nation of Israel, were broken off was because of their stubborn unbelief.

You stand by faith.NKJV The Gentiles that were grafted in are only there by their faith and by God’s grace. Thus they are warned, Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.NIV Those who are arrogant cherish proud thoughts about themselves; they do not have a proper fear and respect for God. Our relationship with God is to be one of humble dependence (see 12:3).

Jesus used many of these images to explain his own role as the vine (John 15:1-8). He spoke of his Father, the Gardener who cuts off every branch that is unproductive. He also reminded the disciples that a branch cannot survive on its own, but is entirely dependent on the vine for its survival and nourishment. The branches serve their purpose in bearing fruit.

11:21 If God did not spare the natural branches. God willingly set aside Israel because of their stumbling and blindness to the Good News. The Gentiles should remember that God will set them aside as well if they became arrogant—he will not spare them either. Some readers may wonder if Paul is speaking of apostasy in this verse. According to the context, it is not absolutely clear whether Paul is referring to those who have fallen away from the faith or those whose faith was never real. What is clear is that he is warning Gentiles not to arrogantly think that their being grafted in is irreversible. The only way they can remain in the tree is by continuing to trust in God’s grace.

11:22 Sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness.NIV God sovereignly decided to put Israel aside for a time and offer salvation through faith to all the world. This was a stem act, but it was done in judgment on those who “stumbled over” Jesus Christ (9:32-33). He has been kind to the Gentiles, but Gentile believers must continue in his kindness. This refers to steadfast perseverance in faith—continual and patient dependence on Christ. Steadfastness is a proof of the reality of faith. If Gentile believers do not continue in their perseverance in faith, they will be cut off, just as the natural branches were cut off because of their unbelief. This does not mean individual believers can lose their salvation and be cut off from God; rather, Paul is speaking from a generalized standpoint, picturing Gentiles as a group turning away from God as the nation of Israel had. God’s sternness was demonstrated in that faith was not automatic for the chosen people; and his kindness was demonstrated in providing Gentiles with the opportunity for faith.

Christianity is monotheistic, but God is not a monolithic deity. His character is infinitely varied. He is utterly consistent in the diversity of his personality. He manages to be divinely stem and kind without contradiction. It is healthy for us to worship him while contemplating as much of his awesome variety as possible. We approach him humbly, knowing that his love will motivate his sternness with us. We approach him joyfully, knowing that his kindness is wonderful to us.

11:23-24 If they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in.NIV Returning to Israel, Paul says if they will stop persisting in their unbelief, God may decide to graft them in again. If, contrary to nature, wild olive shoots can be grafted into a cultivated olive tree, certainly the natural branches can be grafted back into root stock of the cultivated tree. We become part of God’s “tree” by faith; we forfeit any potential relationship with God by unbelief Gentiles are orphans graciously adopted into God’s family. A wayward Jew who discovers the faith of Abraham is coming home.


GOD’S MERCY ON ALL / 11:25-32

Paul is coming to the end of his argument. He has faced a bewildering, and, for a Jew, a heartbreaking situation. Somehow he has had to find an explanation of the fact that God’s people rejected his Son when he came into the world. Paul never shut his eyes to that tragic fact, but he found a way in which the whole tragic situation could be fitted into the plan of God. It is true that the Jews rejected Christ; but. as Paul saw it, that rejection happened in order that Christ might be offered to the Gentiles. To maintain the sovereignty of God’s purpose, Paul even went the length of saying that it was he himself who hardened the hearts of the Jews in order to open a way to the Gentiles; but, even then, however contradictory it might sound, he still insisted on the personal responsibility of the Jews for their failure to accept God’s offer. Paul held fast at one and the same time to divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But now comes the note of hope. His argument is a little complicated, and it will make it easier if we try to separate the various strands in it.

(i) Paul was sure that this hardening of the hearts of the Jews was neither total nor permanent. It was to serve a purpose, and when that purpose had been achieved, it would be taken away.

(ii) Paul sets out the paradox of the Jewish place in the plan of God. In order that the Gentiles might come in and that the universal purpose of the gospel might be fulfilled, the Jews had arrived at a situation where they were the enemies of God. The word that Paul uses is echthroi (<G2190>). It is difficult to translate, because it has both an active and a passive meaning. It can mean either hating or hated. It may well be that in this passage it has to be read in the two meanings at the one time. The Jews were hostile to God and had refused his offer, and therefore they were under his displeasure. That was the present fact about the Jews. But there was another fact about them. Nothing could alter the fact that they were God’s chosen people and had a special place in his plan. No matter what they did, God could never go back upon his word. His promise had been made to the fathers, and it must be fulfilled. It was therefore clear to Paul, and he quotes Isa 59:20-21 to prove it, that God’s rejection of the Jews could not be permanent; they, too, in the end must come in.

(iii) Then Paul has a strange thought. “God,” he says, “shut up all men to disobedience that he may have mercy upon all.” The one thing Paul cannot conceive of is that any man of any nation could merit his own salvation. Now, if the Jews had observed complete obedience to God’s will, they might well have reckoned that they had earned the salvation of God as a right. So Paul is saying that God involved the Jews in disobedience in order that when his salvation did come to them it might be unmistakably an act of his mercy and due in no way to their merit. Neither Jew nor Gentile could ever be saved apart from the mercy of God.

In many ways Paul’s argument may seem strange to us and the “proofs” he brings forward unconvincing. Our minds and hearts may even shudder at some of the things he says. But the argument is not irrelevant, for the tremendous thing at the back of it is a philosophy of history. To Paul, God was in control. Nothing moved with aimless feet. Not even the most heartbreaking event was outside the purpose of God. Events could never run amok. The purposes of God could never be frustrated.

It is told that once a child stood at the window on a night when the gale was terrifying in its savage velocity. “God,” she said, “must have lost grip of his winds tonight.” To Paul, that was precisely what never happened. Nothing was ever out of God’s control; everything was serving his purpose.

To that Paul would have added another tremendous conviction. He would have insisted that in it and through it all, Gods purpose was a purpose of salvation and not of destruction. It may well be that Paul would even have gone the length of saying that God’s arranging of things was designed to save men even against their will. In the last analysis it was not the wrath of God which was pursuing men, but the love of God which was tracking them down.

The situation of Israel was exactly that which Francis Thompson so movingly portrayed in The Hound of Heaven.

“I fled him down the nights and down the days; I fled him down the arches of the years;

I fled him down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from him, and under running laughter.

But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat—and a Voice beat More instant than the feet—All things betray thee, who betrayest me.'”

Then comes the time when the fugitive is beaten:

“Naked I wait thy love’s uplifted stroke! My harness piece by piece thou hast hewn from me,

And smitten to my knee, I am defenceless utterly.”

Then comes the end: “Halts by me that footfall;

Is my gloom. after all, Shade of his hand, outstretched caressingly?

‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am he whom thou seekest!

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me!'”

That was exactly Israel’s situation. They fought their long battle against God; they are still fighting it. But God’s pursuing love is ever after them. Whatever else Rom 9-11 may sometimes read like, it is in the last analysis the story of the still uncompleted pursuit of love.

Paul saved his best witness for the last. He proved that the very character and work of God were involved in the future of Israel. Men may dispute about prophecy and differ in their interpretations, but let every man realize that he is dealing with God’s people, Israel.

God’s timing (v. 25). What has happened to Israel is all a part of God’s plan, and He knows what He is doing. The blinding (or hardening, Rom. 11:7) of Israel as a nation is neither total nor final: it is partial and temporary. How long will it last? “Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). There is a “fullness” for Israel (Rom. 11:12) and for the Gentiles. Today, God in His grace is visiting the Gentiles and taking out a people for His name (Acts 15:12-14). Individual Jews are being saved, of course; but this present age is primarily a time when God is visiting the Gentiles and building His church. When this present age has run its course, and the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then God will once more deal with the nation of Israel.

Romans 11:25 is one of several “until verses” in the Bible, all of which are important. Read Matthew 23:32-39; Luke 21:24; and Psalm 110:1 for other references. It is reassuring that God knows what time it is and that He is never late in fulfilling His will.

God’s promise (v. 26). The reference here is Isaiah 59:20-21; and you ought to read Isaiah 60 to complete the picture. God has promised to save His people, and He will keep His promise. There are those who interpret this as meaning salvation to individuals through the Gospel, but it is my conviction that the prophet has national conversion in mind. “All Israel shall be saved” does not mean that every Jew who has ever lived will be converted, but that the Jews living when the Redeemer returns will see Him, receive Him, and be saved. Zechariah 12-13 give the details. It seems to me that there are too many details in these Old Testament prophecies of national restoration for Israel for us to spiritualize them and apply them to the church today.

God’s covenant (vv. 27-28). This is, of course, a continuation of the quotation from Isaiah 59; but the emphasis is on the covenant of God with Israel. God chose Israel in His grace and not because of any merit in her (Deut. 7:6-11; 9:1-6). If the nation was not chosen because of its goodness, can it be rejected because of its sin? “Election” means grace, not merit. The Jewish people are “enemies” to the believing Gentiles because of their hostile attitude toward the Gospel. But to God, the Jewish people are “beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” God will not break His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God’s nature (v. 29). “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6). “God is not a man that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent” (Num. 23:19). God’s gifts to Israel, and God’s calling of Israel, cannot be taken back or changed, or God would cease to be true to His own perfect nature. The fact that Israel may not enjoy her gifts, or live up to her privileges as an elect nation, does not affect this fact one bit. God will be consistent with Himself and true to His Word no matter what men may do. “Shall their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” (Rom. 3:3, literal translation)

God’s grace (vv. 30-32). “Because of the unbelief of the Jews, you Gentiles were saved,” said Paul. “Now, may it be that through your salvation Israel will come to know Christ.” Note that Paul repeatedly reminded the saved Gentiles that they had a spiritual obligation to Israel to “provoke them to jealousy” (Rom. 10:19; 11:11, 14). Israel’s hardness is only “in part” (Rom. 11:25), which means that individual Jews can be saved. God has included “all in unbelief—Jews and Gentiles—so that all might have the opportunity to be saved by grace. “There is no difference.” If God can save Jews by His grace and mercy today, why can He not save them in the future?

We must remember that God chose the Jews so that the Gentiles might be saved. “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” was God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). The tragedy was that Israel became exclusive and failed to share the truth with the Gentiles.

They thought that the Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved. But God declared both Jews and Gentiles to be lost and condemned. This meant that He could have mercy on all because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

God’s wisdom (vv. 33-36). Having contemplated God’s great plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles, all Paul could do was sing a hymn of praise. As someone has remarked, “Theology becomes doxology!” Only a God as wise as our God could take the fall of Israel and turn it into salvation for the world! His plans will not be aborted nor will His purposes lack fulfillment. No human being can fully know the mind of the Lord; and the more we study His ways, the more we offer Him praise. Are we to conclude that God does not know what He is doing, and that the nation of Israel completely ruined His plans? Of course not! God is too wise to make plans that will not be fulfilled. Israel did not allow Him to rule, so He overruled!

Paul summoned five witnesses, and they all agreed: there is a future for Israel. When Israel recovers from her “fall” and enters into her “fullness,” the world will experience the riches of God’s grace as never before. When Jesus Christ returns and sits on David’s throne to reign over His kingdom, then Israel will be “reconciled” and “received,” and it will be like a resurrection!

The best way to summarize this section is to quote the first and last phrases:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers . . . God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.NIV As difficult as it may be for us to understand, God’s handling of the Jews and the Gentiles is intended to expose all of us to his mercy. Paul wraps up his argument by saying that in the end there will be room for both Jews and Gentiles in the plan of God. The details of exactly how God will do all this are aptly called by Paul a mystery!

When trying to understand the marvels of God’s dealings with people, we are never far from uttering the words of the disciples, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25 niv). At those times we also need to remember Jesus’ response, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 niv). We understand what we can; where we can’t, we trust.

11:25 This mystery. The temporary stumbling of Israel is part of what Paul calls a mystery (mysterion)—the word here means a truth that has been unrevealed up to this point but is now being made known. The mystery reveals, for example, that Israel’s stumbling has always been part of God’s plan. God put Israel aside for a time in order to offer salvation to the Gentiles. Paul reviews this mystery so the Gentiles will not be conceited.NIV Conceit would be a sign, that they were ignorant of God’s master plan that included everyone (see 11:32).

Israel has experienced a hardening in part.NIV The Greek word for “hardening” used here is not the same as the Greek word used in 9:17-18 describing the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart. The word in 9:18 suggests stubbornness; the word for “hardening” in this verse (and in 11:7) suggests a dullness in understanding.

This hardening is only partial (see also 11:7) because there is always a remnant that God promises to save. And the hardening is temporary, because it will only be experienced until the full number of the Gentiles has come inNRSV—that is, when all the elect of the Gentiles have come to salvation (see Acts 15:14). Then will come the “fullness” of the Jews (11:12). Everything will occur according to God’s plan.

God knows the size of that number of Gentiles who will be grafted into God’s tree of faith. We only know that the number will be complete (full). As many will have come in as are going to come in. Our main concern begins with our earnest interest in being one of that number. Here are several possible indicators that the number could be nearly full:

  • A worldwide, sweeping revival among Gentiles.
  • A prophetic fulfillment of what Christ called the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).
  • The point at which the gospel has been proclaimed in every tongue and nation (Mark 13:10).

There will be a marked increase in evangelization before Christ returns.

11:26 All Israel will be saved. This statement has provoked a variety of interpretations. The most widely held are as follows:

  • “And so all Israel will be saved” means that the majority of Jews in the final generation before Christ’s return will turn to Christ for salvation.
  • Paul is using the term Israel for the “spiritual” nation of Israel made up of everyone—Jew and Gentile—who has received salvation through faith in Christ. Thus all Israel (or all believers, the church) will receive God’s promised gift of salvation.
  • All Israel means that Israel as a whole will have a role in Christ’s kingdom. Their identity as a people won’t be discarded. God chose the nation of Israel, and he has never rejected it. He also chose the church, through Jesus Christ, and he will never reject it either. This does not mean, of course, that all Jews or all church members will be saved. It is possible to belong to a nation or to an organization without ever responding in faith. But just because some people have rejected Christ does not mean that God stops working with either Israel or the church. He continues to offer salvation freely to all.
  • “And so” means “in this way” or “this is how,” referring to the necessity of faith in Christ.

These explanations do not exclude one another, and they all serve to underscore Paul’s clear intention: to demonstrate that God had not rejected Israel. Indeed, Paul believed the nation of Israel would be restored to God. Both Jews and Gentiles will make up the flourishing tree that stands for the kingdom, as well the brush pile of broken branches prepared for burning that represents those who have rejected God’s gracious offer of forgiveness.

As it is written. To confirm his statement, Paul quotes from Isaiah, first from 59:20-21.

The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.NIV Jesus Christ is the deliverer who comes from Zion (Jerusalem). For the first and only time in this letter, Paul speaks of the second coming of Christ. At that time, Christ will purge Israel (here identified with the ancestor Jacob) of all godlessness (see also Psalm 14:7; 53:6). The mention of Jacob seems to indicate that Paul has primarily the actual descendants of Abraham in mind, rather than the broader spiritual Israel of whom he had spoken previously (see chapter 4).

11:27 Take away their sins. God also promises to cleanse his people from all sin. God had also spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel . . . I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34 niv).

God’s promise to take away . . . sins is a helpful description of forgiveness. Because we often continue to remember our sins long after we have confessed them, we assume that God also remembers them. But Scripture promises the opposite. What we keep are only memories. Confession allows God to remove the sins from our life. They are as gone as a demolished house that has been hauled to the landfill. If we continue in those sins, we are rebuilding a structure that already has been destroyed.

11:28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account.NIV Paul is still speaking to the Gentiles in his audience (11:13). In order for God to bring the gospel to them, he had to set the Jews aside—as if they were his enemies for having rejected the Good News.

As far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs.NIV But as far as God’s choice, his election, is concerned, Israel is loved by God because of his covenants with the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because God chose those men through whom he would carry out his promises, he will keep his promises to their descendants.

11:29 The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.NKJV The privileges and invitation given to Israel can never be withdrawn. God will not take back his gifts or withdraw his call. He will keep his promises. The important word is irrevocable, not irresistible. While God will not take back what he has offered, we are certainly able to reject it. Paul is making an application from God’s characteristic faithfulness to the Jews that anyone can rely on. God will do what he promises. The writer of Hebrews spoke of this same consistent purpose in God’s actions when he said, “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath” (Hebrews 6:17 niv). If God’s gifts were revocable, we could call into question his character.

11:30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience.NIV The Gentiles were disobedient before they knew God, but they received God’s mercy and offer of salvation because of Israel’s disobedience. Having received from God something that they had lacked previously, they could expect to keep on enjoying God’s mercy. By the same logic, however, the Jews could also expect God to be consistent with his promises, even though they had, for a time, rejected his mercy.

11:31 They too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.NIV From Paul’s time onward, Israel has been disobedient to God because of their refusal to accept salvation in Christ. Though they began with an advantage due to God’s gracious choice of them as his people, by being disobedient, the Jews had proved themselves equally needing God’s mercy. And Israel will receive mercy because as soon as all the elect of the Gentiles have come (see 11:25), then God’s mercy will again be directed to Israel.

In these verses, Paul shows how the Jews and the Gentiles benefit each other. Whenever God shows mercy to one group, the other shares the blessing. In God’s original plan, the Jews would be the source of God’s blessing to the Gentiles (see Genesis 12:3). When the Jews neglected this mission, God blessed the Gentiles anyway through the Jewish Messiah. He still maintained his love for the Jews because of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (“on account of the patriarchs”). But someday the faithful Jews will share in God’s mercy. God’s plans will not be thwarted; he will “have mercy on them all” (11:32).

11:32 God has imprisoned all in disobedience.NRSV When Adam sinned, all humanity sinned with him (5:19). We are all sinners: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23); “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (3:9). When people choose to follow their own passion and desires, they are boundNIV in their disobedience. People who deliberately choose to disobey God imprison themselves. It is those who understand that they have been saying no to God who are in the best position to say yes to him.

That he may be merciful to all.NRSV God can only show mercy to people who know they have been bound in their disobedience. This is God’s ultimate purpose. He is willing to have mercy on all who come to him. For a beautiful picture of Jews and Gentiles experiencing rich blessings, see Isaiah 60.



When in a large crowd, it is humbling to look around and think, “Everyone here needs the Savior!” Until we recognize profoundly God’s mercy in our own life, it is unlikely that we will seriously consider letting others know about that mercy.


The Cry of the Adoring Heart (Rom 11:33-36)

Paul never wrote a more characteristic passage than this. Here theology turns to poetry. Here the seeking of the mind turns to the adoration of the heart. In the end all must pass out in a mystery that man cannot now understand but at whose heart is love. If a man can say that all things come from God, that all things have their being through him, and that all things end in him, what more is left to say? There is a certain paradox in the human situation. God gave man a mind, and it is man’s duty to use that mind to think to the very limit of human thought. But it is also true that there are times when that limit is reached and all that is left is to accept and to adore.

“How could I praise, If such as I might understand?”

Paul had battled with a heartbreaking problem with every resource which his great mind possessed. He does not say that he has solved it, as one might neatly solve a geometrical problem; but he does say that, having done his best, he is content to leave it to the love and power of God. At many times in life there is nothing left but to say: “I cannot grasp thy mind, but with my whole heart I trust thy love. Thy will be done!”

At this point, Paul has thoroughly spoken about God’s sovereign plan for the Jews and Gentiles. So he pauses before exploring a number of practical issues that occupy the remainder of the letter. For a moment, his mind is filled with the majesty of God. Paul remembers familiar phrases from the Old Testament, and he is caught up in an expression of heartfelt praise.

11:33 Depth . . . of the wisdom and knowledge of God!NIV Here Paul bursts into a song of praise as he concludes his entire treatise in chapters 1-11 on God’s sovereign plan for our salvation. It is beyond our understanding. God’s wisdom and knowledge are far too deep for us to understand; they are unsearchable and beyond tracing!NIV Nonetheless, we can appreciate their value, for even our limited knowledge has the effect of riches in our life. We can’t know or understand everything about God, but the wisdom and knowledge that God allows us to have constantly affects how we live.

11:34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”NRSV Paul quoted from Isaiah 40:13, pointing out that God alone knows the plan. In his unsearchable wisdom he designed it. No human being was, is, or will ever be involved in giving him advice or making new suggestions.

11:35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”NIV Paul quoted loosely from Job 41:11 to point out that God is in sovereign control. He is not in our debt, we are in his!

The implication of this series of questions is that no one has fully understood the mind of the Lord. No one has been his advisor. And God owes nothing to any one of us. Isaiah and Jeremiah asked similar questions to show that we are unable to give advice to God or criticize his ways (Isaiah 40:13; Jeremiah 23:18). God alone is the possessor of absolute power and absolute wisdom.

11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.NRSV God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Omega of all life. Everything comes from him and is for him to use for his glory. God is almighty and all-powerful, but even more, he cares for us personally. No person or power can compare with God.

Paul began his letter with the statement that God left his imprint on the world he created, but that the human beings of that creation had chosen rebellion. In the past eleven chapters, Paul has examined God’s marvelous plan for bringing the rebels home. God has chosen to “have mercy on them all” (11:32). Each one of us is one of the “all.” What more can any believer, saved by grace, say than, To him be the glory forever. Amen.NRSV

Additional Comments

The Salvation of God’s True Israel (11:1-32)

Thus far in chs. 9-10 Paul has painted a very dark picture of Israel. He has implied that they are “cursed” (9:3). He has spoken of them as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (9:22, NASB). They have pursued righteousness, but have not found it (9:31-32) because of their willful ignorance of what true righteousness is (10:3). Indeed, Israel is “a disobedient and obstinate people” (10:21).

At the same time Paul has stressed the fact that God is welcoming the Gentiles as “the objects of his mercy” (9:23-24), according to prophecy (9:25-26). The Gentiles found the very righteousness the Jews were seeking (9:30), again according to God’s plan (10:19-20).

Such teaching naturally raises the question, “Did God reject his people?” (11:1). Has he simply given up on Israel, and turned his attention solely to the Gentiles? Romans 11 addresses this question and answers it with an emphatic No! God’s desire and intention are still to save as many Jews as possible, even to the point when ultimately “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).

This chapter discusses not just the fact of Israel’s salvation, but also the means by which God is accomplishing it. This involves intricate interrelationships between the Jews and the Gentiles, which God uses for the salvation of both. Even as Paul writes about this, he is overwhelmed with awe and amazement at the wisdom and mercy of God, and most appropriately closes out the chapter and the entire section with a hymn of praise to the Creator and Redeemer (11:33-36).

It is important to see that the question addressed here is different from that in ch. 9, which focuses on God’s covenant faithfulness to ethnic Israel, i.e., how he kept his promises to them and how they fulfilled their purpose in God’s plan. In ch. 11 the focus is not on the Old Covenant purpose for Israel as fulfilled in Jesus Christ (9:4-5), but on God’s intended place for Jews as individuals under the New Covenant, in terms of salvation and eternal destiny. Throughout this chapter, the issue is salvation. What is God’s plan for Israel with regard to salvation in this New Covenant age?

In this connection a major issue of interpretation is the place of Israel as a nation in this NT era. One main view is that God is still under obligation to save, restore, and preserve national Israel because of the covenant promises he made to the patriarchs. MacArthur states this position: “God cannot be finished with the nation of Israel—for the obvious reason that all of His promises to her have not yet been fulfilled” (2:92). “Because of God’s promise to Abraham and to his descendants through Isaac…, the nation of Israel has always been and always will be divinely preserved…. God’s character and integrity, His trustworthiness and faithfulness depend on His continued preservation of Israel” (2:93). “God’s unqualified promises to Israel included the assurance that He would never completely forsake her.” Even the Jews’ initial rejection of their Messiah “could not abrogate the ultimate fulfillment of His promises to them. It is that glorious truth that Paul explains and clarifies in Romans 11” (2:95).

Another main view is the one defended here, i.e., that only the Old Covenant was made with Israel as a nation, that the essence of this covenant for Israel was service and not salvation, and finally that all God’s covenant obligations to national Israel were fulfilled when Christ came into the world the first time. Under the New Covenant God is dealing with the Jews as individuals, not as a nation. He is now gathering together the remnant, the new Israel, the true spiritual Israel, from among both Gentiles and Jews. Those who believe the gospel and accept Jesus as their Messiah are added to this remnant. See Lard, 345; McGuiggan, 319-320.

The following exposition will show that Paul’s teaching in Rom 11 is more consistent with the latter view.

A. God’s True Israel Is the Remnant Chosen by Grace (11:1-6)

Has God rejected Israel? The answer to this question is already obvious in chs. 9-10. In the first place, God has not rejected them; they have rejected him. “All day long I have held out my hands” to invite them to myself, God says (10:21), but “they did not submit” (10:3). See Matt 23:37.

In the second place, even if there is a sense in which God has “rejected” Israel, he has not rejected them all. Some Jews are still among “the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” (9:23-24). These are “the remnant” of whom Isaiah spoke (9:27-29); they are the Jews who accepted God’s righteousness on God’s terms (10:1-17). They are still “his people,” Israelites in the truest sense of the word.

Near the beginning of this main section (9:6b) Paul declares that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” This means in effect that there are two Israels. One is the physical nation descended from Jacob (renamed Israel, Gen 32:28), which was called as a group into covenant relationship with God to serve his redemptive purposes. The other is the remnant, the relatively small part of the nation who as individuals put their heartfelt trust in God’s promises as the basis of their personal salvation. This remnant is “his people” in a double sense, both ethnically and spiritually.

The remnant is the subject of this paragraph. Paul’s point is that God can never be accused of rejecting “his people,” because there has always been a remnant from among the Jews who have accepted his way of grace and are thus in personal fellowship with him. Thus no matter what happens to the nation as a whole, “Israel” will never perish, because “the real Israel has always been less than the nation” (McGuiggan, 317).

1. God has Not Rejected His People (11:1-2a)

11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! The word “then” (οῦ̓ν, oun, “therefore”) indicates that this question might naturally arise from the preceding chapters. Paul simply anticipates it and responds to it. The word for “reject” is ἀπωθέω (apōtheō—here in the middle voice). It means “to push away, cast away, or thrust away (from oneself); to repel; to spurn; to reject; to disown; to repudiate.”

To be rejected or cast away by God is a terrible prospect for anyone, but for the Jews it was an absolutely unthinkable idea, given the facts that God had chosen them through Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), had established his covenant only with them at Sinai (Exod 19:5-6; see Deut 14:2), and thus had regarded them as his unique people for some 2,000 years. God described them as “my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself” (Isa 43:20b-21a). “I will be your God and you will be my people,” he promised them (Jer 7:23; see Lev 26:12).

But in view of 9:6b, we may ask, to which Israel does “his people” refer? Some think it refers only to the remnant, since “from Abraham onward only believing Israelites were ‘his people’” (Lenski, 680). Others say it refers to “the nation as a whole” (Godet, 391; see MacArthur, 2:99). Strictly speaking neither view is correct. Contra Lenski, at this point “his people” is not spiritual but physical, as Paul’s self-identification in v. 1b shows. But neither is it a reference to physical Israel as a whole, as if such a question (“Has God rejected the nation of Israel as such?”) could be answered yes or no. Rather, Paul is thinking of ethnic Jews, but he is thinking of them as individuals. Has God rejected all of them?

The answer depends upon what is meant by “rejected.” Does this “rejection” relate to Israel’s role of service in God’s redemptive plan, or does it relate to their personal, individual, eternal salvation? It cannot refer to the former, because such a question is irrelevant and meaningless. There is no sense in which God has ever rejected or will ever reject his nation Israel, either as a whole or as individuals, in reference to their role as the covenant people who prepared for the Messiah’s coming into the world. God cannot reject them in reference to this role, because every purpose for which he thus chose them has already been fulfilled (9:4-5). Because of this it is true, to be sure, that there is no longer any rationale for Israel’s continuing existence as a nation, or as Jews as distinct from Gentiles. Their existence as God’s special, unique physical nation has thus come to an end (10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). But this is not the same as being “rejected.” We may say, rather, that in full accordance with God’s plan Israel as a nation has been honorably retired from service.

“Rejected” in this context must then refer to the question of personal salvation. Has God excluded his own people, the Jews, from salvation? Has he shut them out of heaven? Is the gospel invitation closed to Jews? Such a question does not (indeed, cannot) apply to Israel as a nation, but it does apply to all Israelites as individuals.

“Did God reject his people?” The question itself contains a Greek particle (μή, ) which shows that a negative answer is intended. The question could thus be worded, “God has not rejected his people, has he?” Paul’s answer is an emphatic and resounding NO! (μὴ γένοιτο, mē genoito; see 3:4; JC, 1:228). The very idea is unthinkable, and the evidence shows that it is not in fact the case.

The first bit of evidence that God has not rejected his people, the Jews, is Paul himself: I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. Here Paul emphasizes his physical Jewishness. He is an “Israelite,” which at the very least is equivalent to “Jew” (see 9:4). He is also “of the seed of Abraham” in the literal, physical sense (see 2 Cor 11:22), specifically of “the tribe of Benjamin,” which along with Judah was one of the only two original tribes to be restored to their homeland following captivity and to remain intact into NT times. Thus “Paul shows that he is as firmly located within Judaism as anyone can be” (Dunn, 2:635).

Why does Paul make a big deal of his Jewish credentials? Some think he does so in order to make it clear that he is expressing “an authentically Jewish viewpoint” (Dunn, 2:635; see Fitzmyer, 603). I.e., he is showing that he, as a Jew, realizes just how repugnant is the whole idea that the Jews—the Jews, of all people!—could be rejected by God. He would thus be explaining why he recoils so vehemently from this suggestion (see Murray, 2:66). To paraphrase him, “I, too, am an Israelite, to whom the very idea of God’s rejection of His people is an impious and incredible idea, to be repelled with horror” (Denney, 675).

This answer is possible, but more likely Paul thoroughly identifies himself as a Jew in order to give “living evidence” that God has not rejected “his people” (Moo, 673). “How do I know that God has not excluded Jews from salvation? Because I, Paul am the most Jewish of Jews, and I am saved!” Thus Paul himself is “proof that God had not abandoned Israel” (Bruce, 211), proof that a remnant does exist. As Brunner says, Paul “himself is the strongest evidence for the fact that saving grace can even subdue a fanatical advocate of the righteousness of the law” (93).

11:2a God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Again Paul emphatically denies that God has rejected his people. The wording here (as in 11:1a) seems to be taken from 1 Sam 12:22 and Ps 94:14, which use the future tense to assert God’s promise: “The LORD will not reject his people.” Paul changes it to past tense and thus states it as a fact; God has kept his promise!

Why does Paul add the qualifier, “whom he foreknew”? This again raises the crucial question as to the essential meaning of προγινώσκω (proginōskō; see 8:29; JC, 1:505-511). Many, especially Calvinists, declare that it refers to an act of distinguishing, choosing love, and is thus the same as election or predestination. Those who take “his people” as referring only to spiritual Israel (the remnant) usually accept this meaning of “foreknew” here. Thus they take this passage as another reference to the unconditional salvific predestination of the elect remnant, especially among the Jews, similar to the Calvinist interpretations of 8:29 and 9:6-29. In this context it becomes another reason why God has not rejected his people. How could he reject the very ones whom he has chosen (“foreknown”) from all eternity for salvation? Thus “the ‘foreknowing’ is the guarantee that God has not cast off his people” (Murray, 2:67). “Foreknowledge and rejection are mutually incompatible” (Stott, 292).

Many of those who equate foreknowledge with predestination do not think it refers to the eternal salvation of the elect in this verse, however. This is because they take “his people” as referring to the Jewish nation as such. I.e., God cannot reject the nation of Israel, because he unconditionally chose it and set it apart with his electing love (i.e., his “foreknowledge”). Cranfield (2:545) takes this view: “We take it then that the relative clause refers to the general election of the people as a whole, and indicates a further ground for denying that God has cast off His people. The fact that God foreknew them (i.e., deliberately joined them to Himself in faithful love) excludes the possibility of His casting them off.” Denney says, “Israel stood before God’s eyes from eternity as His people, and in the immutableness of the sovereign love with which He made it His lies the impossibility of its rejection” (676). “Israel is the only nation God has foreknown and predetermined to be His people,” says MacArthur. Because he has done so, “He can never totally reject them” (2:100). This is not a choosing of all Israel for salvation, though; it has to do only with the nation’s irrevocable historical role as God’s special people (see Moo, 674-675; Morris, 399).

The problem with each of the above views is its erroneous understanding of foreknowledge as such. As I have shown earlier (JC, 1:505-511), foreknowledge means just that: knowing beforehand, in the sense of prior cognitive or mental awareness. “Foreknew” here could then mean the same as in 8:29, i.e., God did not reject those from among his people whom he foreknew would accept his grace through faith. The effect then would be to narrow the meaning of “his people” from the nation in general to the remnant. I.e., has God rejected his people? No, he has not rejected all of them. To be more specific, he has not rejected the ones foreknown to become believers, who by their very faith are the only ones who are truly “his people.”

I do not think this is the point, however. I take “his people” in v. 2a to be the same as in v. 1a, i.e., it refers to all ethnic Israelites and thus to the nation of Israel; but it refers to them as individuals and not as a national unit. To say that God “foreknew” his people Israel means that even before he singled them out for a central role in his redemptive plan, he knew in advance the kind of people they would be all along the historical path to the Messiah and beyond. Nothing about them—their weaknesses, their failures, their unbelief, their idolatries—took him by surprise. He foreknew all these things and chose them anyway, because he also foreknew that there would always be a faithful remnant who would turn to him with believing hearts, who would keep the messianic hope alive, and who would turn to the Messiah when he came.

Thus God’s foreknowledge of his people included a foreknowledge of their persistent rebellion (JC, 1:509), as well as a foreknowledge of a continuing, faithful remnant. The latter is the main point, as vv. 2b-5 show. Because he foreknew there would always be an abiding remnant who is the true spiritual Israel, he did not abandon his ethnic people, even though he foreknew that most of them would never respond to his gracious invitation (10:21).

2. God Had a Remnant of Believers in the OT (11:2b-4)

11:2b-3 Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? In v. 1 Paul cited himself as evidence that God has not rejected his people; now he refers to a familiar incident from the OT as a further, more general proof (Godet, 392; Hendriksen, 2:361). In so doing he explicitly affirms the remnant concept introduced in 9:27-29.

“Don’t you know” implies a positive answer: “You surely know, don’t you?” “In the passage about Elijah” refers to 1 Kgs 17:1 through 2 Kgs 2:11. Students of Scripture in Paul’s day would have known where to find this, even though they did not have chapter-and-verse divisions as we do today.

Paul refers to the specific place in the Elijah section where “he appealed to God against Israel.” This is an unusual prayer, since most “appeals” to God regarding other people are intercessory, “a positive plea on behalf of someone,” which is the way this same word is used in 8:27, 34. But here Elijah is pictured as pleading with God against someone, in fact, against the people of his own nation (Moo, 675, n. 23).

Elijah’s prayer grows out of his frustration and despair over Ahab’s and Jezebel’s success in introducing Baal-worship into Israel (1 Kgs 16:31-32). Despite the Lord’s great victory over Baal and his prophets at Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs 18:16-40), Elijah was cowed by Jezebel and went into hiding in a cave at Mt. Horeb (1 Kgs 19:1-9). Here he was confronted by God, who twice asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs 19:9,13). Both times, Elijah answered (1 Kgs 19:10,14) with the complaint selectively paraphrased by Paul here in v. 3.

Elijah’s words sum up his perception of the religious crisis facing Israel at that time. God’s prophets were certainly being killed on Jezebel’s orders (1 Kgs 18:4), and the altars were being demolished (1 Kgs 18:30-32). Elijah’s lament that he was “the only one left,” even if it refers to prophets and not just true believers in general, is surely an exaggeration reflecting more his mood of despair than the facts as he knew them (see 1 Kgs 18:13,22).

The term translated “left” (“I am the only one left”) is important because it ties in with several other words that represent the remnant concept. The word is the passive form of ὑπολείπω (hypoleipō—used only here in the NT), and means “to be left behind.” Two other one-time words from this same family used in this context are λείμμα (leimma, 11:5) and ὑπόλειμμα (hypoleimma, 9:27). Both mean “the ones left behind,” i.e., the remnant. In v. 4 a more common word meaning “to leave” καταλείπω (kataleipō) is used. Thus when Elijah complained, “I am the only one left,” he was to the point of thinking he alone constituted the remnant of true believers (or at least true prophets).

11:4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In order to shake Elijah out of his black mood, God gave him a demonstration of his solemn majesty (1 Kgs 19:11-13) and some concrete instructions (1 Kgs 19:15-17). He added the firm yet gentle reminder that Elijah was not alone; there were seven thousand other true worshipers of Yahweh in Israel (1 Kgs 19:18).

Many think the number “seven thousand” is not meant to be literal, but (since it involves the perfect number 7) is symbolic for the complete and perfect number of believers among Israel (see Cranfield, 2:547; Dunn, 2:638). Paul follows the LXX and adds the word ἀνήρ (anēr, “male”) after “seven thousand,” i.e., “seven thousand men.” For a parallel see Acts 4:4. (The NIV translates anēr [“men”] in Acts 4:4, but leaves it out here.) If the number itself is symbolic and not literal, this is irrelevant. If not, then the total number of believers in Elijah’s day were even greater than seven thousand, including women and youth (see Matt 14:21).

God’s statement, “I have reserved for myself,” uses the verb καταλείπω (kataleipō), another “remnant” term (see v. 3). Its usual meaning is “to leave.” Those with Calvinist leanings see an oblique reference to unconditional predestination in this word. “Emphasis is placed on God’s action; he had reserved these” through his “efficacious grace and differentiation,” says Murray (2:69). The term refers to “the divine decision,” says Cranfield (2:546).

But this is not the point. Certainly this is an act of God regarding these men, but God’s act is conditioned on the fact that they “have not bowed the knee to Baal.” God is telling Elijah, “There are more than just you who have remained faithful. Indeed, I have identified and singled out from the great majority of Israelites a group of seven thousand true worshipers. I have separated them from the rest; in my sight they are a different group, a remnant. These are the ones I have kept in my saving grace and in close fellowship with myself.”

They are the ones, God says, “I have reserved for myself.” They are “his people” in a special, spiritual sense. In this spiritual sense only these seven thousand belonged to God; the rest were Baal’s. This remnant alone was the true Israel of 9:6b (McGuiggan, 319). “The seven thousand are Israel to Him” (Denney, 676). Thus God did not reject his people Israel. Though most rejected him, he still counted as his own those who sought him in faith. Though most abandoned him, these are still enough—a remnant to be sure—to constitute “his people.”

3. Those Under Grace Are God’s New Covenant Israel (11:5-6)

11:5 Paul’s reference to the Elijah incident is a good example of the remnant reality in OT times, but his main point is that this is an analogy of the Jewish situation in his own day. So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. Paul uses three words to connect this verse with the preceding one: “so therefore also.” He does not want us to miss the parallel, i.e., there is no difference between Elijah’s day and “the present time.”

What is the nature of the parallel? The main point is the very existence of a remnant from among the people of Israel. God is no more rejecting his people in this gospel era than he was in Elijah’s day. In the earlier time of national apostasy at least seven thousand remained true to God, “and so in Paul’s day there was a faithful minority who had not rejected the gospel” (Bruce, 211). The existence of this remnant is sufficient to prove that God has not rejected his people, and thus that he is still faithful to his word and to his promises.

Many OT passages speak of the remnant concept. The immediate reference for most of them is the temporal deliverance of a remnant of survivors from the hands of oppressive enemies such as Assyria and Babylon (e.g., Ezra 9:8; Isa 1:9 [Rom 9:29]; Isa 10:20-22 [Rom 9:27]; Isa 11:11,16; Isa 37:4,32; Jer 6:9; Jer 23:3; Jer 31:7; Ezek 9:8; Ezek 11:13; Joel 2:32; Amos 5:15; Mic 2:12; Mic 4:6-7; Mic 7:18; Zeph 3:13). Many refer to the end of the Babylonian captivity and the restoration of the remaining Israelites to their homeland. Because this event in itself is typological of spiritual deliverance from sin, many of these remnant references have clear messianic import. Thus it is appropriate that the remnant concept be used by Paul in a spiritual sense to represent those Jews delivered by the power of Christ from their bondage to sin. They are the true Israel, in contrast with the rest who still languish in such bondage.

The second part of the parallel has to do with the means by which the remnant of Israel is distinguished from the nation as a whole, i.e., the remnant is “chosen by grace.” Literally Paul says that in this present time a remnant “has come into existence according to an election [or choice] of grace.” Even though this was not stressed in the OT itself, by virtue of the parallel being drawn here we must conclude that the Old Covenant remnant, such as the seven thousand in Elijah’s day, were also established according to an election or choice of grace.

Paul says that the New Covenant remnant has “come into existence” or has “come to be” (NASB). The word is γίνομαι (ginomai—a word the NIV completely ignores), which basically means “come to be, become, originate” (AG, 157). The perfect tense of the verb may be referring to a single past historical event that brought the New Covenant remnant into existence, i.e., the establishment of the NT church (Acts 2).

Paul’s statement that the remnant has come into existence “according to a choice of grace” is often interpreted as an affirmation of Calvinist unconditional election. It shows, says Murray, that the distinction between the nation as a whole and the remnant is due solely to “God’s gracious election,” i.e., to “the sovereign will of God” and not to “any determination proceeding from the will of man” (2:70). As such it is often equated with the election of 9:7-18 as interpreted by Calvinists (e.g., Moo, 677).

I reject this meaning for Paul’s statement. For one thing, this election is not the same as that in ch. 9. The subject here is election to salvation; in ch. 9 it was election to service. Also, we have already seen in our discussion of 8:29 that election to salvation is based upon divine foreknowledge (precognition) of human choices. The remnant is a group chosen by God, but chosen according to his foreknowledge.

What does it mean to say that the remnant has come into existence according to a choice of grace? We must keep in mind that Paul is here explaining how the remnant is different from the nation as a whole, and I believe that he does intend for us to understand this by comparing it with the election in 9:7-13. In that passage Paul emphasizes that being chosen as an instrument for God’s use in carrying out his redemptive purpose was not a matter of natural right based on natural birth, but was a matter of God’s sovereign choice. It was “God’s purpose in election” (9:11) that led him to select Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. None of these sons had an inherent claim to the privilege.

Likewise, being part of the saved remnant (spiritual Israel) is not a matter of physical birth as a Jew; no ethnic Israelite has an inherent claim to salvation. Being a part of the remnant is a matter of God’s choice, and he has the sovereign right to establish the basis or criterion by which he chooses some Israelites rather than others. Thus the remnant is according to choice, not birth. Here the election of 9:11 and that of 11:5 are similar.

But there is an important difference between these two elections. Since 9:11 was not election to salvation, it was not described as an “election of grace.” But in 11:5 the issue is salvation. The remnant consists of those within the nation of Israel who are saved, and the only way for sinners to be saved is by receiving God’s gift of his own righteousness through faith (9:30-10:13)—in other words, by grace. This speaks to another main difference between the mass of ethnic Israel and the remnant. The former sought salvation by works or by their own righteousness (9:32; 10:3), while the latter sought it by faith in the righteousness of God. Thus to say that the remnant has come into existence according to an election of grace means that God chooses to save those Jews (and Gentiles, 9:30) who themselves choose his way of grace rather than the futile way of law. “God chose to elect all those who would choose to accept the grace extended through his son” (DeWelt, 176).

We must not lose sight of Paul’s purpose for even mentioning the remnant here. His point is to show that God has not rejected his people; the existence of the remnant is evidence that he has not. The fact that he is willing to constitute this remnant according to the terms of grace rather than law shows how faithful he is, and just how determined he is to preserve “his people” in spite of their sin.

11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. This verse sums up some of the main conclusions concerning law and grace as ways of salvation that were discussed in chs. 1-5 (see also 9:30-10:4). It also reinforces the point made under 11:5 above, that the main difference between ethnic Israel and remnant Israel is the latter’s choice of grace instead of law as the only way to a saving relationship with God.

The first part of v. 6 has no stated subject in the Greek; translators usually supply “it.” We may conclude from v. 5 that “being included in the remnant” is the understood subject.

The term “no longer” is used here in a logical sense, not temporal. I.e., Paul is not saying that in earlier times remnant membership was by works, but is so no longer. Rather, he is saying that once one sees that remnant membership is by grace, then he can no longer consider it to be by works.

Dunn notes that this is the first time Paul “brings ‘works’ and ‘grace’ into direct antithesis” (2:647). This is true of the terms themselves, but not of the concepts. The whole point of chs. 1-5 was the antithesis between law (works) and grace (faith) as ways of salvation. Since faith is a key element in the grace system, sometimes “faith” or “by faith” is simply shorthand for the system as a whole. Likewise, since works are a key element in the law system, sometimes “by works” or “from works” is just shorthand for the law system as a whole—which is the case here. In 10:5-6 Paul contrasts “righteousness by law” and “righteousness by faith”; this is exactly the same contrast as that between “by grace” and “by works” in 11:6.

It is crucial that we correctly understand the meaning of “works,” which is the same as “works of law” in 3:28. As explained there (JC, 1:268-271), “works” includes any response to the laws or commandments of the Creator given to human beings as creatures, without restriction as to dispensation (Old Covenant or New Covenant), form (written or innate), and motives (good or bad). Thus it is wrong to limit “works” to obedience to the Law of Moses. It is also wrong to expand the term to include “anything that human beings do” (contra Moo, 678; see 250), since it does not refer to the Redeemer’s instructions on how to be saved, i.e., the conditions for receiving salvation. These are not a part of the Creator’s law, and are not works in the Pauline sense. See JC, 1:270; MP, 449.

Those who wrongly expand the concept of works to include “anything a person does” usually then proceed to use v. 6 to support their Calvinist interpretation of v. 5. If “works” means anything a person does, this must include not only repentance, confession, and baptism, but even faith itself, insofar as it is a decision of man’s will. Thus to Calvinists, even faith, regarded as something a person does as a result of his own choice, is a grace-canceling work. As Murray says, “If grace is conditioned in any way by human performance or by the will of man impelling to action, then grace ceases to be grace” (2:70). Grace cannot be conditioned on anything a person does, says Moo, for then grace would not be free: “For grace demands that God be perfectly free to bestow his favor on whomever he chooses. But if God’s election were based on what human beings do, his freedom would be violated and he would no longer be acting in grace” (678). Moo acknowledges that Paul distinguishes works from faith, but declares nevertheless that “Paul’s conception of God’s grace… would seem to rule out anything outside God’s own free will as a basis for his actions. To make election ultimately dependent on the human decision to believe violates Paul’s notion of the grace of God…. God’s grace is the efficient cause of salvation, human faith being not its basis but its result” (679, n. 43).

Using the same too-broad definition of works, Morris says 11:6 “rules out the idea that God foreknows what people will do and chooses the elect on the basis of this foreknowledge of their works” (402; emphasis added).

This whole approach to grace is a serious error, since it includes more in the category of works than Paul intends (as discussed above). Also, it is a false concept of the freedom that is inherently involved in grace. That grace is conditioned on certain human acts is not a violation of God’s freedom in the bestowal of grace, since he himself is the one who freely chose to do it this way and the one who freely chose what the conditions shall be. Besides, the conditions he has chosen are completely consistent with the essence of grace.

Also, election according to foreknowledge does not contradict grace because the crucial object of God’s foreknowledge is not the presence or absence of human works but the acceptance or rejection of God’s free offer of grace in accord with the gracious conditions which he himself has laid down.

Paul’s point in this verse is simply to sum up the main message of Romans, that the only way for a sinner to be saved is by grace through faith, not by the system of law. The two systems are mutually exclusive; one must choose either God’s righteousness (grace) or personal righteousness (works) as the basis for his salvation. One must rely either upon himself or upon Jesus Christ; he cannot do both. Any trust in the worthiness of one’s own achievements or the merit of one’s own accomplishments is simply incompatible with grace. Trying to get to heaven by being “good enough” nullifies the way of grace.

As applied to remnant Jews, this means that they belong to the remnant not because they are essentially better than the rest, i.e., less sinful or more law-abiding, but because they have submitted to God’s way of righteousness (10:3), which is grace. If everyone were to be accepted or rejected on the basis of his works, there would be no remnant. By its very nature the remnant is a grace entity. Though Paul is making this point specifically regarding the remnant of the Jews, it applies equally to the Gentiles, and thus to the church as a whole.

B. Unbelieving Israel has Been Hardened (11:7-10)

If only a remnant of Israel is saved, what has happened to the rest? Are they totally abandoned and forgotten by God? Having served their covenant purposes as a means of bringing Christ into the world, and paradoxically having refused to accept him as their Messiah, are they now to be completely ignored? Paul’s answer is No, but exactly how they continue to be the object of God’s attention is somewhat surprising. This is Paul’s subject in this paragraph.

11:7 What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened,… The first part of this verse is a transitional statement that sums up the preceding thoughts in terms of a contrast between “the elect” on the one hand, and “Israel” (“the others”) on the other hand.

Paul does not use the usual word for “the elect” (ἐκλεκτός, eklektos; see 8:33), but carries over the noun used in 11:5 (ἐκλογή, eklogē, “choice, election”). In this context it is synonymous with “the remnant.” The term “Israel” here refers to the physical nation in general, or “Israel as a corporate whole,” as Moo says (679). But strictly speaking, Paul is referring not to the totality of physical Israel, but only to unbelieving Jews, “the others” in contrast to the elect.

What was Israel “so earnestly” seeking? The answer can be found in 9:30-10:3; they were pursuing righteousness, a right standing before God (Denney, 677; Morris, 402; Moo, 680). In 9:30-31 Paul says the Gentiles found such righteousness though they were not seeking it, while Israel was pursuing it but did not find it. The reason they did not find it, he says (9:32; 10:3), was that they were seeking it in their own works and not in God’s gift.

The NIV translates the verb as past tense (“sought”), which is consistent with the past tense of the verbs in 9:31-32; 10:3. But here the Greek is present tense (“that which Israel is seeking for,” NASB), which implies that the Israelites in general were still seeking for this righteous standing before God.

The emphasis, though, is not on the action of seeking, but on the result of the search. The good news is that the elect remnant did obtain the sought-for righteousness. The bad news is that the vast majority, Israel as a whole, did not (see 9:30). These are simply called “the others,” or “the rest” (NASB), i.e., the rest of the Jews (not the rest of mankind in general, contra Morris, 403).

At this point Paul introduces a new and surprising thought: “the others,” the unbelieving Jews, were hardened. This theme is a prominent part of the argument in the rest of this chapter, either implicitly or explicitly. Thus it is crucial that we understand it aright. The following facts concerning this hardening will emerge in the course of Paul’s argument, but may profitably be summed up before we go any further. (1) Whatever the nature of this hardening, it is not the cause of anyone’s unbelief. The only ones hardened are those who have already rejected God’s righteousness in Christ. (2) Whatever the nature of the hardening, it is not irrevocable and final. Those hardened are still able to come to faith, as the next point indicates. (3) God’s purpose for this hardening is to use it as a means of converting many Gentiles, which in turn will be a means of converting many of the hardened Jews themselves. Thus paradoxically the ultimate goal and result of the hardening is the salvation of those who are hardened! The sequence of events is as follows: the bulk of the Jews reject the gospel; they are hardened; as a consequence Gentiles are saved; as a consequence of this, many of the hardened Jews are made jealous and are saved; and as a consequence of this, even more Gentiles are saved!

The word for “hardened” is πωρόω (pōroō), the noun form of which (πώρωσις, pōrōsis) is used in 11:25. (The meaning is the same as the verb used in 9:18, σκληρύνω [sklērynō].) The verb pōroō “is a medical term used in Hippocrates and elsewhere of a bone or hard substance growing when bones are fractured, or of a stone forming in the bladder” (SH, 314). Hence it means “to harden, to petrify”; in the NT it is used in the figurative sense: “to make dull, obdurate, insensitive.” It refers to “the heart becoming hardened or callous,” i.e., to a state in which “a covering has grown over the heart, making men incapable of receiving any new teaching however good, and making them oblivious of the wrong they are doing” (SH, 314).

In this verse the verb is passive, and the agent of the hardening is not identified. Some declare that the Jews hardened themselves. The hardening came about “through their own rejection, choosing rather to obey Satan… than the grace of God” (DeWelt, 176). Such self-hardening is certainly a biblically-attested reality (Exod 8:15,32; Heb 3:8,15; 4:7). Some identify Satan as the agent of the hardening, by God’s permission (Lard, 351; MP, 451; Godet, 398). Others say the agent of the hardening is “intentionally left vague” and indefinite (Denney, 677; Morris, 403).

There is some truth in each of these views, but the context requires us to identify God himself as the main agent in the hardening of the Jews (see 9:18; 11:8; see Murray, 2:72; Moo, 680; Stott, 293). How he did so is not explained. It is very possible that he hardened them by allowing Satan a free hand to blind their eyes. Citing 1 Kgs 22:19-23, the book of Job, and 2 Cor 4:4, Godet says that “God proves or punishes by leaving Satan to act” (398). It is also possible that God hardened the Jews simply by diminishing or withdrawing his own positive influences toward them, as he did with the Gentiles when he “gave them over” to the destructiveness of their own sinful desires (1:24,26,28; JC, 1:149-150).

In any case there is general agreement that the Jews had already hardened themselves into a state of unbelief before God performed this act of hardening upon them. Thus the divine hardening is not the cause of their rejection of the gospel, but a punishment for it. They were hardened because they deserved it; it was retribution (v. 9) for their sin. It was “a judicial penalty for refusal to heed the Word of God” (Bruce, 215; see Lenski, 686). “God has judicially blinded those of His chosen people who willfully blind themselves to Him,” says MacArthur (2:101). “God hardens only those hearts who, in rejecting His gracious offer of righteousness, harden themselves to His grace” (ibid., 103; see Hendriksen, 2:365; Morris, 403). Brunner says it well: “Hardening is being able no longer to say anything but No. God permits them to become entangled in their own No.” As with the Gentiles in ch. 1, “so he has now hardened the Jews after they have said their No. The hardening is not the original cause but God’s punishment for their unbelief” (94).

What is the result of this hardening? Some interpret it as a final sealing of these Jews in a state of unbelief, and equate it with the eternal decree of reprobation that (in Calvinist thinking) predestines some to hell, just as the eternal decree of election unconditionally predestines others to heaven (Calvin, 417; Murray, 2:72). We may conclude, says Moo, “that God’s hardening permanently binds people in the sin that they have chosen for themselves” (681).

This view is a serious error, however, and must be vigorously rejected. Not even all Calvinists agree with it. Hendriksen (2:365) says, “To include Rom. 11:7… in a list of passages proving reprobation is an error,” because “even for the hardened ones there is hope,” as the following context shows. Cranfield agrees: “The divine hardening is not God’s last word for His rebellious people” (2:550). So whatever result this hardening has, it is something done only to unbelievers, and it does not ultimately prevent them from becoming believers. It is neither absolute nor irreversible. Hence it does not contradict the principle that God does not violate any individual’s free will to choose his own eternal destiny.

The result of the hardening is Paul’s subject in vv. 8-10. It certainly involves an insensitivity toward God’s word, blinding one’s spiritual eyes and deafening one’s spiritual ears toward God’s truth. In the act of hardening God takes away “from the heart the faculty of being touched by what is good or divine,” and he takes away “from the understanding, the faculty of discerning between the true and the false, the good and the bad” (Godet, 395). In so doing God is simply confirming what is already present in the unbeliever’s heart.

Why has God so hardened the Jews? As noted above, it is in the first place a judicial act, a recompense for unbelief. But there is an even deeper reason, a positive one that flows from the deepest and wisest recesses of God’s loving heart. God has used many people, including the Jews as a nation, to carry out his redemptive purposes. Sometimes this can be done only by a limited and temporary hardening, as in the case of Pharaoh (9:18). So it is here, that by hardening “the rest” of the Jews, he can use them “as an instrument of his good pleasure” in bringing many people to salvation (see McGuiggan, 322). As Paul goes on to explain in 11:11ff., the hardening of the Jews is intended as a means by which the Gentiles may be saved, which in turn is a means by which the hardened Jews themselves may be brought to faith in their Messiah.

11:8 [A]s it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.” In this and the next two verses Paul draws from three OT passages to reinforce his assertion about the hardening of Israel. These texts are not treated as prophecies but as precedents. In v. 8 two passages are used. “God gave them a spirit of stupor” is from Isa 29:10a, “For the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep” (NASB). The last part of v. 8 is from Deut 29:4.

The words from Isa 29:10 make it clear that God is the one who is responsible for the hardening in 11:7. The word for “stupor” suggests not so much a deep sleep as a state of numbness, of being bewildered and stunned. The word is κατάνυξις (katanyxis), and probably comes from κατανύσσω (katanyssō), which means “to strike violently, to stun” (Earle, 208). Sometimes a person who has been struck on the head may seem to be fully conscious but is mentally confused and unaware of his surroundings. Just so, says Paul (as did Isaiah before him), God has enveloped Israel in a state of spiritual numbness, in “an attitude of deadness towards spiritual things” (Morris, 403), in a “mental and moral dulness [sic] or apathy” (Hendriksen, 2:364).

The word “spirit” probably means an attitude or a state of mind, but it is possible that it refers to a demonic spirit whom God permits to inflict Israel with this spiritual blindness. See 1 Sam 18:10 and 1 Kgs 22:20-23 for precedents. Whether this be the case or not, the result is God’s intention: a “punitive hardening which follows after self-hardening has fully set in” (Lenski, 687). “The eyes of their souls are shut; they see nothing rightly” (Lard, 351).

So that there may be no mistake, the “spirit of stupor” is explained with the reference to Deut 29:4, “eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear.” Again, Paul says God gave to Israel these nonseeing eyes and nonhearing ears. The mass of Israel seemed to be spiritually conscious and God-fearing; indeed they had “a zeal for God,” but it was “not in accordance with knowledge” (10:2, NASB). God reinforced their own willful ignorance by covering their spiritual eyes and stopping up their spiritual ears.

“To this very day” is part of the quotation from Deut 29:4. Moses’ point was that after forty years of wilderness wandering the Israelites still had not come to understand and appreciate what God had done for them in delivering them from Egypt and giving them their own land, even on the very eve of their possession of that land. Paul seems to be saying that the Jews of his day were still laboring under the same spiritual blindness that caused them to crucify their Messiah (1 Thess 2:14-15), and that this blindness had not yet been lifted or counteracted as 11:11-32 suggests will some day happen.

11:9-10 And David says, “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.” These two verses are taken from Ps 69:22-23. This is appropriate because Ps 69 is widely recognized as Messianic and is cited or alluded to frequently in the NT (e.g., Mark 15:23, 36 [Ps 69:21]; John 2:17 [Ps 69:9]; John 15:25 [Ps 69:4]; Acts 1:20 [Ps 69:25]; Rom 15:3 [Ps 69:9]; see Dunn, 2:642). As David wrote the Psalm, it was his prayer for God to deliver him from his enemies and to give those enemies the punishment they deserved. As Paul applies it to his time, he suggests that “what David prayed would happen to his persecutors,… God has brought upon those Jews who have resisted the gospel” (Moo, 683). “Paul takes it for granted that the doom invoked in these words has come upon the Jews,” says Denney (678).

Paul’s main point in citing these imprecations seems to be to reinforce the idea that the hardening affirmed in v. 7 is actually deserved by the unbelieving Jews. David’s prayer was for three curses to come upon his enemies. The first is that “their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block.” Here “table” may be an allusion to the OT law in general, and especially to its sacrificial system, which involved an altar and a table for eating the sacrificial meal (Denney, 678; Dunn, 2:642-643, 650). Or it may simply be a household table representing the food and fellowship of ordinary mealtime and earthly prosperity in general (Lenski, 689; Murray, 2:74).

In either case the prayer is “a wish that even the good things which these enemies enjoy may prove to be a cause of disaster to them” (Cranfield, 2:551). “Their table… is that in which they delight, and it is this which is to prove their ruin” (Denney, 678).

The second curse is that “their eyes be darkened so they cannot see.” This clearly ties in with the “spirit of stupor” in v. 8 and the hardening in v. 7, and indicates that Israel as a whole was blinded toward the truth of the gospel.

The third curse is that “their backs be bent forever.” It is difficult to tell exactly what calamity this is supposed to represent. It may be a figure for the hard labor of slavery, the heaviness of a burden, a state of weakness, or the overwhelming effects of grief or fear. Any of these could apply to first-century Judaism. Paul may be saying, “May their backs be always weak and feeble under the burden that they bear because of their rejection of the gospel” (Fitzmyer, 607). Or he may be referring to “the state of slavish fear in which the Jews shall be held as long as this judgment of hardening which keeps them outside of the gospel shall last” (Godet, 397).

The main point, though, is expressed in v. 9b, where the wish is that their table may become “a retribution for them.” The sense of this term is that of being repaid or paid back in kind. The implication is that all these curses are a recompense or retribution, a deserved penalty upon the Jews “rightly demanded by their wickedness” (Lenski, 690). It declares that “the evil which came upon the Jews was caused by their own fault and sin” (MP, 452); it “confirms the judicial character of their hardening” (Murray, 2:74).

C. The Hardening of Unbelieving Israel Becomes a Blessing for Both the Gentiles and the Jews (11:11-16)

In this paragraph Paul is still developing his answer to the question in 11:1, “Did God reject his people?” He has supported his emphatic negative answer by pointing to the existence of the “remnant chosen by grace” (vv. 1-6). But what about the mass of unbelieving Jews not included in the remnant? They “were hardened” (11:7-10).

This leads to the question of the ultimate fate of hardened Israel. Are they simply and finally lost? Is there no place for them in the kingdom? Are they totally excluded from God’s mercy and God’s plan? “What about the sinning majority? Are they lost forever?” (Morris, 405).

Paul’s answer is another emphatic No! It is true that this majority rejected their Messiah, and that God hardened them. But this is not the final word; it is not the whole story. In this section the Apostle shows how even hardened Israel is part of the larger picture of God’s mercy, or “how Israel’s failure fits into the salvific plan of God” (Fitzmyer, 608). God can use this unbelieving nation for his own redemptive purpose, and even his hardening of them furthers this purpose.

In essence, Paul explains that God’s hardening of Israel (especially the withdrawing of direct evangelistic efforts to win them) is intended to start a chain reaction that leads back to the conversion of Jews by indirect means. In summary, the hardening of unbelieving Israel “is the occasion for the coming in of the Gentiles, which, in its turn, is to have the effect of awakening the unbelieving Jews to a realization of what they are missing and so to lead to their repentance” (Cranfield, 2:553). Thus “even the hardening of Israel serves the purposes of mercy” (Achtemeier, 181). As Hendriksen remarks, God’s “purpose is ultimately one of grace, and this for the benefit of both Gentile and Jews” (2:366).

Nearly everyone agrees that this section shows that Israel’s fall and hardening are not meant to be final. Just as vv. 1-10 show that her rejection is only partial, these verses show that it is intended to be only temporary. “God’s punitive action against the majority” is “not his last word concerning Israel” (Dunn, 2:666). The Jews can be saved.

Unfortunately, many interpreters take Paul’s basic message of hope for Israel and expand it into a veritable philosophy of history. They see in this paragraph the seeds of a complicated eschatology involving a renewed special role for the Jews as a nation. I.e., they take Paul’s statements about Israel’s salvation as referring to a large-scale future conversion of the Jews en masse, and a restoration of the nation as such to their original status as the people of God. Many regard this as the key precursor to the end of this age and the final resurrection (v. 15). This theory will receive some attention in the following discussion.

11:11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Of whom is Paul speaking? Not Israel as a whole, as a corporate nation (contra Moo, 686), but only the individual Jews who rejected their Messiah and were subsequently hardened, i.e., “the others” of v. 7 (Cranfield, 2:554; Denney, 678).

The first verb, “stumble” (πταίω, ptaiō, “to stumble, to trip”) is used in a figurative or moral sense, “to make a mistake, go astray, sin” (AG, 734; see Jas 2:10; 3:2; 2 Pet 1:10). The second verb, πίπτω (piptō), has a straightforward meaning: “to fall, to fall down, to collapse.” In a moral sense it means “to fall into sin, to go astray,” and may have an even stronger sense: to “fall from a state of grace, be completely ruined, perish” (AG, 665).

There is no question that hardened Israel stumbled (9:32-33), but did they fall? Despite Paul’s emphatic No! (μὴ γένοιτο, mē genoito; see 3:4), the answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. The main reason is that v. 22 refers to these same Jews as “those who fell,” and uses the same word as in v. 11 (piptō).

So what does Paul mean in v. 11? The most common approach is to give piptō an exceptionally strong meaning here, as in the NIV: “to fall beyond recovery.” It means to be “finally lost” in the sense of “a complete and irrevocable fall,” say Sanday and Headlam (320-321). It refers to a “fall without remedy” (Lard, 354), involving “irretrievable spiritual ruin” (Moo, 687). Paul does imply that falling is more serious than merely stumbling, so this interpretation seems to fit. As Fitzmyer summarizes it, “Israel has stumbled over Christ, but it has not fallen down completely so that it cannot regain its footing” (611).

Is this interpretation acceptable? Yes. It surely fits the context, since one of Paul’s main points is that fallen Israel can indeed be saved. A serious problem, though, is that it does not seem consistent with v. 22.

Thus out of concern for v. 22, some have suggested another understanding of v. 11. The point of the question, they say, is this: did Israel stumble “merely for the purpose that they might fall” (Murray, 2:76)? Paul’s No! is not intended to deny that they have fallen; it simply means that there is more to the story than this. They have not stumbled just for the purpose of falling, or with the simple result that they are now fallen and that’s that. No, Paul’s whole point is that God has incorporated Israel’s stumbling and falling into a much larger and more glorious plan.

Is this interpretation acceptable? Yes, and in my opinion it is preferable. If anything, it fits the immediate context even better than the more common view, and it takes full account of v. 22. The main problem is that the concept of “merely” must be read into the question.

Another issue is the meaning of the word ἵνα (hina), which connects the two verbs (“so as,” NIV). This word can imply either purpose or result. If Paul intends the former, he is asking whether hardened Israel stumbled “in order that they might fall” or “for the purpose of falling.” If we read it in this sense, then Paul would be implying that God caused Israel to stumble (to reject their Messiah), and that he had a purpose for causing them to stumble. The issue then would be to identify that purpose, that “divinely intended outcome” (Dunn, 2:652). This of course assumes a Calvinist view of sovereignty and free will, as is the case with Murray, who speaks of “the overriding and overruling design of God in the stumbling and fall of Israel” (2:76).

Most interpreters, however (even among Calvinists), take hina as stating result rather than purpose. That is, has hardened Israel stumbled “with the result that” they have fallen? This meaning “makes excellent sense,” says Dunn (2:653); and this is so however one understands the concept of “falling.”

The bottom line is that most Jews have indeed stumbled, i.e., have rejected Jesus and his grace, and consequently have fallen into a state of lostness and spiritual ruin. But that is not the whole picture; that is not the end of the story. The drama of Israel does not end on such a negative note. Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.

Paul refers here to “their transgression” (singular). Is this different from the stumbling and falling in v. 11a? It may be useful to bring together and analyze the variety of terms Paul uses to describe Israel’s downfall. It seems that he distinguishes three steps in the process, the first two of which are attributable to the sinner’s will and the last of which is an act of God. The first step is the sin of rejecting God’s way of grace, most significantly the initial sin of rejecting Jesus as the only Savior. The second step is falling out of a saving relationship with God and into a state of lostness. The third step is God’s placing those who have so fallen under his wrath and curse.

The first of these steps is what Paul means by “their transgression.” It is the word παράπτωμα (paraptōma), which is “frequently used by Paul to denote ‘trespass’, ‘sin’ (in the sense of a particular sinful deed),” as Cranfield says (2:555). It is the same as the stumbling in v. 11a, i.e., their stumbling over Christ (9:32-33), their rejection of Christ as the Messiah. It is called “unbelief” in vv. 20,23, and “disobedience” in v. 30.

The second step is the Jews’ “fall” in v. 11a (see v. 22), also called their “loss” in v. 12. This is not so much an act of the sinner as the natural result of the first step (the unbelief).

The third step is God’s act of hardening (vv. 7, 25), which is his punitive response to the first two steps. This is also called his “rejection” of the Jews (v. 15), and his act of breaking off or cutting off the unbelieving branches (vv. 17,19-20,22).

In reference to the Jews’ downfall, these three steps always go together; even when only one is mentioned, the other two are assumed to be a part of the total picture. Thus here when Paul says “because of their transgression,” he does not mean the transgression alone, as distinct from the fall and the hardening. Rather, because of the transgression along with the consequent fall and the divine hardening, salvation has come to the Gentiles.

Herein lies the first element in God’s plan that evokes Paul’s extreme sense of awe and wonder at his wisdom (11:33-36), namely, that God has determined to use the Jews’ unbelief and fall (along with his own act of hardening) as a means of bringing salvation to the Gentiles! I.e., “Israel’s stumbling was the occasion for redemption to be opened to the gentiles” (Achtemeier, 180). Out of sin, salvation comes! Out of wrath, mercy comes!

This could refer to the fact that by delivering Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion, the Jews were inadvertently helping to bring about the one great act of redemption that is the source of salvation for all. More likely, though, it refers to the ordinary process of evangelism reflected in the book of Acts. I.e., once Gentile evangelism finally began (Acts 10), the missionary strategy was still to preach to the Jews first. But when the Jews typically rejected the gospel message, attention was turned to the Gentiles. As Moo says, “Paul probably had in mind the way in which he and other preachers of the gospel would turn to the Gentiles after being spurned by the Jews” (687; see Cranfield, 2:556; Bruce, 212). See Acts 13:44-52; 18:1-6; 19:8-10; 28:23-28.

But even this is not the whole story. If it were, hardened Israel would still be abandoned in their lostness. But this is not God’s plan. The other element in the divine strategy that evokes Paul’s reverent amazement is that God intends the conversion of the Gentiles to arouse the hardened Jews to jealousy (or envy) and thereby cause them to turn at last to their Messiah (see v. 14). The language Paul uses here does indicate a “divine intention” (Cranfield, 2:556). I.e., “the salvation of the Gentiles was intended in the divine providence to arouse in Israel a passionate desire for the same good gift” (Morris, 407). “Thus that hardening of which v. 7 spoke has for its ultimate purpose the salvation of those who are hardened” (Cranfield, 2:556).

Paul has already introduced this theme of “provoking to envy” in 10:19, where he cites Deut 32:21. Some may be concerned that God can speak of envy or jealousy as a motivation for accepting the gospel. Because they think of jealousy as always being sinful, it sounds to them like an “end justifies means” scheme. Some try to avoid this by using the word “emulation” instead (Lard, 355; MP, 454). But this misses the point. Emulation cannot be substituted for jealousy, since it is the effect of which jealousy is supposed to be the cause.

In the Bible jealousy is always the point of this word, but it is not always an evil attitude. God himself is often described as a “jealous God” (see GC, 409-416). Stott well says that “not all envy is tainted with selfishness, because it is not always a grudging discontent or a sinful covetousness.” The essence of envy, he says, is the desire to have for oneself what is possessed by another. It is good envy or evil envy depending on the nature of what is desired and on whether one has a right to it (297). Surely in this case the salvation possessed by the Gentiles is something good and something God wants the Jews to have anyway, and the Jews’ desire to have it will in no way diminish the Gentiles’ possession of it. Thus it is not at all an unworthy motive for accepting the gospel.

In this verse three things are linked in a cause-and-effect chain: the Jews’ transgression (their initial negative response to the gospel), Gentile salvation, and Jewish envy. It is significant that in the latter part of the verse there are no verbs, and thus no tenses (past, present, future). We know the first step has already occurred; we assume the second has at least begun (“salvation has come,” NIV, NASB). Many assume the last step (Jewish envy) is still in the future, but our conclusion on this point must be based on the following verses.

11:12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! Most of the content of this verse, rightly understood, has already been either affirmed or implied in v. 11 (Lard, 356; MP, 456-457). I.e., if the Jews’ transgression (stumbling, unbelief) results in riches (salvation) for the world (the Gentiles), and if their loss (fall) similarly results in riches (salvation) for the Gentiles, then how much more likely it is that the fullness (salvation) of the Jews will result in spiritual riches for all.

We should note that in the Greek there are no verbs (and thus no tenses) in this entire verse; thus we should be cautious about assigning to any one of these three clauses an entirely past or entirely future enactment.

The first two clauses seem to be restating the link between the Jews’ downfall and the Gentiles’ salvation taught in v. 11. “Their transgression” is the same word used in v. 11 and has the same meaning, i.e., their stumbling over and rejecting their Messiah in unbelief. “Their loss” is equivalent to the “fall” in v. 11.

The word translated “loss” (ἥττημα, hēttēma) is seldom used and is quite difficult. Some give it a numerical connotation (“diminishing, fewness, diminutiveness, reduction to a small number”), mainly based on the assumption that the corresponding word in the next clause (“fullness”) is also numerical. But this is wrong, especially since “fullness” itself should not be understood numerically. Also, it does not fit the context. The subject here is not Israel per se but the hardened portion of Israel, which in comparison with the remnant is not few but many.

The basic meaning of hēttēma seems to be “defeat” (Isa 31:8, LXX; 1 Cor 6:7), but the emphasis here seems to be more on the loss (e.g., of possessions, of freedom) that results from an actual defeat. “Loss” is thus a good translation. As a result of their rejection of their Messiah, the Jews suffered the loss of their relationship with God and of the spiritual riches of Christ’s kingdom. Thus they exist in “a state of missed blessings” (McGuiggan, 324). This contrasts well with “riches.” See Lard, 356; Murray, 2:78; McGuiggan, 323-324.

The point is that the Jews’ trespass, along with their consequent loss, is a means of bringing spiritual riches upon the Gentiles, as pointed out in v. 11. “Riches” refers to the spiritual riches of salvation and is equivalent to “salvation” in v. 11. See Eph 1:18, which refers to “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (See also 2:4; 9:23; 11:33; Eph 1:7; 2:7; 3:6, 8; Phil 4:19).

The last clause in this verse is extremely difficult. Literally it is very succinct: “by how much more their fullness” (no verb). How does this fit into the overall structure of the verse? The phrase “by how much more” (πόσῳ μᾶλλον, posō mallon) shows that some kind of comparison is being made between the first two clauses and this final clause. The common assumption is that “riches” is being compared with “more riches,” i.e., if the Jews’ transgression and loss bring riches to the Gentiles, their fullness will bring even greater riches.

I believe this misses the point, however. In six of its eight NT occurrences, the phrase posō mallon means “how much more likely it is that,” and is usually part of an argument from the lesser to the greater. This meaning fits very well here. Thus the clause is not an argument from riches to more riches, but this: “If the Jews’ transgression and loss mean riches for the Gentiles, how much more likely it is that the Jews’ fullness [means riches for the Gentiles].”

This conclusion will affect not only how we interpret v. 12, but also v. 15, where “life from the dead” is often identified with the alleged “greater riches” in v. 12. (E.g., see Moo, 689; DeWelt, 182.) Speculation then abounds. I.e., if the riches brought to the Gentiles by the Jews’ sin is (rightly) understood as their salvation (v. 11), then the greater riches (“life from the dead”) must be something even more significant than personal salvation; indeed, it must be something spectacular, such as a great future universal revival or the final general resurrection at the end-time. E.g., Denney posits some future “unimaginable blessing” (679), and Murray speaks of “unprecedented enrichment” (2:79).

But when we see that posō mallon is not really talking about “greater riches,” the basis for such speculation is gone; and when we realize also that there is no verb (and thus no future tense) in this clause, the assumption that this word refers to some great eschatological event is also weakened.

This brings us to the difficult question, what is the nature of the Jews’ “fullness” (πλήρωμα, plērōma)? There are two basic views. One is that this is a quantitative fullness, and refers to the ultimate conversion of the “full number” of Jews; the other is that the fullness is qualitative and refers to the Jews’ participation in the fullness of salvation.

The former view, that plērōma means “full and completed number,” is, as Cranfield notes, “widely accepted”; and in his opinion it “seems very much more likely” than any other view (2:558). It refers to “the entrance of the full complement of the nation into the Messianic kingdom,” say Sanday and Headlam (322). The TEV translates it “complete number.” This is often paralleled with a numeric interpretation of hēttēma in the previous clause; see the NEB: “If their falling-off [hēttēma] means the enrichment of the Gentiles, how much more their coming to full strength!”

To what, then, would this refer? The most common idea is that it refers to a future large-scale conversion of Jews, in contrast with the present “remnant” situation. Israel’s “diminishing to a small number,” says Godet, will be reversed by a “national conversion” of “the totality of the then living members of the people of Israel” (400-401). “Paul cannot rest content in the thought of only a remnant saved,” says Dunn (2:655). We must assume that the Apostle is referring to a future “conversion on a large scale,” in line with 11:25, says Lard (357). See also Stott, 296; Moo, 689-690.

Some expand this idea to include the restoration of the Jews to their original status as God’s chosen people. The word “fullness” means “a mass restoration of Israel is in view,” says Murray. “Nothing else than a restoration of Israel as a people to faith, privilege, and blessing can satisfy the terms of this passage” (2:79, 80). This is often linked with the establishment of a millennial kingdom in the premillennial sense (e.g., MacArthur, 2:110-111).

Others agree that “fullness” means “full number,” but interpret this (in a Calvinist sense) to mean the full number of elect Jews as they are gradually converted over the full course of Christian history. This is Hendriksen’s view: “The salvation of the full number of Israelites who had been predestined to be saved (cf. 9:6)—hence, not just the salvation of a remnant at any one particular time (see 11:5)—would progressively bring an abundance of blessings to the entire world” (2:367).

The meaning of v. 12 would then be, in Cranfield’s words, as follows: “If the present unbelief of the majority of Israel actually means the enrichment of the Gentiles, how much more wonderfully enriching must the situation resulting from the provoking to jealousy of this majority of Israel be!” (2:557-558).

The other view, and in my opinion the correct one, is that the plērōma of the Jews is meant in a qualitative sense and refers to spiritual fullness, or being filled with all the abundance of salvation. The word itself as used elsewhere in the NT does not refer to “full number” but to “completeness, abundance.” See, e.g., John 1:16, “the fullness of his grace”; Rom 15:29, “the full measure of the blessing of Christ”; Eph 1:23, “the fullness of him [Christ]”; Eph 3:19, “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”; Eph 4:13, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Compare the way the verb πληρόω [plēroō] is used in Rom 15:13-14; Eph 3:19; 5:18; Phil 1:11; Col 2:10.)

This meaning also fits the context. In v. 12 itself, “fullness” is in contrast with both “transgression” and “loss,” words that sum up the lost state as opposed to salvation. This is an especially appropriate contrast with “loss,” which as we have seen does not have a numerical connotation; the point is simply the lost state as compared with the saved state.

Also regarding context, this meaning is better in view of the connection between v. 11 and v. 12. Verse 11 describes a cause-and-effect chain: the Jews’ transgression leads to Gentile salvation which leads to Jewish envy. The reference to Jewish envy implies Jewish salvation, since this is its intended result (see v. 14). As noted above, v. 12 is giving further reflection on the relations among these three items, especially the idea that the Jews’ transgression results in riches (salvation) for the Gentiles. The one thought added in v. 12 is that the Jewish envy (and thus salvation) produced by the Gentiles’ conversion would in turn lead to even more Gentiles being saved. Thus it is natural to take “fullness” in v. 12 as referring to the Jews’ salvation, which in context corresponds to (since in fact it grows out of) their envy in v. 11.

As another contextual note, we shall see later that this meaning best corresponds to the meaning of plērōma in v. 25.

Thus I agree with McGuiggan when he says that the Jews’ fullness is the “rich blessedness” they receive when they abandon their unbelief and accept their Messiah’s salvation. “Israel by unbelief lost blessings, Israel by faith would be fully blessed.” McGuiggan rightly says, “There is no ground in the text whatever for supposing that ‘fulness’ is somewhat equivalent to a conversion of Jews ‘on a national scale’ or ‘on a scale commensurate with their rejection’ (numerically speaking).” In fact, in v. 12 “there is no allusion to the number of Jews lost and (therefore, in the antithesis) there is no mention of the number of Jews (to be) saved…. ‘Fullness’ speaks of a rich state of blessedness as opposed to ‘loss’” (324). See Lenski, 695.

We must also emphasize that the text does not project this conversion of the Jews to some distant future date; it does not preclude that it could already be happening at that very time. (Remember: the verse has no verbs and no tenses.) In fact, in vv. 13-14 Paul implies that his own ministry is already producing this result.

We must remember that the main point of v. 12 is not about the Jews but about the Gentiles, i.e., what will happen to the Gentiles as a result of the Jews’ unbelief as well as their belief. If some Gentiles are saved as the result of the Jews’ rejection of the gospel, then we have even more reason to expect Gentiles to be saved as the result of the Jews’ envy-induced acceptance of the gospel.

11:13-14 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. Many think v. 13a shows that the Gentiles were in the majority in the church at Rome (e.g., Dunn, 2:655, 669; Moo, 691, n. 39), but Cranfield is right that such a conclusion cannot be drawn from this verse (2:559). Paul is simply saying that he wants the Gentiles among his readers to pay special attention to what he is saying, not just in what follows but in the preceding verses as well.

This is true for two reasons. One, in this whole main section, Israel has been the focus of attention; the Gentiles have entered the discussion only marginally. Thus the latter group “may well have been reasoning that all this about the Jews had little to do with them. They may have wondered why the apostle to the Gentiles should be spending so much time worrying about the Jews” (Morris, 408). Thus Paul stops to reassure the Gentiles that he has not forgotten the main focus of his ministry. He wants them to see “that this argument has an application to Gentiles as well as Jews.” He is saying, in effect, “Do not think that what I am saying has nothing to do with you Gentiles. It makes me even more zealous in my work for you” (SH, 323-324). What he is showing them is that the welfare of the Jews and the Gentiles is entertwined.

Paul’s other reason for addressing the Gentiles specifically is the possibility that what he teaches about Gentile salvation in vv. 11-12 may lead some to develop an attitude of arrogance toward the Jews (see v. 20). He does not want them to conclude that the Jews are merely a means to an end, that end being the salvation and exaltation of the Gentiles. Paul assures them of his own genuine concern for the Jews’ salvation, and in the next section he shows them how much they owe to the Jews (vv. 17-24). He declares that even as God’s Apostle to the Gentiles, his work in that capacity has “an Israel-ward significance” (Cranfield, 2:559).

Paul says, “I make much of my ministry.” It is possible that διακονία (diakonia, “ministry”) here means “office” (KJV) in a special technical sense (see, e.g., Acts 1:25; 2 Cor 4:1; Col 4:17). More likely it means simply “ministry” or “area of service” or “mission,” i.e., his specific assignment to be the apostle to the Gentiles. “Make much of” is δοξάζω (doxazō), which means “to honor, to praise, to glorify.” It is usually used of giving glory to God, and is rarely used of men or anything human (see 8:30; 1 Cor 12:26; negatively, see Matt 6:2). Paul does not say that he honors or glorifies himself, but he glorifies his ministry as a task given to him by God. Thus he honors it not because of its fulfillment in himself but because of its origin in God.

Paul’s point is that he has the highest respect for his calling, and approaches it with the utmost seriousness and diligence. “He honours and reverences his ministry to the Gentiles, and so fulfils it with all might and devotion” (Cranfield, 2:560).

To what end does Paul honor his ministry? It is taken for granted that he does so in order to win converts from among the Gentiles, but in view of the divine plan spelled out in v. 11, he knows that his ministry is also an indirect means of bringing his own kinsmen to faith in Christ. “My own people” is literally “my flesh” (see 9:3), i.e., the Jews, “Israel according to the flesh” (1 Cor 10:18, lit.). The relation between their envy and their salvation has already been implied in vv. 11-12 (see the explanation of “fullness” in v. 12 above). Thus he glorifies his ministry, because “the more Gentiles Paul converts, the more of this jealousy he creates,… which results in conversions of the Jews” (Lenski, 697).

Paul understands that this process will not be automatic and will not convert every Jew. He pursues his apostleship to the Gentiles “in the hope that” some Jews may be saved thereby. “In the hope that I may somehow” translates εἴ πως (ei pōs) plus the subjunctive case of the verb. This is “an expression of expectation,” says Dunn (2:656), but as Moo says, it is a “hesitant expectation” (692, n. 46).

Why does Paul say “some of them”? Some interpreters think he says this because he knows that the number of Jews who will be saved through his own ministry will be few in comparison with the great ingathering and restoration of the Jewish people in the future. Thus his converts “are a precious foretoken of the salvation referred to in v. 26” (Cranfield, 2:561), or of the “fullness” in v. 12. As Moo says, “Paul does not see himself… as the figure whom God will use to bring Israel to its destined ‘fullness’” (692).

I believe this misses the point, especially since the whole idea of a future large-scale conversion of Jews is far from certain. We must look elsewhere for the reasons why Paul says “some of them.” First, he refers here only to the results of his own ministry, and he knew that Jews were being won to Christ by other evangelists and would continue to be won by others in later generations. Second, Paul knew from experience that the salvation of every individual Jew was too much to hope for. He knew that the unbelieving Jews of his own generation were hardened and strongly resistant to the gospel. But at the same time he knew that they still had the free will to believe, and that arousing them to envy was a means to this end. Thus by fulfilling his ministry to the Gentiles, he expected “some” of his ethnic brothers to be saved, but not all.

11:15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? “For” indicates this verse is explaining something or giving a reason for something in the preceding context. Some take vv. 13-14 as a parenthesis, with v. 15 going back and picking up especially on v. 12 and repeating it in more specific terms (e.g., Fitzmyer, 612). Others see v. 15 as explaining the last clause in v. 14, i.e., as explaining why Paul is so enthusiastic about his ministry to the Gentiles (e.g., Lard, 358; Cranfield, 2:561-562).

I think it is best to see v. 15 as reaching back into both v. 12 and vv. 13-14, accomplishing both of the purposes named above at the same time (SH, 325). The key thought linking the end of v. 12 and the end of v. 14 with v. 15 is the salvation (fullness, acceptance) of some of the hardened Jews. In v. 15 Paul is stating why he wants to see as many as possible from this group come to salvation, because that is nothing less than “life from the dead.”

We cannot ignore the fact that the form of this verse is very close to that of v. 12: if A leads to B, then surely C leads to D. “Their transgression” and “their loss” in v. 12 correspond to “their rejection” in v. 15. In both cases “their” refers to the unbelieving, hardened Jews. In v. 12 their transgression and loss refer to their unbelief and subsequent lost state. But what is the meaning of “rejection” in v. 15?

The word translated “rejection” is ἀποβολή (apobolē), which comes from the verb ἀποβάλλω (apoballō), which means “to throw away, to reject, to remove, to lose.” Dunn is correct (2:657) that the contrast with “acceptance” in v. 15b means that apobolē refers to the deliberate act of throwing away or rejecting something, rather than the passive act of losing something. But the question is, who is rejecting whom?

Some say it is the Jews’ rejection of Christ and the gospel of his grace. Thus it would be equivalent to “transgression” in vv. 11-12. Fitzmyer prefers this view since 11:1 specifically affirms that God has not rejected his people (612). However, in spite of v. 1, most take v. 15 to mean God’s rejection of the Jews, “their temporary casting away by God” (Cranfield, 2:562; see Moo, 692-693). This is equivalent to God’s hardening of Israel (v. 7), and his breaking off of some of the branches (vv. 17-20). It is “God’s response to Jewish unbelief” (McGuiggan, 327).

But in v. 1 did not Paul emphatically deny that God has rejected his people? How then can he say here that they have been rejected? The Greek words are different, but the concepts seem to be the same. Is there a contradiction, then? The answer is No, and the reason for this is very important. In v. 1 the issue is whether God has rejected the Jews as such, just because they are Jews. I.e., has he rejected every one of “his people”? The answer is obviously No, because there is a remnant of true believers who have not been rejected. But in v. 15 Paul is talking only about the nonremnant Jews, the unbelieving Jews who rejected the gospel and whom God hardened. After their initial refusal to accept their Messiah, God rejected them (hardened them, broke them off the tree).

It is important to understand this so that we do not interpret v. 15 as referring to Israel as a nation. This verse says nothing about God’s relationship with the nation as a whole. It refers only to those individual Jews who spurned the gospel and were consequently rejected by God, and to those individual Jews from among this group who later respond to the gospel and are consequently accepted by God—as individuals, on an individual basis. When we try to interpret v. 15 as referring to the Jews in general, or to the Jews as a corporate group, then we place it in conflict with v. 1.

God’s rejection of the unbelieving Jews leads to the “reconciliation of the world.” Here “world” must be taken in light of v. 12, where it refers especially to the Gentiles (Murray, 2:81; Lenski, 699-700). Thus the point is exactly the same as in the first two clauses of v. 12. “Riches for the world” (v. 12) and “the reconciliation of the world” (v. 15) both refer to the salvation of the Gentiles, with “reconciliation” being a specific aspect of that salvation (see 5:10; JC, 1:326-327). Reconciliation basically means the removal of hostility and the restoration of peace and friendship between two estranged parties. Some think this possibly refers to “the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in one new people of God” (Barrett, 215; see Stott, 298). Others think it refers to the objective reconciliation of the whole world to God through Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice, even if it is not accepted by all and applied to all (see 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:19). This is Cranfield’s view (2:562). Most probably, though, it refers to the actual subjective reconciliation of the believer to God, which is one aspect of individual salvation and the conversion process (see Lenski, 699; Moo, 693, n. 58). This reinforces the point made in the last paragraph, that Paul is thinking here of individuals rather than groups.

We now turn our attention to the second part of the verse, which is similar to the last clause in v. 12, both in its meaning and in its relation to the rest of the verse. I.e., if the assertion in the first part of the verse is true, then that gives us all the more reason to believe the second part.

“What will their acceptance be” is literally “what the acceptance.” There is no verb, and no possessive pronoun (“their”). The latter should probably be understood, in view of the similarity to v. 12; but the insertion of the future tense (“will be”) is based as much (if not more) on doctrinal presuppositions as on exegetical considerations. The word for “acceptance” is used only here in the NT, but the uses of its verb form support the translation “acceptance.” Other possibilities are “reception,” “taking to oneself,” “acquisition” (Dunn, 2:657), and “the act of welcoming” (Godet, 403).

As with v. 15a we must ask the question, who is accepting whom? Some take it as referring to the Jews’ “acceptance or welcoming of the gospel” (Fitzmyer, 612), but most take it to mean God’s acceptance of repentant Jews back into a saving relationship with himself (Moo, 693). God has rejected them because of their unbelief (15a), but he is just as eager to receive them back to himself if they will but turn to him.

What is this acceptance? Since it is the grammatical equivalent of “fullness” in v. 12, and since many interpret that fullness to mean a dramatic, large-scale, end-time conversion of the Jewish people, this is a common interpretation of “acceptance” as well. It is “God’s final acceptance of what is now unbelieving Israel,” says Cranfield (2:562). “Here again we supply will be, and make the Apostle assert the future conversion of the Jews,” says Lard (358). It refers, says Murray, to “the reception of Israel again into the favour and blessing of God,” i.e., “Israel as a whole,” or “the mass of Israel” (2:81).

There is no reason other than a dogmatic one to interpret the acceptance thus, however. We have seen that “fullness” in v. 12 need not have this meaning, and more likely refers to the salvation of individual Jews, something that was already occurring even as Paul wrote. Also, the “rejection” in v. 15a refers to the unbelieving Jews as individuals, not to the Jews as a nation; the same must be true of their “acceptance.” We must also remember that there is no future-tense verb in the original text. Thus it is altogether appropriate to interpret this acceptance of the Jews as referring to the ongoing conversion of individual Jews, something that was already happening in Paul’s day (Lenski, 700).

What happens when hardened Jews are converted? Well, says Paul, if God’s casting away of the Jews results in the reconciliation of Gentiles to God, what can we expect as a result of their return and reception except “life from the dead”? This leads to our discussion of one of the most controversial expressions in this chapter, “life from the dead.” Only v. 26 has “sparked more disagreement,” says Moo (694).

What does it mean? Stott has identified three main answers: the literal, figurative, and spiritual views (298). Now, giving life to the dead in any sense is a marvelous event (see 4:17), but defenders of the first two of these views believe that in this case it must refer to some future, worldwide, awesome resurrection of unprecedented magnitude. This approach is based on their perception of Paul’s lesser-to-greater arguments in both v. 12 and v. 15.

The common assumption is that in v. 12, the lesser element of the argument includes “riches,” so the corresponding greater element must be “greater riches.” Likewise it is assumed that in v. 15 the lesser includes “reconciliation,” so the corresponding greater must be “life from the dead.” In both verses what is perceived as the lesser element is identified with the individual’s present experience of salvation. Therefore the “greater riches” and “life from the dead” must be something greater than present salvation. Therefore since regeneration is part of this present salvation, then “life from the dead” cannot be regeneration but must refer to something of much greater magnitude. As Stott says, “Much greater riches demands to be understood as something new, even spectacular. To refer it to the new life in Christ which we already enjoy would be an anticlimax” (298). Cranfield agrees, declaring that “life from the dead” “must clearly denote something surpassing everything signified” by “salvation” in v. 11, by the “riches” in v. 12, and by “reconciliation” in v. 15. Therefore “it cannot denote the spiritual blessings already being enjoyed by the believing Gentiles” (2:562). Dunn agrees that it must be “something more wonderful” (2:658), as does Moo: “The logic of the verse shows that it must refer to a blessing even greater or more climactic than the extension of reconciliation to the Gentiles.” Why? Because “Paul argues from the lesser to the greater” (694).

What, then, is this greater “life from the dead”? The literal view says it refers to the final bodily resurrection of all the dead at the Second Coming of Christ, as preceded and signaled by the mass conversion of the Jews. This is Cranfield’s view (2:563). It is clearly an eschatological event, says Dunn, i.e., “the final resurrection at the end of the age” (2:658). Moo agrees and gives a helpful listing of those holding to or sympathetic with this approach (694, n. 61). He also gives three main arguments for the view (695-696), citing the frequency with which the phrase “from the dead” is used of the final resurrection in the NT, the relation of this event to other parts of the total process described in ch. 11, and Paul’s general apocalyptic tendencies.

The second view agrees that “life from the dead” must refer to some sort of sensational, unparalleled event, but interprets it in a figurative sense. It says that the Jews’ fullness and reception will trigger some sort of “world-wide blessing which will so far surpass anything before experienced that it can only be likened to new life out of death” (Stott, 298). This will be “a great spiritual movement” (Morris, 411), “an unprecedented, semi-miraculous revival” (MP, 458), “an unprecedented quickening for the world in the expansion and success of the gospel” (Murray, 2:84), “a vast and intense revival of true religion from a state which, by comparison, was religious death” (Moule, 193). Since this is something triggered by the mass conversion of Jews, it must be a mass conversion of the Gentiles (Godet, 404), a “great spiritual harvest” from among the Gentiles (Lard, 359).

The final view, the spiritual view, is that “life from the dead” refers to an element of the individual’s present salvation experience, namely, regeneration (see 6:4,11; 8:10; Eph 2:1-5; Col 2:12-13). Thus it is part of the “salvation” and the “riches” mentioned in vv. 11-12, and is in the same category as the “reconciliation” named in v. 15a. This, I believe, is the correct view.

But what about the common assumption that “life from the dead” must be something much different from and greater than this, in view of the fact that Paul is arguing from the lesser to the greater? In my judgment this is a major error based on a faulty understanding of the lesser-to-greater argument as Paul uses it here. As explained above in v. 12, the whole concept of “greater riches” misses Paul’s point. There he is not arguing that if a lesser cause produces a significant effect (“riches”), then a greater cause will produce an even more significant effect (“greater riches”). Rather, he argues that if the lesser cause produces a significant effect, we have even greater reason to expect a greater cause to produce a similar effect. No greater effect is mentioned in the verse. The point is that the first two views above are based mainly on the assumption of an equivalence with the argument in v. 12, which itself is misinterpreted.

But what about v. 15? Indeed, there is a lesser-to-greater argument here, but the language is different from v. 12 and the logical force is weaker (Lenski, 701). But it is equivalent to v. 12 in the sense that the lesser-to-greater element in v. 15 (as in v. 12) lies only in the comparative causes in the two clauses, not in the effects. I.e., if the lesser cause (rejection of the Jews) produces a significant effect, then surely a greater cause (acceptance of the Jews) can be expected to produce a similarly significant effect. Thus the argument that “the logic of the verse” rules out the spiritual view is without foundation in fact.

Other considerations should be kept in mind. For example, we must remember that there are no verbs in this verse, and therefore no grammatical reason to think that “life from the dead” refers to some event that is only future. Also, the argument that the terminology “from the dead” refers only to the future bodily resurrection is offset by other linguistic data spelled out in detail by Murray (2:82-83). Also, apart from unfounded speculation regarding the meaning of “fullness” (vv. 12,25) the whole theme of eschatology simply does not appear in this context. The subject of personal salvation is dominant.

Thus we must see “life from the dead” as referring to the spiritual experience of regeneration, of passing over from the state of spiritual death to the state of spiritual life (John 5:24; Col 2:12-13). Paul may be including the Gentiles within the scope of this statement, but its main application is to the Jews themselves. I.e., if the Jews’ rejection results in reconciliation for the Gentiles, then the Jews’ reception results in their own resurrection to new life in Christ. See Lenski, 701-702; Hendriksen, 2:369. As McGuiggan says, “The Jewish ‘received’ state is called ‘life from the dead’. It is the return of the prodigal in Luke 15. The boy had been lost and was therefore miserably unblessed; he had been ‘dead’ and was now ‘alive from the dead’” (327). Referring to 4:17, Wright says that “the natural meaning of 11.15” is this: ‘When a Gentile comes into the family of Christ, it is as it were a creatio ex nihilo, but when a Jew comes in it is like a resurrection’” (Climax, 248).

When we understand it this way, we see that v. 15 is just summing up what Paul has said thus far in this paragraph. Verse 15a focuses on the spiritual riches enjoyed by the Gentiles, brought about by the Jews’ unbelief and rejection (vv. 11-12); and v. 15b focuses on the salvation of the Jews themselves, brought about by their own envy of the Gentiles (vv. 13-14).

11:16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. Though many take this verse as starting the next paragraph, I agree with the NIV that it concludes the thought begun at v. 11. The general subject is still that there is hope for the salvation of the hardened portion of Israel. The main point is that God still has a special place in his heart for “his people,” even those who have rejected their Messiah. This does not mean that they receive special treatment with reference to salvation (see 2:1-3:20), but it does mean that God still loves them and will make every possible effort to save them.

This verse uses two metaphors. The first is based on the fact of the divine ownership of all things. To reinforce this fact in the minds of the Jews, God required that the first portion of any product be set apart (made holy) to him in a special way. Paul is here alluding to one example of this general practice, i.e., presenting as an offering to God a portion of bread made from the meal ground from the first-harvested grain (Num 15:17-21). Though Num 15 does not specifically state this, based on the general practice it is assumed that the offering of the firstfruits “thereby consecrated to the Lord the entire grain harvest” (Hendriksen, 2:369), or all the flour and dough made from it.

The second metaphor is the relation of a tree’s root to its branches. Since the root is the beginning of the pipeline through which the rest of a tree is watered and nourished, the condition of the root naturally affects the status of the branches as well. I.e., “if the root is holy, so are the branches.”

The question is, what do these metaphors represent? In answering this question, two cautions must be observed. First, we should not assume that they are identical in meaning. Second, we should not assume that the point of the root-branches metaphor in v. 16 is the same as the point of the extended root-branches metaphor in vv. 17-24.

Some do take the metaphors to be parallel. For example, some have understood the firstfruits and the root to refer to Jesus Christ. In view of the context, though, it is more probable that they refer somehow to the Jews. The most common view is that the firstfruits and root refer to the patriarchs, especially Abraham, while the “whole batch” or entire “lump” (KJV, NASB), as well as the branches, refer to all the Jews who have descended from them. According to most who hold this view, the Jews as a nation will always be treated in a special way because of their relation to “the patriarchs” (v. 28). Moo says, “Both of the metaphors in v. 16, then, assert that the ‘holiness’ of the patriarchs conveys to all of Israel a similar holiness” (700). See MP, 463; SH, 326.

What, then, would be the nature of this shared holiness? In a generic sense, to be holy means to be separated or set apart from all the rest; in a religious generic sense it means to be set apart for God or consecrated to God in a way that is special but does not necessarily involve salvation. Some interpret v. 16 thus, as God’s promise that the nation of Israel will always be a distinct and special people, just as the patriarchs were set apart in the beginning. Many tie this in with the idea that God will one day restore the Jewish nation to its “original pre-eminence as leaders in the worship of Jehovah” (MP, 464). This does not assert “the salvation of every Israelite but the continuing ‘special’ identity of the people of Israel in the eyes of the Lord” (Moo, 701). As such this verse gives “support for the ultimate recovery of Israel,” says Murray (2:85). Here Paul gives “the grounds of his confidence in the future of Israel” (SH, 326).

Some do interpret “holiness” in a salvific sense, however, and see this verse as a promise that all Israel will one day be saved (see v. 26). To some this means spiritual Israel only, i.e., “all the spiritual descendants” of the patriarchs (Lenski, 703). To others it is a promise that one day all (or a great majority of) ethnic Jews will be saved. In this verse, says Morris, “Paul proceeds to bring out the certainty that Israel will in due course enter salvation” (411; see MacArthur, 2:114).

I disagree with all of the above views. A key point is that the two metaphors are not parallel in their meaning, as if the firstfruits and the root refer to the same thing, and the lump and the branches refer to the same thing. What do they mean, then? In other texts Paul uses the term “firstfruits” (ἀπαρχή, aparchē) to refer to the first converts in a particular context (16:5; 1 Cor 16:15). That is the point of the first metaphor here. The firstfruits are the early Jewish converts, the Jewish Christian remnant; the “batch” is the Jews as a whole, especially the unbelieving and hardened ones.

Also, “holy” here does have the connotation of salvation. This does not imply, though, that just as the first converts have been saved, so ultimately all Jews will be saved. It means this, rather: if some Jews can be saved, then all Jews can be saved. Lard says it right: “If the first Jewish christians were accepted of God, the whole nation is capable of being accepted. They are not irrevocably rejected” (360; see DeWelt, 183). It is the same hope that Paul holds out in this paragraph when he refers to the “fullness” and “acceptance” of the Jews (vv. 12,15).

The second metaphor is slightly different. The root includes the patriarchs but not them alone; it refers to the entire OT Israelite nation considered as a whole. The branches are all ethnic Jews living in the NT era, considered as individuals. Here the primary connotation of “holy” is the generic concept of “set apart” or “consecrated” to God, but its ultimate reference is still to salvation. The point is this: under the Old Covenant God chose the nation of Israel to be the instrument by which he worked his redemptive purpose in the world (9:6-29). Even though he no longer has a special purpose for Israel as a nation, nevertheless the love and concern he had for “his people” in OT times carries forward into the gospel era. Every branch, i.e., every individual Jew, is just as personally precious and special to him today as was the root, the nation of old. Thus the door of salvation is still open even to the hardened, unbelieving Jews. God is waiting to add them to the remnant.

The point of the verse, then, is not to promise that Israel as a nation will be restored to its OT prominence, nor to guarantee that all Jews actually will be saved. Rather, it is to stress the fact that any and all Jews can be saved (v. 16a), and that God wants them to be saved (v. 16b). Following up on this, the point of the next paragraph is to show exactly how they can be saved.

D. The Olive Tree: A Metaphor of Judgment and Hope (11:17-24)


In this paragraph Paul stays with the metaphor of the olive tree, but he expands it considerably and uses it for different purposes. In brief, he uses it to show how the NT church is related to OT Israel, and how Jews and Gentiles are related to the church. The main point of vv. 17-22 is a double warning to Gentile Christians. They are warned not to have an attitude of self-righteous superiority toward unbelieving Jews, and not to presume that they are any more immune to falling away than the Jews who fell. The main point of vv. 23-24, on the other hand, is an explanation of how the fallen and hardened Jews can be saved.

Why has Paul used the olive tree as a basis for making these points? For one thing, the OT compares God’s people with an olive tree (Jer 11:16; Hos 14:6). Also, it was something his initial readers would have been very familiar with. Dunn notes that “the olive tree was the most widely cultivated fruit tree in the Mediterranean area” (2:660-661). Also, the common practice of grafting branches from one olive tree to another was a perfect illustration of the points he wanted to make.

Since Paul has just used the root-branches metaphor in v. 16, we would expect these two elements to have the same basic meaning in this new paragraph; and most agree that this is so. E.g., those who identified the root with the patriarchs in v. 16 do the same here. I agree that this is the best approach. Thus, as in v. 16, I identify the root with OT Israel as a national unit, and I identify the branches as (in part) including (some) individual Jews who live in this NT era.

In vv. 17-24, however, Paul has expanded the metaphor in at least three ways. First, the concept of the tree as a whole is important here. Whereas v. 16 was about the relationship between generic roots and branches, here a particular tree is in view. How the roots and branches of this tree are related is still important, but it is also important that we understand the character of the tree as a whole. Second, the branches are not limited to individual Jews, but refer also to individual Gentiles. Finally, the grafting of branches is a central element of the metaphor in this paragraph.

The rest of this introduction will explain, first, the concept of the olive tree as a whole, and second, the imagery of the pruning and grafting of the branches.

The Meaning of the Olive Tree As a Whole

Exactly what does this olive tree stand for? It represents the people of God in a general sense, including both OT Israel and the NT church, the latter including both Jews and Gentiles (see Moo, 698). This tree cannot be limited to ethnic Israel alone, as some think (see Fitzmyer, 610, for examples).

In one sense the nation of Israel as it existed in the OT era was a kind of prototree, and was a precursor of Paul’s olive tree. This is suggested by the references to the breaking off of some of the Jewish branches (vv. 17-21). If they were broken off, then they were already attached to something. Also, Paul calls his tree the Jews’ “own olive tree” (v. 24). In this sense pre-Christian Israel was itself a tree, but this is not Paul’s main point. Also, it is important to remember that the OT tree had no implications regarding the salvation of the individual Jews attached thereto as branches. The tree as a whole was an instrument by which God was working out his salvation purposes; some of the individual branches were saved and some were not.

Whatever the nature of this prototree which led to the existence of Paul’s olive tree, we must recognize that it underwent a radical transformation in character and purpose with the coming of the NT era. In Paul’s metaphor OT Israel is not identified with the tree as a whole, but only with its root. His focus is on the individual branches as they relate to this root. These branches themselves constitute an entirely new group: the NT people of God, the church. Most importantly, unlike the OT prototree, Paul’s olive tree is a soteric metaphor. Its branches as a whole are the aggregate of all saved individuals in this new era.

We may now look more closely at the composition of the olive tree. As in v. 16, the root stands for OT Israel as a whole. Thus it includes but is not limited to the patriarchs. It represents the entire nation throughout its entire history from the patriarchs forward, not as the aggregate of saved individuals (the remnant), but as God’s covenant servant. It represents Israel in its role of fulfilling God’s redemptive purposes, culminating in the coming of the Messiah. Thus the root includes all blessings enumerated in 9:4-5: the patriarchs, the covenants, the promises, and in a sense even the Messiah himself.

The branches of the tree, which are the focal point of the metaphor, are the saved individuals of the NT era. As such they are the new Israel. The olive tree as a whole represents the two Israels to which v. 9:6b alludes, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” The root is OT ethnic Israel; the branches are NT spiritual Israel. When the Messiah came and the OT prototree was transformed into the olive tree, this transformation was a moment of crisis for all Jews. Prior to this time all individual Jews—unbelievers as well as believers—were part of the prototree as an instrument of service to God. But with the coming of Christ and the transformation of the tree, all unbelieving Jews as individual branches of the old tree were broken off. There are no unbelievers on the olive tree; its branches consist of believers only.

The olive tree metaphor teaches us that there is a definite discontinuity between OT Israel and the NT church. Paul’s tree is not the same as the OT prototree. The latter was transformed at Pentecost (see MP, 464-465) into something different. What once was an entire tree is now just the root of a new tree. The church is as different from Israel as a tree’s branches are different from its root.

But this fact in itself implies a continuity between OT Israel and the NT church. The old tree was not simply cut down and replaced with a completely new one. The church by itself is not the entire tree, but only the branches that are growing from a root that is part of that same tree. The two parts of this one tree have never existed simultaneously but are sequential in time. I.e., the root and the branches represent two interconnected stages in salvation history. Though the root itself no longer exists, its prior existence was an essential preparation for the present reality of the branches. Herein lies the basis for one of Paul’s main points in this section: the relationship of dependence between the two Israels. I.e., the church as the new Israel is dependent upon what was accomplished by old Israel. The NT branches would have no existence apart from their OT root, and they constantly reap the rich benefits of what God has done through the latter (vv. 17-18). This is one reason why Paul warns the Gentile Christians not to boast over the fallen Jews (v. 18a).

The Imagery of the Pruning and Grafting of the Branches

While the meaning of the olive tree as a whole tells us something about the relation between OT Israel and the NT church, the imagery of the pruning and grafting of individual branches tells us something about the salvation of Jews and Gentiles in the NT era. Unlike the root-branches illustration in v. 16, which dealt exclusively with Jews, the branches in the extended metaphor include both Jews and Gentiles. While Jewish Christians are described as belonging naturally to the “cultivated” olive tree, Gentile Christians are pictured as belonging by nature to a “wild” olive tree and being grafted into the cultivated one (v. 24).

Paul’s discussion of Jews and Gentiles in this paragraph is in terms of God’s pruning some branches from the tree and grafting others into it. A crucial point is that, when the OT prototree was transformed into the present olive tree, some of the original branches (Jews) that were attached to the former were broken off, which is an indication of their lost state. Before the transformation some of these attached branches were already lost, since the prototree did not have a soteric significance. But when Christ came and the tree was changed, all Jews who refused to accept him as their Savior were removed from the tree. We have every reason to assume that this included some Jews who were previously in a saved state because of their faith in Yahweh as he was known through OT revelation, but who rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. On the other hand, all Jews who did believe in Jesus remained as branches on the new tree.

At the same time, all Gentiles who accepted Jesus as their Savior were taken from the wild olive tree (the pagan world) and were grafted into the cultivated and transformed olive tree, alongside the believing Jews, in the community of salvation.

Some have raised questions about the accuracy of Paul’s knowledge of the olive industry. It seems that the usual procedure for grafting olive branches is to take a shoot from a cultivated but depleted tree and graft it into a wild but vigorous tree, but here it is just the opposite. Some have concluded that Paul as a naïve city boy was just showing his ignorance. Others point to a few ancient sources which show that wild-to-tame grafts were sometimes made, just as Paul describes. Still others say that Paul knew wild-to-tame grafts were not a natural procedure, but he reversed the process in order to show that grace deliberately contravenes nature (v. 24). Either of the last two explanations is acceptable. The details of grafting as an agricultural practice are not crucial to Paul’s point. He simply incorporates the general concept into his metaphor and adapts it for his own purposes; one does not have to be an olive tree expert to understand what he is saying.

Paul uses the practice of grafting to make two main points. One is that the Gentile Christians, as wild olive branches grafted into a cultivated tree, have absolutely no room for boasting or considering themselves superior to the Jewish branches that were broken off the tree (vv. 17-22). One reason is that they are dependent upon the Jewish root of the tree for their very salvation and sustenance (v. 18b). The other reason is that their being grafted into the tree is due to their faith in what Christ has done, not to some boastworthy achievement accomplished by their own hands. If they ever reach a point where they no longer believe in Jesus, they too will be broken off just as the unbelieving Jews were (vv. 20-21).

Paul’s other point is a continuation of his theme in vv. 11-16, that the lopped-off Jews are not irrevocably lost but can still be saved, even though they are now in an unbelieving and hardened state. Here he is not just declaring that they can be saved, but showing how they can be saved, namely, by being grafted again into their own (transformed) olive tree, the church (vv. 23-24). This regrafting is done branch by branch, as individual Jews come to believe in their Messiah. It has absolutely nothing to do with a supposed “future restoration” of the Jewish nation (contra Godet, 404), or a time when “the natural descendants of Abraham will… once again be the Lord’s chosen people of blessing” (contra MacArthur, 2:118). It is a possibility that is open to all Jews, any time, anywhere. The stated requirement is simply that they “not persist in unbelief” (v. 23). If they do not, then they will become branches on the tree, i.e., members of the church of Jesus Christ. This is the one hope of Gentiles and Jews alike; this is how “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26).

We should note Paul’s emphasis on faith or the lack of it as the key to whether one is part of the olive tree or not. This is consistent with the main theme of Romans, that sinners are saved by grace through faith, and not by works of law (3:28), and consistent with his emphasis on faith in the previous main section (9:30-10:21).

1. Words of Warning to Gentile Christians (11:17-22)

The first part of this paragraph is a specific warning to Gentile Christians not to think of themselves as somehow superior to the Jewish branches that were broken off the tree. This may reflect some tension within the Roman church between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians, and it may reflect a general cultural anti-Semitism carried over into the church by converted Gentiles. But these are matters of speculation and need not concern us, since the arrogant attitude of which Paul speaks could have been readily aroused just by unsound reflection upon Israel’s history and the early decades of church history.

11:17-18a If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. This is an “if-then” sentence in which the if-clause (the protasis, v. 17) is assumed to be true, with the then-clause (the apodosis, v. 18a) naturally following.

Paul keeps the root-branches metaphor introduced in v. 16 and begins to apply it to the way individual Jews and Gentiles are saved. He refers first to the Jews, who are compared with branches on a tree, some of which have been “broken off.” This refers to the Jews who refused to accept Christ as their Messiah, and to God’s punitive act of hardening and rejecting them (vv. 7, 15). That Paul says only “some” branches were broken off is a deliberate understatement reminiscent of 3:3. Actually the majority of Jews were in this category.

Next Paul refers to the Gentile Christians, whom he is addressing (v. 13). He uses the singular “you” to put his admonitions on a more personal level. This “you” is the typical Gentile Christian representing the whole group (Dunn, 2:673). Paul addressed the Jews in a similar way in 2:1ff.

The Gentile Christian is here described as “a wild olive shoot” (a branch cut from a wild or uncultivated olive tree) that has been grafted into the cultivated olive tree “among the others.” The branches of this cultivated tree represent the NT church, and “the others” are the Jews who were the first converts to Christ and thus the first branches on the tree. That the wild branches were grafted in “among” them (beginning in Acts 10) means that they were placed alongside the Jewish Christians who had already been there from Acts 2 and following.

The last part of the protasis also speaks of Gentile Christians. It describes the result of their being grafted into the olive tree alongside the believing Jews. When this happened, says Paul, the Gentile Christians immediately became “fellow partakers” or “sharers together” (i.e., along with the Jewish Christians) of “the nourishing sap from the olive root.” As seen in the introduction above, this root is OT Israel as it fulfilled its covenant purpose of bringing the Messiah into the world. In this sense OT Israel is the indispensable source of all the spiritual benefits that are absorbed by the branches, i.e., by each individual member of the church.

The Greek text for “the nourishing sap” is somewhat uncertain (see Moo, 696-697, n. 1). The best reading literally says “of the root of the fatness.” This can be translated “in the root, that is to say, in the fatness (of the root)” (Cranfield, 2:567). The NIV follows this option, using “nourishing sap” to translate the word for “fatness” or “richness.” The phrase can also be rendered “the rich root” (Moo, 702, n. 28; see the NASB). Either way the main point is that when a Gentile becomes a Christian, he immediately begins to draw upon all the spiritual blessings made possible by two millennia of Jewish history—blessings which are a natural inheritance for Jews who accept their Messiah. The Gentile Christian becomes a partaker in “the blessing of Abraham” (Gal 3:14, NASB); whether he realizes it or not, his “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). See v. 18b.

In v. 18a Paul draws his conclusion from v. 17: “Do not boast over those branches.” This is in the form of an exhortation, but its logical force is “you have no reason” to boast over them. Paul still addresses Gentile Christians (in the person of their typical representative); “those branches” are the Jews. Do these Jewish branches include both Jewish Christians (“the others”) and the broken-off branches, or do they include only the branches that were broken off? I agree with Murray (2:86) that the latter is probably the case, in view of v. 19.

Thus in this exhortation Paul warns Gentile Christians not to brag or boast over against the Jews who were broken off the tree, as if becoming a Christian were the result of some kind of competition between the two groups, with the Gentiles being the winners. You have no reason to boast, he says, as if being grafted into the tree were a sign of your superiority over those rejected Jews.

11:18b If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. This is not an implicit permission to go ahead and boast. Rather, Paul is saying, “If you are still inclined to boast, or if you still have a boastful spirit, please remember this….”

What Paul asks them to remember is very close in meaning to v. 17c, but here he is more forceful: “You [emphatic] do not support the root, but [emphatic] the root supports you.” It is important to see that the root is not just the patriarchs, as many believe, and especially not just “the covenant of salvation that God made with Abraham,” but the entire scope of the Jews’ covenant service from Abraham to Christ. Paul is thus asking the Gentile Christians, “What, historically, do the Jews owe to you? Which of their glorious blessings (9:4-5) came through you? Obviously, none; so your boasting is vain. The relationship of dependence is actually the other way around.” In Denney’s words, “You owe all you are proud of to an (artificially formed) relation to the race you would despise” (680). “Any merit, any virtue, any hope of salvation that the Gentiles may have arises entirely from the fact that they are grafted in a stock” that is fully Jewish (SH, 329). How can they ignore their Jewish heritage? “It is that very heritage upon which the Gentile Christians themselves depend for their own spiritual standing” (Moo, 704).

Moo notes that Paul uses present tense: this OT root “continues to be the source of spiritual nourishment that believers require” (704). “A church which is not drawing upon the sustenance of its Jewish heritage… would be a contradiction in terms for Paul” (Dunn, 2:662).

11:19 Wanting to drive this point home further, Paul puts a question in the mouth of the proud Gentile Christian: You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” The way Paul words the question highlights the egotism that he wants to turn aside: “Branches were broken off so that I, even I, could be grafted in!” The implication is that this person thinks God excluded some Jews from the church just to make a place for Gentile believers. “That surely involves some superiority in me,” is the implied conclusion (Denney, 680). “I am surely better than those unbelieving Jews!” (Bruce, 218).

11:20a Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Paul’s opening word, “Granted” (καλῶς, kalōs), can be taken as “qualified agreement” (Moo, 705); it is “a form of partial and often ironical assent” (MP, 467). In other words, “There is some truth in what you are saying.” Here Paul is probably referring to the point made in vv. 11-16, that “because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles” (v. 11), and “their rejection is the reconciliation of the world” (v. 15).

Paul’s next statement can be paraphrased thus: “But this is not the whole story, and it is not even the most important part of the story. It’s true that many Jews were broken off, and it’s true that you, a Gentile, were grafted in. But this is not a neat, self-contained cause-and-effect sequence, as if there were some sort of intrinsic connection between these two events. No, the important fact is this: the Jews were broken off because of their unbelief! They refused to believe in Jesus! Those who believed in him were not broken off; would that this had been true for all of them! And you: why have you been grafted into the tree? Not because the Jews were broken off, but only because you have put your faith in Jesus. Even if every Jew had believed, you would still have been grafted into the tree by virtue of your faith.”

The implied conclusion, again, is that the circumstances of the Jews’ rejection and the Gentiles’ acceptance gave the latter absolutely no room for boasting against the former. This warning is reinforced by the reminder that the Gentiles stand, i.e., are saved, only by faith—a way of salvation that insistently excludes any reason for boasting (3:27; Eph 2:8-9).

11:20b-21 Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Here Paul tells the Gentile Christians the proper attitude to develop in place of arrogance: the fear of God. “Do not be arrogant” is literally “do not have high-minded thoughts” (see 12:16; 1 Tim 6:17), i.e., do not think so highly of yourselves. Instead, you should “fear” (NASB), or “be afraid” (NIV).

Either of these translations may be a proper rendering of the Greek ϕοβέω (phobeō), but they do not necessarily have the same connotation. The fear of God takes two different forms. One is the healthy, reverential awe of the creature before his Creator. The other is the terror and dread of the sinner in the presence of the holy Lawgiver and Judge.

To which of these kinds of fear is Paul referring? Certainly to the first, which is always a main element of holy living. Also, there is no better antidote to arrogance, nothing more conducive to humility, than to come to a full realization of our creatureliness before God Almighty. But what about the second, being afraid of the Judgment? Certainly when it is truly felt, this kind of fear likewise cancels out arrogance as fire consumes tissue paper. As a rule, such fear is inappropriate for Christians, since we are free from condemnation thanks to justification by faith in the blood of Christ. But there is one context in which the fear of terror is still necessary even for Christians, namely, when we stand on the brink of apostasy or falling away. In such a situation, how can we not call to mind that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31)? In view of Paul’s warning to the Gentile Christians in v. 21, I think he probably also has this kind of fear in mind in v. 20b, i.e., terror at the prospect of being cut off.

We should make no mistake: in v. 21 Paul holds before us all the real possibility of falling from grace and losing our salvation. This is another reason why Gentile Christians, and Jewish Christians as well, should realize the folly of arrogance regarding their salvation status. Here Paul uses an argument from the greater to the lesser. The “natural branches” are the Jews, who in view of their natal association with the root are inherently suitable for being attached as branches to the tree. But even so, when some refused to believe in Jesus, God did not spare them. I.e., he rejected them and broke them off the tree. This was true even if they were in a saved state before being confronted with the gospel. If they refused to convert their faith in Yahweh to a Trinitarian faith, they were broken off, and given no place in the transformed olive tree. And if God did not spare even these, he will certainly not spare the wild olive branches—Gentile Christians—that have no natural connection with the tree, if they return to their unbelief.

11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God:… This refers to what are rightly called “the two sides of the Divine character” (SH, 329). “Kindness” (χρηστότης, chrēstotēs; see 2:4) is an attitude of goodwill and generosity toward others, a goodness of heart or “kindly disposition” (SH, 55) that desires the happiness of others and especially their salvation. “Sternness” (ἀποτομία, apotomia; “severity,” NASB) is an attitude of relentless and vigorous commitment to justice, including retributive justice; a strict upholding of the requirements of the law; an “inflexible hardness and severity” in judging (see Köster, “τέμνω,” 107-108). Obviously, then, “the kindness and sternness of God” are “a fascinating contrast of attitudes, held simultaneously,” as Morris says (416).

These two attributes are generally equivalent to God’s love and God’s holiness, which I believe are the two most basic and equally-ultimate moral attributes of God. God’s love is his basic goodwill toward other moral beings. Other attributes within the sphere of his love are mercy, patience, grace, and kindness. God’s holiness, on the other hand, is his perfect moral character, which is the basis of his work as Lawgiver and Judge. It embraces other attributes such as wrath and vengeance. See GRe, 238-239, 255-257.

Because these two sides of God’s nature are equally ultimate, it is a serious misconception to think that they are just two different ways of expressing the same divine attribute. An example of this error is Cranfield’s assertion that both kindness and sternness “are the expression of God’s holy and faithful love” (2:569-570). There is probably no more widespread false doctrine in Christendom than this, and few with more serious consequences. See GRe, 303-314.

At the same time I will agree with Dunn’s contention that these two aspects of God’s nature are not of “equal weight,” since in Scripture the “stronger emphasis is on grace and mercy” (2:665). This makes his holiness and wrath no less real, no less distinct, and no less ultimate, however. See GRe, 372-375.

Why does Paul admonish the representative Gentile Christian (and us) to “consider” or “observe” the kindness and sternness of God? Because these are the two basic attributes that God expresses toward sinners, depending on their response to the grace of his Son, Jesus Christ. In this context they are the attributes that lie behind the breaking off of the unbelieving Jewish branches and the grafting in of the believing Gentile branches: sternness to those who fell, i.e., the Jews who rejected Christ (v. 11), but kindness to you as a Gentile who has accepted Christ.

In v. 20 Paul stressed that the reason the Gentile Christians were grafted into the tree was their faith in the Messiah, not some merit on their part. Here he shows that God’s willingness to accept someone on the simple basis of faith in Christ is a matter of his gracious kindness. There is no merit in faith itself.

Paul says all these things to set up his final warning to Gentile Christians, which also applies to all branches on the olive tree (all members of his church) in all times and places. I.e., the very fact that you are on the tree (and by implication saved) means that you have received the kindness of God. But be warned: you will remain on the tree as a recipient of God’s kindness provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

“Provided that you continue” is ἐάν (ean) with the subjunctive, a form that expresses a contingency that may or may not be the case in the future. (For the same form see 13:4; 14:8.) God will continue to bestow his kindness upon you, if and only if you “continue in his kindness.” To “continue in” God’s kindness means to continue to trust his kindness and grace as embodied in the saving work of Jesus. What will happen if you do not continue to trust God’s grace? Paul’s answer is very clear: “you also,” like the Jews who refused to believe, “will be cut off.” You will lose your salvation.

This verse brings into sharp focus the issue of whether or not salvation is conditional, which includes the issue of “once saved, always saved.” In general Calvinists believe that God’s grace is sovereignly bestowed and maintained in an unconditional way, and non-Calvinists believe that it is conditional. But even some non-Calvinists hold that once a person believes by his own free choice, he will unconditionally continue to believe from that point on. This is the essence of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine.

In my judgment this verse unequivocally supports the view that salvation is conditional. Just as becoming saved is conditioned upon faith, staying saved is conditioned upon continuing to believe. You will remain as a branch on the olive tree “if you continue” (NASB) in God’s kindness. (See Col 1:23 for the very same point.) More specifically this verse shows that falling from a saved state and thus losing one’s salvation is possible. Dunn rightly says, “The possibility of believers ‘falling away’…, apostatizing, is one which Paul certainly did not exclude.” He adds, “Perseverance is a Christian responsibility rather than an unconditional promise” (2:664-665).

How do Calvinists handle this text? One may be surprised to see the strong Calvinist William Hendriksen conclude from this verse that God’s kindness is “not unconditional. It requires genuine faith on man’s part” (2:375). At the same time this verse does not imply “that those who truly belong to him will ever be rejected,” as Stott explains (301).

But how could anyone believe that salvation is truly conditional, and at the same time deny the possibility of falling away? The answer, for the Calvinist, is as follows. First, God does require sinners to have faith in Jesus as a condition for being saved. Therefore, technically, salvation is conditional. But at the same time God sovereignly determines who will have faith and who will not. To those whom God has unconditionally chosen for eternal life, he unconditionally gives the gift of faith. Once the faith has been given, of course, it is the person who believes, and not God. Thus the person is fulfilling the condition for salvation. Hendriksen (2:375) says of 11:22 that it

must not be understood in the sense that God will supply the kindness, man the faith. Salvation is ever God’s gift. It is never a 50-50 affair. From start to finish it is the work of God. But this does not remove human responsibility. God does not exercise faith for man or in his place. It is and remains man who reposes his trust in God, but it is God who both imparts this faith to him and enables him to use it.

This, says Hendriksen, is the “sound, biblical sense… in which we can speak about salvation as being conditional.”

I sincerely believe that this and other such explanations are nothing but theological double-talk. To say that this is a “sound, biblical sense” in which salvation is conditional, and that such a system “does not remove human responsibility,” is a sham. It is not enough just to say that God sets conditions for salvation. The Calvinist may begin with this premise, but then he declares that God unconditionally decides who will meet the conditions, and then unilaterally causes them to meet these conditions. In such a scenario there are no conditionality and human responsibility in any normal sense of these terms.

If persevering faith is a sovereign gift of God, what is the purpose of warnings in the Bible, such as the one in 11:22? Moule (197) grants that such passages imply “contingency in man’s continuance in the mercy of God,” but they are nevertheless in harmony with “sovereign and prevailing Divine grace.” This is true because God both gives and preserves faith in the elect. The chosen will without fail persevere in faith, because God will infallibly enable them to do so. As Moule says, “Grace imparts perseverance by imparting and maintaining faith.” And how does grace maintain faith? Among other things, “faith is properly animated and energized” through these warnings themselves.

In my opinion all such attempts to harmonize the “if” in 11:22 (or elsewhere) with Calvinism, or with any “once saved, always saved” belief, amount to more double-talk and reduce Paul’s warning to a travesty. Unless there is a genuine possibility that this warning may be disregarded by a genuine believer, then it is not a warning at all, and its very presence in the Bible is deceptive.

Moo’s attempt (707, n. 57) to reconcile 11:22 with a denial of the possibility of falling away is a little different but just as untenable. His view is that not every branch on the tree is a true believer in the first place. This must be true, he says, because the unbelieving Jews who were cut off the tree in reality were never part of the tree at all. It is only for the sake of his metaphor that “Paul presents them as if they had been. In the same way, then, those Gentiles within the church… who appear to be part of God’s people, yet do not continue in faith, may never have been part of that tree at all.”

This explanation fails for three reasons. One, it is an unwarranted assumption that all the Jews who were originally cut off from the tree were never truly saved to begin with. As I have already stated, it is quite likely that many Jews who had a faith adequate to save them in light of the limitations of the OT revelation refused to elevate their faith to the NT level when first confronted with the gospel. (Paul himself may have been in this category.) These would be among the branches that were broken off.

Second, Moo’s explanation does not take account of the difference between the OT prototree and the olive tree as it has existed under the New Covenant dispensation. All Jews were branches on the former, but this had no soteric implications. The latter is occupied solely by those who are saved, Jews and Gentiles. Is this not the point of the breaking off of the unbelieving Jewish branches in the first place?

Third, the speculation that the Gentiles who do not continue in the faith may never have been part of the tree at all goes against everything Paul says in this paragraph. “You stand by faith,” he says to the Gentile representative in v. 20. If the addressee is not saved—not truly part of the tree, then everything about this statement is false. God’s kindness has been given to you, Paul says in v. 22, in contrast with the fallen Jews who received God’s sternness. There is no way to reconcile this affirmation with a mere appearance of salvation.

The focus in vv. 23-24 will shift to the fallen Jews, but at this point we may note that the conditional promise about Jewish unbelievers in v. 23a is parallel in every way to the conditional warning about Gentile believers in v. 22b. If we cannot take the warning seriously, why should we take the promise seriously? If we say that v. 22 does not imply that an actual falling away can take place, must we not assume that v. 23 does not mean that any fallen Jews will actually be saved? But no one would ever consider the latter. Here is a statement by Stott (301): “After this warning to Gentile believers against pride and presumption, Paul is ready with his promise to Jewish unbelievers. His argument is that if those grafted in could be cut off, then those cut off could be grafted in again.” Just so! But the “once saved, always saved” doctrine completely destroys the symmetry between the two conditions and leaves the latter open to doubt. Indeed, Stott himself says of the warning in v. 22, “Not that those who truly belong to him will ever be rejected…”! However, I have yet to see him or anyone else say of v. 23, “Not that those Jews who truly rejected him will ever be accepted….”

2. Words of Hope for Hardened Jews (11:23-24)

In these last two verses about the olive tree, Paul returns to the main theme of the chapter, that God has not completely rejected the Jews. It is true that only a remnant accepted the Messiah in the beginning, and that the rest were hardened, rejected, and broken off the tree. But since v. 11 Paul has held forth the possibility and the hope that individuals in this latter group may still return to God. Here he reaffirms that hope as he shows how the rejected Jews may be saved.

11:23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in,… The parallelism between v. 22b and v. 23a is obvious when we slightly reword 22b while keeping the same thought:

If you [believing Gentiles] do not continue in God’s kindness, you will be cut off the tree.

If you [unbelieving Jews] do not continue in unbelief, you will be grafted back into the tree.

The subject here is obviously “those who fell” (v. 22), the Jewish unbelievers. Literally Paul says, “And those also,” or, “Yes, and they too” (SH, 330). The verb translated “persist” is the same one translated “continue” in v. 22; and the conditional form is the same, ean with the subjunctive. The then-clause is just the simple future tense of ἐγκεντρίζω (enkentrizō, used in vv. 17,19), “they will be grafted in.” To be grafted into the tree is the equivalent of “life from the dead” in v. 15.

This is a clear indication that God has not abandoned the Jewish people but is ready and willing to receive them back to himself at any time. “The door of opportunity for the entrance of Jews—even for initially hardened Jews—is standing open” (Hendriksen, 2:375).

It is also clear in this verse that the Jews’ return to and acceptance by God is conditional. It is conditioned upon their change of heart concerning Jesus. They will be grafted into the tree if they do not continue in unbelief, but turn to Jesus in full faith and surrender. The promise that they will be grafted in is a promise that they will be saved.

In spite of the clear and obvious conditional nature of this promise, some interpreters completely ignore the stated condition and take Paul’s statement as an absolute promise that the Jews—all of them—will one day be saved. One writer says that Paul is here speaking of Israel’s “glad future” when the whole nation (“all Israel”) “shall be grafted in” and restored to “all their original privileges and rights.” Even if vv. 23-24 reveal it only as a possibility, it is “established fully as a decreed event in the next section” (MP, 468). Another says of v. 23, “In the end, Israel will accept God’s act for her in Christ and will return to her natural place within God’s chosen people” (Achtemeier, 184). Commenting on vv. 23-24, MacArthur says, “The destiny of Israel can and will be reversed. Her return to the Lord not only is possible but certain” (2:122). Even though this promise is given here with a condition, “God had long beforehand assured His people that the condition would be met” (2:118).

What is happening here? Just as in reference to v. 22b, we are witnessing an inability—or an unwillingness—to take seriously the significance of Paul’s “if.” In v. 22, in the interest of preserving the “once saved, always saved” doctrine, some declare that the if-clause is something that will not happen, period. Here in v. 23, in the interest of supporting a particular view of the end-times, some declare that the if-clause is something that will happen, period. Paul might just as well have omitted the “if” in both cases.

We must take Paul at his word. He does not say “when”; he says “if.” Hendriksen rightly reminds us that “the apostle does not say or imply that one day all unbelieving Jews are going to be grafted back into their own olive tree” (2:376). Or as Murray puts it, “No assurance is given in this verse that Israel will desist from unbelief” (2:89). Contrary to Fitzmyer, who says “Paul expects unbelieving Israel to be grafted once again” into the tree (616), McGuiggan rightly says that the tone of the verse suggests that he was not predicting “a national scale conversion of the Jews” (331).

We cannot say, of course, that this will never happen. But whether few or many Jews do come to faith in Christ, this verse shows how they will be saved and restored to God, namely, by being grafted into the olive tree, which is the church. There is absolutely nothing here about a restoration of the nation of Israel to its role as a separate and special people of God. The only thing Paul promises the Jews here, conditioned upon faith in Christ, is that they will be grafted into the olive tree. But this is not the same tree from which they were broken off in the first place. This is a transformed tree, only the root of which is OT national Israel. The branches are the new Israel, the church, and they consist of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. To be joined to the tree is to be united with the Gentiles, not set apart from them again. To expect a national restoration to an OT-like special role is to go against the very essence of the olive-tree metaphor.

We must not allow such false hopes to blind us to the very real possibility Paul sets forth here. The Jews can become a part of the tree, for God is able to graft them in again. The promise does not depend on what was possible with regard to literal grafting practices; it depends on the supernatural power of God: “God is able.” Denney says, “Even in the most hardened rejector of the Gospel we are not to limit either the resources of God’s power or the possibilities of change in a self-conscious, self-determining creature” (681).

We should note that God’s grafting the Jews into the tree is not the same as causing them to believe. The first part of this verse makes it clear that there is a difference between the believing and the grafting-in. God can and will graft them in, i.e., will add them to his church, but they must first meet the stated condition of not persisting in unbelief.

11:24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! This verse does not add anything new; it simply reinforces the last statement in v. 23, that God is able to graft the fallen Jewish branches back into the tree. It is an argument from the greater to the lesser. Paul says it is a lot easier to graft a broken-off branch back into its own olive tree than to graft wild and alien branches into that tree. Since God has already done the latter (in saving the Gentiles), we can be sure that the former (saving the Jews) will be no problem for him.

Using the singular, Paul still addresses the typical representative of all Gentile Christians. The first part of the verse sums up the Gentiles’ situation in terms of the olive tree. The phrase “by nature” probably does not modify the wild olive tree itself (contra the NIV), but rather the branch that was cut out of it (see Cranfield, 2:571; Moo, 708, n. 63). I.e., it should read, “If you, who by nature belong to a wild olive tree, were cut off from that tree and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree….”

This means that the Gentiles by nature belonged to the pagan world. This is where they were born and reared; this is where they learned and lived by the antibiblical worldview. This is where they were “at home,” i.e., on the wild olive tree. But when they came to Christ they were cut off from this tree and grafted into the “cultivated olive tree,” which is described as “cultivated” because of its Jewish root. The cultivation process includes all of God’s dealings with the Jews from Abraham up to the first coming of Christ. Because of this background the earliest Jewish Christians—the first branches of the transformed olive tree—in a sense grew naturally out of this root. But when Gentiles were pried loose from their paganism and united with this OT root (Lenski, 712), this was definitely “contrary to nature,” i.e., against everything they had thus far stood for.

On the other hand, v. 24b says that when unbelieving Jews (“these”) are converted, this is like grafting broken-off branches back “into their own olive tree.” Because of its Jewish root, even unbelieving, broken-off Jews have a natural affinity with the olive tree. Indeed, it is called “their own tree” for this very reason. OT ethnic Israel is not the tree as such, but it is the root of the tree. Thus when a Jew is converted to Christ he is being attached to his true roots; he is taking his natural place among the branches (the church) that were the divinely intended goal of the Israelite nation all along. What could be more natural than this?

Verse 24b is sometimes taken as an unqualified promise that the natural branches will be grafted in again, i.e., that they will be saved. E.g., Denney (682) says the future tense (“will be grafted in”) refers to the “actual restoration of the Jews.” In view of the “if-then” form of the verse, however, it is more reasonable to take this as a logical future. I.e., Paul is simply stating a greater-to-lesser argument: if A is true, then it is even more likely that B will also be true. Also, the condition in v. 23 must be carried over into v. 24; “will be grafted in” must be qualified with “if they do not persist in unbelief.”

The main point is to show that from God’s side, there is absolutely no obstacle to the Jews’ salvation. Their hardening (v. 7) and their rejection (v. 15) need not be the final word concerning their eternal destiny. God is ready and willing to receive them back, if they will believe in their Redeemer. He has already added repentant, believing Gentiles to the church; and if he has done this, how much more likely is it that believing Jews will also be added? The key expression is πόσῳ μᾶλλον (posō mallon, “by how much more”), the same phrase used in v. 12 in a similar kind of argument. The purpose of the present argument is to give us confidence in God’s power to save even fallen Jews.

Two implications from this olive tree metaphor must be emphasized. First, there is in this New Covenant age only one olive tree, only one chosen people, only one way of salvation. Any Jews who are saved will be saved by being grafted into this one tree. The Jewish branches and the Gentile branches are joined together into one aggregate of saved persons (the church), where the Jew-Gentile distinction is irrelevant. As Moo says, “Basic to the whole metaphor is the unity of God’s people.” There is only one olive tree, “whose branches include both Jews and Gentiles” (709). Hendriksen says (2:376), “For Jew and Gentile salvation is the same…. Remember: ONE OLIVE TREE.”

A second implication is that, contrary to a common misconception, it is possible for someone who has fallen from grace to be restored to full fellowship with God. Heb 6:4-6 is often misinterpreted as teaching the opposite, that it is impossible for a once-saved but now-fallen person to be brought back to a saved state. Some translations perpetuate this error by the way they translate Heb 6:6 (e.g., the word “because” in the NIV, and “since” in the NASB).

The olive-tree metaphor, however, shows that this interpretation of Heb 6 is false. This is true because we must assume that some of the Jews who were broken off the tree (v. 17) were believers in Yahweh as they knew him from the OT revelation and were thus in a saved state until they heard the gospel of Jesus and initially refused to accept it. E.g., Acts 2:41 says about 3,000 persons were baptized and added to the church on the day of Pentecost, when the church began. Unless this number includes the entire Pentecost audience, or unless it constitutes one hundred per cent of the pre-Christian Jewish believers who were present, then we must assume that some believing Jews who were present at Pentecost “fell away” by not accepting Christ on that day. Since both of these possibilities are highly unlikely, we can assume that some of the “natural branches” being grafted back into the tree are fallen-away believers who are being restored to salvation. This means the alternative translation of Heb 6:6 given in the NIV and NASB margins (“while,” i.e., “as long as”) is the correct one.

In other words, Paul’s teaching about the olive tree refutes both the “once saved, always saved” error, and the “once fallen, always fallen” error. Both are equally unbiblical.

E. God’s Plan for Israel’s Salvation (11:25-32)

In this paragraph all eyes are usually focused on v. 26a, “And so all Israel will be saved.” This is “the center of this paragraph,” says Moo (712); the NIV makes this statement the heading for the entire section. What it means, though, is notoriously difficult, and is the subject of endless discussion. Every part of it is controversial. How extensive is the word “all”? Does “Israel” refer to ethnic or spiritual Israel? To what status is Israel “saved”?

One of the more common conclusions based on this text is that at some time in the future, at or near the end of this age, most living Jews will turn to Christ and be restored as a nation to a place of preeminence in God’s kingdom. As Moule says, in this text Paul “now, in plain terms, reveals and predicts a great future Restoration” (197).

I cannot accept this interpretation, for reasons that will be made clear in the following exposition. At this point I will simply say that in v. 26a, emphasis is usually placed on the wrong word, namely, “all,” with the verse being read thus: “And so all Israel will be saved.” In my judgment the emphasis should be on the word “so,” taken in the sense of “thus, in this manner.” Thus we should read it: “And in this way all Israel will be saved.” I.e., regarding Israel’s salvation Paul’s point is “How?” and not “How many?”

This does not mean that there is a question whether Israel’s salvation will be by some means other than faith in Jesus. That issue has already been settled, especially in ch. 10. Rather, the question has to do with the interrelationship between Israel and the Gentiles, continuing the discussion begun in v. 11. Paul has already emphasized that Israel’s sin and rejection have been used by God as a means to save the Gentiles; here he is emphasizing that the salvation of the Gentiles is God’s means of bringing salvation to Israel.

This becomes clear when we view this paragraph in the perspective of ch. 11 as a whole. The discussion is still controlled by the question in 11:1, “Did God reject his people?” The answer is an emphatic No, for two reasons. First, there existed in the past, and there continues to exist “at the present time… a remnant chosen by grace” (11:5). What about “the others”? They were hardened (7b-10). Second, even those who are presently and hereafter hardened may still turn to Christ and be saved, because God has worked out a complex plan for showing mercy upon both Jews and Gentiles. This plan is spelled out in 11:11-32.

In the first step of his plan God uses the sin and hardening of Israel as a means of bringing the riches of salvation to the Gentiles. Paul emphasizes this in 11:11-16, while at the same time revealing that the salvation of the Gentiles will in turn be used to bring salvation to the Jews. The olive tree metaphor is an interlude meant to preclude Gentile Christian arrogance, especially by showing that the underlying reasons for being lost or saved are unbelief and belief respectively, for both Gentiles and Jews (11:17-24).

This leads to the present paragraph, where the main emphasis is on the climactic second step of God’s plan, namely, that God will use the salvation of the Gentiles as a means of bringing salvation to the Jews. This is the way in which “all Israel will be saved.” In v. 26a the word all is meant to be contrasted with the remnant saved “at the present time” (v. 5). I.e., in v. 5 Paul affirms that a saved remnant existed at the time of his writing. But what about “the others”—the mass of unsaved Jews, both present and future? They can be saved, too; and the burden of vv. 11-32 (vv. 25-32 in particular) is to show how this is done. I.e., all Israel, not just the presently-existing remnant, will be saved. But how will they be saved? In this way: by the fullness of the Gentiles (v. 25), if they put their faith in Jesus Christ. (v. 23).

These two main aspects of God’s complex plan for showing mercy upon all are summed up in vv. 30-31: because of the Jews’ disobedience the Gentiles have received mercy (v. 30; see vv. 11-16); and likewise because the Gentiles have received mercy, Israel will also receive mercy (v. 31; see vv. 25-32)!

What, then, is the purpose of this paragraph? Some think it is to reveal the mystery of Israel’s future. For example, Dunn’s heading for this section is “The Final Mystery Revealed” (2:675). Fitzmyer’s heading is “The Mystery of Israel: It Will All Be Saved” (618). This can hardly be the purpose, however, since there is nothing in this paragraph that has not been stated or implied earlier.

Moo suggests that the purpose of vv. 25-32 is to resolve the tension present throughout chs. 9-11, i.e., the tension between “Israel’s current hostile relationship with God” and “God’s expressed and irrevocable promises to Israel” (712-713). But this issue as such was resolved in ch. 9, where Paul indicates that God’s election of and promises to ethnic Israel related to their service and not to their salvation.

It is best to view this paragraph as presenting no new data, but as simply summing up the main points of ch. 11 with the main emphasis being on the way God uses the salvation of the Gentiles to bring mercy upon Israel. This serves as a fitting climax to chs. 9-11 as a whole, in that God is shown to be not just fair and faithful in his relationship with the Jews, but much more than fair in that he offers them his undeserved grace and mercy.

1. The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation (11:25-27)

First of all Paul declares the mystery of Israel’s salvation: its reality, its means, and its nature. He begins with a word not translated in the NIV: γάρ (gar, “for, because”). This word links vv. 25ff. with the olive tree illustration. Especially, the imagery of grafting the broken-off natural branches back into the tree helps us to understand how Israel will be saved.

11:25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:… “I do not want you to be ignorant” is a formula Paul sometimes uses to call attention to an important point (see on 1:13; JC, 1:96-97). “Brothers” is part of the formula. It indicates he is addressing the entire church, but the context shows he has Gentiles mainly in mind (see 11:13). In 11:17 he began using second person singular, addressing a typical representative Gentile Christian; but here he switches to second person plural. In this paragraph “you” and “they” still refer to Gentiles and Jews respectively.

Specifically, Paul does not want the Gentile Christians to be ignorant of “this mystery.” The word “mystery” does not mean something that is and forever will be mysterious and incomprehensible. In the biblical context it refers to a truth once hidden in the mind of God and undiscoverable by human reason, but now made known by divine revelation and fully open to human understanding. Thus Paul is claiming that what he is teaching here is a revelation from God. We need not assume that it was revealed to Paul himself, though it probably was, nor that it was revealed only to him (see Eph 3:3-5). Nor should we assume that this was something revealed to him only at the moment he was writing these words (see Gal 1:11-18).

The reason Paul wants Gentile Christians to understand the mystery is “so that you may not be conceited,” or “lest you be wise in your own estimation,” as the NASB literally translates it. In vv. 18-20 Paul has already warned Gentile Christians against arrogant boasting in view of the fact that they were being gathered into the church while only relatively few Jews were being saved. Here he warns them again not to be “puffed up with self-importance” (Cranfield, 2:575), i.e., not to assume that God had permanently abandoned Israel and was now focusing his attention exclusively on them (see Morris, 419).

Exactly what is the content of the mystery that will nullify the Gentiles’ pride? In the NT the word μυστήριον (mystērion) is often used in a general way for revelation concerning Christ and his church. A mystery that was of special importance to Paul, though, was the revelation that God had always intended to include Jews and Gentiles together in the church of Jesus Christ (Eph 3:3, 4, 9; see 2:11-3:11). In Eph 3 the emphasis is on the fact that God is bringing the Gentiles into the church; here in 11:25 the emphasis is on the fact that unbelieving Jews may still be brought into the church.

More specifically, in 11:25 the mystery focuses on “interdependence between the salvation of the Gentiles and that of Jews” (Hendriksen, 2:378). I.e., not only are the Jews and Gentiles united together in the one church, but in accordance with God’s plan each group in part owes its inclusion to the other. This is spelled out in the rest of this verse and the beginning of v. 26 in three clauses: (1) “Israel has experienced a hardening in part”; (2) “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”; (3) “and so all Israel will be saved.” This is the mystery, once hidden and now revealed. Moo rightly points out that the mystery is not just the fact that “all Israel will be saved,” but rather the way Israel will be saved, as expressed in v. 25b (716-717; see also Murray, 2:92; Stott, 302). Actually, vv. 25b-26a are a kind of summary of what has already been taught in vv. 11-24; thus we should not assume that “this mystery” refers only to what follows. It includes the content of the preceding verses as well.

The first element of the mystery is that Israel has experienced a hardening in part…. Paul has already referred to this hardening in v. 7. As we saw there, it is God’s response to Israel’s initial rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. In essence it is “a judicial process by which he hands people over to their own stubbornness” (Stott, 302).

Paul says that Israel’s hardening was only “in part” (ἀπὸ μέρους, apo merous). Most seem to understand this phrase in a numerical sense, i.e., only a part of Israel were hardened. The NRSV translates it, “A hardening has come upon part of Israel”; see Murray, 2:92; Cranfield, 2:575. If this is the meaning, it is certainly not a new thought, in view of the clear distinction made in v. 7 between the elect remnant and “the others.”

In my judgment, though, this is not what Paul means. The sentence says literally that “hardness from a part has happened to Israel,” not “hardness has happened to part of Israel.” The word “part” is not the object of the verb, nor does the phrase “from a part” modify Israel. It is possible that it modifies “hardness” itself, but more likely it modifies the verb, as it does in its other four NT occurrences. Either way it means that even though Israel was hardened, the hardening was only partial; the unbelieving Jews were not completely hardened so as to preclude the possibility of repentance. The NIV (“a hardening in part”) reflects this view, as does the NASB (“a partial hardening”).

Is this a new point, not made known until v. 25? Not really. That the hardening is only partial is clearly implied in the earlier references to Israel’s salvation (vv. 12,14-15,23-24). Thus it would seem that there is nothing new in this statement in v. 25 about Israel’s hardening. This part of the “mystery” has already been set forth.

The heart of the mystery is in the next clause, i.e., that the hardening will last until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. Combined with the preceding clause, and read in the light of vv. 11-12,15,18, this implies that the hardening of Israel has something to do with the coming of the full number or fullness of the Gentiles. At the same time, taken with the following clause (26a), and read in the light of vv. 11,13-14, it implies that the fullness of the Gentiles has something to do with the salvation of “all Israel.” As said earlier, the “mystery” thus is how salvation of Jews and Gentiles is interrelated. It is important for the Gentile Christians to see this, in order to avoid thinking too highly of themselves.

The key question is the meaning of the expression “the full number of the Gentiles.” The word translated “full number” (πλήρωμα, plērōma) is the same word the NIV translates as “fullness” in v. 12, where it refers to the fullness of the Jews. It seems that most interpreters favor the numerical connotation of the word, both here and in v. 12. It is said that Paul is referring to the “full destined number” of the Gentiles (Moule, 199); “the full completed number, the complement of the Gentiles, i.e., the Gentile world as a whole” (SH, 335); “the full number, totality, of the Gentiles” (Denney, 683); “numerical completion” (Moo, 719); “the full number of the saved Gentiles” (Lenski, 727). For some this refers to the total number of Gentiles saved over the whole course of church history up to the very end (e.g., Hendriksen, 2:378-379; Hoekema, Bible, 144). For others it refers to an unprecedented mass conversion of Gentiles near or at the end, “a greatly increased influx of Gentiles into God’s kingdom” (Murray, 2:95; see Dunn, 2:680).

As was the case in v. 12, I cannot accept a numerical connotation for plērōma. Hence (contra the NIV) I do not see this as referring to the “full number” of Gentiles, but rather to the fullness of salvation as it was proclaimed to and accepted by the Gentiles, beginning in Acts 10. (See on v. 12 above.) The NT nowhere else uses plērōma in a numerical sense, but does use it for the fullness of salvation. See John 1:16; Rom 15:29; Eph 3:19. See also Col 2:10, which uses the verb form of the word: “you have been given fullness in Christ” (NIV). Thus the “fullness of the Gentiles” is the “spiritual wealth with which God will make the Gentiles full” (McGuiggan, 332, quoting Beet), “the abundant nature of the blessings in Christ’s gospel” (ibid., 333). Thus Paul is not saying anything basically different from v. 11: “Because of [the Jews’] transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles”; or from v. 12: “Their loss means riches for the Gentiles”; or from v. 15: “Their rejection is the reconciliation of the world.”

In what sense does this full salvation of the Gentiles “come in”? This is εἰσέρχομαι (eiserchomai), the common word for “go in, enter.” In the NT it is occasionally used for people entering the kingdom (e.g., Matt 5:20; 7:21; John 3:5) or entering eternal life (Mark 9:43,45). Thus many take it in v. 25 as referring to the full number of Gentiles entering the kingdom or the church. But on some occasions the word means simply to come or to appear (see Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 19:30). I take it in a similar sense here, i.e., “until the salvation of the Gentiles has appeared or arrived or come into the picture.” Compare 5:12, where Paul uses this word to declare that sin entered or came into the world. Here he uses it to affirm that salvation came into the Gentile world.

The point is that the hardening of the Jews was the occasion for the commencement of the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. Thus the Gentile Christians should not gloat over the Jews’ lost state; in one sense they owe their very salvation to it.

The other side of this coin is that the partial hardening of Israel has happened (and by implication will persist) until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. This places a limit on the hardening of Israel. Once the Gentiles’ participation in the blessings of salvation has become fully established, the period of Israel’s hardening will be over.

Those who interpret “fullness” as referring to a final ingathering of Gentiles at or near the second coming must naturally see this hardening as still present and as continuing up to or near the end. However, if we see the “fullness” as referring to the initial ingathering of Gentiles into the church, then the time of Israel’s hardening was relatively brief and perhaps was coming to an end in Paul’s own day. This is why he can say in v. 31 that the Jews “may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you [Gentiles].”

Paul implies that the Gentiles’ experience of the fullness of salvation in some way leads to the cessation of Israel’s hardness (see the references to arousing the Jews’ envy in vv. 11, 13-14). The further implication is that Gentile Christians, rather than feeling conceited because they are saved and most Jews are not, should instead be actively preaching the gospel to the Jewish community.

We may note again that what Paul affirms here in v. 25 has already been either stated or implied in vv. 11-24; hence this verse is not revealing anything new but is summarizing the “mystery” already set forth.

11:26a The last element in the mystery is this: And so all Israel will be saved,… This is the conclusion drawn from the first two parts of the mystery, and in fact from 11:1-25 as a whole. Has God rejected his people? It is true that most of them were hardened. But in God’s plan this hardening is instrumental in bringing the fullness of salvation to the Gentiles. Once the Gentiles have experienced this fullness, the Jews will be moved to envy and will be ready to receive God’s mercy. Thus the hardening will last only until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. After this they may be grafted back into the olive tree, if they accept the mercy offered to them through the gospel. And in this way, all Israel will be saved. So how can anyone say that God has rejected his people?

As we discuss this verse, three questions must be kept in mind at the same time. First, what does “Israel” mean? Also, how extensive is the “all”? Finally, what kind of salvation is Paul talking about? The key issue, of course is this: does this verse predict and thus guarantee the salvation of a large mass of Jews at some point in the future, or does Paul have something else in mind?

Before we examine the phrase “all Israel,” it is important to have a proper understanding of the first two words in the verse, “and so.” The word “and” clearly ties this sentence to the last two clauses, but the word “so” (οὕτως, houtōs) does so in an even clearer and more crucial way. Some take this word as indicating a temporal sequence between v. 25b and v. 26a: Israel has experienced a partial hardening until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and “when this is done” all Israel will be saved. Bruce refers to the “well attested use” if houtōs “in a temporal sense” (222). But such a use is hardly well attested. Indeed, Fitzmyer argues that a temporal meaning is not found elsewhere in Greek (622), and Moo agrees with him (719-720). It is best to reject this meaning for the word.

Rather, houtōs here should be given its common meaning of “in this manner, thus, so” (AG, 602). The point is not when all Israel will be saved, but how. Cranfield says the word is emphatic: “It will be in this way, and only in this way,” that all Israel will be saved (2:576). And what is this way? Here the term points us not to what follows but to what precedes. I.e., Israel will be saved by the coming of salvation to the Gentiles (v. 26b), which will arouse jealousy in the Jews themselves (vv. 11,13-14). Thus, “under the influence of the jealousy so excited—under the impression produced on the Jews by the sight of the Gentiles in their fulness peopling the kingdom—all Israel shall be saved” (Denney, 683). So also Godet (411), Dunn (2:681), and Moo (720).

But exactly what is meant by “all Israel”? The following discussion will seek to answer this question in two steps. First, the three major views will be explained. Second, the main arguments for and against these views will be presented, and one of the three will be identified as the best approach.

Of the three major views, the one most commonly held is that “all Israel” refers to ethnic Israel as a whole. (We shall call this view A.) The basic idea is that at some point in the future, once the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, there will be a mass conversion of Jews. This does not mean that every individual Jew will be saved, but it does mean that most Jews living at that time will become Christians. It is pointed out that the OT occasionally uses “all Israel” in this sense, e.g., 1 Sam 25:1; 1 Kgs 12:1; 2 Chr 12:1; Dan 9:11. Thus all Israel, and not just the present remnant (v. 5), will be saved. This view enjoys a “strong consensus,” says Dunn (2:681).

This view has two versions, eschatological and noneschatological. The former says the future conversion of all Israel will be associated with Christ’s Second Coming. Cranfield says it is probable “that Paul was thinking of a restoration of the nation of Israel as a whole to God at the end, an eschatological event in the strict sense” (2:577). It is clear, says Moo, “that Paul places this event at the end of time”; it will be “a large-scale conversion of Jewish people at the end of this age” (723-724). It will be “the climax of salvation-history,” says Dunn (2:692). For some this will involve the restoration of Israel as a national entity, along with its repossession of the original promised land. This is a common feature in the dispensational premillennial view of end-time events. “All Israel,” says MacArthur, means “the entire nation that survives God’s judgment during the Great Tribulation” and thus prepares the way for the millennium (2:128-129; see Pentecost, Things, 504-507).

The noneschatological version of this view says there will be a future mass conversion of Jews, but not necessarily associated with the end-times and not involving a nationalistic restoration. “All Israel” will be saved by becoming a part of the church, alongside Gentile Christians. As Moule puts it, Paul is “predicting the conversion of some generation or generations of Jews, a conversion so real and so vastly extensive that unbelief shall be the small exception at the most, and that Jews as such shall everywhere be recognized as true Christians” (199). Murray strongly defends this view (2:96-100), as does Stott, who says Paul promises that “the great mass of the Jewish people” will one day experience “salvation from sin through faith in Christ,” but does not promise “a return to the land” as a “political entity” (303-304). See also Lard (370-371) and SH (335-336).

The second major view is that “all Israel” means the remnant portion of ethnic Israel, or all believing Jews in all generations. (We shall call this view B.) Here the term “Israel” is taken in a slightly different sense in v. 26 as compared with v. 25 and elsewhere. I.e., it may be true that the mass of Israel has been hardened (v. 25), but all of true spiritual Israel will be saved (v. 26). They will be saved not in a single mass conversion but in the normal process of evangelism, being brought to faith in Christ and added to his church over the whole course of church history.

Hendriksen, a Calvinist, defends this view, saying that “all Israel” means “the total number of elect Jews.” It means that on the Judgment Day “not a single elect Israelite will be lacking” (2:381). Hoekema likewise says that v. 26a describes “the bringing to salvation throughout history of the total number of the elect from among the Jews” (Bible, 140). These are “the true Israelites,” he says (141). What Paul means, says Lenski, is that “all God’s true Israel, all of it that really deserves the name, will be saved” (719). This includes all true Israel “from the patriarchs onward until time ends” (724). As McGuiggan puts it, “Believing Jews are the real Israel. They are the Israel within Israel,” of whom Paul speaks in 9:6 (335). Thus “all Israel” means “every Jew who is truly an Israelite” (336).

The third main view of “all Israel” is that it refers to the whole of spiritual Israel, including both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. (We shall call this view C.) In other words, it is God’s new Israel, the church, which is identified in Gal 3:29 as “Abraham’s seed,” in Gal 6:16 as “the Israel of God,” and in Phil 3:3 as “the circumcision.” This view was common among the early church fathers (see Fitzmyer, 623-624), and was espoused by Calvin, who says, “I extend the word Israel to all the people of God” as gathered from among both Jews and Gentiles (437). See also Wright, Climax (250); and Smith (2:43).

We turn now to the second step of our discussion of “all Israel,” which is to set forth and evaluate various arguments for and against these views. We shall begin by examining the main arguments for A, that “all Israel” means ethnic Israel as a whole. The best argument for this view is that it is consistent with the way the term “Israel” is used elsewhere in Romans, and especially in this context. In 9:1-11:25 the words “Israel” and “Israelite” occur eleven or twelve times (allowing for textual variations), and “in each case the reference is clearly to Jews, never to Gentiles” (Hendriksen, 2:380). Thus, it is asked, how can we possibly expect Paul, abruptly and without qualification, to use this same term in v. 26 with an entirely different meaning? Murray declares “that it is exegetically impossible to give to ‘Israel’ in this verse any other denotation than that which belongs to the term throughout this chapter…. It is of ethnic Israel Paul is speaking and Israel could not possibly include Gentiles” (2:96). Especially, since “Israel” in v. 25 undoubtedly means the whole nation, it is impossible that he would use it in a different sense in v. 26 (Bruce, 221-222). Thus, says Cranfield, that “all Israel” here “does not include Gentiles is virtually certain” (2:576).

A second argument for A is that it seems most consistent with the overall context of 9-11. I.e., one of the main issues in this whole section is the fate of the nation of Israel (Godet, 410). “The whole context shows clearly that it is the actual Israel of history that is referred to” (SH, 336). Thus, says Hughes, “there is no way ‘Israel’ here can be spiritualized, considering the context of chapters 9-11. It clearly refers to ethnic Israel, the Jewish people” (199).

A third argument for A is that the salvation of all ethnic Israel has already been affirmed several times in this chapter, especially in the reference to Israel’s “fullness” in v. 12, her “acceptance” in v. 15, and her “grafting in” in vv. 23-24. Thus it is likely that v. 26 refers to the same thing, “because in vv. 15,25, we have had already a prediction of a restoration of Jews, en masse, to grace” (Moule, 199). It would be anticlimactic to refer v. 26 to anything less; indeed it would be “exegetical violence” (Murray, 2:97).

A final argument is that if “all Israel” is anything less than the whole nation of Israel, then this statement does not deserve to be called a “mystery” (v. 25) in the sense explained above. To say that all true/elect/spiritual Israel will be saved, whether in the sense of B or C, is called a truism or a tautology (Godet, 411), i.e., something true by definition. Only “the whole of ethnic Israel” does justice to the term “mystery” (Cranfield, 2:576-577; Morris, 421).

Do these four arguments rule out B and C, and establish A? The first argument is the strongest, and in my judgment makes C unlikely. I do not believe it rules out B, however, as will be seen below. The second argument likewise has merit and weakens the case for C, but again it does not rule out B. The third argument is altogether invalid because it is based on a false understanding of vv. 12,15, and 24-25. These verses do not refer to a future mass conversion of Israel. (See my explanation of them above.) Indeed, Hendriksen says that prior to v. 26 “the reader has not been prepared for the idea of a mass conversion of Israelites. All along Paul stresses the very opposite, namely, the salvation, in any age (past, present, future) of a remnant” (2:379). The fourth argument might have some merit if the emphasis in v. 26a were on the word “all.” But since the emphasis is actually on the word “so,” i.e., “in this way,” the argument misses the point completely. The how of all Israel’s salvation is surely worthy to be called a mystery. See Moo, 722.

The conclusion is that the arguments for A and against B and C are not as strong as one might expect, given the widespread acceptance of this view. The last two arguments are invalid in themselves; and the first two arguments, while making C unlikely, by no means rule out B. The issue then turns on whether a good case can be made for B.

Before turning to B we shall briefly consider C, the view that “all Israel” means all spiritual Israel in general (the church), including both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. I have already indicated that I believe the use of the term “Israel” in 9-11 makes this view unlikely. One cannot appeal to 9:6 to support this meaning for “Israel” in v. 26a, since the “spiritual Israel” in 9:6 includes only Jewish believers and not Gentile believers. Thus I agree that it is unwarranted to say that “Israel” in v. 26a means “spiritual Israel” in the broadest sense of that term, the church.

The argument that the context as a whole militates against this view is not as strong, since the salvation of Jews and Gentiles together certainly has been considered in this main section (9:24; 10:12), and even in the immediate context (the olive tree). Moo makes a good point, though, when he says that this view would weaken “the hortatory purpose of Rom. 11:11-32,” which is to counter the Gentiles’ tendency to hold themselves above the Jews. In fact, “for Paul in this context to call the church ‘Israel’ would be to fuel the fire of the Gentiles’ arrogance by giving them grounds to brag that ‘we are the true Israel’” (721).

While I do not accept this view (C) and believe that a good case cannot be made for it, I do not consider it to be an oddity or to be totally out of the question. As Wright (Climax, 250) points out, “Israel” is used in two different senses in a single verse (9:6) without warning or explanation. Can we rule out a similar tactic here? Also, in 9:24-29 Paul does speak of Jews and Gentiles together in the context of the remnant. In 10:12-13 he declares that no distinction can be made between Jews and Gentiles with regard to salvation. In 11:17-24 the olive tree contains both Jews and Gentiles, and even v. 25 refers to the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, at least by implication.

This leads to our examination of the arguments for B, which I consider to be the correct view. When Paul says that “all Israel will be saved,” he is speaking of all ethnic Jews who also belong to the true spiritual Israel. The first argument for this view is that it is consistent with the way Paul uses the term “Israel” in 9-11, and thus belies the criticism that A is the only view that interprets the term consistent with the context. To say that Paul uses this term elsewhere in this section only for ethnic Jews may be true; but that does not affect B, which agrees that v. 26a refers to ethnic Jews. The only issue is whether Paul uses the term only in the sense of the nation as a whole, and 9:6 shows that he does not. In 9:6 Paul uses the term “Israel” twice, first referring to the nation as a whole and then referring only to spiritual Israel, the remnant. In the Greek text of 9:6 these two uses are almost consecutive, being separated by only one Greek word. Thus 9:6 is more than enough justification for regarding “Israel” in 11:26a as referring to spiritual Israel, even though the same term in 11:25 refers to Israel as a whole.

The second argument for B is that it is totally consistent with the context in general. Proponents of A say that v. 26a must be talking about the nation as a whole, because the status of the nation as a whole is exactly what 9-11 is all about: How can we reconcile Israel’s lostness with God’s faithfulness? But this is not the whole picture. It is true that in 9-11 the unbelief of Israel in general is the problem, but it is also true that the existence of a remnant who believe is part of the answer to the problem. Hence the remnant concept is a prominent theme in the context as a whole. See especially 9:6,23-29; 11:1-7a.

Third, this view (B) is also consistent with the line of thought Paul is developing in ch. 11 specifically. Has God rejected his people? No. Though most are hardened, he has a remnant. But is there any hope for those who are hardened? Yes. Especially now that salvation has come to the Gentiles, all hardened Jews may believe in Jesus and become a part of the remnant. Paul has just declared that God can and will graft the broken-off branches back into the olive tree, conditioned upon their abandoning their unbelief (v. 23). In v. 24 Paul assures us that God will graft these natural branches back into the tree, but the condition of faith is obviously meant to be carried over from v. 23. The same is undoubtedly true in v. 26. When Paul says “All Israel will be saved,” in view of v. 23 we must understand it as “all Israelites who believe in Jesus Christ—i.e., the remnant—will be saved.” This shows the importance of translating houtōs as “thus, in this way.” When Paul says “in this way” all Israel will be saved, he is referring not just to the summary statement in v. 25, but to the more complete explanation in vv. 11-24, including the emphasis on conditionality in vv. 23-24.

A fourth argument for B is that it does justice to the word “all” in “all Israel.” One of the most serious flaws of A is that it really does not take the word “all” seriously. In practically every version of it, the only Jews who are saved are those who happen to be living at and possibly after a point of time still in the future, and for many it is only that final generation of Jews who are saved. Most individual Jews in the scores of generations preceding that time are actually not saved. Thus the saved “will be just a fragment of the total number of Jews who have lived on the earth. How can such a fragment properly be called ‘all Israel’?” (Hoekema, Bible, 144). Also, as McGuiggan points out, if the issue here is God’s faithfulness to his promises to the Jews, how is the saving of just one generation evidence of such faithfulness? “Did he make these promises only to a coming generation of Jews? Did he not make them to past generations of Jews?… In what way does the salvation of a coming mass of Jews vindicate God’s faithfulness?” (335-336; see Hendriksen, 2:379). But if “all Israel” means “the entire remnant of Jews,” then this refers to every believing Israelite in every generation. All who meet the condition of v. 23 will be saved.

A fifth argument for B is that it is consistent with Paul’s teaching in the following verses that “all Israel” is being saved now. As we shall soon see, the OT texts cited as confirmation of v. 26a refer to the first coming of Jesus and to the present salvation from sin by God’s grace. They do not refer to the Second Coming and to some future national restoration (Hendriksen, 2:380). Especially, in v. 31 Paul says it is God’s plan that the Jews “may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you [Gentiles].” View A does not do justice to this “now,” but B does. See Hoekema, Bible, 145-146.

Finally we may point out that Moo’s criticism that C is not consistent with Paul’s exhortations to the Gentile Christians (to not consider themselves better than the Jews) does not apply to B, since the remnant of which B speaks is from among the Jews only. In fact, though Moo accepts A, he declares that B “deserves consideration as a serious alternative” (723).

A final question in reference to “all Israel will be saved” is the meaning of “saved.” At stake is whether this salvation includes something special for the Jews, or whether Paul is referring simply to the ordinary salvation from sin enjoyed by Gentile believers as well. Those who hold to the eschatological version of A usually take the former approach, saying that this salvation includes the restoration of Israel as a political entity to its original Palestinian homeland as a preparation for the millennium (see MacArthur, 2:128-129; Cranfield, 2:577-578). Almost everyone else, though, in view of vv. 26b-27, understands “saved” to mean the ordinary way of salvation which Paul has been expounding throughout Romans. As Stott says, it is “salvation from sin through faith in Christ. It is not a national salvation, for nothing is said about either a political entity or a return to the land” (304). Moo agrees that there is no evidence in Rom 11 that salvation includes restoration to the land (724, n. 59).

If this is the case, how does the salvation of all remnant Israel depend on the fullness of the Gentiles? The main thing is that the latter is an occasion for envy on the part of the Jews (11:12,13-14), but DeWelt reminds us also that it must involve “nothing short of the faithful preaching of the gospel by the Gentiles to the Jews” (188).

11:26b-27… as it is written, “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” This is a brief OT confirmation that God is now saving “all Israel” through the gospel of Jesus Christ. These lines are taken from the LXX version of Isaiah. Verse 26b is basically the same as Isa 59:20; v. 27a is from Isa 59:21a; v. 27b is from Isa 27:9. In the last citation Paul changes “his sin” to “their sins.” The phrase “from Zion” also represents a change. The Hebrew text here reads “to Zion”; the LXX has “for the sake of Zion”; but Paul says “from Zion.” The fact that salvation comes “from Zion” is specifically mentioned in Ps 14:7; 53:6; 110:2. Paul chooses to incorporate this thought into his OT citation in order to make his point more clearly. (See Moo, 727-728.)

The word for “deliverer” is a participial form of the verb ρύομαι (ryomai), which means “to save, to rescue, to deliver.” The Hebrew text has ‏גאל‎ (go’el), “Redeemer” (see GRe, 15-20). This originally would have been applied to Yahweh, but Paul’s use of it here shows it is definitely a messianic prophecy. The “deliverer” is Jesus Christ. See 1 Thess 1:10.

“Jacob” of course was the original name of Isaac’s favored son before it was changed to Israel. OT poetic and prophetic literature often used it as a synonym for Israel when referring to the Jewish people. That is its meaning here. It simply means “Israel” or “the Jews.”

“Zion” was one of the hills on which Jerusalem was built. It was used in the OT as a poetic name for Jerusalem itself (e.g., Ps 48:2, 11-12; 51:18; 69:35), and often symbolically for the whole of Israel and the people of Israel (e.g., Ps 74:2; 78:68; 146:10; Isa 1:27; 46:13). Sometimes the nuance was Zion (Jerusalem) as the location of the temple and thus the dwelling place of God (e.g., Ps 76:2; 132:13; Isa 8:18; 18:7; 24:23; Jer 2:19; Joel 3:17,21). In this way “Zion” came to represent heaven itself as God’s dwelling place (e.g., Ps 9:11; 14:7; 20:2; 50:2; 53:6; 110:2; 134:3).

In the New Covenant era “Zion” represents the new temple, the new people of God, the church. Messianic prophecies about Zion, such as Ps 2:6 and Isa 28:16 (see also Isa 2:3 and Micah 4:2) could be referring to the fact that the church was established in the earthly city of Jerusalem (Acts 2), from which the gospel then was taken into all the earth. But these texts could also be referring to the church itself, which seems more likely in view of Rom 9:33; Heb 12:22-23; and 1 Pet 2:6. See also Gal 4:26.

How does Paul intend for us to understand “from Zion” in this quote from Isa 59:20? Possibly it just means “Israel,” i.e., Christ came forth from the people of Israel. Or it may mean “Jerusalem” in the sense that this is where the church and the preaching of the gospel originated. Most likely, though, it means Zion as God’s heavenly dwelling place, i.e., God the Redeemer will come forth from heaven itself.

It makes a considerable difference whether this refers to the Messiah’s first coming or his second coming. If it is the latter, this would give support to the eschatological version of view A above. Paul would be saying that all Israel will be saved when the Messiah returns from heaven. Cranfield explains it exactly this way, then observes that this confirms that Paul is speaking of an eschatological salvation for the Jews (2:578). See also Bruce (222), Dunn (2:682, 692), and Moo (727-728).

I believe, on the contrary, that this refers to the first coming of Christ. It is in future tense (“will come”) from Isaiah’s standpoint, not Paul’s. Christ’s first coming was just as much from the heavenly Zion as the second will be. The strongest reason for taking it to be the first coming is the specific stated purpose for which the Redeemer comes from Zion. The redemptive acts mentioned by Isaiah and recited by Paul refer not to a political restoration of the Jewish nation but to the personal salvation of individuals. This is why Jesus came the first time: to die for the sins of his people, and thereby to establish a new covenant with them, a covenant to take away their sins.

Specifically the deliverer has come to “turn godlessness away from Jacob” (v. 26b) and to “take away their sins” (v. 27b). This is the saving grace of forgiveness (justification), regeneration, and sanctification. It is a spiritual restoration, not a political one (Godet, 413; Denney, 684). This is the very thing Peter preached to the Jews in his second sermon in Acts: “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (3:26). This taking away of sins, says Isaiah, is the purpose and result of God’s “covenant with them.”

Of which covenant is Isaiah speaking? Some assume it is the covenant God made with Abraham and his physical seed, the Jewish nation (e.g., Moo, 728-729). From this they conclude that God has promised salvation to the Jews as a nation (e.g., Fitzmyer, 625), and that for this covenant to be fulfilled God must ultimately bring about “the future restoration of Israel” (Murray, 2:100; see Moo, 729). This is completely off the mark, however. The covenant with Abraham was with the nation of Israel as a whole, but its promises were principally temporal blessings relating to Israel’s role of bringing the Messiah into the world (9:4-5), not the spiritual blessings of salvation as such. I.e., the Abrahamic covenant did not guarantee salvation to every Jew living under it. Also, the Abrahamic covenant was fulfilled with the first coming of Christ.

The covenant to which Isaiah’s messianic prophecy refers is thus not the Abrahamic covenant, but the New Covenant prophesied in Jer 31:31-34, and established through the death and shed blood of Christ (Luke 22:20; Heb 8:7-12; 10:15-17). The central promise of the New Covenant, as stated in Jer 31:34, is this: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This is exactly what Paul is emphasizing in his quote from Isaiah: God covenants to take away the sins of “all Israel” through the blood of Christ if they will but trust in him. This covenant is conditional (11:23), and God gathers Jews into it one by one over the whole course of church history. This is how all true Israel will be saved.

2. God’s Continuing Love for Israel (11:28-29)

11:28 Speaking of the Jews, Paul continues to address the Gentiles, explaining the reason why God’s salvation is offered to “all Israel.” As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,… This verse reflects the tension within God’s nature that sums up God’s relation to all sin and all sinners, i.e., the tension between his holiness and his love. This is seen in a special way in his attitude toward the Jews; they are at the same time his enemies and his beloved, the objects of both his hatred and his love.

The word ἐχθρός (echthros) is usually translated “enemy” in the NT; it speaks of an attitude of enmity and hostility and hatred. The main point here is not the sinner’s hatred of God, but God’s hatred of the sinner, in contrast with his love for the sinner in v. 28b (Morris, 422). To be hated by God is to be under his wrath, rejected by him, and shut off from him (SH, 337; Cranfield, 2:580). This divine hostility is not directed toward all Jews, but only toward those who have rejected the gospel. They are God’s enemies “as far as the gospel is concerned,” i.e., because they have refused to accept the gospel and to believe in Jesus as their Messiah (9:30-10:21).

Paul never ceases to remind the Gentile Christians, however, that God’s enmity toward the Jews has been the occasion for bringing the gospel to them. The Jews are enemies, yes; but they are enemies “on your account,” for your sake, “in order to open His kingdom wide to you” (Moule, 201). See vv. 11,12,15.

But this is only part of the picture, and the lesser part at that. Even though the hardened Jews have chosen to become God’s enemies by rejecting the gospel, God still loves them because of the original relationship he established with them through the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Thus he cannot forget them; he cannot pretend that this relationship never existed. Even if they no longer have a special role in God’s ongoing plan, they still occupy a special place in his heart.

“As far as election is concerned” has been taken two ways. In vv. 5,7 Paul uses this same term (ἐκλογή, eklogē, “election, choice”) for the elect remnant; some interpret it this way here, saying that v. 28b refers only to the remnant within Israel, and thus limiting God’s love to the elect alone. Others (correctly) interpret “election” here as referring to God’s original choice of Abraham and through him of the entire nation of Israel. This is not an election of individuals to salvation, but the election of the Jews as a corporate body to covenant service, as in 9:11.

Thus, whereas v. 28a reflects the reality of ch. 10 above, v. 28b reflects the reality of ch. 9. God chose Israel as a nation to serve his special redemptive purposes, and poured out upon them his special covenant blessings. Even though this relationship did not automatically guarantee salvation to every individual Jew, God cannot help but regard every natural descendent of Abraham with a special affection. Thus for the Jews perhaps more than others, God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9, NASB). That is why he wants to include them in his new covenant, the covenant of salvation (v. 27). God’s enmity to the hardened Jews is real (v. 28a), but it does not cancel out his love for them.

That all Israel is loved by God “on account of the fathers” does not mean that the patriarchs did anything to merit or deserve this continuing love for their descendants. Nor does it mean that God still has unfulfilled covenant obligations toward the fathers. This latter view is quite common, especially among those who believe there is just one covenant of salvation, beginning with Abraham and continuing through the NT era. According to this view, this is why God still loves the Jews and must save them, i.e., “for His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is sovereign and unchangeable” (Moule, 201; see Stott, 306; Dunn, 2:694). “When the Lord elected… the nation of Israel to be His own people, He bound Himself by His own promises to bring the Jews to salvation and be forever His beloved and holy people,” says MacArthur (2:131). Murray says, “God has not suspended or rescinded his relation to Israel as his chosen people in terms of the covenants made with the fathers,” and this is why he will save and restore them (2@:101).

This view errs in thinking that the covenant with the patriarchs is the same as the covenant of salvation Jesus established on the cross. Thus it errs in thinking that the patriarchal covenant promised salvation to Jews as Jews in perpetuity. The truth is that every promise to Israel as a nation through the patriarchs was completely fulfilled when Jesus came into the world the first time (9:4-5; Acts 13:32-34).

11:29 This is not contradicted by what Paul says in the next verse: for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. This refers still to God’s original general election of the nation of Israel. The “gifts” are not the gifts of salvation (contra Moule, 201; Hendriksen, 2:384; MacArthur, 2@:131). They are the benefits described in 9:4-5, which, though glorious in every respect, are still temporal and nonsalvific in themselves. The “call” likewise is not the salvific call to which only the elect respond, as in 8:30 (contra Denney, 684; Hendriksen, 2:384; MacArthur, 2@:132; Lenski, 734). It refers to the original call to Abraham and thus the call to Israel as a nation “to be His special people, to stand in a special relation to Himself, and to fulfil a special function in history” (Cranfield, 2:581).

These gifts and this call are “irrevocable,” Paul says. This is the first word in the verse in the Greek text and therefore is in a place of emphasis. What does it mean? It comes from μεταμέλομαι (metamelomai¯), which means “to regret, to repent, to change one’s mind.” Here, with the negating alpha, the word is ἀμεταμέλητος (ametamelētos, “not to be regretted, not to be repented of.” (See 2 Cor 7:10.) “Irrevocable” is not the best translation. The point is not that God must save the Jews because he has made an irrevocable promise to Abraham et al. to do so. Rather, it is that God does not regret his choice of Israel as the nation through whom he brought the Christ into the world. Despite the centuries of their heartbreaking unfaithfulness and idolatry in OT times, and despite their current rejection of the gospel, God does not regret all he did for them and through them to carry out his purposes.

This is why they are still beloved to him. Paul begins this thought with γάρ (gar), “for, because.” The Jews are still beloved because of the patriarchs (v. 28b), because God has never regretted this Old Covenant relationship he established with them in the first place. As Lard says, “Their fathers were chosen and loved, and on their account their rejected descendants are still loved” (373).

3. God’s Ultimate Purpose Is Mercy (11:30-32)

In describing God’s dealings with the Jews and Gentiles, this chapter has strongly emphasized both sides of God’s nature: his sternness and his kindness (v. 22), his enmity and his love (v. 28). It has not attempted to soften or disguise the wrath of God against the unbelieving Jews (vv. 7-10,19-22,28a). But this is not the main point of the chapter. The main point is that, in spite of the unbelief and disobedience of Gentiles and Jews alike, God wants the gracious side of his nature to prevail. His ultimate goal and purpose are mercy, not wrath. And the most marvelous thing of all is that God can use the universal disobedience of mankind as a part of his plan to show mercy unto all. By explaining how this is so, this paragraph is a striking example of 8:28.

11:30-31 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. The parts of these two verses are so carefully composed and so deliberately parallel that both must be printed together here. Dunn says this sentence is “the most contrived or carefully constructed formulation which Paul ever produced in such tight epigrammatic form, with so many balancing elements” (2:687). It may be diagrammed thus:

For just as YOU GENTILES

then were disobedient to God, but

now have received mercy

by the JEWS’ disobedience;


now have become disobedient, so that

now they also may receive mercy

by the mercy shown to you GENTILES.

In a real sense this sentence sums up everything Paul has said in this chapter. As Godet puts it, “Ver. 30 describes the rebellion of the Gentiles, then their salvation determined by the rebellion of the Jews; and ver. 31, the rebellion of the Jews, then their salvation arising from the salvation of the Gentiles” (414).

The word ποτε (pote, “then, at one time”) in v. 30a refers to the pre-Christian era when the Gentiles were limited to general revelation and were given over to the sinful excesses of their rebellion against God (1:18-32). The word νῦν (nyn, “now”) in v. 30b refers to the New Covenant era when Christ has commanded that the gospel be taken to all nations. Morris (424-425) points out that the contrast is not between disobedience and obedience, as if one could make up for his sins by beginning to obey the commandments of the law. As in 3:21-5:21, the only remedy for disobedience is the mercy and grace of God.

To say that the Gentiles have received mercy “as a result of their [the Jews’] disobedience” is simply to repeat vv. 11,12,15. God takes the Jews’ rebellion against the gospel of Christ as an occasion for sending that gospel to the Gentiles.

These verses continue to undermine Gentile smugness in relation to the Jews. Paul reminds the Gentiles (1) that they too were once in a state of disobedience; (2) that in one sense they owe their present state of grace to the Jews’ disobedience; and (3) that God’s plan is for the Jews to ultimately receive the same mercy now enjoyed by the Gentiles, even though they will arrive at it by a slightly different route.

To say that the Jews “have now become disobedient” refers to their initial rejection of the gospel at the beginning of the New Covenant era.

The word translated “in order that” is ἵνα (hina). It usually denotes purpose, as the NIV chooses to translate it here. But if that is what it means here, this would suggest that somehow God caused the Jews to be disobedient, so that he might accomplish the stated purpose. Thus it is important to know two things about hina. First, it can denote simple result rather than purpose (AG, 378). Also, “contrary to regular usage” hina sometimes “is placed elsewhere than at the beginning of its clause, in order to emphasize the words that come before it” (AG, 379). I believe both of these points are in evidence here in v. 31b. We should especially note that, for emphasis, “by your [the Gentiles’] mercy” is placed at the very beginning of this clause, even before the word hina. Taken thus it reads quite naturally as follows: “The Jews have now become disobedient, with the result that, by means of the mercy shown to you Gentiles, they too may now obtain mercy.”

This shows that God’s ultimate goal, even for the hardened Jews, is that they may receive his mercy and be saved. It also emphasizes again that the salvation of the Gentiles is an instrument by which God will bring this about. This recalls the point about the Jews’ being moved to envy by seeing the Gentiles enjoying the fruit of their own covenant service (vv. 11,13-14). It is also an incentive for Gentile Christians to evangelize the Jews. As Lard says, “The Gentiles have now to preach the gospel to the Jews, and induce them to obey it” (374).

The inclusion of the word “now” in v. 31b is very significant. It shows that the statement, “And so all Israel will be saved” in v. 26a does not refer to a mass conversion of ethnic Jews at some far distant point in the future (relative to the time of Paul’s writing), but that it refers to the ongoing conversion of remnant Jews beginning even “now,” in the first century (Hendriksen, 2:385). Those who take the former view give “now” some other meaning, such as “at any time” (Moo, 735), or “the eschatological now” (Cranfield, 2:586), i.e., sometime during this final messianic age, even if it is toward the end of it (Morris, 425). But the parallel with the “now” in v. 30b shows that Paul is thinking of the “now” in which he was living. Thus as Wright says, it indicates “a steady flow of Jews into the church, by grace through faith,” from that very time (Climax, 249).

11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. In this final verse of the present section Paul emphasizes once again that God’s goal and purpose are to bring mercy to all. The “all” in both clauses probably is not intended to refer to every individual as such, but to all in the sense of both groups, i.e., both Gentiles and Jews. To say God has bound all over to disobedience reflects Paul’s emphasis in 3:9, that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (see 3:9-20). The reference to God’s “mercy on them all” does not teach universal salvation, but refers to the fact that he has poured out his mercy on Jews and Gentiles alike (10:12).

As a matter of fact, though, all individuals in both groups are bound over to sin (3:23). Also, there is a sense in which God has mercy on all individuals, in that his mercy is intended for all and is offered to all. It is not the case, though, that all will in fact accept it. “Whether the mercy will ever be actually realized or not, depends on belief in Christ” (Lard, 375).

The word translated “bound over” literally means “to enclose, to confine, to shut up, to imprison.” How did God imprison the Gentiles in disobedience? This does not mean that he caused them to sin, or made it impossible for them not to sin. It refers to 1:18-32, and to God’s decision to “give them over” to the sinful desires of their hearts (vv. 24,26,28). How did he imprison the Jews in disobedience? Again this does not mean he caused them to sin. It refers rather to 2:1-29, and to the conclusion that the law, in which the Jews trusted, has but one verdict for sinners: condemnation. It refers also to 11:7 and the hardening of Jewish unbelievers. All in all, as Moo says, this statement refers to “God’s decision to ‘confine’ people in the state that they have chosen for themselves” (736).

From another standpoint, to say that God shuts up all men in their sin refers to the divine pronouncement that all have in fact sinned (3:23) and have become trapped in the consequences of their sin with no hope of escaping through any deeds or schemes of their own. “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (3:20, NASB). For sinners this is what it means to be “under law” (6:14,15). For sinners the testimony of the law is a word of wrath. This word of wrath is like cords that bind sinners and leave them shut up in the dungeon of death, in the very vestibule of hell.

But this is not the last word, because God has provided a way of escape from this dungeon, this prison of sin. It is the way of mercy, the way of grace (3:21-5:21); and it is the only way. This is the whole point of Romans: “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (3:28, NASB). “We are not under law but under grace” (6:15). This is the point to which all of ch. 11 has been leading: that God can and will provide this mercy to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. “As they have been together in the prison of their disobedience, so they will be together in the freedom of God’s mercy” (Stott, 307).

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Posted by on November 22, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #26 Right Relationships and Right Living Romans 12

Unity in the Body - America's Keswick Christian Retreat ...

Countless thousands of people today, including many genuine Christians, flock to various churches, seminars, and conferences in search of personal benefits—practical, emotional, and spiritual—that they hope to receive. They do just the opposite of what Paul so plainly emphasizes in Romans 12:1-2. In this forceful and compassionate exhortation, the apostle does not focus on what more we need to receive from God but on what we are to give Him. The key to a productive and satisfying Christian life is not in getting more but in giving all.

Jesus said, “True worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23). God gave Himself for us in order that we might give ourselves to Him. Paul defines Christians as those “who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

Every Christian is like Melchizedek, “a priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18). Together, we are a spiritual priesthood, as much so as the Levitical and Aaronic priesthoods of the Old Covenant. The church is “a holy priesthood,” whose calling is “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… [It is] a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9).

Our supreme calling is to serve God with all our being, first and foremost in worship. Through Christ, the writer of Hebrews tells us, we are to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).

True worship includes many things besides the obvious ones of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. It includes serving God by serving others in His name, especially fellow believers. Sacrificial worship includes “doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb. 13:15-16; cf. Phil. 4:14). But above all else, our supreme act of worship is to offer ourselves wholly and continually to the Lord as living sacrifices.

Tragically, that is far from the approach that is so common today by which believers seek the key to the abundant life. We are told that victory in the Christian life is to have more of God and to have more from God—although “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, [already] has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3, emphasis added). And in Christ, we already have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” so that in Him we “have been made complete” (Col. 2:3, 10). Peter said that in the true and saving knowledge of Christ, we have “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). And we have the resident truth teacher, the Holy Spirit, whose anointing, John says, “teaches [us] about all things” (1 John 2:27).

In the deepest, eternal sense, therefore, we cannot have more of God or from God than we now possess. It is more than obvious, however, that most of us do not have the fulness of joy that this fulness of blessing should bring. The joy and satisfaction for which so many Christians are vainly striving can be had only by surrendering back to the Lord what He already has given to us, including our inmost being. The first and greatest commandment is what Jesus said it has always been: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37; cf. Deut. 6:5).

Paul moves from a doctrinal discussion to a practical discussion, for Christian doctrine translates into action. The first eleven chapters of this letter reveal God’s mercy to sinners in that he sent his Son to die on the cross for our sins. The last five chapters explain our obligation to God. If the early message of the letter is the way we all can come to God through Christ, then the closing part of the letter is the way we all can live for God in Christ. In view of all God has done for us, how can we respond in a way that is pleasing to him?

In all of his letters, Paul concluded with a list of practical duties that were based on the doctrines he had discussed. In the Christian life, doctrine and duty always go together. What we believe helps to determine how we behave. It is not enough for us to understand Paul’s doctrinal explanations. We must translate our learning into living and show by our daily lives that we trust God’s Word.

The key idea in this section is relationships. The term “relational theology” is a relatively new one, but the idea is not new. If we have a right relationship to God, we will have a right relationship to the people who are a part of our lives. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20).

Our Relationship to God (Rom. 12:1-2)

This is the fourth “therefore” in the letter. Romans 3:20 is the “therefore” of condemnation, declaring that the whole world is guilty before God. Romans 5:1 is the “therefore” of justification, and Romans 8:1 the “therefore” of assurance. In Romans 12:1, we have the “therefore” of dedication, and it is this dedication that is the basis for the other relationships that Paul discussed in this section.

What is true dedication? As Paul described it here, Christian dedication involves three steps.

You give God your body (v. 1). Before we trusted Christ, we used our body for sinful pleasures and purposes, but now that we belong to Him, we want to use our body for His glory. The Christian’s body is God’s temple (1 Cor. 6:19-20) because the Spirit of God dwells within him (Rom. 8:9). It is our privilege to glorify Christ in our body and magnify Christ in our body (Phil. 1:20-21).

Just as Jesus Christ had to take on Himself a body in order to accomplish God’s will on earth, so we must yield our bodies to Christ that He might continue God’s work through us. We must yield the members of the body as “instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13) for the Holy Spirit to use in the doing of God’s work. The Old Testament sacrifices were dead sacrifices, but we are to be living sacrifices.

There are two “living sacrifices” in the Bible and they help us understand what this really means. The first is Isaac (Gen. 22); the second is our Lord Jesus Christ. Isaac willingly put himself on the altar and would have died in obedience to God’s will, but the Lord sent a ram to take his place. Isaac “died” just the same—he died to self and willingly yielded himself to the will of God. When he got off that altar, Isaac was a “living sacrifice” to the glory of God.

Of course, our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect illustration of a “living sacrifice,” because He actually died as a sacrifice, in obedience to His Father’s will. But He arose again. And today He is in heaven as a “living sacrifice,” bearing in His body the wounds of Calvary. He is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16) and our Advocate (1 John 2:1) before the throne of God.

The verb “present” in this verse means “present once and for all.” It commands a definite commitment of the body to the Lord, just as a bride and groom in their wedding service commit themselves to each other. It is this once-for-all commitment that determines what they do with their bodies. Paul gives us two reasons for this commitment: (1) it is the right response to all that God has done for us—”I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God” (italics mine); and (2) this commitment is “our reasonable service” or “our spiritual worship.” This means that every day is a worship experience when your body is yielded to the Lord.


Romans 12 offers an outline for breaking the world’s mold. To put these directions in motion means going against the flow of society. Yet God does not hesitate to confront us with the choice. The option is not whether we will conform; rather, the choice is to whom will we conform? Will our lives follow the pattern of this world or God’s pattern? The following are components of God’s pattern:

Offer our bodies—Delivering both the inner and outer self into God’s control. Divers and gymnasts know that where their head goes, the rest of their body will eventually follow.

Be nonconformists—Consciously resisting the suggestions and pressures of the world around us.

Renew our minds—Constantly asking God to teach us to think as he thinks

Estimate ourselves honestly—Having neither false humility nor inappropriate pride in our serving relationships with others.

Utilize our gifts—Identifying those gifts to be used in helping others; finding a purpose, a place, and a position to serve other believers.

12:1 Therefore, brothers and sisters.NRSV Therefore, because of God’s great compassion on both Jews and Gentiles in offering salvation through Christ, Paul urges believers to please God in their daily lives. The evil world is full of temptation and sin. Paul helps believers understand how they can live for God.

By the mercies of God.NKJV Or, literally, “through the compassions [oiktirmon] of God,” refers to all that Paul has already written. Our Christianity is not based on pride in what we can do, but entirely on God’s mercy to forgive us.

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.NRSV Paul had already told the Roman believers, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” (6:13). Our bodies are all we have to offer—we live in our bodies. The body enfolds our emotions, our mind, our thoughts, our desires, and our plans. Thus, the body represents the total person; it is the instrument by which all our service is given to God. In order to live for God, we must offer him all that we are, represented by our body. The word offer has also been translated “give,” “yield,” or “present.” If our body is at God’s disposal, he will have our free time, our pleasures, and all our behavior.

When sacrificing an animal according to God’s law, a priest would kill the animal, cut it in pieces, and place it on the altar. Sacrifice was important, but even in the Old Testament God made it clear that obedience from the heart was much more important (see 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6; Amos 5:21-24). God wants us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices—daily laying aside our own desires to follow him, putting all our energy and resources at his disposal, and trusting him to guide us (see Hebrews 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5). Our new life is a thanks-offering to God. Offering our body as a living sacrifice is holy and pleasing to God.NIV To be a holy sacrifice is to be completely set apart for God and dedicated to his service. Those who are dedicated to God are pleasing to God because they can participate in his service. If we are not set apart from our old life, we will not be useful to God.


In the old sacrifices But for the new sacrifice
An altar was required There is no altar
Animals were slain The sacrifice lives
Sacrifices were cut up The sacrifice is whole
Sacrifices were burned up The sacrifice serves
It was based on a legal obligation It is based on mercy and gratitude
Death was not defeated Eternal life is celebrated

This is your spiritual act of worship.NIV The Greek word for “worship” (latreian) here refers to any act done for God, such as work that priests and Levites performed. Spiritual (logiken) can also mean “reasonable” (nkjv). To serve God is the only reasonable way to respond to his mercy.

The Soul Has Been Given to God

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, (12:1a)

Urge is from parakaleō, which has the basic meaning of calling alongside in order to help or give aid. It later came to connote exhorting, admonishing, or encouraging. In His Upper Room discourse, shortly before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Paraklētos, our divine Helper (also translated Comforter, Counselor, Advocate). He would be “another Helper,” who in this present life takes the place of the incarnate Lord (John 14:16; cf. v. 26; 15:26; 16:7).

Paul is speaking as a human helper or counselor to his Christian brethren in Rome. His admonition is a command that carries the full weight of his apostleship. It is not optional. Yet he also wanted to come alongside those brethren as a fellow believer, to lovingly encourage them to fulfill what already was the true inner desire and bent of their new hearts—to dedicate themselves without reservation to the Lord who had redeemed them. He reflects the same humble tenderness seen in his admonition to Philemon, to whom he wrote, “Though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do that which is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you” (Philem. 8-9).

The gentle command [urge] that Paul proceeds to give can only be obeyed by brethren, by those who already belong to God’s family. No other offering is acceptable to God unless we have first offered Him our souls. For Christians, that first element of “a living and holy sacrifice” has already been presented to God.

The unregenerate person cannot give God his body, his mind, or his will, because He has not given God himself. Because he has no saving relationship to God, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Only the redeemed can present a living sacrifice to God, because only the redeemed have spiritual life. And only believers are priests who can come before God with an offering.

“For what will a man be profited,” Jesus said, “if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). The soul is the inner, invisible part of man that is the very essence of his being. Therefore, until a man’s soul belongs to God, nothing else matters or has any spiritual significance.

The loving generosity of the Macedonian churches was made possible and was acceptable to God and praised by Paul because the believers in those churches “first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). Before anything else worthwhile and acceptable can be given to God, the self must be given to Him in saving faith toward Jesus Christ for regeneration.

Earlier in the epistle Paul has made clear that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). No matter what his personal feelings might be, the unredeemed person cannot worship God, cannot make an acceptable offering to God, cannot please God in any way with any offering. That is analogous to what Paul meant when he said, “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). If a person does not possess the love of God, all of his offerings, no matter how costly, are worthless to Him.

Because an unbeliever’s soul has not been offered to God, he cannot make any other sacrifice that is acceptable to Him. The unredeemed cannot present their bodies to God as living sacrifices because they have not presented themselves to God to receive spiritual life.

Therefore refers back to the glorious doxology just given in the previous four verses (11:33-36). It is because “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things,” that to Him belongs “the glory forever.” We can only glorify the Lord—we can only want to glorify the Lord—if we have been saved by the mercies of God.

As noted above, God already “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). The mercies of God of which Paul speaks here include the many gracious blessings, or grace gifts (cf. 11:29), that he has discussed in the first eleven chapters of Romans.

Perhaps the two most precious mercies of God are His love and His grace. In Christ, we are the “beloved of God” (Rom. 1:7; cf. 5:5; 8:35, 39), and, like the apostle, we all “have received grace” through Jesus Christ our Lord (1:6-7; 3:24; 5:2, 20-21; 6:15). The mercies of God are reflected in His power of salvation (1:16) and in His great kindness toward those He saves (2:4; 11:22). His mercies in Christ bring us the forgiveness and propitiation of our sins (3:25; 4:7-8) and also freedom from them (6:18; 7:6). We have received reconciliation with Him (5:10), justification (2:13; 3:4; etc.) before Him, conformation to His Son (8:29), glorification (8:30) in His very likeness, eternal life (5:21; 6:22-23) in His very presence, and the resurrection of our bodies (8:11) to serve Him in His everlasting kingdom. We have received the mercies of divine sonship (8:14-17) and of the Holy Spirit—who personally indwells us (8:9, 11), who intercedes for us (8:26), and through whom “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts” (5:5). In Christ we also have received the mercies of faith (mentioned thirty times in Romans 1-11), peace (1:7; 2:10; 5:1; 8:6), hope (5:2, 8:20, 24). God’s mercies include His shared righteousness (3:21-22; 4:6, 11, 13; 5:17, 19, 21; etc.) and even His shared glory (2:10; 5:2; 8:18; 9:23) and honor (2:10; cf. 9:21). And, of course, the mercies of God include His sovereign mercy (9:15-16, 18; 11:30-32).

Such soul-saving mercies should motivate believers to complete dedication. The New Testament gives many warnings about God’s chastisement of unfaithful and disobedient believers. “The one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:8), and “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6). One day “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). But the most compelling motivation for faithful, obedient living should not be the threat of discipline or loss of reward but overflowing and unceasing gratitude for the marvelous mercies of God.

The Body Must Be Given to God

to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (12:1b)

The second and consequent element of presenting ourselves to God is that of offering Him our bodies. After it is implied that believers have given their souls to God through faith in Jesus Christ, they are specifically called to present their bodies to Him as a living and holy sacrifice.

In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), paristēmi (to present) was often used as a technical term for a priest’s placing an offering on the altar. It therefore carried the general idea of surrendering or yielding up. As members of God’s present “holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5), Christians are here exhorted to perform what is essentially a priestly act of worship. Because the verb is in the imperative, the exhortation carries the weight of a command.

The first thing we are commanded to present to God is our bodies. Because our souls belong to God through salvation, He already has the inner man. But He also wants the outer man, in which the inner man dwells.

Our bodies, however, are more than physical shells that house our souls. They are also where our old, unredeemed humanness resides. In fact, our humanness is a part of our bodies, whereas our souls are not. Our bodies incorporate our humanness, our humanness incorporates our flesh, and our flesh incorporates our sin, as Romans 6 and 7 so clearly explain.

Our bodies therefore encompass not only our physical being but also the evil longings of our mind, emotions, and will. “For while we were in the flesh,” Paul informs us, “the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death” (Rom. 7:5). Long after he was saved, however, the apostle confessed, “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:22-23). In other words, the redeemed soul must reside in a body of flesh that is still the beachhead of sin, a place that can readily be given to unholy thoughts and longings. It is that powerful force within our “mortal bodies” that tempts and lures us to do evil. When they succumb to the impulses of the fleshly mind, our “mortal bodies” again become instruments of sin and unrighteousness.

It is a fearful thing to consider that, if we allow them to, our fallen and unredeemed bodies are still able to thwart the impulses of our redeemed and eternal souls. The body is still the center of sinful desires, emotional depression, and spiritual doubts. Paul gives insight into that sobering reality when he said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). In order to maintain a holy life and testimony and to minister effectively, even the great apostle had to exert himself strongly and continually in order to control the human and sinful part of himself that persistently wanted to rule and corrupt his life and his work for the Lord. In Romans 8, we learned that he had to kill the flesh. Paul also said that God had given him a “thorn,” or a stake, on which to impale his otherwise proud flesh (2 Cor. 12:7).

It is helpful to understand that dualistic Greek philosophy still dominated the Roman world in New Testament times. This pagan ideology considered the spirit, or soul, to be inherently good and the body to be inherently evil. And because the body was deemed worthless and would eventually die anyway, what was done to it or with it did not matter. For obvious reasons, that view opened the door to every sort of immorality. Tragically, many believers in the early church, who have many counterparts in the church today, found it easy to fall back into the immoral practices of their former lives, justifying their sin by the false and heretical idea that what the body did could not harm the soul and had no spiritual or eternal significance. Much as in our own day, because immorality was so pervasive, many Christians who did not themselves lead immoral lives became tolerant of sin in fellow believers, thinking it merely was the flesh doing what it naturally did, completely apart from the soul’s influence or responsibility.

Yet Paul clearly taught that the body can be controlled by the redeemed soul. He told the sinful Corinthians that the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body” (1 Cor. 6:11-13).

Scripture makes clear that God created the body as good (Genesis), and that, despite their continuing corruption by sin, the bodies of redeemed souls will also one day be redeemed and sanctified. Even now, our unredeemed bodies can and should be made slaves to the power of our redeemed souls.

As with our souls, the Lord created our bodies for Himself, and, in this life, He cannot work through us without in some way working through our bodies. If we speak for Him, it must be through our mouths. If we read His Word, it must be with our eyes (or hands for those who are blind). If we hear His Word it must be through our ears. If we go to do His work, we must use our feet, and if we help others in His name, it must be with our hands. And if we think for Him, it must be with our minds, which now reside in our bodies. There can be no sanctification, no holy living, apart from our bodies. That is why Paul prayed, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).

It is because our bodies are yet unredeemed that they must be yielded continually to the Lord. It was also for that reason that Paul warned, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts” (Rom. 6:12). Paul then gave a positive admonition similar to the one found in our text (12:1), preceded by its negative counterpart: “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). Under God’s control, our unredeemed bodies can and should become instruments of righteousness.

Paul rhetorically asked the believers at Corinth, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19). In other words, our unredeemed bodies are temporarily the home of God! It is because our bodies are still mortal and sinful that, “having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). Our spiritual “citizenship is in heaven,” Paul explained to the Philippians, “from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).

We cannot prevent the remnants of sin from persisting in our mortal bodies. But we are able, with the Lord’s power, to keep that sin from ruling our bodies. Since we are given a new, Spirit-indwelt nature through Christ, sin cannot reign in our souls. And it should not reign in our bodies (Rom. 8:11). Sin will not reign “if by the Spirit [we] are putting to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13; cf. 6:16). (For a complete discussion of Romans 6-8, see the Romans 1-8 volume in this commentary series.)

Paul admonishes us, by God’s mercies, to offer our imperfect but useful bodies to the Lord as a living and holy sacrifice. As noted above, Paul uses the language of the Old Testament ritual offerings in the Tabernacle and Temple, the language of the Levitical priesthood. According to the Law, a Jew would bring his offering of an animal to the priest, who would take it, slay it, and place it on the altar in behalf of the person who brought it.

But the sacrifices required by the Law are no longer of any effect, not even symbolic effect, because, “When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:11-12).

Sacrifices of dead animals are no longer acceptable to God. Because the Lamb of God was sacrificed in their place, the redeemed of the Lord are now to offer themselves, all that they are and have, as living sacrifices. The only acceptable worship under the New Covenant is the offering of oneself to God.

From the very beginning, God’s first and most important requirement for acceptable worship has been a faithful and obedient heart. It was because of his faith, not because of his material offering, that “Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain” (Heb. 11:4). It is because God’s first desire is for a faithful and obedient heart that Samuel rebuked King Saul for not completely destroying the Amalekites and their animals and for allowing the Israelites to sacrifice some of those animals to the Lord at Gilgal. The prophet said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).

David, Saul’s successor to the throne, understood that truth. When confronted by the prophet Nathan concerning his adultery with Bathsheba, David did not offer an animal sacrifice but rather confessed, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17). David offered God his repentant heart as a living sacrifice—apart from outward, visible ceremony—and he was forgiven (2 Sam. 12:13).

A helpful illustration of the difference between a dead and a living sacrifice is the story of Abraham and Isaac. Isaac was the son of promise, the only heir through whom God’s covenant with Abraham could be fulfilled. He was miraculously conceived after Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was far past childbearing age. It could only be from Isaac that God’s chosen nation, whose citizens would be as numberless as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore (Gen. 15:5; 22:17), could descend. But when Isaac was a young man, probably in his late teens, God commanded Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). Without question or hesitation, Abraham immediately began to obey. After reaching Moriah and having tied Isaac to the altar, Abraham was ready to plunge the knife into his beloved son’s heart.

Had he carried out that sacrifice, Isaac would have been a dead offering, just like the sheep and rams that later would be offered on the Temple altar by the priests of Israel. Abraham would have been a living sacrifice, as it were, saying to God in effect, “I will obey you even if it means that I will live without my son, without my heir, without the hope of your covenant promise being fulfilled.” But Isaac, the son of promise, would have been a dead sacrifice.

Hebrews 11:19 makes clear that Abraham was willing to slay Isaac because he was certain that God could raise him from the dead if necessary to keep His promise. Abraham was willing to commit absolutely everything to God and to trust Him, no matter how great the demand and how devastating the sacrifice, because God would be faithful.

God did not require either father or son to carry out the intended sacrifice. Both men already had offered the real sacrifice that God wanted—their willingness to give to Him everything they held dear.

The living sacrifice we are to offer to the Lord who died for us is the willingness to surrender to Him all our hopes, plans, and everything that is precious to us, all that is humanly important to us, all that we find fulfilling. Like Paul, we should in that sense “die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31), because for us “to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). For the sake of his Lord and for the sake of those to whom he ministered, the apostle later testified, “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Phil. 2:17).

Because Jesus Christ has already made the only dead sacrifice the New Covenant requires—the only sacrifice that has power to save men from eternal death—all that remains for worshipers today is the presentation of themselves as living sacrifices.

The story is told of a Chinese Christian who was moved with compassion when many of his countrymen were taken to work as coolies in South African mines. In order to be able to witness to his fellow Chinese, this prominent man sold himself to the mining company to work as a coolie for five years. He died there, still a slave, but not until he had won more than 200 men to Christ. He was a living sacrifice in the fullest sense.

In the mid-seventeenth century, a somewhat well-known Englishman was captured by Algerian pirates and made a slave. While a slave, he founded a church. When his brother arranged his release, he refused freedom, having vowed to remain a slave until he died in order to continue serving the church he had founded. Today a plaque in an Algerian church bears his name.

David Livingstone, the renowned and noble missionary to Africa, wrote in his journal, “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of the great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own reward of healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? …Away with such a word, such a view, and such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering or danger now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not talk when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. (Livingstone’s Private Journal: 1851-53, ed. I. Schapera [London: Chatto & Windus, 1960], pp. 108, 132)

Like Livingstone, Christians who offer a living sacrifice of themselves usually do not consider it to be a sacrifice. And it is not a sacrifice in the common sense of losing something valuable. The only things we entirely give up for God—to be removed and destroyed—are sin and sinful things, which only bring us injury and death. But when we offer God the living sacrifice of ourselves, He does not destroy what we give Him but refines it and purifies it, not only for His glory but for our present and eternal good.

Our living sacrifice also is to be holy. Hagios (holy) has the literal sense of being set apart for a special purpose. In secular and pagan Greek society the word carried no idea of moral or spiritual purity. The man-made gods were as sinful and degraded as the men who made them, and there simply was no need for a word that represented righteousness. Like the Hebrew scholars who translated the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), Christianity sanctified the term, using it to describe God, godly people, and godly things.

Under the Old Covenant, a sacrificial animal was to be without spot or blemish. That physical purity symbolized the spiritual and moral purity that God required of the offerer himself. Like that worshiper who was to come to God with “clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:4), the offering of a Christian’s body not only should be a living but also a holy sacrifice.

Through Malachi, the Lord rebuked those who sacrificed animals that were blind and otherwise impaired. “When you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” (Mal. 1:8). Those people were willing to give a second-rate offering to the Lord that they would not think of presenting as a gift or tax payment to a government official. They feared men more than God.

Although we have been counted righteous and are being made righteous because of salvation in Jesus Christ, we are not yet perfected in righteousness. It is therefore the Lord’s purpose for His church to “sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-27). That was also Paul’s purpose for those to whom he ministered. “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy,” he told the Corinthian Christians; “for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2).

Sadly, like those in Malachi’s day, many people today are perfectly willing to give God second best, the leftovers that mean little to them—and mean even less to Him.

Only a living and holy sacrifice, the giving of ourselves and the giving of our best, is acceptable to God. Only in that way can we give Him our spiritual service of worship.

Logikos (spiritual) is the term from which we get logic and logical. Our offerings to God are certainly to be spiritual, but that is not what Paul is speaking about at this point. Logikos also can be translated reasonable, as in the King James Version. The apostle is saying that, in light of “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” and of His “unsearchable… judgments and unfathomable… ways”; and because “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:33, 36), including His immeasurable “mercies” that we already have received (12:1a), our only reasonable—and by implication, spiritualservice of worship is to present God with all that we are and all that we have.

Service of worship translates the single Greek word latreia, which refers to service of any kind, the context giving it the added meaning of worship. Like paristēmi and hagios (mentioned above), latreia was used in the Greek Old Testament to speak of worshiping God according to the prescribed Levitical ceremonies, and it became part of the priestly, sacrificial language. The priestly service was an integral part of Old Testament worship. The writer of Hebrews uses latreia to describe the “divine worship” (9:6 nasb), or “service of God” (kjv), performed by Old Testament priests.

True worship does not consist of elaborate and impressive prayers, intricate liturgy, stained-glass windows, lighted candles, flowing robes, incense, and classical sacred music. It does not require great talent, skill, or leadership ability. Many of those things can be a part of the outward forms of genuine worship, but they are acceptable to God only if the heart and mind of the worshiper is focused on Him. The only spiritual service of worship that honors and pleases God is the sincere, loving, thoughtful, and heartfelt devotion and praise of His children.

During a conference in which I was preaching on the difference between true and false believers, a man came to me with tears running down his cheeks, lamenting, “I believe I’m a sham Christian.” I replied, “Let me ask you something. What is the deepest desire of your heart? What weighs heaviest on your heart? What occupies your mind and thoughts more than anything else?” He answered, “My greatest desire is to give all I am and have to Jesus Christ.” I said, “Friend, that is not the desire of a sham Christian. That is the Spirit-prompted desire of a redeemed soul to become a living sacrifice.”

12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.NIV When believers offer their entire self to God, a change will happen in their relation to the world. Christians are called to a different life-style than what the world offers with its behavior and customs, which are usually selfish and often corrupting (Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:14). Christians are to live as citizens of a future world. There will be pressure to conform, to continue living according to the script written by the world, but believers are forbidden to give in to that pressure.

Many Christians wisely decide that much worldly behavior is off limits for them. After all, it is not our objective to find out just how much like the world we can become yet still maintain our distinctives. But refusing to conform to this world’s values must go even deeper than the level of behavior and customs—it must be firmly planted in our minds—be transformed by the renewing of your minds.NRSV The Greek word for “transformed” (metamorphousthe) is the root for the English word metamorphosis. Believers are to experience a complete transformation from the inside out. And the change must begin in the mind, where all thoughts and actions begin. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24 niv). One of the keys, then, to the Christian life is to be involved in activities that renew the mind. Renewing (anakainosei) refers to a new way of thinking, a mind desiring to be conformed to God rather than to the world. We will never be truly transformed without this renewing of our mind.

Much of the work is done by God’s Spirit in us, and the tool most frequently used is God’s Word. The Bible claims the ability to judge “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 niv). As we memorize and meditate upon God’s Word, our way of thinking changes. Our minds become first informed, and then conformed to the pattern of God, the pattern for which we were originally designed.

 What causes us to conform to the world’s pattern?

  • We believe that the world is more likely to allow us pleasure than God is.
  • We find a certain exhilaration in rushing along with the world.
  • We are afraid of what might happen if we really think about life and change.
  • We are crippled by pride or a negative self-image and believe there really isn’t an alternative.
  • We reject the life of service and humility necessary to conform ourselves to God’s pattern.

Conforming to the world’s pattern will involve the following ways of thinking:

  • We have a right to have all our desires fulfilled (see Romans 8:5; 1 Peter 4:3-4).
  • We have a right to pursue and use power (see Mark 10:42-45).
  • We have a right to abuse people (see Luke 11:43, 46-52).
  • We have a right to accumulate wealth for purely selfish reasons (see Matthew 16:26).
  • We have a right to use personal abilities and wisdom for self-advancement rather than for serving others (see 1 Corinthians 3:19).
  • We have a right to ignore or even hate God (see James 4:4).
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.niv When believers have had their minds transformed and are becoming more like The main problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.


Christ, they will want God’s will, and not their own will, for their lives. And only as they are being transformed will they be able to know, do, and enjoy what God desires for them. Knowing God’s will isn’t always easy, and even less so when it is not defined in every aspect by a set of laws and regulations. But it is possible if we willingly submit to and depend on God. Only then can we know it; only then can we begin the even more difficult task of doing it.

His good, pleasing and perfect will.NIV In the Greek text the three adjectives good, pleasing, and perfect are used as substantives (nouns). God’s will is what is good, what is pleasing (to God), and what is perfect for each believer. Believers who are being transformed, who know and do God’s will, also discover that what God plans for them is good, pleasing to God, and perfect for them.

The Mind Must Be Given to God

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, (12:2a)

The third element of our priestly self-sacrifice is that of offering Him our minds.

It is in the mind that our new nature and our old humanness are intermixed. It is in the mind that we make choices as to whether we will express our new nature in holiness or allow our fleshly humanness to act in unholiness.

Be conformed is from suschēmatizō, which refers to an outward expression that does not reflect what is within. It is used of masquerading, or putting on an act, specifically by following a prescribed pattern or scheme (schēma). It also carries the idea of being transitory, impermanent, and unstable. The negative (not) makes the verb prohibitive. The verb itself is passive and imperative, the passive indicating that conformation is something we allow to be done to us, the imperative indicating a command, not a suggestion.

Paul’s gentle but firm command is that we are not to allow ourselves to be conformed to this world. We are not to masquerade as a worldly person, for whatever the reason. J. B. Phillips translates this phrase as “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” We must not pattern ourselves or allow ourselves to be patterned after the spirit of the age. We must not become victims of the world. We are to stop allowing ourselves to be fashioned after the present evil age in which we live.

New Testament scholar Kenneth Wuest paraphrased this clause: “Stop assuming an outward expression which is patterned after this world, an expression which does not come from, nor is representative of what you are in your inner being as a regenerated child of God” (Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955], 1:206-7).

World translates aiōn, which is better rendered “age,” referring to the present sinful age, the world system now dominated by Satan, “the god of this world (aiōn)” (2 Cor. 4:4). World here represents the sum of the demonic-human philosophy of life. It corresponds to the German zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) and has been well described as “that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world, which it may be impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitute a most real and effective power, being the moral, or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably to exhale” (G. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], pp. 217-18).

It is not uncommon for unbelievers to mask themselves as Christians. Unfortunately, it also is not uncommon for Christians to wear the world’s masks. They want to enjoy the world’s entertainment, the world’s fashions, the world’s vocabulary, the world’s music, and many of the world’s attitudes—even when those things clearly do not conform to the standards of God’s Word. That sort of living is wholly unacceptable to God.

The world is an instrument of Satan, and his ungodly influence is pandemic. This is seen in the prideful spirit of rebellion, lies, error, and in the rapid spread of false religions—especially those that promote self and come under the broad umbrella of “New Age.” “We know that we are of God,” John wrote nearly two thousand years ago, “and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It clearly still does.

Instead, Paul goes on to say, you should rather be transformed. The Greek verb (metamorphoō) connotes change in outward appearance and is the term from which we get the English metamorphosis. Matthew used the word in describing Jesus’ transfiguration. When “He was transfigured [metamorphōtheē] before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matt. 17:2), Christ’s inner divine nature and glory were, for a brief time and to a limited degree, manifested outwardly. Our inner redeemed nature also is to be manifested outwardly, but as completely and continually as possible, in our daily living.

Like the preceding verb (be conformed), be transformed is a passive imperative. Positively, we are commanded to allow ourselves to be changed outwardly into conformity to our redeemed inner natures. “We all,” Paul assured the Corinthians believers, “with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Although we are to aspire to this outward change, it can be accomplished only by the Holy Spirit working in us, by our being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).

The Holy Spirit achieves this transformation by the renewing of the mind, an essential and repeated New Testament theme. The outward transformation is effected by an inner change in the mind, and the Spirit’s means of transforming our minds is the Word. David testified, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11). God’s own Word is the instrument His own Holy Spirit uses to renew our minds, which, in turn, He uses to transform our living.

Paul repeatedly emphasized that truth in his letter to Colossae. As he proclaimed Christ, he was “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28). By receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, we “have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (3:10). Consequently, we are to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us], with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (3:16).

The transformed and renewed mind is the mind saturated with and controlled by the Word of God. It is the mind that spends as little time as possible even with the necessary things of earthly living and as much time as possible with the things of God. It is the mind that is set “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Whether good or bad, when anything happens in our lives, our immediate, almost reflexive response should be biblical. During His incarnation, Jesus responded to Satan’s temptations by hurling Scripture back into His adversary’s face (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). Only the mind that is constantly being renewed by God’s Spirit working through God’s Word is pleasing to God. Only such a mind is able to make our lives “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual service of worship.”

The Will Must Be Given to God

that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (12:2b)

An implied fourth element of presenting ourselves to God as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice is that of offering Him our wills, of allowing His Spirit through His Word to conform our wills to the will of God.

The Greek construction makes that you may prove a purpose/ result phrase. That is to say, when a believer’s mind is transformed, his thinking ability, moral reasoning, and spiritual understanding are able to properly assess everything, and to accept only what conforms to the will of God. Our lives can prove what the will of God is only by doing those things that are good and acceptable and perfect to Him.

In using euarestos (acceptable), Paul again borrows from Old Testament sacrificial language to describe the kind of holy living that God approves, a “living sacrifice” that is morally and spiritually spotless and without blemish.

Perfect carries the idea of being complete, of something’s being everything it should be. Our wills should desire only what God desires and lead us to do only what He wants us to do in the way He wants us to do it—according to His will and by His power. Our imperfect wills must always be subject to His perfect will.

A transformed mind produces a transformed will, by which we become eager and able, with the Spirit’s help, to lay aside our own plans and to trustingly accept God’s, no matter what the cost. This continued yielding involves the strong desire to know God better and to comprehend and follow His purpose for our lives.

The divine transformation of our minds and wills must be constant. Because we are still continuously tempted through our remaining humanness, our minds and wills must be continuously transformed through God’s Word and by God’s Spirit.

The product of a transformed mind is a life that does the things God has declared to be righteous, fitting, and complete. That is the goal of the supreme act of spiritual worship, and sets the stage for what Paul speaks of next—the ministry of our spiritual gifts.

You give Him your mind (v. 2a). The world wants to control your mind, but God wants to transform your mind (see Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:1-11). This word transform is the same as transfigure in Matthew 17:2. It has come into our English language as the word “metamorphosis.” It describes a change from within. The world wants to change your mind, so it exerts pressure from without. But the Holy Spirit changes your mind by releasing power from within. If the world controls your thinking, you are a conformer; if God controls your thinking, you are a transformer.

God transforms our minds and makes us spiritually minded by using His Word. As you spend time meditating on God’s Word, memorizing it, and making it a part of your inner man, God will gradually make your mind more spiritual (see 2 Cor. 3:18).

You give Him your will (v. 2b). Your mind controls your body, and your will controls your mind. Many people think they can control their will by “willpower,” but usually they fail. (This was Paul’s experience as recorded in Rom. 7:15-21). It is only when we yield the will to God that His power can take over and give us the willpower (and the won’t power!) that we need to be victorious Christians.

We surrender our wills to God through disciplined prayer. As we spend time in prayer, we surrender our will to God and pray, with the Lord, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” We must pray about everything, and let God have His way in everything.

For many years I have tried to begin each day by surrendering my body to the Lord. Then I spend time with His Word and let Him transform my mind and prepare my thinking for that new day. Then I pray, and I yield the plans of the day to Him and let Him work as He sees best. I especially pray about those tasks that upset or worry me—and He always sees me through. To have a right relationship with God, we must start the day by yielding to Him our bodies, minds, and wills.

Relationship to Other Believers (Rom. 12:3-16)

Paul was writing to Christians who were members of local churches in Rome. He described their relationship to each other in terms of the members of a body. (He used this same picture in 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:7-16.) The basic idea is that each believer is a living part of Christ’s body, and each one has a spiritual function to perform. Each believer has a gift (or gifts) to be used for the building up of the body and the perfecting of the other members of the body. In short, we belong to each other, we minister to each other, and we need each other. What are the essentials for spiritual ministry and growth in the body of Christ?

Honest evaluation (v. 3). Each Christian must know what his spiritual gifts are and what ministry (or ministries) he is to have in the local church. It is not wrong for a Christian to recognize gifts in his own life and in the lives of others. What is wrong is the tendency to have a false evaluation of ourselves. Nothing causes more damage in a local church than a believer who overrates himself and tries to perform a ministry that he cannot do. (Sometimes the opposite is true, and people undervalue themselves. Both attitudes are wrong.)

The gifts that we have came because of God’s grace. They must be accepted and exercised by faith. We were saved “by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9), and we must live and serve “by grace through faith.” Since our gifts are from God, we cannot take the credit for them. All we can do is accept them and use them to honor His name. (See 1 Cor. 15:10 for Paul’s personal testimony about gifts.)

I once ministered with two men who had opposite attitudes toward their gifts: the one man constantly belittled bis gifts and would not use them, and the other man constantly boasted about gifts that he did not possess. Actually, both of them were guilty of pride, because both of them refused to acknowledge God’s grace and let Him have the glory. Moses made a similar mistake when God called him (Ex. 4:1-13). When the individual believers in a church know their gifts, accept them by faith, and use them for God’s glory, then God can bless in a wonderful way.

12:3 By the grace given to me I say.NRSV Paul is here speaking as an apostle (see 1:5). The authority he was about to exercise was not his own by right, but was an evidence of God’s grace. He firmly claimed to speak for another.

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.niv Inflated pride has no place in a believer’s life (see 3:27; 11:18, 20). This is especially significant in light of Paul’s teaching up to this point in his letter. The Jews are not better than the Gentiles; the Gentiles are not better than the Jews. Rather, all are dependent on God’s mercy for their salvation, thus there is no room for pride. Any such pride would undermine the oneness vital to the growth of the church. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in Practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands, and moves towards the goal of true maturity (Romans 12:2).

J. B. Phillips

Think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.NIV Each believer’s personal appraisal ought to be honest. Neither an inflated ego nor a deflated person is free to obey. God has given each believer a measure of faith with which to serve him. This expression refers to the spiritual capacity and/or power given to each person to carry out his or her function in the church. The concept of “measure” is described further in 12:6, where Paul uses the terminology “different gifts, according to the grace given us.” It is God’s discernment, not ours, that gives out the measure for service. Whatever we have in the way of natural abilities or spiritual gifts all should be used with humility for building up the body of Christ. If we are proud, we cannot exercise our faith and gifts to benefit others. And if we consider ourselves worthless, we also withhold what God intended to deliver to others through us.

Healthy self-esteem is important because some of us think too little of ourselves; on the other hand, some of us overestimate ourselves. The key to an honest and accurate evaluation is knowing the basis of our self-worth—our identity in Christ. Apart from him, we aren’t capable of very much by eternal standards; in him, we are valuable and capable of worthy service. Evaluating ourselves by worldly standards of success and achievement can cause us to think too much about our worth in the eyes of others and thus miss our true value in God’s eyes.

Faithful cooperation (vv. 4-8). Each believer has a different gift, and God has bestowed these gifts so the local body can grow in a balanced way. But each Christian must exercise his or her gift by faith. We may not see the result of our ministry, but the Lord sees it and He blesses. Note that “exhortation” (encouragement) is just as much a spiritual ministry as preaching or teaching. Giving and showing mercy are also important gifts. To some people, God has given the ability to rule, or to administer the various functions of the church. Whatever gift we have must be dedicated to God and used for the good of the whole church.

It is tragic when any one gift is emphasized in a local church beyond all the other gifts. “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (1 Cor. 12:29-30) The answer to all these questions is no! And for a Christian to minimize the other gifts while he emphasizes his own gift is to deny the very purpose for which gifts are given: the benefit of the whole body of Christ. “Now to each man the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7, NIV).

Spiritual gifts are tools to build with, not toys to play with or weapons to fight with. In the church at Corinth, the believers were tearing down the ministry because they were abusing spiritual gifts. They were using their gifts as ends in themselves and not as a means toward the end of building up the church. They so emphasized their spiritual gifts that they lost their spiritual graces! They had the gifts of the Spirit but were lacking in the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5:22-23).

12:4 We have many members in one body.NKJV Replacing the national identity that had once set apart God’s people,

Paul gives a new picture of the identity of God’s redeemed people. They are like a body. Each of us has one body, but it has many parts—eyes, ears, fingers, toes, blood vessels, muscles. And all the members do not have the same function.nkjv Not every part of our body can see; not every part hears. Instead, each part has a specific function, and they all must work together if the body is going to move and act correctly. (See also 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.) We are called to bear that image as a Body because any one of us taken individually would present an incomplete image, one partly false and always distorted, like a single glass chip hacked from a mirror. But collectively, in all our diversity, we can come together as a community of believers to restore the image of God in the world.

Paul Brand

12:5 In Christ we who are many form one body.NIV Just as our physical bodies are composed of many parts, so the “body of Christ” is made up of many believers who all perform different yet vital functions. And as our bodies cannot be taken apart, so each member, each believer in the body of Christ, belongs to all the others.NIV The members work together to make the body work; the body doesn’t exist to serve the members, and the body is not dependent on one or two of its members to run the show. Every person has his or her part to do. When it is not done, the body suffers.

Even a superficial grasp of this one body imagery demolishes much of the individualized religion of our day. The overemphasis given to personal opinion tends to create an all-too-fragile unity, given the real nature of those being brought together. As sinners, we are naturally divisive; so it is only through the presence and work of Christ that we can remain together. Only in Christ is there basis for unity that transcends differences. Perhaps more churches and relationships between believers would be preserved if we ended every disagreement with a genuine question, “Are we still together in Christ?”

Additional Thoughts

The Ministry of Spiritual Gifts–part 1 (Romans 12:3-5)

For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (12:3-5)

After World War II, a group of German students volunteered to help rebuild an English cathedral that had been severely damaged by German bombs. As work progressed, they became concerned about a large statue of Jesus, whose arms were outstretched and beneath which was the inscription: “Come unto Me.” They had particular difficulty trying to restore the hands, which had been completely destroyed. After much discussion, they decided to let the hands remain missing and changed the inscription to: “Christ has no hands but ours.”

It is the basic truth of that phrase that Paul emphasizes in Romans 12. The work of Jesus Christ in the world is in the hands of those who belong to Him. In that sense, He has no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet. The Lord commissioned His earthly ministry to His followers, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). His present ministers to the world in His name are those described in the previous eleven chapters of Romans, who had been freed from the bondage of sin and become children of God and bond-servants of Jesus Christ. On the human side, it is upon their faithfulness, obedience, and usefulness that the work of His kingdom now depends.

As we have seen, the first obligation of the bond-servant of Christ is the supreme worship expressed in offering himself to his Lord as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). That is God’s fundamental requirement for every believer. Only as a living sacrifice can we be what He wants us to be, do what He wants us to do, and thereby “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). That act of spiritual worship marks the Christian’s entrance into divine usefulness. God’s order of obedience for His people has always been worship and then service.

But our present passage (Rom. 12:3-8) adds the marvelous truth that, although Christ sends forth His servants with a common commission to serve Him, He equips them for that responsibility with greatly diverse gifts. His divine plan for believers is unity in message and commitment but diversity in service. The primary purpose of these verses is to make clear that, although we must enter the place of usefulness for Christ with the same total self-sacrifice, we are equipped to fulfill that usefulness in uniquely distinct ways.

The purpose of offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices is not mystical or monastic but eminently practical. Devotion to the Lord and active, faithful ministry for Him are inseparable. We cannot be truly sacrificed to Him and be inactive in His work. And, on the other hand, we cannot be truly successful in His work without being genuinely devoted to Him. Service to God brings honor to Him and blessing for us only when it is the outflow of our worship in offering ourselves as living sacrifices. Such commitment naturally and inevitably produces effective ministry. There is no godly commitment without God-blessed ministry, and no God-blessed ministry without godly commitment.

This passage utterly destroys the notion that a Christian can be committed to Christ but be inactive in His service, that he can love the Lord but not obey the Lord, that he can be surrendered to the Lord but not minister for the Lord. True worship cannot be divorced from service.

Unfortunately, the church has always had members who piously claim closeness and devotion to the Lord but whose lives exhibit no service for Him. It also has always had those who are busily active in the work of the church but who exhibit little personal depth of devotion to the Lord of the church. Both are a shame to the Lord and are a hindrance to His work, because they thwart the spiritual maturity of the saved and the evangelism of the lost.

I received a letter from a man who expressed concern about what is surely a common problem. He wrote, “Please meet with me and pray with me. I’ve driven my wife away because I taught her by example how to be a Sunday saint and to live any way you want during the week. I’ve lived outwardly as a Christian and been active in the church, but the rest of the time I’ve lived a lie. When our relationship started to fall apart, I tried to get us into Bible reading and prayer, but she thought that was just another one of my facades and wanted nothing of it.” Such situations are a familiar feature in the church today.

It is true, of course, that God can work even through unfaithful and disobedient believers. He may use the preaching and witness of a hypocrite to bring sinners to Himself. But in such cases it is the truth of the message that He blesses, not the hypocritical effort of the one who gives it. Hypocrites, although they cannot limit the power of the truth which transcends duplicity, accrue no blessing from God for what He may do through them, because their true motive is to serve their own ends and glory, not His. If we perform on the outside but are not devoted on the inside, our service is limited and our reward is forfeited. More importantly, the name of God is not honored and His work is limited and made less effective with a dirty vessel than with a clean one (cf. 2 Tim. 2:20-22).

But the unity of believers is not limited to their common commitment. Although our gifts are diverse, our obligation to use them in the Lord’s service is not. The person with one seemingly insignificant gift is as much obligated to use that gift faithfully and fully as the one who has several prominent and seemingly more important gifts. Just as no believer is exempt from being a living sacrifice, no believer is exempt from using his divine giftedness, whatever it is. In this chapter Paul makes clear that he is admonishing “every man” (v. 3), that is, every believer. He also makes clear that, although we do not have the “same function” (v. 4) and although our gifts “differ according to the grace given to us” (v. 6a), we all have a function in Christ’s church and we all have gifts from His Holy Spirit and the obligation to “exercise them” (v. 6b) in His behalf and in His power.

Total surrender to the Lord is also foundational to Christian service in another way. Without genuine, selfless commitment to Him, we not only will lose the desire and forfeit the power needed to serve Him effectively but also will never experience what God has intended for us to do when our gifts and calling are used to the fullest. God does not give His children gifts without letting them know what those gifts are. Therefore, if we are not sure of our gifts from God, it is most likely because we are not close to God. We come to know our gifts more fully as, through worship in spiritual truth, we come to know Him more fully. When our lives are on the altar of sacrifice, we will have no problem discovering or using our spiritual gifts. They cannot be recognized except as we use them. When a believer walks in holy obedience to the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit and serving God, it will become apparent to him and to others what his gift is and how it blesses the body of Christ.

It is estimated that even the brightest people use only about eleven percent of their brain capacity—leaving nearly ninety percent unused. A similar ratio probably applies to most Christians’ use of their spiritual gifts. When a believer has trouble understanding how the gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6-8 apply to him personally, it is not because he cannot figure out what his gift is but because he has not come to terms with the dedication and requirements of the preceding five verses. And, on the other hand, when a believer is used powerfully in the Lord’s work, it is not because he has perfectly understood and analyzed his gift, but rather because his life is “a living and holy sacrifice,” which is “acceptable to God” as a “spiritual service of worship” (v. 1), and God’s Spirit is moving through him in serving power.

The noble American preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards was so fearful that his personal mannerisms and inflections might interfere with the power of God’s Word, that he not only read his sermons but often delivered them almost mechanically. Yet the Holy Spirit strongly used those messages, and listeners were sometimes so convicted of sin that they screamed for God’s mercy and tightly gripped their pews for fear of falling immediately into hell. God was able to use him in such ways because he lived up to the following resolutions (abbreviated) that he made early in his ministry:

Resolved, to live with all my might while I do live.

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time,
to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, never to do anything which I should despise or think meanly of in another.

Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

(See Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography [Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987], p. 43)

The following beautiful prayer, used at the end of the communion services in the Church of England, accurately reflects the total dedication of which Paul speaks in Romans 12. It reads, “And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable holy and living sacrifice unto Thee.”

Our absolute usefulness to the Lord depends on the three things Paul mentions in our present text: proper attitude (v. 3), proper relationship (vv. 4-5), and proper service (vv. 6-8).

The Proper Attitude: True Humility

For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (12:3)

For indicates a transition from what the apostle has just commanded, tying spiritual service to spiritual dedication, the bridge between them being spiritual attitude.

The Christian’s proper attitude is humility, not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think. Lack of that foundational virtue causes many believers to stumble. No matter how well grounded we may be in God’s Word, how theologically sound we may be, or how vigorously we may seek to serve Him, our gifts will not operate so that our lives can be spiritually productive until self is set aside. From self-denial in the spiritual worship of God flows self-surrender to the will of God, and from self-surrender flows selfless service in the work of God. No believer is exempt from this call to humility, because Paul is speaking to every man among you—a universal command to all who are Christ’s.

The basis of everything worthwhile that a Christian has and does, from salvation to service, is the grace given to him by God. Just as we are saved only by God’s grace, so we can serve Him only by that same grace. But the specific divine grace of which Paul speaks here is that from which he was ordained as God’s apostle and authorized to reveal God’s Word (Rom. 1:1-5; cf. 15:15; 1 Cor. 3:10; Gal. 2:9).

Yet in this passage on humility, it is not surprising that Paul appeals only indirectly to his apostolic rank, calling attention rather to the divine authority from which his own authority was derived. He is humble even in relationship to his own apostleship, which was conferred on him solely on the basis of God’s grace, and on no merit or worth of his own. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me,” he informed Timothy, “because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:12-14, emphasis added). As an apostle of Jesus Christ, he calls for humility—the most basic Christian virtue, and the one that opens the door to love, power, and unity.

To emphasize the necessity of meekness, Paul uses a form of phroneō (to think) four times in verse 3. A Christian is not to overestimate himself, to think more highly (huperphroneō) of himself than he ought to think, but is to think of himself as he really is. He is not to overvalue his abilities, his gifts, or his worth but make an accurate estimate of himself. “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing,” Paul elsewhere cautions, “he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:3). And an honest estimate will be very low (cf. 1 Tim. 1:12-16).

Referring to self-examination and judgment of other Christians, Paul told the Corinthian church, “Now these things brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:6-7; cf. vv. 1-5). Peter admonished all elders in the church, young and old, to “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).

To have sound judgment translates a compound (sōphroneō) of that verb and has the basic meaning of “to think with a sound mind, to think soberly” (as the kjv). To think of ourselves with sound judgment leads us to recognize that, in ourselves, we are nothing at all, but that, in Christ, we can be used to the glory of God through the gift of the Spirit bestowed on us. We must realize that from ourselves, from our fleshly humanness, nothing eternal can be produced, but that in the power of the Spirit we can be used to build the kingdom and honor the King.

People do not suffer from low self-esteem. Rather, they are proud. That is the essential attitude of human nature. Selfish pride dominates the flesh. To be useful to our Lord, we must honestly recognize our limits as fallen men and women as well as our abilities as new creations in Christ, keeping both in proper perspective.

Such humility, which is essential for all spiritual matters, is not easily found or maintained. In New Testament times, some churches were characterized by members who desired to have the more showy and spectacular gifts, the church at Corinth being the chief offender. Paul therefore warns them rather to “earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way,” the way of humble love (1 Cor. 12:31; cf. 13:1-13). With a clearly-implied rebuke, the apostle John identifies a self-seeking believer by name, a man named Diotrephes, “who loves to be first” (3 John 9). Sadly, the church is still well-saturated with members who proudly seek personal preeminence and thereby forfeit the power of humility.

Modern society looks down on true humility. It is instead characterized by brash, and even exalted, self-centeredness, ego building, pampering the body, and striving to fulfill every personal lust and ambition, with little regard for who may be harmed. It is small wonder that depression and emotional chaos are so prevalent. In his book Psychological Seduction, the Failure of Modern Psychology, professor William K. Kilpatrick writes, “Extreme forms of mental illness are always extreme cases of self-absorption… The distinctive quality, the thing that literally sets paranoid people apart is hyper-self-consciousness. And the thing they prize most about themselves is autonomy. Their constant fear is that someone else is interfering with their will or trying to direct their lives” ([Nashville: Nelson, 1983], p. 67).

Long before the advent of modern psychology, theologians confronted the devastating effects of self-love. In the early days of the church, Augustine wrote in his classic work The City of God, “Two cities have been formed by two loves; the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God, the heavenly by the love of God even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord” (Civitas Dei, XIV, 28. Cited by John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past [Minneapolis: Bethany, 1975], p. 46).

John Calvin observed, “For so blindly do we all rush in the direction of self-love that everyone thinks he has a good reason for exalting himself and despising all others in comparison… There is no other remedy than to pluck up by the roots those most noxious pests, self-love and love of victory… This the doctrine of Scripture does. For it teaches us to remember that the endowments which God has bestowed upon us are not our own, but His free gifts, and that those who plume themselves upon them betray their ingratitude. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, 2 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966], 2:10)

Addressing the problem in a positive way, the writer of Hebrews admonishes, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).

Although they are not mentioned in the text, proud attitudes toward spiritual gifts can be placed into five categories. Several already have been mentioned. The first wrong attitude is that of using a prominent gift—or any other gift, for that matter—boastfully. As Paul admonished the Corinthian believers, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you'” (1 Cor. 12:21), which is what a Christian does by implication whenever he boasts of his own gifts and accomplishments.

A second wrong attitude is that of depreciating ourselves and our gifts in false humility (see 1 Cor. 12:11-12, 19). Such an attitude is a poorly disguised effort to get praise. At the other end, when a person is clearly gifted above most Christians, it is tempting to feign humility when genuinely praised, thereby belittling what God has given to and is doing through him or her. All spiritual gifts are necessary and perfectly designed by God for His glorious purpose.

A third wrong attitude about spiritual gifts is that of claiming gifts, especially the more impressive ones, which we do not possess. Doing that not only is dishonest but denigrates God’s wisdom and sovereignty in belittling by implication the gift or gifts that we do have from Him. “All are not apostles, are they?” Paul asks rhetorically. “All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” (1 Cor. 12:29-30). If God has not chosen to give us any of the more notable gifts, we should neither feign nor covet them.

A fourth wrong attitude is that of failing to use an inconspicuous gift out of jealousy, resentment, or shame. To purposely disregard and neglect a spiritual gift is to disdain God’s sovereign grace. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body” (1 Cor. 12:15-16). God has a plan for each of His children, and every plan is good, perfect, and appropriate.

A fifth wrong attitude is failing to use one’s gifts at all, for whatever reason—whether out of neglect, bitterness, jealousy, shame, or simply indifference. Every spiritual gift of God is to be used to its fullest, because every gift is divinely ordained and meant to be divinely empowered and employed. Certainly Paul is concerned with this issue when, in verses 6-8, he urges that all gifts be used.

The humility that God requires and honors does not overestimate or underestimate His gifts but estimates them rightly and uses them rightly. Every Christian can attest, “God has gifted me. He has gifted me graciously and lovingly and will give me everything I need to use my gifts effectively to His glory. I thank Him and bless His name.”

There also are certain right attitudes toward our spiritual gifts. First, we must correctly recognize them and acknowledge that the Lord Himself provides exactly what He wants for us and everything we need to serve Him according to His will, just as [He] has allotted to each a measure of faith. In this context, a measure of faith seems to refer to the correct measure of the spiritual gift and its operating features that God sovereignly bestows on every believer. Every believer receives the exact gift and resources best suited to fulfill his role in the body of Christ.

A fictitious article published some years ago in the Springfield, Oregon, public school newsletter illustrates this principle very well.

Once upon a time, the animals decided they should do something meaningful to meet the problems of the new world. So they organized a school.

They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming; in fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying, and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to drop swimming and stay after school to practice running. This caused his web feet to be badly worn, so that he [became] only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable, so nobody worried about that—except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but he encountered constant frustration in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. He developed “charley horses” from overexertion, and so only got a C in climbing and a D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was severely disciplined for being a non-conformist. In climbing classes he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there…

The point of the story is obvious. Like the animals, every person has his own special but limited set of capabilities. Trying to operate outside those capabilities produces frustration, discouragement, guilt feelings, mediocrity, and ultimate defeat. We fulfill our calling when we function according to God’s sovereign design for us.

Paul is not here referring to saving faith, which believers already have exercised. He is speaking of faithful stewardship, the kind and quantity of faith required to exercise our own particular gift. It is the faith through which the Lord uses His measured gift in us to the fullest. It encompasses all the sensitivity, capacity, and understanding we need to rightly and fully use our uniquely-bestowed gift. Our heavenly Father does not burden us with gifts for which He does not provide every spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional resource we need to successfully exercise them.

Because every believer is perfectly gifted, no gift that God has not given should be sought and no gift He has given should be neglected or denigrated. “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” Paul explains in his first letter to Corinth, and “one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:7, 11).

Following are nine guidelines that can be helpful in fulfilling the purpose of our spiritual gifts. We should present ourselves as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1); recognize that all believers, including ourselves, are gifted (v. 3); pray for wisdom; seek for nothing (Acts 8:18, 24); examine our heart’s desire (1 Tim. 3:1); seek confirmation; look for the blessing of God; wholeheartedly serve Him; and cultivate the gift as it becomes obvious.

Even when all that is done, it still may be impossible to fully analyze and specifically identify our spiritual gift. It is often not possible to distinguish between God-given natural talent, God-given spiritual abilities, and Holy Spirit power. When a Christian’s life is a living sacrifice to God and he is walking in the Spirit of God, he has no reason to make precise distinctions, because everything he is and has is committed to the Lord. Oversimplifying and overdefining spiritual gifts can cause great confusion, frustration, discouragement, and limitation of their usefulness. Focusing too much on the gifts themselves can hinder their faithful use in the Lord’s service.

The New Testament does not promise that our gift will come neatly packaged and labeled. Nor does it precisely identify the specific gift of any New Testament believer, including the apostles. Believers in the early church were never classified by gifts. On the contrary, the New Testament makes clear that God endows His children with many combinations and degrees of giftedness. He mixes these gifts much as an artist mixes colors on his palette to create the exact shade he desires for a particular part of the painting.

Peter said, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it…” (1 Pet. 4:10a). He used the definite article (the), indicating a single gift for every believer. But clearly that single gift will be unique in the life of each believer, because it is a combination of the manifold and multicolored categories of speaking and serving giftedness (vv. 10b-11) from which the Spirit colors the believer, and which are then blended with the uniqueness of the mind, the training, the experience, and the effort of the individual—the result being that every Christian is like a snowflake, with no other having the same pattern.

The thrust of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, the two central passages on spiritual gifts, is not on a believer’s precisely identifying his gifts but on his faithfully using them. It is also significant that each of these passages mentions gifts that the other does not. This leads us to believe that the categories are basic colors, as it were, from which the Lord mixes the unique hue of each of His children.

All of this must produce humility, because our spiritual usefulness is a purely sovereign work of God, none of which can be attributed to man. Our spiritual usefulness is in spite of and in contrast to our unworthiness and uselessness in the flesh, in which nothing dwells that is good or is capable of glorifying God.

The Proper Relationship: Unity in Diversity

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (12:4-5)

In verse 1 Paul urges his fellow believers to present their physical bodies as “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Now he uses the figure of the body to represent the church, the Body of Christ, of which every believer is a member. He focuses on its unity in diversity—one body (mentioned in both verses) representing its unity, and many members that do not have the same function, representing the diversity. Just as it is in nature, unified diversity in the church is a mark of God’s sovereign and marvelous handiwork.

A football team may have forty to fifty men on the roster. If all of them decided to be the quarterback, the team would have no unity and no effectiveness. True unity arises when each team member is willing to play the specific position assigned to him.

Paul now focuses specifically on the diverse uniqueness and importance of each member to the body’s proper performance. He points out the obvious truth that, although we have many members in one body, nevertheless all the members do not have the same function.

Function translates praxis, which has the basic meaning of a doing of something, that is, a deed. It later came to connote something that was ordinarily done or practiced, a normal function.

Spiritual gifts do not always correspond to what we commonly refer to as church offices—such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher, or deacon—as the King James rendering suggests (“all members have not the same office,” emphasis added). Most church members do not have a specific office or title. But every believer, from the youngest to the oldest and from the newest to the most mature, has a Spirit-given ability to minister to the body of Christ through some spiritual gift. It is the use of the gift that is his God-ordained function in the kingdom.

In the spiritual organism that is Christ’s church, every constituent part—whether obvious and important, such as the arm, or hidden and unnoticed, such as the small blood vessels and glands—is critical to its proper functioning as a whole. So we, who are many, Paul explains, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. It is diversity working in unity and in harmony that enables Christ’s Body to be and to do what He directs it to be and to do.

Because it is so normal and dependable, the great wonder of the proper operation of our bodies is seldom appreciated or even noticed. We have but to think, and our hands, feet, or eyes immediately do what we want them to do. Because we have trained them to respond in certain ways, they do many things almost automatically. Our most critical bodily functions—such as our hearts’ beating and our lungs’ breathing—require no thought at all. They simply do their jobs, performing their divinely-designed functions minute after minute, day after day, year after year. The interrelationship of the parts of our bodies is so unbelievably intricate that medical science continually discovers new functions and relationships. It is often only when our bodies cease to function properly that we appreciate how marvelously God has designed them.

In his book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, the internationally renowned surgeon Dr. Paul Brand writes of the amazing diversity and interrelationship of the parts of the human body. Speaking of the body’s cells, he says:

I am first struck by their variety. Chemically my cells are almost alike, but visually and functionally they are as different as the animals in a zoo. Red blood cells, discs resembling Lifesaver candies, voyage through my blood loaded with oxygen to feed the other cells. Muscle cells, which absorb so much of that nourishment, are sleek and supple, full of coiled energy. Cartilage cells with shiny black nuclei look like bunches of black-eyed peas glued tightly together for strength. Fat cells seem lazy and leaden, like bulging white plastic garbage bags jammed together.

Bone cells live in rigid structures that exude strength. Cut in cross section, bones resemble tree rings, overlapping strength with strength, offering impliability and sturdiness. In contrast, skin cells form undulating patterns of softness and texture that rise and dip, giving shape and beauty to our bodies. They curve and jut at unpredictable angles so that every person’s fingerprint—not to mention his or her face—is unique.

The aristocrats of the cellular world are the sex cells and nerve cells. A woman’s contribution, the egg, is one of the largest cells in the human body, its ovoid shape just visible to the unaided eye. It seems fitting that all the other cells in the body should derive from this elegant and primordial structure. In great contrast to the egg’s quiet repose, the male’s tiny sperm cells are furiously flagellating tadpoles with distended heads and skinny tails. They scramble for position as if competitively aware that only one of billions will gain the honor of fertilization.

The king of cells, the one I have devoted much of my life to studying, is the nerve cell. It has an aura of wisdom and complexity about it. Spider-like, it branches out and unites the body with a computer network of dazzling sophistication. Its axons, “wires” carrying distant messages to and from the human brain, can reach a yard in length.

I never tire of viewing these varied specimens or thumbing through books which render cells. Individually they seem puny and oddly designed, but I know these invisible parts cooperate to lavish me with the phenomenon of life…

My body employs a bewildering zoo of cells, none of which individually resembles the larger body. Just so, Christ’s Body comprises an unlikely assortment of humans. Unlikely is precisely the right word, for we are decidedly unlike one another and the One we follow. From whose design come these comical human shapes which so faintly reflect the ideals of the Body as a whole?

The Body of Christ, like our own bodies, is composed of individual, unlike cells that are knit together to form one Body. He is the whole thing, and the joy of the Body increases as individual cells realize they can be diverse without becoming isolated outposts.

Dr. Brand also describes the unity of the seemingly endless diversity of the cells.

What moves cells to work together? What ushers in the higher specialized functions of movement, sight, and consciousness through the coordination of a hundred trillion cells?

The secret to membership lies locked away inside each cell nucleus, chemically coiled in a strand of DNA. Once the egg and sperm share their inheritance, the DNA chemical ladder splits down the center of every gene much as the teeth of a zipper pull apart. DNA reforms itself each time the cell divides: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 cells, each with the identical DNA. Along the way cells specialize, but each carries the entire instruction book of one hundred thousand genes. DNA is estimated to contain instructions that, if written out, would fill a thousand six-hundred-page books. A nerve cell may operate according to instructions from volume four and a kidney cell from volume twenty-five, but both carry the whole compendium. It provides each cell’s sealed credential of membership in the body. Every cell possesses a genetic code so complete that the entire body could be reassembled from information in any one of the body’s cells…

Just as the complete identity code of my body inheres in each individual cell, so also the reality of God permeates every cell in [Christ’s] Body, linking us members with a true, organic bond. I sense that bond when I meet strangers in India or Africa or California who share my loyalty to the Head; instantly we become brothers and sisters, fellow cells in Christ’s Body. I share the ecstasy of community in a universal Body that includes every man and woman in whom God resides. (Taken from Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy. Copyright © 1980 by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House)

There are also rebellious cells, as it were, in the Body of Christ. Some are benign, in the sense that they do not destroy the church. They simply gorge themselves on blessings and benefits at the expense of the rest of the body. They become fatter and fatter, always taking in, seldom giving out. The focus of their whole existence is self-service. Their creed is: “I will get all I can from God and all I can from the church.” In their unfaithfulness to the Lord and to His people, they sap the church of its vitality and can so weaken it that it becomes emaciated and cannot function normally.

The church also has “cells” that are mutinous to the point of destruction. Through outright heresy and flagrant immorality, these malignant members openly attack the rest of the body, eating away at its very life.

As believers, we are all interrelated in a spiritual unity. Christ has designed us to work uniquely but harmoniously as His Body on earth—to be His own hands, His own feet, His own voice. We share a common life, a common ministry, a common power, and, above all, a common Head. We are endowed in countless different combinations of the specific gifts mentioned here and elsewhere in the New Testament. But it is our Lord’s design and desire that our diversity in spiritual gifts be manifested in unity of spiritual service.

12:6 Different gifts.NIV We must be humble and recognize our partner ship in the body of Christ. Only then can our gifts be used effectively, and only then can we appreciate others’ gifts. God gives us gifts so we can build up his church. To use them effectively, we must:

  • realize that all gifts and abilities come from God
  • understand that not everyone has the same gifts nor all the gifts
  • know who we are and what we do best dedicate our gifts to God’s service and not to our personal success
  • be willing to utilize our gifts wholeheartedly, not holding back anything from God’s service.

According to the grace given to us.NRSV God’s gifts differ in nature, power, and effectiveness according to his wisdom and graciousness, not according to our faith. The “measure of faith” (12:3) or the “proportion” of faith means that God will give the spiritual power necessary and appropriate to carry out each responsibility. We cannot, by our own

effort or willpower, drum up more faith and thus be more effective teachers or servants. These are God’s gifts to his church, and he gives faith and power as he wills. Our role is to be faithful and to seek ways to serve others with what Christ has given us. It is only rarely that prophecy in the New Testament has to do with foretelling the future; it usually has to do with foretelling the word of God.

William Barclay

Prophesying . . . in proportion to his faith.NIV The gifts Paul mentions in this list fall into two categories: speaking and serving. Gifts are given that God’s grace may be expressed. Words speak to our hearts and minds of God’s grace; acts of service show that grace in action. This list is not exhaustive; there are many gifts, most of them hidden from the public, those “behind the scenes” words and actions that serve and magnify God.

Prophesying, according to the New Testament, is not always predicting the future. Often it means effectively communicating God’s messages (1 Corinthians 14:1-3). Another translation of in proportion to his faith would be “in agreement to the faith”; in other words, the message communicated must be true to the tenets of the Christian faith. The way that Paul refers to each of these gifts focuses on their importance in use. These gifts are not for having, but for using. In other words, God’s gifts fulfill their value as they are utilized for the benefit of others. Discovery of God’s gifts to us ought to be followed by putting them to work.

12:7-8 Serving . . . serve. If a person has the gift of serving, then he or she should use it where and when it is needed, and use it to its best and fullest capacity. The same goes for the other gifts that Paul mentions: teaching . . . encouraging . . . contributing to the needs of others . . . leadership . . . [and] showing mercy.NIV Whatever gift a believer has, he or she should faithfully use it in gratitude to God. By focusing on the application of the gifts, Paul is removing the tendency toward unhealthy self-congratulation in the discovery of gifts. If we are busy using our gifts, we will be less taken up with concerns over status and power. Genuine service controls pride.

When studying this list of gifts, one might imagine the characteristics of the people who would have them. Prophets are often bold and articulate. Servers (those in ministry) are faithful and loyal. Teachers are clear thinkers. Encouragers know how to motivate others. Givers are generous and trusting. Leaders are good organizers and managers. Those who show mercy are caring people who are happy to give their time to others.

This list of gifts is representative, not exhaustive. It would be difficult for one person to embody all these gifts. An assertive prophet usually would not make a good counselor, and a generous giver might fail as a leader. When people identify their own gifts and their unique combination of gifts (this list is far from complete), they should then discover how they can use their gifts to build up Christ’s body, the church. At the same time, they should realize that one or two gifts can’t do all the work of the church. Believers should be thankful for each other, thankful that others have gifts that are completely different. In the church, believers’ strengths and weaknesses can balance each other. Some people’s abilities compensate for other people’s deficiencies. Together all believers can build Christ’s church. But all these gifts will be worthless if they are used begrudgingly out of duty, or if they are exercised without love (see also 1 Corinthians 13:1-3).


Believers will respond differently in the same circumstances. Recognizing what our initial response might be will help us identify the general nature of our gifts. For example, imagine that a destitute family attends your worship service next Sunday. How will different believers respond? The responses that are most similar to what you would do will give you clues to your gifts.

The prophets will ask the congregation . . . “What went wrong here that needs to be corrected? What caused this family to experience these problems?”
The servers will ask the person . . . “Are there others we need to help?”
The teachers will ask the person . . . “What can we do for you?”
The encouragers will say to the person . . . “How can we help you avoid this situation in the future? What skills, wisdom, and spiritual insights will give you better direction?”
The givers will ask the person . . . “You must be feeling bad. Please know that we will care for you any way we can. Before you know it, you will be helping someone else.”
The leaders will ask the church . . . “How much will you need to meet your needs? How can we respond to this need in the most effective manner?”
The merciful . . . will probably not ask any questions, but welcome the person with smiles, hugs, warm acceptance, and understanding.

The Ministry of Spiritual Gifts–part 2 (Romans 12:6-8)

The Proper Service: Exercising Our Gifts

And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (12:6-8)

No gift or ability, spiritual or otherwise, is of value if it is not used. I read the account of a retired farmer in a small prairie town in Saskatchewan, Canada, who owns a large collection of rare and valuable violins. It is highly unlikely that anyone will play those marvelous instruments as long as they are simply stored, protected, and admired. But in the hands of accomplished musicians, those violins could be making beautiful music to inspire and bless countless thousands of hearers.

It is infinitely more tragic that many Christians keep their spiritual gifts stored, rather than using them to serve the Lord who gave them the gifts.

It has been remarked that American mothers often preserve their children’s first shoes in bronze, perhaps to represent freedom and independence, whereas many Japanese mothers preserve a small part of the child’s umbilical cord, to represent dependence and loyalty. Dependence and loyalty beautifully describe the interrelationship the Lord desires for the members of His Body, the church.

The spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament, primarily in Romans 12 and in 1 Corinthians 12, fall into three categories: sign, speaking, and serving. Before the New Testament was written, men had no standard for judging the truthfulness of someone who preached, taught, or witnessed in the name of Christ. The sign gifts authenticated the teaching of the apostles—which was the measure of all other teaching—and therefore ceased after the apostles died, probably even earlier. “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance,” Paul explained to the Corinthian church, “by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12). The writer of Hebrews gives further revelation about the purpose of these special gifts: “After [the gospel] was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb. 2:3-4). Even during Jesus’ earthly ministry, the apostles “went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20).

First Corinthians was written about a.d. 54 and Romans some four years later. It is important to note that none of the sign gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10—namely, the gifts of healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues—is found in Romans 12. The other two New Testament passages that mention spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:7, 11; 1 Pet. 4:10-11) were written several years after Romans and, like that epistle, make no mention of sign gifts. Peter specifically mentions the categories of speaking and serving gifts (“whoever speaks” and “whoever serves,” v. 11) but neither the category nor an example of the sign gifts.

It seems evident, therefore, that Paul did not mention the sign gifts in Romans because their place in the church was already coming to an end. They belonged to a unique era in the church’s life and would have no permanent place in its ongoing ministry. It is significant, therefore, that the seven gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6-8 are all within the categories of speaking and serving.

It is also important to note that in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the term pneumatikos (v. 1, lit., “spirituals”) to describe the specific divinely-bestowed gifts mentioned in verses 8-10. He explains that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (v. 4), and that “the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (v. 11).

But in Romans 12, the apostle uses the term charisma (gifts), which is from charis (grace). In First Corinthians, Paul emphasizes the nature and authority of the gifts—spiritual endowments empowered by the Holy Spirit. In Romans he simply emphasizes their source—the grace of God.

Paul introduces this list of gifts by referring back to the unity in diversity he has just pointed out in verses 4-5. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly. Differ relates to the diversity, and grace to the unity. Under God’s sovereign grace, which all believers share, we have gifts that differ according to the specific ways in which He individually endows us. Just as verse 3 does not refer to saving faith, verse 6 does not refer to saving grace. Paul is speaking to those who already have trusted in Christ and become children of God. To His children, the apostle explains, “God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (v. 3) and has bestowed on them gifts that differ according to the grace given to each one. Grace is God’s favor, unmerited kindness on His part, which is the only source of all spiritual enablements. They are not earned or deserved, or they would not be by grace. And the grace is sovereign, in that God alone makes the choice as to what gift each of His children receives. Each believer, therefore, is to exercise his gifts accordingly.

Paul next lists some categories of giftedness as examples.


if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; (12:6b)

The first spiritual gift in this list is prophecy. Some interpreters believe this was a special revelatory gift that belonged only to the apostles, and, like the sign gifts, ceased after those men died. While it certainly had a revelatory aspect during Old Testament and apostolic times, it was not limited to revelation. It was exercised when there was public proclamation of divine truth, old or new. In 1 Corinthians 12:10 it is linked with sign gifts, supernatural and revelatory. Here it is linked with speaking and serving gifts, leading to the conclusion that it had both revelatory and non-revelatory aspects. The Old Testament or New Testament prophet (or apostle) might speak direct revelation, but could and did also declare what had been revealed previously. The gift of prophecy does not pertain to the content but rather to the means of proclamation. In our day, it is active enablement to proclaim God’s Word already written in Scripture. Paul gives no distinction to this gift among the other six, which are clearly ongoing gifts in the church, thus not limiting it to revelation.

Prophēteia (prophecy) has the literal meaning of speaking forth, with no connotation of prediction or other supernatural or mystical significance. The gift of prophecy is simply the gift of preaching, of proclaiming the Word of God. God used many Old and New Testament prophets to foretell future events, but that was never an indispensable part of prophetic ministry. Paul gives perhaps the best definition of the prophetic gift in 1 Corinthians: “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3). Peter’s admonition also applies to that gift: “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God;… so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Pet. 4:11).

When God called Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt, Moses gave the excuse, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex. 4:10). Although angered at Moses’ lack of trust, God said, “Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently… You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do” (vv. 14-15).

The gift of prophecy is the gift of being God’s public spokesman, primarily to God’s own people—to instruct, admonish, warn, rebuke, correct, challenge, comfort, and encourage. God also uses His prophets to reach unbelievers. “If all prophesy,” Paul explained to the Corinthians, “and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

God used certain prophets at certain times to give new revelation and to predict future events, but He has used and continues to use all of His prophets to speak His truth in His behalf. They are God’s instruments for proclaiming and making relevant His Word to His world. John Calvin said that, by prophesying, he understood not the gift of foretelling the future but of interpreting Scripture, so that a prophet is an interpreter of God’s will.

In his commentary on this text, Calvin wrote: “I prefer to follow those who extend this word wider, even to the peculiar gift of revelation, by which any one skillfully and wisely performed the office of an interpreter in explaining the will of God. Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel. For in this sense it is taken by Paul when he says, “I wish that you spoke in tongues, but rather that ye prophecy,” (1 Cor. xiv. 5:) “In part we know and in part we prophecy,” (1 Cor. xiii. 9). And it does not appear that Paul intended here to mention those miraculous graces by which Christ at first rendered illustrious his gospel; but, on the contrary, we find he refers only to ordinary gifts, such as were to continue perpetually in the Church. (Calvin’s Commentaries, v.xix, “Romans” [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991], p. 460)

In sixteenth-century Switzerland, pastors in Zurich came together every week for what they called “prophesying.” They shared exegetical, expositional, and practical insights they had gleaned from Scripture that helped them more effectively minister to their people in that day.

The book of Acts speaks of many prophets besides the apostles. Agabus, part of a group of prophets (the others are unnamed) from Jerusalem, predicted a famine that would plague Judea during the reign of Emperor Claudius (Acts 11:27-28) and later foretold Paul’s arrest and imprisonment (21:10-11). “Judas and Silas,” on the other hand, “also being prophets themselves,” gave no predictions or new revelation but simply “encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message” after Paul and Barnabas had delivered the letter from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:32; cf. vv. 22-31). (For a fuller discussion of prophecy, see the relevant section on 12:10 in the author’s commentary on 1 Corinthians in this series [Chicago: Moody Press, 1984].)

Whatever the form his message may take, the prophet is to minister it according to the proportion of his faith. Because the Greek includes the definite article, faith may here refer to the faith, that is, the full gospel message. In that case, according to the proportion of his faith would relate objectively to the prophet’s being careful to preach in accordance with the gospel revealed through the apostles—”the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). It could also relate subjectively to the believer’s personal understanding and insight concerning the gospel—to his speaking according to the individual proportion of… faith that God has sovereignly assigned to him for the operation of his gift.

Whether it relates to revelation, prediction, declaration, instruction, encouragement, or anything else, all prophecy was always to proclaim the Word of God and exalt the Son of God, because “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). Paul’s specific charge to Timothy applies to all proclaimers of God’s Word, including prophets: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).


if service, in his serving; (12:7a)

The second spiritual gift is that of service, a general term for ministry. Service translates diakonia, from which we also get deacon and deaconess—those who serve. The first deacons in the early church were “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” who were placed in charge of providing food for the widows in order to free the apostles to devote themselves “to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4).

Service is a simple, straightforward gift that is broad in its application. It seems to carry a meaning similar to that of the gift of helps mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28, although a different Greek term (antilēpsis) is used there. This gift certainly applies beyond the offices of deacon and deaconess and is the idea in Paul’s charge to the Ephesian elders to “help the weak” (Acts 20:35). The gift of service is manifested in every sort of practical help that Christians can give one another in Jesus’ name.


or he who teaches, in his teaching; (12:7b)

The third spiritual gift is that of teaching. Again, the meaning is simple and straightforward. Didaskōn (teaches) refers to the act of teaching, and didaskalia (teaching) can refer to what is taught as well as to the act of teaching it. Both of those meanings are appropriate to this gift.

The Christian who teaches is divinely gifted with special ability to interpret and present God’s truth understandably. The primary difference between teaching and prophesying is not in content but in the distinction between the ability to proclaim and the ability to give systematic and regular instruction in God’s Word. The gift of teaching could apply to a teacher in seminary, Christian college, Sunday school, or any other place, elementary or advanced, where God’s truth is taught. The earliest church was characterized by regular teaching (Acts 2:42). The Great Commission includes the command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,… teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Paul’s spiritual gift included features of both preaching and teaching (2 Tim. 1:11).

Later in the epistle just cited, Paul charged Timothy: “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Barnabas had that gift and ministered it in Antioch beside Paul, where they were “teaching and preaching, with many others also, the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:35). Likewise “a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man,… had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Acts 18:24-25).

Jesus, of course, was both the supreme Preacher and supreme Teacher. Even after His resurrection, He continued to teach. When He joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures… And they said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:27, 32). Both diermēneuō (“explained,” v. 27) and dianoigō (“explaining,” lit. “opening up,” v. 32) are synonyms of didaskōn (teaches) and didaskalia (teaching) in Romans 12:7.

Regular, systematic teaching of the Word of God is the primary function of the pastor-teacher. As an elder, he is required “to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and to hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Above all, Paul entreated Timothy, “pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16). Pastors are not the only ones the Lord calls and empowers to teach. But if a pastor’s ministry is to be judged, among other things, on the soundness of his teaching—as the passages just cited indicate—then it seems reasonable to assume that, in some measure, he should have the gift of teaching.


or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; (12:8a)

As with the previous three gifts, the connotation of exhortation is broad. Both the verb parakaleō (exhorts) and the noun paraklēsis (exhortation) are compounds of the same two Greek words (para and kaleō) and have the literal meaning of calling someone to one’s side. They are closely related to paraklētos (advocate, comforter, helper), a title Jesus used both of Himself (“Helper,” John 14:16) and of the Holy Spirit (“another Helper”; John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In 1 John 2:1, this word is translated “Advocate,” referring to Jesus Christ.

The gift of exhortation, therefore, encompasses the ideas of advising, pleading, encouraging, warning, strengthening, and comforting. At one time the gift may be used to persuade a believer to turn from a sin or bad habit and at a later time to encourage that same person to maintain his corrected behavior. The gift may be used to admonish the church as a whole to obedience to the Word. Like the gift of showing mercy (see below), exhortation may be exercised in comforting a brother or sister in the Lord who is facing trouble or is suffering physically or emotionally. One who exhorts may also be used of God to encourage and undergird a weak believer who is facing a difficult trial or persistent temptation. Sometimes he may use his gift simply to walk beside a friend who is grieving, discouraged, frustrated, or depressed, to give help in whatever way is needed. This gift may be exercised in helping someone carry a burden that is too heavy to bear alone.

Paul and Barnabas were exercising the ministry of exhortation when “they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God'” (Acts 14:21-22). This ministry is reflected in Paul’s charge to Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).

It is the ministry of exhortation of which the writer of Hebrews speaks as he admonishes believers to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). The sentiment that motivates this gift is also exhibited in the beautiful benediction with which that epistle closes: “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (13:20-21).

In summary, it might be said that, just as prophecy proclaims the truth and teaching systematizes and explains the truth, exhortation calls believers to obey and follow the truth, to live as Christians are supposed to live—consistent with God’s revealed will. In many servants of Christ, all of these abilities are uniquely and beautifully blended.


he who gives, with liberality; (12:8b)

The fifth category of giftedness is that of giving. The usual Greek verb for giving is didōmi, but the word here is the intensified metadidōmi, which carries the additional meanings of sharing and imparting that which is one’s own. The one who exercises this gift gives sacrificially of himself.

When asked by the multitudes what they should do to “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance,” John the Baptist replied, “Let the man who has two tunics share [metadidōi] with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise (Luke 3:8, 11).

In the opening of his letter to Rome, Paul expressed his desire to “impart [metadidōi] some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established” (Rom. 1:11). And in his letter to Ephesus he makes clear that, whether or not a believer has the gift of giving, he is to have the spirit of generosity that characterizes this gift. Every Christian should “labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share [metadidōi] with him who has need” (Eph. 4:28). It seems certain that Paul had elements of such generosity in his gift. And nowhere is it reflected more than in his service to the saints at Thessalonica. After having ministered to them for a relatively short time, he could say with perfect humility and sincerity that the gospel that he, Sylvanus, and Timothy brought them “did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thess. 1:5; cf. 1:1). “Having thus a fond affection for you,” he continued a few verses later, “we were well-pleased to impart [metadidōi] to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (2:8).

Liberality translates haplotēs, which has the root meaning of singleness and came to connote simplicity (as in the kjv), singlemindedness, openheartedness, and then generosity. It carries the idea of sincere, heartfelt giving that is untainted by affectation or ulterior motive. The Christian who gives with liberality gives of himself, not for himself. He does not give for thanks or recognition, but for the sake of the one who receives his help and for the glory of the Lord.

Those who give with liberality are the opposite of those who “sound a trumpet before [themselves], as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men” (Matt. 6:2). Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead by God for lying to the Holy Spirit, and behind their lie was the selfish desire to hold back for themselves some of the proceeds from the sale of their property (Acts 5:1-10). In that tragic instance, failing to give with liberality cost the lives of the givers.

Ananias and Sapphira were exceptions in the early church, which was characterized by those who voluntarily possessed “all things in common; and [who] began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45). Because the inns could not begin to house all the Jews who came to Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost, most of them stayed in homes of fellow Jews. But those who trusted in Christ immediately became unwelcome. Many wanted to stay within the community of believers in Jerusalem but had no place to stay. Some had difficulty buying food to eat. In that crisis, Christians who had the means spontaneously shared their homes, their food, and their money with fellow believers in need.

Many years later, the churches of Macedonia had an abundance of believers who exercised the gift of giving to its fullest. “In a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality,” Paul said. “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:2-5). They gave with great liberality, believing that sowing bountifully meant reaping bountifully (2 Cor. 9:6).


he who leads, with diligence; (12:8c)

Leads is from proistēmi, which has the basic meaning of “standing before” others and, hence, the idea of leadership. In the New Testament it is never used of governmental rulers but of headship in the family (1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12) and in the church (1 Tim. 5:17). In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul refers to the same gift by a different name, “administrations” (kubernēsis), which means “to guide.” In Acts 27:11 and Revelation 18:17, it is used of a pilot or helmsman, the person who steers, or leads, a ship.

Although it is not limited to those offices, the gift of church leadership clearly belongs to elders, deacons, and deaconesses. It is significant that Paul makes no mention of leaders in his first letter to Corinth. Lack of a functioning leadership would help explain its serious moral and spiritual problems, which certainly would have been exacerbated by that deficiency. “Free-for-all” democracy amounts to anarchy and is disastrous in any society, including the church. The absence of leaders results in everyone doing what is “right in his own eyes,” as the Israelites did under the judges (Judg. 17:6; 21:25; cf. Deut. 12:8).

Effective leadership must be done with diligence, with earnestness and zeal. Spoudē (diligence) can also carry the idea of haste (see Mark 6:25; Luke 1:39). Proper leadership therefore precludes procrastination and idleness. Whether it is possessed by church officers or by members who direct such things as Sunday school, the youth group, the nursery, or a building program, the gift of leadership is to be exercised with carefulness, constancy, and consistency.

Showing Mercy

he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (12:8d)

The seventh and last spiritual category mentioned here is that of showing mercy. Eleeō (shows mercy) carries the joint idea of actively demonstrating sympathy for someone else and of having the necessary resources to successfully comfort and strengthen that person.

The gifted Christian who shows mercy is divinely endowed with special sensitivity to suffering and sorrow, with the ability to notice misery and distress that may go unnoticed by others, and with the desire and means to help alleviate such afflictions. This gift involves much more than sympathetic feeling. It is feeling put into action. The Christian with this gift always finds a way to express his feelings of concern in practical help. He shows his mercy by what he says to and what he does for the one in need.

The believer who shows mercy may exercise his gift in hospital visitation, jail ministry, or in service to the homeless, the poor, the handicapped, the suffering, and the sorrowing. This gift is closely related to that of exhortation, and it is not uncommon for believers to have a measure of both.

This enablement is not to be ministered grudgingly or merely out of a sense of duty, but with cheerfulness. As everyone knows who has had a time of suffering or special need, the attitude of a fellow believer can make the difference between his being a help or a hindrance. The counsel of Job’s friends only drove him into deeper despair.

“He who despises his neighbor sins,” the writer of Proverbs tells us, “but happy is he who is gracious to the poor” (Prov. 14:21); and “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him” (Prov. 14:31). The key word in those verses is gracious. The genuine helper always serves with gracious cheerfulness, and is never condescending or patronizing.

Reading from the book of Isaiah, Jesus testified of Himself that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). The very Son of God in His incarnation showed great mercy with gracious cheerfulness.

Would that all Christians with this gift not only would minister it cheerfully but also regularly and consistently. There would be far fewer needy who have to depend on a godless, impersonal government or social agency. And if Christ’s people patterned their lives after His gracious example, far more people would hear and respond to the saving gospel that meets their deepest need.

In regard to that gift and every other, believers should “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in [them]” (2 Tim. 1:6).

The prolific Puritan John Owen wrote that spiritual gifts are that without which the church cannot subsist in the world, nor can believers be useful to one another and the rest of mankind to the glory of Christ as they ought to be. They are the powers of the world to come, those effectual operations of the power of Christ whereby His kingdom was erected and is preserved (see The Holy Spirit [Grand Rapids: Kregel, n.d.]).

Although we obviously must pay attention to our gift, we can never faithfully exercise it by focusing on the gift itself. They can be used fully of the Lord only as “with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). We can serve Christ only as we become like Christ, and we can exercise the Spirit’s gifts only as we present ourselves as living sacrifices and submit to His continuing transformation and sanctification of our lives.

B. Simpson’s beautiful hymn expresses what the true attitude about our spiritual gifts and all the rest of our lives should be:

Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord. Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word.

Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver alone. Once I sought healing, Now Himself alone.

Loving participation (vv. 9-16). As it has done elsewhere (1 Corinthians 12-13), Paul’s thinking progresses from the use of gifts to the motivation behind those gifts—love, Whereas the previous section pointed to individual contributions that each believer can make to the body, this section includes practical commands that require application by all believers. These commands cover two distinct concerns: among believers, there must be evidence that love is being practiced and that evil is being defeated. In verse 9, Paul presents the theme of this section, in verses 10-13 he applies it to the relationship among the believers, and in verses 14-21 he applies it to the relationship believers have with unbelievers.

Here the emphasis is on the attitudes of those who exercise the spiritual gifts. It is possible to use a spiritual gift in an unspiritual way. Paul makes this same point in 1 Corinthians 13, the great “love chapter” of the New Testament. Love is the circulatory system of the spiritual body, which enables all lie members to function in a healthy, harmonious way. This must, be an honest love, not a hypocritical love (Rom. 11:9); and it must be humble, not proud (Rom. 11:10). “Preferring one another” means treating others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:1-4).

Serving Christ usually means Satanic opposition and days of discouragement. Paul admonished his readers to maintain their spiritual zeal because they were serving the Lord and not men. When life becomes difficult, the Christian cannot permit his zeal to grow cold. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12, NIV).

Finally, Paul reminded them that they must enter into the feelings of others. Christian fellowship is much more than a pat on the back and a handshake. It means sharing the burdens and the blessings of others so that we all grow together and glorify the Lord. If Christians cannot get along with one another, how can they ever face their enemies? A humble attitude and a willingness to share are the marks of a Christian who truly ministers to the body. Our Lord ministered to the common people, and they heard Him gladly (Mark 12:37). When a local church decides it wants only a certain “high class” of people, it departs from the Christian ideal for ministry.

12:9 Let love be genuine.NRSV The key ingredient in interpersonal relationships is love—God’s love (agape). This kind of love is a self-sacrificial love, a love that cares for the well-being of others. All the gifts that are exercised in the body should be expressed in this love. This love is the most accurate indicator of spiritual health in the body of Christ. To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16 niv). Believers have God’s love within because “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:5). For our love to be different from most of what is called “love” in the world, it must be genuine—without hypocrisy, deceit, falseness. Sincere love is genuine love. Jesus was referring to this kind of love when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 niv).

Most people know how to pretend to love others—how to speak kindly, avoid hurting their feelings, and appear to take an interest in them. We may even be skilled in pretending to feel moved with compassion when we hear of others’ needs, or to become indignant when we learn of injustice. But God calls us to real and sincere love that goes far beyond politeness. Sincere love requires concentration and effort. It means helping others become better people. It demands our time, money, and personal involvement. No individual has the capacity to express love to a whole community, but the body of Christ in your town does. Look for people who need your love, and look for ways you and your fellow believers can show your Christian love to others.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.NIV The words here are clear and forceful, and they continue the thought of the first phrase. The whole might be translated, “Your love must be genuine, hating what is evil, clinging to what is good.” Genuine love is not blind, but able to recognize evil and good. To hate and cling call for emotional involvement and energetic action. Believers are to hate evil (see Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13). Turning from evil means turning toward what is good and clinging to it. This principle is practiced when we are able to detest an evil act while practicing compassion toward the one who has done it. This principle is also important regarding the exercise of spiritual gifts. Believers must always be careful that the use of their gifts does not lead them to unloving or evil motives, attitudes, or actions.

12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.NIV Paul’s charge goes against the value of rugged individualism—the attitude of “doing it all by myself.” Believers are to show brotherly love to fellow believers, and respect all the gifted people in the church, not just those whose gifts are visible. That’s the only way that the body of Christ can function effectively and make a positive impact on the unbelieving world. The Greek word for “be devoted” (philostorgoi) means the type of loyalty and affection that family members have for one another. This kind of love allows for weaknesses and imperfections, communicates, deals with problems, affirms others, and has a strong commitment and loyalty to others. Such a bond will hold any church together no matter what problems come from without or within.

Honor one another above yourselves. God’s command for us to honor others also involves love. To honor means to give a person high value and respect. As Christians, we honor people because they have been created in God’s image, because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and because they have a unique contribution to make to Christ’s church (see also Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:3).

12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor.NIV These two phrases are opposites. As believers are serving the Lord,NIV they should never become lazy or lose their diligence. Instead, their service should be enthusiastic. Paul is not advocating activity for activity’s sake. Rather, we should consistently use our spiritual gifts to serve the body. We have been called (1:6-7), challenged (12:1-2), and equipped (12:4-6) for serving the Lord. Fatigue may be part of the cycle of service, but apathy (lack of zeal) should not be part of a believer’s life. Christians must fight against discouragement, depression, and negativeness; they must do their utmost to keep their spiritual temperature high.

12:12 Rejoicing in hope.NKJV This means that we should look forward with happy anticipation to all that God has in store for us. We don’t have to fear our future when it is in God’s hands. Christ is the reason that we can be joyful.

Patient in suffering.NRSV When believers face trials or persecution, they are to endure patiently, for they know God is in control (see also 5:2-5).

Faithful in prayer.NIV A trademark of believers is prayer, for it is their lifeline to God. They must be persistent in praying, both individually and corporately.

The only way we can be patient in affliction is by faithful prayer and joyful hope. When afflictions come our way, the only joy may be our hope for the future unveiling of God’s plan (8:18-27).

12:13 Share with God’s people who are in need.NIV For believers, the challenges of the Christian life are constantly shifting between what we experience personally and what we experience because we are part of the body of Christ. Gifts, love, hope, patience, and prayer are valuable, but they do not take precedence over other believers’ needs. Because we are members of Christ’s body, we must take care of one another in every way. When some are in need, others who have the means should share what they have in order to meet that need (whether financial or daily necessities). This was another trademark of believers, and it was often what drew nonbelievers to Christianity (see Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37; 11:27-30).

Practice hospitality.NIV Hospitality means being friendly to strangers, not just having friends over. Christian hospitality differs from social entertaining. Entertaining focuses on the host—the home must be spotless; the food must be well prepared and abundant; the host must appear relaxed and good-natured. Hospitality, in contrast, focuses on the guests. Their needs—whether for a place to stay, nourishing food, a listening ear, or acceptance—are the primary concern. Hospitality can happen in a messy home. It can happen around a dinner table where the main dish is canned soup. It can even happen while the host and the guest are doing chores together. Believers should not hesitate to offer hospitality just because they are too tired, too busy, or not wealthy enough to entertain. The word practice is instructive, for it reminds us that hospitality improves with practice.

Both of Paul’s commands are generally unheeded today. We would do well to return to biblical Christianity by taking inventory of what we can do without. Do we have clothes to spare? Can we give away a used car rather than sell it to buy a new one? Do we have toys or other possessions that others need more than we do? Can we help with ready cash or gifts of food’? Above all, can we help without expecting to be thanked or rewarded ourselves?

Supernatural Living–part 1 (Romans 12:9-13)

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (12:9-13)

Our society is obsessed with sports, recreation, entertainment, and emotional gratification, and it is paying the consequences of that unbalanced preoccupation. When such pursuits exceed their reasonable roles, they become conspicuous marks of the shallow, superficial, and often decadent society that cultivates them. “Bodily discipline is only of little profit,” Paul cautions, “but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

Teddy Roosevelt once commented, “The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first, the love of soft living and the get-rich theory of life.” That observation is still valid.

The only productive life, as well as the only truly satisfying life, is the self-disciplined life. That is certainly true of the Christian life. Although our spiritual guidance and power come from the Lord, He can only work effectively through lives that are subjected to Him. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things,” Paul reminded the church at Corinth. “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:25-27).

Only the disciplined mind can think clearly and be used of the Lord to properly understand and present His truth to the world. Only the disciplined mind can effectively evaluate and challenge the world’s ideals and standards in the light of that truth. By the same token, only the disciplined Christian life can be a persuasive and effective example, both within the church and before the world.

In his book The Disciplined Life, Richard Shelley Taylor writes,

Disciplined character belongs to the person who achieves balance by bringing all his faculties and powers under control… He resolutely faces his duty. He is governed by a sense of responsibility. He has inward resources and personal reserves which are the wonder of weaker souls. He brings adversity under tribute, and compels it to serve him. When adversity becomes too overwhelming and blows fall which he cannot parry, be bows to them, but is not broken by them. His spirit still soars. The strong character of Madam Guyon [the early eighteenth-century French evangelical] enabled her, though imprisoned, to rise in spirit and sing:

My cage confines me round; Abroad I cannot fly.

But though my wing is closely bound, My heart’s at liberty.

My prison walls cannot control The flight, the freedom of the soul. (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1962, p. 22)

Simply put, self-discipline is the willingness to subordinate personal desires and objectives to those that are selfless and divine, to subordinate that which is attractive and easy to that which is right and necessary. For the Christian, self-discipline is obedience to the Word of God, the willingness to subordinate everything in our lives—physical, emotional, social, intellectual, moral, and spiritual—to God’s will and control, and for God’s glory.

It is as absurd as it is unbiblical to believe that anyone can live a faithful, fruitful Christian life on mere good intentions and warm feelings for the Lord and His work. The Christian life is an accountable life, and, by definition, accountability is based on specific principles and standards. For the Christian, they are the divinely-revealed principles and standards to which God holds each of His children. It is because we are accountable that the Lord disciplines us when we disobey His Word and ignore His will.

“You have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,” the writer of Hebrews reminds us: “‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?… All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:5-7, 11; cf. Prov. 3:11-12).

The nineteenth-century Englishman Robert C. Chapman wrote, “Seeing that so many preach Christ and so few live Christ, I will aim to live Him.” His good friend J. N. Darby said of him, “He lives what I teach.”

It was said of the popular nineteenth-century English author William Arnot, “His preaching is good. His writing is better. His living is best of all.” Would that it could be said of all Christians that their living is best of all.

A young man once asked me, “How can you know if you are truly a Christian? How can you know if your decision for Christ wasn’t just an emotional experience?” I replied, “The only way to know if we have experienced justification, been made right with Him and been brought into His family, is by looking at our heart and our lives. If Christ is our Savior and Lord, the deepest desire of our hearts will be to serve and to please Him, and that desire will be expressed in a longing for holiness and a pattern of righteous living.” It is not that our lives will have become perfect or that we will never waver in our commitment and obedience, but that the direction of our lives will be godward, that our supreme desire will be to become more and more like Christ.

Although he rejected both the Bible and God, Julian Huxley correctly noted that “it doesn’t take much of a man to be a Christian, it just takes all of him.” Henry Drummond, a close friend of D. L. Moody, said, “The entrance fee to God’s kingdom is nothing, but the annual dues are everything.”

A person who has been justified by God’s grace, who has presented his body as “a living and holy sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), and who is exercising the spiritual gifts the Lord has given him (vv. 3-8), will experience an outflowing of sanctified, spiritual living. In other words, a person who is truly saved will evidence his salvation by the way he lives. And because the obedient, disciplined, and productive Christian life is directed and empowered by God’s own Spirit, Christian living is supernatural living. In that sense, it is abnormal, unnatural living—living that is not natural to and cannot be attained by the unregenerate man.

Supernatural living is conducted “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). Supernatural living is “to have this attitude in [ourselves] which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5) and humbly to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). But the working out of our salvation is no more accomplished in our own power than the new birth was accomplished in our own power. “It is God who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:13).

In short, supernatural living is conforming our outer lives to our inner lives, living out the redeemed, purified, and holy nature we have in Jesus Christ, becoming in practice what we are in position and new creation.

But supernatural living is not a mystical, undefined life based on elusive good impulses and sincere intentions. It is practical living that results from conscious obedience to God’s standards of righteousness, a life lived within divinely-ordained parameters. It is thinking, speaking, and acting in daily conformity with God’s Word and will.

Supernatural living is free in that it is no longer under the bondage of sin. But it also is enslaved, in that it is unalterably bound to the righteous will of God. “Thanks be to God,” Paul has declared earlier in this letter, “that though [we] were slaves of sin, [we] became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which [we] were committed, and having been freed from sin, [we] became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). With Martin Luther, every Christian should be able to say, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

Through Romans 12:8, Paul has laid the doctrinal foundation of the justified, sanctified, and dedicated Christian life. In the rest of the epistle, he focuses on specific ways in which believers must live their lives in obedience to God’s Word and to the glory of His name. The call to practical, holy living is the climax of this rich epistle.

In 12:9-21, Paul gives a comprehensive, but not exhaustive, list of the basic characteristics of the supernatural Christian life. In essence, he is giving the same admonition he had given to Corinthian believers a year or so earlier: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). It is because of all that God has done for us and all that He has equipped us with that we are to respond by faithful, obedient, Spirit-empowered living. We are God’s “workmanship,” Paul explained to the church at Ephesus, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Salvation is designed to produce in us an unmistakable pattern of godly, righteous living. We will bear some fruit, but the Lord wants us to bear much fruit to his glory (John 15:8). All of these characteristics will be the desires of the inner new creation, and Paul urges believers to submit the flesh to these inner holy longings and to manifest these virtues as a regular pattern of life. These qualities are not foreign to our nature but to what we desire, so that, as our will submits to the Word and Spirit, the qualities become reality.

In the present text (12:9-21), Paul gives some twenty-five distinct but closely related exhortations. Any believer who honestly appraises his life by these standards cannot help being convicted of falling far short of the perfection the inner person desires. On the other hand, however, the believer who is walking in the Spirit will see the Spirit working out these precepts in his life to a greater and greater extent. An honest look at our lives in light of these precepts will bring conviction about our failure to keep some of them and confidence about our success in keeping others. Where we fall short, we should ask the Lord’s help. Where we have been faithful, we should give Him thanks and praise.

The specific exhortations fall under four general categories or phases, which form an ever-increasing circle, as it were, that expands from personal attitudes to the widest social applications. They are: personal duties (v. 9); family duties (vv. 10-13); duty to other people in general (vv. 14-16); and duty to those who are avowed personal enemies (vv. 17-21).

Personal Duties

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (12:9)

In one of several triplets (see also vv. 11, 12, 16), Paul mentions three personal duties of supernatural living.

Love Without Hypocrisy (12:9a)

The first duty is, Let love be without hypocrisy. The greatest virtue of the Christian life is love. The use of agapē (love) was rare in pagan Greek literature, doubtless because the concept it represented—unselfish, self-giving, willful devotion—was so uncommon in that culture it was even ridiculed and despised as a sign of weakness. But in the New Testament it is proclaimed as the supreme virtue, the virtue under which all others are subsumed. Agapē love centers on the needs and welfare of the one loved and will pay whatever personal price is necessary to meet those needs and foster that welfare.

God Himself “is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16). Jesus made unequivocally clear that in both the Old and New Testaments the two greatest commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39). In fact, He went on to say, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (v. 40). Echoing that same truth, Paul later admonishes in his letter to Rome, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (13:8; cf. v. 10).

Love is more important to a Christian than any spiritual gift he may have. “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three,” Paul explained to the Corinthian believers, “but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13; cf. 12:31). It is therefore not surprising that the first “fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22) and that it is by our love for our fellow believers that “all men will know that [we are Jesus’] disciples” (John 13:35). In behalf of the Thessalonian believers, Paul prayed, “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another” (1 Thess. 3:12; cf. 1 John 3:18). Suffering “much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger,” Paul himself served the Lord’s people “in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love” (2 Cor. 6:4-6).

It is that same unfeigned love of one another that Peter admonishes all believers to exhibit: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). Later in the same letter, the apostle repeats the command: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

Genuine love is so integral to supernatural living that John declares, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). In other words, a person who shows no evidence of agapē love has no claim on Christ or on eternal life.

A Jewish woman who lived near our church was refused marriage counseling by her synagogue because she had not paid her dues. She was upset and determined to go to the nearest religious institution to get help. As she walked past our church one Sunday morning, she soon found herself inside. As she explained later, she was drawn to her Messiah and Savior that day because she could sense the great love manifested by our members for each other.

The love of which Paul, Peter, and John speak is genuine love, the sincere and fervent love that is completely without hypocrisy and untainted by self-centeredness. Christian love is pure, guileless, and unaffected.

Hypocrisy is the antithesis of and completely incompatible with agapē love. The two cannot coexist. Hypocrisy is exceeded in evil only by unbelief. The consummate hypocrite in Scripture, Judas, was also the consummate egoist. He feigned devotion to Jesus to achieve his own selfish purposes. His hypocrisy was unmasked and his self-centeredness was made evident when he betrayed Jesus for the thirty pieces of silver. Commenting on this verse in Romans, the theologian John Murray writes, “If love is the sum of virtue and hypocrisy is the epitome of vice, what a contradiction to bring the two together.”

Hate Evil (12:9b)

The second longing of the new nature and personal duty of supernatural living is to abhor what is evil. Hatred of evil is the other side of love, which, by its very nature, cannot approve of or “rejoice in unrighteousness” (1 Cor. 13:6). Evil is the antithesis of holiness and therefore the antithesis of godliness. Just as “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), “Fear of the Lord [also] is to hate evil” (Prov. 8:13). The child of God abhors evil because God abhors evil.

Evil is the enemy of God and the enemy of love, and it is to be as fervently abhorred as love is to be fervently coveted. It is for that reason the psalmist commands, “Hate evil, you who love the Lord” (Ps. 97:10). The Christian who genuinely loves will genuinely abhor what is evil. Because of his great love for God, David determined, “A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil” (Ps. 101:4). The faithful believer can strike no settlement with evil, every form and degree of which will be avoided.

Even the great apostle struggled against sin. Earlier in this letter to Rome, Paul confessed, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate… For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good” (Rom. 7:14-15, 19-21). In other words, when believers fall back into sin, their inner, godly self will resolutely disapprove.

Jude admonishes, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 20-21, 23). In other words, when we witness to the unsaved, we must be careful that in our zeal to win them we do not allow ourselves to be drawn into sins from which they need deliverance. Doctors and nurses are dedicated to helping those who are ill, even from the deadliest diseases, but they take every precaution to protect themselves from those diseases, lest they, too, become infected.

“Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me,” Paul sadly reported to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:10). Demas’s love of sin was greater than his love for the Lord, the Lord’s people, and the Lord’s work.

Someone has said that the only security against sin is to be shocked by it. The constant bombardment of our senses through TV, newspapers, magazines, movies, and books with the immoralities, violence, and perversions of modern society makes it difficult to be shocked by anything. Tragically, many Christians regularly entertain themselves with sheer ungodliness, perhaps rationalizing that, simply by being a Christian, they are somehow immune from sinful infection.

Genuine hatred of evil engenders avoidance of evil. In his Essay on Man, Alexander Pope wisely observed that,

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As to be hated needs but to be seen;

Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

That stanza reflects the progression found in the first Psalm: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (1:1). We cannot flirt with sin and escape falling into it. Refusing to be enticed even by the first, seemingly harmless attractions of sin, the righteous man delights “in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (v. 2).

Even among pagans, Corinth was known as “sin city,” and many believers in the church there had great difficulty giving up the ways of their old life. Paul warned that their only safe response to the allures of sexual immorality and idolatry was to “flee” from them (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14). He warned Timothy that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang” (1 Tim. 6:10). Again his advice was simple and direct: “Flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (v. 11). Paul repeated that counsel to Timothy in the second letter: “Flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). It is impossible to pursue righteousness while we tolerate evil.

“There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him,” the writer of Proverbs tells us. They are: “Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16-19). Obviously, that is not an exhaustive list, but a representative sampling of the countless sins that man has devised to disobey the Lord and reject His ways.

Greater exposure to evil should invoke greater resistance to it, no matter how often or how intensely we are confronted by it. We must “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good [and] abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Because “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), we must, like Him, love righteousness and hate sin (Heb. 1:9). We are to love what He loves and hate what He hates.

Hold on to the Good (12:9c)

The third personal duty of supernatural living is to cling to what is good. The verb kollaō (to cling) is from kolla (glue) and came to be used of any bond—physical, emotional, or spiritual. As servants of Jesus Christ, we are to bind ourselves to what is good (agathos), that which is inherently right and worthy.

The good is “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute.” And “if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise,” Paul continues, “let your mind dwell on [or cling to] these things” (Phil. 4:8).

In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, the apostle gives similar instruction: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” That is clearly a call to discernment, the thoughtful, careful evaluation of everything, so we can decide, judged against God’s Word, what to reject and what to cling to.

As Paul has already explained, the key to finding and following what is good is in not being “conformed to this world, but [being] transformed by the renewing of [our] mind, that [we] may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). As we separate ourselves from the things of the world and saturate ourselves with the Word of God, the things that are good will more and more replace the things that are evil.

Duty to the Family of God

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (12:10-13)

The second phase of supernatural living concerns a wider dimension—largely pertaining to the believer’s duty to fellow members in the family of God.

Be Devoted in Brotherly Love (12:10a)

Paul’s list of ten “family” obligations begins with the command: Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Be devoted to and brotherly love carry synonymous ideas. Devoted translates philostorgos, a compound of philos (friend, friendly; friendship love) and storgē (natural family love, which is not based on personal attraction or desirability). Brotherly love translates philadelphia, another compound—phileō (to have tender affection) and adelphos (brother). We are to have a loving filial affection for one another in the family of God.

Devoted… brotherly love is one of the marks by which the world will know that we belong to Christ. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This love is not optional for believers. It not only is required but is inescapable, because “whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him” (1 John 5:1). In fact, as John has just declared, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (4:20).

Brotherly love reflects the nature of Christians. That is why Paul could say, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9). Being “taught by God,” the true child of God knows intuitively that he is to love his spiritual brothers and sisters. For the very reason that God is our common heavenly Father, love for each other should be as natural and normal as family members’ affectionate love for each other.

The apostle John forcefully affirms that truth. “The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-2:11). In the next chapter the apostle uses even stronger words: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother… But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him” (1 John 3:10, 17-19).

Prefer One Another in Honor (12:10b)

If we are truly “devoted to one another in brotherly love,” it almost goes without saying that we will give preference to one another in honor. The virtue here is humility, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3). It is doing “nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind,” regarding “one another as more important than” oneself (Phil. 2:3).

Proēgeomai (give preference) has the basic meaning of going before, or leading. But the idea here is not that of putting ourselves before others in regard to importance or worth but the very opposite idea of giving honor to fellow believers by putting them first.

To honor is not to flatter, to give hypocritical praise in hope of having the compliment returned or of gaining favor with the one honored. Again, the very opposite is in mind. To honor is to show genuine appreciation and admiration for one another in the family of God. We are to be quick to show respect, quick to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, quick to demonstrate genuine love by not being jealous or envious, which have no part in love, whether agapē or philadelphia.

Do Not Lag in Diligence (12:11a)

Not lagging behind in diligence could be rendered, “not lazy in zeal and intensity.” A few verses earlier, Paul declares that the Christian who has the gift of ruling, or leading, should exercise it with diligence (v. 8).

In the context of Romans 12, diligence refers to whatever believers do in their supernatural living. Whatever is worth doing in the Lord’s service is worth doing with enthusiasm and care. Jesus told His disciples that He “must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4). The Lord knew His time of ministry was limited and that every moment in His Father’s service on earth should count for the most possible. Paul admonished believers in the Galatian churches: “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10; cf. 2 Thess. 3:13).

There is no room for sloth and indolence in the Lord’s work. “Whatever your hand finds to do,” Solomon counseled, “verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol [the grave]” (Eccles. 9:10). Whatever we do for the Lord must be done in this present life.

Slothfulness in Christian living not only prevents good from being done but allows evil to prosper. “Therefore be careful how you walk,” Paul charged the Ephesians, “not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys” (Prov. 18:9). For weeds to prosper, the gardener need only leave the garden alone.

The Lord rewards those who serve Him with diligence. “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:10-12).

Be Fervent in Spirit (12:11b)

Whereas diligence pertains mainly to action, being fervent in spirit pertains to attitude. Literally, zeō means to boil and metaphorically to be fervent. The idea here is not of being overheated to the point of boiling over and out of control but, like a steam engine, of having sufficient heat to produce the energy necessary to get the work done. That principle is reflected in the life of Henry Martyn, the tireless missionary to India, whose heart’s desire was to “burn out for God.”

One of the oldest blights on earth is lack of enthusiasm. Most people could make a sizable list of their failures that were simply casualties to indifference and lack of commitment. Fervency requires resolve and persistence, not mere good intention. “Let us not lose heart in doing good,” Paul admonishes, “for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9).

Even before he had a full understanding of the gospel, Apollos was “fervent in spirit,… speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Acts 18:25). But no believer in the early church was more fervent in spirit, more indefatigable in the work of the Lord than Paul himself. “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim,” he said; “I box in such a way, as not beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26); “And for this purpose also I labor” (Col. 1:29).

Serve the Lord (12:11c)

Like fervency in spirit, serving the Lord has to do with perspective and priority. Everything we do should, first of all, be consistent with God’s Word and, second, be truly in His service and to His glory. Strict devotion to the Lord would eliminate a great deal of fruitless church activity.

Paul never lost sight of that foundational mission. He begins this letter with the affirmation that he served God “in [his] spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son” (Rom. 1:9).

In Romans 12, Paul uses three different words to describe Christian service. In verse 1 he uses latreia, which is translated, “service of worship,” and emphasizes reverential awe. The second word is diakonia, which pertains to practical service. In verse 11, he uses douleuō, which refers to the service of a bond-slave, whose very reason for existence is to do his master’s will.

Above all else, Paul considered himself a bond-slave of Jesus Christ. It is with that description that he first identifies himself in this letter (Rom. 1:1), as well as in Philippians (1:1) and Titus (1:1).

Yet we do not serve the Lord in our own power any more than we came to Him in our own power. Our supreme purpose is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and our power to fulfill that service is from Him. “For this purpose also I labor,” Paul testified, “striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29).

Rejoice in Hope (12:12a)

Living the supernatural life inevitably brings opposition from the world and sometimes even sparks resentment by fellow Christians. Even after years of faithful service to the Lord, some see few, if any, apparent results from their labors. Without hope we could never survive. “For in hope we have been saved,” Paul has already explained, “but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom. 8:24-25).

Rejoicing in that hope, we know that, if we are “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” our “toil is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). We can therefore look forward to one day hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). We know that “in the future there is laid up for [us] the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to [us] on that day; and… to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

Persevere in Tribulation (12:12b)

It is because we can rejoice in hope that we also can persevere in tribulation, whatever its form or severity. Because we have perfect assurance concerning the ultimate outcome of our lives, we are able to persist against any obstacle and endure any suffering. That is why Paul could declare with perfect confidence that “we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:2-5).

Be Devoted to Prayer (12:12c)

Doubtless one of the reasons the Lord allows His children to go through tribulation is to drive them to Himself. The believer who has the strength to persevere in trials, afflictions, adversity, and misfortune—sometimes even deprivation and destitution—will pray more than occasionally. He will be devoted to prayer, in communion with his Lord as a constant part of his life. So should we all be, no matter what the circumstances of our lives.

Proskartereō (devoted) means literally to be strong toward something, and it also carries the ideas of steadfast and unwavering. It was with such devoted… prayer that early Christians worshiped, both before and after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14; 2:42). It was to enable the apostles to devote themselves “to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) that deacons were first appointed in the church.

Devoted, steadfast prayer should be as continual a part of a Christian’s spiritual life as breathing is a part of his physical life. The victorious Christian prays “with the spirit and… with the mind” (1 Cor. 14:15). As he prays with his own spirit, he also prays “in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20; cf. Eph. 6:18). He prays “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Paul therefore admonished Timothy to have “the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands” (1 Tim. 2:8).

Contribute to the Needs of the Saints (12:13a)

The next two principles Paul mentions in this list seem rather mundane. But they are qualities that the Lord personified during His earthly ministry and for which Paul himself was lovingly known. The flow of the supernatural life is outward, not inward, and meeting the needs of fellow believers is more important than meeting our own.

Contributing is from koinōneō, which means to share in, or share with, and the noun koinōnia is often translated “fellowship” or “communion.” The basic meaning is that of commonality or partnership, which involves mutual sharing. The spirit of sharing was immediately evident in the early church, as believers after Pentecost “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship [koinōnia], to the breaking of bread and prayer… And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common [koina]” (Acts 2:42, 44; cf. 4:32). Peter used that term in speaking of our sharing [koinōneō] in “the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pet. 4:13).

But because the emphasis in the present text is on the giving side of sharing, the term is here rendered contributing. Paul also used a form of that word in the same sense when he admonished Timothy to “instruct those who are rich in this present world… to be generous and ready to share [koinōnikos]” (1 Tim. 6:17-18).

In the eyes of society, we rightfully own certain things, but before the Lord we own nothing. We are simply stewards of what He has blessed us with. And one of our most important responsibilities as His stewards is using our personal resources to contribute to the needs of the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made clear that we have a responsibility, to the best of our ability, to help anyone in need whom we encounter. But we have a still greater responsibility to serve fellow Christians. “So then, while we have opportunity,” Paul says, “let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10).

Practice Hospitality (12:13b)

The last responsibility to fellow believers that Paul mentions in this list is that of practicing hospitality. The literal meaning of that phrase in the Greek is, “pursuing the love of strangers.” In other words, we not only are to meet the needs of those people, believers and unbelievers, who come across our paths but are to look for opportunities to help. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” the writer of Hebrews admonishes us, “for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).

In our text, Paul is speaking to all believers, but he also makes clear that leaders in the church should set an example by their own hospitality. Elders are to be “hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled” (Titus 1:8).

As with all virtues, this one must be exercised without hypocrisy or self-interest. Jesus’ admonition to His Pharisee host applies to all of His followers: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).

Because inns in New Testament times were scarce, expensive, and often dangerous, Christian families commonly opened their homes to believers who passed through their towns. Unlike Paul, who insisted on paying for most of his own expenses, most itinerant preachers and teachers relied entirely on the support of fellow Christians. John commended Gaius for his generosity in this regard: “Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 5-8).

We are to “be hospitable to one another without complaint,” Peter admonishes (1 Pet. 4:9). That is, we should look upon our hospitality as a happy privilege, not a drudging duty. Onesiphorus demonstrated that sort of beneficence in ministering to Paul, about whom the apostle wrote, “He often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me, and found me—the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus” (2 Tim. 1:16-18).

Additional Comments

The Christian Life in Everyday Action (Rom 12:9-13)

12:9-13 Your love must be completely sincere. Hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good. Be affectionate to one another in brotherly love. Give to each other priority in honour. Do not be sluggish in zeal. Keep your spirit at boiling point. Seize your opportunities. Rejoice in hope. Meet tribulation with triumphant fortitude. Be persevering in prayer. Share what you have to help the needs of God’s dedicated people. Be eager in giving hospitality.

Paul presents his people with ten telegraphic rules for ordinary, everyday life. Let us look at them one by one.

(i) Love must be completely sincere. There must be no hypocrisy, no play-acting, no ulterior motive. There is such a thing as cupboard love, which gives affection with one eye on the gain which may result. There is such a thing as a selfish love, whose aim is to get far more than it is to give. Christian love is cleansed of self; it is a pure outgoing of the heart to others.

(ii) We must hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good. It has been said that our one security against sin lies in our being shocked by it. It was Carlyle who said that what we need is to see the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin. The words Paul uses are strong. It has been said that no virtue is safe which is not passionate. He must hate evil and love good. Regarding one thing we must be clear—what many people hate is not evil, but the consequences of evil. No man is really a good man when he is good simply because he fears the consequences of being bad. As Burns had it:

“The fear o’ Hell’s a hangman’s whip To haud the wretch in order;

But where ye feel your honour grip, Let that ay be your border.”

Not to fear the consequences of dishonour, but to love honour passionately is the way to real goodness.

(iii) We must be affectionate to one another in brotherly love. The word Paul uses for affectionate is philostorgos (<G5387>), and storge (<G0>) is the Greek for family love. We must love each other, because we are members of one family. We are not strangers to each other within the Christian Church; much less are we isolated units; we are brothers and sisters, because we have the one father, God.

(iv) We must give each other priority in honour. More than half the trouble that arises in Churches concerns rights and privileges and prestige. Someone has not been given his or her place; someone has been neglected or unthanked. The mark of the truly Christian man has always been humility. One of the humblest of men was that great saint and scholar Principal Cairns. Someone recollects an incident which showed Cairns as he was. He was a member of a platform party at a great gathering. As he appeared there was a tremendous burst of applause. Cairns stood back to let the man next him pass, and began to applaud himself; he never dreamed that the applause was for him. It is not easy to give each other priority in honour. There is enough of the natural man in most of us to like to get our rights; but the Christian man has no rights—he has only duties.

(v) We must not be sluggish in zeal. There is a certain intensity in the Christian life; there is no room for lethargy in it. The Christian cannot take things in an easy-going way, for the world is always a battleground between good and evil, the time is short, and life is a preparation for eternity. The Christian may burn out, but he must not rust out.

(vi) We must keep our spirit at boiling point. The one man whom the Risen Christ could not stand was the man who was neither hot nor cold (Rev 3:15-16). Today people are apt to look askance upon enthusiasm: the modern battle-cry is “I couldn’t care less.” But the Christian is a man desperately in earnest; he is aflame for Christ.

(vii) Paul’s seventh injunction may be one of two things. The ancient manuscripts vary between two readings. Some read, “Serve the Lord” and some read, “Serve the time.” that is, “Grasp your opportunities.” The reason for the double reading is this. All the ancient scribes used contractions in their writing. In particular the commoner words were always abbreviated. One of the commonest ways of abbreviating was to miss out the vowels—as shorthand does—and to place a stroke along the top of the remaining letters. Now the word for Lord is kurios (<G2962>) and the word for time is kairos (<G2540>), and the abbreviation for both of these words is krs. In a section so filled with practical advice it is more likely that Paul was saying to his people, “Seize your opportunities as they come.” Life presents us with all kinds of opportunities—the opportunity to learn something new or to cut out something wrong; the opportunity to speak a word of encouragement or of warning; the opportunity to help or to comfort. One of the tragedies of life is that we so often fall to grasp these opportunities when they come. “There are three things which come not back—the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity.”

(viii) We are to rejoice in hope. When Alexander the Great was setting out upon one of his eastern campaigns, he was distributing all kinds of gifts to his friends. In his generosity he had given away nearly all his possessions. “Sir,” said one of his friends, “you will have nothing left for yourself.” “Oh, yes, I have,” said Alexander, “I have still my hopes.” The Christian must be essentially an optimist. Just because God is God, the Christian is always certain that “the best is yet to be.” Just because he knows of the grace that is sufficient for all things and the strength that is made perfect in weakness, the Christian knows that no task is too much for him. “There are no hopeless situations in life; there are only men who have grown hopeless about them.” There can never be any such thing as a hopeless Christian.

(ix) We are to meet tribulation with triumphant fortitude. Someone once said to a gallant sufferer: “Suffering colours all life, doesn’t it?” “Yes,” said the gallant one, “it does, but I propose to choose the colour.” When the dreadful affliction of complete deafness began to descend on Beethoven and life seemed to be one unbroken disaster, he said: “I will take life by the throat.” As William Cowper had it:

“Set free from present sorrow, We cheerfully can say.

‘Even let the unknown tomorrow Bring with it what it may,

It can bring with it nothing But he will bear us through.'”

When Nebuchadnezzar cast Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the burning fiery furnace he was amazed that they took no harm. He asked if three men had not been cast into the flames. They told him it was so. He said, “But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Dan 3:24-25). A man can meet anything when he meets it with Christ.

(x) We are to persevere in prayer. Is it not the case that there are times in life when we let day add itself to day and week to week, and we never speak to God? When a man ceases to pray, he despoils himself of the strength of Almighty God. No man should be surprised when life collapses if he insists on living it alone.

(xi) We are to share with those in need. In a world bent on getting, the Christian is bent on giving, because he knows that “what we keep we lose, and what we give we have.”

(xii) The Christian is to be given to hospitality. Over and over again the New Testament insists on this duty of the open door (Heb 13:2; 1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:8; 1 Pet 4:9). Tyndale used a magnificent word when he translated it that the Christian should have a harborous disposition. A home can never be happy when it is selfish. Christianity is the religion of the open hand, the open heart, and the open door.

12:14 Bless those who persecute you . . . do not curse them.NRSV Paul now broadens his perspective to the world where the believers live—in this case, the capital of the empire, Rome itself. The community of believers was a tiny segment, vulnerable to the edicts of pagan emperors and persecution by any who disagreed with them. Paul, aware of these realities, counsels believers to avoid trouble by refusing to retaliate when persecuted and—to respond with good when they are treated with evil.

By doing this, believers would be obeying Christ’s words, for he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 niv). They would also be imitating Christ, who when he was on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 niv). Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr, said nearly the same thing as he was being stoned, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60 niv).

Most of us have trouble visualizing exactly what Paul had in mind when he commanded us to bless persecutors. This trouble intensifies when we are under personal attack. If we decide beforehand how we will respond in times of crisis, we will not be delayed by trying to define what we ought to be doing. Instead, we will simply have to do it.
 In context, to bless means to not curse. Instead of hoping for the worst to happen to our enemies, we are to willfully hope that the best will befall them. Instead of speaking words of hatred, we are to choose to speak words of truthful good towards those intending to hurt us. Finally, we are to pray for those who we feel are preying on us.

12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice. Believers need to be able to empathize with others—to join in with the feelings of others as if we were experiencing it ourselves. Christians should rejoice with others, with no hint of jealousy; and they should mourn with those who mourn (niv), offering kindness, concern, compassion, and a shoulder to cry on if needed. The believers needed to have this as they dealt with the ups and downs of daily life in their surroundings.

Following Jesus will mean that believers will pass through a kaleidoscope of experiences in life. Christianity is neither denying life’s hardships, nor dulling life’s excitements. Our perspective of eternity in Christ can free us to enter into the full variety of living. Both laughter and tears are appropriate before God. Each has an important place in representing our feelings. Identifying with the joys and heartaches of others is also an important way to show them our love.

12:16 Live in harmony.NRSV In order to live in harmony with others, and especially with fellow believers, we cannot be proud (niv). Instead, we are to be willing to associate with people of low position. In other words, do not be conceited, for then empathy and harmony are impossible. James leveled a scathing indictment on believers who were practicing favoritism and elitism in the church (James 2:1-9). People of low position are only identified as such by the world’s standards. Christ thought they were worth dying for, and so we can associate with them.

Many people use their contacts and relationships for selfish ambition. They select those people who will help them climb the social ladder. Christ demonstrated and taught that we should treat all people with respect—those of a different race, the handicapped, the poor, young and old, male and female. We must never consider others as being beneath ourselves. Are we able to do humble tasks with others? Do we welcome conversation with unattractive, nonprestigious people? Are we willing to befriend newcomers and entry-level people? Or do we relate only to those who will help us get ahead?


Paul offers a series of rules and principles wherewith to govern our relationships with our fellow men.

(i) The Christian must meet persecution with a prayer for those who persecute him. Long ago Plato had said that the good man will choose rather to suffer evil than to do evil; and it is always evil to hate. When the Christian is hurt, and insulted, and maltreated, he has the example of his Master before him, for be, upon his Cross, prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing him.

There has been no greater force to move men into Christianity than this serene forgiveness which the martyrs in every age have showed. Stephen died praying for forgiveness for those who stoned him to death (Ac 7:60). Among those who killed him was a young man named Saul, who afterwards became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles and the slave of Christ. There can be no doubt that the death scene of Stephen was one of the things that turned Paul to Christ. As Augustine said: “The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Many a persecutor has become a follower of the faith he once sought to destroy, because he has seen how a Christian can forgive.”

(ii) We are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep. There are few bonds like that of a common sorrow. A writer tells of the saying of an American negro woman. A lady in Charleston met the negro servant of a neighbour. “I’m sorry to hear of your Aunt Lucy’s death,” she said. “You must miss her greatly. You were such friends.” “Yes’m,” said the servant, “I is sorry she died. But we wasn’t no friends.” “Why,” said the lady, “I thought you were. I’ve seen you laughing and talking together lots of times.” “Yes’m. That’s so,” came the reply. “We’ve laughed together, and we’ve talked together, but we is just ‘quaintances. You see, Miss Ruth, we ain’t never shed no tears. Folks got to cry together before dey is friends.”

The bond of tears is the strongest of all. And yet it is much easier to weep with those who weep than it is to rejoice with those who rejoice. Long ago Chrysostom wrote on this passage: “It requires more of a high Christian temper to rejoice with them that do rejoice than to weep with them that weep. For this nature itself fulfils perfectly; and thee is none so hard-hearted as not to weep over him that is in calamity; but the other requires a very noble soul, so as not only to keep from envying, but even to feel pleasure with the person who is in esteem.” It is., indeed, more difficult to congratulate another on his success, especially if his success involves disappointment to us, than it is to sympathize with his sorrow and his loss. It is only when self is dead that we can take as much joy in the success of others as in our own.

(iii) We are to live in harmony with one another. It was Nelson who, after one of his great victories, sent back a despatch in which he gave us the reason for it: “I had the happiness to command a band of brothers.” It is a band of brothers that any Christian Church should be. Leighton once wrote: “The mode of Church government is unconstrained; but peace and concord, kindness and good will are indispensable.” When strife enters into any Christian society, the hope of doing any good work is gone.

(iv) We are to avoid all pride and snobbishness. We have always to remember that the standards by which the world judges a man are not necessarily the standards by which God judges him. Saintliness has nothing to do with rank, or wealth, or birth. Dr James Black in his own vivid way described a scene in an early Christian congregation. A notable convert has been made. and the great man comes to his first Church service. He enters the room where the service is being held. The Christian leader points to a place. “Will you sit there please?” “But,” says the man, “I cannot sit there, for that would be to sit beside my slave.” “Will you sit there please?” repeats the leader. “But,” says the man, “surely not beside my slave.” “Will you sit there please?” repeats the leader once again. And the man at last crosses the room, sits beside his slave, and gives him the kiss of peace. That is what Christianity did; and that is what it alone could do in the Roman Empire. The Christian Church was the only place where master and slave sat side by side. It is still the place where all earthly distinctions are gone, for with God there is no respect of persons.

(v) We are to make our conduct fair for all to see. Paul was well aware that Christian conduct must not only be good; it must also look good. So-called Christianity can be presented in the hardest and most unlovely way; but real Christianity is something which is fair for all to see.

(vi) We are to live at peace with all men. But Paul adds two qualifications. (a) He says, “if it be possible”. There may come a time when the claims of courtesy have to submit to the claims of principle. Christianity is not an easy-going tolerance which will accept anything and shut its eyes to everything. There may come a time when some battle has to be fought, and when it does, the Christian will not shirk it. (b) He says, as far as you can. Paul knew very well that it is easier for some to live at peace than for others. He knew that one man can be compelled to control as much temper in an hour as another man in a lifetime. We would do well to remember that goodness is a great deal easier for some than for others; that will keep us alike from criticism and from discouragement.

(vii) We are to keep ourselves from all thought of taking revenge. Paul gives three reasons for that. (a) Vengeance does not belong to us but to God. In the last analysis no human being has a right to judge any other; only God can do that. (b) To treat a man with kindness rather than vengeance is the way to move him. Vengeance may break his spirit; but kindness will break his heart. “If we are kind to our enemies,” says Paul, “it will heap coals of fire on their heads.” That means, not that it will store up further punishment for them, but that it will move them to burning shame. (c) To stoop to vengeance is to be ourselves conquered by evil. Evil can never be conquered by evil. If hatred is met with more hatred it is only increased; but if it is met with love, an antidote for the poison is found. As Booker Washington said: “I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him.” The only real way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

Supernatural Living–part 2 (Romans 12:14-16)

Our Duty to All People

Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. (12:14-16)

The third circle in Paul’s list of basic characteristics of the supernatural Christian life widens broadly to include our duty to everyone in general, believers and unbelievers.

Bless Those Who Persecute You (12:14a)

This section begins with a very difficult admonition, one that is completely contrary to unredeemed human nature: Bless those who persecute you. The obedient Christian not only must resist hating and retaliating against those who harm him but is commanded to take the additional step of blessing them.

Paul is essentially paraphrasing the Lord’s own words: “I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28; cf. Matt. 5:44). Jesus referred to the same self-giving, heartfelt, unhypocritical, willing love (agapē) that Paul admonishes in Romans 12:9. Lest anyone think he was speaking simply of kind feelings, the Lord gave several specific illustrations of what genuine love does in response to mistreatment. “Whoever hits you on the cheek,” He commands, “offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back” (Luke 6:29-30). Commenting further about our attitude in such situations, He explains, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (vv. 32-33). To truly bless those who persecute us is to treat them as if they were our friends.

Some years ago, in the store where he was working, a nephew of mine was murdered by an addict looking for drug money. Although deeply grieved by this tragic loss, my brother-in-law has refused to become bitter or hateful. Instead, his continued desire and prayer has been for the salvation of the man who took his son’s life. He even visited him in prison to give him the greatest blessing, the gospel. Such is the kind of distinctive Christian love that seeks to bless those who do us terrible harm.

As we would expect, the supreme example of blessing one’s persecutors was given by our Lord Himself. As the sinless Son of God hung in great sin-bearing on the cross, He prayed with unimaginable mercy, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). As he lay beneath the bloody stones that were crushing the life out of him, Stephen echoed those words of his Savior, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60). “For you have been called for this purpose,” Peter wrote many years later, “since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21-23).

Bless and Do Not Curse Them (12:14b)

Although it should go without saying, Paul makes certain to explain that true blessing of those who persecute us is comprehensive and permanent. Not only are we to bless them, we are not at all or ever to curse them.

Because of the general tone of religious freedom in modern western society, physical or political persecution for one’s Christian faith is rare. Our temptations to curse are more likely to be in reaction to hostility that does us no life-threatening harm but causes us inconvenience or embarrassment. Some studies have indicated that much high blood pressure and other anxiety-related disease is caused not by serious, long-term problems and life-threatening pressures but by persistent attitudes of resentment and hostility that eat at people who habitually react negatively to unpleasant situations and people. It is often a host of “little foxes” that do the most damage in our spiritual and emotional “vineyards” (cf. Song of Sol. 2:15).

Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice (12:15a)

In a much more positive vein, Paul next counsels us to rejoice with those who rejoice. At first thought, that principle would seem easy to follow. But when another person’s blessing and happiness is at our expense, or when their favored circumstances or notable accomplishments make ours seem barren and dull, the flesh does not lead us to rejoice but tempts us to resent.

The person “who rejoices at calamity” displeases God and “will not go unpunished” (Prov. 17:5). But it is distinctively Christian to rejoice in the blessings, honor, and welfare of others—especially fellow believers—no matter what may be our personal circumstances. As always, Paul followed his own counsel. Just as he had formerly told the Corinthian believers that “if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26), he later assured them, “My joy would be the joy of you all” (2 Cor. 2:3).

Weep with Those Who Weep (12:15b)

It is also distinctively Christian to be sensitive to the disappointments, hardships, and sorrows of others, to weep with those who weep. That is the duty of sympathy, empathy, entering into the suffering of others. Compassion has in the very word the idea of suffering with someone. God is called a compassionate God (Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). He is so compassionate, so tender toward His people, that “His compassions never fail” (Lam. 3:22). James speaks of Him as being “full of compassion” (James 5:11). We see this compassion, sympathy, and tenderheartedness of God in the tears of Jesus over the grave of Lazarus. He mingled His tears with those of Mary and Martha (John 11:35). Reminding us that we should reflect our Lord’s character, Paul said, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).

Surely one of the most touchingly profound testimonies to God’s heart of tender sympathy toward His children who weep is found in Psalm 56, where the writer implores the Lord, “Put my tears in Thy bottle” (v. 8). The Lord stores up our tears as treasures. If we are to be like our Father and His Son, we, too, must enter into the sorrow of others.

A lovely illustration of that attitude is seen in a custom practiced in ancient Jerusalem. When the great temple built by Herod stood on the temple mount, it had only one entrance, located at the base of the southern wall, the remains of which are still recognizable today. Farther east on the same wall was the exit. The people would enter through the opening that allowed them to go through the wall, ascend the stairs to the temple area, and then exit by the other passage. Huge crowds flowed in and out in steady streams. There was one exception, however, to that pattern. One group of worshipers was to go the opposite way, entering by way of the exit and leaving through the entrance. As they bumped into and squeezed by each other, the two groups came face to face. The sad faces of those who were experiencing sorrow could be seen by those going the opposite direction, and, in those brief moments, the grief could be shared.

In addition to weeping for those who do weep, we should, like Jeremiah grieving for sinful Israel (Jer. 9:1-3) and Jesus looking out over unbelieving Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), also weep for those who should weep but do not.

Do Not Be Partial (12:16a)

The virtue expressed in the words be of the same mind toward one another is that of impartiality. Later in this epistle Paul repeats the admonition, saying, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:5).

The most explicit New Testament teaching on impartiality is given by James. “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism,” he warns. “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?… But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1-4, 9).

Speaking about honoring and correcting elders, Paul told Timothy, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality” (1 Tim. 5:21).

If “there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11; cf. Acts 10:34; 1 Pet. 1:17), shouldn’t the same be true for us?

Avoid Haughtiness and Associate with the Humble (12:16b)

Closely related to not being partial is not being haughty in mind, as James makes clear in the passage cited above.

Haughty in mind translates hupsēla phronountes, which literally means “minding high things.” But the things to which Paul refers here are not lofty in the spiritual sense but in the sense of self-seeking pride.

As James also makes clear in the passage mentioned above, partiality is closely related to a reluctance to show respect for, or even to associate with the lowly, such as “a poor man in dirty clothes” (James 2:2). The idea is not that we should avoid associating with those in high positions of wealth or influence. But as far as our service to them is concerned, we typically have more obligation to associate with the lowly, not because they are more important but because they are more needy.

The point is that there is no aristocracy in the church, no place for an elite uppercrust. As mentioned in the previous commentary chapter in relation to hospitality (v. 13), the Lord beautifully and explicitly illustrated that truth. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner,” He said, “do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).

Jesus, of course, was not speaking about the act itself but the motive behind it. It is not sinful or unspiritual to invite family, friends, or the wealthy and influential to a meal at our house. The wrong comes in inviting them for a self-serving purpose, to be invited back, a wrong that is magnified by ignoring those who have no means for repaying us.

Do Not Be Wise in Your Own Eyes (12:16c)

A conceited, self-promoting Christian is a serious contradiction. Every believer should be humbly submissive to the will of God found in the Word of God, having no confidence in himself or in his own wisdom and talent. And sure there should be no social aristocracy in the church, neither there should be intellectual aristocracy. There are no castes of any sort in the Body of Christ. We must not be wise in our own estimation in any regard, thinking we are in any way superior to fellow Christians.

In recent years, certain church growth professionals have advocated building churches on the basis of homogeneous units, each congregation being composed of members who are as alike in as many ways as possible. Because many churches have indeed grown and prospered on that basis, it is somehow assumed that the pattern is right and should be imitated. Apparently little, if any, consideration is given to the biblical soundness of such a philosophy or to the matter of whether the growth and prosperity are the result of spiritual faithfulness or of unspiritual worldliness.

A church that is seeking to faithfully serve Christ will pursue and eagerly accept all genuine believers into its fellowship and consider them all alike, regardless of superficial human distinctions. The only required common ground should be a saving relationship to Jesus Christ and unqualified submission to the Word of God.

Our Duty Toward Personal Enemies

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (12:17-21)

The fourth circle in Paul’s list of basic characteristics of the supernatural Christian life widens again to include our responsibilities to personal enemies.

Never Return Evil for Evil (12:17a)

First, we are never to pay back evil for evil to anyone, reiterating and extending the second aspect of the principle taught in verse 14. We not only are to bless those who persecute us and not curse them, but certainly are never to move beyond a verbal curse to an act of revenge.

The Old Testament law of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex. 21:24; cf. Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) pertained to civil justice, not personal revenge. Not only that, but its major purpose was to prevent the severity of punishment from exceeding the severity of the offense. In other words, someone guilty of destroying another person’s eye could not be punished with any greater penalty than that of forfeiting one of his own eyes.

A few verses later in this letter Paul declares that civil authority “is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). But that very authority, which not only is divinely permitted but divinely mandated for civil government, is divinely forbidden for personal purposes.

“See that no one repays another with evil for evil,” Paul warned the Thessalonian believers, “but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men” (1 Thess. 5:15). Peter echoes the same truth in nearly the same words: “To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8-9).

Always Respect What Is Right (12:17b)

A right attitude toward enemies involves respect of what is right in the sight of all men. If we genuinely respect others, including our enemies, we will have a “built-in” protection against angrily repaying them evil for evil and will be predisposed to doing what is right toward them.

Such respect will help us develop the self-discipline necessary to prepare ourselves beforehand for responding to evil with what is good instead of with what is bad. Believers should respond instinctively and spontaneously with what is pleasing to God and beneficial to others.

Kalos (right) refers to that which is intrinsically good, proper, and honest (as in the kjv of this verse). It also carries the idea of being visibly, obviously right, as emphasized in its being fitting and proper in the sight of all men. Paul is not speaking of hidden feelings but of outwardly expressed goodness. Our forgiving, gracious behavior toward our enemies should commend us to them and to others who witness that behavior. It will also “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:10).

Live in Peace with Everyone (12:18)

Fulfillment of the next characteristic is conditional, in that it partly depends on the attitudes and responses of our enemies. If possible, Paul therefore says, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Whether between nations or individuals, peace is two-way. By definition, a peaceful relationship cannot be one-sided. Our responsibility is to make sure that our side of the relationship is right, that our inner desire is genuinely to be at peace with all men, even the meanest and most undeserving. Short of compromising God’s truth and standards, we should be willing to go to great lengths to build peaceful bridges to those who hate us and harm us. We must forsake any grudge or settled bitterness and fully forgive from the heart all who harm us. Having done that, we can seek reconciliation honestly.

Never Avenge Yourself (12:19)

The last two characteristics Paul lists here are both reiterations. He again denounces returning evil for evil, declaring, Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God. If a wrong has been done to us, no matter how serious and harmful it may have been, we are never qualified for or have a right to render punishment for the offense ourselves. We are to leave that to the wrath of God. Quoting from the Mosaic law (Deut. 32:35), the apostle reminds his readers that it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (cf. 2 Sam. 22:48; Nah. 1:2; Heb. 10:30). In His divine time, the wrath of God will come (Col. 3:6), and just retribution awaits the unforgiven.

Overcome Evil with Good (12:20-21)

But merely not returning evil for evil does not fulfill our responsibility. And sometimes the positive part is more difficult. To withhold vengeance is one thing. It requires only doing nothing. But to actually return good for evil is quite another.

Yet that was the obligation of the godly man even under the Old Covenant. Paul quotes from Proverbs 25:21-22, citing God’s centuries-old injunction: “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”

The phrase heap burning coals upon his head referred to an ancient Egyptian custom. When a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition, he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt. The point here is that, when we love our enemy and genuinely seek to meet his needs, we shame him for his hatred.

The admonition Do not be overcome by evil has two meanings and applications. First, we must not allow the evil done to us by other people to overcome and overwhelm us. Second, and even more important, we must not allow ourselves to be overcome by our own evil responses. Our own evil is infinitely more detrimental to us than is the evil done to us by others.

In each case, it is the evil itself that must be overcome, and that can be accomplished only with good.


Our Relationship to Our Enemies (Rom. 12:17-21)

12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil.NRSV The commands in verses 17-21 relate mainly to dealings with unbelievers. When people do evil against us, we are not to repay in kind, as much as we might like to (see also 1 Peter 3:9). Repaying evil for evil makes us participants in an evil economy. We will not be able to hate evil (12:9) while actively using it as a method of exchange with others. Instead we are to be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybodyNIV (see 1 Peter 2:11-12). The word for right could also be translated “noble” or “honorable.” Paul is certainly not using the word everybody as it is used in the common expression “Everybody’s doing it.” Paul’s standard for behavior was not common consensus, but godliness. The point being made here is that the behavior of believers must be such that no one can rightfully make a claim of wrongdoing. To commit the same evil that was committed against us makes us indistinguishable from the original offenders.

12:18 Live at peace with everyone.NIV Paul counsels believers to have as peaceful relations as possible with their unbelieving neighbors and associates. In a perfect world, all people could live peacefully together. Realistically this is impossible in our imperfect world. However, believers, as the salt of the earth, should do their best if it is possible and as far as it depends on them.NIVThey certainly are not to be the cause of dissension. Believers should do their utmost to seek reconciliation.

12:19 Never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God.NRSV We may want to take revenge and repay evil for evil (12:17), but Paul reminds us to leave that in God’s hands. Refusing to take revenge avoids grudges and feuds. This attitude makes possible the actions Paul recommends in 12:20. In human practice, revenge is repaying evil for evil, with interest. Because our personal demands for justice are mixed with wounded pride, hatred, and sinfulness, opportunities for revenge ought to be consciously turned over to God. This advice is helpful to us not only in dealing with opponents, but in family situations. It is so easy to strike back verbally (or in our minds) when a family member dominates, criticizes, or belittles us. Paul’s advice is to not act vengefully.

It is written. Quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.NIV Vengeance, when taken into human hands, only serves to destroy the good it tries to defend and make evil grow by feeding on itself. Paul challenges believers to trust that ultimately God will ensure that his just vengeance will be given.

12:20 On the contrary.NIV Just the opposite of repaying with evil and taking revenge is caring for our enemies. Believers are not simply expected to abstain from evil; rather, they are expected to actively pursue opportunities to benefit their enemies.

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink”NIV (see Proverbs 25:21-22). The principle here is that we should care for our enemy’s needs. God invites us to observe our enemies and at the very points of weakness, where a counterattack of revenge might be most effective, we should mercifully meet that need.

These verses summarize the core of Christian living. If we love someone the way Christ loves us, we will be willing to forgive. If we have experienced God’s grace, we will want to pass it on to others. And remember, grace is undeserved favor. By giving an enemy a drink, we’re not excusing his misdeeds. We are recognizing him, forgiving him, and loving him in spite of his sins—just as Christ did for us.

By doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.NRSV This statement comes from Proverbs 25:21-22. It has been interpreted in at least three ways: (1) It may refer to an Egyptian tradition of carrying a pan of burning charcoal on one’s head as a public act of repentance. By referring to this proverb, Paul is saying that we should treat our enemies with kindness so that they will become ashamed and turn from their sins. Even if they don’t, we are doing right. (2) It could signify an act of kindness that would increase an enemy’s sense of guilt. But this interpretation doesn’t fit the context,

wherein Paul is encouraging believers to love their enemies. (3) It could mean befriending an enemy so as to win him or her to Christ. Of the three interpretations, the first seems the most plausible. Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.

C. S. Lewis

12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.NIV Do not give in to your desire to take revenge or retaliate with evil; instead, act in a positive way. Paul comes full circle back to his point of verse 9. To hate evil is to overcome it with good. When we hang on for dear life to those things that are good and to God, we will be overcoming evil. All of this will be accomplished to the degree that we allow God to create in us sincere love.

When someone hurts you deeply, instead of giving him what he deserves, Paul says to befriend him. Why does Paul tell us to forgive our enemies? (1) Forgiveness may break a cycle of retaliation and lead to mutual reconciliation. (2) It may make the enemy feel ashamed and change his or her ways. (3) In contrast, repaying evil for evil hurts you just as much as it hurts your enemy. Even if your enemy never repents, forgiving him or her will free you of a heavy load of bitterness.

The believer who seeks to obey God is going to have his enemies. When our Lord was ministering on earth, He had enemies. No matter where Paul and the other apostles traveled, there were enemies who opposed their work. Jesus warned His disciples that their worst enemies might be those of their own household (Matt 10:36). Unfortunately, some believers have enemies because they lack love and patience, and not because they are faithful in their witness. There is a difference between sharing in “the offense of the cross” (Gal. 5:11; 6:12-15) and being an offensive Christian!

The Christian must not play God and try to avenge himself. Returning evil for evil, or good for good, is the way most people live. But the Christian must live on a higher level and return good for evil. Of course, this requires love, because our first inclination is to fight back. It also requires faith, believing that God can work and accomplish His will in our lives and in the lives of those who hurt us. We must give place to “the wrath”—the wrath of God (Deut. 32:35).

A friend of mine once heard a preacher criticize him over the radio and tell things that were not only unkind, but also untrue. My friend became very angry and was planning to fight back, when a godly preacher said, “Don’t do it. If you defend yourself, then the Lord can’t defend you. Leave it in His hands.” My friend followed that wise counsel, and the Lord vindicated him.

The admonition in Romans 12:20 reminds us of Christ’s words in Matthew 5:44-48. These words are easy to read but difficult to practice. Surely we need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him. Paul referred to Proverbs 25:21-22 as he urged us to return good for evil in the name of the Lord. The “coals of fire” refer perhaps to the feeling of shame our enemies will experience when we return good for evil.

As children of God, we must live on the highest level—returning good for evil. Anyone can return good for good and evil for evil. The only way to overcome evil is with good. If we return evil for evil, we only add fuel to the fire. And even if our enemy is not converted, we have still experienced the love of God in our own hearts and have grown in grace.

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Posted by on November 18, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #25 Non-Conforming Transformers Romans 12:1-2

Verse of the Day - Romans 12:1 KJV - Highland Park Baptist ...

Here we have Paul following the pattern he always followed when he wrote to his friends. He always ends his letters with practical advice. The sweep of his mind may search through the infinities, but he never gets lost in them; he always finishes with his feet firmly planted upon the earth. He can, and does, wrestle with the deepest problems which theology has to offer, but he always ends with the ethical demands which govern every man.

One of the biggest problems American people face is the problem of debt. We have a huge national deficit and many are overwhelmed by personal debt. In these times of easy credit, many American families have used their charge cards to the limit; some of them will be unable to pay their debts. Maybe we should throw away the cards and live within our incomes. We need to pay our debts.

Think of another kind of debt. What do you owe God? Are we indebted to Him?

Romans 12 begins the practical application of the great truths that Paul had presented in the first eight chapters. In this chapter he is answering the question, “Now what?” God has acted in history. He has shown us the way out of our trouble. We have responded to His gift of grace in Christ. How are we to live in this present world?


Romans 12 begins with the words, “I urge you therefore, . . .” (12:1). “Therefore” says that what Paul is about to say is inseparably joined to everything he has said before. As an apostle of Christ he could have said, “I command you”; but he did not use that word. He is saying, “I am tenderly urging you; I am begging you.”

He says, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, . . .” Everything that God has done for us is because He is merciful. God is just and holy and can have nothing to do with our sins. The justice of a holy God who is outraged by man’s rebellion must be fulfilled.

Justice says according to 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Justice demands death because of our sin. But in the fulfillment of God’s justice, Christ died; He died in our place. God could show mercy to poor lost sinners. He wants to save sinners through the gift of Jesus.

What is the request? What is this debt that we owe that we can never fully pay? Paul says, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, . . .” (12:1).

“Present your bodies to God,” he says. There is no more characteristically Christian demand. We have already seen that that is what a Greek would never say. To the Greek, what mattered was the spirit; the body was only a prison-house, something to be despised and even to be ashamed of. No real Christian ever believed that. The Christian believes that his body belongs to God just as much as his soul does, and that he can serve him just as well with his body as with his mind or his spirit.

The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and the instrument through which the Holy Spirit works. After all, the great fact of the incarnation basically means that God did not grudge to take a human body upon himself, to live in it and to work through it. Take the case of a church or a cathedral. It is built for the offering of worship to God. But it has to be designed by the mind of some architect; it has to be built by the hands of craftsmen and of labouring men; only then does it become a shrine where men meet to worship. It is a product of the mind and the body and the spirit of man.

“So,” Paul says, “take your body; take all the tasks that you have to do every day; take the ordinary work of the shop, the factory, the shipyard, the mine; and offer all that as an act of worship to God.” The word in Rom 12:1 which we along with the Revised Standard Version have translated worship, has an interesting history. It is latreia (<G2999>), the noun of the verb latreuein (<G3000>). Originally latreuein (<G3000>) meant to work for hire or pay. It was the word used of the labouring man who gave his strength to an employer in return for the pay the employer would give him. It denotes, not slavery, but the voluntary undertaking of work. It then came to mean quite generally to serve; but it also came to mean that to which a man gives his whole life. For instance, a man could be said latreuein kallei, which means to give his life to the service of beauty. In that sense, it came very near meaning to dedicate one’s life to. Finally, it came to be the word distinctively used of the service of the gods. In the Bible it never means human service; it is always used of service to and worship of God.

Here we have a most significant thing. True worship is the offering to God of one’s body, and all that one does every day with it. Real worship is not the offering to God of a liturgy, however noble, and a ritual, however magnificent. Real worship is the offering of everyday life to him, not something transacted in a church, but something which sees the whole world as the temple of the living God. As Whittier wrote:

“For he whom Jesus loved hath truly spoken: The holier worship which he deigns to bless,

Restores the lost, and binds the spirit broken, And feeds the widow and the fatherless.”

A man may say, “I am going to church to worship God,” but he should also be able to say, “I am going to the factory, the shop, the office, the school, the garage, the locomotive shed, the mine, the shipyard, the field, the byre, the garden, to worship God.”

In all of history, sacrificing has been an opportunity for man to give the best he has to God. In the very first sacrifices that were made by Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), Abel brought the firstling of his flock and Cain brought of the fruit of the ground. The Bible says God had respect unto Abel and his sacrifice, but unto Cain and his offering he had not respect.

He accepted Abel’s offering of the lamb, but He rejected Cain’s offering of the fruit of the ground. Hebrews 11 says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than did Cain.” Abel offered by faith. God had given commandments to those boys. Abel had listened to God; Cain had not.

God has never accepted less than the best from any man. Abel offered the best he had. He was a shepherd; natu-rally he would have sheep. He offered a lamb that was the best from his flock. Cain was a farmer and offered the fruit of the ground. Nothing in the text says that Cain offered the first or the best. God, therefore, had respect unto Abel, but no respect for Cain. That teaches us an important lesson.

Sacrifices have always been an opportunity for man to present the best he has to God.

Because we owe so much let us give God the best we have. What is the best a man can present to God? Is it not himself? Paul says, “Present your bodies.” Man is a soul who lives in a body. Our bodies belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:19,

20). We are stewards of our bodies which belong to God. Let us use them in offering the best we have to God.

How can the body be a sacrifice? Let the eyes look on no evil; let the ears listen to no evil; let the tongue speak no evil; let the hands do no evil; let the feet never take us into the presence of evil. Let the eyes be open to that which is good; let the ears be subject to the will of God; let the tongue be used for speaking good and especially praise for God; let the hands be used in service to God: let the feet take us into the places where we are needed most. God is saying, “Give Me your best.”

Paul says the sacrifice is “living.” In the Old Testament when animal sacrifices were offered to God, they were offered once, in death. God is asking us to present ourselves in life to Him—a living sacrifice, a perpetual sacrifice, a continual sacrifice. Is it not wonderful that we can present ourselves to God on a daily basis? Present your body a living sacrifice to God.

Next, Paul says, “Acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (12:1). Paul says it is spiritual because God deserves it. Life is worship because life is to be presented to God. What is worship but presenting something to God.

It is true that the church assembles to worship. God has designated in His Word what we are to do when the church comes together. We are to sing praises, pray, and study His Word. On the first day of the week we are to observe the Lord’s Supper and give of our financial resources for the work of God. In another sense all of life is worship. Your spiritual service is presenting your very self to God.


Paul takes us a step further and shows how we may present ourselves to God as our spiritual service of worship. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed. . . .” Do not allow the world to squeeze you into its mold. This verse further says to not be conformed “to this world.” The world is not your standard any longer. Christ is your standard. You are set apart from the world, and you are different from the world.

The next line says, “Be transformed. . . .” Be changed for the better. That word transformed reminds us of a term that is used in biology, metamorphosis. It speaks of the woolly worm that becomes the beautiful butterfly. We are like the worm, but we can become the butterfly. We can become something beautiful and useful to God.

But how can I overcome conformity to the world and be transformed? “By the renewing of your mind.” You have to change your mind if you are going to be God’s person. You are God’s person not by accident, but by choice. In Ephesians 4:22-24 Paul said, That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

The old man is put off when we die to sin, are buried with Christ when we are baptized, and raised to walk in newness of life. He said it is possible by the renewing of your mind to be transformed to become something beautiful and wonderful for God.

He concludes the thought by saying, “That you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). You will demonstrate the way of God is best. You will prove it if you will give yourself as a living sacrifice to God, not being conformed to the world but being transformed or changed for the better. That is your possibility; that is your responsibility.

This, Paul goes on, demands a radical change. We must not be conformed to the world, but transformed from it. To express this idea he uses two almost untranslatable Greek words—words which we have taken almost sentences to express. The word he uses to be conformed to the world is suschematizesthai (<G4964>); its root is schema (<G4976>), which means the outward form that varies from year to year and from day to day. A man’s schema (<G4976>) is not the same when he is seventeen as it is when he is seventy; it is not the same when he goes out to work as when he is dressed for dinner. It is continuously altering. So Paul says, “Don’t try to match your life to all the fashions of this world; don’t be like a chameleon which takes its colour from its surroundings.”

The word he uses for being transformed from the world is metamorphousthai (<G3339>). Its root is morphe (<G3444>), which means the essential unchanging shape or element of anything. A man has not the same schema (<G4976>) at seventeen and seventy, but he has the same morphe (<G3444>); a man in dungarees has not the same schema (<G4976>) as a man in evening dress, but he has the same morphe (<G3444>); his outward form changes, but inwardly he is the same person. So, Paul says, to worship and serve God, we must undergo a change, not of our outward form, but of our inward personality. What is that change? Paul would say that left to ourselves we live a life kata (<G2596>) sarka (<G4561>), dominated by human nature at its lowest; in Christ we live a life kata (<G2596>) Christon (<G5547>) or kata (<G2596>) pneuma (<G4151>), dominated by Christ or by the Spirit. The essential man has been changed; now he lives, not a self-centred, but a Christ-centred life.

This must happen, Paul says, by the renewal of your mind. The word he uses for renewal is anakainosis (<G342>). In Greek there are two words for new—neos (<G3501>) and kainos (<G2537>). Neos (<G3501>) means new in point of time; kainos (<G2537>) means new in point of character and nature. A newly manufactured pencil is neos; but a man who was once a sinner and is now on the way to being a saint is kainos (<G2537>). When Christ comes into a man’s life he is a new man; his mind is different, for the mind of Christ is in him.

When Christ becomes the centre of life then we can present real worship, which is the offering of every moment and every action to God.


By doing this, we are reaching toward fulfilling our debt to God for all the wonders He has done in our lives.



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Posted by on November 15, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #24 Zeal and Knowledge Roman 10:1-4

"Sincerely Wrong" Romans 10:1-4 - YouTube

It is absolutely essential in our service to God that our service come from our hearts. We must always be honest and genuine in our approach to God. But what about this question: If a person is honest and sincere is God obligated to accept him? Is honesty and sincerity enough?

Romans 9-11 concern a problem which would exist in the Jews’ mind: For 15 centuries the nation of Israel had been God’s chosen people, but now Paul has announced that the chosen people of God are men out of every nation who will by obedient faith in Christ accept God’s will.

A Gentile man upon the acceptance of God’s will made known through Christ can be right with God. What about that 1,500 years of heritage that ancient Israel had? Paul affirms that Israel can continue to be God’s chosen people, but not because of the fleshly bloodline. As with the Gentiles, the Jews must accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, Savior, and King upon the conditions of His will to continue as God’s chosen people. In Romans 10

Paul explains that God has not gone back on His word. He points out that Israel was wonderfully excited in their service to God. They were earnest in what they were trying to do.

Romans 10:1-3 (ESV) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge 3For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

What is the attitude of Paul toward his own people, Israel? He had a great feeling in his heart toward them, earnestly desiring their salvation. He had made that earnest desire known to God in prayer (10:1). What is the prayer? Paul prayed for their salvation. Obviously, he would want his own people to be saved.

The two main words in this text are zeal and knowledge. What do those two words mean? Paul said, “They have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” Zeal literally means to boil up. Zeal means excitement, enthusiasm, to be on fire. That about which one is excited and on fire is something worthwhile. In verse 2 Paul is referring to service to God. The object of their excitement is wonderfully worthwhile. It is God Himself and His will.

The other word is knowledge. Literally, knowledge is light. If somebody has enlightenment, he has knowledge. From the practical standpoint, knowledge is understanding.

10:1 Brothers. Though fully engaged in matters concerning his fellow Jews, his blood brothers, Paul also includes his broader audience in the Roman church by calling them brothers. He knows that neither Jews nor Gentiles can, claim superiority in the church. And any unity apart from Christ would not be real. Meanwhile, Paul’s concern for the Jews is genuine and heartfelt; his desire and prayer is that they may be saved (see also 9:1-3).

What will happen to the Jewish people who believe in God but not in Christ? Since they believe in the same God, won’t they be saved? If that were true, Paul would not have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to teach Jews about Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is the most complete revelation of God, no one can fully know God apart from knowing Jesus; and because God appointed Jesus to bring God and human beings together, no one can come to God by another path. The Jews, like everyone else, can find salvation only through Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Just as Paul did, we should wish that all Jews might be saved. We should pray for them and lovingly share the Good News with them. In fact, we should ask ourselves, Who do I desire to be saved, and am I regularly praying for them?

10:2 They are zealous for God.NIV The Jews certainly were zealous in their devotion to God and their practice of the law. Paul knew that from his own experience. However, their zeal is not based on knowledge.NIV The people Paul loved (the Jews) were so busy trying to keep the law that their zeal was actually keeping them from understanding God’s way of salvation. This was exactly Paul’s state of mind before Christ confronted him. He was so zealous for God and for his religion that he persecuted Christians (see Acts 9:1-2; 22:3-5; 26:4-11). His zeal was based on a misunderstanding of God’s Word, and so was the zeal of his fellow Jews (see chapter 9).

·       Starting out with good intentions does not ensure the results will be good.
·       Possessing good intentions does not guarantee that any action will be taken.
·       Good intentions by themselves do not fulfill the demand to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
·       Our ever-present bad intentions are often hidden from us.
·       Good intentions can lead to false pride.
·       Good intentions can seek to bypass and alter God’s clear commands.
·       Good intentions can be a cover-up for ignoring or willfully disregarding God’s desires.
·       Good intentions may appear to do so, but they cannot actually make up for bad deeds.
·       Many people claim that they are acting with good intentions when, in fact, their efforts are halfhearted. They want to dictate the way God should accept them. But none of our best intentions can save us.

10:3 Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God.NRSV The Israelites did not understand the extent of God’s righteousness, how it would be achieved, and how it would be made available to all people (the point Paul explained in chapters 3-6). Instead, they sought to establish their own. They were not creating some new kind of righteousness; rather, they wanted to achieve God’s righteousness by observing the law and their rituals. Once their minds were set, they could no longer submit to God’s righteousness,NIV the righteousness that God, provided for them through faith in Jesus Christ.

We are made righteous by humbly submitting to God. The Israelites had understood the need for obedience, but they had become so zealous in carrying out their duties and rituals without love that they had actually become disobedient. And when they tried to make God’s righteousness exclusively theirs, they were putting themselves out of its reach. They misunderstood their own Scriptures: they saw righteousness in terms of outward actions, rituals, and customs; they did not see that their Scriptures pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. When Israel rejected Christ, they rejected their own Scriptures with the promises and blessings in them. According to Philippians 3:1-9, Paul remembered being stuck on the treadmill of effort. By human standards he had been quite successful in what he later realized was actually a self-styled, self-approved, and self-justified religion. In order to believe in Christ, Paul had “lost” all those things, only to discover that what he had gained was of immeasurable value. “What is more,” he said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Philippians 3:8 niv).

Rather than living by faith in God, the Jews established customs and traditions (in addition to God’s law) to try to make themselves acceptable in God’s sight. Regardless of our sincerity, no human effort can ever substitute for the righteousness that God offers us by faith. The only way to earn salvation is to be perfect—and that is impossible. We can only hold out our empty hands and receive salvation as a gift.

10:4 Christ is the end of the law. There are at least three possible explanations for what Paul meant by Christ being the end of the law. In Jesus, the law was:

(1) Terminated. Instead of seeking justification through the law, we receive justification by faith and use the law to guide our obedience to God. Through Christ, the offer of grace is universal.

(2) Replaced. The law literally pointed to Christ. The law was only the teacher, or mentor, until Christ came (see Galatians 3:24). Now we follow his lead.

(3) Fulfilled. Christ was the law in human form. He met every criteria of the law, completing it and transcending it (see Matthew 5:17-20). He spoke with authority to divide the unchangeable law from the human additions and twisted interpretations.

While each of these is a valid explanation of part of the relationship of Christ to the law, Paul seems to have had the first in mind at this point in Romans. The law, however, is terminated only in the sense of 7:6—that is, we have been released from the law to serve in the newness of the Spirit. We no longer seek justification by keeping the law.

Whatever reasons Israel had for misunderstanding God’s law and God’s righteousness, those ended with Christ. Christ is the end of the law in several possible ways (see the chart). Christ fulfills the purpose and goal of the law (Matthew 5:17) in that he perfectly exemplified all that the law requires. But he is also the termination of the law, because with the coming of Christ, the law became powerless to save (3:20; 7:7).

However, Paul does not mean that the law has been cast aside and is no longer of any value. Jesus completed the law. With the coming of Christ, the puzzle that looked like it was going to be a picture of human righteousness suddenly turned out to be a picture of God’s grace. Jesus did not change the law—he changed our way of seeing the law. Paul has amply explained this in such verses as 3:31 and 8:4. What ended was the view that the law was the way to achieve righteousness and the belief that Israel was the only recipient of that righteousness.

Righteousness for everyone who believes.NRSV Christ perfectly fulfilled the law; then he gave his life to pay the penalty that we deserved for breaking the law. So, instead of “seeing” ourselves fearfully attempting to meet the demands of the law (With death as the consequence for failure), we are now freely invited to “see” ourselves in Christ. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. When we believe in him, he gives us righteousness (8:3-4) and makes us acceptable to God.


There  are  three  possible  relationships  between zeal and knowledge, but only one of these relationships is accepted by God. The first is zeal without  knowledge.  Zeal  without  knowledge means to boil up without light. Zeal without knowledge is running, but running in the dark. Zeal without knowledge is excitement without understanding. In this description of zeal without knowledge, we can see that this relationship between zeal and knowledge is not acceptable.

Zeal without knowledge has caused tremendous problems in ancient and modern history. To illustrate, zeal without knowledge caused Christ’s death. Jesus Christ did not die because He was a criminal; to the contrary, He never violated the laws of God or man. During His personal ministry, Jesus sometimes violated human tradition. The Jewish leaders of His day had difficulty in seeing the difference between God’s law and their human traditions. Human traditions are never on an equality with God’s law. Jesus opposed making human traditions binding upon men as though they were from God. It was zeal without knowledge that led to Christ’s death. Peter in his sermon on Christ in Acts 3 said, “I know that through ignorance you did it.” There was zeal, fervor, and excitement. But that zeal was without correct enlightenment. Zeal without knowledge is activity. Fervor without knowledge has no direction.

Second, it was zeal without knowledge that caused Israel to be cut off as a fruitless branch. What had that unenlightened enthusiasm of Israel led to? Verse 3 says, “For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject them- selves to the righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel (1:16, 17) is not so much an attribute of God, though God is righteous, as God’s plan made known in the gospel to make men right with Himself though they be sinners. Righteousness with God, right standing with God, is possible because Jesus died and lived again. It is possible because we can be forgiven. The gospel contains God’s plan to make men right with Himself. I am sure that many more people would be saved if they could be saved on their own terms. Very plainly Paul says in verse 3 that when one rejects God’s plan and goes about to establish his own plan he may have excitement but there is no light.

This answers the question we asked in the beginning. Is being sincere enough to make a man right with God? The answer is no. One needs to be fervent in his search for God, but he must search according to light. David said in Psalms 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” The Word of God gives light. “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Zeal without knowledge led Israel to reject God’s plan, the only plan to make one right with Himself. Going about to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit  themselves  unto  the  righteousness  of God.

Zeal without knowledge led Saul of Tarsus to be a persecutor of Jesus’ church. When we first

meet Saul, he is not a follower of Jesus. He was trying to stamp out the very name of Christ from

under heaven. He gave his voice against those who were thrown into prison because they followed Jesus. Some of them were even put to death. We first meet Saul when those who stoned Stephen laid down their clothes at his feet. He was consenting unto the death of Stephen. He was zealous for God, but his zeal was without knowledge, without direction.

What made the loss of Israel so tragic was the fact that they were actually a very zealous and God-fearing people, superior in every way to the Gentiles, whose godlessness was the shame of all nations. Sanday’s quotation from Josephus stresses this character of the Jews, thus:

They had a zeal of God …. The Jew knew the Law better than his own name …. The sacred rules were punctually obeyed …. The great feasts were frequented by countless thousands …. Over and above the requirements of the Law, ascetic religious exercises advocated by the teachers of the Law came into vogue …. Even the Hellenized and Alexandrian Jews under Caligula died on the cross and by fire, and the Palestinian prisoners … died by the claws of African lions in the amphitheater, rather than sin against the Law …. The tenacity of the Jews, and their uncompromising monotheism, were seen in some conspicuous examples. In the early part of his procuratorship, Pilate, seeking to break through their known repugnance to everything that savoured of image-worship, had introduced into Jerusalem ensigns surmounted with silver busts of the emperor. Upon this, the people went down in a body to Caesarea, waited for five days and nights in the marketplace, bared their necks to the soldiers that Pilate sent among them, and did not desist until the order for the removal of the ensigns had been given. Later, he caused to be hung up in the palace in Jerusalem certain gilded shields bearing a dedicatory inscription to Tiberius. Then again, the Jews did not rest until, by their complaints addressed directly to the emperor, they had succeeded in getting them taken down. The consternation caused by Caligula’s order for the erection of his own statue in the Temple is well known. None of the Roman governors dared to carry it into execution; and Caligula himself was slain before it could be accomplished.

It would take volumes and libraries to recount the heroic zeal of the Jews which finally culminated in the bloody sorrow of Masada, where Eleazar ben Yair made his courageous stand against the Tenth Legion of Rome. When all hope was cut off:

Rather than become slaves to their conquerors, the defenders – 960 men, women, and children thereupon ended their lives at their own hands. When the Romans reached the heights next morning, they were met by silence.

How fitting it was that Paul should have here paid his tribute to the nobility and zeal of that wonderful people who were, until they rejected the Christ, God’s chosen people.

But not according to knowledge … is a reference far more than Israel’s rejection of our Lord and their failure to recognize him as the Messiah. As just noted, Josephus said that they knew the Law “better than” their own names; but it was such a knowledge as failed to take account of the spiritual nature of God’s word. Jesus said to the Jews of his day:

Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29).

Ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition …. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men (Matt. 15:6,9).

Thus the Jewish ignorance of God’s word extended to the very heart of it, which they had so corrupted with human tradition and so glossed over with their own interpretations that many of the plainest precepts were countermanded. Thus, the failure of Israel, about to be mentioned in the next verse, refers not merely to their rejection of Christ (which they also did), but to their failure to keep even the commandments of the Law which they acknowledged, preferring their own traditions and precepts instead of it.


A second relationship is knowledge without zeal. If zeal without knowledge, excitement without proper light, is a tragedy, knowledge without zeal  is  a  greater  tragedy.  When one  has knowledge without zeal, it means he knows the correct way; he just does not have enough interest to walk in it.

Numerous examples are given in the New Testament, but I shall cite only two from Revelation 2 and 3. Jesus instructed John the apostle to write letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. The first letter was written to the church at Sardis.

Jesus said of the church at Sardis, “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Here was a church that was well thought of. It had a good name. Maybe it had a large membership. Maybe it had a wonderful place to meet. Maybe it had many wealthy members. I do not know why it had a good name. But Jesus who sees behind the scenes, who sees the hearts of men, said that even though they had a name that they were alive they were dead.

What was the problem? Did they understand? Oh, yes. They had correct understanding, but they did not have enough enthusiasm to live according to the light they had. That is a problem that often faces people who have understood the truth for a long time. Maybe in the beginning there was zeal, enthusiasm, and excitement; but as time went on, the fires of enthusiasm burned low. Knowledge without zeal must be the greatest tragedy of all.

Another  letter  was  sent  to  the  church  at Laodicea. Jesus spoke some of the saddest words of Scripture to this church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15, 16). The Laodicean church knew what was right; they had enlightenment, but they had no excitement. Jesus is actually telling the Laodicean church, “I wish you were altogether for Me or against Me. I would rather you would be completely cold than lukewarm.”

It seems from a human standpoint that it would be better to be lukewarm, sort of on Jesus’ side, than to be altogether cold. But not so. He said, “I would that you were cold or hot.” The person who makes no profession of following Jesus would do less harm to the cause of Christ than the professed follower who has no real interest in Christ. It is knowledge without zeal. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me,

‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). No, it is not enough to know. There must be the doing of it.


There is a third relationship between zeal and knowledge. That is when one has knowledge plus zeal. Knowledge plus zeal is knowing the correct way to God and being excited about it—wanting to live in it and walk in it. We must find ourselves in these relationships. We owe it to ourselves and God to search His Word and discover what is right. Having discovered what is right, we must have enough interest in it to walk in His way.

CONCLUSION. No, it is not enough just to be sincere. One’s excitement must be governed by “thus saith the Lord.” This is what we plead for. It certainly is not enough to know the correct way and have no real excitement about doing it. But when one has understanding, correct understanding, and excitement about it, you have the  correct  relationship  between  zeal  and knowledge.



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Posted by on November 11, 2021 in Romans


A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #23 Israel’s Unbelief and the Gospel Romans 9:30-33

Stumbling over or Submitting to the Stone (Romans 9:30-33) — Redeemed South Bay

This section provides a summary in the middle of Paul’s exposition on God’s sovereign plan and an expanded explanation of the present position of the Jews. He realized that his teaching was creating a paradox, especially for his Jewish audience. How could it be that the acknowledged experts in righteousness would find their way to God barred, while those who were ignorant of righteousness were welcomed by God as long-lost children? Paul here contrasts the way of faith with the way of the law. Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not attain it—while the Gentiles, not seeking righteousness by the law, found it by faith in Christ.

Whereas chapter 9 has focused primarily on God’s sovereignty, chapter 10 outlines the extent of human responsibility. Note that Paul did not say “elect” and “nonelect,” but rather emphasized faith. Here is a paradox: the Jews sought for righteousness but did not find it, while the Gentiles, who were not searching for it, found it! The reason? Israel tried to be saved by works and not by faith. They rejected “grace righteousness” and tried to please God with “Law righteousness.” The Jews thought that the Gentiles had to come up to Israel’s level to be saved; when actually the Jews had to go down to the level of the Gentiles to be saved. “For there is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23). Instead of permitting their religious privileges (Rom. 9:1-5) to lead them to Christ, they used these privileges as a substitute for Christ.

But see the grace of God: Israel’s rejection means the Gentiles’ salvation! Paul’s final quotation was from Isaiah 28:16. It referred to Christ, God’s Stone of salvation (see Ps. 118:22). God gave Christ to be a Foundation Stone, but Israel rejected Him and He became a stumbling stone. Instead of “rising” on this Stone, Israel fell (Rom. 11:11); but, as we shall see, their fall made possible the salvation of the Gentiles by the grace of God.

We need to decide what kind of righteousness we are seeking, whether we are depending on good works and character, or trusting Christ alone for salvation. God does not save people on the basis of birth or behavior. He saves them “by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9). It is not a question of whether or not we are among God’s elect. That is a mystery known only to God. He offers us His salvation by faith. The offer is made to “whosoever will” (Rev. 22:17). After we have trusted Christ, then we have the witness and evidence that we are among His elect (Eph. 1:4-14; 1 Thes. 1:1-10). But first we must trust Him and receive by faith His righteousness which alone can guarantee heaven.

No one will deny that there are many mysteries connected with divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Nowhere does God ask us to choose between these two truths, because they both come from God and are a part of God’s plan. They do not compete; they cooperate. The fact that we cannot fully understand how they work together does not deny the fact that they do. When a man asked Charles Spurgeon how he reconciled divine sovereignty and human responsibility, Spurgeon replied: “I never try to reconcile friends!”

But the main thrust of this chapter is clear: Israel’s rejection of Christ does not deny the faithfulness of God. Romans 9 does not negate Romans 8. God is still faithful, righteous, just, and gracious, and He can be depended on to accomplish His purposes and keep His promises.

9:30 Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness [i.e., a law that produces righteousness], have attained to righteousness.NKJV The gospel was preached to both Jews and Gentiles, but it was being accepted by far more Gentiles than Jews. The Gentiles did not have God’s law, did not even know God, and were not even “trying to be righteous,” yet they were obtaining righteousness. Why? Because they were coming in faith to God.

9:31 Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness,NIV has not attained it. In contrast to the Gentiles, the Jews tried to obtain righteousness by obeying the law, only to never attain it. They had incorrectly understood righteousness in terms of works. They could not keep the law perfectly, therefore they could not keep it at all. Thus God could not accept them.

9:32 They pursued it not by faith.NIV Instead of admitting that they could not keep God’s law and pursuing righteousness by faith in God, the Jews kept trying to pursue righteousness by their works. They had a worthy goal to “obtain” God’s righteousness. But they tried to achieve it the wrong way—by rigid and painstaking obedience to the law. Thus some of them became more dedicated to the law than to God. They thought that if they kept the law, God would have to accept them as his people. But God cannot be obligated by us. The Jews did not see that their Scriptures, the Old Testament, taught salvation by faith and not by human effort—the point Paul made in the first part of this letter. As a result they stumbled over the stumbling stoneNRSV—the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Peter 2:4-8). Jesus was not what they expected, so they missed him. In so doing they missed their only way of salvation. Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews and to all who by pride would rather have recognition for doing it on their own than for trusting Christ and his goodness.

Some people still stumble over Christ because salvation by faith doesn’t make sense to them. They would rather try to work their way to God, or else they expect him simply to overlook their sins. Others stumble over Christ because his values are the opposite of the world’s. Christ asks for humility, and many are unwilling to humble themselves before him. He requires obedience and many refuse to put their will at his disposal. The “stone” has caused them to stumble. They heard about Christ and misunderstood, so they tripped over the one thing that could have saved them.

Sometimes we are like those people who try to achieve God’s approval by keeping his laws. We may think that going to church, doing church work, giving offerings, and being nice will be enough. After all, we’ve played by the rules, haven’t we? But Paul’s words sting—this approach never succeeds. Paul explained that God’s plan is not for those who try to earn his favor by being good; it is for those who realize they can never be good enough and so must depend on Christ. Only by putting our faith in what Jesus Christ has done will we be saved. If we do that, we will never be “put to shame” or disappointed.

9:33 As it is written. Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16. Isaiah declared God’s warning of destruction to Israel by Assyria. Then he said, “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”NIV This stone refers to the righteous remnant and to Christ.

“The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”NIV When we put our trust in Christ, we need never fear that we have put it in the wrong place. When we have placed our feet on the Rock of Zion, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, we can be confident of our salvation.

Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews and to all who would rather have the satisfaction of gaining God’s acceptance on their own than admit their inability and then submit to God’s grace. When we are presented with Christ, we have only two possible responses, to reject or accept. Any form of rejection will result in our stumbling over him, resulting in judgment. But trusting submission to him will gain for us what we could never hope to gain by ourselves—a righteous standing with God. Isaiah showed the way by personally applying the phrase he used above, “I will put my trust in him” (Isaiah 8:17 niv). Are you stumbled or humbled by Jesus?

Here Paul draws a contrast between two ways of feeling towards God. There was the Jewish way. The aim of the Jew was to set himself right with God and he regarded a right relationship with God as something which could be earned. There is another way to put that which will show really what it means. Fundamentally, the Jewish idea was that a man, by strict obedience to the law, could pile up a credit balance. The result would be that God was in his debt and owed him salvation. But it was obviously a losing battle, because man’s imperfection could never satisfy God’s perfection; nothing that man could do could even begin to repay what God has done for him.

That is precisely what Paul found. As he said, the Jew spent his life searching for a law, obedience to which would put him right with God, and he never found it because there was no such law to be found. The Gentile had never engaged upon this search; but when he suddenly was confronted with the incredible love of God in Jesus Christ, he simply cast himself upon that love in total trust. It was as if the Gentile saw the Cross and said, “If God loves me like that I can trust him with my life and with my soul.”

The Jew sought to put God in his debt; the Gentile was content to be in God’s debt. The Jew believed he could win salvation by doing things for God; the Gentile was lost in amazement at what God had done for him. The Jew sought to find the way to God by works; the Gentile came by the way of trust.

The stone is one of the characteristic references of the early Christian writers. In the Old Testament there is a series of rather mysterious references to the stone. In Isa 8:14 it is said that God shall be for a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to the houses of Israel. In Isa 28:16 God says that he will lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation. In Dan 2:34-35, Dan 2:44-45, there is a reference to a mysterious stone. In Ps 118:22 the Psalmist writes: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.”

When the Christians began to search the Old Testament for forecasts of Christ they came across these references to this wonderful stone; and they identified Jesus with it. Their warrant was that the gospel story shows Jesus himself making that identification and taking the verse in Ps 118:22 and applying it to himself (Matt 21:42). The Christians thought of the stone which was the sure foundation, the stone which was the corner stone binding the whole building together, the stone which had been rejected and had then become the chief of all the stones, as pictures of Christ himself.

The actual quotation which Paul uses here is a combination of Isa 8:14 and Isa 28:16. The Christians, including Paul, took it to mean this—God had intended his Son to be the foundation of every man’s life, but when he came the Jews rejected him, and because they rejected him that gift of God which had been meant for their salvation became the reason for their condemnation. This picture of the stone fascinated the Christians. We get it again and again in the New Testament (Ac 4:11; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:4-6).

The eternal truth behind this thought is this. Jesus was sent into this world to be the Saviour of men; but he is also the touch-stone by which all men are judged. If a man’s heart goes out in love and submission to him, Jesus is for him salvation. If a man’s heart is entirely unmoved or angrily rebellious, Jesus is for him condemnation. Jesus came into the world for our salvation, but by his attitude to him a man can either gain salvation or merit condemnation.

Additional Notes

Israel’s Unbelief Is Consistent with God’s Plan–parts 3-4: It Is Consistent with His Prophetic Revelation and His Prerequisite of Faith (Romans 9:25-33)

As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.'” “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (9:25-33)

Continuing his argument that Israel’s unbelief is not inconsistent with God’s promised covenant of redemption, Paul proceeds to give two more features from the Old Testament that support divine integrity. He confirms the truth that Israel’s unbelief is perfectly consistent with God’s revelation through the Old Testament prophets. He then confirms that Israel’s unbelief is consistent with God’s eternal prerequisite of faith on the part of those He saves.

Israel’s Unbelief Is Consistent With God’s Prophetic Revelation

As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.'” “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” (9:25-29)

Paul uses two quotations from Hosea and two from Isaiah to show that Israel’s unbelief and rejection of the Messiah and His gospel fit what the prophets had predicted.

Paraphrasing the prophet, Paul declares that He, that is, God, says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved'” (see Hos. 2:23).

To understand the full meaning of that truth it is necessary to look at the first chapter of Hosea, where we read, “The Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry, and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord'” (Hos. 1:2). It is not clear from the text whether Gomer, Hosea’s wife, was a harlot before she married him or became one after the marriage. In either case, the Lord commanded the prophet to keep her as his wife, despite her adultery—or more correctly, because of it.

So [Hosea] went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.”… Then she [Gomer] conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them.”… When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.” (Hos. 1:3-4, 6, 8-9)

Gomer’s moral unfaithfulness to Hosea provided a vivid analogy to Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness to God. By His sovereign design and provision, she would bear Hosea a son whose name means “God sows” (referring to the scattering of seeds, as well as to the place where Jehu murdered Ahab’s sons). Hosea then had a daughter whose name means “not pitied” or “not having obtained compassion,” and another son whose name means “not My people.” Those three names represented God’s attitude toward Israel, His chosen but disobedient people. For a divinely determined period of time, they would be scattered like sown seeds, unpitied by the world, and forsaken by God.

The Lord goes on to promise, however, that His people will not be permanently forsaken. Applying the analogy to unfaithful and spiritually adulterous Israel God says, “I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her,” and speaking to Israel, He adds, “And I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion” (Hos. 2:14, 19). Just as Hosea protected and supported Gomer, even during her harlotries, and one day bought her as a slave on the block in the open market, naked and full of shame, so God someday will redeem Israel.

Until that time, God not only will treat Israel as not being His children but will treat Gentiles, who were not His people, as His people. It is that converse truth, found in Hosea 2:23, that Paul paraphrases: “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.”

Hosea already had witnessed the Assyrian conquest and devastation of the northern kingdom of Israel, which occurred in 722 b.c., some twelve years before the prophet wrote his book. That pagan nation became the rod of God’s anger (see