July 2, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 9)

Submitted by Jesse K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

REFLECTION Questions

Romans 9:1-5

“These verses reveal a fact about Paul that is easy for us to forget: He was a Jew and never lost his sense of Jewish identity or his love for his fellow Jews […] Because he was used by God to bring so many Gentiles into the people of God, Paul was viewed by a good number of Jews as a traitor and as one who had lost any natural affection for his own people.”  [Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary – Romans (Zondervan, 2000) 290.]

 

·       What can I learn about Apostle Paul and his dramatic way of expressing his intense love for his countrymen?

Apostle Paul is a man with a tremendous capacity for love.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.”  These are the words of Apostle Paul concerning his heart for the Jews. These were the same Jews who opposed Paul so fiercely.  They were the same Jews who maligned Paul and even tried to kill him.  And yet, Paul feels “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for these people.  Despite the tremendous pain Paul experienced at the hands of the Jews (both physical and emotional), he is still able to care for them to this extent-even going as far as to say that he would rather himself be cut off from Christ for the sake of his Jewish brethren.  What an amazing ability to love.  In comparison, as I look at my own heart and the ability to love others, I see how severely lacking I am.  I see how small my heart is.  I see how petty I am.  I see how selfish I am compared to A. Paul.  Paul says he would rather be cut off from Christ, yet at times, I am so small-hearted that I find it hard to sacrifice a little time or some emotional energy for the sake of people whom I say I love.  One fresh example of this is my unwillingness to expend a little more emotional energy to speak to my wife in a kind tone.  The degree of pettiness shows the degree to which I am selfish.  Yet, instead of recognizing this, what was going on in my mind was that it was a long day, I was tired and all I want to do is rest before I have to pick up the trailer for Sunday setup.  I try to make excuses, but even those reveal how selfish my point of view is.  “I” was the one who had a long day.  “I” was the one who was tired.  “I” was the one who had to get up.  And it was I who refused to sacrifice even a little energy to love my wife.  It’s a far cry from Apostle Paul who says he is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the people who oppose him.

·       How can I cultivate a heart like Apostle Paul’s, of “great sorrow and unceasing anguish,” for people’s salvation?

Apostle Paul’s heart of “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for people’s salvation is one that mirrors God’s heart.  It is because God has such a heart for his lost children that Apostle Paul also feels this great sorrow and unceasing anguish for people.  So, one way which I can cultivate a heart like Apostle Paul, and ultimately God, is to pray.  It sounds like the same-old cliché answer, but it is true.  This past year, largely due to the morning prayer times @ NL, I was able to establish a regular time of prayer.  And over time, as I prayed for specific people by name, I could feel my sense of concern and burden over those people’s souls slowly increase. Somehow, as I prayed for them, my concern for them would also grow.  Especially as it’s summer and the week is not as busy as in the school year, I can really devote time to pray for people’s salvation in order to develop a heart like Apostle Paul.

Romans 9:6-21

“Because all men are sinful and deserve God’s condemnation, no person is wronged or treated unjustly if God chooses to condemn him.  That is justice.  His mercy toward any person is purely by His grace […] It is not a man’s choice or pursuit but God who initiates mercy for the sinner.  Salvation is never initiated by human choice or merited by zealous human effort.  It always begins in God’s sovereign, gracious, and eternal will.” [John MacMarthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Romans 9-16. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991) 42-43]

 

·       Meditate on the fact of God’s total sovereignty and freedom regarding on whom He will have mercy. Have I fully acknowledged in my heart that God has the absolute right to do as He wills in history, and in my life?

·       To what extent do I appreciate God’s sovereign freedom to rightfully condemn all humanity as the backdrop against which I see my own personal salvation?

Romans 9:22-33

“The implication for Jews was that they did not pursue… the righteousness which is by faith, but instead relied on their birthright as Jews or on their supposed good works in obedience to God’s laws.” [John MacMarthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Romans 9-16. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991) 67]

“The ‘stumbling stone’ was Jesus.  The Jews did not believe in him, because he didn’t meet their expectations for the Messiah. Some people still stumble over Christ because salvation by faith doesn’t make sense to them.” [Life Application Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, Inc; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) p.2045]

·       What warning does this passage give to Christians who presume upon God based on their own good works, service, or spiritual heritage?

Paul says, “It is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” He also says, “Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.”  In other words, the righteousness and salvation that Jesus brings cannot be attained through works.  This has great warning to Christians, especially those who are performance and task-oriented like me.  I cannot presume that I am all right with God because I do works.  I can’t presume that I’m okay just because I attend Sunday worship services, b/c I go to prayer meetings, b/c I do various tasks and tech stuff for church.  Even the fact that I’m a spiritual leader and lead lifegroups does not mean I am righteous before God.  Of course, good works and service are good, but neither my salvation nor my relationship with God is based on such things.  My salvation is purely based on God’s grace and faith in Jesus.  And my relationship with God begins with the acknowledgment that I am a rotten sinner- full of pride and selfishness-who is redeemed through the blood of Christ.  But it’s so easy to fall into the temptation to think that by performing various tasks “for God” that I’m okay.  In fact, for me it’s much easier to do various outward tasks than to do the hard work of digging inside my heart, confessing and bringing it before God and receiving forgiveness and true righteousness.  And the busier I am with various things, it’s that much easier to forgo doing this hard work.  But Paul’s warning is so clear.  So as I approach the new role and duties as a husband, as I approach ministering to the sophomore class, as I approach the duties I have on the tech team, and as I approach the various new responsibilities I gain as I get older, I need to remember this warning against judging my spiritual life with outward deeds.

·       Think about the fact that those “who did not pursue righteousness” have obtained it.  How does this apply to me?

This is my testimony.  I am the person described in this passage.  I did not pursue righteousness.  I had no regard for the laws of God.  I had no desire or even awareness of the heart of God.  I was my own master.  I manipulated others to get my way.  I dehumanized people for my own selfish pleasure.  I placed myself first above all else.  And yet, even in the pit of this kind of godless life, I was saved “not by works but by him who calls.”  Thank God for his love.  Thank God that “It does not, therefore depend, on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”  This is the gospel that I have received through faith.  And this is the gospel that I’ve committed my life upholding and telling others about.  It is also the gospel that gives me the courage and the security to keep on living Christian life, since I know that my relationship with God isn’t based on my own works and efforts (It never was).  It is based on God’s mercy.  So as I come face to face with my sins and my various different issues, I don’t need to fall into despair or be paralyzed by Satan’s accusation.  Instead, I can find comfort and gain strength in the fact that God is faithful and just and will forgive me- crediting me with righteousness that I could not earn on my own.

Submitted by Becky F. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

REFLECTION Questions

Romans 9:1-5

“These verses reveal a fact about Paul that is easy for us to forget: He was a Jew and never lost his sense of Jewish identity or his love for his fellow Jews […] Because he was used by God to bring so many Gentiles into the people of God, Paul was viewed by a good number of Jews as a traitor and as one who had lost any natural affection for his own people.”  [Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary – Romans (Zondervan, 2000) 290.]

  • What can I learn about Apostle Paul and his dramatic way of expressing his intense love for his countrymen?

o   A. Paul’s dramatic way of expressing his intense love for his countrymen reflects how deeply he loved and cared for them and how selfless he was.  He felt this intensely for his countrymen, that he would be willing to be cursed and cut off from Christ himself if that meant they would be saved.  His great sorrow and unceasing anguish for them shows how committed he was to others, to their concerns and needs and problems.  On top of this is the context where so many of them, the Jews, saw him as a traitor who cared little for them.  It didn’t matter that they misunderstood, unfairly rejected and criticized him.  A. Paul still loved them, still had such zeal and affection for and commitment to them, did not hold back or cool in his heart for his people.  A. Paul’s selflessness alone is amazing, so contrary to my own heart, and on top of that, His refusal to give up on them or lash back or just care less toward them when they unfairly and wrongly criticized him as not caring for his own people when in fact he would die for them, is humbling and challenging. But it is also so fitting as well, the same shape and form of Christ’s love for us, how Christ gave Himself for us even when we were sinners, rejecting and rebelling against Him.   He did not hold back at all, and A. Paul follows His example in this kind of complete surrender of any so-called rights, defense, and continuing to persevere in love and hope despite being misunderstood and rejected.

  • How can I cultivate a heart like Apostle Paul’s, of “great sorrow and unceasing anguish,” for people’s salvation?

o   A. Paul’s heart is so humbling and challenging, so contrary to my own that is so self-centered and defensive, quick to demand and be put off when hurt or misunderstood or rejected or not even noticed.  But I can cultivate a heart like A. Paul’s, of great sorrow and unceasing anguish for people’s salvation, in several ways. I can feed this just by being interested and aware of what is going on with people, doing the work of asking, finding out how people are doing, as what comes out from them and their families, friends, coworkers, people in their lives, is inevitably the need for salvation, people’s sinfulness and brokenness and hopelessness apart from Christ, and the burden to cry out for them.  Just a look at the news results in the same as well.  And the next thing I can do to cultivate a heart like A. Paul’s is to bring those burdens, brokenness, needs, to God, crying out for their salvation and healing, in my daily prayers, to do the work of continuing to think about and be burdened by the reality of our sinfulness and need for Christ, instead of being so quick to move on, throw up my hands in helplessness, taking things “in stride” as the world tells me to.

Romans 9:6-21

“Because all men are sinful and deserve God’s condemnation, no person is wronged or treated unjustly if God chooses to condemn him.  That is justice.  His mercy toward any person is purely by His grace […] It is not a man’s choice or pursuit but God who initiates mercy for the sinner.  Salvation is never initiated by human choice or merited by zealous human effort.  It always begins in God’s sovereign, gracious, and eternal will.” [John MacMarthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Romans 9-16. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991) 42-43]

  • Meditate on the fact of God’s total sovereignty and freedom regarding on whom He will have mercy.  Have I fully acknowledged in my heart that God has the absolute right to do as He wills in history, and in my life?

o   God has every right to have mercy on whomever He chooses to have mercy.  I am not someone who can come to Him and demand “justice”, because justice actually means that I be condemned.  He actually has every right to condemn all of us and not show mercy on any one at all.

o   I know this in my head, but when it comes to looking at the world around me and people I care about, my emotions aren’t quite settled with this fact alone.  I know that God has every right to have mercy on only those He chooses to, but my heart protests against the idea that He might not show great mercy on some people. I think this is for two reasons.  One, because I am so used to knowing the other aspects of God, that He just so happens to also be good and compassionate, a tender loving Heavenly Father, who welcomes eagerly any prodigals who will return to Him and who woos all of us with hope that we will turn back to Him.  Two, because He has created us to be like Him, in His image, so that there is a shadow of His goodness, compassion, character, in me, at least in ideas of what is good.  But in the end, when things don’t work out the way I want, the way I know to be right or according to my own understanding and ideas, I concede that yes, in the end, no matter how it all works out, God is sovereign, has every right to act and choose as He will.  In the end, God knows and His ways are far above my ways and His thoughts far greater than my thoughts.  He is far more compassionate than me, and I know that my judgments are based upon incomplete information and broken ideas, so I can concede readily that God has every right to choose and do as He will.  But even if God were not this way, God has every right to do as He will, whether it agrees with my own ideas of how things should be.

o   Though I concede to God’s sovereignty and freedom to do as He wills in history, I see it is harder to swallow when it boils down to my life and works out to being contrary to my own desires and ideas of how it should and I want it to be.  Each time things don’t go my way, even according to how I should be, like seeing my same character issues and lack of change, this is a chance to acknowledge in my heart again that God has every right to do as He wills, to not change me quickly, to not make things work out smoothly for me.  I am thankful because most of the time I can readily see some reasons why He chooses to do this or not that, like the danger of my pride puffing up enormously, me feeling like I have things together and then not being acutely aware of my desperate need for Him.

  • To what extent do I appreciate God’s sovereign freedom to rightfully condemn all humanity as the backdrop against which I see my own personal salvation?

o   I do not often consider that God has every right to condemn all of humanity as the backdrop for my own personal salvation.  There is plenty of condemning evidence just on my personal sinfulness alone, but zooming out and recognizing that all have fallen short of the glory of God, that all mankind deserves nothing but wrath gives me greater appreciation for my salvation.  I have rebelled against God’s rightful authority over my life, but not only me, but all of humanity have been this rebellious and wicked, and deserve nothing but wrath from God.  It is all the more a miracle that God should pardon a sinner like me, when all of mankind has despised and rebelled against Him, and He has every right to condemn all of us, even before getting to the nitty gritty ugly petty details of my sinfulness.

Romans 9:22-33

“The implication for Jews was that they did not pursue… the righteousness which is by faith, but instead relied on their birthright as Jews or on their supposed good works in obedience to God’s laws.” [John MacMarthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Romans 9-16. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991) 67]

“The ‘stumbling stone’ was Jesus.  The Jews did not believe in him, because he didn’t meet their expectations for the Messiah. Some people still stumble over Christ because salvation by faith doesn’t make sense to them.” [Life Application Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, Inc; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) p.2045]

  • What warning does this passage give to Christians who presume upon God based on their own good works, service, or spiritual heritage?

o   This passage warns such people that their efforts do not earn them anything before God.  It warns them that their striving, what they think earns them some kind of credit or righteousness with God, is just folly.  Just because they serve God, do good works, have a spiritual heritage of growing up in a God-honoring family or church , does not mean that they are right with God, and it is a warning because this kind of thinking and striving causes them to miss out on the righteousness with God that only comes by faith.  It is not only a hopeless pursuit to try to “earn” something from God by our own efforts and good deeds, this pursuit dulls and keeps us from receiving the true righteousness with God that only comes through the sacrifice of Jesus.

  • Think about the fact that those “who did not pursue righteousness” have obtained it. How does this apply to me?

o   Oddly, those who did not pursue righteousness have obtained it.  It is those who have given up, who are in touch with the reality of their own sinfulness and the brokenness of the world around them, who are more likely to obtain righteousness with God.  This is because in order to achieve true righteousness with God, we have to recognize our sins fully and thus our utter inability to fix ourselves, to do better, to be right with God based upon our own efforts and resources.  Those who are still pursuing righteousness are too proud and set in their ways to look up and see the true righteousness that can only come through faith in Jesus.  And so being right with God truly always eludes such people.  It is sobering that this warning really applies to me, because when I am fixated on trying to do/think “right”, I am so far from finding that rightness with God I long for so much.  Ironically, I am missing the only way I can really find peace with God, through the bloody sacrifice of Jesus, when I am busy trying to prove myself, earn something, show some kind of worth and results from all God has poured out into me and our church.  When I do this, my mind, energy, heart, are preoccupied and drained by this endless hopeless pursuit and my wicked pride that is up and down constantly in my efforts to try to do things “right”–mostly despair at how utterly hopeless I am to get things right and do even just the basics of what I should do for people, and on rare occasions some sense of self-congratulation when I happen to do something superficially “right”. I need to fight this and catch myself through honest daily reflection and confession, because the stakes are this high, this serious.  I cause myself to miss out on being found truly righteous with God when I try to obtain a righteousness of my own making.

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