Thursday, May 24, 2007

Breathless and heart-broken

Yesterday I spent two hours with a friend who isn't a Christian, seeking to demonstrate the Jesus is the promised Messiah (though not Jewish he adheres strongly to the Old Testament). I then spent two hours teaching Romans 9 to Christian students at Surrey. These are two of the five introductory remarks I made, preparing the way to study this passage:

We'll focus our study on Election upon Romans 9. It's not the only passage that speaks about this subject but it is a fairly substantial one. I'm less concerned that we reach a fully formed theology of election today, and more that we begin to savour the taste of it. It's a notorious chapter that has a reputation for being impenetrable. I think that is unfair. It's actually relatively simple on the head. The argument is mostly not very complex. The problem is the way it cuts into our hearts.

It's a classic example of how God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Enter the banquet halls of Romans 9 with pride and we'll find nothing but ash to eat. Enter with humility and you will find a feast, tables stacked high with delicacys. Fine wines. Mouthwatering dishes.

As we prepare to knock on the door of that room we need to dwell a moment in the lobby. That lobby is the end of Romans 8. In Romans 1-8 God has, through Paul, been outlining in some detail the freedom that comes from being justified by faith.

That is, having Jesus' perfect righteousness counted to you - though your status ought to be wrathworthy rebel, simply on the basis of grace - on the basis of his wrathbearing death that brings to us God's full and abundant favour. Such that we now reign in life. No longer wedded to sin, but to Christ instead.

That life is free from all and any condemnation and is lived in the Holy Spirit. And so, Paul concludes this part of the letter to Rome soaring on the clouds. The phrase "on eagles wings" refers to the way God saves his people out of Egypt. And Paul is certainly lifted by the Lord into the heights of God's glorious salvation.

We need to see the joy of this if we're to have any appreciation of election. Michael Horton speaks has written an excellent book on Election entitled "putting amazing back into grace". It is quite rightly amazing. Picking up in verse 30. We see that the predestined are called. The called justified. The justified glorified. He speaks of a completed salvation. And so, v31, what can be said! The Father is for us - so much so that he didn't even spare his own Son to achieve salvation - so lavish is his grace toward us in Christ. v33, no charge can stand against God's elect.

No condemnation. Christ died - he bears all that condemnation. He intercedes for us. So, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ - not trial or distress, not famine or nakedness, not danger or sword. And that is a real threat for God's faithful elect. Though opposed, we are more than conquerers through Christ who loved us. Not death or life, angels or rulers, present or future, height nor depth, nor indeed any thing else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

You feel him accelerate as he climbs to the summit of the gospel. Throws his arms up in the air in inexpressible joy at God's great salvation. Breathless, stand and take in the view.

And yet as Paul takes in the view he continues. 9v1, speaking the truth. 9v1, not lying. 9v1, with the Spirit as his witness. Of, v2, the "great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart" So deep that, v3, he might wish to be accursed and cut of from Christ - the Christ to whom he is inseparably bonded by the Spirit because of the Cross.

What could possibly grip Paul's heart so much that, were it possible, he would give up his own salvation? v3 - his kinsmen, his own nation. The Jewish people who are not in Christ. Real people outside of Christ. Real people under God's wrath. See him weep over them. Feel it. They have every priviledge that God gave his people throughout the Old Testament. Much knowledge. Much blessing. Even blood relatives of the Christ. And yet cut off from Christ.

This page of the Bible is tear-stained. Never let it be said that this is a room for dry and abstract theological debate. Romans 9 is a banquet hall both for a wedding feast but also with a house of mourning.

It is a passage we dare only study if we can soar breathless on the heights of the gospel, and if we are heartbroken over the plight of those who aren't Christians. Then, and only then, may we humbly study the hard words of Romans 9 - words that will explain to us why people aren't Christians.

Interacting with Matthew McMurray on this area.


  1. Thanks Bish. Romans 9-11 is awesome stuff - we've just been going through it at church bible-study. Again in 10.1, Paul shakes off any accusations of being cold and heartless. It makes you really open your eyes to see the significance of the doxology at 11.33. Oh the depths of the riches...

  2. Thank you for such a poetic reflection on the passage.

    The think that struck me as I read was that this is (i.e. you are) somebody who has really engaged with what it means to be saved from condemnation and with the pain of knowing that other people don't share that joy!

    Thanks mate and thanks for the link to my post.

  3. That's an outstanding treatment of Rom. 9. The feast imagery is especially poignant. Thanks for sharing it.