Romans: God is More Than Fair
Are you awed by the incredible news of the gospel after reading the book of Romans up until now? How can our hearts not be soaring with excitement over the freedom we have in Christ?
Yet, Paul seems to anticipate a different reaction from his audience. He expects them to still be stuck on this question, “What good is it to be a descendant of Abraham?” Doesn't their status as a Jew or an Israelite mean anything anymore? The Jews had been God's favored people for so long. How can the playing field be completely level now? How can faith be accessible to both Jews and Gentiles alike all of a sudden? This just did not seem fair to them.
Paul understands that his audience might still be wondering about this. He is in a unique position to address this question. Paul himself is a Jewish believer. In fact, he used to be an eager Jew who persecuted Christians. He understands what it means to honor Jewish traditions and cling to obedience to the Law to a fault.
Paul was also called to be a minister to the Gentiles, specifically. So he is the perfect person to address this issue. He understands the Jewish believers and their background intimately, but his heart is also for the Gentile believers to whom he feels called to minister.
Paul takes his time to explain that God's Word is still true. God is faithful and always keeps His promises. He did not change His mind, and this plan of salvation is not His plan B. In order to explain this and show it clearly, Paul goes back to Scripture.
Let's pause here because we can learn a great deal from him. When explaining spiritual truth to a Christian, we should always go back to the Word. Scripture is our final authority, so it is worth a lot more than any of our own words. We could have the best arguments in the world but we are still human. Scripture is inspired by God and true to the core. It should be the basis of explaining any spiritual truth to a believer who trusts in the authority of God's word.
Paul knows that his audience, the Jewish believers, would have known the Old Testament well and held it in high regard. Using Old Testament stories and verses, he shows that this plan of salvation was God's plan all along. All of God's prophecies have come true including His plan to reach more Gentiles with His saving grace.
Paul goes on to explain that God, in fact, is more than fair. Remember that fair would be to give us what we deserve. You and I do not want what we deserve. We know that we have sinned and deserve death. Instead, God shows us mercy and forgives our sins because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. God is more than fair; He is gracious.
Paul has taken a long time to address the truth of the gospel and specifically explain it to the Jewish believers in Rome. He knew that they might struggle with this idea of justification by faith, and he wanted them to believe it to the depth of their being and understand God's goodness in saving us through faith alone.
In Chapter 11, Paul turns his focus to the Gentile believers. Before they might become conceited, he explains their role in all this. It is the Gentiles who benefit from God's plan of salvation just the same as the Jewish believers. Paul says that God is using the Gentiles in order to make Israel envious of what they might have through faith in Jesus Christ. In some sense, He is using His plan to include Gentiles in the kingdom as a way to motivate more Jews to join in as well.
Paul reminds the Gentiles that they are the ones that have been “grafted into the vine”. You need to know a little bit about vines to understand this.
Jesus Himself used this imagery. He said that He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:4-11). Anyone who does not believe in Him is like a dead branch that falls off, but those who do believe in Him are healthy branches that produce fruit. Gentiles are like a branch that is grafted into the vine. A branch that is grafted in did not originally belong to the vine. It did not begin to grow on that vine but was included later. It becomes a part of the vine and grows fruit all the same, but it was not part of the original plant.
Of course, Paul reminds his readers that Jews and Gentiles have the same chance to be a part of God's kingdom by faith. We are all saved by the same faith in Jesus Christ. God shows mercy to all of us. Paul also reminds them that the Jews need God's mercy and forgiveness, and so do Gentiles.
This is a great reminder for us any time that we start to point fingers at others, isn't it? As soon as you point out the wickedness in someone else's life, even if it is only in your mind, train yourself to think, “What about me?” Remind yourself that you are in need of God's grace just the same. We are all sinners in the need of Christ and God's forgiveness.
Israel will always have a special place in God's heart, but He is delighted to be in relationship with both Jews and Gentiles. He loves both the same, and He gives grace and mercy to both the same.
This has been His plan all along. He is the same God He has always been. He does not change, and He always keeps His promises. Let's discover this together as we continue to read the book of Romans.
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This isn't fair! Do you picture a pouting five-year-old when you hear that statement? It's hard to believe that the gospel would evoke a sense of being treated unfairly rather than being shown tremendous grace. Let's not judge, however. As stuck as we still are in our sin, I am sure you and I have accused God of things unfairly as well.
We might wonder what in the world God is doing or if He is being kind enough to us. We, too, can easily forget His grace and mercy towards us and demand more of Him. So, when we consider the Jewish believers in Rome, let's be gracious towards them as Paul walks them through their internal struggle.
He shows them understanding and explains patiently why this, God's plan to save Jews and Gentiles, is more than fair. He is also stern with them and puts them in their place a little bit. Maybe we need that too sometimes.
As the Jewish believers in Rome wrestled with the fairness of salvation by faith alone, so we have come to wrestle with the fairness of predestination. Predestination is the belief that God chose, before the beginning of time, who would believe in Him and who wouldn't.
We saw this belief presented in chapter 8 that declared that those whom God called, He foreknew and also predestined, called, justified, and glorified. In other words, anyone who is truly called to the faith will be in heaven with us one day. That would also imply that those who will not spend eternity in heaven with us were not truly called by God.
We wrestle with this today. Even personally, I can't deny that these concepts are found in Scripture, yet I do not fully understand them. How can God choose who will believe and not believe and still hold us accountable? Paul answers these questions in these chapters, but he doesn't take away the mystery of them.
First, Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau. Traditionally, Esau, the older brother, should have received the birthright, but before they were even born, God chose Jacob to carry on the leadership in his family.
Paul also uses the example of Pharaoh of whom it is said that God hardened his heart. If, in fact, God hardened Pharaoh's heart, is he still responsible for his own actions? Yes, he is.
How can these things be? And how can they be fair? The truth is this: There will always be some things about our faith that we cannot fully comprehend. That is because God is bigger than us. His view of the world throughout time is more than we will ever comprehend, and His knowledge is infinitely greater than our own. We understand dimly through a human mind, but He sees clearly as the One who is all-knowing and all-powerful, the Creator of the universe.
Paul puts us in our place when he says that we are the clay and God is the Potter. How can we ask God to explain Himself? We don't have the authority to do so.
At the same time, I want to point out that God has given us this big book in front of you, the Bible. He has explained a lot to us, and He has walked with His people for generation after generation to show us so much about Himself and what it takes to be in relationship with Him.
Remember that He has been more than fair to us. He has been gracious and forgiven us a huge debt of sin. He walks with us through life and helps us situation by situation. He is never done growing our faith on this side of heaven. Even though we might not always understand His ways, we are never alone. He is always by our side, leading and growing us.
In our desire to know God, we lean on Scripture. It is always our source for truth. So, Paul uses it to explain to his audience that salvation through faith, available to anyone, was God's plan all along. He uses a lot of Old Testament references to prove this point. In doing so, Paul shows that justification by faith is not only fair but also biblical. It is not a new teaching but was prophesied long ago. God did not change the rules in the middle of the game. That speaks a great deal to His fairness, doesn't it?!
What then should we do with the wonder of this knowledge?
First of all, we should share this great news with anyone who will listen. Do you actively share your faith? When you consider the incredible benefits of knowing Jesus, do you want to shout this good news from the rooftops and see everyone in your life become free through faith in Jesus Christ?
Secondly, Paul reminds us to be humble. We are all saved from sin through faith and not by works. This should humble us as we remember that we walk with Jesus, not because we are better than anyone but because we have been saved by the One who is able.
Thirdly, we should sing with joy in our hearts about the glorious things that God has done for us. We should sing about His great character. Consider this doxology that Paul uses to close this section of his letter:
Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of God?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Let your heart sing praises like these and allow those praises to affect how you live out your faith in action. Paul continues his letter with exactly that emphasis. We are justified by faith in God, and that good news should affect every area of our lives.