God's Word Stands: Christ Came to Confirm It
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, "THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME." 10 Again he says, "REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE." 11 And again, "PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM." 12 Again Isaiah says, "THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE." 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The connection between this message from Romans 15 and the preceding messages from Romans 9 is the link between Romans 9:6 and Romans 15:8. Both of these verses affirm that the word of God has not fallen but stands invincible. Romans 9:6 says, "It is not as though the word of God has failed" and Romans 15:8 says, "Christ has come to confirm the promises given to the fathers." The words of God - the promises of God - have not fallen, they stand confirmed.
The difference between these two texts is that the ground for God's unfailing word in Romans 9 is the truth of unconditional election, and the ground of God's unfailing word in Romans 15 is the truth of Christ's redeeming work as the servant of Israel.
In Romans 9:6 Paul says, "It is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." In other words, within Israel there is an elect Israel, and these will be saved and the word of God - the word of promise - will stand and never fail those whom he sovereignly plans to save. On the other hand, in Romans 15:8 Paul says, "I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision [that is, he was born as Jewish Messiah to serve his people] on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers." In other words, the word of God stands because Christ came into the world and did the work that had to be done to save the elect.
Election and the Saving Work of Jesus Christ
So here is an absolutely crucial banner that needs to be waved over the teaching of Romans 9. It's the banner of Christmas and Good Friday and Easter. Namely this: The doctrine of God's unconditional election must never be separated from the saving work of Jesus Christ. Mark these crucial words from Ephesians 1:4, "God chose us in him [in Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world." Or mark these words in 2 Timothy 1:9 "God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began." Or Ephesians 3:11, "[God has acted] in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord."
So, God chooses his people in Christ - in relation to Christ and his saving work - before the foundation of the world. He appoints them for grace in Christ before the ages. He carries out his eternal electing purpose in Christ. We must never think of the precious and glorious truth of unconditional election apart from Jesus Christ and his saving work on the cross. God chose people to be saved by Christ. The saving work of Jesus Christ was not an afterthought. Christmas, Good Friday, Easter were in the mind of God as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.
Therefore the promises of God stand invincible not simply because he is free and sovereign in his choice of whom to save (as Romans 9 teaches), but also because he undertakes to actually save them in history by the coming and dying and rising of his Son, Jesus Christ (as Romans 15 says).
So today, since it is the Sunday before Christmas, let's focus on Romans 15:8-9, and ask in particular, Why is it good news that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God? Let's read these verses again: "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy."
Now let's read it more carefully and notice the structure of this sentence.
- "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision . . ." This means that he became a Jewish man to serve the Jewish people. Recall what he said in Mark 10:45: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" - that's the service in view, the service of dying for many as ransom.
- Then Paul makes the main statement about why he came: "I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God . . ." That's the main statement: Christ came to serve (to give his life a ransom) in such away that the truth of God would be established. Then come two purposes for this God-vindicating work of Christ:
- First, " . . . to confirm the promises given to the fathers,"
- Second (verse 9a), ". . . and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy."
So the main statement for why Christ became an incarnate human being as a Jew is that he came to serve man and vindicate God. Verse 8: "Christ has become a servant . . . on behalf of the truth of God." Or to be more accurate: Christ came to serve man by vindicating the truth of God. It's not as though his service is one thing, and his proving the truth of God is another thing. His vindicating the truth of God is the way he served man.
How is Christmas Good News?
So here is the one question I want to try to answer from this text: Why are we well served by the vindication of the truth of God through Christ? Why does it do us good when Christ validates the truth of God? Or to make the message feel seasonal, we could ask: How is Christmas good news if it means Christ's coming on behalf of the truth of God?
I see four reasons why it is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God.
1. It is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God because Christ's coming shows that God is true first and foremost to himself.
It is noteworthy that Paul makes a distinction in verse 8 between Christ's confirming "the truth of God" as one thing, and then, as another thing, the result and purpose of that, namely, "to confirm the promises." Read verse 8 again: "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision (1) on behalf of the truth of God (2) to confirm the promises given to the fathers." One could argue, I suppose, that these are two ways of saying the very same thing: Confirm the truth of God, and confirm the promises he made.
But there is something deeper in God's truth than his keeping promises. God is true before he makes any promises. God is a God of truth before he speaks to man. It's important that we think about this. Otherwise we tend to think of God only in relation to us as if his attributes have no meaning or significance apart from us. This makes far too much of us. And it runs the risk of demeaning God's self-sufficiency - that he is gloriously and absolutely God and true apart from us, and without us.
The relevance this has for God's truth is that it reminds us that God himself is the definition of truth. He is truth. "I am the way the truth and the life," Jesus said (John 14:6). And he could say it because he was God the Son. There is no standard of truth outside God for God to be measured by. God never checks or measures his thoughts or his statements or his actions with a standard outside himself so that he can then declare them true because the measure up to the standard. God is the standard. God is truth. God is the measure of all things. All things are true to the degree that they conform to what God is and says.
Therefore, the first and most fundamental attribute about God in relation to this is not that he is true to his promises, but that he is true to himself. Here's the way Paul put it in 2 Timothy 2:12-13, "If we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." Now that is a very fundamental truth about God. He cannot deny himself. His most fundamental faithfulness is not first to us, but to himself. When he contemplates what faithfulness or truth means, he takes into account the highest standard first, namely himself, and remains true or faithful to that.
So Paul is saying in Romans 15:8 "Christ has become a servant . . . on behalf of the truth of God," that is, Christ served us - Christ did us good - by confirming God's deepest "trueness" his deepest faithfulness, namely, his faithfulness to himself. Christ served us by vindicating God's commitment to his himself. He served us by establishing and demonstrating that God is true - he is true to God.
It is good for us that he did that. For if God were not true to God - if God's deepest and most fundamental esteem and faithfulness were given to something or someone other than what is most worthy of esteem and faithfulness - then he would be false, and no true God. And all our hope for everlasting joy would vanish. And that would be no service to us. Christ serves us by coming on behalf of the truth of God.
2. It is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God because this does in fact confirm the promises of God.
God's promises are not his first allegiance. God himself is God's first allegiance. But then on the basis of that allegiance comes the next one, his word, his promises. And we see it plainly in verse 8: "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,."
All the promises that God ever made are true, first because God is true, and second because Christ came and confirmed them as true. He bought them. The other clearest statement on this (besides Romans 15:8) is 2 Corinthians 1:20, "For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory."
What is the Good News of Christmas?
Here is the essence of the good news of Christmas. Why did Christ have to come and die and rise so that all the promises of God would be yes in him - so that all the promises of God would be confirmed and made sure in him? The answer is that you and I do not deserve the fulfillment of one single promise of good toward us. What we deserve in our sin is punishment not promises. And what we get by faith alone, is fulfilled promises not fulfilled punishment. How can this be just? Because Christ came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He bought us. He ransomed us. He rescued us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Or as this week's fighter verse says, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). Why? So all the promises could come true for us even though we are undeserving sinners.
So all the promises of God are bought and confirmed for us by the blood of Jesus on the cross. That is why we claim the promises of God in prayer and close every prayer with, "In Jesus' name, Amen." Don't ever be ashamed of it. Children, listen to this simple point: when you close your prayers by saying, "In Jesus' name, Amen," you should mean, "I don't deserve the answer to my prayer, but Jesus does. And so I ask for it in his name, not my name. Because he is perfectly worthy and I am not."
So it is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God because it confirms the promises of God by purchasing them for sinners like us.
3. It is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God because the promises he confirms and purchases are promises of mercy.
You can see this when the blessing of Christ's coming spills over the banks of Israel and reaches to the gentiles - to the nations - according to Jesus Great Commission. Read verse 8 again and the first part of verse 9: "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy."
When the promises are confirmed and purchased by the coming of Christ, the blessings spill over the banks of Israel and reach to the nations. And what the promises spill over with is mercy. Oh how the saints in the Old and New Testaments love to exult in the mercy of God! Just this week I read Micah 7:18 where the prophet exults like this: "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love [mercy!]."
This is the truth that breaks our pride, and heals the paralysis of hopelessness, and gives us courage to love in hard times, and moves our hearts to sing a new song. So Samuel Davies turned that Micah text into a hymn:
Great God of wonders! All Thy ways
Are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace
More Godlike and unrivaled shine,
More Godlike and unrivaled shine.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee
And who has grace so rich and free?
And who has grace so rich and free?
So it is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God because the promises he confirms are promises of mercy - pardon, forgiveness, and the gift of righteousness.
4. It is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God because the essence of the mercy he promised is himself, and not his gifts.
God's gifts are precious beyond words, and we will sing of them forever. But the most precious ones you can think of are not ends in themselves. They all lead to God. Take forgiveness, for example. When Christ became our servant as a ransom, he took away the curse of the law and the threat of punishment for all who believe. But to what end? That we might enjoy sin with impunity? No. But that we might enjoy God for eternity! Forgiveness is precious because it brings us home to God.
Why does anyone want to be forgiven? If the answer is just for psychological relief, or just for escape from hell to have more physical pleasures, then God is not honored. But Romans 15:9 says that the aim of Christ's serving us is that the gentiles "glorify God" for his mercy. But if we exploit God's mercy as ticket to enjoy sin, God gets no glory from that. God gets glory for showing mercy when his mercy frees us to see him as the most enjoyable person in the universe.
So it is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God because the essence of the mercy he promised was himself.
It is good for us that Christ came on behalf of the truth of God, because his coming this way
- shows that God is true first and foremost to himself;
- confirms the promises of God;
- confirms that the promises are promises of mercy;
- and shows that the essence of the mercy he promised is himself.
This is the meaning of his coming. This is the meaning of
Christmas. O that God would waken your heart to your deep need for
mercy as a sinner. And then ravish your heart with a great Savior,
Jesus Christ. And then release your tongue to praise him and your
hands to make his mercy shine in yours.
©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org