God Is Totally Free to Save You

Look at the Book Live Seminar | Houston, Texas

Next unit. “Even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:24). Now, whoa, that is a major turn. That’s why my book ended at Romans 9:23. That’s a major turn. “From . . . Gentiles.” The Gentiles are among the true Israel. “He has called.” That goes back to Romans 9:11. It’s not of him who works, but of the one who calls that Isaac and not Ishmael and Jacob and not Esau, and now, you, Gentile. He has called into this new people of God that he’s making, both Jew and Gentile, as he says.

Gentiles Included in God’s People

Now, the rest of Romans 9:25–29 is going to be an Old Testament argument for the fact that not all Jews are included and some Gentiles are included. And the first thing he deals with is Gentiles.

As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” (Romans 9:25)

My people. Beloved. Gentiles, and in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God’” (Romans 9:26). Beloved. Sons of God. My people. And, here’s the question you should ask, and only a few of you are because you don’t know Hosea that well.

Those in the context are all a reference to Israel who have been rejected by God in exile, and now, he’s taking them back. He had sent them away and now he’s taking them back. They don’t apply to Gentiles. Paul’s using them to refer to Gentiles. Why?

That’s not an accident. He’s not misusing the text. Two reasons that I can think of. One is, when God said to Israel, “I call you not my people,” he means, in that moment, under judgment, they really are not. Meaning, they are no better off than Gentiles who do not know God, because God has rejected them because of their sin and idolatry.

They can’t say, “Wait, we’re Jews!” And he said, “I know you’re children of the flesh, but not all my people are children of the flesh. I mean, my people are not defined by the children of the flesh.”

The second reason is because he wants us to know that Gentiles really are part of Israel. I think that’s the really subtle sense is that, when Hosea or God through Hosea says, “Once you were not my people, and now you are my people,” referring to Jewish people, and Peter talks this way and Paul talks this way. These Gentiles are now in that people — we are children of Abraham by the faith in the Messiah. He wants us to know we really are in the place of the true Israel.

Israel’s Fate

Here’s the section on Israel herself. “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved” (Romans 9:27). So, his argument is, Gentiles are included and not all Jews. “For the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah” (Romans 9:28–29)

So, the Lord sovereignly intervenes, rescues the people from Israel for himself, otherwise they would’ve been all gone. So, the point of that unit, Romans 9:24–29, is to say, among the vessels of mercy, among the true Israel, the children of God, the children of promise, those who are counted as seed are Jews and Gentiles. Many Jews not included, lots of Gentiles included, which leads now to this question: “What then shall we say? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith” (Romans 9:30).

Justification by Faith

He’s going in a very different direction now. He has shifted out of eternity and election and its demonstration in how it works itself out. He’s shifted over to justification, and we’re going to ask him, “Why is he doing that?” He’s going to ask now, “How do people get righteous?” How do people become righteous before God? What should we say, that Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it? That is a righteousness. That is by faith.

But that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone [that’s going to be Jesus]. As it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling [this is Isaiah 28:16], a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. (Romans 9:32–33)

What is he doing? What kind of shift has been made here? Here’s what I think he’s doing. He’s just spent Romans 9:1–23 to argue that the reason the word of God has not fallen is that God, from the beginning, made promises to those true Israel whom he has unconditionally and sovereignly chosen — elected — for himself.

He’s been making the case that God is just, wise, and good in his unconditional election where works do not count, pedigree does not count. God alone provides what is needed, namely the sovereign choice. That’s what he’s been doing. And now, he gets to history, and Gentiles are coming, and they are finding a righteousness by faith to be accepted by this God, and Jews who lived under the law the whole time are making shipwreck of their faith and their life. What’s the point?

I think the point is, he’s going to show us that, just as in eternity, there is a completely free sovereign initiative in election, so in history, there’s a completely free sovereign way of justifying sinners. Not by works, just like election was not by works, not by any pedigree, which is the way Paul talks in Philippians 3, when he’s leading towards justification, but by receiving what God provides — namely, righteousness in Christ, which is where he ends up in just a minute.

So, that’s what I think is going on. I think that what he’s beginning to develop now is, if God was this way in his election, if he has been free and unconditional in election. Election is all of mercy and all of grace. Is he going to go about saving us in a different way? There’s going to be a different set of rules that we really are going to work for our salvation or we really are going to provide our own righteousness in some way.

The Law Demands Perfection

And so, here he is now in Romans 9:31, raising this question: “Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? [He says.] Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as” — and then, in the Greek, it’s just “as by works” (Romans 9:32). As by works. And here, as if it were based on works, is the paraphrase.

What does that mean? That’s so important. Oh, is that important. Let me try this and see if you think this makes sense of it. I paraphrase it something like this: Why didn’t they reach the law? Why didn’t they attain righteousness that is by faith? Well, because they were approaching the law without reference to faith in the stone that was being laid. They didn’t believe in the stone. They stumbled over the stone.

The Old Testament was pointing to a stone that would be laid — Jesus Christ — for righteousness. But what did they do instead? They treated the law as if it could successfully be used to commend themselves to God by their law-keeping as if it could successfully be used to commend themselves to God by law-keeping.

Can’t it be successfully used to present yourself to God by law-keeping? And you would answer, “No, because it demands perfection,” to which a Jewish person might say, “No, no, no, no, no. No, it doesn’t demand perfection, because there’s a whole system of sacrifices for our imperfections.” So, you keep the law, and where you fail, you get an animal, you slit its throat, you offer the sacrifice. God, for the sake of laying your hands on the animal and asking for forgiveness, forgives you. The Old Testament doesn’t require perfection.

To which, my answer is, “Yes it does, and the sacrificial system is precisely the evidence that it does, because in failing to live up to the law, you must have a sacrifice. You must have a substitute, and all that sacrificial system, which temporarily lifts the burden of that failure to be perfect and points to Jesus.” That’s exactly where Paul’s going to go in just a minute in Romans 10:1–4. It points to Jesus.

Christianity Is Radical

Here’s what’s so radical about Christianity, as distinct from Judaism and all the other religions. Paul believes that we are so deeply sinful and grace is so absolutely free that any mixture of law keeping to commend yourself to God for justification will rule you out.

So, when I see that they failed to reach the law here. They failed to reach the law. Why? Because they didn’t pursue it by faith. They didn’t see that the law was saying, “You’ll never be able to successfully do me. You must look beyond me to sacrifice. And, yes, this sacrificial system is not an end in itself, because the blood of bulls, of goats, cannot take away sin.” They knew that. He was pointing somewhere else, namely to one who really could take away sin. Unless you see that and your faith takes you to him, you’re not going to make it.

You must despair of any law-keeping and look entirely to the all-sufficient substitute of the coming one. But, instead, they went about it as if — or just say, “As by works,” and you don’t have to say, “As totally by works.” Just “as by any works.” Any works at all undoes it.

This is why Paul in Galatians 5 says, “Come now, you who demand circumcision. If you receive circumcision, you must obey the whole law.” In other words, if you’re going to mingle a little bit of works in here, along with sacrifices to cover your failure, and that’s what you present to God, “I’m a pretty good law keeper, failed a lot of times, got some sacrifices to cover that” — God says, “No work. It doesn’t work. It’s not going to be acceptable.”

So, here we have a Judaism that says, “We are born of Israelites. We do some law-keeping, better than the Gentiles, for sure. And what we don’t succeed at there, we add some sacrifice, some forgiveness.” And that mixture is then offered to God. “I got a little bit of merit and a good dose of grace and now we’re in,” and Paul will have nothing to do with it.

Christianity says zero contribution to your justification. You bring zero works to your justification, and Christ brings total perfection to your justification, and that’s why it corresponds to election. Election is totally without any condition. And so, he’s developing a way of justification that parallels election. Election is unconditional, and justification, in its grounding and provision, is unconditional, and if you raise the question, “But do you have to receive it by faith?” Absolutely you have to receive it by faith. And the reason there’s no faith back in Romans 9:1–23 is because you haven’t been born yet.

Election Is God’s Business

There’s election and it’s totally unconditional. Now, here you are in history, and you hear there’ll be no works and there’ll be no goodness on your part. This will be provided for you absolutely freely, totally by Jesus Christ, in his death, in his perfection, and that will be offered to you. And now, you’ve got one thing to do. Will you have it? That’s called faith. Will you have it?

So, yes, receiving the totally perfected righteousness is required. And here’s our last paragraph. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). He’s back where he was in Romans 9:3, right? “I have unceasing anguish in my heart from my kinsman who are cursed and cut off from Christ.” And now, he takes it a step further and says, “And not only do I have daily anguish, I pray every day.”

You got anybody lost in your family? You got a kid you love, a mom, a dad, a brother. That’s the way to relate to God about them. Paul didn’t. He didn’t spend any time laying awake at night and said, “I don’t know who’s elect. I don’t know who’s elect. I don’t know who’s elect. And so, if they’re not elected, there’s no point in praying for them.” He never talked like that. Absolutely never. That’s just none of his business. In evangelism and in prayer, who’s elect is none of your business.

God knows, and our job is to pray like crazy for everybody we love. And you should love a lot of people, like your enemies. And we should talk to everybody about Jesus. We shouldn’t be asking, well maybe they’re not elect. It’s irrelevant whether they’re elect or not. It’s not your business. You love people. You’ve been so freely chosen, so freely graced. Everything you have is a gift. How can you not just give yourself away to everybody indiscriminately?

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” I’ve got people in my life, I pray that every day. “For I bear them witness.” And here’s just like we saw in verses Romans 9:1–5, here’s the reason why he desires this so much. They’re not saved.

Red-Hot and Lost

Look at Romans 10:2: “For I bear them witness. They have a zeal for God” — and this is scary — “but not according to knowledge.” So, I’m praying that they be saved because the knowledge they have and the zeal they have doesn’t save them. You can go to church and be red-hot for God. I think that’s what that means, right there. Red-hot. That’s red-hot, and be lost.

Why would I be lost if I’m red-hot for God? Answer in Romans 10:3. “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own,” and that makes you red-hot in religion. Oh, lacerating your body, going to the River Ganges. There’s millions of hyper-religious people in the world that are lost, including Christians, who do their righteousness establishing a church at home. They don’t know what grace is. They don’t know what it is to have a free and sovereign God who chooses them and justifies them absolutely freely, unconditionally, apart from anything. But will you have it?

Christ, the End of the Law

“And seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3). What’s that? Romans 10:4, end of argument, end of seminar: “For Christ is the end.” Or this word can mean goal. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Let me say it another way. If I take that and just reread it in the order of the Greek words, it would sound like this: For the goal or end of the law is Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes. Nothing’s changed there except word order, but I think you can hear the point a little better.

The reason they did not submit to God’s righteousness is that when they looked at the law, they didn’t get it. The goal of the law, the end, the thing, the sacrifices and the law and the demand for perfection were all pointing to Christ. Well, Christ in what sense? For righteousness. None of this. This is not going to be your righteousness. It won’t work. Not one percent of it can work in being the foundation of your righteousness before God.

So, when you stand before God someday, and he asks you why he should let you into heaven, you shouldn’t say, “Ninety-nine percent Christ and one percent me.” These verses, Romans 9, are meant to just knock that right out of you. You say, “You chose me totally freely, nothing in me commended to you at that point and you justified me freely, totally, by the righteousness of Christ.”

Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes, and then you can add, “And so I, like a little child, fell on this mercy. I loved it when the Holy Spirit opened my heart to see the mercy of God in the gospel. Nothing could have sounded sweeter to me.” And, I think the Lord will smile on you and say, “Come on in, for my Son’s sake. Not your sake, for my Son’s sake. Come on in.”

Summary of Romans 9

I want to close like this. I wrote down ten reasons for why the news of Romans 9 is good news to me. But, before I do that, here’s a summary. Let’s just walk through the summary.

The word of God has not failed (Romans 9:6) in regard to the promises to Israel, because even though (Romans 9:3) most of Israel to this day is perishing, but let us pray that that not be the case a year from now. Will you pray that? I don’t know what your eschatology or your theology is on this point, but I’m convicted that I do not pray for Israel as faithfully as I do, that God would lift the veil, remove the hardening, bring the full numbers of the Gentiles in, banish ungodliness from Jacob, and make the Jews full participants in the church of Jesus Christ. I think we should pray that way.

So, losing my train of thought here. The word of God has not failed in regard to God’s promises to Israel, because even though most of the Israelites are perishing, nevertheless, God by an absolutely free and righteous and sovereign, wise, merciful — I’m getting all those from things we’ve seen — election, because God, by that kind of election, has saved a true Israel from both Jews and Gentiles through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who is the goal of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes, so that all the promises of Romans 8 stand.

That’s why these chapters exist. Romans 9—11 are Paul’s grappling with things that may not bother you at all, but for him, were massive. Namely, I have just delivered the best news I know in Romans 1–8. I have just given promises that would sustain you through the worst suffering. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us.

Paul survived his life of suffering because of the promises of Romans 8. I have delivered that to you, and now, I know that there is this horrible specter behind that truth that God’s word doesn’t hold for Israel. And if it doesn’t hold for Israel, it won’t hold for Christians. And, therefore, I’m going to give you three chapters on why it holds, and that’s what he’s doing.

So, if you care about banking on the promises of Romans 8, you will care about the foundation laid for them in Romans 9.