“Wrestling With Romans”
Has the Gospel Failed? (Romans 9 Verses 1-18)
The thought may cross your mind from time to time, and especially when there aren’t many folks being saved, does the gospel still work (vv6-8)? Well no says Paul (v6), the problem doesn’t lie with the word of God, it’s the people and what they do with the word of God. Just because people belonged to the Israelite nation didn’t necessarily mean they were God’s children (v7). No, only those who believed God’s saving message, and with them the word of God worked effectively (1Thessalonians 2.13), and very effectively (1Thessalonians 1.9-10). And of course the same is true today, just because you have people in Churches, or people brought up in the cradle of the gospel doesn’t mean they are God’s children either (v8). They too must receive the saving message for themselves (John 1.12), in order to become such. But when that message is not received, when peoples lives are not changed, transformed by God it doesn’t mean the message has failed. No, God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4.12), and remains for ever so (1Peter 1.23). God’s word is never proclaimed in vain, it always accomplishes his purpose, either saving or hardening, but never returns to him void (Isaiah 55.8-11).
We are given an example here (vv9-14), that of Rebecca’s children, Jacob and Essau (v13). The promise belonged to both of them (v9), having been brought up under the covenant, but only one actually embraces it, Jacob. The birth of Isaac (v10) remember was a supernatural one, he was the child promised to Abraham (Genesis 18.10), the promise of a gift pure and simple, and eventually born to Sarah in old age. Now it’s this promise that was given to Israel which is illustrated here (vv4-5), God’s gracious giving. And the promise is totally unconditional (v11). We know this don’t we from Jacob’s subsequent life, and of course our own, if it were conditional, dependent on our works, both Jacob and ourselves would be blown away. Jacob wasn’t saved because of his faults and sins, but in spite of them. Now Israel should have recognised in all God had given them by way of promise (vv4-5), the exact same grace and love bestowed on Jacob (v13), and ought to have embraced them. But they didn’t (John 1.11). They refused to believe, they hardened themselves, became obdurate and presumptuous. It is this that breaks the Apostolic heart (vv1-2), to have been given such blessings, and just trash them – incredible! But the question comes home, have you received, embraced the promise of salvation through God’s Son?
(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1997)