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Lesson 10 December 2-8
Read for This Week’s Study: Romans 9.
Memory Text: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18).
Is it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. . . . For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy . . . , and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Rom. 9:13, 15).
What is Paul talking about here? What about human free will and the freedom to choose, without which very little of what we believe makes sense? Are we not free to choose or reject God? Or are these verses teaching that certain people are elected to be saved and others to be lost, regardless of their own personal choices?
The answer is found, as usual, by looking at the bigger picture of what Paul is saying. Paul is following a line of argument in which he attempts to show God’s right to pick those whom He will use as His “elected” ones. After all, God is the One who carries the ultimate responsibility of evangelizing the world. Therefore, why can He not choose as His agents whomever He wills? So long as God cuts off no one from the opportunity of salvation, such an action on God’s part is not contrary to the principles of free will. Even more important, it’s not contrary to the great truth that Christ died for all humans, and His desire was that everyone have salvation.
As long as we remember that Romans 9 is not dealing with the personal salvation of those it names, but that it is dealing with their call to do a certain work, the chapter presents no difficulties.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 9.
Sunday December 3
“And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exod. 19:6).
God needed a missionary people to evangelize a world steeped in paganism, darkness, and idolatry. He chose the Israelites and revealed Himself to them. He planned that they become a model nation and thus attract others to the true God. It was God’s purpose that by the revelation of His character through Israel the world should be drawn unto Him. Through the teaching of the sacrificial service, Christ was to be uplifted before the nations, and all who would look unto Him should live. As the numbers of Israel increased, as their blessings grew, they were to enlarge their borders until their kingdom should embrace the world.
Read Romans 9:1-12. What point is Paul making here about the faithfulness of God amid human failures?
Paul is building a line of argument in which he will show that the promise made to Israel had not completely failed. There exists a remnant through whom God still aims to work. To establish the validity of the idea of the remnant, Paul dips back into Israelite history. He shows that God has always been selective: (1) God did not choose all the seed of Abraham to be His covenant, only the line of Isaac. (2) He did not choose all of the descendants of Isaac, only those of Jacob.
It’s important, too, to see that heritage, or ancestry, does not guarantee salvation. You can be of the right blood, the right family, even of the right church, and yet still be lost, still be outside the promise. It is faith, a faith that works by love, that reveals those who are “children of the promise” (Rom. 9:8).
Look at the phrase in Romans 9:6: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” What important message can we find there for ourselves, as Adventists, who in many ways play the same roles in our era that the ancient Israelites did in theirs?
Monday December 4
“It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:12, 13).
As stated in the introduction for this week, it is impossible to understand Romans 9 properly until one recognizes that Paul is not speaking of individual salvation. He is here speaking of particular roles that God was calling upon certain individuals to play. God wanted Jacob to be the progenitor of the people who would be His special evangelizing agency in the world. There is no implication in this passage that Esau could not be saved. God wanted him to be saved as much as He desires all men to be saved.
Read Romans 9:14, 15. How do we understand these words in the context of what we have been reading?
Again Paul is not speaking of individual salvation, because in that area God extends mercy to all, for He “will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4). “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). But God can choose nations to play roles, and although they can refuse to play those roles, they cannot prevent God’s choice. No matter how hard Esau may have willed it, he could not have become the progenitor of the Messiah nor of the chosen people.
In the end, it was no arbitrary choice on the part of God, not some divine decree, by which Esau was shut out from salvation. The gifts of His grace through Christ are free to all. We’ve all been elected to be saved, not lost (Eph. 1:4, 5; 2 Pet. 1:10). It’s our own choices, not God’s, that keep us from the promise of eternal life in Christ. Jesus died for every human being. Yet, God has set forth in His Word the conditions upon which every soul will be elected to eternal life - faith in Christ, which leads the justified sinner to obedience.
As if no one else even existed, you, yourself, were chosen in Christ even before the foundation of the world, to have salvation. This is your calling, your election, all given to you by God through Jesus. What a privilege, what a hope! All things considered, why does everything else pale in comparison to this great promise? Why would it be the greatest of all tragedies to let sin, self, and the flesh take away from you all that’s been promised you in Jesus?
Tuesday December 5
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8, 9).
Read Romans 9:17-24. Given what we have read so far, how are we to understand Paul’s point here?
By dealing with Egypt at the time of the Exodus in the manner He did, God was working for the salvation of the human race. God’s revelation of Himself in the plagues of Egypt and in the deliverance of His people was designed to reveal to the Egyptians, as well as to other nations, that the God of Israel indeed was the true God. It was designed to be an invitation for the peoples of the nations to abandon their gods and to come and worship Him.
Obviously Pharaoh had already made his choice against God, so that in hardening his heart, God was not cutting him off from the opportunity of salvation. The hardening was against the appeal to let Israel go, not against God’s appeal for Pharaoh to accept personal salvation. Christ died for Pharaoh, just as much as for Moses, Aaron, and the rest of the children of Israel.
The crucial point in all this is that as fallen human beings we have such a narrow view of the world, of reality, and of God and how He works in the world. How can we expect to understand all of God’s ways when the natural world, everywhere we turn, holds mysteries we can’t understand? After all, it was only in the past 171 years that doctors learned it might be a good idea to wash their hands before performing surgery! That’s how steeped in ignorance we have been. And who knows, if time should last, what other things we will discover in the future that will reveal just how steeped in ignorance we are today?
Certainly we don’t always understand God’s ways, but Jesus came to reveal to us what God is like (John 14:9). Why, then, amid all of life’s mysteries and unexpected events is it so crucial for us to dwell on the character of Christ and what He has revealed to us about God and His love for us? How can knowing what God’s character is like help us to stay faithful amid trials that seem so unjustified and so unfair?
Wednesday December 6
In Romans 9:25 Paul quotes Hosea 2:23, and in Romans 9:26 he quotes Hosea 1:10. The background is that God instructed Hosea to take “a wife of whoredoms” (Hos. 1:2) as an illustration of God’s relationship with Israel, because the nation had gone after strange gods. The children born to this marriage were given names signifying God’s rejection and punishment of idolatrous Israel. The third child was named Loammi (Hos. 1:9), meaning literally “not my people.”
Yet, amid all this, Hosea predicted that the day would come when, after punishing His people, God would restore their fortunes, take away their false gods, and make a covenant with them. (see Hos. 2:11-19). At this point those who were Loammi, “not my people,” would become Ammi, “my people.”
In Paul’s day, the Ammi were “even us, . . . not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles” (Rom. 9:24). What a clear and powerful presentation of the gospel, a gospel that from the start was intended for the whole world. No wonder we as Adventists take part of our calling from Revelation 14:6: “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth - to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (NKJV). Today, as in Paul’s day, and as in the days of ancient Israel, the good news of salvation is to be spread throughout the world.
Read Romans 9:25-29. Notice how much Paul quotes the Old Testament to make his point about the things that were happening in his day. What is the basic message found in this passage? What hope is being offered there to his readers?
The fact that some of Paul’s kinsmen rejected the appeal of the gospel gave him “great heaviness and continual sorrow” in his heart (Rom. 9:2). But at least there was a remnant. God’s promises do not fail, even when humans do. The hope we can have is that, in the end, God’s promises will be fulfilled, and if we claim those promises for ourselves, they will be fulfilled in us, as well.
How often have people failed you? How often have you failed yourself and others? Probably more times than you can count, right? What lessons can you learn from these failures about where your ultimate trust must lie?
Thursday December 7
“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith” (Rom. 9:30-32). What’s the message here, and, more important, how can we take this message that was written in a certain time and place and apply the principles to ourselves today? How can we avoid making the same mistakes in our context that some Israelites did in theirs?
In words that cannot be misunderstood, Paul explains to his kinsmen why they are missing out on something that God wishes them to have - and more than that, on something they were actually pursuing but not achieving.
Interestingly, the Gentiles whom God had accepted had not even been striving for such acceptance. They had been pursuing their own interests and goals when the gospel message came to them. Grasping its value, they accepted it. God declared them righteous because they accepted Jesus Christ as their Substitute. It was a transaction of faith.
The problem with the Israelites was that they stumbled at the stumbling stone (see Rom. 9:33). Some, not all (see Acts 2:41), refused to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah whom God had sent. He did not meet their expectations of the Messiah; hence, they turned their backs on Him when He came.
Before this chapter ends, Paul quotes another Old Testament text: “As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 9:33). In this passage, Paul shows again just how crucial true faith is in the plan of salvation (see also 1 Pet. 2:6-8). A rock of offense? And yet, whoever believes in Him shall not be ashamed? Yes, for many, Jesus is a stumbling block, but for those who know Him and love Him, He is another kind of rock, “the rock of my salvation” (Ps. 89:26).
Have you ever found Jesus to be a “stumbling block” or a “rock of offense”? If so, how so? That is, what were you doing that brought you into that situation? How did you get out, and what did you learn so that, one hopes, you never find yourself in that type of contrary relationship with Jesus again?
Friday December 8
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Later English Reformers”, pp. 261, 262, in The Great Controversy; “Faith and Works”, pp. 530, 531, in The SDA Encyclopedia; Ellen G. White Comments, pp. 1099, 1100, in The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1.
“There is an election of individuals and a people, the only election found in the word of God, where man is elected to be saved. Many have looked at the end, thinking they were surely elected to have heavenly bliss; but this is not the election the Bible reveals. Man is elected to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. He is elected to put on the armor, to fight the good fight of faith. He is elected to use the means God has placed within his reach to war against every unholy lust, while Satan is playing the game of life for his soul. He is elected to watch unto prayer, to search the Scriptures, and to avoid entering into temptation. He is elected to have faith continually. He is elected to be obedient to every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, that he may be, not a hearer only, but a doer of the word. This is Bible election.” - Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 453, 454.
“No finite mind can fully comprehend the character or the works of the Infinite One. We cannot by searching find out God. To minds the strongest and most highly cultured, as well as to the weakest and most ignorant, that holy Being must remain clothed in mystery. But though ‘clouds and darkness are round about Him: righteousness and judgment are the foundation of His throne.’ Psalm 97:2, R.V. We can so far comprehend His dealing with us as to discern boundless mercy united to infinite power. We can understand as much of His purposes as we are capable of comprehending; beyond this we may still trust the hand that is omnipotent, the heart that is full of love.” - Ellen G. White, Education, p. 169.
Continued from last week's story.
One day at church an invitation for baptism was given. Whoever wished to be baptized were given materials, including a review of the Church's Fundamental Beliefs.
This whole experience spiritual experience happened very rapidly for me - in less than 2 months. With cigarette in hand, I began filling out the baptismal request form. As I continued reading, I read about abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. I didn't know how I was going to quit.
In February, 1997, I was baptized. While I stopped drinking right away, I still struggled with tobacco. I tried everything to quit smoking, but nothing worked. Finally, I prayed, "Lord, please take it away from me." And He did.
My aunt, who lives in another village, invited me to help her around the house for a week. There was only one store that sold cigarettes, and it wasn't close. When I arrived, I told my aunt that I was now a Christian and was no longer the person I was used to be. But she didn't know I still struggled with smoking. Every day she gave me work to do. Four days passed without cigarettes. The fifth day, I came back home, and still hadn't smoked a cigarette. Now I see that being at my aunt's was like a rehab center for me. I'm amazed at God's wisdom, and how He found a way for me to quit smoking.
When I was planning to be baptized my sisters told me that I should ask my parents for forgiveness. Both of my parents were crying with happiness. That's when I realized that you can have all sorts of victories with God.
One thing that amazed me was that as we started to build a church, people brought offerings to the church such as gold and jewelry, and, knowing my past, they commissioned me to sell it. I was amazed and touched with that kind of trust.
Later I became a Literature Evangelist (LE) and youth leader. It was during a gathering of LEs that I met my future wife, Bogdona!
We now have three lovely daughters, and I'm an elder in our church. I'm just amazed at how God was able to turn me around and give me this life that I never even dreamed of. In a way, my dad was right - the end did come in 1999 - the end of my former life.
There is one thing I regret - the years of my youth because that time was spent in vain. They were completely empty years - no purpose, no meaning, no satisfaction, no direction. I understand now that it's better to live with God. You can have all kinds of victories in your life when you're with God, when you pray sincerely to Him.
To be continued.
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