"Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth." (Romans 9:18).
It is a mystery, but this is the truth:
"The human agent sees what he has to contend with--a strange power opposed to the idea of attaining the perfection that Christ holds out." Maranatha, p. 274.
When one considers the options--living with Christ in the heavenly mansions throughout eternity or experiencing a horrific separation from God and a fearful looking forward to eternal death--it is astounding to think that anyone would (and in fact most of the world's populace will) choose the latter. Why? Because of that strange power that works in us and opposes any notion of our becoming Christlike in character.
This strange power is at work in all of us -- Jew and Gentile alike. The pull of our sinful flesh is real and powerful, as we have already seen in Romans 7. Yet the book of Romans doesn't leave us in a state of hopelessness. In this book Paul lifts up Christ as the sacrifice and permanent solution for the sin problem. Paul teaches that where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. His words bring hope.
After Paul's thrilling gospel summary in Romans 8, culminating in his conclusion that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, Paul pauses to field questions, as it were, from his reading audience, which cover topics he has already touched on in the previous eight chapters.
Let's imagine some of the questions that might have been brewing in the minds of the newly-converted Christian Jews:
Question: Paul, you've experienced a huge paradigm shift in recent years. You've gone from being an influential Pharisee to a converted Christian. How do you feel about your former Jewish colleagues in ministry?
Paul: "I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh. . . "
Note: Paul's remarks show a more-than-human love for his brethren, like Moses' love for the children of Israel when he asked God to blot out his name from the book of life. Moses would rather die with Israel than be saved without them; we see a similar evidence of God's agape love working in Paul's heart.
Question: Paul, doesn't God promise that all Israel will be saved? Don't we have assurance of salvation because we are Jews?
Paul: "They are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham."
Question: What do you mean? I am a Jew.
Paul: "That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed." Romans 9:8.
Note: Abraham believed God and it was counted to Him as righteousness. "The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ's day was that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness. In all human experience a theoretical knowledge of the truth has been proved to be insufficient for the saving of the soul. It does not bring forth the fruits of righteousness. A jealous regard for what is termed theological truth often accompanies a hatred of genuine truth as made manifest in life. . . . The Pharisees claimed to be children of Abraham, and boasted of their possession of the oracles of God; yet these advantages did not preserve them from selfishness, malignity, greed for gain, and the basest hypocrisy. They thought themselves the greatest religionists of the world, but their so-called orthodoxy led them to crucify the Lord of glory.
"The same danger still exists. Many take it for granted that they are Christians, simply because they subscribe to certain theological tenets. But they have not bought the truth into practical life. They have not believed and loved it, therefore they have not received the power and grace that come through sanctification of the truth. Men may profess faith in the truth; but if it does not make them sincere, kind, patient, forbearing, heavenly-minded, it is a curse to its possessors, and through their influence it is a curse to the world."
Desire of Ages, p. 309.
Question: Does God treat people differently according to whether or not they choose to serve him?
Paul: "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? . . . For the Scriptures says to the Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.' Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens."
Note: "One thing is certain: [this verse] does not teach us, as is commonly supposed, that God brought Pharaoh to the throne for the purpose of wreaking his vengeance upon him.
"The purpose of God in raising Pharaoh up, or causing him to stand, was that He might show to him and in him His power, and that His name might be declared throughout all the earth. This purpose was accomplished in the destruction of Pharaoh because of his stubborn resistance. But it would have been accomplished just as well, and much better for Pharaoh if he had listened to the word of God. Pharaoh saw God's power, but would not believe. If he had believed, he would have been saved, because the power of God is salvation to every one that believeth." Waggoner on Romans, p. 155.
In considering the story Paul uses in this example, we see that God's purpose for Pharaoh--and all men--is that they would be saved. He showers us with blessings and comforts us in trial. Gently, persistently, He leads us along. When we resist, as Pharaoh did, He utilizes stronger measures to get our attention and bring us to repentance. In Pharaoh's case, his heart only grew harder.
In a sense, Seventh-day Adventists are the spiritual descendants of the Jewish people. To this church God has entrusted light to be shared with the world: His law of love, the covenants, the gospel, His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, and news of our soon-coming Savior. The judgment will reveal our heart response to this sacred calling.
Paul quotes Hosea, "I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God." Romans 9:25, 26.
God had called the Jews, His people, to be a light to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, the Jews rejected this light while many Gentiles responded to the gospel message. Now He calls the Gentiles "His people."
"Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth." Romans 9:27,28.
The true Israel of God are those who believe God's promises and take Him at His word. God is not looking for numbers. The world needs to see a demonstration of God's agape love in real people, not just in the dusty pages of history. He has promised to cut His work short in righteousness. The earth will be lightened with His glory, and Jesus soon will come.
"For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God." Romans 8:19.
First, Universal Corporate Amnesty was given to the human race the moment Adam sinned. Jesus, at that moment, took the whole human race into Himself including the condemnation and penalty for all our sins based on His future perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross (2 Cor. 5:19; Rom. 3:23, 24; Rom. 5:18; I Tim 4:9-11)
"After the transgression of Adam, the Lord spoke no longer directly with man; the human race was given into the hands of Christ, and all communication came through Him to the world" (White, FE p.237).
Second, "In Jesus Christ" experientially means he or she has accepted, from the heart, Christ as his or her personal Savior and Lord by faith and are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the active agent in salvation making the work of the Father, and the Son in the eternal salvation effective in the believer.
The Holy Spirit is the third living person of the Godhead. He has all the personal characteristics of a person: He loves (Rom. 15:30); speaks Acts 8:29; constrained and restrains the Apostle Paul (Acts 16:6, 7); can search (1 Cor 2:10); cry (Gal:4:6); pray (Rom. 8:26); testify (John 15:26, 27); teach (John 14:26); lead into truth (Rom. 8:14); be grieved (Eph. 4:30);and blasphemed (Mark 3:29).
There are three living persons of the heavenly trio; in the name of these three great powers --- The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit --- those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will cooperate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ" (White, Evangelism p. 615)
What the Law Could Not Do vss. 3, 4: Jesus did for us and will do through us if we do not resist. He is our only Savior, and by faith we are "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6) Guaranteed!
We purpose in our heart, in love to Jesus, to never commit a known sin, by commission or omission. "Satan will come to you saying, "You are a sinner"…. "Yes I am a sinner, and for that reason, I have a Savior" (White, HP p. 116) "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins (and occasional besetting sins) He is faithful and just to forgive (Gr. aphiemi, separate us from) us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9), in contrast to forgiveness (Gr. pardon) as in Colossians 2:13. We praise God. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made the believer free from the law of sin in the flesh.
The Holy Spirit dwells in the believer giving assurance of salvation in Christ, peace that passes all understanding, bringing deliverance from a sinful lifestyle. The true believer depends completely on the righteousness of Christ and He has been given a perfect history and present continuous perfection "in Christ", his substitute by grace through faith.
Carnal professed Christians have compromised their "faith" in Christ with the principles of the world depending on human wisdom and strength rather than the Spirit and "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." They may believe the theory of the truth but are no longer being transformed by God's unconditional, changeless, self-denying love in sharing Him with others by the power of their lives and personal testimonies, and like their Savior ministering to the lost and oppressed.
We should anticipate the sorrows, the difficulties, the troubles of others. We should enter into the joys and cares of both high and low, rich and poor. "Freely you have received', Christ says, "freely give" (Matt. 10:8). All around us are poor tried souls that need sympathizing words and helpful deeds (White, COL p. 385).
They may have once experienced the joy and power of knowing Christ but have lost their first love. To be carnally minded is death.
Jesus died to give us the freedom to choose our life's top priority, living to change our world for Christ, or floating along in carnal pleasure. Paul is writing to those who profess Christ as he addresses them as brethren.
"But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness" (vs. 9).
Through living in the Spirit we are Sons and daughters of God. Joyfully suffering for Christ as we wait for our deliverance at Christ's coming. The Spirit helps our weakness presenting before the Father our needs in the language of heaven, making intercession for us. Therefore, "We know all things work together for God to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (instruments in saving the lost) " (vs. 8).
He foreknew us and, "predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son" (vs. 29) that our lives and words declare Him to be the firstborn of all believers in their heart. Through continual faith and surrender in spite of condemnation and opposition, nothing or no one, can separate us from Jesus. "As it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."
"For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels or principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:36-39)
Paul extends his discussion of righteousness by faith to include the true fruits of faith, and the working of true righteousness in one's life. You often hear many people say "We are saved by grace", but often grace is not sufficiently understood. For many, grace means that God saves people and forgives them, but they limit the work of righteousness to that of a legal, forensic transaction, without an accompanying heart change revealed in the life.
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
When we believe in Christ as our Savior and our righteousness, true faith leads to a change of heart, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the life of Christ lived in us, and we experience progressive victory over sin and sanctification of character. True faith works by love, (Gal. 5:6), and purifies the soul. (2 Cor. 7:1). Paul is now dealing with an issue that is at the heart of the Gospel, the Sanctuary message, and the experience, ultimately, that God's people are called to fully experience at the end of time. Jesus did not come to save us in our sins, but from them, both in terms of the penalty for sin, the power of sin in our characters, and ultimately, the presence of sin in our natures. I have heard many say, "You can't stop sinning", but Paul understand that as we identify with the cross and the death of Christ, symbolized in baptism, we truly can rise to a new life.
3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
As Galatians tells us, if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We can identify fully with Christ and His death to sin, so that we no longer need to serve the principle of sin, or self. Greater is He that is within you, than he which is in the world. There is nothing too hard for God.
11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
We are not "under the law" as believers. What does this mean? It means we are trusting in the merits of Christ, instead of seeking salvation by works of the law, and thus we are not under either the condemnation, or power, of the law, for we have been freed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
We have been called to holiness, to character perfection. Many struggle with that concept, but as Mary, we can say, "so be it." We can allow God to perform what He has promised, to write His law in our hearts. The Gospel is linked with the heavenly sanctuary, and ultimately, the Most Holy Place, where we experience the life of Christ en grafted into our hearts and minds forever. Perfection is both a goal, and also a present moment possibility. The next time you are tempted to sin, don't. That is all we have, the next moment, and we can live a life of freedom in the next moment, trusting in God, and "working out", what He has first worked within.
16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
This is the true Gospel, a gospel which gives us victory over sinning, and the fruit of holiness in the life. Paul wants everyone to experience the true power of love in our lives.
The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.