What qualities is God looking for in the lives of his followers today?
I suspect that Romans 9-11 is probably the least liked section in Romans. The first eight chapters of Romans provide a stunning description of how God has provided for the salvation of the human race in Christ. While the last five chapters of Romans are well liked since they offer some concrete, practical examples of how the gospel should be lived in the life of the believer. So who needs Romans 9-11? Don’t we already have the whole gospel in the rest of Romans?
From our perspective the answer might be yes, but not from Paul’s point of view. Romans 9-11 are indispensable. They form an integral part in Paul’s presentation of the gospel. In the previous chapters, Paul has demonstrated that the gospel is available free of charge for all people—Jew and Gentile alike. In fact, the proclamation of the gospel has already resulted in a new community of Jews and Gentiles united in Christ in one body (1:7). The inclusiveness of the gospel, however, also raises a difficult problem. What about Israel? Did they get shortchanged? Was God faithful to his promises to Israel? And if he was, why has Israel not been more receptive to the message of the gospel? Paul addresses these questions in Romans 9-11 in an attempt to show that God has been faithful to his covenant with Abraham, and that he is working to bring about the ultimate inclusion of Israel within the gospel. These chapters of Romans are important for they have much to tell us about the character of the God we serve.
1. Paul had a great burden for the salvation of his fellow Jews. What phrases in Romans 9:1-3 indicate the intensity of Paul’s burden?
2. Paul says he was willing to be “accursed” by God, if it might bring about the salvation of his fellow Jews? What other individuals in the Old Testament were willing to suffer personal loss if it would result in the salvation of God’s people? As believers, how can we develop this same type of attitude for those who are spiritually lost today?
3. What special advantages had God given to the Jewish nation? See 9:4-5. In the end, why did these advantages not benefit every Jew? As Christians do we have similar advantages today? What can we do to make sure we do not miss out on these advantages?
4. Review the story of Abraham’s two sons Isaac and Jacob and the story of Jacob and Esau. How do these two stories illustrate that the failure of all of Israel to accept Jesus as the Messiah was not an indication that God’s promises had somehow failed?
The stories of Moses and Pharaoh (9:15-17), and the freedom of a potter to make a wide variety of vessels for different functions (9:21) illustrate that God is free to choose whomever he wills (9:18, 21). It is important to remember that in these verses Paul is not dealing with the issue of salvation, but God’s freedom to use any one he wants to bring his promises to fulfillment.
5. What characteristics might God desire in a person he wants to use in his service today? And how might a person know if his or her heart is hardened to God’s influence? And spiritually speaking, what might we do to avoid such “cardiovascular” problems in the future?