J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Waiting for a Love That’s Real – Sermon Notes on Romans 11:1-12

The audio for this sermon will be up at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/ later this week.


Faithfulness is a virtue not easily attained or experienced these days.    Despite the fact that according to one poll, 90% of Americans think having an affair, so many marriages are crushed by adultery.  Because of the inherent secrecy of an affair, no one knows what percentage of spouses are unfaithful.  Interestingly enough, so much of Old Testament language speaks to adultery.  However, in the biblical picture, God is the faithful spouse and His children are the unfaithful spouse.  In God’s economy, any sin committed by the people of God is the equivalent of adultery.  For example, Jeremiah 3.20 says “Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel, declares the Lord.’”


Now the entire book of Hosea plays out this imagery of faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  In chapter 2 God says that Israel has played the harlot with pagan nations, worshiping other gods.  He describes their actions in this way:  For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ Basically, the people of God said, “Show me a good time, give me something to drink, and we’ll gladly leave our God.”


Later in that section, God calls His sinning, unfaithful people a bunch of names that are a challenge for me to read in a room full of children.  Yet there is hope as in Hosea 2:14 he says, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.  15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.


God promises to go and woo back His adulterous people.  God breaks through the hardened heart of sin and makes Himself beautiful causing the sinner to repent believe.  He them promises to restore them to all that they had before their sin just as He did when He rescued them from slavery in Egypt.  Now that is faithfulness.  God’s people abandon obedience and adulterously worship other gods, and the one true God goes and woos them back restoring them to full fellowship and love as if nothing ever happened.


Don’t we all wish for a love that faithful?  Most all of us have felt the sting of someone’s unfaithfulness whether it be a friend or spouse or even a parent.  Perhaps you have been the unfaithful one and you wish that you could be wooed or brought back.  Well, this week in the book of Romans, Paul is going to make the case for God’s faithfulness not only to the physical Israel of the Old Testament but also to the Israel of the New Testament, His church.  So with that in mind, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:


Big Picture Question:  How is God more faithful than any idea of faithfulness that you have ever conceived?

11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”


The entire picture of God’s faithfulness is going to be illustrated on the stage of His relationship with the Israel of the OT, so we are going to need to understand God’s relationship with them then and His relationship with them now.  Last week in chapter 10, Paul explained that God left Israel to show Himself to a people that did not seek Him.  We spent some time discussing how God presented Himself to the Gentiles (basically most of the world) after His physical people Israel did not respond to the prophets’ calls of faith and repentance.  Those thought naturally lead to Paul’s question here in chapter 11.  Has God rejected His people?   Paul answers with a resounding “By no means.”  Let’s see if we can make sense of this.


Here is what caused all of these problems.  When God made promised to Abraham to be His God and for Abraham’s family to be His people, many folks made the false assumption that simply being born into the line of Abraham guaranteed salvation.  By reading both the prophets and Jesus’ rebuke of the Jewish crowd in their respective days, you can see that many of them thought that being born Jewish meant certain things.  They thought God loved them more than every other people on Earth.  They thought that anyone who was not Jewish was a dog…less than a human.  For many of them, they became impressed with their own outward obedience but were much less concerned with obedience of the heart.  They thought that God wouldn’t respond in anger to their sin.  This is not resting in the love of God.  This is abusing the love of God.


As we see the OT play out, God does punish their sin.  He sends in the most rank of pagans to inhabit the land of Israel.  He sends most of His people back into slavery.  He destroyed the temple in which He inhabited, and took the message of faith in God to those dogs…Gentiles.  So in light of all of that, Paul asks if God had abandoned His people.  Paul explains his resounding no in this way and He gives two reasons.


First of all, Paul has not been abandoned by God.  He is a believer in Christ and He is as Jewish as it gets.  He is direct descendant of Abraham.  He was of the esteemed tribe of Benjamin.  Secondly, God has had plenty of opportunities to abandon His people and He hasn’t.  For example He did not reject His people even when Elijah asked Him to reject them.  I Kings 19:10 – He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”  Even after Israel threw down their altars to worship other gods, after killing the prophets that God graciously sent them, and trying to kill Elijah, God was still gracious.  God saved 7,000 men who refused to worship Baal or any other god.


Now, this important, so notice the language here.  It was God who secured Israel’s faithfulness to Him.  It was God who chose that remnant.  He did it out of His grace and it was not based anything that any of those men did.  Let’s explore this for a minute more because in this example, we should find some pretty incredible applications for ourselves.  Look at verse 5-6.


5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.


Paul says even today, there is a remnant of Jewish people who believe.  They are chosen by grace which means they are chosen because God has decided to show love and mercy to them when they do not deserve it.  The remnant of Jewish believers both now and then are remnants believe for one reason:  God chose them to believe by grace.  There is no mixing of works, effort, or anything else in their being chosen as a remnant.  They were chosen because God graciously chose 7,000 then and no idea how many now.


Then we come to one of the most important passages in all of scripture.  It presents how before God, there are two things that are completely incompatible:  works and grace.  To understand it, we have to make sure we know what the phrase “it no longer on the basis of works” means in verse 6.  There are really two options.  First, “it is no longer on the basis of works” could speak to the mode of salvation meaning how a person is saved from punishment of their sins.  Or “it is no longer on the basis of works” could speak to the change of status that takes place when a person is saved from the punishment of sins.


Well, before we figure out which one it is, we should ask “Why does it matter?”  Well if “it no longer” speaks about how a person is saved, then it means at some point and time, even in the OT legalistic system, it was possible for a person to be saved by their own works and efforts.  A person could earn their way before God.  However, if “it no longer” speaks about the change of status that takes place when a person is saved, then there is hope that someone can be forgiven and be restored to God even if they are incredibly sinful.  How are we going to know which one it is?


Look at verse the second half of verse 6 where it says “Otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”  You see what this passage is speaking is not how you used to get saved by your efforts and are now saved by grace.  It is about the change of status that happens when a person goes from trusting themselves and their effort before God and now to trusting God only.  Because if you use to be saved by how good you were, then grace now would not be grace because salvation was not by grace then.  If it was trusting yourself, then grace would no longer be grace because grace is receiving what you don’t deserve.


You seen in this passage, God looks at a person in one of two ways and this is consistent in the OT as it is in the NT.  The first way that God looks at a person is that they are not chosen and thus they stand on the basis of their individual works and efforts which is the majority of the unfaithful children in Israel in this passage.  Or God looks at a person as chosen to be preserved and saved based up on His own choosing by Grace.  God chooses to save and preserve a person for one reason:  God is gracious and it is His desire to display that grace which is evident by God’s saving 7,000 remnant in this passage.  You see, God doesn’t choose because of any foreseen faith or goodness.  He doesn’t choose out of obligation.  God chooses to preserve and save people out of His own wisdom and grace and not based on any other thing.  If God chose people for any reason other than by His grace, then grace would not be grace.


You see folks, God’s faithfulness is based on the fact that He is the only one faithful in any relationship.  He cannot depend on yours or my faithfulness because we are sinful and unfaithful.  This passage is intended to give you hope that even if you have been faithless, God is faithful.  Even if you have sinned greatly and feel abandoned and alone, God is faithful.  Looks at verses 7-10.


7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”  9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; 10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.”


Paul returns to His original question wondering:  If God is so faithful, why do so many Jewish people not believe in Jesus?  They failed to obtain what they were seeking which is the meta-promise to Israel.  They failed to obtain a Savior.  Paul tells us it works out this way.  God generally called the people of Israel.  Out of them, He elected and called a specific group of them to Himself.  The rest He hardened their hearts.  Verse 8 says that God gave the ones He hardened a spirit of stupor and eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear.  You see, God elects some from their stupor of sin and blindness and those He does not elect, He hardens and blinds them.  Verse 9 says that the very table of blessing that they enjoy will in fact be a table of cursing to them (sounds like the warnings around the Lord’s Supper doesn’t it?).  God is just that sovereign.


Now that makes sense even here within the church, right?  Think about it this way.  There is a Visible Church that are the outwardly professing believers in our day and age.  These are folks who fill church pews, claim to have a relationship with Jesus and check Christian on their Facebook profile.  In all outward appearances they appear to be believers.  However, that group is actually a mix of believers and non-believers.  But there is also the Invisible Church who are the elect who live within the larger Visible church.  These are the truly confessing believers who have been chosen by God for salvation and who live their faith in Jesus out in genuine service and love.


And just like the warning of the table of blessing becoming a snare in this passage, these are the things you should consider when we take the Lord’s Supper.  If you are truly have faith in Jesus walking fully in His grace and are transformed by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, that meal a meal of blessing to you.  If you are playing games and want to appear outwardly godly and show up to church because you have to and don’t want people to say bad things about you, but you aren’t truly transformed and forgiven, then this table will be a snare and a trap for you that will lead to destruction.


So that means that within the outward people of God there is always the true elect.  Now Paul is speaking about the remnant of Israel in the OT here but there is also some application within the church because God is as faithful now as He was then.  Jesus specifically mentions this in Matthew 25.  In this picture, Jesus speaks of the end of all things where He gathers all the nations before Him.  He separates the sheep to right and the goats to the left.  The sheep are His elect and the goats are the non-elect.  He describes the sheep as those who fed Jesus when He was hungry, clothed Him when He was naked, and gave Him water when He was thirsty.  He welcomes them into the Kingdom of God prepared for them before the foundation of the world.  The sheep ask, “When did we do this?” and Jesus answers, “Anytime you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, or gave water to the thirsty, you did it for me.”  To the goats He says, “Depart from me into eternal punishment because I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was naked and you gave me no clothes, and I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.”  The goats, “When did we see you and neglect to care for you”  Jesus answers, “When you failed to feed, clothe and give water to anybody, you failed to give it to me.”


Surely out of that crowd of goats, there were some that had faithfully attended worship and surely they thought that heaven and all that was promised was theirs.     But their faith was not genuine because it was not evidenced in a true heart service to those in need.   Their supposed table of blessing became a table of cursing.  It was a snare and a trap to them.  The hope that we have is that God is the one who is consistently faithful to us because we surely on not faithful to Him consistently.  Look at verse 11.

11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!


Here is the picture of a faithful God, people.  So much of Israel has not believed, but through their unbelief, God was gracious enough to bring salvation to all of you.  Israel’s sin caused God to bring in you and me.  God used sin sinlessly and even though the judgment for sin on Israel was great, what it meant was that now the whole world was opened up to hearing the Gospel and being brought in.  God’s discipline led to an outpouring of grace.  And here is the crazy thing:  God is so faithful that He promises yet to bring physical Israel into faith in Christ.  Here is where I think we will find our best application of these things so let’s not miss it.


Israel is unfaithful.  They worshipped other gods.  They abandoned Jehovah who rescued them out of slavery and blessed them with His presence.  When God disciplined for that sin, He brought you in.  Yet, He still promises in these verses to rescue Israel.


Now, let’s step back for a moment.  Some of you here have been greatly hurt as a friend, a sibling, an employer or spouse has not been faithful to you.  They left you short when you needed them.  They didn’t keep their promises.  Or they just outright had an affair and cheated on you.  These actions have hurt you greatly and caused you to be hesitant to trust those people or really anyone ever again.  Some of you are the other person.  Some of you have let friends down.  You betrayed good friends to advance at work.  Some of you have broken huge promises to others.  Some of you have cheated on your spouse.  Either way, whether you are the faithful or the faithless, you both want to be restored.  You both want to trust again.


If you have been hurt or wronged, you long for a faithful love.  If you have been the one who has hurt wronged another, you long to be accepted, forgiven, and even wooed back.  God is these things to both of you.  God is the faithful friend, brother, and spouse that is never unfaithful to you.  God is also the jilted lover who you hurt who goes buys you back, woos you back to Himself because He cannot help but be faithful to His children.  2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He is faithful for he cannot deny himself.”  God’s faithfulness is tied to His character.  Even if you are faithless, He will be faithful to you and His promise.  If He doesn’t bring you back to Himself,  then He isn’t God.


God’s faithfulness is made evident to you in the person of Jesus Christ.  Revelation 19:1 calls Him the righteous faithful one.  Hebrews 2:17 says that though He endured all that we endured, He was faithful and now serves as your priest before God.  Get that.  He was faithful when you weren’t and now He serves faithfully on your behalf before God.  That is a faithful love.


Right now, consider a few things for me as we wrap up.    Consider your sin and guilt and the moments where you think you have either made every error possible or the consequences of your errors are just too great.   Perhaps you are thinking that despite your faith in Christ, Christ has given up on you.  Perhaps you think that you have just become too unlovely to loved by God.  God however has not given up on you.  If He did, He would not be God.  When you are faithless, He is faithful.


The step back towards God in moments like that is pretty simple.  Confess your sin.  1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Your sinful confession is met by God’s faithfulness.  Your sin is met with God’s forgiveness.  Your filth is exchanged for the cleansing that comes from Jesus’ righteousness.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.  Read it there and help me earn a penny.



November 29, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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