I taught Romans 9 this week in Sunday School. A last-minute sub situation, so Saturday night I was reading through Romans. Just the text. All of my commentary aids were at the church.
But I am well versed in the passage. It is the stalwart passage for Calvinism – a theology that believes God has chosen beforehand who will go to heaven and hell. As a young person, I wrestled with these ideas and, while I now reject the idea1, I still read the passage with that concern.
Yet as I read this time, I realized my anachronism. Calvin’s theological “tulip” is not planted much less flowering in Paul. Instead, I realized the crisis for Paul was the Jewish People.
I suppose I always knew Paul’s concern, but for the first time, I imagined the calamity for a Jew who became a follower of Christ in the first century.
Paul is writing in the mid-50s. There is no New Testament to lean against (of the 27 books, only a handful – basically by Paul himself – have been written). The church’s scripture is the Old Testament. These 66 books written for a particular people group – the Jews. Who were, when God called Abraham, the chosen people of God. Since the time of Abraham, well over a thousand years, the people of God centered their lives around the promised land, the law, the temple… until AD30. In 25years everything had changed. The church outreach quickly expanded beyond the Jewish people and became mainly Gentile. Around AD50 the Council of Jerusalem officially declared a person did not have to be a Jew to be a Christian (Acts 15).
In this whirlwind of change most of the Jews – the perceived people of God – were rejecting Jesus. But how could the chosen people cease to be the people of God? In every moment before this Yahweh was the God of Israel. The Jewish society was molded in every way by the ritual of being God’s people… but now? Paul sets out in Romans to show that the people of God are not a race, a nation, a ritual, a tradition, but faithful. Jews who continued to reject Christ and held to yesterday’s vision were bound for destruction.
As I watch our society, we are in the midst of change. Certainly a much smaller version. Much less significant. Still, things are rapidly changing. And the people of God are at a crossroads. We can seek to maintain yesterday’s vision or we can take the risky leap of faith… But as Paul cries out of the first century, only faith saves. Everything else is bound for destruction.
Let me get specific. Missouri just passed a more restrictive abortion law, outlawing the practice after eight weeks (so not as stringent as Georgia’s or Alabama’s recent laws). This has stirred up lots of controversy – my social media is full of comments. But what is the faithful church’s reaction?
For the last generation, the church has been caught up in legislation – seeking political change. So this could be seen as a victory, a moment to celebrate (only a small victory, since it will get pulled into the courts, more battles loom). But is the church’s power through the law?
Megan and I have been talking a lot about this decision and what Christ desires. We are both pro-life (sometimes with different nuance), but we know to be pro-life doesn’t stop with babies. We should help young mothers. We should seek justice for rape victims. We need to offer grace to every side of this issue… so basically, our conversations were rambling. But we kept coming back to our desire to help young mothers. It could not be enough to tell them not to have an abortion. We wanted Planned Parenthood services – without abortions. A bigger version of the Liberty Women’s Clinic… but how could it grow? Of course, we could try to legislate change… or maybe we should just give. So we did.
This is us trying to work out faith. I challenge you to do the same. As the church, we are not legalistic, but Christ followers. At times we may land in different places. But we are not bound to yesterday. We always seek to be Jesus to this world now. This is what it means to be God’s people. It is salvation – for us and offered to EVERYone around us.
1 — Reading Romans 9 — This passage once caused great wrestling. In time I discovered the passage should not be read through my modern individualism – as though it is speaking of individual people. Instead, it should be read as communities or groups of people (so Jacob represents more than just the patriarch, but the whole nation, Esau represents the Gentiles – this is clear from the context at the beginning and end of the chapter). In this sense, it can be said that the Jews rejected Christ. But of course, not all individual Jews did reject Christ – as Paul is an example along with most of the New Testament authors. So, while God is molding some communities for destruction (for instance the temple, which was destroyed as Jesus predicted during the Jewish war, AD66-70), he molds others for salvation (the church).