December 30, 2010

To Live is Christ — set free

Today’s devotional selects an unusual verse. It appears near the end of a section in Romans where Paul deals with the question of salvation for the Jews. This section is not easy to decipher. It describes how God intends that Jews and Gentiles both experience His grace, and both in the same way. This is the immediate context. . . . 
Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! (Romans 11:28–33)
Verse 32 was highlighted in the devotional reading. Another version says it this way, “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Taken out of context, this verse cannot be used as the devotional guide uses it. It first must be understood in the way Paul intended it.

I read a few commentaries after reading this verse in its context. Paul emphasizes throughout Romans that God’s purpose is to bring mercy to all. In this passage though, the “all” is not likely about every individual, but to “all” in as in both Gentiles and Jews. Earlier in Romans, Paul wrote that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (see 3:9–20).

Further, his reference to God having “mercy on them all” is not the idea of universal salvation, but that the Lord has poured out mercy on Jews and Gentiles alike.

If there is an actual “all” people here, it is that all individuals in both groups are bound over to sin. Besides that, God has mercy on all individuals because His mercy is intended for all and is offered to all, even though not all will accept it.

The word translated “committed” them to disobedience is sometimes translated  “bound over” and literally means “to enclose, to confine, to shut up, to imprison.” Does this mean that God imprisoned the Gentiles in disobedience or caused them to sin, or made it impossible for them not to sin? I don’t think so. In the larger context of Romans, it goes back to 1:18–32 where Paul tells how God decided to “give them over” to the sinful desires of their hearts, referring to sinners who knew the truth about Him but rejected it.

As for the Jews, Paul explained earlier why they are bound in disobedience. This happened because the law, in which the Jews trusted, has only one verdict for sinners: condemnation. As one commentator puts it, this statement refers to “God’s decision to ‘confine’ people in the state that they have chosen for themselves.”

This is one more way that the Bible illustrates how God shuts up all men in their sin because all have sinned. We are trapped in the consequences of our sin with no hope of escaping through any deeds or schemes of our own doing. One verse says it like this: “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20).

The spiritual law of sin and death creates these “cords that bind sinners and leave them shut up in the dungeon of death, in the very vestibule of hell” but this is not the last word. God has provided a way of escape from this dungeon, this prison of sin. It is the way of mercy, the way of grace, salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

Even though no one is justified by works, we are not under the law of works, but under grace. This is the point of Romans 11:32, that God provides mercy to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. We have been together in the prison of our disobedience, but no one needs to stay in that prison. Jesus Christ died for our sin, was buried, and rose again the third day that we might be set free. 

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

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