Only the King Makes the Rules

The book of Romans begins with a presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—ending in chapter 8 with “no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (8:1) and how we “overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (8:37). What a great salvation!

But with God’s great salvation in the background, the theme of chapter 9 changes to answer an urgent question asked by Jewish Christians of his day, “What about my unbelieving family? What about the nation of Israel? Will they be lost?” How could all these good, dear people “…to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh…” (Romans 9:4, 5) be lost for not believing in Jesus? Paul expressed his own deep concern, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). You can almost hear his great heart breaking.

Paul needed to answer this question compassionately—but truthfully. He started by assuring them that God’s promises about Israel will surely be fulfilled (v.6), but reminded them of a familiar set of Bible stories with applications that they probably hadn’t seen before. He pointed out in Romans 9 that although Abraham had several sons (e.g., Ishmael, Isaac, Zimram, Jokshan, Midian, etc.), only Isaac was the “son of promise”. Doubtlessly, Ishmael may have wondered, “What was wrong with me?”; nothing, but God’s choice was firm. Again, Paul reminded them of Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob; Jacob was chosen to be the father of the nation that finally became chosen Israel and the bloodline of the Messiah—but Esau was not. Paul then pointed to more familiar stories (Pharaoh: “He has mercy on whom He desires”), a parable (the potter’s prerogative), and a quote from the prophets (Hosea: “…I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE…”) to make this crucially important point—it is God alone that makes the choices that sets the criteria about salvation and choseness. Salvation wasn’t going to be by Mosaic law, Temple sacrifice, or sincerity (Romans 10:2). Choseness wouldn’t be founded on bloodline. It would be by putting faith in Jesus Christ and all that this includes by choice and edict of the Lord. Paul is essentially saying—with great heartache and compassion to the Jews of his day—wish whatever you want to wish for Israel, with as much earnestness as you can muster, but God was choosing to include the Gentiles and salvation would be through Jesus. “But, but…!”—no, the standard of salvation and choseness is always God’s final, sovereign call—not ours. His promises will be fulfilled His way, not ours.

The principle still stands true today—and so does the problem, with a twist. The twist is that the problem is not Jewish in nature anymore, but Gentile. Many Christians are deeply concerned for their beloved family and friends. Many of us could say right along with Paul, “that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Romans 9:2) for their souls’ salvation. But the principle remains the same, the fulfillment of God’s promises remain as much His unilateral, royal prerogative as it was in Paul’s day. And the hard truth is that salvation will not be by the sinner’s prayer, not by “receiving Jesus into your heart”, and not by being a good person. Neither will it be by the religious traditions of persuasive preachers, by intellectual theologians, by decisions of religious convocations, by being married to a Christian, by being the child of a religious family, by church attendance, nor by any other human device. Choseness and salvation—forgiveness, grace, hope, inheritance, and glory—are God’s sovereign choices, on His terms, not ours.

As Paul continues through Romans 10 and 11 he teaches 1) that Jews who had not believed in Jesus had been pruned off of the cultivated “Olive Tree” of the Lord (11:17ff) in favor of believing Gentiles, 2) that it had actually been predicted by the Lord, but 3) that not all hope was lost. Jews could still place their faith and give obedience to Jesus Christ and be grafted back into God’s “Olive Tree” (11:23,24). So also with family and friends today. Hope—the only hope—continues to be in believing in and obeying Jesus, the sole Chooser of the conditions of salvation and choseness.

Today as we struggle with our personal feelings, fears, and hopes for family, friends, and good people of various religious persuasions, we must keep uppermost in our minds that…

  • Jesus is the sovereign of the great Kingdom of Heaven, God’s chosen people
  • the way of salvation isn’t open-ended or adjustable
  • God alone is God, we are not
  • reconciliation to Him is not on our own terms, but His alone

The Lord’s choice of criteria remains, as always, 1) hear the Gospel (Rom. 1:16), 2) believe in Jesus (John 3:16), 3) repent of sin (Acts 2:38), 4) confess faith (Romans 10:9,10), 5) be baptized for forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38), and 6) live a life of faithful discipleship (Luke 9:23). Anything else is a loser’s bet of our eternal soul, because only the King makes the rules.

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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3 Responses to Only the King Makes the Rules

  1. apriltulip says:

    I’m not certain I understand your post entirely. My understanding has always been that salvation is by grace through faith.
    Are you saying that being called to salvation (or not) is determined by God, period? And that we must accept this with regards to unbelieving family members?
    Why would salvation not come by “receiving Jesus into your heart” if one is soncere?
    -Kind regards

    • parklinscomb says:

      You are correct in saying that salvation is by grace through faith; this is God’s choice. What sometimes gets missed in modern-day religion, however, is that biblical faith is much more than what happens in our minds. Biblical faith always issues forth in deeds and obedience. This is the meaning of James 2:14ff. So, biblical faith will listen to the commands of the Lord and repent, confess, be baptized, and follow the Lord—because He is the Lord and the Chooser of the conditions of salvation.
      What I’m not saying is that God has chosen some individuals to save and some to condemn. This is called Calvinism, and it misunderstands Paul’s teaching to apply to individuals. Biblical election is talking about “corporate election”.
      To illustrate this concept, imagine that I have been appointed the basketball coach for a local high school. I announce to the student body that I will be putting together a basketball team and that everyone interested should come to the gym on a certain day at a certain time. When that day/time comes I explain to those who show up that there will be expectations for being on the team. They will need to be over 5 feet tall, make 9 out of 10 lay-ups, make 7 of 10 free-throws, and run the length of the floor in under 10 seconds. And I tell them that everyone who meets these standards will be on the team and get playing time. These requirements aren’t difficult to fulfill; for the most part, a little practice should make it possible for anyone to make the team.
      Now, I realize that this illustration has it’s flaws, but it sort of illustrates the idea of corporate election or choseness. As the coach, I have not chosen individuals to be on the team, but I have laid out the criteria for being on the team and declared that people who meet these criteria will be on the team (the elect, as it were).
      What God has done is declared that there will be a chosen people. He hasn’t named individuals, but He has laid down the criteria and opened it up to “whosoever” (Jn. 3:16). People who obey in faith are added by the Lord to His chosen people, the church. One could say that we choose to be chosen through our faith and obedience (or lack of it). And this Paul’s point to Jewish Christians of his day, that unbelieving Jews had “unchosen” themselves; but that that choice was reversible.
      What we must do with unbelieving family members is appeal to them to choose God’s way, not their own way, of salvation; because God alone has the right to determine the conditions of salvation and choseness.
      Lastly, in answer to your question about sincerity, I would like to humbly ask you to consider whether unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day might have been sincere, too. Paul indicates that he himself was quite sincere in persecuting the church early in life, but considered his earlier self as being lost at that time. Sincerity must be coupled with obedience—and obedience must be coupled with sincerity. Alone they can do nothing for us.
      These are great questions and I’ve decided to address them more fully—hopefully more clearly—in future posts. Thank you for your questions.

  2. apriltulip says:

    I greatly appreciate the time you’ve taken to answer my questions. I now have a better understanding of why Paul’s teaching does not justify Calvinism and the concept of “corporate election”. Thank you for clarifying. My husband and I have had many discussions lately with regards to the requirements for salvation, having lost friends and family recently who were “good” and “sincere” people but did not profess faith in Jesus. I cannot claim to know the state of their souls before they passed, but have wondered if their “good deeds” in life were a reflection that God’s law was somehow written on their hearts? Does God “know his own people”, and is there room for us to be surprised regarding someone’s salvation?
    I enjoy your blog and look forward to reading/learning more.
    God bless

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