|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
You will remember that I pointed out to you that chapter 9, chapter 10, and chapter 11 of Romans is a unit. In these three chapters, Paul shares his great burden for his own nation, which is the Jews. I hope that we can share the same burden for our own nation, the United States. But in these three chapters he points out the tragic situation of His own people in the context of the great theme of Romans, which is righteousness by faith.
According to the arguments of these three chapters, the Jews had failed on two major counts. Number one, they failed miserably to understand the significance of what it means to be a true Israelite. And number two, they failed to accept Gods promised way of salvation, which is by faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and not by their own performance or anything else.
In chapter 9, Paul will deal with the first problem, what really constitutes true Israel. But both the problems are very important to us today. In fact, if you read 1 Corinthians 10:11, there Paul tells us that what took place in the history of the Jewish nation, has been recorded for our benefit, especially for those who are living at the end of time, upon whom the ends of the world have come. 1 Corinthians 10:11:
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
What were going to do in this and in the next two studies is to answer that one question that Paul raises and answers himself in Romans 9, and that is; What constitutes true Israel? Let me quickly review what we already covered in the previous study.
Number one, we discovered that God gave Israel three fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Number two, we discovered that to each of these three fathers God gave, or made a solemn promise, and the promise is that their children, their seed, would inherit the kingdom of God. That was the promise.
But, when Christ was on this earth, at the end of his earthly mission, He stood up and, addressing the Jewish nation, He declares in Matthew 23:38:
Look, your house [that means your nation] is left to you desolate.
If this is true, it raises up a question, it raises up a problem, and the problem has to do with the fairness of God. Does this statement that Jesus made mean that God has failed to keep His promise that He made to these three fathers? In chapters 9 to 11, Paul answers this primary issue. In chapter 9:6, which we saw last time, Paul says, No, God has not failed to keep His promise. The way that he puts it is this way [Romans 9:6]:
It is not as though Gods word had failed.
Then after arguing the whole situation, in Romans 11:26, hell conclude:
And so all Israel will be saved....
In other words, God WILL keep His promise. The question that we need to understand is, What did Paul mean by all Israel? Did he mean all Jews? Or did he have somebody else in mind? I want to start by turning to Romans 2, something we have already covered. There Paul has already pointed out in the last two verses of chapter 2 that there are two kinds of Jews. Look at verses 28,29:
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a mans praise is not from men, but from God.
In other words, Paul says the person who is a natural descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not, in Gods eyes, a true Jew. That doesnt qualify you to belong to Israel. These three fathers were given to Israel by God for a very specific purpose; they were to be the prototypes of what Gods children should be like. In other words, it is the qualities of these three men that qualify a person to be true Israel.
I would like today to concentrate on the first one, Abraham. Before we turn to Abraham, I would like to show you, from the words of Jesus Himself, that Jesus also, like Paul (and they were, of course, united: Jesus was the Son of God, Paul was His messenger), they both teach that these three men do not represent a literal nation, a physical nation. In other words, it is not Israel according to the flesh which is Gods chosen people, it is Israel according to the Spirit. Not one who is one outwardly, but inwardly, not in the letter, but in the Spirit.
So I want to turn to a couple of statements made by Christ. I can give you others, but two are enough. Please turn your Bibles to Matthew 8. As you turn to this passage, I want to give you the context, the background; you must always read texts in their context. The context is a centurion. He was a Roman centurion, a Gentile, not a Jew, a Gentile. He comes to Jesus with a request. The request is that Jesus heal his servant. Now, the argument of the centurion is this [Matthew 8:8-9]:
Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, Go, and he goes; and that one, Come, and he comes. I say to my servant, Do this, and he does it.
I am a Centurion; I have soldiers under me. When I speak to them, they obey. But my authority is only over my soldiers. You, Jesus Christ, your authority is over everything. You have authority over sickness, you have authority over the elements. In fact, you dont even have to come to my house to heal my servant. You have such great authority that you can only speak the word and my servant will be healed. And when Jesus heard those words from a Gentile, listen to His response in verse 10:
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.
I wonder if Christ would have said the same thing if He were standing up and addressing us? I have not found such great faith as I have found in this man, a Gentile. Matthew 8:11:
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west [in other words, who are not literal Jews, from every corner of the world], and will take their places at the feast with [not Me, but] Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
Because these three men represent the prototype of Gods nation. Matthew 8:12:
But the subjects of the kingdom [the Jews who were boasting that they were Gods children] will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
They were literal descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but they did not have the three qualities that these three men represented. Turn a few pages to chapter 22 of Matthew; let me give you another example. These three fathers appear all through the Bible. We tend to ignore it, but they have a lesson for us; we just cannot remain ignorant of it. In Matthew 22, the context is the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a group within the Jewish nation who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. We would call them the liberal theologians of Christs day. In verse 23 we get the background:
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.
Then they gave a crazy illustration about seven men marrying the same woman, not at one time but consecutively. And the question is, Whose wife will that woman be in heaven, if there is a resurrection? In other words, they were trying to refute the resurrection by this philosophical argument. But I want you to notice how Jesus responded, in verses 31 and 32 especially:
But about the resurrection of the dead have you not read what God said to you...
Then he quotes Exodus 3:6:
...I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
Thats the quotation. But I want you to notice the interpretation that Jesus gives to that quotation:
He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
These three represent the living!
Let us go now to Abraham. The starting point is Galatians 3:26-29. Remember, the context of our study is Romans 9, where Paul said in Romans 9:6, Not everyone who belongs to literal Israel belongs to Gods Israel. We are expanding on this one statement on this study on Romans 9, and I would like to start with Galatians 3:26-29. Look at two of the verses of this passage. Galatians 3:26:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus....
Remember, the Galatian church was a mixture of Gentiles and Jews, mainly Gentiles. But He says, you are all the sons of God, not because you have the blood of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but because you have faith in Christ Jesus. Then he explains how this is true, because he says [Galatians 3:27]:
...for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with [have become one with] Christ.
When you put on your clothes, those clothes become part of you. If you travel from where you are to somewhere else with those clothes, those clothes go with you, because you put them on. Thats the illustration that Paul is using here. Baptized into Christ is putting on our Lord Jesus Christ. And when you put on the Lord Jesus Christ, you are no longer an American, or an Indian, or an African, or a Chinese. There is no Jew, there is no Gentile, there is no male, and there is no female. Galatians 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
But now look at verse 29, its Galatians 3:29 I want you to look at:
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abrahams seed [child], and heirs according to the promise.
How did you become a child of Abraham? Because you belong to Christ. How did you belong to Christ? By faith and baptism. I would like to give you a couple of more statements from the book of Romans, which we covered already. So this is a reminder. Romans 4. I want to read 4 verses in this chapter: Romans 4:13,16,17,18. Look at Romans 4:13:
It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
The New Testament writers did not have an equivalent Greek word to our English word legalism. So very often Paul will use the word law or the phrase works of the law for our English word legalism. Thats how he uses it here. Hes not against the law as a standard of Christian living. In fact, hes for it; when we come to Romans 13, well see that. But hes against the law as a means of becoming a child of God. Hes against legalism as a means of salvation. And hes saying that the promise that was given to Abraham and to his children was not through the law but through the righteousness of faith. And then in verse 16 he goes on to say:
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abrahams offspring not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
Why are our people still doubting when God says, It is sure! It is sure, or guaranteed, to whom? It is sure only to the Pastors and those who are being very good? It is sure to whom? To all the seed, to all who believe, not only those who are of the law (i.e., the Jews), but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. Who is the us all? All who, like Abraham, believe in Gods promise. Thats the statement.
How did Abraham became Gods prototype for all believers? We need to understand the details. We need to understand Abraham because hes our father. To the Jews, father did not mean somebody who produced me. In this context, the word father means, He who is my example, my prototype.
Lets start with Genesis 12:1-4. That is the call of Abraham. God comes to Abraham and gives him a call. Its important that we understand the call of Abraham. God speaks to Abraham in verse 1, and He says:
The Lord had said to Abram, Leave your country, your people, and your fathers household and go to the land I will show you.
Why? Does God like to break up homes? There is a text that says that Abraham and his family, his parents, and his neighbors worshiped other Gods. Joshua 24:2:
Joshua said to all the people, This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods.
Thats the phrase, they worshiped other gods.
Abraham was not raised up a believer; he was raised up in idolatry. And God said, Come out of that environment. Just like today, God says, Come out of the world, come out of your culture, and enter into my culture, which is in complete contradiction to human ways of life. So its the same call; we call it, The call out of Babylon. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....
He meant, Call them out of the world and into my camp. In fact, Jesus said to the disciples in John 15:19:
...As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world....
The same thing as with Abraham. Then, in Genesis 12:2-3, God says:
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and ALL peoples on earth will be blessed through you [emphasis supplied].
Why did the Jews not see that God had given Abraham to be the father of the blessing to all the world, and not just them? But they failed to see this call right from the very beginning.
Verse 4 tells us that Abraham obeyed the call. He was 75 years old when he left his country, Haran. In those days, Abraham at 75 was in the prime of his life. They lived a little bit longer in those days than they do now. He was middle-aged, and I like that. Some of you kids will like it in the future. Because I sure liked being your age, too. Thats when youre young and strong. In 1968, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19,000 feet and had no problem. Today, Im like Abraham: I need a stick to climb to 7,000 ft.
Here was the call of Abraham. Hebrews 11:8-10 says that Abraham obeyed by faith. He did not obey God because he wanted to be saved, but because he believed Gods promise. He obeyed. Hebrews 11:8-10:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Abraham responded by faith and his obedience was the obedience of faith.
Now, Abraham had no children when the promise and the call were made. He was 75 years old, he was already married, but no kids. But God promised him that he would be the father of a great nation; that meant God had to give him a son. I can imagine Abraham telling his neighbors and friends, Do you know something? God is going to give me a son!
God promised him a son. One year went by, two years went by, three years went by, and people began to ask him, By the way, where is that son God promised you? You know we take nine months to produce a son; surely God should take less than that.
Four years went by; it was getting more embarrassing. Eight years went by, approximately, and no children. Now Abraham was getting old. So I come to chapter 15 of Genesis [Gen. 15:1]:
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.
Abram was the name given to him by his parents. Abraham was the name God gave him. The name Abram means exalted father. Hebrew names had meanings that were important. So he was the exalted father. Many fathers, but you are the one that I have exalted. So God said, Why are you afraid, why are you doubting? I am your shield, your exceeding great reward. Depend on me.
Abraham said, Yes, but heres the problem, Lord. You have not given me a son. I am childless. What happened to your promise? The only son in my household (which is the extended family in the Jewish system) is Eliezer of Damascus. Is he the promised son?
God said, No way. He is not the promised son. The son that I have promised will come out of your loins. He will be your very own child.
Read Genesis 15:5-6. When God told him that, He took Abram for a walk. He said, Look, do you see how many stars there are in the sky? (By the way, in the Middle East, its very seldom that you see clouds. Its mostly cloudless skies.) God said, Thats the number of children you will have.
Abraham said, Praise the Lord! Genesis 15:6:
Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.
Well, two more years pass by, and Sarah, his wife, comes to Abraham and says, You know, I think God needs help. Lets face it, its now 10 years. He did mention two years ago that the child will come from you, but he mentioned nothing about me. The fact is, you are still okay, but I am not. Im getting old. The doctors are beginning to tell me, Forget the dream. God needs help, because people are laughing at our God. Why dont we do something?
They did practice surrogate motherhood in those days; they just used different methods. Sarai said, Abraham, I have a suggestion. You go to my Egyptian handmaid, produce a child, and help God. Were tired of people talking about Gods inability.
And Abraham said, Thats an excellent idea. He meant well. I know that he was at least 85 years old because the last part of Gen.16:3 says this took place 10 years after he came into Canaan. He was at least 85 years old; his wife was 75. Well, he produced Ishmael. And he took Ishmael to God and said, God, here is your promised son.
God said, No. I didnt ask for your help. I asked you to believe my promise, period! And you know what God did? He waited, not eight years, not 10 years, but 14 more years, until it was scientifically, medically, humanly impossible for Sarah to have a child.
God now comes to Abraham [turn to Genesis chapter 17]. When Abraham was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abraham and said to him, I am Almighty God. Do you know what the word almighty means? I can do anything!
God said, I am Almighty God. Walk before me and be perfect (or blameless as the Hebrew puts it). Now please read that statement, that word blameless or perfect, in its context. He is not talking about being blameless in performance; He is talking about being blameless in faith. You see, he had faulty faith. There were obstacles in his faith. God wanted to remove them. What Hes asking Abraham is, Please, I want a faith that is unshakeable. I want you to have faith in me irrespective of what the scientists say, of what your neighbors say, what your doctor says. Then in Genesis 17:4-5 I read:
As for me [thats God speaking], this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram [exalted father]; your name will be Abraham [the father of a multitude], for I have made you a father of many nations.
Then God entered into a covenant relationship. Genesis 17:9:
Then God said to Abraham, As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come.
Now here we have a problem. What did God mean when He said to Abraham, You will keep this covenant, but not only you, even your descendants? Did he mean his literal descendants or did he mean his spiritual descendants? Which ones? Look at the covenant. Genesis 17:10:
This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
Do Adventists practise that? Some do. In Africa, they do it as part of their culture. If you havent been circumcised, does it mean that you are not a child of Abraham? Look at verse 11:
You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
Have you got it? Circumcision was to be the sign of the covenant between me and you. It is not the actual covenant, but it is the sign of the covenant. What did the sign represent? Thats where the Jews failed. They took the sign and made it the reality. In fact, one of the first theological controversies in the Christian church was over circumcision. Acts 15, where the Judaizers said to the Christians in Antioch, Unless you are circumcised as you read in Genesis 17, you cannot be saved.
Paul and Barnabas fought like cats and dogs. They said, Nothing doing! We will not allow such a theology to creep into the Christian church. Well, they couldnt solve that problem, so they had the first General Conference. And I thank God, that Peter, James, and John, the pillars of the church, defended the theology of Paul. You should read chapter 15 of Acts sometime.
What did the covenant signify, what did it symbolize? Ill give you two texts. One is Moses statement where he corrects the misunderstanding, in Deuteronomy 10:16:
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.
The other one is Jeremiah 4:4:
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done burn with no one to quench it.
Both these texts are saying the same thing. What God is asking in truth is to circumcise your heart. In other words, remove unbelief. Abraham, you have had doubts about Me and My promise. I want you to remove all your doubts. I want you to take Me at My word. And Im going to enter into a covenant with you.
I want now to turn to the New Testament and give you the New Testament application of circumcision. Of course, Paul is the great interpreter. Turn to Philippians 3:3. What does Paul say there? Talking to the Christian church in Philippi, which is made up primarily of Gentiles, he says:
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh [in our own human ability]....
So the true circumcision, the act, simply symbolized a truth. It is not the act that saves you, it is the truth. And what is the truth? Not I, but Christ.
Go now to a passage that you need to analyze because its a difficult passage; at least, its caused problems in interpretation. But I want to point out to you the background. Colossians 2:11:
In him [Christ] you were also circumcised [past tense, talking to believers], in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ....
That applies to both men and women. Then in verse 12, he links this truth with baptism. Baptism, today, has the same meaning as circumcision did in the Old Testament. It is saying, Not I, but Christ. Colossians 2:12:
...having been buried with him in baptism [because when Christ died on the cross He died to sin, we covered this in Romans 6] and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
Now, that is what Abrahams faith stands for, folks. Its faith without any doubt. Now Im going to give you two statements. These two statements will disagree with rationality, disagree with scientific method, but I want you to remember, Abraham did not ask for scientific proof. He believed against all hope. The two statements are found, one in Romans, one in Galatians. Romans 13:14:
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Do you believe, on the basis of those two statements, that God can give you total victory over sin? Do you believe that? The issue is not, Show me somebody! or I have tried and I have failed. Abraham tried for 25 years and failed to produce a child. But when God came to him when it was impossible by trying, he believed. Do you believe what God says in His word? Thats the issue, that is what qualifies you and me to be a child of Abraham.
Abraham stands for faith that is unshakeable. How do I know it? Because after He entered into this covenant and gave him a child the next year Isaac, who we will study next 17 years later, when Isaac was a young strapping teenager, God said to Abraham, Kill him! Lets read it, as we conclude. Hebrews 11:17, this is what God said to Abraham:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only [which means special] son....
God said to him, Take that son, in whom Im going to bless the whole world, and kill him!
Did Abraham say, Well, if I kill him, how are you going to keep the promise? No, Abraham did not question God. This is what he rationalized in his mind. Hebrews 11:19:
Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
In other words, If God gave me Isaac when it was impossible, God can raise him up. No problem, God. You want me to kill him, Ill kill him. I know one thing: your promise never fails. And I believe you, God, that you will keep your promise.
Can God produce such a people today? I mean, we have more evidence that Abraham had. Why cant we believe God when He says, You are my child? Why cant you believe God when He says, I look at you as if you had never sinned?
But I feel a sinner. I dont care what you feel, folks. What does God say? John 5:24:
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
He who believes in Jesus Christ has already passed from death to life. Do you believe that?
Abram was the father of the literal Jews. Abraham is the father of all believers.
I want to conclude with Galatians 3:6-9. I want you to listen to this very carefully, because here is the sum of the matter. Galatians 3:6:
Consider Abraham: He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
How was Abraham righteous? Not by performance, but by believing Gods promise. Galatians 3:7-8:
Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles [not singular, but plural, it includes every nation in this world] by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: All nations will be blessed through you.
Did Abraham know the gospel? Sure enough. Not as a literal fact, but as a promise. Galatians 3:9:
So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
If you believe that God has redeemed you, if you believe that God has given you a new history, a new identity in which you have already been justified unto life, you are Abrahams child. If you believe that God can dominate you through His Spirit and give you total victory over sin, you are a child of God. God is not asking you for performance; Hes asking you for faith. He does the performance: first in Christ and then in you.
All Hes saying is, I want a people who will believe My word without a shadow of a doubt.
Whether it comes in terms of justification, or whether it comes in terms of sanctification, or whether it comes in terms of glorification, my part, your part is faith alone! God does everything else. He justifies the ungodly, thank God for that. He sanctifies the believer, and He glorifies us at the end of time.
It is my prayer that you will do what Paul did, the one whom God used to expound this truth. Pauls name used to be Saul. As Saul, he was a son of Abraham and a persecutor of the Christian church. But when he found the gospel, do you know what he said? I take all my righteousness, all my attainment, even my inheritance as a child of Abraham, and I count it as dung, as refuse, that I may win Christ and be found in Him, not having my righteousness but His, which is mine through faith alone. And when he did that, he changed his name from Saul to Paul.
It is my prayer that you will change your name, not literally, because there are legal ramifications in this country, but you will change your position from doubt to belief. And it is my prayer that each one of you will be a true child of God, through faith alone.