(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 8/3/08 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn again to chapter 9 of the book of Romans, and we'll be reading verses 1 through 8:
Romans 9: (1) I tell [the] truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience bearing witness with me in [the] Holy Spirit, (2) that my grief is great, and a never ceasing pain [is] in my heart, (3) for I myself was wishing to be a curse from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to flesh, (4) who are Israelites, whose are the adoption and the glory, and the covenants, and the Lawgiving, and the service, and the promises; (5) whose [are] the fathers, and from whom [is] the Christ according to flesh, He being God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (6) Not, however, that God's Word has failed. For not all those of Israel [are] Israel, (7) nor because they are Abraham's seed [are] all children, but In Isaac a Seed shall be called to you. (8) That is: Not the children of flesh [are] children of God, but the children of the promise [are] counted for a seed.
In verses 1 through 3, we saw that Paul judged the Jews, his brothers according to the flesh, to be unregenerate. These were the national Jews, the Israelites - those who followed the Jewish religion. In verse 3, Paul said he used to be just like them - a lost religious Jew. In verses 5 and 6, Paul said that these national Jews had the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the Lawgiving, and the service, and the fathers, and that even Jesus Christ came from the national Jews. They had so many advantages over the Gentiles. Yet even with all these things, Paul said that the national Jews, the Israelites, who did not believe in Christ, were all unregenerate.
Now think of the objection that some people might have, especially the national Jews that Paul is talking about. Think about this: God had covenanted with the Jews, promising to be their God and promising that they would be His people. God gave them His Law and instructions in how to worship Him as part of this covenant. God gave them the patriarchs and prophets who taught them the way of the covenant. And God sent Jesus Christ to them as one of their own. Now since God gave His covenant promise to the Jews, and the Jews still rejected God, which they did, then doesn't that make God's covenant promise of no effect? I mean, didn't God promise Abraham that would bless Abraham and Abraham's descendants by being their God forever? He sure did. In Genesis 17:7, God said to Abraham, "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your seed after you." Now what kind of God would promise to bless Abraham's descendants, the Jews, and to be their God, only to see that these Jews refused to believe Him and refused to have Him as their God? That would be a weakling God, would it not? That would be a God who could not deliver on His promises. If you read through the Old Testament, you will see time and time again God promising to keep His covenant and the Jews rebelling against God. As part of the covenant, God promised to send a Savior to Israel. Let's read Isaiah 59:20-21:
Isaiah 59: (20) And the Redeemer comes to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn back from their rebellion, declares Jehovah. (21) As for Me, this [is] My covenant with them, says Jehovah: My Spirit who is on you, and My Words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your seed, or out of the mouth of your seed's seed, from now on and forever, says Jehovah.
But is that what happened with national Israel? Did all those of national Israel have the Holy Spirit, and did God's Word stay with all those of national Israel? If even ONE of those people to whom God made this promise ended up going to hell, then God was a God who could not keep His promise. If God promises to save all of Abraham's seed, all of Israel, and yet some Jews stay unsaved to their dying breath and go to hell, then God's promise has been made of no effect.
Do you see the objection? Paul just said that His brothers according to the flesh, who are Israelites, otherwise known as Jews, have rejected Christ, and, as we will see later on in Romans, the Lord willing, many of these Jews are reprobate, eternally hated by God, and have their final destiny in hell. The objection is this: But God promised to bless them by being their God and to save them. So either God is a liar or is impotent. Either way, God's Word - His promise - has failed.
Paul answers this objection starting in verse 6. He first says, "Not, however, that God's Word has failed." It's probably better translated "Not so, that God's Word has failed." It is NOT THE CASE that God's Word - God's promise - has become of no effect, has become inefficient. God the Holy Spirit through Paul makes it very clear that the fact that some of Paul's brothers according to the flesh, the Israelites, the Jews, were going to hell, does NOT mean that God's promise has failed WHATSOEVER.
But how can it not mean that? After all, didn't God promise to bless and thus save Israel? Now notice how Paul shows that this does not mean that God's Word has failed. Pay close attention here. Most preachers today would want this answered in a different way. Most preachers would want to answer something like this: "The fact that some of the Jews are going to hell doesn't mean that God's promise has failed. Why? Because God's promise was a CONDITIONAL promise. When God promised salvation to the Jews, it didn't ensure that all to whom He promised salvation would actually be saved. God only promised to save the Jews if the Jews met certain CONDITIONS. So when some of the Jews rejected God, God sent them to hell because they did not meet the conditions."
Now if this were the case, this would be the place for Paul to say it. If God's promise were CONDITIONAL, then this would be the explanation as to why some to whom the promise is given end up being damned. But this is as far from how God through Paul answers the objectors as the east is from the west. And the rest of Romans 9 serves to blast conditionalism to smithereens.
So how DOES Paul show that the rebellion and unrepentance of the Jews does not mean that God's promise has failed? The rest of this sermon will go over a very important concept that starts in the second half of verse 6 and goes through verse 8 - and even beyond, although I plan to stop at verse 8 today.
So instead of saying that God's promise is conditional, Paul says this: "For not all those of Israel [are] Israel, nor because they are Abraham's seed [are] all children, but In Isaac a Seed shall be called to you. That is: Not the children of flesh [are] children of God, but the children of the promise [are] counted for a seed." Here's where we see what God's promise to Israel REALLY means. "For not all those of Israel [are] Israel." Now that answers a lot of questions, doesn't it? Not all those of Israel are Israel. What does that mean? It means that not all those who are part of natural, national Israel are part of SPIRITUAL Israel. Not all the natural, national Jews are SPIRITUAL Jews. He goes on into more detail in verse 7. Just because someone is the PHYSICAL seed, the PHYSICAL offspring, of Abraham, doesn't mean they are the TRUE, SPIRITUAL seed, the SPIRITUAL offspring of Abraham. The Jews loved to say that they were the descendants of Abraham, as if this in and of itself made them blessed of God. Remember what the Jews said to Jesus about Abraham being their father? Let's turn to John 8:31-39:
John 8: (31) Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, If you continue in My Word, you are truly My disciples. (32) And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (33) They answered Him, We are Abraham's seed, and we have been in slavery to no one, never! How do You say, You will become free? (34) Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Everyone practicing sin is a slave of sin. (35) But the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains to the age. (36) Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. (37) I know that you are Abraham's seed, but you seek to kill Me, because My Word is not given room in you. (38) I speak what I have seen with My Father. And you therefore do what you have seen with your father. (39) They answered and said to Him, Abraham is our father. Jesus said to them, If you were children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham.
We see here that Jesus Christ taught the doctrine that Paul taught about who are the true Israel, the true Jews, the true offspring of Abraham. He first said, "I know that you are Abraham's seed" in verse 37. But then He said in verse 39, "If you were children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham." What was He saying? He was saying, "Yes, you're the physical children of Abraham, as you make your boast, but you are not the TRUE children of Abraham. The TRUE children of Abraham believe what ABRAHAM believed." In effect, he was saying, "For not all those of Israel are Israel." Do you see that? Jesus Christ went on to say in verse 44 that their TRUE father was the devil.
So back to Romans 9:7. In the second half of the verse, Paul quotes part of Genesis 21:12 to prove his point. How does "In Isaac a seed shall be called to you" prove the point that not all the physical offspring of Abraham are the true Israel? Well, Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. If all the physical offspring of Abraham were the true Israel, then the offspring of both Ishmael AND Isaac would be the true Israel. Yet even the Jews recognized that the offspring of Ishmael were not Jews. So what are the Jews boasting about when they say that they're the children of Abraham? Even the Ishmaelites are the children of Abraham. Paul exposes their inconsistency. So why is it that the Jews couldn't just switch over and call themselves the children of Isaac? Wouldn't that make them the true Israel if they were the seed of Isaac? Well, Paul anticipates this argument and explains himself further in verse 8: "That is: Not the children of flesh [are] children of God, but the children of the promise [are] counted for a seed." The predicament for the Jews was that the covenant promise was given to Abraham and all his seed, which would include the seed of Ishmael. But when God reiterated the promise in Genesis 21:12, He made a distinction between Ishmael and Isaac, saying that the true seed would only continue through Isaac and not Ishmael. Thus, it was not the children of the FLESH who were the children of God - it was not the natural descendants of Abraham who were the children of God - but the children of God are the ones to whom the PROMISE is made. These and these alone are counted for a seed. These and these alone are counted as the TRUE Israel, the TRUE children of God. Do you understand the argument that Paul is making? The promise was given to Abraham and his seed and then Isaac and his seed. So what makes the difference between one who is a true Jew and one who is a Jew in name only is NOT that one is the physical offspring and the other is not the physical offspring. The difference is the PROMISE. The true Israel of God is defined by the ones to whom the PROMISE is made.
Now isn't that interesting? The PROMISE defines who is the true Israel of God. The PROMISE defines who is a true Jew. The Holy Spirit through Paul is here affirming that whatever God promises comes about! I don't know if I can explain this adequately, but I'll try. If the promise were made to all natural Jews without exception, then the promise failed. If God promised that He would save all natural Jews without exception, and yet all natural Jews without exception were not saved, then God failed in His promise. But God's promise did not fail - NOT because the promise was a conditional one to all natural Jews without exception, but because the promise actually defines who is a true Jew! The promise is to a select number of people, the true spiritual Israel of God, who will ALL be saved, NO EXCEPTIONS! So when God says He will bless Israel and bring salvation to Israel, every one of those to whom this promise was made were actually blessed with salvation! God's promise is absolutely sure and certain! Man cannot thwart the fulfillment of God's promise, and God's promise is not conditioned on what man will do. I hope I shed at least a little light on that.
So - when God uses the term "Israel" in the covenant promises, He does NOT mean all natural Israelites without exception. In fact, when God uses the term "Israel" in the covenant promises, He INCLUDES people who were NOT natural Israelites! Now how confounding is THAT to the national Jews and the dispensationalists! When God promises to bless Israel with salvation, he DOESN'T include all the natural, national Israelites, and he DOES include some who are NOT natural, national Israelites! That messes up the whole notion of God's chosen people being the natural, national Jews, doesn't it? God's promise to bless Israel and save Israel is only to the SPIRITUAL Israel, to the SPIRITUAL Jews, who came not only from national Israel but who also came from heathen Gentile nations. So the TRUE Jews, ones who are SPIRITUAL Jews, are God's chosen people, otherwise known as the elect. And when God saves one of His chosen people, He performs circumcision of the HEART, not of the flesh, and that person is a Jew IN SPIRIT, not in letter, so the praise is not of men, but of God. Now where have we heard that before? Do you remember? Let's turn back to Romans 2:28-29:
Romans 2: (28) For he is not a Jew that [is one] outwardly, nor [is] circumcision that outwardly in flesh; (29) but he [is] a Jew that [is one] inwardly, and circumcision [is] of heart, in spirit, not in letter; of whom the praise [is] not from men, but from God.
There we go. Paul isn't saying anything new in Romans 9 about who a true Jew is; he already said it back in Romans 2. The NATIONAL Jews circumcised the flesh; the SPIRITUAL Jews are circumcised in heart. The NATIONAL Jews who thought their law-keeping recommended them to God were obeying the LETTER of the law; the SPIRITUAL Jews obey in SPIRIT, out of love for the one who saved them conditioned on the work of Jesus Christ ALONE, knowing that their law-keeping does not maintain their salvation or make them more recommended to God or more fit for heaven. The NATIONAL Jews praised themselves and others for their good works and counted the outwardly moral as holy; the SPIRITUAL Jews praise God for everything, knowing that God does not fellowship with them and bring them to heaven based on their OWN righteousness but based on the imputed righteousness of God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
I want to briefly go into what dispensationalists believe before we go on. They believe that God still has a plan to save natural, national Israel. They still say that the natural, national Jews are God's chosen people, and that He blesses them and shows favor to them and will ultimately save them. That's why they're all caught up in what's going on in Israel. They interpret present events in light of their view that God still has his loving sights on national Israel. And what do they base this on? They base this on the promises in the Bible that God made to the Jews! Now in light of what we've just seen about national Israel versus spiritual Israel, what's wrong with this picture? Well, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? How about this one phrase: "For not all those of Israel are Israel." Or how about this one: "Not the children of flesh are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted for a seed." Or how about this one: "For he is not a Jew that is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that outwardly in flesh; but he is a Jew that is one inwardly, and circumcision is of heart, in spirit, not in letter; of whom the praise is not from men, but from God." If the promises to the Jews are read in light of these truths, then what does the dispensationalist have to stand on? Certainly not the Bible.
Let's turn over to Galatians 6 and read verses 12 through 16:
Galatians 6: (12) As many as desire to look well in [the] flesh, these compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (13) For they themselves having been circumcised do not even keep [the] Law, but they desire you to be circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. (14) But may it never be for me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (15) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any strength nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (16) And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace and mercy [be] on them and on the Israel of God.
Here we see the term "the Israel of God." This is synonymous with the second "Israel" in Romans 9:6 and the "Jew" of Romans 2:29. The TRUE Israel is the SPIRITUAL Israel, which is the Israel of God. And what are the marks of the Israel of God from this passage? Is it outward circumcision of the flesh? Verse 15 shows that it's not. But what does this verse say that it is? It is a NEW CREATION. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "So that if anyone [is] in Christ, [that one] is a NEW CREATION; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!" The old self is gone. The old self-righteous religion is gone. The old heart is gone. We have been created anew in Christ Jesus. And when we become a new creation, what do we believe? Look at verse 14 of Galatians 6:
Galatians 6: (14) But may it never be for me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
THAT'S what we who are new creatures, we who are the true Israel of God, believe. We have no boast in ourselves, we give no glory to ourselves, because we know that our own efforts have nothing to do with making the difference between salvation and damnation. Instead, we boast in the cross of Christ ALONE, because we know that it is HIS work that makes the ONLY difference between salvation and damnation. And verse 16 says that as many as walk by THIS canon -- THIS rule - peace and mercy is on those people alone, and these people are the true Israel of God. Not all those of Israel are Israel. Not all those who are of national Israel are the true Israel of God. The true Israel of God is the SPIRITUAL Israel, and these TRUE Jews are ones inwardly, in spirit, and circumcision is of heart, making them a new creation, and they have no boast except in the cross of Christ.
Let's turn to one final passage in the Old Testament that is a promise from God to Israel, and let's see to whom this applies. Turn to Ezekiel 36. Let's start with verse 22 to show that this is indeed directed to Israel, and let's go through the end of the chapter:
Ezekiel 36: (22) Therefore, say to the house of Israel, So says the Lord Jehovah: I do not do [this] for your sake, O house of Israel, but only for My holy name which you profaned among the nations, there where you went. (23) And I will sanctify My great name which was profaned among the nations, which you profaned among them. And the nations shall know that I [am] Jehovah, declares the Lord Jehovah, when I am sanctified in you in their eyes. (24) For I will take you from the nations and gather you out of all the lands and bring you into your land. (25) Then I will sprinkle clean waters on you, and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your defilement and from all your idols. (26) And I will also give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give to you a heart of flesh. (27) And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do [them]. (28) And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers. And you shall be a people to Me, and I will be God to you. (29) I will also save you from all your defilements, and I will call for grain and increase it, and I will not put a famine on you. (30) And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, in order that you will not any more receive the disgrace of famine among the nations. (31) And you will remember your evil ways and your doings that [were] not good, and you will despise yourselves in your own eyes for your iniquities and for your abominations. (32) Let it be known to you that I am not doing [this] for your sake, states the Lord Jehovah. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (33) So says the Lord Jehovah: In the day I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the wastes shall be built. (34) And the desolated land shall be cultivated, rather than being a ruin in the eyes of all passing by. (35) And they shall say, This land that was desolated has become like the garden of Eden. And the wasted and desolated and razed cities [are] fortified [and] inhabited. (36) And the nations left all around you shall know that I, Jehovah, built the razed places and planted that which was desolated. I, Jehovah have spoken it and will do it. (37) So says the Lord Jehovah: Yet [for] this I will be sought by the house of Israel, to work for them. I will increase them with men like a flock. (38) Like a holy flock, like the flock of Jerusalem in her appointed feasts, so the wasted cities shall be filled with flocks of men. And they shall know that I [am] Jehovah.
Now God promises to cleanse the Israelites, to take out their old hearts and given them new hearts and new spirits, and to cause them to walk in obedience. Now if EVEN ONE of those people to whom this promise is given is NOT cleansed, is NOT given a new heart and a new spirit, and does NOT walk in obedience, then God's promise has failed. So the objector says, "Well, since God promised this to Israel, and not all Israelites will be cleansed and given new hearts and new spirits and will walk in obedience, then the promise has failed." But what does GOD say? GOD says that His Word NEVER fails. So in this case, does this mean that the promise is conditional? Look at all the "I wills" and the "You shalls" and "You wills" in this passage. And look at God's own reason for doing this - not for Israel's sake, but for His own glory. No conditions here. So how can this passage be explained? How is it that God promises this to Israel and keeps His promise to Israel? Well, we know, don't we? It is because not all those of Israel are Israel. This promise is made to a specific Israel - namely, the true spiritual Israel of God. This promise was to make the Israelites a new creation. And what did we see in Galatians 6? "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any strength nor uncircumcision, but a new creation." God's promise never fails. The Israel of God, the true spiritual Jews, are given new hearts and new spirits. They walk in obedience. They boast in nothing but the cross of Christ. God's promise has come to pass. And everyone without exception to whom this promise is made will be saved, no doubt about it. God is able and faithful to keep all of His promises. His promises are all sure and certain. Not one of them will ever fail.
Let's read 1 Peter 1:22-25 to close:
1 Peter 1: (22) Having purified your souls in the obedience of the truth through the Spirit to unpretended brotherly love, love one another fervently out of a pure heart, (23) being regenerated, not by corruptible seed, but incorruptible, through the living Word of God, and remaining forever. (24) Because all flesh [is] as grass, and all [the] glory of men as [the] flower of grass; the grass was dried, and its flower fell out, (25) but [the] Word of [the] Lord remains forever. And this is the Word announced as gospel to you.
The Word of the Lord stands forever. Amen.