Sort of a Sermon Recommendation: What is Romans 9 About?

For several years I’ve struggled with the implications of Reformed Theology. In the past 2 years, it’s progressed from arguing against Reformed Theology, to having conversations with people about why I can no longer agree that humans are the final arbiters of their election.

The passage that’s been the hammer that broke the rock in pieces, so to speak, was Romans 9. I talked with someone who said Romans 9 is about God’s sovereign choice over people groups, but had nothing to do with an individual’s salvation. That sounded fishy to me, so I began at Romans 8 and read through Romans 11 several times. The clear implication was that it was talking about an individual’s salvation.

See, here’s the context: if God gives huge covenant promises in Romans 8, how are we supposed to believe them if God’s Word has failed with respect to His covenant promises to Israel? Israel’s rejecting the Messiah and going to hell. How does that uphold God’s word to His chosen people? How can we Gentiles take God at His word if He can’t keep His word to the Jews?

Given that context, Paul argues that God’s word has not failed, and here’s why: not all Israel is Israel. In other words, there’s an ethnic Israel and a spiritual Israel. How can that be? Well, both Ishmael and Isaac were sons of Abraham (Jews, right?), but God chose to bless Isaac and reject Ishmael. But lest you think that was because of Hagar’s status as a slave, Rebekah’s twins, before they’d been born or done any good or evil, were likewise split. God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. Every time there have been children of Abraham (or his descendants), there has been a distinction between those who are mere biological children, and those who are children of the promise—real children of the covenant. In other words, it has always been the case that mere lineage was not a determining factor in salvation. God is able to make Jews from stones if He wants to (Matthew 3:8-9). Don’t presume that lineage guarantees salvation. Repent, or you will likewise perish.

I ask: has Paul just begun to randomly talk about the destiny of nations? Or is Paul supporting his assertion that within ethnic Israel is spiritual Israel? If he’s supporting his point that there are two Israels and ethnic Israel doesn’t guarantee placement within spiritual Israel, what context does that put the conversation in? The destiny of nations? Or salvation?

I say all this because it’s a critical context for understanding the rest of the chapter. I used to skip the beginning of the chapter because I didn’t understand why Paul was bringing Israel into the picture. But once you understand why he’s arguing on the track that he is, the entire chapter opens up. I would most of all encourage you to read Romans 8-11 and see the thought flow of Paul in those chapters. But I would also encourage you to download a sermon I listened to this week by John Piper called “What is Romans 9 About?”. It’s a very humble unfolding of the thought flow of Romans 9 and I would highly recommend it to everyone.

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If you want a more complete exposition of Romans 9-11, listen to this series:

Sermon Recommendation: The Pleasures of God (series)

I’m sorry for delay in posting. I’ve been horrifically busy with work, people coming over, us going over other people’s houses, freelance, etc.

Here’s a sermon series I’ve listened through several times in the past month. It’s from John Piper’s book of the same name, called The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God. Piper’s basic argument is that since we can define idolatry as loving anything more than God, then God is not an idolater: He loves Himself more than anything else. He does everything for His glory. And it must be so because for Him to do anything for the ultimate glory of anyone else would be idolatry. God takes the most delight and satisfaction in His own perfections as they are imaged in His Son and radiated from them in the Spirit. And since God takes the most satisfaction in that, we should as well.

So ask yourself: Do I take my highest delight and satisfaction in thinking about the things God does for His own glory?

…Probably couldn’t answer Yes, could you? Me either. At least, not most of the time. That’s why I’ve been listening to these sermons over and over. And I’d highly recommend them to you.

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And here are the other sermons in that series:

Sermon Recommendation: The Centrality of God in a Pastor’s Life (series)

Okay, I know. I keep posting sermon recommendations that are geared towards preachers. I apologize to my vastly lay audience. I’m not sure why, but over the past two years I’ve been increasingly interested in the role of the pastor, of other elders, and the church in general. I’ve been reading books written to pastors and listening to sermons preached to pastors. So I can’t help but let that leak through into my recommendations.

But enough about how horrible that prospect is. Because it’s wonderful. Books written to pastors and sermons preached to pastors are some of the richest banquets of theological truth I know of. And if you’re a hungry soul wanting to catch a glimpse of the majesty and glory of God, I can’t think of a better place than listening to John Piper or Sinclair Ferguson preach to a group of pastors about the calling of a pastor. This week you’re getting Piper. The message I’m including is “The Centrality of God in the Feeling of a Pastor,” and it’s the first in a series of three messages Piper gave addressing the centrality of God in the life of the pastor.

A pastor whose heart is thrilled with God—even when his kid is not walking with the Lord, and his marriage troubled, and the church is declining and the giving is small and the sickness is real—is one of the most powerful testimonies of the value of God in the world…

The message of satisfaction in God—through trouble—is a loud, clear witness to this hungry people that God is enough. They need to hear it so bad. They need to see it; they need to feel it. It’s got to be embodied in front of them week after week. God’s enough! God’s great! God’s precious! God’s valuable! ‘Let goods and kindred go,’ right? ‘This mortal life also.’ I’ve got God! That’s got to come through.

John Piper

Almost nothing means more to me than when I hear the mom of a six year old who’s had seizures for six years and is now no longer developing beyond one and a half years old and they’ve walked through so many surgeries and they just took out 40% of his brain hoping it would work and it didn’t work… and she walks up to me after the sermon and says ‘thank you for holding up the sovereignty of our great God…’ To have so spent yourself for a people that they begin to get that God is more valuable than the health of this little baby, and God is more valuable than my having a normal life without a child like this, God is so valuable and so sufficient and so sovereign that He can take this and sanctify it to my soul and turn it for my children’s good, turn it for the nations’ good.

John Piper

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And here are the other sermons in that series:

Sermon Recommendation: A Broken Spirit, by Tim Keller

Tim Keller is the pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He’s been a sensible voice in the contextualization debates and has given the church many wonderful ways to speak to the postmodern generation.

But this sermon’s aim is more basic: understanding the broken spirit. He talks about the first of Luther’s 95 Theses: that when Christ said “do penance,” He intended that all of life was to be lived in repentance.

You will not understand how you can constantly have a spirit of repentance in your life unless you understand the difference between Gospel/grace-salvation as opposed to works-salvation. If, in your heart of hearts, you’re basically on a self-salvation project… that is, if you basically believe that God will love me and people respect me if I live a good life, if you basically believe that I can be a sinner or loved (but never together), repentance is an episodic, galling, traumatic thing. You do everything you can to avoid it, and you only do repentance when you really screw up—and then it’s an emergency lever that you pull. And you pull that lever because it’s the final weapon in your arsenal of self-salvation… Why? Because pulling that lever is a way to “get back” God’s attention and even your own self respect. “I’m going to really grovel now; I’m really going to beat myself up, I’m going to feel horrible for a really long time.” But you never know if you’ve repented enough, you’re not sure if you’ve groveled enough, been miserable long enough…

That’s not what David’s talking about [in Psalm 51]. Here’s what happens: if you understand the Gospel and you know that in Christ you are both incredibly sinful and at the same time absolutely loved—if you realize it’s not a matter of being a sinner or loved, but of being a sinner and loved—repentance is a whole different thing. It’s a whole new dynamic; a whole new dynamic. Why? Now, your standing before God—and even your own self-respect—is based on Christ and not on the relative infrequency of your screw-ups.

See, the default mode of my heart is: “I know God loves me because—relatively speaking—I’m getting better and better. I’m reading my Bible, I’m praying”… But what happens when I realize my identity is in Christ, my standing is in Christ? Something else. Repentance is absolutely different. Now, when I’m reminded of my sin, it’s a sweet wound. Because it reminds me of how much God loves me and just how effective Christ’s sacrifice was. Actually, the deeper I see my sin, the more I’m pressed—reminded, driven—to take grasp of the reality of God’s grace… The more I know I’m saved, the more I have the emotional fortitude to confess my sin.

Tim Keller

That balance [of both being deeply compassionate and winsomely adamant about the Truth] comes from being blessed, but being lame—knowing that God absolutely loves and accepts you, and at the same time being humbled into the dust forever by the knowledge that it’s only by his grace.

Tim Keller

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Sermon Recommendation: Why Expositional Preaching is Particularly Glorifying to God, by John Piper

Okay, sure, the title’s a bit intimidating. But even if you’re not a preacher, and have no aims to do expositional preaching, I think this is an amazing sermon to listen to. (I’ve listened to it at least 5 times.) This message was preached two years ago at Together for the Gospel 2006 and it absolutely shook the conference (as testified to by the other speakers’ comments, comments from my friends who were at the conference, and bloggers who were covering the conference). Piper lays out his burden for exultant, expositional preaching from pastors who earnestly sense the weight of the glory of God.

I’ve posted some good quotes below. But when you read Piper, you have to read it slowly and with gripping emphasis on the key words. This is a man who is very serious about what he’s saying.

Packer said upon hearing Martin Lloyd-Jones: “I had never heard such preaching.” And that is why today people say such foolish and minimizing things about preaching: they have never heard it… Packer said, ‘It came to me with the force of electric shock, bringing more of a sense of God than any other man I had ever known.’

John Piper

God did not ordain the cross of Christ or create the Lake of Fire in order to communicate the insignificance of belittling His glory. The death of the Son of God and the damnation of unrepentant human beings are the loudest shouts conceivable that God is infinitely holy, that sin is infinitely offensive, that wrath is infinitely just, and that grace is infinitely precious, and that the brief little life that you and I live and that everybody in our churches lives, will issue very quickly into everlasting joy or everlasting pain. This has got to grip us! There is a weight to this office. Where, brothers, is this weight going to be felt if not from you? Veggie Tales? Not in a million years! Radio? Television? Discussion groups? Emergent conversations? If not from you, in this pulpit, where?! God planned for His Son to be crucified and for Hell to be terrible so that we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when we preach. What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of preaching is soaked in the blood of Jesus and singed with the fires of Hell.

John Piper

The MP3 begins with an introduction of John Piper by C.J. Mahaney.

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I’m also posting a clip of some comments made in the panel discussion after Piper’s message because I found them very insightful and encouraging.

Sermon Recommendation: The Cup, by C.J. Mahaney

Too often we come to the cross asking ‘What does it mean for me?’ This is a message about what it meant to Him.

C.J. Mahaney

Since I’ve been listening to so many sermons (because of my long commute), I figured I’d start a tradition on this blog of giving a weekly (or close to it) recommendation of an MP3 sermon. Here goes…

C.J. Mahaney is a Charismatic Reformed pastor and head of Sovereign Grace Ministries. I’ve derived immeasurable benefit from his sermons and books and I’ve recently listened to his sermon series Christ, and Him Crucified (all Sovereign Grace audio sets are free if you download individual sermons). I’m recommending the entire set, but the most powerful of the set is C.J.’s message about Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s called, simply, “The Cup.” Here are a few quotes:

His death wasn’t a surprise to Him. He had foretold it. He said it was the reason He came into the world. And there was no indication of distress in the upper room. They ate; He talked; they sung a hymn… So why now? Why this shuddering terror? Shuddering terror and deep distress were his experience at this moment because here the Holy One experiences a foretaste of what it means to be the bearer of our sin and the recipient of God’s full and furious wrath for our sin.

The cup is dominating His heart and His mind… This cup… contains within it the full fury and fierceness of God’s holy wrath against all sin. And as the Savior gazes into this cup, he is brought face to face with this horrific reality: the reality of bearing our sins, and the reality of becoming the object—the object—of the Father’s righteous and furious wrath. And that prospect is so horrific to the Savior at this moment, that he couldn’t even physically remain standing… ‘He fell to the ground.’

C.J. Mahaney

Gethsemane prepares us for Calvary. Gethsemane informs and interprets Calvary for us…. Christ begs for an alternative to the cup. But if an alternative had existed, the Father would have provided it. But that prayer for an alternative… it was met with silence. Why?… Listen to this verse again for the first time: ‘For God so loved the world…’ that He was silent—at this moment—when His own Son appealed for an alternative.

C.J. Mahaney

Illustrations can be a valuable aid to comprehension and application. But there’s no way to illustrate this. No way… When I prepared this on Saturday night… I slept a total of 90 minutes. I couldn’t escape the effect of this passage. I just found myself all throughout the night wanting to get as close to this mystery as possible. I just kept circling the perimeter of Gethsemane, trying to observe, listen, hear, understand… trying to think of an illustration that would be helpful, crying out to God for an illustration, searching my files for an illustration, until I realized: There is no illustration. I can’t give you one. If I gave you one, you might be tempted to say ‘Okay, I get it.’ But we cannot ‘get’ this.

C.J. Mahaney

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