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The good news of the gospel is that we don’t rely on ethnicity or culture for our salvation. The gospel is for everyone. Too often we can be too focused on a culture that appeals to us and so we think that to be a true believer then new converts must act and behave as we do in that culture. It is the gospel that frees us from these cultural pressures and makes us free in Christ.

In Romans 9 Paul’s heart is open before us to look beyond the culture of the Jews, who thought their faith and culture were dependant on each other. Paul says that if he could save them he would, but they reject the truth and look to their culture as their salvation. We cannot rely on who we are by birth, by tradition, or by culture. None of those things matter in salvation because God’s free gift is for all without prejudice.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find out more at

David McCullagh:

I wonder if you've ever been in the position of having to defend yourself. Now, I'm not talking about having to go into a court of law and make your defense that way, but perhaps you've said something or you've done something that someone challenged you on and you find yourself having to give an answer for such actions and such words. And if we're honest, we don't like being challenged and we like even less having to give a count for ourselves. Yet it comes our way, and we either respond with confidence in our decision to speak or to act, or we brush it off and simply contend that it is no one else's business with what has been said or what has been done. And through the first eight chapters of Romans, we get to grips with how Paul writes. He's a solicitor by profession, and so he writes in a defense, or for a defense for the faith, anticipating the objections that will be given to him. He makes certain statements about the traditional practice of the Jewish religion, and he knows that there's going to be comeback, because what he's trying to do is show how everything of the Jewish faith has been important, but is now fulfilled. in Jesus Christ. And not only how Paul writes is important, but it's also what he has written, what he perceives. And this is what gets him in trouble. And people will want to challenge him. And so at the end of chapter eight, we have the great affirmation that we are We are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. And listen, listen again to the marvellous words. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What an affirmation! What a truth. What a spring to have in your step as you left last Sunday evening. Because there's absolutely nothing, if there's genuine faith in Jesus Christ, there's absolutely nothing can pull you away from Him. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't it wonderful how God has brought about faith to us? But the problem is, as we head into chapter 9, this is not going to be well accepted. Because of that word, faith. The Jews, although theologically were supposed to base everything on faith, they didn't. They based it on so many other things that now in chapter 9 with this shift in gear from Paul where he perceives what their objections will be, he now moves to tell them why everything that they're doing is truly wrong. And listen, listen as he starts to this to the anguish of his heart. He's concerned about this. Did you notice what he said there, um, in verse 3? For I wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers. Paul wishes he wasn't a Christian if it meant that the Israelites would be saved. But Paul knows the reality, and that's what he's going to take us through. And so as he finished chapter 8, he has written beautifully what it means for us to know and to love Christ and to have great confidence in him. And I was thinking about this during the week, uh, and, uh, As I was also preparing for tonight, I read the following from Dean Ortlund's book, Gentle and Lowly. And I thought this was a lovely way to summarize chapter 8 and get us ready for getting into chapter 9. And listen to these words. For those united to him, the heart of Jesus is not a rental. It is your new permanent residence. You are not a tenant. You're a child. His heart is not a ticking time bomb. His heart is the green pastures and still waters of endless reassurances of his presence and comfort, whatever our present spiritual accomplishments. It is And as we hear this, as it echoes what Paul has said in Romans 8, it gets us ready to stand firm in what we believe, because there's going to be attacks to say that we are wrong, that indeed Christianity is the wrong way. Paul says it's not, and so we must stand firm in what we believe. And so this is what Paul presents to us as the gospel. Our position in Christ as forgiven and as redeemed is permanent. And this is what we need to hear as he begins chapter 9 with quite the unexpected statement. Because in verse 1 he says, I am speaking the truth in Christ. Did anybody doubt that? Probably none of us here did. But he goes on to say, I am not lying. My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. So why would, Oh, we've lost something here. Why would Paul want to say, something like that to us at the start of chapter 9. It seems that it's come out of the blue because he's been so confident. Is this Paul second guessing himself? Is he starting to think, well maybe this isn't what I thought it was? But in view of what's been happening in chapters 1 to 8, and just of what is to come now ahead of us in chapters 9 to 11, he wants to get us ready so that we would know the truth. That indeed he has been speaking the truth, and we will not doubt it. Because where Paul will conclude his great theology on salvation, his protest of honesty is needed. He's going to stand against those who will challenge him, and these first eight chapters would seem totally unacceptable to the Jews of Paul's day. And every one he has affirmed about the gospel is rooted in claims about God, God's word, God's people, God's plan of salvation, and God's continuing promises. And that, on first level, seems okay, because to the Jews, this is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that's quite palatable. But Paul claims that this is also the God who has become man, in the person of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. And most Jews, if not all, reject that. So Paul is now perceiving that he will be reviewed as a troublemaker, an enemy of Israel and of its religion, Judaism. But Paul, knowing what is going to be thought of him, he desires deeply that this salvation will come to his kinsmen. And so he feels the weight of these charges against him, and he has to present a defense. He demonstrates this in verse 2, when he speaks of the anguish of his heart, as we've already seen. Because Paul is a truth speaker, and he wants to make sure that the truth is heard. And so he begins in verses 1 to 5, and he speaks of the advantage of the Jews. Because Paul wants to make it clear that the Jews have access to everything they need to know about the Messiah. They have the right to be adopted into God's family. Amen. They are the inheritors of the covenants. They have their history of a people being led by the patriarchs. God spoke directly to these patriarchs as they led. And from their race comes Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Because after all, they'd been looking for him. And so there is great advantage, as Paul has already said, to being a Jew. Because they have everything they need in their toolkit to recognize the Messiah. But the problem is they don't see it. Their vision is clouded by their tradition and their own self righteousness. And because of this, they lose out. And in many ways, we as a people here in Northern Ireland have the same advantage. We have access to the truth and we've had it from our youth. We are free to worship and we have buildings in which to gather. We have good, faithful teaching from the scriptures from many of our pulpits. And we have multiple copies of these scriptures in our homes. Yet, there are some of us who are just like the Jews. We have all we need, yet we do not see the Messiah. We think we will be okay in our tradition and in our self righteousness, but we won't. Only in Christ, and in a living relationship with Him, can we be truly saved. If you think by being a Protestant here tonight you have some special access to God and a right to eternal life, then you're mistaken. But Paul does go on to speak of a hope, and that hope is for everyone, because it is hope in God's love towards us. Because it is all about God's promise of redemption in verses 6 to 13. Because Paul moves on to answer the question then, has God failed? That's the question that he supposes will be challenged to him then if the Jews don't get it. If this has all been God's plan, well then actually has that plan failed? Did God get it wrong? Did he choose the wrong people? And this would be a logical question. Because after all these are his people. How did they choose to ignore him so dramatically? Well, Paul emphatically says no. God has not failed. His word has been true and is faithful. Paul starts to pick up on an extension of who Israel are. Because look at verses 6 and 7. But it is not as though the word of God has failed, for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel. And not all are children of Abraham, because they are his offspring. But through Isaac shall your offspring be named. Paul is here reminding the people of what God has said to them about who can be part of his family. The salvation, the salvation message of God has always been open to everyone. But it was through the children of Israel that people could access this salvation. It wasn't the people who saved, nor was it belonging to the people group that saved. But they were the heralds. They were the messengers of God's goodness. And so, some of those who were part of this community would have been Egyptians who came out with the people in the Exodus. That's why they were called Hebrews, because they were a mixture of the children of Israel and those who were Gentiles, Egyptians, who wanted to leave Egypt. Others found faith during the Babylonian exile. Those who made captive Israel came to faith and even though they were not born Jews, they returned back to Jerusalem and were fully entered into the covenant promises. And as the church grew, people from all nations came to Saving Faith, and this is the point that he's driving home. Because in quoting about Isaac, who had his twelve sons, he's making the statement that Abraham didn't birth just one nation. So, blood connection to Abraham does not make people children of Abraham, in that highest sense. This promise that comes through Isaac points to a deeper truth. And in verse 8 he comes to that central point. Your birth line doesn't save you. Because in verse 8 he says, This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, But the children of the promise are counted as offspring. Paul goes on to detail the birth of Abraham's offspring through Sarah and then Rebekah. And in his conclusion, he has for us in verse 11, he says, Though they were not yet born, speaking of Jacob and Esau, and had done nothing, either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works, but because of him who calls. And so we come back to God's work in human history. His plan of salvation, which we call Covenant Promises because it is through Abraham that God promised he would make a nation, a people of his own. Not a, an ethnic nation as it was perceived to be the Jews, but an eternal nation where Jew and Gentile through Jesus Christ would have an inheritance that would never perish, never spoil, and never fade. And so he mentions Jacob and Esau here, that even though they were not yet born, God's saving work was already at work. And Paul here wants to confirm that salvation is by God's election or by God's choosing. Related to this, God's purpose of election is realized not by God's choice, people's good or bad behavior but because of him who calls. That's what verse 11 tells us. Paul is not saying that faith is not necessary for salvation. He's already made this point right back in Romans chapter 1 that God's righteousness comes via human, the human act of believing. What he's doing is he's reminding us that salvation is not by works and he's confirming that God's purposes in redemption and his foreknowledge of who will join the ranks of God's people and who will not. are matters of promise of the covenant promise of God, neither ethnicity nor religious performance. can guarantee God's favour. It is the achievement of God's covenant promises alone. And I think we can sometimes depend on who we are in this place at this time. There was a belief in previous days that the Protestants of Ulster were God's chosen people. At times it was said in jest and at other times it was said sincerely. But this notion joins that of other nations who said the same in years gone by. The Afrikaners of South Africa, a mixed culture of Dutch and German, believed that they were God's chosen people, quite literally in a promised land. They depended on culture and an observation of the peoples around them, who they considered barbarians. Neither the Afrikaners nor the late 19th century Ulster Protestants had this right. And Paul confirms it. Each and everyone has the opportunity to respond to the gospel because it is a message from God and not from man. Don't try to rely on self, be that culture or practice. or religious observance. These won't save. Only faith in Jesus Christ will bring us home to heaven. And this calls for us to look into our own hearts. If we say that we are Christs, how do we know that we are? And the only way that we can genuinely answer that is to is by saying that we have submitted to him. We now become the goldfish in the goldfish bowl, where there is constraint, yet freedom. Because when that fish jumps out of that goldfish bowl, it is not free, because within minutes, it will no longer live. But if we think the answer to that question that we're saved is because we come to church, because we're an Ulster Protestant, or because we have how many Bibles on our shelves, well then, we're mistaken. Only coming through Jesus Christ by surrendering to him and acknowledging that we, that he is our savior. Well, then we will know that that is true, genuine, lasting faith that will bring us home to heaven. Well, we're going to go through to the last section here of this passage, and it brings us back to questioning God and to questioning his purposes. But the overarching message is that salvation is God's initiative. And he begins again with a question that he anticipates that he might be asked. Let's see if we can get it up here for you again. So he comes and he says in verse 14, What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means. So the question is shifted. No longer is it asking, has God failed? It's now asking if God is a just God. It boils down to whether God is fair or not. And this is a very dangerous question. Because actually, if God was to be fair, then none of us would have any of his mercy. Because in our sin, we deserve to die. But God is fair because of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that he has provided us a way to know his great salvation. And to demonstrate how fair God is, Paul uses two Old Testament examples. He uses Moses and Pharaoh. Paul explains that to Moses God demonstrated his mercy and his compassion again and again. It wasn't up to Moses to decide who would receive these. It was part of who God is and the promise that he made to his covenant people. God's mercy is freely given to people who should not deserve it, yet he gives it because of the price to which it cost him, his one and only son. And so God lavishingly displays his mercy. But Paul also talks about Pharaoh, and Pharaoh here is used to demonstrate God's sovereign will. And it would be hard to stomach that God would raise up one of Israel's enemies for his purpose, yet this is exactly what he does. Pharaoh was used to demonstrate how God can harden hearts. This was done so that God would demonstrate his power of salvation for his people. They had no hope against this tyrant. But God hardened his heart so that he would submit the people to even greater hardship. So that when their freedom did come, their salvation, they knew without shadow of a doubt there was no one who could have done it save God alone. And so moving on then to follow this up to, to earth it as it were in their time and place. In verse 19 Paul says, For who can resist his will? Again, challenging the fairness of God. And Paul's simple answer to this question is, Who do you think you are asking such a question? And he gives the image of a potter and his clay. The potter takes the clay, wets it, puts it on a wheel, and shapes it and moulds it into the product that he desires it to be. The clay doesn't talk back to the potter, nor should it want to because the potter is the craftsman. The potter knows what is going to be, in his mind's eye, the final product. The clay cannot form itself into anything that it wants to. And so it is with God. He has made both honourable and dishonourable vessels for his purpose of salvation. Moses and Pharaoh being the examples given. God has done this so that both Jew and Gentile can know the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ. That's what the prophecy to Hosea was detailing in the passage. And it is a message of shock to the Jews and a message of blessing to us. The Gentiles were despised. How could they ever be worthy of the message of salvation? And the blessing for us is God said they are worthy, because I say so. Not on their own merit, but because of my Son, Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to quote from the prophet Isaiah in verses 27 to 29, and look what God says through that prophet. This makes it clear that because salvation is God's initiative, then not everyone will be saved. It is only a remnant who will be His. and his alone. This is shocking to the Jews. In their mind, everyone who was a Jew would be saved. Paul says, no, that's not the case, nor is that the promise. God will make honourable and dishonourable vessels, those who are the elect and those who are not. So what does this mean for us? Well, we've taken one fell swoop at chapter nine, but the overview I hope has been more helpful than perhaps getting bogged down in some of the deeper detail. We cannot rely on who we are by birth, by tradition, or by culture. None of those things matter in salvation because God's free gift is for all without prejudice. His is the gift of salvation. It is His initiative to us and not something that we can create or coerce. This is done so that we can know the gentleness and goodness of God. He is firm and He is clear, but this is so we can find rest in Him. God shows us mercy even when we don't deserve it, so we can know forgiveness of sins And this is not a new message, but it is the message we must all pay attention to. In hearing this message, we hear God call us to trust in Him now. We hear God call us to know His forgiveness for all our sins now. And we hear from God the promise of eternal rest now, and the assurance of that forever. Are you listening? Do you hear? Are you paying attention? Because Christ needs a response. What will your response be tonight? to him. He is seeking us, calling us, inviting us to know his great salvation. The book I quoted from at the start is based on Matthew chapter 11 verses 28 to 30 and it's with these words that speak so well of God's mercy that I want to leave them with you tonight. You will be familiar with them because I think if you keep count they're probably the words I quote the most but that's because they're the most beautiful. Where Jesus says come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart. And you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. This is the invitation. Are you listening? Are you paying attention? Because if you are, God is calling you. He's calling you to come and find this rest as a demonstration of his mercy towards you. Not based on who you think you are by birth, tradition, or culture. But who you are before him, who we all are before him, sinners needing redemption, redemption that is sure and certain to see us not only through all the days of life, but into eternity. Listen up, pay attention, and receive the rest that he offers. Let's pray. Our Father God, for this your word, we thank you for the glorious and beautiful invitation that your mercy is more than anything else in this world. So, Father, may we respond as we've listened, as we've heard, as we've paid attention. May we be faithful to what you're calling us to, and may we know that joy forever, and we ask it in Jesus name.

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