Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Personal Response

Personally, I believe that the timeless truths of this passage are absolutely sweet. Indeed, the whole paradigm of my thinking was turned upside down for the better when I came across a true understanding of this chapter in the book of Romans. I used to believe that God had chosen me only because I first chose Him, but I realized now how arrogant it was to think this way. For it is exactly that sort of thinking that implies God chooses according to the merits of a positive response towards the Gospel. This would not be salvation by grace but of works! Only through this passage that the truths of the doctrines of grace really made sense to me, making the Christian belief so different from any other religion which states that we must do something to attain salvation.

I rest in knowing that my God never fails, and that everything that happens only happens because it is in His secret decree. It follows from this that whatever happens must be what is best, for it corresponds to His will. I also rest in knowing that, being chosen by God, His grace will sustain me through every difficulty, trial and affliction. Often times my conscience condemns me in times of great trouble, and the truth of this passage would comfort me, reminding me that I have been justified by the will of God, and nothing can separate the love of God from His elect. The truths of this passage has also caused me to be more patient when speaking to non-believers, knowing that I could just be like them if it were not for the grace of God that found me. It is also the truths of this passage that convicts me anytime I feel pride lurking in. All in all, I am compelled to a much deeper sense of gratitude towards the God who saved me, seeing that there was absolutely nothing in me that could have influenced God to choose me over another. I live, breath and work only by the grace of God. Knowing the grace of my God, I cannot NOT be caused to fall in love with Him


“Why I became an Atheist”

Posted: August 7, 2010 by graysutanto in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14

I don’t know if it’s the gloomy weather or the fact that there really is not much to do in Minnesota that I have retained the habit of intensive reading (and thinking!!) and writing. I was strolling through Barnes & Noble today with a starbucks coffee in hand as I was struggling against jetlag when I stumbled across a book entitled “Why I became an Atheist”. I was instantly intrigued. I picked up the book and started reading through it. Upon half an hour of reading I was inclined to purchase it, and I have to say so far, I thoroughly enjoy it.
I believe it’s very important as Christians to see and understand opposing worldviews. Not just that, it is also important to learn about such worldviews from first-hand defenders of that worldview, not just from Christian authors. Its one of the reasons I enjoy studying philosophy so much.

I enjoy this book a lot because unlike other atheistic books written by Dawkins or Harris, this book did not consist of just a bunch of Ad Hominem arguments that tries to appeal to your emotion. Those books could’ve been written by an angry 13 year old for all I know. Instead, this book was very charitable to the Christian worldview, and though I disagree with the author’s conclusions, I respect his reasoning and honesty. In fact, a lot of his arguments are valid arguments. Norman Geisler even mentioned that this book has a lot of things to say that every Christian ought to wrestle with.

The author started his book by explaining his “de-conversion” from Christianity. He was very honest. He was once a preacher, zealous for the cause of Christ, and admitted that his decline against Christianity was not triggered by intellectual doubts, but by psychological and sociological causes. Intellectual doubts instead became the fuel that continued the fire of doubt to burn. He had admitted that the cause was a struggle in his marriage – he had committed adultery with another woman and as he was recovering from it, the church was not very helpful to him. Instead of seeking to help him out, his local church condemned him. Instead of trusting that he was truly wanting to repent, his church doubted his very motives. What a profound reminder that as Christians we have no excuse to not help and love one another, seeking to build each other up. (Now don’t get me wrong here, i dont believe you can lose your salvation, and I will affirm that he fell away because of the reasons of 1 John 2:19, and he was never “there” in the first place…)

Now here I was tempted to say that his subjective experiences is not a good reason to doubt his faith (or should I say, his unwise choices to begin with). However I believe the author was right to argue that a lot of Christians begin their conversions with some sort of subjective experience too, and if we are to disregard this deconversion on the basis of that argument, then to be consistent, we would have to disregard the arguments of many Christian testimonials. I loved his reasoning. From here on he proceeded to make a case against Christianity.

What intrigued me the most from the author’s arguments is that they consisted mainly not in formulating his own arguments against Christianity, but in using the popular Christian arguments that we know and love and turning it against itself. This obviously comes because of his Christian background. He was taught by Dr. James. D Strauss, and studied WITH Dr. William lane Craig. His arguments are challenging, logical and indeed valid.
This reminds me of the passage above from 1 Corinthians, and to the fundamental truth of the doctrine of Election as taught in Scripture. The author has studied Christianity along with one of the world’s most zealous and popular Christian apologists today. Went through the same classes, learned under the same professor – and yet one ended up with an entirely different conclusion than the other. Why?

I believe this brings us back to the thing that I have been arguing for: that it is the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and preservation, God’s unique revelation to an individual which is the effectual cause and determinant of our faith, and it’s perseverance. We can argue for the existence of God, the rationality of Christianity, the reliability of the Scriptures all we want, but the natural man simply will not accept them without the working of the Holy Spirit causing him to believe. Apologetics and reason can only take us so far. This causes me to think back of my life in the past and of the people I know.

I grew up in a Christian school. I was exposed to the Gospel for a long time before my conversion. But these didn’t affect me. In fact, a lot of times it warded me away from God instead of to him. Yet I also know that many of my peers enjoyed and were spiritually nourished by the Christian teachings of my school. Why?

Let me bring this back as to the trigger of the author’s de-conversion. He asked a rhetorical question “If God knew that I would end up the atheist I am today, and would be writing this book to lead others astray, why didn’t he do something in my life that was far different than what actually happened?” I’ve asked myself a very similar question. In fact, many others have asked myself a very similar question. When I tell them about my conversion, people ask me: “Gray, why did God reveal Himself to you, spoke to you in such a personal way and yet chooses not to reveal Himself like that to me? And not to everyone else?” Anytime this question was posed, I could only respond with “I don’t know. It was all of grace.”

Why is it that one is born into a family of non-believers, and will live his life never ever having heard of the Gospel? Why is it that one is born into a family of puritans? Why is it that the Gospel is preached, and one is drawn towards God and the other finds it repulsive? I believe simply it is because God chooses one and not the other, and this choice is made purely out of grace. The author of the book was right that many times our conversion is caused by a sociological event, and not an intellectual enlightenment. So why are some people bombarded with opportunities and spiritual experiences while others get none? The answer, I believe, is simple. The grace of God is not extended equally to each person. He gives it to whom He pleases.

A lot of the author’s arguments take the form of arguing that the biblical God flies in the face of our common senses. Why does God do this instead of that? Doesn’t it make more sense if God had done this? The book is filled with arguments like that. And I have to say, a lot of what the author argues makes a lot of sense, and is appealing to me. I have to agree that a lot of what Scripture says will be completely alien to our human reasoning. In fact, a lot of it won’t make sense to us. And when things seem funky to our reasoning, we come back to say that this is why faith is required. But again the question persists, why does one choose to say “This is what the Bible says, I’ll accept it even though I can’t understand it.” And another reads the Scriptures and concludes with “The things said here are absurd, how can I ever believe in such a thing?!”

In fact, the author argues that it makes no sense that Jesus only chose to reveal himself to such a few people. If Jesus really was God, after His resurrection, He would’ve made a huge entrance, revealing Himself to the whole earth. Plus a “real” God would’ve chosen to resurrect His son at a different, more convenient time. But here it seems to me that the Sovereignty of God and election must be affirmed for faith to retain itself. Why did Jesus only reveal Himself to a select few of people post-mortem? Well, because He only wanted to reveal Himself to those people. Why was Israel singled out as a country? Why was Jacob singled out? Why was Moses chosen? Any why did Jesus choose to reveal Himself to those particular people. Why didn’t He choose to reveal Himself to the emperor instead? Well, because God chooses whomever He chooses. Once again, apologetics and human reasoning can only take us so far. Faith is required here. And Faith can only be caused and sustain by the election of the Spirit. And the Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, it seems to me, is an essential doctrine given to us by the Spirit as a means of preserving His elect.

Many Hands
The author continued to proceed that even IF God existed, in the face of the many religions we have today, which God is the right one? Once again, I believe the electing grace of the Spirit is needed here. Many Christians have preached that man is sick in sin and is in need of a Savior. All man has to do is to take the hand of God who is already there ready to save him. But this analogy does not go far enough. With so many religions today, the analogy must include that more than ten hands are being offered to help the sick man. The sick man must first desire to seek God, desire to reach out his hand in reciprocation to God, and then figure out which “God” is the right one for him to choose. The new age God says “Take my hand and you will receive spiritual enlightenment.” Jesus says “I am the way the truth and the life.” And so forth and so on. I have to say, that for a sick man to reach out his hand, and to pick the correct God, that would be one sharp sick man. And surely it would give him some sort of grounds on which to boast on. Instead, the biblical view says that the man is not just sick, but instead is dead in sin. And among all the hands offered to him, God makes sure the man is saved by grabbing him from the grave, giving him life, and reveals to him the Truth. The Gospel is not just a mere offer. It is a certainty. Not by our works, but by His grace and doing alone.

Let’s take this thought even further. If the Gospel is a mere offer, and it indeed is seen for what it truly is, then who, in the right mind, would choose to reject it? Offer a beggar water and food and he will gladly accept. The problem is not in the thing that is offered, the problem is in how people perceive of it. The beggar who rejects the water and food perceives that he is actually being offered poison. The person who reject the Gospel perceives that he is actually being offered folly and wretched falsehood. Just as a beggar would never reject food and water, when the Gospel is seen for what it truly is, it would never be rejected. Yet what causes a man to see the Gospel for what it truly is? What reveals this to a man? What causes the “natural man” is described in 1 Corinthians 2:14 to see the message of the Spirit as the sweet fruit it truly is, and not as folly? Well, it must be none other than grace, and grace alone.

A few days ago I was given a book by Martin Lloyd Jones called the “Plight of Man and the Power of God” It’s a short piece, only 119 pages long, consisting of five sermons in the context of World War 2. MLJ turns to the second half of Romans 1 to address the contemporary issues.

Now I have to say I haven’t gotten so excited of reading any book since D.A Carson’s “Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”! (Not even Calvin’s institutes!) The message of this book is still so immensely important for us today. As I read it I am amazed at how true many of his predictions and observations have come to be. At this point I have only read the first 40 pages, yet these first pages are so packed with hard truths that I have to pause every few lines to meditate on what he means, that I could not bring myself to continue just yet. Instead I’ve brought myself to read these first pages 3-4 times now. It was like reading the book of Romans for the first time!

Being in the context of World War 2, this book certainly delivers what I would not expect in such a difficult time. People doubted the existence of God, church attendance was dwindling and many more doubt the goodness of God. One would expect to hear something very comforting and fluffy to be preached at church.

Yet this is now how he begins. He begins his five sermons exploring the depth of the depravity of man, and the falsity of human goodness. He stated a few very good reasons by which we should doubt the theory that humans seek God and that we are making some sort of progress towards theological and spiritual enlightenment. He does this not just by observing the biblical Israel, but also by noticing the Spiritual roller-coaster human history is perpetually riding in. From the OT, to the declines and inclines of the Church, to the rising atheistic tendencies of the secular world, It is clear that humans do not seek God, God must take the initiative in revealing Himself, and yet when He does, we willingly choose and suppress His revelations. The Old Testament alone should be enough to testify to this truth as stated in Romans 1.

MLJ states that the Church cannot be presumed to only offer a message of comfort. One cannot deny the amazing comfort the Gospel offers to believers but if one was to assume that the only job of the church is to comfort people, then we would end up with a weak version of Christianity, and a sentimentalized version of God. Hence instead of saying frothy things that you would expect Joel Osteen to be preaching every weekend in his church, MLJ demands that we take a clear look at ourselves, deny the “lamentable ignorance” that is the theory of human goodness and get a biblical view of the nature of man.

It is only when we find a true view of ourselves that the gravity and immensity of the Gospel can ever make sense to us – that the grace of God becomes amazingly irresistible to us. Instead of saying “God is still loving and is still seeking to make us comfortable in this time of war”, he says “We are evil, prideful and we indulge in ungodliness, what did you expect?” Only when we realize how undeserving we are can we fully live joyously in the grace of God, no matter what the external circumstances are.

I am afraid that the church that we have today has fallen into such a trap. We have sentimentalized God and we have falsely affirmed the goodness of man. No longer does God love us merely out of grace alone, but now we hear false preachers speak of how God must necessarily love us because we are so lovable, because we are so good, because we are so “worth it”. Instead of preaching the Sovereignty of God, we succumb to philosophical speculations of free-will and the so called “problem of pain” or “evil”. Instead of emphasizing that God can do whatever He wants, we end up saying that God cannot intervene in what WE want. Such nonsense will only lead men astray and away from God when suffering and tribulations come their way.

We have seem to forgotten that both blessings and calamities come from a holy God. We seem to have forgotten that the only message there is to preach is what the Scriptures have written in front of us. Instead we have lost confidence in the power of the Word of God to draw men onto Himself and instead have replaced expository preaching with marshmallows, seeking to be attractive, seeking to be comfortable. We replace them with men-made techniques of loud music, nice lights and human fallible testimonials. We compromise mature leadership by stooping down to the maturity of the unbelievers, entertaining a delusion that somehow the natural man has an inclination to seek God. We have now replaced the goal of nurturing believers into a strong biblical foundation to the goal of numbers and hype.

Martin Lloyd Jones was right to point out that the only study man will ever be fully interested in is man himself. There are no seekers. There is no such thing as a seeker-friendly church. There is only one Seeker, and His name is Jesus Christ. We just run and hide. There is certainly something wrong when not a single person is challenged or angered at the preaching from the Pulpit. When we preach the Word, the natural man is inclined to hate it. Indeed the flesh is naturally in enmity against God (Rom 8:7-8). Will we succumb to feeding the hunger for self-comfort or will we actually heed to the Scriptures, get an honest clear look at who we really are, get a sense of true fear of the Wrath of God and then actually come to a true understanding of the Gospel? The Bible is the only message that God had given us to preach. And what, may I ask, will be more powerful than the Word of God alone? If we are not confident in His word, is it really any more sensible that other human means can bring in more profitable affects? Human means may bring in some sort of emotional affect, or as MLJ puts it, human means is inducing “dope”. But “dope” does not last.

The problem does not just exist in the Pulpits, today Christians have replaced the fundamental need for Godliness and a relationship with Christ to emphasizing moralistic (and often times, legalistic) living. Once again MLJ pointed out that we have now come to accept that unrighteousness is a more heinous sin than ungodliness when the former actually naturally comes from the latter. We see “Christian” books telling us to live a good life and to love one another, while leaving out the most important aspect: The Gospel and the Person of Jesus Christ as the motivating power driving that should be driving all of our actions.

I will continually pray that God will cause us to seek Truth, and to preach Truth as found in the Scriptures alone.

Soli Deo Gloria

Timeless Truths and Application

An understanding of this passage is still immensely significant for us today. It is relevant because through this passage we come to understand that the God we serve never fails, even when it seems that many are rejecting His name. A correct understanding of this passage should encourage believers as they rest in the absolute security of the will of God. If God had already chosen you from before the foundation of world then you could never lose your salvation for God never changes His mind. This is the epitome of what it means to be saved by grace. Christians do not need to live in constant worry about whether or not they might lose their salvation, for it is God who determines their justification and salvation. As this rests upon the mercy and electing grace of God, it follows that His promises are irrevocable. Furthermore, believers can feel secure even when sin and evil lies rampant on the world today, knowing that their very existence is dependent upon God’s preservation, thus ultimately fulfilling His sovereign plan. Sometimes the fewness of believers might shock us. Indeed, just a stroll down the streets of downtown Los Angeles today will reaffirm this. Instead of getting discouraged by such things, the message of this passage should comfort us, exhorting us to live in contentment and security.

In terms of evangelism, believers should be even more encouraged to do so in light of this passage. For this passage supplies believers with the confidence that it will be God who will effectively bring about the results. Evangelists, therefore, are not responsible for the salvation of others, but should be trusting in God’s sovereignty in bringing about salvation through them. Hence evangelists should not be discouraged when their labor seemingly does not produce fruit, for it will be God who decides which seeds He would cause to grow.

This passage also contains one of the most humbling messages in all of Scripture. It reveals that nothing in you caused God to choose you over the atheist next door; that even your decision to choose Christ was foreordained by the grace of God. There is therefore no difference between believers and non-believers but the sovereign choice of God alone. It follows from this that we cannot boast in anything, but only by the power of God; neither can we boast when God uses us to bring about salvation in others. There is then no place for pride in the Christian walk. It reminds us of our position as creatures and God as righteous Creator and that He has the absolute right to do what He wants to do with His creation.

19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?… Paul anticipates yet another objection. Here the sinful mind is so quick to question the authority and justice of God. The question, plainly stated is “How can God hold unbelievers responsible for their sin if it is God who had already predestined them to destruction?” The objection is charging God with tyranny, and thus argues that God would not be just in condemning men, neither would he be just in putting the blame on man as no one can thwart His will.

20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?… Paul’s reply is a sobering reminder of who we are before a Holy God. We are to know our place, who is man, and how arrogant is it for man to think he can contest with God? As sinners before God we deserve nothing but condemnation, and are therefore not entitled to anything. Paul’s response places the ontology of God as the only and highest reason, content and knowing that such a reason would suffice. Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Paul further emphasizes that our very life is dependent upon His will and this should greatly humble us. As He had made us, He has full authority and power over our lives and we have no right in challenging our Creator.

21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? … Here Paul lays out the reason to which the formed has no right to content to its former – that is that the former has complete right to do what He wants with what He had formed. An owner has the right to do what he wants with the things that he owns, so is God with His creation. We have no claim on His grace and nothing is ours except for what He had given us, and neither are we entitled to any of His merits. Therefore God has the right to make one individual for honorable use and another for dishonorable use.

22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power,… Though Paul does not give an explicit reason to why one was chosen over the other, except that the reason was not any goodness or initiative of the elect, Paul reasons that God would have the perfect right to prepare some for destruction. This would be fully just for God to do, as it would show His righteous wrath on undeserving sinners, thus making known His power among the rest of creation. Has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction… Some of the reprobates, God deals with patiently, suspending judgment upon them for a time being to make known the severity of His wrath and power. These reprobates, though seemingly rampant in disobedience to God for a time being are ultimately under His very will and are dependent upon His sustaining power, and will be thrown into utter destruction at a time that seems most pleasing to God.

23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy,… The vessels of destruction which reveal the wrath of God amplifies the glory of God as He chooses to be merciful to His elect. For the mercy of God will shine far more radiantly in the midst of His wrath, as His elect sees the wrath of God befalling upon the reprobates. Which he has prepared beforehand for glory— … God, just as He had prepared some for destruction beforehand, has prepared some for glory beforehand. Thus this coheres with the rest of Paul’s argument that the mercy of God rests solely on His will and had already been determined before the foundation of the world.

14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?… Here Paul foresees and anticipates what he knows will be an objection for surely Paul had received this objection before. Here the fallen man is prone to say that God is unjust in choosing one over the other. How can this be fair? And Paul emphatically answers: By no means!… There is indeed no injustice in God’s part. No one receives less than what they deserve. The elect receives mercy, which is more than they deserve, while the reprobates receive justice, which is exactly what they deserve. Paul continues to defend the justice of God in verse fifteen.

15For he says to Moses , “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”… This is the basis in which God elects His people, as Paul quotes Exodus 33:19. The context of this quotation was God’s response to Moses when Moses prayed for the salvation of the whole people. As if God said that it will depend entirely upon His good pleasure regarding who will receive His mercy and whom His wrath. God has the complete freedom to do what He wills. The basis of His righteousness in electing some and passing over others is that he can do what He pleases – that His authority alone is sufficient. This means that God is never externally influenced to make a decision. For to say that there was something external to God that incited him to bestow mercy upon one and not the other would be making mercy much less mercy, and God much less of a God.

16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy….Paul concludes his previous thought with this summary – that salvation depends not on human will or any sort of merit in man, but solely on God’s mercy. This is the very essence of grace, and no one has a claim to the mercies of God. This passage further reinstates salvation by grace alone, with nothing in the human will that can illicit the grace of God. Some theologians express the view that the grace of God co-operates with the will of man to bring about salvation and perseverance, but it seems to me that Paul’s argument thus far does not leave any place for the will of man as playing a part in salvation.

17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh,”… This refers to the Pharoah of Exodus. For this very purpose I have raised you up,…the Hebrew uses the causative conjugation of a verb here, literally meaning “I made you stand”. Paul here is arguing that God was perfectly sovereign even through Pharoah’s disobedience; that it was God who preserved Pharoah. That I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Pharoah then, as mighty as he might have been, and as persistent as he was in being disobedient to God was preserved by the will of God to show forth His power. This is used by Paul in support of God’s sovereignty in using the reprobate for His glory, and God was fully righteous in predestining Pharoah to destruction. It follows from this that it would be meaningless and futile to content against the will of God, that even the disobedience of the reprobate is used by God in the secret decree of His providence.

18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills… Paul sums up his argument thus far, coming back to the fact that God has mercy on whomever it pleases Him, and hardens whomever He wills. This statement implies that all men deserve wrath and are not entitled to God’s mercy. The word “hardens” here does not mean mere permission, but also the operation of the wrath of God.

8This 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 argues that it is the spiritual offspring of Abraham that is the true Israel; those who believe, by faith, in the promises of God. Hence, if Isaac was the seed, Ishmael was not, and Jacob was the seed while Esau was passed over, it follows that not all of Abraham’s natural descendents are of the True Israel. Paul is also making a comparison to chapter 4:11-18, where Paul states that Abraham is the father of all who believes by faith. This inheritance is not given through the flesh or from the law, but a spiritual inheritance received by having faith on the promises of God.

9For this is what the promise said:”About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”…This quotation comes from Genesis 18:12, the context is God promising that the seed will come forth from Sarah’s womb, foretelling the birth of Isaac. At about this time Ishmael was already born, again further proving that not all of the fleshly seeds of Abraham are of the true seeds of Abraham. It is worth mentioning that Paul seeks to prove that God’s election is not based on the physical seed of Abraham all the way from the Old Testament, reassuring his Jewish readers that he is not teaching something new but that God had always been consistently doing this from the very beginning. This is why Paul exegetes and argues from the Old Testament.

10And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,… Here Paul turns to the even more poignant example of Jacob and Esau, as if anticipating in the former comparison of Ishmael and Isaac that some might object saying one was conceived by a slave and was done out of true faith. In this case, Jacob and Esau were both of equal standing on a physical level; both coming from the same mother, and were even twins. It is made clear that the fulfillment of the promise is not under the fleshly seed but in the Spiritual.

11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—… This coheres with what Paul teaches in the first chapter of Ephesians; that God had predestined his elect from before the foundation of the world. Here also Paul begins to exposit the basis in which the elect are called, and excludes the possibility that it might be in God’s foreknowledge of an individual’s positive response to His calling. The view of God electing those whom he foresaw would positively respond to His call is normally inferred from Romans 8:29. However the word foreknew in this verse had been used before as always the opposite of rejection, therefore it does not signify a mere foreknowledge of a certain individual, but is more of an emphasis of God’s special choice or covenant affection for that individual (consider Gen 18:19, Jer 1:5, Amos 3:2). in order that God’s purpose of election might continue,…Instead the basis of Jacob’s election over Esau rests solely upon the purposes of God, His sovereign will and good pleasure. Not because of works but because of him who calls—…This would cohere with what Paul had just stated, that God’s election is not based upon any sort of works or even foreknowledge of good works. It follows from this that there is nothing in man that could have incited God to elect Him, and the basis of their election rests solely on the mercy of God.

12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” … This was from the birth account of Rebekah in Genesis 25:23. The Tyndale commentary interprets this prophecy as being related not to the individuals of Esau and Jacob but to their descendents for Esau had never rendered service to Jacob. (182) This interpretation seems plausible, but I would also add that this emphasizes how God’s will is to be done and how it is sovereign over human traditions, and is what He wills will be done.

13As it is written,  ”Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Paul confirms, from Malachi 1:2-3 an even stronger testimony of God’s divine will. Jacob received the blessings of the Lord through the kindness of God and not of His own merit at all. By nature, and to our human intuitions, the younger should have served the older, but it was God’s good pleasure to have mercy on Jacob while passing over his older brother Esau.

5To them belong the patriarchs, … It was from Israel that the primary recipients of God’s promises flow. This would include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons. And from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ… Paul reaffirms that Christ too had come forth as a descendent of Abraham and David, alluding to Romans 15: 8 where he explicitly teaches that Christ came to show God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises to the patriarchs. Who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen….Paul reminds his readers of the divinity of Christ, mentioning that Christ glories and is God over all, not just of ethnic Israel.

6But it is not as though the word of God has failed…Here Paul turns to the basic issue that had already been mention in the beginning of this paper. No doubt that God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises to the Patriarchs is being called into question and Paul seeks to defend the righteousness and the Sovereignty of God in keeping with His word in the following section. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,…Paul explains that God had never promised the certainty of the salvation of all ethnic Israel, but there are some descendents from ethnic Israel that are not a part of the true Israel. It follows from this then that the existence of a multitude of unbelievers in ethnic Israel does not mean the promises of God had been thwarted, neither has the word of God failed.

7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…By mentioning Abraham, Paul argues that the true Israel are those who receive justification by faith alone, which he had already argued in Romans chapter four. but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”… This is a quotation from Genesis 21:12. The context of this quotation is God telling Abraham to allow Sarah to throw out Hagar and Ishmael, confirming that not all of the flesh offspring of Abraham are of the true Israel.

8This 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 argues that it is the spiritual offspring of Abraham that is the true Israel; those who believe, by faith, in the promises of God. Hence, if Isaac was the seed, Ishmael was not, and Jacob was the seed while Esau was passed over, it follows that not all of Abraham’s natural descendents are of the True Israel. Paul is also making a comparison to chapter 4:11-18, where Paul states that Abraham is the father of all who believes by faith. This inheritance is not given through the flesh or from the law, but a spiritual inheritance received by having faith on the promises of God.

1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—… Paul realizes that he is about to address an important topic. An issue that is indeed worthy of an oath as many at that time were calling Paul an enemy of to his own kinsmen. Many thought that Paul was telling his nation to forsake the law of Moses, betraying his very ethnicity. He then prepares the minds of his reader, anticipating that many of which would be Jewish Christians, that he is speaking the truth, even making an oath by the name of Christ. I am not lying;… Hence he reaffirms that he is speaking truth, and that he takes the subject matter very seriously. My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— … To add even more reassurance upon his readers, he brings in the testimony and the witnessing of the Holy Spirit towards His conscience. Paul assures readers that he is free from evil motives, or any sort of desire to lead others astray and what he is about to speak is under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.

2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. … Paul expresses his sorrow and sadness over his Jewish family, signifying that he cares very much for his kinsmen. This passage shows that Paul, even when knowing that what is happening to the Jews is of the will and providence of God, is still struggling and is in anguish with this very issue in his heart.

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ… Another expression of Paul’s care and love for his Jewish family. So much so that the Greek word anathema is used here, which means not only a temporal death but an eternal separation from Christ. Paul was wishing that it was possible for him to be condemned if it would mean that salvation would come to his kinsmen. for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh… Such was the love of Paul for his people and his sorrow is further expressed in witnessing that many from his own nation are missing from the sovereign election of God.

4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption,… Paul here begins to acknowledge the many blessings that the Israelites had received from God, signifying how Israel had been set apart from the other nations. First, the glory,…signifying God’s dwelling among them, setting them apart from other nations. Secondly, the covenants,…there had been some dispute on whether this should be given a singular reading (in which case, it might be referring to the covenant of Sinai in Ex 24.8), however it seems most probable to me that Paul meant this to be understood by a plural reading, which would include the many covenants that God established with the Patriarchs of Israel and the New Covenant as expressed in Jer 31:31. The giving of the law,…referring to the Mosaic law and legislation which was exclusively handed down to Israel, again setting the nation apart. The worship, … this refers to the ways that God wanted to be worshipped as revealed to Israelites, mainly in the book of Leviticus. And the promises… referring to the Messianic promises, including the ones God established to Abraham and David.

As Americans, we love talking about ourselves. We think we are the center of the universe and think that everything revolves around us. This kind of self-focus has trickled down to the pulpit and has done a great disservice to American Christianity. Unfortunately, it affects the way we preach and evangelize to one another. What is more important: our personal story (testimony) or God’s story?

Something that really irks me is when, on Wednesday night (or Sunday morning), there is a guest speaker that shares their personal story of transformation (and that is the extent of the sermon or “teaching”) with the congregation INSTEAD of preaching the Word of God. Now, I am not saying that because I am anti-testimonies. I say that because we, as Christians, grow when he hear the Gospel preached to us. But perhaps even more importantly, there are people in the audience that have no clue who Jesus is and what He has accomplished. Whose story has more power: Jesus’ or ours? Which one is going to transform lives? Which is going to be the means of replacing a heart of stone with a heart of flesh? Although a testimony may be encouraging and fun to listen to, IT IS NOT THE GOSPEL! The Gospel is Jesus’ perfect life, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. It is about the empty tomb. If our stories are preached instead of God’s story during church services, how are we (Christians) going to spiritually mature and how is the non-Christian going to be saved? As remarkable and miraculous of a story that Paul had, he proclaimed nothing but “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). This is the danger we have in sharing our testimony at all: it may not always lead to the Cross. Now I’m not going to say that telling someone your testimony is ALWAYS a bad thing, because I do not think that is true. But if the Gospel is not the focus, then something is wrong. God’s stories are ALWAYS better than our own.

My personal testimony: I am sinner in need of a savior. Miraculously, and ill deservingly, God saved me.

We need to remember whose story we a part of, who the main character is, and who the supporting characters are. What do you think?