This is one of the most challenging chapters in the New Testament. I think Paul’s desire is that we understand the sovereignty of God. He provides some examples that make it seem that we do not have free will, but I don’t think that is his intent. At the end of the chapter Paul supports the concept of free will while preserving the importance of God’s sovereignty.
They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. (Romans 9:4 NLT)
I have been looking at the letter to the Romans through the lens of worship. This verse is important because it provides a definition of what worship is. The word in Greek is latreia. The basic meaning is to serve someone. In this context Paul is talking about the service that the Jews performed for God which probably refers to the service of the priests in the temple. The focus of the word is on the actions performed and not the attitude while taking those actions. This becomes important when Paul moves to the conclusion of this chapter.
What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, “I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” (Romans 9:30-33 NLT)
I think true worship is the result of a right relationship with God. This is not a peer relationship like one we would have with a close friend. I am not equal to God in any way. He is the creator and I am the creature. He makes it possible for me to have a relationship with Him by sending Jesus to die on the cross. I must accept that God is superior to me in every way. When I trust Him, I can serve Him out of my love for Him.
The alternative that the Jews pursued diminished the nature of God and elevated the nature of people. The false assumption was that a right relationship with God could be achieved by serving Him. In this view God is seen holding a scale and the goal is to pile up enough good actions on one side to outweigh the bad actions on the other side. This approach is the same as that taken with any idol you want to choose. The assumption is that the idol can be controlled by my actions.
Paul says this does not work. It does not work for several reasons. It does not work because God cannot be controlled by anyone or anything. It does not work because any trust that exists is placed in the wrong place. Anyone pursuing a relationship with God in this way is placing their trust in their ability to be good enough to please God. The focus is on self when the focus should be on God. I get to choose. I can trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for me and worship God with gratitude or I can trust in me and worship God with thanklessness.
For my grandchildren:
Check out mygrandmatime for more Family Bible Activities on the book of Romans.