Romans (Part 34) – Redemption Plan (11:11–36)
Chapter 11 will conclude the main thrust of Romans that Paul began back in chapter 1. He is discussing the Gospel, or as a whole, the redemption plan of God. However, he has been doing so particularly concerned with setting it against the Jews’ faulty idea of what God’s rescue and relationship with them was truly about. The second half of chapter 11 contains some imagery which is often misinterpreted and therefore makes Paul’s conclusion a little difficult to grasp. In order to see that conclusion well, I think it would help if we talked through God’s redemption plan concentrating simply on it rather than on Paul’s presentation of it, and then come back to see how the conclusion overlays Paul’s intent in Romans 11. Of course, in doing so, I’ll repeat many points tossed out not only in our Romans series so far but in several other series we have done as well. But, again, even doing that will have the advantage of going through those points in a more fully complete, beginning-to-end story fashion so that they can find their places in our minds’ organization well.
So let’s start with God. God exists. Hardly earth-shattering news for us who are Christians, but his revelation is, of course, rejected by those who are not Christians. Yet although we cannot prove to the foundationalist mindset that he exists, no one can legitimately call belief in his existence unreasonable or even less reasonable than anything else. In fact, I’d argue that no can assert anything else to be even at the same height of reasonableness as belief in God. And that is because there is no other explanation for how anything came about.
The fundamental question of existence is why does existence exist, or, in other words, why is there something rather than nothing? We have attempts galore made at explaining the existence of humans through evolutionary process and the earth through violent collisions and even the universe through the Big Bang. But all those theories posit matter prior to beginning their explanations. But how did matter come about? The Big Bang started with a small singularity that expanded suddenly, continuing to expand. Yet, the existence question still remains. How did that small singularity come about? Why was it there rather than nothing? What forces operated on it to cause it to change status from its hot, infinitely small density to its expanded, cooled form? Some proponents argue that the Big Bang is a continuing idea of an ever-expanding then contracting cycle, which of course, does nothing to answer the fundamental question of why there is something rather than nothing. The point then is that the answer of positing a God, being the only coherent answer, is reasonably worth exploring to see whether its associated ideas make reasonable sense. I believe they do, and therefore, to me, it is the only known and reasonably coherent response to the question.
Assuming then that God exists and that existence came from this creating God, we can understand this God in relation to the universe to be not only beyond, but because he is beyond he is infinitely beyond to its limitations. Further, because of his infiniteness, he must be the only necessary being. He depends on nothing else for his existence, yet everything else that is known (in and of the universe) depends on him. There cannot be another necessary (and therefore infinite) being. The infiniteness of one would necessarily limit the other.
We know of virtue in this universe. Those virtues may be categorized in three groups: truth, goodness, and beauty. If communicated in this universe, they must have originated with the originator of the universe, God. Thus, God is truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB), and as infinite, he is infinite truth, infinite goodness, and infinite beauty. Because we can see and have TGB communicated to us, we can conclude another couple of terms about this God: glory and love. Glory is the manifestation of worth. If infinite TGB is that worthiness of God, his glory then is the manifestation or showcasing of that TGB. Likewise, love is the giving of self for the benefit of others. Because God is TGB, giving or communicating self (TGB) for others’ benefit is love itself. Thus, the nature of God is his TGB, and his power (activity) is love.
Of course, it would seem that love—giving or communicating self for others’ benefit—requires an other to receive the communication. Yet we argued that God was the only necessary being. Must we now modify that statement to account for God being a God of love? I don’t think so. Here’s where the concept of Trinity is philosophically necessary. God is one; yet, God is multiple. His oneness lies in his infinite TGB. He is, however, multiple in his Persons—his expression of self, so that he may, in his persons, love and be loved without the necessity for any other. But this shared love among a multiplicity of persons within our one God speaks to the fact that our God is relational.
Finally (for our purposes in this discussion), we may conclude that God is alive. We have already mentioned his existence, but being alive is the term we can apply to his fully defined existence. In other words, his life is in his existence related to his TGB both in its manifestation (glory) and communication (love).
Notice that this foundational understanding of God rests necessarily in his relational commitment through love to infinite truth, goodness, and beauty. A less progressive and more systematic view of God usually highlights power—the might by which he can command and destroy all else. That idea morphs into an idea of sovereignty whose meaning is inextricably tied to controlling and, if desired, destroying. Thus, in considering God’s activity in creation, this narrow view of power and sovereignty take over in defining created beings as slaves of God, forced (controlled) in doing his will for the sole purpose of exalting this God.
But God’s power (ability in activity) must be based on those traits that we not only realized philosophically (above) but that we also see confirmed in God’s revelation of creation and his word. Thus, God’s power (activity) is relational—love motivated by his truth, goodness, and beauty. And in his sovereignty, he creates for that purpose. And he will himself engage in relationship with only those created beings who set their own purpose on his TGB. Therefore, power in control and destruction did not motivate God to sovereignly demand obedience; rather, relationship in TGB motivated him to create for everlasting love relationship.
As we see the creation story unfold in Genesis 1, we find all elements pronounced good—a Hebrew word meaning of benefit. Creatures are described as living—a word meaning having appetite and sustenance. And crowning this process is the creation of humankind bearing the image of the very God who made them. Those creatures of image-bearing quality are those with whom God will pursue this everlasting love relationship. Of necessity, then, they must be like God in having the ability to apprehend truth, goodness, and beauty; approbate TGB in faith and hope; and articulate TGB in love. That’s his image—the qualities necessary for love relationship.
The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 may be seen as showcasing glory and love. In Genesis 1 we see creation as God manifests his TGB glory. In Genesis 2—in the Garden—we see God act in power—the communication of his TGB in love for the benefit of Adam and Eve. Symbolizing that thought are two trees meant for the good of his created image-bearers. Life in his creatures meant relationship with the One who is Life. Thus, the image-bearers eating from that tree symbolized the enjoyment of relationship with their loving (TGB-giving) God. The other tree—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—symbolized that which the image-bearers needed to be taught about God—his divine nature (TGB) and eternal power (loving care)—so that they could apprehend, approbate in faith and hope, and then themselves articulate in love in return. But relationship necessarily takes time; it cannot be coerced. It grows on the basis of knowledge and experience. God told these image-bearers, therefore, not to eat of the tree—not to pursue the TGB of God without God’s direction. They must learn it of him, its source, for them to have relationship with him.
But, as we know, Adam and Eve pursued the TGB they saw in the tree’s fruit (Gen 2:6) apart from God. And pursuing TGB within themselves, they lost relationship with God. If relationship with God was life, loss of relationship was death. Yet, if God is all that is true, good, and beautiful, separation from him in death would necessarily mean the exact opposite—a horrifically agonizing disassociation from that good God into less than image-bearing disfigurement. Yet, there they were—still breathing, still feeling the warmth of the sun, still enjoying the world’s pleasures. Could God possibly have ignored his own nature’s requirement for TGB in his relationships? No. But God’s faithfulness to his own Trinitarian covenant nature of TGB would not be fully seen until the accomplishment of redemption’s plan that he had immediately set into motion to be fulfilled by Christ in the perfect death he would offer. God’s faithfulness to that covenant—God’s own righteousness—is accomplished in Christ (Ro 3:21–22). Blessing—the TGB experienced by God’s loving hand—is sourced, or rooted, in Christ. However, these image-bearers would still have to be taught about the TGB from God in order to have fellowship with him. And the first lesson was in barring access to the Tree of Life, for without a foundational basis in God’s TGB, relationship with God is not possible.
Genesis 4 presents the downward spiraling effects of sin. But in Genesis 5, God teaches that despite sin’s downward spiral, the image-bearing qualities of creation still exist within God’s creation. We see generation after generation from Adam on of children being born “in the likeness of God,” born of the same image. So, while sin swirled, hope remained.
In Genesis 6 through 8, God teaches the necessary consequence of rejection of the apprehended TGB of God that God himself reveals to all his image-bearers. The world is destroyed through a flood, saving only a man and his family who hold trusting dependence on God (the approbation of apprehended TGB in faith and hope). In Genesis 9, the lesson of necessary death taught, God covenants with surviving image-bearers that he will never again wipe out every living creature with a flood. While the flood taught God’s Covenant of Operational Essence (that God always operates in TGB), the Noahic covenant taught God’s Covenant of Creative Purpose (that he would sovereignly work his redemptive plan to bring to himself image-bearers with whom to have everlasting love relationship). The covenant implied redemption would come. As a sign of that covenant, God hung up his bow in the sky (Ge 9:12–13). God’s bow (Habakkuk 3:9) is a warrior’s weapon that God had just wielded in the flood. The rainbow hanging in the sky is the reminder that God has hung up his bow never again to wield it in such manner, precisely because his plan of redemption will see through to the end.
The next covenant God fashions in his lesson-teaching development of redemption’s plan is the Abrahamic covenant. In it the promise of children, land, and blessing to the world are offered. Of course, these covenantal rewards have their symbolic representation in the physical—the actual children of Abraham (who become the nation of Israel), the actual land of Canaan, and the actual blessing provided through that heritage. However, it is in their eternal fulfillment (that which the physical images) that the blessings find their glory. The promised children are the fulfillment through the firstfruits—Jesus—and then through those born into him. The promised land is the redeemed (New) earth in which God’s children would dwell eternally. And the blessing to the world promises that God’s relationship would not be limited by ethnicity but flow out to all those who would settle their faith and hope on God for eternal relationship. The sign of this covenant was circumcision (Ge 17:11), pointing to the heritage especially in Messiah Redeemer, offered interestingly through the covenant of marriage—a sign itself of our relationship with God.
In the Abrahamic covenant, the lesson taught was redemption through faith—necessary for the spirit’s release from condemnation. In the Mosaic covenant, the lesson taught was salvation from death—necessary for the body’s redemption. Through the Mosaic covenant, Israel was to be a nation of priests, imaging God’s relationship with the world. The world’s rescue from sin is pictured in Israel’s rescue from Egypt. God’s presence in this life is pictured by his going with Israel through the desert. And full life (relationship) restored with God is shown in Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land of rest. Israel was also given the Law—not as a rulebook by which they could either enter into everlasting relationship with God or as a marker of everlasting relationship with God. The Law was to show them their need. They needed a rescuer, redeemer, savior. But in God’s interaction with them, God also taught that relationship with him brought blessing. The sign of this covenant was the Sabbath (Ex 31:12), meaning that, although worthy of death, God would bring us to rest.
Finishing the major covenant teaching lessons of redemption’s path is the Davidic covenant. This covenant teaches us that redemption would come through kingly representative. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14). And David was promised that a man from him (in physical sense—of his descendants, but of eternal significance—of his heart) would forever be on the throne of God’s Israel. We see in the OT example that as Israel’s kings followed or strayed from God, so did the people. Our king, Jesus, reigns in God’s kingdom through living according to God’s divine nature (TGB) and his eternal power (loving care). But another beauty of this covenant is that we are promised to reign with Jesus. The reigning is not the rule and reign associated with earthly kings and kingdoms (Mat 20:25). Jesus made clear to pilot that his kingly reign was not like that of the kingdoms of the earth (John 18:36). There will be no people assigned to us to lord it over. The reason we will reign with Jesus is that the reigning is the life set on God’s TGB and communicating it in love. That is the reigning we do, exactly as Christ does. The sign of this covenant is the throne. I Chronicles 29:22 links the throne of Israel, upon which the person after God’s own heart sits, to the throne of God.
In the next summary, we will continue from these covenants to the New Covenant, fulfilling God’s redemption plan.