[My readings don’t quite match up with the plan the church is using, but that’s ok]
Paul continues talking to the Gentiles in Rome he’s been addressing about Torah; that it is useful for making us know how sinful we have been. He continues to say that according to the “flesh” even he is still sinful – the very thing he hates he continues doing! This isn’t setting up some dichotomy where it doesn’t exist – that is, to say that the spirit is holy and all flesh (material things) are evil. Rather, Paul is suggesting that there is something fundamentally wrong with us, with the way the entire world runs and the way we have been raised and all of human society. He doesn’t say all that – he calls it “the flesh”. He even, a bit later, says that Jesus was descended “according to the flesh” from Israel. By that he means according to the way humanity sees things. So there is something fundamentally and basically wrong with all of us – even the nation of Israel. We are ALL sinful – even after we’ve been saved, there’s still that part of us that speaks to our hears and minds of things that society understands. That being wealthy is the only way to be happy. That sleeping with that beautiful woman is desirable, especially if the wife doesn’t find out. That anything that feels good physically must be good. That’s the flesh – the sinful and selfish nature that we all have. All of us have been immersed it in for our entire natural lives. It may look slightly different depending on our culture – but it is all selfish and sinful.
Paul talks about this nature of ours, and tells us to not be afraid. That something has changed. That we are no longer who we were, but we are in union with Christ now. We’re on His side, members of His family, part of His team that is charged with changing all of this. And no matter what – He will never let us go. That even when it seems like nothing is going right and we’re tripping up in our lives and everything is hard – He is still there and He still is with us. That “all things work together for good for those who love God.” We might not be able to understand it – we may not be able to see it, but nothing; NOTHING! – can come between us and God in Christ. In fact, Paul says that we’re going to suffer – and inasmuch as we are willing to embrace it, the Spirit will intercede for us and continue to link us to Christ and God the Father. He will never, NEVER let us go.
But wait! It sure seems like He’s abandoned Israel! Paul says that it might seem that way. In fact, Paul says that he would be willing to suffer eternal damnation if only his people would come to Christ. Because everything we know about Jesus and everything we know about God and our very relationship with the Trinity depends upon Israel – theirs is the covenants, and the Patriarchs and all of the Old Testament. But what really is going on is that Israel the nation may have turned away, but they are not all that is the people of Israel. And God is allowing the people of Israel to be apart of Him so that through the Gentiles they might come to Christ and return to Himself. There is always a remnant that God holds on to – and that remnant includes the Church.
Now – does that mean that the people of Israel are unimportant to Him? Well, no. But it does seem to mean (and my guess is that some people are going to have a problem with this) that the only way for Israel to return to God is through Christ along with everyone else. That somehow, some way, there will be some great outpouring of faith in Christ among the people of Judaism. I am unsure as to the complete story – and I’m okay with that. Paul says that “all of Israel will be saved” in the same breath as he talks about a “remnant” that remains. He almost – not quite – says that the “True Israel” is made up of the Church and that includes the people of Jewish descent who believe in Christ. That, nowadays, is pretty much called “supercesssionism” and most people say that it’s theologically wrong and culturally insensitive.
But here’s the thing. I call it the way I read it – and I read it in Greek and I think I understand the ancient world pretty well. I don’t characterize myself as a “supercessionist”. But. At the same time, it sure reads (here and elsewhere) that the people of Israel need to come back through Christ.
Paul’s whole point is this – especially in the beautiful passage about the “grafting” of the Gentile branches onto the tree of Israel – we Gentile believers are NOT better than the Jewish believers. God hasn’t abandoned His people – He’s going to work it out. How, it seems the Spirit didn’t spell it out for Paul, but he trusts that it will work out. That “all of Israel” will be saved – the Remnant that is so prevalent in Biblical Theology. I think Paul is making a point for his Gentile readers/hearers – don’t start thinking of yourselves as better than God’s people. They’re still God’s people. And especially the Jewish believers in Rome! Don’t do it. He broke off branches from the Tree once, and He can put them back – or break off more. God is God and you – and me – are not.