To the Point

Imitating Faith

We are interested in imitating Kuyper as he imitated Christ. Paul commanded the Corinthians to imitate him (1 Corinthians 11:1), and the author of Hebrews commanded: “remember your leaders those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Kuyper was not sinless, and he certainly is not a savior, but he loved the Savior and wore himself out in fruitful service for the Savior. That must be considered.

Of course we make disciples of Christ, not disciples of Kuyper. I don’t tell any of my unbelieving neighbors that they need to “ask Kuyper into their hearts.” And at the same time, it may very well be that my neighbors observe something different about our family that I know grows out of a viewpoint and motivation I learned from considering Kuyper’s faith and way of life. Kuyperian is a nickname ad rem.

The Future Today

We are preoccupied with the future for today. I’ve read that as a description about leaders: a leader is preoccupied with the future. A great leader rallies others to a better future. This future focus is a New Testament norm, and it follows a pattern established in the Old Testament. Eschatology is ad rem.

The farmer tills and sows and waters and weeds as he looks to the harvest. The Christian trusts and suffers and worships as he looks to the harvest. Jesus is coming again. The faithful servants in the parable knew that their master was returning soon so they invested (Matthew 25:14-30). Faith, hope, expectation, these fill our hearts with reason for daily deaths.

What we believe will happen later affects what we will do now. Too many Christians, especially the Dispy types, have undervalued earthly relationships and responsibilities, forfeiting their own joy and an obvious way of provoking jealousy.

We are concerned about enculturating the next generation, about edifying one another, about encouraging healthy marriages and families. But this is not only for ourselves, it is for the life of the world (as we point them to Jesus per John 6:51 and as we make application of Jeremiah 29:7, represented fantastically in this DVD series called “Letters to the Exiles”). We do it because we already have and we want more of God’s blessing.

A Subordinate Telos Toward the Ultimate End

As a refresher, “Kuyperian” refers to a Christian who acknowledges that Jesus created all things and that He cares about all that He created. A Kuyperian mindset seeks to honor Christ in studying theology and in building swing sets, in walking in the Spirit while walking down the halls of Congress, or to the voting booth. A disciple of Christ isn’t defined as much by what he does as much as Who he does those things for.

Abraham Kuyper loved Jesus and confessed that Jesus is Lord so much that he stopped being a pastor and got into publishing and politics. He started a daily newspaper and edited a monthly magazine. He energized Christian education at the grammar and secondary level, then helped to found a university where the students were free to study and steward every thumb’s width in creation. He saw Calvinistic soteriology and raised it with the implications of Calvinistic cosmology.

Kuyper himself was not a Dispy. No one is perfect. But he read the Bible right in many areas and obeyed with indefatigable obsession, he just didn’t do it with the intention to make the Jews jealous. That’s what we mean by the term “Dispensationalist.” Our type of Dispy is close to a certain type of Covy in that we don’t believe that there are two ways of salvation or that there are two totally separate peoples of God. All the elect, Jew and Gentile, are part of His people.

We also believe that there is still something special and unique about the nation of Israel. Before Christ, salvation came through faith in the coming Jewish Messiah. After Christ, salvation comes through a Jew, Jesus, but does not depend on a man changing his passport to Israeli colors. Americans, Russians, Canadians, Netherlanders, Germans, and more believe as part of the church. The current remnant of Israelites who believe are also part of the church.

But there is coming a day when the fulness of the Gentiles will “come in,” that is, be converted to Christ, and then “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26). There are national promises of salvation and blessing that remain to be fulfilled (per the New Covenant promise in Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31). That’s what makes us Dispies.

We Kuyperian Dispensationalists believe God intends to make the Jews jealous through God’s fruitful blessing on our faith. Many of those blessings will be on earth and not just in “heavenly places” or in our prayer closets. We are the means of God’s ends, like a cue ball breaking the rack and sending balls all over the table. It’s a subordinate telos toward the ultimate end of God’s forever glory since “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” per Romans 11:36.

Some more things still need to be said.

The Blessed Option

A popular book in Christian circles came out a few years ago (pre-2020!) titled The Benedict Option. It’s a book that observes many of our current cultural problems in the West, our moral failings and fallings as a society. We have serious malfunctions at every level: individual, family, church, city, nation. Things are bad and seem to be getting worse as people become less connected to history, to each their neighbors, and most of all to God.

The Benedict Option is named after St. Benedict who organized a system of rules for monks. Benedict emphasized order both internally for the soul and externally for living together in community. The idea of a Benedict option urges Christians to get out of the public fight, which the author says the conservatives have basically lost anyway, and focus on building our churches and schools and other institutions so that when the modern experiment against reality collapses believers will have survived. He claims that as long as we have religious liberty we should us it to make sure that our small cells are strong.

The cover photo on The Benedict Option is of Mont-Saint Michel. I got to visit there in 2018, and it was spectacular, and quite out on its own.

I’ve read or listened to a variety of responses to the Benedict Option. On one side are those who want a more prophetic, aggressive, warlike fight to take over culture; one called it the Boniface Option after St. Boniface who cut down a idol with an axe in front of a hostile crowd. On the other side are those who don’t think we have any cultural responsibility other than to evangelize. Maybe we could call this the Bunker Option. This perspective sees groups such as families, churches, and schools, just as platforms to speak the gospel. These groups exist, and fine, but we need not worry about building them.

The project at this site is an attempt to both understand the cultural questions and to provide an answer. What are we here on earth to do? What are Christians saved for? As Kuyperian Dispensationalists we not only see culture getting worse in ebbs and flows over centuries, we also see that darkness hates the light and will put up a serious fight until the end. We aren’t surprised by apostasy and idolatry, by unbelief and immorality. But what are we supposed to do? Run away and hide? Just stick it out until the rapture?

Throughout history most Dispensationalists have retreated, and we haven’t done much in our caves except complain (it’s like the Archie Bunker Option). The Benedict Option at least encourages Christians to build, even if it’s more of a island withdrawn from trouble. But we’ve seen that this is a failure to read the parts of the Bible where God says that His creation is good, it’s a gift, and that we’re to receive it with thanks and stewardship and industry. Our Lord made the world and all who love Him will hate the things of earth in one way so that they will be better image-bearers on earth for His glory. We believe His Word, His Son, and expect the fruit of our faith to be abundant and obvious in public view. The fruit of faith will provoke others—the Jews, especially in the end times-to jealously. They will want what we have from God in Christ.

Let’s call this the Blessed Option. By faith we worship the Lord and seek His blessing on our obedience and good works. His blessings may not always be how we would define them. Blessings include wisdom gleaned from trouble, joy in pain, as well as things such as profit and increasing influence. But others will see our God-given blessings and want in.

My heart still burns, like the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, as it did at the beginning of the series. This Bible reading and Bible obeying project is one that connects truths, orients perspective, and motivates our work. It is an eschatology with train tracks that don’t run out, and the ride is good.

Provocative Fruit

Scripture reveals that God plans to save a future generation of Israelites in Christ by provoking the Jews to jealousy through abundant blessings to the Gentiles in Christ. This is quite a project.

We will not aim to make Jews jealous if we don’t think that Jews are still part of God’s plan. We will not be motivated to provoke them, or confident that God will give us the required blessings for it, if we think that His promises to Israel have been redefined. This is a Dispensational aim and a Dispensational assurance.

We also will not aim to make Jews jealous if we think that our lives are throw-away, that everything we do will “burn,” that we should hide out in the basement reading our Bibles, lamenting the 6 o’clock news and latest attack by the Islamic State. We will not provoke the elect by our whimpering waiting for the rapture helicopter out of hell on earth. Provocative jealousy is a Kuyperian end requiring Kuyperian energy.

It ought to be our aim to make an entire nation—and our neighbors, too—jealous with what God has give us. What is it we want them to see?

Many a Christian has gone to heaven like a lottery ball, maybe bouncing off the other balls before being raptured up into the tube alone. They ought instead to be like cue balls, heading for other balls on purpose. Did there need to be Gentile cue balls? No. Is that how God runs the table? Yes.

Christians are saved by faith alone, so a Christian could theoretically believe and it not be obvious. But James said that works grow out of living faith (James 2:18-26). Paul aimed at the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). God has prepared beforehand good works for those with faith to walk in (Ephesians 2:8-10). Faith has fruit in sanctification; faith has Spirit-produced fruit. Faith follows God with feet and fingers. Faith fights.

Church, where is our fruit? Where is our fight? The author of Hebrews talked about those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33–34). Because Jesus is Lord we marry and raise kids and bake cupcakes and attend City Council meetings and tweet against abortion and hire employees and drink wine at parties. These are merely a sample of the fruitful blessings God gives to those who believe.

This is not a new “prosperity gospel.” By faith we also suffer in joy and endure with perseverance by God’s blessing. Again in Hebrews, others through faith “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:35–38). Our confident losing by faith may be even more provocative to the Jews. “It has been granted to (us) that for the sake of Christ (we) should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). When we are not frightened, it is a sign of winning (Philippians 1:28).

A Kuyperian Dispensationalist is a Christian who acknowledges Jesus as Lord in everything he does on earth in order to make the Jews jealous of God’s blessing so that all Israel would believe and be saved. We live by faith, more than conquerers even when we’re killed, bringing life from our sacrificial, daily deaths. Informed by our Bible reading and study, we look for the the Word to yield its fruit in season, making us without a withering leaf, prospering us unlike the wind-driven chaff. Our meditation on His Word should produce provocative fruit.

This cannot be done individually, but it must be done by persons of faith. One celebrity getting saved isn’t meant to do what the church in Christ does: produce much fruit. Because Jesus is Lord and we seek to honor Him in our culture maybe we will rebuild America in His name, or maybe we will thrive in Post-America in His name. This project isn’t tied to America’s future, but it is a project for the public square as well.

The next stage in God’s plan will not happen by magic. He has planned for us to be the means of provoking jealousy. He has given us riches of many kinds, and we’re to magnify them to make the Jews jealous.

This is a reason for everything! It is a unified explanation of humanity and history, and it is a motivation for our intentional and quotidian and joyful contribution. The foundation of our fruit-seeking is that God created us as His image-bearers. We can also see that fruit-bearing according to God’s blessing is good for humanity to flourish. But provocative fruit is the promised future. Our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Whether we plant or water, He gives growth, He gives new hearts, He enables us to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10).

For too long we’ve been hanging out in our Baptistic bunkers and basements as bumps-on-a-log. We are good at talking about the cultural battle, not sure what we’d do if we won. We run in one direction: away. We’re complaining, combative, complacent Christians. Who wants more of that?

Can or would we accomplish this provocation haphazardly? God does use the foolish to do His work. But how much more so if we believe His Word and obey Him and honor Christ as Lord in our spheres? Parenting, economics, education, science, art? We should not retreat, we should run toward. Our purpose is to, by faith, prudently and persistently provoke jealousy among elect Israel by how we seek and steward God’s blessings. This is the big perspective and driving passion of a Kuyperian Dispensationalist.

Jealousy Is the Objective

There is a key word used three times in Romans 10-11, a word that’s part prophecy, part observation, part marching orders. The word is jealous.

We almost always take jealousy to be a sin, and that’s because usually it is. While careful definitions can be used to distinguish jealously from envy, the two are related in the wanting to be in someone else’s shoes, wanting to have what they have. The desire or aspiration for something better is not always wrong, it depends on what you want and why you want it.

In Romans 10 Paul addressed why so many of his Jewish kinsmen did not confess that Jesus is Lord, and in his explanation he quoted the second half of Deuteronomy 32:21.

But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” (Romans 10:19)

In Deuteronomy God warned Israel, under the name of “Jeshurun,” that they “grew fat, stout, and sleek; then…forsook God who made” them and “scoffed at the Rock of…salvation” (32:15). They “forgot the God who gave (them) birth” (32:18). God responded in jealousy for the glory of His name. He values it so much—as He should—that He reacts when His name isn’t honored, so He was going to make them jealous. That is the first part Deuteronomy 32:21 (which Paul didn’t included in his quote).

They have made me jealous with what is no god;
they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous….
(Deuteronomy 32:21)

Israel gave their worship which was due to God alone to other gods, so God said that He would give blessings offered to them to other peoples. He was going to give blessings to “those who are no people,” a people the Jews looked down on, in order to cause the Jews to want the good from God they could have had in the first place.

Paul makes another stitch with the jealous thread again in the next chapter.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Romans 11:11)

“Stumble” refers to their rejection of salvation in Jesus. In God’s plan, Israel’s rejection led to salvation and “riches for the world…riches for the Gentiles” (Romans 11:12). God extended His grace in forgiveness and in fruitfulness. Don’t miss the fruitfulness part; don’t limit salvation’s gains to the soul. “Riches” are blessing, good gifts from above, eternal and temporal, spiritual and physical. These riches “make Israel jealous.”

Making Jews jealous was a major motivation for Paul’s ministry.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. (Romans 11:13–14)

Provoking jealousy was not an afterthought, it was his aim. Paul didn’t merely look back and realize an unintended consequence, he looked around for ways to increase the provocative effect. “I magnify,” the Greek word is δοξάζω, so it could be understood as “I glorify.” Salvation and blessing among the Gentiles triggered the right sort of envy in the elect in Israel. Paul maximized his blessing-bling, so to speak, to “save some” of the remnant in his day. There will be a large-scale application in the end when the fulness of Gentiles come in so that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26).

God is blessing Gentiles believers in order to make the Jews jealous. This is a big task. It is a bigger task than just showing that we can do real good Bible studies, including the New Testament. That’s a good start, but it doesn’t end with our eyes on the pages. This is also not a different angle from which to promote the prosperity-gospel, but it should at least begin to correct a narrow and dualistic definition of “riches for the world” (again, those are God’s own words through Paul in Romans 11:12). A Kuyperian Dispensationlist has a lot to do here, and, as usual, there’s more to say.

Breaking the Rack

Why do we do what we do? This is a question for individuals and for groups, applicable to Christians, families, churches, schools, businesses, and so on. Every person does what he most wants to do, whether or not he thinks in those terms or is attentive to his intentions. We all have wants, we all have reasons, we all make choices how we will spend our resources (time, money, skills, interests, etc.). And what we believe about God’s plan for the future will shape what we believe about God’s will for today.

In history, most Dispensationalists have considered their lives, and the world, to be in a sort of throw-away category. Dispies say doctrine matters, but our daily vocations not so much. Our lives are a vapor, as James wrote, and Dispensationalists tend to apply that to the worth of one’s life not only the duration of it.

That sort of Dispensationalist sings about how this world is not his home, he’s just a’passing through, and he sings how the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of Christ’s glory and grace. A Dispensationalist runs everything through the comparative grid rather than the integrated grid (very helpful categories Joe Rigney described in his book, The Things of Earth). Compared to Jesus everything else is worthless, “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). This mindset tends to be best at building (Dispensational) Bible colleges as well as walls between Denominations. We are good at seeing and criticizing and condemning sin in the culture. We major on strident apologetics and urgent evangelism and rapture narratives. We believe that Israel is still significant in God’s plans and promises, and we expect that God will work all that out on the other side of the globe. We’ll wait here, at home, in our prayer closets, and Jesus will be back to get us out of here at any moment.

The part about Israel is good, the rest of the above not so much. There are great promises of God to His elect people in the Old Testament. He made great and unbreakable covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In recent posts we’ve looked specifically at the New Covenant promises to “the household of Israel,” promises to give them a new heart and the indwelling Spirit, as well as to return them to the land of their forefathers (Jeremiah 31:31-40; Ezekiel 36:22-32). Then we saw Paul’s long section of confidence in Romans 9-11. God chose the nation of Israel for Himself, He chose to save many within the nation. He also purposed for many to reject His Son for time, before He will save all of the Jews in future generation. God is faithful. He will finish what He started. While the fullness of Gentiles are grafted into salvation in Christ, the ethnic people of Israel will also be grafted back in. This what it means to be a Dispensationalist.

What does that have to do with being a Kuyperian? Though it’s been awhile, the first posts on this site were about the adjective “Kuyperian” as a nickname for a way of looking at all the world as a good gift from God. Not anything that was made was not made by Him. He sustains it, and He’s interested in it. He also made image-bearers to reflect His interests, and commissioned them to steward and build and subdue the earth. Marriage and family, medicine and technology, a father’s labor and a mother’s labor, are all ways to glorify God, not things that keep us from glorifying Him. Yes, any created thing could become an idol, but so can Bible reading and religious service. Lots of religious people go to hell.

A Kuyperian is a Christian who acknowledges Christ’s lordship over every thumb’s-width in creation. Earthly callings are God’s idea. Presenting our bodies as living sacrifices is His choice for our response to His mercies (Romans 12:1). If the Lord merely wanted excellent thinkers He could have made computers. Instead He made Man with brains and blood and bodies and thumbs.

So here’s the crux: most Kuyperian-minded Christians have not been Dispensationalists. Most Dispensationalists have not been Kuyperian. There are verses for both, so there are blind spots to watch for on both sides. Whether or not one uses the labels, both truths are Bible truths.

Do the doctrines go together or do we just try to hold them both? Is this a case where God reveals them, we believe them, and we can’t explain any further connection? He’s sovereign, we’re responsible, He’ll have to figure out how it works?

Perhaps the truths are like holding two sixteen pound bowling balls, one in the left hand and one in the right. There have been some Christians who believe and live like this, most of whom probably couldn’t explain it, but they do it. We shouldn’t drop either ball, but they don’t really have much to do with each other.

But I wholeheartedly believe that this is not the case. Kuyperianism is more like the cue ball that breaks the Dispensational rack, sending balls into pockets all around the table. Kuyperianism is the key that touches all the right parts of the eschatological tumbler, opening the lock on the timeline of God’s plan. It’s not just that they could go together, they must. How so? Now it’s really going to get good.

Sharpening Our Exclamation Points

I’ve been posting a lot about Israel recently, and, turns out, Israel has been in the news (or perhaps not in the news as much as it should be). The photo above shows the Israeli defense Iron Dome interceptor missiles on the left in response to the Hamas rockets on the right. A lot is happening over there.

But a Dispensationalist is not primarily concerned about U.S. (or any other non-Israel government’s) foreign policy. This is not about providing unquestionable military support or financial support, though it certainly does not allow for anti-Semitism either. The point is that their current disobedience to their Messiah is no more a hindrance to God’s mercy than our past disobedience (Romans 11:28-31).

Romans 9-11 exist to bolster our confidence in the gospel. Not one word of God’s promises fails. These chapters do have much encouragement for Gentiles. We are in God’s plan, part of His people, those who “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” (11:17). But don’t argue for what gospel-good the Gentiles get to have if you are unable/unwilling to explain why the Jews will get the blessings God guarantees to them. This “dispensation” is less of a parenthesis and more of an extension and even a springboard to the final chapter of history.

We are now ready to see what a Kuyperian Dispensationalist is, and that’s where all these Kuyperian and Dispensationalist posts have been headed.

Before that, though, what these truths should cause us to do is to sharpen our exclamation points! Who would have planned this?! How can hardening lead to softening?! How can distinctions be both dismantled and defended?! By the wisdom and grace to the glory of God. This is exactly why Paul finishes these chapters with exclamation and doxology.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33–36, ESV

Riches for the World

There are two more questions I want to ask about Romans 9-11. They are questions that come from reading the text in context and following Paul’s argument. The alternative answers are almost always pre-answers, as in, deciding beforehand what these chapters can’t mean, typically based on a theological bias.

Why does the “remnant” matter if there is only one identification of the people of God?

Answer: A remnant matters because the nation of Israel still matters.

Paul was the first example of how God has not rejected His people, that is the Jews, entirely. “I myself am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1). He was an Israel-Israelite. A Gentile-Israelite is not a thing.

Then Paul shows the principle at work during Elijah’s days. Elijah thought that he was alone, but the Lord said that He had kept 7,000 for himself (11:2-5). “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (11:6). This is, again, a remnant of believing Jews. Gentiles believe, but they are not in the “remnant.” In other words, this remnant is in the church, but the church is not equal to the remnant.

There is even today an elect remnant, identifiable by their faith in Jesus among the physical offspring of Israel.

What is the point of “the fulness of the Gentiles” coming in?

Answer: This phrase in Romans 11:25 only makes sense if there is a distinction between Gentiles and Jews.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)

The distinction is not worship of a different God, a different definition of righteousness, or a different means of receiving it. Salvation is by faith for all. Chapter 11 describes how Gentiles are grafted into God’s people (11:17-24), in one way. But Gentile ingrafting does not eliminate God’s purpose for Israel, a purpose that still remains, a promise that hasn’t been fulfilled yet. We Gentiles are grafted in and still called “wild” (11:24). There is a remnant now, most are rejecting. We know that the fulness of the Gentiles has not come in because all Israel has not been saved yet.

God is faithful to His promises and will include Israel again, and it will be a “full inclusion” (11:12). Israel will accept Christ (11:15). “Natural branches”—Israelites, not wild branch Gentiles—will be “grafted back into their own olive tree” (11:24).

This is the “covenant,” to banish ungodliness from Jacob (a.k.a., Israel), to take away their sins (Romans 11:26-27, quoting Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9). The New Covenant to the household of Israel, to ethnic Israel, to the nation of Israel, will be completely fulfilled in the future.

For now, God planned for Israel to reject Jesus, but the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). God planned for Israel to “stumble” (11:11), to “trespass” (11:11), and He planned that “for a time,” a time we are in, to extend salvation and riches of the world (11:12). But that is not the end! God planned their disobedience to show us mercy and He planned to show us mercy to keep expanding until “all Israel will be saved” before the new heavens and the new earth. That is, a generation of Israelites will see what we have and God will use that to grant them repentance and faith as a nation.

And this is what makes a Dispensationalist.

Always Plan A

Here is the third of five questions I’m throwing at Romans 9-11: Why does Paul continue to care about Israel’s rejection of Christ?

Answer: Paul continues his argument about Israel because their rejection is part of God’s long plan, not a change to His plan.

If the answer to God’s faithfulness is that He always meant “Israel” to be the elect believers of any nationality, then 1) Would the Jews themselves swallow that interpretation? and, more significantly, 2) Why are chapters 10 and 11 still necessary? Paul maintains both that elect Jews and Gentiles are part of God’s people and that the Jews are still God’s elect nation. There is something shared and still a distinction.

There is something different about Israel’s rejection of Christ. It’s different because they should have known better. They had God’s law and should not have been ignorant of the righteousness that comes from Him. When the gospel was proclaimed they should have recognized the Lord. He is the “Lord of all,” so anyone who calls on Him will be saved (Romans 10:12). But the fact that Jews did not call on Him stands out because they had the Scripture already.

Their rejection is also different because it was foretold in their own Scripture. The Lord revealed in Deuteronomy (32:21) and in Isaiah (65:1; 29:10) and through David (Psalm 69:22-23) that they would reject Him:

as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”
(Romans 11:8–10)

They are a disobedient nation (Romans 10:21) by plan, so that God might graft Gentiles into the root (Romans 11:11, 19-20, 25) without requiring their conversion to Judaism.

Which gets back to Paul’s own question, “I ask then, has God rejected his people?” (Romans 11:1) If “Israel” meant all believers, as in the church, then this question is nonsensical. To ask the question at all requires a maintained distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Their current rejection is what makes their future re-grafting (Romans 11:23-24) so gracious and such an witness for God’s trustworthy promises.

By Any Other Name

In the previous two posts we started working through Romans 9-11 and I said I’ve got five questions. Here is the second: How does Paul explain who Israel is?

Answer: Paul demonstrates God’s electing work among Israelites and distinguishes them from elect Gentiles.

In Romans 9:6, “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.” The principle at play is that God chooses. He chose Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. Romans 9 is famously about God’s sovereignty in election, and famously bothers many who wrestle with the implications for salvation.

Election to salvation is the primary point, and the burden of the passage is how election to salvation applies to Israel. But note that “Israel” is still within Israel. That is, those chosen to receive the promises of Israel are still physical, ethnic descendants of Jacob. Paul does not say that true Israel are the elect whoever they are, from whatever nation. At the end of chapter 9 Paul maintains the distinction: “he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (verse 24). Gentiles “attained” righteousness (verse 30), they were not “my people” but now are called “sons of the living God” (verse 26). Israel did not succeed in reaching the law (verse 31).

But nowhere does it say that Gentile believers are now Jews or the “new” Jews or the “true” Jews, though it does say that God has elected to redeem many of them. If “Israel” meant something else, that would have been a lot easier for Paul to explain than what he does in these chapters.

For the Jews there are two categories: spiritual calling and national calling. National election does not equal spiritual election (as Romans 9:6 states), but that doesn’t mean that national election means nothing in any way. If the point of Romans 9-11 is to vindicate God’s faithfulness to His promises, the solution is not to redefine His promises. Israel by any other name would not be Israel.