Determined to Believe: Chapter 12 - Ethnicity Does Not Save You

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 12! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • We are chosen in Christ; not because of our ethnic identity or a predestined choice on God’s part

Questions for Discussion

  1. What does it mean that the Church is the ‘Israel of God’? (Gal 6:16)
  2. How does the fact that Abraham was saved by faith relate to the relationship between God and the true Israel?
  3. Any other thoughts?

Quotes

God has known them, and knows all about them – and he has a purpose for them. What is that purpose? He has predestined them to be conformed to the image of his Son.

In light of such a magnificent and gracious message, how is it that his fellow Israelites, Paul’s own kith and kin, mainly reject such a wonderfully gracious message and deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God?

How can Israel have lost her way so dramatically?

So Paul writes Romans 9–11 in order to show that, far from being an objection to the Christian message, what has happened historically with Israel, in their rejection of the Lord Jesus, in fact confirms the truth of it.

To deduce from these verses that, now that Christ has come, there is absolutely no difference between the roles of Jews and Gentiles, would be as absurd as saying that, since Christ has come, there is absolutely no difference between the roles of slave and free or between the roles of male and female.

The first main argument is based on the fact that not all ethnic Israelites are the genuine people of God.

The second main argument is that Israel’s unbelief is culpable.

The third main argument concentrates on the fact that there are some Israelites, like Paul, who do believe in Jesus. Indeed, all through history there has been a “remnant” of true believers within Israel, whose number has at times been underestimated.

Paul is in no doubt that there remains a role for his nation in the future, but not until they come to faith in Jesus as Messiah.

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This is the chapter that John Lennox introduces his thoughts to the contentious Romans 9. His thoughts on chapter 9 are similar to what we have already discussed here on Connect in other posts: that Paul is lamenting the fact that Israel is not responding to the gospel. He first gives the context by quoting at length a portion of Romans 8, which he says Paul, when he gives out terms like predestination, called, etc, he is addressing those who are already believers in Christ. “…God has predestined those who are believers to be conformed to the image of his Son” (p 237).

As creatures of God they were made in the image of God. But now that they have put their faith in Christ and received his salvation, a destination of almost indescribable glory awaits them. And his love for them God has determined that they should be like his Son. (p 237)

This makes a lot of sense to me. God gives us all a purpose of which, in Christianese, is our “calling.” We become like Christ when we build God’s kingdom using the talents that we got.

In Romans 9, Paul is clear that he is very unhappy about something, and it’s weighing him down. That something is his clear concern for his fellow Jews which rejected Jesus as the Son of God. Israel is the elect mentioned in Romans 9.

By contrast Paul’s concern in Romans 9-11 is not the basis of the gospel but why it is that the very nation that was privileged by God to be the vehicle of his revelation to the world now mainly rejects the gospel of the Messiah. That is the problem he has to address, and it is so complex that he takes three chapters to do it. (p 240)

Lennox then gives a summary of the three main arguments Paul gives in these three chapters:

The first main argument is based on the fact that not all ethnic Israelites are the genuine people of God. His discussion involves considering the sovereignty of God in history regarding the rules are different individuals and the nations descending from them.

The second main argument is that Israel’s unbelief is culpable. God has made every provision for them. Paul goes through every excuse that might be raised to let Israel off the hook and concludes in each case that they are responsible for their unbelief.

The third main argument concentrates on the fact that there are some Israelites, like Paul, who do believe in Jesus. Indeed, all through history there has been “remnant” of true believers within Israel, whose number has at times been underestimated. Paul then discusses the historical role that Israel and then the Gentiles have had in witnessing for God in the world, and concludes with the glorious hope for his nation that one day “all Israel will be saved.” (p 240-241)

As of yet I’m not sure if Lennox will expand on these themes in the upcoming chapters, but I hope he does so that he can drive the point home that one does not need to embrace theistic determinism after a glance at the ninth chapter of Romans.

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Yes @O_wretched_man , Lennox does leave us hanging at the end of the chapter a bit. :slight_smile: I don’t want to discuss future chapters as we are not up to them yet (I think peaking ahead he covers ‘Has Israel a future’ in chapter 16).

@SeanO, I think question 1 is a hard one, because there are very different views of prophecy, and differences between replacement theology vs dispensationalism. perhaps for the sake of simplicity, can we put aside these differences, and say it is both believers in Israel, and believers in the church.

these two pages, I suppose summarise the dispensationalist viewpoint: Israel, the church age, then Israel being in the Millennial kingdom (https://www.gotquestions.org/grafted-Israel.html, https://www.gotquestions.org/spiritual-Israel.html).

I have grown up in a church that is dispensational in viewpoint; and one thing that has puzzled me is the notion that it seems that the sacrificial system will be re-instated during the Millennial reign of Jesus on earth. the reason this puzzled me is the sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed forward to the Lamb of God - Jesus dying once for all time… The reason given is that it is a memorial remembering Christ on the cross (https://www.gotquestions.org/millennial-sacrifices.html) Not really sure on that one myself… I suppose the Lords supper for Christians is a memorial of Christ dying on the cross; but I do wonder to myself about this somewhat…

question 2. ‘Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness’. (ah that’s helpful, a Google search brought up all the references on this page :slight_smile: )https://www.esv.org/Romans+4:9;Romans+4:22;Galatians+3:6;James+2:23;Genesis+15:6;Titus+3:8/
We, as Christians, believe and trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross in our place; and this belief/faith is accounted to us for righteousness. Our unrighteousness is replaced by Christ’s righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”

I think the true Israel (which I assume you relate to question 1) is both all the people of faith in the nation of Israel, and the believers that make up the church.

(would it be safe to say there were plenty of non-believers in the nation of Israel in the Old Testament who are not part of this true Israel or ‘spiritual Israel’?).

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The fact that I’ve missed the past 11 chapters is not going to kill my motivation for the rest of the chapters left :smile:
I have about three points:-
*“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
I just happen to love this verse despite the bad reputation it presumes (as people view it). I always keep imaginging a day in the life of both brothers. Esau was that kind of a rough guy who liked to go out in the woods and hunt, he was the breadwinner! I’d imagine that he had sharp facial features as well and muscular body compared to his younger ‘softer’ brother. In addition to the fact that he was the firsrborn. While his brother probably had to put sunscreen every time he had to step out of the tent :smile: He probably acquired softer skills, chatted a lot with his mother and her friends and won her affection over his brother along. I believe that, back then, at such an ancient culture, Easu was considered the “man”. If their father had business, Easu would have been the obvious candidate to take over. Then we see that God, as always, siding with Jacob, the weaker. I find this quite endearing. How great is our God who chooses the less to become more, and appoints the weak to authority.

*I think it’s okay to respond that God sometimes intervenes to allow certain events to take place. In the past, He chose the people of Israel as a trial for “God-Human interaction” as well as preserving the line that would lead to the birth of Christ. I don’t know who said this quote but it goes as “Not because God gave man freedom it means that He gave up His.” He has a say too!

*I loved the subtle distinction about those who are predestined and to what that Lennox makes. In Romans 8: 28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Those who love Him --> are called, foreknown (by God’s middle knowledge), predestined --> to conform to the image of his Son
Did you all notice that?! The purpose of predestination is to be like Christ. That’s a purpose specific for those who do become beliebers not to govern who does or does not become a believer. There’s no predestination regarding the part he talks about “those who love him”. Thus Paul is saying that whoever becomes a believer is predestined to be in the likeness of Christ. As if the predestination is directed towards the blanket of salvation no matter who is lying beneath it! Anyone is free to “love God” but once we step under this umbrella, we are committed to this call of becoming like His Son.

*I loved how Lennox described the conversation between Paul and the Jews. It captured the real frustration we face as evangelists while we navigate the world. We always try to sharpen our understanding, study more, research and develop answers only to collide with indifferent, shallow and arrogant mindsets. We are always told to be prepared to provide an answer not knowing there might not be questioners in the first place. How do we deal with that type of frustration? Do we have a role in shaking the grounds of thoughts of those arounds? Is it okay to do so with clear conscious? Do we view the danger of confusion that we might inflict as more than that of indifference?

Please if you stop by, let me know what is your opinion :slight_smile:

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@matthew.western I think that is an accurate belief, yes. Paul is clear that not all who are descended from Abraham are children of Abraham and the OT often speaks of a remnant of true followers of God. I agree the reinstatement of the sacrificial system is not in keeping with the entire book of Hebrews and the rest of the NT. My dispensational seminary said these sacrifices would no longer be efficacious, but would daily be a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. I do not think that idea is Biblical, but that was their way of explaining it.

On the general topic, I find verses such as this one to be helpful.

Colossians 3:11 - Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

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What does it mean that the Church is the ‘Israel of God’? (Gal 6:16)
I would fall into the category of those who view this verse as including all believers as the Israel of God.

I find it hard to believe that Paul having spent all of Galatians tearing down the barriers that separate Jew from Gentile, food and circumcision, and marking out the time ( this present evil age) and declaring believer as the new creation empowered by the Spirit only to close this letter by erecting a new barrier with the category of followers and Jews.

And if you are Christ’s, then you are descendants of Abraham, heirs according to the promise. (Ga 3:29).

Don’t see any room in here for ethnicity as a category for sonship but that’s not to say that we will all be ethnical the same far from it as I believe Revelations has a similar view.

…because you were slaughtered,
and bought people for God by your blood
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.” (Re 5:9–10)

I have often wonder if this was the only letter that survived Paul how would that change our view of the church particularly in light of the fact that this is thought to be the oldest letter from Paul?

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Hi @Jimmy_Sellers
Great input!

I will try to rephrase your concern in this statement to try and understand better. You mean that the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s promises but because (some of them) didn’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they’ve lost their status even if they were still the worshippers of Yahweh. So, that doesn’t seem a bit a fair for you, for example?
I don’t know if that is what you meant, but I personally struggle with this question. Are the jews worshiping the same God as Christians? Are they going to be judged by the same standard as Old Testament jews?
But I always say that Jesus was the climax of God’s salvation history. He is the centerpiece not a secondary element. Any god other than the one declared in Jesus Christ is not the God that Christians worship for sure.

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I think the idea of status, who is in-who is out, is what Paul struggled with after his Damascus road encounter with the resurrected Jesus, Messiah. His life was devoted to Torah and I believe that he made this case several times in his letters. In this letter, Galatians he wastes no time getting to the point

13 For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism, that to an extraordinary degree I was persecuting the church of God, and trying to destroy it, 14 and was progressing in Judaism beyond many contemporaries in my nation, because* I was a far more zealous adherent of the traditions handed down by my forefathers. (Ga 1:13–14 LEB)

If you were in, you had to stay in and staying in from Paul’s POV was excelling in the living out his life his worldview that God would rescue his creation and his people and to that end all the sons of Abraham would have a role in this rescue, the Olam Ha Ba. He was living for that moment (Messiah) only to find out that he was in that moment real time (Jesus) the eschton was now. What did that mean? For him, for his blood kin, for the world? NT Wright says that from Paul’s POV Messiah came early. If Galatians is his first letter, then I believe that this would support the thought that who were the true son of Abraham was front and center in his mind to be sorted out. If we assume that Ephesians was a latter letter then I believe that this verse shows a Paul who is confident in the finished work of God through Jesus and his Grace to all who believe, these are the true sons of Abraham, the new creation.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you, the ones who once were far away, have become near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of the partition, the enmity, in his flesh, 15 invalidating the law of commandments in ordinances, in order that he might create the two in himself into one new man, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, killing the enmity in himself. (Eph 2:12–16LEB)

In between these two letters we have Romans 9-11 where we see a Paul who is still sorting this out. I have not read ahead in this book and I look forward to Dr. Lennox’s commentary.

Do you mean in the present day? If so I am not sure if I can answer that with anything other them my opinion. Would be interested in your thoughts.

I think all people will be judged by the same standard, What did you do with what I revealed to you about Me?

We serve a just and righteous God he will do what is right.

I hope I haven’t confused things.

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I like that idea.
Do Jews and Christians worship the same God?
I think many people would be afraid to say ‘No’, so they settle for saying that Jews worship the same God minus Jesus; incomplete version of God. But as it is established in Hebrews 1:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

God minus Jesus is still a God but a different one than who Christians worship.
I think Jesus’ opinion was clear. He clashed with the religious leaders on very deep theological claims that he made. Those people were the elite theologians of their times. Their opinions must have been trusted and taken for granted by the norms.

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
John 8:19

So the argument is not about who Jesus is, but rather about who God really is!
Isaiah chapter 53 is actually called the forbidden chapter. They don’t include it in their readings anymore. In fact, up until Rashi convinced them that the chapter is speaking of Israel, they considered it about the Messiah. And if you say that this about the Messiah then there’s no one who would fullfil these criteria better than Jesus! So, you can see why they call it that way without really knowing why! If all the evidence was pointing to something, why ignore it deliberately?
Pastor John MacArthur was interviewed by Ben Shapiro and he argued that God will eventually find a way to restore his people (Israel).


Would love to know your thoughts :slight_smile:
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