Jacob I Have Loved, But Esau I Have Hated

I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
— Romans 9:15

Romans chapter 9 is one of the most perplexing chapters in the Bible to me. This is one of those chapters that those who make much out of election and predestination use to prove their point. And they make a strong case... I'm just not convinced. I think the truth here is something else, and I hope to make my point. 

Paul begins chapter nine with a list of Jewish advantages (1-5). "To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law" etc. The deck was stacked in their favor!  

But in spite of these advantages, many Jews were not following Jesus. Why? What went wrong? The answer is: Nothing went wrong. This was the way God set it set up from the beginning (6-13). The issue was never about being born "in the family;" that is: being one of the elect. It was something else--something Paul gets to in a moment. He concludes this section with the quote from Malachi 1:2-3: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I have hated." 

That is a very strong, very difficult statement. How could a God of love choose to hate someone? The answer is that God did not hate Esau, or Pharaoh, or Judas. He loved them, but He definitely hated what they represented. Yes, they represented something... something supremely bad. What? Unbelief. They did not believe God or trust His promises. God knew this about them before they were even born. God therefore chose to display His power in them--He set them up as examples of His wrath. He hardened their hearts. Those who will choose not to believe will be confirmed in that unbelief. We still see this today in those who call themselves "Christian" but then they "fall away." They never had faith in Jesus, and this becomes apparent in their turning from Christ and His church. The reason for God's rejection of Israel--the elect--was not their wickedness, but their unbelief (which, of course, is the greatest wickedness!). Then in time, to everyone's amazement, God chose to display His mercy on those who descended from outside the Abrahamic line (verse 24-26). 

The climax of Paul's argument comes in verses 30-33. There he declares that the Gentiles (even those who descended from Esau) who did not pursue righteousness, have nevertheless obtained it--but not through good efforts. They have received it through faith. What is that faith? It is trusting in Jesus Christ ("the stumbling stone"), and Him alone, to save us (verse 30-33). 

The bottom line is this: God honors faith because faith honors God! Faith in Jesus is the whole issue in Romans 9. Our faith in Him is what gives Him glory. Ultimately, that is what we will see in heaven... when we get there and see that no one present deserves to be there... least of all me! Those who are there are those who have put their trust in Jesus alone as their Savior.

Is this what you have done?   

Righteous By Fiat

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
— Romans 5:1

There is a beautiful old word "fiat." No, I'm not talking about the car! It comes from a Latin word meaning "to make, or to do." In the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible God commanded "Let there be light" (1:3). The Latin says, "fiat lux." So the word came to be used in official commands and royal decrees: "Let it be so what I have said." When an official fiat was given, the king's command became the law of the land. The fiat became fact as soon as the words were spoken. When God declared, "Let there be light" there was no committee established to design what "light" should be. When God said it, it was so! 

Now we have these words in Romans 5:1: "Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith...." The meaning is this: the moment we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior, at that same instant we are declared "righteous" by God! There is no probationary period--no "wait and see see if we measure up." The contract reads: "we have been declared righteous...." The Greek is all one word, dikaiothentes--an aorist passive participle. It all means something. Aorist means "past tense, continuing results." If I wrote about spilling coffee on my white shirt I'd use the aorist tense, meaning--in effect--"The resulting stain is permanent--and now I use the shirt to change the oil in my car!  "Declared" is also in the passive voice. The passive means that I am not the one who acts, or even participates in the action, but I am acted upon. If I was run over by a horse, and I lived to write about it, I'd say "that dumb horse ran over me"--passive voice. I did not run over myself. I was not riding the horse when it ran over me. The horse did it--which has actually happened to me--twice! And then, finally, it is a participle, or, more precisely, a participial phrase--pointing to the Actor, who is--in this case--God.

So--putting it all together--what does this mean? At that moment when I put my trust in Jesus God declared me righteous. I am righteous by fiat of God. I am not on probation. I do not have to prove that I measure up to what God has declared. The same God who--by His word--spoke the worlds into existence, spoke the word and declared me righteous! The results are permanent. I did not do anything to deserve this new state, and I cannot do anything to cancel it. God's fiat made my new standing a fact--forever! 

Get Out of that Pit!

Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood and the poison. 20 I continually remember them and have become depressed. Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.  (Lamentations 3:19–24, HCSB)

These words were written by Jeremiah the prophet. He ministered to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. God called him to preach a hard message to a stubborn people during a difficult time. His message: "Repent, and turn back to God, or suffer the consequences!" Never popular. The people responded by throwing Jeremiah into the city sewer, and then raining rocks down on his head. Somehow he survived and lived to see the day that his prophecy came true. God's judgment came in the form of an invasion. The Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem. Eventually, the residents of the city became so weak and sick from starvation that the Babylonian soldiers marched uncontested through the gates and slaughtered every living thing in sight. Well, almost everything. Some they left alive. Among them: Jeremiah.  

Jeremiah was in a pit--both literally and figuratively. He was depressed (vs. 20). I hear people say that "Christians should never get depressed." I want to say, "Read your Bible!" Look at Jonah, Elijah, Jacob, Joseph, David, etc.--they all spent time in the pit. 

From this Scripture I'm going to offer some footholds for climbing out of your pit. But--before starting--I have to say: I detest formulas! Formulas are simple solutions we design to solve complex problems. They don't work. In fact, no thing works. Only people work. Getting out of a pit is hard work. But if you will put biblical principles into practice the Holy Spirit will help you ascend from the pit.

What are those principles? 

Change your thinking

Look at verses 91 and 20: "Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood and the poison. I continually remember them and have become depressed." What do you see? All he could think about was the bad stuff that had happened to him. Why is it that our default mode is to shift to negative thinking? When we dwell on the bad stuff we slip into the pit.

The first step out of the pit of depression is not emotional or physical. It is mental. It is to change your thinking. The original Hebrew in verse 21 is emphatic: "Yet I call this to mind...." Jeremiah made himself remember something other than the bad stuff. What was that? The faithfulness of God. 

We have to change our thinking. We have to focus our minds on the good stuff. "And what is that?" We are alive because of God's mercy! God is faithful. He has not abandoned us. He has not given up on us. He still loves us and we still belong to him. He sees something in us that needs adjustment so He allows the test. God still has a plan for you. Focus your mind on the good stuff!

Lift the praise

"Great is Your faithfulness!" (verse 23). Jeremiah began to praise the LORD. 

We have not yet begun to awaken the power of praise. Here is a great principle of Scripture: your position is determined by the confession of your lips.  Listen: when your praise goes up so do you! When your lips begin to praise, you begin to rise! Your deliverance is connected to your praise. If you want to elevate, celebrate! 

"I don't feel like praising God!"

Do it anyway. Faith is not a feeling. Faith is obedience to God in spite of what you feel inside or see around you. 

"But what do I praise God for when I'm down in a pit?" How about this: the pit is not your permanent address. God is faithful, and He will bring you out. So you can praise Him for that.

And you can celebrate that He has you in that pit for a reason. That reason may not be clear to you now. It may not ever be clear to you. But God is somehow going to use your pit-experience to refine and purify your character so He can use you more. Remember Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose."

Even in the darkness God is still at work. Jesus cried on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me?" But God had not disappeared in that hour of darkness. Indeed, He was at work redeeming the entire human race! God at work in your pit to accomplish good in you and glory for Him. The pit cannot separate you from His love. He is still God. You are His, and one day He lift you up from the grave-pit to live with Him forever. Ah, there is much to praise Him for!

Remember your portion

In verse 24 Jeremiah says, "The LORD is my portion." I must confess: I read that and felt a little ripped off. "God is my portion?" A portion is just a piece, a slice of something.  I've been to some of those fancy restaurants where they bring you such small portions. I had drive through Taco Bell on the way home and get some food in my stomach so I wouldn't pass out. Don't I get more of God than a slice? Don't I want more of God than a piece?

Am I being greedy to say that I don't want just a slice of God. I want all of God!

But hold on a minute! Think about that. Do I really want all of God? Do I really need all of God? God is infinite.

I used to think that the Lone Ranger and Tonto actually lived inside my television--along with Matt Dillon, Batman, and the Man From Uncle. Then I began to think, "How do all those people fit inside my TV?" They didn't of course. But my childish mind could not comprehend the science behind electromagnetic energy flowing through the airways. I occurred to me that my human heart containing all of God would be even more ridiculous than the western plains existing inside that Zenith TV! How do you put the infinite inside the finite? You don't. So do I really need all of the infinite God? No! A portion of God is more than sufficient for my needs. 

Is God your portion?