But 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, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

This morning I want to consider a couple of things Paul says.

V6 “But it is not as though the word of God has failed”.

Can we trust God’s word? And by implication can we trust God himself?

We may not understand the word of God, but it is powerful and effective. This is the internal witness of the Scripture, so we can read …

Isaiah 55v11, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

2 Timothy 3v16–17, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Romans 15v4, For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

We know that we have the Scriptures, and we know that we can rely on them.

Numbers 23v19, God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?

In recent years, there has been a shift in the way we see scripture. Ungodly people have always dismissed and disregarded the Bible. In fact, there was a time not so many centuries ago that owning a Bible would attract the death penalty. History has shown that as a society declines, one of the measures of how much is its dismissal and disregard of Scripture. It happened in Communist Russia in the early part of the 20th century, and owning a Bible today in some nations which are hostile to Christianity it is still the case. Owning a Bible is illegal and only available through smuggling in at least 13 countries and, whilst not strictly illegal, owing a Bible is highly restricted and dangerous in a further 39 nations (not just structurally, or in law, but culturally, from the people around). Even if it is not true today in the UK, I can see it coming. The Bible is fast becoming a hated book in modern western democracies.

In the meantime, people are deliberately, in ignorance, or even recklessly not taking care with how they handle it. Christians, who are supposed to hold the words of God as important above all other words, choose to judge the Bible by modern ideologies and standards. That is upside-down thinking! We should judge society by the Bible, not the other way around.

The point here is that if God says something, we can trust it. We might not understand it. We might even MISunderstand it because of our own biases, but it is trustworthy.

So, Paul’s point is not that God has moved, or changed his mind, or that He cannot be trusted, but that God’s people had completely misunderstood. Which brings us to the second point.

Second point:

V8 WHERE does our salvation come from?

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring”.

We cannot, in fact we must not fall into the trap of believing (like the Jews did) that our Christianity stems from our nation, our ethnicity, our family or any other human category we might use. The phrase Christianity is a white man’s religion is utter nonsense.

Galatians 3v28–29 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise

1 Peter 2v10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We must be careful of falling into the same trap as the Jews did. Our faith is not and never has been one which finds its fulfilment in our identity. In the sense that our ancestry, which determines both our nationality and our ethnicity, has no bearing on whether or not we are children of God.

Paul makes it clear that this is what He believes. In Philippians, he describes his ancestry and says this …

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3v4–9).

Paul points out that ancestry is rubbish, he says, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God (v8).

All the witness of Scripture is that although God chose a people, His love extends to the whole world …

  1. For God so loved the world , He sent His son that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life (John 3v16)
  2. God calls all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17v30).
  3. The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3v9).
  4. Revelation 5v9, by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation

So, ethnicity does not make a difference to our salvation, or to our inclusion in this worldwide family, the body of Christ. Because if ethnicity DID matter, if it DID make a difference, then it would make these verses a nonsense.

Secondly, not only does our ethnic ancestry have no bearing on our salvation, neither do our actions. In v11, Paul says that the promise was given though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls

We must not fall into the trap of believing it is our deeds which make us Christians.

Jesus very clearly says, why do you call me Lord and not do what I say?, yet we have to be completely clear on this.

Nowhere do Scriptures say that what we DO will bring salvation. Our deeds REVEAL our place before God, they don’t earn it.

So, where is our salvation rooted? In the promise of God Himself.

V13 Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated …

This is a quote from the prophet Malachi, you will find it in Malachi 1v2. My point for this morning is this … God’s love is NOT a New Testament concept – it did NOT start with Jesus. We have this idea that somehow Jesus came to convince God to love us.

The truth is quite different …

God’s Love is a CHOICE

God’s love for Israel was a CHOICE: God doesn’t have to do anything – his love for us is a CHOICE He has made. We are told in Deuteronomy 10v14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. And v15 starts with YET the Lord set his affections. In our modern culture we always seem to see love as something we can’t help. Something we have to obey, I can’t help it – it’s love. I can’t choose who I love is a mantra our culture shouts. AND it’s used as a justification for affairs and all sorts of other actions and lifestyles. The idea that love is some kind of controlling emotion which we have no choice but to obey.

But in the Bible, love is not like that. Not once does the Bible say we have no choice over who or how we love. In fact the reverse is true, time and again the Bible calls us to CHOOSE to love one another, to CHOOSE to love the poor and the widow and the alien, to CHOOSE to love our enemies and to CHOOSE to love those who persecute us. God’s love for us is NOT something that He can’t help, He loves us because He CHOOSES to love us. Love is part of His very nature, but it is still under His control and will. His love for me is a choice He has made – to love me. His love for you is a choice. Do not believe for one minute that God had no control over whether He loves you or not. His love for us is a choice.

For me that is astounding! God loves me because He chooses to love me, not because He has no choice. He knows the thoughts of every man and the proclivity towards evil in every heart, yet He chooses to love us, He knows the thoughts of my heart, he knows my weaknesses and my vulnerabilities, He knows how much I sin, and even knowing that He still makes a choice to love me and provide me with a way back into His presence.

Leads me on to this:

God’s love does not depend on me

Note that God says that His love is not dependant on or driven by some attribute of ours. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples (Deuteronomy 7v7). We know that there is nothing we can do to make God love us.

God’s love for Jacob is based on this. His love is internally motivated. It comes from within His nature and therefore does not depend on, nor is it affected by outside influences. This should give you great confidence in His love because it means you cannot do anything which will cause God to stop loving you.

Malachi 1v2 is picked up on by Paul in Romans as part of Paul’s description of God’s saving grace for US

This shows us that our salvation does not depend on membership of a particular group of people (“of course I’m a Christian, I’m British!”), It does not depend on race, or gender or religious observance, it does not depend on class. God loves RICH people just as much as He loves poor ones! Neither does it depend on actions.

God’s love of Jacob is proof that God’s election of, and love for, us does not have to be earned.

Very often this is a problem for Christians: we KNOW when proclaiming the Gospel to unbelievers that God’s love is freely offered and doesn’t need any action on the part of someone other than accept the FREE gift of God. We accept the Gospel on that basis. Then something gradually happens … we fall (actually we don’t fall into it which implies a sudden change – it more a gradual shuffle into) into the trap of believing that somehow we have to earn the right to STAY in His love, that somehow He won’t love us unless we do any number of Christian things (what those things are vary depending on the church or church stream we’re in)

2 things result from this …

It creates a risk that we will fall into a trap of legalism. Legalism is NOT about rules per-se, but is the belief that it is our keeping of those rules which is necessary if we are to “keep our place in heaven”, AND therefore we get on to a treadmill of doing things for God. Paul says, that love and grace of God should never be used as a licence to live however we please without regard to the faith claim we make with our tongues. The Bible is quite clear (and Jesus says this quite strongly too), out faith claims are validated by our lifestyles. So we live in a state of tension, believing that it is by grace we have been saved, yet somehow to gain God’s approval, we have to do good works. We might not articulate in this way, but I’ve met Christian after Christian after Christian who lives like they HAVE TO gain God’s love through the work they do. But let’s not fall into the trap of believing that our actions are what saves us, or what makes God love us.

The second thing it does is give us this weird feeling that God actually loves the unrighteous more than he loves us, we know and preach that that they don’t have to earn His love, but in our hearts, we believe that we do. This affects us more than we care to admit. This means we view outreach as inherently more godly than discipleship and fellowship, we look at every activity we engage in through the measure of “how did we proclaim the Gospel?” This is magnified and perpetuated on social media with people saying stuff which really criticises Christians. Especially those posts which are done by Christians. I’ve seen ridiculous posts which imply things like “God loves Christians who are concerned about social justice more than he loves those who don’t”, that if we don’t give up everything we are for social issues, then we’re not “proper” Christians.

“we shouldn’t call people to COME – we should GO” the implication is that if people “come” to church, they won’t experience Jesus. If that’s the case with this church, if you truly don’t meet Jesus here, tell me now and we’ll close down. I have no interest in establishing and growing a church where people won’t come face to face with the living God!

So it’s important to get to grips with the question “how can we know God loves us?” in order that we can effectively proclaim the gospel and so that we don’t slip into this twilight zone I’ve referred to where we live under a fear that somehow we are not quite “good enough” for God’s love.

HOW can I know God loves me?

JESUS – Romans 5v8 God demonstrated His love for us in this… and 1 John 4v9 this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. John 3v16 God so loved the world …

DISCIPLINE Hebrews 12v6 (quoting Proverbs 3v12) and Revelation 3v19. The Lord disciplines those he loves. In fact the discipline is evidence of it because he will only discipline us if he loves us. (// our discipline of our kids – if I didn’t love you I wouldn’t care how you end up)

SLEEP/REST (recognising that there are other factors affecting our sleep), He grants sleep to those He loves (Psalm 127v2). Deuteronomy 33v12 the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders, a parallel here about rest for your souls. Jesus says take my yoke (Matthew 11v29), and peace I give you – not as the world gives (John 14v27). Sometimes it is visible in people isn’t it – they seem to exude a peace despite what’s happening around them. I pray every day that I’d show this kind of peace to those around me. The Bible says that this peace in us is evidence of God’s love

God’s love seeks my well being

His love is shown in His DEFENCE of the widows and the alien (a metaphor for the vulnerable, the fringe and the unregarded in society (Deuteronomy 10v18 amongst other verses). He says that His heart is for them, and if we are truly His people, then our heart will be the same.

Deuteronomy goes on to talk about the great and awesome wonders God performed for His people. God can act in a very practical way for those He loves. Modern experience seems to suggest that God no longer acts in this way, but all the time we find things happening to us and we dismiss it it as coincidence or try to find a natural explanation for stuff. If we try to ignore the hand of God in our lives, we will never see him work.

There is only one really response to the love of God for us … love Him back! Deuteronomy 6v5 tells us to love God

Is it true to say that those who struggle most to see God’s love in their lives and experiences are those whose love for Him is lacking?

In other words .. want to experience God’s love more in your life?—love Him more

Love is not a feeling (or let’s say not only/primarily a feeling), it is a CHOICE. Choose to love God, choose to act on that love, express it, then I believe you will start to see more of His love in your life.

What I mean is not that He will love you more (He can’t love you more than He does already), but you will start to understand, become aware of and recognise His ever-present love in your everyday experience in a way you’d never seen it before

so, do we say
I won’t love you until I can see more of your love in my life
or …
do we say I WILL love you Lord more and more every day.

Then I believe we will start to recognise more and more of His love and care in our daily experience.