Let God be God part 2

  1. God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Authority (9:19-23)

God is sovereign in the actions He takes and gracious in withholding wrath or extending glory. Paul writes in 9:19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” This is the exact question we are tempted to raise at this point. We might also be tempted to follow up this question with: “How can God blame people for rejecting Him if He did not choose them?” Or, if God hardens people then why does He blame them for being hard? Now this is a great spot for Paul to include an apology or strong word of explanation. But he does neither. He doesn’t try to soften his teaching nor does he feel the need to clarify or defend what he has previously taught regarding election. Don’t miss this! The question in 9:19 is only valid if the premise is valid. The premise of the question is that God is sovereign, and that He does choose to save some but not others. If the premise was wrong, then Paul would have corrected it here and now. But he doesn’t correct the premise. This further confirms that he is teaching the doctrine of individual election.

 

Paul even indicts the questioner for talking back to God: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The question and the questioner are out of order. It’s a question that no one has a right to ask. We cannot approach God as though He were an equal or as if He had to answer to us. He is under no obligation to give us any answers at all. This is graphically illustrated for us in the book of Job. The book begins with a glimpse into heaven when Satan asks God’s permission to sift Job. The Lord grants Satan permission to do anything short of killing Job. For the next thirty-seven chapters Job goes through every type of trial imaginable. At the end of that time, God comes to Job and says to him essentially the same thing that Paul says here in these verses: “Who are you to answer back to God?”

 

What a great reminder to Let God be God. There are certain jobs that I’m not qualified for. One such job is anything dealing with automotive care. I can change my own oil, but that’s about it. Since I lack the necessary knowledge and skills, I have no right to tell an auto mechanic how to do his job. Likewise, I can’t walk into the home of another man or woman and change the rules of that household. I don’t own the place. Similarly, I don’t own this world. God does; and, He has a right to call the shots.

 

Paul backs up his theology with an Old Testament illustration. In 9:20b-21 he says: “The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” These verses are some serious “smack down.” Paul says, “Shut your mouth!” He puts you and me in our place! Paul is trying to hammer home the point that God is wholly unaccountable for His dealings with us. This is illustrated in the matter of the potter and the clay. Doesn’t the potter have the right to take a lump of clay, divide it in half, take half of the lump to make a beautiful vessel that is designed for display in a living room, and take the other half to make a slop jar or something for the kitchen? Doesn’t he have this right? Yes, he does. The potter has the right to do with the clay as he wishes. Does clay ever talk back to the potter? Of course not!

 

In Paul’s analogy, sinful humankind is the lump of clay, which is sinful through and through. There is no neutrality in man—he is an enemy of God. So the question is not, “Why are some made to dishonor?” because dishonor is the natural state of the clay. The question is rather, “Why are some selected for honor?” Paul wants us to realize that we’re not the customers, we’re not the critics . . . we’re the clay! And the potter always has full right over the vessels that he creates.

 

On an intensely practical note:

Have you given “Potter’s Rights” to the Lord for how He made you, your personality, your looks, your physical makeup, your abilities and skills, your intellect, and the opportunities of your life?

Are you content with who God has made you to be and what He is doing in your life?

Do you want to be like someone else, or do you want to have something more? You and I must realize that God has the right to do whatever He wants to us and in us and through us and with us. We must submit ourselves fully to His use and let God be God over our lives.

 

Paul now comes to two of the most difficult verses in the entire New Testament. In 9:22-23 Paul writes, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” These verses have brought more than one reader to his or her knees before our awesome God. It’s time to put your thinking cap on. In an attempt to simplify the complicated, let me make a few observations:

 

  1. There is an obvious contrast between “vessels of wrath” and “vessels of mercy.”

 

  1. Two different Greek words are used to translate the word “prepared.” In 9:22 the word “prepared,” referring to the vessels of wrath, is a passive participle with no clear subject. In 9:23 the word “prepared,” referring to the vessels of mercy, is an active participle that has God as the subject. In 9:23 God is clearly the one who does the preparing. In 9:22 Paul avoids God’s direct involvement in the preparation of the vessels of wrath for destruction.

 

  1. The “vessels of mercy” were “prepared beforehand.” The Greek word translated “prepared” has a prefix at the front of the word that means “before.” This would seem to suggest that the vessels of wrath were prepared, but not necessarily in eternity past. Like Pharaoh, who hardened his own heart, and then God entered the picture and hardened his heart, the vessels of wrath may be prepared for destruction during their lifetime. But vessels of mercy are prepared in eternity past by God’s election. This great truth should never be softened or finessed.
  2. God’s choices on these matters are not disclosed to us, and they are not meant in any way to cause despair. It has been well said, “These truths were not meant to be a puzzle to the mind but a pillow to the soul.” The point of these two verses is to demonstrate God’s glory, which is evidenced in His patience and mercy. Putting it simply: The “vessels of mercy” have only God to thank, and the “vessels of wrath” have only themselves to blame.The vessel of mercy can only say, “I’m in heaven because of God!” While the vessel of wrath can only say, “I’m in hell because of me!” Those who experience eternal destruction will never be able to blame God or say, “I’m damned because God did not choose me!” Their damnation is based not upon God’s rejection of them but upon their rejection of God.

 

Imagine the following scenario. A man is imprisoned for a crime he actually committed; yet, he calls a press conference claiming to the world he’s been unjustly jailed. His incarceration is not fair. Why not? “It’s the governor’s fault,” he says. Why is it the governor’s fault? “Because the governor didn’t give me a pardon. If he would give me a pardon, I’d be out on the street right now; but, since he didn’t give me a pardon, I’m in prison. Therefore, it’s the governor’s fault I’m in prison, not mine.” Would you be swayed by that logic? I doubt it. Instead, you’d reply that the criminal is behind bars for crimes he committed—because he killed somebody, he robbed somebody, he stole something, or he extorted something. He broke the law, that’s why he’s in prison. Now, the criminal might be out if the governor chose to exercise mercy, but that isn’t why he’s behind bars. He’s in prison because he’s a criminal.

 

The same thing is true with us. We’re in deep trouble with God because we are criminals against Him. If we go to hell, it’s for only one reason: because we’ve rejected Christ as our sin bearer. Those who are punished are not punished unjustly. They are punished justly because they’re guilty. It would only be unjust if they weren’t guilty. If God chooses to exercise mercy on some people then it’s His prerogative. We must step back, sit down, shut up, and let God be God.

[God’s choice is a matter of His character and His authority. Now we will see a final great truth . . .]

  1. God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Program (9:24-29)

Regardless of how it may appear, God is bringing about His kingdom purposes. Paul concludes the whole argument of this passage by stressing the fact that the Gentiles are as much an object of God’s mercy as are the Jews. The salvation of Gentiles is not an afterthought with God. Indeed, someone has well said that all saved are not God’s afterthoughts, but His forethoughts! Our text culminates with four quotations from the Old Testament, in which the same theme is sounded, namely, that it is because of God’s grace and mercy that any are saved, and those He has saved are not saved because they belong to a certain race or class but simply because God chose them and loved them.

 

Paul writes in 9:24-29: “. . . even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, ‘I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’ ‘AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.’ Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED; FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY.’ And just as Isaiah foretold, ‘UNLESS THE LORD OF SABAOTH HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.’” At first glance, you may say, “What’s the point of all these Old Testament quotes?” They speak to one of the primary objections against predestination. Many people think that predestination means that only a few people will be saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has determined to open the doors of heaven to the whole wide world. Anyone who believes in Jesus can be saved. In Paul’s day that meant that salvation was not just for the Jews; it was also for the Gentiles.

 

Today there are approximately 13.5 million Jews in the world out of a total population of nearly seven billion people. Who are the Gentiles? That’s everyone who isn’t Jewish, which is roughly 99.999% of the world. If God had said, “I’m only going to save the Jews,” he would still be fair because no one deserves to be saved. We couldn’t complain if salvation were limited to a small group if that’s what God had decided to do. Remember, no one can talk back to God. But, He didn’t do that. These verses teach us that God opened the door of salvation to everyone!

Romans 9 is designed to bring us to our knees. As a result, God wants us to cry out, “MERCY!” He longs for us to acknowledge that it is His mercy that has saved us. He also wants us to cry out, “MERCY” because we recognize that His ways are incomprehensible. If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, your concern should not be, “Have I been chosen?” but rather, “Have I believed?” Please humble yourself before the sovereign Lord of this universe, acknowledge your sins, and believe in Christ today.

 

 

The pastor’s graveyard part 1

Albert Einstein’s wife was asked the question, “Do you understand the theory of relativity?” She responded immediately, “No, but I know Albert, and he can be trusted.”

This brilliant response by Meliva Einstein provides a tremendous principle for accurate biblical interpretation. There are some portions of Scripture that are so deep that we can’t understand them fully in this life. As finite beings we just can’t understand the infinite. However, we know God, and He can be trusted.

In Rom 9:14-29 we encounter what may be the most difficult section in the entire Bible. This passage on predestination has been notoriously labeled a “pastor’s graveyard.” Paul’s words are not terribly difficult at face value, but they seem to contradict other passages that emphasize human responsibility. Thus, many well-meaning Bible students attempt to marginalize predestination verses instead of letting any tension remain. However, when we study texts that deal with God’s election, we need to accept them as they stand and not try to figure out details that God has not chosen to reveal. Deut 29:29a states, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” In Isa 55:8-9 the Lord declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Similarly, Rom 9 is written from the perspective of heaven looking over God’s shoulder. Hence, I don’t claim to fully understand it, I just claim to believe it.

 

Perhaps you’re reading this lesson and you’re thinking, “Can’t you give me something more relevant? What about my marriage, family, work, school, and financial concerns? I need something that will touch my felt needs.” I can appreciate your sentiments; however, I believe that if your understanding of God increases and you grow closer to Him, that many of your personal concerns will take care of themselves. As important as your felt needs may be, it is your knowledge of God that is most important.

 

In Rom 9:14-29 Paul says: Let God be God. He then provides three inescapable truths that relate to God’s choice. These truths should lead us to humble our hearts and prostrate our souls before our great God. Now, let’s take a deep breath, buckle our seatbelts, and humbly pursue an immense view of God.

 

  1. God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Character (9:14-18)

God’s saving choice reflects His mercy, not injustice. In 9:14 Paul writes, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?” The apostle raises consecutive, rhetorical questions because he assumes, in light of what he has said in 9:6-13 regarding God’s choosing, that there will arise a logical question. The question is, “Isn’t God unfair to choose some (e.g., Isaac and Jacob) and reject others (e.g., Ishmael and Esau)?” Paul answers with a firm, “May it never be!” The fact that God’s justice in election is questioned here points to the truth that election originates and is based only in God. Some people argue that God merely foresees who will believe in Him and then chooses such individuals because of that knowledge. That may be a very attractive view because it removes some of the potential objections in this text. However, if that view were correct, then no one would voice any concerns. The rhetorical questions in 9:14 would be completely irrelevant because it would be a very reasonable thing for God to choose individuals that chose Him. No one would ever raise any objections and say that God is unjust.

 

Again, stop for just a moment and ask yourself, why does Paul anticipate this question? If election is ultimately based on human decisions, this objection makes no sense. No one raises this question to someone who emphasizes “free will.” It is only to the doctrine of predestination that this question is raised.

 

Paul now spends four verses building a case for God’s sovereign choice. He cites two proofs (“for,” 9:15, 17), from which he then derives two inferences (“so then,” 9:16, 18). In 9:15 Paul quotes Exod 33:19: “For He says to Moses, ‘I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.’” It is important to understand the context of this quote. In Exod 32 the children of Israel rebelled against God and made a golden calf in violation of the second commandment. The people were guilty and they all deserved to be judged and destroyed (32:10). Yet, God in His mercy only slew 3000 (32:28). In 33:12-23 Moses demanded various proofs and evidences of God’s presence. He even asked to see God face to face. God declined to grant that impossible privilege, but He did use the occasion as an opportunity to teach Moses about His sovereignty. In effect, the message from Exod 32-33 is that God does what He wants, and He doesn’t bother to ask for our opinion about it.

 

So, instead of attempting to defend God’s honor and explain why He is really just, Paul states that God pours out His mercy on some. Of course, the typical objection is: “But why doesn’t God pour out His mercy on all?” This objection misses the whole point. The real question is this: “Why does God pour out His mercy on anybody?” No one deserves His mercy. Instead, every person deserves to pay the penalty for his or her sin in hell. If God chose to show no mercy at all and pour out His judgment on every single person He would be absolutely just because this is exactly what we deserve.

 

The amazing thing is that God shows mercy toward anyone! It is the theme of mercy that is the central point of this entire passage. Surprisingly, this is the first occurrence of the term “mercy” in Romans. God’s grace has been mentioned throughout the letter; but, not until 9:15 is mercy named. This timely inclusion reveals that until mercy is understood, grace cannot be fully appreciated. For, mercy is God withholding what we deserve, and grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve. May we cry out: “Lord, have mercy! Help me to understand just how merciful you have been to me.”

 

To demonstrate further God’s mercy, Paul writes in 9:16: “So then it [God’s mercy] does not depend on the man [any person] who wills [desires] or the man who runs [acts], but on God who has mercy.” This is a very important verse because it demonstrates that salvation is strictly the result of God’s mercy. Even faith is not the ultimate cause of salvation. God’s mercy is behind our faith. Although we are commanded to believe, salvation is nonetheless God’s work and His alone.

 

Think this through: If salvation finds its origin in the will of the creature, rather than in the will of the Creator, then I can never be fully assured of my salvation, for I may someday lose my faith in God, or I may decide to reject my faith altogether. If the salvation of others is not in the control of God, then I have little reason to pray for the salvation of the lost. But if salvation finds its origin in the will of God, then I know that I am forever secure as a Christian, for even though I may change, God is unchanging. Since it was He who purposed my salvation and He cannot change, then my salvation is as certain as the One who is its source. If God determines salvation, then I may come to Him in prayer with the confidence that He is both able to save and that He takes pleasure in saving as well as in answering my prayers.

 

In 9:17 Paul provides another proof as to why God is not unjust: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.’” Here Paul quotes from Exod 9:16. He cites the Egyptian Pharaoh who refused to release the people of Israel until God had done several miracles. The point here is that, even though the Egyptian Pharaoh defied God and hated the people of Israel, God had a purpose in this episode. God “raised” Pharaoh up for two purposes: (1) “to demonstrate” His power in and through Pharaoh (cf. 9:22), and (2) that the name of God might be “proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” Simply put, God wants His glory manifested in all the earth! As much as He may love you, He is even more concerned with His glory and His supremacy. Until we understand this truth we will never fully grasp the Bible.

 

Paul’s point is that even in his hatred and rebellion, Pharaoh serves as a witness to God’s greatness and glory. When human beings react against God, they think they’re acting on their own, and they think they can short circuit His plans, but actually God is using their very resistance to accomplish His purposes. God used Pharaoh’s resistance to display His power and make His character known. The inference Paul draws is that since God is sovereign over even evil people; He is clearly sovereign over salvation. In short, God has chosen to save in this way to glorify none other than Himself. Let God be God.

 

This leads Paul to state in 9:18, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Again, this verse emphasizes that God’s choice does not depend upon our choice—it’s a matter of His mercy. Most people, however, express angst over the fact that God “hardens whom He desires.” Yet, it is important to understand the context of Exod 4-14. The text is clear that Pharaoh hardened his heart for the first six plagues. It’s not until after the sixth plague that it says, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” God just brought out what was already there. God told Pharaoh, in effect, “If you are determined to have a hard heart, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to finish what you started. Since you want a hard heart, I’m going to make it like granite. I’m going to make it as hard as possible so you will know who is God in Egypt.

 

People are not lost because they are hardened; they are hardened because they are lost. If mercy is not giving people what they deserve, then the hardening of the heart is simply allowing what they deserve to run its full course. The hardening of the heart is, in that sense, pure justice. For instance, the rain that has just been falling the last few days is going to bring forth some beautiful flowers, but it is also going to bring forth some ugly weeds. Don’t blame the rain for the weeds. It didn’t bring the weeds; it simply revealed they were there. The grace and mercy of God does not place hardness in anybody’s heart, it just reveals the hardness that’s there. The same sun that melts ice hardens clay.

 

This verse brings to mind the truth that God did not intend to save all people. Rather, He reserves the right to choose whom He will save. Then, immediately someone says, “That’s not fair! Everyone should have an equal chance to be saved, or God is unjust.” These are dangerous words! We must be careful not to ever demand fairness or justice from God. I don’t want anything to do with the justice of God. Remember, if all of us received justice, every one of us would be condemned for all eternity. The fact that some are not condemned is sheer mercy.

 

Charles Spurgeon, said it best: “I believe the doctrine of election because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that doctrine.”

The roller coaster and you

When was the last time you were on a roller coaster? Did you want to throw up? I can think of nothing better to kick off Romans 9-11 than a terrifying and exhilarating roller coaster ride. The reason is simple: For many people these chapters contain the most terrifying and exhilarating words in the New Testament.

In 8:28-39, Paul established that: (1) God has a purpose for believers; (2) nothing can prevent that purpose from being fulfilled; and (3) no one can separate God’s people from His love. But a question remains: What about God’s chosen people—the Jews? God loved them and had a purpose for them too. Yet, Israel appears to be excluded from God’s program. Therefore, the inescapable question is: Since so many Jews appear to have become separated from the love of God, haven’t His promises and eternal purposes failed? If so, then what basis do you and I have for believing that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled? Our Christian hope is at stake! Paul addresses this concern.

In Romans 9-11, he explains Israel’s spiritual condition: past (9), present (10), and future (11). In our first installment, 9:1-13, we learn that God’s promises and plans never fail. Paul shares two essential truths about God.

1. God Is Committed To His People (9:1-5)
This opening paragraph reveals both God and Paul’s burden and passion for Israel’s salvation. We will also see the necessary balance between human responsibility (9:1-3) and divine sovereignty (9:4-5). In 9:1-2 Paul begins by expressing his sorrow. The intensity is built up by three doublings: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Isn’t it interesting that Paul appeals to his truthfulness, to his conscience, and to the Holy Spirit? Why is Paul so concerned that his recipients know that he isn’t lying? Because they would undoubtedly find it remarkable that he could love the Jews when they hated him so much. Everywhere Paul went they treated him as an enemy and a traitor. They harassed him, they threatened him, and they stirred up mobs against him.
In Acts 23:12-13, 40, Jewish zealots bound themselves with an oath that they would not eat or drink until they had killed him. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul states that on five different occasions he received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes, adding that he was in constant danger from his own countrymen. Yet nowhere in his writings is there ever found even the hint of personal retaliation or bitterness against the Jews. On the contrary, Paul’s spirit was the same as that of Christ, who wept over the city of Jerusalem even though He knew He was about to be crucified by its leaders (see Matt 23:37).

Years ago some servants of the Salvation Army went into an extremely tough American city and after working there for several years, they said, “It just won’t work. We’ve tried everything. The gospel is just not being received here.” They telegraphed that to General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, and he telegraphed back a two word message: “Try tears.” Do you have a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a classmate who doesn’t know Jesus Christ and you think you have tried everything? Well, have you tried tears? Have you asked God to break your heart for the lost?
Paul continues in 9:3 by claiming, “For I could wish [pray] that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Paul actually wishes he could forfeit his own salvation if it would lead to the salvation of his fellow Jews. He knows he cannot actually be separated from Christ—he just said so in 8:31-39. Yet his feelings are, nevertheless, genuine. Paul loves his people enough to go to hell for them, if that were possible. It’s difficult to fully appreciate his emotions, for he is exhibiting supernatural love. Nonetheless, we must seek to share Paul’s heartbeat.

Do we love the lost like Paul did?
Do we share his burden for souls?
Would we be willing to go to hell if someone else would be saved?
How far are we willing to go to see people believe in Christ?
What sacrifices are we willing to make?
If there’s a “secret” to evangelism, it is cultivating a heart for lost people.
Do we have a burden that others will not spend eternity in hell?

In the film, The Guardian, the viewer is taken into the world of United States Coast Guard rescue swimmers. Eighteen weeks of intense training prepares these courageous men and women for the task of jumping from helicopters to rescue those in danger at sea. The challenges they face include hypothermia and death by drowning. Why would people risk so much for strangers? The answer is found in the rescue swimmer’s motto, “So Others May Live.” May you and I share this very same mission. I challenge you to share Christ with someone this week. Don’t be bashful. Don’t be presumptuous and assume that people aren’t interested. God may use you to lead someone to faith in Christ. Today, pray that God gives you an unquenchable burden and zeal for the lost.

In 9:4-5, Paul emphasizes divine sovereignty by listing the remarkable privileges that God has given Israel. Verse 4 is arranged in two sets of three that are grammatically and conceptually parallel:

o The adoption as sons/the giving of the Law: The “adoption as sons” refers to a national adoption that has to do with a unique action on God’s part to put His special mark of ownership upon one race of people. God “adopted” Israel and gave them instructions on how to be different than their surrounding neighbors. It was an extraordinary privilege for the Jews to be God’s people and have received the very words of God.

o The glory/the temple service: The “glory” likely refers to the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led Israel through the wilderness during the Exodus. Later, when the tabernacle and the Temple were built, the Levites were given the amazing privilege of temple service. Though anyone could come to worship in the Temple, only Levites (i.e., Jews) could serve the Lord there. No other nation ever received such a remarkable sign of God’s presence.

o The covenants/the promises: “The covenants” refer to the special agreements that God made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. These covenants included the “promises” that God made to Israel regarding their place in His plan and His unconditional love for them despite their failures. No other nation has been so privileged.
Two other privileges are mentioned in 9:5. “The fathers” is a reference to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. No other nation has had such great leaders as Israel. “The Christ” was, of course, the greatest privilege ever granted to Israel. But this privilege is stated differently. The previous items are mentioned as possessions of Israel. The Messiah, on the other hand, is simply “from” Israel. Notice, however, that Paul not only identifies Christ as of the Jewish race, but also stresses His deity. Jesus is “God over all” and is “forever praised.” Because of His heavenly origin and mission, He cannot be claimed exclusively by any segment of the human race. He is the greatest gift known to humankind.

Despite the privileges God freely gave to Israel, the bulk of the nation continues to reject Jesus as their Messiah. Like Israel, many people in our lives have been blessed with great privileges. Yet, many still reject Christ. We must recognize that privileges such as information, opportunity, and blessing don’t guarantee salvation. However, privileges do guarantee accountability. Jesus said, “To whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48paraphrase). Those who have heard of Christ are responsible to believe. If you are reading this message you likely have exceptional privileges, yet you still must believe in Christ as your Savior. Today, is there anything keeping you from trusting in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? If not, I urge you to place your faith in Him alone right now. Don’t wait another minute. I’m not trying to scare you or manipulate you, but I must remind you that you are not guaranteed tomorrow. So settle the issue today once and for all. You will then come to realize that God’s promises and plans never fail.
[Not only is God is committed to His people, we will now see that . . .]
2. God Is Committed To His Sovereign Choice (9:6-13)
We have now come to the top of the roller coaster. We are about to take a hair-raising plunge that may leave you breathless. So, hang on and let’s see if we can survive the ride. First, let’s quickly define our terms. If you draw a line right in the middle of the word “sovereign,” it looks like this: “sov | reign.” Only royalty reigns and that word “sov | reign” means “reigns alone.” Only God has ultimate and absolute authority. This section begins, perhaps, the key passage in the Bible on the subject of predestination and election. Yet, these doctrines create a lot of spiritual heartburn and indigestion for many Christians, so I’m going to substitute a simple English word that means the same thing but doesn’t carry nearly so much baggage. It’s the word “choose” or “choice.” The result is the same—God chooses people before they choose Him.

Paul begins 9:6a with his thesis statement for the whole of Romans 9-11: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Paul begins his response to the question that was raised in 9:1-5: If Israel is God’s covenant people, to whom so many glorious privileges have been given (9:4-5), why are so few Israelites saved? Has God failed Israel? Paul responds with conviction and certainty, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” This is one of the greatest principles in the entire Bible. Things are not always as they appear to be. When it looks like God’s Word has failed us, we should repeat this verse with personal application. “Even though this situation has happened, it’s not as though God’s Word has failed me.” Always remember: God’s promises and plans never fail.

In 9:6b, Paul gives the reason “for” his thesis. He points out that God’s promises to the Jews have not failed, because God never promised to save every Jew. He puts it like this: “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Paul denies that God ever intended to save all ethnic Israelites. His purpose has always been to save a remnant within Israel. Paul informs us that salvation isn’t a matter of physical descent. When he says, “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,” he means that being an Israelite does not automatically make one a child of God. Simply put: “Salvation is not a Jewish birthright.”

If we went downtown and observed a parade passing by with banners that read, “American Communists for the Downfall of America,” we might look at each other and say, “They’re not all Americans who are Americans.” What we would mean is that though these people may have been born in America, they are not committed to the principles upon which our government is based; they are outside of what America really stands for. Hence, whether we’re talking about Israel, America, or any other people, God is more about “grace, rather than race.”

In 9:7-13, Paul now uses two illustrations to support his thesis from 9:6. In the first illustration, Paul shows that salvation has never been based on heritage, lineage, or pedigree. In 9:7-9 he writes: “. . . nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.’ That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: ‘AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.’” Abraham, the father of our faith, had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was a child of the flesh in the sense that he was the product of Sarah’s carnal effort to help God out. See, God had made a promise that Sarah would have a son. But it didn’t happen within Sarah’s allotted timetable, so she gave her handmaid to her husband and the handmaid bore a son. Thirteen years later Sarah herself had a son, a son of Promise, a supernatural son, and God said in 9:7, “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” God made the choice.

To demonstrate that there is a difference between ethnic and spiritual Israel, Paul reminds us that God sovereignly selected Isaac over Ishmael. Though Ishmael was also Abraham’s son, Isaac inherited the promise by grace. It was Isaac, not Ishmael, who was a “child of promise.” The ignoring of Ishmael and the calling of Isaac illustrates the fact that some have been called to salvation and others have been left as they are. The modern equivalent of this truth might be, “It is not the children of Christian parents who are Christians; it is those who have personally embraced Christ as Savior who are Christians.” God is free to choose however and however He likes—this is His prerogative. Whether I like how He operates or not, He’s God and I am not. I must allow God to be God.

You may be able to stomach this first illustration, for Isaac was the only legitimate son of Abraham and Sarah.” But Paul now provides a second illustration of God’s divine choosing that may make your stomach turn. In 9:10-13 Paul shows that salvation has never been based on personal character or works. The apostle writes: “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.’ Just as it is written, ‘JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.’” Now here we have two twin sons, so both have the same mother and same father. Yet, God also made a choice between them, namely that “the older will serve the younger.” This choice was contrary to the culture of that day, which required that the older son be given priority. In fact, these verses seem contrary to our entire experience and western thought process so we must delve further into some specifics:

o God’s saving choice includes individuals (9:6-13.) Some try to argue that Paul is referring only to nations in these texts and not individuals. They support their view by showing that two of the Old Testament texts that Paul cites (Gen 25:23; Mal 1:1-5) have to do with the privileges and blessings of the line of Jacob over that of Esau. It is agreed that these two Old Testament texts do not immediately pertain to salvation. But the real question is: “How does Paul use these two Old Testament quotations to respond to the question that he raised?” His initial question in 9:6a was: Why are so few Jews saved? If Paul is referring to nations, then he is saying that the reason not all the nation of Israel is saved is that God has chosen the nation Israel. His answer is unintelligible! An appeal to the collective election of Israel (i.e., Jacob and his seed) doesn’t resolve the problem of unbelieving, lost Jews. In fact, it only fuels the question! We must also bear in mind that specific people are mentioned: Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. Clearly, the principle of divine election involved individuals before it involved nations (9:13).

Imagine that I was a multi-millionaire who was able to purchase a major league baseball team. However, I had to choose between my two favorite teams: the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros. Even though I would be selecting a team, I would base my decision upon the individuals on the team. So, it truly is a matter of individual election, not corporate or national election. We should also note that the language Paul uses throughout this paragraph generally refers to the issue of eternal salvation. Hence, Paul’s use of these verses pertains to God’s sovereign election of individuals.

o God’s saving choice was predetermined before birth and before behavior (9:11, 13). Paul tells us that God differentiated between Jacob and Esau before they were born. Their destiny was predetermined. Moreover, He differentiated between them before they did anything good or evil. Hence, their behavior had nothing to do with God’s choice. Paul clearly denies the notion of God looking ahead to see faith. God’s choice was not contingent upon anything about them! God doesn’t wait to see who will believe, or choose us because He knows we will believe. As Augustine said, “God does not choose us because we believe, but in order that we may believe.” As for the seemingly problematic 9:13: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” Paul is using “hate” (miseo) as an idiom where the opposite is used to express a lesser degree. He’s simply saying that God loved Esau less than He loved Jacob. More precisely, Esau was “not chosen” as the object of God’s electing purpose. Now if this troubles you, please revaluate your thought process. We really ought to be appalled that God would love Jacob. Why in the world would God choose a scheming, conniving, lying cheat like Jacob to love? Moreover, we ought to ask: Why did God choose me and love me? Why did He send His Son to die for me while I was a sinner and His enemy (5:8)? There is only one correct answer: God was immeasurably gracious and chose me and loved me from eternity past. And, His grace is all in spite of me.

o God’s saving choice was based upon His own good pleasure (9:11). While denying that the basis of God’s predetermination is anything in people, Paul affirms what that basis is—His sovereign purpose and pleasure. In other words, the reason why God saves one and not the other is grounded in His own will. He does what He does for His own good pleasure! Now this may make you uncomfortable. We must be very careful that we aren’t deceived into thinking that God chose each one of us for salvation because of our personal attributes or works.

Perhaps you’ve always assumed that your salvation has been the result of your quest for God and your faith. I can assure you that before you were seeking to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside of you, God was drawing you to Himself. Before you exercised faith, God had chosen you and Jesus was praying for you to come to faith. It is important to acknowledge God’s ultimate role in salvation. You and I are not nearly as important as we think. Stick your finger in a glass of water. See the impression you leave. You’re not that important. God is the One who is important. In the end, this passage teaches us one very important truth: God is completely sovereign. This ought to lead us to worship our great God. God’s promises and plans never fail.
If you have had a challenging roller coaster experience, it might parallel our experience as we ride the roller coaster of Romans 9. When we don’t understand the depths of God’s truth, we ought to be able to cry out, “Jesus save me!” Save me from a small mind. Save me from putting you in a box. Save me from trying to completely understand that which can’t be understood. When we conclude our study, we ought to exclaim, “Thank you Jesus for saving me. I’m amazed that you did it. I don’t deserve it. But thank you.”