The Laws of the Land

What is dual citizenship? Dual citizenship means that an individual is a citizen of two countries at the same time. In America, dual citizenship is not something that can be applied for. It occurs automatically for some individuals. For example, if a child is born in the U.S. to foreign parents, the child automatically has U.S. citizenship as well as citizenship of the parents’ home country. Similarly, the Bible calls you to dual citizenship. If you were born in the U.S. you are an American citizen, but when you were born again you became heaven’s citizen. You are responsible to live out both citizenships. The problem is some Christians are prone to extremes: either focusing on their earthly citizenship or their heavenly citizenship. Yet, Paul argues that both citizenships are essential since you have dual citizenship. In Romans 13:1-14 Paul instructs you in your obligations as an earthly and heavenly citizen.

1. Submit To Government (13:1-7)
God is glorified and His will is fulfilled when you submit to His governing authorities. In 13:1a Paul writes: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.” The command begins with the words, “Every person” (pasa psuche lit. “Every soul”). This includes believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, great and small, without exception. But Paul’s primary concern is that believers “submit” to governing authorities. The verb “submit” (hupotasso) means “to place oneself under.” After reading this blanket command, some look for exceptions. However, here Paul provides the general rule, not the exceptions. Of course, there are at least three areas in which a Christian should resist authority:
(1) If he or she is asked to violate a command of God.
(2) If he or she is asked to commit an immoral or unethical act.
(3) If he or she is asked to go against his/her conscience.

But when a believer resists authority he/she must be willing to accept the consequences (see 13:2). Submission is never easy and frequently there are grave ethical dilemmas.

Fortunately, in 13:1b Paul gives the first reason you must submit to government. He writes, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” This is the first of four uses of the word “authority” (exousia), which means “delegated authority.” Paul’s entire argument is based upon a fundamental premise: God is sovereign and He possesses ultimate authority. However, no one has authority independent of God. (Underline the word “no” in 13:1b). He alone delegates human authority to people. This means that every government is to be acknowledged and obeyed by virtue of its existence, not because it meets your preferences. The term that is translated “established” or “ordained” (tetagmenai from tasso) is in the perfect tense, referring to a past action with continuous results. Paul means that all governments (past, present, and future) that exist are ordained by God, whether good or bad.

Now perhaps you are asking the question, “What about Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein? Did God ‘ordain’ these authorities?” The Scriptures teach an interesting paradox: on one hand, Satan is actively involved in the political process (Luke 4:6-7). The book of Daniel teaches that there are wicked spirits who are assigned to various leaders. Yet at the same time, the Bible clearly teaches that God rules in the affairs of men. In Psalm 75:6-7 Asaph says: “For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; but God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another.” Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” In other words, God is sovereign over whoever is in authority.

Remember, Nero was in power when Paul wrote Romans 13. Nero hated Christians, had them rounded up, dipped in tar, and lit as torches for his parties. He covered Christians in animal skins and threw them to wild dogs. He ordered Rome set on fire and then blamed the Christians, setting off the first wave of official persecution. We’ve largely forgotten how wicked pagan ancient Rome really was. Sorcery and black magic abounded, abortion flourished, homosexuality was accepted as normal, and the masses worshipped Caesar as Lord. No government in America has ever been as pagan as the government of ancient Rome.

In 13:2 Paul shares the first consequence if you fail to submit to government. He writes, “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Paul is saying that when you resist government you are resisting God! To put it positively, submission to government is an expression of your submission to God. Therefore, whether you think a law is fair or not, you have no right to disobey simply because of your preferences. If you choose to disobey Paul states that you will receive condemnation upon yourself. “Condemnation” (krima) or “judgment” refers to both God’s judgment and government’s judgment. Government penalizes people for their wrongdoings. What government fails to judge properly in this life, God will make right in the final judgment.

In 13:3 Paul gives a second reason why you should generally be submissive to governing authorities. He explains, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.” Rulers uphold the law. Hence, if you are honoring the law, you have nothing to fear under a good government. But when you do evil, you have much to fear. Have you ever experienced the surge of fear that shoots through you when you speed through a speed trap and then look down at your speedometer? It’s a frightening thing. (I know from first-foot experience!) Now if you never speed, you have nothing to worry about, right? Right! But if you drive I-20 like the German autobahn, be worried . . . be very worried! The consequences of judgment or “praise” are true of every scale of crime. Choose your consequences. It’s up to you.

Paul gives a second, surprising consequence if you fail to submit to government. He writes in 13:4: “for it [rulers] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Two times in 13:4, Paul calls rulers a “minister” (diakonos), which is also the word for deacon. So you are to look upon governing authorities as part of God’s ministerial staff. They are a part of the team He assembles to work in the world today. The task of this minister is to serve God by dealing appropriately with those who do good and also with those who do evil. In case there is any doubt in your mind, Paul puts the word “God” (theou) in the emphatic slot in both phrases of 13:4. Governing authorities are God’s ministers, so you are commanded to submit to them. You have dual citizenship.

In 13:4 Paul also alludes to “the sword” that government bears. Notice he doesn’t refer to “the whip” or “the jail sentence”—he says “the sword.” In New Testament times the sword was an instrument of capital punishment to behead criminals. Roman officials had sabers carried in front of them as a constant reminder that they held the power of life and death. Now, it may be true that Paul’s words carry a much broader meaning, but it’s also true that capital punishment is certainly included in this concept. He seems to be saying that the state or the government, not the individual, has the authority to take another person’s life. Hence, there is no conflict here between Paul’s words in 12:19-20 about not taking vengeance, and his use of the sword to restrain evil.

Romans 12 is personal; Rom 13 is constitutional.
In Romans 12 vengeance is at work; in Romans 13 justice is at work.
Thus, I understand 13:4 to teach that government has the right to execute capital punishment. God established the death penalty before the Law back in Gen 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” It has nothing to do with our opinions about it—whether we find it distasteful or arrogant to assume that society has the right to take a person’s life. All of that is an irrelevant discussion.

God has addressed the matter. The Bible says that anyone who deliberately and premeditatively takes a life, his or her life shall be taken. In fact, not only is capital punishment biblical, but public capital punishment is biblical so that those watching will say, “I don’t want that to happen to me” (Numbers 16:30-34; Josh 7:24-26). The principle here is: God highly values human life. Murder is a unique crime, a crime against the “image of God” in man. The natural deterrent to upholding this intrinsic value is to practice the death penalty. It is a necessary function of society to harness the evil of people.

Admittedly, capital punishment isn’t always administered justly and we must fight to correct the injustices. But the institute of capital punishment is necessary to punish evil and help instill fear of authority. This truth is further confirmed in Romans 13:4, when Paul calls governing authorities “an avenger” (ekdikos). If a person killed another person, in the Old Testament, even accidently, that person’s family had the right to exercise the “eye-for-an-eye” vengeance (the blood avenger). Paul seems to be relating the Old Testament custom to the authority of civil government.

In case you are confused, Paul summarizes his command (13:1a) and his reasons to submit to government (13:1b, 3). In 13:5 he writes, “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake.” In light of all that Paul has said (13:1-4) he hopes that you will be “in subjection.” Paul repeats the two reasons to submit to government in reverse order. The external motivation that promotes submission is the fear of punishment. The internal motivation that promotes submission is a desire to maintain a pure and undefiled conscience. You have dual citizenship.

Paul closes this section in 13:6-7 with specific applications: “For because of this [God’s ordaining of governing authorities] you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing” (13:6). How can you demonstrate your submission to the government? By paying taxes! One reason for paying taxes is that rulers are “servants of God.” This is the third time that governing rulers are referred to as God’s “servants” or “ministers” (cf. 13:4). Yet, here Paul uses a different word for “servant” (leitourgos). This term is used for temple servants in the Old Testament. Paul also uses this word of himself a “minister [leitourgos] of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (15:16).

Many governing officials may not realize it, but God has put them where they are to serve Him. Civil servants, then, are performing God-ordained functions full-time, and you should pay your taxes to support their ministry. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take deductions or pay more than needed, but it does mean that you should pay your share willingly. How honest are you in paying your taxes? How online purchases have you made to purchase items to avoid sales tax? Did you report sales tax on items you bought out-of-state (e.g., Internet site purchases)? Did you report all the tips you made? If you are willing to pay your taxes, it is likely that you will be submissive in other areas as well.

But what about when my taxes are being used for things I disagree with? What if I don’t believe in spending money on foreign aid? What if I feel it is wrong to support the military? What if I believe it is criminal that state or federal funds are used to pay for abortions? Stop and ask yourself what Roman taxes were going toward in Paul’s day? The answer is the luxurious lifestyle of the Caesars, abortion, and the construction and maintenance of temples devoted to the worship of the Roman Emperor. You may not like the taxes you are asked to pay, you may not deem them fair, you might not agree with every way that our tax dollars are being spent, but you have no right to decide which taxes you want to pay and which ones not to pay. God has not given you the authority to make that decision.
In 13:7 Paul writes, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” Paul states that you are to pay direct taxes and indirect taxes (customs). But he also says that you are to fear and honor your governing authorities. “Respect” (lit. “fear”) refers to your awareness that they have God’s authority to punish the evil-doer (13:4). “Honor” refers to your realization that God places value and significance upon such people. Notice, Paul does not qualify the word “all” (pas). This means all civil servants, at every level, are to receive honor and respect. This respect is not just for the office but to the person as well. This respect is “due them,” regardless of their party affiliation, regardless of how they live their private life, and regardless of the sly way they catch you speeding. Perhaps you’re thinking you can’t honor your president or governor. Can you pray for this person? As you pray for this person, you’ll find it easier to honor the governing authority. Remember, you have dual citizenship.

There are many other relevant applications in this section:
(1) Don’t ignore your responsibility to vote.
This is one of the greatest sins in the Christian church. We whine and fret over the direction of our country, but we refuse to vote. What insanity! Christians who don’t vote are abdicating their responsibility and must answer to God. The Bible says that Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, was honored “because he sought the good of his people” (Esther 10:3). Shouldn’t we also work for the good of our nation? Don’t look at voting only as a responsibility; however, look at it as an opportunity—an opportunity hundreds of millions of people in our world wish they had.

(2) Encourage your governing authorities. Instead of being critical every time they do something you don’t like, contact various civil servants and let them know that you are praying for them (1 Tim 2:1-2). When they do something right, drop them an e-mail, a handwritten note, or even pick up the phone and call directly. Let them know how pleased you are and that you are grateful for them.

(3) Consider public service if you have been given abilities appropriate to the task. If you are a young person, God may want to use you as a “minister” on His full-time staff. If your child or grandchild expresses an interest in politics, don’t discourage him or her. Rather, challenge such a one to serve the Lord on the frontlines. How wonderful it would be if one of your children was instrumental in helping to turn around our country!
[Not only are you to “submit” to your governing authorities, you must also . . .]
2. Live To Love (13:8-10)
Paul calls you to live out a lifestyle of love with everyone God brings you in contact with. In 13:8-10 he writes: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” There are several observations worth noting in these three verses.

First, the NASB’s translation “owe nothing to anyone” can be misleading because it seems to prohibit any form of debt or borrowing. However, this verse does not mean that you may never incur financial obligations or that you may not borrow from others in case of need. The New Testament does not forbid borrowing, only the practice of charging inflated interest on loans and failing to pay debts. A strong argument can be made for the view that one is not really in debt unless his liabilities exceed his assets, unless he has borrowed beyond the means to repay, or unless he has fallen behind on payments. The NIV’s translation, “Let no debt remain outstanding” avoids the literal interpretation but gives the correct interpretation of Paul’s thoughts.

Second, you should strive to love, but you should never consider the debt “paid in full.” Unlike house payments, car payments, credit card debt, and even college debt, love is a debt that continues forever. Therefore, when faced with a difficult situation, you can never say, “I’ve loved that person enough. I’m going to stop now. I have nothing else to give.” You must always remember Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love for you has been, and always will be, absolutely unconditional. Regardless of how you treat God, He showers you with mercy, grace, compassion, and patience. He lavishes love upon you.

How can you not love your fellow believers? But you may say, “You don’t know my wife. She disrespects me in front of the kids. She deprives me sexually. She doesn’t keep the house clean. She has let herself go physically.” I hurt for you . . . I really do. However, you have a debt of love to your wife that will never be paid.

Perhaps your children are rebellious and they have caused you nothing but grief. They have publicly humiliated you. Every day of your life is an all-out war. You feel like you are losing your mind. My heart truly grieves for you. Nonetheless, you owe your children a debt of love. This clarion call to love applies to an unruly boss, a cantankerous coworker, an annoying neighbor, and a gossiping church member. Despite how you are treated, God is calling you to a supernatural love for others.

Third, love fulfills the law. When you love your neighbor as yourself, the purpose of the law is brought to completion. However, Paul doesn’t want you to focus on the law; he wants you to focus on love since love should be the mark that distinguishes you as a Christian (John 13:34-35). Since the world believes Christianity is responsible for racism, sexism, homophobia, the Crusades, and religious wars, we must break the stereotype of intolerance and narrow hate that seems to mark us. Naturally, we can only accomplish this as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. He is the one who works in and through us and grants supernatural love. Today, don’t think vaguely about loving everybody; think about loving one or two particular people, the difficult ones whom God has set before you. As you do so, you will fulfill the law and demonstrate your dual citizenship.
[You are obligated to submit to government and to live to love. Your third and final obligation is to . . .]
3. Refuse To Sin (13:11-14)
Paul uses the issue of the urgency of Christ’s return as a chief motivation to live the Christian life. In 13:11 he writes, “Do this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” The word “Do” is not part of the original text. The first phrase in 13:11 literally reads, “And this knowing the time.” “This” (touto) refers to the duties prescribed in 12:1-13:10.

These duties can be categorized under two headings—love and service. We are to love and serve knowing our time is short. Have you ever noticed that we are obsessed with time! The first cognitive thought in our mind every morning is, “What time is it?” Have you ever counted the number of clocks you have in your house? (I counted over thirty last night in mine.) Think of your kitchen: coffee makers, oven, and microwave. What about your cell phones, laptops, DVD players, watches, and alarm clocks. We are fixated with time. But, are we measuring time correctly? We seem to be most concerned with what time it is now. God seems to be more concerned with what time is drawing near!

Paul often uses the word “sleep” (egeiro) as a picture of believers who have been lulled into worldliness. He sounds a spiritual alarm because many of us are asleep. We might say many believers are “sleep-walking.” They are alive, but they are caught up in the ways of the world. Paul says, “Wake up, Christian!” The term “salvation” (soteria) refers to Jesus’ coming and our glorification and reward. Paul wants you to live with your eyes set on the prize because Christ’s return could come at any moment. We need to be ready all the time because at any time Jesus may return.

In light of the urgency of Christ’s return, Paul writes in 13:12, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” “The night” refers to the time of Jesus’ absence; “the day” refers to His return. Again, Paul’s point is that Jesus’ return is imminent (i.e., it could happen at any time). Therefore, Paul commands us to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” In other words, we are to take off our soiled clothes and put on spiritual armor. This life should be viewed in light of the next.

Have you had an article clothing that you had too long? Have you heard: “Either you lose that shirt or I will!”?
Do you have a something that is unsuitable for the light of day? Sadly, you may be married to Christ, but still committing “deeds of darkness” that need to be done away with. Paul says, “Get rid of your old pajamas and put on the armor of light.” You’re in a war! That’s why you need armor. Putting on this armor will permit you to plan as if Christ’s return is years away, but live as if He’s coming today.
In 13:13 Paul warns about the deeds of darkness: “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.” Paul lists three couplets of the old uniform:

(1) Party sins (“carousing and drunkenness”). Drinking to excess has become rather popular among believers today. My question is: If you knew that Jesus Christ was going to return today would you abuse alcohol? Would you allow yourself to become intoxicated to the point that you may unintentionally do something foolish?

(2) Bedroom sins (“sexual promiscuity and sensuality”). If you knew that Jesus Christ was going to return today would you be sexually immoral by sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend or someone who is not your spouse? Would you look at porn or open up a questionable website? Would you carry on an emotional affair or flirt with someone of the opposite sex? Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not a party animal, nor am I sexually immoral. I can check both of those sins off. I’m not guilty.” However, Paul is not done.

(3) Social sins (“strife and jealousy”). There are many who would be shocked at the thought of drunkenness, immorality or sexual looseness, but seem not to be shocked at all by strife and jealousy. Paul probably adds these sins to humble us all and prepare us for Christ’s return by living a life that is above reproach.
Paul cannot end on a negative note. So he concludes in 13:14 by saying: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” The righteous life is putting on Jesus like a suit of clothes. It is abiding in Him and living out His life. Paul instructs us to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” The term that is rendered “provision” (pronoia) implies forethought, planning, and activity. In Greek literature outside the New Testament, the term is used of a premeditated crime. Sin seldom just happens; most of the time it is premeditated. Sin is a link in a chain of events. When we surrender to the lusts of our flesh, it is often not a sudden collapse, but rather the culmination of a process. The sins of our flesh are those sins about which we have given much thought and for which we have made provision. If we are to be victorious over sin and the flesh, we must cease to make provision for it.

If you are a student of church history, you will not want to forget Romans 13:14. This verse led to the conversion of Augustine. Discouraged by his inability to overcome sexual sin (cf. 13:13), he one day heard a child at play call out, “Take up and read.” Picking up a copy of Romans, his eye fell on this verse. God convicted him of the reality both of his sin and of salvation, and he was converted.

If you are a student of Scripture and want to make your mark on history, you will not want to forget this verse. Romans 13:14 has the power to set you free from a life of sin. Today, put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask Him to help you overcome your sin. Make no provision for whatever sin is plaguing your flesh. Stop gratifying your flesh; instead, gratify your inner man with Jesus. You have dual citizenship. You are a citizen of earth, but you are a pilgrim, a sojourner who is just traveling through. You are on your way to your heavenly home because you are first and foremost a citizen of heaven. So act like it! Jesus has given you all the power you need.


Love without action is not love

How do you want to be remembered? Reflect on that question for just a moment. Imagine that you have passed away and are able to be a heavenly spectator at your own funeral. What would your pastor be able to say about your life? More importantly, what would people from church, work, and your neighborhood say about you? What would your family and friends say? What would you want them to say? When your life is all said and done, I believe that you will want to be remembered as a loving person. You won’t wish that you had spent more time at work. You won’t wish you would have made more money. You won’t wish that you would have had a nicer home. You won’t wish you could have played more golf or purchased nicer clothes. You will wish that you had loved people with God’s love.

Romans 12:9-21 is a practical “how-to” guide on God-like love. In this passage Paul demonstrates that love is an action not an emotion. Consequently, you can love those who are unlovely and unlovable. You can even love your enemy or persecutor. Paul’s thesis is simple: Love without action is not love. This text calls for two radical, yet biblical displays of love.

1. Display sacrificial love (12:9-16)
In 12:9a Paul writes, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” These are unusual opening words because they are not linked to anything in the previous context, and there is no verb in the Greek. If you notice in the NASB the words “Let” and “be” are in italics. This means that these words are not a part of the original Greek; rather, the translators, for clarity, supplied them. Paul literally says, “Love without hypocrisy” or “Sincere love!” These words serve as the title or heading for the entire passage. Paul assumes that you will manifest “love” (agape); however, he wants to ensure that your love is free from hypocrisy.

The word “hypocrisy” was used in the Greek world of the actor who wore masks to portray the emotion of his character. The facial expression could change with the move of a mask. Paul’s point is: Sincere Christians wear no masks. Instead, we should exemplify true love.
So how can we live out true love? In 12:9b Paul defines true love with two participles that function like commands: “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Although this verse is a broad Christian principle, Paul seems to apply it to all that follows in 12:10-21. The word translated “abhor” (apostugeo) is only used here in the entire NT. It means “to have a vehement dislike for something, hate strongly.” True love does not tolerate evil. In the same breath, Paul says you are to also “cling [or cleave] to what is good.” The verb “cling” (kollao) is used elsewhere by Paul only with reference to sexual relations. In extrabiblical Greek, the word can mean “to glue.” Paul wants you to be intimately glued to that which is good.

I challenge you to spend some time this week meditating on 12:10-21. Ask yourself repeatedly, “Do I ‘abhor what is evil?’” Am I enraged over pride, selfishness, favoritism, revenge, and other ungodly behaviors? Then ask yourself, “Do I ‘cling to what is good?’” Am I enthralled with humility, selflessness, generosity, and servanthood? Love without action is not love.

In 12:10 Paul shares two exhortations concerning your attitude towards fellow believers (see the twofold use of “one another”). He writes, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (12:10a). The word translated “be devoted” (philostorgos) refers to a special kind of love. It’s used only here in the whole New Testament. The term was a common word in wills to denote “tender affection” within a family. Paul is saying that you should have a tender affection and concern for your fellow believers like you would have for your family members. He then compounds this thought with the term “brotherly love.” This phrase is the Greek word philadelphia. Paul expects you to exercise warm affection, family love, and brotherly love toward believers. After all, the Spirit is thicker than blood. Do you have family-like relationships in your local church? Do you miss your brothers and sisters when you are out of town or separated from them? Are you able to express your love for other members of your church family verbally, physically, emotionally, and even financially? Would those in your small group, Sunday school class, or ministry team say that you are “devoted” to them? Love without action is not love.

You may be thinking, “Paul is asking too much. I just can’t love so-and-so; the only feelings I have for him or her are disgust.” While that may be true, you can’t excuse yourself from 12:10b: “give preference to one another in honor.” For lexical reasons, I prefer the NASB alternate translation: “outdo one another in showing honor” (see also ESV, HCSB, NRSV). Paul issues a friendly competition to treat one another well. He wants you to lead the way in showing honor for other believers.
In every sphere of your life, you ought to seek to “outdo” other believers.
Look for ways to honor other believers before they honor you.
Recognize other believers’ accomplishments before they honor yours.
Defer to other believers before they defer to you.
Look for what you can provide in a relationship rather than what you can receive. Be aggressive in giving yourself away.

You’ll be surprised how quickly you can start liking someone when you begin to treat him or her with honor and respect. Love without action is not love.
In 12:11 Paul goes on to deal with your attitude towards God’s work. Paul writes, “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit [the Holy Spirit], serving the Lord.”

You’ve heard, perhaps, about the guy who was asked if he thought ignorance and apathy were the two greatest problems of human nature. He responded, “I don’t know and I don’t care!” Well, Paul doesn’t want to see that kind of attitude in the church; rather he urges us to be diligent and fervent in our love and service for others. The word that is translated “fervent” (zeo) means “to boil or seethe.” To be “fervent in Spirit” is to allow the Holy Spirit to set you on fire. He is the one who will give you strength to love and to serve.

Why not pray this verse for yourself and your loved ones? God loves to set His people on fire for Him.

In 12:12-13 Paul offers five exhortations dealing with your attitude towards difficult circumstances. In 12:12 he states that we display true love when we are “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.” There is a logical progression of thought here. Rejoicing in the certain hope of God’s promises that leads to persevering through tribulation, and one advantage in tribulation is that tribulation makes it easier to pray! Nothing will make you love a person so much as praying for him or her. A simple adage is: The person who prays best is the person who loves best. Are you having a struggle loving another brother or sister in Christ? Today, will you begin praying for him or her? The Lord can often resolve the issues as you turn to Him in prayer. When V. Raymond Edman was president of Wheaton College, he often exhorted the students, “Chin up and knees down.” That’s good advice.

There is a connection between 12:12 and 12:13: “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” Times of tribulation demand a spirit of generosity and hospitality when others are in need. The word translated “contributing” (koinonia) means “to have in common or to share.” You are to share your material resources to help meet “the needs” of other saints.

In addition to generosity, troublesome times require hospitality. Some would say hospitality is “making people feel at home when you wish they were. The word “hospitality” (philoxenia) is more expressive than the English, for it means “love for strangers.” The word translated “practicing” (dioko) is also not strong enough. The Greek word means “pursue” or “persecute.” Paul wants you to pursue hospitality. Yet, the average American views his home as his castle, reserved exclusively for his own pleasure, but God says our homes are all leased from Him and are to be used as places of support and strength for others. While it is often easier to meet the material needs of someone by writing a check or giving a possession, God expects you to open up your home.

There is something special about being invited into someone’s home. It is one of the greatest expressions of love and acceptance. Yet, very few of us do this on a regular basis. Why? Many of us would complain that it’s too much work. Yet, what’s really required? Surprisingly, very little. Just kick the toys into a corner and make sure you have some microwave popcorn, paper plates, and water. Or just invite people over for dessert instead of an elaborate six-course meal. Don’t get fancy. There’s no need to try to impress anybody. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart or Betty Crocker; you just have to be full of love. Why not pick an evening that works well for you and make a goal to have others over weekly or monthly. You might just change someone’s life with an evening of Christian fellowship.

In 12:14-16 Paul returns to your attitude towards fellow believers. He writes in 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” I believe this commandment relates primarily to persecution you might receive from other believers. Taking shots from someone we consider a friend is perhaps the toughest kind of persecution to handle. The Greek word for “bless” (eulogeo) means “to speak well of a person.” Our English word “eulogize” is taken from this Greek word. Here, to bless your persecutors is to eulogize them, to speak well of them. This requires incredible self-control and grace.

Paul continues his motif of gracious living in 12:15 when he states: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” An old Swedish proverb reads: “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” The Swedes had it right! Here, Paul wants you to show fellow believers sympathy and understanding. Which is more difficult? For most of us, rejoicing with those who rejoice. We can show sympathy when believers (and unbelievers) are hurting, but it is often another thing when we are called to rejoice in the blessings of others. We are to look for opportunities to love.

If we were to share in the lives of others by experiencing their joy and feeling their grief, all kinds of walls would come crashing down. By the way, one of the practical ways we can fulfill this command is to attend weddings and funerals. That might seem like an odd exhortation, but I have noticed over the past twenty years that attending weddings and funerals is becoming less and less of a priority to many Christian people.

Paul concludes this first section with a power-packed verse. In 12:16 he writes, “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” Paul is calling all believers to a common mindset. He is not suggesting that we must all think in just the same way or that we must think exactly the same thing about every issue. Instead, we are to agree to disagree agreeably over non-essentials. In doing so we demonstrate the love, unity, and sacrifice that can only be found in Christ. Paul commands us not to be haughty in mind. Rather, to associate with the lowly. The word translated “lowly” (tapeinos) refers to those first-century Christians who could boast of little in the way of worldly goods or social position.

The command, “Do not be wise in your own estimation” implies that we need to recognize that often the socially “lower” Christian has much more to give than the rich Christian. Indeed, all Christians have something to share with other Christians; and all Christians have things to learn from other Christians. The problem is that we can often think like Archie Bunker who said, “I’m not prejudiced, I love all those inferior people.” We need to get over ourselves! We need to see our fellow believers accurately and biblically. We need to exercise humility (cf. 12:3, 10b). If we’re humble, we’ll never look down on anyone. We can only look up to them. May we begin to regard others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). May we ensure that our Christian relationships are healthy and whole. Love without action is not love.
[Paul has called you to display sacrificial love. In 12:17-21 he kicks it up another notch. He now tells you to …]
2. Display supernatural love (12:17-21)

We’re going to embark on what is likely the most challenging teaching in the entire Bible. This concept is not hard; it’s flat out impossible! But that’s good because supernatural behavior forces us to go back to Jesus Christ on a moment-by-moment basis. In this section, Paul has one theme: “Don’t fight fire with fire.”

In 12:17a he writes, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” This statement is a general summary statement for the next five verses. Notice Paul uses the word “Never” (meden). This provides you with no loopholes. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Anyone here a Charles Bronson fan? Bronson is an actor who has been in ninety different movies. He is especially well-known for his roles in the Death Wish series where he plays Paul Kersey, an unimpressive, mild-mannered, middle-aged vigilante. Each of these movies begins with Kersey being the victim of a tragic crime. The storyline is then filled with his escapades to avenge his family and friends. In my flesh—I enjoy these movies. Yet, Paul says this is unbiblical. This is not how God’s kingdom operates.

Instead, in 12:17b the apostle exhorts us to “Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” The word translated “respect” (pronoeo) literally means “take thought beforehand.” If you are to respond biblically to your enemy, you must thoughtfully prepare before a crisis arises. In other words, carefully and deliberately think through how you will respond if someone does something to you or one of your family members. If you fail to do so, you will respond according to your fleshly impulses. Conflict, however, ought to be in spite of you not because of you. Hence, it is critical to think carefully of how you should respond in every situation so that even unbelievers observe your life and glorify God.

Paul goes a step further in 12:18 when he says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Notice the conditional nature of this verse. The phrases “if possible” and “so far as it depends on you” reveal that you can’t force others to do what is right. Once you have done everything within your power to resolve a conflict, you have fulfilled your responsibility to God. Now, if circumstances change and there seems to be a new opportunity for peace with an enemy, you should pursue it. In the meantime, you should not waste time, energy, and resources with a person who refuses to be reconciled.

Therefore, (1) don’t blame yourself. Some people are just antagonistic.
(2) Trust God to change the other person. He prepares and softens hearts. Often it takes a great deal of prayer and many months or years before a person is willing to reconcile. We must be patient and wait on God.
(3) Get the help of a third party. Some conflicts require mediation from a mature Christian.

In 12:19 Paul returns to his forceful use of the word “Never.” He writes, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.” It was John Kennedy who said, “Don’t get mad, get even.” However, Paul again slams the door shut for revenge. Rather, he states that you must “leave room for the wrath of God.” The verb translated “leave room” (didomi) literally means “give place.” In other words, “get out of the way and leave room for something else.”

Paul wants you to give God His job description back. By refusing to take revenge, you are leaving room for God to exercise His wrath. The wrath of God is likely both temporal and eternal in this context. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 to serve as a reminder that no one can avenge you quite like God. Therefore, if you want Him to avenge you, step out of His way. If you want to avenge yourself, God will remove His hand from your situation. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have God avenge me and act on my behalf.
Paul now wraps up this chapter with a series of commands. In 12:20 he writes, “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’ These verses are a quote from Proverbs 25:21-22, which show that Paul understood the classic military principle that the best defense is an effective offense. He does not encourage a passive response to evil. Instead, he commands you to go on the offensive—not to beat down or destroy your opponents, but to lavish your enemy with love.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend.” Augustine said, “If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice, forgive him lest there be two bad men.” Does this mean that you are called to be a doormat? No, you are not called to be a doormat; you are called to be an elevator. You are to lift people up into the presence of God by graciously giving your enemy food and drink in his or her time of need. Paul says, in so doing “you will heap burning coals on his head.” This phrase is offered as the motivation for the kindness shown to an enemy, so I think it is very important that we understand the meaning of this statement.

Some have traditionally seen it as simply meaning “you will burn him.” If you’ve got an enemy and you really want to see him burn, be extra nice to him or her—he or she won’t be able to stand it! Now that’s hardly in the spirit of this passage. A better interpretation, I think, takes the burning coals as a figure of God’s judgment that will come on your enemy if he or she persists in antagonism. The figure of “coals of fire” in the Old Testament consistently refers to God’s anger and judgment (cf. 2 Sam 22:9, 13; Ps 11:6; 18:13; 140:9-10; Prov 25:21-22). Thus the meaning appears to be that you can return good for evil with the assurance that God will eventually punish your enemy, if you don’t want him or her by your lovingkindness.

Paul concludes with a summary in 12:21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Unlike 12:20b, 12:21 is straightforward and very easy to interpret. However, in our flesh, this is not a verse we want to obey. We would rather overcome evil with evil. To return evil for evil is natural; to return good for evil is supernatural. But this is how God’s economy operates. Evil cannot overcome the Christian by doing us harm or even by killing us. Evil will only overcome us if it makes us use evil ourselves. Evil cannot be overcome by a stronger force of the same kind. May you and I refuse to be overcome by evil, but may we overcome evil with good.

How do you want to be remembered? My hope is that you now want to be remembered as a believer who loved other believers. When you stand before Jesus Christ, I believe that one of the first questions Jesus may ask is: “Did you love my children?” Remember Jesus’ words, “all people will know that we are His disciples if we have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love was VERY important to Jesus; it compelled Him to give up His life for us! He wants us to imitate Him in how we love others. Before you stop reading this sermon, identify those relationships where you need to grow in love—it may be a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a person at church. Target specific people, not just everyone in general. Then commit to begin loving those people as Christ has commanded.

Belief should impact behavior

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” These are some of the most important and strategic words ever penned in human history. They serve as a halftime address—a coach’s “chalk talk.” Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2 are capable of leading God’s people to victory. But please don’t let your familiarity with these verses lead to passivity. Study them anew and afresh. If you do, God will transform you from the inside out.


After devoting eleven chapters to heavy-duty theology, Paul transitions in chapter 12 from doctrine to duty, from creed to conduct, and from belief to behavior. He says, “In light of what God has done, here is how we should live.” To put it another way, the apostle encourages us to turn our theology into “walkology.” In other words, we are to live out our beliefs. Paul uses the imperative thirteen times in the first eleven chapters of Romans; he uses it eleven times in chapter 12 alone! In fact, this chapter has more commands in it than any other chapter of the New Testament. It is a chapter of action! Paul’s thesis is: Beliefs should impact behavior. In 12:1-2 he shares two appropriate responses to the theology of chapters 1-11.


  1. Present Your Body (12:1)

This verse is one of the most important in the entire Bible and contains more key theological terms and truths for its size than perhaps any other verse of Scripture. Verse 1 gives the “what” that we are to do in response to God. Paul opens this new unit with the word “Therefore” (oun). This important word begs the question: What is the word “therefore” there for? “Therefore” looks back to all the doctrine that Paul has covered in chapters 1-11. It is a “call to arms,” for the most important part of doctrine is the first two letters. Paul believes that you haven’t really learned the Word until you live the Word. How well have you learned the Word? Have you been applying the truths of Romans? When you study the Bible on your own, do you bring it to bear on your life? Are you just a hearer of the Word or are you a doer of the Word? Only when you become a doer of the Word, have you truly learned the Word.


Paul writes, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Instead of a command or a demand, Paul urges, or better yet, exhorts his readers (see NET). The verb parakaleo denotes a sense of urgency with a note of authority (cf. 12:8; 15:30; 16:17). This term was used in classical Greek of “exhorting troops who were about to go into battle.” What a great word picture of the Christian life where God is our general and we are enlisted in a spiritual battle. Although parakaleo is a strong word, it is worth noting that the noun form (paraklete) is used to describe the Holy Spirit who comforts, encourages, and exhorts. Paul functions as a Christian coach who challenges and encourages us to reach a particular goal. There is further tenderness in this appeal, for Paul speaks as a Christian brother to other Christian brothers and sisters. This is a family affair!


The apostle exhorts us to respond to “the mercies of God.” Although the key word of Romans 9-11 is mercy, Paul’s use of “mercies” refers back to 1:18-11:36. In 1:18-3:20 humankind is described as sinful and condemned. Yet, in 3:21-4:25 God showcases His mercy in the person and work of Christ by offering us salvation as a free gift. In 5:1-8:39 God’s mercy frees us from the law and empowers us to grow up in Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this section we also discover the blessings of full assurance and security in our relationship with God. This leads right into 9:1-11:36 where Paul informs us that God’s love for His people is unconditional. Is God merciful? You better believe it! God chose us, called us, saved us, released us, and will one day take us home to heaven. Indeed, God’s mercies are past finding out (11:33-36)! That is why I’m convinced that the best motivation to live for Christ is a good memory of all of the mercies He has blessed us with.


Admittedly, it can be difficult to always be cognizant of God’s mercies. I can often fall back into an unhealthy works-mentality. I can apply this orientation to my personal life, ministry, marriage, and children. When I adopt this faulty motivation, I often see results, but only for a few days. Long-lasting change only occurs when gratitude for God’s mercies is the chief motivation. The Bible’s way of preaching holiness begins by reminding Christians who they are, what they are, and what they have. Who are we? We are the children of God with all of the power of God working on our behalf? Where are we? We are in the kingdom of God and have died to the dominion of sin. What do we have? We have the Holy Spirit, we have Jesus’ intercession working for us, and we have the power of God ready to come to our aid. Hence, the best way to motivate people is to show them what God has done for them and let them rise to the challenge of responding to that love appropriately.


In response to God’s mercies, Paul challenges us “to present” (paristemi) our bodies. Although this exhortation is not an imperative, it should be understood as such (cf. 12:2). But please note that Paul does not say “yield” or “surrender” your bodies but “present” them. Yield and surrender are biblical terms, but they imply a measure of reluctance or hesitancy. Present, on the other hand, implies a glad, happy, willing offering of oneself. If I yield or surrender a gift to my wife, she will not be impressed by my efforts. Our presentation of our bodies to God as a sacrifice for His use, just like my presentation of a gift to my wife, is to be a joyous and spontaneous act.


God is not asking you to dedicate your gifts, abilities, money, time, ideas, creativity, or any such thing. He is asking you to sacrifice yourself. This is an appeal to those who have been set free by grace to live under grace by presenting all that they are to God. Incidentally, Paul uses the same verb “to present” (paristemi) in 14:10 where it means that one day you will “present” yourself before the judgment seat of Christ. If you faithfully “present” your body to Christ you will experience great reward at the bema. Beliefs should impact behavior.

Paul states that you are to present your body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.” The words “living,” “holy,” and “acceptable” all follow the noun “sacrifice.”


There are three qualities of our sacrifice:

(1) Living: In the Old Testament believers were called to “make” a sacrifice from a dead sacrifice. In the New Testament believers are called to “be” a sacrifice from a living sacrifice. The point is: God wants you to live to die. Most believers could take a bullet for Christ in a moment of courage, but every believer struggles to die to self and live for Christ on a daily basis.

(2) Holy: We are to be wholly dedicated, “set apart” from the world and belonging to God. The term speaks of being fully abandoned to God. This means that as individual Christians and as a corporate church, we must do all that we can to ensure that holiness is promoted. That is why we must exercise church discipline. That is why we must speak the truth in love. That is why we must disciple new believers. We are commanded to be holy as God is holy.


(3) Acceptable: The term “acceptable” builds on the Old and New Testament concept of the sacrifice as pleasing God. When you present your body as a sacrifice that is living and holy God is pleased.


Paul states that when you present your body as a sacrifice you have fulfilled your “spiritual service of worship.” The Greek adjective translated “spiritual” is logikos, from which we derive the English word logical.”  Logikos pertains to reason or the mind, and therefore does not really mean “spiritual.” It is better translated “reasonable” or “rational” (see the NASB marginal note, NET, KJV, NKJV). I think what Paul is saying is: “If you consider all that God has done for you—a sinful being—the only reasonable response is to offer Him your life” (cf. 6:1-3, 15-16). After all, this is the only logical response! Why would freed slaves continue to serve their old master? Presenting your body to serve the interests of your new Master, on the other hand, is completely logical—very much in keeping with good sense. A response of sacrificial worship expresses a heart of gratitude. It puts feet to our faith. Beliefs should impact behavior.


Do you know what an Indian Giver is?

Similarly, perhaps you’ve offered your body to Christ. You’ve declared that you will honor God with your body. But then you found yourself in a compromising situation. Your hormones screamed to be satisfied, and you obliged. Maybe you promised God that you would not get involved in one more dead end relationship, but then you became lonely and someone swept you off your feet. Perhaps you assured God that you would honor Him with ethical behavior at work, but then your boss offered you a promotion if you would just compromise yourself a bit. I can assure you that God doesn’t like being “pranked.” He may have a sense of humor, but He’s not laughing when you break promises with your body. Rather, He would say, “You’ve been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

So how can you present your body as a sacrifice?

  • Resolve to make worship a priority. Worship is a Monday through Saturday lifestyle that doesn’t have to end on Sunday afternoon. Throughout the week you should worship the Lord and have your own private worship services. Determine todayto present yourself as a sacrifice. Don’t put off this logical decision. Every morning declare, “Dear God, because of Jesus, I am Yours.”


  • Seek out ministry opportunities. Do some chores, run an errand, lend a hand. Take the extra time to make a visit. Pick up the phone and check on someone who is going through a struggle. Volunteer to help on a project that will show God’s grace to someone else. Look for ways to demonstrate your love for the Lord in practical ways. Why? Martin Luther once said, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The busier you are, the less likely you will be to give into your illegitimate bodily urges.


  • Commit yourself to physical exercise. Discipleship demands discipline. If you want to “present” your body, you need to subdue it. Most godly people who I respect are committed to physical exercise (e.g., walking, hiking, weightlifting, athletics). God wants all of you! This shouldn’t scare you because if you let God have your life He can do more with it than you can.

[In 12:1 we have the “what” of the command (“present your body as a sacrifice”), and in 12:2 we have the “how” we are to respond to God.”]

  1. Renew Your Mind (12:2)

Presentable bodies come from changed minds because the mind controls the body. Verse 2 gives the means by which we can carry out the sweeping exhortation of 12:1. There are two commands, one negative one positive. In 12:2a Paul continues his thought from 12:1 by using the word “and”: “And do not be conformed to this world.” The term “conformed” (suschematizo) literally means to be molded or stamped according to a pattern. The verb is passive, implying that if you don’t actively and intentionally resist this age, you will be conformed. As the Phillips translation reads: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” Paul’s use of “world” is not a reference to planet earth, but rather to the world system (lit. aion = “age”). Being conformed to this age refers to having the same type of thinking as this age.


The world’s philosophy is pretty simple: If you want something, go get it (partners, possessions, and power). People are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them. Public opinion defines truth … popularity is more important than holiness. Faith and everyday living are unrelated. Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences. You are the center of your universe; don’t let anyone push you around! Our world also screams tolerance (religions are the same; accept and affirm same sex marriage) and truth is not absolute (what’s good for you is good for you). You must not be shaped by these influences. You must fight against the tide of sin, self, and Satan.

How much television do you watch in the course of a week?

How many movies do you watch in the course of a year?

What type of music do you listen to?

What magazines, books, and websites do you read?

How much time are you devoting to social networking?

Who are your friends? What type of influence do they have on you?

What are your hobbies? How do you spend your discretionary time?

Even though Paul is writing to the church, we are a group of individuals. These verses are speaking specifically to YOU. Will one diseased fish affect the whole tank? Will one mad cow infect the whole herd? Will one person conformed to the world have an effect on our church? YES! Hence, I dare you to be different. Stand up for Christ. Don’t go with the flow; go against the grain. Rebel against the status quo—become a disciple of Christ. Your life will be an adventure. Beliefs should impact behavior.

Turning from the negative to the positive, Paul goes on to say, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The term “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphoo, which forms the root for the English word “metamorphosis.” When a tadpole is changed into a frog or when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, we speak of it as a metamorphosis. That is what God wants for each of His children. At what stage are you in this Christian transformation? Are you staying in the larva stage? Caterpillar? Baby butterfly? Full-grown butterfly? Where are you on the conformity to Christ growth chart?


There are three critical observations related to the verb metamorphoo:

(1) Paul uses the present tense: this is not an “on again, off again” transformation, but a continuous one.

(2) The verb is passive, the implication being that the catalyst in the transformation is God.

(3) The verb is imperative, indicating that we do indeed have a responsibility.

The Spirit “changes” us and enables us to offer ourselves completely to God. This takes place in the mind, which is renewed or changed (lit. “made new again and again”) by the Holy Spirit. Before you were saved, you were so accustomed to sin that you wore a groove into your heart and mind, like a river cutting a gorge through rock. What you now need to do is make some new grooves. That’s why Paul says you must be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

So how can you renew your mind?

  • Saturate yourself in godly thinking. Read God’s Word. But it is really more than just reading. It is a matter of absorbing and interacting with God’s Word. When we read the Bible we must constantly be asking ourselves, “What does this mean for my daily life.” Saturating ourselves in godly thinking also means exposing ourselves to godly writers, teachers, and influences. We need to meet regularly with friends who share our commitment to Christ. We must work to expand our thinking so that we are not just one-dimensional believers.


  • Memorize Scripture. But you may object, “Memorization has never come easily for me.” “I’m too old; my mind left me a long time.” For what it’s worth, you can memorize Scripture. The great men and women I know who have been successful at this discipline have merely read various sections of Scripture over and over and the memorization took care of itself. You don’t need a Navigator’s Scripture Memory System. Just read and meditate on Scripture and watch how God hides it in your heart.


  • Slow down. It has been said that Americans have three idols: Size, Noise, and Speed! Worship runs in the opposite direction. It reminds us of our littleness. It reminds us to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10ESV). It reminds us that we need to wait upon the Lord. Today would you begin the discipline of renewing your mind by getting away from the hustle, bustle, and distraction of life? Turn off the TV, turn off the radio, turn off your cell phone, shut down your computer, and hear from God.


Paul concludes that you are to present your body and renew your mind so that you may “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The key word is “prove” (doximazo). Notice, Paul doesn’t speak of “finding” or “discovering” God’s will. He says that you can “prove” God’s will. However, the apostle is not dealing with questions such as: Should I get married? Where should I go to college? Should I buy a new house? Should I move to Longview or to Gladewater? These questions are important, but they are secondary when it comes to God’s will. The “will of God” here deals with obedience to His general will. As you obey God’s revealed will, He may well unveil His specific will for your life. But if you refuse to obey His explicit moral will, there’s no point praying for God to reveal His specific, individual will for your life. If you obey the clear injunctions of this text, God’s will “finds” you!


God wants your body and your mind; He wants all of you. Is there anything or anyone that you are withholding from God? Is your marriage and family yielded to Him? Is your vocation His? What about your finances or hobbies? Will you present yourself to Him today and every day hereafter? If you will, your life will never be the same.


It is likely that when you were growing up you used to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. The pledge is a reminder that you are a citizen of the United States. Romans 12:1-2 is the Christian Pledge of Allegiance. It serves as a reminder that you are a citizen of heaven.You belong to heaven. Will you worship the Lord today by pledging your allegiance to Him?



God always keeps His promises

Frederick the Great was the King of Prussia. Over two hundred and fifty years ago he and his chaplain were discussing the Bible and whether or not it was true. Frederick the Great asked his chaplain, “Can you prove to me in one sentence that the Bible is true?” After thinking about it for a while the chaplain said, “I don’t need an entire sentence. I only need two words to prove that the Bible is true and that God doesn’t lie. Those two words are ‘The Jews!’” What a perfect response! God has miraculously preserved the Jewish people for millennia despite hatred, opposition, and persecution.

Have you ever questioned God’s love for you? Have you ever felt forsaken by God? I have two words for you: The Jews. As we consider the past and present rejection of Israel, we must ask such questions as: Has God’s love for Israel been quenched? Have His purposes for Israel been shelved? What about all the blessings promised to the nation that have not been fulfilled? An even more relevant question is: How can I, as a Gentile Christian trust the promises of God, when God was not able to fulfill His Word to Israel? Romans 11 tell us that Israel still has a great future in God’s plan. The reason is simple: God keeps His promises despite our failures. Romans 11makes three declarations.


  1. God’s People Are Chosen By Grace (11:1-10)

God has demonstrated a past commitment to Israel. But Israel’s incessant rebellion and rejection of Christ (cf. 10:21) causes Paul to ask: “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?” (11:1a). This question is not really a question; it’s a statement of fact. Therefore, Paul responds with an emphatic, “May it never be!” How can Paul be so certain that God hasn’t rejected His people? Paul states his first line of evidence in 11:1b: “For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul’s point is that if God can save a hardhearted man like himself He can save anyone!


Since Paul was able to believe in Christ, he can confidently say, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (11:2a).The very fact of God’s choice excludes the possibility of His desertion of His own people. It’s not a matter of God rejecting Israel; rather, Israel as a whole has turned her back on God (cf. 10:18-21). Paul states that God “foreknew” (proginosko) His people. This means that God chose Israel to be His people in a corporate sense; however, He also elects individuals to justification-salvation to preserve the nation.


Paul gives a second illustration to demonstrate that God hasn’t rejected Israel. In 11:2b-4 Paul writes, “Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.’ But what is the divine response to him? ‘I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.’” Paul is not the lone exception; even in Elijah’s day God had a remnant. Paul’s point that a remnant exists demonstrates that God has not abandoned His plan for the nation. This leads to an important principle: God does His best work through a remnant, a faithful minority. Today, you may feel alone and discouraged. The good news is that you’re not alone. Be encouraged—you have brothers and sisters in Christ in your county, throughout your country, and all over the world. This has always been the case, and it will always be the case. God preserves a remnant.


Through these two illustrations Paul has demonstrated that God’s program still includes Israel. Now, in 11:5-6 he applies what he’s been illustrating: “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” Israel as a whole did not attain to God’s righteousness because they sought it by works. The elect remnant, however, did attain to God’s righteousness, but it was solely out of grace—God giving what is not deserved. The point is: Grace and works are mutually exclusive. God’s election was (and is) established solely on the basis of grace. Verse 6 is a critical New Testament principle: Justification and sanctification are by grace.


After explaining the positive privilege of the elect, Paul explains the negative judgment on the rest of Israel. In 11:7-10 he writes, “What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, ‘GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.’ And David says, ‘LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM.’ ‘LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER ’” Israel is guilty of seeking religion apart from a relationship with Christ. Fortunately, God has “chosen” individuals from among the nation to believe in Jesus. The rest were “hardened.” God simply allowed the hardness of their hearts to run its natural course. These verses are not in reference to an unbeliever who has never heard, but of a religious unbeliever. Thus, they serve as a warning to unbelieving church attendees not to grow hardhearted. The principle of “hardening” is like dieting—weight is easy to put on but is difficult to take off. The longer you harden your heart, the more unlikely it is that you will ever respond to Christ. So please trust in Him today. Tomorrow may never come.


The blessings (cf. 9:4-6) God gave Israel turned into burdens and judgments (11:9-10). The picture is of a well-laid, prosperous feast. But the very prosperity of the household turns out to be a curse. Their religious practices and observances became substitutes for the real experience of salvation. As a result, Israel has been darkened. Those who do not wish to see become even less able to see. The figure of bent backs (11:10) is a picture of an elderly person with weakened faculties and lost vigor and energy. The old person is decrepit and crippled, without the ability to care for himself. It is a picture of what Israel became once God allowed the nation to fall into hardness and spiritual blindness. Fortunately, great good has come out of this bleak situation, as we will see in the next section.

[Paul’s first declaration is God’s people are chosen by grace. Now we learn that …]

  1. Grace Should Keep God’s People Humble (11:11-32)

God has a present and future plan for Israel and Gentiles. Israel’s rejection of Christ has made it possible for Gentiles to be included in God’s family. This gracious invitation ought to humble us to dust! In 11:11-15 Paul writes, “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” The obvious question from 11:7-10 is: If Israel has rejected Christ, is their rejection final? Again Paul declares, “May it never be!” Israel’s failure is not final. There is a future for Israel. Paul calls it their “fulfillment” (11:12) and their “acceptance” (11:15).


Today, Israel is fallen spiritually, but when Christ returns the nation will rise again. Today, Israel is cast away from God, but one day they will be accepted again. God will never break His covenant with His people, and He has promised to restore them. In the interim, God is so sovereign that He welcomes Gentiles into His family to make Israel jealous (11:11, 15). Have you ever watched a young child who tires of playing with a toy, only to become jealous when another child comes along and picks it up? The first child had no interest in the toy until some other child wanted to play with it. Similarly, as Gentiles experience “salvation” (i.e., justification and sanctification) Israel will eventually grow jealous and believe in Christ as messiah.


Applicationally, do you make both Jews and Gentiles thirsty for Jesus? Does your life make anyone hungry to know the Lord? Do you exhibit such joy that people want to know where it comes from? The phrase “life from the dead” likely refers to the spiritual awakening of the whole world. If Israel’s rejection by God brought the reconciliation of the world, then Israel’s acceptance by God will make the world alive spiritually.


In 11:16-17 Paul brings us into his kitchen and into his backyard for two metaphors intended to illustrate Israel’s glorious return and to humble Gentiles. He writes: “If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.” The term “holy” (hagios) means “to be set apart for special use” or “consecrated to the service of God.” The entire nation of Israel is “holy” not because each Jew is experiencing salvation but because the nation is under God’s special care as He plans to fulfill the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God keeps His promises despite our failures.


The Metaphors Identified in Rom 11:16-17


The first piece/lump The Jewish fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
The root Abraham
The lump/the branches Israelites
The wild olive Gentiles
The olive tree The promises of the Abrahamic covenant

In 11:18-21 Paul responds to the potential question: Do Gentiles receive the graft or the shaft? He warns his Gentile readers: “… do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.” Paul is saying: “Remember your roots and that your roots support you.


In 11:18-19 Paul makes it clear that salvation is of the Jews, therefore, Gentiles best not mess with Jews. After all, Gentiles have been grafted in. Gentile Christians were never the “pioneers” of salvation. They were favored only by Israel’s foolishness. Only faith will preserve their future as God’s people. I am reminded of the relationship between a flea and a dog. Israel is the dog and the flea is a Gentile Christian. How foolish for the flea to despise the dog and to suppose that the dog is dependent on him. All the flea does for the dog is make him itch. All the Gentile does for the Jewish unbeliever is make him jealous. How foolish for the flea to look down on the dog. How foolish for Gentiles to disdain the Jews! We ought to be the most humble people on the earth. We should be astounded that God chose to include us at all. The moment you become proud of grace you are in great danger. We must “fear.” No one knows the grace of God who does not know the fear of God.


This fear is further accentuated in 11:22 where Paul makes the startling point that if Gentiles follow the path of the Jews they will be “cut off”: “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” This is not the loss of salvation but the cutting off of a group (Gentiles). Romans 11 deals with the problem that the community of Israel as a whole had lapsed from a position of God’s blessing.


In this context, to be cut off is to become like Israel and not be a major player in God’s program. It is to lose the national blessings that result in salvation. None of this impinges on the security of an individual believer. We have a similar episode in Revelation 2:5 where the church of Ephesus as a whole is being addressed. Here, John records that Jesus has something against the church of Ephesus. He states that they have left their first love. As a result Jesus says, “I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place.” The removal of the lampstand is not the loss of salvation of individual Christians; it is the removal of the corporate church as a light and witness. Today every single one of the seven churches of Revelation has ceased to exist. Once the Muslims conquered Turkey, Christianity virtually disappeared. We too must heed Paul’s warning. This fate could happen to our church and to the church in America. America is not God’s “chosen nation”—Israel is. God isn’t required to always work with America. He can set aside America because of her pride. We must pray for national humility and confession of sin.


In 11:23-24 Paul returns to the theme of God’s commitment to Israel: “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” Paul has said that God has grafted Gentiles into the benefit of the Abrahamic covenant (11:16-22). Now he states that someday God will graft Israel in again (11:23-24). Paul described this “grafting in” as contrary to nature. Usually a cultivated branch is grafted into a wild tree and shares its life without producing its poor fruit. But in this case, it was the “wild branch” (the Gentiles) that was grafted into the good tree and then bore fruit! C. S. Lewis said it best, “In a sense, the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world.” God keeps His promises despite our failures.


In light of these verses, several applications come to mind:

(1) We must be grateful and affirming toward Christians Jews. There should be no expression of pride or disdain. On the contrary, we should acknowledge that the Bible is a Jewish book, Jesus is a Jewish messiah, and the Jews are God’s chosen people.

(2) We need to remember that grace reaches unlikely people. God is always full of surprises! We should, therefore, share Christ freely.

(3) We must not give up on “hard” people. It’s been said, “The bigger they are … the harder they fall.” This can be especially true when it comes to simple rejecters of Jesus Christ (just ask Paul). May we passionately share Christ with Jews and Gentiles alike.

In 11:25-32 Paul explains that the same mercy that has overtaken the Gentiles who were formerly disobedient will finally overtake the now disobedient Israel. In 11:25-27 Paul writes: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.’ ‘THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.’” Whereas Paul has explained the human side of Israel’s rejection because of her disobedience, there is another side to this phenomenon, a divine side, yet unknown to his readers. Paul calls it a “mystery.”


A biblical mystery is not like Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drews and Agatha Christie. Rather, it is a truth that was unknown in the Old Testament that is now being revealed in the New Testament. Here, the “mystery” is that Israel’s restoration will follow a great response of faith among Gentiles. Paul is referring to the hardening of Israel, which is permitted “until” the Gentiles enter into a relationship with Christ. The expression “the fullness of the Gentiles” refers to the total number of Gentiles who will be included in God’s program during the time of Israel’s hardening. God has a precise number of Gentiles that He is going to save. We don’t know when the last Gentile will be saved. But what is exciting is: The final Gentile conversion could occur at your church on any given Sunday. The moment this person believes in Christ, the rapture could occur and Jesus could take the Church to be with Him always. After this “fullness of the Gentiles” has come in, then “all Israel will be saved.” The expression “all Israel will be saved” does not mean that every individual in the nation will turn to the Lord. It means that the nation as a whole will be saved, just as the nation as a whole (but not every individual in it) was rejecting the Lord. The purpose, then, for which Paul is expounding this mystery, is to prevent pride and to bring about humility on the part of the Gentile believers in Rome.


Now Paul writes in 11:28-29: “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” God has chosen Israel and He loves His people. Hence, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” which means “not to repent.” God does not change His mind. He made promises to Israel and He will fulfill them. The special privileges that God gave Israel are probably what Paul intended by his reference to God’s gifts (cf. 9:4-5). They have intimate connection with God’s calling of Israel for a special purpose. God will not withdraw these from Israel. Paul said virtually the same thing about the security of individual Christians in 8:31-39.


In 11:30-32 Paul concludes this lengthy section by focusing on the mercy of God: “For just as you [Gentiles] once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their [Israel’s] disobedience, so these [Israel] also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they [Israel] also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all [Jew and Gentile] in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” It is God’s mercy (four times) that permits anyone to be saved. Paul points out that Israel was active in their disobedience but they passively received mercy from God. Mercy is a gift that we don’t deserve. Jewish disobedience sped up the process of the gospel going to Gentiles. Israel delayed God’s promises. When you live a life of disobedience to God, you put off the benefits of the promises; you do not cancel them. God’s promises are always valid; your participation in those promises may not be. Obedience is always critical because it makes what is supposed to happen always happen at the time it is supposed to happen so you don’t waste precious time waiting for it to happen. God keeps His promises despite our failures.

[Paul’s second declaration was: Grace should keep God’s people humble. His final declaration is …]

  1. God’s People Should Glory In His Grace (11:33-36)

After eleven chapters of theology, Paul closes with doxology, which is an ascription of praise or glory to God. What an appropriate finale of the doctrinal portion of Romans. Slowly read 11:33-36: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” For Paul theology isn’t dry, dull, or boring; rather it stimulated worship! Paul gets excited over theology! He bursts into praise when he grasped God’s plan for the future. The apostle says, “What a God! What a plan!”


God’s dealings with humanity are designed to stimulate worship of His glory, not questioning of His methods. God would not be worthy of man’s worship if He could be comprehended by man’s wisdom. God’s Word is designed to ignite a fire in you! God is the first cause—the source (“from Him); He is the effective cause—the sustainer (“through Him”); and He is the final cause—the goal (“to Him”). Why are you living? It ought to be: “from Him … through Him … to Him!” God wants to totally possess your entire being. “From Him”: how does He want me to live? “Through Him”: He empowers me to live. “To Him”: why are you living? To bring glory to Him! This is the whole gist of Scripture! We exist for God’s glory!


Consider the bagel. The humble bagel is one of God’s greatest creations. You make it by first dipping the dough in boiling water and then cooking it. You can get bagels in almost every flavor—onion, garlic, rock salt, pumpernickel, poppy-seed, or in trendy flavors like apple-cinnamon, banana-nut, or chocolate chip.. I think all God’s people should wake up every Sunday morning and enjoy a bagel lavishly spread with whatever you like to the glory of God! Bagels are a uniquely Jewish creation. You will find them almost everywhere in the world because you can find Jewish people almost everywhere. The bagel is a symbol of God’s faithfulness! Even after all the attempts to destroy them—the Jews are still here. And they’re still making bagels for the world: proof positive that God keeps His promises. God keeps His promises despite our failures.


This chapter ought to be a great comfort to you because it demonstrates the unconditional love and acceptance of God. He is a covenant-keeping God who is forever faithful. He is the ultimate “promise keeper.” Therefore, if He is faithful to Israel, He will be faithful to us. We can trust Him with our eternal salvation and with life’s every need. How can you say “no” to a love like that?

No excuses!

Have you ever had your “Check Engine” light go on? Are you driving right now with your “Check Engine” light? A survey found that 10% of the adults polled were driving with a “Check Engine” light on. An alarming 50% of those whose cars were showing signs of an impending breakdown indicated the light had been on for over three months. Another 10% said the light had been on between one and two months. What’s especially bad is a few years ago the U.S. government put the on-board diagnostic system in place to alert drivers when their vehicle had a problem. This light can signify something potentially costly and possibly dangerous to the passengers or others on the road. The survey found drivers had a whole litany of excuses for ignoring the light. Some turned a blind eye toward the indicator because the car seemed to be “running fine.” Others pointed to a lack of sufficient funds. Still others simply noted that they just didn’t have time to worry about diagnostics and subsequent repairs.


It’s easy to ignore the “Check Engine” light. People do it every day. Sometimes there are consequences; sometimes there aren’t. Similarly, God issues a “Check Soul” light. Yet, people ignore God every day. Often there may not seem to be consequences in this life, but there will be in eternity. How you and I respond to Jesus Christ determines our destiny. We must sense the urgency. Now, I would be the last person to ever set a date for Christ’s return. I won’t even predict the decade that Christ will return! But I know this: we are closer today than we’ve ever been. Hence, we must plead with people to believe in Jesus Christ and urge believers to share the good news. Although many Christians interpret Romans 10 as a missionary text, it is important to note that Paul’s primary point is that God is already on mission. He has sent people to preach the good news, but the hearers have failed to believe. Consequently, the issue here is: There’s no excuse for making excuses. In 10:14-21 Paul makes two urgent assertions.


  1. Christ Must Be Preached (10:14-17)

The process of faith and Christian faithfulness is dependent upon believing in Christ and sharing Him with others. In 10:14-15a Paul asks four questions that receive a negative answer. Paul raises two more questions in 10:18-19. The answers are strong affirmations from the Old Testament. The implication is that the Bible has the answers to our questions. This should give us great confidence in God’s Word. Paul writes in 10:14-15, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? [The NASB renders the Greek verb kerusso as the noun “preacher.” Unfortunately, this implies an ordained minister, but Paul meant “someone preaching” (NIV)]. How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!’” Paul lays down a simple five-point process. However, he presents these five steps in reverse order. For our purposes, we will walk through this text in a chronological fashion from start (sending) to finish (calling).


First, a messenger is sent. The word “sent” (apostalosin) is a passive verb that means “to be sent.” It speaks of representing the sender. The noun cognate of “sent” is “apostle,” which literally means “sent one.” Paul quotes Isa 52:7, which implies that God is the One who sends the messengers. So consider yourself sent by God! Every believer is commissioned as a messenger. The Bible is clear: we must go to sinners if we expect them to come to the Savior. God’s goal is for you is to have “beautiful” feet by sharing His good news. Isn’t it ironic that many Christians, who go to great lengths to dress their feet in the world’s latest fashion, do not have the beauty of an African saint whose feet will not rest until all within his reach hears the gospel? How beautiful are your feet? How beautiful are the feet of the church of Jesus Christ at large? May we be people of passion more than fashion as we take the good news of the gospel to a waiting world. Does this sound daunting? Perhaps your vision is too small? A podiatrist in Washington D.C. claims that the average person’s feet travel more than four times the earth’s circumference in a lifetime. Let’s put shoe leather to the gospel! Take a picture of your feet and place it in a prominent place to remind you that beautiful feet share Christ with others.


Second, the messenger proclaims the truth. In ancient times good news traveled by means of messengers who ran from one place to another. No one had a cell phone. You couldn’t turn on the TV and watch the battle in real time as we can today. They didn’t have the Internet that flashes news around the world instantly. Everything depended on the messenger delivering the message. Today, we are called to be messengers who proclaim Jesus. The trouble is that a great many Christian preachers (professional pulpiteers and believers alike) are guilty of preaching about politics, social issues, ethics, entertainment, and anything else except Christ. Nonetheless, we must all proclaim the good news. We must always remember that when Christ sends us, He always goes with us. He will give us the words, and He will open hearts. We must simply tell others that there’s no excuse for making excuses.


Third, individuals hear the message. We must endeavor to preach so that lost people can hear of Christ. But we must recognize that God has not called upon us to win the lost—only to tell them the good news. It is not sufficient, however, to proclaim the truth only within the four walls of our church buildings, for most of the lost will never venture inside. We must take the message of Christ to where the people are—at work, at school, in the neighborhood, over the internet, on TV, and even overseas. They must hear.


Fourth, individuals believe what they hear. Many people claim to believe in Jesus; however, they believe in Jesus plus something else (e.g., baptism, church membership, good works). Yet, this cancels out one’s belief, for justification is faith alone in Christ alone. Other people claim to believe that Christ lived a perfect life, died, and rose again, yet they fail to trust Him for salvation. It’s critical to recognize that one must personally appropriate faith and be persuaded that Christ guarantees eternal life.


Fifth, individuals call on Him, upon whom they believe. Please notice that belief precedes calling. The public confession of calling on the name of the Lord is something that only believers can do. This final step transitions from eternal life (belief) to the abundant life (confess/call). This salvation is broader than mere justification, and is the only appropriate response to initial belief in Jesus. We must boldly and courageously call on the Lord. Although it may be intimidating and frightening, God provides courage. Emerson said it well, “Do the thing you fear—and the death of fear is certain.”


In spite of the opportunities God has given to people, they often choose to reject Christ. Paul writes in 10:16-17: “However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The key phrase in this passage is 10:16, where Paul states that the majority of people who hear about Christ will not believe in Him. In fact, only a remnant will be saved (cf. 9:6b, 27). This sad reality remains true today as well. Regardless of how many people you share Christ with, only a small percentage will believe. Nonetheless, we must remain faithful to preach Christ. It’s worth noting that there is a play on words in 10:14-16. To “hear” and “heed” are closely connected ideas. The word for “heed” (hupakouo) is a compound form coming from the word to “hear” (akouo). To fail to “heed” or “obey” is to disbelieve in Christ. This is why Paul emphasizes the necessity of hearing “the word of Christ” (i.e., the gospel) and exercising faith. We must remind others that there’s no excuse for making excuses.


Brother John was a timid man who dreaded speaking in public. He was terrified on the day it was his turn to give a devotional message. With his knees knocking, he faced his listeners and said, “Do you know what I’m going to say this morning?” “No,” answered the audience. He then said, “Neither do I,” and he ran from the room. The next day he was told to try again. So he again asked, “Do you know what I’m going to say?” This time they replied, “Yes.” So he said, “Then you don’t need me to tell you.” Again he fled. He tried a third morning, saying, “Do you know what I’m going to say?” Half his hearers shouted, “Yes!” and half shouted, “No!” “Ah,” said Brother John, “Then let those who know tell those who don’t know,” and again he fled. At first, his hearers sat in silence. Then the words hit home: “Let those who know tell those who don’t know.”


Since you and I know we are obligated to share Christ, how can we be faithful to this task?

(1) Pray for unbelievers and believers alike. (Explain the “Seven for Heaven/Seven for Earth” card: pray for seven unbelievers to trust in Christ and seven believers to share Christ.) Prayer is the most vital human element in seeing unbelievers respond to the gospel. Are you praying and dreaming about the salvation of a spouse, a loved one, a neighbor, a coworker, an unreached people group or country?


(2) Find common ground with unbelievers. What movie or TV show can you draw upon as a transition into spiritual things? Can you bring up a secular music band that an unbeliever might be interested in? Do you know any Christian athletes who are believers that you can discuss? Are you reading a book that you could talk about? What about world events? Do you have a thought provoking question? You must prepare content and questions for discussions, expecting that God will speak through you. As you pray and prepare, God will use you at work, school, as you run errands, and everywhere you go. But remember: you won’t find opportunities to witness if you’re not looking for them. Pray for open doors and then walk through them. Remember that God does not want your ability as much as He wants your availability. Preach the good news! Don’t be ashamed (cf. 1:16). Tell others that there’s no excuse for making excuses.

[The first assertion is that Christ must be preached. The second assertion is …]

  1. People Must Believe (10:18-21)

Our responsibility is to get “the gospel” to people; it is the responsibility of each listener to act on it. Here Paul deals with the two primary objections that lost people tend to have: (1) They haven’t heard and (2) they haven’t understood. In 10:18a Paul raises a first objection to belief: “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they?” Some Israelites may have been tempted to say that they had never been give an opportunity believe in Christ. Many people use the same argument today about themselves or the heathen.


However, Paul insists in 10:18b that this is an illegitimate excuse. He declares, “Indeed they have; ‘THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH, AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD.’” It is likely that Paul is using hyperbole here (cf. Col 1:23) to say that the gospel is going forth throughout the world. He isn’t saying that the Great Commission has been accomplished, but that it is in the process of being fulfilled. He quotes Psalm 19:4, which opens with that well-known statement of natural revelation. Nature, the psalmist says, has a voice and while that voice is non-verbal, it reaches every human being. Since every human being has enjoyed natural revelation (i.e., creation), obviously every Jew has also received it. And Psalm 19:6-10deals with the special revelation (i.e., Scripture), and every Jew also received that.


The Old Testament included scores of prophecies of the coming Messiah. So the Jews cannot use the excuse that they never heard the gospel. Besides, Jesus and the apostles shared the gospel with the Jews before they ever took it to the Gentiles.

Paul addresses a second objection to belief in 10:19-20: “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, ‘I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER YOU.’ And Isaiah is very bold and says, ‘I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME, I BECAME MANIFEST TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME.’” Paul uses Deut 32:21 and Isa 65:1 to demonstrate that Israel did indeed understand the good news of Christ. God granted His people both general revelation and special revelation, and if that wasn’t enough, He even offered salvation to the Gentiles for the purpose of making Israel jealous so that they might turn to their Messiah. But the vast majority refused God’s gracious revelation. Nevertheless, they are without excuse.

Paul’s use of Isa 65:1 reflects the predestination/election theme of Rom 9-11. The apostle makes the special point that Gentiles believed in Christ as their Messiah even though they were not seeking or asking for Him. In fact, they were running as fast and as far away from Christ as possible. Yet, God in His sovereignty chose to reveal Himself to Gentile runners like you and me. God’s grace is truly amazing! He alone can and should receive all the glory in salvation.


Our passage closes in 10:21 with a very powerful verse: “But as for Israel He says, ‘ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.’” I love the phrase “All the day long…” In spite of Israel’s hardhearted, stiff-necked rebellion, God expresses love for His people. What a potent example that God’s nature and character never change. His love is unconditional. God had shown much love to the people of Israel. He says to Israel: “I stretched out my hands all day long …” The idea of “stretching out the hands” is normally a reference to prayer. It refers to urgent pleading. It is the kind of posture we adopt when we are pleading for God to do something for us.


But what we have here is not some people spreading out their hands in plea to God, but God stretching out His hands pleading with the nation of Israel! The relation is the reverse of what we should expect. Israel ought to be pleading with God, but God is actually pleading with Israel. Israel seems to have fallen out of God’s favor, but the word of God to Israel has not failed, and God has not been unfaithful. On God’s side, He has shown them nothing but love.

What does it mean to stretch out your hands to someone? This gesture can refer to helping someone up, giving a gift, giving a warm hug, or offering an invitation. The picture of stretching out your hands to someone depicts nothing but love. If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, He is stretching out His hands to you right now. All that you have to do is believe in Him. Will you do so today? If you have already believed in Christ, God’s heart is that you would stretch out your hands to someone else as an extension of His love.

Perhaps you’ve been deeply wounded by your spouse.

Maybe he or she has committed adultery or has neglected your marriage. God may be calling you to stretch out your hands with His love and grace.

If you have children, it’s quite possible that they have sinned against you in horrible ways. Will you forgive them as Christ has forgiven you and stretch out your hands to them?

Perhaps your coworkers or classmates have ruined your reputation at work or school. Your character has been illegitimately maligned. Will you stretch out your hands to such individuals?

Maybe there are people in your church who have wounded you deeply. It seems like those who hurt us the most are brothers and sisters in Christ. Nonetheless, will you take the initiative to stretch out your hands in reconciliation? God stretches out His hands to you and to me and to the entire world. In light of all that He has done for us, can we not show others God’s great love?

Satan and his demons were devising plans to cause people to reject the gospel. “Let’s go to them and say there is no God,” proposed one. Silence prevailed. Every demon knew that most people believe in a supreme being. “Let’s tell them there is no hell, no future punishment for the wicked,” offered another. That was turned down because people obviously have consciences which tell them that sin must be punished. The planning was going to end in failure when there came a voice from the rear: “Tell them there is a God and there is a hell, but tell them there is no hurry. Let them neglect the gospel until it is too late.” All hell erupted with ghoulish glee, for they knew that if a person procrastinated on a decision for Christ, they usually would never trust in Him.

The sobering truth is there is a sense of urgency—dare I say a state of emergency. The time for belief will soon be over. It could be any moment—maybe even today. Are you ready? Have you placed your faith in Christ alone? If you are a believer, are seeking to call upon Him? Let’s share the gospel as if everything depends upon us, yet rest assured that since God is sovereign, everything ultimately depends upon Him. There’s no excuse for making excuses.

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.”