Friday, March 09, 2007

Romans 9:25-26

Calvinists love Romans 9:6-24, because it teaches so clearly the doctrine of unconditional election. But many Calvinists forget about the rest of chapters 9-11. We need to look at it, because Paul is not finished. It’s true that he has given us the keys. But there are many more implications, in addition to our individual salvation being determined by God’s choice, to this glorious doctrine than many students of theology are able to convey. These implications include how the physical nation of Israel meshes with the spiritual Jews and the Gentile conversion and what all of this means as the end of time draws near. We’ll begin looking at these implications as we continue to work through Romans 9-11. For now, notice v25-26:

As He says in Hosea: "I will call them 'My people' who are not My people; and I will call her 'My loved one' who is not My loved one" [Hosea 2:23], and, "It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God'" [Hosea 1:10].

Paul jumps right back into the topic of unconditional election. He says that God’s purpose to reveal the glory of His mercy against the backdrop of evil is evidenced in the calling of the Gentiles. God reveals His mercy in the calling of the Gentiles. Paul quotes from Hosea, and he applies the prophet’s words to God’s calling of the Gentiles. They were not God’s people and yet, out of mercy, He’s going to make them His people. He’s doing this through Paul’s ministry. It’s Old Testament proof that God has chosen the Gentiles, and Paul is appealing to it to illustrate the mercy of God to the Jews in his audience.

Gentiles had not received the covenant promises. God had not come to the father of the Gentile nations like He had come to the father of Israel and given this glorious covenant of grace, and yet God in His mercy has now included these Gentiles in the promises to Abraham. But the Gentiles were considered to be wicked, dirty idolaters; they were enemies of the Jews, those considered to be God’s people; they deserved judgment, and in choosing then to be His children, God displays His mercy. He displays His mercy by calling Gentiles out of the world and into His kingdom, into His family, so that they worship Him, love Him, and serve Him. They deserved immediate judgment, but God chose them in mercy.

Throughout this passage, Paul has taught us two important truths. First, God’s judgment is always just. Second, God’s mercy is always more that just. It’s always a gratuitous display of His infinite love, and Paul has said that to us over and over, “Whenever you see God judge, don’t ask, ‘How can God be so mean?’ It’s just justice. Whenever you see God show mercy, think, ‘There is no deserved or conditioned reason for that; it’s just the pure, unconditional love, grace, and mercy of God.’”

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Romans 9:22-24

What if God, choosing to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath--prepared for destruction? What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory--even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

V22 – Paul gives us a glimpse of the secret purposes of God in v22-23. Notice the three steps of Paul’s argument. First, although God had every right to immediately judge the wicked, He didn’t. Paul says that this is exhibit A of the mercy of God. We should have been justly destroyed already, but we haven’t been. Then the second part of the argument: Instead, what did God do? He patiently endured the sin of the reprobate. He “bore with great patience the objects of wrath – prepared for destruction.” The gate of repentance to the reprobate was and is open. Paul is drawing your attention to the graciousness in the long suffering of God with the wicked. Abraham is told that his descendants are going to be in captivity in Egypt for 430 years. Why? “Because the sin of the Amorites is not yet complete.” The Canaanites (Amorites included) were godless pagans, and God could have sent the children to Israel into the Land of Canaan and wiped them all out, and it would have been just. But He endured their sin for 430 years, more than enough time to repent. Think of Judas with Jesus. Jesus knew what would transpire, yet he patiently walked with Judas until the betrayal actually occurred.

We’ll see part three of Paul’s argument in v23. But first, let me note that the text says that these vessels of wrath were prepared for destruction. It doesn’t say that God prepared them for destruction. In v23, we’ll see that the vessels of mercy were indeed prepared in advance by God. The doctrine of election is often balanced by the doctrine of reprobation – that God chooses some to save and chooses some to send to hell. We must be careful here, because saying it that way might lead some people to think that God can be blamed for their eternal destruction. And Scripture certainly doesn’t teach that. If you’re elect, then you have only God to thank. If you’re reprobate, then you have only yourself to blame. The saved person thankfully says, “I’m saved because of God.” The lost person must truthfully say, “I’m condemned because of me.” Those who are damned will never be able to blame God saying, “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. God is just in displaying His wrath against sin and power in judgment on those who are objects of destruction.

V23 – Paul continues the glimpse into God’s sovereign purposes with the third part of his argument: God did this in order to show his mercy to His chosen ones. Paul is assuring us that when, on the day of wrath and judgment and glory, on the day that God the Father reveals His Son in all His glory, that on that day we will look at every deed, including God’s choosing some and passing over others, and we will say, “Ah, I see now how that exalts God’s mercy. That is why He did it – for the display of His glory and mercy to those who have tasted His mercy.” If you ask, “How can God condemn?” Paul says God’s condemnation serves to exalt His mercy.

People object to v22 by asking, “How can a loving God choose some and pass over others without compromising His love?” And Paul comes back and says, “It is the purpose of the secret counsel of God that everything He does conspires to reveal His glory to those who have tasted His mercy.” This is one of the fundamental problems many people have with election. They say, “How can you say that a loving God would choose some and condemn others to eternal damnation?” And here is Paul’s answer: “Everything that God does, including that, is part of the design to reveal His glorious mercy.” God’s purpose in election, God’s purpose in choosing, God’s purpose in foreordaining His people before the foundation of the world is to make known His glory to the objects of His mercy, which were prepared in advance. God’s ultimate purpose is to make Himself fully known in all His glory to His people! Amazing!

V24 – Even us! God has called “us” to be vessels of mercy. And we will see His power and glory in the destruction of the wicked and the merciful and gracious salvation of our souls. Paul gets us back on path, not to dwell on why God destines some to eternal destruction, but to dwell on the fact that He has poured out on us His infinite mercy and saving love and unending faithfulness on us. Paul is helping his audience (and us) to understand that God’s chosen people are those whom He has called, “not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” And in God’s Church, made up of His called ones, His elect, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all are one in Christ. See Colossians 3:5-17.

So how do we respond to Paul’s teachings on the doctrine of election? Be like Paul. Have compassion on the lost. Pray that they would be saved. Work hard to convey the Gospel message to them. Scatter the seed indiscriminately. But don’t think it unfair or unjust of our righteous God that they haven’t been chosen for salvation. Nobody going to hell is being treated unfairly. If anybody is treated unfairly, it’s you, because God graciously gave you mercy, when you deserved justice. It’s true that they’ll get justice; they’ll get what they deserve. But you’ll get mercy. So instead dwell on the fact that God has chosen you to be saved; He did so before creation. He set on you His intense saving love, and you will receive His infinite mercy through the channel of faith. And we will see the fullness of His glory in the destruction of the wicked – which is what we were. But we were called out of the darkness and into the light. Praise Him!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Romans 9:19-21

One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists His will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, 'Why did You make me like this' "[Isaiah 29:16; 45:9]? Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

V19 – Why does God still blame an unbeliever, since He’s the one who hardens that unbeliever? No one resists the will of God to be saved or to perish. One of the fundamental differences between those who have been able to accept what the Bible teaches about election and those who have not comes at this point: those who accept it have come to understand two things: that God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability are fully compatible, and God is the Creator and man is merely a created being. Those who have rejected what the Bible says about election have almost uniformly come to the conclusion that if God is sovereign, then man cannot be accountable, that if God chooses then man’s choice is irrelevant and meaningless. And there’s no place better in Scripture to dwell on this topic than here. Paul turns to the next objection (which addresses typical Arminian theology): If God’s choice is the determining factor in who believes and who rejects the Gospel, then how can God hold a person responsible? If God chooses, then our choices don’t matter! That’s the objection Paul perceives, and again, this objection proves that he is indeed teaching the doctrine of unconditional election.

The objector says to Paul, “You’re ultimately saying that the difference between Moses and Pharaoh was the choice of God. How can God condemn anybody, since you’ve just asserted that it all boils down to the choice of God?” The modern day objector puts it this way: “How can God hold anyone who rejects the Gospel responsible for rejecting the Gospel, since God Himself denied that person the gifts of willingness and ability to receive the Gospel?” And again, if that’s your objection to the Reformed or Calvinist or Biblical doctrine of election, then that’s proof that you are objecting, not to me or John Calvin, but to Paul’s teaching, to the teaching of God from His Word. Nobody would make an objection like the one Paul addresses if Paul was saying, “It all boils down to man’s choice.” If Paul was saying that, nobody would say to him, “How then can anyone resist His will to be saved or to perish?”

V20-21 – Who are you to demand an answer from God. The pot has no right to question the potter. The potter can do as He pleases, as He’s always in the right, because He’s the potter. Once again, the question put another way is this: How can God condemn if no one can resist His will? Paul offers a couple answers. First, he says that God is not the One on trial here. Paul is making sure when he says, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God,” that we take care not to transgress the proper boundaries of our humilities in this area. Paul is not trying to stifle the discussion here. It’s not like an embarrassing question has been addressed to Paul and he doesn’t have an answer for it so he just comes back and he presses raw authority. That’s not what’s happening. Rather, he’s reminding us of two vitally important realities. The first one is that we are mere creatures and the very fact of our finitude should warn us to be careful about our deductions and our conclusions and our presuppositions in the realm of the infinite and sovereign. Who are we to say what the Sovereign One who is above heaven and earth can and cannot do? Let’s be reminded that we are creatures and He is Creator. The second one is this: no one has a right to question God’s mercy. Jesus Christ hung on the cross. Don’t question God’s mercy.

Paul declares that all of Scripture shows God’s prerogatives as Sovereign Creator. And Paul gives a common illustration – one found in Isaiah 29:16, 45:9, 64:8, and Jeremiah 18:1-6 – the potter and the clay. The potter does not answer to the clay. The potter does what he wants to the clay. Paul elaborates with this illustration in the next series of verses, which we'll look at, Lord willing, tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Romans 9:17-18

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth" [Exodus 9:16]. Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.

Paul continues where he left off in v6-16, elaborating with illustrations of the doctrine of election, and explaining that God is not unfair or unjust when it comes to bestowing mercy (non-justice) on some and giving justice (exactly what is deserved) to others. V16 is Paul’s summary of this chapter: Election (and salvation) does not depend on man’s efforts or desires or will, but only and wholly on God’s mercy – which is given to some and not others – and this is the biggest objection to the Biblical doctrine of election. If you say that God chooses some, then that inherently means that He does not choose others. Yet that is precisely what the Bible teaches. It’s hard to swallow, but it’s crystal clear, and we’ll see it right here in v17-18.

V17 – God placed pharaoh in power, so He could display His power in the destruction of pharaoh, so that the whole earth would know that the Lord is God. Paul offers a quote from Exodus that shows God’s purpose in hardening pharaoh – to glorify Himself. Let’s acknowledge for a moment that nothing God does is sinful. Why? Because God is the One doing it! And because of the purpose He has in all of His actions. If the motive is a good one, and it’s done by a perfect being, then it’s just and right and holy and perfect. And we’ll see in a minute that the potter can do with the clay whatever pleases him. That’s the point of this entire passage, v17-24, that whatever God does is holy, even if it is hardening a human heart, even if it is refusing salvific grace, because God is the One doing it and because He is in the process of accomplishing His purpose to glorify Himself for all eternity. The salvation of sinners is very important to God, but it is not all-important to God. God is more concerned about His own glory.

Now Paul makes it clear here that God’s handling of pharaoh was purposeful and demonstrative. God had a purpose in the Exodus events that was far beyond anything that Moses and pharaoh and the people involved could perceive (1 Corinthians 10:1-11). We have a great advantage looking back on it with the totality of Scripture to help us interpret those events. God’ purpose was to demonstrate His power and to proclaim His name in all the earth. So anything God chooses to do with the purpose of demonstrating His power and declaring His name, even if it includes passing over some, even if it seems destructive, is good and righteous and just.

Now of course it’s also true that God is just in his judgment of Pharaoh, because Pharaoh was a sinner. He was a sinner who had rebelled against God and had mocked His name; but isn’t it interesting that Paul doesn’t even bring that up in this passage. He wants our focus to be on the sovereign choice of God. Those who are lost have only themselves to blame; those who are saved have only God to thank. Man gets all the blame (and he deserves it); God gets all the credit (and He deserves it). 1 Corinthians 1:30 “It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus.”

V18 – God can harden or show mercy to anyone in order to glorify Himself. Paul just lays it down there. He doesn’t apologize for it. That’s just the way it is, and I’m sure you can think of lots of objections in your mind to it right now because it’s uncomfortable; but you can’t argue that it’s not what Paul is saying because Paul is crystal clear. He answers the question, “Is God’s election just with regard to those who are saved?” by saying, “Don’t consider justice but consider mercy.” And with regard to those who reject God, Paul says, “Consider God’s purpose.”

When we see God’s choice as sovereign in salvation we realize that our salvation is all of grace. It is not based on our inherent worthiness, our deeds, our backgrounds, our choice, or even our faith. All of those things are instruments of God’s grace. Salvation is based upon God’s grace alone, and therefore we may glorify Him completely for salvation and be assured of our salvation. We will persevere in salvation, because perseverance isn’t based on us; it’s based on Him. His acceptance of us is not based on something in us or something He foresees about us; it’s based wholly on Him and His purposes.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Romans 9:14-16

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" [Exodus 33:19]. It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.

V14-15 – Is God unjust? Not at all! He will have mercy and compassion on whomever He will, and whomever He doesn’t save will get exactly what they deserve. There is no injustice with God. Paul anticipates an objection: “How can God choose one person and not another person, without basing His choice on foreseen faith or works or a choice or something? That’s not fair! That would be unjust!” This leads to the key question: “Is there unrighteousness with God? Is God unjust?” God defines righteousness and justice, so of course there is no unrighteousness with God! Of course God is not unjust!

Consider that if Paul wasn’t teaching this truth about election that I’m trying to convey, he wouldn’t get the question or argument that God is unfair or unjust. If Paul wasn’t teaching that God’s unconditional election is what determines who is saved and who is not, then there would not be anyone accusing him of making God out to be unfair or unjust. If Paul in v11-13 had said, “Look the reason Jacob was saved and Esau was not was because Jacob made a decision and Esau didn’t,” or “Look the reason Jacob was saved and Esau was not was because God foresaw Jacob’s wise choice of faith and He foresaw Esau’s poor choice of non-faith,” then nobody would cried out, “That’s not fair.” But the fact that Paul did not say that, but that rather the difference between them was to be found solely in the sovereign choosing mercy of God provokes the reaction, “That’s not fair.” And that’s exactly what Paul expects people to say, which confirms that he really is teaching the doctrine of election. If this is your objection, that election isn’t fair, you may be sure that what you are objecting to is what the Bible actually teaches.

Notice that the question is about God’s justice. Is God being unjust? And in Paul’s answer, he says nothing about justice. He only speaks about mercy. So has Paul answered the question? Yes. Why? Because Paul, by referring strictly to mercy in response to the question about God’s justice, is teaching you this: salvation is not about fairness; it’s about mercy. Salvation is not about justice (getting what you deserve); salvation is about mercy. So we either get justice (what we deserve) or non-justice (mercy). There is no injustice with God. He has mercy and compassion on whomever He will. He’s God; He’s righteous.

V16 – Election doesn’t depend on man’s desire or will or effort or exertion, but on God. Paul sums up his teaching here, and then he elaborates again in v17-24. Many non-Christians think salvation depends on man’s efforts, what man does to earn God’s favor. Paul refutes that right here. Many well-intending Christians think salvation depends on free-will, the choice of man. If you choose Christ you will be saved; if you don’t, you won’t. And don’t get me wrong; it’s true that we must choose Christ. But here Paul refutes the thought that our choice is rooted in ourselves, in our autonomous wills (our wills are not autonomous!). The choice for Christ is not rooted in our wills, in our choices, in our desires; rather, it’s rooted in God’s unconditional electing grace. If you’re foreknown, then you’re predestined. If you’re predestined, you’re called. If you’re called, you’re justified. And if you’re justified, you’re glorified (Romans 8:29-30).

We’re not arguing Calvinism / Arminianism here. We’re talking Biblical / unbiblical. If you disagree on this, you’re not disagreeing with me; you’re disagreeing with Paul. And you’re disagreeing with John – the one Jesus loved. In John 1:11-13, Jesus comes to His own and His own do not receive Him. That’s the Jews. And then John says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.” How was it that they received Him and believed on His name? They didn’t get it by their natural descent. They didn’t get it by their free will, by their choices. They God it from God. Salvation is of God, all of grace, rooted in mercy.

You might then ask, “How are we supposed to respond to this? Does this mean we don’t have to do anything?” Paul begins to answer that next time. But for now all he wants you to see is this: If you’re thinking about God’s fairness in salvation with regard to some being saved and others not, you’re thinking about the wrong category. The category is mercy. See, the only thing you can complain about is that God gives to some people something that they don’t deserve – eternal life. He gives to others precisely what they deserve. It can be said that God is merciful, generous, gracious. But it cannot be said that He is unjust.