Chapter 47: The Marvel of God's Mercy - Radical

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Chapter 47: The Marvel of God’s Mercy

Does God desire for everyone to be saved? Doesn’t God love everyone in the world? The Bible speaks about God’s general love for all people and God’s particular love for some people. In this message on Romans 9, David Platt explains what the Bible teaches about God’s effectual calling of his people.

  1. We long for the salvation of others.
  2. We lean on the faithfulness of God.
  3. We live for the glory of God.

If you’ve got a Bible, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open with me to Romans 9. Romans is my favorite book in the Bible. Just think about the highlights, so to speak. Romans 1: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jews, and then the Gentiles. For in the gospel, a righteousness from God has been revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

Romans 2 and 3 gives a picture of man’s sinfulness. “There is no one who does good, not even one. All have turned away. They have together become worthless. The whole world stands silenced before God. No one will be declared righteousness in his sight by observing the law, rather through the law we become conscious of sin.” Then, you get to Romans 3:21, one of the most incredible paragraphs in all the Scripture.

But now a righteousness has been made known apart from the law, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace, the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

We receive this redemption by faith, Romans 4 and 5.

Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love by the Holy Spirit into our hearts. You see, at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die, but God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 6:

“Since we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Then, you get to Romans 7, and we see schizophrenic Paul.

I do not understand what I do for what I want to do I do not do but what I hate, I do and if I do what I do not what to do, it is no longer I who do it but it’s sin living in me that does it. For I know that nothing good lives in me that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do, for the evil I do not what to do, this I keep on doing, and if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it but sin living in me that does it.

He says, “What a wretched man I am.” We’re all thinking the same thing Paul. He says, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Leading into Romans 8, one of the most triumphant chapters in all the Scripture.

There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Because the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in sinful man in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to sinful nature, but according to the Spirit. And you have not received the Spirit that makes you a slave again to fear. You have received the Spirit of sonship, and by him we cry “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God’s children, and if we are children, we are heirs, heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ if indeed we may share in his sufferings in order that one day brothers and sisters we are going to share in his glory.

That’s why we know that all things work together for the good of those who love them and have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew, he predestined to be conformed in the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he called. Those he called, he justified, and those he justified he glorified. What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also along with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons of the present or the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 9 is Convicting, Confounding, and Confusing

Then, you get to Romans 9, and it is quite possibly the most convicting, confounding, confusing, pride-crushing words ever penned in Scripture. I thought about titling this sermon, “The Chapter I Used to Skip in My Bible”. Really, the three chapters I used to skip in my Bible, Romans 9, 10 and 11. These chapters have caused much debate and discussion among Christians for generations and, unfortunately, have been used to incite division among Christians for generations.

I was preaching a conference a few months ago, and I was listening in on another session where a friend of mine, fellow pastor, and dear brother named Thabiti Anyabwile was preaching on Romans 9. As I heard this text preached, I sat there and I thought to myself, “I am going to preach Romans 9 the first chance I get. The next chance I have, I’m preaching Romans 9.” So, this last week we have been reading through Romans, and I thought, “Okay, there’s Romans 9.” I began to think, “Maybe I’ll take the next chance I have and preach Romans 9.” So, I tried, but I couldn’t get away from it. It’s like it was destined to happen.

So, last week, we were in 1 Corinthians 1, and we jumped into the calling of God. We looked at God’s predetermined affection for you, and how He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. So, I figured if we are wading in that water, why not just like jump into the deep end together? So, that’s where we’re going, into the deep end. I want to show you the sovereign freedom, sovereign mercy and sovereign majesty of God.

However, I want to warn you that you will find yourselves at points in this text in our time together, saying, “I don’t know if that can be so.” This chapter will so strike at your self-determination and your self-sufficiency, and your self-esteem and your self-exaltation that you will find yourself tempted to rise and say, “I don’t believe that.” Or, you will be tempted to take this chapter and to twist it, to twist it into a chapter that you might be a little more comfortable with. So, take God and twist Him into a God that you are a little more comfortable with, that fits your tastes and your preferences, but I want to remind us from the very beginning, brothers and sisters, that is not an option that is open to us. We do not take God and create, fashion, form Him according to our preferences and our thoughts. We submit to His terms and His truth.

Romans 9 Shows Us That God Knows Best

So, my goal tonight…I want to be very clear. My goal tonight is not to argue for a certain theological position or system. My goal is to walk us through this text of Scripture to see how it fits in the whole of Scripture. I don’t presume that I’ll answer all the questions that you might have. I think I would be misleading you if I didn’t say that you might have more questions when you leave than when you came in, but I want to show you…I want to show you God’s big foot come crashing down on human autonomy, one of the things we cherish most. I want to show you how this is a really, really good thing, and I want to show you a God who is greater and more glorious and more gracious than you ever could have imagined.

Romans 9:1, Paul says:

I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

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

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Let’s pray. Oh God, I feel so utterly inadequate for the task before me. I feel this every week, but especially this week. So, I am all the more keenly aware of my need for your Spirit, and our need for your Spirit to, in this room, open our eyes and our minds and our hearts. We want to see you rightly. We want to understand you truly. We want to praise you appropriately. So, strip away our pride and replace it with humility. Take away our selfish preferences, our sinful misconceptions, our small thoughts of you and replace them with grand thoughts of you, so that your name might be glorified in this church and proclaimed to the ends of the earth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Romans 9 is a Reminder that Christians Long for the Salvation of Others

Okay, what does Romans 9 mean? I want to show you three things that Paul is saying here. Well, ideally, we’ll see if we get to number three. In this passage, number one, Paul is saying that as Christians, we long for the salvation of others. As Christians, we long for the salvation of others. This is verses 1 through 5. For eight chapters, Paul has been talking about the gospel, celebrating the gospel, and then, you get to Romans 9, and he says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”

Why? Because Paul is a Jewish man in the midst of Jewish people at that time who were rejecting God in Christ. The Jewish people, the people of God in the Old Testament, theirs were the adoption, the covenants, the patriarchs; this is the line from which Christ came, and yet, they were turning their backs on God in Christ, rejecting Him, and Paul is burdened for them. He says, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ.” Translation: In other words, Paul just said, “I would give up my very salvation and burn in hell if it would mean that they would believe.”

I want you to see from the very start here that those who believe Romans 1-8 carry the burden of Romans 9; that when you believe the wonder of this gospel, you long to give your life, to spend your life spreading this gospel to the ends of the earth no matter what it cost. Now, this is important because this is where I want you to see Romans 9 is not an argument for theologians to have. That’s not what this chapter is about.

We’re about to talk about words like “election” and “sovereignty” and “choice” and “calling.” However, before we even get there, I want you to see the heart behind it, a heart that says, “I want, I long for people to know the glory of God in Christ.” That is what this chapter is about. That’s where we’re going to end up in just a little bit. We’re going to see how Romans 9 provokes in us a death-defying passion to make the gospel known to the ends of the earth. Romans 9 is not an argument for theologians to have. It is an affection for Christians to feel. The goal is for us, in a few minutes, not to find ourselves baffled by a theological debate, but to find ourselves burdened with a passion for those who don’t know Christ. So, that’s where this is going. We long for the salvation of others.

Christians Lean on the Faithfulness of God

This next point is where we’re going to spend most of the time, if not the rest of the time here. Second, we lean on the faithfulness of God. We long for the salvation of others, and we lean on the faithfulness of God. Now, the key verse is in the first part of Romans 9:6. I’d underline it. It’s the key verse not just in Romans 9, but really, it sets the stage for everything to come in Romans 9, 10 and 11. Romans 9:6 says, “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” Underline that.

I’ll tell you what that’s about. I want you to think about this with me. Paul has just spent eight chapters and, especially, Romans 8 talking about these grand promises of God. “No condemnation for those who are in Christ…Everything works together for good for those who love him.” These are promises, but then, you get to the beginning of Romans 9, and you find that the people of God, who were promised all of these things in the Old Testament, now, they are turning against God, and it begs the question, “Have God’s promises to the people of Israel failed?”

What God has said to them, is He not carrying through? Is God true to His promises? As you see all of these Jewish people turning against God in Christ, what does that say about the faithfulness of God to His Word? In other words, is God faithful to Israel? Because if He’s not, then how can we know He’s going to be faithful to His promises in Romans 8 to the church?

This is where Romans 9 just jumps into every one of our laps. How do you know that there is no condemnation for you if you’re in Christ? Can you bank on that? How do you know that everything in your life is going to work together for good? Some of you are walking through some difficult things right now from trying times. How do you know it’s all going to work together for good? How do you know God’s going to be true to His Word and that nothing is going to be able to separate you from His love? So, what Paul does is in the rest of his chapter as well, as the next two chapters, is He talks about how God is faithful to His Word and how His promises do stand.

This is where we’re going to see in a few different ways, I think, four different ways that help us to learn to lean on the faithfulness of God. Number one, we cannot deny God’s election. This is where Paul starts. We cannot deny God’s election. Now, what do you mean by God’s election? What does that mean?

God’s election means God’s gracious, sovereign calling and choosing an elect people for Himself. He chooses to know Him and enjoy Him and experience His salvation. Now, the word is all over the place here in Romans. Let me show you three places right here together. Look at Romans 8:33. Just circle these three times we see this. In Romans 8:33, right before Romans 9 says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” Circle it there. God’s elect, His people that He has called and He has chosen. Then, you get to 9:11, “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue…” God’s electing purpose might continue.

Then, you get over to 11:7. In 11:7, it says, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” So, God elects, chooses, and calls the people for Himself, and even there, we talked about this last week, right, in 1 Corinthians 1? We looked at Ephesians 1, “God chose us in him before the creation of the world.” We talked about how in Romans 8:28-30, it talks about how He called. Let me show you in Romans 9, look at verse 11, what we just read. You might circle this word too. “Not because of works but because of him who calls…” At the very end of verse 11, “…him who calls.”

You go to Romans 9:24, and you see, in talking about the church, the elect, it says, “Even us whom he has called…” He’s called us. In verse 25, it says, “As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people, I will call “my people”, and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.” And in the very place where it was said them, “You are not my people,” they will be called “sons of the living God.”’”

Romans 9 Says That Christians Believe in the Doctrine of Election

So, the picture here is an elect people who are called, who are chosen by God. Now, here’s the deal. Every Christian who believes this Bible, believes in the doctrine of election. You can’t believe the Bible and deny election. You’ve seen this. It is all throughout the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God clearly called a people out for Himself in Israel. They were the people of God. That was evident. Genesis 12, from the very beginning of the story, God called Abraham, chose Abraham and his descendants to be His special people. The whole Old Testament is based around them.

Then, you get to the New Testament. Well, you don’t have time to turn to all these places, but Deuteronomy 7:7-8 just makes this clear. God says to His people, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his possession, out of all the peoples on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you.” God says, “I chose you out of my love for you.”

So, that’s the Old Testament. You get to the New Testament, and Jesus in John 6 talks about how the Father draws people to Him. In John 15, Jesus says to His disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” So, the picture is, in the Old Testament, God clearly chose one nation apart from all the other nations. In the New Testament, Jesus clearly chose disciples apart from all these other people. So, we see it in Scripture, and we know it by experience.

I mean, no Christian congratulates himself or herself on their conversion. No Christian says, “I’ve saved myself.” You don’t say that. You say, “I was saved; God saved me.” We know this is how other people come to Christ. This is why we pray for God to draw people to Christ; it’s why we pray for the largest un-evangelized island on earth because God must draw them to Himself. So, we know this in Scripture and experience.

Now, all this talk about elect and calling and chosen begs the question: Who does He call? What conditions need to be met in someone’s life in order for them to be called by God, and this is where I want you to see that the Bible is saying, in Romans 9, God’s call to salvation is unconditional. It’s not based on conditions met in anyone. Paul is speaking here in verses 6-13 about the Jewish people. In a day when a lot of people thought that, because they were born into a Jewish line, that they belonged to God. What Paul says there in verse 6 is he says, “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” It’s kind of a play on words. “Not all who were born into a Jewish heritage are actually the Israel, the people of God.” You get down to verse 8, and he says, “It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” So, it’s not just because you were born into a certain family.

Then, he uses an example. He brings Jacob and Esau to the table. Jacob and Esau had the same mother through the same father and were born just minutes apart. By all accounts, everything was equal in them. However, listen to verse 11 and let this soak in. “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” That is quoting God Himself.

So, here you have Jacob and Esau, and clearly, Jacob was called in a way that Esau was not. Jacob was loved in a way that Esau was not. Jacob was of the elect in a way that Esau was not, and the whole point is it had nothing to do with Jacob and Esau. It had everything to do with God. God’s call to salvation is not based on who we are, Paul is saying. You’re not a part of the people of God based on the family that you’re physically born into.

There is Nothing That we can do to Earn Salvation Apart from God

This is true for the people of Israel, Jewish people, and it’s true for every single person in this world. Not one of us is a part of the family of God because of a physical family we were born into, and it’s not because of who we are. It’s not based on what we have done. The text says, “They had done nothing either good or bad,” not by works but because of Him who calls. You cannot do anything to earn God’s call to salvation. There’s nothing anyone can do to earn His call to salvation. It’s not based on who we are, what we have done, and it’s not based on how we would respond.

Some have taken this passage and others like it and said, “Well, God calls the people whom He knows will respond in faith to Him.” They’ll say, “Well, God knew that Jacob would respond in faith to Him, so God called Jacob.” Or, “God knows people today who will respond to Him in faith, so God calls those people.” No, that misses the whole point of the text. The whole point of the text is not based on who we are, what we have done, what we will do, or how we would respond in any given situation. This is all based on God. It’s the whole point in Deuteronomy 7, when God says, “It’s not because you are a great people, not because you are a large people, or you were great in number. No, it was because I loved you.”

When Jesus chose His disciples, was it because these were the most qualified candidates to lead a movement to shake the world? No! These guys were clearly not the sharpest tools in the shed, and that’s the point. They’re calling and choice was not based on them. It was based on Christ. None of it depended on man. Everything depended on God. Do not miss what the Bible is saying here. God set His love on Jacob in a way that He did not set His love on Esau, and it had nothing to do with Jacob or Esau; it had everything to do with God.

It’s at this point that so many questions come to our mind. However, before you shut me out, follow with me here for a moment, and let’s step back and think about this in light of all that we see in Scripture. Some of you are thinking, and you should be thinking this, “Doesn’t God desire everyone, all people to be saved? Doesn’t God love everyone in this world? This call to salvation is for some and not others? I thought God desired everyone to be saved. Doesn’t God love everyone in the world?”

2 Peter 3:9 says, “God does not want anyone to perish. He wants everyone to come to repentance.” John 3:16, that beloved verse, “God so loved the world that whosoever believes in him will never perish but have eternal life.” Are those verses true? This is an easy one. Anytime you are asked the question, “Is this part of the Bible true?”, you can resound, “Yes.” So, yes, they are true, but that also means Romans 9:11, 12 and 13 are also true.

So, I am ready to put this together. It’s where I want you to think about two levels. Number one, remember the multiple perceptions of the will of God in Scripture. When we see the will of God talked about in the Bible, we see the will of God talked about in different ways. That’s what I mean by different perceptions. There are sometimes when the Bible talks about the will of God in what I’ll call here, “God’s revealed will: What He declares in his Word.” God makes commands, declares His desires in His Word. “Do not murder.” That’s the will of God; don’t murder. “Avoid sexual immorality”; that’s the will of God. “Don’t lie”; that’s the will of God. However, we oftentimes disobey His will, yes? We lie for example. When we lie, are we outside the will of God? Yes, in this sense, clearly we have gone outside of His will in our lying. He said, “Don’t lie.”

We’ve lied outside of His will, but there is a sense in which we are in the will of God, even in our lying. Follow with me here. Sometimes the Bible talks about God’s will in a way that I’ll call here, “God’s secret will: What He decrees in the world.” Job 14:5, “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed their number.”

So, here’s the reality. You don’t know how many days you’ve got. I don’t know how many days I’ve got. It’s hidden, but God knows, and God has decreed it. Everything He decrees, in this sense, everything He wills comes to pass. In Isaiah 14, God says, “As I have planned, so shall it be; as I have purposed, so shall it stand.”

God is Sovereign Over All

There is a sense in which God’s will is understood as everything that happens in all of creation because He’s sovereign over it all. God is sovereign over every event, every action, and every detail in all of creation. Nothing ever catches God by surprise. He is ultimately sovereign over every single detail, and so, even when I lie, am I outside of His will? Yes, in the sense that I am outside of the declared will of God; “Don’t lie.” However, I am right in the middle of the decreed will of God because, in my lying, I did not catch God off guard. He is sovereign over good and bad alike.

Now, this is kind of heavy. Let me give you a perfect example of this. Think about the crucifixion, the cross of Christ. Was the murder of Christ on the cross the will of God? Yes and no, right? No in the first sense concerning His declared will in His Word. God says, “Do not murder,” and they murdered. So, they were outside the will of God in that, but God was most certainly not sitting back in heaven just hoping that they would do this to His Son and complete His plan of salvation. Acts 4:28 says, “They did what your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Isaiah 53 says, “It was the will of the LORD to crush his Son.” So, it was His decreed will, although He did not declare a murder. Does that make sense? You see them both here, and that’s important.

So, we come back to the issue at hand here. Does God will for everyone to be saved? Yes and no, right? Yes, in the sense of His declared will. We’re talking about 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16, and 1 Timothy 2:3, “God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Yes, but in the second sense, His decreed will in the world: Is everyone saved? No. Are things just out of control? No. They’re all under control and not everyone is saved, and He’s sovereign over the whole thing.

So, remember the multiple perceptions of the will of God, and then, second, keep following with me here, and we’re going to put it together. Second, remember the multiple dimensions of the love of God. In Scripture, we see, in God’s Word, His love in a variety of different ways. I want to point out two of them. One, God’s general love for all people. “God loves the world,” John 3:16 says. That is absolutely true. God loves the world. 1 John 2:2 talks about how Jesus’ sacrifice is for our sins, but not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. So, God absolutely possesses general love for all people at the same time.

In Scripture, we see God’s particular love for some people. Clearly, there is a difference between His love for Jacob and His love for Esau. Deuteronomy 7, clearly there is a difference between His love for Israel and His love for all of these other nations. Clearly there’s something different going on there between Jesus and His disciples that is different from anyone else. Ephesians 5:25 talks about how Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. So, we need to be careful here when we talk about God’s love. Sometimes we say things like, “Well, God loves everyone the same.” Be careful, because there’s a sense in which that is true, in the sense that He loves the world, but there is also a sense in which He possesses a particular love for some people.

Follow with me here, we know this. This feels a little odd but think about it with me. There are people who have responded to God’s love, placed their faith in Christ, who will experience His love for all of eternity, and there are others who have rejected God’s love in Christ who, when they die, will be separated from God’s love for all of eternity. God’s love will look very different here than it does over here. See the difference here.

Romans 9 Teaches That God Loves All People and Wants Everyone to Know Him 

So, now, bring all this back to Romans 9; this is key. When we talk about God’s call to salvation here, we are talking about what God decrees in the world according to His particular love for some people. This is what Romans 9 is saying. Romans 9 is talking about a particular love for a particular people in His decreed will, but that does not nullify the reality that He loves all people and declares His desire for all people to come to saving knowledge of Him.

So, bring all of this back. What is it based on? We have seen it’s not based on conditions in anyone. It’s based on God and God alone. His call to salvation is unconditional, not based on anything we can do to merit or earn it, and His call to salvation is effectual. In other words, it accomplishes its intended effect. This is the whole point that Paul is bringing us to in Romans 9. Paul is saying, “God’s Word has not failed. What God sets out to do, He accomplishes.” He said at the end of Romans 8 that “those whom God has called, He justified and glorified those. What God starts, God completes.”

This is not God failing here with the Jewish people in Romans 9. The reality is He never promised that every single person born into an Israelite family would be a part of His people. The reality is only those whom He has called are a part of His people, and those who He calls are saved. He’s true to His Word, and the reason we know that is because it is not dependent on man. It is because it is dependent on God.

Now, this is the point where I just want to let this soak in for a moment. Christian, this will compel deep humility in our lives. Doesn’t this compel humility? To know that the ground of your salvation is not based in your commitment to God, but in God’s commitment to you. To know that God decided for you long before you ever thought about deciding for Him. Don’t we know this is true? Charles Spurgeon put it this way, “I believe the doctrine of election because I am quite certain 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’ve chosen me afterwards. 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 this great biblical doctrine.”

Listen to the words of Malcolm Muggeridge, a brilliant Christian thinker speaking to God. He said, “However far and fast I’ve run, still over my shoulder, I’d catch a glimpse of you on the horizon, and then, I would run faster and farther than ever thinking triumphantly, ‘Now, I have escaped.’ But no, there you were coming after me. There was no escape.” He said, “I have never wanted a God or feared a God or felt under any necessity to invent one. Unfortunately, I am driven to the conclusion that God wants me.”

Our Salvation is Directly Connected With the Grace of God

What other explanation could there be for your salvation than the sovereign mercy of God? This creates humility in us, and it creates a hope for others. Think, that no one whom God calls, no matter how fast or far they run, can outrun the alluring power of His grace and mercy. Oh, believers, hear this as humbling. Unbelievers, hear this as hopeful. No one merits the mercy of God in salvation. That’s the whole point. That’s what Paul says next. He said, “We cannot deny God’s election, and we do not deserve God’s mercy.” We don’t deserve it.

The immediate question that springs from this, in verse 14 is, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” Okay, if God elects, chooses, calls, and pours out His love on some in a way that He does not on others, does that make God unjust? That’s a good question.

So, Paul quotes from Exodus 33, where God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Let me tell you the context there real quick. In Exodus 32, if you remember, Moses was meeting up on Mount Sinai with God, and the people of God were at the bottom of the mountain. As they were at the bottom of the mountain, they were worshiping a golden calf. They’d built an idol, and they were bowing down and singing to it and indulging in all kinds of revelry. They had rebelled totally against God, every single one of them, except for Moses.

So, God says, “I’m going to destroy them all. The payment for sin is death.” Moses pleads. He intercedes on behalf of the people. In a very similar way, we see the beginning of Romans 9 here. Moses says, “Blot me out of your book if necessary.” God says, “I will spare them, and I will only strike down 3,000 of them.” So, amidst the masses who deserved death, 3,000 died. The question is, is it unjust of God for those 3,000 to die? Absolutely not. Every single one of them deserved to die. If the payment for sin is death, then every single one of them merited that payment, warranted that payment, and it is only the sheer mercy of God that all of them did not die.

It’s not unjust of God to only strike down some. So, now bring this into Romans 9; this is what Paul is saying. “Okay, there are some whom God calls, and there are some whom God doesn’t call in that way.” As soon as we hear that, what rises in our minds and from our mouths is we say, “That’s unfair.” Don’t we think that? “That’s unfair. That’s not just.” However, be very careful here, because as soon as we think that, we are showing that deep down inside, we think God owes salvation to everyone. We think that we and everyone else are entitled to salvation. “God ought to save them all.” That’s the foundational thought.

We think that’s unfair, when the reality is not one person is entitled to salvation, and God ought to save no one. This is the reality. The point of the gospel is God would be just to condemn all of us. If God was only acting on the basis of justice, then every single one of us would go to hell forever. Why? Because, in love, God made us to enjoy Him and to know Him and to walk with Him and to worship Him, and every single one of us has rebelled against Him, has turned from Him to our own ways. We have sinned against an infinitely holy God, and we deserve infinite death.

The reality is that is the only thing we’re entitled to and should God do that? He would not compromise His justice or His love in any way. It is only the sheer mercy of God that He is gracious to save some of us. In verses 17 and 18, he uses Pharaoh and Moses to show that God is just in showing judgment to one, Pharaoh, and mercy to the other, Moses. If judgment falls on us, God is just. If mercy falls on us, God is just.

We do not deserve God’s mercy and be careful here. Keep going ladies and gentlemen: We dare not defy God’s authority. Now, I want to be sensitive here because I’m not assuming this is easy to process, and there’s a lot more to process as you think about this for years. However, I want to encourage you to be careful in how you process this. As you wrestle with these things, there is a temptation that you will face to sit in judgment upon God here. Paul brings in an objector in verse 19 that says, “You will say to me, ‘Why does he still find fault? Who can resist His will?’” Basically, this objector is attributing blame to God for the sinfulness of man. Paul immediately says in verse 20, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”

Romans 9 Reminds Us that God is Creator and We are Creature

Oh, ladies and gentlemen, don’t forget this. God is creator, and we are creature. We are like clay, the Bible says, and He is the potter, and He has freedom and authority over us to do what He knows is best. He is infinitely wise. He is infinitely good, and He has all rights and all authority over us. He is owner; we are owned. He has the right to make some for honorable use and others for dishonorable use. Every single one of us, it’s in His hands to be used however He designs in His wisdom. Simply put, He is God, and we are not.

You see, what Paul is doing here, is he just quoting over and over again from God’s words in the Old Testament. It’s as if, amidst all the questions, God is saying Himself, “I am God. I am in control. You are not God, and you are not in control, so be quiet.”

We are so prone to forget this Creator/creation distinction. I look at this text, and I can’t help but think about parenting. Does anyone else have children who struggle sometimes with a parent/child distinction? With recognizing who is in what place? It is amazing that my two year old can think he knows better than me what to do in a certain situation, that he can be defiant and resistant and insist that he is right when his 32 year old dad knows he’s wrong.

If that difference exists between a two year old and a 32 year old, imagine the distance between this 32 year old and a God who is timeless and eternal, whose wisdom is infinite. He knows millions upon millions of mysteries in the world that you have no clue about. He has all knowledge about things that you do not know, and yet, we are prone to forget that and to sit in judgment upon Him. We do not have the right to judge His ways, because He has the right to do what He wants. Oh, be very careful as you wrestle this, not to play the part of God and to think that you know how He should act.

Be careful not to say, much less, think, “My ways would be better than your ways.” That’s the essence of sin, isn’t it? It’s the essence of sin to say, “My ways are better than your ways.” Don’t go there. Our hearts are nowhere near good enough to measure the goodness of God. Our minds are nowhere near knowledgeable enough to measure the wisdom of God. The objector here is trying to blame God for the sinfulness of man.

That leads to this last part here. We cannot deny God’s election, we don’t deserve God’s mercy, we dare not defy God’s authority, and we must not diminish our responsibility. Now, I want to show you this because this is so key. We’re seeing very clearly here in Romans 9 that God is sovereign. He is sovereign over nature and people and events, everything in all creation. He is sovereign over His love and His mercy.

God is Sovereign. We are Accountable.

He is sovereign, and we are accountable. The objector here is saying that if man can’t thwart God’s will, then man is not responsible for his sin. What we’re seeing here and all over Scripture is the exact opposite. Man is responsible in his sin. Pharaoh is a great example. You go back to Pharaoh in Exodus, and you’ll see over and over again, that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

You’ll also see Pharaoh hardened his heart, and you’ll see that Pharaoh is held accountable to God for his sinful disobedience, the same way that we see all over Scripture. It would be a most serious misreading of Romans 9 to walk away thinking that we are robots programmed in a certain way as a product of divine fatalism with no decision making capabilities whatsoever for which we are responsible. That is not what Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches that if you sin, and you experience consequences of that sin, you cannot point the finger at God and say, “Well you did this.”

Is God sovereign over that? Yes. Are you accountable for that? Yes. Bring it back to the crucifixion of Christ here. Are Roman soldiers, Herod, Pilate, and Jewish leaders responsible for the death of Christ? Absolutely, they’re responsible for it. Is God sovereign over it? Absolutely, God’s sovereign over every bit of it. How do they come together? That’s a mystery. It’s not a contradiction; it’s a mystery. How can God be sovereign and men be responsible at the same time?

A couple months ago, I was flying to Indonesia, and I got to the airport on Monday morning, and we had a tight schedule. We had a few hours to get to Atlanta. Then, we had to get this flight to Atlanta to get to the other side of the world, and as soon as we got off the plane, there was going to be preaching, and we were just going to be moving nonstop.

So, we get to the airport, and Delta says we have a half hour delay. Okay, that’s not bad. That turned into an hour delay, then an hour and a half, then two hours. Now, we start saying, “Do we need to find another flight? Do we need to do this or that?” They say, “No, the plane’s coming. We’re going to be all right.” Three hours go by, then four hours, and they say, “Okay, the plane’s not coming.” Then, we ask, “Oh, okay, well, then how are we going to get to Indonesia?” They say, “Well, it looks like you’re going to be delayed 24 hours because that’s the only flight that goes there, and you missed it.”

At the end of the traveling, it took us 60-plus hours to get to Indonesia. Was God sovereign over that? Absolutely. He was sovereign over the whole thing, and somebody else preached that I am sure did a better job than I ever could have done, and the glory of God was made known. God was totally sovereign, but ladies and gentlemen, Delta was absolutely responsible. God was in control, but Delta will pay. That’s the way it works. You see this come together.

That’s the reality that Paul is bringing us to. This is where we’re going to close out. The whole point here is that every single person is responsible for how you respond to Christ. This is where it gets to the end of Romans 9 and 10, and Paul is saying the Jews need to trust in God by faith. It’s the same thing to every single person in this world.

One day, every single one of us will stand before God, and you will be accountable for what you have done with Christ, and you will not be able to say, “Well, you were sovereign, and I wasn’t responsible.” Absolutely not. You will be responsible on that day for whether you have received Christ or rejected Christ. You say, “Well, it’s all of God.” Well, yes, and it’s where we come to the end here: We live for the glory of God

Amidst all the mind-boggling questions and things and stuff that might be swirling in our minds, just come aside from the swirling for just a moment and bring it in right here. Bring it in right here for just a moment. If you are here, and you have never believed in Christ, how are you to receive this? If you are here, and you’ve never believed in Christ, and the challenge from what we’ve seen in the Word of God is not for you to wonder, “Am I among the elect?” That’s not the point. The point is for you to see that in your sin, you have rebelled against God, and you deserve His holy and just wrath. Yet, He has sent His Son in mercy, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the resurrection, so that anyone and everyone who believes in Him, will be saved forever. That’s Romans 10.

What you get to is everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. We’ve been talking about God calling. The reality is we call on the name of the Lord, and everyone who calls the name of the Lord will be saved. So, the challenge is the invitation for every person who doesn’t know Christ is to trust in Christ, to fall on your face and receive the mercy of Christ. He forgives freely. He covers sin freely. All your guilt and all your shame, He does it. Not based on anything you have done or could do, but solely, sheerly based on His mercy.

Romans 9 Calls Us to Trust in God’s Mercy

So, trust His mercy today. Then, for everyone who has trusted in Christ, know this: The only way you could have called on Him is if He had called on you. The only basis for your salvation is the marvelous, mysterious mercy of God. So, Christian, rejoice in His mercy. Rejoice in the deafening, overwhelming reality that there is nothing in you to draw Him to you, and yet, He came running after you. Know this: He who started this work in you will be faithful to complete it, and there is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and indeed, everything in your life, even the worst things that are going on right now in your life, God will work together for good in your life. He will be faithful to His promises. Rejoice in that mercy, and then proclaim it.

I said this is where we’re going to end. Proclaim this mercy. This is what we talk about all the time, right? We talk about the day when every tribe and tongue and people will be gathered around the throne, singing the praises of Christ. How do we know that’s going to happen? We know it because God is going to make it happen. God is going to call people from every tribe and tongue and language, and all those people groups on that un-evangelized island that still haven’t been reached are going to be reached, and the beauty is you and I with the mercy of God in our hearts, have the mission of God in our lives: To make His mercy known. If we believe this mercy, then we will not sit back in judgment.

We will give our lives and spend them making this mercy known to every single person. You say, “Well, I don’t know who’s elect or not.” Exactly. You don’t. So, preach it everywhere you go and have confidence that it will be attended with Holy Spirit power, and God will call people to Himself, and He will show that this gospel has something you do not need to be ashamed of because it is indeed the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.

David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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