The more I learn about the love of God, the more I realize how little I know about God's love. At one time I thought I understood what forgiveness was, but the more I study, the more I realize the depth and the riches that lie in that term. So it is with most Bible subjects. The more we understand, the more we realize how much greater the topic is than we originally thought. It's amazing how deep God's Word is.
In our verse-by-verse study of Romans 9, we are about to come to the topic of God's sovereignty and the freewill of man. Now, that's a deep topic with Christians deeply divided over the issue, but it is important that we understand the truth on these topics. You ask, "Preacher, why is it so important?" Let me share a true story.
Some years ago, I met a family that comes from the persuasion that we refer to around here as Hard-shell Baptist. Maybe you think all Baptists are alike; well they aren't. There are as many kinds of Baptists in this world as there are insects. Hard-shell Baptists believe that God predetermines whether a person will go to heaven or to hell, and there is nothing an individual ought to do or needs to do or even can do to change that outcome.
The Lord opened the door for me to share with this family the wonderful news of God's salvation-the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, but each time I asked them to make a decision for Christ, their response was always the same. "It doesn't matter what we do," they said. "God decides and you can't know that you are going to heaven until after you die." I tried to reason with them from the Scriptures but that was as far as they would go.
Years have past and I know that at least one in that household has died. As far as I know, that one died without ever accepting Christ as Savior. I doubt seriously that another preacher or Christian ever got close enough to them again to tell them the truth about salvation, so today, that soul is probably in hell. Why? Because nobody cared enough to take them the gospel? No. I cared. Others cared for them as well. They were in their church enough to have heard and known the truth. Why then? The answer is because they were falsely taught about the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man. It behooves us tonight to understand what the Bible teaches about God's sovereignty about our choices in God's plan.
REVIEW OF ROMANS
The theme of the book of Romans is saved by grace. In this book Paul teaches that salvation in't determined by genealogies, or works done, or keeping the law, or not keeping the law. No, God through the book of Romans teaches that we are saved by grace. Paul knew that the Jewish people were going to have a hard time with that truth, so he spends a lot of time in this Gentile book (Rome was a Gentile city) explaining to the Jews that they also must be saved by grace.
For example in Romans 3:10, the Bible says all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. You and I who are Gentiles know that. We often use that verse when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with Gentiles because it is so easily accepted, but Paul's main intention wasn't to use that verse to convince Gentiles. This section is actually directed to the Jews, trying to make them understand that they are sinners just like the Gentiles.
For centuries the Israelis had been called God's people. Over time, the Jews began to assume that they were exempt from being sinners because they were Abraham's children, hence their arrogance in John 8:33.
We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
Paul's writing in the book of Romans is to show that all are sinners and so all must be saved by grace.
Again in Romans 4, Paul is teaching that everyone saved has been saved by grace. He goes back and gives as examples Father Abraham (Romans 4:1-5) and King David (Romans 4:5-8). Both believed God and God counted faith to them for their righteousness. Salvation didn't come to them because they were Jews. Salvation didn't come to them because they kept the law. Neither was salvation some kind of heritage to them. Both Abraham and David were saved because they exercised faith in God. Salvation was an act of God's grace done in response to their faith.
The conclusion is salvation comes to every one in the same manner. We believe and God in His grace saves. So Paul spends time in this Gentile Book teaching the Jews that they are saved by grace or not saved at all.
Paul continues to teach salvation is by grace as we enter Romans 9. It is that truth that will lead Paul into a discussion of God's sovereignty.
As Romans 9 begins, Paul asks, "Who are Israelites?' (Rom 9:4) That's a question for the Jew to consider. Paul is working his way through the Jewish mind trying to help them understand they have to be saved by grace. He wants them to think about what being a Jew really means. He gives the answer in the latter part of verse 8.
That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
Being a Jew is not being children of the flesh; that is, being born in a certain genealogy line. That is what the average Jew thought-being a Jew is just being born to Abraham. Paul says no. It is being a child of the promise. A true Jew is and always has been somebody who believes the promises of God. These believers of the promises are then counted for Abraham's seed. It is believing right not birthright that makes a Jew a true Jew.
Nationally we understand that Jews are those born of Isaac, but Paul is saying that in the spiritual realm-in the eyes of God-that just being born of the seed of Isaac doesn't inherit you anything. It doesn't get you any special privileges; it doesn't get you a kingdom; it doesn't get you a seat in God's presence. Paul says that even those born of Abraham must believe by faith so that the grace of God can give them these things. Jews, just like Gentiles, must believe the promises.
In Romans 9:9-10, Paul gives two more examples of Jewish people who believed the promises. In Romans 4, he gave two examples of men. Here, Paul gives two examples of women, Sarah and Rebecca. Both, during times of child bearing, believed the promises of God. Sarah believed, even though she was a hundred years of age, that if God promised, she would have a child. She believed God, and God in His grace responded to her faith by giving her Isaac.
Rebecca, while with child, felt the scuffling that was going on within the womb. She went to God to ask what was going on. God told her that she was not carrying a child but two children; and God promised that the younger would have authority over the elder. God told Rebecca that Jacob would lead Esau and the fight that would characterize the two nations they would produce was all ready on. When God told her that, she believed Him. That is why she preferred Jacob over Esau. (Gen. 25:8) By now, you can see the main point in chapter 9; namely, in order to be God's child, you must be a child of the promise-you must believe the promises. He was trying to convince the Jews that in order to be saved, they must believe the promises. Salvation is by grace through faith. It's not who you are. It's not who you are born to. It's not what heritage you have. It's not what genealogy you have. It's not what law you have. It's what you do with the promises of God. If you believe the promises of God concerning salvation, you're God's. If you don't believe the promises of God, you're lost.
Whether you call yourself a Jew or you call yourself a Gentile is irrelevant. What matters is what you have done with the promises of God. That's Paul's main thought in Romans 9.
That brings us to the verses that discuss God's sovereignty and man's will, namely Romans 9:14-29. However, this is merely a sub thought. We will look at this truth later, but for now, let's follow Paul's main thought down to verse 30.
30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness,
have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
In verse 30, Paul announces that something strange has happened. He says the Gentiles who never sought the righteousness of God have attained to it. In verse 31, He adds that the Jews wanted to attain to the righteousness but never did.
Has that confused you? Well, let me explain. Many of the Old Testament Jews did want to please God but never did. They failed because they tried to please God by their works and not by their faith.
It is amazing to me how many people today believe Old Testament saints were saved by their works, for example, by offering sacrifices. I have preached and will continue to preach that nobody ever got saved by works. There is not and never has been two gospels. There is one gospel and that is salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. It's always been Jesus. It will always be Jesus. To those who think it was sacrifices but now it's Jesus, I say no! It has always been Jesus.
Old Testament saints looked ahead to what Jesus was going to do. We look backwards to what He has done. They did not know Him by name, but they knew Him by description. Some understood the prophecies that had been given then and believed those promises by faith. When they believed what Christ was going to do, they were saved. Those that didn't remained lost. We look backwards believing what Christ has done. When we do, we are saved. If we don't believe what He has done we remain lost. All people in all dispensations have always been saved the same way.
Not only do some today believe that Old Testament people got saved by keeping the law, some Old Testament people tried to get saved by keeping the law. They thought all they had to do to be God's-to be a true Jew-was bring a sacrifice, but that wasn't the case. As a matter of fact, you'll read in the Old Testament where God says don't bring any more sacrifices to Him (Is 1:11-13, Amos 5:2, Ps 40:6). God says such sacrifices are a reproach to Him. They are a stench in His nostrils. He says that He won't have anything to do with them. Why would He not have anything to do with a sacrifice that brought forgiveness to the worshipper? Because their sacrifices were meaningless until their heart was right. You see if they didn't believe in the Old Testament promises, it didn't matter how many blood sacrifices they brought. All they were doing was butchering animals; yet, many in Bible days believed that the sacrifices could somehow save. This false teaching was so prevalent in the New Testament time period that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews just to deal with it. There, Paul clearly teaches that the sacrifices never saved any one.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Yet some Jews had believed the false teaching for centuries. They brought their sacrifices, slew their lambs, and went through their rituals seeking righteousness. Paul says in verse 32 that they never found it. There was no righteousness to be found in the sacrifices.
On the other hand, there are Gentiles who never brought a single sacrifice to God. There were no Europeans bringing God sacrifices; there were no Indians bringing God sacrifices; there were no Arabians bringing God sacrifices; there were no Ethiopians bringing God sacrifices. They had no concept of Jehovah as God and they had no desire to please God.
Paul notes that something strange has happened. In this age of grace, the Gentiles, whose ancestors never ever thought twice about Jehovah, have salvation and the Jews who spent all that time bringing sacrifices to the altar don't have salvation.
Isn't that strange? Isn't that sad? The Jews seeking righteousness never got it. We, never seeking righteousness, attained to it. Why? He tells us in verse 32. They sought it not by faith, but by the works of the law. They were trying to earn it, to keep the law, to secure it with sacrifices. They refused to accept the promises of God by faith.
This is an important lesson for all ages. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, is saying that every one of those Old Testament Jews that tried to earn their salvation by the works of the law never got saved. The only ones who were saved were those that dared to believe.
For certain if an Old Testament individual believed and accepted the promises of God, they would have been obedient to the law and would have brought their sacrifices. Bringing the sacrifices would have been their worship with God, but their sacrifices wouldn't have saved them.
It is the same as you and I going to church. We go to worship God, but going to church doesn't save us. We go to church because we are saved. Bringing the sacrifices couldn't save the Old Testament Jews. They brought the sacrifices because they were saved. The Jews missed salvation because they tried to work for it instead of believing while a bunch of Gentiles who didn't want salvation but were willing to believe when confronted with the truth, got it.
What happens to these Jews who refused to believe? Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16 where God speaks of exalting His rejected Son as the chief Cornerstone. Yet Christ is not the Cornerstone for those who won't come by faith. Jesus said in quoting this same verse (Matthew 21:44) that the rejected Cornerstone becomes a milling stone to those who reject Him. He becomes their grinding stone, their stumbling stone. If you don't come to Christ by faith, the Cornerstone becomes your destroying stone. For those who believe, Jesus is the Cornerstone of your life on which everything else is built. For those who refuse to believe, He is the grinding stone of your soul, casting everything that you have or you will ever be into an abyss of damnation.
This text makes it very clear that the key is faith. Do you believe the promises of God? Do you believe God when He declared Jesus to be His only begotten Son? Do you believe the Bible when it says that He shed His blood for you on the cross? Do you believe that you must repent? Do you believe that He is the virgin born Savior? What you do with Jesus on the merits of faith will determine whether He is the Cornerstone of your life or whether He's the destroying stone of your life. Salvation must be by faith. That's Paul's whole point. It is the main point to this whole chapter.
Now, it's in the middle of this chapter (verses 14-29) that Paul discusses the sub point of God's sovereignty. So let me share some things that thought.
GOD IS SOVEREIGN
Number 1: God is sovereign. When we talk about God's sovereignty, what are we talking about? It means that God can do whatever God wants to do. It means God does what God pleases.
Please understand that we believe adamantly in the sovereignty of God. God never ask man for permission to do something. God never consults with man before doing something. God is sovereign. He gives us choices but God determines our options. If you make the right choice, God is going to bless you. If you choose wrong, He's going to curse you. Our God does what our God chooses to do.
You can see God's sovereignty in this chapter 9:12. Concerning the two sons of Rebecca, God chose Jacob over Esau. What gave Him that right? His sovereignty. He's God. God can do what God wants to do. If God wants to choose the younger over the elder, even though that was a violation of the customs of that day, God can. Israel was to hold the eldest son in esteem. That was part of the Jewish law. But God is sovereign; God can do what God chooses to do.
In verse 15, "For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." That's God speaking. God told Moses I will be merciful to whom ever I want to be merciful. I'll give compassion on whomever I want to have compassion. You say what about those He chooses not to have mercy on? He's sovereign. This isn't the whole story. God has told us on whom He will have compassion and mercy. He will have compassion and mercy on those who believe His promises, but in these verses, Paul is saying that God is sovereign. God does what God chooses to do.
No human can argue with that. You may not like it. It may even rub you the wrong way, but the reality is that God is sovereign. He does what He wants to do. He's God. That's all there is to it. He doesn't ask us if we want to be millionaires or paupers? If you are the pauper, He doesn't have to please you by making you the millionaire. God is sovereign. He is not obligated to do anything like that for you. If God gives you air, be thankful. If God gives you enough brainpower to accept Him, do so and be thankful. If all you've got is a crust of bread to last us for a month, don't complain against God. Understand and accept the fact that God is sovereign.
Paul asks in verse 19, if God is sovereign, how can He find any fault with us? Since God is sovereign, we are obviously limited in what we can do. Faulty reasoning might lead us to conclude that there are times when we have no choice but to do wrong. If we have no choice but to do wrong, some would suggest that we should not be held accountable. Paul doesn't try to reason with such a notion. He simply rebukes the one who would attempt to argue with God in the first place.
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
He says you have no business even asking God such a question. The clay looks up to the Maker and says, "Why have you done this with me? I can't rebel against You. I can only do what you allow me to do. Why condemn me for that? Why would you make me this way?" Paul says, "Just keep your mouth shut." He says it nicer, but it amounts to the same thing. We are the clay. He is the Potter. The thing which is formed has no right mouthing off to the Former.
Paul's point is that God is sovereign. God does what God chooses to do. If you don't get this right in the theology, the rest of what I am going to say is not going to make any sense to you, but God is sovereign.
GOD GIVES MAN CHOICES
umber two, God gives man choices. This is important. There has been a theological war going on for millenniums-the sovereignty of God versus the freewill of man-like the two are contrary to each other. People seem to think you must either have one or the other, but you can't have both. Please understand, the two are not contrary to each other. They are complimentary to each other.
God is sovereign in everything but every once in a while God makes a promise. When God makes a promise two things happen.
One, God limits Himself. Every promise that God makes is a limitation on God. You say how can that be? Before God makes a promise, He can do anything He wants, but after He makes the promise, God must keep the promise. Not that that's a problem for God. It's just that a promise places a limit on God.
For example, God makes a promise in Romans 10:13, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Let's just suppose that's the only promise God ever made. Do you realize, hypothetically, if that was the only promise God had ever made then right before God made the promise, God could have done whatever He wanted regardless of what we did.
Let's say Romans 10:13 was written on January 01, 2000. That means that if someone called upon the name of the Lord to save them on December 31, 1999, God would not have had to save them. He could have done whatever He desired. It also means that on December 31, 1999, God could have saved somebody that didn't call on Him. Before the promise, God being sovereign could do whatever He chose, but after God made the promise, since God's nature will not let Him lie, He must keep His promise. So it is with every promise God makes.
You say, "God is so powerful. He can do whatever He wants." Yes, He can, but what He wants is to keep His promises. He has sovereignly limited Himself. Somebody says, "I joined the Baptist church. I'm going to heaven." Oh no you're not! Joining a church doesn't get you into heaven. How can you know that with such absolute earnest? Because it's outside of the promise. God made a promise and He will abide by it. In that aspect, the promise limits God.
Once God makes a promise, all of His power will be vested in that promise. He will keep His Word. He has locked Himself into a set course. Once more, God doesn't want to change His mind, but if He were a man and decided that He wanted to change His mind, He couldn't. He's bound Himself with His promise. He has limited Himself. He must keep His Word.
The second thing that happens when God makes a promise is that He gives us a choice. God's promises become our choices. They open the door for our freewill. With every promise God makes there are at least two choices for us. There may be more but there are at least two.
For example, in salvation, God made a promise, whosoever shall call upon Him shall be saved. That gives man two options. He can call and be saved or He can refuse and be lost. His promise gave us two choices. Now we can exercise our freewill. God is sovereign but has allowed us to make a choice between certain options. God did not give up His sovereignty. He is using it when He gives us freedom to choose. This is a wonderful truth. God is always sovereign but He gives man a freewill. Understanding this truth should make the Christian reach for God's promises all the more. Those promises are our strength. They become our grounds for harnessing the power of God. They make us able to access the mind, the heart, the love, the forgiveness, the power, and the goodness of God. God could treat us with no more respect than we treat an ant bed in the yard! He could brush us aside, step on us, squash us, and scatter us to the wind, but because He made promises to us, we are no longer ants in the backyard. We are sons and daughters sitting at His table.
There is no contradiction between the freewill of man and the sovereignty of God. God never made a promise that would result in something being done out of His will. God has never made a promise that violates His will, but every promise He makes gives us more choices.
In considering these truths, be aware that there is a difference between the will of God and the desire of God. For example, if a person hears Romans 10:13 and believes, they are saved. If a person hears Romans 10:13 and they refuse to obey, they are damned. It is the will of God for unbelievers to go to hell, but that's not the desire of God. In the will of God, God gave two choices: heaven for the believer and hell for the unbeliever. No matter which of the two you choose, you will be fulfilling the will of God. Yet it is always God's desire that you go to heaven. The two are different. Of the two, the will of God will always be accomplished.
Understanding that God has never made a promise that violates His will helps me dismiss the clutter of today's visions and dreams, all of which are outside the scope of the Word of God. When someone comes up with a new "truth" which is outside God's Word, I don't have to think twice about it. That which is outside of the promises of the Word of God is meaningless. The most powerful Force in the world is that Bible you hold in your lap. It is a contract between you and God. God described your rights in black ink on white paper. The Bible gives you a full range of your choices. If it is not written in this old Book, it is not a choice for you to make. The Bible, the record of God's promises, gives us every bit of latitude we have. It contains every bit of choice we have. Things not promised in that book still belong to the sovereign hand of God.
When we come to Paul's words in Romans 9, "I will be merciful to whom I will be merciful and I will show compassion to whom I will show compassion," we don't have a problem. God's promises tell us that He will be merciful to those that call upon His name. He will be compassionate to those that trust upon His name. His sovereignty has been tempered by His promises.
WE MUST RESPOND
The third thing that happens when God makes a promise is we must respond. There is a logical sequence here: God's sovereignty gives us choices from which we must respond. Of the three, our response is the least important. It is the least important because it will not change God's sovereignty or our choices. If your response is not to believe, you do not dethrone God or eliminate hell. Your response is important for you because it decides your fate, but it does not change God.
Somebody responds by denying God's existence. That's not going to undo Him. Your response doesn't change God or your options. There is still a hell. Jesus still died. God is still the Creator. If every human being on the face of this earth joined hands and said there is no God, there is still a God. If every unbeliever on this earth said there is no right or wrong-just do what is right in your own eyes-it wouldn't change the fact that right is right and wrong is wrong. The will of God is eternal. The choices do not change. God's promises are unalterable and our response is not going to change them. Heaven doesn't get any sweeter when we join and hell doesn't get hotter. Our response lets us go to heaven or sends us to hell but in the scope of God's will, nothing changes.
If you have never trusted Christ, please don't misunderstand what I am saying. Your response is very important to you. Your response puts you either in the place of blessing or in the curse of rejection. Your rejection won't change the will of God, but it sure changes your place for eternity. The truths that we are looking at can be very frightening but they can also be very comforting. You may be frightened or even angered to be told that you can't change God's mind about hell, but if you consider the fact that the sovereign God has decided that you can go to heaven by trusting Jesus Christ as your Savior, you can be greatly comforted. The problem comes when we try to change God, His promises, or our choices. We cannot. He is sovereign. But we can enjoy the rewards of making the right choice. We can fulfill the desire of God by trusting Jesus. God loves you and God wants you to go to heaven. There is no human being on the face of this earth that God can't do without, but neither is there a human being that God desires to do without. He desires all to come to Him. That is His heart. That's the reason He sent His only begotten Son to die on Calvary. He wants every human being on the face of the earth to get saved. Your response will put you in the place of blessing or the place of curse. God has already determined what the blessings are going to be, and what the curses are going to be. He has already determined that there is a hell, that there is a heaven. He has already determined that Jesus is the door between the two. You can't change it no matter what you do, but you sure can get on the heaven side. That is where your choice comes in. You don't determine what the will of God is, but you determine your place in the will of God. You determine whether you get blessed or whether you get cursed.
Would you accept the blessing today? Would you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior?