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For the last year or so I have been slowly working my way through the book of Romans. It has been at times one of the most humbling studies, while at others the most encouraging and up lifting. Let me share some of the hightlights of my last year of study.

  1. Foolishness. For a long time I attributed the foolishness of sin to the harmful effects that it has, such as hurting ourselves or others, but ultimately offending God. After considering Romans 1:22-23, I would suggest that the foolishness of sin does not stem from the consequences of sin, but rather from the surpassing value that we forsake in the act of sinning. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man …” Notice that folly is connected with the exchange of the glory of God for something else. A series contemplation of sin should lead us to realize the vanity, not to mention the offense, of it. We exchange the worship of insurpassible worth of God for the worship of worthless things – or rather things that must derive their worth from the God. We exchange the eternal enjoyment of God for the fleeting pleasure of sin. We exchange Him who is of infinitely good for the partaking of that which is infinitely destructive. No matter how you cut the cake we are fools for having abandonded the God who created us for the creation.
  2. Fear of God. While this shouldn’t have really seemed to be such a profound topic, I am some what slow to catch on sometimes. When on considers what the fundamental root of all sin is most people would say pride, the exultation of self, which seems like a fair assessment. But let me suggest we look at it from a different perspective – that the root of sin is ultimately the lack of fear (or reverence) for God. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (3:18) Now if we see God rightly, I think it would total change our perspective on everything. If we saw how holy and righteous and just God is would we not come to hate our sinfulness and rebellion against Him. If we saw how patient and kind and tolerate and gracious and merciful He is toward us would it not lead us to repentance (2:4) and to strive more diligently after personal holiness and devotion to God. If we saw how powerful and wise and good He was would we question His providential workings in our lifes or would we praise Him even in the days of trials and suffering. The way then to deal with sin is to behold more clearly the character of God.
  3. Soveriegnty of God and Justice. By far one of the most humbling passages to study was Romans 9 as Paul lays out the sovereignty of God is salvation. “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (9:16) It is an extraordanary thing to consider that ones eternal destiny is not in ones own hands. Or rather that if left to my own will or running that results would be eternal condemnation and God would be right and just and fair in carrying out my sentence. But yet what great encouragement it is to think that my eternal well fair is the hands of an ever faithful and loving God.
  4. Great Mercy and Great Love. Let me end with this last consideration, over the last year as I have contemplated the love of God particularly in light of Romans 5:1-11 and 8:28-39, I have been utterly amazed that God’s would show such love and compassion, such mercy and grace, toward one such as I. As I have contemplated this amazing reality even today, I am yet aware that I have only begun to scratch the surface of the “depths of both the wisdom and the knowledge of God.” It is my hope and prayer even for the years ahead that I would be more amazed at who Jesus Christ IS that would cause Him to do what He DID, so I may tell others about this great God and Savior.
  5. Christ and the Cross. Ok, I lied, I am compeled to add one more. I have come to realize that the glory of God is not simply found in the Cross (i.e. what Jesus did), but also in the Character of the One who hung upon it (i.e who Jesus is). Without Christ, the God-Man, the Cross is simply and instrument of dead. For it was the very nature of the One who hung on Calvary that gave the cross its meaning. It is Christ who turns a simply blood stained piece of wood into a vibrant demonstration of the glory of God. And without the Cross, we would never have seen the vibrancy and beauty of the glorious God in the person of Christ. For it was by means of the Cross that Christ manifest the glory of the Father in such a way to us that we might come again to fear and adore the one who we had foolishly forsaken. So Christians let us seek to stir one another up not only to love and good deeds, but to the beholding of the glory of God in the Person of Christ and in the Cross of Christ.
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“An act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereignty” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 670) 

Five Conditions of Election from Romans 9 

Before giving consideration to this chapter of Romans it is important for us to realize why Paul begins the argument he does in verse 6. Paul has just finished expounding the major tenants of the gospel. He began by showing the depravity and sinfulness of all man kind, both Jews and Gentiles (1:18-3:21), making particular reference to the fact that “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly …but he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:28-29). Then Paul made known the great doctrine of justification by faith alone using Abraham as the example for all who would follow in Romans 3-4. 

Having established the foundation of the faith, he then masterfully deals with outworking of grace in the life of the believer (sanctification) in chapters 5-7. But Paul continues his discussion of this amazing grace by bringing to its ultimate fulfillment in Romans 8, where he assures the Christian of the restoration of the creation and the final glorification of the saints. And He ends it with the great statement of Romans 8:38-39: 

“For I am convinced that neither death, no life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depths, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

An informed reader should find themselves at some what of a dilemma. If God chose Israel and loved Israel, then how can Paul assert that some Israelites are outside of salvation? Has God’s love failed? Has God’s word, His promises to Israel failed? Paul’s response shows us not only God’s basis or condition for choosing Israel, but for choosing all those who would be His people. 

  1. Conditioned upon the promise of God (9:6-9)

“That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but rather the children of promise are regarded as descendants.” (8) 

As his first illustration of God’s choosing people, he calls upon the example of Isaac and Ishmael. Here you had two sons from one father Abraham, who was the father of the Jewish faith. Yet it was not the son who was conceived by means of human wisdom and human effort (Gen. 16), but the son who was conceived by divine intervention that was regarded as the true beneficiary of the promises of God. 

It is significant to notice that God’s promise in Romans 9:9, which was made in Genesis 18:14 preceded the actual birth of Isaac. Thus God’s choice could not be based upon anything in Isaac, but rather Isaac was simple the offspring who fulfilled the divine purpose and proved the faithfulness of God’s word to both Abraham and Sarah. 

  1. Conditioned upon the calling of God (9:10-13)

For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, but because of Him who calls (11) 

In keeping with the line of patriarchs, Paul moves from Isaac to his sons Jacob and Esau. One might tempt to argue from the previous example that God’s choice stemmed from the condition in which they were born, Ishmael being born an illegitimate son of Hagar and Isaac being the legitimate son of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Yet the example of Jacob and Esau eliminates that possibility for they were both born to the same mother, Rebekah.  

However, God demonstrates his independence in choosing Jacob the younger brother over Esau. And in doing so God has established a condition that is contrary to the natural order of heredity. How could God declare before either of them were born or had done anything that the blessing and birthright that rightly would belong to the older would come to the younger? It is here we see that reality of Romans 8:38-39 begin to come to life. Why did Jacob prevail? It was because God loved him. 

  1. Conditioned upon the compassion of God (9:14-18)

“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (16)

“So then, He has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires.” (18) 

In response to the possible object that God cannot indiscriminately choose whom ever He desires, Paul appeals to mans need for mercy. As Paul has made clear from the first 3 chapters of this epistle all of mankind stands in need of compassion and mercy from God.  God is not some how unjust because he does not extent mercy to someone. In fact, if there were a reason why God was indebted to show someone mercy, then it would no longer been an act of grace. Those who are truly God’s people are not those who have done anything, but rather simply those who discover the mercies of God. 

He here appeals to the example of Pharaoh as one who did not find mercy. When God sent Moses to Pharaoh, he had already determined that His instructions to Pharaoh would not be accompanied with mercy, but rather demonstrations of God’s power. As a result of God’s revelation to Pharaoh, his heart was hardened and he was eventually destroyed by the waters of the Red Sea. It is interesting in midst of the discussions about living a Purpose Driven Life; I have never found many people who discuss the purpose of Pharaoh’s life. It seems that people are all too eager to presume that God who never allow them to suffer the same fait as Pharaoh. Yet Hebrews 3-4 contain serious exhortations to us to avoid the hardening of our own hearts. 

  1. Conditioned upon the will of God (9:19-26)

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (19)

“What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory,” (22-23) 

Using the imagery of a potter molding clay, Paul presses home the point that God’s choice depends upon God’s will and God’s purposes. This potter fashions from one lump of clay two different types of vessels: the one a vessel of wrath and the other a vessel of mercy. So too God fashions from the masses of humanity to distinct groups of people: those upon whom He will demonstrate His wrath and His power and those upon whom He will make known the riches of His grace. And just as the potter is sovereign over the clay, God is sovereign of mankind. 

We must also be willing to accept the reality of this verse as well. God has created some people who will not be saved, who will not experience His mercy, but upon whom He will glorify Himself through the demonstration of His wrath and revealing of His power. Yet at the same time we must recognize that the focal point of eternity will not be those who suffer wrath, but those who manifest the riches of His glory. Yet let us note with what patience God deals with those “prepared for destruction,” and let move us to bear with unbelievers patiently as well. 

  1. Conditioned upon the word of God (9:27-29)

“For the Lord will execute (make, cause) His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” (28) 

Since God as already laid out the plan of redemptive history in His Word, all that remains is for it to be executed on the earth. So here we see that the real reason why not all Israel is saved is because God has declared that it is only the remnant that will be saved. We as Christians, as those with the mind of Christ, stand in a unique position of being able to watch that which God has declare come to pass.  

This then finishes the argument that Paul began in verse 6, “it is not as though the word of God has failed.” No just the opposite is true! The word of God has demonstrated itself to have been successful at what ever purposes God has established. Consider already just in this chapter how many times God’s word has shown itself true: the birth of Isaac, the choice of Jacob, the hardening of Pharaoh, the making of a people out of those who were formerly not a people, and the preservation of a remnant within Israel. 

Implications for Evangelism

  • First and foremost, if we are willing to recognize that the ultimate determining factor in a person’s salvation in God’s choice of them according to his own will, it should drive us to prayer. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” (Rom. 10:1) Notice the connection between the heart’s desire and prayer. Paul recognized that if His heart’s desire was to be fulfilled God was going to have to bring it to pass.

 

  • Second, since God’s calling and election of individuals has come to them through “the word of promise” (8-9), what He has said (12, 15), and the written word or Scripture (13, 17, 25-29), the responsibility falls to us to proclaim the promises of God, to preach the “word of Christ” (10:17). There is only one means by which those how have been chosen come to faith and that is through the word of God. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10:27) And how will his sheep hear His voice if what He has spoken is not made known to them?

Recently I addressed some of the characteristics of the reign of sin which have plagued the sons of Adam since the fall. Fortunately for us God by His grace through His Son has established another reign, which is not dependent upon the works of men, but rather supernaturally supercedes the sinfulness of men. As Paul puts it is Romans 5:21 “as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We can observe the following ways in which God’s grace triumphs over the reign of sin:  

  1. God’s sovereignty over grace. The sovereignty of God guards the guards the entrance into grace. “For He has said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion upon whom I have compassion.” (Rom. 9:15, Ex. 33:19). No one comes under the reign of grace unless they are born again by the Spirit and He is said to move where He wishes (Jn. 3)

“[Exodus 33:19] is a solemn declaration of the nature of God, or (which is the same things) a proclamation of his name and glory…It is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what God means to be God. This is his name.” (John Piper, Future Grace, 80)

“God made us alive and secured us in Christ so that he could make us the beneficiaries of everlasting kindness from infinite riches of grace. This is not because we are worthy. Quite contrary, it is to show the infinite measure of his worth. Grace would not be grace if it were a response to resources of kindness. Grace is grace because it highlights God’s own overflowing resources of kindness. Grace is eternal because it will take that long for God to expend inexhaustible stores of goodness on us. Grace is free because God would not be the infinite, self-sufficient God he is if he were constrained by anything outside himself.” (John Piper, Future Grace, 83)

  1. By grace God provides a sacrifice for sin. “so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone) (Heb 2:9)
  2. By grace God justifies the ungodly.
    (Rom. 3:24-26, 4:5)
  3. By grace God elects the undeserving. Because of our depravity and our rebellion against God, the very act of God by which He predestined some to salvation in Christ is an act of grace on our behalf. (Rom 9:10-16; 11:5)
  4. By grace God grants promises to the unfaithful. “By His own glory and excellence …He has granted us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 2:3-4)
  5. By grace God promises are guaranteed. (Rom. 4:16)
  6. By grace God gives faith to the unbelieving. (Eph. 2:8-9)
  7. By grace God grants repentance to sinners.  if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,” (2 Tim. 2:25)
  8. By grace God gives wisdom to the foolish. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (
    Jam. 1:5)
  9. By grace God gives strength to the weak. “After you have suffered for a little which the God of all grace…will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Pet. 5:10, 2 Cor. 12:9)
  10. By grace God edifies others. (Eph. 4:29)
  11. By grace God grants peace to former enemies. (Rom. 8:1)
  12. By grace God bears fruit on formerly barren branches. (Rom. 5:21, 6:22; Eph 2:10)
  13. By grace God gives eternal life. (Rom. 5:21, 6:22)
  14. By grace God answers the prayers of those in need. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)

Let me leave you with the words of Charles Spurgeon as he describes the throne of grace from which God rules over His people:

“If it is throne of grace, all the needs of those who come to it will be supplied. The King on such a throne will not say, “You must bring me gifts and sacrifices.” It is not a throne for receiving tribute; it is a throne for dispensing gifts. Come, then, you who are poor as poverty itself, having no merits and destitute of virtues and reduced to a beggarly bankruptcy by Adam’s fall and your own transgressions. This is not the throne of majesty that supports itself by the taxation of its subjects, but a throne that glorifies itself by streaming forth like a fountain with floods of good things. “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isa. 55:1). All the petitioner’s needs shall be supplied because it is a throne of grace.” (Charles Spurgeon, The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life, 24)

I believe strongly in the Doctrine of Election and the Sovereignty of God in salvation. Most of my friends and those that I hang out with do as well. Yet I sometimes wonder if in the midst of considering these important truths we forget why it is that people do not go to heaven in the first place. Why is it that people will not be saved? What is it that keeps men out of heaven? When they stand before God on judgment day and say, “I would have trusted in you, but You did not elect me…You did not choose me or I would have believed,” will they find a sympathetic ear.  Or to put it in more biblical terms will they say, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (Rom. 9:19).

So then whose “fault” is it that people do not go to heaven? Is it God’s? After all, He did not choose them. He did not elect them. If that is why you think that people do not go to heaven, (or to put it another way…why they go to hell) then I think you have failed to understand the truth about the character of God and the character of man.

The Character of God.  First, and foremost, we must always remember that God is Holy, Holy, Holy. (Isa. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). Because of He is holy, He expects us to be holy as well. In fact, it is only other holy beings, such as the angels, that are allowed to be in His presence.

Second, God is Righteous and Just. It is a necessary outflow of His character not only to declare that which is contrary to His own character to be impure and unholy, but also execute perfect justice on all offenders of His holiness. And though we may look at this world from time to time and say, “If God is just and righteous, why do the wicked remain unpunished?” To which I can only say that there will be a day when the “righteous judgment” of God will be revealed (Rom. 2:5)

Third, “God is love” (1 Jn4:8). He is a good God, compassionate and full of lovingkindness. If we believe that God takes pleasure in destroying sinners, I think we have misunderstood His heart. While God may take pleasure in maintaining justice, it does not please Him to punish the wicked. “For I have no pleasure in the death of the of everyone who dies,” declares the Lord God, “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezek 18:32). In fact, the clearest demonstration of God’s love was His sending His Son to save the world from their sins. The cross stands as a testimony of God’s love for His enemies, because He demonstrated His love not in dying for the righteous, but sinners. Christ sacrifice would be the instrument through which God would be able to reconcile His enemies to Himself. Yet, for those who have trusted in Christ, He did not just make these enemies friends, but made them a part of His family. He adopted them as sons and gave them a share of Christ’s inheritence.

The Character of Man. Yet when we consider the character of man we must realize one important truth. He is be nature a sinner and an enemy of God. He is a sinner, because he has inherited a corrupted nature from his first father, Adam. He is a sinner, because he has failed to live his life in perfect conformity to the holiness of God and has failed to give God the glory that was due to Him alone. 

He is an enemy, because He has set his will in opposition to God. He seeks glory and honor and immortality not through obedience to His Maker, but through His own selfish means. He may claim to seek God, but will not seek Him on His terms. He make seek to be righteous, but will never submit to the righteousness of God. He will be more than pleased to set himself as the judge of others, but never allow himself to be judged by God.

Yet, as I said earlier it was for men like this, like you and me, that Christ died. And God took great pleasure in preforming the act of redemption. So why is it that people will not “repent and live.” It is not because God has not made salvation availble to them, but because they refuse to make peace with God. They refuse to acknowledge their hostility toward Him and submit themselves to Him and to entrust themselves to Him. They would rather continue in their own ways and spit on the goodness that He has shown to them in this life. “Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness” (Isa. 26:10, cf. Rom. 2:4-5)

So in the end why do people not go to heaven…. They don’t want to.  

Otherwise they would be willing to submit themselves to the righteousness of God which comes through believing in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, “for if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believe resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

“concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,” (Romans 1:3)

When was the last time that you emphasized the Christ’s role as king when you talked to someone about the gospel. I can say for myself that I have spent lots of time thinking about the fact that Jesus “was born.” The significance of His becoming a man is essential for our salvation. It was because He became a man that He is able to identify with our weaknesses and the temptations that we encounter (Heb. 2:16-18, 4:15). Even more, He was made like us in all things, “so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of His people.”

If Christ was not a man, He would not make a very effective mediator between God and man, because we would still not be able to approach God. The Scripture is clear that no sinful being can approach God and live. For this reason, Israel stood and the foot of Mt. Sinai and waited while Moses acted as the mediator of the law. Yet even Moses was not allowed to see the fullness of God, but merely the coattails of His glory. But Christ is a better mediator than Moses, because as the Son of God, He has full accesses to the Father. Even more, He has seen the fullness of God and experience the delight of being in the presence of God. And so it is because of His identification with us as men and His relationship with God as both Son and Sacrifice and the we may boldly approach the throne of grace.

See already I have said much of His humanity, but what of Him being a King? He “born of a descendant of David.” Maybe in our naivety as Americans (or at least as non-Jews), we miss the significance of that statement. But a first century Jew would have surely understood it. They would have remembered the Lord’s words to David:

“When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.”  (1 Chr 17:11-14, emphasis mine)

While discussing Christ humanity is an important aspect of the gospel, I hope that we will spend more time telling people of “The King.” Let us not shy back from telling people that Christ came into the world not only to save it, but to rule over it. In fact, salvation is considered synonymous with belonging to the kingdom (Gal. 5:21, Eph. 5:5, 1 Cor. 15:24, 50). Clearly, Christ must be Savior and Lord. For we have been redeemed so that we might be His people, and He might be our King and submit ourselves willingly to His leadership.