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God's Sovereign Choice

August 13, 2023 Speaker: Jim Davis Series: Romans

Passage: Romans 9:6–18

Romans 9. A light text about predestination, election, and God’s sovereignty. By predestination and election, I mean God’s sovereign decision to save some and not others. For what it’s worth, this is why we walk through books of the Bible. Hard topics like this aren’t something I would necessarily choose to cover, but our philosophy of preaching makes sure we do and that is good for all of us. 


My wife grew up in a Southern Baptist Church that, at that time, taught that the concept of predestination was not only wrong, but an unethical teaching that made God look unfaithful. After college, she then went on staff with Campus Crusade and a group of girls asked her to lead her through Romans and when she got to this chapter, her views completely changed. 


We are starting a new section in Romans that will continue through chapter 11. Some people don’t think Romans 9-11 fits with the rest of Paul’s argument. Some scholars have proposed that Paul finished his argument in chapter 8 and just had some good stuff left over and included it like an appendix or an addendum. But I think that if you understand what Paul has been doing, chapters 9-11 make complete sense. 


Think about it this way. What has Paul been doing the whole time? He’s been arguing that God’s righteousness and faithfulness has been vindicated through the gospel. In chapters 1-4 this happens by his punishment of sin on the cross for all who believe. In chapters 5-8, God is vindicated by answering the problems created by Adam, sin, and the law. So, what does predestination, election, and God’s sovereignty have to do with vindicating his righteousness? 


Well, think about this church in Rome. They are asking the question, “Well, what about Israel? Can Israel trust in God’s faithfulness? Can the Jews? Because it sure doesn’t look like they can. It fits perfectly with what Paul has been doing all along. Go back to the story about my wife. This is essentially the same argument her old pastor was making. If God is choosing certain people to be saved and not others, that makes him unfaithful. Another way to ask the same question is this: If God loves everyone, why would he not save everyone? And if he doesn’t save everyone, is he faithful? 


This is a really important question to Paul. We can sideline the doctrine of predestination as some intramural debate that really doesn’t have much bearing on our faith, but that’s clearly not Paul’s view. He’s spending lots of time on it in Romans and, as we will see, this is not the only place in the Bible it comes up. And if it is important to Paul, it should be important to us as well. Paul’s main point is that God’s plan for salvation through his promise has never changed. So, I want to make that point and then address some objections that raises. 


  1. God’s plan for salvation through his promise has never changed


Paul begins by acknowledging that the Israelites who do not believe in Jesus are not in the kingdom. This is important for us to hear because it creates the tension that Paul is addressing. Today there are whole theological streams that teach that there is one way of salvation for Christians and another way for ethnic Jews. I don’t see how you can read this chapter and come to that conclusion. Paul’s heart is breaking here for his fellow Israelites who have not believed in Jesus. He says he has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart for them. He goes so far as to say that he wished that he himself could be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of the Jews who did not believe. 


There just isn’t any way to read this and think there is possibly some way to God apart from Christ. And this is what raises the question about God’s faithfulness. Dr. Cole at RTS illustrates it this way. Imagine these Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians essentially all living very close together and the mailman comes with a package and incorrectly delivers it to the gentiles when it was supposed to go to the Jews. Whose is to blame for the package going to the wrong place? The mailman. He must have made a mistake! And that’s how they are looking at God. And here is where Paul says God’s plan for salvation has never changed and I think it’s helpful to see that Paul is just going to the Old Testament to do it. Paul uses the Old Testament about 100 times in the New Testament. 50 of those references are in Romans and 25 of them are in Romans 9-11. That’s a lot of Old Testament, but it makes sense because Paul is wanting to communicate clearly that God’s plan for salvation has never changed. 


In verse six Paul says the word of God has not failed. Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel. Not all who are physical descendants of Abraham are spiritual offspring. This is how it’s always been. The children of God, those who will inherit the kingdom are not those who are merely physical descendants, but who are children of the promise. So, what is this promise? God promised that Abraham and Sarah, who were beyond childbearing years, would have a child. That child was Isaac. Isaac was special not because he was the biological son of Abraham, but because he was the promised son of Abraham. The son God appointed. 


Then, the promise continues into the next generation. Isaac’s wife, Rebecca, conceived twins. And the English translation tames what Paul is saying. In our translation, we read that Rebecca conceived these twins by one man, Isaac, but Paul literally says ‘by one sexual act’ these twins are conceived. Paul is setting them up as equally as you possibly can from a physical descendant point of view. There is nothing physically different between these twins. They not only came from the same parents, they were conceived at the same time. But, spiritually, they were not equals. Paul says that though neither had done either good or bad in the womb, God chose Jacob and not his brother Esau. As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” PAUSE


Is anyone uncomfortable yet? If you are, you’re probably tracking with Paul’s argument pretty well. Paul is saying that God has been making choices all along by his own sovereign will who constitutes Israel and who does not. It has always been about grace and promise. Nothing has changed. This is why verse 27 says, 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: n“Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, oonly a remnant of them will be saved, - Rom 9:27


But, Paul doesn’t just say THAT God did this, he says why. Verse 11: In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls. So, you can see that nothing has changed about God’s plan of salvation. No one can accuse God of being inconsistent. Nothing about the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is inconsistent with how God has always saved people. But, this does raise a number of objections. 


  1. Objections


Objection 1: Is God then unfair? Verse 14: What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? - Rom 9:14 And I’ll warn you, Paul’s answer is probably not going to emotionally satisfy us. His answer is ‘by no means!’ Again, going back to the Old Testament, Paul quotes Exodus 33 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” - Rom 9:15 Then, Paul quotes Exodus 9 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.” - Rom 9:17 And what was it that God raised up Pharaoh to do? Be destroyed. 


Now, some teach that Paul is not talking about God’s sovereignty in salvation, but God’s sovereignty in what you will do after you are a Christian. They teach that we are sovereign over our choice to believe in Jesus, but God is sovereign over what we will become during the rest of our lives like becoming president or some very influential senator. The problem with that is verse 8. 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but qthe children of the promise are counted as offspring. - Rom 9:8 Do you see that? Paul is talking about who the offspring are. Who the children of God are. He’s not talking about what we do as children. This is 100% talking about election into the faith. And it’s not just Paul who says this. Luke writes, 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and sglorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. - Acts 13:48


It’s interesting that we tend to not have a visceral response to Pharoah being destroyed, but we do for other people. We tend to understand that because of the Pharoah’s demise in the Red Sea as it closed in on him, God’s people were saved in such dramatic manner that accentuated his power and glory and, in the end, more people were saved and encouraged in their faith. But, we deny that God can or should work in the same way today. Some say that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and God used that, but look at verse 18: So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills - Rom 9:18 It is God who shows mercy and it is God who hardens hearts. 


But, in verse 16, Paul again says that this happens so that salvation depends not on our will or works, but on God who has mercy. This is important because it distinguishes Christianity from every other religion. Every other religion is an opt in religion. We choose to be a part of it. Only in Christianity are we called into it. If we think that it is of our free choosing, then it is of our will and exertion. If it is of our free choosing then we are in some way smarter, more spiritual, wiser, more open, or more moral than the people who don’t freely choose. I’ve heard people say, “I’m not better than other people, I was just more willing.” Ok, then you were more willing and that makes it of your will which would be a fundamental departure from the way of salvation according to Paul, who says “so then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.” 


Let’s go back to Roman’s 8 for a minute. All who are foreknown, are predestined. Some say that this simply means that God knows, looking down the corridors of time, who will choose him and he predestines them to be saved and conformed into the image of Jesus. Well, if God already knows who will freely choose him, why would he then need to predestine anyone? Why would he need to call them? And if he knows that some would freely choose him, doesn’t that then work against Paul’s argument that the way God has always chosen people is through God’s election? 


Now, this doesn’t make us robots. We do have real decisions to make in this life. But they are all marred by sin. And our sin will always prevent us from freely choosing Jesus. Our sin will make us never want to choose Jesus. But, when God predestines, he calls. This means that he uses his Holy Spirit to open our eyes. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul says that in the same way God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light in the universe, he says ‘let there be light’ and we can for the first time see the Glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. And when God does that, we can truly and freely choose him of our own accord. This is why Jesus says  44 No one can come to me unless theFather who sent me qdraws him. And rI will raise him up on the last day - John 6:44 and why Paul says in Philippians 1 that “it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”


Objection 2: How can God then find fault in me if he doesn’t predestine me? This is verse 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault?” - Rom 9:19 And again, we might not like the answer, but we need to hear the answer. 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?” - Rom 9:20 The reason many of us are not satisfied with Paul’s answer is because Paul is not going to appeal to some abstract notion of justice and fairness that we create and then hold God accountable to that. He won’t allow us to determine what is just and unjust, what is fair and unfair, and then judge God based on what we come up with. Only God is just and who are we to say what God should and should not do? 

If Paul were to engage this in any other way, he would effectively be placing us in the judgment seat. Furthermore, this view presumes our innocence. If we want God to be completely fair, then we would be wishing punishment on us all, because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I don’t think any Christian would argue that that is what would be fair. And if God chose to just save one person in all of human history and if that one person happened to be you, do you really think then that it would be ok to call God unjust? No. He’s God. Paul’s answer may not be emotionally satisfying on the surface, but it’s true and sufficient. I would argue that this doctrine is like a steep mountain climb. It’s challenging and strenuous as you ascend, but once you reach the summit, the view is breathtakingly rewarding. This brings us to three other objections that aren’t specifically in the text, but that the text raises. 


Objection 3: If God desires all people to be saved, why doesn’t he save them? We do know that God takes no pleasure in people being condemned. Ezekiel 18  23 kHave I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? - Ez 18:23 Then, why doesn’t he save everyone? And the short answer is that we don’t know. And if you don’t believe in predestination the way I do, you have the same problem. Only instead of having to answer the question of why God would choose not to save everyone, you have to answer the question of why is God unable to do what he says he wants to do. 


And I know some people say that God doesn’t save everyone because he doesn’t want to violate our free will. Tim Keller says, “If that’s God’s reason for sending people to hell, it’s a stupid reason.” You can’t find that anywhere in Scripture. He has a reason he doesn’t save everyone, but we just don’t know it. We just know that it’s not because we are better. 


Maybe the best example we get of this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His desire is for the cup of God’s wrath to be taken from him. And we know from Hebrews 1 that Jesus’ will is a perfect representation of God the Father’s will. Yet he says, “Nevertheless. Your will be done.” He has the desire to not die the most excruciating death ever, not to be horrifically sinned against, but, in the words of Hebrews 12, “For the joy set before him, endured the cross.” This seems similar to the way Paul speaks about creation being subjected to futility in hope. The decree may be hard, and painful, but the reason is a joy worth hoping in.


Objection 4: Doesn’t the doctrine of election and predestination work against evangelism? This week I was talking to a group of pastors about dechurching and one very nice baptist pastor made the comment, “I’m not Reformed, so I have a real heart for the lost.” Now, I don’t think he meant anything malicious by this, but the implication is that those who are Reformed and believe in these doctrines have less of a heart for the lost. Nothing could be further from the truth. 


In high school, my brother and I had the same typing teacher. Always a big mistake to put my brother and me in the same class. One day, we had the idea to trick our teacher  and convince her that the new TI whatever calculator we had for math could also control the TV. I would hold that calculator up and hit the enter button and the TV turned on. Then I hit 03 Enter and the channel changed to 3. I hit the plus button and the channels went up. She thought it was amazing. Until we told her my brother had the real remote in the back of the room. The whole class laughed and we spent the rest of the day in the principal’s office. 


My point is this. Do you think my confidence in what I was trying to do was increased or decreased by the knowledge that my brother was in the back of the room with the real remote that had real power? It increased. When Paul was outside of the city of Corinth, he was scared and Jesus came to him and said, “Do not be afraid,but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 nfor I am with you, and ono one will attack you to harm you, for pI have many in this city who are my people.” - Acts 18:9 Who are these people Jesus has? They are those who have yet to believe. And Paul hears that and never shares the gospel again. No! That motivated him to go and to share. The knowledge that there are some in whom God is working should motivate us to share the gospel even more widely and even more confidently. We have the peace of knowing that someone’s salvation doesn’t rely on our good arguments or speaking skill or our ability to market the gospel, but on God who changes the heart. 


Objection 5: Does predestination and election work against personal holiness? The idea here is that if it is not by our works, but by God’s grace, why not just sin all you want and still go to heaven? If that’s our view, we probably don’t have the grace we presume on. If this is your view then the only incentive you have is fear not love and that is not how Christians respond to our heavenly Father. Think about it this way. When my son James was in first grade, we went on a school trip canoeing up some river in the area. I can’t remember which one, but it was a great trip. We were like a mile up the river in what felt like the middle of the jungle frequently seeing alligators and snakes. What if my son decided all the pressure was on him to get back to the launching point? All the pressure was on him to not get eaten by alligators? That would be kind of sad and make for a pretty miserable trip for him. 


But what if he decided he wasn’t going to do any rowing at all and was just going to sleep in the boat because he knew I would get us back safely? I would say his motivation to not participate here shouldn’t be simply based on the fact that I will get us back safely. While you will get back safely, I want you to do this with me. I want you to learn to live in this world in a way that will bring you more joy. I want you to enjoy rowing without the fear of being stranded and being eaten by alligators. I want you to do this to please me. I want us to enjoy this experience together with all the assurances that having me there brings. 




When we look at this chapter, we can’t miss the forest for the trees because we don’t understand all of it. We have to see that Paul is saying something important about us and something more important about God. He’s saying to us that we are secure in our relationship with God. Not because of something we do, but because of who God is. His character is such that he looks at our sin and deals with it himself in Jesus. He takes on our sin, our shame, and our guilt on the cross and makes us eternally beloved sons and daughters. He brings us into the kingdom in a way that we can glory in him and truly say, “But for the grace of God, I would not be here.” We should sit in amazement of his beautiful sovereignty and his endless mercy. 


And some of you might be here today and ask, “How do I know if I’m one of the elect? How do I know if I’m predestined?” If that’s you, the answer is simple: Do you want to be? Do you desire Jesus? If the answer is yes, then you are of the elect. That’s not a desire you can muster up on your own. 


And all Christians should feel secure in our relationship with God because of what Paul is saying about God. Don’t forget, this whole section started with Romans 8 answering the question of “What can separate us from the love of God?” with a resounding “nothing.” His integrity is unchanging. His methods are consistent. Chapter 9 puts God’s integrity under the microscope and finds no flaw whatsoever. You can be a Christian and not embrace the doctrines of predestination and election, but you’re missing out. You’re missing out on what Paul is saying here and you’re missing out in reveling in God’s glory more deeply and comforting in his character more fully. God doesn’t move the goal posts for any of us. He doesn’t rely on our moral uprightness. He just loves us and brings us in. And once in, we get to live the Christian life joyfully and expectantly because we know that we were chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1) and that he who started a good work in us will bring it to completion (Philippians ). God’s righteousness and faithfulness have been vindicated in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 


More in Romans

September 3, 2023

Grace Applied

August 27, 2023

The Mystery of Israel's Salvation

August 20, 2023

Have They Not Heard?