In Part 5 we are focussing on the ninth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, as we are almost at a point where we could conclude our series on the love of God.
Many people think because God loves the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son to be the Savior, God must love every person in the world with the same kind of love and to the same degree and with the same purpose in mind. That is not the case, as Scripture makes very clear.
We have already learned that God’s love to the world is unlimited in extent. He loves them enough to be good to them. That is common grace. He loves them enough to feel pity and compassion over them. He loves them enough to warn them about sin and its consequences. And He loves them enough that the gospel should be preached to all of them. Therefore, in that sense, God’s love is unlimited in its extent and it does reach the whole world.
But secondly we learned that God’s love to the world is limited in degree. He loves them all but not to the degree that He loves His own. His love for His own is merciful, gracious and forgiving. It is inseparable, unbreakable, unchangeable, and unfading. It is that kind, sanctifying, purging, purifying love that leads to godliness. It is that limitless love for only and known only by those who belong to Him by faith.
Thirdly, God’s love to the world is qualified by the demands of His glory. It is not qualified by the demands of people, not by the demands of human reason but by the demands of God’s own personal glory. God defines that love consistently with all of His other attributes. We have to realize that because God loves does not mean that He is obligated to an unqualified love of all people equally. He is not a prisoner of that love. Or worse, He is not a prisoner of man’s assumptions about that love or man’s wishes about that love or man’s desires for that love. Nowhere in Scripture will we find that God is an unqualified lover of all people equally. God does not love, in a way that makes love unmixed, untouched, unmingled or unaffected by, for example, wrath, judgment, justice, holiness, righteousness.
That is what we are looking at as we come to Romans chapter 9. Obviously if you have read the book of Romans, you know that by the time you have completed chapter 8 you have completed the greatest treatise on salvation ever penned. It is all about God loving sinners and saving them through Jesus Christ, as well as the wonderful realities of justification and sanctification. It is all about repentance and faith, about being a depraved sinner and dying and rising again in union with Jesus Christ to newness of life. Salvation, of course, is all built on the premise of God’s love for sinners.
But when you come to chapter 9 you are introduced to a most important issue with regard to God’s saving love. It is about how God’s saving love mingles itself with all other of God’s attributes, which must be considered in line with God’s saving purpose. In Romans 1:16, Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, …” It is then that God’s love has extended to all men and provided for them a gospel invitation. We could conclude when we come to the end of chapter 8 that the love of God has sent the gospel to the ends of the earth because God desires all to hear and believe.
But if God has provided a Savior for the world, calls all to believe and provided a sufficient sacrifice on the cross for all the sins of all mankind, why is it that people aren’t saved if it’s God’s will? Doesn’t the Bible teach that God desires that none perish and sent the Apostles to proclaim the truth from one end of the globe to the other? Those really are the questions that leads to Romans 9, 10 and 11.
Let’s start in Romans 9 with the first five verses. Chapter 8 ends with the great statement on the inseparable love of God that belongs to those who are in Christ.
Paul says this, “… I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Why? “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, … who are Israelites.” So why aren’t the Jews saved?
Paul is expressing really something of the grief of God. God Himself cried tears through the eyes of Jeremiah over the unbelief of Israel. And Jesus Himself cried tears over the lostness of Jerusalem. The heart of God is grieved and sorrowful. And Paul is reflecting that as the messenger of God and as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
The Israelites were the ones who have the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the temple, the promises to the fathers, the patriarchs and from whom comes the Messiah according to the flesh.
So if they are the chosen people, why are they not saved? Did God fail them? The answer is in verse 6, “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed.” The fact that all Jews are not converted does not mean God doesn’t tell the truth, or can’t keep His Word. He starts in verse 6 right through the rest of the chapter to explain it. “You have to understand God’s saving power, you have to understand God’s saving love, you have to understand God’s saving purpose and plan in complete accord with every other attribute He possesses.” In other words, His love cannot spell the end of His wrath, judgment, justice, vengeance, punishment, or anger. Those make up His character and His being.
Remember this, the whole purpose of the redemptive scheme ultimately is for the glory of God before angels and before men. And for God to glorify Himself means to put Himself on display. And to put Himself on display means to manifest the fullness of who He is with all of His attributes.
THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD WHICH WORK IN HARMONY WITH HIS LOVE …
There are seven attributes of God that have to work in harmony with His love, which are outlined as Paul answers this issue.
1. GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (Who choose?)
Paul says there are two Israels. There is a descendant Israel, that is a natural Israel, which is the Jewish race that came out of the loins of Abraham. But not all of that Israel is the true Israel. In other words, within the natural Israel there is a spiritual Israel. “It is not the one who is outwardly circumcised who is a Jew, it is the one who is inwardly circumcised who is a true Jew.” Here Paul actually says, “Look, God never intended to save all individuals in Israel.”
God never intended all Jews to be saved in the first place because if He had intended all Jews to be saved, all Jews would be saved. Israel’s unbelief does not cancel God’s plan either. God always purposed within natural Israel to save only some Jews so that the real spiritual Israel was within the nation. The nation was elected to privilege but individuals were chosen for salvation. The real Israel is the elect Israel, elected to salvation.
It manifests who God is to demonstrate to the whole of creation that He is in control of everything. He makes choices. He is sovereign.
In verse 7 Paul quotes out of Genesis 21:12 and goes way back to when God first chosen Abraham and the nation and said, “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” Yes, God made a choice when He chose Abraham. He passed over everybody else. He made a promise that He would through the loins of Abraham bless and there would come not only a national Israel through the loins of Abraham but there would come a calling or an election to spiritual salvation among those people. But God was selective because Abraham had two sons. The first born son of Abraham was named Ishmael. But God passed by Ishmael and the second son born to Abraham was Isaac. And God chose Isaac. Thinking deeper about it, God also chosen Isaac’s mother Sarah instead of Ishmael’s mother Hagar.
God has chosen people to be children of the flesh in the nation Israel, but not all the children of flesh are the children of the promise.
This demonstrates God’s absolute uninfluenced sovereignty. It is a strong illustration of unconditional election in its most unequivocal expression.
It does not stop there. Isaac had two sons with his wife Rebekah, the twins Jacob and Esau. Verse 12, “It was said to her, the older will serve the younger.” It should have been Esau, as he came out first and really had the birthright, the right to the inheritance. But Esau treated it with disdain and when he was hungry one time swapped it for a meal with his brother Jacob.
Why? Because before they were ever born God said, “I choose them.” Here you have unconditional choice, or unconditional election, if you like that word. The principle is articulated in verse 11, “For though the twins were not yet born and hadn’t done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of their works but because of Him who calls it was said to her the older will serve the younger.” In other words, God made the choice with no regard for either of those two young men, no regard for their conduct, their life whether they were good, whether they were bad. It had nothing to do with them, but purely and only on the basis of God’s purpose according to His choice. He make it very clear early on in redemptive history that He was the one who made the choices. The choice was not a human one.
He was displaying His sovereignty. You are to honor and respect Me and you are to praise and glorify Me. It starts with recognizing that I’m in charge and I’m sovereign.
And then you come to verse 13. “Just as it is written,” and that’s quoting Malachi 1:2 and 3, “Just as it is written, Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.” You mean the love of God is that selective? Yes, because the love of God is subject, it is qualified by the demands of His glory. And God is glorified in His sovereign choices.
It sounds awfully strong to say “Esau have I hated,” but if God didn’t hate then we wouldn’t understand the amazing magnanimity of sovereign love. Sacrificial saving love is revealed when God’s holy hatred is manifest. God is going to put Himself on display forever to men and angels. It is amazing to see God’s love for unworthy sinners freely originating in His own holy will when He has every reason to hate us. But that’s the glory of His sovereign love.
He loves His own in an unbreakable love that cannot ever turn to anything but more love. And whatever His love is, it’s going to exist within the framework of the manifestation of His sovereignty which includes loving some and hating others. That proves He is in charge, He makes choices.
2. GOD IS JUST
Secondly, God is glorified in His judgment, or His justice. Paul anticipates what somebody is going to say here. Verse 14, “… Are we going to say, God’s not fair, that’s not fair?”
His answer in verse 14, “There is no injustice with God, is there?” He can rather be accused of being selectively gracious but not unfair. None of us deserves to receive grace and be saved. So instead of questioning God’s fairness, praise Him for chosen you to be saved.
God is fair because He has provided a sacrifice for all in the person of Jesus Christ which satisfies His justice. Their sins having been paid for by Christ, justice is freed from its obligation and grace can be granted.
God is not like an earthly judge. He cannot sometimes be right and other times be wrong in His judgement. Whatever God does is the definition of justice. For those sinners for whom God is gracious, a sufficient satisfaction of God’s justice has been made.
But we look at God and we say, “It’s not fair. It’s not just.” And we’re shouting up there with our puny minds. We do not understand what’s fair and just, except from a fallen perspective. To question the justice of God, it is a display of a carnal mind. You may see the condemnation of the ungodly as unjust but God has a holy purpose that is beyond what you could understand.
3. GOD’S MERCY
Verse 15, “He says to Moses, I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy, I’ll have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So it doesn’t depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy.”
Well verse 15 is a quote from Exodus 33:19. Moses went to God, he said, “Show me Your glory, put Yourself on display.” God could have chosen from many ways to put Himself on display. Just prior to Moses asking that question God had killed 3,000 sinning Israelites BUT He spared all the rest. And when He then went to Moses and gave Moses the task of leading, Moses says, “I’m not going to do it until You show me Your glory.” God answered, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
God then basically said to Moses that He had just displayed His mercy on those He didn’t kill and that He was now going to be merciful to Moses. It had nothing to do with what Moses wanted or did not want. Verse 16, “It doesn’t depend on the man who wills, it has nothing to do with what you do or achieve but on God who has mercy.”
Mercy doesn’t come because somebody wants it. “Thank You, amen, hallelujah, oh glory.” And that ought to be our attitude all the time. God loves but His love is connected to His sovereignty, His justice and His mercy.
4. GOD’S POWER
God’s love is also connected to His power. So in verse 17 Paul is going back to the Old Testament once more and reaches back to Exodus chapter 9, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh,” this is the Lord speaking, “For this very purpose I raised you up to demonstrate My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then, He has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires.
God allowed Pharaoh’s mother to bear Pharaoh. God allowed Pharaoh to be born into the royal family. God allowed Pharaoh to live long enough to get to the throne. God allowed Pharaoh to develop his power at the throne. And then God made sure that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened so that he would put up a fight, which when confronted with the power of God would give God the opportunity to display Himself.
If God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart, He would not need to have part the Red Sea and drown the whole Egyptian army. Certainly would not need the plagues. But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because God wanted to put everything on display. God raised him up for that purpose. That’s part of God’s glory. God is love but He is not all love and nothing else.
That is why Jews to this day still celebrate Passover. It was the greatest indication of God’s power on behalf of His people. He literally broke the back of the greatest power in the world, Egypt, opening a sea and closing it, immense power. And because of that, what it says at the end of verse 17, “Came to pass. His might was proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” Even in an encounter with the Philistines, the Philistines got worried because they remembered the God of the Israelites who had drown the Egyptian army. If God wants to put His power on display, He’ll raise up a man to put His power on display and that man’s heart will be hardened. Exodus 4:21, God said, “I will harden his heart.”
For the same reason, God also designed resistance. God does not overpower the human will. The human will is responsible. And that’s why judgment is just. Moses was a Jew, Pharaoh was a Gentile, both were sinners. Yet Moses was saved and Pharaoh was lost. God raised up Pharaoh for the purpose of revealing His glory through His judgment power and He raised up Moses to reveal His glory through His grace and mercy and deliverance. God raised up Moses so that He could show His delivering power. He raised up Pharaoh so He could show His destructive power. Pharaoh was a ruler. Moses was a slave. Yet Moses got mercy and compassion because God willed it that way.
God is sovereign and God is holy and must punish sin. God is loving and must save sinners. But if everybody was saved it would deny His holiness. If everybody was lost it would deny His love. And so He’s glorified through all His character.
5. GOD’S JUDGEMENT
God is glorified in His judgment. If this is all predetermined, sovereign destiny, and if God is the one responsible for the hardening of the sinner, how does He hold the sinner responsible? How can the sinner be punished?
Verse 19, “You will say to me then … why does He still find fault?” And then Paul answers, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” Don’t you dare accuse God of holding you responsible for something you’re not responsible for. That’s the implication. The 20th verse really comes out of Isaiah 45:9, “Is man to question God? Him and reason must submit.” Man is a sinner, he loves his sin, he chooses his sin, he rejects God, he rejects Christ, he rejects salvation and he dies in his sins because of his own rejection. And yet at the same time it is God’s sovereign will. But because it is God’s sovereign will, it is no less the responsibility of the sinner. That is why every gospel invitation is given to the sinner to repent. Jesus is not in heaven begging God to add a few more names. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit begging men to repent. The responsibility is here.
When people are sent to hell it is because they believe not, because they repent not. The fact that it has been established by God demonstrates the glory of His nature but does not dispossess man from his responsibility.
It is so difficult to resolve this mystery but God can. As poor depraved men with feeble minds, just because it doesn’t seem to make sense to us, are we going to answer back to God?
Verse 20, “The thing molded will not say to the molder, why did you make me like this, will it?” And he’s borrowing from Jeremiah 18, the picture of a potter. Verse 21, “Doesn’t the potter have a right over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” God has His own purposes. God is the potter. He makes the pots whatever way He wants. He makes one pot for honourable use and another for common use, that’s His choice.
The purpose behind what God does is not to satisfy the desires of depraved intellects. The purpose behind what God does is to glorify Himself. And if He chooses to be glorified in judgment by making a vessel that is not honourable, that’s His choice. He is glorified in His own judgment and we have no right to answer back.
6. GOD’S WRATH
Verse 22, “What if God though willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?”
It reminds of David in the imprecatory Psalms. “God kill the unrighteous, God kill those ungodly, kill those people that are persecuting me, kill those people that are blaspheming Your name. O God, destroy them.” And we read that and we say, “Oh, he was a righteous man and he loved holiness.” That is because we do not know anybody he was praying about. But your response would have been totally different when your pastor should suddenly one morning pray in the same way, wouldn’t you?
In the book of Revelation you could be reading for weeks and weeks about the destruction of masses of humanity. We agree with the saints under the altar in chapter 6 who are saying, “O Lord, how long…how long before You kill all these ungodly?” We do not know any of those folks. And when we get dispossessed emotionally from this thing we look with a little more objectivity.
There are an innumerable number of angels. Well a third of them fell with Satan. They were thrown out of heaven and they will spend forever in the lake of fire in torment. I do not think I have ever had anybody come to me and say, “Oh, it’s so unfair that God didn’t have a plan of salvation for demons.” None of them are friends of yours.
The only way that’s going to make any sense is to put His wrath on display by contrast so you understand what His mercy and His pity and His grace mean. God acts in His wrath. He prepares vessels of wrath beforehand because His wrath is going to be a way to manifest His glory.
7. THE GOD OF SALVATION
Lastly, God is glorified in His salvation. Verse 23, “All this He did in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory even us.”
He displays His glory in making vessels of mercy which He saves. So, God will be glorified all across the spectrum of His attributes. Don’t be concerned with the mysteries of God’s determination. Do not be concerned with trying to solve all of the mysteries of the nature of God. Be concerned with your own condition. Do not be concerned with what God is doing in planning all of this, be concerned with what awaits you in eternal hell if you do not repent. Don’t be concerned with trying to unscrew the unscrutable, be concerned with repentance and remember that Jesus said, “Him that comes unto Me I’ll in no wise cast out.” Remember that Jesus said, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The responsibility for repentance and faith is on you. That is all that should concern you. The issue of election does not become an issue until conversion then we know you are elect. “Whosoever will let him come and take of the water of life freely.” “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I’ll give you rest.” These are the invitations the Bible extends.