April 18, 2004

The Gospel and God's Choice

Today's sermon was part of our senior pastor's ongoing series in Romans, which he started at the beginning of the year. (The plan, as I understand it, is to cover Romans 1-11, break the series for the summer months, and then return to chapters 12-16 in the fall.)

The text for this morning was Romans 9:1-18. This is, literally, a first for me, as I don't believe that I have ever heard anyone preach on Romans 9 in any church (though I am very familiar with this passage myself and even have a Bible that has been turned here so frequently it opens naturally to that page). To hear this kind of preaching from a pulpit in a nominally non-Reformed denomination was, in a word, refreshing. Here is the outline, including my own annotations:

The Gospel and God's Choice: Romans 9:1-18

Having completed a long dissertation about the nature of justification, it is almost as if Paul is now in the hotseat at a press conference being grilled by hostile reporters. He begins with an opening statement (vv. 1-5) before fielding the tough questions.

The sense you get is that there are those who believe he has been so focused on bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles that he has lost his heart for the Jews. But this isn't the case. Paul is in anguish over his people.

There is an implied question in verse 6: Has God's word failed? Are the promises made by God to Israel still true, or have they fallen flat? This is an important question, because if God's promises to Israel have failed, then it is possible that his promises to the rest of us might fail too. Paul's answer comes in verses 6-13.

  1. Salvation will certainly come to those whom God has sovereignly chosen.

    There have always been two Israels, the physical and the spiritual. Paul is arguing here that the promises have always been to spiritual Israel.

    Paul makes his case with two case studies:

    • Isaac and Ishmael: God choise to send the promises through Abraham's promised son Isaac, rather than through his other son Ishmael (v. 7).
    • Jacob and Esau: The promises went through Jacob, not Esau. Despite the strong rhetoric of verse 13, God was actually very good to Esau, giving him many blessings. However, he did not receive salvation blessings.
    1. God's choice is based on his purpose (v. 11).

      Compare Ephesians 1:11.

    2. God's choice is not based on human works (v. 11).

      The choice had nothing to do with anything Jacob or Esau had done, since they had not yet even been born. Compare Eph. 1:4.

    3. God's choice leads to God's call (v. 12).

      When God chooses, he calls (cf. Rom. 8:30). Those whom he calls are called in such a way that they respond "yes."

    Has God's word failed? No!

    But now a question is raised: Is this fair? Is God just in choosing some but not others?

  2. God has the sovereign right to make saving choices (vv. 14-18).

    Paul cites another case study here: Moses and Pharaoh. He defends God's justice on the basis of God's mercy. Justice only requires that we be judged, not saved. The real issue here is not why God saves only some, but why he saves any at all.

    Verses 17 and 18 are a case study in divine justice. God raised up Pharaoh and hardened his heart for his own purpose and for the sake of his own reputation. Yet Scripture also tells us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Which is true? Both are. God acted to solidify Pharaoh's natural condition. Incidentally, without divine intervention, all of us have the same kind of heart as Pharaoh.

  3. God's sovereign choice in salvation . . .
    1. Gives you a motivation to keep giving out the gospel.
    2. Gives you assurance that you are personally loved by God.
    3. Gives you confidence that God's salvation promises will not fail.